Eight degrees greeted us this morning, but I knew I would warm up once I started packing up ready for our drive into Skukuza. Before we left, we washed Rhino and Baby Rhino. We are trying to keep them clean before we take them to Durban, to get ready for their sea voyage. Once everyone was squeaky clean, we drove through the Phabeni Gate and the forty-seven kilometres into Skukuza. The camping ground was nearly empty, so we had the pick of the spots at this early hour. We chose the one that we had first been in way back at the beginning of February. This spot was tucked away next to some scrappy trees, close to the road. It meant that we did not have neighbours on either side of us. The only downside was the ground was like concrete, no wonder I had cracked three ribs here. It took us ages to hammer in the tent pegs. Even the heavy-duty ones bent under the constant hammering. After all the work of setting up we decided to have a well-earned lunch at the restaurant at Skukuza. The restaurant is called the Cattle Baron. It has a deck that overlooks the Sabie River, where elephants come down to play and the hippos drag themselves out of the water to laze like beached whales on the white sand. We went on an afternoon game drive and I must say Peter is getting great a spotting lions. He found eight of them lying low across the river. They were fairly active in the strong heat of the afternoon. There was a small herd of buffalo close by, completely unaware of the lions, as they munched on the grass and paddle in the water. I think that the lions were patiently biding their time, keeping the buffalo in sight and waiting for the cooler, darker hours before they made their move. We watched the lions for so long that we almost forgot about the six o’clock deadline for the gate. We managed to scrape through at five fifty-five. It is always difficult to gauge how long it will take you to drive back into camp. Even though the distances are not excessive you can be held up with elephants strolling across the road, or impala darting out in front of you, and a myriad of other animals using the road like it was their own.
Another freezing morning only seven degrees with clear, bright skies. We had decided to drive the thirty-three kilometres on the tar road to the Paul Kruger Gate to enter the park this morning. We arrived before the six o’clock opening and had to line up behind lots of other vehicles. At six there was a mad dash through the gates, then everyone parked their vehicles again and people were crazily ducking around each other to line up at the office. We were so used to the system at the Phabeni Gate that we did not know the procedure here, so after watching the crazy people we too parked Rhino and joined the long queue into the office to get our day pass. Won’t be making that mistake again. We drove passed the entrance to Skukuza and did our favourite loop. As we were scanning the surrounding area a gorgeous female leopard appeared from the long grass to walk right across the road in front of us. As she crossed the road, she climbed onto a termite mound that was close to the side of the road. She was obviously distressed as she kept calling. Her gorgeous burnt, cream coloured eyes were piercing her territory. She kept up her calling and searching, perhaps she had cubs nearby and was looking for them. We stayed with her for ages listening to her call and watching her. She eventually climbed down from the termite mound and crossed back of the street into the long grass. We did not see her again, but we could still hear her calling. Eventually the calling stopped, so we hoped that she was reunited with her cubs. The best part of this sighting, apart from the beautiful leopard, was that apart from only one other private vehicle, we were the only ones there. Not one safari vehicle in sight, oh dear, they missed an amazing sighting. We continued on our drive only seeing the occasional elephant or buffalo when we came across about fifteen safari vehicles clustered on the road. We asked someone what all the fuss was about and were told that a leopard had been sighted. This leopard was in the distance, no where near as good as our sighting this morning. When we drove back home it was thirty-two degrees. How weird is the weather here, seven in the morning and thirty-two in the afternoon?
We wanted to be first at the gate again this morning, so we were up at four-thirty. It is still cold, only nine degrees and cloudy. We weren’t first and had to wait in line for ages before we could enter the park. On that first morning we did all our favourite loops, then continued on to Lower Sabie for a break from driving. We saw only the usual but after we left Lower Sabie on the way back home we saw eight lions, including two cubs and one male. They were on the other side of the river, basking on a small ridge beside the water. After we left the park, we went into Hazyview for shopping at Checkers supermarket. The next day we decided not to rush into the park as we had heaps of washing to do. We took full advantage of the washing machine to do all our washing, which we then stung up on the edge of our awning. We only got into the park at eight-fifteen, so I am thinking that we missed all the best sightings by then. But we did manage to find seven lions lazing on the other side of the river. I wish they would come over to our side of the river so we could get a better view. We arrived home by two and now the temperature has crawled up to twenty-nine degrees, a far way from the nine degrees from this morning.
