Category Archives: Out and about

An ode to O’ahu’s North Shore and Turtle Bay

Yesterday, day nine of our Hawaiian holiday, we arrived in Waikiki after five and a half wonderful days at Turtle Bay Resort on O’ahu’s beautiful North Shore. The North Shore is famous for its surfing beaches and laid back “country meets seaside town” sensibility.

In the winter months, the North Shore attracts a huge surfing crowd drawn by its big waves and major surfing competitions. But as the year moves towards the northern summer, the waves are more manageable for beginners.

 

Turtle Bay Resort sits on a point between Turtle Bay and Kuilima Cove surrounded by farmland, ranches and the beaches of the North Shore. It is the only resort on The North Shore, so is quite secluded compared to, for instance, the resorts of Waikiki. There are some places you visit that suit you perfectly, and Turtle Bay Resort was perfect for us. We loved everything about it. It was not too crowded, quite laid back, offered the exact kinds of activities we wanted, and had comfortable modern rooms and facilities.

Beaches

In Kuilima Cove, on the eastern side of the resort, there is a small sandy beach and gentle bay, divided from the ocean by a reef. Here we taught Louisa and Oliver how to body surf, Peter and Oliver snorkelled and looked for the turtles that give the bay and resort their name, and the kids played happily in the sand. This side of the resort is quite protected from the strong trade winds that often barrell down the western side of the resort, so the beach — a public beach — offers a peaceful and somewhat warmer spot.

On the western side of the resort, we sat near the pool looking out over Turtle Bay and watched surfers take on the break. Closer to shore we again spotted turtles lazily swimming about.

 

Surfing

Surfing is a huge focus of the North Shore and people often stand on shore right along the coast watching surfers master the waves. A good ride elicits cheers and clapping, even for beginnings. So when Oliver decided to try surfing in Turtle Bay he was in the best spot. He had a two hour private lesson on both Monday and Tuesday with the Hans Hedemann Surfing School in the resort. After about 15 minutes of quick instruction on land on Monday, he was into the waves with his instructor. When he caught his first wave people on shore cheered and clapped and he pumped his fist into the air. By the end of his first lesson he could pretty reliably catch a wave and stand up. By the end of the second day he was upright so much more that he got a decent sunburn on the back of his legs! Oliver loved the lessons and loved surfing. On the North Shore, kids 14 years and under must have private lessons for safety reasons. They cost about $150 for two hours (including a cool free surfy t-shirt at the end). Oliver improved so quickly that it seemed a good investment in his fun!

 

Horseriding

While Oliver was surfing, Louisa was enjoying her favourite pastime: horseriding. Turtle Bay Resort boasts extensive stables and a range of riding experiences for beginners through to experts. Louisa was younger than the cut off for trail riding (7 years old), so at first she was only offered short 15 minute pony rides on a lead. At home, however, she has weekly riding lessons and is well beyond being walked on a lead. Luckily, the Manager of The Stables, Alicia, kindly allowed me to negotiate a longer, one hour Deluxe Pony Experience that involved helping around The Stables (feeding the horses, turning them out, brushing and washing them, feeding them) as well as riding. We paid $130 an hour for Louisa to do this for an hour each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (compared to $30 for the 15 minute standard Pony Experience). She had a wonderful time with her horses Beetle, Jasper and Goldie as well as the miniature horses, Lilly and Misty. I was grateful that Turtle Bay staff were so willing to accommodate our particular requests and make our stay that much better!

 

Poolside

When we weren’t surfing or riding or lounging about we were enjoying activities poolside. Turtle Bay has four pools: a large heated resort pool, a pool with a water slide, a kids pool and a spa pool. As you can see from the photos, they all had spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. At night there was music and often a cultural show.

