Archive for September, 2014

Saturday 27 September Knysna to Port Elizabeth

This morning we bid farewell to Knysna and head towards Port Elizabeth. The weather is once again cool, overcast and threatening to rain.
We drove through Plettenberg Bay, which is an affluent beachside area. The South African school leavers come here to celebrate the end of school. We stopped at a lookout to take some photos and then we passed the Plettenberg Bay Lagoon and the Keurbooms River.
We were then taken to our Freedom of Choice activities and as we drove into the car park, we saw two little baboons chasing each other and a Blue Crane, which is the national emblem of South Africa. We were also interested to see a telecom tower that was disguised as a tree and we were told that this is what all telecom towers look like all over South Africa – much nicer than our ugly towers at home.
We chose the Birds of Eden Sanctuary with its unique three-hectare netted dome, which is the world’s second largest and spans over a gorge of indigenous forest. Birds of Eden was developed to provide a safe environment in which to release a large collection of free-flight African birds. Currently, over 3,500 birds, comprising of over 200 African and imported species, live at the sanctuary, where they are protected against being hunted, exploited, abused, neglected and improper care. At the sanctuary, they can be as natural as possible and are not caged and fly and nest they please.
The sanctuary has its own mysterious ruin, which incorporates a walk-behind waterfall – unfortunately by the time we got to this section it was raining so our photo taking was limited.
Despite the inclement weather, we thoroughly enjoyed walking through this natural environment and seeing many different species of colourful birds as well as the Blue Duiker, a miniature antelope that is usually found in the forests. We were surprised at the number of imported species that we saw, including the Macaws and an Australian Galah.
As we made our way to our lunch stop, we passed over 3 bridges that spanned deep gorges: Bobbejaan Bridge, Groot Bridge and BlouKrans Bridge where they do bungee jumping.
We stopped at the Storms River Bridge and had lunch at the Mugg and Bean before heading off to Port Elizabeth. We drove on a good highway, through some lovely forest areas and also saw a rather large wind farm. We arrived at Port Elizabeth at 4.00pm and the intermittent showers changed to fine weather again.
Port Elizabeth, or The Bay, is one of the largest cities in South Africa and is situated in the Eastern Cape Province on Algoa Bay. Port Elizabeth was founded as a town in 1820 to house British settlers and now forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, which has a population of over 1.3 million. The tennis great, Roger Federer’s Mum was born here and Roger Federer has a Tennis Academy here too.
We stayed in the Boardwalk Hotel and Spa, with its Victorian architecture, and set against the beautiful blue of the Indian Ocean, which we can see from our room.
We settled into our beautiful room and then headed down to the Kipling’s Brasserie for an exquisite dinner in lovely surroundings with a man playing the piano and singing in the background. We returned to our room and caught up with our blog and posted photos to the gallery.
Tomorrow, we are flying from Port Elizabeth to Durban and then driving up to the Thanda Private Game Reserve, where we will be staying for two nights and we will NOT have internet coverage and only a limited access to electric power.

Friday 26 September Knysna – Featherbed Nature Reserve

This morning, we woke to an overcast day that was a lot cooler, 11° and it was forecast to rain.
After a leisurely breakfast, Nando drove us down to the town of Kynsna and for those of us that wanted, we dropped off our washing at a laundry that Delia told us was very cheap. The staff will do all our washing and have it ready for us to collect this afternoon after our excursion.
We were then given some free time at the Waterfront to do some souvenir shopping, before being taken to the jetty for our short ferry ride to the privately owned Featherbed Nature Reserve, where we joined a park guide for a 4WD with trailer journey to the top of Western Head. We stopped at the top and had amazing views of the steep sandstone cliffs, the lagoon, mountains and Knysna itself. Featherbed Nature Reserve is also home to a breeding program of the rare Blue Dulker, which is one of the smallest antelope species in the world.
We were then given the option to go back down on the 4WD or to walk down. We enjoyed our 3 kilometre nature walk back to the café and although it was downhill most of the way, there were lots of steps, some of which were cut into the rock and were quite uneven, some were loose rocks, some were dirt steps with tree roots growing up through them so we had to watch our step, all of which made the descent a bit tough.
We walked through the coastal forest and fynbos, stopping at every corner to take photos of the amazing and changing views across the heads and the rugged coastline.
We also were able to go down a section of 120 steps to an area with twin holes in the rocks that the Indian Ocean was surging through. Of course, this meant that we had to walk back up the 120 steps to continue our trek, but it was well worth it. Our next challenge was when we were told that we could go over to a special lookout area that involved climbing up some rocks and over some sections that didn’t have steps, but once again the extra effort, with the aid of our broom-handle-type sticks that we had been given at the beginning of the walk, meant that we got some more amazing photos.
We continued our walk down the many steps until our path came out at the Kynsna River after it met the Indian Ocean at the Heads. We then walked along the flat for a further kilometre, stopping to take more photos along the way, and finally reached the café/shop area. What an awesome walk with stunning views!
We arrived back for our buffet lunch at the Food Forest Restaurant just in time for the rain to start – perfect timing! Our lunch was most enjoyable and through the fine rain we had a lovely view of the outdoor eating area set on the edge of the lagoon under a canopy of Milkwood trees.
Our boat came back to pick us up at 3.00pm and took us back to the jetty to be met by Nando, who dropped some people off in the town to do more shopping and brought the rest of us back to the Pezula Resort.
We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with our blog and relaxing before heading up to the Resort Café for an informal meal.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Pezula Resort, feeling quite spoilt in our luxurious suite. There are four suites in each block set into the hillside among the beautiful gardens overlooking the golf course and the beach.

