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South Africa 2011

Mountains and Mountain Zebras

Leg details

Date
March 18 - April 13, 2011
Leg
Karongwe GR - Hoedspruit - Blyde River Canyon - Alberton (Johannesburg) - Golden Gate NP - Royal Natal NP - Gariep Dam NR - Mountain Zebra NP
PDF-File and GPS-Tracks of the Journey




Leg map (click to enlarge in separate window)

After having finished our course in the Karongwe Game Reserve we stay at the Hoedspruit Wilderness Resort Campground for more than a week, update the Web page and getting organised for the Africa trip.

The animals in the park get so used to the OKA that the OKA is like a hide; we can watch the animals and they don't worry about us too much.
Here some of our visitors (names as far as we found them out can be seen by passing the mouse over the picture):

Green-winged Pytilia (Pytilia melba) Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali) Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus) Fork-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus ludwigii)

Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis) Magpie Shrike (Corvinella melanoleuca) juvenile Cape Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis nitens) Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus) Green Wood-Hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus)

Tree Squirrel (Paraxerus cepapi) Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula)

The lizard is amazing.
Once he has spotted Susi he quickly gets up the tree and changes his colour really fast.

Crested Barbet (Trachyphonus vaillantii)

As it is really hot and dry we set up a bird bath that is used not only by birds.
Have a look at some movies of the

- birds drinking and bathing (file type: .wmv, size: 4'530 KB).

- Squirrel drinking (file type: .wmv, size: 1'561 KB).

- Dwarf Mongoose drinking, washing its paws and grooming (file type: .wmv, size: 1'436 KB).

Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)

And of course the Warthogs!!!!
They get used to us too and come very close.
They actually go down on their front legs when they feed ... have a look at the short movie about it (file type: .wmv, size: 1'139 KB).

praying Mantis praying Mantis praying Mantis

The Praying Mantis live in the ablution block where they take care of the insects.
It takes a bit of getting used to go to the toilet and having them keeping such a close eye on you!

Susi even finds some time for a short macro session.

On Tuesday morning, March 29, we finish publishing the web page, go shopping and then leave Hoedspruit towards the Blyde River Canyon on the R36.

Soon we climb up to the Abel Erasmus Pass.
What a pretty place!
The colours are very special with the pale green lichens, the red rock and the blue sky that is dotted with a few white clouds.
The Olifants River brings brown water from the valley.
We could be lucky and have a day with good weather and visibility.

Along the road where ever there is a free spot there are souvenir shops.

Soon we reach 1000 m altitude having already climbed more than 400 m since Hoedspruit.
We are passed by motorcycles and every so often a pick-up; otherwise there is not much traffic what we don't mind.

We reach a valley.

The majority of the new houses are made from bricks; there are not too many new houses in the traditional round way with the thatched roofs.

We turn into the R532 towards Graskop.
The valley is green but the fields are irrigated; the round green circles look funny.
Coffee beans are dried along the side of the road, Susi remembers the smell from Perú .....

We arrive at the "Three Rondavels".
We have now climbed to 1348 m ..... and the temperature had dropped from 32°C to pleasant 28°C.

The parking area is full of souvenir stands.
Some of the sales persons are working on souvenirs.

As we look down into the canyon we hear a helicopter coming.
The side doors are open and the passengers get a good view.
Then the helicopter dives into the canyon ...... it must be like a roller-coaster ride!!!

After lunch we continue on.
The weather is not really that good anymore, it is hazy and some clouds are building ...... not good for the views!

At Leroro the creek is full of flowers.
Susi knows them from Europe and Australia.

We stop at the Blyde River View Point.
Again there are stands with souvenir, some really pretty things .... good that we have no space!

The grass along the side of the road is really high, higher than he OKA.
We see people gather it and carry it away in large bundles.
It is too tough for it to be uses as animal feed so we assume that it is the grass they use to thatch their houses.

Then the thunderstorm starts.
We have the choice of heading to Pilgrims Rest to the campground and drive all the way back tomorrow to continue our sight-seeing or we can look for a place to get out of view from the road ..... we choose the later.
We find a pine plantation and a secluded spot behind it, nicely hidden from the main road.

It will be our first night "out bush".
So many people have warned us about the dangerous people in Africa but we have now been in this country for a few weeks and we get a different feeling or call it vibe ...
We would never do this close to a city but out here ....?

After the storm is over we set up camp.
Some utes (or bakkies as the South Africans call them) with workers on the tray come past, a tractor comes past and returns with a full load of wood after a while .... it just feels normal and the people don't even seem to take notice of us.
It feels the same way we have always felt in Australia so we decide to trust our gut feeling, stay put and see how we go.

During the night a large thunderstorm closes in.
The lightning storm lasts about 45 minutes and is very intense; the frequency of flashes is amazing; within a few seconds and this during the whole thunderstorm.
We had always thought that when they play it in the movies it is done with tricks, but now we have seen it live.

