May 2017 – Around RSA in 30 Days – mostly SanParks 7000Km

So, time to get away – where to go ? Have wanted to visit Mokala and Marakeli and go back to Mapungubwe for some time and thought of then going into Bots and back around. Lin pipes up: “We’ve not been to Kruger for years……” Why not ? so I put together where possible a full-on SanParks tour of RSA. Normally I just do it on line and pay but being eligible for “Pensioner’s discount” (that’ll be the day) decided to investigate….. Nope can’t be done on line gotta go to a SanParks office. So bright and early one day I go down to Tokai expecting to find a queue….Long story short; Nope gotta go to Kirstenbosch. Yawellnofine..End of tale, got a really worthwhile discount but even there, for some of the camps, they had to phone either the park concerned or Head Office – not very efficient, but all very calm & pleasant and we got all the bookings we wanted bar one and it took about an hour which was not bad. Horrified at the amount of new A4 paper they go through……….


Off we go to our own back garden, the Tankwa Karoo for a brief one night at Paul’s Hoek – always love being back here in the total peace & quiet and this time was no different – short day drive away from all the noise of Cape Town – stunning long distance views

Wanting to be fed !

Magnificent views

Next day leisurely start and this was a feature of this trip, to do as short a distance as we reasonably could on a day to day basis and to spend a few days at the new places we were to visit. So off on the short distance to Beaufort West and Karoo National Park where we camped for the first time. Nice campsite but had noisy – other side of hedge – 2 couples – 60’s – CY plates – who should have known better. Just saying.

Karoo National Park – Beaufort West

Next day pack up and do the trek across the Karoo through Aberdeen, Graaff-Reinet to Cradock to Mountain Zebra National Park – this has become a firm favourite with us and whilst out of our way no excuses needed for a two night stop up in the Mountain Cottages far away from everyone else. This park has dramatic scenery and so many faces & contrasts.

Yes indeed …….at your peril…………:-)

On the morning that we were leaving, heading for the gate Lin yells STOP – go back – talk about good eyes…..crap photo better through the binoculars. Well a Cheetah is a Cheetah in anyone’s book !

Moving on general direction North and avoiding the national roads and big towns went up through Middleberg and stayed at the Van Der Kloof Dam Town – lovely setting – lovely small clean town but I hear the campsite there is run down, we stayed at another place just outside: “Sandgat” – VERY cold at night and ice formed on the tent – nice in the daytime sunshine though. – Sangat – Lisa R 200.00 084 200 1164

This section was Cradock to V D Kloof Dam and then to Mokala National Park near Kimberley (which I wanted to avoid at all costs.)

The journey took us through the Afrikaans enclave of Oranje – what can one say ? Pity about the street furniture but everything very neat and clean. Lots of waving – maybe they’re lonely ?

We went through Hopetown on the way and the main road bridge was closed for 4 hours due to repairs, a kind local showed us the way down to the old original cast iron toll bridge, far from the main road, to get around this problem. What a road – couldn’t stop for photos as in a sort of convoy of locals. Amazing bridge.

Mokala National Park 1st visit for us – like a poor mans Botswana – even though only 20kms from Kimberley the terrain is like that south of Gabaronne – Savannah countryside, acacia studded grasslands – really beautiful – saw Roan Antelope, Tsessebe – large round rocks and red soil. Really very pleasant – We stayed the first night up in a chalet at Lilydale which I think is the nicer part of the park to stay, up at the top. The 2nd night we stayed down in the “Luxury” suites – Mosu lodge – serious overkill – plus you can’t park at your bungalow so have to trek all your stuff on trolleys up and down the slope, also poor cell reception here. We ate dinner in the restaurant which was adequate but extremely poor wine list and or availability – would have done better to self cater. Staff very pleasant however. Lovely park, would go there again as a stop over.

