Pack pack…quick quick - that's the joy of timeshare - too easy. We are headed to a place we have never been before, the Magoebaskloof area…wherever that is? Leaving Hazyview we head back through Hoedspruit and then on towards Tzaneen and then to Magoebaskloof.
As we ascend the Magoebaskloof pass the weather begins to change rapidly. “Wow. Look at that. It's 19 degrees,” we say looking at the temperature gauge. Then it's 18…17…16…15…14. A thick mist hangs over everything as we drive through a transformed world. What a contrast to what we are used to.
There is an air of excitement. It feels like we are arriving in Europe. We’re staying at my cousin Susan and Don’s home, and we’ve been told to wait for them at pre-determined spot so they can lead us to their home, because “there are no signposts or road names”. Sounds interesting. We follow them in their Jeep along a gravel road, past a dam, through forests…
“My hat,” I say as we wind along, “how did they find this house?”
The mist is thick as we pass sheep roaming in the road before finally arriving at a beautiful home set above a stunning dam. We have stepped out of Africa and arrived in Scotland, made even more authentic as we sip whiskey next to a roaring log fire, while outside the mist wraps in cold wisps around the house.
Arising in the morn, in this wee bit ‘o the Scottish highlands, we ease into the day chatting over a cuppa tea while a log fire crackles warmly away in the hearth. “Let's go and look at the village,” Susan suggests, and so we leap into our cars and are soon winding our way along the misty gravel roads. Haenertsberg is a tiny little village set at the top of the Magoebaskloof pass.
The quaint little shops and pub are like a small version of Franschhoek. We wander along the street in the light mist, which creates a surreal feel, looking at the shops. “This is the cannon the Boers blew up when they were retreating from the British,” Don says as we stare at the remains of a large Long Tom cannon. There's even a small museum with more about the fascinating local history.
After our stroll we stop at the pub for some lunch before following Don on a different route back, through a lovely forest where the mist hangs like a bridal veil in between massive pine trees that reach heavenwards like silent sentinels in silky garments.
“Ask Don about the bikes.” Susan whispers to us conspiratorially. “If you don't get him moving it will be too late.” And so we raise the topic of the quad bikes - much to the glee of he children. Soon Don has taken the four bikes out of the garage and kids, Don and dog are off on a quad adventure.
After a while, the kids arrive back with coat hanger grins stuck to their faces. “This is so amazing,” they gush, “there are so many cool roads to ride on.” It's the parents turn and so Nicky and I head out. We wind our way along gravel roads, dirt tracks, through dark forests, past ponds and grazing sheep.
It's a stunning ride in beautiful surroundings. I can see why the kids enjoyed it so much.
Returning home we're in time to catch sunset over the lake and the somewhat disappointing exit of the Scottish rugby team. However, as the log fire crackles away again, I raise my glass in toast to a grand display of rugby and a beautiful country - Scotland….in South 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.