South African Travels 1

Once Inge had acclimatised, we set off for some serious inland cruising to a schedule devised by Vicky which filled every waking minute. For the most part, the South African road system proved excellent, though occasionally there were unexpected hazards such as this fallen boulder, which rivalled our little rented Toyota in size and almost certainly out-weighed it. Following a swing along the 'Garden Route', we skirted the Swartberg Mountains to reach Prince Albert, from which we returned via the spectacular Swartberg Pass to reach Knysna back on the coast. Knysna is a justifiably popular resort, blessed with an attractive lagoon, a proper choo-choo train and some stunning coastal scenery. Our hike along the coast to the east of Knysna occasionally tested both our rock clambering abilities and our head for heights.






 From Knysna we headed to Addo with its wonderful Elephant Park, passing baboons grooming by the roadside. The Elephant Park is actually home to a very wide variety of animals. We had been warned that some visitors spend hours in the park and barely see an animal. Though the park is big enough that we could understand how this might happen, we were very fortunate and saw almost all the animals available as we drove round the roads of the Park.





Zebras at a waterhole, a curious vervet monkey and one of the many warthogs in the Park.

 A rough count of the elephants we saw in the park came to 68, from the large, old and wise-looking, to playful adolescents, to the smallest of suckling infants. Several times we had to wait for family groups to pass us on the road, often within a couple of meters of the car. Initially we were concerned that some of the elephants might be aggressive, but it soon became apparent that they were so habituated to cars that they had little interest in them.

During our two days at Addo we stayed at Priscilla and Noel's 'Lupus Den'. Quite apart from their pleasant company and the delightful surroundings, Noel also gave us a grand tour of his citrus farm, while Priscilla served us the hautest of haut cuisine meals. It was exactly what the best B&B experience should be, but often isn't. We were sad to leave.




 Just when we thought that we'd been extremely lucky and seen almost every animal that was willing to be seen, we moved on to the Amakhala Game Reserve and found that we had barely scratched the surface. Our ranger/guide and driver, Judy, spent hours at the wheel of the big Landrover scouting for animals, informing us about them and lining us up for Vicky's numerous photo ops. The Reserve was created from the land of a number of large adjoining farms. The animals live in an entirely natural habitat in proportions which are roughly similar to those in the wild, though many of the animals are not indigenous to the particular area of South Africa, the Eastern Cape.

We came up on a small herd of giraffe toward sunset on our first day at the reserve. Considering their size and shape, it is remarkable how elegant these animals are and how smoothly they move. Even more remarkable is how they manage to pluck their food, the leaves of the thorny acacia, with their long, prehensile tongues, from between the vicious thorns.


Fortunately, the lions, when we found them, were in a quiet mood, dozing in the sunshine. Sitting in the open Landrover only 20 feet or so from the big male was an interesting experience. Between them the two lions require two or three of the larger antelope each week. To some degree this explains why most managed reserves have relatively few big cats and very large numbers of antelope. The reserve managers also do what they can to keep the big cats away from the Cape Buffalo (seen below left sparring). Surprisingly a single adult buffalo is worth eight or ten lions in monetary terms.


Cape Buffalo locking their extremely sharp horns. These animals were considered some of the most dangerous back in the days when a safari meant hunting with rifles rather than cameras. Above right is an Eland, particularly treasured and sought by the desert Bushmen of the Kalahari.

Just when we thought we would miss them, on our penultimate game drive, Judy managed to find both a cheetah, the very image of feline grace, and the ponderous opposite, the reserve's rhinoceros family, including its most recent addition. It is remarkable that baby animals, no matter how unlovely their parents always manage somehow to be sweet-looking.



We had always thought of the hyena as being nothing but a carrion scavenger, tidying up after larger and braver predators. Nothing could be further from the truth. Spotted hyenas, whether individually or in groups are fierce and extremely brave predators, quite willing to take on animals very much larger than themselves. We had not expected to see any, as Judy had told us that they were rarely seen. However, on our last evening we saw two. The first was scouting the edges of a herd of zebra, but took some time to circle us as well in the fading light. The second was locked in a standoff with an injured red hartebeest. The hyena circled continuously, searching for even the slightest weakness in the much larger animal. Judy felt certain that by morning the hartebeest would be gone - proof if it were needed that in the wild there are no old or injured animals; only the fit survive.

From Amakhala we drove north to Graaff Reinet, braving a storm of locusts on the way, which plastered the front of our car. In the Karoo there are lots of very long straight stretches of road passing through MBA, miles of bugger all. We met a number of people who insisted that this area had its own kind of beauty. If so it is very much in the eye of the beholder.


When we returned to Simon's Town, we felt that Inge should see at least one of the five great capes, in this case from the land. So we drove to the Cape Point National Park, naturally choosing a day so windy that it was barely possible to stay upright. It did, however, give an appropriate picture of why the Cape was called the Cape of Storms by those who first rounded it.


Our final excursion during Inge's visit was to the wine country around Franschoek and Stellenbosch, where much of South Africa's best wine is produced. Though surrounded by stark, rocky hills, the wineries and vinyards themselves are set in rolling, green countryside, dotted with the beautiful Cape Dutch buildings of the wineries and farms. All this was in stark contrast to the views we had had on our way out of Cape Town.

 Normally visitors are advised not even to drive through the 'informal settlements' - the South African euphemism for shanty towns - of the Cape Flats area of the city. We mistook our route and ended up driving through the middle of Mitchells Plain and Kayelitsha. We had seen informal settlements in the countryside (like that above). These were palatial compared to the mile after mile of shanties in the Cape Flats. In these areas the employed are in a minority and gangs compete violently with each other for control. Every morning on the radio there are reports of shootings and violence in these areas. Most of South Africa's 18,000 murders a year take place in areas like these around the country. The gulf between the reasonably well-off and the poor is wide in almost all countries, but in South Africa it is colossal. The government is struggling to cope with the need for tens of thousands of new houses, as well as creating jobs for the unemployed, for whom estimates vary between 25% and 40%. It is a huge challenge. Just passing through one of the settlements was saddening and brought home the extent of that challenge. We would not have the courage even to visit one of the informal settlements. Having to actually live in one of the tiny shanties in the midst of the violence and squalor must be frightening and demoralising.