Thursday 25 September Oudtshoorn to Knysna

After breakfast, we went to the Cango Caves, which are located in Precambrian Limestone Ridge at the foothills of the Swartberg range near the town of Oudtshoorn. We were taken by a guide into these amazing caves with limestone formations in beautiful colours.   We saw stalagmites, helictites and stalactites. We walked through Van Zyl’s Hall, Botha’s Hall, Rainbow Chamber, Bridal Chamber, Fairyland Chamber, and the Drum Room where we saw a translucent formation. It was totally different from any other caves we have been to, in that we seemed to be a lot closer to the formations as we moved from chamber to chamber.

Then we visited an ostrich farm, the Safari Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn. Our guide, Ricardo, told us about the ostriches on the farm and how they are bred and farmed for their feathers, skins and meat. Richard got to sit on an ostrich and have his photo taken. We were also surprised at the size and weight of an ostrich egg. Eating one would be the same as eating 24 hen eggs and if you wanted to cook a hard-boiled ostrich egg, it would take 2 hours. The shells are hard and Richard was photographed standing on two of them without breaking them – they can withstand a weight of up to 85 kg without breaking. We learnt that ostriches can run at 80 kph and can outrun a lion.

From there, we crossed the Elephant River through Elephant Valley and saw hops growing. We went through the Outeniqua Pass, with its rugged scenery.

We travelled the short distance to George, which is the sixth oldest town in South Africa, The town is a major accommodation centre and has many historical landmarks. We had lunch at the Mugg and Bean (which is similar to our Coffee Club) in a new shopping centre, which had many options for our fellow APT travellers to choose from.

Then we continued along the Garden Route to the coastal town of Knysna. The name Knysna means “straight down”, a reference to the Knysna Heads, which is an amazing geological feature along the coast. There is a treacherous channel through which the sea pours in to flood the beautiful lagoon at the mouth of the Knysna River.

We are staying at the Conrad Pezula Resort and Spa, overlooking the Noetzie Beach and when we arrived at the Resort, we were taken to our magnificent “Suite” in a golf cart. We have a little kitchen area, a large sitting are with a fireplace, a walk in wardrobe and a big bathroom as well as a balcony overlooking the gold course and the beach – very nice!

We got dressed for dinner, which was served in the Private Golf Club and was delicious. We were returned to our room in a golf cart and the driver/porter came in to light our fire for us so that we would be warm as it is a little cool tonight.

Another wonderful day!

Wednesday 24 September Cape Town to Oudtshoorn

Today was a travelling day. This morning, we left Cape Town and drove along the Garden Route, which is a popular scenic road along the south-eastern coast of South Africa. It stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. The name, the Garden Route, comes from the lush and varied foliage through the coastal and forest landscapes. It includes towns such as Mossel Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg Bay and Nature’s Valley; with George, the Garden Route’s largest city and main administrative centre.

We left Cape Town, which was overcast, cool and threatening to rain and after we had climbed over the mountains, the day became clear and sunny and much warmer than the coast. We travelled along the inland Route 62, through an area of wonderful landscapes, vineyards, orchards, steep cliffs, scenic passes, lagoons and lakes, stopping at Rooiberg for morning tea. Some of the group went for a wine tasting experience while the rest of us had a cuppa and a delicious pastry and then climbed up onto the biggest chair in South Africa and had our photo taken.

We continued our drive through some rugged scenery and stopped to take photos of some interesting rock formations that had vertical strata and an Old English Fort built in 1899 on the top of one of the outcrops.

We passed through the Traddou Valley and stopped again for lunch at the Country Pumpkin in Barrydale. From there we drove through the Klein Karoo wine area and the Huis River Pass, which was quite spectacular – very windy, steep and with massive rock-faces.

We drove through Oudtshoorn, which is the largest town in the Klein Karoo Region in the Western Cape province of South Africa and is home to the world’s largest ostrich population, with a number of specialised ostrich breeding farms.

