Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Mkuze Falls Game Reserve

We've been busy since arriving in SA!  Not only have we caught up with our dear friends Vicky and Haydn, finally seen my mom and dad, and weathered a huge storm, we've also managed to fit in a quick trip to Mkuze Falls Game Reserve!  And what a treat it was!

On our ride down the Mozambique coast, we were in touch with Dave's sister, Kim via our iridium satellite email.  She asked if there was anything she could do for us in preparation for our arrival in South Africa.  Since internet is always such an issue, we asked her if she could do some research on game parks, to see where we could go and do some game viewing!  The beauty of Richard's Bay is that it is very conveniently located to the northern Kwa Zulu Natal game parks, and we wanted to utilize our stop there to do a trip to one of them.  Long story short, Kim managed to secure us a last-minute deal of the century at Mkuze Falls Game Reserve, a private game park, about 150km or a 2 1/2 hour drive from Richard's Bay.  We have never been to a private game park before, so we were very excited about going!

Our journey didn't start off all that well.  We were about 30 minutes away from the Lodge, driving along when we hit a rather deep pothole, and immediately we could feel it:  we had a puncture!  We pulled over to the side of the road and changed the tire.  The impact of hitting the pothole was so severe, we bent the rim!  Not a great start, especially when, upon hiring the car, Dave had declined the insurance that covered windscreen damage and punctures!!

It was a rather subdued bunch of Hibberds that arrived at the Lodge, but soon our spirits were lifted.  We had arrived at a 5 Star lodge!  We were not used to this!  We were met by the staff and they whisked away our car and our luggage.  We were shown to the outdoor patio where we were served lunch.  It was all inclusive:  3 5-star meals a day, game drives and sundowners on the game drives! What a difference to all day sailing and night watches!  After finishing lunch, we had time to freshen up, and then meet back in the Lounge area for "High Tea" at 3:00pm and our first game drive at 3:30pm.  There were 6 other guests at the lodge, and they went in one game viewing vehicle, and we were alone in our own vehicle, with a spotter/tracker and driver.

Delicious lunch... 

Beautiful setting

Our game viewing vehicle
No sooner were we out the gates of the lodge, than the spotter pointed in a direction and said "Cheetah"!  What?!  I couldn't actually see them at first, they were so disguised in the long grass, but before long, we saw 2 beautiful cheetahs walking through the grass and out into the open.  We followed them until they climbed a little koppie (hill) and settled down.  I have never seen cheetah in the wild before and they are just beautiful!!

Gabs with the 2 disguised cheetahs in the grass behind her

One of the cheetahs walking across the road

Perched on top of the hill

Beautiful cats

After leaving the cheetahs, we drove for a little while longer.  Our driver and spotter kept looking at the ground and they told us they saw lion footprints.  We drove along and came around a corner, and there he was...a lone male lion!  He was walking in the road, and then stopped.  Something had caught his attention.  He stopped, then sat down.  We could do nothing but wait and admire him.  Then we saw what he was looking at:  there was a herd of zebra a little way in the bush, but they got spooked and galloped away.  He might have been a lazy lion or not a very hungry lion, because he didn't chase them, but wondered off into the bush and disappeared in a matter of minutes!

Lion tracks

We found who they belong to!

The game drive was 3 hours long, and we saw many buck and warthog after the cheetahs and lion, but it's hard to beat those sightings!  As the sun was going down, we stopped and our spotter pulled out a table, whipped out a tablecloth, and set it up with drinks and snacks.  Dave and I enjoyed a glass of red wine while the sun was setting and enjoyed some biltong along with it.  A lone buffalo was not too far away, curiously watching us.  Man, it's a tough life!!

African Sunset

5 star service!


After returning to the lodge in the dark, we had dinner and collapsed into bed! The kids had their own chalet, and we had one next door, which was actually a suite.  We had a kitchen and a living area, and all the chalets had a beautiful outdoor shower and a private little pool!  It was absolutely beautiful!  Each unit also had a patio that overlooked the bush, and the Mkuze Falls with a dam below.  It has been designed and built in such a way that you feel you are the only ones there.  You can't see any of the other units from your patio, so you feel completely private.

Our luxurious accommodation


Outdoor shower!

Private pool

From the other angle

Ben said we didn't have to go on game drives, you could just walk around our "house" and see all the buck! (mounted to the walls!!)

