Back in South Africa I rented for four weeks a small camper van, based on an old Toyota Hiace Reglus van. Really basic, no sheet, blankets, pillows, only very few pans and cutlery and just a single burner gas stove. Well, you get what you pay for.
I spent the first four days in the Kruger National park, mostly in the southern and central parts of the park. The Southernmost part is also the busiest area and nicknamed “The circus”, the central part was named “The zoo” due to the abundance of fearless animals and the less visited Northern part is just “The wilderness”.
I enjoyed the freedom with my own car just to spend more time to take pictures of beautiful birds or waiting until the light and the scenery is picture perfect. In bigger tour groups you often just focus on the Big 5, but I normally even prefer a beautiful small bird to an elephant. Compared to Serengeti, Kruger is a better place to spot rhinos, but big cats are not as abundant as in Tanzania.
On the third morning I was stopped by a flat tire, it seems that I drove over some thorny bushes, and two nail-like thorns pierced my tire. And my spare tire did not fit… Fortunately there was a repair station within the camp, and after less than an hour the car was roadworthy again. My highlights were a drinking leopard next to the car and on the same day a dead kudu (antelope) gutted by dozens of vultures. Driving around 200km every day through the park and spotting animals is hard work, and I was happy to spend the next days relaxing and hiking in the pristine mountains of Swaziland. Easy hiking trails, nice waterfalls and no other hikers (I was glad to have a GPS with me, their hiking maps are not that professional.) Some shy zebras and blesbucks (antelope endemic to South Africa) roamed around, but they would never approach people like the almost domesticated animals do in Kruger.
Next planned stop was in Sodwana Bay, with one of the southernmost tropical reefs. Wrongly I trusted Google maps and followed the directions, until I realized that the proposed shortcut crosses a private game reserve and the guards sent me back. 20km on dirt roads, and the same way back, thanks Google maps! Finally I found the right road, reached Sodwana in time and had to realize, that most dive centers were closed. Not enough divers in the low season. Only the two bigger centers had enough clients, so I ended up with one of the “industrial” dive centers, which I normally avoid. This part of the journey started bad, and it didn’t get any better. Wrong sized and broken rental equipment, carelessly handled gear and also terrible weather and extremely murky water with low visibility. Instead of staying a couple of days I left after just 1 ½ days of diving and went instead to famous Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park. Much smaller than Kruger, but also a much higher density of rhinos. Beside many rhinos, elephants and buffalos I saw twice a pack of around 20 wild dogs. I spent already several weeks in various national parks, I saw dozens, maybe even close to a hundred lions altogether, but never the endangered wild dogs. Wild dogs are similar sized as hyenas, but they have longer legs and a brown-black-white brindled fur. Quite cute animals compared to the mean looking hyenas.
The next diving destination on my radar, Unkomaas near Durban, seemed to be much more promising. Really friendly and professional people at the resort, and enthusiastic dive guides. But a heavy storm hindered us from diving, so I spent a full day doing nothing, which seldom happened during the entire year. Next day the waves allowed us to launch the boat. There is no jetty, divers board the rigid-inflatable boat at the beach. Only really experienced skippers launch on such days with high waves, if you hit a big wave sideways the boat easily flips over. The solution is zig-zagging to find the lowest parts of the waves to cross them safely. The strong surge underwater made the photography of the mean looking sand tiger sharks quite challenging. The sand tigers, also called ragged-tooth shark or just raggies looks a bit like a small great white shark, but they are completely harmless to humans. Day by day the conditions further improved, the climax was a dive in gin-clear blue water without any current at the beautiful wreck of “The Produce”, where we were followed by a huge friendly turtle!
Normally when you enter South Africa as a tourist, you’re granted a free 90 days visa. My first visit in South Africa in March lasted only a week, then I moved on with the tour group to explore the rest of the Southern and Central African countries. But when I came back in May immigration authorities of South Africa didn’t renew my 90 days visa. So in Mid-June I was running out of time. Therefore I planned a short side trip to Lesotho, a small mountainous kingdom. The most scenic border crossing at almost 3000 meters above sea level can only be reached with a 4WD, as the Sani pass road is unpaved. I quite struggled with my old car, but finally managed to reach the top. Surprisingly the roads on the other side of the border control were newly paved! I stayed a night, did some short hikes and spent a freezing night (below 0C) in my camper van. Anticipatory I purchased the night before a thick woolen blanket. Next day I returned to SA and tried to extend my visa by a week. But the boarder official denied any possibility of extension, only the immigration offices in Durban, Cape Town or Joburg could do that. A small bribe might have helped, but I didn’t try and drove on to the small fishing town of Port St. Johns.
Every summer, when the water temperature drops, some huge schools of Sardines migrate from Cape Town eastwards direction Durban. Dolphins, sharks and whales follow them, try to separate a smaller group from the main school and create a so called bait ball. Close packed sardines and all the predators feeding on them! Apex event for every experienced divers. With a small rigid-inflatable boat we went looking for three days to find such a ball. The best indicators are the Cape genets, sea birds that participate in the feeding frenzy. If you see hundreds of genets diving at the same time and spot, you’re highly likely found a bait ball! On the first day, we “only” spotted some humpback whales and a super pod of several hundred dolphins, but no real bait ball. On the second day again, no bait ball. But several breaching humpback whales. On the third day finally we found a stationary bait ball, and we were the only visiting boat at that spot. Perfect. Except that the water was so murky, that we couldn’t dive. You don’t won’t to be in the water, if you don’t see your fins and all around you are sharks in a feeding frenzy. That’s nature, sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes less fortunate. On the way back to Joburg I made a last diving stop at Protea Banks to do a Baited shark dive. As the two other guests cancelled, only the guide/feeder and I were in the water. A huge perforated ball filled with gutted tuna leftovers attracted a dozen oceanic blacktip sharks. After a while, they all fled as a huge Tiger shark swam by. First he tried to swallow the entire bait ball, and then he checked out the dive guide, poking gently her fins with his nose. He realized quite fast that she isn’t food and he left the scene. Amazing experience to see such a “dangerous” animal behaving so friendly and unaggressive.
Ultimately I overstayed my tourist visa by 4 days, and at exit of the country I was declared an “Undesirable Person” and banned for 12 months for re-entry…
Previous destination: Mozambique
Next destination: Mauritius