Rain. Rain and wind as bad as in the UK. Persistent, consistent, insistent rain. From before we landed at Cape Town International we new the weather was going to be bad, we only saw the runway moments before we touched down onto it and the cloud we were descending through was thick and dense.
From previous experience it is always worth prebooking a hire car at Cape Town airport, this time we’d reserved a Fiat 500, a great little car for the city. Getting into this tiny little car we immediately felt guilty, this guilt escalating every time we accelerated, went up a hill, round a bend, basically did anything, oh the joys of a decent power to weight, power steering, and responsive control. I’m sure I’ll continue with this letter of love affair with a small little new model in a later post.
That evening we were invited to see Johnny Clegg. I’d never heard of him. Everyone we mentioned this to showed joy and wonder that a) he was performing and b) that we were going to see him. He’s been playing for 32 years now and has a sound like no others. He seamlessly merges western instruments melodies with sounds, rhythms and keys from Zulu and other African tribal music. As a anthropologist by training he has a keen eye and ear for the ways and feelings of the Zulu people, in fact he is sometimes known as the White Zulu. His concert at the Baxter Theatre was one of six he’s doing there, and from them he’s going to release a live and unplugged album in December.
Tummies full from a wonderful cooked breakfast from P, we set off on our marathon journey, a journey that Google maps said would take us 5 hours. But Google didn’t know that we were driving a fully loaded Land Rover with a maximum speed of 80 km/h at a push. We were advised by G to stop and fill up at every petrol station, not only because the main tank is relatively small (and possibly leaks) but also the concentration on driving it is draining.
Similar to our short journey to Centurion, we were receiving a lot of waves and flashes from other Land Rovers on the motorway, we started counting them, but soon lost count. At one petrol stop we were waiting to fill the tank when this gentleman came to ask if he could take a photo of the side of our landy. The two doors have a logo, the African continent made up of the heads of an elephant, a lion, a giraffe and a rhino. So far I haven’t identified it. Any way Christo was a cliche Afrikaner, a round face with a grey beard, khaki camouflage shirt with his name embroidered on, shorts, just a little too short and tight, and boots and grey socks pulled up! When we got talking to to him it turns out he used to drive one of them in the army and was an instrument inspector, so he was fascinated with the dials we had on our “dash board”. He then kindly proceeded give us some advice on the battery, which oil to use and how we should keep it running smoothly to keep it going. After our Wimpy burger we carried on on the road.
A few hours later we entered the Abel Erasmus pass. This is a road that passes through the Drakensberg mountains, up and up and down and up and down, with climbs almost to the hight of Joburg and lows almost to sea level this is a road that is not easy in the best of cars, but in our loaded, low powered landy, took what felt like hours of yellow lane driving. It did however provide stunning views. With the promise to return in more relaxed setting to see the Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window, we pushed on.
Ten hours it took. Ten hours and we arrived at Wits Rural Facility (WRF) on the Orpen Road, tired but glad to have made it. At the main gate we were directed to the reception where T would meet us. He gave us the key and directed us to our house, Sicklebush. The road to the reception made us glad to have a 4×4. WRF is a former game reserve with sand roads, river crossings, and the kind of terrain the land rover was designed for.
Arriving at our house in the dark, with no one else around, we found it was completely empty, no chairs, no tables, no fridge, no curtains, nothing except two beds. We knew it was going to be sparsely furnished but this was even less than we expected, so the next day having unpacked the car we headed to the Kruger National Park for our 4 day holiday, and an anniversary relaxation, and to escape the sparseness of the house.
Kruger is a massive area that is thoroughly protected in order to create a natural habitat for a huge range of animals, birds and other wildlife. Not only can you see the Big Five here but also a whole host of other bird and animals only seen in zoos in the UK. We entered the park at Orpen Gate, 40km from our house and sped on towards Mopani rest camp. This is a 5 hour journey if travelling at the speed limit of 50km/hour, but when you pass amazing sights of elephant, giraffe, zebra etc etc it’s hard to travel that fast, additionally there are often police hiding with speed cameras who will be only too happy to dish out a fine. We, however, did make it, and in time, as we were staying at the Tsendze Rustic Camp site near by. It’s called rustic because there is no electricity and each camp spot is a small plot of bare ground with a braii stand, surrounded by wild looking woodland. We had chosen to stay here as it was cheap and we were told that it was possible to sleep in the landy. It was possible, with an ingenious fold out bed with a couple of foam mattresses it was surprisingly comfortable and curtains all round it was like being in a tent, except it was a metal Land Rover. For the first few hours of the night the landy kept the heat, but gradually it cooled right down forcing us into our new four season sleeping bags.
The next night we were booked into a rondavel in Mopani camp, so we didn’t need to travel far that day. We chose a route to look for animals and weren’t disappointed. The route we had chosen took us right up to the Mozambique border, in fact one get out point along the way could possibly be literally on the border. The animal highlights along the way were a family of giraffe. We were sat looking at them, turning the engine off, taking some photos, restarting the engine moving forward as the giraffe did and repeating. This was all well and good until we wanted to move off to leave the giraffe alone and Lucy just would not start, tuck tuck tuck… A few minutes later again, tuck tuck tuck. Nothing. Then miraculously another car was behind us. On that road we had seen no one else for hours. The driver said to us “Is it true?” “What, the amazing sight of giraffe or the fact that our land rover won’t start?” He kindly offered to jump start our engine which worked perfectly and we were off.