Overnight the temperature drops to 12.5°C and we have to close the windows .... haven't had to do that for the last month ......

On Wednesday it is a beautiful day.

We drive to the Lisbon Falls which have a lot of water.
It's a good view from the viewing platform.
It is too early for the souvenir stalls to be populated so we have our peace and quiet ......

Then we detour to R534 and drive towards "God's Window".
The road climbs up and we drive into the fog.
We stop at a view point but the sun only peaks through and then disappears again.

While we wait and hope that the weather clears up Susi has time to take pictures of flowers.

The mosses and lichens on the trees indicate that they often have fog up here.
But on the other hand there are also plants that like it dry .... funny mixture.

After more than half an hour we give up and continue on to "God's Window".
But the curtains at "God's Window" are drawn too, thick fog prevents any views.
And they still want the 5 Rand entry fee ... and there are actually people paying it even though there is thick fog.... crazy tourists .....
Anyway, we continue on.

Shortly after we stop at a rest stop and check out the views.
We would definitively not have had a good view.
On clear days apparently one can even see Mozambique from " God's window" .... but not today ....

At the "Pinnacle" we stop and get down to the solitary pinnacle.
It looks good.

The water fall and its moss garden are pretty.

We pass through Graskop and then head up the mountain road to Pilgrims Rest.
The OKA has to work hard on the steep road .....
In just 1.6 km we climb from 1514 to 1662 m above sea level.

On the top of the pass we get a great view into the valley.
On the other side it goes down again, not as steep but still:
Over 4 km from 1662 m to 1386 m above sea level.

Ruedi is very happy with the engine break.
It is almost enough to keep the OKA at the speed he wants.
Without he would have to use the breaks all the time.

We turn into Pilgrim's Rest and find a nicely restored old mining town.
But there are souvenir stalls everywhere and people want to guide us into parking spots etc. etc. .... so we instantly leave again.

We turn towards Sabie and the decent continues.
We drive through more pine plantations.

At the "Mac-Mac Falls" they want 10 ZAR per person again.
We question the price but the guard explains that the "Berlin Falls", "Lisbon Falls" and "Mac-Mac Falls" are 10 ZAR per person.
"God's Window" and "The Three Rondavels" are 5 ZAR per vehicle.
When we ask him why he excuses himself because he does not know.

As usual we have to pass through some stalls on the way down.
They all sell more or less the same souvenirs and if the painting would not still smell like fresh oil paint we would check for the "Made in China" sticker somewhere ......

Chameleon

On the way to the falls we see a Chameleon on the rocky path.
It behaves like the Thorny Devil we saw on the Connie Sue Highway a few years ago.
It rocks back and forth before doing a next step and probably also tries to simulate a leaf in the wind ......

Click here for a short movie on it (file type: .wmv, size: 420 KB).

Close to Sabie the plantations change to Eucalyptus.
But not for long and then it is all pines again.

In Sabie we detour to the "Bridal Veil Falls".
They are special.
The water is constantly disturbed by the wind which makes the falling water look like an ever changing veil .... very pretty!

The fig-trees cling to the rocks and seem to live off the spray of the waterfall.

Next stop is "Lonecreek Falls" .... another 10 ZAR per person ..... and some stands with souvenirs.
At least the whole setup is well maintained and clean.
But it gets on ones nerves having to pay entry fees everywhere; even so the fees are pretty low (10 Rand is about 1.30 AUD).
We are not used to it from Australia .....

We head up to the falls.
A strong wind blows and the closer we get the wetter we get!
Susi hides her camera ..... but it is difficult to take pictures with a camera that is hidden under the T-Shirt!
So sorry, no pictures of the falls .....

... just of some flowers .....

The "Mac-Mac 4x4 Track" starts at the falls and it would have been nice to drive it, but we decide against it as we are expected in Johannesburg tomorrow or on Friday.
So we leave Sabie and drive towards Nelspruit.

As we climb up the mountain the temperature starts dropping again.
Then the GPS does not agree with the signs on the road ..... Nelspruit goes left but the routing GPS suggest the "Panorama Road" straight ahead ......
We decide to do follow the GPS and take the "Panorama Road" towards Johannesburg which turns out to be a great decision.

The views of the mountains are great because all the trees of the plantations are small and therefore do not (yet) restrict the view.
But we can also see the next thunderstorm brewing.

We reach the Long Tom Pass and still the road climbs and climbs.
We reach a view point at 2000 m ...... the temperature has now dropped to 20 °C ......

Then we reach the top at 2150 m above sea level.
Amazingly at this altitude there are fields and farms, cows are grazing ..... there is also a large fire .....

The descent to Lyndenburg is steep.
The sign-language is pretty explicit.

It seems that people in this area are doing well.
We already had that impression in Sabie; here in Lyndenburg it is the same, neat houses, busy people, a lot of new houses being built ......

