Mutti and Bianca explore the African bush - 15. August to 12. September 2007
This time we flew with Lufthansa/South African Airways (instead of LTU) via Frankfurt to Cape Town. There, we were greeted by the first sunny day in weeks since the Cape had experienced an extremely rainy winter. And with the winter sun shining down on us we could even enjoy a few breakfasts on the terrace. Very enjoyable!!
The first thing on our list was a hike up the Helderberg to tell Frank all the recent news. Due to the heavy rains the small trickle of water running down the mountain had turned into quite a big stream.
After we took care of this visit, we started preparing and planning for the Bush Walk and our trip through Swaziland. We even managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Gillian and Simon in Fishhoek to do some whale watching. On August 21st our journey started and we left Cape Town flying with Nationwide via Jo-burg to Mpumalanga.
Bush Walk with the ‚Babes’
The first adventure was a 3-day bush walk with the 'Babes' (5 of Mutti's golfing girl friends and 1 other daughter) at the bushman trail camp in the Kruger National Park. Experienced as the Babes are, the first stop was at Pick&Pay to load up on plenty of red and white wine (only the amount of required gin was underestimated)! With the game ranger truck we were taken to our camp, which was located about an hours drive from Berg en Dal main camp. The camp was made up of 4 small bee hives, each with 2 beds, as well as two huts housing showers and toilets. Since there was no electricity, some of the ladies didn't even need to unpack their electric heating blankets and other electrical appliances....
For two days we hiked through the bush and saw many rhinos (from a save distance!), giraffes, elephants, and many different kinds of antelopes and bockies. Our game ranger Steven took exceptional care of the 'grannies' (Thank you again!) and he was not deterred by neon pink shower caps worn on the way to the showers or the lace underwear air drying in the bushes.
It really were three fantastic and very memorable days!
Flo and Johnny have earned a special thanks for their incredible organization and their effort to make us feel at home. The cherry on the cake was the round of golf at Leopard Creek.
Bushman Trail: Rand 18.800,00 for 8 Persons for 3 nights
On Monday August 27 we left the Babes and picked up our rental car in Malelane. (Avis, VW Polo, ca. Rand 5500,00 for 12 days, 200 km/day included).
Our destination was Swaziland and we started of with a road map and a few pages out of a travel guide...
We left Malelane towards Jeppes Reef where we entered Swaziland through the border post without any problems. Our initial destination was the famous 'Royal Swazi Spa'; however, we never made it there as a hotel guest because we kept getting side-tracked by so many beautiful and much more interesting places. After a total of 1 hour car ride since leaving Malelane, we came across a sign for the „Phophonyane Falls Nature Reserve and Lodge“. We have made the experience that it is quite useful to stay in a Lodge since the owner or manager can typically give you plenty of helpful tips and recommendations. Therefore we made a U-turn and headed down a dirt road through huge eucalyptus forests to the Phophonyane Falls Nature Reserve. The reward was a wonderful lodge where we promptly spent two nights. Our lodging was a comfortable tent immediately adjacent to the waterfalls in the midst of nature. Rod - the owner - and his family have designed and built the lodge and clearly put their heart into it. Our first hike went along the Phophonyane waterfalls and would have been 100% enjoyable if it hadn't been for the half bottle of red wine we drank prior to it. Not a good idea... The park is small but very quiet and peaceful and great for short hikes and bird watching.
Phophonyane Falls Lodge, Piggs Peak
Tel.: (+268)437 1429
Fax: (+268)437 1319
Cost: ~Rand 740,00/night for a tent for 2 people incl. breakfast
Chalets are around Rand 1000,00 (for up to 4 people)
Dinner: ~Rand 70,00 for main course, wine (excellent selection) ~Rand 70,00-150,00
Comments: highly recommended!
The next day we visited the Malolotja Nature Reserve - one of South Africa's most impressive mountain parks and well known for its characteristic Swazi high-veld. It was like a savannah with mountains and since we were the only visitors, it felt as if we were the only two people on earth. Bianca had the good idea to hike to Swaziland's largest waterfalls (too bad that meant going up and down several very steep mountains...) and the view was definitely worth it even though the waterfalls had dried down to a trickle. After such physical efforts we had earned our opulent dinner back at the Lodge!
The nature reserve is about 18.000 ha big and offers countless hiking trails and a very interesting flora and fauna (including zebras, wildebeest, hartebeest and plenty of reptiles). You can also find some of the oldest granite and sediments (3000 and 3500 million years old) and the oldest mine on earth. Even 45.000 years ago, people were mining for haematite and used it for coloring and cosmetics. A visit to the mine has to be arranged at the gate.
