How sad is it today? Our last day on African shores. It seems like have only breathed in and out four times, but almost ten months have passed. We have had such an amazing time that I cannot even begin to put it into words how wonderful our time here has been. We have seen so much, experienced such wonderful things, that will remain with us always. But apart from all the cats and other animals we have seen it is the people we have met, along the way, that make this trip so unforgettable. We have met so many new and cherished friends that I hope we do not lose the magic we shared with them. Thank you everyone and I know we will be returning one day as we have left too much of our souls in your beautiful countries.
We spent our last days in Africa, walking the two minutes to the shopping mall, watching free movies in our room and of course eating out. It did not matter how many times we wandered the cavernous corridors of the shopping mall we kept stumbling across new shops. We frequented several of the restaurants marvelling at the cheap prices and excellent service we got. We were really spoiled, and I think we will notice a difference when we return to Australia and the exorbitant prices there. Not to mention the generous slices of cake you get in the cafes. Too much for one person.
We were up early, we are still on camping time and I guess it will take some time to adjust. We had breakfast at the hotel, mainly because it is included in the price. Devon picked us up at eight. We had to go back to the warehouse to meet with the Customs Official. We were booked to see him at nine o’clock, but true to form the Customs guy arrived at the-thirty. He inspected both the vehicle and camper, checking VIN numbers etc. to make sure we still had the right vehicles. He then took our carnets to have them stamped. After he left, we shifted Rhino and Baby to another warehouse a short distance away. This is where they will be cleaned and loaded into the container for their sea voyage. Devon then drove us back to the hotel detouring into the centre of crowded, run-down Durban so we could pick up the carnets from the Customs Office. As it is Friday, we now have the weekend to ourselves before Peter has to go back to the warehouse on Monday to help with the cleaning.
We had a really bad storm last night and it is still raining heavily. We had wanted to explore Richards Bay, but because of the bad weather and the fact that we are towing Baby Rhino we decided to skip the tour of Richards Bay and drive straight down to Durban. We left at eight-thirty and arrived at the docks at eleven. The rain has stopped, and the sun is out again, so that is good. Naturally we got lost getting to the docks and had to fight the busy Durban traffic. Devon (the guy who is arranging our shipping) wanted us to get both Rhino and Baby washed before we went to the docks, so we found a car-cleaning place and waited while a heavy-pressure hose was used to try and clean under both the car and camper. We thought that we were squeaky clean, but after we arrived at the warehouse and after Devon scratched around under our vehicle and camper, he emerged saying that both were not up to scratch for the Australian Customs. But he did have a solution, pay him $US800.00 and he would have them cleaned for us. Another expense we were not expecting. Devon then drove us into Umhlanga and our very posh Gateway Hotel, where we will be staying for the next five nights. Umhlanga is a very posh outer suburb of Durban. It is full of modern hotels, expensive shopping centres and it tumbles down to the Indian Ocean. Our room is stunning and such a contrast to our camping tent that I am sure we are going to make the most of it. But the best part of the hotel is that it is attached to the Gateway Theatre of Shopping Mall which we have been told is the largest shopping mall in the southern hemisphere.
We were up at five but had been awake since three-thirty because we were nervous about the long drive today. I am really upset about leaving Kruger for the last time and that our adventure is almost over. We drove out of the gates for the final time at six in the morning. It is only a sixty-two kilometre drive south to the Malelane Gate, but we knew it would take about two hours. I think this is why I love Africa so much and do not want to leave. On the drive out we saw one handsome male lion resting beside a waterhole, two lionesses walked right down the road in front of our vehicle, before leaving the road to trace a path through the thickets. We also saw five white rhinos, including a Mama and calf. But the best was at about two hundred metres from the gate we saw a gorgeous female leopard up a tree. She eventually yawned, stretched and ever so gracefully jumped down from the tree. Apart from those amazing animals we also saw several hyenas, herds of elephants and the usual antelopes (impala, water buck and kudu). I am truly going to miss Africa. It was a long, long, long drive down to Richards Bay as we had to skirt around Eswatini, and we only arrived there at five in the afternoon. We booked into the Richards Premier Hotel for the night.