We stayed just outside Oudtshoorn at De Opstal Country Lodge, where the farmhouse, stables and milking parlour date back to 1830 and have all been converted into modern, quaint bedrooms – different! Our room has a queen bed with an old fashioned quilted bedspread, rugs on the floor, log ceiling beams, old, quaint but comfortable furniture and a huge ensuite, which includes a spa bath and a shower big enough to hold a party in. Our fridge and tea making facilities are out on the verandah with a table and two chairs.

We went for a wander around the buildings, checked out the restaurant, lounge, bar and swimming pool, before getting dressed for dinner.

Tuesday 23 September Cape Town – Cape Peninsula

Today, we spent the day touring the breathtaking Cape Peninsula. We left Cape Town and travelled along the western beaches, through Camps Bay, Llandudno and Hout Bay. We travelled along Chapman’s Peak Drive, which was breathtaking and stopped to take photos. After we entered the Table Mountain National Park, we saw some baboons at the side of the road, so Nando stopped the bus so we could take some photos.

We continued to Cape Point, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Cape Point is at the southeast corner of the Cape Peninsula and is a little north of the Cape of Good Hope on the southwest corner. Although both of these are well known, neither is actually the southernmost point in Africa – that is Cape Agulthas.

When we arrived at Cape Point, the Funicular wasn’t working, so we decided to walk up the steep hill to the top so that we could see the lighthouse and experience the stunning views. It was well worth the effort.

We then made a short visit to the Cape of Good Hope where we saw some cormorants nesting on the rocks and we also saw the beautiful colours of the coastal fynbos (natural shrubland and vegetation occurring in the Western Cape of South Africa).

We stopped at the Black Marlin for lunch just south of Simon’s Town, which is home to the South African Navy and is located on the shores of False Bay.

Our next stop was Boulder’s Beach, which is a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders. We visited the colony of 3,000 African Penguins, which settled here in 1982. The African Penguin is also known as the Black-Footed Penguin or the Jackass Penguin because it brays like a donkey.

We made our way back to Cape Town past Cape Flats and Westlake. We thoroughly enjoyed our wonderful day on the Cape Peninsula with its beautiful scenery.

When we arrived back at our hotel at about 3.30pm, we went to the huge shopping complex called the Waterfront, which is accessible from the hotel. We got some more American dollars from the Money Exchange and checked out the restaurants on the harbour waterfront, where we will eat dinner tonight.

We could have stayed longer in Cape Town as there is just so much to see in this beautiful part of South Africa.

Monday 22 September Cape Town – Sunny 30° C

We both had the best night’s sleep since we arrived in South Africa – from about 11.15 last night until 6.00am.

After a lovely breakfast, we met our fellow APT travellers in the foyer and Delia told us that we were very lucky because the weather was clear and we would be able to go up Table Mountain.

We met our Coach Driver, Nando, who will be with us until we get to Port Elizabeth. Nando drove us through the Downtown area of Cape Town, to the base station of the Table Mountain Cableway, while Delia gave us a history of Cape Town

We rode the Table Mountain Cableway to the top of Table Mountain – the cable cars are hi-tech and the floor rotated around so that everyone got a view. The cableway took us from the lower cable station about 302 m above sea level, to the plateau at the top of the mountain, 1086m. It travelled at 10m per second, which was pretty fast. When the mountain is wrapped in cloud or mist, this is called the tablecloth. Today, the weather was perfect – sunny and clear and so we had the most amazing views from the Cable car.

Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town. It is a popular tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top – we saw some people climbing up a very narrow path. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. The view from the top of Table Mountain has been described as one of the most epic views in Africa. We overlooked Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north and the Atlantic seaboard to the west and south. Table Mountain is a World Heritage Site and is the natural home to fynbos, a unique, endangered collection of shrubs and plants.

We went for a walk along the top, taking in the amazing views as well as the beautiful fynbos growing among the rocks. We also saw a Rock Dassie, which is a little furry creature that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a guinea pig. Interestingly, the Dassie has “built in sunglasses” allowing it to look directly at the sun to help it to escape from Hawks and Eagles.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Table Mountain with its spectacular views!

We returned to town and visited District Six Museum, which is in the former inner-city residential area, District Six. The museum was founded in 1994 as a memorial to the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants of various races in District Six during Apartheid in South Africa. The government took the houses, the land and livelihood from everyone who was not pure European. And they were forced to relocate. In 1968, the first demolitions occurred and the name was changed to Zonnebloem. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and made President in 1994, he gave the District back to the people. District 6 Beneficiary Trust was formed in 1997 to co-ordinate the process of restitution and redevelopment of District 6.

The floor of the museum is covered with a big map of District 6 with hand written notes from former inhabitants that indicates where their houses were located then. We also saw a display of old street signs and a big “Name Cloth” which began in 1992 and has had the names and messages embroidered to save them. A very sad story.

