Category Archives: South Africa

What to Do in Cape Town, South Africa – Part 1

There is so much to see and do in the Cape Town area that I am not sure where to begin.  If you do come to South Africa to go on safari, you should definitely go to Cape Town  I am so thankful we had the opportunity to explore this unique area.

The Cape began as an outpost  by the Dutch East Indies Company for their ships and sailors to stop on their way to the Indies so they could get fresh water,  supplies, fruit (to combat scurvy) and the sick could be treated.   Reports were made to the Company that the land was fertile for farming.  What began as the outcrop then turned into a land for agriculture.  Slaves were imported and Huguenot exiles from France came to the area.  The French, who were known for wine making even back in this time, went over the mountains and began planting grapes for wine but more on that later.

Some people will say that you do not need a car to explore Cape Town and the  Cape Point area.  You might not need one but it sure does come in handy and I wouldn’t think of exploring without one.

During the weekends, particularly in the morning head over to the Old Biscuit Mill.    As you approach the area, you’ll see men holding areas along the street for drivers to park their cars.  If you park there, and I do recommend it, you will need to tip them.  They watch over your car, you have a convenient spot to park and they get to earn a little money.  It really saves time from driving around trying to find parking and then walking long distances.

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The Old Biscuit Mill is a foodie as well as an arts and crafts lovers site.  I could have spent hours there.  All different types of crafts including custom made tables, clothing, leather goods, etc.  You browse in this open air market while listening to live music.  There are also shops surrounding the open air part and one of the best shops, in my opinion, is the chocolate shop where you can sample many fine delicious treats.

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If you are hungry afterwards, and I hope you are, head over to the building where food vendors are located.  Part of the front of the building has as farmers market like feel but the second part, behind the first is where foodies will love to congregate.  There were four of us and our collective challenge was to buy something you have never tasted before and bring it back to the picnic bench style tables to share.  Here are a few pictures that I hope make you hungry:

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There are also a a few restaurant in the area and the most notable is The Test Kitchen.  I had read about them in the Washington Post and was excited when I saw them at the Old Biscuit Mill.  Unfortunately we did not have reservation s but I was excited to be there.  They were voted the Best Restaurant in Africa!

More about Cape Town to come!

 

Boulders Beach, outside of Cape Town, South Africa

There are so many beautiful beaches in the Cape Town – some are known for their surfing and surfing lessons, others for their ambiance.  Boulders Beach is known for its thriving colony of African Penguins.  They are also called jack ass penguins because they have a donkey like braying call.  Perhaps I’m on a penguin quest but after seeing penguins in New Zealand last year, I felt that I needed to see the African penguin.

The drive to Boulders Beach is spectacular.  You’ll find this beach is nestled in a sheltered cove between Simon’s Town and Cape Point.  You have to stop in both of these areas.

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This colony of penguins began in 1982 and began nesting at Boulders Beach.  From that pair in 1982, there are now about 2,000 penguins.  There are two area in which you can see the penguins outside of Simons Town.  Boulders Beach and Foxy Beach are the places that visitors and locals go to see the penguins.  We were told to go to Boulders Beach where the penguin interaction is really quite incredible. There is a specific secluded area of the beach that we were told to go to.  Essentially you can be the only person with like a dozen penguins just like huddled around you looking at you from 4 feet away. It’s no zoo it’s just a beach with penguins. It’s really pretty amazing. The secluded areas are a lot more accessible for low tide which is something to consider if you do this.  What you do is to go past the signs for Penguins and take the next left turn where there is a sign for Boulders Beach.  You park your car and then walk to the admission booth.  After you pay your money you have a choice – either follow the sign for the beach or follow the sign for the boardwalk to the penguin viewing area.  If you follow the sign to the boardwalk, bring your receipt showing that you paid.  Blogger Hubby and our son, his wife and baby went toward the beach. Now these are huge granite boulders that you can crawl through, squeeze through and just continue walking back to the direction of Simons Town (to the left of the beach).

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You will end up on a beach where you may find (or not) penguins walking around.  Remember these are wild animals and I would not get closer than 4 feet.  You may have an opportunity to be on the beach alone with the penguins.  I will say when our family went, they only saw a handful on penguins.

I, on the other hand, decided not to crawl through the boulders and to stay on the boardwalk.  If you look closely as you are walking to the viewing area you’ll see penguins as well as large plastic jugs laying on their sides which are  nesting boxes.  I came to an area where I had to show my receipt that I paid at the other admission booth and was allowed in.  I went to the viewing are and there, on this sandy beach, were many penguins.  They were walking on the sand, walking toward the water, jumping in and swimming.  I couldn’t believe how many penguins were there.

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If you don’t want to have the option of the beach or the boardwalk and know that you want just the boardwalk, then turn off the road where you see the signs for the penguins, which is Foxy Beach.

Hope you enjoy some of our pictures from Boulders Beach and the African penguins.