It is so sad today. We have our last packing up day. When we started our trip, it seemed we had all the time in the world, now it is nearly over. Even Baby looked sad, but clean, when we had finished packing up. It was strange that we had to be out of the camping ground by ten, but could not get into our cabin until two, so with Baby in tow we left Skukuza for our game drive. As we rounded a bend, on the tar road, we saw about twenty vehicles jammed into a very small space on the side of the road. We knew that meant cats, so we slowed down. Through vehicles and a thick undergrowth, we could see seven lions way down a slope. They were passing back and forth, and about fifty vultures were fluttering nearby, so we assumed they had recently made a kill. It took us a while to thread a path through the vehicles, especially with Baby, but we squeezed through to continue on to Lower Sabie. We decided to have a meal at the restaurant there, The Mugg and Bean, mainly because the food is better there than at Skukuza. After lunch we turned for home, and as we slowly drove back, we saw another five lions walking close to the road. It was after two when we returned to Skukuza, so we checked into our cabin (number 191). The cabin is in a great spot, one row back from the river and next door to the shops and restaurant. But the best part is the cabin has air conditioning, because the temperature is in the mid-thirties.
It was sixteen degrees in the tent this morning. Even the clouds felt the heat of the early morning as they sat on the parched earth, to cover us with a thick mist. In the gloom we saw four hyenas, two loping on the road and a further two sleeping beside their den. On the drive down to Lower Sabie we had to wait for over half an hour for a large herd of buffalo to amble across the road. After they disappeared into the bush, we continued on to Lower Sabie, where we did a U-turn. It was really weird on the drive back, because in the exact same position as two days ago the buffalo and lions were back. We were on the other side of the river this time, but the lions were in the same spot and the buffalo were walking back and forth trying to decide whether to come down for a drink. I think that was spooky. There one day, gone the next and back again the next day. We returned home to finish cleaning the front of Rhino. The next day was our last day of camping, for this trip. We had decided to book into one of the many cabins at Skukuza for our last night. We wanted to do this so we could have an early start on the ninth. We had no luck on our game drives, except for an inquisitive hippo that was out of the water, so returned to camp to finish cleaning Baby.
Now we know we can get out a half an hour earlier, we were up especially early to be at the gate by five-thirty. We did our usual loops with the only cat sighting being a leopard, high in a tree eating an impala carcass. We drove to Lower Sabie for a break before deciding to go a different way home. This gravel track was on the other side of the river. It dipped and curved to the flow of the river. When we had almost completed the loop, we saw over one hundred buffalo, milling on the road and flowing Sabie River. We did not know what was stopping them from journeying to the river until we saw five lions resting beside the river. The lions were fully aware of the buffalo and I think were secretly laughing at them for being to scared to come and have a drink. We drove through the throng of buffalo, we could not wait for them to decided which side of the road they wanted. It was a blistering thirty-four degrees, so after we arrived back at camp, we decided to do some washing. The heat was so dry that you could practically watch your clothes dry. The next day dawned clear and warm at twelve degrees. We had decided to return to the buffalos and lions, but there was nothing there, only a silent bush and the whispers of the lions curling around the trees. We had wanted to spend the day cleaning out Rhino, so we drove home and pulled out everything from the back of Rhino and began cleaning. I do not know how you collect so much dust in such a short time, but Rhino was a disgrace. It took us ages, in the heat, to clean the carpets, and seats. Now we just hope that Rhino stays clean.
We were up and out the gate by six today, feeling really proud of our early morning start, until we realised the gate has been opening at five-thirty since the first of October. How stupid are we? We decided not to go on our usual loops but go the long way to Lower Sabie. This meant another gravel road. We had forgotten how bumpy this road was and I had to hang on tightly to the steering wheel as Rhino jerked heavily over every rut in the road. About half-way along the track, we were beginning to think we had made a mistake when all of a sudden, we spotted a leopard resting in a dry riverbed. Well when I say we spotted it I mean another couple did and they pointed it our to us. I amazes me how leopards blend in so well with their surroundings. This one was lying in the open, but it was still difficult to see. After the leopard we stumbled across a mating pair of lions. I think these two were at the end of their mating cycle, either that or they were both lazy. They usual mate every fifteen minutes for at least five days. Normally you can set your watch by them, but we waited over one hour for these two to mate. After the male had plopped back on the ground, close to the female we left them to it. We thankfully crawled back onto the tar road, to continue on to Lower Sabie. We saw ten lions on the way there. A mother and her three cubs, and further on another five sleeping out on the sand beside the river. We drove into Lower Sabie for a cold drink as the temperature is now thirty-five degrees. We drove slowly back home to Skukuza. Peter has been feeling unwell for a few days now. He has a high temperature and is sure he has malaria. There is a doctor at Skukuza, so I drove him to the surgery. After his consultation the doctor assured him it was not malaria, but the flu. Happy now he does not have malaria he took me to the Cattle Baron for a very late lunch.