The following morning, we got a 5:00am wake up call, to get us ready for our 5:30am game drive.  It was freezing cold and we bundled up as we set out.  We immediately saw giraffe near the lodge and I had jokingly told our driver that I'd put in an order for elephants that day.  He obviously took me seriously, because they set out to find them, and boy, did we find them!  We drove completely off road to get close to a herd of elephants that were munching away.  There were babies who were so cute!  We watched and followed the elephants for hours.  Before coming back to the lodge, we stopped for coffee and hot chocolate.

Beautiful morning giraffe


And off they go!

After breakfast, we had some time off, before lunch was served at 1:00pm!  I sat on the patio and watched a croc that was lazying in the shallows of the water of the dam below the lodge.  We had heard that a few days previously, a buck had come for a drink, and the croc took it!  I guess he was still hungry from that meal as he just wallowed in the water.  We could also see a lone giraffe across the way, having a nibble at the leaves on top of the trees that only he, with his long neck, could get to!

We skipped "High Tea" at 3:00pm, because we were still so full from lunch!  But we were ready and rearing to go for our 3:30pm game drive!  We saw lots of Giraffe, Zebra, Nyala, Kudu and Impala, and a few Elephants in the distance.  Coming around a corner, we bumped into a whole herd of Buffalo.  Then, on our drive back toward to the lodge, we slowed down to view a male Nyala in the road in front of us, when Gaby spotted a Rhino in the bushes!  Well done, Gaby!  The rhino made its way next to us, and then crossed over the road in front of us, and then just as quickly disappeared into the bushes!  We were very lucky to see it.  Our driver then took us back to a waterhole.  I thought we would be having our sundowners here, but when the spotter jumped off his perch in the front of the vehicle, and hopped into the car, I thought..."Lion!" (as this is what he had done the last time we saw lions).  He joked with us, and just said, "No lion, I'm just tired", so I was a bit disappointed.  But he was kidding, because there, just having his late afternoon nap, was a big male lion!
Male Buffalo

So elegant

Rhino walking off
One last look to check us out

Lazy Lion

I just wanted to ruffle his mane!!

Dinner?!  Something caught his attention

A roar or a yawn?!

We watched him yawn and stretch and eventually he got up and started stalking something!  Just like the big cat that he is, he stealthily crept up on his prey, some buck that we couldn't see.  And the next thing we saw him dash away!  And then we saw him come back out of the bush, empty handed.  I guess he wouldn't be having any dinner that night.  I felt bad for the lion, but also happy that some unsuspecting buck survived another day!!  We followed him for a while as he walked along the road, and eventually disappeared into the bush.  I asked our guide about male lions hunting, because I was always under the impression that the lioness did the hunting, but he said that the lions are quite capable of hunting, they are just lazy, and if there is a lioness around to do the hunting, he will rather just lazy about and be served, being the King of the Jungle that he is!  Since this lion was a solitary male, he had to "do his own cooking", the guide told us!


Another beautiful African sunset

We enjoyed some more sundowners and made our way back to the lodge for another splendid dinner!  We were not used to eating so much food!  The dinner menu consisted of 5 courses!!  A salad, a soup, a main, a dessert, and then cheese and biscuits and coffee if you wished.  We normally just have a bowl of soup for dinner, so this was way too much for us!  We never made it to the cheese and biscuits!

On Friday morning we once again awoke at 5:00am for our 5:30am game drive.  We headed off in the cold morning, and soon saw our two cheetahs again, lying in the long grass, still sleeping in (clever cheetahs)!  Our guides tried very hard to find us a leopard, driving to the far reaches of the reserve, but we unfortunately did not manage to spot one.  They are very shy animals and are not often spotted.  We did see a mom giraffe with her baby that we were told was only 4 - 5 days old!!  We enjoyed our last game drive and hot cup of coffee in bush and at about 9:00am.  After a nice, hot breakfast, we sadly packed our bags and got ready to leave.   Our car was returned to us, all clean and washed and we reluctantly packed it up and headed back.

Early morning cheetah spotting

More Zebra

Male Nyala

Mom and her 4 day old baby!

Two drone shots we took of the lodge:  our unit is the middle (larger!) one; the kids were right next door, on the right and below is the waterfall area our lodge looked on to ;)

A spectacular African sunset on our last evening game drive. You can see the tracker/spotter perched on the front of the Landcruiser, while Gaby and Ben capture the moment on their phones.....and I am sure will remember for ever!

