25 November

Asiya was fairly keen to participate in the matric holiday with her fellow scholars, but her parents were very wary of the idea of her traveling to the coast with other teenagers. We didn’t blame them as you hear all sorts of horror stories about what goes on during some of these holidays. We knew how hard she had worked for her exams so we decided to take some time off and go on holiday with her. We told her we were going to Mpumalanga and didn’t go into too much detail.

We rented the cottage at Da Gama dam that we have stayed at a couple of times. We took the scenic drive into the area through the back roads and mountainous areas so that Asiya could see more of the countryside. We stopped for lunch and bought some light snacks for our evening meal.

26 November – Kruger National Park

We got up early the next morning and drove into the Kruger Park as a special treat for Asiya. We gave her a small camera so that she could sit in the back seat, sliding to each side as required and take her own photographs too. We saw a herd of impala with young, as well as a bachelor herd not long thereafter. Asiya was fascinated with the elephant that we saw next and could not believe that we could be that close to a wild elephant (she had no idea what was ahead of her during her holiday!) We passed a small herd of wildebeest on the side of the road under some trees, so we stopped to enjoy the view. The one wildebeest kept grazing and wondering closer and closer. We could not believe how close it came to the vehicle. Asiya was able to take some wonderful photographs! In fact, this has never happened to us before or after this. Generally they are fairly skittish animals.

We saw a tortoise and some helmeted guineafowl, before a water monitor crossed the road in front of us. At the river we saw hippo and a crocodile and as we came across the low water bridge, we found a troop of baboons sitting in the road. They were grooming each other and not the least interested in moving out of the way. Even when a police vehicle came down the road from the opposite direction, they gave it no respect and just continued as they were! We also saw a cattle egret and stopped to enjoy a beautiful impala ram and red-billed oxpecker. This was followed by a leopard tortoise and then we made our way into Skukuza camp to get something to eat. As we got to the main intersection into the camp, we found many cars and a very stressed chameleon trying to cross the road.

We were very pleased to see no sign of him (alive or dead) when we exited the camp after having brunch. We saw a violet-backed starling and some other general game as we slowly made our way back to the gate to exit the park. It was just too warm to keep going for longer! We stopped to buy the makings of a light lunch / supper and then made our way back to the cottage.

26 November - Cruise on Da Gama Dam

After resting for a while, we went down to the hotel, Lakeside Lodge, where we had organised to go on a cruise on the dam. While we were waiting to board the boat, the 3 zebra that wander around the grounds and into the gardens of the various cottages came down a pathway towards us. We boarded the boat to find that we were the only people taking the cruise. We went around the hotel and to the side where our cottage is and we could see this clearly from the boat. We continued until the dam narrowed so that it was not navigable for the boat and we then turned and cruised past the houses on the other side and round to the dam wall. We then went up and around the dam on the other side of the hotel, before making our way back to the mooring point.

As we wound down for the day and had our evening meal, we slyly asked Asiya if she had enjoyed her time at the Kruger Park. She said that she loved it and, when asked if she would like to take another drive on another day if there was time, she was dead keen. This was good news for us!

27 November – Waterfalls

After a reasonably leisurely start to the day, certainly compared to the day before, we made our way out into the waterfall area. There had been a lot of rain during October and November, so the waterfalls were really flowing. The first waterfall that we visited was Lone Creek, which tumbles down 70m into lush ferns and forest. The spray was almost enough to drench us and the walk through the “garden” area was like being in a rain forest. 

From there we made our way to Mac Mac falls. This waterfall is named after the Scottish miners who sought their fortune here during the 1870s gold rush. We then went to Pilgrims Rest, before making our way to Lisbon Falls. These falls were named by Portuguese miners who panned for gold here. They crash down 90m into the gorge below.

The next waterfall, Berlin Falls, is shaped like a huge white candle, which flows through a natural sluice before dropping 80m into a deep pool below. We then went to the Pinnacle Rock. Because of the rains, we saw waterfalls in the area that we had not truly seen before. Unfortunately, although we tried, God’s Window was just too misty so we could not visit there.

On the way back we stopped at the Graskop Waterfall. They used to do bungi jumping here and, in fact, we have watched and taken photos on previous occasions. But recently someone had fallen to their death and the bungi jumping outfit had since closed down.

27 November – Elephant Whispers

In the late afternoon we made our way to Elephant Whisperers to find out more about the elephants. While we waited for everyone to arrive for the “tour”, we spoke to one of the managers and asked about Tembo, who we used to see at Tshukudu. He was thrilled to know that we had seen him before and told us that he was doing really well. He is now 6 tons in weight and stands a good 3 to 4 metres tall. The elephants came into an open area, ridden by their handlers who then got them to settle down. They spoke to us about the elephants and were about to let us go in and feed them when they became worried about a storm that was moving in fast. They were concerned that the elephants were unsettled and wanted to take them back to their camp. They apologised and invited us all to come back in the morning to complete our “tour”. Asiya was fascinated by the elephants so we made a plan to return the next day.

