Facts and Figures
Swaziland Cont. South Africa Cont. & Botswana
Nsoko (Ngwavuma Backpackers, Swaziland) - Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Sondzela Backpackers)
The next place we planned to stay was within a National Park. Knowing bikes are banned from most parks, we called the backpackers before we left in the morning to ask if we would be allowed in. Yes we are allowed in the park with the bike, but only straight to the backpackers, not to drive around the park. What is the difference?? Got to Manzini around lunchtime. Stopped at a top hotel for lunch, valet parking and all! Well the guy in the car park tried. Thought we might get chucked out, but we had a lovely lunch at truck stop prices. Road signs are not too good here, so after riding around town several times, we eventually got on the right road and found the entrance to the park. Well, we found the night entrance in the middle of the afternoon, but they let us through with the park entrance fee covered by our Wild Card. This backpackers was obviously a popular one as it was very busy. Dorms were large and only had two beds left, so we decided to camp. We missed the bus to the traditional dancing and drumming at the Main Camp , so had a few beers and sat by the campfire till midnight. We met Marcha and Edwin, a couple of Dutch bikers, but touring the world without their bikes, and Nancy from the USA. They were hoping to go on the Chief’s Homestead Tour in the morning, but needed four people as a minimum, so we agreed to join them.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Sondzela Backpackers)
It was lovely scenery to wake up to, Sheba’s Breasts in the background (the mountains) and we had wildlife wandering past the tent; zebras and bush pigs. We also had a friendly ostrich join us for breakfast, and it nicked everyone’s food! The tour to the Chiefs Homestead was supposed to be at 10:00, then we were going to do a 2 hour walk around the hippo pool in the afternoon, but the Chief could not meet us till 15:00. Armed with a map from the backpackers, we headed off for the Hippo Pool around 11:00. The map was very basic. We got lost and blamed each other. We later discovered that everyone else gets lost too. So after walking miles in the wrong direction, we saw wart hog, impala, nyala, blesbok and zebra but no hippos or crocs or even the pool! We came back in time for our Homestead trip. We assumed we were going by minibus to the homestead, but our guide said - no, it’s not far, so we are walking. “Not far” for the locals is far for us Brits who walk nowhere! Before reaching the homestead, the ladies were given a traditional cloth with the King of Swaziland on to wear around our waists as a mark of respect. The guide gave us a run down on what was going to happen and taught us a few words of greeting in their language which immediately we all forgot. All the children lined up to meet us on entering the homestead, and we struggled to respond with the words taught. The Chief was unusually a woman, her husband died a few years ago and her son was not old enough to take over yet. She sat us down and gave us a bit of history. She then tried to teach the ladies a traditional song, and then the blokes. The Ladies then had to get up and perform the Reed Dance (Umhlanga , pronounced umshlanger), and sing the song, then it was time for the blokes dance and singing our song. We then got an insight into their day-to-day living and tried balancing bowls on our head, grinding maize and sleeping on wooden pillows. The Chief lived in this Kraal with several children who were orphans. Crafts were sold to help fund them and others in the area, so out came the crafts for the tourists. They were actually very good and very cheap. Lorraine bought an elephant carved from soapstone for R20. It was getting dark as we left, and it is very dangerous to walk at this time with all the hippos and crocodiles out and about. So our guide flagged down a lift for us in the back of a bakkie. We saw wildebeest on the way back, and he also drove passed the Hippo Pool, which was just around the corner from where we walked!!
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Sondzela Backpackers)
Today we had planned to do a recommended ride around the area from the AA book we have. However, when we looked at it, we had done most of it the day we arrived. So we chucked the airbed in the pool to try to find the leak instead. We failed to find any puncture, so it is still a lottery as to who gets the flat one when we camp. We got the maps out to plan ahead. We decided not to head for Mozambique, which would only have been a flying visit to Maputo and instead add Victoria Falls to our agenda. We were going to go to town for supplies but couldn’t drum up the enthusiasm. We had ravioli for lunch from our emergency supplies that we had carried around since Bamako! Nancy returned to the airport this afternoon to catch her flight to the USA. She had been travelling for one month and had a vast amount of luggage which she expected to be charged vast excess for.
