Category Archives: South Africa

South Africa ’14, Part 7: Jo’burg

Last stop of our three-week journey along the East Coast of South Africa is Johannesburg, or Jo’burg as called by the locals. The whole trip has been a long drive for J, ~3.500km in total with one accident (my fault by the way) on the way back to Jo’burg that caused pretty serious damage to our poor Toyota Hilux, had to give that car some credit for bringing us back to our hotel anyway even though past mid-night. Despite this little incident, it has been a very fun drive at the same time. We’ve seen a lot and experienced a great deal. Three weeks went by so fast you don’t even notice time fly.

We spent the our last three nights at the Thaba Ya Batswana Eco Hotel & Spa. I chose this while looking for some alternatives far away from the crowded city, but it turned out to be even more than what we hope it would be (nice resort with a decent spa). It is located in the middle of the Klipriviersberg Municipal Nature Reserve and has a Lion Center on its site, which is a nice surprise and definitely the finishing touch that made this trip perfect.

On Saturday, we spent a few hours exploring downtown Jo’burg. We were warned not to take any valuables with us so we left our camera in our hotel room being prepared for some danger-fighting experience. As it turned out, we were being way too careful. With no business going on like on weekdays, we were literally the only non-blacks in the whole city, but in no way we felt any “threatened” or intimidated, rather a little amused. We passed by a butchery where lots of locals gather to eat the foods they just bought inside on some kind of banks and plastic chairs on the side walk and decided to do the same. The shop is huge, at first I thought it was some kind of butcher’s shop offering some light meals, until we saw some of the staffs coming out of the back door pushing shopping carts (yes, the same ones you use at supermarket) full of cow heads still dripping fresh blood on all over the floor to some trucks waiting outside, we realized they even slaughter the animals on site. The foods is very typical of South Africa, lots of meat cooked in piri source. Not the best we had on our trip, but the experience is authentic and fun.

But the funniest happened on that Saturday was at the farmer market near the main town square. An old African grand-ma owning a vegetables stand stopped us and tried to talked us into buying something “very special”. She then presented us with two bottle of very colorful liquids (I believed they were pink and blue) which were supposed to make miracles happen in the bed room… Don’t think we need them though ;-)).

View from our room at Hotel Thaba Ya
Panorama view from our room at Thaba Ya Hotel with Jo’burg in the background, great value for your money, the spa was pretty good too.

So what is the purpose of a Lion Center in a country like South Africa? No, they do not hold lion cubs as a tourist attraction. Rather, they nurse the little ones that are abandoned by their mothers in the wilderness until these babies are old enough (around 6-month-old) to be brought back to their pride and survive on their own. Why? Because wild life is tough. Lion mothers give birth several times to several cubs at the same time a year and often choose to feed/take care of only the strongest ones, for them having the biggest chance of surviving until their adulthood. Hence, the weaker ones are often left starved to death (Lions do not feed other lion’s babies like other animals). This is when these Lion Centers come in handy. The one we visited here was only a representative center, the locations of the real big centers are indeed kept secret to avoid poaching. All in all, they really do a great job of nursing these adorable babies and give them a nice home to kind of grow up in. When you’re there, you can really see with how much love and care these lion cubs are treated. But be careful, lions are wild animals after all, they cannot be tamed. They have a remarkably small brain which does not give them the capacity to “learn” stuffs like dogs or a few other animals do, their strongest talent is hence their hunting instinct. We were warned not to “move” too fast around them or they’ll chase us down and bite off our fingers in an instant despite being just a couple weeks old. So be careful!

Personally I think lion cubs are just about the most adorable animal I’ve ever come in contact with. We went to “play” with them twice during the three days we’re here. It’s impossible NOT to want to kidnap one home ;-).














On our last day: South African souvenirs - non-permanent tattoo and copper-bracelets. This kind of bracelets were formerly used as money by African tribes.
(Lost) memories from the trip: lion footprints and copper bracelets (which used to replace money in the old days among African tribes). I wish these tattoos were permanent cause they’re so damn cute. J has also lost his bracelets so we’re both wearing new ones now.