Amazingly the temperature has risen to 26°C again, a bit more to our liking.

We leave the city on the R577 towards Roossenekal.
We climb up to the De Berg Pass and reach 2510 m above sea level.

At the dirt track towards the Santa Pass we leave the R577 and find ourselves a spot for the night.
Today we feel much more comfortable with camping out bush and sleep really well.
Our camp is above 2100 m altitude and not surprisingly the temperature drops to 9.5 °C.

On Thursday morning we are engulfed in fog but soon the sun breaks through and it gets warmer.
When Ruedi checks the emails he finds mails from Susi's brother Hans Peter and from his brother-in-law Peter that the links to the Africa web-paged form the index page don't work.
Quickly we write back to Hans Peter who has access to the web –page to please fix it.
Not much later we already have his reply that all has been fixed and is working.
Thanks to the modern technology of satellite-email this problem has been fixed.
Thanks for the support Hans Peter!

We head back to the R577 and descend to Roossenekal.
It is a very pretty pass.

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)

At one point Vultures fly their circles and many of them sit on the high-voltage power poles.

The area around Roossenekal seems to be a rather poor area.
Compared with the Limpopo area where we have been travelling so far the houses are all made from corrugated iron and look shabby.
So either it is really poorer or people just take less pride in their housing ......

The fields are covered in flowers much to Susi's joy.

Close to Stofberg we get a first impression of how bad the roads can get; the potholes are deep and have sharp edges.
Road construction crews have started fixing the many potholes.
As they have already cut squares out of the bitumen ..... and there are plenty of the potholes ..... it is a bit like 4x4-slalom driving.
Sometimes Ruedi does not see the potholes on time and we are glad to have a sturdy 4x4!
But it is definitively not good for the tyres .....

When we turn on to the main road towards Stofberg we understand why the road had been in such a bad state:
Bulk carriers use this road and their heavy load destroys the bitumen!

We reach Middleburg, a large industrial town that is surrounded by open-cut coal mines.

In Middleburg we pass a mobile tower ..... it is camouflaged as a pine tree ...... what a funny idea!

We could get onto the toll roads again but as we have plenty of time and the roads here are in decent condition we decide to stay on the smaller roads.
So we leave Middleburg on the R555.

The area we drive through has now changed to a flatter area with a lot of agriculture and large grain silos can be seen.

Then we see a sign that the access across the Olifants River is not possible.
So we have to turn around and take the toll road .... and the discussion about the class starts again.
As we don't have copies of the old receipts anymore this time we have to pay for class 2 ...... more than twice the price of a regular car .... not really what our budget likes .....

After Ogies we pass a rather large coal processing plant ..... BHP Billiton written on it ..... Australia's biggest mining company.
We see at least 3 power plants.
They must all be running on coal.

The closer we get to Johannesburg the more traffic there is.
Also somehow our version of Tracks4Africa does not have the city map of Johannesburg.
But luckily we have the GPS position of Piet's (the South African OKA dealer) place in Alberton; otherwise we would have never found it.

We finally meet Piet and his lovely wife Pam after having written several mails to him for a few months.
Soon we are busily chatting about travelling and the men a bit about OKA(s) ......
We can even stay in front of their neighbour's house for the night.
We go shopping and after a yummy pizza and a great shower we happily climb into our OKA and have a good night's sleep.

On Friday we have a busy day.
Susi can use Pam's washing machine and Ruedi goes on tour with Piet.
Piet wants to show the OKA to BAE (British Aerospace), the place where OKA's axles and the transfer case are made.
Piet a former BAE employee was at his time project leader for the OKA project.
Ruedi was a bit concerned about the event because of the many problems we have had with the axles.
On the one hand it could be a good opportunity to address several issues on the other hand he doesn't want to snub the people at BAE.

At BAE Piet and Ruedi are welcomed with all the bells and whistles, coffee, cookies ....
Piet Le Roux (Project Manager Europe & Middle East) and Teunis Westdorp (Senior Design Engineer Gear Ratio) are present and soon they all are in serious technical discussions.
The meeting takes a few hours, is very constructive and all the problems of the past are discussed in an extremely open and friendly atmosphere.
Ruedi gets a lot of valuable background information and again can learn a lot.
The event ends with a guided tour through the factory where BAE produces all sorts of axles and gearboxes mainly for the military and heavy industry.
At the end half of BAE's crew inspects the OKA inside out and further details are discussed.
What a day!
Thanks Piet Kleinhans for organising the meeting and thanks to Piet Le Roux and Teunis Westdorp for your valuable time spent with Ruedi.

Since Susi was not at the meeting there are no photos - sorry.

After the meeting Ruedi and Piet drive to a "windows tinting factory".
The OKA finally gets tinted and shatterproof side windows.
This combined with the already added external padlocks at the doors is now enough security for the cab.

