Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Safari adventure -Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park - is approximately 500 km in length (length of Vancouver island) and its area is the size if Israel or Wales. The north end of the park is 94km from Mozambique The Kruger National Park is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest game parks. It has been praised for its endeavors in nature conservation, professional management of wildlife and safeguarding of African cultural heritage. Over the last few years, fences that separated the park from neighboring reserves have been removed allowing the wildlife greater access to natural resources as well as increasing the game viewing opportunities for tourists. The park boosts of approximately 147 mammal species, more than 507 bird species, 114 reptile species, over 49 fish species, 34 amphibian species, 227 butterfly species and 336 tree species.

Kruger National Park is about 5 hours north of Johannesburg and our accommodation was another hour inside the park. My safari companions are Greg (tour guide and driver), Mag (woman I met in Ireland), Jenny (Marianne's sister), Graham, Al and Laz (Greg, Jenny, Graham, Al and Laz are all from Australia - all but Laz work for qantas). We had a comfortable journey in an 8 passenger van stopping lots for road work along the way. Pollution does not seem to be of any concern here as it bellows out from the numerous factories and sits on the morning haze, the pollution smell is quite prevalent.

Lots of oranges, sugar cane and pineapples grown in the rich red soil - not sure how the pollution affects the farming.

Our accommodation was in the Skukuza camp (there are 14 different camps located throughout the park) -Skukuza (meaning he who sweeps things clean) is the biggest camp and located on the Sabie River. Our accommodation was one building with a large kitchen, eating area, loft and bathroom. Then off to the the side another building that contained 4 bedroom units each with their own bathroom. There was an area for outside dining and a fire pit for barbecuing overlooking the Sabie River - with no wind everything is so still. Over the six days this was a great place to relax with a beer, wine or cider and enjoy the magnificent sunsets or listen to the hippos or spot a water buffalo. Not to mention the fabulous barbecues and jovial conversation - most of which cannot be repeated but needless to say it was a week long adventure full of laughs with a great group of people who got along well.

Train bridge use to be the railway system that would bring people from Johannesburg to Kruger - sad but it is no longer in use.

View from our accommodation
Sunsets we enjoyed


Our kitchen

The park area opens each day at 6:30am and you must be back in your camp area by 5:30pm (times vary depending on the month of the year). The first few mornings we were up by 5:45 am and after a light breakfast out of the camp by 6:30 am. We would either stop for a late breakfast or lunch unless we were close to our camp where we could go back and take a couple hour break in mid day and then off again for animal spotting until 5:30pm. The terrain is woodland in parts of the park and savannah in other parts. There are hundreds and hundreds of kilometers of roads all over the park. Some paved, some not but you are constantly on the lookout of animal sightings - some animals are easier to sight than others and after a day on safari your eyes are quite tired.

Outside eating area

Not only are there animal sightings but there is also some breathtaking scenery in the park - like looking at a National Geographic Magazine.



Next blog there will be lots of animal shots - I was amazed how close we were able to get to the animals and my new canon 20x zoom camera was very helpful.



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

South Africa - Johannesburg

South Africa - we arrived in Johannesburg and stayed two nights the it was off on safari in the Kruger National Park. Not much time for blogging the first couple of days and as I suspected there was no wireless access in the park. So over the next few days I will be updating you with my safari adventure.

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa, is a country located at the southern tip of Africa. It is divided into nine provinces and has 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline. To the north lie the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe; to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland; South Africa is a multiethnic society and has diverse cultures and languages. Eleven official languages are recognised in the constitution. Two of these languages are of European origin: English and Afrikaans. Population 53 million people.

South Africa is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank. It has the largest economy in Africa, and the 28th-largest in the world. By purchasing power parity, South Africa has the 5th highest per capita income in Africa. It is considered a newly industrialised country.[citation needed] However, about a quarter of the population is unemployed and live on less than US $1.25 a day.

Johannesburg is one of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the world, and is also the world's largest city not situated on a river, lake, or coastline. It claims to be the lightning capital of the world, though this title is also claimed by others. The population in the greater Johannesburg area is over 7 million. Johannesburg includes Soweto, which was a separate city from the late 1970s until the 1990s. Originally an acronym for "South-Western Townships", Soweto originated as a collection of settlements on the outskirts of Johannesburg populated mostly by native African workers in the gold mining industry. Eventually incorporated into Johannesburg, the apartheid regime (in power 1948–1994) separated Soweto from the rest of Johannesburg to make it a completely Black area.