And finally here’s the map of our road trip:




South Africa ’14, Part 6: Blyde River Canyon

After Kruger, we stopped here for a couple days before heading back to Johannesburg. Our lodge is in the middle of a small game reserve so lots of antelopes cross the gate every day to come and feed on our part of the area. With the Blyde river in the front, we hear Hippos all nights so if getting a good night of sleep is your priority, this is not the place.

The more interesting thing to do/see in this area is probably visiting the Maholoholo Animal Conservatory nearby which rescues injured animals to help them get back on their feet again. Those that can heal fully are released back into the wild, those rescued at infant stage are kept here permanently because they never had the chance to learn how to hunt to be able to survive on their own, same for those so heavily injured that they lost their ability to hunt such as vultures with only one wing left, very sad indeed.

The area is also famous for their African Silk production so we could not miss the chance to spoil us with some very nice bed sheets. The only off-putting thing about this is that lot of shops while advertising for African silk does, in fact, sell silk made-in-China… Globalization has its price, I guess.


Arriving at our "kingfisher" bungalow at Blyde River lodge
Our “kingfisher” bungalow with river view at Blyde River lodge, a decent place, nothing luxurious but not too bad either. Breakfast was disappointing but dinner was quite good.
Pool area of the lodge - was a bit chilly though
Pool area of the lodge but the autumn weather didn’t call for a dip
They always came in the morning into our lodge
Our lodge is only one gate away from a small game reserve so wild animals wander very frequently around our room. These always came in the early morning.
Speaks for itself
J still thinks this is funny. Well…
Getting very close to a cheetah at Maholoholo animal conservatory. All animals there were found wounded or poisoned. The people there are doing a great job in healing the animals, knowing that most of them can never be released into the wild again because of their injuries.
Getting very close to a cheetah at Maholoholo animal conservatory. All animals were found wounded or poisoned. The people there are doing a great job in healing them, knowing that most of them can never be released back into the wild again because of their injuries.
They are also doing extensive educational work for the biggest enemy of all those animals - human beings....
The staffs are giving extensive educations to the animals’ biggest enemy as well – human beings!
Vultures are often poisoned because some people still believe they can do some "magic" with parts of their body
Vultures are often poisoned because some legends said that eating them would give you the supernatural power they are believed to have for being able to spot their preys from very high above
Pretty heavy birds !
Pretty heavy birds !


Such a beauty
Such a beauty
Not much of a beauty, a little scary indeed. We were told that the wild dogs are “killers with a heart” because they kill their catch immediately by breaking their necks. Lions, on the opposit, eat their preys alive cause that way the meat and blood stay warm for several hours… Life is in fact not at all peaceful in the bush!
The eagle liked being caressed on the neck
The eagle liked being caressed on the neck, he even bowed his head


Giraffes are normally very shy of human presence. This one though, was pretty cool and let us touch him for a while. He’d probably gotten used to it after living here for so long.
Driving into Blyde River Canyon
It’s the third biggest canyon in the world, much smaller than Grand Canyon but still very impressive
Blyde River waterfall, this part deep in the canyon does not see sun light very often so the water here was really cold, like real icy cold. J dared me so we both went in. It was so cold that you bones hurt but we had a good laugh in the end. So it was all worth it.
Trekking paths on the way back from the waterfall
We bought our supply of fruits for the road from these street vendors a lot because they were the best, coming straight from the farms nearby. Looking back I wish we could take back more with us to Germany. How I miss these juicy mangos…
Cute flower
Wild flower
Often we just walked around the hotel park on foot cause we were told there’s no really dangerous game living on the site. Giraffes are actually really shy, they always run away when we approach them. What a shame!


This was the closest they got to us
This was the closest I could get to any of them. They ran away right after this picture was taken.

South Africa ’14, Part 5: Kruger National Park

Kruger is probably the biggest and most famous National Park in South Africa so it’s kind of a must-see when coming here. The park is so huge that we spent 5 days driving from one camp to the next and only covered half the ground.