Some South African bikers turned up, with their girlfriends and equipment in a bakkie.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary (Sondzela Backpackers) - Nelspruit Backpackers, South Africa
Heading out of Swaziland and back into South Africa today. The South African bikers caught us before we left and grilled us for tips as they are planning a bike trip up through East Africa. Each ride in South Africa has been scenic, but today took the prize - spectacular. The point and click photos en route do not do it justice. We headed on the main road to Piggs Peak and stopped for lunch at a little café on the roadside. The back of the café was open, and sitting at the tables the view looked out over a valley. Fantastic view, we could have stayed there all day. From Piggs Peak we took the border road to Bulemba. There was about 200 metres of tar then 40KMs of dirt road through the mountains, beautiful. Once we reached the border, it was tar again. It was a very easy border crossing, passports stamped out and in within minutes. Although tarmac on the South African side, it was again a beautiful ride round the bendy roads of the mountains. We reached Nelspruit as it was getting dark. We had the address of the backpackers and found it no problem. It was a very small and stony camping area, but we managed to squeeze in. Very little beer in the bar and the off-licence had just closed! We met Charlie (Chin) Bradley from Shrewsbury. Another biker, but he had no engine! One year, and 22,000KMs down the East coast of Africa on a push bike! Good luck for the rest of the trip Charlie!
Nelspriut (Nelspruit Backpackers)
Sort out day. We received a text from Anne-Marie and Miranda, owners of the backpackers in the Drakensburg. They are still keeping an eye on our travels. We phoned a few car hire companies to arrange a car for our visit to Kruger Park. We met Xavier when we returned to the backpackers. Xavier is on a months holiday from France and keen to visit Kruger. We decided to all go for five days and share the costs.
Nelspruit (Nelspruit Backpackers)
Another sort out day. We tried to book four nights camping in Kruger, but as it is school holiday time in South Africa, all the big attractions are fully booked. We managed to get two nights booked, Sat and Sun at Skukuza and were advised to keep checking for vacancies. We booked the hire car with Budget and arranged to collect at 09:00 from the airport tomorrow. Cooking facilities are available within Kruger, but pots, plates, cutlery etc are not. So we had to buy a few items between us. We called Colin and Amy who we met in Kamberg. They live in Komatipoort, just by one of the gates to Kruger. Ideal to park the bike safely. Thanks Colin and Amy! We are all set. Getting excited about seeing animals at last!
19/06/2009 - 23/06/2009
Kruger National Park
Day 1 - Collected the car from the airport. Collected Xavier from the backpackers. Set off in car and bike to Komatipoort. Dropped off the bike and some gear at Colin and Amy’s and reached Crocodile Bridge Gate at 14:15. We had no camp booking for tonight, checked for cancelations - none, but were told to come back to this gate at 17:00. Planned a route for the afternoon and had a great time spotting loads of animals. Within half an hour we had seen giraffes, elephants, zebra, and a huge rhino appeared from nowhere and crossed right in front of the car. Also many yellow billed hornbills that liked to play chicken with the cars, so we named them ’stupid birds’. We returned to the gate at 17:00 and they managed to find us a camping space.
Day 2 - We had camping booked for tonight at Skukuza, so planned our route for the day. Fantastic days viewing. Highlights were a wild dog, which is quite rare, and a herd of elephants passing around the car and crossing the road.
Day 3 - We were booked for camping at Skukuza again tonight, so no need to pack up the tents. Planned another route for today and out for viewing early. Highlights today were the hippos bathing at the pool, waiting for an impala to get eaten by a croc at the same pool but the crocs were not hungry …. Bummer. Heading back to camp, slightly late as we had to be inside the fence by 17:30, we saw a spotted hyena trotting down the road beside us and a leopard ahead. It moved from full view in the middle of the road very quickly over a bridge, so picture not as good as we may have had. We were about 15 minutes late at the campsite - they can’t lock us out with the dangerous animals at night can they? Hopefully not, but they could fine us! They let us in no problem.
Day 4 - We had no camping booking for tonight. We were told at the backpackers at Nelspruit to head for Satara which is central and arrive after 17:00 and act the dumb tourist. This would mean we would not have enough time to get to the nearest Gate to leave the park by 17:30. and they would have to find us a space. Today was elephant day. We saw at least 70 of them head for a lake, bathe, play with the young, and walk off. We arrived at Satara as advised and played our dumb tourist part well, even when they sent us into the managers office. They kept us waiting for some time, but eventually let us in to camp in one of the many vacant spaces! Still not seen many cats.