Mokala National Park

Pigmy Falcons

To avoid Kimberley we took the back roads via Plooysburg, Schmidts Drift on the Vaal river on its way to the confluence with the Orange at Douglas – Barkley West and then across to Warrenton, Christiana and thence to Bloemhof Dam where we stayed on the far bank at Sandvlei. (OFS)

Schmidts Drift on the Vaal

Bloemhof Dam; well the reserve to which it is attached is very nice and we saw white rhino, sable antelope, giraffes and a host of lesser fry. The accommodation is awful and much broken into and generally run down. They say that they are in the process of doing something about it. It is a disgrace plain and simple. There were very few other people there and we did not feel entirely safe in such beautiful surroundings but in the event all was fine and we had a spectacular sunset.

Bloemhof was a mission to book: Peter Bosch / Martha 053-433-1701

Sandvlei Reserve Bloemhof

From Bloemhof we trekked North avoiding Klerksdorp, then Ventersdorp: the traffic cops are always in high evidence, and yep they were out in full force. Rustenberg, (shock horror), stopping off at the entrance to Pilansberg Park for a lunch break and then onto Marakeli National Park also a first visit for us here too.

Marakeli National Park 🙂 What a gem – simply breathtakingly beautiful and the staff really on the ball and helpful, spotless ablutions at the Bontle camp site where we stayed two nights. It was quite busy and we had a white Rhino walk though camp the one night.

The drive up to the communications tower look out leaves one speechless and the road is extremely narrow in places which occurred to most people, so there was a lot of checking what was en route before leaving the safety of a passing space.

Thopi Tented site up in the hills – highly recommended – not that there is anything at all wrong with the super campsite down at Bontle in the other section of the park.

Hitch hiker

Long horned white Rhino walking through Bontle camp

Yes your bum does look big in that 🙂

Up at Thopi Tented camp

another crap day in africa !

We went out of the park to do some shopping in Thabazimbi and visit the adjacent Cat Sanctuary where they have white lions, tigers, leopards & cheetahs etc – all very “nice” to see up close but we don’t like seeing them in enclosures – easy photos but not the same as catching a glimpse in the bush. There is a road that travels like a cordon through the area to join up with the R510 north. It is high fenced on both sides and gravel – imagine our surprise when on leaving the park to carry on with our trip we caught sight of a leopard crossing the road and hiding in the bush as he couldn’t get through the fence and was sort of trapped. These roads have control booms at both ends with parks security so we gave them GPS co-ords of where we had seen the leopard.

Spot the leopard – it’s there trust me 🙂

Best I could do in very difficult circumstances, he was really scared I think, so we drove off so as not to stress him

The least said about the trip north from Marakeli the better.Through Ellisras all fine but on arriving at Alldays (we had been warned)(and we remembered how bad the road was from 8 years ago when we were last on this road) anyway the road is simply unbelievable, all the way to Tom Burke and Mapungubwe – it would be better if they ripped up what was left of the road and made it gravel again – you go dead slow unless you want to change your tyres – much evidence here. A national disgrace. A great pity too as it is a much nicer direction than roaring up the N1 from Bella Bella with all the trucks racing for the border with Zimbabwe.

Mapungubwe National Park bordering Botswana Tuli Block and Zimbabwe – we had been here once briefly 8 years ago so were really looking forward to coming again and having survived the crap roads (which are no better in the park BTW) it was lovely to be back. We stayed the first night down in the the rocky section, Leokwe Camp, very nicely appointed chalets.

Drove around the park which is quite spread out and in sections

Limpopo quite low it has to be said

Umm watch this whilst I paint the fence …..ya well no fine as we say here…..

Mapungubwe sections

Fever tree forest

Not much water here

Happiness reigns supreme

Courts in Session

Beautiful Baobab trees everywhere

We had booked the next night at the Forest Campsite and the night after at the Tented forest camp – this is in the far corner nearest to Tuli block and Botswana
– one look at the very small and crowded campsite and poor ablution facilities got me on the sat phone to the office and we changed our booking to 2 nights at the tented camp site (extra money) but well worth it. There are about 11 tented camps there, we had the whole place to ourselves – joy supreme –

Holiday highlight – no brainer –

Local resident

Toured around this area and down to the wonderful bird hide – serious long walk from the car park but pays dividends.

