Introduction

Dad was born in Grahamstown and his home, until the age of 15, was The Fort. The Fort was incorporated with a number of other farms into the game reserve, Kwandwe. The Fort is now the residence of one of the owners of Kwandwe. Dad's father managed The Fort and one of the primary farming activities was citrus orchards. He also at some stage managed Rooidrift which is now the ranger's residence. Dad told us that Auntie Irene went to farm school at another one of Kwandwe's lodges - Uplands Homestead.

Kwandwe, which means "Place of the Blue Crane" in Xhosa, is made up of 22 000 hectares of former farmland. It is regarded as a conservation victory and thousands of animals including the Big Five - Lion, White & Black Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo and Leopard - as well as cheetah, giraffe, zebras and numerous buck species can be found. Kwandwe is also known for its small nocturnal animals.

Dad had resigned himself to the fact that he would never see The Fort again. For a birthday present Jean gave him a flip in a microlight and the pilot flew over parts of Kwandwe. Dad and Jean had also driven through Kwandwe on the public road.

We had planned this trip for some time. We decided that we would try and get into Kwandwe before letting Dad and Jean know what we were up to. There was one false start when we couldn't get a booking. Finally we had a booking and we organised that they would be available. We had to tell a number of lies, with one lie leading to another. Keeping up with all the lies was quite an experience. Changing the subject was a tactic used on a number of occasions. The "story" was that I had been asked to do a photoshoot in order to create a brochure for a friend's Bed and Breakfast in Bedford (the friend part was true). We flew down on Saturday. I had taken down a number of articles on Kwandwe and gave them to Dad. During drinks on Saturday night we discussed Kwandwe and I suggested we drive through Kwandwe using the public road. We also discovered that Dad had gone to farm school at Heatherton Towers. Heatherton Towers serves as the reception for all the different lodges at Kwandwe. We decided we would tell Dad and Jean at the gate into Kwandwe, in order to give Dad a bit of time to digest what was happening. At the gate, while we were signing in, Dad and Jean kept shouting from the back of the car that we were just driving through,. I had to gesture to the guard not to listen to them, As we drove off, Dad asked what was going on and Jean laughed and said "They think we are staying here". Jean and I then had to break the news that we were actually staying at Kwandwe and Bedford was all a lie. Dad was speechless - no "Schucks Boeties" - just silence.

We were greeted at Heatherton Towers with the customary drink and wet face cloth. The face cloth lived up to its name for one very emotional person. The staff showed Dad around the whole house, even into the kitchen, pantries and other rooms not open to guests. They were so keen to hear about the history of the place and what certain rooms were used for. The dormitory room, which Dad had described the night before as being a really big room, where all the children slept during the week, turned out to be not that big after all.

22 July - Evening Drive

After booking in at the Great Fish River Lodge and unpacking, we were treated to a stunning lunch. One of us was a little messier than the others prompting Dad to ask in all innocence why that person had been given a patterned serviette when the rest of us had plain ones! We all had a lie down in the afternoon and then proceeded out on our first drive. Our ranger was an old Graemian. I was told that the plan was to go to The Fort the following morning.

Our first sighting was of Zebra.

The vegetation, which includes six of South Africa's seven major vegetation zones (biomes) was just so typically Eastern Cape.

We had hardly started the drive when we drove up a hill and were met by a pride of Lions. The excitement was visible. It was quite mind blowing for Dad to see Lions in an area where he had grown up.

The Lions, especially the male, treated us to a display of Flehmen. This is when they sniff the urine to find the presence of pheromones to see if a female is in oestrus.

We saw numerous buck species and then were greeted by a spectacular sunset as we stopped for sundowners. At dinner, Dad was served a cake with "Welcome Back" in icing on the top.

23 July - Morning Drive

Our mission for the morning drive was to go to The Fort. As we drove along the roads, Dad start recognising places and started showing Jean the direction to where The Fort was. 

We drove over a hill and in the distance we could finally see it. We could also see The Fort Dam.

We drove past The Fort Dam and were told that we would come back as there was a Lioness, her young and a kill in the open in front of The Fort. We arrived there and the ranger produced a bottle of champagne and glasses and poured everyone a drink. We then welcomed Dad back "home". The kill was a warthog and they had already eaten part of it. Dad remarked that the one rump was still there and it looked delicious (typical Dad). As if he had heard this, the one youngster got up and walked to the kill, licked the rump, and walked back - as if to say "Hey that's mine - leave it alone".

