Family Fun in eastern South Africa (2022)

A family trip to sea, beach, exotic animals

After two cancellations due to the Corona pandemic, the long planned family trip to South Africa finally takes place in the third year. Along with the standard cast (Sabine and me) is my daughter Jasmin with husband Dirk, the children Linus (13), Moritz (11) and Pauline (7), as well as the family of my son Thomas with wife Charlotte and baby Maja (9 months). With this trip a long-cherished wish comes true for me. With her diary in pictures Pauline embellishes the following report. 

Arrival (10/14/22)

For the departure from Frankfurt Sabine booked Holiday-Parken (82 €) for the first time. The new parking garage is located behind terminal 2. With the S-Bahn you can reach the terminal in 2 minutes. A good alternative. 

Departure in Terminal Z is relaxed. Some things have changed at Lufthansa: No choice at dinner anymore, only a cold dry sandwich for breakfast, free drink selection is severely limited. That looked better before. At least we arrive in Johannesburg on time at 8:30.  As usual, getting cash at the ATM and purchase and installation of SIM cards (14 days phone and 2GB data for 185 Rand) is done quickly and without problems. At the car rental companies (Hertz and Woodford) there is then a first nasty surprise. When handing in the documents, we casually mention that we still need the papers for the border crossing to eSwatini. We learn that this should have been requested in advance. It was our mistake, because the last time we rented (Avis) this was not necessary. At Thrifty we could have gotten cars with the appropriate permission but a cancellation at Hertz and Woodford was no longer possible. It remained only to reschedule the route. The first 3 days in eSwatini had to be cancelled without replacement. The deposit would be gone. We informed the accommodation in Milwane, which generously waived the outstanding 50% and even offered to refund the deposit, minus a small handling fee. In the meantime, the refund, minus a processing fee of 12€, has been completed. A very generous gesture from the Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary. We will certainly book there again.  

Stopover in Ermelo (10/15/22)

We book accommodation in Ermelo via because we don't want to risk having to drive at night. After an hour of driving, we make a shopping and lunch stop at a large mall in eMalahleni (Witbank). The Highveld Mall is huge. We park right in front of the wing with the restaurants and choose Spur. There would still be Nando's, Ocean Basket, Muggel & Bean and Panzarotti in the immediate vicinity. It's busy, but we still find a table on the 1st floor. The drinks come quickly, the food takes time. The kids almost fall over from hunger. To shorten the wait, we get a safari hat each for Moritz (in blue) and Pauline (in pink, of course) from Grandpa Klaus. When finally burgers and steaks are delivered, there is no stopping us. Sated, we walk through the mall to pick'n pay. The fresh food counter is already empty. After some searching we choose ham and salami for dinner.

Continuing on to Ermelo, we experience a heavy thunderstorm with heavy rain and violent lightning, but still arrive at the Khokhamoya Guest House, Ermelo, before nightfall. The rooms are not very spacious, but clean. In the communal-kitchen we can prepare our first dinner. The hosts are very friendly and helpful. 

As a "substitute accommodation" for eSwatini we book via 2 days glamping at Africamp White Elephant in the Game Reserve Pongola.  The whole route is fixed. You can see it below. 

Glamping in Pongola Game Reserve on the shores of Lake Josini (10/16/ - 10/17/22)

After a short fuel stop in Piet Retief, almost 4 hours and many overtaking maneuvers (at least 20 coal trucks) we arrive at the Southgate of the Pongola Game Reserve. Uncomplicated reception at the gate and the last 9 km of sand road to our destination let us arrive at the reception at 3 pm.

On the way we already enjoy the view of Lake Jozini, some impalas and giraffes. Lake Jozini is a reservoir in the Lebombo Mountains. Most of the lake is on the territory of South Africa, the northern tip of the lake protrudes into the southern tip of eSwatini. It is about 15 km long. The large irrigation system for agricultural land intended by the reservoir project could never be fully implemented. The decline in the price of sugar has made the project largely uneconomical. Only 3000 hectares of irrigated agricultural land exist. Along the lakeshore today are several hotels and lodges as well as the Pongola Game Reserve, which is home to numerous species of wildlife (including buffalo, elephant and rhino).

