South Africa 2006

South African Tour 2006.

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We decided to escape the rigours of the Belgian winter with a holiday in South Africa during February 2006. We opted on this first visit to take a grand tour of the country to discover the places we really liked and then perhaps to return in the future under our own steam to explore those regions. We booked a holiday with Best Tours which was in Flemish and French but of course they all spoke English so we had little difficulty. For a paltry 70 Euros we were collected from Harmonie and transferred to Brussels airport and return. Travelling by Swiss Airlines we were delayed for 12 hours so spent a comfortable night in a Zurich hotel instead of a night flight and arrived in Johannesburg in time to enjoy a juicy beef steak for dinner.

The next day we set out early for Pretoria where we visited the Voortrekker Monument and Paul Krugers house which is now a museum.

On past the Union Building and out across the Highveld on the almost Roman N4 road towards Nelspruit, the capital of the province of Mpumalanga.

Our room at the Winkler Hotel in White River looked over the swimming pool and impressive scenery.

One leaves the Highveld, descends to the Lowveld and the change of scenery is stunning with steep sided, deep flat fertile valleys full citrus groves and the surrounding hills of pine and eucalyptus forests.

In the evening we visited a Shanaga village with a meal and dancing just for tourists. Not our scene!

The next day saw us in an even more impressive landscape travelling north to Bourkes Luck Potholes and the Blyde River Canyon.

Spectacular waterfalls, the old gold mining town of Pilgrims Rest and panoramic vistas added up to a very enjoyable trip but our main reason to visit this area was the Kruger National Park. So the next day we had a 4am wake-up call and climbed aboard a 4WD for a day game viewing in Kruger Park. The five most dangerous animals are reckoned to be the lion, leopard, buffalo, white rhino and elephant, known collectively as the big five and we saw 4 of them, the leopard eluded us.

              If you place your cursor over a photo, the slide show will stop.

You make a lot of early starts on these tours and the next day was no exception. We travelled through Swaziland from north to south, through banana plantations, wonderful rolling high mountain pasture and into the KwaZulu-Natal province where we stayed in a touristy imitation Zulu village.

More culture the next day, this time Zulu, put on for the tourist and singularly unimpressive with the natives even more bored than we were.

Then into the Hluhluwe game park close by and another 4WD safari where the highlight was a close encounter with a pair of Buffalo.

The next day we set off for the battlefields. In this area the Brits and the Boers fought the Zulus and then each other so the area is littered with the sites of famous battles.

We visited Dundee where the Boers drove the Brits back to Ladysmith and were then under siege for 118 days. Close by is Rourkes Drift where 100 Brits fought 4,000 Zulus and earned 11 Victoria Crosses for their efforts, as depicted in the film Zulu with Michael Caine.
Dundee was founded by a bloke from Dundee in Scotland (surprise!) and boasts the excellent Talana museum sited on his farm where the first Boer war battle was fought with all the original buildings still intact. The place was a coal mining centre and I couldn't resist a photograph of a Blackstone ESSL8 generator set, an engine I sailed with, maintained and eventually sold hundreds of them when I worked for Lister Blackstone Marine and Hawker Siddely in Australia.

The next morning the Drakensberg were in cloud in the Royal Natal National Park but we walked up past some pretty cascades for a couple of hours, then by bus up over the escarpment, onto the Highveld and safely driven back to Jo'berg by our driver John.

We flew down to Port Elizabeth and stayed in the historic old Edward Hotel right in the centre. Problem was it was a "red zone". Tourists are not advised to venture out in red zones at night so the hotel provides a shuttle bus to a safe zone. Only problem was it failed to show so we went to bed early.

Up and away early as usual, down the Garden Route to Mossel Bay with our new driver Bruce. G'day Bruce. This was to be one of the highlights of the trip passing lovely green farming country and spectacular gorges leading down to an azure blue Indian Ocean. At Knysa we took a trip across the estuary to Featherbed Reserve to view spectacular seascapes then travelled to George on the Choo-Tjoe Train past pristine beaches with hardly a soul on them.

At Mossel Bay we stayed at Pinnacle Point, a new Casino where we managed to win and then lose 50 Rand on the slot machines. While the rest of the tour party went to Kango Caves and an Ostrich Farm, we took a day off and chilled out on the beach, getting burnt in the process. As you can see in the slide show above, we were pretty lonely.

On the way to Cape Town we stopped at the delightful old town of Swellendam, full of old Dutch thatched houses and nestling beneath alpine like high mountains. We visited the old magistrates house and the gaol before eating al fresco beside a rushing stream at a fine Belgian restaurant, then on to Cape Town, our final stop.

Cape Town. Ah. 35 years since my last visit but just as impressive as I remembered it. I could fill a web site with the pictures. We blew a fortune on a seafood platter at the Waterfront but ate better at the Societi Restaurant next door for half the price the next night. We climbed Table mountain from Kirstenbosch gardens and it nearly killed us. Took us 5 hours to the cable car and the cold beer didn't touch the sides.

We stayed at the Southern Sun in Strand Street. Fantastic view of table mountain from our bed. Talk about scenic sex!!

Sue got her diamond eternity ring specially designed and made to order in 24 hours, courtesy of Giuseppe Ciani who chauffeured us around and steered us to the best pizza place in town - thanks Giuseppe! Finally there were the penguins of Simonstown and the Cape of Good Hope. Brilliant trip and we can't wait to go back for the Western Cape flowers in the spring, perhaps in 2008?

Oh and as we were about to leave, the Oz cricket team were about to arrive, fresh from their beating in the first one dayer. Don't you just love it when a holiday finishes on a high note!! There was a jazz band to greet who posed with Rita, a nice Belgian lady we lent them for the picture!

Finally, our thanks to our excellent long suffering tour guide Shirley, who coped with Jurgs Afrikaans, three other languages, the French lady and stayed smiling!

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