Johannesburg and Kruger

The Early Beginning
(Sunday 8th December, 2019)

This first day of our South African adventure started out from our hotel room in Kastrup (Copenhagen) at 3:00. I slept very, very little and so I started out tired. We took the metro to the airport and got our bags checked in. This time around we are flying from CPH to Amsterdam to Johannesburg.

The duration of the first flight was just a bit over an hour, and after a short waiting/transfer period in Schiphol, we got on our next KLM flight. This was a long one, 10 hours. I reckon this is the longest flight I have had in one sitting; and it wasn’t a pleasant one. It was a day flight and it just seemed too long. Then I’d rather suffer two flights of 5-8 hours each. The flight itself, however, was low on turbulence, and we arrived on time in Johannesburg by 22:00, tired and with aching backs. The weather greeting us here was heavy rain and a mere 16 degrees.

We got our bags and exchanged some money, then our taxi driver whom we had booked  in advance online picked us up. Very friendly, open person who talked to us about Johannesburg, South Africa and Africa in general. It was a good experience.

We arrived at our hotel for the first few days, located on the outskirts of Johannesburg (in Midrand) at about midnight. It seemed then to be located sort of in the middle of nowhere, with larger, fenced in estates around it. But, the place looks cozy and the buildings and the interior have personality. Basically, we just went straight to bed, exhausted from the journey.. and thus begins the new adventure.


Relaxation and Preparation
(Monday 9th December, 2019)


Nice living room arrangement.

or today we had decided not to set an alarm, consequently missing breakfast but catching up on sleep. The weather was still overcast with rain showers and only 17 degrees. When I woke up there was a larger group of older Dutch people getting ready to leave, supposedly back from their tour. I had a brief chat with one of them while I sat in the common room. We also met one of our fellow travellers for our trip, a woman from Switzerland.

The day was spent mostly lounging around. The property has a nice garden and our room has 4 windows facing towards it, so I did get to do some light bird watching. Otherwise we read, napped and stocked up energy for the coming weeks. At about 18:30 we ordered our dinner, I chose lasagna and T went for the tuna baked pasta. It was okay food for the price. While having our dinner in the dining room, we had a conversation with the Swiss lady, who seems like a nice person.

Probably cutting the night short soon because of our scheduled safari tour tomorrow, which departs at 6:00. Because we leave so early, the restaurant prepared some cereal and milk for us to bring to our room for the morning. But anyway, they cut the electricity out by 20:00 because of load sharing; the coal power plant management has stated that the coal has gotten wet due to the last weeks’ heavy rain fall, and thus load sharing is necessary. People around here seem to agree that the excuse seems far fetched.


Preliminary Activities: Safari and Sun City
(Tuesday 10th December, 2019)


Female cheetah and her sub-adult cubs in Pilanesberg.

ur first day of activity here in South Africa began with us waking up at 5:30 to get ready and eat our cereal with milk which was generously provided for us last night. It was already light outside when we woke up, and it was still raining. At 6:00 we went to meet our driver and guide for the day, Christian.

We started out in the rain, driving out of Johannesburg and right by Pretoria. It was pouring down and visibility was low so we didn’t get a glimpse of the city. While driving out, Christian told us about the history of South Africa and this area specifically.


Christians recap of the history:

The Dutch explored the country after arriving to Cape Town, recognising how fertile the soil was as well as seeing the prospect of other riches. Eventually, pushed by conflict with the British who’d taken over Cape Town, they travelled towards the north and sooner or later made it to the Johannesburg area. Now, gold had been discovered here, and the leader of the Dutch hired two surveyors (named Johannes and Johanne – the city has its name partly in their honor) to establish how deep the gold was underground.

At some point, the four tribes originally living in the area sold off their land/were displaced and a mine was established. The growing Dutch population built houses in the area, forbidding native black people from living within 20 kilometres of them. The natives worked in the mines (men only), living in either self-built meagre shacks or in provided ‘hostels’ with no facilities. The Dutch leader came up with the strategy of putting different tribes together to minimize the risk of a unified uprising or revolt – because the tribes did not get along or even speak the same language. As the mine grew, so did the amount of workers needed and eventually their ramshackle homes came too close for comfort to the Dutch community. The Dutch moved away from their houses to settle in other areas, and over time locals took over their houses.

This couldn’t be kept up, though, and the Dutch tricked the locals into accepting temporary shelter in the South Western Township (now known as Soweto), claiming they would build proper housing for them. So, many mine workers were moved to Soweto in temporary shacks, only to find out that they had been deceived and would not be given real housing. Living so close together in less than hygienic conditions birthed outbreaks of diseases,  also bubonic plague.

Considering that, perhaps it is no wonder that the place (Soweto) is still a slum. Apartheid and this situation is rather recent, awful history, too. It really makes you think, and also feel slightly ashamed.


