Monday, 8 April 2013


The trip to Australia to farewell Joan was busy and filled with family encounters. The Frost Family pulled a very memorable and fitting ceremony out of the bag in honor of Joan. 
 Too much eating and drinking along with the reminiscing, another fortnight of hectic social engagements and several more kilo to deal with some time.
Returning to Taipan on the 22nd of February we ticked off a few more jobs and prepared for the arrival of the kids!
Jason, Ferne, Lily n Savannah flew in from Australia for a five week visit on the 27 th of February. We drove to Durban to pick them up and rented a 8 seater VW Kombi van, as we planned to go camping and knew we would need some extra room for luggage. Just as well we did!
First couple of days we all chilled aboard and spent some time at the shops getting all the necessary stuff you need for camping. Tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, storage boxes, eskys etc.
Out first camping adventure was a one night affair to test equipment and make sure we had everything.


St. Lucia is where you take a boat ride to see hippos and crocs.  We left Richards Bay at 9 and drove up the N2 to R618, exit to Mtubatuba and St Lucia.  Drove east to the coast.  At the very small traffic circle just as you arrive in town turn right and immediately on the right is a strip mall and at the right end is a travel agent that sells the boat tickets.  We went on the Adventure boat.  We liked it because it has a second floor viewing area although its hot up there so take sun screen, sunnies n a hat as there is no shade. The boat leaves at 10am, and we recommend you take this, the earliest, boat.  Get to the boat by about 9:30a and you will get a seat on the second  floor. The tour we took was well narrated and I think the captain did a good job of making sure there was wildlife visible no matter where you were seated.  You will see hippos.

After the boat trip we headed out to Sugar Loaf camping grounds. There are lots of sites, it's very low key and inexpensive, about $45A for the six of us. The grounds are very pretty and there is a lot of wildlife inside. We saw our first Nyalla right in the camp site! There is a pretty lake area where we had a picnic lunch whilst watching hippos basking nearby. The boardwalk takes you to the nearby beach and provided a vantage for viewing the bird-life and crocs. No swimming pool or shop here.
During the afternoon we took a drive around the wetland environment to the north of St Lucia and were rewarded with lots of sightings of Zebra. There is quite a big herd in the area.
We poked through some of the tourist shops back in town the following morning and then went back to Taipan to reconsider the equipment. 
Another big shopping trip for food and odds n ends and we were ready for the Great Ham Sandwich Safari Tour of South Africa!
Loaded with camp equipment.

Departed Richards Bay for Bonamanzi Game Park 28 3.4S. 32 17.6E We got lost on the way and this proved to be the most likely outcome whenever we went off in search of the next camp. We weren't badly lost though and found ourselves reasonably quickly, not without having to do a number of extra  bumpy miles on the corrugations. 

Bonamanzi is a really lovely game park with very luxurious rondavals set in beautiful grounds and overlooking a small lake. There is a restaurant and bar and a nice pool. There are some tree houses which are nicely isolated on the property and 6 tent sites spread amongst the bush. We located our camp site after checking in and found it to be nicely isolated and well appointed. Braii, table and chairs and two small rooms. One a kitchen and one ablutions. A pool was located only a short drive away. No sharing!   The property has an abundance of game and they are not shy so we always had good viewings of Nyalla, Springbok, wart hogs and impala as we drove round there. They also have rhino, elephant and giraffe but we didn't spend enough time there to explore all the habitats.

On arrival we assembled the camp and settled in for the night and for the next two nights was well. After night one, Lily decided to sleep in the bus because of David's snoring! However after an uncomfortable night there and instructions on how to hit him to get him to stop, she returned to our tent for the rest of the tour. 

Hluhluw/iMfolozi Park and Hilltop Camp.
This was our destination from Bonamanzi each day. Just a short drive.