Photo Essay of Kruger National Park

I hope you enjoy these photos that I took during our recent safari in Kruger National Park:

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Warthog greeted us at the Paul Kruger Gate

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Lions on the road made us wonder if we would get to Satara Rest Camp before the gate closed (we did).

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We learned the difference between white rhinos and black rhinos – these are white rhinos

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Magnificent elephants in their natural surroundings.

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This male kudu has such unique markings on his face – almost like war paint.  Love the length of his horns as well.

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An endangered Saddle Billed Stork – it stood about 5 feet tall!

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What a cute little monkey

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A pride of lions took down this Cape Buffalo and was able to finish him off in about 5 hours.  Hyenas ate the bones.

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If you can notice, the white stripes held a brown stripe in this species of zebras.

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Profile of three lions

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This is how close we were to so many animals – loved seeing the many giraffes.

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We saw many beautiful birds – particularly this one – the lilac breasted roller

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Caught this elephant mid stream.  Looks like he is balancing a ball.

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Such a stately and beautiful animal.

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We saw several bones around the Kruger as well.

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Very, very early in the morning at Camp Shawu

Club Carlson’s Park Inn Hotel, Cape Town Foreshores, South Africa

After our safari in Kruger we flew from Nelspruit to Cape Town.  Nothing special about the flight.  We landed, collected our luggage, picked up our rental car and was off to find the Park Inn,  Cape Town Foreshores where we booked two rooms with our points.  Blogger Hubby booked one room and I booked the other – a suite which I paid $30 USD for the upgrade.  This was perfect since we had a baby who slept in the living room portion of the suite.  We did ask for a crib for the baby and we received a really nice Pack ‘n Play with a crib size down comforter in a duvet for the baby to sleep on and a baby size pillow.

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The hotel as in a great location close to Long Street known for its shopping.  We were close to all the highways that we needed so it never took us far to get anywhere.  The hotel had a very modern feel to it with an inside atrium on all the floors.  The rooms were very nicely appointed.  Since we were gold elite with Club Carlson by virtue of us having the Club Carlson credit card, each room received a bottle of South African wine and a plate of dried apricots, nuts and jelly beans.  Our room, the non-suite, even had a balcony with chairs so we could sit outside, drinking our wine and watch the clouds over Table Mountain. Did you know that when the clouds descend and settle on he top of Table Mountain it is called a “tablecloth”?  Needless to say,  we were really happy in our room.

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The hotel does urge you not to go out at night and walk around.  There is a hotel shuttle that will take you and pick you up though we found that it took a while and we ended up paying $3 for a cab to bring us back from dinner.

A recurrent theme that we were finding is that hotels do not seem to offer you drawers to put your clothes in.  We each had one smallish drawer.  You can see it sticking out from behind Blogger Hubby in the last picture.  It is floating against the wall.  Next to him in the floor cabinet is the refrigerator which holds the bottles of water that the hotel gives everyone gratis every day – much appreciated.

The hotel had a really interesting Rooftop Terrace bar with the swimming pool up there and at times at DJ.  Not sure I would want to go swimming with all the drinkers around but it sure was pretty with all the colorful lights and again the view of Table Mountain.

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They offer a wonderful breakfast though double check to see if it is included with your room.  I did ask at check-in time and they told us it was but after the first morning we found out that only one room (the Business Class room on points) had the free breakfast and not the suite that we paid points and cash for.  Nevertheless we ate there every morning.  Since I had questioned it and they couldn’t tell me why one room had it and the other, they took the charge off the bill.   Parking is available at $5 USD per day but it is not for the faint of heart.  You enter from a small parking area and go straight up quickly.  The you turn oh so carefully and go up again.  Your space has your name on it so no one else can park there which is nice and you don’t have to go looking for a space.

The best part about having a Club Carlson credit card (and I am not paid in anyway to say this, just my honest opinion) is that when you use points to book a room, your last night is free.  You do have to spend two nights in order to get this benefit.  We saved over $200 USD, received wine and goodies in each room and have free internet.  We were delighted with our accommodations and would recommend it to anyone.

What a Trip we Had – Guided Kruger Safari at Camp Shawu, Part 7

Now that we had done our self drive through Kruger, we were going to try another type of safari – a guided safari.  This is the type that you see in the  magazines and movies.  For those who might go on one, your total cost generally involves picking you up and returning you to the airport. Since we were already in the Kruger, we asked that they pick us up at the Lower Sabie Camp.  Because of that change we were able to save a little money.  Also factored into the cost is the conservation fee which I spoke about in an earlier blog – all guests into Kruger must pay the conservation fee.

Blogger Hubby is the one who did the research and made the decision on which safari we were going to go on.  Some of them were really expensive – about $1000 per person per day.  We did not want to pay that kind of money so the budget did come into play in deciding which safari we would choose.