 

Nearby

In five days we only scratched the surface of activities at Turtle Bay. Peter and Oliver played a round of soccer golf, which used a soccer ball and modified tees. I visited the Resort Spa for some pampering. And Louisa and I visited the Polynesian Cultural Center. We will post about that visit separately. On the drive from Turtle Bay to our final hotel in Waikiki, we stopped into the Dole Pineapple Plantation, home to the world’s largest maze. Those who followed our previous adventures may remember that in Cape Town, South Africa, we visited the world’s 3rd largest maze; so just the 2nd largest to go. It took Peter and Louisa about 40 minutes to conquer the maze, while Oliver and I sat in the shade and ate pineapple! Louisa’s reward was some pineapple icecream. Again, we only scratched the surface of things to see and do around the North Shore, which will have to wait until our next visit.

 

Today is our last day in Waikiki. Before we fly home tomorrow we will tell you about our visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center and swimming with dolphins. We also can’t leave before telling you how happy we were in Turtle Bay. We plan to come back!

 

Meeting Pele, goddess of volcanoes

One of the most dramatic spirits of the Hawaiian pantheon … Pele, goddess of volcanoes … capable of sudden fury and great violence (Herbert K. Kane)

On Friday, day three of our Hawaiian adventure, we drove north from Waikoloa on Hawai’i Island’s west coast to the base of the Kohala Mountains. Turning east, we climbed 2500 feet up and across the mountain ridges into a lush landscape, especially compared to the black volcanic fields near Waikoloa. As we drove towards the east coast we had beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, with many inlets bringing water into gullies of giant ferns and waterfalls.

At the coast we turned south towards Hilo, Hawai’i Island’s major centre of business and government. We didn’t stop for photos because it was misty and rainy up in the mountains and we needed to concentrate on staying on the correct side of the road (opposite to Australia, so surprisingly effortful) and navigating.

 

From Hilo we turned south west towards the world’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, and the world’s most active volcano, Kīlauea, both within the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Although Manua Loa is the most massive mountain on Earth, taller than Mount Everest (from ocean floor to summit it stands 17,000 metres, more than 8,000 metres taller than Mount Everest), people mostly come to see the steaming and roaring Kīlaueau Caldera and the lava flows of its East Rift Zone.

 

The National Park is a huge, living, drive through museum. In the National Park brochure we received, we read:

Volcanoes are monuments to Earth’s origins, evidence that primordial forces are still at work.

You can drive around the caldera on Crater Rim Drive (at least until a section where the road has been closed due to dangerous volcanic activity) and you can drive down through the outpourings in the East Rift Zone on Chain of Craters Drive. We arrived around 5pm after 3 hours of driving from the east coast and first stopped at the Visitor Centre. Here we found helpful suggestions for three main things to see and do over a couple of hours: (1) “breathe the sacred breath of Pele” from steam vents, (2) view Kīlauea’s erupting summit from the lookout at the Thomas Jaggar Museum, and (3) “explore a cave where a river of lava flowed 550 years ago”.

 
First to the lava vents! Just off Crater Rim Drive we saw plumes of steam rising from cracks that have opened in the ground, venting from the volcano far below. As you can see from Oliver’s red face in the photo below the steam was very hot and wet. If it was Pele’s breath, according to Louisa, she smells sweet like pancakes. Oliver and Louisa threw coins into the vents. Their pennies joined many coins and other offerings, supposedly to appease Pele and quieten her fiery rumbles.
 
Next we drove to the Thomas Jagger Museum, which overlooks the Kīlauea Caldera. We could see a plume of volcanic gas rising from the caldera, apparently from molten rock in a lava lake on the summit (which we could not see). We also could hear rumbles from the volcano. Similar to, but deeper and louder than thunder.
 
A caldera is:

… a large, usually circular depression at the summit of a volcano formed when magma is withdrawn or erupted from a shallow underground magma reservoir. The removal of large volumes of magma may result in loss of structural support for the overlying rock, thereby leading to collapse of the ground and formation of a large depression. Calderas are different from craters, which are smaller, circular depressions created primarily by explosive excavation of rock during eruptions. (From http://volcano-pictures.info/glossary/caldera.html)