Our main mission was to get o iMfolozi Park to see the big five!. First there was shopping to do at the main entrance gate and various artifacts were stowed into the bus before we headed into the  park We had a great day up and down all sorts of tracks, surprising elephants and Rhino, and being surprised by them! Lots of up close and personal animal encounters including wart hogs, rhino, both black and white, giraffe, zebra, wilder-beast, impala, baboons, vervet monkeys and one buffalo. We had to have a great lunch at the Hilltop Camp as we had forgotten our sandwiches! Besides! They have a bar!
The highlight was an encounter with a big bull elephant with attitude which was intent on preventing the departing vehicles from leaving the park, at closing time, by tearing branches off a roadside tree and blocking the road.
The vehicle in front of us was charged by it as they tried to pass. We waited till he got bored then made a run for it. It was pretty funny and exciting! 
Day two was more of the same but we remembered our lunch. The same elephant again provided entertainment. As we approached him in much the same place we spotted 4 young rhino boys with mischievous intent. Apparently elephants don't like Rhino much and they can kill them by breaking their back! Anyway these young ones maybe didn't know this because they stepped blithely up to the big boy to play in his mud hole. He wasn't having any of it and promptly dispatched them but in the process several vehicles became embroiled in the ruckus and a parks utility with a trailer and a guy on the back was forced to do some interesting reversing manoeuvrings to avoid his wrath! The guy in the back was looking fairly anxious and eying our ham sandwich bus off as a possible refuge too!
Hluhluw &iMfolozi ' are great parks with plenty of game and are nicely accessible to Richards Bay. If you made an early start you could get there and back in the same day.
During the  second night at Bonamanzi while we were sitting round the camp during a period of quiet we heard the low growl of something and made jokes about it. In the morning on the track out we came across leopard tracks. The Bonamanzi staff then told us that the area is the territory of one of their leopards! That night we were a little jumpy. There were lots of strange noises! 
We left their after three great nights. This was one of the best camp sites we had on tour. The sheer privacy was great.

Next adventure was getting totally lost trying to find Fish and Eagle Camp on Ponglaport dam to the north. We spent some anxious moments on the 1837'a rock strewn dirt road which seemed to be going nowhere fast! After about an hour we decided to turn back. We,d missed our destination about 40 km back! The "google bitch" got it totally wrong! Well it was about 39 deg by now and the Fish and Eagle was a complete failure! We realized on arrival that there was no where to put a tent that wasn't just exposed rock and the inhabitants were all fishermen intent on hooking the Tiger Fish. You can't even swim in that lake! So we left again and headed north to a B&B .  
Just as well we did. Tamboti Ridge B&B  27 17S, 31 49E was lovely and the people very nice. Three well appointed motel type rooms with an adjoining kitchen and dining area for self catering guests and a good pool for the kids. Everything, and it rained all night so we were happy not to be in tents. A big posh English breakfast served in the main dining room at the big house was a treat too! Used to a piece of toast this was a bit decadent.

We were very close to the Swaziland border from here and we headed in there after a pretty efficient clearance we made for Manzini and a place called Malandelas B&B. 26 29.4S 31 13.5E. That was the best B&B! Fabulous architecture, pool, crafts, bar, restaurant, and fabulous rooms for the price range. We had two 3 bed rooms and the total was around $120 for all of us. We loaded up in the morning with artifacts, (now our artifacts box is busting at the seams!) Gone Rural is the outlet there and they have some wonderful stuff! Swaziland is very friendly everywhere with excellent shopping centers providing everything one could need.
From Malandelas we headed west to the boarder again and cleared back into SA. Lots of miles, heading north west, we found another camp at a place called Olifants 25 45.9S ,29 18. 11E just outside Middleberg. This camp was ours alone again.  The road in was shocking and their graders must all be tied up in the mining industry thereabouts! Unfortunately the pool was undergoing repairs but the view was great and the monkeys were cute!
Next destination near Mookgophong was Bunde Game Lodge. 24 28.4S 28 41.5E Here we spent two days and were hard pressed to think of a more perfect camp site. Prices around A$36 for all of us. No one there again, so it was all ours. We camped just outside the covered braii (BBQ) area and set all our stuff up under cover overlooking the pool and close to ablutions. There are quite a lot of game here but they are pretty jumpy! Maybe it's a hunting lodge. We saw a lot in the distance.

