Adventure Tour (3-26 September 1999)
"Run!" the command came fast and
sharp amidst the stillness of the African bushveld. Before we know it, everyone
was running at a speed most of us have little inkling that we were capable
of. However, in less than 5 seconds, it
was all over with our ranger guide shouting "Okay, all can stop".
were on a 24 days' adventure tour in South Africa (SA) last September that our
group had a chance encounter with two black rhinos in Mkhaya Nature Reserve in Swaziland. The black rhino is one
of the Big Five animals on everyone's safari list and the most endangered and
difficult to spot, as compared to its cousins the white rhinos. Having just
heard from our guide of the dangers of crossing the paths of these bad tempered
giants, we were only too glad to bolt upon our ranger guide's command. It was
certainly the funniest incident in our trip as we later figured that most of us
had run more than 25m while the rhinos had chased for only 5m. But this is Africa's adventure at its wildest!
started our Safari adventure at the famous KrugerNational Park,
not only the largest and oldest but also the best-managed wildlife park in South Africa.
Covering over 20,000 sq. km in Mpumalanga,
Kruger has the greatest animal diversity in Africa, including the "Big
Five" - Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Buffalo
and Rhino. The southern section is by far the most popular and is accessible
from Johannesburg some 478km away (or equivalent
to the distance from Singapore
to Kuala Lumpur).
Spotting the games in Safaris takes skill and experience. It's easier that you
mistake a rhino for a large boulder or to miss the king of the beasts in the
tall and earth-coloured grass as African game is after all designed with
camouflage in mind. During our 3 days sojourn at Kruger, we were lucky to spot
all the big five! That was sheer elements of luck and patience as we learnt
that there were some locals who visited Kruger year after year but could only
spot all five in every one out of 6-8 visits. These may be exactly what make
game spotting so "additive" for some. A few of us might have
entertained little excitement of visiting a safari or game reserve which was
thought to be nothing but a bigger version of our Singapore's Zoo. But by the
end of the safari adventure, we were totally converted. All of us were so
addicted to the art of game spotting and got so excited each time we spotted a
major game that our guide had to remind us many times to keep our voices down
to avoid scaring the animals. For such a change, we must give credit to our
guide who is an amazing walking encyclopedia on the African flora and
fauna. We were totally awed by his
eagle-sharpness of eyesight as he pointed out minute details of animals (even gender!)
so far away that we even had problems making out using our binoculars and long
telephoto lenses! Nevertheless, we have
learnt the most fundamental of Safaris, that is, the best times of day for
game-viewing are the cooler early morning when the gates are just opened and
the late afternoon when the temperature starts dropping.
Our SA adventure was more than just a
Safari. Immediately after flying into Johannesburg,
we were driven to the 3rd largest canyon in the world, BlydeRiverCanyon where we explored the
natural wonders of Africa. We had some thrill
walking moments on the top of the several waterfalls, Lisbon
falls, where we took a downward heart-stopping peek down the cascades, and at Bourke's Luck Potholes featuring strange
but smoothly scooped formations carved into the rocks by water-driven pebbles
at the confluence of the Treur and Blyde rivers. The best view of all could
well be the Three Rondavels set
against the Blyde river dam. It was there that we carpe diem to take at least
one dramatic solo photo standing by the edge of an overhanging rock for that
"top of the world, possibly drop to the bottom" kind of feeling.
Next, we proceeded to Swaziland,
a hilly kingdom within eastern SA, for a glimpse of traditional African crafts.
Colourful baskets and mats made from traditional grass weaving, wooden crafts,
Swazi candles and crystal-clear glass craftworks of all shapes and sizes are
displayed in the widespread "Curios" markets or centers. Living up to
our reputation as avid shoppers, most of us did not waste the opportunity of
buying back a few pieces home for our friends and relatives.
After the taste of Swazi culture and the
excitement of game viewing in the Mlilwane Wildlife Reserve on foot and in the
Mkhaya Game Reserve on 4 WD (the
memorable encounter with the two black rhinos!), we took a slow drive to St
Lucia where we cruised on Lake St Lucia.
We were supposed to sight the largest South African population of hippos
wallowing and snorting in the shallow water (1.5m) and the rich bird life but
we were pretty unlucky with the rain. Ill-prepared in our shorts and sports
sandals, the "cold exposure" to an unrelenting wind was just another
great experience. For that moment, we were only too glad to get on shore and
back to the coziness of our lodge, never mind the ecological wonder of the
African heartland of Zululand
where Zulu indigenous crafts and customs are rich, we had an overnight stay in
the traditional Zulu huts. There, we were treated to a night of Zulu
hospitality of dance and dinner and told of its tales - the rise of Zulu nation
under the rule of King Shaka and its fall to the British imperial force, all
under the warm of the glittering South African stars. A township stay with the
Basothos and the Zulus families in Harrismith was yet another great opportunity
to truly feel the tune of Africa.
The relatively undeveloped high mountain kingdom of Lesotho,
"The Roof of Africa", beckoned next with plenty of rolling undulating
highland scenery. We were driven on a 4WD vehicle over the adventurous SaniPass. It may
possibly be a nerve-wrecking experience for the faint-hearted with its
innumerous narrow and winding turns, but a thrilling one with its dramatic gain
of elevation with every loop. Lesotho
was also where our serious trekking adventure actually began. Despite the pretty cold temperature of between
8-10oC, it was worth all the efforts for the beautiful sight when we
reached the highest points of the pass, Hodgeson
Peak at about 3200m, where we could see the surrounding gigantic valleys and
lowlands a hundred kilometres away.
