South African Extravaganza

Here’s to an awesome awesome cool cool holiday … clink, clink. That’s how our South African holiday ended, and we really meant it too … at the risk of casting aspersions on holidays past, it may have been the best holiday ever. The bar has been set, and if our hosts Rob and Pernille ever visit Australia we’ll need to pull out all the stops to top it. A lot was packed into 4 weeks … we met interesting people, saw amazing wildlife and experienced beautiful landscapes … some of us confronted our deepest fears … I got even more hooked on twitching … and we all drank too much.

Part 1: Confronting our fears

Everybody has something they’re afraid of. For many people it’s Jack in the boxes, for others its deadly insects such as moths, for others it’s dairy cows or maybe the dark. While most people would say that such fears are rational there are some people who are cursed with a rare and irrational fear. For Jan, her nightmares were filled with African carnivores, and in particular with Mr Metzi the Leopard. If you’ve ever had a friend with a crazy irrational fear you probably just ridiculed them and told them to get over it … well naturally we all tried this with Jan but she stubbornly refused to let go of the idea that being out in the African bush with Lions, Leopards, Elephants and Angry Hippo’s was dangerous. The only thing for it was for Jan to confront her fear head-on. Luckily Rob knew this when he started planning the holiday, and organised for us to do a walking safari based out of the Metzi Metzi camp in Kruger national park. These safaris are unusual because they involve viewing wildlife whilst on foot rather than from the safety of a vehicle. Safety on the walk is provided by two expert Rangers who act as guides and know how to avoid dangerous situations. Just in case, they also carry powerful hunting rifles.


Don’t get left behind Jan!

Jan smelled a rat pretty early on and started asking all about how safe a walking safari would be. Rob (who’s been on these things before) offered lots of reassurances about the skill of the rangers, and although Jan was a little apprehensive she seemed to take solace in this. Once we arrived in Kruger, the plan was to do a mountain bike trip as an easy lead-in to the real walking safari, but this really didn’t have the desired calming effect. Unfortunately for Jan, the ranger’s intro talk involved phrases such as “the animals would like to kill you”, and “elephants hate mountain bikes … they like to smash them”. Well .. sadly .. Jan was far from overcoming her fear … but instead seemed to have her worst nightmares confirmed. Nevertheless, despite all her fears she was able to put on a smile when we took a close look at some hippos.


Before heading to Metzi Metzi where the real walking safari would begin we spent several days in Oliphant’s camp, driving around seeing animals, and going on some other short walks with rangers. Jan was even able to exact some revenge on Rob by getting closer than he to seeing a bird he has long sought … “Pell’s Fishing Owl”. Each evening, we were able to reflect on the incredible sights of the day while sipping a beer on a deck overlooking the Oliphant’s river. All the while though, the tension was building as we got closer to the time when we would walk in Metzi Metzi.

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Despite the beer, the nice view, and the excellent company, Jan still wasn’t completely relaxed

Finally we arrived at Metzi Metzi camp and spent our first night in the cute little huts there, listening to the sound of the rain … and then early in the morning some strange coughing sounds in the distance. The coughing sounds actually turned out to be lions .. and on the second night they were very loud and close to the camp, which was slightly unnerving as we were told that the minimal fence around the camp was “more to prevent us visitors from straying too far than to actually prevent animals entering”. In the morning we finally set of on our first proper walk in the bush … the muddy ground from last nights rain showing plenty of animal tracks including some from lions.


Jan confronted her fears, walking along and (I’m told) even relaxing enough to enjoy the sights. Interestingly enough, one of the highlights was checking out all the different poo types we found on the trails. Black rhino poo was perhaps the coolest, since it contains amazingly precisely cut tree branches, sliced at a 45 degree angle.

So in the end Jan confronted her fear of Lions and Leopards … she could hold her head high. We, on the other hand are still afraid of cows, Jack in the boxes and moths.


The huts at Metzi Metzi open up all around to let air flow through on a hot day

Part 2: Spectacular wildlife

Our trip involved looking at savannah in Kruger national park, mountain meadows in Malalotja (Swaziland), tropical coasts in Kwazulunatal, and fynbos in Cape Town and in Cedarberg national park. Thanks to being in cool places, but also to the keen eyes of Rob (bird spotter extraoidinaire), Jan (Leopard spotter), Pernille (Lion finder), and Ira (Owl spotter) we saw a lot of stuff.


We saw loads and loads of big African mammals, especially in Kruger

Big animals were easy to photograph, but we also saw a lot of birds (my personal favourites were the secretary bird, ground hornbill and cape rock jumper, all of which we saw up quite close ), some very cool lizards and insects and an incredible variety of flowers.


Some of the coolest things were insects and lizards


Flowers around cape town and in the cederburg were incredible

Part 3: Adventure

Just in case braving the dangerous animals in Kruger wasn’t enough we booked in for some guaranteed thrills. Whitewater rafting in Swaziland nearly ended badly when Rob and Jan got stuck on a rock in the middle of a big rapid, only to have Pernille and I crash into them and end up in the drink.


Not sure if bird watching counts as thrill seeking Ira

Part 4: Landscapes

Great views … we saw heaps of them. Cape Town, with its mountainous backdrop and coastline was a joy to look at and in the Cederberg we were treated to no shortage of amazing vistas. I had a go at creating a panorama from a vantage point some way up the trail to “The Arch” in the Cederberg. The result doesn’t do justice to it all … but it was an interesting experiment (here it is). I did the stitching with Hugin.

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View on the way up to the arch. Cederberg Mountains


A huge carpet of flowers formed the foreground of this nice view in the Cederberg

Part 5: Culinary Delights

Our tour of South Africa was fuelled by some very high quality stuff. Braai’s (BBQ’s) formed the staple in Kruger, Wine Tastings and Amazing restaurants entertained us around Cape Town, and last but not least the potjie was all we needed to keep us going in the Cederberg.

We discovered a lot about wine on our trip, and by the end had become veritable wine snobs. I even learned a special technique by watching a tourist from England. This involves sticking as much of your face as possible into a wine glass … including your eye if possible. Then put the glass down … swirl very vigorously and repeat.


A pair of wine snobs deliberating on the muscularity of this wine’s structure

One of the culinary highlights of the trip was lunch at the Strandloper restaurant in Langebaan. This place is like no other restaurant. You sit in the shade on the beach and eat 10 sumptuous courses of seafood using mussel shells as cutlery. The mussels and the crayfish were amazing, and the setting was perfect.

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We spent three nights camping in the Cederberg and on two of those we ate Rob’s special Potjie. This was no ordinary stew. The making of it required adherence to the Potjie law, which states that Mrs Bull’s chutney must be added in large quantities and stipulates who may or may not touch the Potjie at various stages of the process. We weren’t sure if women were allowed to touch the Potjie at all … but Jan flaunted the rules and did so anyway. While the Potjie was indeed delicious, its richness remained intact … even after passing through our digestive systems. Let that be a warning to those sharing a tent with Potjie eaters.


Jan, threatening to violate the Potjie law

The End

Well. In the end we conquered our fear of lions, drank wine and ate Potjie. Here’s to the next trip.


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