Have to say it again, Mapungubwe is a highlight and well worth the effort to get there – magic time – want to go back as soon as possible, roads notwithstanding.

With quite a heavy heart after the excitement of Marakeli and now Mapungubwe we made the trip along the border road to Messina – thank God for an out of town shopping centre – the rest of the place is a dump – and across to Kruger going in at Pafuri Gate – welcome home, in a way……….

We travelled Kruger, the length of it, from Pafuri – Crooks Corner on the Moz border to Punda Maria, Shingwedzi, Letaba, Satara, Skukuza, Crocodile Bridge – spent over a week travelling this and it was great – But: don’t get me wrong, the other parks sometimes offer so much more and in more subtle ways. Kruger is rewarding in many respects but it is not the be all and end all of national parks in our opinion. We love the north as there are so few people; yes, there are not the sightings, but the areas and scenery are just perfect – the further south you go the more you encounter the crowds and at the campsites, some of which are just too full, there are crowds with their mobile “hotel like” accommodation with bloody satellite dishes…. and WTF…. TV’s !! – who ? seriously ? wants to watch TV and DSTV TV at that in the wilderness ? These people need a (b)rain check – the parks ought to put a restriction not only on music after hours but blaring TV’s too. The number of sites that I walked past that had TV’s on, and ! with no one watching !! it was unbelievable – please get a life…….you couldn’t make this up. Sorry but true.

At Satara………..

Anyway rant over – back to Kruger………..

We entered at Pafuri after a pleasant drive from Messina.

Crooks Corner

Lucky Sighting – African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)

Dark Skies and some rain – Shingwedzi area

Shingwedzi Camp Site

One of the downsides of being in Kruger is the amount of speeding being done by parks officials themselves – the one Saturday afternoon heading north towards Pafuri Gate there were many Taxis and bakkies fully laden with staff – the bakkies also had full black plastic bags on the backs of them, all driving at high speeds without a care in the world. Other actual SanParks vehicles come up behind you, take care not to exceed 40kmph whilst they overtake and then very cunningly ease away and then put foot. We saw these vehicles at certain camps and I made a point of informing the duty manager – ya well quite……..

A “locus(t)” of Quelea

The Quelea are unbelievable – it is inconceivable that they can swarm all around and over a moving car and not get taken out by the car or themselves – ballet with wings – what an experience.

I Claudius………..

So cute……….

Oliphants River Camp – just visiting

Then we got really lucky…..between Satara (horrid camp) and Skukuza off on one of the loops we drove into a sort of lay-bye. Stop says Lin – sharp eyes strikes again – Probably nothing says she, go back a bit, probably a baboon in a tree…..No Oh ! and there in the tree, well hidden, is a leopard with impala kill. We stay there for nearly an hour, the leopard eventually comes down and poses for us on a branch, light not good as lots of shade with gaps but a lovely experience all the same.

Around the corner we encountered this………….

To celebrate a great days viewing………

Next to the shop was………

And so to Crocodile bridge

Just outside camp

and well what can I say except crap hurried photo !

We left the park the next morning and went into Komatipoort for diesel and supplies, the town is one long main drag (dump) with the inevitable out of town shopping centre at the far end on the approach to the border post – same old same old but welcome nevertheless.

We were heading for Harrismith area but so far had not been able to confirm anything.

We covered a fair distance from Crocodile bridge that day – The N4 is being upgraded virtually all the way to Nelspruit – we paid the toll and took the by-pass; wise decision. Nelspruit is huge these days – We were glad to get off the N4 and went via Standerton, Vrede – which my new 276Xc refuses to find ! – Warden and then at the last minute reckoned we stood a greater chance of finding better accommodation in Bethlehem than Harrismith so did a detour to there. All in all whilst a long days drive it was not at all onerous.

