-Blyde River Canyon is the largest green canyon in the world.
-The Blyde river was used to find a passage from Johannesburg to Malawi to the ocean to transport gold.
-Blyde in dutch means happy. They name the river Blyde as Hendrik Potgieter and crew returned safely from their expedition from Delagoa Bay in 1844 as they had left behind women and children who had considered Potgieter and crew dead after not returning for such a long period of time. It turned out, they took a wrong turn and followed the wrong river to get home.
-The Treur river means “mourning” in Dutch. This river nearby their encampment was named Treur to mourn what they had thought they had lost.
-Pine trees are grown and used to produce paper
-Eucalyptus trees aka gum trees are grown to be used as power poles and they are good for building foundations as they suck up a lot of waters
Different from the travel days previous, this day had multiple stops along the way with multiple view points and locations within Blyde River Canyon.
The Three Rondavels was the first viewpoint of the day. Rondavels are homes or shelters that made circular because snakes try to hide in corners thus – snakes would stay away. The Three Rondavels are similar to Australia’s Three Sisters in Blue Mountain, Sydney. There is a market there but Will told us that at Bourkes Luck Pothole has a market and the same stuff and we should wait to keep on time with our driving times.
Bourkes Luck Potholes was our stop for lunch. As Clive the cook set up lunch, we ventured the Bourkes Potholes by climbing and jumping on rocks then crossed the bridge where the water was flowing and dipped our feet into the water. We had about 20-30 minutes free time to explore and shop before we had to go back to the picnic table area for lunch. Lunch was a little lacklustre with the appearance of that rice with polagna (spam substance) with peas and cheese yet again (lacking flavour) but at least we had oranges. Alberto did speak up on behalf of our group to talk to the cook about the quality of meals and just to have our voices heard.
Back on the truck we went and next stop – God’s window. Will mentioned that we only had 20 minutes so if we were to walk, we would have to either choose the very top of God’s Window with the tropical rainforest ecosystem or goto all the viewpoints. Luckily for this day in particular they told us to wear sneakers. We started running and rushed to the viewpoints. One viewpoint had a great view as the clouds started to set in but there was a rather large group or family of 20 that also wanted to take over the viewpoint and very rambunctious. We scurried along quickly and at the next viewpoint, we saw nothing. We started to run up towards God’s Window in hopes of fantastic views. Looking back on the steps we took up, the vastness of the landscape around us, it looked beautiful. Once you enter the rainforest, you can feel the difference with the drop in temperature and the change on ecosystem once you get in. We made it to the rock landing to find our view as a blanket of white with the clouds overthrowing and concealing the views this vantage point would have given us. Once we caught our breathe and took what we could in from that area, we bolted back down to continue with our day.
We had one more scheduled stop along the way before we made it to Hazyview – Kruger National Park area and that little area was a pitstop that had a restaurant Will our guide kept telling us about called Harrie’s Pancake House. We unfortunately didn’t have time to even order takeaway but we did have the chance to use the ATM at the bank to withdraw ZAR as we needed actual cash for tipping. We had thought about taking about roughly $300CAD worth of ZAR before we left Canada but didn’t think we would use that much but we obviously never realized the real value of ZAR to CAD. You need to calculate cash for tipping and other expenses.
Kruger National Park & Animal Info
-Kruger National Park was created in 1900 by Paul Kruger to prevent hunting. It is famous for inhabiting the big five – Elephants, Rhinos, Leopards, Lions & Buffaloes.
-It is 19000SQ KM. 600KM from North to South.
-Kruger is in a shape of a boot
-Elephants are the only animals that will die of starvation over age when their 6 sets of molars wear down. A group is called a herd.
-Giraffes have no structure in their family structure. A group is called a journey
-Spotted Hyena have female alpha matriarch. It regurgitates for their young. More successful hunters than lions and can run consistent speed for a few km and toys out their prey. A group is called a clan
-Bilatong – dried meat
Our final campsite for the tour was Nkambeni Safari Camp (Numbi Gate, Kruger National Park, 1350, South Africa) situated by Numbi Gate (West side) just outside Kruger National Park. You can upgrade to a lodge for $80USD. Nkambeni has an electric fence outside the perimeter as the campsite is built around the wilderness of Kruger National Park.The showers and toilet are open toward the electric fence so you can view nature while showering. We were rushed to the camp to set up our tents before rushing off into another truck (smaller to drive on the non-paved roads) for our night game drive through Kruger.
