South Africa - August 2001


This is the diary of Jane, Graham and Stephen (their 15-year old son) who went on a 3-week tour of South Africa.  All that was booked up in the UK were the flight from UK to Cape Town. the return flight from Jo'burg to the UK, the flight from Port Elizabeth to Durban, the two hire cars and the first couple of days in Cape Town.  Armed with the Rough Guide, Lonely Planet and the set of Portfolio accommodation books we set off on what must be one of the most enjoyable and exciting holidays we've had so now read on ...

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Thursday, August 2nd - Swanmore to Cape Town

Left home at 1:05pm with Derek driving us to Heathrow. We found the business lounge of Olympic Airways as Jane had booked us all to fly Business Class -it was the best deal she could get even it meant her flying as a spouse. We took off on time and landed at 22:05 - 00:15 Athens time. Found the business lounge and ate more food. We took off at 1:45 am - about an hour late because someone had failed to get a medical kit to the plane. We watched Chocolat or 102 Dalmations and landed 40 minutes late in Jo'burg so rushed to our Cape Town flight. We landed on time in Cape Town at 13:10 but our luggage had not. We hired a blue Toyota Corolla from Hertz and arrived at the Ayers at 3pm. We were met by Angela and Fuzzy. After unpacking we went for a Fuzzy-guided tour to Simonstown where we saw the statue of Just Nuisance - a dog that helped drunken sailors find their way back to their boats. We got to Boulders Beach just after the fee collectors had retired so were able to freely view the thousands of Jackass Penguins. Stephen got some to line up for a photograph. It all reminded us of their smaller brethren we'd met a year ago on Philip Island, Australia. During the tour Stephen started to converse in the local dialect using words like robot (traffic lights), stream(lane), glide lift(turn left), run on(straight on), circle(roundabout) and stop street(no equivalent in England - the word STOP is written across a road, both major and minor roads). Yis he was enjoying it. We returned via Fish Hoek, the birthplace of Mrs Ball's chutney, to meet Fuzzy's husband, Peter and their son Mike. Stephen approved of the Ayers' home as it had a dog and a pool table. Our luggage was delivered to the house at 7:30.

Saturday, August 4th

We followed Angela to the Victoria and Alfred waterfront in Cape Town to get a fast boat to Robben Island, off the north coast of Cape Town. We clambered onto a coach at the end of the pier. Our guide was a Xhosa and clicked a lot as well as being very humorous. The coach took us on a trip around the island. We drove passed the lepers cemetery and stopped at the house Robert Sobukwe was held in as South Africa's only official political prisoner and then stopped at the lime quarry where Nelson Mandela and many others worked. The ex-prisoners reconvene every 5 years and add further stones to a memorial cairn. We left the coach at the prisonand were shown around by an ex-prisoner who had been there for 5 years (1987-1992). It was a very moving experience. Whilst coming into dock Jane's mobile went off. It was Bridget (Graham's step sister) saying that they had arrived and were eating fish and chips 50 yards away. We joined them, had snoek and chips and we all set off for the Table Mountain cable car but it was not running as it was too windy so we returned to the waterfront where Bruce, Tom and Stephen went round the aquarium whilst the others quenched their thirst. We all met up again and walked through a shopping mall and bought some biltong. We left the Alexanders and returned to the Ayers to take them out to Spurs for 500g steaks. In SA you tip people to look after your car whilst it's parked - very similar to what happens when you watch a home match at Aston Villa.

Sunday, August 5th

We drove south to Cape Point which is a large nature reserve. We climbed up to the lighthouse and viewed, along with others, the Atlantic Ocean. The Cape of Good Hope can be classified, along with the Mannequin Pis and Copenhagen's Mermaid, as one of the world's greatest disappointments. It is not the most southerly point of South Africa and the Indian and Atlantic Oceans do not meet there. The Cape of Good Hope is north of Cape Point by about a kilometre but you can walk to it from Cape Point. The two oceans meet at the most southerly point of South Africa which is at Cape Agulhus. Anyway we enjoyed the view and discovered that Jane had not seen whales but the Bellows Rock. We'd seen whales earlier in False Bay. Stephen's knee was playing up so whilst he took the funicular back down to the car park his parents walked. We ate in a restaurant overlooking False Bay and when we returned to the car we found we'd had a visitor. Something had "crept" all over the back window. We saw the culprit, a baboon, which was now amusing other tourists. On the way out of the reserve we saw several tortoises, one of which was run over, accidentally, by a car. Stephen thought that as it was small it was young - about 20 years he declared. We drove up the west side of the Cape Peninsula to Hoets Bay thinking we'd take a trip to Seal Island but the trips were not running. We had ice-creams instead and a phone call from Bridget to invite us to their hotel for sun downers. We drove to the Bay Hotel at Camps Bay and had cocktails as we watched the sun disappear behind the palm trees and sink below the marine horizon whilst Tom and Stephen played games on their handheld computers. For our evening meal we took the Ayers back to Spurs and had 600g spare ribs.