In the afternoon Pam takes Susi to the Italian Cheese Factory where Susi can stock up on many good cheeses and salami.
For dinner Piet prepares a braai (South African BBQ) with some Millie Pap, some kind of white Polenta.

During the night heavy rain drops fall and it is so cosy in the OKA ...... and again the temperature falls to 9.5°C ......
Looks like we have to get used to the fact that summer is now over.

On Saturday, April 2, we wake up to a sunny morning.

Too soon it is time to leave Piet and Pam.
Thanks for having us and spoiling us so much!

We head south first on the N3 toll road and just before the toll plaza near Heidelberg we leave it.
We continue on towards Balfour on the R23 and then Villiers on the R51.

The country changes between agricultural and pastures.
After Villiers, a sleepy little town, we continue on the R26 towards Frankfort.
Large sections of the road are being rebuilt.

This must have been an area that was populated by Germans with town names like Heilbron, Frankfort, Reitz .....

More and more we drive through hilly country.
Soon after passing Reitz we get the first glimpses of the Drakensberge.

After Bethlehem we take the R712 to Clarens.
We are already at almost 1700 m above sea level.

The mountains look great in the afternoon sun; the colours are very pretty.
We head to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park and find ourselves a site at the Glen Reenen Rest Camp for the next two nights.

We find a nice little spot right beside the creek.
After setting up camp we go for a stroll through the camp and find a Defender with a Zurich-Numberplate on it!
It is a Swiss couple, Irene and Martin, that have their Defender parked in Johannesburg and come to Southern Africa each year.
So after dinner they pop in for a visit and give us a lot of good tips ..... and the bottle of vine to share with us!
Thanks guys!

During the night it starts raining ........

On Sunday morning there are still clouds present and the weather does not look too good.
Susi starts working on her PC and Ruedi installs the Hella interval windshield wiper.
It looks like it might become handy in this area ......

The weather changes from sunny to overcast in no time and we decide to wait a bit before we go for a walk.

After lunch it clears up and we head off to Mushroom Rock.

It is impressive in its colours.

On the way we also find some flowers

Some of them remind us of flowers we have seen in the Swiss Alps, some of Australian flowers.

Then we continue on to "Boskloof".
The track is quite steep and we agree that we should have put on the proper hiking boots and not just the trekking shoes.

On the way back to the OKA the weather deteriorates.
Ruedi decides to give the OKA a bit of grease as it will have to work a bit the next few days ahead.
Almost at the end he gets a bit wet but manages to finish just before the real rain sets in.

In the late afternoon the rain stops and it clears up.
Our hopes for good weather for tomorrow rise.

On Monday, April 4, we wake up to a rather fresh morning with 10°C but almost clear skies.
We wait until the sun reaches the OKA and then leave towards the drives the park offers.

The first one in the direction we are heading is the Blesbok Loop, a 7.6 km long one way road.
We deviate to the Langtoon Dam and enjoy the views.

Next deviation is the Zuluhoek Lookout Point.

Then we reach the main road again and continue on to the Oribi Loop, a 4.2 km one way road.

We take the deviation to the Highlands Mountain Retreat, some chalets built into the slops at 2248 m above sea level.

Grey Rhebok (Pelea capreolus)

As we drive uphill we spot some Grey Rheboks.

The views are just incredible.

On the way down the steep road Ruedi test the engine break and is very happy with its performance.
Mind you this little road up to the chalets also climbs 180 m within 2.7 km!

Next stop is at the Vulture Restaurant at 2067 m.
There are no Vultures but we can hear the calls of Baboons.

Chacma Baboon, Savanna Baboon (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) and Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) Chacma Baboon, Savanna Baboon (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) and Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) Chacma Baboon, Savanna Baboon (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) and Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas)

Ruedi spots a Jackal that is chasing a Baboon.
When we think that the Jackal has actually got the Baboon the situation changes and now the Baboon chases the Jackal.
Some more Baboons join into the chase and eventually the Jackal gives up and leaves the scene.

Then we drive over the Lichens Pass.

On the other side the mountains are as pretty as they were on the way up.

We spot a large group of animals.

Blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi) Blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi)

They are Blesboks.

Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) / Burchell's Zebra (Equus burchellii) Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) / Burchell's Zebra (Equus burchellii)

As we approach the exit gate we see some cows and a Zebra grazing side by side .....

After passing the walls of the Sterkfontain Dam we leave the R712 and turn in direction of Bergville onto the R74.

Along the whole Sterkfontain Dam they are rebuilding the road so it is a constant stop and go from one check point to the next one.
Looking at the state of the construction site it seems that they stopped working in the middle of it .....
Weekend?
Loss of money so the machines and workers were retrieved and are working somewhere else?
It is a bit of a shame that the construction is there because we have no chance to stop and take some pictures of the very pretty Sterkfontain Dam area.

We stop at the Driekloof Dam for lunch.
We wonder why the lake has been subdivided ....

Today we have a bit of a breeze and the temperature does not really want to get much higher than 21°C.