Day 5 - Packed up early and out to see if we could catch the lions. The hire car has to be returned by 17:30, so today was 180KM drive down the main tarmac road, back to Crocodile Bridge Gate. Fed up with not seeing any lions, I started playing ‘splat the pat’, it’s a hire car so don’t care if it gets covered in crap! Nearly got Xavier a couple of times as he was hanging out the window. Saw the usual animals most of the was until we saw a couple of cars parked up. Seeing nothing ourselves, we stopped and asked what they could see. They pointed out a cheetah in the distance. Second cat sighting in the park. Very sad to leave as we all had a great five days. We took over 500 photos between us, check out a selection of them in the gallery.
Xavier was heading on to Mosambique, so we dropped him at the minibus park in Komatipoort. We collected the bike and gear and headed back to Nelspruit. Returned the car in time, then spent two hours in the car park trying to fit everything back on the bike. Didn’t fancy camping at the same backpackers, so we found a room for the night in another backpackers in Nelspruit. Strangest room we have ever seen, as you entered it through the shower and had just enough space to side step around the bed!
Nelspriut (Sun Lodge Backpackers) - Graskop (Valley View Backpackers)
There was a sign in the room that tea and coffee were available from the office for R3, when we asked for a cuppa in the morning they laughed at us and told us that was an old sign. Why don’t they take it down then? Time to move on! Nice ride again, but fairly windy. Stopped for breakfast on the way and met another GS rider. We reached the Valley View Backpackers at 13:00 and were told that camping was out of the question. Confused, we asked why, they had high winds the previous night, with roofs being ripped off several houses, and strong wind forecast for tonight. OK, we’ll have a room indoors then! Found a laundrette in town and managed to wash and dry everything including our pillows.
Graskop (Valley View Backpackers)
We planned to do another trip around this area that was recommended from the AA book. The trip was 112 miles round the Blyde River Canyon. Spectacular views all the way round, and good riding taking in the sights of the Pinnacle (a stone pinnacle rising from the canyon floor), Gods Window (Great views over the canyon), Wonder View (More great views), Bourkes Luck Potholes ( a natural water feature in the canyon, over the years the swirling water that occurs where the river Treur meets the river Blyde caused the sand and rock in the water to grind huge cylinders in the canyon walls. The potholes were named after a gold digger, Tom Bourke, who staked a claim nearby. Although he never found a single ounce of gold, large deposits were found in the nearby area) and The Three Rondavels (three huge rock spirals rising out of the canyon, their tops look like traditional African huts’ rounded tops).
Graskop (Valley View Backpackers) - Mokopane (Sleep-n-Go)
The managers of Valley View were very helpful with advice on the roads and the best route to our next destination. We were heading towards the Botswana border via Grobler’s Bridge, but would probably stay in South Africa overnight. Most of the ride was through townships, (black Africa as it was in Apartheid times) and civilisation was getting sparse. We arrived in Mokopane around 15:00. No backpackers in this area, so we searched for a cheap hotel. Found a very nice one, large room, tea and coffee provided, and secure parking.
Mokopane (Sleep-n-Go) - Palapaye (Itumela Campsite), Botswana
The border was still over 200KM’s away. Again civilisation thinning out. We reached what we thought was the outskirts of Baltimore by lunchtime. and stopped for petrol where there was a café and loos, so having all 3 of our requirements, we stopped here for lunch rather than going on in to town. It was very busy and many locals stopped to chat to us. As we got back on the road, we realised the petrol station was Baltimore!
The border would have been a simple stamp out and in on the passports, but we tried again for the VAT return with no success. We bought double entry road tax as we were going to Vic Falls from Zambia then back in to Botswana.
We arrived at Itumela campsite through a goods yard, which wasn’t very inviting, but the site was nice when we got there. We registered at the bar, and watched the end of the rugby match between SA and the Lions…...we lost in the last minute! Tent up and back in to town for supplies. Sitting at dinner, Lorraine noticed she had lost her watch, so we backtracked her steps through the site with no luck and reported it to the staff. She was upset as it was a 21st birthday present and had been on her wrist since!
Palapaye (Itumela Campsite) - Raskop (Xere Hotel)
Looked again for Lorraine’s watch in the daylight and checked with the staff on the campsite, but still no luck. Last hope was that it fell off as she put the rucksack on at the supermarket yesterday. We tried there on the way out, but it had gone. Before we left the campsite, we had the maps out and changed our route again. We opted to come more in to Botswana to take in the Okavango Delta and maybe some of the salt pans. Again the roads were very flat, straight and empty. We had crossed the country on a secondary road, and were now back on the main road heading for an overnight stay at Orapa. We were stopped at a huge check point where they asked for our permit. Confused, we parked up to find out what was going on. This stretch of the road covers a precious stone mine and only permit holders are allowed into it. Permits can only be applied for if you have been invited to the area by a resident. Fortunately they told us of a ringroad and off we go again. Overnight accommodation was nowhere to be seen until another 100KM on at Raskop. We found a hotel that let us camp out the back overnight. When we pulled round the back of the hotel, there was a group of people by a campfire. They were a very friendly group of South Africans and Ozzies travelling together on holiday. We were invited to join them for dinner and to stay with them when we get to Australia. Nice one, thanks guys! We got some advice from the South Africans on routes and sites still to be seen. We had a great night in their company.