Family cottage at Ants Hill
The reason for all this north west travel  was our booking at Ants Hill Resort. 24 5.89S.  28 2.49E

The highlight of the tour! More a five star resort really! Ants Nest and Ants Hill are Lodges north of Vaalwater in Limpopo. We headed the short distance there on the 13th to spend two nights in luxury and we were not disappointed. Set high on the side of the Waterberg ranges overlooking vast plains, was Ants Hill, our destination. Our cottage was the family cottage, of three bedrooms and set on three levels  and built from found material. Roofs are thick and beautiful free form thatch, door and window frames of timber, with internal openings from natural curved, branched, forked, hardwood logs, complete with ant holes. The walls are all stone from the site and the shower even had a waterfall rock . Game can roam right to the door and the view over the plains is spectacular.
Upon arrival were welcomed with aperitifs  and then a lovely lunch was laid out. We then settled into our rooms and spent time around the pool before the horses arrived, saddled ready to go. Unfortunately however so too did a thunderstorm so we had to abandon the ride in favor of a game drive because of the danger of lightening strike.
There were several other guest accommodated variously in the facilities here and we got to know them all during the evenings around the bar and at meals.

 Great company with the major reason for being there to ride with game as the objective we all had something in common. Drinks and meals were all inclusive so we didn't hold back and some were a little shaky at breakfast! Riding next day saw us all mounted and ready at 8.30. 

Away we went. All the rides were interesting and there was plenty of wildlife. Antelope of all sorts, including blaisbok, sable antelope, rarer and expensive, wildebeest, Nyalla, impala and the usual.wart hogs, giraffe and zebra to name a few. They don't have elephants at Ants but they do have Rhino down on the plains near Ants Nest. Lily rode down there on the last morning and was rewarded with an encounter with three Rhino..the horses at Ants all run with the game so it is possible to get very close. Savannah, our 5 year old grand daughter was riding happily at canter on the horse they provided, quite a bit bigger than her own pony but she was unperturbed. 

I exchanged my first horse after the first ride but the next mount was great. We were all very happy with the mounts
At 12 o'clock we arrived at one of the big farm dams and the horses were freed while we sat down to a great safari style lunch under the trees.. Very pleasant!! Afternoons were spent resting or swimming then we mounted up again for an evening ride completed with sunset drinks all laid out on a high ridge before being driven home to  change for dinner.
This was the pattern for the 2 days and just as well it wasn't longer because we would have needed helper springs in the van!!
In all we rode three times and always saw plenty of animals. Our family of 6 rode together with our own guides, and with Donna, another guest, joining us on the day Lily went to see the Rhino. 
We departed reluctantly after lunch on the 15 th and headed back down the mountain to Vaalwater for coffee and shopping to replenish our camp supplies.
Black Mamas is a really good curio shop there and we stuffed some MORE artefacts into the now overflowing curio box!
For Sale
I got to talking to a local guy and he let us know about a Game Sale scheduled to be held there the next day. He also said he would be in touch about some possible zebra skins he may have available. We exchanged phone numbers and set off to find a camp ground. He also suggested we could go the the Sale grounds and preview the animals being sold the next day. This we did, and we got our own private tour of the stalls and pens with up close look at lots of animals. Game sales are held monthly during this season around Vallwater. So we were lucky to catch one. 
They had no cats or elephants, but most everything else. We even got bailed up outside by the resident emu!!
Vaalwater has a nice campground right in town so we settled in there and relived all the details of our time at Ants. Slept well and set off for the Game Sale, and to  meet Martyn. Or new friend and zebra man! We could have purchased zebras for A$250 each but the van was nearly overflowing already.
Martyn had skins, so we went to the tannery, viewed them, conducted the business, and were then were invited to his own private game park, Britplaas, a few kilometers away, to view his herds. Martyn's wife Lettie joined us and we loaded into his game viewing vehicle and set off. 

He has beautiful animals and a well managed and maintained business, specializing in golden wilder beast and sable antelope. We saw his zebra herd from whence the skins originated, which was also special. Big thanks to Martyn n Lottie for making time to show us round.  At this point I would like to say we have had very friendly open and good encounters with the white South Africans everywhere. We are a crowd, with 6 of, us but it hasn't deterred interaction, often initiated by them.

From the Britplaas game farm we drove the short distance to Matamacha, a private zoo and restaurant. For a late lunch and directions to a camp
The camp was the worst one we stayed in but we were still pretty euphoric with our new skins so hardly noticed. It was in a. Game park again and expensive but there were a few antelope grazing round us during the evening. Next day we went back to Matamacha to see and identify all sorts of game both local and exotic. 

