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The Ultimate Bush and Beach Road Trip to Kruger and Mozambique (Part 1)

The Ultimate Bush and Beach Road Trip to Kruger and Mozambique (Part 1)

Back in January, we wrote an open letter to the universe, putting our 2017 travel dreams into writing in the hope of turning them into reality (#17Adventures). Top of our whole family’s list was somewhere tropical. We weren’t too fussy exactly where – it should just be somewhere with warm turquoise waters teeming with fish, white sand beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze.  Although getting a family of five to these kind of places works out tearfully expensive, there was no way that we were going to let minor details like a lack of sufficient finance stand in our way of visiting a tropical beach this year.

 

To hell with it, we thought…let’s just drive there.  And so began our 19 day, 6000km road trip from wintery Port Elizabeth all the way to Mozambique’s tropically warm Vilanculos via the Kruger National Park.

 

And boy do we have a lot of stories to tell! We saw and experienced so much, its hard to know where to start. After mulling it over, I thought the best way to begin is with a summary of where we went and why, how we got there, where we stayed and what we did.

 

Part 1 – Across the country to Kruger National Park

 

We started off with an overnight in Johannesburg. It’s a long haul of 1100km from Port Elizabeth which is a lot of driving for one day. We love the drive through Addo, up the Olifantskop pass, via Cradock and through the smaller roads of the beautiful Karoo landscape past the Gariep dam to Bethulie, where we join the N1 again to Bloemfontein. From Bloemfontein to Johannesburg is a bit flat and boring, but this time we took a more interesting detour via the gold mining towns around Welkom to avoid roadworks on the N1.

 

After a great catch up with our family in Jo’burg, we got an early start to Kruger, which is an easy 450km driving distance from Johannesburg, and we arrived in the park just after lunch. After a fabulous drive from Numbi gate, we stayed overnight at Skukuza which is located right in the middle of big animal country. Ideally, it would have been nice to stay for two nights, but getting accommodation inside the park during school holidays is not easy – even though we booked a long time ago, most of the camps were already fully booked.

A huddle of hyenas

Tip – Book your accommodation in the Kruger National Park long in advance – online bookings open a year in advance (www.sanparks.org)

 

The park being so full adds a crazy madness to the game self-drives – you have to fight for your patch of tar if there is a good sighting, and it is almost just as interesting to watch the human behaviour as everyone jostles for their inch of view and road rage tempers flare. As always, Skukuza delivered and we enjoyed watching a huge huddle of hyenas snuggling up to each other in a big cuddly pile, a pack of wild dogs running past sniffing our wheels and causing a serious traffic jam across the Sabie River bridge, a magnificent male lion on a kill clogging an intersection and absolutely enormous flocks of thousands and thousands of screeching little birds dancing in the sky around us at dusk and dawn.

Sunset over the Sabie River

 

Mathikithi Wilderness Trail

The main reason for our visit to the Kruger Park was to take Cian on his first ever walking wilderness trail – for his 12th Birthday. We did the same for both Jacob and Luke in the years that they turned 12 and Cian has been counting down to his big moment for years!  The wilderness trails are the absolute best, most intense and special safari experience possible. Three nights spent with the wild bush all to yourselves in a rustic camp deep in the middle of the park. It just simply doesn’t get better than this. We booked the newest trail – Mathikithi, which is located near Satara in lion country. The camp consists of four double tents overlooking a riverbed, three ablution buildings, a large lapa dining and kitchen area, a boma outdoor fireplace and tents for the lovely staff on duty – rangers Joas and Ronnie and the fabulous chef and camp manager Henry (we have been lucky enough to have Henry look after us on all three of our family wilderness trails!).

Glamping at Mathikithi

Rangers Joas & Ronnie

It is more “glamping” than rough camping. There is solar power, hot running water, good toilets and very comfy proper beds inside large permanent tents on wooden deckings, each with a stunning view. All your meals are prepared for you and there is a big fridge for the drinks you bring with. Each morning, you go on a 4-5 hour walk through the park, with two armed rangers to escort you safely and to show you the ins and outs of nature. Seeing the wild on foot gives an entirely different perspective than by vehicle. You get to ignite your senses with the sights, sounds, smells, the feel and even tastes of the bush. The silence is blissful and cathartic as you hike quietly in a single file, stopping to see all the smaller things – the signs and tracks that the animals leave behind, and to learn about the incredible ways that the plants have adapted to survive and thrive though every season. Pure magic!

Walking silently in the early morning

Lion or hyena?

A wilderness lesson en route

Each day, when we walked wearily back to camp after the morning hike, we were greeted with a banging drum announcing one of chef Henry’s hearty bush meals.  After brunch, we whiled away the warm mid-day with a nap and a good book while the kids pottered around camp, discovering a world of delight all around us. In the afternoons, we piled onto the safari truck and went in search of the best place to view the incredible Lowveld winter sunset with a sundowner.  The night drives on the way back to camp were incredible. We were lucky enough to see African Wild Cats twice – one with a tiny kitten by her side, the other hunting a brand newborn Steenbok. The little Steenbok’s mom was still busy licking it and it was the cutest, tiniest little thing we have ever seen.

A perfect Kruger sunset

Time paused for our family at Mathikithi. We thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of our 3 days there – we experienced incredible things, learned loads of new stuff and rid ourselves gently of the stress which envelopes us in our city lives.

This poor buffalo came to a sorry end

A doctors visit in Phalaborwa

Cian had developed a nasty throttle in his chest and had a high temperature, so we decided to drive out of the park to the nearest doctor in Phalaborwa before heading to our next overnight camp at Mopani, quite far North in the Kruger. And although this wasted some of our precious time in the park, we were very thankful for our decision later on – medical care was not something readily available in Mozambique.

Tip – take a well-stocked medical kit and a general antibiotic with when visiting Mozambique. Healthcare is not readily available.

There are some giant Kruger bulls around Mopani

Ralph’s favourite bird – the Ground Hornbill

We arrived at Mopani just before the gate closed, and once again wished we had more than one night to see and experience the area properly. Mopani boasts lovely large family sized thatched houses overlooking a huge dam filled with very angry hippos, one of which took exception to Jacob and gave him a hell of a fright when it launched like a three ton missile out of the water towards him, making the fence seem quite insignificant and sending him running back home.

 

As we fell asleep to the chirruping of a Scops Owl and a nightjar’s occasional song, we were at peace – the type of deep contentment and oneness with life that being in the bush creates.

 

No. 2 –Something Wild, truly done and dusted! (An Open Letter to the Universe)

 

Watch out for the second part of this post – the long and colourful road to Vilanculos 

 

Yours in travel

 

 

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