The Thomas Jagger Museum is excellent and well worth a long visit. It provides lots of information about the science of volcanoes and the science of studying them. Kīlauea’s current eruption started in 1983 — over 30 years ago — and has been shaping the surrounding landscape in major ways ever since (as well as long before)!
Next we visited the Thurston Lava Tube, named for Lorrin Thurston who helped Dr Thomas Jagger (more on him below) to establish the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and preserve this important and unique environment. To reach the Lava Tube first we hiked through rainforest around the rim of the Kīlauea Iki Crater. It was foggy over the rim so we couldn’t see the bottom clearly except to know it was a long way down. Then we walked into a valley of giant ferns until we reached the mouth of the Lava Tube. Over 500 years ago a subterranean river of lava ran through here. When it drained away it left this amazing tunnel that looks like a man made railway tunnel. But it was carved by molten rock and left as a walk in museum exhibit to the forces of nature!
 
 
Finally in gathering darkness and increasing rain we returned to the lookout next to the Museum. The glow of the lava lake within the caldera lit the sky an eerie orange colour. It was an impressive sight! Perhaps the inspiration for the fires of Mordor? Here’s a link to a 24/7 webcam of the Kīlauea Caldera so you can see what we saw (unfortunately without the impressive rumbling).

Although the drive to meet Pele and return was long and exhausting (and somewhat terrifying on the way back to our resort in the dark, on unfamiliar roads, in torrential rain and on the wrong side of the road), it was a trip worth making. The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park looked like a place where dinosaurs and other ancient creatures might be at home. A fierce, primordial landscape. Although forbidding, Kīlauea actually is one of the most studied and best understood volcanoes on the planet. Scientists have been studying Kīlauea at least since 1921 when Dr Thomas Jaggar, a Professor of Geology at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (on the spot we visited) and pioneered many of the techniques of volcanology.

We loved exploring how these volcanoes had shaped the birth of the Hawaiian Islands as well as the birth of an entirely new science necessary to understand the secrets of Pele and her fiery ways!

Our next stop: The fabled North Shore of O’ahu!

 

 

A big (Hawaiian) island of contrasts

Last Wednesday, 8 April, we flew into Honolulu from Sydney, then on to Hawai’i Island, the largest and youngest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Oliver and Louisa were thrilled to learn that we arrived about five hours before we left Sydney, as though we had travelled back in time in some kind of time machine (no, we just crossed the international dateline and gained a day).

Kona Airport, on the west coast of Hawai’i Island, is a very small open air airport, with a series of modest thatched huts serving as gates, security, shops etc; very much in the tropical theme we expected. But when we collected our rental car and drove north from the airport towards our hotel we were struck by a truly alien landscape. We expected blue waters and palm trees. Occasionally we could see those in the distance along the west coast as we travelled north to Waikoloa Beach Resort. But mostly we could just see black lava flow fields undulating and stretching away from the roadside. We could see giant cracks as well as holes and caves where the ground had buckled and risen.

 

Soon we turned off the blackened highway into Waikoloa Beach Resort, an oasis of green built around the sandy beach of ‘Anaeho’omalu Bay. I had chosen the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort as our first stop. The resort was built in 1986 and is showing its age a little. But it is amazing the way that the 62 acre ocean-front property has been carved from the black of a 150 year old lava field. Below you can see a photo from the resort’s website of the early days of construction. And then you can see photos we took of the stark lines between the verdant green of man-made resort, black volcanic rocks and then ocean. It certainly made for a dramatic landscape!

 

It was a beautiful location with lots of fun things for Oliver and Louisa to do, such as swimming in pools …

 

… snorkelling in the man-made lagoon with turtles …

 
… meeting Australian parrots (“g’day mate”, the bird said to Louisa; “g’day mate” Louisa said to the bird, both pleased to share being six years old and from Australia) …
 
… and having lunch while watching dolphins at play right behind us (we’re swimming with dolphins on the last day of our trip, next Friday).
 
Then as dark fell, we were treated to the most glorious sunsets.
 
On Thursday we drove for 3.5 hours to the other side of Hawai’i Island and encountered a completely different face of this beautiful island: lush, green rainforests stretching from the east coast inland and then up along the craters of huge volcanoes.
 