Rick was our guide for the day. It was already hot so I decided not to bring long sleeve and pants (I was in a tank top and shorts) and boy was that a mistake. The driver sits lower and the rest of the cabin is higher up where we the guests could get a vantage point. Driving and sitting in the front without the sun gets chilly quickly. Gordon luckily packed a windbreaker and lent it to me so I could survive but holy it was still cold.
We took 2 trucks out and drove through but unfortunately during our 2-3 hour drive, we were only able to spot kudu, impala, waterbucks, water Buffaloes (1 of the big 5) and hippopotamuses. During our game drive, we took one break where we were able to step out of the jeep on a road by a pond. They brought some light snacks and gave us some Amarula. Amarula is a fruit tree which elephants absolutely love to eat. The guides are quite skilled at multi-tasking. They are driving, trying to spot animals in the bush, trying to answer our questions and at night, they add on a high powered flashlight to try to spot more animals.
We got back to probably the best meal of the trip – grilled pork, boar sausage, veggies, potatoes, beans and for dessert apple and banana slices with a custard sauce.
We took a quick shower (good water pressure but the hooks are too high). The stalls are illuminated by lights above but not evenly split above all showers. The facilities are unisex toilet and showers. The main reception building and bar is all the way at the back of the site. They offer 20 minutes free wifi at reception (not the best).
Our final full day with the tour had us back in the trucks for our final day game drive. We made packed sandwiches for this game drive. After our first stop, it was already 10AM and the temperature got warmer with the sun beating down, none of the animals were out except for the impalas. The drive was quiet and that warm heat combination with wind made it the perfect napping scenario but of course we didn’t want to since we were on the drive.
We had stopped earlier at one of the main areas to grab a snack and souvenirs if you like (overpriced) but I did purchase bilatong and some sweets. Luckily we made a second stop for lunch at Skukuza golf club but we had already eaten our sandwiches on the jeep. We wanted to order milkshakes but sadly they told us there were no milkshakes yet 15 minutes later milkshakes we saw mileshakes being brought out for others. I left my purchase of Bilatong and candy in the truck (open concept jeeps) but the jerk monkeys got to the candy and destroyed it but left the bilatong alone. There was also an open bag of Nik Naks in the truck but I guess it was too spicy for them but what a mess they made.
Our last round of the drive we spotted in the distance a leopard sitting in the shade which someone had seen movement of an hour before in that area. We unfortunately were not able to see lions or rhino’s. The drive was truly exhausting and very hard to even keep our eyes open. I have such respect for the guide who has to drive in the heat in the same conditions where we constantly kept falling in and out of sleep during the drive. Little lacklustre to end the last game drive.
After a long day in the heat, we took a dip in the pool. The pool bar was empty so Alberto made it his nest to do work and journaling. The pool was really relaxing. I stayed on the bar to tan and relax. We stayed at the pool for a few hours and met a wonderful family originally from Zimbabwe. Kudzai (kood-zay) 33, a mother and a psychologist and within the first 5 minutes of meeting Will, she figured out his character/personality down to the T. She was on vacation with her family (2 daughters) and husband who is a software engineer. Her sister 24, had a scholarship to attend Yale and now teaches intelligent rich kids in a private school. We relaxed by the poolside until the sun started to set before heading back to our camping area to shower and change for our group farewell dinner.
We all had decided earlier in this trip that we would all opt for the buffet dinner the night so we sat down to buffet at 7PM for $20USD. A really nice day to end a trip with thank you’s going around. 12 days past way too quickly. We hung out on the couches in the main building until the winds picked up and we knew a storm was brewing as the sky was lit up with lighting for a few hours and what one was a crisp clear sky where all the stars were present disappeared.
We had a 6AM wake up call before hitting the road once again for a long haul drive. We switched up the seating in the truck. We traded and took over the smaller 4 person table and played cards. First time playing gin rummy for me. We literally played for 7-8 hours with only 2 stops. Frans needed to open the cabin and fix the the pipe as it became exposed. Our last pitstop was at a gas station with a newly opened Nando’s.
Arriving in Palapye, we stayed at Camp Itumela which probably had the best wifi spanning the entire campsite. The main reception area had a courtyard that held the main pool, tree top like patio and further in, the bar and more lounging areas as well as a playground.
