Monday, June 9, 2008

South Africa: Johannesburg, Pilanesberg National Park

After an overnight flight we landed at Johannesburg and were met by our guide, Gerrie. We were taken to a well air-conditioned and comfortable coach and driven to Sun City. On the way to Sun City we stopped at Rainbow Village for coffee. We were entertained by some local dancers, who were very enthusiastic and amusing.

When we arrived at Sun City we went straight to our hotel, Cabanas. After we had got ourselves organised we went on a tour of Sun City. This is a luxury resort complex, built in Bophuthatswana because gambling and blue movies were banned in South Africa but permitted in the homeland.

There are a couple of good golf courses, an excellent swimming complex and water sports centre. And lots of facilities for gambling. So this place is ideal for gambling golfers - or golfing gamblers!

The Palace Hotel which is the best hotel here was extravagant and very imposing. At the entrance are bronze sculptures of cheetahs chasing after some antelope. On the floor of the reception hall were some wonderful mosaics of Africian animals

At the end of the hotel was a life size sculpture of a huge elephant. This elephant was famous in this area until he died some years ago

The next day we explored Sun City. We took the shuttle bus which is circling the complex continuously and looked around the entertainment centre. We found it interesting but we felt one week here would be six days too long. There are bingo, fruit machines lots of video type games, blue movies and a theatre.

In the late afternoon we took the shuttle bus to the crocodile farm. The crocodiles are fed at 4.30pm. I bought ten rand worth of chicken heads to feed the young crocodiles, which they soon devoured. We then watched the big crocodiles fed whole chickens. The show was well staged and seeing the large crocodiles leaping up from the water to get the chickens was amazing

Pilanesberg National Park South Africa
We left Sun City the next day and after a ten minute drive we arrived at Bakubung Lodge. Bakubung means 'the people of the Hippo' and is set in the Pilanesberg National Park. There is an electric fence all round the lodge which is either to keep us safe or the animals safe - or a bit of both!

The vehicles for our game drive were in a very poor state in fact our driver was loath to turn the engine off unless he was on a hill as he was worried he wouldn't be able to re-start it. We sighted kudu, zebra, giraffe, a beautiful lilac roller, springbok, ostrich, impala, black backed jackal and way in the distance, some elephant. Most of the game was too far away to photograph and with the engine running there was too much vibration to use my 300mm lens.

We had a better game drive the following morning sighting six rhino, wart hogs, giraffe, zebra, impala, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu, ground hornbill, black eagle, some storks, hippo and ostrich.

There is a nice swimming pool at this lodge which is where we spent the afternoon.

We noticed on the forecourt of the lodge a van carrying the words, "Beware! Snakes in Transit!" "Was it true?" I asked the driver. "Not at all," he said; the van was full of audio-visual equipment and it was a good security ploy.

We left the lodge, with no regrets, for our drive to Johannesburg. Gerrie told us some stories on the journey. He told us about how the blacks and whites get the wrong ideas about each other. For example the blacks need to be lower than their chief so if they come into an office they immediately sit down. The boss thinks that is a cheek, sitting down before being invited to do so. When the boss goes out to his men the blacks wait for the boss to acknowledge them before they may speak, as that is what happens in the tribe; the boss thinks they are insolent and rude for not saying good morning to him. The blacks don't grip your hand when shaking hands; the boss thinks they are weak because they don't grip the hand as whites do. The blacks don't look you in the eye as it is rude in their culture to do so; the boss thinks they are shifty because they don't look straight at him. And so these are just some examples of how mis-understandings occur between blacks and whites.

Our hotel in Johannesburg was the Holiday Inn at Sandton. We were advised not to go out alone but to go in groups. Just opposite the Holiday Inn was a shopping complex where six of us went to explore the shopping and to have an evening meal. We ate at The Butcher's Shop. I can recommend this restaurant; I can't remember whenever I have had such a tasty steak.

We are only in Johannesburg overnight and so in the morning we left for the airport. We passed Nelson Mandela's house. Gerrie, full of stories as usual, told us how the Boers got their land. They rode their horses for 1 hour north, 1 hour south, 1 hour east and 1 hour west and however far they managed to ride was the extent of the land they were given. He told us about a prisoner who told the jailer his wife's cooking was the worst he had ever tasted. The jailer was really upset as he enjoyed his wife's cooking. He told the prisoner to go up to the local pub and have a meal there and then he would realise how good his wife's cooking was. The prisoner went up to the pub for a meal and when he got back to the prison he told the jailer that his trip to the pub had only confirmed the fact that his wife was the worst cook in Africa. The jailer was so angry he refused to let him back in the jail!

