From ‘Berg to ‘Burg

I failed to mention that we had a problem with our room on Thursday. As we were heading out for our game drive at the crack of dawn, the electronic lock on our room door failed and it wouldn’t lock. We didn’t want to miss our last game drive so we told reception what had happened and they reassured us they would take care of it while we were out on our drive.

When we got back to the hotel later that day, they had taken care of it by stationing a security guard outside our door. It certainly resolved the immediate problem by ensuring the security of the room while we were out, but wasn’t really a long-term fix. We contacted reception again and they immediately said they would move us. The day shift seemed a little more switched on than the overnight crew. They got us a vacant room just across the corridor from where we were, so we had a different aspect looking out over a pond.

So it was that, when Friday dawned – literally at daybreak – we were roused by a vast number of frogs who had taken possession of that pond. Frog love was in the air and they were loudly announcing it. Ishbel, of course, had to get a photo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were awake anyway, so we once again packed away all of our gear and headed down for our last breakfast in Pilanesberg. I think the waiting staff have been surprised all week at our capacity for tea consumption in the mornings but today we were kept topped up appropriately.

We got everything into the car – which is always a bit of a jigsaw puzzle with the instruments involved – and checked out before hitting the road to Johannesburg. Ishbel has been navigating throughout the trip so far. We decided not to pay extra for data in South Africa (it’s not included in Three mobile’s “Feel at Home” program) so we had included Avis’s mobile data option for the Johannesburg car rental. It has been cost efficient and has come in very handy for getting us around the place.

One interesting thing we got stuck behind on the road was this vehicle:

DSC_0129 2 We couldn’t help speculating that it originally just said “Horses in Transit” until people complained to them that it was cruel to move horses around in such a tiny horsebox, and that’s why “Miniature” is in a different font.

We had an easy journey into the Sandton district of Johannesburg. We are spending our last two nights in South Africa at the Radisson Blu here. After the range of places we’ve stayed, this is definitely higher end but, at the same time, it lacks the soul and authenticity of our other stays.

On the way to the hotel, we decided it was time to find another laundry so dropped off quite a large percentage of our clothes there. We had very little left to unpack. After completing our daily practise on the instruments, we walked up the road to Nelson Mandela Square which is a huge retail and entertainment centre. We keep forgetting how close it is to Christmas, but were reminded by the show that the mall had laid on in the open square.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince we were in that area anyway, we decided to have an early dinner. Friday night is traditionally pizza night for us back home, so we had pizza at Septimo, an Italian restaurant overlooking the square.

After that we had a fairly early night. I think we’re getting ready for the switch to Hong Kong time.

The last safari – and some geek info

Thursday morning rolled around and we were back on the truck at 5:30am for our last safari in Pilanesberg. We had a sighting of a new animal very early on in this drive – a crocodile.

DSC_0360 2He was hard to spot at first but once you saw him, he was unmistakably not a floating log.

We encountered the black backed jackal again, this time in a family group.

DSC_0373Plus, of course, repeat sightings and photos of many of the animals we had seen previously. Then our guide got a message over the radio: a leopard had been sighted and he had just made a kill. We were going to drive straight over to his location, stopping for nothing. I mentioned previously that we had just about managed to glimpse a leopard but we would certainly appreciate being able to photograph one. And we did!

DSC_0501And if you ever wondered how effective the leopard’s spots are as camouflage on a rocky hillside, see how easy it is to make out his face in this one…

DSC_0517I was asked what kind of camera Ishbel was using for her wildlife photos, so thought I’d provide a full catalogue of the optical equipment in use over the last few days.

Camera Equipment (1)1. Nikon D5100 DSLR Camera Body

2. Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5 – 6.3 Di G2 Lens

3. Olympus Tough TG-5 Compact Camera (My leaving gift from work colleagues – Thanks, guys!)

4. Pentax 6.5×21 Papilio II Binoculars

5. Nikkon DX 18-135mm F/3.5 – 5.6G ED-IF AF-S Lens

6. An iPhone – just in case

7. Apple lightning SD card reader – this gets all the day’s photos onto the iPad for review and editing.

So, that was our last game drive of our stay at Kwa Maritane. We finished the day off with a lovely dinner and a nice bottle of Franschhoek red wine – Anthonij Rupert Optima. We have had a great stay here and would recommend it to anyone looking for a safari experience without breaking the bank.

We’re off back to Johannesburg in the morning for our last couple of days in South Africa before heading on to the next leg, flying to Hong Kong on Sunday.

An early start and a missed day

There was no blog post yesterday as a direct result of the unique nature of South African electrical outlets. We don’t have an adaptor that works directly in the three round pin sockets that they have here, but everywhere else we’ve been so far there have been adaptors that allowed the use of a European style 2-pin adaptor. Not here. My clever attempt at recharging the laptop using the shaver point in the bathroom fell foul of gravity as the combined weight of plug and adaptor fell straight out and into the bathroom sink. Reception has now supplied an adaptor so we’re back in action.

Having gone on the evening game drive on Monday, we were booked for the early version on Tuesday. This meant being up and ready for a 5:30am start. The first day had been exciting enough that we had no problem getting ourselves organised in anticipation of another day of wildlife wonder.

We were on the truck and on the way out towards the main drive when we stopped for a look at some roadkill. At some point during the night, someone had driven over a Mozambican Spitting Cobra, which our driver Sean was kind enough to pick up on a stick and teach us how to recognise if we encounter one in the future. We’re hopeful that situation doesn’t arise.