Not far from the park is ‚Ngwenya Glassworks' where local glass blowers create ornaments, animals and other items using recycled glass. Visitors can watch the workers from a gallery, which was very interesting and definitely recommended to do. The visit to this factory - and a stop at their glass store - rounded up a great day.
After two nights at Phophonyane we continued to the center of Swaziland to the Mkhaya Game Reserve (excellent recommendation by Rod). The car ride through the country was uncomplicated and very enjoyable as we were able to see the high, middle and low veld all in one day. Since the speed limit is either 60 or 80 km/h we had plenty of opportunity to look at our surroundings while driving.
The Mkhaya Game Reserve (~6.300 ha) is known for its breeding efforts of endangered African species such as the sable and roan antelopes and black and white rhino. Visit of the park is only possible after pre-booking and the entry times are 10am and 4pm (pickup by a ranger). The meeting point near Siphofaneni was not very encouraging; however, visitors will drive their cars to a farm within the park where your belongings are looked after. The drive to the actual camp was already our first game drive and we already saw a lot of wild life. We arrived at 'stone camp' after dark but had plenty of kerosene lamps to light our way and our lodging (no electricity). The camp is made up of semi-open stone and thatch cottages and apart from the roof over your head you feel as if you are sleeping in the bush. During the first night a whole army must have marched past our hut - fortunately that turned out to 'only' be a Kudu checking out the weird, mosquito-netted things laying in bed. By daylight we found explanations for most of the nightly noises - the whole camp was filled with bocks and antelopes, which didn't seem to be bothered by us in the least!
During our 2-night stay at Mkhaya we went on several game drives and a 1.5 hour bush walk during which we saw an incredible number of rhino, elephants, giraffes, and buffalo. While it was probably not the safest thing to do, the bush walk got us that close to several rhinos with their young ones that we could hear one of the babies nursing!
Mkhaya Game Reserve
Tel. (+268) 528-3843/4
Fax: (+268) 528-3924
After two days of intense wildlife experiences we returned to the Ezulwini Valley between Mbabane and Manzini. We could not miss out on 18 holes of golf at the Royal Swazi Spa and we were also returning for the Reed Dance that was taking place on September 2nd and 3rd. After some driving around we ended up at the Mantenga Lodge and after enjoying a fantastic dinner (the Mantenga Special is highly recommended!) we decided to spend the remaining 3 nights at this place. Many thanks to Aidan Bloom, Ross and Katie Shields for their hospitality and help in organizing the visit to the Reed Dance.
Mantenga Lodge, Ezulwini
Tel. (+268) 9268 416 1049
Fax: (+268) 9268 416 2516
Cost: Chalet - Rand 600,00 per night for two people incl. breakfast
Comments: conveniently located, very nice atmosphere, great food
Greenfee Royal Swazi Sun Rand 180 pp. without cart
Reed Dance - Umhlanga
At the end of August all the unmarried Swazi-girls gather together from all over the country for the 2-day umhlanga festival - the reed dance. The purpose of this festival is to bring all the girls from the different tribes together and allow them to show respect to the queen mother and king. The 'maidens' collect reeds in designated areas and then walk many miles to the royal residence. They then present the reeds to the queen mother in a large procession while singing and dancing. The reeds will be used to replace the screens of the royal kraal. On the second day of the festivities, the maidens revere the king by performing songs and dances that they created for this occasion. Sometimes the king or some of his higher officials will also use this opportunity to pick a new bride.
The date of the Reed Dance is determined by the phases of the moon (as we were told) and will only be announced a few weeks prior to the festivities.
Our first encounter with the maidens was totally unexpected when we came upon this huge conglomeration of girls on our way to a tourist office. This year an estimated 50,000 girls ranging from ~3 to maybe 20 years were gathering for the Reed Dance! It was so impressive to see this incredible number of people on their way to the royal residence. Katie at the Mantenga Lodge had organized for us to go on a guided tour of the Reed Dance put on by 'Swazi Trails' - this was an excellent tip and highly recommended. On the first day of Umhlanga we were picked up by our two guides in traditional outfits and taken on an unforgettable day trip.
Lucky, our Swazi Trail guide:
The tour began with a stop at the river where the maidens were getting themselves ready for the ceremony. As far as you could see there were girls playing and bathing in the water, drying their clothes, and heading back to the meeting point in the traditional Reed Dance attire. Many of the young women come from remote areas and take advantage of the local market places to stock up on personal items and clothing. On our way from the river to the royal kraal we joined many of the maidens and - thanks to Lucky - were able to try out many things first-hand such as trying authentic Swazi BBQ and home-brewed Milli beer.