It was amazing for Dad to see the Lions and the kill so close to the house he grew up in. To think he used to run around the orchards as a child. Somehow he didn't want to repeat it today. We tried to phone Uncle George, but cellphone reception was pretty much the same as it was in his day!

After leaving the Lions we went back to Fort Dam and parked on the wall. Dad showed us where they used to swim. We asked him whether he didn't want a quick dip, but he decided that in his day they didn't have to swim with hippos and crocs. This drive was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for Dad. At this time the previous day we were getting ready to go to Bedford!

Strangely, by now Dad's thoughts had drifted to food. I suppose we hadn't had breakfast yet so it was understandable! So we went back to camp, had breakfast, a snooze, lunch and another snooze.

23 July - Evening Drive

The afternoon drive started on an extremely high note a we were fortunate to see a Cheetah mom and her five cubs cross the road. It is highly unusual for Cheetah to have so many cubs. As "Mom" was very nervous the sighting was short and sweet. 

We then found evidence that, although Dad's family might have left over sixty years ago, some ancestors were still around. The resemblance to both Pete and Michael is uncanny! 

We had spotted a pride of Lions across the valley from where we were watching the Cheetah. We made our way and soon found them. It was the same pride from the night before. We followed the pride until they reached a little dam, where they quenched their thirst.

Further along the drive we came across Cheetah, a coalition of two brothers.

We had been searching for Aardwolf which neither Jean nor myself have seen yet. The tracker spotted one in the distance, so we set off. The ranger decided that Jean and I should join him on foot as this might work better. The ranger saw the tracker showing him to run. This he interpreted as meaning that the Aardwolf was close by. Imagine our surprise when we rounded a bush, only to spot a Rhino mother with her calf. Luckily for us the Rhino calf ran in the opposite direction, so mom followed. We made a hasty retreat in the opposite direction. One tumble and pick up later and we had made it safely back to the vehicle. An adrenaline rush of note!.

Once again we were treated to a stunning Eastern Cape bushveld sunset during sundowners.

24 July - Morning Drive

Far too soon our final drive had dawned on us. Our ranger had bad toothache so we were allocated another ranger, this time an old Kingswoodian (William Moss). Much to Dad's delight we made our way back towards The Fort. At Fort Dam we drove on the road above the dam. Much to our amazement we discovered that Dad had never been on top as this was where the staff had lived and so was it out of bounds to him. When we got to the top the view was spectacular. Dad was able to really get a perspective of the whole dam. He was able to point out weirs and places where equipment used to be set up. From the top we could also see the hippos basking in the sun.

We then started making our way towards Uplands Homestead. Dad soon recognised some roads and told us how his father used to walk Auntie Irene from The Fort to Uplands on a Monday morning to attend farm school. On Friday afternoon he would walk back and fetch her. Driving along this typical bush road would take us all of about 10 minutes if we didn't stop. Along the way we saw a herd of Elephants. We made our way up a very steep and overgrown road which was actually a cutline. 

On our way down we were treated to a small herd of Eland. Once again Dad could not help himself and remarked what a good leg of venison it would make. You can take the boy out of the farm but not the farm out of the boy!. 

We then made our way over to Uplands Homestead. Unfortunately it was locked up and we weren't able to go inside. Dad did take the opportunity to look through the windows. We had been following the roaring of a Lion and had managed to work out where it was. At Uplands we were able to see him through the binoculars on the banks across the river. 

We made our way back towards camp via Heatherton Towers. As we got close to Rooidrift one final surprise was waiting for us. They had set up breakfast for us in the bush. It is truly amazing what can be set up for a bush breakfast. Jean really enjoyed the wash stand and mirror that had been set up for us to wash our hands. Skottels were set up to cook bacon, sausages and eggs. It was quite appropriate that we had an Old Kingswoodian (Ranger William Moss) cooking for us Old Graemians! 

All too soon our journey of discovery and re-discovery had come to an end. We were treated like royalty. The interest that the Kwandwe staff took in Dad as they asked questions and listened to stories of days gone by, made it special for everyone. The time had come and gone in a flash. The memories will, however, stay with us forever...