Mapungubwe, Kruger, Indian Ocean (2016)

First safari experiences for Till, Kai and Christiane.

On this two-week "easy-to-go" trip we combine wildlife viewing and nature experiences in the Kruger- and Mapungubwe National Parks, combined with sightseeing in the region around the Blyde River Canyon and relaxation phases at the Indian Ocean (St. Lucia, Ballito).

On the map you can get a rough overview.


The current tour follows "Botswana's North" almost seamlessly. Here Sabine's sister Christiane accompanies us with her two sons Till and Kai. They are in Africa for the first time. Therefore, we have put together a "crossover program".

In order to bridge the waiting time until the arrival of the guests in Johannesburg and to recharge our bodies a bit, we have rented a 4-star B&B "Sleepeezy Cottages" in Benoni for 4 days. Benoni is a town with 160,000 inhabitants in the greater Johannesburg area and only 15 minutes drive to the airport Oliver Tambo. 

The owners of the B&B, Lawrence and Moira, immigrated to SA 37 years ago from Blackburn near Manchester. Lawrence has been a member of the local Benoni Lake Golf Club for 26 years, so of course we played a round of golf there. We also played at ERPM Golf Club, which is about 113 years old, and the highlight was Ebotse Links (No. 32 in South Africa).  In the gross ranking it was 1:1, on the Ebotsi I lost with one stroke behind. Sabine holed out for par after a botched tee shot and a questionable 21-yards-chip! 😂

We got a nice room overlooking the small pool. Unfortunately, we hardly used the amenities of the pool and garden. We were too busy golfing, shopping, organizing the new rental car (Toyota Fortuner) and eating out (the latter left obvious marks on our hips and bellies, as you can see in the photos).

On Saturday, 10/8 we pick up the 3 Merdians at 5:30 a.m. at the airport and start the 520 km drive to Mapungubwe National Park in the far northwest of South Africa.

The first safari days of Christiane, Till and Kai

Christiane, Till and Kai landed in Johannesburg on time, so we could start our journey north as planned. The roads are in a very good condition, which allows a very relaxed driving. A short stop in the very modern "Mall of the North" in Polokwane gave us the chance to stock up on the necessities.

Because of the vacations in South Africa we meet some more families in the park. We stay at Leokwe Camp and move into house No. 17. Immediately after arrival and unpacking, the children relax in the house and the adults go for their first game drive. In the process, we watch a cow elephant deftly negotiate an electric fence while showing the way to the babies.

The photos are simply a colorful collection of what we got to see during the 3 days.

About the photos: 1: Relaxing at the "rock pool", originally designed to incorporate the natural rock environment.
2: Judging by the facial expression, even baboon babies can get depressed already.
3: A typical rock formation 4: The imposing baobab-trees are typical for this region. 5: Zebras 6: The first rain is eagerly awaited. The green trees in the background mark the river bank. 7: Giraffe 8: Warthog family drinking. 10: Secretary Bird; a bird of prey that usually kills its prey with kicks (greetings to Karin (insider joke!)). 11: Sabine has mastered the 4x4 Mopani Trail well. 12: The Merdians and the baobab tree.


Unexpected home visits

On the second day we were surprised by animal visitors in our house. Already at breakfast, kudus, bushbucks and impalas appeared in front of our terrace. Later, a herd of elephants moved towards our house and tore out bushes and small trees on their way to eat them with relish. Feeding noises and the well-known trumpeting provided an appropriate background noise. For several hours the pachyderms romped around us. We had to take care of the necessary safety distance ourselves. They thanked us for our hospitality by leaving a fragrant mess right in front of our front door.

In the afternoon we cooled off in the small rock pool. 3 sides of the pool are in natural rock, the side facing the valley is walled. Tracks around the pool show that a leopard visited here during the night. 

After the evening barbecue, a small head with pointed ears suddenly appeared above the railing and immediately disappeared. We shone the light on the surroundings and discovered a genet right under the terrace, waiting to see if something might fall off the barbecue meat. A short time later, the male counterpart joined her. They posed patiently and did not let themselves be disturbed even by our flashlight storm.