It is freezing in Ermelo, only eight degrees, and a stiff breeze guided us into the restaurant for breakfast. We left at nine in the morning and sticking to our secondary roads we drove in a northerly directions for several hours before turning east towards Hazyview. The roads, although not major were in a reasonable condition for most of the time. We were crossing mountains and dipping into the valleys pleased with our progress until the road just disappeared. They were doing major roadworks on one section of the road. It was as we were crossing one of the many mountains. Gravel, potholes, workers and the occasional cow made going difficult. Rhino overheats on the mountain roads, because of the weight of Baby trailing along, so with that and having to drive slowly we were worried she would need to rest, out here in the middle of nowhere. But she doggedly made it and soon we were back on the tar road. It took us almost four hours to drive to Kiaat. Peggy, the ninety-four year old owner greeted us, before showing us which sights were available. We picked site number one, mainly because it was easy to get into. It was beside a pond and we still had those sweeping views across the macadamia plantation towards the mountains that we had last time we were her. We set up our camper, stretching the awning tight as we hammered in the tent pegs. Thankfully the ground is soft which makes this part of setting up easy. We decided to drive into the park so at three we climbed into Rhino and drove the familiar eleven kilometres to the Phabeni Gate and into the park. It was like slipping on a cosy jumper as we drove around the familiar roads in search of animals. We saw no cats but were not disappointed because we saw lots of elephants, buffalo, giraffes, impalas and kudus. It is so great to be back surrounded by animals.
We decided to leave here one day early as we have a long, long drive north to Kruger National Park. We knew we would not make it in one day, so decided to break our journey three-quarters of the way, allowing us a shorter drive tomorrow. It was cold again this morning, only eight degrees, but at least it was not raining. We slowly drove out of our campsite at nine in the morning. We had decided to drive on the secondary roads so as to avoid the main highways. This meant we could also see more of the countryside. We climbed mountains (which Rhino hated), dipped into lush valleys and passed through busy, crowded towns. We were driving in a northerly direction and apart from the busy towns we hardly saw any other traffic. As we were driving through one of the towns the road disappeared onto the footpath. There was a narrow bridge up ahead where a flurry of activity was happening. They were doing road works, but instead of detouring around a major congestion faced us. A huge semi-trailer was trying to squeeze through a spot that was barely wide enough for your average vehicle. Poor Rhino quivered as Peter tried to reverse her back to allow the truck to pass. After a lot of manoeuvring and yelling from the crowd of locals that had gathered the truck finally scraped by and we were free to cross the rickety bridge. We arrived at the small town of Ermelo at three-thirty in the afternoon. We were driving around the back streets of Ermelo looking for a lodge to spend the night. It had to be one that had enough parking for Rhino and Baby. Eventually we stumbled upon the Izimbali Lodge. It was tucked away in one of the back streets, well away from the busy town centre. The grounds were beautiful, and Rhino found the perfect place where she and Baby could spend the night. Our room was charming with mosaics adorning the large shower and bathroom. From the outside the lodge looked like any other in this small town but when we walked into the attached restaurant for dinner it was like entering another world. We stepped into an Aladdin’s Cave, full of opulent furniture, plush cushions, and every inch of the walls was elaborately decorated with mosaics. We could not believe it, it was simply magical. The food too was beautifully presented and delicious.
Now that it is morning, we can finally see the camping grounds. They are huge and remind us of the camping grounds at Somerset Dam, back home. The camping grounds are full of children and keen fishermen. Our sight overlooks a giant dam and the other campers, as we are tucked up in the back corner with only bush on one side of us. The days are cold again and light rains follow us. We are only here to get our coats, that we had ordered way back in Baines River Camp in Zambia. We were picking them up in Pietermaritzburg on the twenty-third, so we spent our days exploring the countryside and visiting the shopping malls or the quaint villages that surround the large town of Pietermaritzburg. On the twenty-third we drove into the busy town to meet with Linda, who manages all the bookings, for Baines. She was a lovely lady and after she gave us our coats and a cup of tea, she let us use here computer so we could book the next section of our trip. Peter and I were thinking of camping, for our last days, in Africa, south of Durban, on the windswept Indian Ocean. But we were missing our game viewing, so we decided to drive north again and go back to Kruger. So, it was great that Linda let us use her computer, so we could book our sights. We finally booked four nights at Kiaat, in Hazyview, followed by ten nights in Kruger at Skukuza. So, with everything booked we thanked Linda then drove back to Albert Falls to begin packing up.