This campsite also features a pig and 2 goats as well as roaming dogs, cats, chickens and peacocks. There are 2 outdoor toilets and showers but also an indoor toilet and shower facility. There is also a volleyball court mind you the size was more of a badminton court and had metal poles as the court and middle line. The net was also really floppy and low. After dinner we played a few rounds. Word of advice, don’t chase after it outside the court as immediately or if the perimeters, the ground is less cared for and rocks and other jagged things await. Clive was telling us that in his 2 years with ATC, he has never seen anyone actually use the volleyball courts that are available.
Majority of the other people on the campsite work in the nearby energy plant as engineers building turbines. These engineers come from around the world – Netherlands, South Africa, Thailand etc.
Sarah had heard from Will that there was a local club nearby which she wanted to check out so we decided to go. Clive was originally going to accompany us but it was getting late so we made arrangements with two of the bar staff – G and Benny who were willing to take us. Benny’s fiance Charity also joined us.
We ended up walking to Wamzito night club which is the only club in town. All ages it seemed for only 20 Pula entry fee. The bars in Palapye close at 11PM everyday are aren’t allowed to serve alcohol past that time so they all come from the bar to the club. The club opens at 11PM which is the time we arrived. Pretty dead for the first hour but then the crowd slowly but surely filled out. The music playing was house music (not really my cup of tea) and we stayed on the couch for a little while. We were definitely the minority in the club and had many people come up to us just to shake our hands. We danced for a bit and we wanted to walk back but G kept telling us we shouldn’t. Luckily enough Benny and Charity hadn’t left yet and drove us back. I can definitely say Sarah was the life of the party that night with her dance moves and got her photo and video taken by/with the locals. There was a row of food being sold on the side of the road but the rules of the road were out the door with 3-4 lanes trying to find parking at the club leaving us stuck just outside the club for a long period of time. We got back to the camp and showered around 130-2AM and went to bed.
Another 5 hours in the truck to get to our next destination in South Africa. We crossed the Botswana border to enter South Africa. Pretty quick and easy. The river divides the Botswana and South Africa but also two other countries.
South Africa info
-Population of 56 Billion
-South Africa is still under dictatorship.
-There are 11 official languages – 9 that are African
-SA in the Iron age was gold trading with China
-In the 1400’s Europeans & Portuguese wanted to use Africa as a route to trade with China
-The Dutch came in the 1600’s in persecution.
-The French came down and brought wine and formed the African culture of wine
-The British came and colonized and pushed the Dutch inland in 1820s
-Union of South Africa Cape created the Orange free state and Transvaal where the Dutch inherited the apartheid with white segregation 50-70s
-Cape Town was the first to be explored.
-Johannesburg was a gold mining town and is the largest city in the world not sitting near water
-The Blacks, Indians and Chinese were categorized and segregated by race
-These ethnicities lives in the township of Soweto which meant South West township
-They were issued a dog pass that they had to use to get into the city with curfews and segregated in all walks of life (bathrooms, buses etc)
-Mixed race people would be put into prison as black and white weren’t allowed to procreate
-1976 massacre saw 176 students killed as students from the Soweto township protested against the Apartheid.
-In schools, students must learn Afrikaans languages.
-With the Soweto uprising – The English, Canadians and Australians shut down trading with South Africa
-Only by 1980’s the trading started again.
-In 1994, South Africa became a democracy and Nelson Mandela became the first president of South Africa.
-South Africa holds the Guinness World Records for having 2 Nobel peace prize awarded
-The population is comprised of 80% black and 20% white
-Gay marriage was put into law early on
-South Africa is slowly balancing it out with the government giving more incentive for Black owned companies
-The 1995 movie Invictus shows us how two South African men – Nelson Mandela & Francois Pienaar united a country using Soccer / Rugby.
-The South African flag features a sideways Y which represents people coming together – The rainbow nation.