To keep 50,000 girls and young women in order is no small feat and the organizational skill of the people responsible to look over them was incredible. In varying sized groups according to their home towns, the maidens came forth in a never-ending singing and dancing procession and presented their reeds to the Queen Mother. They then proceeded to a huge stadium where they again were grouped together and danced past the King and his entourage. This whole event lasted from mid-morning to early evening and even though the maidens should have been exhausted, the laughter, singing and dancing never stopped. Finally the King himself - to greet them and show his respect - danced past these thousands of girls and the first day of Umhlanga came to an end.
What an unforgettable event!
The Reed Dance was one of the most amazing things we have ever experienced and we could not understand why it is not more talked about outside of Swaziland (there were maybe 30-40 Tourists around). Other helpful information may be that women are only allowed into the royal residence wearing skirts or dresses (no exceptions!). Supposedly you also need a license to photograph the Reed Dance once you are in the royal kraal (which can only be bought in Mbabane) but even without such a license we were able to photograph as much as we wanted.
Tembe Elephant Park
After this fantastic experience we left Swaziland through one of the borders in the South and continued to the "Tembe Elephant Park" near the Mozambique border where we planned to stay two nights. We have been to the Tembe Park and Lodge several times before and were warmly greeted by Tom (lodge manager) and Ernest (owner). Even Prince Jubilee took a little time out of his busy schedule to see us. The camp was pretty empty (low season) except for another South African couple, who - can you believe it? - turned out to be distant relatives of ours! Their were spending a few days at Tembe because of recommendations from some German relatives named 'Hettlich' who keep going there. What a small world!
The Tembe Elephant Park is mostly known for - yes, elephants - but also for its amazing sand forest. It also has a very nice hide at a large waterhole where you can be dropped off and spend time enjoying the peace and quiet of nature and probably see a ton of pachyderms.
Tembe Elephant Park & Lodge
Tel.: (+27) 31 267 0144
Fax: (+27) 31 266 8718
Costs: ~Rand 750-950,00 pp. per night
Comments: highly recommended
Prior to leaving Tembe we stopped for a quick visit to our school. We met the first school boys when they helped us to push our little rental VW out of the sand that Bianca had driven it into... Thanks to their help we actually made it to the school, which was in excellent condition. We briefly met with the teachers during their break and found out that the one thing they still desperately need support for it the building of a fence to keep out goats, cows and other unwanted critters. Of course we cannot have the children be distracted by passing cattle and promised them a fence by the time of our next visit.
A visit by Prince Jubilee The school for Tembe
From Tembe we headed south to the Phinda Game Reserve. Because we are organizing a several day long stay at Phinda with the Earthrounds next year, we were invited to check out two of their lodges (Mountain and Forrest Lodge). The stay was fantastic and we were sad to leave after only two nights.
However, even in just the little time we spent there, we witnessed incredible wild-life action, met lovely people, and were surprised with a wonderful bush dinner. Phinda is not cheap but the quality of the stay equals the price and we hope that the Earthrounders will have the same experience.
Comments: on of the best lodges we have been to
Costs: very variable according to season, South Africans should check out 'Batteleur' specials and last minute openings that are very reasonable
After a loverly lunch with new South African friends we took on the last stretch of our trip - a 4 hour car ride to Durban to catch our flight back to Cape Town (Mango Air - Rand 580 for both of us).
Then it was September 8th - our Wedding Anniversary - and fitting for the occasion as the day of the 'Grand Opening' of our Kindergarten. "Frank's Heaven" became reality. About 150 children and as many adults had gathered to celebrate and there was plenty to eat and drink for everyone! The smaller children immediately took ownership of the toys and brand new kiddy-furniture inside while the little bit older ones were jumping their hearts out on the jumping castles that were put up of the day. It was a special day and it is an even more special Kindergarten and we cannot thank everyone enough that helped make it happen! And no worries - the next project is already in the works - a baby day care center right next to the Kindergarten!
After a tranquil day in Bettys Bay with Peggy and Steve, we hiked up the Helderberg mountain one last time to visit Frank. We started bringing small items (mostly stones) from special places we had visited. The mountain was beautiful - even in just these few weeks we had been gone, the wildflowers had started to bloom and the vegetation was lush and green. Little trickles of water were running down everywhere and it was so peaceful and lovely. How lucky are we to have found such a place. And as usual - we opened a bottle of champagne and drank to all the happy memories with Frank!
After a final evening with Peggy and Steve at an Indian restaurant and an evening at the 'Magic Flute' we returned back home to Germany.
It really was an eventful trip and every day was full of adventures and incredible experiences. We returned happy and with stored up energy to take on the next hurdles of life.
And Frank was always with us!