A holiday in South Africa
Where else to go on a holiday with a friend who lives in Australia? Well, South Africa, of course, being pretty much halfway between Australia and Senegal! I wondered if this was actually going to work out though as I got to the transit desk in Nairobi, part-way there, to be told, “I’m sorry madam, but that flight you’re booked on to doesn’t exist any more”. We were due to meet at Johannesburg airport, our flights getting in within an hour of each other, and now that perfect planning looked to be in jeopardy.
However, there was another flight from Nairobi to Johannesburg, departing three hours earlier, and I was transferred onto that. What would happen to my luggage, I asked – already checked through to Johannesburg on a flight that no longer existed. They assured me that it would be there, and I had no option but to accept their assurances. So it was with a huge sigh of relief that I saw my little rucksack squeezed between the suitcases on the carousel in Johannesburg.
After a night in a guest house in the suburbs of Johannesburg, we started our holiday with a four-day trip to the Kruger, travelling there along the “Panorama route” with our driver/guide. This was one part of the trip where I really had to compromise, as I wanted to use the time bird-watching but was aware that my friend would be bored rigid if I did. So we spent our time watching elephants, rhinos, zebras, etc (plus a lion replete from a meal from a freshly-killed giraffe, a greater spotted genet and a couple of well-hidden leopards), and only when I saw a bird that I thought was big or colourful enough to be of general interest (a bustard, a tawny eagle, a saddle-billed stork) did I ask the guide to stop. I still enjoyed it there, although it was incredibly frustrating to see so many birds flitting about and not be able to stop to watch and identify them. The bird highlight for me though was the crested barbet, a bird I desperately wanted to see but had not expected to land on my breakfast table to finish off the scraps of toast!
Our next main stop was a farm outside the town of Oudtshoorn. This is the home of the so-called “meerkat man”, who spends his time studying meerkats and trying to promote interest in them and their conservation. We were not lucky with the weather in this place, meaning tours out into meerkat territory involved my wearing five layers of clothes and still being absolutely freezing cold. It turns out that meerkats are rather partial to warm sunny weather too, and they wisely spent their time down in their burrows keeping warm whilst we were out there looking for them. Still, it was nice to spend a couple of days on a farm.
From Oudtshoorn to Wilderness, a small town on the garden route with some nice walking trails. We spent a superb day hiking up a trail to a waterfall, and even my non-birder friend was quite impressed by the Knysna turaco we saw there. This walk was followed by the best meal of the trip too, in a little Italian restaurant some thirty minutes’ walk from our hostel, with wonderful pasta and one of the nicest red wines I’ve drank in a while, all the better for costing only $10!
After Wilderness we visited Hermanus. I really wanted to dive with the great white sharks, and correctly predicted that my friend would be happy to spend her time whale-watching while I was with the sharks. In fact “dive” is a bit of a misnomer. We donned our thick, thick wetsuits (the water temperature that day being 10°C) and our masks, and climbed into a metal cage tethered to the side of the boat. Floating in there with our heads above the water we waited for the spotter to shout warnings: “left, left!” then took a deep breath and ducked underwater to watch a real life Jaws just a few feet away.
The sharks are in the area because of a large seal colony, but to attract them close to the boat the operators use tuna (they are not allowed to use seal meat as bait, oddly), which they throw into the water on the end of a line and then drag along the surface to get the sharks to attack it. The sharks come incredibly close to the cage, so close that you feel you could touch them if only it were safe to poke your hands through the bars. Amazing looking creatures, I only wish I had had an underwater camera to capture it all as the photos from the boat just don’t do it justice.
& this is getting too long – so part two to come later