After much research he chose Camp Shawu which is part of the Shishangeni Lodge.  Apparently there are several camps that are associated with this lodge.  This camp has a lease on land within the Kruger – they call it their concession.  They are limited to doing safaris on their land and no others can go on their land.  Their concession is located in the southeast corner of the park near the Crocodile Bridge Gate.

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After we were picked up in  a car at he Lower Sabie Camp we were taken to the Shishangeni Lodge where we checked in and waited for our 30 minute ride to Camp Shawu.  The reception area in the lodge looked really nice so I was very excited about what our camp would look like.

As we drove to our camp, I couldn’t help but notice all the burnt land within their concession.  We had seen this during our self drive but, in our opinion, not to the extent that we saw in this concession.  It was interesting to see the paths that the animals had made.

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When we arrived at our camp and I was surprised at how small it was.  There were 5 cottages for guests – I didn’t expect something this small but others came here for that exact reason.  The reception area was nice but small – again if you have max only ten guests you so not need to have have too much.  On the verandah, there was a small splash pool – about 6 x 8.

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We were walked to our cottage and though it was very nice.  It had the typical bed with the mosquito netting around it; a stand alone claw foot tub in the corner of the large room.  The dark wood floor offset by the white tub and fluffy towels made a nice statement.  In one corner of the large room was a toilet separated by a reed screen from the rest of the room.  The sink was on the other side.  There were also two leather chairs in the middle of the room.  The shower was outdoors and not in sight of anyone else. The front of the room overlooked a large watering hole which is the draw for this camp.  A screen was across the front opening as their are no windows.  The screen is held to the inside of the room with velcro. At night they roll down a heavy vinyl shade and that zips to open but also is velcroed to the inside of the opening to get outside to your verandah.

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We quickly changed and went to the reception room for afternoon tea.  I was a little disappointed in what they consider afternoon tea.  We had tea and coffee with pizza as the snack.  In my mind, afternoon tea was with scones, little sandwiches and little treats – not pizza.  After we finished we went outside and got into our safari jeep – a vehicle that held the ten guests and our ranger.  We had a soft roof to it and there were rolled up sides if it was raining or foul weather.  Luckily the sides never came down.  The was a seat outside the front of the jeep for what I would imagine be a ranger with a gun but it was never occupied.  The ranger/driver we had said he knew the behavior of the animals and had no need of a rifle.

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We didn’t see much on this first safari except near the end there was a report on the radio of a cheetah.  We went racing across the land to meet about 6 other jeeps to look at the cheetah.  When he got up to move, all the trucks followed.  This went on for about 15 -20 minutes and it got to a point where I didn’t care for it.  I really felt like we were stalking the cheetah.  I had seen him, I had taken photos of him – I didn’t need to feel like I was bothering him.  Another thing that our driver/ranger did was to get us between a mama rhino and her baby with the papa rhino.  We also got a little too close for my comfort.  Once again, when they moved, we followed.  I just felt like we were harassing the animals.  Just my personal opinion.

Toward the end of our safari we stopped and got out of the vehicle for “sundowners”.  The driver/ranger brought out wine and beer and a few little treats – dried mangos, nuts and biscuits (Cookies).  The last 20 minutes back to the camp was in the dark.  The driver/ranger had a spot light that he held as he drove looking for some of the nocturnal animals like badger.  We never saw any animals.

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A very hearty dinner was a 7:00 in the reception area.  There were 5 table for two people.  Two choices were given to you and you selected one.  Our first night it was lamb chops or pork chops.  They were fine but what was outstanding was their butternut soup.  I felt a little nickled and dimed at dinner because if I wanted water, I had to pay for bottled water.  Their water is “safe” they say although it is brackish and they do not serve it.  For what we were paying, and it was about $450 per person, per day – they  should have filled our water glasses with bottled water if we requested it.  Beer and wine was extra as well.

This camp is on a generator and that can present some problem.  They turn the generator off at 11:00, which is fine but we were charging our cameras and since we only had one outlet that did present a problem.  The generator was also turned off at different times of the day.

Although our room looked really nice, it was not very functional for us.  We like to read a little before bed.  Although both sides of the bed had lamps, only one had enough light to read by.  The other one was useless.  No light in the corner where the toilet or the tub were.  A small light over the mirror by the sink but no outlet for Blogger Hubby to shave by.  There was a dual outlet between the two leather chairs and one of the outlets had a lamp plugged in; the other outlet didn’t work.  We had to unplug the lamp and have them get an extension cord to plug in our camera, kindle, iPhone, etc to use when we had electricity.  There was no drawers or bureau to unpack your clothes.  In the closet should have been drawers but they were broken and on top of the bureau.  There was also only luggage stand yet we had two pieces of luggage, mine and my husband.  There was no light whatsoever where the luggage was and that made it difficult getting things out of your suitcase or finding what you needed.

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Here is one of the drawers
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In the closet we had one bathrobe to share 😦    Maybe I am being spoiled but two would have been so much nicer.

More about our safari and the Camp tomorrow and yes, there were some very good parts of this aspect of our trip.

