Blyde River Canyon Scenic Reserve

To get to the highlands from the steamy lowlands, we endured a stressful drive  on tortuous roads. Driving on mountainous roads inevitably make me tense and queasy. The roads are good but narrow and steep. I try not to look over the ledge as we make our way slowly around a hair pin turn. I look out of curiosity. “Oh man, that’s long drop!” Why did I look?  I hold my breath and try to stay quiet as I know that any shriek would only make Ryne a nervous wreck. Cars race up and down at crazy speeds. Only an idiot would speed on these dangerous roads! We passed several signs that read “Reduce speed. High accident area.” Finally, Ryne and I exhale a giant breath of relief when the road levels out on top of a high-elevation plateau. (Going back down was even more nerve rattling). Props to Ryne for remaining calm and driving judiciously!

The view on top was jaw-droppingly beautiful! It was like we entered another world. The air was delightfully cool and crisp and the flora was a dream. A few protea, South Africa’s national flower, were still in glorious bloom. We went to a few of the many attractions/view points in the area. Each offering its own scenic beauty for an entrance fee of $2-10. Each site had curio shops selling animal figurines, table cloths and wooden bowls. The women seemed so desperate to sell their goods. I browsed the lovely painted wooden bowls.  The woman says, “Which do you like, I give you a good deal.” I would’ve liked to buy one thing from each woman, but space is an issue and we still have 3 more months of traveling. Cypress adored all the little animal figurines so I let him pick two. He chose a cheetah and a buffalo.

We walked the short rocky path to the view point over Blyde River Canyon, Africa’s largest canyon and 3rd largest canyon on earth. We were all extremely happy to hike without the heavy worry of running into one of the ‘dangerous big 5’ (lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard). The view was stunning! Red sandstone cliffs and the caramel colored Blyde (‘joy’) river deep below was a sight to behold. Next, we hiked to the three rondavels or three sisters: 3 huge green-topped dolomite columns  on the opposite canyon wall. Cypress thought he was free as a bird and Daddy was chasing birds near the cliff edge with no railing. This made me a nervous Mama! Cypress stayed nearby and held my hand for the most part, but I had to keep telling my other boy to step away from the ledge!

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One of the many curio shops.
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Cypress really enjoyed the view and loved hiking the trails around this scenic reserve.
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The Three Rondavels on Blyde River Canyon
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Cypress eyeing wooden animal figurines.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas…”

In my last post, I forgot to mention a few phenomenal species we were lucky enough to see at Kruger.  My favorite and most memorable was a CHEETAH!!! There are only about 200 cheetahs in the park so we were really lucky!  We were pulled over in our animal viewer (aka campervan), probably looking at a bird, when a car passing by stopped to tell us there was a cheetah right around the corner. I was beyond excited, especially since it just so happened that this day I was determined to sight a cheetah.  We drove ahead and we could see the cluster of cars with wowed tourists adorned with cameras and binoculars. I looked in the same direction and there laying on a golden hillock was an adorable gold face with black stripes staring back at me! The slender cat was about 20m away and looked very comfortable even with the mob of tourists staring at it. After a few minutes, it stood up on its long powerful legs and took a few steps before disappearing behind a low hill.

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Ryne called this African Scops owl in at one of the campgrounds. He “hooted” above our van for most of the night.
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This is a handsome Greater Kudu. With tall spiraled horns and impressive size, he is quite a sight. This antelope was found browsing in a wooded savanna.
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Ryne got a gorgeous shot of this water lily.

We saw pods of hippos in the rivers, along with lounging  Nile Crocodiles. We watched the hippo below at close range from an animal hide. He amused us every time he grunted and snorted. The look on Cy’s wide-eyed face was priceless!
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We also saw a few deadly snakes: Burrowing Asp and a Puffadder. So happy Ryne stayed in the car to view these. On our way out of the park, we managed to see our last wanted species: African Wild Dogs! A group of six ran along our vehicle! We were wowed! They are very endangered and probably the least likely species to be seen that we encountered.

Kruger left a lasting impression on all of us. Its greatness and beauty has touched me deeply and profoundly. Now, I understand why people go back again and again. I can only imagine how this experience has shaped and imprinted Cy’s 3 year old brain. I think he will remember bits and pieces and will probably never forget the time a white rhino lifted up his tail and defecated about 3 gallons of poo before crossing the road right in front of our vehicle! Happy times!

A wild time at Kruger National Park

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Kruger National Park is regarded by many as the best park to see African mega fauna and after ten unforgettable days in this vast wilderness, I feel compelled to strongly agree. We entered the park in the north at Pafuri River Camp where tourists were conspicuously absent and large grazing animals were everywhere.

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The very endangered white rhino with calf.

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Giant baobob tree at Pafuri river camp.

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Purchasing mealie (corn on the cob) at a gas station.

As we drove south through this epic park, tourist sightings began to out number animal sightings. The wildlife parks get busy with locals who are interested in the abundant wildlife at Kruger. It’s holiday time for South Africans so most people we talk to are locals from places like Pretoria, Joburg or Cape Town.

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Cheeky Baboon
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African elephant with young.
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The gorgeous lilac breasted roller.
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Red hartebeest
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This male lion was giving us an intimidating glare.
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Cy’s favorite animal, the warthog

A typical day at Kruger starts at dawn, 4:30 am, which is when the gate out of camp opens and this is the best time to be out because it’s cooler and animals are active. We are confined to our vehicle except at picnic sites and a few other select places we are allowed to alight out of our vehicle at our own risk. Ryne is a bit cheeky when it comes to following these rules because he can’t contain his desire to inspect nature more closely. I am a bit concerned he will get eaten by a lion. He was stalked by a leopard while looking for a bird already!