2.5 hours later we arrived at the gate of Pilanesberg National Park. We had a short toilet/stretch legs break while our guide took care of the payment and permit, and then we commenced our first game drive on this adventure. The rain let up to a brighter, albeit cloudy sky during our drive, and the temperature was around 18-19 degrees.

The park is a mountainous landscape shaped by volcanic eruptions over time, most of it with lots of currently green bush and trees. Some dams/lakes and a few, open grass land spaces. Quite a pretty and also unique area. On our 4+ hour game drive we didn’t see everything, and the most popular circle of road (for big cat watching) was closed due to heavy rainfall, but alongside a wealth of different birds, highlights include:

– Rhinos (5 in total; 2 in pairs grazing together).
– Very small and fresh impala babies.
– 4 cheetahs (one mother and 3 sub-adult cubs) feasting on an impala, then crossing the road close by.
– Elephants, although on the mountainside far away.

After checking out of the park at about 12:30, we headed towards the huge luxury resort, Sun City. Here we ate some lunch in the mall, then took a brief walk up to watch the famous ‘Valley of Waves’, which is an artificial beach set in a sort of Mayan jungle theme (outdoors). After briefly observing this, we began driving back towards our hotel where it was once again raining as we arrived at about 16:30. Kudos to our guide today, he was a very pleasant person who was easy to talk to, and I enjoyed our day trip.


‘Valley of Waves’ in the Sun City resort near Johannesburg.

The rest of the afternoon, before dinner with the other people on the premises, was spent relaxing and plotting photos onto the laptop.

Dinner today offered a buffet and we were 19 people there. Some had just ended a tour, some were going to do a short Kruger tour for the next couple of days, and I suppose some are going on our tour. There will be 2 trucks leaving tomorrow morning. The dining hall was buzzing loud tonight.
The food was all right, and they also provided us with a dessert, which was basically roulade (a Danish rolled-up cake) with a sour marmalade inside, served with vanilla cream.


A Purrfect Sunset in Kruger
(Wednesday 11th December, 2019)


Two male impalas practice-fighting in Kruger National Park.

his marked the first day of our second Nomad Tours adventure. We went from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park over the course of the day.

The day began at 6:30 with breakfast, where we also signed the paperwork and said an official hello to our guides and fellow adventurers. There was no electricity this morning because the coal is still wet, says the power plant, so hopefully we had charged everything during the evening. Anyway, our cook and tour leader is a South African woman who seems like a friendly, laid-back lady. Then we have our driver who is also a local South African. Our rolling home for this trip is.. Chuck (the Truck).

At about 7:30 we drove out, we’re about 16 people at the moment. Two Dutch men, another Dutch couple, a German woman, the Swiss lady, two Belgian girls, a young Swiss guy, two more German women not travelling together, a British lad and a Brazilian couple. There is a lot of German going on around here.

The first part of the drive was through flat landscape, known as Highveld, where they grow corn and breed cattle. We also drove past what we were told was the biggest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere; a large, Asian style complex in the middle of Africa. It was a bit of a peculiar sight.
The rivers along the road were also way beyond their normal water level, sporting islands of trees in the middle of stream. About 2 hours in we had our first coffee/toilet stop at some place called Azulu, where they had a bit of wild life running about on a large field outside.

We then began driving into Lowveld, which is a very picturesque mountain landscape with villages strewn across the sides. Here they grow a lot of fruits like lemon, oranges, bananas and macadamia nuts. Very beautiful and lush green surroundings.
The shopping/lunch stop was in Nelspruit at a mall-ish area. T and I went to a café and got an iced coffee before going to the supermarket (a SPAR of all things) to get some drinks, water and snacks for the coming days. We also got another bottle of mosquito spray to fend off those little buggers. There are supposed to be a lot of them in Kruger and St. Lucia, we’ve heard.

A shortish (45 minutes) drive later we went through Numbi gate into Kruger National Park, from there driving to Nkambeni camp where we will spend the next nights. It is a fenced in area and so it doesn’t resemble any wildlife camping, which would have been awesome.. Anyway, we put up our tents – and even remembered how to! – before killing some time before our booked Sundowner Drive in the park.

At 16:30 we boarded the jeep for our Sundowner Drive, going some 35 kilometres into the national park. I enjoyed our guide for the evening a lot because he clearly was passionate about wildlife and the nature, and he provided actual facts about the animals and the plants; it was a learning experience! He also wasn’t hyper focused on The Big Five, which is what most guests and guides tend to get stuck on a bit.
On this short drive to where we would have our drinks, we were quite lucky and managed to see (everything bathed in beautiful, late evening sun):

– Impala males practising their fighting skills.
– 3 elephant males taking a playful swim.
– Hippos asserting their dominance with powerful displays.
– Buffalo males resting.