Nando drove us through town on our way back to our hotel to have a quick lunch and get ready for our afternoon Freedom of Choice activities.

We chose to go to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which is said to be the most beautiful in Africa and is claimed as one of the great botanic gardens of the world. We were impressed with the size of Kirstenbosch, set against the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain

Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 and was the first botanic garden in the world to be devoted to a country’s indigenous flora. Kirstenbosch displays a wide variety of the unique plant life of the Cape Flora, also known as Fynbos, as well as plants from all the different regions of southern Africa.

The 36 hectare garden is part of a 528 hectare estate which has over 7,000 species, including many rare and threatened species.

Terrence, our guide, took us up a hill to the top of the gardens to the Treetop Walk, which is quite new. It is made from curved steel and timber and winds its way through and over the trees. It is called the “Boomslang”, which means tree snake.

We enjoyed seeing all the beautiful African plants and flowers, especially the King Protea, the “King of the Fynbos”. While we were exploring the gardens, an Egyptian Goose, which is actually an African Duck, and her three babies wandered past. We saw a Breede River Yellowwood tree that was hit by lightning and fell over but continued to grow in two segments.

After a wonderful, but hot afternoon, we were returned to our hotel to get ready for our special dinner this evening.

Tonight, we were taken to an African restaurant, Gold, where we joined an African drumming session – each of us had an African drum that we held between our knees and played the simple patterns, There were about 100 people at the restaurant and we made lots of noise and had so much fun! We sampled various tradition Cape Malay food while chatting to our fellow APT travellers and listening to the African entertainers, who sang and danced between the tables. After a wonderful and unusual night, we were returned to our hotel, where we fell into bed, exhausted but delighted.

Rovos Rail Days 1, 2 & 3

Friday 19 September APT Tour – Day 1 Rovos Rail (3 days Pretoria to Cape Town)

At 1.00pm, we were taken from the Sheraton Hotel to the Capital Park Station, the once bustling hub of steam locomotion in the old Transvaal, which is now the headquarters for Rovos Rail. The lovely colonial-style railway station serves as the new departure and arrival point for all train journeys and it has a small railway museum in addition to its other facilities. The Society of International Railway Travelers has regularly named the Pride of Africa, as the train is called, as one of the World’s Top 25 Trains because of its excellent accommodation, public spaces, service, dining and off-train sightseeing.

When we arrived at the station, we were met by staff handing out drinks and snacks and then we enjoyed exploring the station while we waited to board our train. Richard had the opportunity to climb into the cabin of the steam locomotive and check out the gauges and coal feeding. Richard also went across the tracks to the other side of the station to get some great photos of the locomotive.

We were given al briefing in the Station’s Lounge and called forward by name to be met by our carriage hostesses, Elizka and Rianna, who then took us to our suite and explained the facilities and amenities on board the train. As we boarded our Rovos Rail train and made our way to our deluxe suite, which has a double bed, ensuite and large sitting area, we felt as though we had taken a step back in time and were captivated by the lavish old world furnishings. We settled into our suite and then went to explore the train. There are 13 guest cars accommodating 69 passengers, 1 Observation car with an outside area, 2 dining cars, 2 Lounge cars, a Kitchen car and a staff car.

The Train Manager, Eric, came to introduce himself to us and the chef came to talk to us about easily accommodating Sandy’s garlic allergy. The train pulled out of the station at approximately 3.30pm and we sat out in the Observation area with our new friends, Sue, Kevin and Rosemary, watching the scenery go by and having “Tea”.

Dinner was a grand affair, where the “evening attire” was “for the gentlemen, a jacket and a tie as a minimum requirement” and “for the ladies, cocktail/evening dresses or suits”. The configuration of the dining cars are tables of four on one side of the aisle and two on the other, so the five us were able to sit together and enjoy a lovely four course meal and each others’ company. All drinks, including wine, spirits and liquors are complimentary.

We arrived back at our suite to find that Elizka had prepared our bed for the night and had laid out an electric jug, tea, coffee etc ready for the morning. We are really impressed with the little touches eg on the table when we arrived there was a little gift box filled with nuts, dried fruits, and caramels; lavish toiletry packs which even included band aids, sun block, insect repellent etc.

We went to bed, somewhat overwhelmed with how fortunate we are to be on a luxury train in South Africa.

Saturday 20 September Rovos Rail Day 2

We woke early this morning to a stunning sunrise after a different night spent on the train. At times the train was noisy and had a fair degree of sway as it moved along and at other times it was dead quiet because we had stopped to wait for another train. As we enjoyed just sitting and watching the scenic open plains go past, our train manager, Eric made an announcement that we were coming up to shallow lake where there were spectacular flocks of Lesser Flamingoes – approximately 23, 000 – what an awesome sight!!

