A year in South Africa – my highlights

This time exactly a year ago we were perched  on the sofa in our garden, nibbling at sandwiches made with the sort of peanut butter I have since learned never to buy, wondering at the cold air but hot sun, listening to the strange sounds of the screeching hadedas and trying to contemplate our new life in this huge and hugely exciting country.  I can’t believe it has been a year. Fresh off the overnight flight, we felt like pale, strange animals found under stones – defenceless and pathetic, entirely reliant on others to keep us safe.

But here we are, 365 days on (or rather, 366 as it’s a leap year) and we’ve toughened up. Learnt our way around. Found out where to source the food we want, the clothes and shoes we need, and the books we desire. Bought a dog. Completed a year of schooling (the children) and a year in a new office (husband). Found friends, and sadly lost some of them to repatriation. Travelled far and wide but at the same time realised how much more there still is to see.

It hasn’t always been an easy year but overall we have loved our life in South Africa. I could drone on for hours about what we have been up to since we got here but really, that would get pretty dull. So here, instead, are just a few highlights:

Best trip

A hard one this as we have had so many great holidays since we arrived. Namibia, Cape Town, Mauritius are all up there. But for sheer excitement and for memories that will last with us forever, I think it was our six day safari in Kruger National Park with my parents in December/January that wins this one.

Best meal out

Again, so many to choose from. Eating out in South Africa is  genuinely.one of the best things about this country – possibly because to us, it is so much more affordable than at home but also because the food is great quality and very innovative. So there have been many, many good meals and quite a few great ones. But probably the one I enjoyed most overall was a wine-tasting meal at Zest Bistro in Pretoria where we sat at a long table with other guests and were given different wines to taste with each course. The food was fantastic (I have been back and enjoyed it even without gallons of wine to wash it down!), the wine was world class and the mixed company of friends and strangers was perfect.

Best tour

When my mother came to stay I decided it was time to dig a bit deeper into South Africa’s recent history. I had yet to venture deep into Soweto so when a friend recommended a tour by a lady called Snowy Mattera we decided to book it. I am so glad we did: Snowy’s father was Don Mattera, a poet and activist during the apartheid years. Snowy grew up in Soweto and was part of the student protests in the 1970’s. Learning about the history of the area through the eyes of someone who was actually there gave a unnique experience and really helped understand the actions of the people of that era. Highly recommended!

Best view

Oh so hard! The views in Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain were incredible. Ditto the unique panorama from the top of the sand dunes in Namibia. But in the end I think I have to choose the Drakensbergs where around every corner was another stunner!

DSC_0074

Best memory

I am going to cheat a little with this one and choose two – albeit it of doing the same thing, just in different countries. When you have had a year like we have, there are so many good memories, it’s hard to single it down to just one (or, in this case, two). However, sometimes it is the simplist activities which are the best and I am going to chose star-gazing as one of the things that I will remember for ever. Sitting at the back of our cabin in Namibia in the middle of a meteorite shower, watching shooting star after shooting star fall from the sky. And lying on our backs at our lodge in the Drakensbergs with the huge, huge night sky above is. It makes you feel so small and insignificant but at the same time so glad to be alive.

Best wildlife

So there have been zebras and whales and penguins and dolphins and octopusses (octopi?) and a lots of antelopey things and rhinos and elephants and giraffes and dung beatles and bats and warthogs with their hoglets and wild dogs and….how can I chose just one? Our entire year has been one wildlife-bonanza. So I will just have to chose the one that gave me the best picture:

DSC_0961

Best non-wildlife experience

Way back not long after we arrived I was invited to the local footy derby in Soweto – the Orlando Pirates vs the Kaiser Chiefs. Two of the biggest teams in the world, each with some of the most loyal supporters on the planet. This was, apparently, one of the biggest derbys it was possible to watch but I don’t think I quite appreciated the enormity of it until we walked into the stadium. I have been to big matches before, including watching Arsenal play and England vs Germany in Munich. But this was on a different scale altogether – whether it was the numbers, the sheer passion or just the noise I don’t know but it was certainly an experience never to be forgotten.

Soweto derby

Best luck

What started off as terrible luck in the end worked out for us in a way we could never have predicted. I had booked a balloon flight for my husband’s birthday shortly after we moved to Pretoria. Unfortunately due to an unseasonal rain storm, the original flight was cancelled and then rescheduled to a few weeks later. So here we were, up at dawn and floating across the landscape – lovely! It was so early that after we had landed and eaten breakfast, it was still not yet 9am. So we decided to hot-foot it across to the nearby Maropeng museum where the recently discovered fossilised remaines of Homo Naledi were on display for a limited period before being moved away to tour the world/be studied properly (whatever they do with bones and things). Anyway, we arrived so early we were the first people in and, having visited the museum previously, bypassed all the normal exhibits and made our way straight to the main attraction. Where, again, we were first in and thus had the exhibit totally to ourselves for a brief few moments. It isn’t often you get so see such an amazing discovery so close up and in such privacy – it felt like a private viewing and we definitely felt very lucky.

homo naledi

Best discovery

I’m not sure if I can really call it a discovery as so many others seem to know about it, but a little cafe called the Moroccan House has become a favourite place to meet people for morning coffee or lunch. Great food and drinks, a lovely, cool, secluded terrace and fantastic service makes it a stand-out in a place of stand-outs. And did I mention the price? Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in town.

Most photogenic place

I think this one has to be won by Namibia. I have never seen so many photo opportunities in such a short space of time. Around every corner there was something else I wanted to take a picture of – helped by the most amazing light and bright blue skies. Here is a taster:

dead vlei

And finally (because I could go on forever) – most relaxing holiday

This one is easy – hands down, it’s Mauritius. It helps that we stayed in an all-inclusive but the sea, the beach, the pools, the diving, the bars, the staff, the service….When you really need somewhere to unwind, what more could you ask for?

Well, that’s just some of my highlights from the last year. I notice I haven’t even included Cape Town in this post which just goes to show how much great stuff we have done! Maybe I will have to do another one at the end of this year – I wonder what will make the grade this time?

Have you been to South or Southern Africa? What have been your highlights?

Exploring the Delightful, Dramatic Drakensbergs

A couple of months ago we took a wonderful African road trip to the Drakensbergs. Located a few hours south of Pretoria in Kwa-Zulu Natal (known colloquially as KZN), this region is renowned for its stunning scenery and mountainous terrain and it certainly did not disappoint. It wasn’t a long trip – just a few days to take a rest from the demands of city life – but the area was so beauiful we felt completely refreshed at the end of our break.

