Arathusa-Monday thru Wednesday-3/28 to 3/30

Kruger, Arathusa Safari Lodge, Days 54-56- Aurrrrgh, wifi in the bush is a very iffy thing. Seemed to be nonexistent, if there where more than 4 or 5 people on the system at a time. Staying  up late, waiting out everyone wasn’t an option since we had to be up for morning safari at 4:45 am. It is dark for about 15 minutes of our morning safari, then we get a beautiful sunrise.image

Our first full day at the lodge was Monday the 28th. Arathusa is located in Sabi Sands Reserve area. Arathusa is in a coalition of 75 private property owners that  border on and are open to Kruger National Park, which is 7,523 square miles. The Sabi Sands coalition adds over 386 square miles for animals to naturally migrate and stake territories. The two boundaries not open to the park have 9′, razor wired, alarmed and electrified fencing. These boundaries abut private land and are more to keep poachers out, than to keep animals in. The park has several endangered species, the Rhino being the most sought after by poachers. It’s estimated that the wild Rhino will be extinct by 2020. South Africa has one of the largest remaining populations of Rhino, most being White Rhinos. This is the reserve’s grand daddy bull. He is estimated to weight two and one half tons.


The first full day with two safaris, we saw a Hippo wandering around eating in 90+ degree heat (highly unusual, as they like to stay cool in water and come out to feed at night), Giraffe, a group of male Lions that have moved into the area and killed off the competition, Wildebeest, Waterbuck and Jackal.

What was amazing to both of us, was how addicted we got to seeing these animals in their natural habitat, doing what they normally do. They pretty much ignored us or turned tail and ambled away. When animals were sighted, Ryan our Ranger, would shut down the rig and we would just sit and watch until everyone was ready to move on. Television and photos just can’t portray the size, the scale and movement of the animals in the vast landscape. We were hooked and are looking forward to future safaris.

Tuesday the 29th was an incredible safari day. First off, we had seen a female Leopard when driving back to the lodge the night before. She was deep in the brush and it was too dark to follow her. So the next  morning Debeer, our tracker was off on foot following her tracks through the brush and along the road. Driving, Ryan was following her tracks on the edge of the road and I was leaning over the side watching them too. All of the sudden I was staring right into her hissing face. She was off the road near a culvert and I could see a tiny cub. I’m afraid I wasn’t subtle in my reaction, just so excited! No screaming thank goodness or I’d have ruined everything. We managed to get off road for a view, but far enough away for her to quit hissing and growling. Not behavior the Rangers want patterned for the cubs when they see humans. After she calmed down,we moved a little closer and the little Cubs came creeping out of the concrete culvert pipes where they are living. This Leopard has lost previous  litters to flood and Lions. Everyone is pulling for these little guys to make it.


The roads are terrible with washouts and river ravines to cross, so the flat tire we got was no surprise. Ryan and Debeer had it changed in no time in a well rehearsed routine.


Then we saw Elephants everywhere we went. Very unusual as they can be rather elusive for being so large. There were more babies of varying ages, but one very little one (about 100 lbs) that was so funny, running around with his tail in the air trying to mimic others in the herd.

imageThe Plains Zebras have moved in after a large fire burned out the area 2 years ago, creating more grassland. The Plains Zebra (pronounced Zeb-Ra, by Ryan) is larger and more boldly striped than the Cape Zebra. Also the stripes go all the way around their bellies, whereas the Cape has a white belly to reflect heat from its rocky environment.


We decided to cut it a little close by going out for one last morning safari on Wednesday the 30th. Our flight out of Nelspirit, was taking off at 1:35 pm, we would get back from safari at 8:30 am, with packing up and a 3 hour drive in front of us. We put 2861 miles on our rental car driving across South Africa. An English family of 4 were leaving at the same time and they were kind enough to let us follow their professional driver to the airport. He definitely knew the shortest route. We had bought damage coverage for the car that was needed for the scratches incurred in our off pavement adventures, money well spent.

Were we ever happy we went out that morning. Two of the endangered Cheetahs were spotted on a road that borders Kruger. If they wandered back into the park the Rangers couldn’t follow, so Ryan drove like a madman to get there before they disappeared back into the park. Fortunately they had just gorged themselves and could barely walk. Theirs stomachs were so big and hanging so low that they looked like they were about to give birth, not a possibility since they were both males.


Then Ryan rushed off again and got us to the site of two Lionesses that had also just eaten and were lying around, panting trying to digest their huge breakfast.