Our "home" for the next 2 days is Africamps White Elephant Safaris, in a private section of the park.

The Africamps at White Elephant Safaris belong to the "new" type of camping, where camping feeling is upgraded with a slight touch of luxury. We sleep in tents 10 and 11, each mounted on a wooden platform about 100 meters apart. Each tent includes 2 bedrooms with direct access to the bathroom, a well-equipped kitchen with an open fireplace and air conditioning. By opening the front wall of the tent, the living/dining room is integrated into the veranda. On the veranda, the brick barbecue invites you to braai. The refrigerator for the grilled food is right next to it. As a delicacy the "Hot Tub" may be seen, a wooden tub, whose water is brought by means of firewood on the desired bath temperature. The kids and I tried it out, of course. 

Barely unpacked, everyone congregates at the pool behind the front desk. The kids splash around, the adults plan the evening barbecue. After steak, bourewors, potatoes and salad, we fall into bed at 8:30 pm. Welcome home, African mood!

The downside I see to the resort is that independent gamedrives are not allowed. Since we are only here for 2 days, we decide to take a boat trip on the lake or river. 

Eric, our guide, picks us up shortly before 7am in the usual open safari vehicle. On the way to the jetty we are already greeted by impalas, warthogs and giraffes.

After the obligatory official greeting we chug across the water past Kwazi Lodge. At first only herons and other birds come in front of our lens. First highlight on the river bank - crocodiles. We continue towards the Pongola Nature Reserve. Suddenly rhinos and zebras appear. The rhinos, 9 in number, are grazing right on the river bank. Unfortunately the view is somewhat blocked by acacia bushes. In April there was heavy rain with flooding. The original bank is still flooded.

Another highlight awaits us after the next river bend. There are some Yellow-Billed Storks, Marabus and a Goliath Heron next to several crocodiles. A bit further away a herd of wildebeest is grazing, three giraffe heads are sticking out of the trees.

The last stop is for the hippos. Although again no snapshot of a yawning bull, but a lot of movement in the group. Our photo hunting urge is satisfied for today.

Fortified after scrambled eggs with bacon, we head back to the pool. The fruits of the liver sausage tree interest especially Pauline.

At noon we want to explore the surroundings in a legal way. Therefore we drive together with Thomas, Charlotte and Maja to the Nkwasi Lake Lodge above the river bank and have our private gamedrive😉. 

Restaurant and bar of the lodge are huge. We are the only guests. Relaxed we enjoy our lunch with freshly tapped Castle. The view of the river is breathtaking.

The evening program is filled with barbecue, hot tub and scorpion hunt.

Linus, Moritz and Pauline splash around with Grandpa Klaus in the rather lukewarm hot tub. A bundle of wood was not enough to heat it up.

Dirk, Klaus and the kids are still searching for scorpions with the black light lamp. Moritz turns out to be the super searcher. There are more scorpions in the old trees than we had suspected. Fortunately Dirk was able to capture some specimens photographically.

Sodwana Bay (10/18/22)

The road to our next destination, Sodwana Bay, heads west around the 15 km-long Jozini Reservoir. The road winds around hills and mountains and offers spectacular views every now and then. Over a small pass we first reach Jozini, a typical African village, bustling and colorful.

Then finally comes the sandy road. Passing sugar cane plantations and villages we drive for 2 hours to Mbazwana, the last bigger village before Sodwana Bay. The landscape has changed in the meantime. To the right and left of the road the white dune sand piles up, interrupted only by eucalyptus plantations.

In Sodwana Bay google-maps sends us to Reef Teach instead of Sodwana Bay Lodge. It seemed strange to us right away because there was no signpost to the lodge anywhere. The roads become more and more sandy and before we knew it, the Vito with Jasmin, Dirk and the kids got stuck. With our Fortuner we were just able to get through. 

With local pushing support and more gas, we head back to the main road. Small bills change hands and with a little adventure more in our luggage we reach the resort five minutes later. (So Google also contributes something to the income of the locals).

In the resort Sodwana Bay Lodge one has the choice to book one of 21 freely rentable houses directly or to rent the privately owned large or very large houses directly via the owners or via We book house 34 (see map above) via It is one of the larger accommodations with a living area of 300m2.  4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 terraces and a huge living/dining area leave nothing to be desired.  