Our morning excursion was in the city of Kimberley, which is the capital of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and is approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Baal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical significance due to its diamond mining (the first discovery was in 1871) and the roots of the De Beers Company can be traced to the early days of the mining town.

Amongst other things, it is famous for its “Big Hole”, the world’s largest hand-dug excavation that was created when thousands of people searched for diamonds at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. By 14 August 1914 22.7 billion kilograms of rock had been excavated, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds.

We were bussed the short distance to the Big Hole and enjoyed a tour with Scotty (an ex Scotsman). Firstly, he explained to us how diamonds were formed and how they are currently mined. There are 16 major diamond mines in Kimberley – 7 of which have been completely mined out. He took us to a viewing platform, which was an amazing experience. The end of the platform is cantilevered out over the hole, which is 214 metres deep with a surface area of 17 hectares and a perimeter of 1.6 km and is surrounded by the original buildings from the heyday of the mine. We saw a little mongoose on our way back to the Museum, digging in the dirt.

From there we were taken to a replica of an underground mine, where we could see a mine shaft of the 19th Century Diamond Rush and Scotty explained to us how it would have worked. They even had a demonstration of a blast including the siren, the flash/bang and the huge noise afterwards.

Then Scotty took us to the Real Diamond Display and explained about the four Cs – Colour, Clarity, Cut and Carat (although there should be a 5th one – Cost!). We were taken into a huge vault and saw lots of gems, including a replica of the famous 616, named after its carat weight! It is the largest uncut octahedron diamond in the world. We also saw a replica of the diamond named Eureka.

Then we watched a short film called Destiny and Diamonds, which took us back to early 1867, when curious children picked up a stone on the banks of the Orange River. The stone, which was meant to be for their rock collection, turned out to be a diamond. The fascinating story of its discovery changed the destiny of the entire region.

While some of our fellow rail travellers went shopping, Richard and I explored the Old Town filled with period buildings that have been preserved or restored. These include a church built in Europe and shipped to Kimberley, the diggers’ sleeping quarters, an old garage and the De Beers Railway coach, to name a few.

After our very interesting morning, we were returned to the Pride of Africa in time for lunch. We sat with the other members of our APT group and enjoyed a very different lunch! Our main course was “balsamic and lemon-marinated slices of ostrich fillet, with ribbons of blanched courgettes on a bed of whole-grain mustard and mayonnaise potato salad:. We have to admit that we were somewhat skeptical, but it was absolutely delicious! It took us 2½ hours to work our way through our 4 course lunch even although each serving was quite small.

The afternoon was spent in our suite, just relaxing, watching the view out our windows, catching up with our blog and sorting through photos.

We had a lovely evening with Rosemary and Kevin, chatting and enjoying our dinner, before heading back to our suite to get organised for bed after a wonderful day. When we entered our suite, there was champagne and glasses on the bed, as well as chocolates and roses – from our lovely hostess Elizka.

Sunday 21 September Rovos Rail Day 3

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up early to have breakfast so that, for those who wished to, we could disembark the train at Whitehill Siding and walk the five kilometres into our next stop, Matjiesfontein. We walked along a dirt/gravel track up and down a few hills, taking in the beautiful views and enjoying the fresh air.

When we arrived at the station in Matjiesfontein, we dropped our stuff off in our suite and then headed off to explore the historic village. The Railway Museum had all sorts of antiques and the Transport Museum had an amazing collection of vintage cars, bicycles in all styles, an ex-London bus and a steam train, as well as two Royal Daimlers from King George VI’s tour of South Africa with Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II). We wandered around the rest of the village before heading back to the train to catch up with some of the Aussies in the Lounge, drinking cups of tea/coffee and chatting.

When we left Matjiesfontein, we passed through Tweeside and Touws River before reaching the Hex River Pass. We travelled through four tunnels through the mountains, the second one 13.5 kilometres long.

While we enjoyed our lunch, we were able to watch the changing landscape – we were now in the wine growing area and there were also lots of mountains, some with snow on the tops. The Hex River Mountains make up the second highest mountain range in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The train climbed down the escarpment to the Hex River Valley, which hosts hundreds of grape-producing farms. They yield most of South Africa’s export grape harvest and accounts for a quarter of the national wine production with 20 wine cooperatives and several brandy distilleries.

After lunch, we sat in our room, watching the beautiful changing scenery as the train made its way to Cape Town. Cape Town is the provincial and legislative capital of South Africa and is the second most populated (after Johannesburg), with 3.74 million.

After a wonderful and relaxing 3 days on our Rovos Rail train, where we were very spoilt by all the staff, we arrived in Cape Town at 6.00pm. We have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of the Rovos Rail. All meals on the train were designed to be fine dining experiences that were not to be rushed, allowing conversations with fellow passengers. Most meals averaged about 2½ hours and we tasted food we hadn’t had before and although we had 4 courses for lunch and dinner, they were small courses. We also had lots of time to just relax, taking in the views and chatting to our fellow passengers and especially getting to know some of our APT tour group.

