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.
Giant baobob tree at Pafuri river camp.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
A page from my journal (we left the east coast near Daintree NP and headed west): Day 28, It was a long drive to this sleepy off the tourist trail town of Karumba (say Ay Karumba!!) on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The drive was exceptional with a plethora of wildlife seen especially from Normantan. We saw Sarus Cranes, Yellow Spotted Monitor and the wetlands were chalk-a-block full of birds! At one time we saw hundreds of raucous Little Corellas (small white cockatoos)! The night was less spectacular. We were in a hurry to get to the gulf to watch the sunset and we hit a Wallaby!! They are filthy common along the roads, especially at dusk, and they make driving a complete hazard! They hop haphazardly in every direction! It’s like walking around a pond in summer when there are toadlets everywhere!
The night was torture in a sweat box! It was beyond hot and humid, over 90 degrees F all night. I think it felt hotter than what it was because of the humidity. It never cooled off in the slightest! We were so dehydrated from loosing water as we sweated all night. Sweat dripped down my face all night! Ryne and I put on wet cloths to help cool and I put a wet wash cloth on Cypress (who slept like a baby). It was useless, the wet cloths became hot in seconds.There was no breeze so the air was stuffy and thick with moisture. Mosquitoes were plentiful so the doors and windows were kept closed. The canvas back had a screen but it also had cracks perfect for blood hungry mozzies! The morning couldn’t come fast enough! But with the dawn came teeny tiny sandflys that massacred my legs and Cypress, leaving us clad in red bites. The morning also brought the sun and intense, searing temperatures! After Ryne was done birding and being stalked by a crocodile in the marsh, we sought refuge at the library. We got lucky because there were free pancakes and tons of kids for Cypress to play with! We made a blog post and then made haste to Mt. Isa via Cloncurry.
Day 29, We drove through rugged red earth land. I was surprised the interior (outback) terrain was rocky, red hills with scattered trees and shrubs. The outback has a number of habitat types, not just barren sand and small shrubs, like I pictured. We camped at Clem Walton Park. The air was hot and dry and the “tickle flies” which I named, were out in hoards. At least they didn’t bite. They just tickled your exposed parts, loving your moist eyes the most! Worse were the ants which covered every bare area of the ground. They bit my feet fiercely until they were itchy and swollen.
I made jewel fish, sweet potatoes and green beans for dinner, then enjoyed an evening walk. The setting sun illuminated the brick red rock into a brilliant glow that only spoke of true tranquil beauty. This moment made it worth enduring pesky insects and uncomfortable temperatures. Why, life would be boring if one never let themselves get uncomfortable! Aborigines are a tough group of people!
Let me know if you would like to hear more about our day to day experiences, or just pictures. I did a lot of writing on the trip and plan to compile it into a book.
I am going to start from the beginning, but try not to repeat anything I wrote in previous posts or replicate photos. I did post some good pics in previous posts, but I wont repeat them here. Thus, if you want to read more or see more pictures, refer to my previous blog entries. Cypress is just 14 months old and looks so little in his big orange backpack!
The famous Botany Bay — our first view of Australia from the plane and first stop (besides the food market) after picking up the rental van. I was deliriously tired, dazed and confused from the 36 hour day we just endured with no sleep (Aus. is a half a day ahead of us). I was bursting with excitement and loved the hot air but sweating in my jeans and didn’t have the energy to find my shorts. Everything was buried in a mountainous heap in the van and my bag was on the bottom…I sweated in my hiking boots, thick socks, jeans and long sleeve shirt while Ryne gleefully skipped around in his flip flops and shorts! A memorable short stop.
We drove through the hustle and bustle of Sydney and in just 45 minutes we were at Royal National Park, where we booked a campsite for two nights. After the first night in our new house on wheels, we decided that we love our new bed and mobile home! It was very comfy and cozy! The next day we hiked a beautiful trail that paralleled the rocky coast line and swam in gorgeous waters!
Just some of the flora…
We hiked and explored…Cy was always ready for adventures!
had some eggs and veggies with a squadron of cheeky Sulpher-Crested Cockatoos!
Then headed inland for some spectacular eye candy of the Blue Mountains!