-South Africa is the largest producers of platinum in the world. They also mine Chromium and Angston
-80% of the country is run on coal
-East coast cities like Durban have warm tropical beaches
-West coast cities have cold climate linked by deserts
-Cape Town rainy climate
-South Africa has so many different ecosystems within it’s country
-It has the 2nd largest population of Indian outside of india
-Unemployment is high
-The language of Afrikaans is a mix of Dutch, Belgian, German, French & Flemish
After 5 hours of travelling, we arrived in Polokwane, South Africa. We stopped by the mall for an hour lunch so the staff could go grocery shopping for the next few days. The girls and myself shared 4 pies from King Pie. NOTE – The bureau and alcohol stores are closed on Sundays. Unlike many places I’ve visited, it is very strange to be in a place where black and white people and some Indian are the norm however being an Asian person is a rarity. The staring is not subtle at all. We hopped back into the truck and stayed the night at Boma in the Bush. The camping property is quite large but no wifi and the bar is situated in the house of the owner. The water pressure for the showers was the best thus far of the trip.
It was my day to do cooking prep in the rotation. The sky started turning darker as we prepped and the temperature dropped significantly. Rain was coming. After prepping, we did a little bit of a yoga session lead by Lisa pre-dinner before it started to rain. We had free time and I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. The girls ended up by the pool reading and catching up on their journaling and the rest were napping or at the bar.
For dinner, we had beef stroganoff and vegetables. The kitchen had covered grounds with a fridge and outlets so we just hung out there into the night as one by one we all went to shower. We ended up staying up until 11PM chatting away after dinner with Alberto about life and the tour itself and how expensive it was to fly out of Costa Rica.
There was a crazy amount of lightning and thunder overnight. The clothes I was regretting to have brought (long sleeves and pants) came in handy in that moment.
I usually jump onto trips because of amazing flight deals but this time around, my friend Sarah alerted myself and 2 other friends about this other special deal on a tour. We had spoken for a few years about going to Africa and twice a year, On the Go Tours runs a promotion of 2 for 1 on tours. Grab a friend and go for the price of 1 person. Regular price for our 12 days Victoria Falls to Johannesburg was $1495CAD. Meaning $747.50CAD per person for the tour.
Our flight we got for a reasonable price at $1283.90CAD. Toronto to France (CDG) (10-12 hour stopover), France (CDG) to Addis Ababa – Ethiopia (ADD), Ethiopia to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (VGA). Return is from Johannesburg (JNB) to Addis Ababa – Ethiopia (ADD), Ethiopia to Dublin, Dublin to Toronto. Originally we wanted to stay for another week to optimize our time but for $500CAD cheaper to return home on a Thursday just made more sense for us.
Would’ve loved to go into a township like the Apartheid Museum and Soweto in Johannesburg but our timing of arrival and departure just didn’t work out. I would recommend the Sightseeing hop on and off tour bus as that would have been the method we would have seen the city if we had time. Otherwise, if not renting a car, UBER is the next best way to get around – cheap and safe.
I travelled with my friends Sarah, Jin and Louisa. #CUTYAdventures #canasianwerewolves
Things to do before you leave:
Yellow Fever (Required if you are going to an area with high risk or transiting from a country with high risk (more than 12 hours) – please check websites to find out) As of 2017, there is a shortage in Yellow fever shots – certain clinics will only have partial vaccine (1 year validity) some locations have lifetime shots. Technically, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa don’t require it.
Prescriptions (Recommended but not all required)
Malaria Pills (take pill 2 days before and 7 days after trip)
Cinpro/Anthim in case of diarrhea
Ducarel – must be started a week or 2 before you leave
-Check to see if you need a visa for the countries you are visiting (Canadians are required a visa for Zimbabwe but can obtain on arrival – $75USD – still cheaper than obtaining prior to arrival)
*If you plan on going to Zambia as well, there is a cheaper dual visa for $50USD (For Canadians)
-Beer is roughly $2
-Outlets the big round 3 prong and sometimes larger 2 round prong with flat prongs.
Credit Card / Debit
-Credit Card can be used in majority of all the areas minus markets.
-ATM – Better exchange rates than currency exchange with Debit Machine
-Zimbabwe adopted USD as their currency (bills only).
-$1USD = 362ZWD (Zimbabwean Dollars) – otherwise, currency is 1:1
-You can drink the tap water and can also ask for tap water and ice at many places.
-No Tipping as Vat is included so tax is included in prices shown. Tip is usually 10%.