Our last day at Mavela and I did not want to leave. I think I could live here but staying at the lodge full-time would be very expensive. We went out on our last drive, saying goodbye to all the animals we have seen here. The rhinos came to stand by the road, waving their small, notched ears at us. Buffalo even came to say their farewells, along with the giraffes, zebras, kudu, nyalas and elephants. Nico found lions on the bank of a dry riverbed. There were four females, from the same litter. They were still quite young although not with their mother anymore. They had stumbled across a male nyala carcass, so were making the most of their unexpected meal. And, like all sisters, they were squabbling about who should get the largest piece. When one of the females wandered off Nico drove through the riverbed to the other side. He parked the vehicle only a few metres from one of the lionesses. She stared deep into our souls before crossing in front of the vehicle, closer than a whisper. She met up with her sister and all the squabbling had been forgotten as they gently nudged their heads together. We had to leave, as we had a long drive back to the lodge, but Nico had heard their were more cheetahs about, so he set out to find them. He was only given rough instructions, so when he neared the place they were supposed to be, he slowed down and everyone in the back of the vehicle scanned the surrounding bushes trying to find them. We were having no luck until a giraffe led us to them. The giraffe, curious to a fault, had his long neck stretched down and he was peering under a bush. Sure, enough two cheetahs were there. The giraffe knew that the cheetahs were no threat to him, but he still wanted to know where they were. The two male cheetahs were lying flat out in the red earth under a tree. Their empty bellies barely making a dint in the soft sand. We could not stay long with them as breakfast was waiting for us. After we had breakfast we packed up and were ready to leave at eleven. We knew we had a long drive to Pietermaritzburg and were dreading the traffic on the main roads. We drove into Pietermaritzburg then turned right. We had booked a campsite at the nearby Albert Falls Camping Ground. We arrived at the camping ground in the fading light at six. The campsite was almost full, but we eventually found our spot and, in the dark, set up Baby. It took us over an hour to set up because of the dark and being so tired from the drive. We had a hasty meal then crashed into our beds at nine-thirty.
Another day in paradise. We are so lucky to be here I just want to capture every single moment and lock it away in my heart. We saw two lots of rhinos, both sightings were of a mother and calf. In the reserve they do not have names for their rhinos (which is something I would do), instead they are all numbered. It is so they can keep track of the rhinos ensuring that they come to no harm. It is a very complicated way they do this, and I always had trouble trying to figure out the system. Every rhino has notches cut out on their ears. The number of notches, and position, correspond to a graph. So, when we came across our first Mama and calf, Nico told us that this was forty-five and two hundred and twenty. I still think my idea of names would be better, Lucy sounds so much more personal than forty-five. After trying to get my head around the numbering system we came across three cheetahs. It was another Mama and her two fairly large cubs. Mama had killed a female nyala and all three were having breakfast. In the trees nearby patient vultures were casting their beady eyes over the kill. They would wait patiently for the cheetahs to finish before descending down, like grave robbers to finish off the meal. It really was ‘rhino day’ today because on our afternoon drive, we saw so many I lost count. At one stage Nico stopped in the middle of the road. We were surrounded by three white rhinos, one male, one female and on very feisty baby. The baby kept coming up to inspect us before running back to his Mama. At one stage the male almost touched the front of the vehicle. Awesome, being so close to such a large, peaceful animal, takes your breath away. On our night drive back to the lodge we saw another two servals and another genet. So, it had been another great day in this special place. We again had sundowners by the open fire next to the swimming pool before having another delicious meal. Our last full day here and it could not have been more perfect.