 

 

 

What a Trip we Had – Self Drive Kruger, cont’d, Part 6

What a Trip we Had – Layover in London, Part 1

What a Trip we Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip we Had – Touring Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip we Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip we Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

What a Trip we Had – Kruger Self Drive and Satara Rest Camp, Day 1 Part 6

Our morning routine was the same each day.  We got up and left our bungalow about 6:00 when the gate opened into the park from the rest camp.  We were able to view the beautiful African sun rising over the savannah – the skies were pink, the sun a bright yellow/orange color the most glorious of colors.  We could  see the animals as they would begin the early morning hunt. Breath taking!

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After we drove around on the roads, both paved and washboard, for a few hours, we would all meet at a rest area where we would cook our breakfast.  This quickly became my favorite part of the morning.  The rest areas were generally managed by men and sometimes their wives as well.

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You could rent a propane braai from the rest area manager  so you could cook your meal.  They rented for aobut 30 rand which is about $3 USD.  It looks like a wok on a metal pipe where the propane heats up the braai.  There was a certain order in which we cooked our food – we would first cook the bacon (South African bacon is the best), remove it and  then in the bacon fat you would saute the sliced onions, mushrooms and tomatoes.  These would then be removed to another dish/pan and it was time to cook the fried eggs in the bacon fat.  While the eggs were cooking sliced bread would be place near the top of the braai so they would toast.  Everything was cooked in one pan.

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Our experienced family members brought all the breakfast food, coffee, tea, marmalade, jam, and butter as well as plates, cups and silverware.  It was the best breakfast I had ever had.  The gentleman who managed the rest site would earn extra money by washing your dishes and his wife would watch your children while you ate.  We went to the overlook at the rest area while the manager washed our dishes for us to take with us.  At our first breakfast, the wife held and walked with our grandson while we ate.  It was a means for them to supplement their income.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it – it was so different than here in the States.  Perhaps with South Africa’s apartheid history it made me feel a little uncomfortable.  I didn’t want to take advantage of these people however, I changed my mind and saw that it helped them and there are not many opportunities to earn money, particularly in the Kruger.  This was a theme that I also saw in Soweto near Johannesburg of people trying to earn extra money doing menial work. Something to continue thinking about.

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We would return to our bungalow around noon-ish and inevitability we would all take a nap after a little snacking.  After all, we had been up early in the morning.  We would head out again around 3:00 in the afternoon till about 5:30.  We’d come in and get ready for dinner.  Every night we had a braai with South African sausages (and I have no idea of what they are filled with), lamb chops, steaks, and chicken kabobs.  We certainly ate well.  What I found out on this trip is that South Africans love their meat and their meat is very good.

We would get up early in the morning.  Now, don’t groan but we would be up and out of the bungalow by 6:00 AM.  It would be cool/cold then since we went during the tail end of their winter.  Sweaters on, long pants but not a need for more than that.  The best way to dress was in layers.  We would find ourselves later in the morning and in the afternoon wearing short sleeve shirts and shorts!

Within the park, there were eleven bird hides (we call them blinds) where you would walk into the structure and sit or lean against the slatted openings in the hide so you could observe the birds without them seeing you. You are encouraged to “be quiet” within the hide.  We were along a watering hole and there were many birds but also a crocodile.

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When you are driving through the park, not only are you looking for the animals but also looking to find other cars that are pulled over wondering what they are seeing. Many times if you ask someone, they’ll tell you but if you want to be sneaky and see something that you want to keep to yourself, then when a car is approaching quickly open up a map and pretend you are looking at it. When they see you looking at the map, they’ll keep on driving thinking you are lost.  Sneaky but effective.

Some days you would see lots of animals; other days, not as many.  You needed to scan the horizon, look close to the roads and finally look for colors or movement that were a little out of place.  My daughter-in-law was fantastic in spotting animals, telling us stories about the animals that she learned from her parents as well as naming all the animals and birds that we saw.

If you don’t have a spotter like we had, you can sign-up at the reception center in each camp to go on a tour with a ranger.  You can even go on a night safari with them.  These are great opportunities if you want a safari like the locals.

I really enjoyed the local way and to be honest it was so much less expensive than going on a guided tour.  Of course with the guided tour, the rangers keep in communication with each other on their radio and will drive you over when something is spotted by another ranger.  Of course, I’ll talk about it when I write about our guided safari. If you are going to do a safari the local way be aware that you need to book about one year in advance – really.  You can book directly with the South African National Park Service.  Click here for the link.  The bungalow prices are considerably less expensive and much more authentic.  It is safe as well.  Consider having this kind of trip into the Kruger.

 

What a Trip We Had – Kruger Self Drive and Satara Rest Camp – Day 1, Part 6

What a Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip We Had – What I Packed, Part 4

What a Trip We Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

We needed to be at our rest camp, Satara, before 6:00 PM when the gates close. We drove along the paved road leading to Satara seeing elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, herds of impala, kudu, zebra and so much more.  I couldn’t believe how well these animals were hidden; they just blended in including the elephants and giraffes.  Hard to believe but true.