Hazyview/Kruger, Arathusa Safari Lodge, Day 53- This morning we arose early, packed up, breakfasted and took one last walk along the river bank. As we were nearing the end of our walk, we spied a grayish lump near a large clump of river grass. The lump saw us at the same time and before we knew it, we had a great, large hippo swimming our way. It passed right in front of us, about 6 feet down a bank. A lodge employee came running down, yelling at us to get away. She said that Hippos are incredibly fast and that it would eat us. Really?? Hippos can move up to 36 kmh or about 22 mph. They are one of the most aggressive, fearless and unpredictable of the African animals. One of the top killers of humans. They have been know to capsize boats and kill the occupants. Their big canine teeth are very sharp and they won’t hesitate to use them, especially if a person is between them and deep water or their calf.


The eat us part, was just a scare tactic. Hippos are grazers and will only eat meat if it’s been floating around in the river. Hippos, because they expend less energy, buoyed by water, eat only 1.5% of their body weight/day. Most large mammals must eat 5% of their body weight/day to maintain good health.

We had a interesting drive to Arathusa. GPS is not recommended, because it takes you through the wrong reserve gate. We were sent a map that was created by someone who’s brain works totally differently than mine. I struggled to figure it out, while we passed through small towns and villages with little roadside stands that were unlike any we’ve seen before.


Oooooh, lost in the bush, how exciting! We weren’t totally off the path, but based on our map from the lodge, we overshot the entrance and were a good 3 km out in the bush when we realized our mistake. By then we had the pleasure of viewing a small herd of giraffes crossing the dirt/sand road.


imageWe also saw a very curious herd of Impala. Hurray, another inadvertent Pete safari. After turning around, with a little grumbling from the weary driver to the weary navigator, we made it to Arathusa in plenty of time for the 4 pm safari. The open air trucks go out for 3 hours in the afternoon/evening, then again at 5:30 am.

Our first safari out we were lucky enough to see a White Rhino bull, Crocodile, many more Impala and a large male Leopard (see featured photo). We were thrilled to see these magnificent animals up close and in their natural habitat.

imageWe also saw some of the most beautiful skies, I’ve ever seen.

imageOur Ranger and Tracker stopped at sunset for drinks and snacks.



Ermelo/Hazyview, Day 52- As we headed north out of Ermelo towards the Mpumalanga (“the place where the sun rises”) Province the land seemed to get richer and richer. The Drakensberg mountains to the west create the highveld. Further east and north is the the lowveld. Driving through the Free State and Mpumalanga Province feels like driving through the bread basket or maize basket of South Africa. There are tree plantations, fruit orchards, banana orchards, macadamia nut orchards, maize, sunflowers and dry beans.


Once we got to Hazyview there was no problem finding our abode for the night at Hippo Hollow.

imageAlthough you can’t see me, I’m sitting under the middle umbrella. While we were having lunch a line of elephants where walking up the hillside across the river, with tourists on their backs. After the short rides they were set loose to forge and enjoy the day.

imageThe river in front of the lodge restaurant is a favorite spot for Hippos. We are keeping our fingers crossed that they show before we have to leave in the morning.


Bethleham/Ermelo, Day 51-My angel at Times Square Guesthouse has fixed me up with African tea and Jungle Oatmeal with cinnamon and honey. Big hugs and profuse thanks to Zandra for all her care. What a wonderful, warm woman…she’s in her office in the left photo.

Driving to Ermelo, in Free State Provence, was through rolling green hills with increasingly large farms and cattle ranches. This is big agriculture country, with grain silos and processing plants.


Ermelo is an overnight stop in the road on our way north to Kruger. I found the Jarramandie Guesthouse on, and paid the room fee with taxes. When we arrived they had never heard of us, which wasn’t unusual with last minute online reservations. However, this time we were met with suspicion and an inquiry as to whether we spoke Afrikaans. Nope, not a speck of Afrikaans in either of us. I explained that we had booked and paid online and showed them the confirmation email. After multiple phone calls we were informed that they don’t take internet bookings and we could have the room of our choice for $600 Rand cash.Which is about $34 and much less than, so I cancelled the online booking and we took the cash deal. The room was well appointed, clean and comfortable.


Ermelo is a town of about 83,000. The neighborhoods we drove through had very nice middle and upper middle class homes. We were once again feeling very much in the minority, when Pete did a little research and found that the town population is only 14% white. As it was Good Friday, we saw quite a lot of the neighborhoods driving around trying to find a place open for dinner. We ended up at a locally owned grilled chicken shop. KFC was right across the street with cars lined up for their take away window. McDonalds was right next door to KFC (there is no escape). Anyway our dinner was fine. I was just thrilled to be able to eat and not too fussy.