I’ll write more about our visit to the World Heritage listed Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in my next post. Although our visit to The Big Island was very short, we saw enough to know that this is a majestic and dynamic landscape. As we read in a brochure from the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum (in the National Park), the ever changing landscape:
… shows the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution in the Hawaiian Island-Emperor Seamount chain. These processes first thrust a bare land from the sea and then clothed it with complex, unique ecosystems and a distinct human culture.
Unlike Australia, Hawai’i Island is small enough that you can drive around its circumference in a day and coast to coast in two or three hours (compared to maybe two or three weeks coast to coast in Australia). So it’s comparatively easy to see many different ecosystems: rainforest, ranch lands, alpine heights, sandy beaches, and black, barren desert.

 

Our next stop is Oah’u. But first, I’ll tell you about our day trip to the rumbling, steaming goddess, Pele!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recommendations for a family holiday in South Africa

Now that we have returned from our two week family holiday in South Africa, here are our top recommendations for places to stay and things to do, see and buy. I’ve already posted suggestions for successfully travelling with children (based on my trip with Oliver to Europe last year and which we tried to follow this trip). And you can read here for safari packing tips. So in this post I focus on people, places and things in South Africa that we loved and recommend to others (especially families).

#1 Recommendation

We all agreed that the highlight of our trip to South Africa was our four night stay at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in the Green Kalahari of the Northern Cape Province. Tswalu is a luxury private game reserve catering to just 30 guests at a time. We chose (and extended) the Cape Grace/Tswalu package, which gave us five nights in Cape Town (see below for more on Cape Grace) and four nights in The Motse, Tswalu. Read about our magical experiences at Tswalu here, here and here.

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View of the pool and waterhole at The Motse, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

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Tswalu’s Malori Sleep Out Deck

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Sunrise across the Kalahari, Tswalu

Getting There and About

We flew to South Africa from Sydney, Australia on Qantas. We were pleased to secure direct flights to Johannesburg with no stop over in Perth. So just 14 hours to South Africa and 12.5 hours home (which is a very manageable flight time and distance coming from Australia). The outbound flight worked well because we arrived in Johannesburg in the evening and could go straight to bed when we arrived at our hotel in Maropeng. Our evening homeward flight also worked well because the kids slept most of the way home, tired from the early starts for game drives at Tswalu.

We travelled from Pretoria in the north east to Cape Town in the south west on the Blue Train. The journey, in luxurious surroundings, takes 28 hours. Through the large picture windows we gained amazing insights into the South African landscape and life. Read about our experiences on the Blue Train here. Although we enjoyed the novelty and comfort of our overnight train journey, I think it is one best suited to couples, young or old, than to families with young children. We were the youngest by far on the train and the train’s magnificent style and five star service probably are best appreciated by those with time and freedom to sit and ponder in the Club Car or linger over drinks in the Dining Car. The Blue Train also is best for people who are untroubled by motion sickness. The ride could be rather bumpy at times and I had 24 hours of mild disembarkation syndrome when we arrived in Cape Town.

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Boarding the Blue Train

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The Cafe Car on the Blue Train

Recommended Hotels

As above, our #1 hotel recommendation is Tswalu Kalahari, especially if you are looking for a unique safari experience. But we also stayed at four other hotels, three in the major cities of Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In Cape Town we stayed at and highly recommend Cape Grace Hotel. Situated on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, Cape Grace is a beautiful and very comfortable hotel. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment, which was enormous and included a kitchenette, dining area, large lounge area, two ensuite bathrooms, an extra toilet and a verandah with an outdoor table and chairs. The service was impeccable with lots of complimentary in-house activities for kids (including gingerbread decorating, free xbox games for the room’s xbox machine, board games). We used room service quite a bit for dinner, eating on the verandah. The meals were amazingly inexpensive. Louisa and I also tried Cape Grace’s Spa, which again was lovely and inexpensive. The Concierge and Reception Staff were extremely helpful, providing lots of tips for our stay in Cape Town as well as complimentary shuttle service within a 10km radius. On one day we ordered a picnic lunch to take on a tour of Cape Peninsula. We ended up with bags and bags of food and drinks that lasted us all day and night for a very reasonable cost of less than AUS$50. Read about our experiences in Cape Town and at Cape Grace here.