At the Oliviershoek Pass we stop at the look out.

We meet a Swiss couple, Margrit and Pius Jörger, who have been travelling the world on their bicycles for the last 4 years (www.joergersvelotour.ch ).
They come from Ottikon, a small village just beside Billikon, where we used to live in!
How small is the world!!!
We might see them on the way up as they also plan to head to Egypt before Christmas.


We continue on and drive to the Royal Natal National Park, where we get a site at the Mahai Camp Site.
It is a bit warmer here but we can feel a change of weather coming.

Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) ewe and young one

At the campsite as Susi is typing the journal a Bushbuck ewe comes past with a baby.
Shortly after some Helmet Guineafowl inspect the new arrivals ......

There is a German MAN on the campsite as well and after a while Thomas comes over for a chat.
He asks us over after dinner so we grab our bottle of Sherry and head over.
We have an interesting exchange of information with Thomas and Dagmar (www.go-to-africa.de ) and will probably see each other on the road again as we have a similar route.

Then it starts raining.
The roof hatch in the MAN starts dripping ...... Thomas says he has been looking for the leak but has had no success so far.
During the night Ruedi wakes up because drops of water keep falling on his face ...... looks like our roof hatch has a problem too ......

On Tuesday morning we wake up to a grey morning.
Thomas and Dagmar come over for a visit and another chat before they head off.
Susi works on her PC and Ruedi tries to find the reason for the water drops during the night.
But all seems to be fine.
Well, we will have to wait for the next good rain.

Black-Legged Golden Orb-Web Spider (Nephila pilipes) Black-Legged Golden Orb-Web Spider (Nephila pilipes)

During the day the weather does not really improve so we just go for a short walk through the camp and along the little river.
The Orb-web spiders have some pretty golden webs here which are different for the ones that we have seen in Karongwe.
Some flowers are spotted by Susi too .....

But the weather gets worse so we head back into the OKA and enjoy our comfortable home.
The campers have a bit a hard time ........ they are all wrapped up and all have fires burning to warm themselves up.

Then the rain sets in .........
It basically rains all night - not too strong, just steady.
Funny enough, no more drops of water drip onto Ruedi's face.
Ruedi reckons that it must have been because of the larger raindrops we had the night before.
Well, we will see .....

On Wednesday morning we sleep in, hoping that the weather might clear up.
As we will have to extend our stay anyway we head to the reception and study the weather forecast for the Drakensberge.
It does not look good at all for the next two weeks so we decide to change our plans and leave the Drakensberge.
As we probably would only have fog and clouds in Lesotho too so that part of the route dies too .....

We leave the park and climb back up the Oliviershoek Pass.
We have to watch out for the Baboons on the side of the road; one can hardly see them in the fog.

Ruedi can test his interval windshield wipers and is quite happy with it.
At the top of the pass the weather is better; the fog clears but thick clouds remain.

Again we have to pass the long construction site.
The rain does not help the already badly damaged road and the potholes are now filled with brown water making the judging of their depth difficult.

We reach the N5 and head towards Bethlehem.
It rains and rains ....

After lunch Ruedi gets in contact with the fraud department of NAB regarding his debit card.
For the first time we seem to have a person at the other end of the line who understands how difficult it is if you call and don't have a computer with Internet in front of you to replay to the questions they ask for identification purposes.
Sadly he has no access to the ticket that we have already open with NAB regarding the same issue but says that he thinks that we have a good chance to get the money back. That would be great.
But on the other hand he insists that he cannot just send a new PIN to reactivate Ruedi's card, he has to send a new debit card and a new PIN.
This is not going to work ...... so we agree that Ruedi will let him know if he wants it done that way.

Then it is Susi's turn to drive a bit .... and it rains and rains and rains ......
With the temperature only just around the 20°C mark it is a constant playing between air-conditioner to get the humidity out and heating so we don't catch a cold.

We reach Bethlehem and go shopping.
After hearing from Thomas and Dagmar how easy it is to use Internet using the phone as modem we have decided to get one of those data packs as well.
The lady at the Vodacom Shop is really helpful and even downloads the correct program for Ruedi's Nokia from the Internet for us.
Now we are all set and will try it out when we stop for a few days next time.

When we leave the shopping centre it is really dark and some heavy rain clouds announce the next deluge.
We drive and drive and it pours and pours ....
We are looking for a spot for the night but the rain has softened the dirt tracks and made them not very pleasant to drive.
This means that we have a problem to find a spot for the night.

At Senekal just as the sun sets with a beautiful rainbow we find a spot outside of the town.
During dinner we both agree that there is too much traffic and too many people have seen us standing here so we dislocate a bit further inland.
It is pitch-dark, the road full of potholes and there are mine trucks on the narrow road so Ruedi has to be very careful where he drives.
It is pure stress!
What we need is a minor road but with bitumen and that is rare.
But we are lucky.
The access road to a game reserve is exactly what we are looking for and we even find an unused gate where we park the OKA for the night.
The rain has stopped, the stars are out and the temperature starts dropping ........

