Back in South Africa for the second time this year I think about the places we’ve stayed.
“Stay for three weeks or ten? That was a no brainer… ten of course. But it comes with a catch. Instead of staying in lodges or even cabins we have to sleep in a tent to make it work financially.”
That was about a year ago that Russ and I had that discussion. Seems strange looking back at that now… we did spend the 10 weeks… and oh the places we stayed! Especially as we are now staying for six months and have upgraded from living in a tent on the ground to one on top of a Land Rover. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our first Africa Wildlife Tour 2014
It had been three and a half years since our first South African Wildlife Conservation Tour the latter part of 2010 where we identified the first people and projects to help. So much had happened since then, it was time to return to Africa with new eyes and experience.
Russ found the perfect tent… supposedly waterproof (it’s the rainy season) with enough room to stand, fit a queen sized air mattress and even two camping chairs. Then there’s getting around, as before he finds a great deal to rent a small car that hopefully will fit all our gear. Then the search begins for where to camp… inexpensive, safe, pretty and close to where we need to go.
Oh the places we’ve stayed!
Our first area is Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu-Natal. There’s a nice Backpackers, however, an unexpected turn of events… my mother lives in Hilton and insists we be her guests nearby, we gratefully accept. It’s close to midnight when we reach the appointed B&B. The gate guard takes us past a koi pond with a fountain, up the stairs along an open balcony to our lovely room… wow! Elevated from tent to luxury is a super nice way to start off!
The Capulet run by Pauline is set on a lush green quiet hillside. Fresh mangoes, paw-paw (papaya), pineapple, yogurt, granola and the best cooked breakfast made to order entice us each morning to enjoy the veranda by the pool.
After our meetings with Honorary Rangers, Shannon (Bird of Prey Sanctuary), Roz (FreeMeKZN), Carol and Steve (Monkey Hotline) and numerous others its time to move on… thank you Mother for the splendid accomodations!
Gearing ourselves for life in our tent we head north along the coast. Another nice surprise. Janet Cutherson invites us to spend the night at her lodge and sanctuary.
Leopard Walk Lodge is tucked away near False Bay in the Isamalingo Wetlands.
Finally we get to sleep in our tent… hope it all works, its the first time we put it up. (Watch the time lapse)
Utshwayelo Lodge and Campground only minutes away from the Mozambique border this campground is tucked away in the sand dunes. The beach, about 2 kilometers away, is only accessible with a 4×4… so we walk. What an adventure as we meander through the tropical vegetation seeing tracks of an eel (yup, must have been thrown up by a fishermen we surmise), monkeys, some small predator pug marks and watch dung beetles roll their prize for, to them, miles along the sandy track.
Then it’s off to Swaziland. We stop in to take a look at what the Hlane Royal National Park is all about. We decide it’s beautiful and we stay for several nights. Game viewing is wonderful within a short walk from our campsite. Oh yes, and this is where we hear the lions roaring at night, where the elephant almost comes to dinner and meet George Mbatha a veteran wildlife ranger for the King of Swaziland.
After getting lost on our way north we finally decide to take a dirt road heading for the South African border. Views are splendid and the road not too bad until we hit a hill that is nothing but mud. Our first attempt gets us stuck. Fortunately the slope is steep enough for us to slide back down. Russ backs up and takes a faster run at it. This time with the bottom scrapping the rocks we make it through… whew!
However, we get to the border post too late and have little choice but to stay at the seldom used hostel way up in the mountains in the old mining town of Bulembu. One of the worst accommodations for the money; a stark barracks type room and mattresses made out of straw.
But the drive into South Africa is spectacular and we spend a couple of nights at the Barberton Caravan Park. Supposedly the property was owned at one time by the legendary author of “Jock of the Bushveld”, Sir Percy FitzPatrick.
On to Marloth Park, south of the Kruger National Park just across the Crocodile River. Once again friends offer us a lovely place to stay as we gather to discuss wildlife conservation with folks in the community. Vic’s secluded Royal Kruger Lodge is a haven for wildlife as I encounter giraffe, kudu, a wart hog family, zebra and impala just walking down past the drive way.
Mariepskop is the next place we set up camp. We spend a week at this quiet backpackers outside of Hoedspruit. Great location within easy reach of several of the wildlife conservationists we speak to. People like Patrick Jordan (Rhino Revolution), Dr. Peter Rogers (wildlife vet), Vincent Barkas (Protracks) and Sarah Berg (GreenKidz).
Instead of heading further north to Botswana in our tiny little red car we decide to explore more of Swaziland and end up at the lush Lidwala Backpackers on the western side of the country. We learn a bit more about Swaziland and conservation. (Lead photo above shows probably another of our most favorite camp sites)
As we are referred to the park manager of Malolotja Nature Reserve further north we back track… and are glad we do as the camping area is rustic and bless bok, jackal, hare and birds are plentiful. A fire is lit daily under the huge water boiler to provide hot water for the showers.
Heading back into South Africa in the pouring rain we stay at the Sundowner Lodge in Piet Retief. Come to find out in the morning that we had plenty of other options that may have been less expensive.
Trying to escape the rain we travel further south to Richards Bay Caravan Park and get a spot within sight of the ocean and a ship wreck.
Then it’s back to see my mother. This time we camp at The Knoll, a converted farm, makes for a quaint backpackers and within easy reach of more folks to visit.
As the weather remains questionable we decide to take the weekend and head for the driest part of the Drakensburg mountains and end up at Sani Lodge Backpackers. With the weather keeping many quests indoors it allows for interesting discussions with travelers from around the globe, including; a fella from France who has been literally cruising around the world on his motorcycle for 10 years and a gal from Japan who saved for six years so she could travel the world for four. We also volunteer to teach a class at a local primary school.
On our way to the Waterberg, it’s still raining, we stop off at Molojeni that turns out to be a small game farm. In the morning we talk to the manager and yes, they have started “stocking the farm for hunting”. She is very uncomfortable with this… good.
The next three days we experience Silke’s Bambelela, in the worst rain storm ever! Water everywhere, as staff and volunteers scurry to keep the primates safe in an amazing display of dedication. To help support the rescue and rehab center Bambelela has lovely cottages for rent.
We did not look forward to camping in Johannesburg. Fortunately neither did our friends and Margie with One More Generation offers us her spare room. Little did we know that her dog Milo likes to steal flip flops and socks and bury them in the garden. Needless to say, we find out soon enough.
Oh the places we’ve stayed… many thanks to the people we’ve met, the wildlife conservationists, rescue/rehabbers, activists and advocates.
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