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Table Mountain, Cape Town, with Cape Grace Hotel in the foreground

Outside of Johannesburg, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, we stayed for two nights at the Maropeng Hotel. This boutique hotel is located just moments from the Maropeng Visitor Centre and saved us a long drive from Johannesburg to this fascinating place. I was very keen to see the Cradle of Humankind Exhibition and the hotel made this easy. Again, it was geared more to adult visitors than children but the rooms were large and comfortable. The breakfasts, included in our room rate, were delicious. Maropeng is quite a way from Johannesburg and near no other shops or activities — we came just for the Maropeng Visitor Centre — so may not suit everyone, especially if you don’t have a car (we were driven from the airport to Maropeng in a shuttle). Read about our experiences in Maropeng here.

On the night before we joined the Blue Train we stayed at the Sheraton Pretoria. As you would expect from Sheraton, this was an extremely comfortable and beautiful hotel right across from the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African Government. Finally, on the night before we flew home, after Tswalu, we stayed at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg. This hotel seemed very large and busy after the privacy of Tswalu but appealed to us for its position next to Nelson Mandela Square and the Sandton Shopping Complex (good for souvenir shopping!). There are lots of hotels to choose from in the Sandton area.

All of our hotels included free wi-fi, which made life easier for adults and kids with devices!

Recommended Guides, Tours and Transfers

In places such as Johannesburg foreign visitors are recommended to hire cars or drivers since public transport is limited. So in Johannesburg and Cape Town we organised guides/drivers to transport us from airports to our hotels or to take us on tours.

In Cape Town we highly recommend Safari Lodge Shuttle. We were very fortunate to book Liese Mossner-Sequeira from this company to collect us from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and drive us to Maropeng, and then the next day to take us on a tour of the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre and some local markets before driving us to our next hotel in Pretoria. Liese was incredibly knowledgeable, very friendly and wonderful with our children. Read about our experiences with Liese at the Cheetah Centre here.

In Cape Town, the Concierge at Cape Grace recommended Jarat Tours. We booked them for a day to drive us down the Cape Peninsula. Read about our drive here and here. Although our driver was not as excellent as Liese in Johannesburg, our shuttle bus was comfortable and affordable (about AUS$325 for 7 hours of driving plus we paid all entrance fees and tolls).

Recommended Attractions

Here is a list of places we visited in Maropeng, Johannesburg, Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula and at Tswalu. All highly recommended for adults and kids.

1. Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng (photos from our visit here)

2. Van Dyk Cheetah Centre, De Wildt (photos from our visit here)

3. Table Mountain, Cape Town (photos from our visit here)

4. World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park, Hout Bay (near Cape Town) (photos from our visit here)

5. Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town

6. The Penguin Colony at the Boulders, Simon’s Town (near Cape Town) (photos from our visit here)

7. Tswalu Kalahari Spa, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

Eating

We mostly ate in our hotels or quite simply. But in Cape Town we went to the highly recommended Gold Restaurant, featuring Cape Malay and traditional African food. Dinner included a lesson in African drumming as well as African face painting, music and dancing. This was a fantastic, and inexpensive, night of African food and culture.

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Drumming lesson at Gold Restaurant, Cape Town

Suggestions for Souvenirs

Although we had strict limits on the amount of luggage we could take on the small plane that flew us to Tswalu and our safari, we managed to find a few lovely souvenirs of our trip in Maropeng, De Wildt, Cape Town, at Tswalu, and in Johannesburg. Some suggestions:

1. Football jerseys. When Oliver and I visited Europe last year he bought some football (soccer to us in Australia) jerseys in London. We found some terrific new ones in a sports store in Sandton: the jersey of the Kaizer Chiefs and the jersey of the Orlando Pirates, two South African Premier Soccer League teams based in Soweto.