The kids test the sandwich maker, then it's off to the pool. 

Jasmin, Linus, Klaus and I drive to the beach in the meantime. Halfway there is a roadblock. Fortunately they let us pass without control. Driver's license and ID are "theft-proof" at home on the nightstand. At the park entrance Klaus can't identify himself either. A few stupid sayings later we are through and park.


The sandy beach is deserted. In some distance a kiosk and shady tent roofs can be seen. We enjoy dinner at the resort's own restaurant "Leatherbacks" .

The Beach (10/19/22)

With bag and baggage we move to the beach at 10:00 am. Much more hustle and bustle than the day before. Divers come and go with their dinghies. Tractors pull the boats on the trailers up the dune to the camp.

The boys throw themselves into the waves, we climb the dune, shoo crabs and enjoy the chocolate milkshake after fish burger and wrap. Maja has her first seawater contact. She paddles a bit and seems very comfortable. It is cloudless and more than 30 degrees. For Linus this is enough for a little sunburn. Around 14:00 the deep sea fishing boats come in. At 14:30 the beach is lonely again like the day before.

Afterwards we fill up our supplies in Mbazane. A real local Spar. It is very busy and the meat counter offers everything you need from chicken claws to beef kidneys😉. Moritz gets a new safari hat from Grandpa. (The first one had "disappeared" after one day).

Leisure Time (10/20/22)

Today we take it easy, go shopping and in the afternoon we go for ice cream to Café Frederick across the street. With the owner we had interesting conversations about German places, including Stuttgart, which he had already visited. He was probably an aerobatic pilot in his youth and has participated in competitions worldwide.   

St. Lucia - Sunset Lodge (10/21/22)

On the short drive from Sodwana Bay to St. Lucia we stop for shopping in the small town of Hluhluwe.

To make the drive a bit more varied, we leave the N2 and take the R22 through uMkhuze's Ophansi Gate into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. So we can already see some animals on the way to St. Lucia. Shortly before entering the park we buy a box of fresh pineapples (10 pieces, 5 €) and local coffee at a "farm stall". Around 3 pm we arrive at the Sunset Lodge, St. Lucia. 

The lodge is located at the very end of the main road. Very quiet but still within walking distance to the town center. We move into our 3 wooden houses, each with a small veranda, kitchen, living/dining room and 1 or 2 bedrooms. The showpiece of the complex is the very attractive pool, which is used intensively by the children. 

We don't need to worry about dinner. A German-born couple from Johannesburg recommends the Ocean Grill, whose linefish is really freshly caught on site. The owners fish themselves. All other restaurants in St. Lucia use frozen goods from Durban or Cape Town. On the way to the restaurant, the kids finally see and "catch" the long-awaited Boomslang. She was lying dead in the street. No reason not to take a closer look at her.

Rainy Day (10/22/22)

Already when we get up it is raining cats and dogs. Unfortunately the weather forecast has come true.

As an alternative to the rain we have planned a visit to the Crocodile Research Center. It is a research station right next to the park-gate to Cape Vidal and is for research purposes only, is donation funded and not to be confused with a commercial crocodile farm. It houses pretty much all crocodile species. Since crocodiles are protected in KwaZulu-Natal, problem crocodiles are captured and housed here. A small breeding program provides offspring, which are released every now and then. The feeding actually takes place 30 minutes earlier than stated in the brochure.

At 13:15 we are there. The guided tour by a ranger is informative and entertaining. As a highlight we are present at the feeding. Despite the pouring rain we hold out until the end. Finally Moritz and Pauline are allowed to hold a baby crocodile. The mouth was "secured" with a rubber band for safety's sake. 

Well soaked, we head back to Sunset Lodge, put on something dry and drive to the Ski Boat Club. There, overlooking the beach, we fill our bellies with pizza and seafood platters.

Due to the weather, we cancel the planned hike over the boardwalk without replacement.

