Johannesburg and Kruger National Park

February 25, 2008 - Nelspruit, South Africa

Leaving Oz: 18th February

After 18 months of thinking about it, talking about it and planning for it, we finally left Australia for Africa and the adventure of a lifetime. Our departure was full of mixed emotions - sadness in leaving our friends and family as well as excitement about the adventure that lies ahead.

Johannesburg: 18th - 20th February

After crossing the Indian Ocean, we touched down in Joburg to meet the smiling face of my friend Conrad, who took us back to his and introduced us to his wife Trish. They generously acted as our hosts and guides for our first week in Africa - thanks guys! Not wanting to waste any time, we went out to a restaurant called Carnivores for dinner, and gorged ourselves on some of the local wildlife. Think we managed to have 6 different animals in one sitting - ostrich, impala, crocodile, kudu, blesbok, lamb and chicken. Got to love nature!

After a much needed sleep, Trish took us the next day to Lesedi village, where we were able to walk through makeshift villages of the South African tribes - Ndebele (possibly a long lost cousin of the NDebelak's?), Zulu, Basotho, Xhosa and Pedi. We were introduced to the various cultures and customs, and watched them dance energetically. I also had the opportunity to try their locally made sogum beer (will stick to Corona's) and even volunteered myself to fight a Zulu warrior. Alas, I didn't want to hurt the poor guy, so let him bop me on the head with his club. After that, we had a lunch with one of the Zulu's, and were amazed to hear that he still lives according to many of his old customs - he seemed quite happy that his father could actually afford the 11 cows required as a dowry for his first wife.

The following day, we met up for a tour of Soweto (which originally stands for South Western Townships), a place that is known internationally for its slums and protests. However, the first section we went into was a real stereotype squasher, with beautiful suburban houses and lawns. At least part of Soweto was well developed. We then moved to a poorer section where we approached a small kindergarten in a brightly coloured shed - one of the projects supported by the tour operators. We entered and sat down on the ground as the kids approached cautiously. Then, as one child reached out to give us a hug, a tidal wave of kids jumped on top of us laughing and screaming. Was great fun!

After that, we went to a shebeen (a local drinking house), where we tried more of the sogum beer. Still no better. After that, we went to the poorest part of Soweto, an area known as Cliptown. Cliptown is made up of ramshackle sheds built with scrap metal, muddy roads and open sewerage. On average, 10 people will live in each shed, there is no electricity or sewerage and only 100 taps to provide water to the 45,000 people who live there. It was sad to see, and we couldn't imagine living in such squalor.

Later we went to Nelson "Rolihlahla" Mandela's old house, and the guide took us through the life and times of the great man. Finally, we went to the Hector Pieterson museum - a tribute to the 13 year old boy who got shot dead in the protests of 1976. The photo of the dead boy's body being carried away from the scene sent shock waves around the world and acted as a catalyst to the collapse of apartheid.

Johannesburg has got a bad rap, and a lot of it is justified. The division between whites and blacks still remains, crime is rampant, many people  live in houses surrounded by large walls, while others can't even afford walls. But our guide on the Soweto tour, Bongani, spoke with hope about the future of South Africa, and was involved in a lot of projects to help the communities. But he, and many others, recognise that the new South Africa is only 13 years old, and they still have a long way to go to become the country that Nelson Mandela would want for his people.

Kruger National Park: 21st - 24th February

At an ungodly 4am, Conrad and Trish drove us to Kruger National Park in their 4x4. After entering the gates, we were met by a welcoming committee - a group of 7-8 elephants crossing the road. We continued to head north, stopping for giraffes, zebras, baboons, impalas, buffalo and wildebeest in their natural habitat. We later arrived in Skukuza camp, a lovely spot overlooking elephants meandering through the shallow river. That night, we went on another drive, and came across a friendly elephant walking along the road. The playful beast walked towards us for ages, curling its trunk as it walked. We had to reverse off the road before it funny turned off to find a tasty tree. On the way back, we also spotted a leopard - a rare and difficult find.

Bright and early the next morning, we went to a bird hide which took us down to the river's edge. There, we were pleased to see a group of hippos waking up in the water. The hippos kind of reminded me of me in the morning - they moved slowly, breathed heavily and farted a lot. We spent quite a while with these cute, cuddly, deadly creatures before they eventually moved off for the day. After that, we spotted hyenas, buffalos and rhinos off in the distance.

After checking out of Skukuza, we drove north east, and got an appreciation for the size of Kruger National Park. Kruger is about the size of Israel, and after driving for many hours, we only made it about half way up. We then passed the "W" section of the park - warthogs, waterbucks and wildebeest. Then, we stopped a while to watch the antics of a pair of courting giraffes. They leaned together and swung their long necks into each other. Very amusing. Apparently, they can do this for four days before closing the deal, but we weren't willing to wait that long to see them get some action.