The highlight was the baby Bengal tigers which we got to handle specially delighting lily and Savannah. Leo, the owners son, gave us a personal tour and entertained us in the tiger pen romping with  two half grown white  tigers and a lion,  their two leopards were hand reared so are very quiet and we got to touch them. They're my favorite cats. So beautiful, and coats like shorn wool not fur! 

Anyway we were also well fed again here before heading off towards Polokwane to the north east about 150km. We found a camp for the night at Magoebaskloof Getaway 23 51.8S 30 0.7E. Beautiful camp again all to ourselves. Very steep driveway and it rained during the night causing me at least, a little anxiety about getting our bulging bus up that steep clay track! Wasted speculation. Jason managed it without a wheel spinning and we were off through the high misty mountains through beautiful tea country. Beautiful countryside around Tzaneen, with lots of adventure places, rafting, horse riding, trekking etc. no time! Off to Kruger.

We entered Kruger through the Phalaborwa Gate and before long we were entertained and snapping away at a small herd of elephants with a very young baby. Kruger seemed to be full of elephants. During the next two days we saw all the big five except leopard. 

The camps, Letaba and Satara where we stayed, were OK but the service was terrible. And it was expensive. We should have purchased the "Wild Card" which entitles  the holder to park entry's  for free. Once you have paid three park entries it's paid for itself. You need to pick it up at the airport I think. We had no luck trying to do it online. Most of the parks we went to came under this umbrella so we could have made good use of the card, even Hlane National Park in Swaziland. Kruger is big. Over 300km along the Mozambique boarder. The park maximum speed is 50 km and there is a lot of stopping to do to see wildlife so you do need plenty of time. We had 2 days. Could have used longer.

We left the park at Elephant Gate and drove south back into Swaziland to camp at Hlane National Park. This camp has no power, just lanterns but provides all you need with good ablutions, hot water, the best communal kitchen, and a restaurant and bar overlooking a big dam. It is very friendly too.

As we settled the dust and whetted the parched throats we were watching some hippopotamus and crocodiles when a herd of elephants wandered up to bath. Shortly after this 3 very big rhino arrived and strolled lazily passing  us just a few meters away with only 2 very rusty barbed wires strung on sticks separating us. Very exciting! Think the game drives here are supposed to be well worth the effort. They leave camp at about 5 am though so that's us out!!

From here we drove directly to Taipan and had a lay up for a few days before deciding to sail to Durban. Got all ready, cleared out with all the local bureaucracy and at 4 am we headed out. Bad decision. It was crappy so by 9 am we were back again all tied up and loaded the trusty bus to drive to Durban. 

Lucky we did. It rained and blew for the next 24 hours, we stayed in a B&B in Bluff Durban and even that leaked! The campsites were all awash. Next day Jason Ferne Lily and Savanna went off to Ushaka Water world. It was grey but warm enough for them to have a big exhausting day there enjoying all the rides and aquatic displays.

Durban didn't send us much so after lounging around in the yacht Club on the waterfront for the day we picked them up and headed West on our next adventure to the Drakensberg Mountains. 

First stop was The Knoll, Hilton. 29 34.27S. 30 16.48E  They have great camp sites and chalets but we were able to camp  inside an old barn complete with kitchen, stereo, pool table, braii, fire pit and all the usual essentials. once again we were the only campers. It was a bit rainy so it was great to be inside in our tents! 