Monday, August 6th

We drove up to the Table Mountain cable car terminus, left our car guarded by Clyde and his partner Bonnie, and took the cable car up to the top. The inside of the car rotates slowly as it moves so there is no way of avoiding the wonderful views. We did a quick tour of the rocky, boulder strewn top and descended. We drove out of Cape Town passed the shanty towns and the airport on the N2 to Grabouw where we turned North and made our way to Francshoek, via more wonderful views, and had an excellent lunch at Le Quartier Francais. After lunch Jane drove to Stellenboch where we visited the village museum consisting of 5 old restored houses. To pay for the car parking we needed a card but as we did not have one we paid a girl for the use of her card. Afterwards we visited the emporium of Oom & Sammies Winkel - a mixture of bric a brac, Body Shop, Laura Ashley and Portobello Road cast-offs. We bought some candied fruit and fish biltong. We then drove to Spiers where we were too late to taste any wine and too late for Stephen to stroke the cheetahs. In the evening Fuzzy took us to the 'village' where her mother lives with Fuzzy's aunt. The 'village' is a guarded compound with houses and apartments, a community centre and a dining room mainly inhabited by elderly people. In the evening Stephen lost his marathon pool match to his father 8-10 and we ate with Peter and Fuzzy at home. Stephen has noticed 2 more SA idioms. If you hear 'Just now' in SA it means 'not now' and when the answer 'is it?' is uttered it means that the listener acknowledges that you've spoken as in 'Do you know three plus four equals seven? Is it?' but does not mean the listener has understood. Sometimes it takes the place of 'is that the case' as in 'We don't have that in the UK. Is it?'.

Tuesday, August 7th - Capetown to Oudtshoorn

We got up at 6:30 and left at 7:15 and drove East through the mist to Somerset West where we turned off to drive through Strand and round the East side of False Bay where we saw dolphins and more baboons. The main roads have hard shoulders delimited by a yellow line and the custom is to pull onto the hard shoulder when someone wants to overtake you. This action is acknowledged by a wave or a wink of the hazard lights. We stopped at Mossel Bay where we had another good lunch at the Gannet, as recommended by the Rough Guide. We visited the museum and saw the Post Office tree where sailors used to leave letters in a shoe for other sailors. We drove over the Robinson Pass to Oudtshoorn and saw more fantastic views and baboons. As it's winter here there are not too many flowers in bloom except for the plastic bag trees which grow everywhere and seem to like it best in the most isolated spots. Jane and Stephen selected a B&B from the Portofolio book and we booked into Thylitshia Villa where we were allocated a two-bedroomed self-contained villa. We rushed off to the Cango Caves but they had shut 20 minutes earlier at 4pm so we dashed back to the Wild Life Ranch but they were shut so we drove back to the Highgate Ostrich farm and made up the last party for the day -just the 3 of us. Stephen fed the ostriches, stood on their eggs and sat on one, an ostrich that is. We watched them have a three bird race. We hope Stephen's fear of birds is cured now. We returned to the B&B where the maid brought us sherry and we ate ostrich steaks in the candlelit dining room and drank the home grown red wine.

Wednesday, August 8th - Oudtshoorn to Storms River

Left after breakfast and visited the crocodile and cheatah park where we saw wallabies and lions, tigers, crocodiles and cheetahs. Next we drove further on and visited the Cango Caves.  On the way back to Oudtshoorn we stopped and paid R19 for an empty ostrich egg. We could have paid R30 for a full one. We stopped in the town and had lunch. We then drove to George and along the Garden Route with Stephen asleep in the back. Had no idea where we would stay but as we had lots of time we kept driving till we got to Storms River village where we stopped at a gorgeous B&B called The Armagh which was delightful and were welcomed by Marion and Johan. We walked into village. We are now in the Tsitstkamma Forest. We booked some activities for the next day - blackwater tubing for Stephen and a woodcutter trail for Jane and Graham. Back to the Armagh for dinner - leak & potato soup, hake, lamb korma and apple pie, all washed down by a bottle of SA Merlot (R45 a bottle). Played rummy and went to bed. Stephen had a room of his own and was glad there was an Irish Terrier called Maggie May.