On to the drive and, once again, we had a full day of animal viewing. There was a lot of repeat viewings, which is only to be expected, but we saw giraffe in daylight for the first time. If you looked at the slideshow from the previous day, you’ll have noticed that the giraffe picture was taken after nightfall. This time, we saw various giraffe in daylight and learned how to distinguish males and females. Apart from the obvious.DSC_0482DSC_0602The male has thicker horns that splay outward and are bald on top. Females have thinner horns which point inwards and have hairs on top. Easy!

DSC_0529 We got some great shots of rhinos and spotted a pod of hippos in a waterhole.


We also heard that there was a  leopard visible so we drove over to where it had been sighted (I had originally typed “spotted” there, then realised the awful pun). We got there just in time. Well, just in time to see a distant leopard shape ascend some rocks and move into deep cover. We have no photographic evidence, but we’re ticking it off in our catalogue of sightings.

We went straight to breakfast after getting back from the drive. The dining room overlooks a waterhole and we were treated to the sight of a couple of elephants having a drink, then stirring up the mud at the bottom of the pool and having a mudbath.

The day got progressively hotter and we were delighted to have chosen the early drive. Especially when the heavens opened about 10 minutes after the evening drive went out. While we were at dinner, we saw some of the people returning from that and they were absolutely drenched.

For Wednesday, we had initially been booked on the early drive again but when we checked in, we were advised to go on the evening drive so that we could participate in the Bush Braai that is a regular feature of Wednesday nights here. However, we were up at the same time as the early game drive was leaving so we decided to use the hide which is available here. It is at the end of a 180m long underground tunnel which leads to a waterhole where you can sit quietly and wait to see what arrives. Early morning is, theoretically, the best time to see animals there. We didn’t get much by way of mammals, but we were greeted by a large frog who had obviously hopped in to the hide overnight. We did see a number of birds that we hadn’t previously encountered, the strangest one being the Hamerkop.

DSC_0749 2We spent an hour and a half in the hide then decided to get cleaned up and have breakfast. The rest of the day was fairly relaxing until we headed out for the game drive and the braai.

The first new animal of the day today was the tsessebe; another type of antelope and one with which we had not been previously familiar.


We also spotted for the first time a black backed jackal.

DSC_0161But it’s the time of plenty in southern Africa as the rains bring plentiful food. And plentiful food means babies.

DSC_0269DSC_0364These two elephants were with a larger herd. Shortly after they crossed our path, the rain started. We were caught in an almighty thunderstorm. Our driver had to stop the truck and help us lower all the tarpaulins around the side, so that was the end of wildlife viewing for the day.

Well, not quite. The rain abated as we were driving towards the exit, but the air was quite a lot cooler than it had been earlier in the evening. Cooler air means predators are more willing to expend energy in a hunt. As the rain stopped, a lion ran across the road in front of our truck and stopped just off to the side. It was pretty dark by this time, but we rolled up the tarpaulins again as quietly as we could and Ishbel managed this shot using her phone. IMG_0797 It’s a little grainy but worth including.

That was a nice end to the evening. Just a pity that the rain had completely washed out the braai, so dinner in the restaurant when we got back.

From the city to safari

Monday was yet another moving day as we packed up in Johannesburg to head for Pilanesberg National Park. Kruger National Park is probably the most famous safari destination for Johannesburg visitors and it’s certainly considerably bigger than Pilanesberg, but we chose the latter for three reasons. First, it was recommended by a former work colleague (thanks, G-Mac) who has been here a number of times. Second, it’s a much shorter drive from Johannesburg than Kruger. And third, it’s in a malaria-free zone. Well, there’s a fourth reason: it was much cheaper.

I had booked our safari package back in late October and, between the couple of Pilanesberg accommodation options that had been recommended to me, I chose Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge. Booking is direct through the Pilanesberg website, but you need to pay the full amount in advance. I had used the splendid Revolut option to pay via a bank transfer in ZAR. Four nights dinner bed and breakfast plus one game drive for both of us each day cost GBP 1,100. In the context of prices I had seen quoted for safaris, that seemed remarkably competitive. So competitive, in fact, that I was a little worried about what the standard of the place would be.

I needn’t have concerned myself. The Lodge is beautiful, set just inside the park. We arrived here around noon and our room wasn’t quite ready. No problem. We had left Johannesburg without breakfast, planning to stop somewhere nice on the road. Sadly, the road seemed mostly free from quaint stop-off points, punctuated instead by occasional strip malls where MacDonalds appeared to be the primary option for travellers. We went to the hotel restaurant and grabbed a light lunch and, just as we were finishing, a porter arrived to inform us our room was ready. We completed formalities at reception and moved in.

When I booked all those weeks ago, I had been asked to reserve when we wanted our game drives, so I had booked the afternoon slot for today. We were to congregate at 4:15 to be allocated our trucks and departure was scheduled for 4:30pm. The process was very efficient and we settled ourselves in our allocated truck at the appointed time and waited to discover what we would see on our first ever safari experience.


My advance reading on the topic had cautioned against expectation being too high. These drives can sometimes be disappointing. On this trip we saw….

Warthogs, Kudu, Impala, Eland, Zebra, White Rhinoceros, Elephants, Hippopotamus, Lions, Giraffes, Blue Wildebeest, Hyena, and Springbok. We were definitely NOT disappointed.

Here is a slideshow of a small selection of the photos from the drive…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We’ve managed to see three of the “Big Five” on our first day and we’re excited to find out what else we’ll see in our next three days here. Expect a lot more wildlife photography.