Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 Readers' Tour... Part 1

To tell you the truth I’d forgotten just how bitterly, unrelentingly, bone-cuttingly cold an open-vehicle game drive in July in the Kruger National Park could be.

I’d also forgotten how fantastic it is to be in the bush at this time of year.

Because of my publishing schedule and Mrs Blog’s work commitments, she and I usually visit Africa between the months of September and March. This means we cop the southern African wet season, but it also means we’re rarely dressed in anything warmer than shorts and T-shirts.

It sounded like a good idea at the time, organizing this year’s 12-day tour of South Africa for readers of my books for July. I knew the bush in the Kruger Park would be thinning out as the long dry winter turned the grass from emerald to khaki, and the mopane leaves to red-gold. It’s also a good time of year to come on safari because rivers and waterholes are drying out and the park’s animals are congregating around the remaining natural and man made water points.

But it’s cold. Damn cold. Africa cold.

Getting back to the positives it’s also a brilliant time of year to take photographs. The sky is clear and blue nearly every day and there’s narrow band of dust sitting just above the horizon that makes for dramatic blood-red sunsets and sunrises. So, if you don’t mind losing the odd digit to frostbite, it’s a great time of year to go on safari.

We started this year’s tour by flying into Johannesburg, which resembled London on a bad winters’ day. Not that it was daytime when we arrived (as it should have been). The Chilean volcano ash cloud caused our direct Sydney-Johannesburg flight to not be direct – we had to stop at Perth to re-fuel and this added about five hours to our journey.

We arrived late, but met up with two members of our party who’d arrived early… at least they would have arrived early if their flight from Perth hadn’t been delayed 15 hours by mechanical problems. However, better late than never, we assembled in Tribes Restaurant in the Emperors’ Palace Casino complex near Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport and got stuck into it.

I’d also (nearly) forgotten just how good South African beef is, and how cheap their plonk is (compared to alcoholic beverages in Australia). Once chilled (as in out, not frozen), I retired to my small but perfectly formed room in the Peermont Metcourt Hotel for a good four-and-a-half hours sleep.

Just like the last tour, this year’s crew are an excellent bunch of people. In fact, we have two returnees from the first trip. We assembled the next morning and caught an SA Airlink flight from O.R. Tambo to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) near Nelspruit.

From KMIA we drove to the town of Hazyview, near the south-western corner of the Kruger Park. Hazyview’s a bustling safari town and home to Inspector Sannie van Rensburg (the heroine of one of my novels, ‘SILENT PREDATOR’). The point of the tour is to point out places where the action has taken place in some of my books so I showed the group where Alex Tremain car-jacked a four wheel drive (in ‘IVORY’) and where Sannie and Tom had a gunfight with a baddie on Sannie’s banana farm. I also pointed out what a safe country South Africa is to live in.

That afternoon we went to the Elephant Whispers elephant rehabilitation centre, for elephants with substance abuse problems (one was nearly shot for trying to overdose on oranges on a citrus farm). I’m going to blog more about Elephant Whispers on my Getaway Magazine blog in due course because I liked it a good deal, unlike some other wildlife rehab places, which, to paraphrase Ms Amy Whine-house, I would not like to go to again.

We stayed the night in Hazyview at Rissington Inn, owned by fellow writer and all-round decent chap Chris Harvie, who unfortunately wasn’t there as he was up-country – up several countries, in fact, in Tanzania. I love Rissington Inn. It’s quaint and old worldy. It’s the sort of place where you’d be executed under rule .303 talking on your mobile phone in the bar, yet still manages to come across as extremely laid back and welcoming.

Rissinton Inn

Next morning we had a long but enjoyable drive through the Kruger National Park to Imabli Private Game Lodge with my good friend and ace guide Greg from African Safari Adventures in Hazyview.

Imbali is a privately operated concession within the boundaries of the Kruger Park. It sits in the open plains near Orpen Gate, west of Satara. This is usually good lion country and it proved to be on this trip. I think we saw lions on all four of the game drives we did from Imbali. Of special interest were some cute-as-a-killer-button cubs who’d been parked in some long grass while their mothers went hunting, and their big daddy.

As a special treat, while watching a male and female lion interact with (ie eat) a buffalo, our intrepid tour guide, Mr W, happened to spot a leopard lurking in the background. Three of the big five in one location... not bad.


RobertLW said...

Excellent blog. Should be more of it!

ali g said...

Cold eh?
Hung the clothes out this morning at 6.30. was minus 7.6 degrees here in Mudgee!. ..great pics. typing this with fingers in my cup of tea to defrost them..

RobertLW said...

5 Degrees in Brisbane at present Mr G.

RobertLW said...

TP - I'm sending a link to this blog to my friends coming to Africa next year too, as a taster for what they can expect.

tonypark said...

Supposedly heading into good weather in Cape Town tomorrow - it's supposed to be an unseasonal 22 degrees, whereas Kruger and the lowveld is still freezing. Robert, we just spend time at Kirkmans Kamp in the Sabi Sand which was brilliant game viewing, just across the river from Tinga. Ali G... minus 7.6? OMG WTF.

dozycow said...

It sounds like you're all having a wonderful time - thanks for the beautiful pics !
Can't wait to hear all about Elephant Whispers