Thank you, Kim (Dave's sister) for finding us this deal of a century and thank you to Lizette at Mkuze Falls Game Reserve for the 5 Star treatment!  Kim had spoken to Lizette at the lodge and told them about our round the world sailing trip, and together they came up with this great deal.  We, as a cruising family, could never have afforded such a luxurious stay under normal circumstances, so our deepest thanks to all who made it happen! It certainly was a fantastic start to our South African leg of this around the world journey we are on, and very much appreciated ;)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Clearing into South Africa and our busy first days!

After safely tying up the international dock in the small craft harbor in Richard’s Bay on the afternoon of October 7th, we asked Port Control about our customs and immigration clearance. We were told that immigration would come on Monday, but they couldn’t give us a time. In theory, that would mean we could not leave the boat until we had been cleared in. It was now Saturday afternoon! Dave asked politely if we could have permission to leave the boat in order to get something to eat. There was a restaurant right in front of the dock, and a cold Castle (South African beer) was calling his name! We were asked to stand by. A few minutes later, Port Control was back on the radio and told us that immigration would be at the boat at 5:00pm, and that we had been given permission to leave the boat to go and eat, but not to go far.

Cool Runnings at the international "jetty" in Richard's Bay

So we decided to quickly head to the restaurant and have a quick bite to eat (and a Castle, of course!). No sooner had our food arrived, than we saw an official looking person walking towards our boat. (Luckily we could see it from the restaurant). It was now 4:00pm, a whole hour sooner than expected! Dave raced over to the guy to let him know we were here, and what a chilling reception he received! He was told repeatedly in a pretty aggressive tone that we had been given plenty of time to eat, and that unless everyone was in the boat by the time he had finished stamping Dave’s passport, he would leave, and would not clear the kids and myself into the country! Luckily for us, our neighbors on “Full Circle” were also in the restaurant, and had also seen the immigration official, and were just walking past at that time. Dave asked our new friends if they could please come and get me and the kids from the restaurant, and placed R400 (about $30) into his hand to give to me, so I could pay the bill! (Luckily he had drawn some cash just before we went to eat). I paid the bill, packed our uneaten food into the take-away containers, and sadly left our untouched beers on the table and rushed to the boat. 

We managed to take this pic before Dave had to rush off and meet the immigration official

Selfie with a Castle!  So happy to finally have made it to SA.  A little disheveled, but thrilled to be here!
Rather begrudgingly, it seemed, the immigration official stamped our passports and announced that he was giving us the standard 3 month visitor visa. (Our friends on Full Circle asked for longer, as they are planning to fly to Holland for Christmas, but they were denied anything above 90 days). It was a very bad first impression, not only for us, but for the multiple foreign boats who come here. 

On Sunday morning, as soon as we could, we left the concrete wall that is the international dock, and headed over to Zululand Yacht Club, where we had secured a berth. What a difference in reception! Here everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming! And what a lovely yacht club it is. There is a lovely grass area and playground where the kids can run around, and a pool for swimming. We arrived on a Sunday, and it was a hive of activity, with boats coming and going out for friendly races, and families having picnics on the grassy area. We began clean-up operations on Cool Runnings, who was caked in salt from the passage down the Mozambique Channel, so as is our routine, the kids and Dave cleaned the outside and I cleaned the inside. A good vacuum and wipe down of everything was in order, as everything felt damp and salty, even inside. The bathrooms got a good scrub down, and soon our floating home was clean again, both inside and out!

Heading down the channel to Zululand Yacht Club
And then we had the surprise of our lives! My close childhood friend, Vicky, who lives in Johannesburg (about a 5 hour drive from here), happened to be at their holiday home in Salt Rock, about 1 ½ hours south of Richard’s Bay! What a stroke of luck! She and her husband Haydn, along with their son Cameron and his friend Andrew hopped in their car and headed up to Richard’s Bay to come and see us!! It was so wonderful to see them again, and Vicky, in true style, came armed with a boatload of food and drinks, so we didn’t have to do anything, just sit and catch up! It was a very special evening and so great to be able to see friends so soon after arriving! 

Happy Reunion!  Me with Vicky, Haydn, Andrew, Cameron and Dave

Vicky, Haydn, Cameron and Andrew stayed the night on the boat, and the next day graciously drove us around Richard’s Bay to take care of the usual admin stuff we have to do: 

Number 1 was to go to Customs. After our less than stellar encounter with immigration at arrival, we were a little concerned about our reception at Customs. But what a different reception it was! The Customs official was friendly and welcoming, and we were officially cleared in in no time at all!

