Two days from now I will be at the airport getting ready to jet off on my next experience abroad. I still can’t believe the time has come for me to take off to South Africa! It seems like just yesterday I had agreed to embark on this adventure with two of my greatest friends and a group of 21 others, some whom I haven’t even met. This trip won’t be like any other trip I’ve ever been on. I can’t wait to make so many amazing memories, see so many great places and awe-inspiring landscapes and not to mention, meet the amazing South African people and be immersed in their culture. Some of the activities and experiences on our itinerary include; a trip to Blyde River Canyon, visiting the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern hemisphere, volunteering at an animal rehabilitation centre, teaching classes at Daktari Bush School and of course, camping outside for a night in Kruger National Park surrounded by wildlife. Our group is also taking part in a bicycle donation project, which provides bicycles to those in need. The money goes directly towards Qhubeka, who will distribute the bicycles and do a post-distribution follow-up with us. To read more about the Qhubeka project, feel free to visit: http://qhubeka.org/2013/ . This will truly be a trip of connection, compassion and courage.
To give you a quick rundown on what we’ll be taking part in during our stay, I’ve broken down the basic itinerary day by day:
We arrive at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and meet up with one of the tour guide reps. Once everyone meets up and has all of their baggage, we make our way to the first night’s guesthouse in Melville, which is a hip suburb of Jo’Burg. The first night is basically just to chill and relax after flying for more than half a day. Can’t wait for that jetlag.
No time to sleep in. This trip kicks off bright and early at 8am. Today we head to Blyde River Canyon and Moholoholo Forest Camp. After breakfast, we depart for the Nan Hua Temple, which is the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. After the temple, we head to a local restaurant for lunch in front of a crackling log fire that apparently has been burning for 33 years! Once we finish lunch, our drive takes us past Bourke’s Luck Potholes, which marks the start of the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world. As we continue on our way, we drive through the Drakensburg Escarpment and through the mountains. After a full 9 hours of driving throughout the day, we finally arrive at Moholoholo Forest Camp. Once we check into our accommodations, we’ll have dinner and one of the Camp’s reps will sit and chat with us about what the next two days have in store. The day will end with an exhilarating night drive in an open safari vehicle with a guide and tracker, so we can hopefully see some of the night roaming animals lurking around the bushes.
Day 3 & 4
Another day, another early start. Our morning starts bright and early at 7am. Once we finish up with breakfast, we’ll take a walk over to the rehabilitation centre to meet up with the staff and students. The staff will explain the daily routine with our group and each of us will be given specific tasks to complete throughout the day. We’ll get the chance to work first hand with the animals that are being rehabilitated for entry back into the wild. Those animals that are not fit to return to the wild, will be kept at Moholoholo for education purposes. The two days spent at Moholoholo with have us doing tasks such as cleaning animal cages, feeding the animals and much more. Once the daily chores are completed, we’ll head back to our lodging, get cleaned up and enjoy an amazing dinner outside under the open sky. After our chores and tasks are completed on day 4, we pack up and head to our next destination; Daktari Bush School.
Day 5 to 8
Our next few days are spent at Daktari Bush School. Daktari is a registered non-profit organization where their mission is to educate and inspire local underprivileged children to care and learn about their environment. The school is located on a private nature reserve in the Limpopo Province. We will be teaching classes and having talks about social issues with the children throughout our stay, as well as working hands on with some animals such as cheetahs, eagles, owls, meerkats and many more. On the last day of our stay, we will have a huge bonfire with the children, as they sing and dance and talk about our experience together.
Today takes us to Bushveld Terrace. On the way to our destination, we stop off at the Three Bridges Curio Shop with a wide range of handmade crafts. From there, we’ll drive a short distance to the town of Phalaborwa and check into our chic accommodations at Bushveld Terrace. This hotel is just 200 metres from the gate of Kruger National Park. How cool is that!? Once we get checked in, we’ll take a drive down to the Olifants River where we’ll board a double decker boat for a sunset cruise through the waters.
Today we visit Amarula Lapa, where they produce that famous sweet, creamy liqueur that everyone knows – Amarula. This liqueur is made from the marula tree fruit. After a quick bite to eat, we head to the gate of Kruger National Park. Once we arrive, we’ll meet up with our guide for the afternoon and jump in his 4×4 vehicle as we start the Malompheni Eco Trail. Here’s where it gets really interesting. Tonight, we sleep outside (yes, outside) in tents. We have two armed guards with us at all times during this stay, as we are literally sleeping with wild animals roaming freely around us. This should be interesting.
Today takes us to Satara Rest Camp within Kruger National Park. We’ll take stroll down to the river with our guides. After that, we’ll head to our vehicle and make the long 8 hour drive to our overnight camp. Once we arrive, we’ll eat dinner and relax, since the day mainly consists of driving, I’m sure we’ll be totally exhausted.
Today we were supposed to visit Hazyview to visit with the massive African elephants. Our tour company found out that this establishment uses animals for profit gain by offering elephant rides. Thankfully, the company we are touring with is extremely against using animals for profit, and I’m glad we will not be partaking in this activity, or supporting this establishment, as riding elephants is something that I am 100% against. I will NOT be fueling that kind of tourism, and our tour company has graciously offered to refund our money for this day. We will instead have a free day to roam around the local village and do as we please. Come nightfall, we depart to the Shangana Cultural Village and the Mapulana community will present their traditional lifestyle to us. Later on in the evening, we will be part of a show with singing, dancing and drumming. During the festival, the chief’s wife will serve us a traditional dinner and we’ll all be given a drum to partake in the night’s festivities.
Today we head back to Jo’Burg and check into Ginnegaap Guesthouse. Since we had a fun filled night the night before, today will more than likely be a chill day. We’ll grab lunch at a local restaurant and we’ll end our two week adventure at a local jazz club for dinner later on in the evening.
Today will mark the final day of our adventure filled two weeks in amazing South Africa. After breakfast, the transfers to the airport will start taking place and we’ll board our long flights back home.
I honestly can’t wait to board the flight to South Africa. Not only will it be a new country for me, but an entirely new continent! There will be some days that we don’t have WiFi or connections, but I’ll be sure to upload some photos to Instagram when I can to show you guys the beauty of South Africa!
All photo sources below are listed in order of appearance.