Entering South Africa at Martin’s Drift/Groblers Bridge border crossing was a real pain in the butt! Leaving Botswana was a breeze, and things were looking good until we crossed the bridge and then there in front of us was the longest queue of pedestrians we had seen since leaving Morocco into Mauritania a year and a half ago.
In these instances, where you park the truck takes some thought, you really don’t want to get boxed in and then have to wait for other people to do their paperwork before you can actually leave, so I strategically parked behind a row of commercial trucks so that I could leave the queue and go either way out. As we got to the back of the long queue of people waiting to get to Immigration a security guy told me we couldn’t park there as we weren’t a commercial vehicle. Now despite a queue of at least 200 people in front of us, Grobler Bridge border post is tiny and there is very little parking and Colonel K was definitely never going to fit between the cars in a parking bay (even if one became free). He directed me past the parking area to another security guard, who then directed me even further to another security guard, and so it went on until eventually I was outside the border barrier and now officially in South Africa and parked on the road!!! At no time was I asked for ID, but Jac was now inside, in the queue with my passport, this could now be a problem getting back inside the secure area, NOPE, I just walked though all the barriers saying hi to anyone that looked at me. Armed with hats and 1.5 litres of water we settled down to a two hour shuffle along outside until we got to the Immigration desk.
It was incredibly frustrating with only two officials checking and stamping passports (one was doing 10 times more than the other one that was doing a fantastic impression of a sedated zombie). But eventually we were through, found a customs official that could stamp our carnet, and amazingly Colonel K still had all its wheels when we got back to him, as usual no one bothered to check inside the truck, (we could have had 20 passengers inside).
We badly need to replace our leisure batteries (those that serve our living accommodation), and find somewhere to remove the solar panel and fix a leak underneath and to sort a issue with the air-con unit which sometimes lets in water. So we headed for the large town of Polokwane (formally Pietersburg) in the north of the Limpopo region, where we found a nice small friendly campsite, Boma in the Bush. Here the owners and other guests suggested a few places where we could get this work done and the most promising was a large camping and caravanning shop about 10km back into town.
The next morning we met the workshop manager who quoted for the work, and we booked the Colonel in for 3 days, but not for another week. So we made a plan and decided to go off for a week and then come back for the work to be carried out.
Firstly we wanted to spend a couple of days in the mountains around Letaba. On the way we stopped at the tiny village of Haenertsburg (another recommendation), and had a fantastic coffee and cake which was something we’ve not really experienced since we were last in SA nearly a year ago, and we also had a walk around the curio shops. Then it was up and over the massively steep pass, but at the top we planned to use a campsite that is listed on our trusty ioverlander app. This proved to be a bit of a nightmare, we were expecting a steep down into the valley below, and the first kilometre was ok for our Daf (even though the dirt track was quite wet and slippery), then as we turned left towards the camp again it got really steep, and although the owners had concreted two strips to get a bit of traction into your tyres, in our case our wheel tracks were much too wide!! I jumped out and walked the next half kilometre, NO WAY!!! Turning round was impossible so we ended up reversing back to the left hand turn and shunting the truck around until we faced the right way, it was very steep, very slippery, and of course extremely narrow. Both the clutch and the brakes were now smelling. After turning around we let the Colonel have a few minutes rest and then slowly, very slowly edged our 9,500kg bulk back up the steep slippery hill (it had been raining hard that morning) in Low Range 1st gear. Once again our trusty Daf proved his worth. But maybe the owners of the campsite could put a sign up at the road warning of a steep descent? Ok 90% of other vehicles that go camping in SA are 4×4 bakkies, such as a Landcruiser, or Hi-lux, but some people must get stuck coming out of that ravine.
Ok lets go to the town of Tzaneen and camp there, we knew we could get into that one even though the review on ioverlander suggested that the track into the camp was steep. So this time, leaving Jac in the truck, I walked down to the campsite. This time it was definitely not a problem getting down there and out, but the owners and staff were so unfriendly and uninterested in us, that I thought no I’m not paying to stay here, so walked back up to the tarmac to tell Jac “the good news”. By the time I got back, I was really blowing chunks (it was hot and steeper than it looked), we looked at our options (it was still only early afternoon), and decided to head straight for Kruger National Park to the east.
We stayed at a campsite right next to the Phalaborwa Gate, which is roughly half way up the vast National Park, here we decided to buy our Sanparks WildCard. This card which costs about £200 for a couple (international visitor), and allows free access to all South African National Parks and Reserves (over 80 of them) and lasts for 12 months, even giving you a small discount off the camping rates inside Kruger. Its a no brainer, and offers incredible value for money. So we booked a total of 3 nights camping in the NP (2 nights in Letaba, and 1 night in Satara) and headed off, full of expectation of what was to come (game viewing always does this to us, whether we are self driving or in a game vehicle.
Within a few hundred metres of the gate, we saw a group of large mean looking Spotted Hyena’s crossing the road, things were looking good!
As you can see from the photo above Kruger has tarmac roads, in fact a lot of tarmac roads. In our view this really does distract from the feeling of being in a vast national park, its feels more like being on a main road with drastic speed restrictions due to a large number of wild animals being present. We have actually had this scenario in places such a Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana recently, and saw lots of animals on these main roads.
But despite these tarmac highways (which are always busy) there are lots of dirt and sand tracks that you can drive on (usually a loop that comes back onto the same or a different tarmac road), and weirdly there are very few vehicles on these tracks. I don’t understand why this is, as they are by far the best places to view animals and are definitely more picturesque.
Obviously we did see lots of animals, even though it is the summer here and so also the rainy season, which means the animals have an abundance of both food and water, so don’t need to visit the waterholes near the roadsides.