Some note on the side: the purpose of visiting a safari is watching game so you drive very slowly to look for rarely-seen animals such as lions or leopards who hunt at night and spend their days sleeping, that’s why on average we drove only about 50-70km/day. The density of animals you see in the park depends heavily on the seasons. Dry season is always a good time to watch game because animals usually gather around the water holes. Sometimes people spend hours hiding around to wait for some interesting animals to show up.

Kruger has much greater population of wildlife than Hluhluwe or Kgalagadi but somehow it was the park we like the least. There are paved roads from North to South, from East to West with only a few dirt roads on the sides (which are the most fun to drive, off the beaten track and away from all the crowds) so you don’t really need a SUV to drive in here. There are also supermarkets and restaurants at most camps so no need to pre-purchase your whole supply of foods and water either (we had like ten liters of water in our van). Everything sounds really convenient, but that’s the thing that makes the whole experience a little less “interesting”, at least for us. Having fallen in love with Kgalagadi (we’re already planning a revisit for our next Botswana-Namibia trip) we came here hoping to “see” much more. We did see more wild animals than in other parks, but were a little bit disappointed nevertheless. Everything was so “civilized” in Kruger that we both felt like we were missing something the entire time. It was like being in a very big zoo with lots of lazy visitors who know so little about what-not-to-do or respecting the animals’ privacy (like the green car in the third picture), which was a bit annoying as well. Don’t get me wrong though, I would still recommend visiting Kruger if you have the chance because we did enjoy our time here a lot. We’re just pretty sure we wouldn’t come back the second time, mostly because there’s still so much else to see.


No big surprise: impalas
Impalas, probably the most-seen animals in every park in South Africa. The locals call them “McDonald in the bush” for a reason.
A big guy, clearly showing signs of being in heat: wet rear legs and glands between ears and mouth producing some liquid. The brochure you receive when entering the park tells you explicitly to stay away from these guys!
African Elephants live in big family groups, while young males start to go their own way when reaching adulthood (very similar to lions in this respect). These young adults, especially ones that are trying to mark their domain by peeing or producing some liquid out of their ears and mouth, are often very aggressive and hence dangerous, you don’t want to mess with them. Even though you receive enough information like this upon entering the park, we had the feeling that most people didn’t even bother reading it. Like these below..
These crazy visitor obviously haven't read the brochure. 3 weeks ago an elephant had to be shot after having been in exactly the same situation - except that in this case the elephant turned the car upside down!
This car stood in the elephant’s way the whole time and wouldn’t go on reverse until the it got very very close. Because of reckless people like these, some elephants had gotten killed in Kruger for “attacking” visitors (you can google it, there’s lots of videos on youtube, sadly). But it’s not the elephant, it’s the people that provoke them. Some people just don’t get it. The park is their home so whey they have the feeling you’re trying to “invade” it, they’ll come at you. It’s not so hard to be respectful while in someone else’s home, isn’t it?!
Two kids having fun
A 500mm lens is a must here
A 500mm lens is a must here
Breakfast time in the bush
I have to admit this is not a nice sight to see, but that’s life in the bush and visitors are not supposed to interfere in any way. You’re lucky if you’re on the upper end of the food chain.
some peace every now and then
Funny guy crossing the street
J always has a better eye for spotting small creatures like this
Can't remember the name of these animals
Can’t remember the name of these animals
The female of the race I can't remember
The female of the race I can’t remember
Our car and bungalow
Our car and bungalow for the first night
We were lucky spotting the leopard while driving along a dirt road
We were very lucky to spot this leopard while driving along a dirt road cause they hunt at night and often sleep all day
Very sleepy.....
Very sleepy indeed …..
Giraffes again
Giraffes again


Every giraffe has a different pattern
Well equipped with fridge !
Well equipped with fridge !
A rare bird called hornbill
A rare bird called hornbill



Our only sighting of a buffalo herd
Our only sighting of a buffalo herd
Curious zebras
Curious Burchell’s Zebras
kruger38 (1)
isn’t he handsome?
Sun rising at Olifants rest camp. We woke up so early and enjoyed the sounds of the bush
Sun rising at Olifants Rest Camp where we spent our third night in the park. We often woke up early to enjoy the sounds of the bush
My beauty still a bit sleepy
My beauty still a bit sleepy