Finally, we were about 5 km from our rest camp gate when we rounded the bend in the road and found a male lion walking along the road.  He looked a little ragged, like he had been in a fight.  A little further up were 8 lions just lying in the road.  Obviously we sat and waited…….and waited…….and waited.  One by one the lions would get up and walk a little but they were not leaving the road.  We enjoyed this but we knew that the gates would close at 6:00 and it was 5:30 at this time.  There is a penalty you have to pay if you arrive after the gates close.  We were getting a little anxious but the lions weren’t.  Traffic was stopped in both directions and everyone around us was getting worried about getting to the rest camp in time.  Finally one car decided to be brave and drive around the lions; we quickly but cautiously followed and made it to the camp on time with about 10 minutes to spare.

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We immediately went to the Reception Building where we checked in and were given the keys to our family cottage.  I’m not sure what my expectations were of the rest camp but they were exceeded.  In Satara, there are different camp sites.  You can be in the area of the rest camp where it is for tent camping, another section is for those with a trailer, or rent a one bedroom bungalow, two bedroom bungalow or a family lodge that sleeps about 16-18.  We were in a 2 bedroom family bungalow that had a kitchen livingroom/diningroom along with an outdoor dining area with braai (South African barbeque).  Each bedroom had their own bathroom which made it very convenient.  Maids would come in and tidy up your rooms, make your beds, and replenish your towels.

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I was very impressed with the rest camp.  We had the mini-market/gift shop, coffee shop, reception area, amphitheater that had movies or presentations in the evening, swimming pool, playground and so much more.  We were in Circle D and in the center was an open space where kids could play as many kids did while we were there.

We got settled into our bungalow putting things away, feeding the baby while our husbands began working on the braai – South African barbeque.  This was to happen every night.  South Africans love their meat and it is such great meat too.  We would have South African sausage (not sure what it was stuffed with), chicken kabobs, lamb chops, steaks and so much more on our patio – we never ate inside.  We certainly ate well.

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After dinner we  walked to the perimeter gate that encircled the rest area to see what was on the other side of the fence.  We had our flashlights with us and we were able see eyes glowing at night.  When we shined our flashlight, we found spotted hyenas staring at us.  I had to keep reminding myself that there was a fence between us and them.   We also took the opportunity to look up in the southern skies to see the constellations that we don’t see here in the northern hemisphere.  The Southern Cross was pointed out to us.  While we we looking up at the skied we heard the sound of owls.  Turned out they were Scops Owls – my first ever sighing of owls.   As we sat on our patio and talked about all that we had seen and done who comes strolling up but an African Wildcat.  It looks just like a domesticated cat but it isn’t.  They are somewhat rare so it was a great surprise to see one coming up toward our patio.

At 9:00, yes 9:00, we went off to bed to get ready for our first full day of going of safari.

What a Trip We Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

What A Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip we Had – Touring Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip we Had – What I Packed, Part 4

This was the part of the trip that I was anxiously waiting for – going to Kruger National Park!  The night before we flew to Kruger we went to our hotel near the Johannesburg Airport to meet our son Chris, his South African born wife Haley and their 7 month old son.  They were flying in from Washington DC and after a long, overnight flight we thought they would like us to take the baby for a little while so they have a little quiet time.  It was a joyous reunion at the Protea OR Tambo Hotel.  We had a  quick dinner at the hotel, we went back to our rooms to go to bed since we would be leaving the hotel at 6:15 AM.

We arrived at the airport in Nelspruitt, one of several airports that service the Kruger. We picked up our rental car, a combi (a three row van with large glass windows around) and headed off to Kruger via Hazy View and the Paul Kruger Gate entrance.  It’s a little less than 2 hours from the airport to the gate we used.

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At Hazy View, there was a small shopping center with a grocery store where we picked up last minute snacks for our time in Kruger.  Haley’s parents were going to be with us in Kruger and they had pre-ordered our meats from a butcher near another entry into the park.  It was all packaged and frozen for us – made our shopping that much easier.

Blogger Hubby and I were going to be having two different types of safaris.  With our family and extended family, we were going to do it the local way – we were going to be staying in a rest camp and then driving around the park by ourselves.  The other experience we would be having would be with a guided safari with Camp Shawu.  They have a private concession within Kruger National Park and that is the land that you travel on to view wildlife.

We entered Kruger National Gate through the Paul Kruger Gate.  There are numerous gates all around Kruger like there are with our national parks.  As we went into the building at the gate to get information, we saw our first animal – a warthog.  There are conservation fees accessed at this park.  If you are a day visitor you’ll pay the fee at the gate otherwise it is accessed with your reservation and you will pay when you check-in.  Make sure you get the paper showing that you paid it – you’ll need it when you leave the park.