The mist greeted us again as we made our way down to the main lodge for a cup of tea, before going on our drive. We have another driver and guide. Theo was taking time off, so Nico is now showing us around. Once the mist lifted clear blue skies greeted. It is going to be another perfect day. We drove through stunning scenery, hills stretching to reach the sky, savannahs rolling down across the plains. At Mavela they control burn certain sections of the land, so we were continually coming across blackened earth, with wisps of smoke still curling around the trees. We saw two hyenas scratching their way quickly across the burnt earth, their shadows crinkling as they tried to catch up. They were probably going back to their dens after a night out. We found two huge male lions flat out behind a tree. Their fat bellies facing towards the sun. It was obvious they had recently made a kill and like all male lions would stay in this position all day. We left them as Nico had heard (on his radio) that cheetahs had been spotted nearby so off we went. We dipped down into dry riverbeds that only had sand flowing in them before climbing back out. We passed through forests of fever trees, their pale lemon branches ghostly in the early morning breeze. We eventually found the cheetahs. It was a Mama and her three large cubs. Cheetahs are fragile, beautiful cats. They are the elegant ones of all the big cats, and I love watching them, especially if they have cubs. We stayed with them for as long as possible, until Nico said we had to return to the lodge for breakfast. On the way back we spotted a Mama white rhino and her calf. All the rhinos (at Mavela) have been de-horned. This was done because a few years ago they lost ten precious rhinos to poaching. Since this was done two years ago not one rhino has been poached. Great, it does not hurt the rhino and if it saves its life, I am all for it. On our afternoon game drive two more people have joined us so now the vehicle is full. On the afternoon drive Nico was searching for elephants. He knew that a large breeding herd were in the area and he was anxious to find them. It took him a while, but we did find them. They were deep in the forest but came close to us as we sat watching them. The youngest was only one month old and cuter than a button. He stayed close to his Mama, his still pink slippered feet crunching softly on the fallen leaves. When darkness started to fall Nico drove high on a mountain top, so we could watch another spectacular sunset while we had our sundowners. On the drive back to the lodge, Nico shone the flashlight, sweeping light an arc in front of the vehicle. We were rewarded by see two genets and one serval. The genet and the serval are two of the smaller cats, of Africa. They are nocturnal, so seeing them was very special.
Our first full day at Mavela and we could not wait to see what it would bring. After a cup of tea, we jumped on the vehicle. It was a bit misty and overcast as we started our early morning game drive. We saw all of our favourites plus three white rhinos before Theo stopped beside a waterhole for morning tea. Two hippos were int the water. They were greeting the sun and yawning. As we sat and watched a huge herd of buffalo came down for a drink. They took over the waterhole, chasing off a couple of zebras and nyalas that had also wanted to come down for a drink. We were back at the lodge, in time for breakfast and I am afraid I will be eating too much during our time here. After yet another meal we were ready for the afternoon game drive. We are not alone anymore. We have a young couple from Belgium and a family of four from Germany, so now the vehicle is almost full. Theo stopped the vehicle beside a male nyala. He was tiptoeing lightly in the blackened ash, trying to nibble on the first shoots of green grass. He was completely unaware that a young male lion was lying perhaps fifteen metres away. The lion locked his eyes on the nyala, got into stalking mode and crept quieter than a shadow towards a log. He inched over the log and was so close to the nyala he could taste it. But the nyala suddenly noticed the lion, barked a warning with his mouth full of grass. He then sprang upright and dashed off in the opposite direction. The lion knew there was no use chasing the nyala, so he turned his back on it. It was only then that we noticed another young male lion. The two brothers had only recently separated from their mother. They were now putting into practice the skill that their mother had taught them. The second male had just caught a warthog and was beginning to feed on it when the one that had narrowly missed the nyala bounded up to him. Together they began to eat their small snack. Perhaps another nyala would wander by. After another spectacular sundowners we returned, in the dark, to Mavela. After drinks by the fire we had another great meal before Theo showed us to our tent.
