|Winging our way to Johannesburg|
Our plane took off as scheduled and we arrived in Johannesburg 2 hours later, where we were met by my brother, Detlef. (I have 3 brothers: Thorsten is the oldest, and also lives in Johannesburg, Volker is next in line, now living in Nottingham, England, but whom I was able to see in Cape Town, and Detlef is the “youngest”…I tell him he’ll always be my baby brother!). It was a happy reunion for both the siblings and the cousins. I had briefly seen Detlef, my sister-in-law Karené, and my 2 nieces, Téa and Maya in June of 2013, when they were living in Germany, and I had a business trip to Vienna. I had also seen Detlef again in 2014 when he came to see us in Florida after a work trip to Mexico. But the kids had not seen each other for 5 years, although they had connected over Instagram over the last couple of months.
|My brother Detlef and my sister-in-law, Karene|
Sadly, Detlef had to leave for Scotland that evening, as the whole family is in the process of moving to Glasgow! So, to give the cousins some extra time together, we took the girls with us on a short 5 day trip to Mpumalanga, or what was formerly known as the Eastern Transvaal. Our main aim was to spend a few days in the Kruger National Park. We had had a fantastic time in Mkuze Game Park when we first arrived in South Africa, but we took the opportunity to visit the Kruger Park , because, let’s be honest, how soon will we get the chance to see these majestic wild animals in their natural habitat again?
|The Kruger Gate ("Hek" is "Gate" in Afrikaans) - one of the main entrances to the Kruger Park|
We left early on Friday morning, and drove towards the Kruger. After a breakfast stop in the small town of Dullstroom, and a drive through the beautiful countryside, we decided to take a back road to the Blyde River Canyon, to check out the Bourke’s Luck Potholes. The “potholes” are the result of decades of swirling eddies of water where the Treur River meets the Blyde River. Extensive erosion, as the water swirled around, has formed these amazing, smooth, holes in the rock.
|Ben explores the pools at the top of the Potholes|
|The water then cascades down in a series of small waterfalls into pools below|
|The rock has been eroded into smooth, round potholes|
|Bourke's Luck Potholes|
Unfortunately the weather closed in, and we were not able to fully appreciate the beauty of the rest of the canyon, as low cloud cover and mist obscured some of the magnificent views normally visible from the viewing points. Instead, we drove on to our destination, the Protea Kruger Gate, on the Sabie River, right outside the Paul Kruger Gate, one of the entrances to the famous game park. It had been a long day on the road and sightseeing, so we decided to take it easy the next day and just enjoy the amenities of the hotel.
|Dave takes in the view as the clouds close in|
|Blyde River Canyon|
We spent two full days in the Kruger Park, and were very lucky with our game viewing. The first day we drove into the park, we were getting very discouraged. We had been driving around for at least 2 hours, and had not seen a single thing, bar a few Impala.
|We started feeling sorry for the Impala, as there are so many of them, most people don't stop to admire them. He's still awfully handsome, isn't he?|
Then our luck changed, and we stumbled upon a herd of elephant! I never tire of seeing these huge creatures lazily flapping their big ears and wrapping their long trunks around branches, ripping off leaves munching on grass. There were also many babies among the animals we saw, and what’s not to love about a baby ellie?!
|Baby Elephant crosses the road|
|Such majestic creatures!|
A stop at the “Lower Sabie” camp, situated on the Sabie River, gave us our first glimpse of hippo and water buffalo. Life was getting better. After some lunch at an enclosed picnic spot, we continued on our drive around the park. A short distance later, we noticed a car stopped on the side of the road, a sure sign that there’s a sighting of something! Before we could get to the spot, the car pulled off and came towards us. The driver rolled down her window and told us that they had been watching a hyena at the waterhole ahead. But better than that, she told us they had just seen a cheetah under a tree, about 5km away! We drove on, and did see the hyena under the tree, but it was the cheetah we were really interested in.
|Hippos wallowing in the Sabie River|
We drove on, carefully monitoring the distance and the landscape around us. It is amazing how camouflaged these animals are, so it was all hands on deck for cheetah spotting! We were soon getting discouraged as the 5km mark approached, and we’d had no sign of the cheetah. Another car came past, and confirmed that they had seen the cheetah too, and even offered to turn around and show us where they’d seen it! We declined their kind offer and soldiered on. Not a minute or two later, Dave spotted it! The beautiful, sleek cat was no longer sleeping under a tree, it was walking along the side of the road! We slowly followed it, driving alongside it as it walked along the road, sometimes crossing in front of us, once lying down in the road in front of the car! Before long, it walked a little deeper into the bush, and in seconds, it was gone! We felt so lucky to have seen it, and see it so close!
|Sleek Kitty Cat|
Feeling happy that we’d seen elephant, buffalo, hippo, many buck, giraffe and the cheetah, we decided to call it a day, and head back to the hotel!