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P1000966One thing that we picked up at the gate was a guide to the animals and birds in the Kruger.  We found that it was invaluable for identification as well as checking off the animals that we saw.  It also had maps of the Kruger and showed where all the rest camps were.

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My next posts will detail the self-drive safari, what we saw, what we did and our impressions of staying in a rest camp. After that I’ll write about the guided safari and my impressions of that and what I think was best for us in terms of experience and for our budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guesthouse – Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip We Had – Touring in Johannesburg, Part 3

As I mentioned in this post, our guest home owner Karen, made arrangements for me to do a Soweto Township Tour and to go to the Apartheid Museum.  After I was picked up, we also picked up a mom and her two children from the Netherlands and off we went to Soweto.  It was explained to me by the tour guide that the name Soweto stands for South West Township.

Around the turn of the century the area was originally developed to house black workers who labored in the gold mines that this area was known for.  The white population, at this time, lived in the center of Johannesburg.  About this time the roots of apartheid began to take root.  Later on in the 1950’s more blacks were relocated to the township from black area of Johannesburg.  The problems of Soweto have included poor housing, overcrowding, high unemployment and poor infrastructure. This has seen settlements of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets becoming part of the Soweto landscape.   The homes that we saw were, for the most part, concrete or brick homes sharing electricity from power lines.  I couldn’t believe how many extension cords there appeared to be and all I could think is how dangerous it was.  Within these communities people find creative ways to earn a little bit of money.  One man had a ripped and torn tarp wrapped around three poles and within this area he set up a barber shop.  I didn’t enjoy this tour as I felt like I was gawking at the residents – i know I wouldn’t want anyone coming into my neighborhood staring and seeing how we live.

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Leaving this area we went to where Nelson Mandela lived as well as Desmond Tutu.  This seemed to be more commercial with restaurants, entertainment and ATM machines abound.  Of course, you had the souvenir hawkers with tables of wares they were selling.

Nelson Mandela's home
Nelson Mandela’s home

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We also had 30 minutes in the Hector Pieterson Museum.  Hector was a young 13 year old boy who was killed when police opened fire upon protesting students.  One of the main objections that the students were protesting against was that they were to be taught in Afrikaans, regarded as the language of the oppressor.  Hector was shot and killed and although he was not the first student to be killed, he is immotalized because of a famous photograph of another student carrying Hector with Hector’s sister at his side.  While we were at the museum, his sister was working there and we got to meet her.   I didn’t think 30 minutes was enough time and if you go there on a tour, try to get a little more time at the museum.  While we were there a school group came so they too could learn about their past.  The day of the killing, June 16th, has become a holiday known as Youth Day in South Africa.

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I also visited the Apartheid Museum which is on the grounds of an amusement park and casino – seems like a strange choice but nevertheless, that is where it was located.  Half of the museum was dedicated to Nelson Mandela and his contemporaries and their struggle and story.  The other half was about apartheid through the years.  Entering the museum, you are given a ticket that indicates which door you are to enter through – it would be either white or non-white.  Mine was non-white.  As I entered I saw the identification papers that non-whites needed to carry with them.  I kept thinking back that perhaps our country wasn’t that different decades/century ago from where South Africa was a few decades ago. Like our country, there were whites/Europeans who were against apartheid.   It made me feel uncomfortable but I felt like it was something that I needed to experience.  Photography wasn’t allowed in the museum otherwise I would show you some pictures I took.  You need to take my words that this was a powerful museum.

Blogger Hubby did the HoHo bus (Hop on, Hop off) and after we compared notes I think he saw more than I did except for Soweto but he could have included it on his tour.  If I were to do it again, I would follow my husband’s plan.

What A Trip We Had – Uxolo Guesthouse, Johannesburg, Part 2

We arrived in Jo’burg a few days before our son and his family were scheduled to arrive.  I felt that it gave us “older people” a chance to acclimate to the time change and to see a little of Jo’burg.

Months prior I booked the Uxolo Guesthouse through AirBnB.  The guesthouse is located in a residential neighborhood north of the central city.  In my correspondence with Karen Morgan, the owner, she recommended Norman, a driver that her guests use, for transportation to get us from the airport to her home.  We contacted Norman and he agreed to pick us up at OR Tambo Airport and drive us to the Guesthouse for 350 Rand ($35 USD).  As he drove us to the Guesthouse he pointed out the sights and gave us some history about Jo’burg and South Africa.

We pulled up to the Guesthouse and Karen  came out to greet us.  We walked inside and I was excited about the choice I made for our lodging.  The decor was definitely South African.  The home felt very warm and just what we wanted.

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There was even a built in pool in the yard

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We had a large room with a small courtyard with a working water fountain off our room.  The down comforter duvet with the large overstuffed pillows was very inviting.  Our private bathroom had a shower stall which we prefer.  Most homes in South Africa do not have heat but there was an electric portable heater in our room if we needed it – which we didn’t.