PicMonkey Collage

We stayed at a quirkly little place called Antbear Lodge – where the rooms were all carved from wood but the views were as stunning as they come. We had originally booked this place because it was dog-friendly and we thought we might be able to bring our new puppy with us. But in the event he was too young for his first holiday so we left him behind (in good hands 🙂 ), and enjoyed not having to get up at the crack of dawn to let him out for a pee. There were however other dogs on the property, as well as sheep, ducks, geese and -most exciting of all – horses for riding!

DSC_0074

We didn’t have a fixed agenda but were keen to explore the area a little as we hadn’t yet ventured to this part of South Africa. As it was, we found plenty to do – and the children just enjoyed the freedom to run around on the lodge grounds without restrictions of bars, fences, gates and locks…

One of the days we drove to an well-known paragliding site for my husband to chuck himself off a cliff. The drive turned into a bit of an adventure as the road up to the site was the narrowest, rockiest, steepest and downright most terrifying drive we have yet undertaken in this country. The panorama from the top was wonderful though and as my husband even managed to get a flight in, definitely worth the hassle to get there as this meant his mood was much improved 🙂

DSC_0067

Another day we drove to the Giant’s Castle reserve and walked up to look at some of the cave paintings – something that has been on my “to do” list since we got here. Since I managed to injure my ankle quite badly a few weeks before we went away I was quite nervous about the walk even though it wasn’t more than about one hour to get there. But by taking it easy and wearing “sensible footwear” I was fine and so glad that I did as the paintings are very special. They date back hundreds of years, with some a lot more recent – but are a great reminder that while life has been going on here for centuries, it’s only relatively recently that man has started to dramatically changed the landscape to what we know now. The views from the walk to and from the caves were also magnificent – the whole area reminds me of some sort of “garden of eden”and I can understand why it is such a popular hiking spot.

DSC_0113

As well as exploring nature we also made sure to have a bit of fun. On one morning we rode the lodge’s horses through the fields, admiring the view from a different angle and enjoying the fact that thanks to months of riding lessons this was the first time we could ride as a family without worrying about anyone falling off. Another day we visited the attractions on the famous “midlands meander” – a mix of local craft shops, fun things for the kids to do (candle dipping; archery etc) and foodie places to stock up on things like cheeses and biltong. We particularly enjoyed the chocolate dipping at Chocolate Heaven – seriously, what was there NOT to like about this place? It was a plateful of strawberries, biscuits, marshmallows, bananas, dried fruit and even chillis and biltong should you so wish – all dipped into suprisingly good Belgian chocolate. We walked away feeling a little sick but totally happy. We came to the Drakensbergs for the views; we found amazing chocolate. What more could we possibly ask for?

DSC_0118

Well there was one more suprise and this was something we hadn’t expected. At the end of the “meander” is a place called the “capture site” – the place where Nelson Mandela, masquarading as a chauffeur,  was finally captured after evading the apartheid forces for more than 17 months. The site has been turned into a small museum which was interesting enough on its own. But it is the extraordinary sculpture of Mandela’s head that only reveals itself to you as you take the “long road to freedom” path down the slope towards it that really made the stop worthwhile. Reading about the scultpure online I see there is all sorts of signficance to the number of steel bars used to make it etc. But really it doesn’t need explanation as it speaks for itself.

DSCF6167

And so ended our trip to the Drakensbergs – a wonderful, refreshing, beautiful area of the country that so many just rush past on the way to the coast. I hope we get the chance to return – it’s relatively close to Pretoria (relative being the size of the country) and we still want to try and drive up the famous Sani pass into Lesotho. But if we don’t make it back we will have many good memories to sustain us. Of beautiful views, magnificent sculptures and of course of delicious chocolate!

g

A sojourn in Mauritius

DSCF6185

The spectacular mountains of volcanic Mauritius

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will have noticed a bit of tumble-weed blowing through its environs recently. No I haven’t given up altogether (although exciting ventures elsewhere have been keeping me busy) but one of the reasons things have been so quiet is that we have been on holiday.

On holiday, I hear you cry. Isn’t life as an expat in South Africa one long holiday? Well yes you have a point, we do get to travel a lot while we live here – and hell, if you lived in the most beautiful country in the world (trademark) wouldn’t you do your best to see as much of it as possible?

However, travelling and holidaying are two different concepts and what we really needed was a proper break. A time to be able to do nothing, to not move an inch from the sunbed should we chose, to totally re-charge our batteries. Unfortunately we do of course have two very active pre-teens so this total relaxation was never going to happen. But all the same, we wanted to get away somewhere really beautiful and life-enhancing for a fantastic fun-filled family vacation and Mauritius fits the bill completely. It’s also only 4.5 hours flight from Johannesburg, which of course helps!

DSCF6204

There’s nothing like a sun-drenched beach to lighten your mood.

Mauritius is one of those countries that most people simply associate with holidays and little else – a bit like one of the many Caribbean islands dominated by resorts geared up to doing nothing more than sipping rum and dipping the occastional toe in a pool. However, just like many of those Caribbean islands, dig a little deeper and there is actually a fascinating history to this island involving pirates, runaway slaves, a mish-mash of cultures which altogether add up to a very unique identity, a famous now-extinct bird (the dodo) and a man called Peter Pepper (yes, really!). But we weren’t really here for the history and culture, fascinating as it was – we were here for the sea, sun, sand and (remember, kids involved) snorkelling!

20160425_0255550

Under the sea…is where we want to be….

It is hard to chose a resort on an island like Mauritius because there are so many of them and most of them looked fantastic. I know people who have gone rogue and stayed in self-catering houses on the island and this also looks like a lovely option for some real rest and relaxation. However for this, our official “breather break” from South Africa, we wanted to stay somewhere where we really didn’t have to lift a finger. In the end we settled on the Ravenala Attitude, part of the Attitude chain and a newly refurbished hotel.

The Ravenala is not paying me for this review (unless they wish to do so retrospectively….contact me tab above….) so I can say anything I like but in all honesty it was a fabulous resort. There were issues and you can read my review on TripAdvisor, but the pluses far out-weighed the minuses and I would both recommend it and return to it. In particular, the staff were outstanding and made us all (especially the children) feel as welcome as it is possible to feel. Clientele were a little mixed – we were out of season so there weren’t many families, with honeymooning couples taking up most of the room on the sun-loungers. But this mattered not a jot, we were still treated like royalty by waiters, bar-staff, room cleaners, the dive crew and sports guys as well as pretty well everyone else we met.