Thursday, August 9th - Storms River to St Francis Bay

Woke up to find there were clouds and wind but very warm still - shorts weather today. We all got up for breakfast but Stephen had been awake since 6.30. Breakfast was excellent -a cooked full English Breakfast. At 8.30 Graham took Stephen to the adventure office to get his wet suit and helmet. Off he went. Graham and Jane paid, booked the evening accommodation at a friend of the owners and left The Armagh. We parked the car outside the adventure office and started to walk. It was cloudy but very warm. We walked to the main road (N2) and crossed over to get to the Big Tree. Our walk took us to the tree (girth of 8 adults holding hands and an 800 years old yellow wood) and then on a circular forest walk for about 1.5 miles. At 11.30 our woodcutters excursion met but set off late. It was a wonderful tour in an open side truck through indiginous forest and took us along the old N2 built on an old elephant path. We saw crazy trees, tree ferns, yellow wood, grasshoppers about three inches long, Knysna lourie birds, fish eagle, etc. We saw some wild streptercocie in the rocks. Lunch was laid out on a picnic table by the Storms River. We had lasagne & salad, bread, pate, apple tart. We returned and waited for Stephen to return. He did but he was very exhausted. We drove up the N2 to Francis Bay and were welcomed by Gerhard & Mimie at the Cycads By The Sea B&B. A cycad is a palm-like plant that was around long before the dinosaurs and are quite rare and valuable. We had two well-appointed rooms with TV and en-suite bathrooms. We joined Gerhard & Mimie for a sherry and then walked a kilometre to the nearest bar and restaurant where we ate prawn cocktails followed by steenbras (a fish), kingclip(another fish) and washed it all down with a good bottle of SA Merlot. We walked home in the dark using the torch we'd been lent and played rumicub in the living room of the main house - well it made a change from rummy.

Friday, August 10th - St. Francis Bay to Addo

We had breakfast with soft poached eggs in the 'conference centre' of the B&B as Stephen talked to Tasha, the schnauzer and Jane admired the cycads (valued at R25 per cm). We left at 9 am and drove to St. Francis Port and back to the far end of the town (85% thatched and white-walled houses) to look at the canals. The residential part is less than 50 years old having been built by an enterprising farmer called Leighton Hullett. We left the area and drove to Humansdorp and the N2 and thence to Port Elizabeth (PE to locals). Jane thought we should drive along the M10 but eventually we decided to drive along the N10. M-roads are Metropolitan whilst N-roads are National. After 4 km we turned off on to a gravel track along which we bumped for 8 km to the gate of the Gorah Elephant Camp in the Addo Game Reserve. We entered our names in the visitors log and drove another 12 km along a dirt track to the camp consisting of one single-storeyed colonial-style building and 10 tent houses. We were greeted with rock shandies and shown around the well-appointed building full of antiques, paintings, oil lamps and candles. Our luggage was taken to our tent house - a large single room with a fan and double bed in front of a bathroom area - shower on the left, toilet on the right. The living area at the front of the bed and tent had a desk, table and chairs, a gas heater and a decanter of sherry. We ate lunch at 1pm whilst waiting for the Alexanders. It started raining. The lunch was good - capsicum soup, hake and a brandy snap cone. The Alexanders arrived at 2:30, having slid down the the muddy tracks, and we sat at the table with them whilst they ate and we swapped our travel reports from Cape Town. At 4pm tea with canapés was served. It stopped raining. At 4:30 the six of us clambered into an open sided safari Land Rover and set off in search of elephants. After ten minutes of seeing nothing except hartebeests in their boxer shorts we stopped and saw a black rhino 100 yards away marking its territory in the scrub bushes. We then drove alongside a fence made of stakes, railway lines and very thick cable for 1 km then quietly around a corner where we saw, 50 yards away, our first elephants. We continued along the track and came across a male and female elephant eating at the side of the track. We stopped and took copious photos at a distance of 16 feet. We drove on a bit and turned round to get closer. The male had backed off into the bushes but the female continued to munch the bushes 6 feet from us. On returning to our tents we spruced ourselves up, had a sherry and wandered down for dinner. We were offered red, white or sparkling wine and were introduced to the only other guests, Kit and Allen, owners of the Phantom Forest at Knysna, where the Alexanders had stayed the previous night. William, a waiter, gave us a rendition of the click song made famous by Miriam Makebe (Mama Africa). Dinner was good - grilled calamari, roast kudu and orange creme brulee washed down with more red wine. At 7:30 PM we all clambered back into the Land Rover and went for another ride but this time in the dark. A powerful handheld light searched for eyes whilst we all kept warm under blankets. We saw porcupine, elephant shrew, kudu and hartebeests but no elephants. It rained again. We got to bed at 10:30 after shutting the tent flaps. We left the gas burner and the outside paraffin lamp burning all night

