Bananas on Safari: South Africa

More than a year ago, Richard and I decided to look into an African Safari trip. We quickly discovered two things: a) there is SO much to see in Africa, and b) it can be pretty expensive. Not long after we’d placed a deposit on our two week trip, the Brexit referendum sent the British Pound crashing which actually made it even more expensive. That’s life hey! It was worth every penny.

 

Our adventure began in South Africa. After a night at an airport hotel in Johannesburg, we caught a propeller plane to Hoedspruit, where we were picked up for a transfer to Cheetah Plains lodge. A large portion of the drive was on unsealed extremely bumpy and noisy roads, past small villages with people busy building homes, tending to cows and goats, and lining up for water. It was impossible to ignore the contrast between our comfort and the comparative bareness of the villages we had passed on the way. South Africa has an undeniable wealth inequality problem, with some data indicating 10% of the population own as much as 90-95% of the nation’s wealth. Once we had seen the differences for ourselves between how people live, it wasn’t hard to believe such a statistic.

Once we reached Cheetah Plains, we were personally greeted by several members of the small team, and began a week of luxurious accommodation and superb game viewing. Cheetah Plains is a private game reserve which shares an unfenced border with the famous Kurger National Park. Each day we would be woken up at 6am, and head out in open vehicles for a game drive at 6:30am. We would stop for hot chocolate during the drive to stretch our legs and chat before searching for more animals and heading back for brunch at about 10am. We then had a few hours to relax (read: nap) before afternoon tea at 3pm and a second game drive at 3:30pm. This ran until about 7pm, giving us a taste of the night when many animals are active. Each of us were provided with a soft thick throw to keep warm and even a hot water bottle for the mornings. Because it was a private reserve, there was more flexibility to go off road and find animals we wouldn’t have otherwise seen from the road. Dinner each night was a group affair with all guests seated around a fire outside. Three course meals every night certainly make you plump – especially when you’re not doing anything during the day! The lodge was gorgeous, the game drives were a great introduction to local flora and fauna, and the team were all so good natured and approachable. Allow me to present our favourite shots (out of thousands) from our stay at Cheetah Plains.

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We reluctantly left Cheetah Plains and were taken on a scenic drive along Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route. Our first viewing stop was the Three Rondavels. These are three geological formations shaped like traditional ‘rondavels’ of local indigenous people used as homes. The hills look like enormous beehives and stand distinct from their surrounding environment after being carved out by erosion. The Three Rondavels are named after the three wives of a legendary chief who won a battle in the area. Their names are Magabolie, Mogoladikwe, and Maseroto. It was a very short stroll to the cliff edge where we could enjoy a breathtaking view across to the rondavels, and also observe the valley sweeping below. The air was fresh and the view spectacular. We enjoyed a packed lunch provided by our generous friends at Cheetah Plains while perched on the rocks, soaking up the sun.

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We continued on to Lisbon Falls, the highest of several waterfalls in the area at 94 meters. The water was clear and the spray in our faces was incredible fresh. Lisbon Falls and nearby Berlin Falls reflect a history of European gold miners who came to the region in late 1800’s looking to make their riches. By this point I was getting a little motion sickness so it was an extra relief to stretch my legs and refresh myself by the beautiful falls. Waterfalls are simply amazing; the rushing of water falling down the gorge contrasts with the peaceful bush surroundings. It’s a beautiful spot with room for picnics too, if you had the time.

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Finally we went to God’s Window, a name that generates high expectations. Our driver took us first to see the area from a different viewpoint which we were grateful for because God’s Window itself is quite small, with views restricted by surrounding cliffs. The cliffs in question continue down for 700 meters, making for a dramatic green canyon that runs for 33 kilometers (known as the Blyde River Canyon).

 

At the end of a long day of sightseeing, we were dropped off at a lodge for one night. The lodge vibe was subdued, especially following the incredible few days we’d had a Cheetah Plains. Dinner was a lacklustre affair but it was only a transition stop anyway – onwards to Zambia and Victoria Falls!

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