In the event we ended up in a very “nice” B&B in Bethlehem.”De Witte Huis”

Bethlehem has some nice old buildings and it must have been a lovely city a while back, now there are the usual monstrosities that have been allowed to be built or altered and the place is full of rubbish and rather unkempt. Sad really. That said we walked the town and it was an enjoyable one night stay over.

The next day was also a fairly long drive – thanks to a fellow Cruiser club member we had been told about Tussen-Die-Riviere near Bethulie on the Orange River at Gariep Dam – It was hunting season, they are closed to anyone but hunters; except given that we wanted to stay there on a Sunday, when there is no hunting – lucky animals, glad they get a day of rest too 🙂 – we were allowed in. It was a mission getting a response from them to book but with perseverance we made contact with one John Sebati 051 763 1000 who made the booking for us R 600 for the stay. We had the entire place to ourselves and the accommodation was excellent, the location lovely – miles off the road and an excellent stopover. We intend going back there and next time staying a few days – there is lots to explore.

We travelled from Bethlehem via Ficksburg, Ladybrand, Zastron, Smithfield and the turn off into the park is just before the town of Bethulie – it’s about a 17km drive to the reception gate and then about another 12 to the chalets. Truly off road.

Tussen-Die-Riviere Bethulie

We were really sorry that we had to move on the next day, but well, we were on the way home.

I wanted to avoid Colesberg and the N1 entirely so we went over the Orange River at the Hennie Steyn Bridge – the longest road/rail bridge in RSA – the river was very low – to Steynsburg and Middleberg which we had been through on the way up. We had booked to stay in the camp at Graaff-Reinet but neither Lin nor I could muster up that much enthusiasm for another one nighter there freezing to death and given now early it was we pushed on to Willowmore and stayed in the old Historic Guest House which whilst not great was warm and comfortable with so so food from their restaurant.

Hennie Steyn bridge over the Orange River

South, Graaff-Reinet Road

The quintessential Karoo Farm setting – gotta love it……..

Willowmore to Wilderness via Prince Alfred Pass

We stopped in Avontuur to buy some Aloe Products and saw that there was a seemingly large fire developing up in the surrounding mountains and asked the locals if they thought we’d be OK going down the Prince Alfred Pass. Having been caught once in a runaway fire in Tanzania we tend to be quite cautious about fires ! We were assured that all would be fine…..well it was, just.

Avontuur is a delightful little village in beautiful surroundings – well worth a better look. In any event off we went and reached the start of the Prince Alfred Pass which at 26Kms is the longest that Bains constructed – it is a monument to a truly great road builder – quite stunning – also quite impassable at times when you meet on-coming traffic and we met 13 vehicles coming towards us and one motor bike. We now realise that they were all in a hurry to get to the fire area but did not know this at the time. The pass was a wonderful experience and one that we want to repeat again ASAP. The part down into Knysna we had done before many times but not the section from Avontuur. Knysna is a sad place these days and we hurried through it and out the other side as quickly as possible.

We had booked to stay over at SanParks National Park Ebb and Flow – another first for us so we did not know what to expect. The situation and set up is simply quite stunning. It is probably hell on legs at the height of the season but for now we virtually had the entire place to ourselves. At this stage the fire was raging down towards Knysna.

Ebb and Flow

Very nice stay, super friendly staff, good accommodation.

The next day was the day of the big storm when all the kids were given off school (whatever next ?) and we were supposed to stop off at SanParks in Swellendam – Bontebok – as we like to do just a short run home, to miss the pm traffic. But in the event given how bad the weather was I reckoned there would be little on the roads – it was rather like sailing 🙂 so we pushed on for home stopping for a brief bite to eat in Riviersonderend and actually only encountered any real traffic at Somerset West, arriving home mid afternoon in the rain 🙁

The Storm………

So then; 30 days, just over 7000kms. Didn’t get stopped once, no car issues – good time had by all – lots of info garnered for more in depth trips in the future. Empty the car, connect to life support, back on the daily grind till the next time 🙂 Tough Life 🙂