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There were many sitting areas in this home that made it comfortable for us.  In addition, she had a pool table in a room overlooking the covered terrace where we would have breakfast every morning.  When it was very cool in the morning, the shades would come down.  Karen’s main rule is not eating in your room (she likes to keep it clean for future guests) so we would bring our snacks to the terrace area to consume.

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Karen went out of her way to be helpful and accommodating to us though in speaking with repeat guests, she does this all the time for all guests when she can.  While we were sitting on the terrace with Norman and Karen, she asked us our plans.  Norman made a suggestion for dinner that night which we followed with an appointed time that he would pick us up.  Karen also made arrangements for me to go on a Soweto Tour and that I would be picked up at the door the next morning by the tour company.  Blogger Hubby wanted to go into Jo’burg to do the HoHo bus tour (Hop On, Hop Off) and Karen drove him to the train station, about 15 minutes away,  to take the Gautrain into the city the next day.

The guesthouse is in a residential neighborhood.  The first thing you notice is walls/fences and security  around the homes with an armed response to a security alarm system.  Our guest home also had a male employee who sat inside the front door all evening long.  Now don’t let this scare you – we never saw any type of violence in South Africa in all the locations we were in but to deny that there is violence in this country would be a fallacy.

We were a five minute walk (and we felt safe) to a local mall that had two grocery stores inside, pharmacy, coffee shops with meals and clothing stores.  We could pick up items that we left at home.  One night we even bought our dinner there at the hot food salad bar section of the grocery store and brought it back to the guest house – and it was good.

The breakfast was a buffet of fresh fruit and juices, tea, coffee, eggs cooked to order, bacon, sausage – a delicious and hearty meal to begin the day off right.

I would highly recommend The Uxolo Guest House in Jo’burg.

My Award Booking Trip to South Africa and…….?????

Let me begin by saying that  I could have never put this trip together without hiring Andrew from the Point Pros (Andrew@pointspros.com).  If you are looking to hire someone to help you book a complicated award ticket or any kind of an award ticket, I would HIGHLY recommend Andrew.  Andrew works under Ben (aka Lucky) who writes One Mile At A Time

What I had thought would be a simple trip to South Africa with a free stopover in Scotland on our way home turned into so much more.  Getting to Scotland was very difficult and costly with UK passenger and landing fees.  We had hoped that if we deleted that portion of our trip it would be easier to book, but it wasn’t.  We’ll save Scotland for some other trip.  Deleting Scotland has allowed us to think about adding in a different stopover city.  Remember, on long haul trips, you get a free stopover for as long as you want.

Apparently South African Airways hasn’t released any award booking seats from the United States to South Africa during the time period we wanted to go.  We needed to patch together an itinerary to get us there on the 16th as we were flying from Johannesburg to Nelspruit for our safari on the 17th.   Unfortunately, the closest we could get  to Johannesburg on an award booking was on the 14th. With award booking you have to remain flexible – you most likely will not get what you want with more exotic destinations.  Though Blogger Hubby hates to waste money on hotels I’m rather happy about it – it gives me time to adjust to the time changes before we go on safari on the 17th.

Put on your seat belt and get comfortable as you read about these flights.

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We will be flying from Detroit to Washington Dulles where we will have about a six hour layover (any friends want to pick us up and take us out of the airport for the afternoon?).  From Dulles we’ll fly in business class overnight to London Heathrow and where we have a (gasp) 14 hour layover.  Rather than stay in the airport that long, we’ll probably take a train into London – a place I have never been.  We’ll actually have two overnight flights, like we did flying into Sydney.  We’ll  return to Heathrow and take an overnight flight down to Johannesburg on South African Airways.

After spending a few days in Johannesburg and meeting our son, our daughter-in-law and baby to be, we’ll go on two different safaris in Kruger.  Looking forward to this but a little concerned about the 4 AM guided safari tours – that’s very early!

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For the return home, and this is the part that gets ugly, we will be returning from Cape Town (an Open Jaw flight).  Using award miles to get out of South Africa was not easy.   The choices were either EgyptAir (which had poor reviews) or Ethiopian Airlines in economy but on the new Dreamliner.  We’ll fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then onward to Addis Abba, Ethiopia.  We’ll have a layover and then fly on to Rome, on Ethiopia Airlines in Business.  From Rome we’ll fly to Copenhagen, Denmark on Scandinavian Airlines.  What a day of traveling.  We’ll spend 6 nights in Copenhagen.  We’re open to lots of suggestions including whether it is worthwhile to take the train or ferry over to Sweden.

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For our flights home from Copenhagen we’ll fly into Toronto on Air Canada’s Executive First Class suites which have a 1-1-1 configuration.  Click on the link and you’ll see what I am referring to.  A short hop to Chicago and then a shorter hop to Detroit and we’ll be back from where we started from.  I guess you can see why we needed help.  Through Expert Flyer we have listed several other flights that we’d like to be on if seats become available.

