We are leaving the wilds…"farewell wild beasts, its been amazing." But as Arnold always says, “I’ll be back.” However, we are not leaving the adventures. Leaving Kruger we head to Hazyview where we are staying at a timeshare called Waterberry Hill just outside the town.
After settling in, toasting the sun that dips into the valley below us where a pair of rogue elephants, as we find out later, have escaped for a drink too, I retire for the night. I’m in the shower…and it’s attached to our accommodation, that’s a treat, and I look down at my feet. They tell a story.
The soles are dirty brown and the heels are cracked and dry. I've tried occasionally to put Ingram's lotion on them - I've tried to scrub them, yet they remain irresolutely the same - dirty, cracked, and dry. They are testimony to our months of adventure - wild outdoors - no shoes - no calendars - no worries! The modern conveniences are great, but I still love the great outdoors more.
🍻 Here's to dirty feet! 🍻
Today we have an adventure of a different kind planned - not wildlife, but wild times!
“Hi I'm Dirk, and this is Richard.” We have arrived at a farm near Hazyview in excited anticipation of our first off-road Segway experience. We've seen these self-balancing scooters in shopping centers - in movies - on the beachfront - and always wanted to try them. But what really appeals to us is doing it off-road.
Six alien looking contraptions are lined up awaiting their pilots and soon Richard is explaining how they operate. “They balance themselves,” he says standing atop one of the two-wheeled contraptions. He demonstrates how to operate the Segway. “Who's up first?” he asks. I quickly volunteer, keen to get as much time possible in this experience.
“Whoa…that's so weird,” I say as I navigate my Segway tentatively for the first time. It just has two wheels - it shouldn't stay upright - but it does. Lean forward and it goes faster. Lean back and it slows down. Tilt the handle and you turn on the spot. Soon we are all turning and twisting and scooting around like some alien dance scene.
“OK, follow me,” Richard says, as we wave farewell to Dirk and head down the farm road. It's the most amazing feeling. There's no roar of an engine, there's no effort required, yet you're flying along the road. In fact these machines can get up to 30km/h, but at the moment we're just gliding along slowly.
“These are Macadamia trees,” Richard says as we stop next to some small trees. He then goes on to explain the workings of this farm and the fascinating story behind the macadamia plantations. But the strange part is that we're just gliding along as though we're perched on some invisible conveyer belt. We pass through plantations, past lakes, beehives - “Those are for pollinating the nuts,” Richard says a safe distance from the busy hive. I never realized you needed bees to pollinate these trees.
We've done a lot of amazing experiences on our travels - paragliding, swimming on the edge of waterfalls, mokoro trips with hippos - and there's one thing I've learned and that is it's always more than the activity itself, it's the experience. The same applies today. It's not just the strange, effortless, flying feeling of being on the Segway, it's the experience - the beauty of this lovely area and learning about the plantation and farming.
“Ok everyone, on this straight portion you can all go as fast as you want,” Richard says. Aah..finally we are set free. Josh and I lead the pack as we fly along the road. It truly feels like skiing. You're standing upright and you can sway your legs from side to side to create a weaving motion. The trees rush past me. “Yeehii,” I shout as I soak up the thrill of my “African bush ski experience”. Epic.
We stop next to a dam for a short break and while sipping bottles of water Richard explains how he's been swimming in this dam for ages and now discovers there's a crocodile living here. Gotta love Africa.
“There's two options here,” Richard says, “the easy route or this more technical but interesting route. Which one do you want to do?” Come on…what a question. We want to do the trickier, technical route. Bring it on!
It is amazing what these segways can do as we maneuver them over ruts and rocks and beneath low hanging trees. Soon we are back on the normal track and skiing along around the final block and down towards Dirk and the end. “Wow!”'I say as we arrive, “this is truly amazing Dirk. Skiing in the African bushveld. That's what this is. Epic!”
Dirk's Segway Africa Tours just recently started and I'm convinced it's going to be a huge success, especially as he goes on to explain his future plans - Segway safaris in a game reserve, moonlight tours, sundowner tours. It's amazing as it is - imagine doing this in a game reserve watching wild animals and finishing it off with snacks by a waterhole.
“We definitely will be back!” we all chorus together as we bid Dirk and Richard farewell. “Definitely!” I mean, who wouldn’t want to ski effortlessly along the stunning, wild roads of Africa?
Leaving Kruger we are headed for a farm outside of Hoedspruit, “Little Cathage” in the Ndlovumzi Nature Reserve. Turning off the easy-driving tar road we hit a rugged gravel road that apparently will lead us to where we are staying. As we are bounced around and the road continues our anxiousness increases and we prepare ourselves for another rustic experience.
Heather, our hostess meets us and leads us up a short path to where we are staying. All our qualms and reservations instantly vanish. Two cottages connect to an outside dining area and kitchen before flowing on to a huge deck with sunken pool giving way finally to a river below, made even more majestic by the setting sun. It's a stunning setting and we are now excited to be spending several days here. Time to work, read, write, learn, reflect…experience. Africa…always surprisingly amazing.
While our accommodation is tucked away deep in the bush, at the end of a fun 30 minutes of bouncy gravel road, there is lots to see around here. So we find ourselves bouncing along the road towards Hoedspruit in search of places to explore. “There's the sign,” I say pointing at a small sign on the side of the road saying “Jessica Hippo” which Heather had recommended. It's another 10km gravel road to reach Jessica Hippo and I recall that once before we abandoned the idea of traveling so far just to see a hippo. However this time, as hardened travelers, we persist, and its going to turn out to be a good decision.