Saturday, August 11th - Addo to Port Elizabeth

We were awoken by crows squawking at 7 am. Willem came and fixed the pilot light of the water heater. We dressed and walked down for breakfast - lots of fruit and a full English breakfast. At 9 am we went for another ride and saw mongoose and monkeys close by but the elephants at a distance. It drizzled more. Since it was very muddy the 2 cars were driven out by Donovan and Willem whilst the 6 of us were driven out in the Land Rover. The automatic BMW had to be towed up one of the hills. After leaving the camp we stopped at a crocodile farm where Stephen stroked and played with three lion cubs. We ate venison pie for lunch. 'venison' is a term used in SA to describe any form of game so we do not know what we ate. We drove to PE and found The Kingfishers B&B run by an ex-pat - Ken from Wolverhampton. We had a large well-equipped room and Stephen had a smaller one next door and next to a swimming pool. We went to the Boardwalk and had a Chinese meal. On returning we played rummy again and went to bed at 9:30pm.

Sunday, August 12th - PE to Mtubatuba

We had breakfast at 7 am so that we would get to the airport for a 9 o'clock flight. The breakfast was delivered in a picnic basket and Stephen joined us. At the airport we returned the blue 1.6 Toyota Corolla with a flat tyre, a slight scratch, and covered in Addo mud alongside a mud-splattered BMW. The flight was not till 9:50 so Ken had time to return Stephen's Billabong top to him as it was not to Ken's taste or size. We whiled away the time playing rummy and eating biltong. The flight took off on time and we landed at Durban at 10:45. We all climbed into our bright red Opel Corsa and drove north on the N2 , stopping at the various toll plazas, through fields of sugar cane and round house villages to Mtubatuba where we found 153 Celtis Drive with a large security gate and 5 dogs. We raced to St. Lucia where we boarded a boat by the bridge and went looking for hippos and crocs. We saw many hippos huddled together in the middle of the lake which appeared at a distance be a set of large grey pebbles. Some were wallowing in the mud at the end of an island. We saw one old croc basking in the sun on the bank of the lake and many African fish eagles. On docking we were persuaded to buy 2 wooden rhinos for R20. We drove around St. Lucia and returned to the B&B. In the evening we did not dine in style at the Hotel Paradiso opposite the B&B but the steaks were good and made up for the total lack of ambiance. We played more rummy and went to bed at 9pm whilst Stephen slept on a mattress in the living/dining/kitchen area. We were staying in the self-catering apartment of the B&B.

Monday, August 13th - Mtubatuba to Hluhluwe( pronounced Shush sloo we)

We got up at 7 am and walked around the garden and its small lake. We ate the full English breakfast on the veranda, paid and left at 9 am. We drove up the N2 to the Hluhluwe Information Centre who tried to book us into the Hilltop camp in the Hluhluwe game reserve and suggested we visit the model Zulu village at Dumuzulu. We raced back down the N2 and were greeted at the gate by a Zulu who put on all his dance gear for us to take photos. We were in time to join others for the 11 o'clock cultural tour with traditional buffet. About 10 round thatched huts surrounded a circular area and at each a Zulu demonstrated a different skill (shield making, bead making, pottery, medicine, music). The Zulus sleep on mats with headrests. The married women wear hats woven into their hair and therefore need the headrests to enable them to sleep. After the hut tour we sat on seats in the central area of the kraal and tasted the maize beer and watched a show of dancing and singing performed by the demonstrators. After the show we ate the buffet and drove back to the Information Centre. The Hilltop was full so we opted to stay in tents at the Falaza Game Park close to False Bay. Our luggage was carried to our tents by 2 maids who carried it on their heads. We unloaded the luggage into the two tents, similar to those at Addo but less luxurious. We went for a drive along the shores of the False bay and saw monkeys and duikers as well as fever trees. On returning to the park we played rummy and watched white rhinos eating off the grass in front of the lounge area, about 20 feet away. After an excellent meal which included roast nyala we went for a night ride with Jan and a German family. We saw wildebeest, nyala, bush babies and giraffe. We also learnt of the usefulness of the Murula tree for curing excema and the use of the Buffalo thorn for transferring the spirit of the dead. We went to bed at 10:30.