DSC_0029

Sun-loungers waiting for the childless honeymooners to arrive…

The main reason we picked Ravenala was because it offered us as a family what we wanted – a family suite so we didn’t have to book two rooms (which would have racked the cost up considerably), lots of activities, and good choices of restaurants. As well as snorkelling, we spent the week on the sea on various vessels including a glass-bottom boat, kayaks, pedaloes, stand-up paddle boards, water-skies and lasers (small sailing boats which capsize easily….). On the land we played badminton, beach tennis, petanque and table-tennis (ish). When we fancied a dip we had both the ocean and several large pools to chose from. And of course there was plenty of choice when it came to needing a drink to quench that thirst – although this being a sugar island, that choice mostly revolved around rum for the grown-ups.

DSC_0044

Rum shack!

Our favourite activity though was under the sea. I learnt to dive more than 15 years ago and reached over 100 dives before our five year break in the UK (where diving was off the menu thanks to a non-tropical climate). Having completed a refresher course here in Pretoria a couple of weeks before our holiday, dusted down our wetsuits and polished our masks we were ready to go. The hotel has a new dive centre attached so it was super easy to book a package of six dives shared between me and my husband, plus a couple of try-dives in the pool for the kids. Which turned out to be a great success because our 10-year-old daughter went on to do not only one but two dives in the sea and loved it!

20160426_0413190

Daughter number one on her first ever open water dive.

The reason this was such a huge success for us was because, despite living on a Caribbean island as a child, she has never liked beaches or salt water which has been a bit of a struggle for the rest of our sea-loving family (my younger daughter, at eight, is still too young for a sea dive but snorkels like a pro and enjoyed her dive in the pool).

Diving, for anyone who hasn’t tried it, seems like a faff while you are above water but as soon as you get below the surface can be one of the most relaxing things you can do. I liken it to a session of yoga or meditiation – you drift around looking at beautiful things with just your thoughts for company (you do of course dive in a group or with a buddy but as you can’t talk it can feel very peaceful). On some dives the excitement does rack up with sightings of sharks, large rays or other “big things” but the coral reef diving we did around Mauritius wasn’t that sort of dive. Lots of fish life and plenty to look at but it was never going to be one of those “Top Ten” dives. Just very relaxing, very beautiful and very de-stressing.

20160429_1003100

Wreck dive

Sadly all good things come to an end and after a week of indulgence we settled in for one last evening on the beach, rum cocktails in hand. And luckily for us, the island decided we deserved a fabulous sunset on our final day – watching this spectacular show was a wonderful way to end our week away and will stay in our memories for years to come.

DSCF6219

So now we’re back in South Africa and I am trying to catch up with everything, I hope to be able to get back to some sort of blogging routine soon. Which, if everything goes to plan, will include a new link-up for expat bloggers in Africa – so watch this space!

TravelathomeTingNewBlue

People who live in small places: Guernsey

I haven’t had a People Who Live in Small Places post for a while, although those I have done still get a lot of views. I have been focused on other things (specifically my series on depression) but couldn’t resist when Liz – who runs the Island Girl Writing website offering writing and editing services got in touch. Liz lives on an island just off the shore of my home country and one with a fascinating history. So please welcome Liz from Guernsey.

Hagen and Liz at Vazon Beach

Liz and husband Hagen

 

Hi Liz and thank you for being part of this series. First of all please tell me a bit about living in your small place.
I live on the island of Guernsey, a British crown dependency that lies approximately 25 miles from the French Normandy coast. In fact, on a clear day, you can see the French coastline with amazing clarity. Guernsey, along with Jersey and some lesser islands, make up the Channel Islands. Although Guernsey is a crown possession, the island has its own government, stamps and currency.

It also has a heavy French influence, owing to its historical association with (and proximity to) France. Official signs appear in both French and English, and many street names are French, too. It is definitely helpful if you speak French or can at least pronounce French words. I can do neither and this has resulted in some entertaining situations when I try to say my address to people.

There is also a local patois, called Guernésiais, that originates from an old Norman language. This patois is spoken primarily by the older generations here. Unfortunately, like most old languages, it is slowly dying out. Given my utter lack of success with French, I don’t have any immediate plans to be the lone individual to carry on the patois tradition.

View of Petit Bois Bay

View of Petit Bois Bay

Guernsey has several “claims to fame.”

• Victor Hugo took refuge in Guernsey when he was exiled from France. He wrote several of his best works here, and there is now a museum in the house he called home during his time on the island. The writer in me loves the local tie with literary greatness.
• Guernsey, along with the other Channel Islands, was the only British territory occupied by Germany during World War II. You can still find extensive evidence of this occupation around the entire island, in the form of abandoned bunkers, tunnels and the German Underground Military Hospital.
• Many corporations and wealthy individuals flock to Guernsey to take advantage of the generous tax breaks the island offers. Although Guernsey was traditionally an agricultural-based community, today the island is considered a tax haven and financial services represents one of the largest employment sectors on the island.
• During the reign of Queen Mary in the mid 1500s, three local women – one of whom was pregnant – were burned at the stake after being accused and convicted of heresy. These unfortunate women, whose guilt was rather questionable, represent the Channel Islands only known deaths directly attributed to the violent and gruesome reign of Bloody Mary.

And what are the good, and not so good, things about living there.
To understand both the good and bad about living on Guernsey, you have to start by understanding how small the island is. At just 30 square miles, with a maximum speed limit of 35 MPH islandwide (yes, you read that right) and a population exceeding 60,000, things can get quite crowded – and occasionally frustrating – here. Yes, we often have traffic jams on this quaint rock.

But let’s start with the good!

Guernsey is one of the safest places I’ve ever lived, and is the ideal place to raise children. (After all, it’s not like they’re going to sneak off to the big city…or pretty much anywhere else…without you knowing about it!) Not once since moving here have I been concerned about walking anywhere late at night or forgetting to lock the doors of the house.

The people are also, generally, quite helpful and polite, especially when they hear my American accent. They seem genuinely curious to know how an American ended up on their tiny rock, and they ask. All the time.

Guernsey also has stunningly beautiful scenery. From the rugged, towering cliffs on the island’s southern coastline to the soft, sandy beaches along the west coast, there is no shortage of scenic landscapes to enjoy. You can hike the cliff paths, take a dip in the invigorating water of a number of secluded, sandy coves or simply head to the beach and set up shop for the day.

The water here is deceptively Caribbean looking. Amazing shades of turquoise, cobalt and every shade in between sparkle and shimmer in every direction. Unfortunately, this beautiful water is also really cold! While I see other brave souls swimming here year-round, I’ve never made it past wading in up to my ankles – and that was in July. Still, relaxing at the beach on a sunny, midsummer day is a really lovely way to spend time.

Guernsey Cliffs With German Bunker

Guernsey Cliffs with German Bunker

But everything is not perfect here.