Back to SA, we continued to the soaring DrakensbergMountains,
the highest in Southern Africa, where we
camped and trekked for the next few days. Being the "Dragon
Mountains" or the Zulus call the mountains Quathlamba (or "Barrier of
Spears") in awe of its many high peaks and pinnacles divided by deep
ravines and chasms, it is a hikers' paradise which offers great hiking and
horse-riding in winding trails through the spectacular mountain scenery. One of
our best treks might be to the top of Mike's
Pass where we captured a panorama of the range of the CathedralPeak.
Though we failed to reach the Cathedral
Circuit as we got lost amidst the well-posted trail signs, we completed a
22.5 km Tugela Gorge hike,
undoubtedly the most popular walk in the region. We were disappointed again as we saw the Tugela Falls, reputedly
the 2nd highest in the world at 850m, in the "dried out" state due to
the dry winter condition. Nevertheless, we had some fun climbing a 10 m high
ladder chain and were happy with the great mountain scenery that were bestowed
upon us. Drakensberg is also renowned for its rich and finest San rock arts in
the world. Invariably found high up either under rock overhangs or deep caves
that required some physical efforts in getting there, we took the opportunity
to hike for 3 hours under the blazing sun just to be notably impressed by them.
But we were left wondering how some of these rock arts managed to survive for
so long with the kind of primitive ink, made of animal blood, charcoal and
other colouring materials, that were used.
was our coastal wilderness adventure along the Garden Route, which is a romantic garden
of rich colourful vistas. While camping at the rugged coastline of TsitsikammaNational Park,
we took a short hike on one of the most famous walks in SA - the Otter
Trail. The short hike was just the first
day of the 41-km 5-day trail that takes the hiker along the rugged coastline,
across ravines, through thick forests and along golden beaches. Tsitsikamma is
just the place to laze around to appreciate the full symphony of pounding surf,
quaking seagulls and a wonderful sea breeze against one of the most rugged
African coastline. We even managed to catch glimpses of dolphins racing near
More leisure times followed as we arrived at
the arid savannah town of Oudtshoorn - the
Ostrich capital of the world beside Australia. Out of the several major
ostrich farms, we took an organised tour to the Cango Ostrict Farm. A few of us were game enough to ride an
ostrich, and that turned out to be far harder than it looked. We also visited
the Cango Wildlife Park where some
took the chance to touch a cheetah. Finally, our tour of Oudtshoorn ended with
a caving adventure in the CangoCaves
sighting some 200,000 years old stalactites and stalagmites. A great adventure
when we needed to squeeze in-between some tight passages along the way,
certainly something that requires more effort out of a bigger person.
Leaving Oudtshoorn, we took on a
hair-raising mountain bike trip down the winding Swartberg mountain pass. It
was really a test of brake control and we were shown the possible danger of a
miscontrol as one crazy New Zealander hurled down the pass in a fury and a
straight shortcut down hillside. Miraculously he survived the adrenaline plunge
with just a few cuts to his limbs and a nasty knock to his brain. We wondered
if he was wiser after this hard knock.
Along our drive to Cape
Town, we stopped by one of the SA's unsung attractions offering the
best shore-based whalewatching in the world - the WhaleCoast. At the small seaside town of Hermanus,
we sighted the Southern Right whales performing "headstand" only
about 100 metres away from the shore.
Our timing was just right as the best time for sightings is between May
and November. It was certainly one of the most leisure activities of our entire
tour but required the most of our patience.
Finally we arrived at Cape Town, which is one of
the most beautiful cities in the world with backdrop of the "TableMountain".
At noon, we headed straight for the Mountain where the majority of us opted to
take the hike straight up (via Platteklip Gorge) instead of taking the cable
car. The hike made our experience on the mountain all the more memorable as the
view from atop the mountain of the Atlantic Ocean
was simply beautiful in the setting sun.
The horizon was the last we could see before we unwillingly made our way
down the mountain, this time on the cable car to get the best of both worlds.
Dinner was good and cheap in the restaurants at the Waterfront, about 50% of
the cost of a similar meal in Singapore.
On our 2nd last day in SA, we
sailed to the Seal Island from Hout Bay
to view the fur seals, and drove along the Chapman's
Peak Drive which is one of the world most stunning scenic drives. After "brunch" at BoulderBeach,
we sighted the most elegant African Penguins, nesting, sunning, and swimming
along the shores in close proximity. Lastly, we visited the Cape of Good Hope Nature
Reserve at the most southerly tip of the Peninsula,
Cape Point. On the wild coast where
the reputed legend of the Flying Dutchman
remains, we experienced particularly strong wind that threatened to blow us off
our feet. Such was indeed a fitting end to
an adventure tour as we reluctantly fly back home in the early morning the next
day after 22 days in South
A journey to Africa is a journey to the
soul- an ancient voice stirs deep within us, reconnecting us to the very
essence of our being, for it was here, in Africa,
that our ancestors became man.
- Jonathan Scott