We are greeted by a small hippo just behind a low wooden pole fence. “Wow, cool. Jessica the hippo,” we say in excitement at seeing a small hippo up so close. It turns out we're wrong. This ain't Jess…Heading down towards the river a video presentation has just begun. It's a video made about the world famous Jessica the hippo by an Australian TV channel. We learn how Jessica was discovered by the farmer/game-ranger and his wife. She was premature and washed up in a flood. They then cared for her and an amazing, unique bond developed. They swim with Jessica, ride on her, play with her. She comes into the house, wanders around the garden…but in all this she is still free and wild. She goes out and visits other hippo pods in the river but always returns to her home with them. It truly is remarkable.
Soon we have a chance for an up-close encounter with her. Jessica is massive. She is now 15 years old. We are standing on a floating pont and Jessica rises out of the water and places her huge head on the side of the pont causing it to tilt. “All you do,” explains Tonie, Jessicas dad, “is grab some sweet potatoes, stroke Jessica's snout and then drop the food inside.” It sounds simple until you see how huge “inside” is.
Kneeling down I grab a handful of tasty hippo treats and then stroke Jessica's massive hairy snout. It feels like a broom. She opens her mouth as her eyes languidly consider me. It's a massive cavern. As the TV presenter said, “it's like feeding a dinosaur.” Large tusks protrude menacingly from the massive open maw before me. I toss the snacks into the depths and Jessica closes her mouth, as I quickly withdraw my hand.
It truly is amazing to be up close to such an incredible animal. It's referred to as “Africa's biggest killer” yet amazingly she is so content and peaceful with humans. Later the girls get a chance to kiss the hippo on her hairy snout…I suppose to make them appreciate the smooth kisses of boyfriends and husbands. The other hippo we saw earlier turns out to be a recent rescue. This one, called “seun” was also rescued and is to be released into the wild soon.
After a visit to one of the world's oldest baobabs followed by delicious craft beer, a mega burger and spectacular rugby at The Gap pub - with a good Springbok victory thrown in too - we head homeward bouncing once more along the dirt track - but somehow in the dark and with the glow of victory the road flies by and soon we're back ensconced in our aircon room ready to dream of hippos and springboks.
“One, two, three, four….all the limbs are still there.” I peer over to the inert form of Nicky next to me in the tent, I think she's all there although she is still wrapped in her sheet. That's good news no lions…and no lie ins. The birds have woken me before sunrise to a new day, our final day at Tuli Camp in Botswana.
It's been an unbelievable experience through Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, and now two months later we are leaving and going back to South Africa. With efficiency honed from so many pack-ups, we have our site miraculously spirited away into and onto Pajey within an hour and a half - that seems to be the new standard. It's our last tent pack up, and although we loved it, looking around I'm not seeing tears in the family's eyes. I think the girls are tented out and keen on some sophistication - although they'll have to wait a bit for that.
We leave Tuli camp and head along the dirt 4x4 track towards the Pont Drift border post which is the northern most border in South Africa. It's also the most fun border as there's no one there. We sail through a friendly Botswana border and then drive through a dry river bed to get to South Africa where we are welcomed with friendly smiles into SA.
“Aah, it feels good to be home.” Even though we are just on the tip of SA, there is something about home - even with all its problems. This is my country. Here I'm not a foreigner. These are my people - black, white, striped…whatever.
We’re headed to Mopane camp in northern Kruger Park. It's a short drive and we arrive at the Punda Maria gate - one of the most northern gates of Kruger. One of the things we have had to do countless times on our trips through other countries is have our car searched. This normally involves opening the back and in most cases opening the fridge or having them scratch through our drawers.
We thought this was behind us. But Kruger has decided to get in on the act too and so once again they want to see the back of the car…“Eish!” he says when we open it and he sees how packed it is. He gives up but pokes his head inside the car, there discovering kids. Not sure if he was expecting to discover hunting rifles, tanks, severed animal heads sitting packed on our seats…but we are waved through.
We spot elephant, buffalo, and various buck as we make our way towards Mopani Camp. We stop a few times en route and also once again cross the Tropic of Capricorn. The last time was driving in Namibia from Sossusvlei to Ludertitz. It's fun passing these landmarks and we all leap out again to take the requisite photos.
“What's with all the people?” I ask as we pull up at Mopani camp. “Oh yea. It's holidays!” We don't like it when it's holiday time as people appear. They should stay at school and not clutter up our holiday spots….but there is one benefit of lots of people…rugby atmosphere.
Rugby is one interesting theme of our travels. It's not that we have seen a lot but we have been able to “watch” games in some unusual places. We watched the boks get hammered by New Zealand while sitting freezing outdoors at a pub at night in Franschhoek - thanks to load shedding. We watched Twitter and Whatsapp updates as Japan beat the boks in their opening World Cup game while seated outdoors on the banks of the Chobe river in Namibia with elephants just across from us. We watched the boks beat Samoa in a hotel room in Botswana just after an incredible sunset boat cruise. Today we're packed into a pub at Mopani camp in Kruger preparing to watch the boks play Scotland while outside the sun sets over a dam packed with elephants, crocs and various buck. This is how rugby should be enjoyed…even when it goes bad. Now for a beer!
What a game! What an atmosphere. The boks manage to pull off a great win. The highly vocal Afrikaans crowd created a great atmosphere as about one hundred people sweated, literally, as we packed in together to enjoy the action.
The stars are sprinkled liberally across the ebony night sky as we walk back to our unit. It's a stunning evening and as we enjoy our meal outside soaking up the remnants of the day, the hippos grunt in agreement. I love South Africa.