It was a big drive today from one end of Eswatini to the other. A heavy fog greeted us as we walked up the steps to the restaurant for breakfast. You could not even see the swimming pool or the falls. Hope it lifts before we leave. We manoeuvred Rhino and Baby Rhino out of the tight squeeze in the car park and were on our way at eight-thirty. The fog had lifted slightly by then but as we slowly descended off the mountain, we left the mist clinging tightly to the higher slopes. We drove south towards Manzini on a good tar road. The only hold up was the massive roadworks that are going on around Manzini. We again had no trouble at the Lavumisa/Golela border crossing. Other countries could learn from this. It only took about ten minutes in total. All they do is stamp your passport. We were a bit worried, at Golela (on the South African side) as we will be overstaying our three month visa. The girl (in immigration) wanted proof of when we were leaving, so after we showed here our flight details, she happily stamped our passports and gave us to the 15/10/2019. Which is the day we are flying out. We continued driving in a southerly direction to the Manyoni Private Game Reserve and Mavela Game Lodge for our four night stay in luxury. Sorry Baby. We arrived at Mavela at one forty-five. Mavela is a stunning lodge perched high on a hillside with sweeping views of the valley below. There are only five luxury tents strung out like beads on the right-hand side of the main lodge. They put us in Tent five which was the last bead on the necklace but had the advantage of having only one neighbour. We had our lunch, overlooking the pool then went on our first game drive at three-thirty. We were the only guests at the lodge today, so we had the pick of seats in the open safari vehicle. Theo, our driver and guide, drove slowly around this special place. At first, we saw only giraffe, impala, kudu, nyalas, warthog, wildebeest and water buck, which isn’t too bad for only a half hour into the drive. We stopped at a waterhole and could not believe our luck. Three sub-adult cheetahs were lying flat out on the far side of the waterhole. As Theo drove around the waterhole the cheetahs got a fright and ran off into the long grass. What a pity, but we had seen them. Theo thought that perhaps the cheetahs would emerge onto another track that ran parallel to the waterhole. He was determined to find them. He eventually decided to drive off-road and as he wove around the bushes, I glanced to the side and spotted them. The had at that exact moment made a kill, a poor unfortunate male impala would not see the sunrise again. After they had finished killing it the three took it in turns to feast on the carcass. We watched them until the sun dipped towards the horizon taking with it the light. Theo then drove high up on a mountain top for our sundowners. We had stunning views towards the valley and distant mountains. After sundowners we drove slowly home, with Theo using his flashlight to pick out any nocturnal animals that were beginning to stir. He drove along a track, the bushes crowding over us as we tried to keep up with swaying flashlight. Then a poor black rhino got the fright of his life. He had been resting beside the track and the vehicle startled him. He immediately turned and trotted into the darkness, out of sight, but at least we had caught a glimpse of him. We continued onto the lodge where a huge log fire was waiting for us. After a scrumptious meal Theo escorted us back to our tent, just in case some predator was lurking on the path. So, all in all it has been a wonderful day.
We had two amazing days at Phophonyane even though a mist clung to the mountain each day. As there were not many people staying at the Lodge the owner moved us from our tent by the falls to one that was perched in the treetops with sweeping views down to the waterfall. This was great because this tent has its own en-suite, no more walking up the stairs to the toilet. We spent our days strolling around the grounds, along the waterfall and down to the rock pool. But it was too cold to go swimming and because we are so high the mist clung to us each day bringing with it a hint of rain. It is just as well we are only staying for three nights as the food here is so delicious. I am not much of a food connoisseur, as I don’t place eating at the top of my agenda, but the food here could change my mind. Each morning I had the poached eggs, sugar beans and mushrooms – so tasty, as were all the meals we had here. Maybe it was because we were not eating our usual meagre meals in the camper, but I don’t think so. The staff were also very helpful and friendly, it will be sad to leave. Peter and I did not know what to expect when we crossed over the border into Eswatini, but we have thoroughly loved it here. The scenery is stunning, the people friendly and the rhino sightings we had at Ndlovu were unforgettable. I have left a little part of my soul here and we will definitely be coming back to this magical place.
Black Friday, not the best day to be packing up and driving to a new place. We had decided to have a break from camping. We booked three nights at the Phophonyane Eco Lodge and were looking forward to not camping for a while – sorry Baby. It is a bit warmer today, a balmy twelve degrees. We took no time at all to pack up. It is getting easier each time we do it. We fall into an easy rhythm, both of us have our own things to do. I pack up the inside of the tent, folding away our wardrobe, chairs and table, while Peter sorts out the back of the camper putting everything neatly. It is like a giant jig-saw puzzle with all of our gear having its own spot. When that is done, we both systemically take down the awning, pulling out the tent pegs and winding up the guide ropes. I count everything to make sure we have not lost anything. Then it is time to fold up the awning laying it over the roof. Then we have to pull up the flaps. Peter then pulls on a rope and amazingly the top of the tent (where the bed is) neatly collapses onto the top of the camper. We then have to pile our tent room on top of the that. It is then only a matter of putting the cover on. The cover also holds all of our tent poles. Peter throws the cover over then we have to man-handle it down. We then Velcro it to the camper and that’s it, easy huh. It was an easy two hour drive to Piggs Peak on good tar roads. We skirted Mbabane, the capital, before turning right towards Piggs Peak. Eswatini is a very hilly country and we were either going up or down over the mountain ranges. Poor Rhino groaned every time she saw the road snaking up another mountain. The scenery was spectacular, so we put up with Rhino’s sighs every time we went up. We arrived at the lodge a little after eleven-thirty. Phophonyane Eco Lodge is built right beside a waterfall literally. The waterfall hugs one side of the lodge and incredible scenery fans out in every direction. Our ‘safari tent’ was perched right beside the waterfall, with only a concrete wall separating us from the flowing water. The tent was basic but decorated beautifully. The only trouble was there was no toilet or shower attached to the tent. Normally that is not a problem, because we have been camping for some time now. But the toilet and shower were some fifty-seven steep steps up over rough terrain. That was one thing we noticed about Phophonyane, there was hardly any flat ground, you were either going up or down. A good way to exercise. We even had our own private picnic (or sundowners) spot overlooking the waterhole. Rhino and Baby were ninety steps away, snuggled in the car park. The whole lodge is set in a rain forest. Everywhere you look is a picture with the lush greenery, thatched buildings, and the water tumbling over rocks down to the valley far below. After we had settled into our room we went for lunch in the restaurant, overlooking manicured lawns easing down to the sparkling swimming pool.
