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By this Author: RaiSmith

Cradle of Humankind

sunny 28 °C
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Set off from Waterval Boven, where we'd stayed the previous night, for our last couple of days in South Africa. Headed to an area called the Cradle of Humankind - a world heritage site famous for its archeological finds, cave systems and several nature reserves. We stopped in Pretoria on the way for local maps and took some phots of their gorgeous avenues of jacoranda trees which line the streets. These trees are a beautiful bright purple, which is actually the flowers - the green leaves only appear afer the flowers have dropped. We then went on to Maropeng for the afternoon, where we went round a great natural history exhibition, starting with a boat ride through the ice ages and looking at how the earth has developed, animals have evolved and where humans originated. There was some emphasis on the humanoid fossils as some of the earliest examples have been found in this area of Africa.

Our next stop was to find a bed for the night. We went on a hunt to find a place that looked good in the Lonely Planet Guide - thatched huts in a nature reserve. Wow, was definately worth the hunt! Wasn't the easiest place to find, but well worth it when we got there. Really cute little thatched houses, raised on stilts in the trees, all connected by raised wooden walkways and thatch covered seating areas outside. It was like something out of a fairy tale, or the Ewok village from Star Wars. Beautiful. Really nicely decorated inside too with comfy wooded beds and bright cushions etc.

Our last day in Africa. After sorting out all our stuff ready for our 6.10pm flight, we went for a short walk in the naure reserve before leaving. After seeing a few animals we headed out to our last activity - the Rhino and Lion Park. Managed to get some great photos of the lions, cheetahs and wild dogs at feeding time, but didn't have quite the same satisfaction level as seeing the animals at Kruger. We also went down the Wonder Cave where we saw some impressive rock formations. Our last stop was a visit to the animal creche where any cubs that have been orphaned or rejected are hand reared. We actually got to go in and play with the lion cubs and white tiger cubs for a few minutes! The lion cubs were very cute, just a couple of months old. They enjoyed being stroked and nibbling on our fingers. The white tigers were a bit older and much more boisterous! They were very cute and playful, but you had to be much more careful of their teeth and claws. Was an amazing experience.

A mad dash to the airport followed, through heavy traffic, a very loud thunder storm, some crazy South African driving and a very sparse amount of useful roadsigns. We said goodbye to our rental car at the airport, which was a lot less white and had over 2000km more on the clock than when we'd picked it up a week ago! Just time for a little bit of souvenier shopping and it was time to board the plane for the next leg of my adventure.

Posted by RaiSmith 13:13 Archived in South Africa Tagged educational Comments (1)

Kruger National Park!

sunny 30 °C
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Wow, what can I say - highlight of the trip! We spent 3 days in the park working our way from the north to the south-west area of the park. It was interesting to see the difference in the types of vegetation and the animals we saw as we travelled through the different areas. It is the end of the dry season still in South Africa, so the land seemed very barren, just dead looking scrub land in the north. On our first day travelling round we saw no water. All the rivers and watering holes were dry, but still marked out by much greener trees than the surrounding area. We got very excited at our first sighting of a giraffe, who merrily wondered accross the road in front of us, little knowing that this would be a regular occurance during our 3 days in the park! One upside to being there in the dry season was that we were able to see further into the vegetation and spot the animals a bit easier. The north of the park didn't have as many people around as we were expecting either, we could easily drive for over an hour and not see another vehicle. As well as the giraffes we saw, other highlights of the first day were seeing a group of 3 female elephants with their ~year old offspring (we learnt that if an elephant calf can walk underneath its mum then it's under a year old), and a herd of buffalo.

After a night in Shinwedzi camp we headed south in search of water! I was up and about at 4.45am ready to make the most of an animal spotting day! We found a perminant river a little way south which we followed for a while. Spotted a young crocodile lying on the bank and saw another, larger crocodile a bit further down too. As we drove further south the vegetation changed and at one point we came across some grasslands with several groups of animals all grazing together - zebras, kudus, impalas, buffalo and wilderbeast. Also saw some vultures down on the ground, though we couldn't see what they were interested in, and a giraffe in the distance. Later that morning we came across the highlight of that day - three male lions having a leisurely dinner of buffalo! They were really close to the road and I'm sure they were showing off their spoils to us humans. They had 3 buffalo on the ground, so plenty of food - the lionesses had done well. A couple of vultures were nearby looking hopeful, but the lions didn't' want to share! Got there fairly soon after they'd been spotted so had a good viewing spot before everyone else in their cars turned up.