Raskop (Xere Hotel) - Maun (Old Bridge Backpackers)
We ordered coffee at the hotel and it was delivered to the tent on a silver tray - service! It was not too far to Maun. We stopped for something to eat when we got to town and bumped in to the group from last night. Had the directions for the backpackers, but got lost at the last corner. Just about to turn and who should come down the road….. Ian. He was also going to the same backpackers, nice to catch up with him again. This a very nice site on the river, very cheap and has free WiFI, may be here for a day or two till we catch up with all things internety.
Maun (Old Bridge Backpackers)
Day at the campsite sorting out photos for the website and deciding what to do in the area. Several options on seeing the Delta. The best value seemed to be an overnight trip via a Mokoro (a canoe dug out of a tree) to one of the islands. Ian also was doing this trip, so we pulled together resources for camping and cooking. A few beers and off to bed early as we had an early start in the morning.
Maun (Old Bridge Backpackers)
Up at 06:30, tent packed. All the kit we were not taking on the overnight trip was put in storage.
There is a maximum of two people per Mokoro. There were three young Dutch people in our group too. We set off from the backpackers on a powerboat to the transfer station, where our kit was put into the three Mokoros. Lorraine and I were with the lead guide in the first boat, the Dutch couple were in the middle and Ian and the other Dutch lad bringing up the rear. We were given a safety lecture about keeping your hands in the boat, keeping central and not moving around to prevent tipping. The lad in the middle mokoro asked how often they tip - mistake!! We were only two minutes out when we heard the commotion behind us. Ian saw it, but did not have the video running. The middle boat tipped! the young couple were in the freezing water along with their guide and all their cameras, tents sleeping bags, clothes and food. We turned round and went in to rescue as well as a power boat from the transfer station. The lad tossed his camera bag to me and climbed in to our mokoro. We then had quite a bit of water on board and were sitting in a puddle. The power boat picked up the girl and all the kit that was floating, everything was drenched. They fortunately had a change of clothes that was not too wet. All the camera gear got wet so we laid it all out in the sun, but it may be an insurance job. The cause was an inexperienced guide trying to cross in to the main flow of the river which had a strong current. The couple took things very calmly, but decided to head back to the backpackers. All three of them decided to go back, but we decided to carry on….. nervously. We had no further tippings and got to our campsite early afternoon. We made camp, dug the toilet, and prepared lunch. The game walk did not start till 16:00. We spotted elephants, wildebeest and zebras, but only paw prints for lions. Lovely sunset on the way back to camp a couple of hours later. Our meal that we prepared the night before was delicious. Just after dinner, we heard a loud splash in the river. We ran down to the waters edge to see an elephant crossing from another island. There was another loud noise in the distance that we could not work out what it was. Our guide had to explain that it was an elephant shaking a palm tree to get at the nuts.
Maun (Old Bridge Backpackers)
Had a great night sleep, very peaceful with only animal noises. Up at 06:00 and out on another game walk at 06:30 of four hours this time. Early enough to see a lion? We spotted the usual crowd plus a side striped jackal, steenbok and red lechwa that we had not seen before. The red lechwa are antelopes that stay in water so they can hear their predators approach. Back to camp for something to eat and pack up. We recovered from the walk for a while longer before getting back in the mokoros. A lovely slow paddle back. We stopped to watch four elephants cross the river in front of us. Arrived back at the transfer station (bone dry) just as the power boat arrived to take us to the backpackers. Martin, the skipper of the power boat told us anything we found in the cool box was ours. Several cans of alcohol later…… we pitched the tent at the backpackers again. It was late in the day to go to town for supplies (and too many cans of alcohol late) so we pulled together whatever we could find for dinner. There was a jamming session at the bar in the evening and Ian joined in with his trombone, and went down very well with the crowd.
Maun (Old Bridge Backpackers)
Ian left this morning, heading to Cape Town to meet his girlfriend who is flying in from the UK. We hope to meet them both in Namibia. We got down to some serious interneting.
June 13th - July 3rd 2009