Malealea/Bethlehem, South Africa, Day 50-The access road to Malealea is the worst we’ve driven without 4 wheel drive. Pete had an interesting conversation with Moke (Mo-key) about why it isn’t improved. Moke grew up in a small village in Lesotho. He and his family are back visiting from Ireland where they now live. His theory is that if the road were anymore passable, people would start buying up the surrounding land for development. So the lodge and local villages keep things just the way they are with their road. Anyway we creeped slowly out the 12 km or so to the main highway, where there was almost no traffic and the road superb. No potholes, whoo hoo!


One of the things we read about and noticed was the lack of fences in the Lesotho countryside. The free ranging herds and herders were everywhere. The Basotho herders do seem to keep their animals out of areas under cultivation, but it would be very interesting to know how they proportion the use of the land.


So, now we are back in South Africa where we can tear along at 120 km/h. It was only a couple hours to Bethlehem from the Lesotho border, the first of three towns on our way to Kruger National Park for three days of safari. Can’t wait, we are both very excited to see animals in their natural habitat. Still a bit puny…. tried a small dinner last night. That didn’t turn out well. We are staying at Times Square guesthouse, which is an absolute delight. The first thing on the agenda was a shower. Ahhhh, clean hair…. our hostess Zandra was so warm and welcoming. She asked what we wanted for breakfast. When I told her just some bread, because of my problem, she made me a big pot of African tea. It is actually settling things down.

imageMore gorgeous countryside during our drive today.



Malealea, Day 49-This is the first time in 30 years that the Malealea Lodge has had to ration water. The water ranges from slightly off color to brown and it’s definitely not potable. It doesn’t make us feel very clean when showering and washing hair. Thank goodness Pete has been collecting water along the way. We have plenty for drinking and brushing teeth. The lodge has done the best they can while supporting the community and their Eco philosophy. They call it green and brown (for the water). Here is a sampling of lodge humor.


Our geyser needed fixing. The geyser is a wall mounted, propane fired, water heater that comes on when the hot water is turned on in the bathroom sink or shower.

imageEveryday has its chorus of birds, donkeys, cattle, and herders calling and chanting. It can be very windy and there was some much needed rain today. You can see the rainbow in this photo.

imageWe bought some nice locally made crafts, during our village tour. The new primary school is shown below. Lesotho only provides free education to grade 7. After that there are fees to be paid, ensuring that many children are not getting to attend secondary school.

imageThe featured photo is of the lodge bar where Peter doles out drinks and wifi vouchers.

Still under the weather and am suspecting something I ate in Ladybrand. Not a typical case of food poisoning, milder thank goodness.


Ladybrand/Malealea, Lesotho, Day 48-After our wonderful stay at the Living Life Station, it was off to Lesotho, the mountain kingdom that managed to retain its independence. The first thing we noticed was a fair amount of new residential construction in and around Maseru the capital city. The economy is mostly subsistence agriculture with reliance upon South Africa for 90% of its goods.

imageThere were good paved roads for most of the journey south to Malealea Lodge. Once we headed off the main highway, it was back to potholes and dirt. Speed limits in Lesotho are much lower than South Africa, traffic less and the drivers so far have been very considerate. The featured photo is of a few of the masses of people walking to their villages, must have passed a 100 people.

Our little rondavel is very basic, a bit like going to camp without the sleeping bag. Electricity is from 6 to 10 pm, water is from 6 to  8 am & pm. Being at 6500′ altitude, the evenings are really cold. The planned pony trek had to be cancelled, because I came down with a bug last night and am still not a 100%. Slept a good part of the day, but rallied to take a guided tour of the neighboring village. The lodge has set up a trust for the villagers, building a primary school and employing a number of the villagers to work at the lodge. This Eco lodge is very popular with Germans and Dutch.

imageThis is the village choir that sings at the lodge and competes in musical events at other Basotho villages.

The lodge open air dining room and coffee shop, where we vied with the adorable lodge dogs for cushy chairs.

The country, from what we have seen, seems to be a giant, high plateau ringed by mountains. You can see the mountain terraces. Every bit of useful land is cultivated or used for grazing cattle and sheep. The herders stay with their little bands of animals, some dressed in traditional hats and blankets, some in western clothing.



Ladybrand, Day 47-One of the little things that has added immense enjoyment to our drives across South Africa have been all the wild flowers. Even in the fall there are flowers growing wherever there is fertile ground.