We then enjoyed a beautiful view over the park from halfway up a mountain, with a  couple of glasses of Amarula and some snacks. It was way too cloudy to watch the sunset, but the sounds of nature and the amazing light and being away from most things was indeed very lovely.

But lo and behold, for on our way back we had the unbelievable luck of meeting a pretty, pretty leopard lady strolling alongside the road in the dark, only a couple of metres away! Such a beautiful, harmonic cat creature, and she put on a display for us: jumping into the air as if hunting mice, rubbing against a post, scratching a tree. It was just such a cool and unexpected experience that provided a high for the rest of the night.
Our luck would also have it that we saw a hyena in the dark, stalking a group of buffaloes we had also met on the road. Much cool.


The beautiful leopard who graced us with its presence during our Kruger Sundowner Drive.

Back at camp we had our dinner: pap, spinach and beef stew. We made ‘official’ , individual introductions of ourselves to the group, and then most of us went down to the bar to do the so-called Springbok Dance with the Springbok shot. It was fun, and I stayed at the bar for a bit with some people before hitting the tent.

Seeing the leopard so close gave a burst of energy and a high. It really was so special to see, and it is without question the most beautiful cat I’ve yet seen.


A Day For Big Dogs
(Thursday 12th December, 2019)


Gaze of a hyena mother in Kruger National Park.

barely slept in the night; suddenly I didn’t feel sleepy at all, it was very hot and we couldn’t let the tent windows and doors stay open because of rain and thunderstorms. Then, at some point the freight train to Mozambique came roaring by, somehow sounding like a loud helicopter. Nevertheless, I survived this day with bravour!

We started at 5:30 with breakfast, then we went to our 4by4s (we had 2) for our full day game drive in the park. We had a lady guide today; she was a nice person but was kinda stuck on The Big Five, didn’t stop for anything and also didn’t provide much information.
Anyway, we set out after a short briefing, and unfortunately because of the recent amounts of rain, we couldn’t really go on the small gravel roads as they were closed. Thus, we did most of our game viewing from the big asphalt road, which was slightly disappointing but ultimately no one’s fault. We were a bit lucky after all, however, and here are our high lights:

– At the start of the drive, we saw a group of impalas being hunted by a pack of African Painted Dogs! So lucky, and such beautiful creatures, running along in full speed.
– A bunch of hyena puppies on the side of the road; about 5 of them. And actually very cute.
– 3 lionesses lazing about on the side of the road.
– 2 female elephants with their rather small calves, eating their way through the bush.
– A leopard (far away, though) resting in a tree.
– 3 pretty and big hyenas walking within few metres of our jeep.

The park itself was lush and scenic, what they refer to as woodland savannah. Not a lot of open spaces, if any at all. Some waterholes are man made to prevent large quantities of animals dying during the droughts, but these offer good opportunities to watch game as they go for a drink.

We made a stop at a resting place with shops and everything after about 2 hours of driving. Here we could buy coffee and have our toilet business done. Around lunch time we made another stop at a lodge inside the park, sort of like in Etosha. Lunch was on our own expense today, and we got burgers and fries. On this site, there were cheeky little vervet monkeys trying to steal the food out of our hands, literally. We also observed a hippo on land on the opposite side of the river bank.


A baby vervet monkey at our lunch stop in Kruger.

We came back to camp at around 16:00, where we then had a drink and some snacks with our fellow travellers from Brazil. Before dinner I went to the shower, which was kind of cool as it is an open shower with a view over part of the bush. Don’t be shy because the impalas can have a look in at you while you’re trying to get clean. After my shower, the rain started rolling in. It started with just a shower, but the sky indicates a promise for more.

We made it through most of the evening without noteworthy rain, so it all comes down to what happens during the night. For dinner we had braai (grill, beef – big pieces!), those squash with maize and cheese inside which our cook last year also made, and green salad. We were even offered dessert, a local one called milk tart. Cheese cakeish but not really; it wasn’t exactly to my taste.


The Wonders of the Panorama Route
(Friday 13th December, 2019)


The so-called ‘Three Rondavels’ on the Panorama Route in South Africa.

e had a relatively late morning with breakfast at 7:30. I did get up earlier than that, though. I had a piece of toast and a coffee, but my stomach was acting up with cramps and .. things. Not to mention nausea.
By 8:00 we set out for today’s program, which would take us onto the Panorama Route with scenic views and spots around this area of the Drakensberg.

The very first stop was at a place nicknamed “Big Swing”. It is a coffee shop/rest stop at a gorge with a fierce waterfall, and they also have a zip line going across the gorge. We didn’t get time to do the zip line, but the view was nice and the concept was also cool.
Our second stop was at the area where God’s Window is located. Now, God’s Window kind of makes it sound like something fantastic, like a view through a rock formation or something.. but really, it was just a normal, nice view from a fenced in area. We did walk up there through a rain forest, though, which was pretty nice and provided a natural drop in temperature.

