Hop­ping good time

South Africa’s di­verse wildlife and nat­u­ral splen­dour draws many vis­i­tors to the coun­try, and those want­ing an ur­ban es­cape won’t be dis­ap­pointed ei­ther.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By CYN­THIA EE star2­travel@thes­tar.com.my

ASK my 11-year-old her fond­est mem­o­ries of South Africa and she would rat­tle four names in one breath. Mind you, th­ese would not be any of the “Big Five” – rhi­noc­eros, ele­phant, Cape buf­falo, leop­ard and lion – or other wildlife for that mat­ter. Etched on her lips are the names of four ca­nines she’d bonded with: Tipsy, Goofy, Zeb and Fatso.

We (which in­cluded hubby, son and daugh­ter) had cer­tainly not planned for this to hap­pen. Our three-week itin­er­ary was sup­posed to be filled with out­door ac­tiv­i­ties that max­imised game view­ing, na­ture ap­pre­ci­a­tion and cul­ture im­mer­sion. Cape Town pro­vided us with a cos­mopoli­tan view of the coun­try once off-lim­its to Malaysian pass­port hold­ers un­til the fall of apartheid in 1994. Its stun­ning coast­line cap­ti­vated us with frol­ick­ing Cape fur seals, Jack­ass pen­guin colonies and mi­grat­ing south­ern right whales. We pic­nicked at Boul­ders Beach, home to thou­sands of pen­guins – and even swam along­side them.

After a week, we boarded an east-bound two-hour flight to Dur­ban. A three-hour leisurely drive took us through the pretty coun­try­side of KwaZulu-Na­tal to Mooi River, a farm­land com­mu­nity. We broke the jour­ney at Pig­gly Wig­gly for a cof­fee break. As the name sug­gests, the cafe is adorned with cute pig or­na­ments and car­i­ca­tures. I be­came ac­quainted with Rooi­bos Espresso, a con­coc­tion of Rooi­bos tea and cof­fee with milk on the side. It’s our ver­sion of Kopi Cham – plus a rich dose of flavour and aroma in bur­gundy.

An­i­mal en­coun­ters

Our jour­ney con­tin­ued through ram­bling hills, farms and vil­lages – the route aptly called Mid­lands Me­an­der – to the dairy farm op­er­ated by Ann Kean and her hus­band Drew, where we rented a guest cot­tage.

Once we alighted from the car, Ann emerged from her farm­house bran­dish­ing a cane. We soon saw why: Four bois­ter­ous dogs bounded after her. She needed not have both­ered about keep­ing the dogs at bay, for soon kids and dogs were rolling on the lawn en­gaged in a rowdy wres­tle.

The dogs ac­com­pa­nied us ev­ery­where on the farm and were ram­bunc­tious hosts in the evenings. One be­came par­tic­u­larly at­tached to us. Tipsy the Pit­bull cross, even camped over and thank­fully didn’t wreak havoc to the cot­tage. (We were told later that she was a chewer; my ripped slipper was ev­i­dence!).

Mooi River is an ex­cel­lent base to ex­plore the Drak­ens­berg Range, par­tic­u­larly Gi­ant’s Cas­tle, renowned for its San tribe rock paint­ings. The Drak­ens­berg re­gion is home to the largest col­lec­tion of San rock art in Africa. The San or Bush­men are in­dige­nous peo­ple of South­ern Africa (San means “those without cat­tle”) who were tra­di­tion­ally hunter-gath­er­ers. The Bush­men Cave Mu­seum es­tab­lished in 1903 is among the most ac­ces­si­ble rock art site fea­tur­ing 500 rock paint­ings, some of which are es­ti­mated to be 800 years old.

The two-hour trek to the open-air mu­seum proved to be a hiker’s dream, with 360-de­gree views of me­an­der­ing rivers and green moun­tain range. A guide in­tro­duced and in­ter­preted the paint­ings of wildlife such as eland an­telopes and hu­man fig­ures en­gaged in hunt­ing or rit­ual dance.

On our re­turn trek through the river route, we saw a large blue and red grasshop­per, which I later dis­cov­ered is called the foam­ing grasshop­per, one of the toxic species known to emit poi­sonous foam when threat­ened. Thank­fully we knew bet­ter than to en­gage with strange crea­tures. Or did we?

Of all the places we’d vis­ited, this was the tough­est to say good­bye to. Tipsy ap­peared par­tic­u­larly for­lorn. We even con­sid­ered ex­tend­ing our stay but the ac­com­mo­da­tion at St Lu­cia was al­ready pre­paid. The six­hour drive there was filled with chat­ter and rec­ol­lec­tions of the dogs’ an­tics.