First day in Johannesburg our flight attendant Sandy (friend of Jenny's) rented a van for our safari group and we were off to the Lion Park (voted one of the top 100 tourist destinations in the world by Newsweek Magazine). After stopping for directions several times (getting directions is quite interesting as everyone says your destination is 1/2 hour away - not always accurate - nor are the directions). However with sandy's perseverence we arrived safely at the Lion Park.

First we visited the lion cubs and were able to pet them. These were not the very young cubs as the young ones are kept in a separate area and only the park volunteers are allowed to pet them to get them use to humans.


Next it was off to feed the giraffes (bucket item - tick). What a thrill. These are the most gentle, elegant and beautiful animals - not all afraid of humans but I guess they know who will feed them.

Mag feeding the giraffes

After viewing the animals in the fenced off area we got back in the car to drive through the lion camps. We were unbelievable close to these anaminals and as you can see below they were not shy while we photographed them mating.


Baby hyenas

Lions mate throughout the year and they mate every 20 minutes for a 36 hour period. No wonder the female looks bored!




It was exciting to see white lions - these lions are white due to a regressive gene and do not survive long in the wild as they cannot camouflage well.


After the park it was off to the Hartbeespoort Dam and Aerial Cable Cars. The scenery was fabulous but unfortunately my camera battery ran out. Hint for all you travellers - purchase an extra battery for your camera and have both charged when you start your day of touring - this is especially important on a safari as you use lots of battery power while taking numerous shots using zoom lens.

Impressions of South Africa so far - much better road system than I expected (road works everywhere) and you are relatively safe as long as you stay on the main roads. Johannesburg has a small rail system but it is very expensive and therefore most people cannot afford it. There is a very poor public bus system - transportation is by car or mini-vans pick up locals at various points. This all leads to horrendous traffic jams especially at peak times - we saw one that must have been 25km long - thank goodness we were going in the opposite direction. There are still numerous townships, which look appalling - very sad that people live in these conditions. Lots of young black males hanging around with nothing to do. Domestic workers, jobs that require no education earn about 2500 RAN (about $270) per month. There is a great desparity in the wages and living conditions. Food and alcohol are relatively cheap here by our standards but not if you are earning $270 per month!!

Weather here is beautiful sunny every day - mornings are cool can be as low as 6 but by early morning the tempature has risen to the mid 20's. in Kruger Park the tempature got as high as 33 in the afternoons. There are a few breezes but barely any wind.






Sunday, May 19, 2013

Australia -May 2013

I left home on May 2nd to spend 10 days in San Francisco before leaving for Australia. The first four days Miss Hannah and I were solo while Sean and Michelle went to New York City for an engagement party which turned out to be a wedding. Miss Hannah and I had a great four days baking cookies, going to the park to play and have a picnic. She is such a little darling and is talking a lot more - she certainly knows what she wants especially when it comes to special treats from GG!

Sean, Michelle and I went to the Canucks vs sharks game in San Jose - I tried cheering for the Canucks even though I was out numbered - however it did not help as they lost and are now out of the playoffs.

My friend's Janice and Neil came to San Francisco to celebrate Neil's birthday. I took the Bart into town on Friday to spend the day with them. First was an introduction to Blue Bottle coffee, then a few hours in Ross's dress for less followed by lunch at the Cheesecake Factory on the 8th floor of Macy's, then a walk down market street to the Embarcadero. Sean and Michelle recommended a restaurant in the Castro district of San Francisco. The food was fabulous and the sights were very interesting! We then headed off to the fairmont hotel to the Tonga Room and danced the night away - there was a live band playing on a barge in a pool - the place felt a like the Tiki Tiki room at Disneyland (except for adults only). We had a great day and I caught the last train back to San Mateo.

On Saturday Sean, Michelle, Hannah and I went to Erika and Tim's for a lovely BBQ. Sunday was Mother's Day - Michelle and I were treated to bacon and homemade waffles!!! That evening I flew to LA to catch my flight to Sydney. I was very lucky to have three seats together so I got to lay down and sleep for 8 hours of the 14 hour flight. Not business class but the next best thing!