The biggest issue is the cost of living. I’ve lived on other islands, and understand that most things need to be shipped in (and that costs money), which increases the price of goods to levels not seen on the mainland. However, living on Guernsey goes beyond anything I’ve experienced before.

The primary driver is the cost of housing. Guernsey operates a two-tier housing system – differentiated as local or open market. While anyone can buy or live in open market housing here (and the price reflects this freedom…rents and sale prices for open market housing is significantly higher than local market houses), only “qualified residents” can live in or buy local market housing. The stinger is that even local market housing is shockingly expensive. I find housing prices overall to be on par with central London or Manhattan.

Besides the very high cost-of-living, it can also get very boring here. Especially in winter, when the skies are perpetually grey and it rains a lot. The inside joke here is that, on the weekends (especially Sundays…when most things are closed), the biggest decision you have to make is which direction to drive around the island, clockwise or anti-clockwise. We tend to alternate each week to keep things fresh. I wish I were kidding.

What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
Besides the aforementioned tradition of circumnavigating the island each Sunday, we try and take advantage of good weather when we have it and explore the outdoors. We hike along the cliff paths, put on wetsuits and go standup paddle boarding, or just go for long walks and explore the quiet, quaint lanes. There is a lot of very pretty architecture to look at here, especially the old granite and stone cottages and manor houses.

St Peter Port

St Peter Port

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?
It is both easy and difficult to get away. There are six direct flights daily to London Gatwick, as well as daily ferry service to both southern England and St. Malo, France. So getting off the island is not the problem, weather permitting. Fog or heavy seas tend to disrupt travel quite often.

Unfortunately, time and money are factors in how often we can actually get away. We don’t get off the island as often as we’d like. Ideally, one weekend off the island each month would be perfect to stave off island fever. A quick trip to London is pretty common here, as is taking your car on the ferry to France and then exploring the continent.

We managed a long weekend in Paris in the fall, a trip to the southwest coast of England, and a few trips to London since moving here. In a pinch, we sometimes hop on the local inter-island ferry for a 20-minute boat ride to Herm Island, a tiny, sparsely populated neighboring island with beautiful beaches, walking paths and a fun pub. When you are on Herm, it seems like a million miles away from Guernsey, yet you can be home by dinner time, refreshed and rejuvenated.

Guernsey and Herm Aerial

Guernsey and Herm ariel view

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
I feel that, overall, people have been welcoming to me. Perhaps this is because I’m somewhat of a novelty, as one of the few Americans living here relative to overall population. It also helps that my husband was born and raised here, so he knows a lot of people and I sort of integrated naturally. I’m not sure if I would have experienced the same thing had I arrived here without him.

I do find people here to be more reserved than people in other places I’ve lived. While I know a lot of people, I still haven’t found those one or two really good friends that I usually find quickly when I move someplace new.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your island or somewhere similar?
First and foremost, make sure you have enough financial resources to live at your desired standard of living here. Things are expensive, more expensive than you may imagine. Feeling trapped here or being limited in what you can do because of a lack of resources is a fast way for the island to quickly lose its luster.

Also, be sure you can live with the limited options for entertainment found here. You won’t get first-run movies in the theater here. There are not too many plays or concerts where you’ll see international performers. The few museums here are more concerned with local history than acquiring or displaying exhibits of famous works. If you prefer warm, sunny weather for your outdoor pursuits, you will be hard-pressed to get that most of the year.

If, however, you are looking for a slower, quieter, simpler lifestyle and you don’t mind occasionally feeling a bit isolated, then Guernsey might be the perfect place.

Kitesurfing in Guernsey

Kitesurfing in Guernsey

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small space.
Originally from a small town in the Midwestern United States, I became an expat in 2011 when I moved to the Southern Caribbean island of Bonaire. One day shortly after moving to the island, I met a guy on the beach who told me he was from the island of Guernsey.

Before he could explain where his home country was, I confidently stated that it was the place where Guernsey cows come from and that there was probably another island nearby called Jersey, where Jersey cows come from. My years growing up in farming country finally paid off! Apparently, he found my bovine knowledge impressive and asked me on a date. The rest is history, I suppose. We got married in 2013 with dreams of growing and old watching Caribbean sunsets together.

Unfortunately, family circumstances demanded we return unexpectedly to Guernsey. So in 2014 we packed up our breezy, sun-filled Caribbean house, shipped a container north and settled into a new life in the Channel Islands. Despite being perpetually cold and pale, we are enjoying our time on this little rock.
About the Author: Liz Wegerer is a writer, wanderer and self-professed citizen of the world. After growing up and pursuing a traditional life in the U.S., she gave it all up to travel and experience life outside her comfort zone. After four years kite surfing and scuba diving in the Southern Caribbean, she headed north to a tiny rock off the coast of France to test the waters there – she discovered they are…cold. Not content to stay in one place too long, her backpack and passport are always ready for the next challenge. After all, as long as she has her trusty Macbook, she can write from anywhere.

You can follow her adventures at www.lizwegerer.com.

Self-drive Kruger safari with kids: the beginners guide

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Kruger, one of the largest and best-known national parks in the world. There must be millions, if not squillions, of words already written about this amazing place – not to mention the many photographs taken and published by Kruger-lovers around the globe.

No, I certainly am no expert, after all, we have only been once and then for only six days. However, as a total beginner, there were a few things I would have found useful to know before we left – especially for those who, like us, were taking children. So, here is my guide to how to survive a Kruger self-drive holiday with kids.

DSC_0900

Warthoglets – December is a great time to go to Kruger to see lots of newborn animals

Plan plan plan

The first thing you need to do before booking your trip to Kruger is to plan ahead. A long way ahead. If you are self-driving and staying in SANPark (South African National Parks) restcamps (as we did), you may need to book your accommodation up to a year in advance. If you are staying in private lodges (which are a lot more luxurious but not what this particular post is about) you can probably book closer to the date of travel. But the restcamps are extremely good value for money starting as low as £20 a night – which is what makes Kruger so accessible. And so affordable.

You may be stuck with certain dates to visit the park/South Africa depending on the age of your kids. But even so it is worth looking at what different times of the year are like: the summer (the northern hemisphere’s winter) can be extremely hot in South Africa: temperatures in Kruger have been reaching up to 43 degrees celcius this week. The winter tends to be a lot chillier at night but can still have lovely sunny days. There also tends to be less vegetation, making it easier to spot wildlife. School holidays will always be the busiest time – take a note of South African school holidays.

DSC_1118

Where to stay?