After lunch in Letaba camp, where we were entertained by lots of birds, tree squirrels (like the ones in the UK but with thinner tails) and impalas, we headed down towards Olifants camp where we were stayiing that night, driving along Olifants river. this was one of the fullest rivers we'd seen so far, though I'm sure it only had a tiny bit of it's water capacity flowing through it. In this river we got our first sighting of hippos, we also saw increasing numbers of elephants. Got to the camp in the early afternoon in time to go out for an afternoon walk with a couple of park rangers (and their rifles!). Was great to be able to get out of the car and walk in amongst the animals. Our main guide was really interesting and just seemed to know everything about the flora and fauna in the park. We saw some tracks and learnt how to tell which direction an elephant is travelling in even though their prints are round - back of print is usually deeper and you can see more detail, can also sometimes see front toenail print in soft ground. Back footprint is more of an oval shape and usually lands on top of front footprint, unless the animal is travelling at faster than normal walking pace. Elephants can't actually run, they just walk very quickly! Also learnt that if an animal by a river is startled it will usually run perpendicularly away from the river, rather than directly away from us, so they don't fell like they're being trapped by the river. Saw this happen when an impala ran away out of the bushes behind us. We started seeing lots of elephants and had to back away from one as he was coming up a channel from the bank and we'd have been blocking his escape route if he'd seen us. Further along we heard lots of small birds, including 'goaway' birds, being very vocal so we started looking for the bird of prey they were warning off. Instead we saw a black mamba snake slithering very fast down a tree close by - the deadlies snake in the world! Not quite the most venomous, but classed as most dangerous by experts when factoring in its nature and the fact it's the fastest moving snake - could keep pace with a human running. Also on the walk we saw hippos in the water, they were quite funny bobbing up and down. Saw lots more elephants - large groups of females with their young. One of these groups was blocking our way back across the river to where our vehicle was parked. We had to wait while the rangers watched the situation to be able to tell when it'd be safe to walk past. Back at the vehicle we had one more adventure in store before heading back - a flat tyre. the poor rangers had to change it in the dark, under the watchful eyes of both tourists and elephants.

Back at the camp I had a quick chance to rest and put on slightly warmer clothes and then I headed out on a night drive. The guides were great at spotting the animals, using searchlights to find reflections from eyes. We saw several nocternal animals, including genets, civet and springhares, as well as a lioness, hippos, elephants (with a calf that was only a couple of days old), a wild cat, some antelopes, a chameleon and a big red roman spider running across the road! This is the only spider which doesn't build a nest - we'd seen hundreds of spider nests on the trees when we'd been driving around in the daytime. Eventually got to bed at 11.30pm - a very long day.

A few hours later and I was up at 4am ready for our last day on the park. We got to the reception at 4.45am as Suz wanted to try and get on a mountain biking trip and I was going to go on a guided game drive. As nobody who'd prebooked the cycle trip had turned up though it had been cancelled, so we headed back to our bungalow for a leisurely breakfast overlooking Olifants river. Set off in the car, again heading south, in the search of more animals. There were definite areas where we saw more of particular types of animals which was interesting - giraffes up north, elephants in the middle around olifants and zebras down south. Our first mafor spot of the day was on the bridge going over olifants river, where we spotted a couple of baboons, which soon became a large group of baboons! Lots of the females had babies which was very cute. Other new spots of the day were warthogs, monkeys and rhinos. We were also lucky enough to see some lions and linesses walking along by a river. We made our way to one of the south west gates towards the end of the day, having covered a lot of the park north to south. On the last road before we reached the gate we spotted 2 more rhinos, one either side of the road. One mock charged the other, which was funny, and then ran along in the direction of the road behind us. I put the car in reverse and Suz got a great 'high speed chase' video. Then it was time to leave the park, which was really sad, but I came away with lots of memories and over 500 photos! Check the photo gallery for a selection of the photos :)

Posted by RaiSmith 12:10 Archived in South Africa Tagged animal Comments (0)

Journeying Through South Africa

Johannesburg to Hoedspruit. 14th - 16th October 2009

sunny 30 °C
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Well it's been such a full on 'holiday' so far I've been very slack in posting to this blog, sorry! Will try and rectify this now before I head off backpacking and lose the easy use of a computer.

So, first stop South Africa! Incredible experience. Arrived early in the morning on Wednesday, so had a day looking around the Sandton area, a northern suburb of Johannesburg, before we left on our road trip the next day. Sandton seemed to be quite an affluent area, with huge shopping malls all connected by sky-walks.

I was a little surprised at the number of white South Africans around and it became apparent throughout the trip that there is still quite a high level of segrigation between the white and black population. It was fairly noticable that manual labour and service industry jobs seemed to only be done by black South Africans. The levels of security around were amazing, security guards everywhere and high walls/barbed wire/razor wire etc protecting buildings. Even a local preschool had security guards and gates at the entrance. We went a little way inside a gated community, a housing estate surrounded by 6' high walls topped with razor wire. Inside this each individual house also had a high wall with razor wire, and alarm system and often guard dogs.