Tuesday, August 14th - Hluhluwe to Ubombo

We got up at 7, had a good breakfast and raced to the Hluhluwe gate where we met Jordie who was to take us on a game ride. Jordie was not an ordinary jeep jockey but very knowledgeable. We saw our first buffalo and zebra within the first 5 minutes. We saw elephants, white rhino, giraffes, nyalas, impala, wart hogs and lots of birds. A huge rain spider climbed aboard but was chased off by Jordie. At 12:30 we left and headed on the N2 towards Swaziland. Jane phoned up a B&B in the Portfolio and got a 2-bedroomed cottage at Ubombo close to the Bethesda hospital and Ghost Mountain. After lunchtime drinks under the pergola and a Zulu history lesson from Dawn we were picked up by Chris and whisked off in a Land Rover for a 90 minute flight over the St. Lucia wetlands. The departure lounge consisted of four plastic garden seats in a hangar housing 4 light planes. We took off in the 5-seater Maule normally used for flying doctors to outlying clinics and patients to the hospital. We saw flamingos, pelicans, hippos, reedboks and many other animals. Sometimes we flew as low as 200 feet over the long white beaches. We flew over Lake Sibaiya, the largest natural freshwater lake in Africa, and Cosi Bay on the Mozambique border where they use wooden stakes in an arc leading to a heart shaped funnel and a circular area to catch fish. We landed on the narrow band of soil used as an airstrip at 1700 feet. In the evening David regaled us with the history of David Bruce (specialist in Malta fever and malaria). We were joined by the only other guest, Bheki, a Zulu educationalist from Peter Maritzburg. We ate butter squash soup, chicken curry and mincemeat followed by pecan pie and lots of interesting discussions about Ubombo and SA people including the continuing practice of labola whereby the man pays the father of his bride the equivalent value of 7, 11, 16 or 25 cows depending on the status of the families. Stephen fell asleep in front of the television and we went to bed at 11pm.

Wednesday, August 15th - Ubombo to Mhlambanyatsi, Swaziland

After another full English breakfast with cucumber, a further discussion with Bheki, who is studying for his Ph.D. and an MBA, and another talk from Dawn on the efficacy of the African potato for curing arthritis and various forms of cancer we packed up and loaded the car. We rejoined David and Dawn for a tour of Ubombo. First stop was the general stores which is housed in a large wharehouse-style building and sells everything from boot polish to ploughshares, stamps to bleach and foodstuffs but no biltong. Dawn then took us on a tour around the hospital which was clean and treats AIDS and TB cases as well as others. The X-ray machine needs replacing but the children's ward has recently been redecorated using funds generated by Dawn's daughter who is a doctor practicing in Surrey. David then took us to the magistrates court, where we were offered the chance to view the proceedings but declined. We entered the police station where Stephen handled an AK47 rifle and we watched 3 suspected criminals, one in leg-irons, being put into the holding cells where they would be detained for up to 48 hours before going before the court. We toured the 3-year old social services building and then visited the local priest who came from Michigan. He showed us around his church. Next we visited the site of David Bruce's houses situated in a field where a dead donkey was decaying and the road runs at 1900 feet above sea-level a height above which malaria-bearing mosquitoes cannot live. David Irons intends to reconstruct David Bruce's homes as a museum. We thanked Dawn and David, signed the visitors book and departed for Swaziland. We arrived at the border at 1pm and completed forms on the SA side and the Swaziland side and paid R15 for Swaziland road tax. A hoarding proclaimed that sugar cane is Swaziland's gold. Zulu style homesteads abounded and it appears to be a poorer place than SA. Many people, cattle and goats walk or stand at the road side. We passed the King's motorcade on the way to Mbabane, the capital. We arrived at the Forester's Arms Hotel, 25 km west of Mbabane at 4:30. We watched the television and played rummy. We had an excellent meal of calamari, lentil soup, kingclip, lamb, chicken korma, apple strudel. We could have eaten more but we were full to bursting so we played more rummy and went to bed at 10:30.