And of course there was the fantastic array of birdlife including these heron’s, storks and spoonbills.
Both the campsites that we stayed at inside Kruger were enormous, and very unattractive, and incredibly both had a “Mugg & Bean” restaurant/coffee shop! Why anyone needs a Mugg and Bean in a place like Kruger I don’t know, and it really is very different to any other national park that we have stayed in on this trip (but the lime milkshakes were very good). I’m sure if it was your first safari experience you’d think it was amazing, but as you can probably tell we had mixed feeling about the place.
At Letaba Camp we were sitting outside in the shade of our awning drinking a nice fresh coffee when suddenly a medium size Monitor Lizard came shooting out from a under rotten branch, about 3 metres from where we were sitting, it was only because he was banging what ever he had is his mouth on a tree truck that we took more notice. He has an enormous black scorpion in his jaws and was determined to kill and eat it.
I was routing for the lizard, we really didn’t want that black scorpion scuttling around our feet (not so safely encased in flip-flops), and eventually sure enough he swallowed its deadly prey. It just goes to show, you never really know whats around you, especially in the dark.
The view from Letaba camp is really nice over the river, and one of the advantages of staying inside the park is that you are allowed to leave the camp in your vehicle at 4.30am, obviously we took full advantage of this and watched the sun rise (at about 5.15am) over the river bank, from the comfort of our cab.
Proberbly the highlight for us over these 3 days was seeing two male Lions by the side of the track, and watching these extremely full bellied animals dosing and rolling in the sun.
And a beautiful family of hyena, on the way out of the park.
We still had a couple of nights left before we had to be back in Polokwana, so we decided to camp at Graskop, and visit the stunning viewpoints that are “Gods Window” and “The Three Rondavels” that look out over the Blyde River Canyon. We visited these on a previous visit to South Africa, and were keen to re-acquaint ourselves to this area. As we climbed the steep “Kowyns Pass” up into Graskop, we entered the thick cloud, and the wet weather. And this is how it stayed for the next 24 hours. You really could not see a thing!!!
This is the view over “Gods Window” from the infinity pool in the campsite, I’m sure it is stunning on a clear day, as pointed out by the owner on his postcards that he had for sale!
Next morning (it was still raining), we set off for the gold rush mining village of Pilgrims Rest, this is a very rare treat for Africa, as its a Heritage Site and all the buildings have preservation orders on them. So after a lovely coffee and pancakes (yup its still South Africa) in a fantastic coffee shop “Pilgrims Pantry”, we went off for a wander round the village.
Pilgrims Rest has got a strange English and Scottish feel about it, not only from the old British built buildings but also from the wild green hills and forests around the village.
After leaving Pilgrims Rest you are almost straight into “Robbers Pass”, we were warned by someone in the village that it was pretty steep in places, so at the base we selected low range (you need to be stationary to do this really), and very slowly (3rd gear low range mostly) we chugged our way up to the top, and the view was breathtaking, and it had finally stopped raining.
While Colonel K cooled, we chilled and took a few daft photos.
We are now back in Polokwane, at Boma in the Bush, and have been without our home for 5 days (originally 3 days but Friday is a Public Holiday here), and we are in a self catering chalet (uninsulated shed with a tiny kitchen and an even smaller bathroom), but its pretty cheap at £30 a night and we can cook for ourselves.
We were picked up on Saturday morning by a guy from the workshop, as the work had been completed. After a 10km high speed ride in the back of an open pick-up, I walked up to the truck to find a worker still on the roof, no problem I guess its the finishing touches being applied, that is until I climbed up on the cab roof to find him starting to remove the leaking solar panel, he was only just starting, not finishing!!! what the hell? next we looked inside, there was rain water everywhere, it was obvious that it had been parked outside for the 4 days out in the massive thunderstorms that we had experienced from the safety of our “shed” over the previous days. No one bothered to park it in the workshop, and we have learnt that to stop the leak finding its way inside we always park it slightly on a slope, this was parked on completely level ground, I seriously went into orbit. I refused to leave, and supervised and helped the worker seal and refit the solar panel (by this point my confidence in the company to do a decent job have evaporated). It was a Saturday and they close at 1pm, so I will spend most of Monday at the workshop, again making sure that the work is done right.
We got another bakkie ride back to Boma in the Bush, and a South African family that are on the site kindly invited us over for a braii (a barbecue to us brits), it was also a great excuse to get just a little drunk. Jake, Mary-Ann, and their two lovely kids Ethan and Storm, were fantastic and treated us to a mammoth meat eating session, oh and a very welcome drinking session.
We had a fantastic evening, in great company, but Jake and Mary-Ann also invited us to go with them to Debengeni Falls the next day (Sunday). So, with six people tightly packed into Jake’s Renaut Clio, we set off, obviously stopping for a quick beer en-route, we really had a great day. The kids had a ball in the ice cold waters in the mountains, using the slippery rocks as slides into the rock pools.
After the freezing kids had warmed up, we trekked back up to the car and stopped at a nearby village and had a really nice leisurely meal. This was exactly what we needed after the issues with the workshop, a day out with a really lovely family.
Hopefully the God of Trucks will be kind to us and the complete idiots at Limpopo Caravans and Camping will finish the work on Colonel K’s roof and we can get back living in our mini mobile house, then its off to a supermarket to stock up with essentials, and then head off towards Pietermaritzburg (inland from Durban) where we have been very kindly invited to spend Christmas on a friends parents farm.
I would like to wish all 30,000 people that have viewed lorrywaydown over the past two years a very merry Christmas, and all the best for the coming new year. I hope you have enjoyed reading about our little “jolly” as much as we have travelling and telling you about it.
Once again thanks for reading, and see you on the other side of the New Year