28 November – Elephant Whispers

We were there as planned the next day and this time the weather was on our side, even if the day was a little overcast. They brought the elephants out again and we were able to interact with them, feeding them pellets and having our photos taken. Initially Tembo was quite happy to feed himself, tucking into his grass and foliage. They then brought him down to us and we were able to feed him too and also have photos taken with him. He is huge and you really feel this when you stand underneath his head! When it was time to ride the elephants, we were asked whether we wanted to ride Tembo and we jumped at the opportunity. We watched the other elephants kneel down so that the other visitors could climb on their backs. They then had to hold tight while the elephant stood again! We, in the meanwhile, had to climb the stairs to a platform so that we could get onto Tembo’s back. First there was the handler, then Asiya, then me and lastly Terry to hold up the rear. An elephant ride is not the most comfortable ride, especially when your elephant is so big that your legs almost don’t grip around him. We did not do a long walk because of all the rains and the muddy terrain, but it was a real experience. While we were riding, Peter phoned to let us know his progress. Terry answered and told him that this must be a “trunk call”! We were all pleased to stand on terra firma again but agreed that it had been a real amazing experience.

When we got back to the cottage, we told Asiya the reason that Peter had phoned was that he was joining us at the cottage that night. We also told her why – the next day we were all going to Ngala, a private game reserve, to do some more game-viewing. Peter arrived in the late afternoon and took us all to dinner at Oliver’s, a fancy restaurant near White River.

29 November – God’s Window

As we made our way to Ngala, we decided to make a detour to see whether God’s Window was visible. It was so we made our way up and enjoyed meandering around the pathways and taking photographs of the breath-taking views. We were able to see the Blyde Dam and the Three Rondavels.

29 November – Ngala

We drove into Ngala and settled into our rooms. I shared with Asiya and Terry with Peter - the first time we have holidayed in separate rooms since we got married! We then had a wonderful lunch.

Evening Drive

We started with a sighting of vultures and followed this up with a wonderful view of a red-crested korhaan displaying his crest. The next sighting was a nyala bull. After that, we then came across a pride of lions. We also watched a brown snake on a dead tree trunk.

30 November – Morning Drive

The first sighting was a grey tree frog – in a tree. We followed this up with some buffalo. The ranger then took us along a road where he stopped in front of a tree and, with binoculars, we were able to see a genet and her kittens curled up in a hole in the trunk. Every now and again we would get a clear glimpse of a kittens’ faces. They were really cute. We then saw a water monitor and a long, thin snake with stripes down its sides.

The weather was so warm that, after breakfast, we made our way down to the swimming pool area to have a swim.

The kitchen was very good in terms of ensuring that Asiya had enough to eat and even made her some Breyani – but she confessed that it was not as good as her mother’s!

30 November – Evening Drive

We started the drive with an elephant sighting. This was followed by a young impala calf. The concern was that we could not see a mother anywhere around. If she had really gone (taken by a predator or some other fate), then this poor calf would not last for very long as it would be easy prey for almost all the predators. We saw a herd of buffalos moving towards a dam, so we made our way down to the dam to watch them come down to drink. There were hundreds of them and they came down, some stopping at the bank to drink and others charging into the water to both bathe and drink! 

We drove past the genet “nest” again and could again see the animals. We then came across a tawny eagle sitting atop a dead tree. We watched it for a while and then saw it take off to the skies. We saw more buffalo (not as many as earlier) and then came across a really long python. We all got off the vehicle to look at it, but only Terry and Peter ventured closer. Asiya and I both kept a good distance!

1 December – Ngala

We had heard the storm during the night and knew that it was raining, but what we did not know was how heavy the rain was. We got up for morning coffee and found that we had to wade through a “river” to get to the dining area. Our shoes and socks were all totally soaked through. We had coffee and then chatted to the ranger who informed us that we were not going to be able to go out on a drive as all the entrance and exit ways were flooded. We all waded our way back across to the rooms and got a little extra sleep. We spent the morning and afternoon resting and reading. We did do a little walking around camp to see what was going on with the water and the dam in front of the dining area. While doing that we came across a mother bushbuck eating and not too far away was her calf, which was curled up sleeping under a bush.

1 December - Evening Drive

The river was in flood so we could not even see the causeway, but we managed to cross it with the trusty land cruiser! We saw a martial eagle, some giraffe and then came across a hippo out of the water. We then encountered a group of 3 tortoises – a very large female and 2 small males. They were trying their luck but the female did not appear to be too interested! We continued our drive and came across a number of carmine bee-eaters in the road. They appeared to be catching insects and would then fly up onto a branch of a tree. We saw a juvenile bateleur and a marabou stork, so ugly only a mother could love it.

Our next sighting was of some zebra and there was a very young foal in the herd so we could all ooh and aah over it. As we came to a small watering hole we found a yellow-billed stork fishing and wading around the edge. We also saw a water monitor investigating a fallen branch to see if he could find his next meal. We then drove on and, because of the heavy rains, there were marshes everywhere alongside the road. The one had a huge bullfrog in it. The ranger climbed off the vehicle and caught the bullfrog, carefully (it apparently has a nasty bite), and then proceeded to show it to us explaining all about it and how it came out after the rains.

2 December – Morning Drive

We started the morning with a wonderful sighting of a male and female lion on and next to the road. He looked like he had just come from the hairdresser after having his mane blow-dried! We also saw zebra and wildebeest.

We were very disappointed that we did not manage to see leopard (particularly for Asiya and Peter), but the rains had impacted our stay both before and after they came down. However, the experience of being in camp during a flash flood was an amazing one.

After breakfast, we made ready to go home, but we had to be escorted by one of the game vehicles to make sure that we got across some of the really flooded roads. We then made our way to Dullstroom where we stopped for lunch. We used this time to say goodbye to both Asiya and Peter. The holiday was over, but enjoyed by all…