Mailboxes were awesome in Australia! Some skillfully crafted from recycled junk like metal oil drums, milk jugs or even…microwaves?!
Some flora and fauna of Girraween National Park…
We drove to Main Range National Park (southeast Queensland, Aus), a World Heritage Site, in pouring rain. The gravel road turned into a river! There were several creek crossings and no bridges! I forgot about how flooded most of the roads were on the east coast or even 100 km from the coast! It was a bit hairy at times, but luckily we never got stuck! The slow hazardous drive was soooo worth it though because the ancient rainforest we explored was stunning and part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, the most extensive subtropical rainforest in the world! This is a special place because according to the fossil record, some of the same species exist today as they did when Gondwanaland existed 200 million years ago! I think this is probably the coolest place we went, I LOVED traveling back in time to the Triassic Period! (Gondwanaland was a supercontinent that broke up into Australia, India, Africa, Madagascar, South America and Antarctica).
We also went to Lamington National Park, another awesome subtropical rainforest mountain range with impressive GIANT trees!
After some rugged-mountain jungle fun, we headed back to the sweaty coast. To date, the worst night sleep of my life was in Townsville, Queensland! The tropical heat would continue to keep us awake sweating all night and swatting mosquitoes! I don’t know why we wasted our time trying to sleep! We should of went road cruising for snakes instead! Cypress slept, at least!
Sorry for the long hiatus from blog entries. While in Australia, I had some difficulty logging into my wordpress admin site. After several unsuccessful attempts at blogging and posting pictures of our travels, I threw in the cards. Well, now I’m back and my site is working perfectly well.
I have been perusing and organizing our Aussie pictures, and since we have some great ones, I have to share them! We have over 5,000 pictures from our 3 month trip around Australia and 1 month journey in New Zealand!
The endemic Flatback sea turtle nesting! She’s actually done nesting and heading towards the water
Cy on the prowl of a blue tongue skink! He loves lizards and always blows them kisses!
Black footed rock walaby at Cape Range
Red Kangaroo, Cy’s Favorite!
Eighty mile beach and the best shelling ever!
We are currently in Perth taking care of errands. It takes some getting use to the city life after going weeks in the remote north western Au where people are few and far between. The coast is extensively developed here with hoards of people enoying the beach and sea cliffs. The WA coast is gorgeous with vast heathlands and acia shrubs meeting the turqoise ocean, interspersed with sandstone cliffs and picturesque beaches. We are enjoying the pleasant southwestern climate (where there are trees again!) which sure beats the 110 degrees we endured in the interior. This area has its own distinct flora and fauna with 1000’s of species found no where else, including some of the worlds tallest trees.
We love and miss you all and grandparents, you will be happy to know that when I show Cy pics of you he kisses them! He remembers and loves you too!!
It has been a privilege to feel the scorching dry heat of the outback, experience the eerie silence and admire the illuminating red earth from a sunset. This land is so wild and remote, but we are still seeing some cattle! A wildfire burns the land in the distance and the hot dry wind whips thru the eucalyept trees and small leaved shrubs. It’s almost inscrutable that this harsh ecosystem yawns westwardly for over a three thousand km to the coast. Towns are so far apart that fuel stations are strategically placed every two hundred km or more. We paid $2 per liter ($8 per gallon) at the remote Barkley roadhouse. Prices are expectedly inflated at these middle of no where stops because they have to generate their own power on site using 500 liters of diesel fuel daily. We spent just a few days in the interior around Mount Isa, where the land was surprisingly hilly, rugged and shrubby.
Although, our journey through this vast untamed land is far from over, we are taking a hiatus on the top end of Australia’s Northern Territory in tropical Darwin. We are actually treating ourselves to an air con hotel room here because sleeping conditions have been complete torture! Even with the van’s back screen on, we sweat all night and mozzies (mosquitoes) sneak in! We just visited Kakadu National Park, perhaps Australia’s most famous park. The park is mostly woodland savanna and monsoon rainforest with massive precious wetlands interspersed with spectacular sandstone outcrops sprawling as far as the eye can see. Aboriginal artwork adorns rock shelters with elaborate pictures, some of which are 20,000 years old. Now is the wet season and one of the hottest times of year. It storms off and on all day, which is nice because it cools things off a bit.