So once you have decided when you want to visit Kruger, I suggest you start thinking about how long you want to be “on safari” for and which camps you want to visit. To help with this, have a look at the SANParks website – their Kruger section is a wealth of information, including forums where you can ask any question you like. I also used guidebooks, maps, personal recommendations, TripAdvisor…..

Even so, it can be incredibly confusing to decide where to go. For a start, think about distances. As a rule of thumb you will probably travel at about 25 mph in the park – speed limits are low on all the roads and you will have many interesting things to stop and look at along the way. Five or six hours in a car at a time is enough for most people, so you probably won’t want to travel too often between distant camps.

DSC_1077

Braai’ing at the Oliphants rest camp

For our first trip we decided to stay at just three camps – Lower Sabie for one night, Oliphants for two nights, Satara for two nights and then back to Lower Sabie for another night. This gave us the chance to explore the more popular southern part of the park, which is best known for having a higher number of animals. We thought with children it was better to see as much as possible – going for any length of time without sitings could get a little tedious for them.

In terms of what is on offer at the restcamps, the SANPark website has all the details. Accommodation includes very nice rondevals and bungalows (ranging from 2-bed up to larger family guesthouses), cheaper rooms without kitchens, permanent tents and campsites. We always went with the rondavels, which each had bedrooms, bathrooms, fans and aircon, kitchenettes and somewhere to sit outside with a cold beer and watch the sunset. They weren’t luxurious, but they were comfortable and clean.

Location of the rooms can also be important. In some camps, for example, you can stay right on the perimeter with fantastic views of rivers, out onto the park, or the sun setting in the evening. Take a look at the maps to see where each bungalow is placed and chose the one closest to the views. At least, that is what my recommendation would be!

DSC_1170

Elephants on their way to the Oliphants river, viewed from our bungalow

The bungalows all come equipped with plenty of kitchen equipment – pans, cutlery, plates, various types of glasses, Braai tongs etc. Also dish clothes, washing up liquid, all sheets and towels…..the only thing they didn’t have which we would have found very helpful was a colander for draining pasta and potatoes…

Eating?

As with all holidays, mealtimes are very important. As we were self-catering we knew we would have to bring a certain amount of food into the park with us. We also didn’t have much room in the car so we decided to divide our meals between cooking for ourselves and eating in the restaurants in the camp (all the ones we ate at were run by the local franchise Mugg and Bean, which is generally pretty good). We had a large ice box, bringing a ready cooked meal for our first night and then some frozen meat for subsequent nights. We were able to re-freeze ice packs every night as each kitchenette included a fridge freezer.

There are shops selling food in the camps but they are quite basic so don’t rely on them to stock up too much. They did have quite a lot of wine and beer choice though! We bought bread, rusks, frozen yoghurt, milk and other bits and pieces in the rest-camp shops and also restocked on the one occasion we left the park to try and get our car fixed (a long story!).

DSC_1100

Cheeky monkey at a picnic stop

Most days start early so we made sure we had coffee, hot chocolate, flasks, rusks etc so could stop for a coffee break after an hour or two at one of the picnic or get-out stops. Many South Africans have a full-on cooked breakfast mid-morning but as nice as it looked, it also seemed like quite a faff. Sitting with a cup of coffee or picnic lunch watching elephants washing in a river below was certainly worth doing though!

Getting around

Of course if you are doing a self-drive safari, you need something to drive around in. We drove our seven-seater car up from Pretoria as my parents were staying so we needed the space. If you are coming from overseas, you will need to hire a car. The roads in Kruger are excellent, all either tar or relatively smooth gravel (with some corrugated parts). You won’t need a four wheel drive but I would get the most comfortable car you can afford – you will be spending a lot of time in it!

Many people fly into Johannesburg and hire a car from the airport. If you do this, be aware that it is a long drive to Kruger so you might want to plan to stay a night in Joburg before you leave for the park or along the way. There are lots of places on the road to stop to eat, stock up with food and fill your car with petrol. There are also petrol stations at some of the larger rest camps.

Another choice is to fly to one of the airports near Kruger, from which you can pick up a hire car. This cuts out a lot of travelling if you are only in South Africa for a short time, but of course adds cost for the extra flight.

DSC_1189

You won’t need a big car to see the big animals….

We did come across one breakdown in the park, plus heard stories of a few more, so make sure you know what to do if you did get car trouble. There is a mechanic based in the park (at Lataba) who will come to you if necessary. We know this because the airconditioning in our car stopped working halfway through the holiday. We did try and get it fixed but in the end we just went with the open-window option. It probably made for a better experience as we really were up close with the sounds, sights and even smells of the bush! But make sure you have some way of communicating and keep the numbers of the camps and parks with you at all times, particularly as you get closer to dark.

Also make sure you get a good map and/or route book. We used this one that I bought in Pretoria before we left for Kruger – it details every single road in the park, with information about what you can see and a star rating to give you help in planning your route. There are smaller and cheaper versions available to buy in the park itself.

You can also book game drives and walks (although the walks are generally only for children aged over 12) from the camps at very reasonable prices. The evening and night drives in particular can be a great way to see the park after dark as the camp gates close to the public after sunset.

DSC_1292

The sun sets on 2015

What will you see?

This I can’t tell you because this is the beauty of the self-drive safari. You just never know what is round every corner – it could be an empty road, or it could be a road full of baboons or zebras!

DSC_1056

You will almost certainly see plenty of these:

DSC_0934

But hopefully you will also see some of these

DSC_0961

As well as the above, plus another two excellent leopard sightings, we also saw plenty of lions – including two who just trotted out of the bush ahead of us and disappeared up the road with us following slowly behind; two serval; lots of hyena, countless hippos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, elephants, impalas, steenbok, kudu, waterbuck, crocodiles, monkeys, baboons, mongoose……it really was non-stop wildlife.

My parents, who came with us, are big bird fans and managed to clock up around 120 different types of birds during the week. Even though the rest of us aren’t so keen, there were some birds that we all agreed were interesting enough to stop for:

DSC_1183

Ground hornbills – sort of half turkey, half crows….with red faces….

And what about the kids?