Thursday, August 16th - Mhlambanyatsi to Nelspruit, SA

At 7:30 the maids brought us tea to our motel-style room which overlooked the swimming pool and surrounding forests. We wrote postcards and got up and had a wonderful full English breakfast. Jane then booked the evening accommodation and booked Sunday and Monday at a private game reserve in the Kruger, all accommodation in the actual park being full. We stopped at the Nygani glass factory where they use recycled glass to make animals and other glass objects. At the exit we saw a sign to the old mine so we followed it up the hill to a gate house. The guard became our guide and jumped in the car. We drove up the hill, the second highest in Swaziland, and parked by a huge hole in the ground filled with water. Peterson explained that this was a disused iron-ore mine and then announced that we would now go to the Lion's Cavern. We started to walk up the hill, higher and higher. Near the top Graham got worried as the path was getting narrower and the big deep hole was getting smaller. We clambered up a set of rickety iron steps and down some more steps to the Lion's Cavern where in 43000 years BC they mined ochre to use in cosmetics and for colouring hair and other things - truly amazing. We walked backed down and noticed that we were the only people for miles. Peterson had said that he'd had several other parties that morning - at least 3 couples. It cost us the grand sum of R20 including a tip. We decided to take the long route out of Swaziland so we could see more of the country so we drove through Pig's Peak. Many of the towns with Reef at the end of their name signify that gold deposits were found there. At the border crossing we all got out and filled in exit forms for Swaziland and entry forms for SA. We had to present ourselves at the customs office as we had a car. At Malalane we stopped at a Wimpy and had lunch. The town was verging towards a Western style street. We drove to Nelspruit and to Jorn's Gasthaus - a wonderful, serene and quiet place. Stephen had his own room quite a way from us but he is happy as he had a TV. We had a room overlooking a rock pool. We had a room with a double bed, double bath, shower, toilet, TV, fridge with drinks and free chocolates. We could not eat there in the evening because Margy was recovering from an injuring incurred by landing badly from a sky-dive. We ate at the Ocean Basket and had lots of fish - sole, mussels, prawns, calamari, white bait and fried Houlomi (Greek cheese). We phoned the Shaws in Johannesburg and made arrangements to stay there for our last 2 nights in SA.

Friday, August 17th - Nelspruit to Malalane

We had yet another full English breakfast and Jane phoned the rest camps in the Kruger but they were still all full. Margy recommended a friend's lodge called Serenity at Malalane so we booked into it and arranged to have an all-day tour of the Kruger on Saturday. We left the B&B where Nelson Mandela had stayed shortly after his release from imprisonment and where Nick Faldo had stayed earlier this year. We walked around the botanical gardens at Nelspruit where we saw a raffia palm, many of which we'd seen near Cosi Bay from on high. The raffia palm, according to a guide talking to a party of schoolchildren, has the longest leaves of any plant in the world at up to 20 metres and takes 35 years to flower. After it has borne fruit it dies - stupid plant. Next we saw a mass of cycads and wandered around the rest of the gardens to view a waterfall on the Nels River as it joined the Crocodile River. We walked through the rain forest which had sprinklers 25 metres tall. Next stop was the Malalane Gate to the Kruger. We drove at 50 kph on the tar roads and 40 kph on the dirt roads up to Skukusa. With the trees not in leaf it was easy to see giraffes, zebras, wart hogs, lots of impalas and many pretty birds. At Skukusa we stopped to replenish our supplies of drinks and biltong as well as to buy another map of the Kruger with pictures of its fauna. On the way to the Crocodile Bridge gate we saw an impala carcass in a tree and Stephen saw a leopard, yet to be verified by photographic evidence. We also saw monkeys, baboons and hippos. At Malalane we turned onto a dirt track and tried to get to the lodge before dark. Stephen said Graham was an older version of Colin Macrae, the rally driver, as we leapt over bumps in the 12 km dirt track. We arrived at Serenity just as darkness closed in. We were shown to our large rondeval-style chalet with canvas and zip windows, double bed and zebra skin rug, settee and armchair, TV, fridge with drinks and free chocolates, cakes and fruit. The bathroom had a double bath and a shower as well as his and hers basins. It was a well-appointed chalet. Stephen's was similar. Just after 7pm we joined the other guests on the balcony around an open fire and chatted with Gavin's parents and friends. The evening meal consisted of cream of chicken soup, lamb and beef followed by a spongy cake all washed down with a bottle of pinotage. We chatted more and went to bed at 10:30.