We were met at the station by a representative from APT and our luggage was brought out from the train and loaded into the mini bus. All the staff from the train came out line up and wave goodbye, including Rohan Voss, the owner of Rovos Rail.

We were met at the Table Bay Hotel by the staff with drinks and also by our Tour Guide, Delia, who took us into a conference room for a briefing about our tour.

We settled into our room, which overlooks the historic Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

We decided to have a snack in our room and catch up with our blog.

Friday 19 September – Pretoria

After breakfast, we went for a walk up through the park across the road to the Union Buildings. We saw a statue of Louis Both sitting on a horse – he was the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1910-1919. As we climbed the steps through the beautiful gardens, we came to a huge statue of Nelson Mandela. We continued up the steps through the Horticultural Section to another statue, which is a replica of a statue in Deville Wood France, in memory of those who fell in the Great War 1914-1918 and also the Second World War 1039-1945. “Their ideal is our Legacy. Their Sacrifice is our Inspiration.” We strolled through the gardens at the base of the Union Buildings enjoying the view over Pretoria and the masses of flowers on display.

From there we wandered down one of the main streets – Stanza Bopape Street, to Church Square. Along the way we passed through streets that were closed off to traffic and in which market stalls were actively selling al variety of goods to touristy type things to fruit and vegetables. Although the perimeter of Church Square is under major construction, we were able to get into the park area and take photos of Winston Churchill and some of the other buildings.

Church Square is the historic centre of the city of Pretoria. Several historical buildings surround the square – the Palace of Justice, the Old Capitol Theatre, The Tudor Chambers and the General Post Office. The Palace of Justice was the scene of the famous Rivonia Trial where Nelson Mandela was found guilty of treason and imprisoned.

Because it was a couple of kilometres back to the hotel, we caught a South African “taxi” back, which was very interesting as they are allowed to multi hire and gave us a quick quote for the journey before we got in – R10 each which is approximately $1 each. He stopped several times along the way to pick up people in his mini bus and as they spoke Afrikaans, we had no idea what was happening, but he did drop is off first. Interesting ride!

 At 1.00 this afternoon, we will be picked up by Wyatt, from Travel SA, to be taken to the Capital Park Station for the beginning of our APT “African Journey” Tour which starts with our three day Rovos Rail adventure from Pretoria to Cape Town, spanning 1600 kilometres and “covering a variety of colourful landscapes – from South Africa’s Highveld region, south through rolling grasslands to the winery country surrounding Cape Town, with its Table Mountain backdrop.”

Over the next three days we will NOT have access to the internet, so we will post our blog and photos to the gallery when we arrive in Cape Town.

Thursday 18 September – Lion Park (sunny day 32°C)

After a good night’s sleep, we were up early, had breakfast and were waiting in the foyer for our Shuttle Bus to take us to the Lion Park. The Lion Park is a sanctuary and breeding ground for the various species, in particular the Cheetah, the rare White Lion and the endangered Wild Dog.

When the Shuttle didn’t arrive, what could have been a disaster for us, was quickly averted by the wonderful Sheraton Hotel concierge staff, who made several phone calls and then organized a private taxi/limousine to take us. It took approximately 40 minutes and along the way we chatted to Jerry, the driver. When we arrived at the Lion Park, they reimbursed us for the taxi, which we were not expecting – how nice!

We were booked into the Cheetah Walk at 9.00am. We met TK, our guide and Shaun the Park Photographer and were then loaded into a wire-enclosed vehicle, along with six other people and taken to the Cheetah enclosure. TK and the other guides brought Felix, a beautiful 10 year old Cheetah, out to the vehicle and he rode inside with us to an area of the park for our Cheetah Walk. We all laughed at the idea of being locked INSIDE a caged vehicle WITH a Cheetah, who wandered up and down the aisle between the seats, stopping for a pat along the way.

We learnt so much about the Cheetah on our walk. Cheetahs are a threatened species and are one of the most graceful animals on earth. They do not roar like a lion but chirp like a bird and purr like a domestic cat!! The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 120km per hour and can accelerate from 0 – 100km/hr is just 3 seconds. One stride covers from 6 – 9 metres and it can cover 28 metres in one second – that is fast! Interestingly, Cheetahs have binocular vision and can see up to 5 kms away.

We thoroughly enjoyed our walk and were over the moon when we were given the opportunity to each have some up close and personal time with Felix, where we were able to touch, pat, stroke him and also to have our photo taken on several occasions during the walk. There were no restrictions with regards to where we could pat him, but it had to be with a firm touch – on his head, along his back and even his tail.