We’ve seen tons of wildlife including agile wallabies, snakes such as yellow-bellied water python and the highly venomous northern death adder and many birds found nowhere else like banded fruit-dove, chestnut-quilled rock pigeon and sandstone rock-thrush.
Cy is happy and healthy. He has started walking and talking! We miss you and love you all!
We had a fantastic stay around Cairns! I think Cypress enjoyed it the most! The children amenities were outstanding. The 3km long waterfront park, called the Esplanade, had a large pool and a kiddie water park that Cy loved! He loved splashing around the water with the other kids! The water front is or was mangroves and at low tide there are mud flats which are peppered with shorebirds.
We booked a reef trip to Michaelamas Cay with Ocean Spirit. We chose this Cay because it is clad in nesting sea birds (common noddy, brown booby, crested tern, sooty terns). We had a fantastic time snorkeling, beach walking, bird watching and indulging in the delicious lunch buffet. A submarine ride was included in the tour, so Cy oohed and awed at the big colorful fish and corals this way. The sub went out twice, so one of us took Cy in the sub and the other went snorkeling. Fun had by all, but boy was it pricey! A perfect day!
We spent the last 3 days exploring the Atherton tablelands – very large, gently undulating region dominated by cattle ranches and agriculture (fertile soils loom here from volcanic history). And we are taking full advantage of the profuse of fresh local produce! Mangos, watermelon, lychee, bananas and tomatoes abound! I especially love the self serve fruit stands. They are based on the honesty method, just leave money In a box! Sadly, only about 10% of the rainforest was untouched here, thus we spent our time in these islands of green. We saw many endemic species like the golden bower bird who pops out like a ray of sunshine in the dimly lit sunshine-starved Forest understory. It was super cool to see him at his lovely lichen and yellow flower adorned bower, built especially for the female. One female must have liked his style indeed because she came in for a peek. In just a blink of an eye, the male seemly attacked her, but we assume they mated!!
A Christmas Story:
We should have fueled up before going up a remote mountain on Christmas Eve. We counted on filling up at Mt. Molloy, but the easy to miss fuel station was closed. There was a hand written sign that said “closed 24 Dec. until 12 January. Merry Christmas.” We had a moment of panic and then checked our maps and guide books. The nearest town was 40 km away and we’d be going that way in the morning and we figured we had enough gas to get there, but will they be open on Christmas Day? I guess we’d find out. We camped nearby at a free car park make shift campground. It was surprisingly nice with free showers. The next morning we drove slow mainly to car-bird. We saw some nice birds like pale headed rosellas, red wing parrot and Australian bustard. We made it to Mt. Carbine and must have blinked because all of sudden there was that huge green sign with towns and distances. The next town was 80 km away and we certainly couldn’t make it that far on empty! Yikes! Maybe we passed the gas station? We turned around and stopped at the only building on the side of the road. It was vacant and closed! Okay, now I’m panicking but only on the inside because I have a way of keeping my wits about me in these kinds of situations. The road we were on was not heavily trafficked but I flagged down all of the 3 cars that passed by while ryne started walking toward a car park we passed a couple of km back. No one had fuel and the town we were in wasn’t even really a town, there was one bar and a house as far as I could see. Ryne came back and said lets go to the car park, the man down the street said sometimes they have fuel there. We arrive at the car park/campground and it was more like an rv / trailer home community than a car park. Anyway, we found the office and yes the tall, lanky up-in-years owner had fuel! He just got it yesterday and had gotten extra just in case…Merry Christmas to us! Phew! And a critical lesson learned! Into the wilds we go! We had a lovely day exploring the montane rainforest on mount Lewis! I cooked up mashed potatoes and local fish for dinner plus kiwi and mango for desert.
Our time on the east coast and Atherton tablelands has come to a close. A bitter sweet end, but now we start the next leg of our trip – the vast and alluring outback!!
Merry Christmas family and friends! Moms and Dads-hope your enjoying sunny Florida!
Ryne, Jenny and Cypress