To the photos:

1: Kudu lady in front of our bush shower. 2: Elephant looking up at us; 3: Christiane looking back. 4,5: Herd grazing all afternoon in front of our terrace; 6: Does Till notice the visitors?; 7: They have surrounded us. 8: Christiane shows courage; 9: Left behind; 10, 11: Genets wait for an opportunity to dust.



Today we explore the western part of the park.  It is separated from the main part by citrus and vegetable plantations and can only be reached with some effort. 

At a waterhole the park administration has built a nice "Bird-Hide", a roofed and spacious shelter from where you can observe and photograph the animals undisturbed. Because of the midday heat, there are only a few animals, including two young monitor lizards, which walk leisurely through the water.

A moment of shock - the strong wind has blown Christiane's sunglasses out of the hide next to the waterhole. Courageously ;-) Kai climbs over the safety fence into the water and saves the glasses. He probably didn't want to leave his mother standing in the dark. Well done!
Finally Sabine volonteers to drive the 15 km long Mopane 4x4 Trail. No problem for woman and machine.

Kruger Park is calling!

Shortly before 8:00 we leave the camp and drive eastwards, parallel to the Zimbabwean border, towards Pafuri, the northernmost entrance to the Kruger National Park. In Musina, the border town with the most important crossing into Zimbabwe, we fill up on gasoline and supplies and increase the tire pressure back to asphalt standard.

Punda Maria - the north in the Kruger Park

In the camp Christiane and the boys move into a small bungalow, we enjoy our stay in one of the spacious safari tents. The solid tent construction is complemented by a nice terrace with an outdoor kitchen right next to the fence. The terrace is also the place for our obligatory braii in the evening. This time we serve "aged rump steaks", tender and quite big! We had decided to appoint Kai in charge for the firemaking, Sabine and Christiane for the side dishes and I for the meat. Till grills himself a corn on the cob every day as a starter and has already brought it to a certain perfection.

The Flycatcher Trail recommended in the guidebook turns out to be a small circular trail that the women "hike" relaxed in flip flops. A highlight of this camp is the waterhole just outside the fence with an observation post overlooking it. Without having to walk far, we can observe elephants and buffalo, which visibly enjoy the cool water.

During breakfast on the terrace of our tent we are visited by two elephant bulls, which have already tried the trees around us during the night.

Important for the children was that there was a small swimming pool again. With air-temperatures around 40 degrees a welcome chance to cool down.

Mopani Restcamp

Mopani Restcamp is one of the big camps with full facilities, gas station, restaurant, store, swimming pool, etc. Here we had booked a "Family-Cottage with View" for 2 nights. On the way from Punda Maria we stopped for lunch at the idyllic Shingwedzi Camp. Besides rarely seen antelopes, vultures and crocodiles, lunch was also very tasty. Shortly before we reached Mopani Camp, we had to make a mandatory photo stop. Sabine and I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn for the fourth time during this vacation. Capricorns must there "compellingly" insert a memorial minute.

We were pleasantly surprised by our house. Wonderfully situated on the elevated shore of the Lake, it offered 2 baths, air conditioning, well-equipped kitchen, and a terrace with a lake view. In the large pool the boys immediately sought cooling and found it. From the terrace we could watch hippos, crocodiles, buffalos, elephants, water birds and a colony of marabous comfortably with a glass of wine. 

We had booked a game walk for the morning of day 2. Start 5:15 a.m. 2 rangers drove the adults into the wilderness (the boys preferred the beds).
For 3 hours we stalked at a brisk pace through the Mopani bushes and saw, despite professional guidance, almost nothing. It was quite windy and the guides had warned us that in such weather the chances of animal sightings were rather poor. They were right. At least we learned tracking and that the smoke of dried elephant dung is a proven home remedy against headaches.
For the afternoon we had booked a sunset drive, which I cancelled for myself after the non-experiences of the morning. A mistake, as it turned out.

The four Merdians not only saw a Rhino on this drive (which are supposedly not found in this area), but also witnessed a lion meal. The lions had brought down a buffalo in the morning and lay around the prey with big bellies, while jackals and vultures tried to profit from it as well.