Saturday, August 18th

We were woken up at 5:30, had a shower and a cup of tea or coffee. We were collected at 6 by Johan in a 4x4 and taken to his house just outside Malalane where we transferred to his safari Land Rover. We entered the Kruger at Malalane Gate passing the Leopard's Creek Golf Course. We stopped at Asfal where we had a hot drink and then drove to Skukusa where we ate the hamper of food Lara had prepared for us. On the way we saw giraffe, zebra, elephants, crocodiles, a walking hippo, a lion and two lionesses lying down and may other animals and birds. We drove from Skukusa to Lower Sabie where we stopped for another drink. Johan explained the different types of vulture, one to penetrate the body, one to eat the muscles, one to eat the innards and one to pick in between the bones. We saw two prowling lionesses, a tawny owl, kudu, impala, a herd of more than 50 buffalo and many LBJs (little brown jobbies or small birds too numerous to know the name of). We got back at 5:30 and watched England finish their first innings. Tonight's meal was a braai of chicken kebabs, beef and boerewoes after tuna mousse and smoked salmon starters. We learnt that golf costs about R150 per round and R100 for a caddie. We returned to our chalet and played rummy. Stephen slept the night with us but awoke in the night to tell us he'd found a crocodile.

Sunday, August 19th - Malalane to Umhlametzi

We got up at 8am and went for a walk round the Zebra camp set in the heart of a rain forest but could not walk far so we walked down to the Sable camp where we viewed an unfinished conference centre with a very large swimming pool. We did not see the leg-of-iron in the lake but did see several pretty ducks. We woke up Stephen and had breakfast at 9. We left at 10:30 and, following a suggestion from Peter and Gavin, we decided to drive through the park to Orpen gate and were advised only to stop for lion kills. It took us 6 hours to get to Umhlametzi via the Kruger but was well worth it. We saw two black rhino, a lion, tussling elephants, giraffe, a bataleur eagle eating a snake in the road, leopard tortoises, and a khorhaan. At certain points you are forced to stop because of traffic jams - 3 or 4 cars all stopped in both directions admiring a large animal or two. We arrived too late for the afternoon game drive and were shown our rooms by Craig. We shared a semi-detached thatched cottage block with Stephen. We had single beds and a bathroom with a shower, basin and toilet and electricity. Six similar cottages were arranged in a circle flanking the leisure centre - bar, dining room and living room with continuous free hot drinks, overlooking a swimming pool. We had barbecued wart hog and ate in the open. Stephen won at rummy and we retired to bed at 10 pm.

Monday, August 20th

Up at 6am, showered, had hot drinks and then all 9 guests piled into the safari truck and Shadrack drove off in search of the buffalo. We saw kudu, impala and wart hog and, after a long period of seeing nothing, we came across 5 lionesses and 3 cubs. We drove off-piste and into the scrub to come within 30 metres of the two lions - a magnificent sight. We drove back and had brunch. 4 of the guests left including an Italian couple who were going to stay at the Serenity Lodge. At 11am the remaining guests went for a walk with Shadrack who was armed with a hunting rifle and 3 shells. He explained which animals created which droppings - rhino are large coconut sized and the males spread theirs around, wart hogs' are plum sized, impalas' are coffee-bean size and giraffes' are cherry sized. We learnt how a termite hill is constructed. Termites can go up to 60 metres below ground in search of water and build 1/3 above ground and 2/3 below. Termite hills are useful for augmenting the strength of cement. We saw zebra, impala and warthogs. On returning Jane and Stephen went for a paddle in the swimming pool as a low flying Boeing practiced landing and taking off at a nearby air-base. At 3pm we had a salad and a slice of cake. At 5pm we had a night ride and sun downers by a pond after frightening away the giraffes. We saw jackal, a great eagle owl, a serval and a bush baby - all a bit disappointing really. For the meal we had lamb and stewed kudu - very tasty. We saw the southern cross and learnt that south is determined by drawing a line left through the two horizontal stars of the cross and where it meets a line drawn at 90 degrees to the centre of a line joining the pointer stars is south. We got to bed at 10 PM without playing cards as we were all tired.

Tuesday, August 21st - Umhlametsi to Sabie

Up at 6 again for the morning drive. Just the 5 guests and Shadrack set off in search of the elusive buffalo which had been seen the previous day during a helicopter-assisted stock count. Visibility was poor and it seemed like it was drizzling but it was probably low cloud. We saw lots of giraffes, the only crocodile who swam for us, a black-backed jackal and its 5 cubs in their termite hill nest which Shadrack called us out of the truck to view. Buffalo weavers always build their nests on the north side of a tree so that the sun always shines on its visitors. We had brunch, packed up and drove north to Blyde River Canyon, the Three Rondevals, Bourke's Luck Potholes, God's Window and stopped at Harrie's Pancake House in Graskop for excellent chicken and mushroom pancakes. We bought some roasted macadamia nuts from a street hawker and drove to Pilgrim's Rest, a preserved gold diggers town. There were too many coaches and the museum was closed (Stephen was happy) so we drove to the Wayfarers B&B in Sabie where we were greeted by Sergio and Lynette. We dined at the Wild Fig Tree restaurant on guinea fowl and bobitee and went back to the B&B awakening all the guard dogs as we walked the kilometre home in the dark. We were told it was safe to do so. We played rummy and Daddy won. We retired at 9:45pm.