The skies are still clear, which is just as well as we do not want it to be raining when we pack up. We caught up with our washing. That is the one thing I will not miss, while we are on this adventure. We have to do all of our washing by hand and your clothes get so dirty with all the dust and mud that it takes for ever to rinse the dust out of them. We are still in our cleaning phase with Baby and washed both our ground sheets. We strung them up between trees and they are happily dripping water on the ground. Hope they now stay clean. After we had done all of our chores we decided to go for a drive. The villages here are a feast for the budding photographers. There is so much colour and detail everywhere you look. So, with our cameras at the ready we cruised around the village of Malkerns to take some amazing photos of village life. We also wanted to capture their homes, markets and of course their shops. You could spend hours doing this, but I am always fearful of upsetting the locals by continually pointing a camera at their lives. After all that photography we stopped at Malandelas for a hot chocolate before going home to find Noreen inspecting our washing. Thank heavens the clear skies have held as tomorrow we are packing up and moving. We had dinner on our last night at the Hippo Restaurant, reminiscing about the great time we have had here. I was a bit apprehensive about coming here as I did not know what to expect but it has been truly incredible. The country-side is spectacular, the people are warm and friendly, and the little shops and galleries have blown our minds with the quality of goods for sale. We will definitely be coming back here one day.
The nights and days are now officially freezing. Thank heavens for our sleeping bags, which we seem to pack away and pull out every other day. With the sun now shining we decided to pretend that this is Peter’s birthday. We drove to a place called Swazi Candles. It is a giant market stall with vendors vying for your money, while they whittle and draw right in front of you. Beside the markets as several curio shops with such incredible wares that I had to give Peter my wallet. I would have brought up most of the unusual things I saw there. Swazi Candles is not like any other candle shop I have been to, not that I have every been to a candle shop before. You can watch the artists at work. The candles are beautiful and so unusual, so naturally I had to buy one of a rhino, just hope I can get it home without it breaking. For Peter’s birthday lunch we went back to the restaurant, at Mlilwane, for lunch. We each had a main course and dessert, which we washed down with a Sibebe. The whole meal plus tips only cost us 35.00AUD. The next day we decided to drive in the other direction, just for a change. We entered another world. We were so used to driving through bustling towns full of rundown mud homes, tiny lean-to shops, fresh food markets and people and animals everywhere that we were unprepared for the opulence we saw. At least we know that there are supermarkets closer to us. They are housed in what looks like brand-new shopping malls. There were also swish hotels and casinos lining the hilly roads. Lush golf courses brushed lightly against the main road. There sure looks like someone has some serious money here in the tiny kingdom of Eswatini. I have not yet mentioned the animals we see at Mlilwane. They are sadly no predators, but you are always assured of seeing zebras, wildebeest, nyalas, hartebeest and of course impala. We are even visited each day by the friendly nyalas, so much so that we have named them, Neville, Nanette and Noreen. Neville is so tame he comes right up to you when you are sitting outside. He pokes his head over your shoulder to see what you are reading, how awesome is that. Nanette treads lightly each time she visits us. She is such a stickybeak, but as she inspects Baby, she never trips over the tent pegs or upsets the table as she peers into our cupboards. We keep having meals at the Hippo Restaurant (in Mlilwane) mainly because we had accumulated a credit and were only allowed to use the credit in the restaurant.