While Felix was wearing a harness and he had a lead attached, the only time the lead was used was when we were actually walking along and even then, it was loose. During our interaction times, he was free to move about unrestricted. It was an overwhelming experience to be so close to a basically wild animal and yet not feel in any way uncomfortable or threatened by his presence. It was just magical!!!

After our wonderful experience with Felix, we were taken on a relatively new tour of the Park, the Photographic Tour, which lasted for 1½ hours and was for the two of us with our own personal guide, Mbengeni, who took us in a small electric vehicle around the park to visit all the animals.

There were large grazing areas where we saw antelopes, zebra, giraffe, gemsbok, impala, springbuck, blesbok and ostriches, to mention a few. They are free to roam the area and we were able to see them up close from the safety of our vehicle.

From there we went to the carnivore camps, where Mbengeni drove right up next to each of the four prides of white lions with their young. He had a bucket filled with pieces of meat that he threw out to some of the lions and others were enticed to take the meat from his fingers, which involved the lions stretching right up, holding on to the wire enclosure of our vehicle – WOW!!! Richard was able to stand up in the vehicle and take photos through a section at the top that had a wider space to allow easy use of cameras – needless to say we have hundreds of fantastic photos!!

In the 1st Camp, there were brown/tawny lions – Jamu, the male, 3 females and 2 young males, who will be able to stay with the pride until they reach the age of 18 months when they will be moved.

The 2nd Camp was made up of white lions – there were 3 males (there is normally only one male in each pride but these ones were brothers/cousin), 3 females and 2 five-month old cubs. When Mbengeni was throwing out pieces of meat and encouraging them to come closer, one of the male lions, Malik, bit the tyre on the vehicle, making a loud pop and causing the tyre to deflate. Mbengeni quickly drove out of that camp/enclosure as the tyre went flat. They had spare tyres at the centre, but because it was going to take some time to change the tyre, they offered that we could finish the tour in a bigger vehicle, with a driver and Mbengeni coming with us as our guide – we happily agreed to this. (At no time were we in any sort of danger.)

At Camp 3, we saw Lizzazi a white male, the largest of their lions weighing in at 300kg and his 6 females. Richard was in his element when Mbengeni coaxed one of the females up a tree right next to our vehicle and Richard was able to eyeball her and get lots of great photos!!

Camp 4, there was a male – Nikolas and also a young male Split lion, whose mother was brown and father was white.

In Camp number 5, we saw 2 Wild Dogs – a male and a female. They are an endangered species and in there are only 300 left in the wild in South Africa.

Camp 6 was the Cheetah Camp and they had 2 more Cheetahs there – Shitana and Zebe.

During our tour, we observed that all of the animals were in excellent condition and the grounds were well maintained and we didn’t see any mosquitos or flies. We also learnt lots of interesting information about the lions and the Lion Park.

There are currently 85 lions, including the white lions, at the Lion Park. The lions are protected from one another by barriers and fences to prevent the different prides from attacking one another, because they are fiercely protective of their territory and apparently would become aggressive if other lions or prides enter their domain.

The lion is the biggest of all of Africa’s big cats. The body length in the African male lion can be up to 3.3 metres, from nose to tip of tail. At the shoulder a male may stand at 1.2 metres, while the lioness is slightly shorter at up to 90 centimetres. The male may weigh up to 190 kilograms and the female 135kg.

Interestingly, white lions are not albinos. The whiteness is a result of a recessive gene carried by some lions, giving these particular creatures a white hide and eyes that are a lighter yellow than those of the tawny lion. Some may even have very light blue eyes. The survival of white lions seems to have always been a problem because of their very whiteness – they lack the camouflage of the tawny lion.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the carnivore camps and we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. We were then taken to Cub World, where we were able to play with the lion cubs. We were not able to touch the cubs on their head or their tails as they don’t like, but we were able to kneel down beside them and stroke/ pat them and have our photos taken with them. The tawny/brown cub decided that Sandy’s shoe looked interesting and tried to eat eat – hilarious!

We learnt that the cubs get inoculated at 6 weeks, and are disease free before they get introduced to Cub World at three months old. They then interact with visitors until they are six months old. During the three-month period that they are with the visitors, they are subject to very strict rules that involve careful monitoring of the number of hours per day they spend in Cub World. This is done to ensure that the time spent with visitors is limited and that the cubs are not over-exposed to the point where they may become restless or irritable. On the rare occasion where this does occur, the cub is immediately removed to the comfort of the nursery. After six months, the cubs are sent to the Lion Park’s farm near Hartbeesport Dam where they are kept in large enclosures.

Lion Park has gone to great lengths to ensure that their lions never end up in “canned hunting” scenarios, which is where lions are bred specifically to be shot by rich game hunters. Lion Park donates or sells their lions to reputable zoos or game parks that are thoroughly vetted before any sale takes place. If the lions are not sold, the staff at the farm looks after them until they die of natural causes.