We eventually arrived at Oliphants Camp, a magnificent spot perched on a cliff overlooking Oliphants Rivers and the great expanse of the Kruger. We sat on our balcony admiring the view, and a large herd of elephants having an evening drink. That night, Conrad taught me how to cook my first braai (South African BBQ).

The next day was a bit more quiet, but we did spend some time with a couple more elephants. That evening, some baboons stole from Conrad's fridge, but we later found them wrestling over the fence - very entertaining. That evening, after another braai, we went on a night drive, spotting crocs, giraffes and walking hippos. Then finally, we spotted two lionesses chilling out on the side of the road. So at that point, we had spotted the Big Five in one weekend - elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo. We considered ourselves very lucky.

The next morning, we left Kruger with a smile on our faces. As Borat would say, it was a "great success!" We drove to Nelspruit, said goodbye to our friends Conrad and Trish, and checked into a backpackers. We're chilling out for a couple of days here before continuing on to Mozambique tomorrow. As amazing as the first week has been, Jo and I are looking forward to the next stage of our trip as independent travelers.

P.S. View our slideshow of the photos in the "Joburg and Kruger" album in this blog


Pictures

The African Coastline
IMG_0869
Welcome to South Africa
Mike Fighting a Zulu Warrior
 
 

14 Comments

Avi:
February 25, 2008
Sounds amazing.

I've always wanted to go to "Carnivore"... I can't believe you got to eat exotic animals such as this "lamb" and "chicken" you speak of! ;)
Lynn:
February 26, 2008
Mike & Jo! It sounds amazing!!! I envy you so much... Would love to go travelling in Africa. Here in Gothenburg, Sweden it´s raining and the sky is grey. I can´t wait to hear more about your experience. Travel safe! /Lynn
Synth:
February 28, 2008
Couple of things

1. What is the delivery area of Carnivore? Is Annandale out of the question.
2. Why is there such a striking resemblance between Mike and the Monkey ;-)

It sound like you guys are having an amazing time. All power to ya! Have a sogum for me

Cheers
Synth
February 28, 2008
All is wonderful so far......loved the courting Giraffes....obviously not the only courting couple!!!!!!
Take care.....have fun.........
The photos are fabulous!!!
Karin:
February 28, 2008
Hej! Great to read about your adventures so far and to see the fantastic photos. But Johanna, I cannot see you wearing the snusnäsduk on any of them...don't say that Mike used it to blow his nose being envious that he did not get one. This morning we had dears outside our kitchen window, and wolves have recently been spotted in Halland. Maybe we can arrange for a safari also here when you come in October. Kram Karin
Ivan:
February 29, 2008
Brought back fond memories from my first visit to South Africa and Kruger Park in 1983. I can see that South African people have remained very hospitable. Surprised to hear that you did'nt see many lions and/or leopards! My recollection is that I encountered many along the way. Hope they were not on the menu at your Carnivores Restaurant. In another few days we'll be at the opposite end of the World. Remember the two legged carnivores are the one to watch. Take care.
Cely Malki Benchoam:
March 2, 2008
Your Photos are great! there is one photo of the elephant a bit too close for comfort! Enjoy Enjoy and look after each other! keep updating your news....
lots of love
cely
Jay:
March 2, 2008
Hello!!!

Mikes your journal is amazing and it sounds like you are both having an absolute ball! I still cant beleive you are gone!
Jay:
March 2, 2008
Sorry I hit send before I finished!! Just got back home today and first day back at work tomorrow...the honeymoon is definitely over!! Keep safe (favourite!) cousin and love to Jo! xxx
Sam:
March 2, 2008
Carnivores... yum!
Ness:
March 3, 2008
Wow, it sounds absolutely amazing...and what stunning photos!!

To be honest, I think you're both amazingly brave for eating that feast of animals in one sitting...actually that's really directed at Jo, Mike I know you're an animal ;)

Love your travel blog and the little email reminders when you post. Great to hear from you guys, looking forward to more updates. Enjoy your travels and all the best of luck.

Lots of love, Ness xx
rouky:
March 4, 2008
i dont know if i am doing the right thing but here goes. we are all well and counting the weeks. nothing new to report .hope you are both well. love you
Gerd:
March 4, 2008
Rouky, you did it! Then I have to try too.
Mike and Jo, I´m checking your blog every day. Even if there is nothing new I look at your pictures and wish I was there. Take care and have a good time.
Love Gerd
March 8, 2008
Sounds like you're having a great time. I would love to go to Carnivore (Steph might take a pass though). I had an Argentinian parrillada the other day. All the same animal, however parts that I had never eaten before! Was the tasty one pancreas?
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