The next time we went into the park, we decided to make it an early morning, as game viewing is often best early in the morning or at dusk, when it’s not yet too hot. We all rose at 5:00am and were in the bush by 6:00am. We took the first dirt road we could, and our strategy paid off. Running across the road ahead of us, was a frantic herd of buck…chasing them was a wild dog! Wild dogs are pretty rare, and we were thrilled to see one hunting! But it got better…soon 2 dogs crossed our path, unsuccessful in catching the buck, but back on the hunt in the grass next to the road! We followed the dogs as they sniffed and ran and even dug up and ate some kind of meat that they had buried under a log. We thought that was great to see, but it got even better.
|Something caught his attention|
About 10 minutes after spotting the first wild dog and following the 2 dogs hunting, a pack of maybe 20 dogs ran across the road to meet up with the 2 we’d been watching! Their tails wagged and they yelped and sniffed and greeted each other, just like any dog would do!! As the cars multiplied, the occupants watched in awe of this amazing sighting! The wild dogs pretty much ignored the cars and went about their business, many of them lying in the road, in the path of the cars, so we couldn’t move for quite a while!
|The pack of wild dogs cause a traffic jam!|
|Wild dog can be distinguished by their big, round ears and mottled fur|
|This guy was in front of our car, so we weren't going anywhere!|
Once mobile again, we saw giraffe, more elephant and many impala, some kudu and nyala, and were enjoying our game drive tremendously. Soon we noticed something lying in the grass in the shade under a tree. At first we thought it was just one animal, probably a hyena sleeping. But something startled it, and first one, then 2 little heads popped up, and we realized we were looking at 2 hyena pups suckling from their mom!! We watched them for ages, the pups drinking their fill, and the mom just lying down. Every now and then, they’d pop their heads up, to check on their surroundings, and then lie down again. I have to admit that I think hyenas are rather ugly, but even the ugliest baby is cute, and that goes for hyenas too! The pups were adorable…actually looking more like the wild dogs we’d seen that morning rather than hyenas!
|The two pups look up. Mom is still lying down|
Just as we were about to drive on, and leave the mom and her babies, she decided it was time to move, and got up, and started walking along the road. The naughty pups followed, but took their time, playing in the grass, and falling further and further behind their mom. Every now and then, she’d turn her head around to check on them, and at one point, she was so far ahead that she stopped, turned back and waited for them, essentially closing the distance between herself and her pups. The naughty pups then disappeared into the bush behind us, and the poor mom, turning around and not seeing them, started to panic. She walked back, and then started running, frantically looking for her babies. She too disappeared into the bush, in the direction where the pups had disappeared, so we assume she found them, and gave them a good spanking for not sticking close to her and straying off the path!!
|Mom gets up|
|She waits for her pups|
|They take their time emerging from the bush|
|Clearly a hyena with its shorter hind legs, giving it a hunched appearance|
|Mom looks back as the pups play around behind her|
Onwards we went, and our luck stayed with us. We saw 2 male lions sleeping under trees, just once or twice lazily looking up in our direction. Did you know that lions will sleep for up to 20 hours a day?! Lazy buggers…!
|Still a favorite...the good old Zebra|
We were also rewarded with 3 rhino, looking prehistoric with their armour-like skin and horns. Tallying up our sightings later that day, we realized that Lady Luck had certainly been shining on us: we’d seen wild dog, giraffe, elephant, lion, rhino, hippo, baby hyenas, wildebeest, zebra and countless buck! All that was missing was a leopard, and although we tried hard, we had to count our blessings, and leave the park without seeing a leopard. We are so thankful, and feel so blessed to be able to experience seeing these incredible animals living their lives in the wild, and share this beauty and these experiences with our children!
|Rhino grazing in the grass|
|An elegant giraffe...just to give a perspective to its size!|
|We came across this group of elephant surrounding a small elephant that was lying down. We don't know if it was just resting, or if there was something wrong with it.|
Soon it was back to civilization, and Christmas preparations! My parents drove up from KZN, and my brother Thorsten joined us from his neck of the woods here in Johannesburg. We were almost a complete extended Wedekind family unit, just missing my brother Volker, who was back in the UK with his family.
|With my oldest brother Thorsten, my dad, mom and youngest brother Detlef on Christmas Eve, 2017|
|The kids having fun with their cousins|
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as the preceding days, we were rewarded with beautiful, hot weather. The kids were able to swim, jump on the trampoline and play in the park, while the adults chatted, reminiscing of childhood Christmases and past times, enjoying family time and wondering what the future held for us all as we would soon be going our separate ways again; my folks back to their little house in New Germany, Detlef and his family to Scotland, and the Cool Runnings crew about to embark on their last major ocean crossing before the adventure of a lifetime slowly comes to a close!
|Merry Christmas from the Cool Runnings crew!|