Over the years, Lion Park has established a good reputation for keeping their lions in excellent condition and is the preferred partner of zoos and game parks around the world when they seek new blood-lines for their lions. They have recently sent lions to the Sydney zoo.

From there, we fed Purdy the giraffe and saw Zoe, her daughter and also saw and fed an ostrich. We loved the antics of the cute little meerkats too.

We had an enjoyable lunch in the shade, with a lovely cool breeze blowing, while we talked about all the wonderful animals we had seen.

After visiting the gift shop and collecting some photos taken by the professional photographer, we were brought back to our hotel, arriving here at 3.30pm. – two very tired, but extremely delighted adventurers!!!

When visiting Africa, seeing “The Big Five” – buffalo, lion, elephant, leopard and rhinoceros – is what all visitors hope for. So far, we can tick lion off our list. Yaayyy!

Sandy had found the Lion Park on the internet and we had organized and paid for this tour months ago. We were concerned that our expectations were too high, but our experience was even more amazing than we thought possible!! We just had the BEST day!! See two lots of photos in the gallery.

Africa 2014 Tuesday 16 September Brisbane to Johannesburg

Janet picked us up at 2.30pm and drove us out to the airport for our 5.00pm flight from Brisbane to Perth. Our bags were checked all the way though from Brisbane to Johannesburg. Our flight took approximately 5 hours and 15 minutes and we arrived at 8.40pm Perth time. We caught the free Shuttle Bus from the Domestic Airport to the International Airport, checked in, went through Immigration and Security, had a snack and a cuppa, before boarding our South African Airways flight just before midnight.

We are looking forward to our African Adventure!

Wednesday 17 September Pretoria

After a good 11 hour flight, where we both managed to get 3 or 4 hours sleep, we arrived in Johannesburg at approximately 5:15am. After clearing Customs and collecting our suitcases, we and three other people who are on our tour, were met by Wyatt from TravelSA, which is a company that works with Giltedge Tours, who are our African APT representatives. We were taken for a lovely drive north to Pretoria to our hotel, the Sheraton Hotel Pretoria and checked into our room to shower and freshen up.

Pretoria is just 50km from Joburg and is less urbane than its giant neighbour, but is much grander with its stately buildings and jacaranda-lined streets. Pretoria remains Afrikaans culturally. Once the former headquarters of the apartheid state, and site of the presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela, the “laid-back” city of Pretoria – the administrative capital – carries a lot of history.

We met Wyatt at 9.00am for our Half Day Tour of Pretoria that we had prearranged – we invited Sue (from Brisbane) and Kevin and Rosemary (from Melbourne) to join us, which they were delighted to do. Wyatt drove us along the Executive Capital area where there are many country’s embassies and then out to East Pretoria through the more affluent area and onto a hilly lookout of the city.

Our next stop was at the Voortrekker Monument: This massive granite structure is prominently located on a hilltop, and was built to commemorate the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854. We saw the historical friezes, the cenotaph commemorating the battle of Blood River in 1838 and in the lower level, we saw some large tapestries that covered two of the walls. We also went up to the top of the building for a great view of the city of Pretoria. From the top we also saw some zebras, wildebeest and antelopes.

We then went to the Kruger House Museum: The Kruger House Museum is the last house in which President Paul Kruger lived between 1883 and 1901 before he left South Africa to go into exile in Europe. It lies a short distance from Church Square, where his bronze statue takes centre stage facing the Palace of Justice.

After a short drive through the centre of the city, we were taken to Melrose House: Melrose House, which belonged to a British Businessman, George Heys, who made his fortune transporting water to Pretoria, is now a museum that stands as an example of the transition of Victorian to Edwardian architectural styles. The interior has colourful stained glass windows, carpets in rich colours, ornate ceilings and fireplaces, valuable porcelain ornaments, as well as paintings by English artists.

Our next stop was the Union Buildings, which we can see from our hotel room: The Union Buildings form the official seat of the South African government. They contain the offices of the President of South Africa and also where the first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, was inaugurated in May 1994. It has become a landmark of Pretoria and South Africa in general and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

We learnt that South Africa’s national bird is the blue crane, the national animal is the springbok, the national flower is the giant or king protea; and the national tree is the yellowwood.

South Africa is famous for Doctor Christian Barnard, who performed the first successful human heart transplant in 1967; political icons like former president Nelson Mandela and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu; as well as golfing greats such as Gary Player and Ernie Els.

After our tour was complete, we were dropped back at the Sheraton Hotel and had a lovely leisurely lunch with Sue, Kevin and Rosemary.

We settled into our lovely room with views over the Union Buildings to write up our blog before having an early night.