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Cooling off in a luxurious campground pool!
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Spotted hyena nursing young in the middle of the road
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Got a kick out of the dung beetles rolling around poo balls!
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Cute fuzz head in the morning
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Red collared widow bird
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Camp picnic robber, vervet monkey
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Baby impala enjoying a grooming from a red billed oxpecker
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Trumpeter hornbill
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Woodland kingfisher
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Look close. There is a leopard snoozing in this tree.
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Yellow-billed Oxpeckers
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Southern red-billed hornbill
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The savanna woodlands were beautiful with lily blooms!

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Fruit is plentiful and delicious

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Many species are everywhere. It can be hard to go 10 minutes without seeing an impala. Kudu, zebras, giraffe and elephant are found multiple times per day.  Temperatures start soaring into the 90’s by 11am so this is when we eat and rest in a shady spot or by the pool.

Curfew is at 6:30. If we are not back at the campground by this time, then we have to pay a fee to get in. Last night we were 4 minutes late and the gate was closed. Thankfully, the guard let us in and waived the fee. “Campgrounds” are designed for high occupancy and are more like plush resorts with 100’s of cute round huts, shops, restaurants and a swimming pool with a small area designated for tents and camper vans.

We are now in the mountains enjoying cool crisp air and hiking.  And using our legs again is wonderful! We were pretty sedentary the last 10 days due to the danger of leaving our vehicle. It was a rush and humbling being in the bush with animals that could eat us.

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

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Punda Maria Gate into northern Kruger National Park.

We Made it to South Africa!

Our surprise flight to London was nice and comfy because it was close to empty and we could each stretch across 3 seats for this overnight ride. Upon arrival in London, we left the airport hastily and sought out the nearest English natural area, which was a place called Staines. We went for a joy ride on a public bus to accomplish our goal: see English country side and make it back to the airport in time to catch our flight. We had 6 hours to do this. Everything went smoothly except it was a chilly 47 degrees and we didn’t have jackets. Ryne braved the cold while Cy and I stayed at the town center. Shops and a food market kept me occupied while Ryne ran to the woods and probably found 25+ bird species and a red fox in an hour on his first and brief trip to Europe. We were short on time so only stayed an hour before we had to take the 35 minute bus ride back to the airport. Cypress thought the bus ride was great fun! “Wee wee” he repeated.

We were all very emotional when we touched down in Joburg. Feeling happy, excited, dazed and irritable by all after 2 days of travel.

We were greeted by Johann, Helderberg campervan employee, at the arrival gate and he introduced us to our shiny new camper van rental. We LOVE it! As Johann gave us a demo how everything works, he lost the keys! We spent an hour looking and finally found them under the mattress in the back of the van. Meanwhile, my stomach began turning because I realized that we forgot a bag at the airport! 8 hours after arriving, we made it out to the bushveld and 5 minutes after arriving in the African bush, I was stung by a wasp on my foot! It was excruciating and swelled immediately. It hurt to stand and walk for 2 days! Feeling much better now!

My first impression of South Africa is that it’s HOT, strangely familiar and that the people are extremely friendly and helpful, but very difficult to understand their English. Most South Africans speak Afrikaans and  English. Crime is widespread in the city so there are security guards everywhere -outside and inside shopping malls and grocery stores.

Cypress’ first impressions are yet to come because he is just not convinced yet that we are in Africa. He didn’t know it’s full of people, cities and cars. When we went one our first game drive he proclaimed, now we’re in Africa! I think only when he sees zebras, Lions, hippos, giraffes and warthogs will he believe. Ryne and I have seen blue wildebeest, zebras, giraffes and a warthog already! Along with over 150 birds species, 7 frogs and 2 snakes. Poor Cypress was sleeping though when we saw the large mammals,but has really enjoyed herping with Dada on night hikes.

We are having some issues with charging electronics, but hopefully we will be able to post some good wildlife/scenery pictures soon! In the meantime I’m posting a few pics I took on my iPhone. They don’t really convey how much we are experiencing or do Africa justice though. Off to the famous Kruger National Park tomorrow for 9 days in one of the worlds greatest natural areas!

Snow Delay on our Travel Day

Hello all!

As I write this, we would have been on a jumbo jet to Johannesburg, South Africa (Joburg), but unfortunately we had a 2 hour delay in Chicago, due to that cold white stuff we were so keen to avoid, and missed our connecting flight in Atlanta. Our first serious snow of the year and it happened to be on our travel day! Oh well, guess sometimes your the fly and sometimes your the window. We were automatically put on the next flight to Joburg, which leaves tonight at 11:50pm and it stops in London! Ryne is giddy as a school girl about visiting Europe for the first time and plans to go birding during our 6 hour layover (oh, boy! Ryne already has 3 natural areas he wants to visit! We might miss another flight!) In case you don’t know Ryne – he tends to skip gleefully to the nearest new natural area and looses track of time! Ryne says “when given rhubarb, make rhubarb pie.”

The birds do sound exciting and maybe we can show Cypress thee actual London bridge!

Meanwhile, I’m dreading the 2 overnight flights before reaching our destination. Hopefully, we will all get some sleep.


Cypress is a great traveler! He loves plane rides and he especially loves the ginger biscuits that Delta Airlines serves.

Warmest Regards,

Jen, Ryne and Cypress