The next morning we headed out of Jo'berg in our cute little hire car.
We accidently ended up driving through a shanty town area, which was only a couple of streets away from Sandton. It was really interesting to see, though for all the wrong reasons. Seems incredible that so many people are living in that situation, especially when we'd seen so much evidence of the amount of time/money/effort South Africa were putting in to the preperation for the Football World Cup they're hosting next year.

We headed north-east in the direction of Kruger National Park, but were planning on seeing some sights on our way there for a couple of days and entering the park from one of the more northern gates. We got to a town called Waterval Boven early afternoon, which is a climbing mecca in the area, so decided to go and sample the local climbs. We had a fun few climbs, including one in the dark by headtorch; and saw some local wildlife, including a gekko.
Back at the climbing centre, where we were staying that night, we ended up being invited to join in the climbing manager's birthday party along with other backpackers who were there - he had happy birthday sung to him in english, afrikaans, french and italian!

The next day we worked our way up along the Blyde River Canyon, which is the third largest canyon in the world. Driving along the 'Panorama' route we stopped off to see the sights in several areas along the way. Bridal Veil Falls, God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes, the last place being an amazing area of natural rock formations carved out where two rivers join.

Further up, at the top of the canyon, we reached our accomodation for the night, Trackers. We had a lovely mountain view chalet right in the middle of a game park with dinner and breakfast included.
We had dinner on the veranda of the main house, surrounded by frogs and lizards, looking out over the valley towards Kruger, while Dave the owner told us about the animals he had in his park - luckily no big preditors, but they did have snakes which had to be turfed out of the accomodation occasionally. He'd even lost one of his dogs to a python in the past!

Posted by RaiSmith 11:37 Archived in South Africa Tagged automotive Comments (0)

One more sleep...!

Wow, still doesn't quite seem real that I'm going away, but this time tomorrow I'll be halfway on my flight to Johannesburg! I've already checked in in fact, and managed to get what I think is probably the best seat on the plane (in economy)! Front row by an exit, so plenty of leg room and nobody to have to climb over or to climb over me. I'm actually almost packed, except for packing hand luggage in my bag and sorting out all those last minute bits and pieces like making sure I have photocopies of important documents etc. Am very impressed that I'm well under the weight limit for the 1 bag I'm allowed on the flight - plenty of space to bring back souvenirs!

I'm so excited about what we've got planned for my first couple of weeks away. Lots of exciting things to do in South Africa, so Suz and I are going to hire a car to be able to be quite flexible about where we go and how long we spend in places. As well as the highlight of the trip - a few days in Kruger National Park - we're also hoping to fit in a lot of other attractions, including a visit to the Cradle of Humankind (www.cradleofhumankind.co.za); Lion Park, where it's possible to interact with lion cubs and feed a giraffe from a platform; and Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world.

The fun doesn't stop once we've left South Africa either! After arriving in Christchurch on the morning of the 23rd October (Happy Birthday Mum!) we're booked into a cabin in Hanmer that night ready for a 2 day rafting trip on the 24th/25th. Better hope I don't suffer from jet-lag too badly!

Right, time for me to get some sleep. Catch up with you all soon from somewhere a little bit more exciting than Warminster :)

Posted by RaiSmith 23:26 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Counting Down!

With less than 16 days before I set off with a backpack, lots of dreams and a visa card, the excitement's building! I feel strangely unnervous at the moment and don't feel like I've done much in the way of planning or organising, so I'm sure I'll remember a million things I need to do in the last couple of days before I go and end up in a mad panic. Anyone who knows me (and quite frankly I'd be surprised if anyone who doesn't know me is reading this) will not be surprised at this fact, as leaving things to the last minute seems to be the default setting for anything I do.

Having not yet travelled outside of Europe, I've been itching for years to explore a bit more of our world, so in a fairly snap decision I decided to just 'go for it'. As this is my first experience travelling, and I'll be setting off on my own for some of it, I'm sticking to the more developed areas of the world this time. The majority of my trip will be travelling round New Zealand, but I'll also be spending a week in South Africa on the way there and 12 days in Australia before I come home. What a way to celebrate finishing my PhD! Hopefully I'll be able to tick off quite a few of the 'life adventures' I want to experience before I hit the big 3-0 next year too. Safari, rock climbing, caving, canyoning, sky diving, scuba diving etc etc. Yep, I did have to fork out for an adventure sports travel insurance! I'm also hoping to have enough time in NZ to see a bit beyond the usual tourist things and learn more about Maori culture and traditions.

Well I think that's enough pre-travel waffle from me. I'll be setting of with all good intentions of keeping this blog up-to-date, so I hope you'll enjoy reading and following me on my adventure.

Posted by RaiSmith 19:48 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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