Cape Vidal (10/23/22)

Cape Vidal we reach after a 20 km drive into the iSimangaliso-Wetland Park, awarded as UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The special attraction is the unique mixture of bush and beach experience. Inland lies the fascinating wildlife of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, with buffalo, crocodiles and antelope, while on the beach the wonderland of the Indian Ocean awaits! On the approach, we discover a group of hyenas snacking on a dead hippo right next to the road. They retreat, but give us a chance to take some nice snapshots.

Cape Vidal Bay is a popular snorkeling destination, but it's also the place for anglers, divers and travelers looking for a secluded beach retreat.

Low tide is at 8:26 am. We are already on the beach with Dirk and the kids at 8 am. The thermometer reads 21 degrees. Equipped with snorkel and goggles, we swim to the rocks. In the crystal clear water we swim with fish of different colors and sizes. It is really fun and the water is wonderful. Grandpa Klaus has his first sense of achievement while snorkeling. The new diving goggles are tight! He doesn't have to swallow water.

Two hours later Maja arrives with Charlotte, Thomas and Jasmin. On the way back we make a stop at Mission Rock Beach. The name Mission Rocks comes from a former Catholic mission station that was founded there in 1888. From the parking lot, a narrow path leads through the high overgrown dunes to the narrow beach.  At low tide, the offshore rocks are exposed and in the pools that remain behind, one can discover numerous small sea creatures. At high tide, the high waves crash against the rock barrier, which is also very impressive.

In the evening we test the restaurant John Dory. Because of the "regular"  power failure (lockshed level 3) there are no fries until 7 pm. Dorade is offered as line-fish. The food is not as tasty as in the Ocean Grill, but a hippo walks right past the terrace.

iMfolozi Bush Lodge in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (10/24/22)  

We pack before breakfast and use the time to get some supplies at the Spar. Fortunately we already have some experience and can estimate the amount. A few cans of beer and two bundles of firewood is quickly bought.  After breakfast, the kids take the opportunity for a last visit to the pool. 

Our destination for the next 3 days is the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park in the heart of Zululand. Due to its proclamation in 1895 it is the oldest game reserve in South Africa. The two parks Hluhluwe and iMfolozi were merged in 1989. A regional road still separates the park halves, but there are no longer any separating fences. The park now covers 96,000 hectares and is home to the Big 5 as well as a variety of other large animals such as giraffes, antelopes and zebras as well as many smaller animals such as a wide variety of bird species. The park earned its worldwide recognition through the conservation program for the endangered white rhino, which was carried out in the 1950s and 1960s and is still ongoing today.  Meanwhile, about 1,250 white rhinos live in this former hunting ground of the Zulu King Shaka, as well as about 300 black rhinos, 200 lions, 80 leopards, 700 elephants and 5,500 buffalos. Independent game drives are possible on 230 km of well-maintained sand, gravel and asphalt roads.

The drive to the gate takes less than an hour. But we have to check in at the Mpila camp and from there we drive another 25 minutes to the really remote bush lodge, so that it is already 2 p.m. before we reach our accommodation. In the meantime rain is pouring. Deep puddles and small watercourses have formed on the sandy road. In the pouring rain we move into our accommodations. By the time we have unpacked and put everything away, we are soaking wet. As suddenly as it started, the rain stops again. Within a short time everything is dried and the sun is shining.

The bushlodge is built on the bluff facing the Umfolozi River and offers magnificent river views. A wooden observation platform invites you to leisurely landscape or wildlife viewing. The facility is protected against unwanted visitors only by an electric "elephant fence". Antelopes and other "small animals" have free access. We are accommodated in safari tents with brick walls and canvas-roof. We had to book 5 houses because only 2 people are allowed per accommodation. Each of the houses is equipped with bathroom and equipped kitchen. We only inhabited 4 units because Pauline preferred to sleep with her parents. For larger groups there is a "conference center" with a larger kitchen, large dining area and living room with leather chairs, TV, projector, etc.. Because we were the largest group (besides us only 2 or 3 houses were rented out), we were allowed to use the conference center free of charge. This was ideal for cooking and eating together. In the morning even a dishwasher came to clean up the kitchen.  

The afternoon drive brought us many animals (elephants, rhinos, giraffes, buffalos, antelopes, pigs, vultures, eagles). Several times we have to give way to road-blocking elephants and rhinos. Unfortunately we do not see lions.

