We start this blog post with an apology to our followers for the long silence. Our plans have taken a turn and seen us fly back to the UK, after learning in South Africa that we were expecting a baby. So with heavy hearts yet immeasurable joy we have placed the trip on hold and returned to the UK. Here are a few tales of our final weeks in South Africa, thank you for following us on what has been a trip of a lifetime, we hope you enjoy this installment.
Dates: 14th July – 31st July
Mechanicals: Regulator fault/ over charging batteries and an oil change. Exhaust manifold gasket leak.
Anticipation had been mounting for a week, we’d sighted the ship in port and our reunion with Penelope was imminent. There were a couple of false starts with one taxi journey to the docks ending back at the hostel after we ran out of time. Eventually we arrived at the depot in our high vis vests, we excitedly watched the container be carried towards us, it didn’t take long for the depot team to unleash the car and replace the roof tent, thank goodness for forklifts!
Our shipping agent Maurita had kindly escorted us to the depot and then on to the nearest fuel station, after a hug and a refuel we were off. First stop was our backpacker lodge to repack and prepare for a resupply of food. 24 hours later we hit the road with Lesotho in our sights. Stopping at the foot of the Sani Pass, one of the few routes into Lesotho, we were excited to be back “in our own bed” after 6 weeks. Setting up camp in the sunshine we settled into Sani Pass Lodge. While the camping site was small and not really designed for our set up, we were the only ones camping and enjoyed mingling and chatting with other holiday makers inside the lodge after dark. It was particularly cold at night so we cooked indoors and relaxed beside the roaring log fire. Waking with frost inside the tent we were overjoyed to be reunited with our winter wardrobe, the feather down coats, hats and boots.
The following morning we nipped to an electrical mechanic for a little advice. Our battery was overcharging since being reconnected and whilst this was unlikely to stop us through Lesotho, we opted to carry out some peace of mind maintenance knowing there was little by way of mechanical assistance in the mountains of Lesotho. This meant one more night at Sani Pass Lodge, allowing the mechanic time to order a new alternator and replace it in the morning. People come from all around to hike through this spectacular landscape and we ceased the opportunity to explore it on foot ourselves.
With views of the Devils Cup, and the African sun shining, we picnicked by the river watching the grazing Kudu. We bumped into a chap from the lodge that we’d met the night before, who was kind enough to show us to some nearby Rock art, our first in South Africa.
The part replacement didn’t exactly go to plan. For the record, despite looking the same, the alternator in the 80 series is not the same as in the 70 series backy, ute, pickup (delete as appropriate). Despite some choice words from Tyrone, working on a Saturday, the new alternator didn’t fit. The issue was really with the regulator and Tyrone now showed his skill and experience by replacing just the board on the back of the alternator (with one he happened to have in the back room) and refitting.
Back on the road with eagerness and excitement we embarked on the dusty, winding ascent to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Driving up the pass we were blown away by dramatic scenery falling away behind us. There were a number of hairpin bends and locals to navigate around but the car made it to the top with ease, Penelope was made for this.
We reached the top of the pass, almost 3000 metres above sea level and our first border crossing awaited. It was rustic and felt very old fashioned, with traditional stone huts and locals lingering nearby. We paid customs and were granted a 5 day visitor pass. Naturally the first stop was the pub, boasting to be the highest in Africa. One beer and a mulled wine later, we set off to find accommodation.
We heard tales of the Chinese road builders and we were blown away by the extent of work they were carrying out. It was dirty and chaotic and continued for miles. Fortunately we avoided any great delays as we’d heard rumours of long hold ups. This night we treated ourselves to a rondavel at a misson lodge, expecting it to be too cold for camping. It turned out all the heaters had been loaned already so we were given a couple of blankets instead. While I’m sure this helped, what a relief that we’d been re-united with our hot water bottle, it was freezing but I’m sure no colder had we slept in the tent.
Lesotho has a breathtaking landscape, views as far as the eye can see, rivers and waterfalls frozen in their tracks and surprisingly good quality tar roads. Driving through the mountain ranges we resisted the urge to don some ski’s and sample the AfriSki!
There is some well preserved rock art at Liphofung Caves, which is well worth a visit. We camped beside the lodge accommodation here and the entry fee was waived, we enjoyed views across the valley and the neighbouring villages going about their daily routines.
Lestotho has a truly simple way of life. Their traditional transport methods saw us passing numerous animals pulling carts. The children are used to seeing tourists, they’d see us coming and run down the hillside and there was no shortage of begging which was difficult to just pass by.
After a few high altitude days we crossed back into South Africa. Passing through the lovely town of Clarens, the local brewery is well worth a stop and a tasting. We camped at The Golden Gate National Park with Lesotho’s dramatic mountains in the distance. We took the opportunity for baboon and zebra spotting as we drove through.
The following night we stayed in the nearby Royal Natal National Park, a hikers paradise and another beautifully kept camp site.
The camping was some of the priciest we’d experienced but the facilities were good, after very few hot showers in recent days it was a relief to be able to warm up. We used the braii’s as camp fires to keep warm by night and enjoyed some spectacular clear and starry night skies. It was cold enough that our tap froze overnight!
From here our intention had been to travel north to Kruger National Park, with the discovery of Ruth’s pregnancy we re-routed the trip north of Johannesburg to the popular, and importantly, non-malarial Pilanesberg National Park. We stayed at a Voortrekker scout camp that was listed in Track4Africa on the way North. Getting a little lost on the way, the care taker came out to the main road and met us. It was a surreal, but lovely, calm place, again we the only one there. He even let Doug do an Oil change. When its due, its due.
We resisted stopping at the ‘Vegas’ of South Africa, called Sun City as we traveled north along the highway. We kept a good pace as there were multiple signs warning of the high risk of highjacking in the area.
Pilanesberg is noted for having the big 5 and we were keen to have another go at seeing them all before leaving South Africa. We had a great few days camping inside and driving through the park but sadly the resident Leopard was elusive, but 4 out of 5 isn’t bad.
We celebrated Doug’s birthday in Pilanesberg by taking a night safari. Watching a young male and female lion hunt together was fantastic, however the traffic jam that this caused was really entertaining. All the safari buses were fighting for the best view, but credit to our driver, we were always up at the front! The lions were tracking a herd of Springbok who were on high alert and managed to keep ahead of them. We didn’t witness any kill, which was probably for the best! By now we had made contact with Maurita again in Durban, this time to organise the export of the car. To say she was surprised to hear from us again and certainly so soon would be an understatement! We allowed ourselves a couple of days for a leisurely drive back to Durban.
Sad that our adventure was drawing to an end, we found a spectacular location for our final night camping in Africa. We called ahead to reserve a spot, unnecessary given there was no-one else camping. The drive from the lodge to the site was a winding gravel track that snaked up the hillside through a ridge in the rock face. It was here we found the amenities block, a little tired but hot water a plenty, and the view before us was amazing. Parked on a cliff edge with a sheer rock face behind us, we set up our last camp as the sun set before us.
Back to meet with Maurita in Durban, the car was loaded into the container and we said a final goodbye. Shortly after we boarded a plane inbound to England to embark on our next adventure!
Thank you for following our exploits, we hope that you’ve enjoyed reading and are feeling inspired to get out there and see these amazing places for yourselves. We will we do another post after this one to show we are safe and sound and in the UK. Is Penelope in London with us?!
Ruth & Douglas