Our first full day here and it is overcast and a bit cooler. We went for a drive to explore the countryside and came across Malandelas. Malandelas, seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but of course it isn’t. It is surrounded by farmlands but once you enter through the front entrance you are in another world. It is like some organic sculpture that has landed from a magical fairy-tale softly on the landscape. We took ages wandering the lush grounds, looking in the unusual craft shops and trying to read all the poems that were etched into the walls. We went to the café for a scrumptious breakfast. The food is amazing and cheap. After that we drove back into Manzini to go to Pick N Pay for shopping. We will have to find a supermarket closer to where we are as the traffic was horrendous. After our shopping expedition it was still overcast and cold so naturally, we went back to Malandelas for a cup of steaming hot chocolate. There goes to diet. After sundowners, by the fire it started to rain, so we quickly packed up and went inside. The next day was Peter’s birthday, but because of the weather we stayed close to home. The temperature only crawled up to thirteen and the rain continued to fall all day. We had big plans for Peter’s birthday, but they will have to be postponed until the sun comes out. We did manage to make it up to the restaurant, after splashing through the puddles and slippery tracks. Unfortunately, the restaurant was only serving a buffet. I hate buffets, but we stayed, and the nice bottle of merlot helped my mood. It was still cold on the seventh, but the sun has decided to peep at us briefly between the clouds. We took full advantage of the wet weather and decided to clean Baby’s awnings and roof. We have to have her in pristine condition when we drop her and Rhino off in Durban. It was cold all day and the clouds that had been sitting on the mountains, overlooking our campsite, finally stood up and returned to the sky.
Packing up day and I know I always say it will be sad to leave a place, but I have really loved it hear. We stayed for eleven nights so we began to feel so at home and did not want to leave. We heard our lions again nearly all night. I guess they are saying goodbye to us. But new adventures await us. As it was only a two hour drive to the Wildlife Sanctuary, we took our time packing up and having breakfast at the restaurant at Ndlovu. It is not every day that you can say you had breakfast with rhinos, but we did this morning. Two rhinos were drinking at the water’s edge then the Mama and baby we had seen last night came tiptoeing down for drink. It was supposed to be only two hours but with roadworks, speed bumps and driving through the busy city of Manzini it took us a lot longer. We are calling Eswatini the land of speed bumps. They are scattered along all the roads like forgotten golf balls at a driving range. So, it was well into the afternoon when we turned off the main road into the Sanctuary. The camping grounds are in a gorgeous setting surrounded by gum trees, acres of them, so we will feel at home. We picked a great spot in a shady area, they have electricity here, right next to the ablutions block. It is the closest we have ever been to the toilets, which is great for me. I am not liking the waking up, getting dressed in the dark, stumbling out of our tent and scurrying to the toilet block when I desperately want to pee. After we set up, we went exploring the camp. The grounds are lush and the main lodge and restaurant, although old and beautifully set up with low hanging thatch roofs. We walked passed the beehive village, where you can stay in one of the unusual beehive structures. The beehives are the traditional homes and remind me of a deep basin turned upside down. The circular homes have a small door, and no other openings. Thatch covers them entirely like a tight fitting jumper. We wandered over to the bar grabbed a table overlooking the waterhole. We ordered the local beer, Sibebe, then watched a crocodile sunning itself beside the water.
Our last full day at Ndlovu and we have so much to do. I filled in the time between drives by continuing to clean Baby and also catching up on my washing. We did a couple of drives in the area, we are still searching for the black rhino and I was sure we would see him on our last day here. But no luck. We positioned ourselves at the waterhole, in the morning and saw eight rhinos. We decided to make the most of the lion enclosure and booked a sunset game drive. The sunset drive started at four and we were joined by a mother and daughter from Scotland. After we put in our order for drinks we were on our way. Our guide took us into the main enclosure first. Almost immediately we found a Mama white rhino with her very small baby. We watched them as the mother weaved a path through the grass and up the road. It was amazing to watch the baby copy exactly everything her Mama did. Her Mama sniffed the grass, so did the baby. The Mama ate the grass gracefully, so did the baby. The Mama did a poo, so did the baby. The Mama peed a huge fountain of urine, so did the baby, only hers was more of a trickle than a fountain. So, I guess it does not matter whether you are a human or a rhino we all learn from watching our parents. We saw another six rhinos on our way to the lion enclosure. As usual our beautiful lions were positioned by the fence, but this time they were all flat out, catching the last rays of sunshine. We left them to their slumber as our guide wanted to position the vehicle in the best position to watch the sunset. Sunsets, in Africa, are spectacular. The sun turns into a giant crimson ball that floats majestically towards the horizon. It then melts away oozing magenta trails across the sky. After that awe inspiring sight, we returned to the lions. They were just starting to yawn and stretch, ready for the night. The old female eventually stretched and flexed her old bones. She nudged the other female affectionately on the head before coming to stand right in front of our vehicle. She then bent her head and began calling. It was the most eerie feeling to be this close to a lion and listening to that blood, curdling sound. I think she was calling to the lions in the other enclosure, because all of her pride were right beside her. The two males lifted their heads, glanced towards their mother, growled a bit before settling back down for a bit more siesta.