Upon en­ter­ing the es­tu­ary lo­cated on an islet, we saw road signs warn­ing of hip­pos roam­ing the streets at night. We didn’t en­counter any but saw plenty on board a

cruise down the river. Pods of hip­pos con­gre­gated near the river banks, also home to king­fish­ers, African fish ea­gles and other birds. We spot­ted the first Big Five: A scowl­ing buf­falo that didn’t look too happy with the in­tru­sion of its pri­vacy.

Ea­ger to get the re­main­ing Big Five off the check­list, we headed to Hluh­luwe-Im­folozi park on our first self-drive sa­fari. Off the beaten track, right around the cor­ner, a lone gi­raffe stood in our path! We also saw ze­bras, rhi­noc­eros and many breeds of an­telopes be­fore call­ing it a day as the sum­mer heat be­came un­bear­able.

We headed to the Isi­man­gal­iso Es­tu­ary Beach to cool off. Keep­ing a look­out for croc­o­diles and hip­pos, we fol­lowed the board­walk to the sound of pound­ing waves, ea­ger for a dip in the ocean. Ex­cept there was no ocean in sight. Step­ping off the board­walk, we found our­selves in a mini-Sa­hara confronting an end­less stretch of sand dunes. It took some 300m to get to the wa­ters’ edge but the pound­ing waves and cur­rents were too strong for an idyl­lic swim.

Head­ing for a fall

The op­por­tu­nity for a soak came dur­ing our next stop in Hazyview. Fol­low­ing the panorama route, we ex­plored stun­ning wa­ter­falls such as Lone Creek, Ber­lin and Mac Mac Falls. Lone Creek Falls is ac­ces­si­ble after a short hike and we came right across the 70m high wa­ter­fall, the height of a 23-storey build­ing. We came pre­pared in our trench coats but left drenched to the bone.

We con­tin­ued our drive through Blyde River Canyon (at Mpumalanga), a 33km-long gorge known as the largest “green canyon” in the world, to view na­ture’s splen­dour of green moun­tain range, deep val­leys and gur­gling streams.

Nes­tled along the panoramic route is the Hoed­spruit En­dan­gered Species Cen­tre which op­er­ates open jeep tours of their fa­cil­ity, al­low­ing vis­i­tors to ob­serve chee­tahs, wild dogs and other en­dan­gered wildlife. Hud­dled to­gether was a pair of Sable, South Africa’s most ex­pen­sive an­te­lope, which can eas­ily fetch 27 mil­lion rand (RM8.7mil) each.

A day in Kruger Na­tional Park in­tro­duced us to warthogs, chee­tahs, lions and ele­phants. By now we had all the Big Five checked ex­cept for the elu­sive leop­ard. Our ad­ven­tures ended in Jo­han­nes­burg be­fore board­ing our re­turn flight home.

Un­like other ar­eas in South Africa, the city didn’t feel safe. Houses loomed like fortresses: barb wires on high walls, grilles on win­dows and doors, and equipped with so­phis­ti­cated alarm sys­tems. (Jo­han­nes­burg is ranked as one of the most dan­ger­ous cities in South Africa due to re­ported vi­o­lent crimes).

Upon our re­turn, a well-mean­ing friend asked if we were ever wor­ried for our safety, whether from hu­man or wild preda­tors. Truth be told, the only threats that dis­rupted the calm of our va­ca­tion were in the form of four pooches that have tram­pled all over our hearts.

When pressed to re­veal an­other South African favourite, my daugh­ter paused for a few sec­onds be­fore an­nounc­ing, “Ann Mar­shall Bishop Kean – only if she’d give us Tipsy.”

— CYN­THIA EE

This foam­ing grasshop­per can rock to the beat of Brit­ney Spear’s Toxic as its foam is poi­sonous.

— South Africa Tourism

One can be here for hours and not get bored with this view at Blyde River Canyon.

Poor gi­raffes have nowhere to hide from the pa­parazzi.

The highly prized and very en­dan­gered Sable an­te­lope.

A boat tour at St Lu­cia is no hype as you get lots of hippo sight­ings.

Here’s South Africa’s ver­sion of a ze­bra cross­ing.

— Pho­tos: CYN­THIA EE

One could eas­ily fall in love with Mpumalanga and its many falls like this one – the Ber­lin Falls.

— South Africa Tourism

An­other stun­ning view at the Drak­ens­berg Range.

A guide show­ing some of the San rock paint­ings at Gi­ant’s Cas­tle.

The hike to view the San rock paint­ings at Gi­ant’s Cas­tle also has the bonus of views such as th­ese.

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