Hilton is a really lovely little town in a very picturesque setting. They have great little shopping Center so we provisioned the bus and headed to the hills.
The Drakensberg is a spectacular area of steep mountainous plateaus which rise up to the Lesotho boarder. There are several national parks along its legs and plenty of activities to keep the energetic fit. Rafting high ropes horse riding and trekking. Our first camp was at Monks Cowl right at the end of the road. its a place where you lace on your hiking boots and head to the mountains and there were lots of people there to do just that. It was Easter by now though so it was pretty busy everywhere we went. 
Mahai in the Royal National Park northern Drakensberg was our second camp. The kids went horse riding for a morning near here and thoroughly enjoyed the experience in spite of the saddles! The scenery is truly breathtaking and a horse is a good form of transport to see it.
The Drakensberg is a spectacular area of steep mountainous plateaus which rise up to the Lesotho boarder. There are several national parks along its legs and plenty of activities to keep the energetic fit. Rafting high ropes horse riding and trekking. Our first camp was at Monks Cowl right at the end of the road. its a place where you lace on your hiking boots and head to the mountains and there were lots of people there to do just that. It was Easter by now though so it was pretty busy everywhere we went. 
Mahai in the Royal National Park northern Drakensberg was our second camp. The kids went horse riding for a morning near here and thoroughly enjoyed the experience in spite of the saddles! The scenery is truly breathtaking and a horse is a good form of transport to see it. They also did a great canopy high wire flying thing and highly recommended that.

We used an iPad APP called "GO South Africa" which was pretty good but not fully covered. There is a good little free publication you can pick up at any backpackers with accommodation all over. Most backpackers have camping.

Heading back to Taipan via Ladysmith and Dundee we were able to take in the battlefields museum and visit the historic battle sites around the area. Kwari Camp Ground 28 10S 30 13E, in Dundee was a really special camp. (  Great chalets, and beautiful lawns and facilities set around an old brick quarry, now filled with water, Lilly's, bird life and blaisbok roam the grounds. There's a pool and trampoline, flying fox and plenty to fill in the tile for the kids.
British forces in Natal were concentrated at Dundee and Ladysmith, making it one of the highlights of the Battlefields Route, which gives Dundee a distinct sense of history. The first shots of the Boer War were fired at Talana on a hill just outside Dundee where today the Talana Museum is set in a 20 acre heritage park, which opened its doors in 1979 to commemorate the Anglo Zulu war and also gives the history of coal mining in Dundee. Excellent museum with great displays and a good restaurant.
Heading out after two nights at Kwarie  we made straight for Richards Bay stopping at Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana.

The countryside around Rork's Drift still manages to give true meaning to the description 'unspoiled beauty', and it is hard to imagine that this peaceful, undulating landscape was the scene of such violence. A visit to the Rorke's Drift Battle Museum, which has received worldwide attention for its displays of the Anglo-Zulu War, gives an incredible audiovisual depiction of the Rorke's Drift battle and others, and is well worth a visit.
The Battle of Isandlwana was the worst defeat ever inflicted on British troops by native forces. In the end, about 1300 British (800 Imperial troops and 500 irregulars) and between 1500 and 2000 Zulus lay dead. The British dead were buried on the field several weeks later, and the cairns marking their graves are visible today. What Zulu dead who were not carried off, remained unburied on the field. After the battle, the Zulu impi disbanded and returned to their home kraals, awaiting another call by King Cetshwayo kaMpande to sortie against the invaders

There is lots of interesting history in these museums which we Australians are not familiar with. The British version we've been fed doesn't tell us about the thousands of Boer women and children interred in camps, many of whom perished!  Lots of other facts haven't made our history books.

We arrived back to Taipan mid afternoon and spent the. Next two days packing stuff and getting ready to drive to Durban on the final leg of the Great Ham Sandwich Tour of South Africa.
All the artifacts were sorted and stowed, camping gear was stowed where possible and at the final weigh-in the bags were all the  maximum allowable, 23kg each, with the max allowable cabin baggage to the ounce!
On Wednesday the 3rd of  April we drove. To King Shaka Airport near Durban, had a farewell lunch and said our sad goodbyes. 
Was an unforgettable and fantastic trip. We did over 4500 km in five weeks, saw lots of this beautiful but very large country and we will always have the great memories of all the good laughs and fun camps.

"The Great Ham Sandwich Tour" not so called because of the ham sandwiches which Savannah lived on but because there's this saying in our house! When I am looking for something which is staring me in the face, David will say " "What's that? A bloody Ham Sandwich!!." We'll on our morning of departure, I was about to get into the bus when David says "why don't you use the other door?" I said " what door?" ( I didn't realize there was another big sliding door on the drivers side) .... so...yes... He said...etc! Well the kids hadn't heard this before so it was trotted out often during the course of the next few weeks. Hence.....bla bla bla!