Saturday, February 18, 2012

South Africa Day 12 - Kariega Game Reserve

Up early this morning for our drive to see the animals of this fine country in all their splendour. After a swift breakfast, we departed around 8.30 and got stuck into the four hour journey that would ultimately deliver us to the Kariega Game Reserve which would be our base for the next couple of days. En route we stopped in Jeffreys Bay, which is famous for its annual surfing competition, and is the sort of place that’s rife with hostels, laid back caf├ęs, people who wear beads in their hair and caters for travellers not tourists, yep it’s full of slackers and bloody hippies. Needless to say, and with a certain deadening inevitability, it’s also referred to as J-Bay.

Anyway, we stopped for a decent coffee and wrong turn that took as along the coast for a while, in the opposite direction we wanted to be going, but once that had been sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction, I put my foot down and headed on a course bearing due giraffe.

We made pretty good time, the roads, as normal were relatively quiet, and with a fair tailwind, good speed could be made. As the speedometer was in KPH, and I’m not completely sure how that exactly relates to MPH, I was never certain how fast I was actually going most of the time, in relation to how fast I would drive at home in the same conditions. I tended to go at a speed that I felt was covering a good amount of ground in a decent time, but not too fast that I was starting to feel like I had to concentrate too hard on the actual driving.

The main roads that cross the rural plains are of a pretty good standard, whilst not overly wide for two way traffic they do have capacious dirt sidings along their length. This is useful as it’s courteous to pull over slightly to let faster vehicles pass you, and most people do actually do this, it is equally courteous for the passer to flash their hazards at the passee to say thank you, which in return they may receive a sparkle of the headlights to say you’re welcome. I thought this type of roadway affability was splendid and it was one of the factors that made driving in this country so enjoyable. It was only when I got home and discovered that 140kph equates to around 90mph that I realised why I was passing so many cars on our assorted jaunts.

It wasn’t long before we hit Port Elizabeth, one of the largest cities in South Africa and also known as ‘The Windy City’, and from where we would be catching our flight to Johannesburg in a couple of days time. From here we made good use of the directions provided by the game reserve, choosing to take the more scenic route to the park, away from the main road. It was nice, certainly the terrain was not as mountainous as we were used to, but it was very green and lush.

One of the highlights of this section, well if I’m honest, the entire holiday in fact, was passing a road sign to a place called Hankey, which I thought was absolutely excellent. But there is more, as if living in a place named Hankey wasn’t enough, the inhabitants share their town with a sundial, which at 34.6 metres in diameter and weighing in at a hefty one ton, makes it South Africa’s largest sundial. We didn’t go to see either the town or its immense sundial, it was satisfying enough just to know they were there.

Arrived at the game park at around midday, just in time to get some lunch which was more than welcome, and if the delicious menu was any indication of what was to feature in our gastronomic future, we were in safe hands indeed. A fact not wasted on a small group of monkeys that had taken up position in a cluster of trees overlooking the dining room, I fancied they knew a good meal when they saw one and wanted to try their luck, but thanks to our ever vigilant waitress they were kept at bay, which they did not appreciate at all.

We climbed aboard the green behemoth that would be our transport about the reserve, along with the 4 other people who were also staying in the Ukhozi lodge area of the park. The gentle ride out into the wilderness gave us good views of the springbok, whose carpaccio I had so enjoyed a week or so ago, along with kudu, impala, nyla, waterbuck and all manner of other deer like animals whose names I have completely forgotten, but nevertheless where never very far from being interesting.

Typical view of impala and blesbuck - running away
We spent the next 3-4 hours dashing about the park encountering one animal after another, maybe dashing doesn’t quite capture the spirit of our lumbering passage through the bush, but we did cover a lot of ground. The park itself is around 9,000 hectares in size, which for a game reserve is pretty small, but it did allow us to stumble upon quite a few of the animals within fairly quick succession.

First up where the white rhinos who, thanks to the threat of poaching, were sans horn, then a lone bull elephant tromping around and keeping himself to himself, after that we were upon a pack of lions, who were either asleep or pretending to be asleep until we went away, at any rate they were rather disinclined to do anything, probably better to see them in the zoo, at least you stand a chance of being able to throw things at them and getting away with it. I’m just joking of course, they are proud and noble beasts and should be allowed to do what they like, which as it turns out, is nothing.

White rhino taking a stroll
Lone bull elephant looking all moody and brooding
On the way back we caught up with a herd of elephants, who along with most of the animals in the park, counted some very young members as part of their retinue. It was obviously play time as the young ones, and not so young ones, were barrelling about the place and thundering through the undergrowth in a display of general exuberance that was a joy to see, all while the adults were ripping down trees for dinner in that destructive way of theirs.

So feeling very pleased with ourselves for finishing on such a high point we headed back to camp, and not before time, the sun was almost gone and the temperature had positively plummeted, an issue that became somewhat pressing as we were dressed only in shorts and tshirts. A lesson to be learned for the remaining drives.

Remnants of bush on this young scamps head
Having a good old charge about
Mother and young
After that it was a quick change and in for dinner, which was of the same high standard as lunch. We shared the group table with our guide, Thomas, who gets to not only chauffer us around but eat with us as well. He was a fountain of knowledge and managed to answer our questions with erudite care which, considering he must answer more or less the same questions every day from different people, was pretty good going.

Off to bed earlyish as we needed to be up at 5.30AM the next morning for our first drive of the day, definitely taking some warm clothes for that.

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