All this for 240,000 miles total (Ultimate Rewards points transferred to United)  and $212 per person.  If we were to pay cash for this exact itinerary, it would be over $21,000.  Granted there were shorter ways to fly (direct from Dulles to Johannesburg) but that cost more money and since we are retired, we have time plus I get to fly into Ethiopia.  We will fly 22,439 miles on this epic journey.  We can pay and make changes to this itinerary but if we make any changes after February 1st, that will put us into the new award chart and would end us costing us many more points.

Finally, again many thanks to Ben and Andrew from the Point Pros and I would HIGHLY recommend them.

Here is what our trip will look like:

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Suggestions Needed For Our Stopover to/from South Africa

Next summer we will be traveling to South Africa with our son, his wife and their baby.  We are planning on using our miles for free flights.  The trip has two purposes behind it.  First and foremost is to visit our daughter’s-in-law family.  She was born and raised in South Africa and then emigrated to the States as a middle-schooler.  Her grandparents, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins still live in South Africa.  We are excited to meet her other family members.  We are also looking forward to seeing the country of her birth and to put a “face” to the different areas that she speaks so fondly of.

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Secondly, another item on our bucket list is to go on safari.  Most Americans tend to sign up with a safari guide and stay in a preserve to be sure to see The Big Five.  That’s not how our son and daughter-in-law have done it the past two times that he has gone.  They always stay in Kruger with reservations made about a year prior to their stay.  They rent a car and do a self guided tour of the Kruger, looking for animals themselves in a more natural and not fenced in manner.  Apparently that is the way most from  South Africa do safari.  We had though of also going to Victoria Falls but apparently there is a huge conference going on during the time we would be there and there are no rooms to be had except in Zambia.  Doing Victoria Falls could also be very expensive as well.

photo: safari.com
photo: safari.com

With such a long trip we thought we would plan a stopover in a location that we might not go to for a primary vacation.  We are having a difficult time coming up with where we want to go.  We thought of the Maldives but Blogger Hubby would not want a week long beach vacation.  We’ve been to Istanbul but admittedly for only 2 days so that is a possibility.  Morocco was another suggestion but I am a wee bit concerned about the heat as I had heat stroke twice in Singapore.  Another possibility is Scotland (where my maternal family is from) and where our exchange student from a decade ago lives.  I had thought of Scandinavia but Blogger Hubby thinks that would be a trip by itself.  Finally, a trip to the Canary Islands.

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What are your thought on where we should try to find a stopover for about a week or so?  We desperately need help and suggestions so we can begin planning this trip.

SHARK WEEK and SOUTH AFRICA

 In honor of it being SHARK WEEK on Discovery Channel, I am happy to have Blogger Son #1 back with his account of cage diving with the Great White’s off the Coast of South Africa.

Against all initial advice  I decided to go cage diving with the GREAT WHITES in a small town not too far from Cape Town.   What an experience it was!

The small fishing village of Gansbaai (where we would dive from) is only a shortdrive from my wife’s parents home in South Africa. Dyer and Geyser Islands, just off the coast, are home to a large colony of over fifty thousand seals and are  a favorite feeding ground for the Great White shark. The deep channel between these two islands is known as Shark Alley and is acknowledged as one of the best places in the world to view the Great White. If you have ever watched any sort of shark program you have probably heard of shark alley. It was one of those moments that I have mentioned before, the kind of instance that really reminds you of where you are. I’m sitting on a boat right now, about to get into the same water as those crazy guys that I have seen so many times on Shark Week (on Discovery Channel). We were all very excited, to say the least!

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It worked just like you’d imagine: we parked ourselves in shark alley between the two seal islands and started chumming….about fifteen minutes later a HUGE (about 15 ft) GREAT WHITE SHARK just appeared out of nowhere and it was going for our bait (a Tuna Fish).

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Everyone went crazy and rushed to the side of the boat…it was really pretty darn exciting. This went on and on for about 6 hours.  We had maybe 10 different large great whites come to our boat, each just as exciting as the next. We’d be sitting around just kind of scanning the water for sharks or chit-chatting  …  maybe 20 or 30 minutes would go by without any action, then the captain would give a blood curdling yell…”SHARK!!!!!”  just like in JAWS.  We all jumped up and down to check things out. We had a large diving cage that was attached to the side of the boat and everyone would take turns in this cage (7 at a time), a typical turn lasting for about 30 or 45 minutes – plenty of time to see plenty of action. When the sharks would get close you would just go under water (the cage was only 3/4 submerged) and check out the shark. Often it would come right up to the cage and bump into it.  Scary but exciting.  This is something that I would recommend to anyone and would most likely do it again.

SHARK ATTACK!!

PS  Anyone else upset that Megalodon on Discovery Channel turned out to be a Mockumentary?

***Shark jumping photo in the header at top of page is from apexpredators.com.  Other photos are from Blogger Son #1