Of course, all parents know that when they plan a holiday they have to make sure the children will be happy – or everyone will be miserable! A self-drive holiday like this can be difficult with small kids: generally you will be in the car for hours at a time; you can only get out at designated spots so no unscheduled toilet breaks; and there isn’t an awful lot to do at the camps in between drives. Here are my tips for taking kids on a self-drive safari with you:

  • Don’t take your children at all unless you know they are ready for it. I don’t want to give an age as every child is different, but I wouldn’t have taken our just-turned eight year old before this year.
  • Book camps with pools, especially in the summer. We found a dip in the pool after a game drive was a fantastic way to cool off and also for the kids to let off steam. Some of the pools were less busy, and nicer, than others – our personal favourite was the one at Oliphants as it wasn’t too crazy. Satara, on the other hand, was bursting with people. We were there at the busiest time though.
  • Have lots of pens, paper, books, tablets etc in the car to keep your children amused when pickings are sparse outside the window.
  • Don’t forget snacks, especially for the early morning drives. We found the behavour of our youngest improved dramatically once we had given her something to eat in the morning. Always keep lots of water in the car too. We took hot chocolate to make for them at the morning stops when the adults had coffee.
  • Invest in some child-friendly binoculars and possibly a camera for them before the trip. Make sure they have got the photo they need before moving on – we learned from our mistakes that to do otherwise could lead to tantrums! There are bird and animal-spotting guides for children available in the shops at the rest camps, as well as lots of books, some games etc.
  • Remember that malaria can be an issue in this part of South Africa. There are generally more mosquitos in the summer when it usually rains more (although not this year, when we are in the middle of a pretty devastating drought – which did at least keep mozzies to a minimum). Some people chose not to take any prophylactics at all and just use spray and cover up as much as possible. We decided to use the pills, but certainly speak to a health professional about it before you chose what to do.
  • Be flexible!!  I know this is such a cliche but this should be the case for every holiday with children and in particular something like this. You may want to get up at the crack of dawn every day to get the best chance to see animals; but it might not work out if your kids won’t get out of bed. You could take it in turns to stay behind with the children if there are enough of you. If the children are getting grouchy in the car, try and find a place to get out for a stop and let them move around a bit. If this doesn’t help, consider calling it a day.
  • If things do go a bit pear-shaped, remember that you are still having an experience that you will almost certainly all look back on fondly. Your kids will be gaining so much from being in a place like Kruger and observing the animals in their natural habitat that you can forgive the odd difficult moment knowing that the overall benefit to all will be immense. Kruger is a very special place and any child who gets to go there is very lucky indeed 🙂

DSC_1317

Enjoy the small things

Finally, I wanted to mention something that I think is so important to your overall enjoyment of a self-drive safari, which is not only to look out for the “big stuff” (the predators, the Big 5, the rhinos etc) but also to enjoy the small moments. Some of our favourite memories from our holiday included watching a newborn wildebeest calf wobble to its feet as the vultures and jackals circled, then trot off after its mother leaving disappointed scavengers in its wake; a water hole surrounded by frustrated zebra desperate for a drink but unable to get close to the water thanks to the group of hyenas who had taken up residence in the pool; and a group of monkeys including tiny babies bouncing all over Satara rest camp early one morning like a group of rowdy pre-teens, the older ones jumping up and down the trees and rough-and-tumbling with each other, the youngsters mimicking their elder siblings from a much safer height…..

DSC_1344

Baby monkeys learning to play

All in all, it was a magical holiday. Not only did we see a fantastic variety of wildlife as well as plenty of beautiful scenery, we also spent some really quality family time together away from all distractions like phones and computers (there is wifi and signals at the camps but I decided just to turn my phone off for the duration!). It was a real escape, a perfect opportunity to recharge our batteries and the best possible start to our first full year in South Africa.

I have already started planning our next trip there!

Have you been to Kruger, or on a self-drive safari? Do you have any tips to add? If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask me 🙂

TravelathomeTingNewBlueAnimal Tales Badge Final

The perfect safari?

When we came to South Africa we knew we would see animals. Probably quite a lot of them. And so far we haven’t been proved wrong. It has been an animal smorgsboard from day one.

baby ellie

This baby elephant was just a few days old. I wasn’t allowed to take it home

But I don’t think I believed we would ever have such a great time as we did in Madikwe recently – a fantastic, malaria-free (this is important because the most-famous park, Kruger, isn’t), “Big 5” game reserve just four hours drive from Pretoria.

Madikwe is a well-managed park: to “safari” there you need to be staying at one of the lodges, and the guides all coordinate so there is never more than two vehicles at a siting at once. Sometimes they keep it to just one. This certanly gives the reserve an air of “exclusivity,” although I can’t pretend you don’t pay for this privilege.

Anyway with  30 lodges to chose from, it wasn’t going to be easy to decide where we would spend our three nights in the park. But luckily only a few are regarded as “child-friendly”, with several not accepting children at all. Plus, we had heard wonderful things about the Bush House – and in particular it’s underground hide, which allowed you to get within spitting distance of the elephants. So close in fact that often all you could see were their feet!

We stayed for three nights in Madikwe, and went on six game drives in that time (three in the morning, three in the afternoon). Each drive lasted more than three hours so in total we spend more than 18 hours sitting on our bums in an off-road vehicle. But it never felt that long – there was so much to see that the time always passed quickly, plus the stops for Amarula-filled coffee in the morning and sundowners in the evening helped!

morning coffee

Amarula with your coffee? I won’t say no!

We were woken every morning at 5am by a tap on the door from our trusty guide Greg. Now usually it’s impossible to get our younger daughter out of bed at 6am to go to school – but here she was up and dressed in no time each day: although the drives were long (and she ended up taking a book to occupy herself during the quieter moments!), she was excited as the rest of us to see what that morning would hold!

baby zebra

Baby zebra foal – probably just a few hours old.

Each morning’s game drive followed a similar pattern – we would usually try and follow up on one or two leads that Greg had already established from communicating with other guides, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Once we had a good “sighting” under our belts, he would take us on a drive somewhere different each day – before stopping for coffee with the much-welcomed Amarula addition. We were incredibly lucky and saw some fantastic animals during our three days – like this leopard:

leopard

This guy was found because of his rather ostentatious dinner hanging in a nearby tree – leopards are well known for dragging carcasses up trees and leaving them there for when they feel like a bite to eat later. Nevertheless, we would never have spotted him hiding in a nearby bush, their camouflage is fantastic. It is at times like these that you really appreciate the skills of your highly-trained guides.

We also found a number of lions during our stay – two brothers who seemed to “rule the roost” one evening, a group of ladies another and finally another small pride complete with cubs on a third outing! It really did feel like quite a privilege.

lion

As well as the “big” sightings, we also enjoyed seeing some of the smaller animals in the park – like a rather large scorpion spotted by my husband, a weedy little snake seen by me, a leopard tortoise viewed by us all and this pair of dung beetles rolling their dung (the male apparently doing all the work!) first sighted very proudly by my youngest daughter:

dungg beetles

We saw so much it is hard to choose which pictures to share, but there were two sightings that probably stood out (as well as the leopard). The first was our amazing encounter with the park’s only pack of wild dogs (70% of the reserve’s dogs were sadly wiped out last year by rabies).