-Entry Visa required
-$1CAD = 7BWP (Pula)
-$1USD = 10BWP (Pula)
-You cannot drink the tap water
-Carry 2 pulas & toilet paper around for public washrooms
-Language is Setswana
-Du mella ma (female) ra (male) – hello
-LA guy – how are you
-GA taing – I’m fine
-Kea la bogaa ma – thank you
-Kea rata – I love you
-Muntle – beautiful
-Muna – single man
-Buna – 2 or more men
-Botswana people are more reserved but friendly
-$1CAD = 10ZAR (Rand)
-$1USD = 13ZAR (Rand)
-You can drink the tap water
-UBER is the best and cheapest way to get around. Door to Door is key for safety
-11 Official languages; 9 of which are African
-Afrikaans – A mix of Dutch, Belgian, French & Flemish.
-Population – 20% is White & 80% is Black & Other (Indian, Korean & Chinese)
Below is my initial itinerary for the trip (not updated to what we did)
11/30 Toronto / France
FLY – 840PM YYZ-> 950AM CDG
12/01 France / Ethiopia
LAYOVER – 10-12 hour stopover in France
TRAIN – CDG term 2 – RER Train to Châtelet-Les Halles. Walk to Centre Georges Pompidou (45 mins – €10.30 – purchased 2 pack ticket – €20.60)
-Le Centre Pompidou (Opens at 11AM – Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France)
-5 euro – panoramic ticket – rooftop view
18 min walk
-Le Louvre – Pyramid & Carrousel Arc de Triomphe (75001 Paris, France) – Take photos outside
12 min walk
–L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) (Open 12-3PM & 630-1130PM) (Pre-fixe – 38€)
2 min walk
-Louis Vuitton Maison Vendôme – 2 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris, France
14 min walk
-Galerie Vivienne – 5 Rue de la Banque, 75002 Paris, France – mosaic – rustic elegance
4 min walk
-Jardin du palais royale – 6 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France
-Les Deux Plateaux (2 Rue de Montpensier, 75001 Paris, France) – Take photos outside
5 min walk
-Galerie Vero Dodat – 8 Galerie Véro-Dodat, 75001 Paris, France
-Walk La Seine River
530 – TRAIN – CDG Term 2
Châtelet – Les Halles, 75001 Paris, France -> RER BEPOLAéroport CDG Terminal 2 TGV
FLY – 945PM CDG -> 645AM ADD
12/02 – Ethiopia / Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls
FLY – 835AM ADD -> 1215PM VGA
Airport shuttle transfer
STAY – Shearwater Explorer Village (Wifi)
12/03 – Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls
12/04 – Victoria falls – Chobe River, Botswana
STAY – Thebe River Safaris Campsite (Wifi available in reception area)
– Kasane – Chobe River – Watch Elephants & Hippos
– Sunset Boat cruise
12/05 – Kasane – Nata Region
STAY – Elephant Sands (Wifi – very weak signal)
-Afternoon/Evening Game drive
12/06 – Nata Region – Maun
STAY – Sitatunga Campsites (Wifi available in bar and weaker signal around site)
12/07 – Maun – Okavango Delta
-Overnight excursion into the Delta
-Early morning to Mokoro Poler’s Station
STAY – Mobile Tented Camp in Okavango (NO WIFI)
-Guided evening bushwalk
12/08 – Okavango Delta – Maun
-Visit local village via Pole Canoes
-Return to Maun w/ optional scenic flight over the Delta
12/09-10 – Maun – Palapye – Polokwane (South Africa)
-Drive to the small town of Palapye (between Francistown & Gaborone (Bostwana’s capital)
STAY – Itumela Campsite (WIFI – good signal all over site)
-Drive to town of Polokwane
STAY – Boma in the Bush (NO WIFI)
12/11-12 – Kruger National Park
-Morning viewpoints drive – Blyde River Canyon Region – The Three Rondavels, The Pinnacle, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, & God’s Window
STAY Nkambeni Safari Camp near Kruger National Park (20 min free WIFI at reception)
-Visit Kruger National Park
-Night game drive
-Morning Game Drive
-Buffet Dinner (optional – group decision)
12/13 – Johannesburg
-Hazyview – Johannesburg
-Joburg Arrival – Mufasa Backpackers (21 4th Rd, Van Ryn SH, Benoni, 1513, South Africa)
-Check into hotel – Hyde Park Villas – 28B 3rd Rd, Hyde Park, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa (WIFI – Complimentary 500MB each day)
-Rosebank Mall – Rosebank Art & Craft Market – Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa
– Open 9AM-6PM
12/14 – Johannesburg -> Dublin
10AM – Airport Shuttle / UBER to O R Tambo (JNB) Airport