On Thursday morning at 4 AM Ruedi gets on the phone with NAB again.
It is rather cold with 7.5 °C.
It is the first time that we turn on the floor heating in South Africa ...... winter is coming ........
This time Ruedi has to contact the Internet and Phone Banking Department to get his Internet account unblocked and also to get a phone banking PIN.
They only work Australian east-coast business hours which means that with the 10 hours time difference we have to get up in the night to reach them.
Ruedi again discusses the situation with the next team and they ask question after question that he cannot answer because we don't have access to the Internet yet.
This time Ruedi is unlucky.
The NAB person at the other end decides that he is not Ruedi and he cannot identify him properly and hangs up.
Ruedi is quite furious and writes a long and detailed mail to our banker in Perth asking him to get this sorted.
We have up to now spent at least 1 hour on the Sat Phone with NAB and are not an inch further so this is it.
Luckily we don't depend on this debit card and his Internet banking account.
But it cannot be that a bank that calls itself "international" has such little understanding for clients overseas with problems.
Well, let's see what comes back.

We leave our sunny camp and can see the fog climbing up and getting closer and closer.
But it does not take long and the fog is dissolved by the sun.
Clouds are building up everywhere but we don't think that we will get rain today.

When we reach Winburg we see that the map is not correct anymore.
They have extended the toll road up to here.
So we decide to take the R73 and drive overland to Bloemfontein via Bradfort.

On the way we see signs of yesterday's and last night's rain; rivers are still overflowing and carry wood, crops are flattened .....

When we reach Bradford and want to turn south towards Bloemfontein onto the R30 we are stopped .... the road is being redone and therefore is closed - not because of the rain.
When we ask them for a detour they want us to go back to Winburg where we came from ..... some 60 km back and then onto the toll road .....
We check the map and find that there is a road about halfway between Bradford and Winburg that leads to the N1 toll road but it is a dirt road and after yesterday's rain probably not in the best condition.
So we check another detour via the neighbouring town west of Bradford ...... but it is (or better was!) a gravel road and now is a slippery muddy track.
Looks like we have no choice than to return to where we came from.
A driver tells Ruedi that right before the town there is a small dirt road that leads south and that the locals use this road.
He reckons that we should not have a problem with the OKA ....

Soon we find the track (it is on neither of the maps we have) and see a large truck also heading that way.
Well, if he can do it, we can also do it!
So we follow the truck.

At the beginning all goes well. After a few turns we see a truck on side road that slipped off the track. Only the drivers cab was still on the road ....
Then we reach the first little ascent and the truck runs into problems.
After managing the problem the truck driver lets us pass.

The road deteriorates and turns into a muddy track.
But there are cars coming from the other side so we continue on.
Every so often, when we don't know the way to go we just wait for the next few cars, and follow them.

The last stretch of the track is the most challenging one.
But all the cars (the majority of them 2WDs) have made it through so why shouldn't we?
So after a bit of sliding and mud-wrestling we finally reach the N1 again and head south.
Luckily we have bypassed the toll collection section so we not only had fun but also saved the money!

After passing Bloemfontein the N1 turns into a major construction site.
Road construction crews are everywhere and are being shifted around on utes ... ups, sorry, of course on bakkies!
The roads in Australia are definitively in better condition than the South African ones.

The country we drive though is flat with small hills and we wonder, why they don't grow crops here .... it is all grass and every so often there is a herd of cows on it ......
Could it be that the ground has too much clay?
We can still see water running out of the fields from yesterday's rain which would indicate that the ground does not really soak up the water, it runs off downhill .....

Otherwise it is a pretty day with lots of sunshine.
Our solar panel actually manage to fully fill the batteries which were quite low after the rainy days we had yesterday and the day before.

Shortly before Colesberg we leave the N1 and drive to the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve.
The entrance gate is just about the same height as the OKA.
Already we think that we will have to deflate the air bags again to lower the OKA when they point us to a gate at the side that we had not seen .... and it has no roof!

The sites in the camp have a great view onto the lake.

Ruedi tries out the Internet access via his mobile phone.
It works but is rather slow.
But at least we have Internet access again.

A strong wind picks up and the OKA gets shaken a bit every so often but we sleep like logs.

On Friday, April 8, we wake up to a nice view onto the lake.
A fair amount of clouds hang around and we are not too sure if that means rain later on.
As it warms up rather quickly from the 9.5°C we had over night we soon sit outside for a long overdue haircut.

Then it is time for the game drive the nature reserve offers.
We see plenty of animals but they are very shy and run away as soon as they hear the vehicle.

The view from the lookout shows the size of the dam.
It also shows the brown colour of the water ...... probably all soil that was washed into the dam with the recent heavy rains. The dam is 100% full.