After a wonderful night at Living Life Station, Ladybrand’s three major attractions were up for discussion. The Rock Art site won out as first choice. The Tandjesberg Rock Art site is located about 34 km outside Ladybrand, on the Liguori farm. A Liguori forefather discovered the cave in 1941 while out trying to find his chickens. The family has since turned the site over to the government for preservation. The site has been damaged over the years from fire, erosion, tourists and photographers. It is now in a locked enclosure and access is controlled by the Liguori family. We drove up to the present day sandstone farmhouse where we met Simon, who lent us the key, rough map and booklet on the art. Warning us about washed out roads, he turned us loose on the farm to find our way. That didn’t turn out well. We took the wrong road at the end and climbed a rock hillside searching in completely the wrong place.

After awhile we saw in the distance a tiny white (color of choice in South Africa) pickup making its way towards us. It was Simon to the rescue, saying he had business out there on the barren hillside. He pointed out the correct access road, which from on high seemed very apparent. We thanked him profusely and headed back to the junction. Things were not so clear at ground level and we mucked about a bit before finding a faint track through the tall grass. Apparently the grass grows fast here or there aren’t a lot of visitors to the site.

imageThe road became impassable, so we got out and walked, keeping an eye out for cobras.

imageAfter finding a marker we ascended the hillside to finally find the remainder of the cave and Rock Art. The enclosure is shown in the featured photo. The heat, being lost and climbs were totally worth it!


Ghost dog attacking a human. These ghost figures are considered Apocalyptic and its theorized that they were painted by the bushmen (San) when the hunt was ending.


This is a depiction of Shamans dream dancing for rain.

imageBirds, with one one on the far right squawking.

imageKudu with a small person, below to the left.

We returned to the Station exhausted but thrilled with our day.


Bergville/Ladybrand, Day 46-up early to start out to Ladybrand. Although we’ve been awed by the scenery in South Africa, the Golden Gates Highland National Park may top the charts. We thought the featured photo looks like a Baboon.

imageOne of the more interesting towns on today’s drive was Clarens. It’s been developed into an artists center with galleries, restaurants and little shops. It was a good place to stop and stretch our legs for a while.

There were fields of sunflowers alongside the road, between Clarens and Ladybrand. They were a small variety, we thought they might be grown for oil.



The booking in Ladybrand was at Living Life Station, the old railway depot. The 5 guest rooms are in the old station masters house. The place is bohemian bourgeois, and our hostess, Cora Mart was most gracious and welcoming. They have a cafe on site with incredible pastries made on the premises.

Our room is huge and absolutely charming with a fireplace, soaking tub, giant shower, patio and comfy overstuffed furniture.

This area of the Free State Province has hundreds of caves that have human hearth ashes dating back 55,000 years. We are hoping to explore some of them tomorrow. Ladybrand has a population of 16,000 and is located 16 km from Masuru, Lesothos capital.


Bergville, Day 45-Tired of driving everyday, we decided to stay another night at Little Switzerland Resort. We woke up this morning to a zebra munching grass out on the lawn in front of our room. A bit later a couple more showed up down at the stables with the horses. One of the smaller females worked her way up to the staircase, but only the male was brave enough to venture into the complex. When the heat picked up in the afternoon he climbed up a ramp onto a covered terrace on the second floor of one of the buildings. Management evidently gives them the run of the place for everyone’s enjoyment.

We got a late start on a hike from the resort into uKhahlamba-Drakenberg Park. First we took the wrong path, after backtracking we finally found the jeep track we were supposed to follow. The views were beautiful and being out alone in the countryside blissful. Off in the distance there were baboons calling and barking. We could hear a river running over rocks in the bottom of a ravine.  Just about the time the river was in sight, here came the ATV’s, roaring down the track spewing exhaust. Pete and I waited while they forded the river, then followed across. The mood was broken, we were hot, so decided to return to the resort.

The main reason for such a late start on our trek was that pinning down reservations in Lesotho was much more difficult than anticipated. There doesn’t seem to be any way for direct communication. All reservations are made through a tour company or satellite office in South Africa. Finally with much emailing and phone calling, we have secured a Rondavel for 2 nights, with breakfast and dinner. Wifi will be intermittent at best. The country is considered a time warp to Africa the way it was. Lesotho was not conquered by Boers and other Europeans in the 19th century. The mountain kingdom was protected by incredibly rugged mountainous terrain and a wily King, Moshoeshoe the Great, who repulsed relentless incursions of invaders.