Clear skies greeted us, so hopefully after the nasty day yesterday, today will be warmer. We had decided to drive the forty-two kilometres to Tshokwane for breakfast. Tshokwane started life as a trading post back in the old days, when Kruger was just a dream. Now it is one of the busiest picnic spots in Kruger. I think it might have something to do with the cheap meals you can get here. There is the café part plus a curio shop and it always is busy. A breakfast of two eggs, bacon, tomato and toast only costs about two dollars. After we order breakfast we sat in the covered, outdoor section watching the antics of vervet monkeys and the cape starlings, who were not at all afraid of people. The starlings would sit on your table waiting patiently for an opportunity to steal some of your food. After breakfast we decided to drive the long way home, even though it was on a gravel road, and we were trying to keep Rhino clean. Not far into the drive we came across at least twenty-five wild dogs, so close to the road we had to swerve to miss some of them. We were the only ones on this lonely stretch of road, so we parked close to the edge of the gravel and shared a couple of hours with these precious dogs. They were all busy playing, scratching in the dirt, hiding behind bushes and generally having fun. They were not at all bothered by us being so close to them. It was obvious they had recently made a kill because remnants of blood flecked around their mouths. When they eventually moved further into the bushes, we left them to continue exploring. We came across two waterholes where buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and impala played. But the most disturbing sight I think I have ever seen, and it still upsets even now, was a martial eagle high on a branch. He had just killed a genet, his strong, powerful talons gripping into the soft fur. He kept tearing at it with his beak. I could not watch it. So sad to see such a beautiful cat staring at you with eyes that will never see a dragonfly again.
It had been really windy all night and we were buffeted by strong gusts of wind all night. We had decided to drive to Crocodile Bridge today to see what we could find. It is only about seventy-six kilometres from Skukuza to Crocodile but because the top speed on the tar roads is 50kph and you have to constantly stop for animals it can take several hours to get there. It appeared to be hyena day today because we saw six of them on the road. They were all still active and probable making their way back to their dens for a snooze. We only spied one lioness lying deep in the thickets. I think she was trying to keep warm. The sun had decided to spend the day behind heavy clouds that had blown in last night and it was still quite chilly. The cooler weather did not deter the elephants and buffalo from wandering from one side of the road to the other in search of food. We drove through the gate at Crocodile Bridge and continued on to the pretty town of Komatipoort. We had been to a café there the last time we were here, so we decided to drive there and have a hot chocolate and piece of cake. Anything to take the chill out of our bones. A light rain had started to fall as we made our way back into Crocodile Bridge, but that did not deter a lion who was doggedly lying on the sand. I guess he must have made a kill and was determined to stay close, to chase away the few vultures that had landed softly of the sand beside him. About four kilometres south of the Nkhulu Picnic Spot we found ten lions on a nyala kill. It was probably part of the large pride we keep seeing, because there were at least five fairly large cubs squabbling over the spoils. They all had blood laced in the soft fur around their faces. We arrived back at our camp in Skukuza about three in the afternoon. I do not believe this weather, one day you are hot and the next freezing. The temperature only reached nineteen degrees, so the coats, boots and sleeping bags are out again. As we sat near the fire during sundowners a misty rain delicately covered us. The temperature plummeted, with the rain, so we scrambled up, put everything away, locked up Baby and quickly ducked into the tent to read.
It is great not having to get up so early and drive to the gate before entering the Park, as we are already in the Park. The weather is so strange here. It is now a warmer ten degrees in the tent, so we have once again ditched the sleeping bags and our heavy boots. It was not long into our early morning drive when we spotted three male lions. They were lying close to the road, gazing up as the first rays of sun, kissed their proud heads. One by one they stretched, yawned and moved off. It was only when they moved off that we realised how old all three were. They had obviously seen too many seasons wash over them. Once they were proud and strong, now they are still proud, but their old bones are weighing heavy on them. They walked heavily down the riverbank before taking it in turns to cross the shallow. We could even see them wince when the cold water touched their paws. Each one walked slowly up the bank on the other side of the river. They were only separated by metres, but we could here them calling to each other before they joined up to walk to some secret place where they could rest, out of the strong sunlight. After we left our beautiful lions to their slumber, we continued driving along the Sabie River. On the way back to camp for morning tea we found a leopard high up in a tree. She was lying on a branch among the foliage, inspecting her territory. She must have spied something in the distance because she gracefully stretched on the narrow branch before jumping down to the ground and weaving a path through the long, wheat coloured grass. By the time we got home it was thirty-five degrees, so out come the shorts, sandals and short sleeved shirts.