At the next rest camp, Shingwedzi, we filled up with petrol, but as we tried to leave tuck tuck tuck.. One of two stickers on the Landy amusingly says PUSH, which is exactly what we had to do to kick it back into life.
One of the more moving sights on the road from Shingwedzi back to Mopani was of a group of three young elephants playing in the river. Initially when we saw them one of them was almost completely submerged with only the very top of it’s back showing above the water. It looked to us as if it was stuck under in water that was too deep to stand in. We’ve seen video footage of elephants trying to cross a river and the little ones having to be rescued by their mother, but here there was no large elephant and the other two didn’t appear agitated by their sinking friend. Eventually after almost a whole minute his trunk appeared above the water as a snorkel and splashed the other one in a playful manner. The other one then followed suit and they were having a splash fight in the river. We could finally breather again.
After a solid nights sleep at Mopani we found a couple of short routes to make that day’s game viewing relaxed. Just as the sun was settings, coming towards what photographers call the golden hour when the light makes photos look amazing, we were driving along a sand road when we noticed this strange wall of dust across the road. Then suddenly the largest herd of elephants we have I have ever seen started to cross. Ahead of us, with the golden African sun setting behind them, the elephants were kicking up the dust on the road creating the most magical and wonderful spectacle of elephant movement.
That night was spent in the Shipendane sleep over hide. By day a normal game viewing hide overlooking a crocodile and hippo infested river, by night a wooden hut overlooking a crocodile and hippo infested river. We arrived there just before the sun went down to cook our dinner in the boma whilst listening to the bush come alive with all sorts of noises, hippos grunting, the constant and persistent creaking and squeaking of insects, the occasional roar of a lion and the frankly terrifying buzz of Africa’s biggest killer, the mosquito! The change of getting a wink of sleep that night was improved by the presence of a mosquito net over the fold down beds. In reflection we would stay in the hide again, but with a group and with some decent powerful torches so that we might be able to see what was making that terrifying noise outside and truly enjoy the bush by night.
We have arrived. We’ve done Joburg, had a holiday, bought a bed and fridge and now the year begins.
We left London Heathrow on August 20th on a 7pm flight and after two films (We Bought a Zoo and Iron Man 3, you can guess which one Joss watched…) and a bit of sleep we landed an hour early in sunny Johannesburg. Having driven to Heathrow in a Freelander with Joss’s parents and had all our bags squeezed in with little space to spare, we were a little worried about the small car we’d hired. Luckily it turned out to be a Hyundai i10 which, having 5 doors, easily fitted everything in, all 5 large duffel bags, two laptop bags and two hand luggage bags!
After dumping our bags at our base in Joburg and a quick hello to our amazing hosts (C & P you are legends and amazing) we went to see Lucy the Land Rover. Lucy the Land Rover was bought 3 months prior to this on Gumtree. We took a punt on this car. We knew we wanted a 4×4 vehicle but looking around they were all way out of our budget range, even at a stretch. Then one day Joss was on the train on the way back from a conference and found Lucy. She was being sold by a couple from England who had done a bit of over-landing in her while they were in southern Africa for three months. We bought it on the condition that it drove into my cousin’s Equestrian estate. K kindly let us keep it at Canterbrooke for the three months until we arrived. And when we did we found a beautiful Series 2a Land Rover.
The only problem was it didn’t start
We knew the estate manager had only recently fully charged the battery, but it still wouldn’t start. After half an hour trying to workout whether it was petrol or diesel (a crucial decision) we put diesel in. Whoops. After calling K’s trusty mechanic, G, he kindly agreed to come and have a look at the landy the next morning. The next morning G was at Canterbrooke before we got there and had already siphoned the diesel out of the rear tank and replaced it with petrol and with a bit of tinkering he got it started. Having worked for a company in the automotive trade for nearly 5 years I still don’t really know how cars work (sorry guys), so to me what he did was magic! K had warned us that we would need to get 4 new tyres before we started and G offered us a good price for tyres and also said he would give it a quick check over. I had the task of driving this car, a style and weight I have never driven beforehand no power steering, only 4 gears, a hand break that doesn’t stay locked and brakes that pull heavily to the right. I feel I took the drive from BlueHills to Centurion in my stride, the best bit were the waves we received, one from a driver of a brand new defender as he sped past at twice my speed and the other from a guy sitting in the back of a backie; the worst point was trying to do a hill start in this car with poor breaks and unfamiliar clutch and gas pedals. We left the landy in G’s capable hands to carry on with our preparations for moving into an unfurnished house in the middle of the African bush in the middle of nowhere.
Lunch with B and U confirmed for us again that, although our parents are thousands of miles away, we have people looking out for us here.
The rest of our time in Joburg, until Lucy was ready, was spent seeing friends and family, always revolving around food in huge quantities and stocking up on things for the house.
I will continue with this in my next post, starting with our journey up north to Hoedspruit.