We stopped at a squatter camp which was on old mining land. The camp seemed very clean. There are two water taps and chemical loo's are also provided. The people in this camp were mostly Mozambique refugees. The people seemed very happy, and certainly were very welcoming. We passed several more squatter camps. We noticed that the pedestrian bridges over the main road were enclosed with wire netting. Apparently that had to be done as the blacks were throwing bricks at cars driven by whites.

We flew to Port Elizabeth which took 1 hour and 20 minutes. After landing we were taken on a tour of Port Elizabeth. We stopped at the Fort which has a great view looking towards the sea.

Leaving Port Elizabeth we drove to Storms River Bridge where we had coffee.

After an overnight stop we left for The Knysna River Club. On route we stopped at Blowcross River. There is an impressive bridge here which we shall shortly be driving over. People were bungee jumping from the bridge. We had an opportunity to bungee jump if we wanted to - nobody in our party fancied it.

We stopped at Plettenburg Bay, a lovely spot with long sandy beaches. When we arrived at Knysna we went to the Oyster Company. We could have sampled the oysters and some of our party did, they rated them 6 out of 10. We then boarded a boat and went on a trip to the Heads, two large sandstone cliffs either side of the opening out to sea. This is a famous rocky beauty spot and marks the dramatic entrance to Knysna's lagoon from the Indian Ocean. The lagoon stretches far inland and provides ideal conditions for anglers and sailors alike.

After settling in to our room at The Knysna River Club we took the coach down to the town of Knysna. Knysna's most famous former resident was George Rex, reputedly the illegitimate son of George III. The museum is filled with his memorabilia. After arriving from the Cape at the beginning of the 19th century, he bought a big farm along the Knysna lagoon and turned the district into a seaport and a ship-building and timber centre. The port lost its commercial importance with the arrival of the railway.

The next morning we left this pleasant spot. We stopped at Wilderness to photograph the miles of unspoilt beaches. There is a railway line here that takes the steam train from Knysna to George passing through Wilderness. We passed through George which looks a nice clean town. There is a Dutch Reformed Church here which is quite impressive.

We drove over a spectacular pass through the Outeniqua Mountains, and out the other side onto the semi-desert plain of the Little Karoo. We visited the Cango Caves in the Swart Mountain Range, driving over a well built mountain road that mostly follows a meandering river.

The caves once sheltered bushmen whose paintings were found on the walls of the entrance. The bushmen never went deeper into the caves as they thought they contained demons. We went into the caves and were escorted through a series of chambers, our guide pointing out the evocative formations of stalactites and stalagmites. In the second chamber the guide turned off all the lights and just left one little lamp burning. He explained that the explorer who discovered the caves only had this much light to see by; a brave man indeed, I would have been scared to death.

We then had some fun visiting an ostrich farm. We had lunch here. Ostrich soup, which was very tasty; ostrich steak which was all right. Even the bread roll was in the shape of an ostrich.

We then had an interesting tour. Our guide started the tour by breaking an ostrich egg and a hen's egg into a bowl and comparing the size of the yolks.

We were then shown how the ostrich feathers are harvested. They pluck out the feathers from the bird; sounded a bit painful to me. We saw the ladies drying and sorting the feathers. We went into a pen and met Susie, an ostrich that has been sitting on infertile eggs all summer. Our guide carried a stick with some vicious thorns on it, in case he needed to keep the ostriches at bay. We saw Susie's eggs and gave her some corn. She took the corn from the palm of the hand so very gently.

We then went to see the ostriches being ridden. The ostrich is confined in a wooden stocks with a bag over its head while the rider gets aboard. Several of our group tried their hands at riding. Most were unsuccessful, but one of our group managed to stay on while the ostrich tore round the compound. He dismounted with cheers from all of us. We then watched an ostrich race with experienced jockeys on board, it was all over in no time, but fun for all that.

I loved the sign of the door of the ladies loo - an elegant cartoon ostrich with a tutu on.

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