I arrived in Sydney at 6:10 am and immediately called Gaille to pick me up - lucky Gaille - what a way to wake up on your birthday- sorry Gaille! Gaille took me to see the new home they have just purchased, we had lunch with her mum and went out to Manly beach for a Mexican birthday dinner. The next day we went to breakfast with a friend of gaille's and then Trish who we stayed with in Noosa in February happened to be passing through Sydney and had a couple hour layover at the airport, so off we went to meet her for coffee - it was great to see her again. That night gaille's dad took us out for dinner to a shanghai restaurant. The food was delicious and some menu items were very unusual such as the sweet and sour barramundi.

May 16th I was off to Tasmania to spend a few days with the girls I met in Darwin last June. Jenny arranged for all of us plus their mum and brother's girlfriend(JJ) to go up the east coast of Tassie and visit Freycinet national park and hike to Wineglass Bay, staying overnight at the piermont resort.

Freycinet is a national park on the east coast of Tasmania, Australia, 125 km northeast of Hobart. It occupies a large part of the Freycinet Peninsula, named after French navigator Louis de Freycinet, and Schouten Island.

Bordering the national park is the small settlement of Coles Bay, and the largest close town is Swansea. Freycinet contains part of the rugged Tasmanian coastline and includes the secluded Wineglass Bay, voted by several travel authorities as one of the world's ten best beaches. Famous features of the park include its red and pink granite formations and a series of jagged granite peaks in a line, called "The Hazards".

In order to get to wineglass bay one must first endure a 45 minute uphill climb to wineglass lookout and then down 1.5 km to the secluded beach. The terrain is easily walkable but the climb uphill proved to be more difficult than I had expected. In the end Jenny and I were the brave souls who embarked on this adventure. Before we started the walk in the car park we met a new friend.

These wild wallabies are so tame they come up to you and eat out of your hand.

Views during the climb - if you look closely you can see a rainbow in the second picture

Wineglass bay from the lookout










Jenny and I very proud we made it too the lookout - only through Jenny's encouragement.

We had planned to eat lunch at the lookout and then make our way down to the beach but the weather was windy, cool and drizzling so we decided to head back to the car park - not to mention the 1.5 km journey to the bay was downhill which would mean a 1.5km uphill climb back to the lookout then down to the car park - just did not seem all that appealing.

On our way back to the resort we drove to Friendly Beaches. Spectacular views, miles of unspoiled white sand beaches, and low-key camping by the sea are the main features of The Friendly Beaches, which were added to the Freycinet National Park in 1992. Gravel roads lead to car parks overlooking the beaches.








Driving into the resort I was able to capture the most amazing picture of a rainbow with my new camera.

Yes I really did take these pictures


The Piermont Resort is very similar to resorts around the Parksville area of Vancouver island. These pictures are views from the balcony of our cabin.

The possum moved and decided to take a pooh while I was taking this shot.

Dinner at the resort

The rest of the evening was filled with wine and jockularity.

The next morning the weather was glorious - warm and sunny. We were able to sit out on the balcony in our PJ's to enjoy the beautifully sunrise.





My Tassie sisters!

Our cabin - beautiful accommodation


After breakfast we took a walk around the resort and along the beach.

One of the other smaller cabins at the resort.


Before leaving the area we drove into the little town of Swansea where another beautiful beach is located.

We then drove back to Hobart stopping along the way at a pub for lunch. Tasmania is another jewel of Australia that should not be missed. Saturday night was Chinese takeaway and overnight at Kerry and Rick's house. Sunday morning it was off to the airport for my 8:40 am flight back to Sydney, however I was 5 minutes late and the checkin was closed. Oh well thanks to staff travel I just went on the Internet and requested a refund for this light and was able to get business class on the next qantas flight. When I arrived in Sydney I was to take the train to Sutherland where Marianne's sister Jenny was to pick me up. Guess what ?? the trains were not running - so after two buses and two hours I finally arrived at Sutherland. All my washing is now done and I have repacked - tomorrow i must be up at 5am and it is goodbye to Australia as I travel on the 14 hour flight to South Africa. Thank you to everyone who has made my short visit to Australia so enjoyable - what does Arnold say 'I'll be back'.

Note - not sure if I will have Internet access on my SA safari but I will upload blogs as soon as I do.