After God’s Window we stopped at Bourke’s Lucky Potholes, which is a river/waterfall going through an interesting rock formation area. Erosion on the bottom of the waterfall created shapes of water filled, round ‘cooking’ pots, hence the name of the place. By the parking lot after our walk to the potholes, we had our lunch which was burgers. Luckily, my stomach was better by now and I was able to eat. The leftover food was given to some local workers by our cook, which was nice.

After finishing up there we drove towards our last stop for the day, Blyde River Canyon. Such a truly magnificent place! Like taken out of the Avatar movie. Green trees or vegetation on the mountains, the river snaking through, and on the other side a blue lake. Quite breathtaking, really. We walked around and enjoyed the view for 40 minutes, which could’ve been a little longer to properly take the feeling in. It might have been a more full experience and appreciation for me had it not been with this particular group of people, but it is what it is and I definitely still enjoyed it a lot. Delightfully beautiful, one of the most wonderful sceneries I have had the pleasure of finding myself in.


Another wonderful view over Blyde River Canyon in South Africa.

Our last, unofficial, stop on today’s drive was in the town of Graskop, which is quite a touristic place. There is a well-known pancake restaurant, where we agreed to sit down and have a sort of ‘middle meal’ between lunch and dinner. It was a nice pancake but perhaps not the world’s best; I got one with banana, peanut butter and chocolate.

As we made our way back to Nkambeni Camp, the weather had gotten quite chilly and cloudy yet again. Back at camp there was some free time before dinner at 19:45, so we spent some of it playing a card game called Kaboom. It is a pretty funny game, which the Swiss guy introduced to us.

Dinner today was spaghetti bolognese but made with kudu minced meat. It was very tasty, although not really tasting gamey. After dinner some of us went down to the bar to play some more Kaboom before eventually going to sleep.


Goodbye Kruger, Hello Eswatini
(Saturday 14th December, 2019)


Elephants grazing on the side of the road in Kruger.

e had a fairly early departure, having our tents packed up by 6:15 so we could be ready to leave after breakfast. My stomach was a lot better this morning but not in tip top shape.
We set out by 7:00, entering into Kruger National Park so we could drive through, watch game, and exit out of the southern gate. It was about 3 hours of game drive in total, including a toilet break at the same café we had stopped by the other day during the full-day drive. On the way, some of the things we saw were:

– Lots of grazing elephants.
– 3 lionesses (same as the other day, it seemed) lazing under a tree.
– A hippo in the river.
– Very tiny baby hyena and mother.
– Crocodiles.

More animals today on the same stretch of main road we had driven on the day before yesterday. It happens, I guess. Sometimes you are more lucky than other times, and animals don’t follow a schedule. I think it’s very important to keep in mind when you do go on game drives.
Just out of the southern gate of Kruger National Park, we stopped by a bridge going over Crocodile River, walking over it to see.. well, crocs, but maybe more interesting for me, birds and big lizards soaking in the sun on the rocks below.

Next we drove into a shopping plaza, restocking for the coming two days in Eswatini, also having our lunch stop at our own expense. T and I had some chicken, which was cheap but in return not very good. We also ran into a party bus with loud music and dancing passengers; holiday season is rapidly approaching, people.

Driving on, we eventually crossed the border to Eswatini, which was easy and fast, just a couple of stamps in our passports. A few things our guide told us about Eswatini:

It has about 1 million inhabitants, who mostly live off of farming things such as sugar canes and eucalyptus. The religion is either local/old rites based on ancestors, or Christianity. Life span here is only about 50 years, mainly because of massive problems with HIV and aids and a reluctance to seek help for it. There has been a mentality of no sexual protection, and a lack of education on the topic. It is a patriarchal society with a supreme king who has 15 wives and 35 children, and on top of that acquires a new wife every year at an annual event/ritual. He is not too popular with the general population, but people are afraid to get punished for speaking against him. A lot of younger people from the country try to go to South Africa to work and live.

Driving here was quite pretty; green hills and small mountains and some houses strewn in. It was another fairly long drive until we arrived at our camp site in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. We arrived at about 17:30. The camp is also very pretty and has wildlife roaming about (though no The Big Five), even in the camp/bar/restaurant area. We see: zebras, blesbok, impala, nyala, warthogs and guinea fowl.

We set up our tent under a large tree by our kitchen area, overlooking a green hill side, shade provided by the tree. At 18:00 there was a local dance show by the restaurant, complete with drums and instruments. It was pretty cool to see, not too touristic, although there is a lot of people in this camp. It is a popular day-trip place for local people, too, who come here to use the pool and enjoy the surroundings. After the dance we had dinner, and today it was a lovely pasta/biltong/curry dish, and I saw most people take two servings of it.


Last updated 8th January, 2019.