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2. Carrol Boyes silverware. Carrol Boyes is a South African designer who makes beautiful pewter and silverware with African and other motifs. In Tswalu I found some wonderful teaspoons with Meerkats on the handle. In addition to the specially created designs at Tswalu, we visited Carrol Boyes stores in Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport.

3. Born in Africa plush toy african animals. During our trip Louisa collected a whole zoo’s worth of plush animals including Cheetahs, African Hunting Dogs, a Rhino, a Zebra etc etc. Relatively inexpensive, good quality and a great souvenir for smaller kids.

4. In Cape Town we found Taunina, makers of hand embroidered teddy bears. From their website:

Celebrated for its iconic hand-embroidered teddy bears, Taunina is a luxury house synonymous with timeless artistry and social upliftment. The company provides full-time employment to women from disadvantaged communities in Africa through its flagship atelier in Cape Town. Each creation is one of a kind, designed and embellished by a single artist over five to seven days. The rare beauty of a Taunina collection pieGentian-SA-JK-SB-14-0004-FRONT-78x104ce lies in the opportunity it affords a woman in need to provide for her family and be recognized as an artist. Taunina bears carry the initials of the women who make them, symbolic of their sense of dignity and pride. Each bear travels in a handcrafted hatbox with his or her very own bespoke passport. A Taunina creation is a work of art, an heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next. It a gift that changes lives.

I chose a little one named Crispin who looks somewhat like this but in grey.

5. Books about South African history. I chose two with great reviews on Amazon: Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith; and A History of South Africa by Leonard Thompson.

6. Finally, in De Wildt outside of Johannesburg, in Cape Town, and in Hout Bay we visited local markets and shopped for smaller trinkets and jewellery. Because of Australia’s strict customs laws we were careful not to choose anything made of wood. But the kids chose a number of bracelets and necklaces made of stone or beads. I got ripped off in the De Wildt market when one stall holder started the bargaining process by asking for 4500 Rand (AUS$450), which I managed to get down to 700 Rand, but still too much for what I bought. I preferred the Cape Town and Hout Bay markets and shops where the prices were marked on the items. If not, then take a local with you.

We hope these recommendations are helpful. Please add your own suggestions below in the comments.

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 3

Wednesday Morning

On Wednesday morning after their sleep out, Oliver and Peter got to go and meet a colony of Meerkats. They walked in on foot and got incredibly close to these delightful little guys (and girls).

A Meerkat at Tswalu

A colony of curious Meerkats

Oliver got close to the Meerkats

Wednesday Afternoon

On Wednesday afternoon I treated myself to a Rejuvenating Facial in the beautiful and relaxing Tswalu Kalahari Spa. This award winning spa has a menu of delicious spa experiences. I enjoyed my hour chatting with Spa Manager and Beauty Therapist, Corli, as she cleansed and moisturised my face, which had been exposed to a fair bit of sun and wind on the game drives.

All four of us then joined a game drive to a pack of African Wild Dogs. These animals also are extremely endangered and rare in the wild. This pack was made up of five adult dogs and nine quite young pups. When we arrived the dogs were sleeping and yawning in the shade of some trees. But after a while the adult dogs got up, kissed the pups goodbye (literally) and then organised themselves to hunt for dinner. We followed them as they trotted in formation through the bush, stopped to look and listen for prey, and then fanned out and sprinted when they targeted prey to chase. It was a thrilling sight to see these beautiful animals showing us their true nature. Again, before this we only had seen them behind fences at the Cheetah Rescue Centre.

An African Wild Dog stretching after an afternoon nap and preparing to hunt

African Wild Dog pups

The African Wild Dog Alpha male leading the hunt

Thursday Morning

On Thursday morning, our last morning in this paradise, we did some horseback riding. It was extremely cold and windy so Oliver and Louisa rode in the Stable’s arena, although a rather naughty orphan Zebra kept running at Louisa’s horse and making it shy. Meanwhile I took a ride with Juan and Patrick, the horse guide, out across the bush and saw Baboons running away from the horses. Because it was quite windy the horses were very skittish. So we stayed relatively close to the Stables, looping out into the bush for a kilometre or two at a sedate pace. I didn’t want to be thrown off onto any of the many Tswalu plants that have huge sharp thorns if my horse got a fright in the wind.