We got up super early today because we are going on another game drive into the lion enclosure. We wanted to make sure we had the front seat, as they are the best seats if you want to take photos. Our early start paid off and we have the front seats, while a group of six American backpackers are seated in the two rows behind us. We crossed into the black rhino enclosure, before unlocking the gate at the lion enclosure. After the gate was securely locked behind us, we continued on in search of the lions. We found them without too much trouble, as they were in almost the exact spot where Peter and I had seen them a couple of days ago. As we sat watching the two males and two females they started calling. The deep sound reverberated over the ground sending little shock waves to tease the grass. It also sends a chill down your spine to hear it at such close quarters. We were told that in another enclosure are more lions, and that each group is being kept apart so they can get used to each other. So that is why we have been constantly hearing the lions each day and night. Our little pride moved off down the road, with the females coming so close to the vehicle I could have reached out to stroke their soft fur. We then drove around their enclosure which is vast. We only saw three elephants and a few small herds of impala as we bounced around and I wondered what the poor lions eat, as there does not seem to be an abundance of big game on their side of the enclosure. We left the lions, had morning tea, before continuing on to the other enclosures where, of course, we saw more rhinos. Back home by eight-fifteen and Peter and I decided to go on a small drive ourselves. We had been searching each day for the black rhino that is supposed to be here and also a leopard. We have seen lots of leopard tracks and a few rhino tracks but no leopard or rhino. I always think the footprint of a rhino looks like a flattened petal of the gladioli. We did not find the elusive black rhino or leopard, but we did see impala, nyala, giraffe and wildebeest. We drove back home and now the sun is out the temperature is nudging thirty. As the sun was slowly descending towards the horizon, we took up our usual position by the waterhole and saw twelve white rhinos (yes twelve) so we have just had another magical day at Ndlovu. I truly love this place.
The clouds have moved back in, but we are determined not to let that spoil our fun. We are still falling asleep, each night, to the sound of lions calling and it is an awesome sound. We are reaching the point where we are losing count of the number of rhinos, we see each day. But I am calling it a blessing. Rhino numbers are still decreasing thanks to the poachers and greed of Asian countries. So, every rhino I see I give it a mental hug and pray that it remains safe. The rhinos here are kept under constant surveillance, with armed guards patrolling the park all day, every day. The battery in my watch has stopped and I am constantly asking Peter ‘what time it is’, so on a trip into town to buy supplies I brought a watch. So, I am now sporting a brand new adidas, sport watch for the grand sum of seventy Rand (or $7.00AUD). When we were at the waterhole for our usual fix of rhinos, we noticed some people standing way too close to the electric fence. Our two elephants wandered down for a drink. The larger one kept walking to the water but the feisty smaller one was out to send a message to the people. He spread his ears straight out and charged towards them. You don’t realise how fast these animals can run. The people scattered in all directions to get away, but the elephant put his brakes on a bit before the fence. The startled people went back to their cabins, now too afraid to get close to the fence. The feisty elephant had not finished though. He must have been in a cranky mood because he even charged the rhinos. But they were not to be put out and chased the elephants away from the waterhole. I guess it is true that elephants are even frightened of their own shadow. With peace once restored at the waterhole Peter and I enjoyed our time watching the show. A fierce wind crept up on us, chasing away the clouds and sending Baby Rhino into a tizz. Her awnings, and sides flapped violently all night and I shuddered in bed cringing every time a gust pelted the side of our tent. Now that we are getting near the end of our trip, I have begun the painstaking task of cleaning Baby. Although I try to keep her clean, she insists on keeping every blade of grass and speck of dust about her. So, with bucket and soapy water in hand I am systemically cleaning her beginning with the front cupboard and slowly making my way around her.