From Marakele, we retraced our steps through the mining town of Thabazimbi, to get onto the main road heading east. The landscape around the town was extraordinary; they were literally taking the mountains apart to get at the iron ore, with the slag seemingly dumped down the mountain sides.
Thabazimbi iron ore mining – this once was a mountain
Our eventual destination was Kruger National Park, via another mountainous area around Magoebaskloof (the ‘g’ sounds like ‘ch’ in the Scottish ‘loch’), and we managed to find some shock absorbers in a town en route, saving us a long detour to Pretoria or Johannesburg. We had already booked a camp to break the trip to Magoesbaskloof, a site up a 4×4 trail deep in the Waterburg mountains. Although we were a little concerned about getting there with the broken shock we decided that, if we drove carefully, it would be ok, which it was. The Waterburg Wilderness Camp was lovely. They had been full for the weekend, with about 60 people, but by the time we arrived we were the only ones there. They gave us a private camp for the price of a shared one, down its own track away from the main camp. It really was a wilderness experience. The reserve was fairly small and securely fenced and as there were no dangerous animals we were free to walk where we wanted. Having been in the national park for a week we were in sore need of some exercise so opted to stay for a second night. We did a really nice walk along the river and up a 4×4 track named Van Zyls Pass (steep but not as steep as the real thing) and to a high point which had a great view. It was great to get out of the car for a change. We even found a porcupine ‘sett’ on the way, a series of huge burrows about 0.75 metres high, and picked up some quills that were scattered around the area.
Riverside walk at the Waterburg Wilderness
The camp had a portable fire bowl, a huge heavy affair, which provided a bit of warmth on the cold evenings as well as heat for cooking.
Camping with fire in a bowl
The next day we set off for Polokwane, where we got the replacement shock absorbers fitted and also got the brakes looked at. For most of our trip we have been plagued by squealing brakes. We’re not talking about a bit of a squeak here, we’re talking loud enough to wake the dead. It had been really bad in Marakele, which was a very undulating park, and for about the 4th time Gareth had changed the brake pads and greased everything up, to no avail. We found a specialist who had a look at them and told us that we should skim the discs. It wasn’t expensive (much cheaper than the alternative of replacement discs which had been next on our list of things to try) so we got it done. We drove away with a pile of filings off our discs sitting on the floor and the beautiful sound of silence – no squealing. Hooray! It seemed to have worked.
We’d read about Magoebaskloof in ‘Go!’ magazine, one of several really good SA outdoor publications that have some great tips on places to visit. The area centres around the village and its eponymous mountain pass which drops 600 metres in 5 km. It has a very alpine feeling, with huge conifer and eucalyptus plantations clothing the steep valley sides and numerous streams tumbling over rocky waterfalls and through deep gorges. We paid a small entrance fee to visit and walked up the side of one of these waterfalls, Debengeni, which was magic, especially as there was no-one else around. No-one apart from the guy at the kiosk and a very cocky Samango monkey which apparently joined him every lunchtime to share his mealie pap.
Cocky Samango monkey
The next day we went to an activity centre and did a canopy trail. This involved a series of 11 zip wires strung across a river gorge. It was brilliant fun and the views were spectacular. The longest wire was 150 metres and we zipped over several beautiful waterfalls. As you can see we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Here we go…
Anyone seen the film Cliffhanger?
Taking a break with a cool backdrop
It’s a long way down…
In the afternoon we tried to visit Kings Walden Manor Gardens. Sharing its name with a place in Hertfordshire we were intrigued to find out more. Unfortunately we got there to find that it was closed for a wedding, but we got a glimpse of a tree at the centre of a very romantic story. In the 1930s, a woman stood under a Blue Gum (Eucalyptus) tree on the edge of the garden looking across the valley towards the Drakensburg Mountains. At her side was the estate owner. As she gazed at the stunning view she sighed “I never want to leave this place”. Without missing a beat he replied “marry me and you will never have to”. Of course she did and many years later, on the night she died, the tree was struck by lightning. The skeleton, known as the Lightning Tree, still stands to this day.
We finished our exploration of the area with a trip to a Cycad reserve. Some types of these unusual trees have been around since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and some on this reserve are thought to be several thousand years old. It was an interesting walk and a nice reserve, spoilt rather by the lack of maintenance on the visitor centre, picnic area and toilets, despite the fact they seem to have had no expense spared when they were built. There was no water so the toilets didn’t flush and obviously hadn’t for some time… We mentioned this at the gate when we left and he said “yes, the pipe’s f****d up”!!! It made us smile.
We made better time on the road than expected and so pushed on to Kruger, arriving at the northern Punda Maria gate with time for a slow drive through the 20km of park roads that led to our camp before its gate closed. We’d finally arrived at one of the most famous and one of the largest national parks in the world. The Kruger is huge, the size of Wales, and has a reputation for big game. After our sightings at Marakele, the pressure for a leopard is off but that doesn’t stop us wanting to see and photograph them … Although our trip is by no means just about safaris, when we have access to such beautiful places with such an incredible variety of wild animals, it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of seeing them up close, in the wild, whenever we have the opportunity. There’s something really special about getting close to animals like elephants and especially the big cats. The fierce, regal and seemingly lazy Lions; the secretive, powerful and wildly beautiful Leopards. And here we also have a chance to see the rare, threatened and elusive Wild Dog, which so far on our travels has evaded us and which would be truly special to see. So we have lots of hopes and anticipation, but just what the park will bring we will have to wait and see…