Dirk is already busy making fire when we return. On the grill lands fresh tuna (a present from our dutch neighbors at Sunset Lodge) and chicken. The almost obligatory scorpion hunt rounds off the day. 


Early Bird (10/25/22)

Klaus has scheduled the game drive for 6:00 am. We are up early and check out the riverbank with a cup of coffee. The morning atmosphere with the very special light pleases us as always very much.

Everyone goes along and Maja is also ready for the safari. Hardly in the car she falls asleep again after the first rocking. Moritz and Pauline have taken their seats in the third row of the Fortuner again.

We take the road towards Mpila to drive the northern loop. Driving time about 2 hours. According to the ranger we would have the best chance for a lion sighting there. 

At first the road is deserted. Only impalas line the road. Then we meet again the group of giraffes from yesterday. The only highlight are the various vultures and eagles sitting on the dead elephant trees. We drive behind an official guide. A rhinoceros from behind, there is nothing more even for the paying customers. We stop briefly at the viewpoint and start our journey home with a small loop.

The landscape is dominated by dead trees sticking out between the green acacia bushes. At a waterhole several rhinos and a group of giraffes have gathered. Two giraffes are having a small fight. They slap each other's horns on their rumps, their long necks banging against each other. Pauline is shocked that her favorite animals can be aggressive.

When they get home, they have breakfast. We postpone the planned trip to Hilltop Camp until tomorrow. The kids are exhausted and need a break.

For lunch we drive to the Centenary Centre. Here the protection program for the rhinos is presented in detail. There is also a nice artist market "Vulamehlo" and a small restaurant. At 34 degrees we relax in the garden. The children take the opportunity to buy souvenirs. 

Back at camp we see a huge storm front approaching. When the storm breaks we are already in our beds. For more than an hour we "enjoy" cloud-bursting rain and almost non-stop lightning and thunder from our beds. We are not sure if the tent constructions will survive this. The lightning illuminates everything as bright as day, but the constructions hold. Except for some overturned metal chairs on the terraces, there was no damage. The ranger tells us that this was the most violent storm he has ever experienced.


Farm in the mountains (10/27/22)

To take a more relaxed approach to the return trip to the airport, (with the kids, a drive of more than 8 hours would not be good), we put in 2 nights at Wetlands Game Lodge, Wakkerstroom. The journey, according to google-maps 3.5 hours, turns out to be quite arduous. No asphalt and huge potholes slow down our travel speed considerably. On the way we lose the car with Dirk and Co. They turn somewhere else than we do. Our hope that they have chosen the better way is not fulfilled. They arrive at the day's destination about 10 minutes after us. A pothole has damaged a rim so much that Dirk has to change tires. The damage is covered by our comprehensive insurance without deductible.  

The lodge, actually a huge farm with the main focus "breeding of race horses" is located very quiet and secluded at about 1800 m in the majestic Wetlands Mountains. A variety of antelopes, zebras, birds can be seen in the grasslands and wetlands. Game drives are offered, but we do not take advantage of them. We just want to let the vacation end easy going. 

The small town Wakkerstroom in 6.5 km distance we visit of course. There are some original stores which we look at. The bakery offers delicious breakfast, which we gladly take on the day of departure.  

We had booked the cheapest rooms. Upon request, the owner provided us with a free update to the "Mansion House". There we were among ourselves and very comfortably accommodated. 

Activities were limited to walks and a visit to the 20 pregnant mares. Pauline is allowed to help with the grooming. Our own bar and an almost private restaurant, there was only one couple booked in besides us, make us feel like everything revolves around us. Next to the restaurant, the guys discover a pool billiard in the event hall. They are allowed to play for free and unlimited and are well occupied with it for 2 days. 

Drive to the airport (10/29/22)

For the drive back to the airport we don't rely on google-maps but follow the advice of our hosts. We drive northbound, then back on the highway to the airport. Its about 50 km more but still much faster. We drive relaxed and without potholes. Around 3 pm we arrive at the airport. The return of the cars is without problems. 

The flight, again with rather bad food, is unspectacular and lands on time in Frankfurt.