Greg had heard there were dogs in the area so we headed in the direction they had been briefly seen and patrolled slowly up and down the track by the bush, looking and listening for signs that we were in the right place. Suddenly – a howl! Greg and another guide made a little foray into the bush (we all stayed sensibly on the truck) and found exactly where they were! The pack had just killed a kudu and were in the process of chowing down. Apparently this is a quick process and they would be gone within ten minutes. So, beating back the thorn bushes as best we could, the vehicle drove into the bush and within metres of the dogs. Thanks to the great way the park is manged, they show no fear at all of the trucks – allowing us to get some brilliant photos (which would have been even better had our longer lens not decided to jam the day we arrived in Madikwe!)

wild dog with ear

Wild dog pup proudly shows off his kudu ear!

We observed the wild dogs for about five minutes before moving off and allowing another brave truck to make the thorny-route into the clearing where they were polishing off the remains of their dinner. A truely magical experience!

The other sighting which will remain with me was of a caracal. A caracal is a lynx-like wild cat which is apparently rarely seen. As we came across it quite by chance, this spot really did feel very special:

caracal

We were able to sit quietly and watch this beautiful cat as it made its way round in circles, marking its territory, completely nochalent about the car full of humans sitting and watching him go about his business!

So all good things must come to an end and we finally reached our last night at the Bush House. We had had some great game sightings but, due to the fact that it had recently, rained the lodge’s waterhole was quieter than usual (the game finding their water in other places). However, the last night came good and we had a parade of animals – elephants, rhino and a huge herd of buffalo – making their way down to the hole. It was truely a magnificant way to end an amazing holiday!

buffaloes at night

If you are visiting South Africa I can thoroughly recommend the Bush House (even families with younger children can be accommodated – a Dutch family staying at the lodge with us had organised private game drives with their three-year-old). We will be going on a self-drive tour to Kruger later this year, malaria tablets and all. I am sure it will be a totally different experience, not least of all trying to work out how to feed us all for six days! But if it is ease and relaxation you are after then look no futher than Madikwe.

 

Mr Weaver fails to attract a mate….

One of our favourite garden activities here in Pretoria is watching our resident weaver bird build a nest, in a desperate attempt to attract a mate. Basically, the male weaver skillfully creates an incredibly intricate round ball of a nest, stripping the tree of its leaves at the same time, and then madly displays (hanging upside down and shrieking) everytime the female he has his eye on comes anywhere close. This whole episode took place in our garden over the course of a weekend – the lady bird did come and have a look, even entering the nest at one point. But sadly she obviously wasn’t impressed because the next day, Mr Weaver totally destroyed his own masterpiece, leaving it in shreds on the floor (and in our pool, which is directly below his chosen tree).

He had another go a couple of weeks later, but was very half-hearted and didn’t even bother to finish it this time. The pair now seem to have disappeared altogether so either he’s given up completely or – which is what I hope has happened – he has built another nest in a more desirable area and they have happily settled down to have baby Weavers together. Here is a photo montage of the action:

Well, you can’t say he hasn’t tried at least!

Update: Since I originally wrote this post, Mr Weaver has made (and destroyed) about four more nests. Mrs Weaver is still around and has occasionally shown real interest im his latest creation. But it appears her standards remain too high as he is in the middle, once more, of tearing apart a nest that we thought looked pretty complete!

Animal Tales Badge Final

 

The Cape Town posts #4: The final one

So finally I have reached the end of my Cape Town photos! I had so many I didn’t want to jam them all in to one post. Or two, or even three…. But this is the last one, I promise you! And in good time too as it won’t be long before we’re off again on another adventure….

Today’s post will be a bit of a mish-mash – just those leftover pictures that I couldn’t fit in anywhere else, but that help tell the story of our trip. Like this one for example:

DSC_0405

This picture was taken in Camps Bay, a magificent stretch of beach, backed by the glorious mountains and lapped by the clearest blue icy sea. It was a gorgeous place and the children paddled, ran, climbed, and rock-pooled with glee while I snapped this picture of a cute mummy goose and her goslings. I just thought it was funny that the geese were swimming in salt water. Is that normal? I don’t think so!

And just to prove how beautiful Camps Bay was, here are three more pictures from the beach:

DSC_0406

Another place we enjoyed visiting was Hout Bay, a fishing town round the corner somewhere from central Cape Town (I never did really get my bearings while we were there). We had been told that the best fish and chip shop in South Africa was in Hout Bay – a rough-and-ready place called Snoekies, where you imagined the fish was bought straight in off the boats. The fish certainly was good – as were the chips. But sorry, it still wasn’t as good as our fish and chip shops back home. And what is it with the ketchup here – next time, I’m bringing my own bottle of Heinz!

Close to Snoekies we had a walk along the pier, where my youngest daughter was absolutely delighted to be able to feed this seal by hand:

DSC_0430

We saw a lot of seals while we were in Cape Town and Hermanus, but this one was certainly the friendliest. I think the seagull in the photo is hoping for a bit of the action as well 🙂

As well as feeding the seals, we also watched the fishing boats being unloaded. It was great to see a genuine, working fishing trade still in full-action – and although obviously knackered from what was probably either a very early start or a long day at sea, all the fishermen and women working on the pier was as happy and cheery as could be:

DSC_0426

DSC_0425DSC_0415

While I live here in South Africa, I am always on tbe look out for fun things to photograph, including signs to make you smile. Here are a couple I took on this trip:

And finally, just because you can never have too many penguins:

DSC_0485To read my other Cape Town posts please go to Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens, Penguins and Whales, and Table Mountain.

TingNewBlue

The Cape Town posts #3: Table Mountain

It’s iconic. You have to do it. And so we did – the first morning we arrived in Cape Town we were up early and straight up that mountain. The one that we had first glanced from the plane as we flew in from Johannesburg the afternoon before:

DSCF4022

We had also got some great shots of the mountain from the V&A Waterfront on our first evening in town – the area stuffed full of restaurants and shops which attracts huge crowds and which was hosting a big-screen showing of the Wales vs South Africa match that evening. I think we were the only Wales supporters in the vicinity…

DSCF4030

We had no idea what to expect in terms of queues etc when we arrived at the bottom of the mountain on a sunny Sunday morning, about half an hour before the cable car that takes you to the top was due to open. There are other ways to get up there – namely, walking. And had our children been a little older and a little less moany this is something I would have loved to have attempted. But given we were dealing with a pair of seven-year-old legs and a ten-year-old who will run around a football pitch for hours on end but whinges on a ten minute stroll to the shops, we decided the electric version was the only way up.