Number 2 was to get SIM cards for our phones so we could have local numbers. We went to the local mall, and while Dave and Haydn took care of that, the rest of the contingent went to “Mug and Bean” for breakfast. The kids had the biggest muffin they have ever had!! Thanks Vix and Haydn for treating us to breakfast!

Gaby tries to tackle the biggest muffin she's ever eaten!
Number 3 was to take us to the airport so we could organize a rental car. Once that was done, we were set to go! We had wheels and we had communication! Vix and Haydn headed back to Salt Rock, with the invitation to us to come and join them, so we could see their house, and get the keys from them for a future stay any time we liked! After making sure the boat was secure, we did just that, and made the drive to Salt Rock in pouring rain!

We enjoyed another lovely evening catching up with Vicky and Haydn, and stayed there overnight, and early the next morning, Dave took them to the airport, as they were flying to Cape Town to see their daughter, Amber, who has just started Uni (college) there. We were enjoying relaxing in their beautiful home when the alerts started coming through: huge storms in Durban (about 45 minutes south of us) with flooding and strong winds! We started monitoring the news and the weather, and had to make a decision. Do we cut short our stay in our new luxury accommodation, and head back to the boat, or do we stay here and ride it out, so as not be on the road during the storm?  I knew I couldn’t relax not knowing if the boat was secure or not, but we had to leave then and there to stay ahead of the storm! So we packed everything into the car and hightailed it back to Richard’s Bay. 

One of the first photos we saw- the flooding of the highway hear the old Durban airport
We got to the boat, and winds were already heading into the 30 knot range. The boat was being blown onto the jetty and there was a lot of pressure on the bow rope and dock cleat. We had seen pictures before of the marina in shambles after a strong wind had blown through, so Dave decided the safest thing to do was put out an anchor. With winds now blowing up to 40 knots, Dave and Ben went out in the dinghy and I lowered the anchor. Dave took the anchor and chain in the dinghy and played it out, dropping the anchor in the middle of the channel. I pulled it in a little to ensure the pressure was on the anchor chain and not the deck cleat and rope. We then decided to put an additional anchor out to the side, so help keep the boat off the jetty. Another dinghy ride and successful deployment of the anchor. During this time we measured 46 knots of wind! We were SO glad that we had made the call to come back to the boat! Dave also helped another Swedish couple put their anchor out to help secure their boat. 

Dave and Ben out in the dinghy laying the second anchor

We didn't get a shot of the 46 knots, but this was close enough!!

We hunkered down in the storm as the reports of damage started coming in from Durban. There were severe flash floods, with people having to abandon their vehicles on the highway, as well as several deaths due to this unexpected storm. A ship trying to leave Durban Harbor was blown sideways, and ended up getting stuck and blocking the channel! The marina is also in shambles, with mooring and jetties damaged and 2 boats sunk! Wow…welcome to SA, Cool Runnings!! 

Durban Marina

Durban Marina - there's nowhere left for Cool Runnings to dock! These boats are normally in a nice straight line, not bunched together like this....yikes!

The ship that got swept sideways and the tugs desperately trying to push it back. 

Another view of the ship

We continue to get updates from our friends in Durban who have thus far advised us to stay away, as there is nowhere really to leave the boat. We have also been watching the weather, and see that weather windows to hop down the coast are relatively rare, and last a very short time. It’s going to be an interesting ride getting down to Cape Town whenever we can find the weather windows to do it. We are so thankful we are safe in Richard’s Bay, but we also can’t stay there much longer as the marina is booked out for the World Arc Rally (about 20 or more boats that do an organized round-the-world trip), who are due to arrive between the 6th and 11th of November, so we will need to leave in the next 2 weeks. We hope we can find some shelter in Durban, even just for the time that we need to wait for another safe weather window to get to East London. It makes our planning to see family and friends difficult, as we are so reliant on the weather, and its tough to pin down dates under those conditions as we often have to make last minute changes, such as heading back to Richards Bay to secure the boat. 

Our hope is to get the boat to Cape Town late November, and then on a little further north to Port Owen on the west coast, where we will leave it for a month, and hopefully do some travelling in the month of December by hire car. In the meantime, we are enjoying a few additional days at Vicky and Haydn’s beautiful house, which they have graciously made available to us, and we try, as best we can, to make some plans! We have just enjoyed a fantastic stay at Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve, which we will report on separately.

Please also take some time to view the new and improved and updated “Kids Cabin” tab on our blog (top right corner). Gaby has been busy with some updates from a kids perspective!