A Baobab tree
A Baobab tree, the little white spot on the trunk is P !
Lunch break at another part of the river
Lunch break at another part of the river, typical landscape of Kruger Park.
Kissing hippos ?
Kissing hippos ?
Happy hippo family
Happy hippo family




That has been a difficult shot with the big lens
That has been a difficult shot with the big lens
Looks like the heraldic bird for Germany
Looks like the heraldic bird for Germany
View from our last camp
Sunset view from our last camp. We had this entire 3-bedroom lodge for us which we barely needed. Somehow after 2 weeks in the country, we had gotten used to the sound of Hippos huffing at night and birds singing (very loudly) in the morning so if it had not been for the mosquitos, we would have slept outside that night, right here, on this terrace. How could you say no to this view.

Having fun while taking a selfie

Sunset, try to imagine the sound of Africa at night....
Sunset & the sound of Africa at night….


South Africa ’14, Part 4: St. Lucia

After falling totally in love with Umngazi River Resort, we didn’t expect much when arriving in St. Lucia knowing it’s a very small touristy village. That’s when you’re mostly positively surprised, I think. So were we.

We chose to stay at Lodge Afrique which was a little bit out of town, but like I said, it’s a really small town so we could still go everywhere on foot. One night on our way back to the Lodge after dinner, we saw a hippo grazing on the side of the street. We actually heard it first before spotting it cause it’s impossible not to recognise their huffing sound. We had heard about this being quite a frequent sight in St. Lucia, which has the highest density of Hippos and Crocodiles on the East Coast, witnessing it though was a different story, both exciting and frightening at the same time. People also told us that, despite being rather aggressive in the water, hippos are quite “human-friendly” on land knowing they’re not in their own territory. The most remarkably thing for us is, these hippos really went pretty far away from the water to reach downtown St. Lucia, which was like 10min drive with a car. Maybe they really thought the grass was greener on the other side ;-).

During our 4 days here, we went kayaking for crocodiles and hippos watching, visited the Crocodiles Center and learnt a lot about so many kinds of alligator and crocodile worldwide. We also loved hanging around in the garden of our Lodge and going for long walks along Cape Vidal beach. We were very sad to leave, but also every excited to reach our next destination, the one and only Kruger National Park.



A small pathway leading to the bungalows of Lodge Afrique where we stayed in St Lucia
Lodge Afrique, which made us feel more like home than we expected. There’s a lot of privacy cause each room has its own entrance, as you can see here. It’s at the middle-price range and definitely a great value for your money.
Tessa, our host. She is such a wonderful person. Talking to her was a big pleasure. Hope she's doing fine!
Tessa, manager of the Lodge, who treated us so warmly we would come back to this place again just for her. Hope she’s doing fine!
Fruit market on St Lucia's main street
Fruit market on St Lucia’s main street
The beach of St Lucia, you have to be really careful here because of the hippos and crocodiles - it's their territory
The main beach of St Lucia, which goes on and on.
Another smile that makes me smile
Another smile that makes me smile
Wooden pathway during sunset
Wooden pathway from the beach to the parking lot, it’s no surprise to spot crocodiles underneath.
Cape Vidal beach
Cape Vidal beach within the St. Lucia Marine Reserve, still no hotel or resorts allowed, only some camp sites. I really hope it will remain like this for a very long time.
Male kudu
Male kudu, who has the most elegant jumping/running style of all the bush animals. We were left in awe seeing one jumping across the road in front of us.
Another kudu watching us
Female Kudu
Hardly imagine to find sushi in a country like South Africa. We went for the usual local dishes though.
Kayak tour on the river, watching hippos and crocodiles
Kayak tour on the Mfolozi river for hippos and crocodiles watching. Despite much warning, people still come swimming in here on occasions. A couple days before we arrived, a newly-wed couple went in for a midnight dip and was never found again.


A "traffic" sign in the crocodile centre
No words needed 😉
St. Lucia Crocodile Center
Buying some fruit on the way to our next destination.
Buying some fruit on the way to our next destination. Yes, we ate them all.


She does like chilli!!
She does like chilli!!