DSC_0200

So after a relatively short wait in the line along with a motley collection of tourists from around the world (it feels strange being amongst tourists – this isn’t something that really happens in Pretoria), we bought our tickets and got into the round car. These cars are huge – I think each carries 65 people, so although it seemed like there were a long queue, it went down pretty fast. The other thing about the car that I hadn’t realised is that they rotated – at least, the floor rotated but the windows stayed still. Like one of those 1970’s revolving restaurants that were all the rave for a while. Anyway it was great fun and made sure you got to see every view possible without having to move from your spot.

When we reached the top we headed straight for the cafe as we hadn’t yet had any breakfast. However, it was hard not to get distracted by the views:

DSC_0216

DSC_0206

DSC_0219

Breakfast wasn’t a great success – they had some sort of buffet system where you paid by weight. But quite honestly it took such a long time to go through the process, the food was cold when we eventually sat down to eat. Cold scrambled eggs – not a good thing. We should have just ordered a coffee as there was no arguing with the fact that this must be one of the best breakfast views in the world!

Once we had eaten as much as we could face, we had a stroll around the area closest to the cable car. There were plenty of short walks you could do, as well as longer ones, and we made sure we saw the view over the city from every angle.

DSC_0231

There is also a fair amount of wildlife at the top of the mountain. As well as the fat dassies sunning themselves on rocks which I have already mentioned in a previous Cape Town post, we snapped pictures of some of these handsome fellas:

DSC_0243

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the views and made our way down the mountain – probably not a bad idea as the top was starting to get a little over-crowded with Japanese and other tour groups….

Near Table Mountain is another stunning viewpoint called Signal Hill. So called because they used to signal weather warnings to ships from its pointy top (and where they now fire the famous noonday gun from), it is also now known for the paragliders that launch from it’s heady heights. Paragliding is a bit of a “thing” in our family as it is my husband’s passion. He hadn’t brought his “wing” with him due to baggage restrictions on the flight down so could only watch enviously as glider after glider took off in front of us:

DSC_0378

But Signal Hil wasn’t just about paragliding and stunning views – the foliage at the top was pretty spectacular too. This really is the most photogenic country!

DSC_0397

DSC_0389

And yet time and time again we just kept coming back to the views. After all, you really just can’t argue with scenery like this:

DSC_0380

You can read my other Cape Town posts here (Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens) and here (Penguins and Whales)

TingNewBlue

The Cape Town posts#2 – Penguins, whales and other creatures

Following a trip to Cape Town and Hermanus a week or so ago, I decided we had seen and done too much to concertina everything into one blog post. Hence the birth of a new short series – the Cape Town posts. Post #1 featured our visit to Kirtenbosch botanical gardens, where we picnicked with the long-lost rellies. Here is post #2 – a little more exciting, a little more smelly and hopefully a little more cute.

********************

When we first told the children we were moving here to South Africa – something you can read about in this post – one of the promises we lured them with was the opportunity to see penguins in the wild. And that we would go whale-watching. So one of the first trips we booked was to Cape Town in October – where we would be able to tick both of these items of our “to-do” list within a couple of days of each other.

After the visit to Kirstenbosch (which you can read about in the first of my Cape Town posts), we drove over to the other side of the peninsula and down to the penguin colony at Simonstown. On the way we stopped to look at a beautiful panorama over one of the many pristine beaches in that region – marred only slightly by the fact that a shark-watcher was perched up on her seat by the road looking out for any ominous shapes in the waters below….

We reached the famous Boulders Beach where penguins live side-by-side with their human neighbours, apparently completely unafraid and therefore probably as tame as you will find any wild animals to be. The children were straight in there, getting right up close and personal with the cute little black-and-white fellows – although making sure not to get too close as there were plenty of warnings that the birds do bite!

Conversation with a penguin....

Conversation with a penguin….

Is this the right beach? Where are we? Who brought the deckchairs?

Is this the right beach? Where are we? Who brought the deckchairs?

Walk like a penguin....

Walk like a penguin….

We visited another penguin colony a couple of days later in Betty’s Bay on the way to Hermanus – they really are the most engaging creatures and I don’t think you can ever have too many penguins! However, as well as penguins one of the other cute creatures you come across a lot here are locally called Dassies (pronounced Dussies) – also known as rock hyraxes. These fat and furry guinea-pig like creatures are found wherever there is a warm rock to sun themselves on, although weirdly their closest living relative is apparently the elephant! Anyway we found them all over the place – Table Mountain, rocks by the beach, next to the penguin colony….

Afternoon nap....

Afternoon nap….

We eventually left the penguins behind and made our way to the second stop of our short Cape stay: Hermanus, a town on the coast which seems to have based its entire economy on the excitement of whale watching. One of the reasons this is such a popular thing to do down there is because at this time of the year you can almost always see whales from the coastal pathway without the need to go out on a boat trip. The waters off the coast of South Africa are a popular mating spot for the whales – the mums then hang around for a couple of months until their calves are old enough to make the trip back to Antartica. Thus many of the whales you see around there are the mothers and babies.

However, although we did see passing whales from the clifftop in the town we decided we would like to get a little closer and so booked a trip on one of the boats that ply their trade out of Hermanus every day. And we are very glad we did – as you can see from these pictures we were certainly able to get pretty close to these magnificent creatures:

Close....

Close….

Closer....

Closer….

Closest!

Closest!

We did see whales breaching (jumping right out of the water) but it was a little further away and you try taking photos of a whale jumping – most of the results tend to be of a big splash or a few bubbles! Anyway we were more than happy with our encounter – in fact I would say the whole experience was quite breathtaking and more than exceeded our expectations. I don’t think our daughters thought for a moment we would get this close – it is another of those experiences (along with very close meetings with elephants and rhinos) they are unlikley to forget in a hurry.

We really enjoyed Hermanus – Cape Town is gorgeous and has lots to do, but Hermanus felt less rushed. It was nice to be able to walk around, even at night, without worrying too much and not to have to sleep behind bars. We were also lucky to have an unexpected visit from another long-lost relative – another 2nd cousin of mine who dropped in on his way home to Mossel Bay from Cape Town and ended up staying the night so he could enjoy a glass or two of wine!

Talking of wine that whole area is well known for its wine-growing and we passed winery after winery as we drive around the region. Sadly we didn’t have time to go on any wine tours but this leaves us with an excellent reason to go back!

But one last creature to delight us during our stay was this magnificent owl we found perched in a tree outside our guest house. It may be a common bird in that area, I am not sure – but it was certainly eye-catching!

Twit....

Twit….

show your world     

Animal Tales Badge Final