Then we get back onto the N1 until Colesberg where we change to the N9 towards Noupoort.
The country is again yellow grass plains and hills dotted with green shrubs.
The N9 is in worse state as the N1, potholes appearing everywhere.
It also does not have the emergency lane that is normally used to overtake.
No, no .... not to overtake on the emergency lane .....
Where possible the slower vehicle drives on the emergency lane and the faster ones overtake half and half on both lanes. That's how they make a 3 lane road out of a 2 lane road; a bit dangerous but it works fine; everybody is alert. It gets very tricky if the emergency lane all of a sudden ends before a bridge or if there are pedestrians walking on the emergency lane.
Once the faster has passed the slower one a "thank you" signal is given by flashing the hazard lights a few times.

Later on we reach a construction site where the road obviously is being made wider.
This makes it even more difficult to drive as there are still nut-cases that overtake ......

Towards Middleburg the mountains get higher.

We spot the sign "Tafelberg" .... it sure has the correct name and it looks like Mount Connor near Alice Springs!

And then there is another construction announcement, this time for the next 20 km and 20 minutes waiting time ...... but we are lucky and don' have to wait.
We pass over a nameless pass and get some very nice views of the surrounding country.

At the next construction site we have to wait.
There is still oncoming traffic.
The last vehicle, a truck, throws an empty Coke bottle at the person at the stop point.
??????
The person picks it up and changes the Stop-sign to "Go".
As we are the second last vehicle in the line Ruedi signals the car behind us to pass us.
At the end of the construction section the vehicle that we let pass stops and passes an empty Coke bottle to the person at the check point ......
Ahhhhhhhhh!
Now we understand.
The empty Coke bottle is the signal that all cars in this batch have past and that they can let the traffic in the other direction enter the construction.
Simple but clever!
See what can happen when you are polite and let another car pass before the start of the construction site; you screw up their system because now it is the second last car handing the bottle to the person at the check point!!! Of course the control person was totally confused as there was no way to overtake within the construction site ......

Then we leave the N1 and get onto the R61.
Shortly after we reach the entry of the Mountain Zebra National Park.

After passing the entry check point we drive to the camp.
Already we can see many animals; they don't seem to be as shy as the ones at the Gariep Dam this morning.

At the reception we get a map with all the drives ........ this will keep us busy for a while.
And the weather is supposed to be good for the whole weekend!

We book for dinner at the restaurant and settle down at the camp.
Soon it is time for dinner.
Ruedi tries Carpaccio of Springbok and likes it.
Then we have a good night's sleep.

At 7 AM the gates open and we leave the camp for a game drive.

It is sunny but a bit on the fresh side with again only 9.5 ° C ..... especially with open windows for game viewing!

Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas)
Already shortly after leaving the camp we see a Black Jackal that is rolling itself in some animal's dung, probably to camouflage his own scent.

Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus pygerythrus)
Next we see some shiny grey spots in the trees and realise that these are Vervet Monkeys either sunning themselves or being on guard for predators.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala) Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus)

The dam is populated by birds but no other animals are drinking.

We leave the main road and start driving the Ubejane Loop.

Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis)

This Springboks is not shy at all and presents itself nicely.

Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus) Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) male Gemsbok / Oryx (Oryx gazella)

There are many animals, some of them new to us like the Gemsbok or Oryx as Susi knows it from the zoo ....
It is surprising how many names are still present from the zoo visits she has had during school.

Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra)
And then of course there are the Mountain Zebras!
They differ from the Burchell's Zebra that we have seen at Karongwe by having
- narrower stripes
- no shadow stripes between black stripes
- black strips that don't run under the belly
- a reddish-brown nose

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk (Melierax canorus) Pin-tailled Whydah (Vidua macruora) Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (Emberiza impetuani)

On the Link Road we come past some birds ....

Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou)

... and some Black Wildebeest.
They are rather shy and as soon as the OKA slows down they start running away.

Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus)

On the Rooiplaat Loop we see many Red Hartebeest.
They look as if they have been shaved at their bums ....

As it is already 11 AM and we haven't had breakfast yet we return to the camp on the direct road.

It is a beautiful day and the views are great.
We can even see the "Scar of Grootkloft", a scar made by a huge dolerite block that rolled down the mountain in 1974.
Scientist estimate that the rock that rolled down the hill weight approx. 22'000 kg.
The then 250 m wide scar is still visible today because it resulted in ecological changes. Wind and weather erosion have deepened the scar revealing the limestone.

After breakfast Ruedi tries to get the iPhone working as modem with the data pack but has no success and Susi goes for a walk and a bit of a macro session.

After the rain the flowers are popping up everywhere.

The pretty lily blooms all over the park.
It is amazing how the flower changes its shape depending on the stage it is in.

Different types of these yellow flowers can be found too.
Susi misses her flower books ......

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali) White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali) nest White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali) nest

There are many White-browed Sparrow-Weavers.
Their nests are fascinating.
And they seem to be very happy little birds!

