Blogged by Anne
The second part of our “local is lekker” itinerary kicked off with Bruce and Zara’s Natal Midlands wedding. We love the Midlands, which are rolling English-country-style hills in the foothills of the Drakensberg, but don’t go there often enough because the drive from Joburg is just too long (4.5 hours) to be a comfortable weekend destination. We stayed near Nottingham Road on a guest farm called Beacon Vlei. The Midlands is very much a foodie holiday, full of cheese farms, craft brewers (Nottingham Road Brewery was arguably the original SA craft brewer) and excellent restaurants including the fantastic Italian restaurant La Lampara, which served as the venue for Zara and Bruce’s lovely wedding. If you run out of space for eating and drinking, the Nelson Mandela capture site is well worth a visit and there are plenty of shopping opportunities including the Tsonga factory shop (leather shoes and bags handmade by local ladies) and the best kitchen shop we have ever seen at Piggly Wiggly.
Next stop was the Adam’s family cottage at Lupatana camp on the Wild Coast, about 20km north of Port St Johns. We visited the Wild Coast previously, right at the start of our Very Long Weekend, but that was mostly by boat as we searched for sardines so it was great to go back and explore some of the spots we’d seen from the boat by foot. The Wild Coast is an incredible part of the world, miles of unspoiled coastline and green hills dotted with rural villages painted in the traditional turquoise paint. It has very little tourism infrastructure, the occasional lodge (mostly backpacker style) and some fishing cottages built with permission from the local chiefs. Although we stayed in a private house, there is a Drifters lodge at Lupatana. It’s a very laid back place, and we spent the week relaxing, hiking, testing out the Landrovers and watching the fisherman pull in bream (and the occasional hammerhead shark, catch and release). We were privileged to celebrate Mike and Angela’s engagement while we were there and would like to say a massive thank you to them and the rest of the Adam clan for hosting us for the week.
We left the Wild Coast on Easter Sunday, with an awesome traveller style Easter egg hunt organized by Shelly and Bredin who hid goodies in and amongst our camping equipment. We were heading for the Kgalagadi but wanted to take our time getting there so we made several stops along the way. First up was Tenahead Lodge, an amazing 5 star lodge in the mountains above the hamlet of Rhodes, very close to SA’s only skiing resort (Tiffindell) and the Lesotho border. The lodge is very remote, situated at the top of the Naude’s Nek pass. It’s a great spot for seeing some high altitude bird species like the beautiful but highly endangered bearded vulture.
En route to Augrabies, we overnighted at the old mining town of Kimberley. This was really just a quick stop for us but we managed a quick detour to see the Big Hole and a lake outside town which is home to one of the largest breeding colonies of flamingoes in Southern Africa. We can really recommend a guesthouse called 75 on Milner (http://www.milnerlodge.co.za). For more info on Kimberley, have a look at Laura and Ady’s post here https://strikhedoniantravels.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/goodbye-jozi-town/
We spent two nights in the SANparks chalets at Augrabies Falls National park. The falls form where South Africa’s biggest river, the Orange, rushes through a granite canyon. Unfortunately after the country’s worst drought in a number of years, water levels were quite low so the falls themselves were not as impressive as usual. The beautiful canyon, good hikes and plenty of wildlife made up for the lack of waterfall however.
Next up was somewhere we have been wanting to visit for ages – the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Relative to the amount of accommodation available, the Kgalagadi is SA’s most popular national park and it is notoriously difficult to get a booking. To make matters worse, the camps are far apart on bad roads so you can’t just book whatever is available, you have to consider travel time. Given how late we booked, we were lucky to get two nights camping at Twee Rivieren (the SA entrance gate) and two nights at Mata Mata (on the Namibian border). We stayed the night before at the Kgalagadi lodge (http://www.kgalagadi-lodge.co.za), a real gem of a place about 5km from the Twee Rivieren gate. It has a good restaurant, a nice pool area, a great shop selling freshly baked goods, and well decorated, well equipped chalets. When we go back, we will consider staying there as an alternative to Twee Rivieren.
Twee Rivieren is somewhat maligned in Kgalagadi circles. It is right on the edge of the park right by the gate and so serves mostly as a staging post for people staying one night on their way deeper into the park. This makes it very busy and noisy, without the ‘in the middle of the bush’ charm that the other camps have. That said, it’s a friendly place, with mongooses running around camp and plenty of good game viewing. And Dave did almost get into a fight with a very drunk guy trying to steal our plug point. After arriving in Twee Rivieren, we decided to check availability at other camps in the park. Incredibly, there was space for the following night at a bush camp called Bitterpan.
Bitterpan is a remote camp on a one-way 4×4-only track halfway (as in 3 hours in either direction) between Nossob and Mata Mata. It is unfenced and only sleeps eight in four furnished tents on a little pan. It is magnificent. We spent the evening getting to know the other guests (all lovely) over many glasses of things. In the morning we were treated to a hunting barn owl and a black-maned Kgalagadi lion walking across the pan and roaring at some cheeky black backed jackals.
After Bitterpan, we enjoyed our two nights camping at Mata Mata where we got to spend some serious game viewing time. Game in the Kgalagadi is mostly restricted to the dry water courses, which are home to abundant springbok and gemsbok as well as plenty of ostrich, jackal, wildebeest and hartebeest. In between the water courses are miles of red dunes, covered at this time of the year in green grass and yellow daisies, with very little game. There is no shortage of lion and we saw at least one on every drive including some females trying to dig up a Cape fox hole (the fox escaped fortunately). Surprisingly, we only saw meerkats once. The birding was excellent, with plenty of raptors including owls.
Distance since leaving Joburg 3300km
Cumulative bird count: 96
- Red hartebeest
- Blue wildebeest
- Cape fox
- Black backed jackal
- African Wild Cat
- Tortoise (leopard?)
- Rock monitor lizard
- Cape cobra
Next stop – Namibia