Bush riding

Comfortable in the saddle!

On our way back to pack up our Lodge, we asked Juan and Ben if there was a chance we could see some Giraffes. In our four days we had not yet seen any although apparently they are a reasonably common sight. Sure enough, Ben spotted some Giraffes on the horizon as if conjuring them by magic. When we got closer we found two beautiful male Giraffes engaged in a display of dominance called “necking”. They circled one another and banged each other on the neck or body with their heads. Juan said that people hardly ever get to see this display!

So in just four days we managed to see rare Cheetahs and African Wild dogs, an endangered Desert Black Rhino, a Leopard, Giraffes, Lions, countless other African wild animals, birds, snakes (including a deadly Cape Cobra), lizards, insects, trees, plants and on and on. As Louisa said when we were planning this trip: lots of animals but no fences!

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“Necking” giraffes at Tswalu

From This Country to Our Country

Tomorrow we fly home to Australia. South Africa and Australia seem to have a lot in common in the uncommon beauty of their landscapes, fauna and flora: sunburnt countries both, lands of sweeping plains … Although we have loved the animals during our stay at Tswalu, we perhaps have loved just as much, maybe more, the landscape itself. What a glorious, glorious part of the world!

From one divine sunrise …

… to another

As a farewell, the kind people at Tswalu gave each of us a small bottle of red Kalahari Desert sand to take home. In a parting note, the Tswalu team wrote:

People say that if you leave with the red sand of the dunes in your shoes, the desert will call you back. So take a few grains with you — this will always be your home in the Kalahari.

Will we be back? We hope so. Meanwhile we will keep in touch via the Tswalu blog. But our visit may benefit the Kalahari as it has benefited us. In the same farewell note we read:

As you have seen, the southern Kalahari is a precious environment. Your visit will contribute to the conservation and care of what may be South Africa’s last great wilderness.

Ready to fly home. Farewell magical Tswalu.

What a rare privilege it has been to experience this final and elemental face of South Africa!

Go back to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1 or Part 2” 

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 2

Sunday Afternoon

On our first afternoon, Oliver and Peter joined Juan and Ben for their first game drive. They met a lot of African animals we are less familiar with, such as this Blue Wildebeest. But mostly they were on the path of a Leopard, which they tracked down quite close to the Lodges. That night we were told to be cautious walking to and from our Lodge as the Leopard might still be close by.

A Blue Wildebeest

Tracking the Leopard

Monday Morning

On Monday morning we set out at 6am, before sunrise, looking for two male Cheetahs that had been spotted Sunday night. Ben and Juan followed tracks in the sand and scats on the ground until we spotted them strolling along one of the dirt roads. Their stomachs were full from hunting the night before and we followed them and watched as they looked for and then settled into a comfortable resting spot for the day. It was amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat. They are highly endangered and the last time we saw Cheetahs was behind fences in the Sanctuary near Maropeng. Almost all of the animals at Tswalu are used to the safari vehicles and so we were not in danger even though we got very close. We were instructed simply to stay seated in the jeep and not to make loud or sudden movements. But these Cheetahs were happy to yawn and ignore us!

Tracking two male Cheetahs

Cheetahs are highly endangered but protected and thriving at Tswalu

Monday Afternoon

On Monday afternoon, continuing the good luck and/or demonstrating the great skills of our Guide and Tracker, we found a pack of 10 Lions lazing near a waterhole. This group included four gorgeous young Lion cubs. While the adult Lions mostly slept on and ignored us, the cubs were very playful and inquisitive.