Wednesday, August 22nd - Sabie to Johannesburg

Had full English breakfast at 8 and admired the bric a brac, paid R450 and left at 9:15. We drove through the Long Tom Pass and stopped to look at a replica of the eponymous cannon which had been fired at the British to stop them descending a hill 10 km away. Jane bought a stone hippo. It was too misty for good views as we climbed to 2000m. There were earth domes with holes in them everywhere at the top of the mountain. We drove into Lydenberg and continued on into the township of Mashishing. The signs to the main road we should have taken had disappeared. We retraced our path and found the road to Dullstrom and on to Belfast where we joined the N4 to Pretoria. We stopped at a Spurs steak ranch in Blonkhorstspruit and had lunch and then drove to Pretoria where we went round Church Square twice and then drove to the Union Buildings which are closed to the public so we drove to the Voortrekker Monument which overlooks the city and discovered why the Dutch settlers got fed up with the British colonisers in the Cape Colony and trekked to other parts of Southern Africa to set up the Orange Free State and the Zuid Afrikaan Republik after having fought some strenuous battles against the native tribes. We drove to Johannesburg and met Bernard at a petrol station. He guided us to his home in Westmead where we met Helen and Richard and Nicole. Their home is a large beautiful bungalow with a cellar, swimming pool and tennis court. Richard, the son, lives in an apartment above the garage next to the house where Emma, the maid, lives. Stephen found the snooker table in the cellar and a Schnauzer called Georgina. We ate ostrich steaks followed by strawberries and ice cream and some Godoma cheese brought back from Zimbabwe. Bernard booked a tour of Soweto for us and we retired at 10:30.

Thursday, August 23rd

Up at 7 am. We were very grateful just to eat cereals. Watched a masked weaver build a fourth nest in one tree in the hope that his wife would select one shortly to save his having to weave yet another nest. We drove to the Crowne Plaza in Sandton and waited for our guide to arrive. A red minibus turned up and Nelson introduced himself and the young American couple who shared the bus with us. We visited Nelson Mandela's current house in Houghton after it had been explained to us that there are a lot of bird lovers in Jo'burg who put wire above the walls surrounding their property or maybe they are just paranoid. There is no wire around the Mandela's house. We drive to Hillborough which is where Jane stayed 19 years ago. The hotel she stayed in is now a police station and the area is full of illegal immigrants, Nigerians and gangsters. An empty Carlton Hotel is there as is the diamond-shaped building of the De Beers HQ. Most companies are moving out to Sandton including the stock exchange. We visited a witch doctor's shop close to De Beers. It was full of animal skins, skeletons, horns hanging from the ceiling and bark and dried fruit filling the shelves. We were driven to Soweto, home of 4 million out of the Jo'burg population of 7 million. We visited various parts of the South Western Townships including a tin-shack area house and shebeen(where Graham had a small sip of the home-brewed maize beer), the Regina Mundi church, saw Winnie Mandela's house and Desmond Tutu's house and then were shown around Nelson and Winnie's house in Orlando West. We ate a good buffet of local dishes and returned to the Shaws home emotionally drained. Stephen and Graham played on the snooker table until Helen returned from work. Helen then drove us around the more affluent parts of Jo'burg including the mock Italian village which forms the Monte Casino. We all ate Italian food at Georgio's restaurant and retired at 11pm

Friday, August 24th - Jo'burg to Swanmore

After the emotional trip to Soweto we decided to have a leisurely time shopping. We drove to the African Craft Centre in Rosebank where a number of curios (SA for souvenirs) were bought and then to the shopping mall of Sandton City where we bought a tent and sleeping bag for Stephen and a copy of the Long Walk to Freedom . We ate lunch in a food court and returned to the Shaws. Graham and Stephen played more on the snooker table and Helen and Bernard returned to say good bye and to introduce us to Simon, the elder son, who had just flown in from London. We left at 3:30 and followed Helen's precise directions to the airport. We boarded the plane which left on time at 8:50pm and landed at Athens at 5:30am. We left Athens at 9 and arrived in London 20 minutes early at 11am. Mary had driven Jane's car up to Heathrow and was there to meet us. After an Oscars-style ceremony at which Stephen won the Championship Rummy All-star Player award, Graham drove home and we arrived at 1pm on a hot and very humid sunny afternoon.