Click here for a short movie on its song (file type: .wmv, size: 561 KB).

The thorns of the acacia bush are huge!

There are also a few pretty grasshoppers around.

unkknwon lizzard

This lizard has a similar behaviour like the Tata-Lizard in Australia: it waves with its front leg!

Click here for a short movie on it (file type: .wmv, size: 584 KB).

ants or termites

These ants or probably rather termites are very busy gathering grass to grow the fungi they feed on.

Click here for a movie on them (file type: .wmv, size: 2'983 KB).

In the afternoon we try the Umngeni 4x4-track.
It has some nasty and steep sections.
Susi feels very uncomfortable in the OKA in the steep sections.

We realise that we are not used to 4WD-driving anymore.
Susi forgot to get out of the OKA to take some pictures in the REALLY nasty section!

But here a movie on the next bad part (file type: .wmv, size: 3'975 KB).

But on the whole 4x4-track there are no animals or at least we don't see them.
With the noise the OKA's engine makes when it has to work hard they have probably all fled !!!!!

But the views are stunning again.

Chacma Baboon, Savanna Baboon (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) Chacma Baboon, Savanna Baboon (Papio cynocephalus ursinus)

Some Chacma Baboons enjoy themselves in the warm sun.
We didn't know that there are monkeys which do not normally live in trees. The baboons are an example.
It is the first time that we really get a good look at them.
Shame they don't come any closer ....

Too soon it is time to get back to the camp as they close the gate at 6 PM.

The clouds during the sunset are very pretty but there is a thunderstorm looming.
The storm brings a bit of rain but not much so we should be fine with a drive tomorrow morning.

Sunday is a sunny day.
We wait until the tracks have dried up a bit then we hit the road.
We drive the Kranskop Loop clockwise so we don't have to drive the steep section while the OKA is still warming up.

Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus pygerythrus) Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus pygerythrus) Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus pygerythrus) Vervet Monkey (Cercopithecus pygerythrus)
As we pass Doorhoek Dam we see some Vervet Monkeys having their breakfast.
They are no worried about us at all and we can watch them close up.

Click here for a movie on them (file type: .wmv, size: 3'217 KB).

After the dam the country gets flatter and we see fresh dung that look like cow dung on the track.

African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)
Then we spot the Buffalos.

Now we have seen all of the Big5!

Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufosfuscus) Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufosfuscus)

As we drive up into the mountains we see this bird of prey, probably a Jackal Buzzard .....

unknwon frog

This track has many small creeks to cross which now all are flowing ... and which are inhabited too!

Again the view is all we get.
The animals have all already moved down to lower areas because of the cooler weather.
Up here the grass does not grow anymore so they have no choice.

The flowers are pretty though.

The views out into the country are really good after the rain.

The OKA on top of the world ..... not as high as Lesotho would have been but as pretty!

We decide to stay another two days and work a bit on the computers and also prepare the next leg of our trip.

Monday is passed with some washing and PC-work.
In the evening the clouds are quite special ..... and a thunderstorm brings some rain.
It actually rains all night ..... and on Tuesday morning .... and all day ...... so we decide to sit it out and do a bit more PC-work.
It is a miserable day.
The temperature does not move much, just from the 15°C that we had over night to just a bit over 20°C and in the afternoon again down to 17°C.
But we have it cosy in the OKA and feel a bit sorry for the poor people in tents .....

On Tuesday evening Susi is happy that she has caught up with all her photos and is now ready for a new chapter in the web page.
We check the weather and see that it will remain rainy.
So we decide to change our route and not to cross over the mountains to Graaff-Reinet and Camdeboo National Park but to head south to the Addo Elephant National Park.
As it is still holiday season and the park is rather near to Port Elizabeth we try to make a reservations but it is fully booked.
We get a booking in one of the homesteads nearby instead.

During the night the rains gets weaker and on Wednesday morning it stops.
But the clouds already signal that there is more rain on the way.

Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

On the way out of the Mountain Zebra National Park "administration" (a secretary bird) fairs us good-bye .....

After some extensive shopping in Cradock we head south over the mountains on the N10.
Outside of Cradock there are many Ostrich farms.
It is a bit sad to see the large birds in such small fenced in corals when we have seen them in the open space of Mountain Zebra National Park.

It rains every so often, especially at lunch time as we try to get into the back section ......
And there are construction sites too especially on the Olifantskop Pass ........
It is a bit sad that the weather is so bad, the views would have been nice from the pass.

In Paterson we turn into R342 and drive to Addo Elephant National Park.
We check for sites and as already told on the phone there are no free caravan sites.
But we are invited to check the tent sites to see if the OKA fits and we find a perfect one just beside the waterhole that is illuminated at night!!!
We even have power so there is no problem with the rain that is still very visibly hanging around ........

 

 

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Last updated: Monday, 03.02.2014 10:06 AM


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