On day 3, on the way out of the park to Polokwane, we had the luck to see a leopard. He was lying in some distance on a boulder and did not let himself be disturbed by the many cars.

Blyde River Canyon, green and cool!

In Polokwane, the town right on the edge of Kruger Park, there is an impressive phosphate mine with a huge open pit hole (Big Hole) that we checked out. On the way to Sabie, our destination for the day, we wanted to visit the Blyde River Canyon and Bourkes Pot-Holes right away. Cloudy weather and poor progress just made it possible to see the canyon. After all, it is the third largest canyon in the world (after Grand Canyon, USA, and Fish River Canyon, Namibia). Despite time pressure and low-hanging clouds still an impressive piece of nature.

It was not until about 18:00 o'clock that we arrived in Sabie. Sabie is a small town in the center of the so called Panorama Route with many accommodation options and a number of useful restaurants. 

The next morning we drove to God's Window, a nationally known lookout where, in good weather, you can see as far as Mozambique. Often dense fog prevents this. We, and with us several hundred visitors, were lucky. The view was great. At the end of the day, we treated ourselves to one of the widely (rightly) praised pancakes in Graskop.

After another overnight stay, we set off for the coast. The 8-hour drive to St. Lucia on the Indian Ocean was fortunately uneventful, but still exhausting for the driver. 

St. Lucia, tropical beaches

St. Lucia is the tourist center of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The small town is located at the mouth of Lake St. Lucia Lagoon on a narrow headland, bordered by the St. Lucia Estuary to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east. We stayed at "Little Eden", very spacious, very well furnished, with a nice pool, which we spurned, however, for reasons described below. 

Subtropical climate, wonderfully expansive beaches, hippos, crocodiles and a rich birdlife, all this makes St. Lucia the most popular resort on the Elephant Coast. 

The adjacent national park includes wetlands and coastal areas and consists of many small protected areas with subtropical to tropical vegetation. The Mkuze swamps lie to the north, while dry thorn savannahs extend to the west.

In the center of the park is Lake St. Lucia, after which the town is named. With a length of 50 kilometers and a width of up to 15 kilometers, its area is 360 km², making it the largest lake in South Africa. The 200-kilometer-long coastal strip is home to the second-highest forested sand dunes in the world. 
The largest crocodile and hippo populations in South Africa live in the wetlands. The savannahs in the west are home to guenons, rhinos, buffalo and leopards. Herons, pelicans and storks breed among the lakes and swamps. The park has the highest density of amphibians, including many protected species. In addition, depending on the season, humpback whales can be seen on the ocean side.

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999.

In 2004, the mouth of the wetland was closed by a sand dune to prevent an oil spill following the accident of the freighter Jolly Rubino. Since then, the water level has dropped considerably below sea level, so the measure has not yet been reversed.

So we expected blue sea, white beaches and tropical temperatures. We had clouds, thunderstorms, 14 degrees and rain. This put our program a little out of step.

We did the boat trip in the lagoon anyway. Crocodiles, except for the one we photographed, were not to be seen. In cold weather they stay in the water. But the hippo families were all the more lively. In hot weather they stay in the water during the day and come ashore only in the evening and at night. Because it was so "nice and cool", they were quite active. Weaver birds could be seen building their nests and the osprey could also be seen.

 Beautiful days in Ballito

From St. Lucia we drove 2 hours south to the Dolphin Coast, north of Durban. We pitched our quarters with Erika and Herbie in Ballito. They run a 5-star B&B, the Zimbali-View-Eco Guesthouse, which we had already booked last year. We liked it so much that it was no question to stay here again. Herbie and Erika prepare a fantastic breakfast for their guests every morning and take care so touchingly that you immediately have the feeling of belonging. From every room you have a view of the surf of the Indian Ocean and several times we could watch dolphins directly from the terrace.

For Christiane and the kids the right place (beach, sun and delicious food) to end the vacation. From Shaka Zulu Airport, Durban, they flew back to Germany.

For us now begins travel section AFRICA 3. The planning starts now ...