Four gorgeous Lion cubs

Playful and inquisitive

Meanwhile the adult Lions snoozed on in the afternoon heat

 Tuesday Morning

On Tuesday morning we set out to find a Desert Black Rhino, a critically endangered animal and one of the hallmark species of Tswalu. But he proved quite elusive! We searched for nearly four hours, following tracks, signs and scats; finding lots of other animals but not our Rhino. Finally, a call came through on the radio from another Guide who had spotted a Rhino way up on the edge of the Reserve. When we found him he was camouflaged well in the surrounding bush and stared rather suspiciously at us. Rhinos apparently are skittish and aggressive so we respectfully kept our distance from this awesome animal. After this long morning we were thoroughly exhausted but already had seen an incredible array of African wildlife in just a few days.

A Springbok

A Warthog

A herd of Plains Zebras

The elusive and highly endangered Desert Black Rhino

Tuesday Afternoon

On Tuesday evening Oliver and Peter drove with Juan and Ben out onto a dune in the middle of the Reserve where they spent the night sleeping under the stars in Tswalu’s Malori Sleep-Out Deck. They were treated to a glorious sunset and delicious dinner cooked by Ben (although unfortunately ants got to their dessert before they did) before being left to the bush and the dark.

Preparing to camp under the stars on a sand dune

Another beautiful sunset

Read on to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 3” … (or go back to Part 1)

 

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1

On Sunday afternoon, four days ago, we flew into Tswalu Kalahari Reserve on a small private plane.

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On a seven seater plane to Tswalu

Tswalu is the largest private game reserve in South Africa; 100,000 hectares of land in the southern Kalahari. Over the past 10-15 years the owners, the Oppenheimers, and their conservation team have worked to renew the land and to return plant, animal, bird and other species lost during periods of farming and hunting in this part of the “Green Kalahari”. At Tswalu you stay in Lodges right at the heart of the game reserve with wildlife wandering past your doorstep!

Wildlife on our back doorstep

The typical pattern at game reserves in Africa is to go on “game drives” in open safari vehicles early in the morning before sunrise and late in the afternoon as the sun sets. The wildlife is more active early and late in the day as everything and everyone rests during the intense heat of the middle of the day. So our days at Tswalu were broken into morning and afternoon/evening activities with quiet time in between: we returned from our game drives to eat brunch, swim in the pool, rest, play quietly, or read. We were miles and miles and miles from the nearest town so everything revolved around the game drives.

Our safari vehicle

Brunch after a game drive

Relaxing by the pool

The view to the pool, waterhole and beyond

At Tswalu, which is a truly luxurious game park experience, each family, couple or group has their own Guide and Tracker. This way we were able to tailor our game drives to the things that Oliver and Louisa were most interested in: learning about tracks, seeing the animals they liked, cutting the drives short when they became tired. This arrangement of a private Guide and Tracker for each group is perfect and a distinctive part of the Tswalu experience; it means that each group has their own needs met.

Tracking wild animals

Our Guide’s name was Juan; he drove the safari vehicle and interpreted for us what we were seeing. His knowledge of animals, birds, plants and the surroundings — their look, calls, tracks, habits, locations — was truly amazing! He told us he was born nearby in Kimberley, had worked on a number of game reserves, and is a “bush baby”. He was incredibly passionate about Tswalu and the Kalahari and seemed to be in his perfect job. He taught us the Afrikaans word for “truly awesome” (lekker, which sounded like lacquer to my ears) because he used it so often to describe what we were seeing. If only everyone could find the role in life that suited them so completely!

Our Tracker’s name was Ben; he sat on a jump seat at the front of the safari vehicle and looked for prints, scats and other signs of the animals we were tracking. He signalled to Juan the path to follow. Sometimes they both got out of the vehicle and walked around, peering at signs on the ground, or discussing options. They spoke mostly in Afrikaans but it was fascinating to watch them and see how their discussions and interpretations of signs around them led us to, for instance, two Cheetahs or a Leopard or the elusive Desert Black Rhino. These animals were like needles in a haystack in the huge expanse of landscape, yet everyday we found and learned about so many beautiful creatures thanks to Juan and Ben’s encyclopaedic yet somewhat mysterious talents.

Oliver, Juan and Ben

Juan showing Oliver and Louisa how to interpret tracks in the sand

Louisa following some bird tracks

Read on to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 2” …