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Fiesta adventures in Zululand

Day 78

1,500 Fiesta Klms

Just back from our mini adventure – wow, driving in Africa is definitely not for the faint-hearted! Driving out of Durban was like being in Gran Turismo, everyone drives so fast and if you can’t keep up, then the polite thing to do is get out of the way and drive in the hard shoulder! Despite pushing the little fiesta up to 110km/hr, we soon realised that our place belonged firmly in the hard shoulder so pulled over to allow everything else to pass us. This would have been fine, except you are then faced with trying to dodge all the people, market stalls, animals that seemed to line the motorway despite being miles from anywhere. Coming from a place which has a population of only 20million, we can’t get over how many people there are here!

Our first destination was St Lucia, an incredible wetlands area and the first World Heritage site in South Africa. We arrived in the afternoon and although a blissful little place, unfortunately our accommodation was not what it looked like on the picture…well maybe it did 20years ago, but not now. Oh well, it was extremely cheap and once we’d fumed the room out with mozzie killer, it was just about bearable! It’s on nights like these we wish we had our comfy & clean bed in our tent! We are counting the days until Kylie is here! That said, it was pretty cool to sit on the balcony at night and here the hippos in the river just below us…our first African animal!

We took a boat trip the next day down the river to view the hippos close up – a fact i didn’t know was that hippos can’t swim! When you see them in the river, they are either standing in shallow water, or walking across the bottom and  jumping up to the surface now and then to take a breath!

Heading north we ventured up to our first game reserve – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi , the oldest reserve in Africa and credited with saving the white rhino from extinction. We stayed in Insinkwe bushcamp just outside the park – thankfully this one was fantastic! Driving into the park for the first time was exhilarating – you just didn’t know what would be around the next corner and being in a tiny fiesta only added to the excitement.  It must have been beginners luck, but in the first afternoon we saw 4 of the big 5 including both black and white rhino as well as giraffe, zebras and an assortment of different antelope. Our first encounter with an elephant however, was slightly terrifying, as we pulled up to the river’s edge, the dominant bull decided to charge out of the water straight towards the car in front of us. There was a mad panic as the cars all tried to get out the way, but luckily our little getaway car was amazing at reversing at high speed and we were soon able to breathe a sigh of relief! Our second close encounter was with a white rhino! Slowing down to check out 2 warthogs to our right, we didn’t realise that when they started running off, it wasn’t because of us, but a rhino charging full pelt towards us all from our left.  Fortunately, the rhino saw us and turned in time to miss our car (which is a miracle considering how bad their eyesight is) and i only saw him as his horn was about level with the passenger window! How we all missed each other i don’t know, but it certainly made for one hell of a first game drive!

We felt so privileged to have seen a number of rhinos on our trip they are under huge threat from poachers with the horn trade being bigger now than ever, fuelled predominantly by the demand for Chinese medicine. The game parks in South Africa are investing heavily to try and protect rhinos as much as possible and success stories of how many poachers have been caught or killed are banded about in the newspapers. However, with  rhino horn commanding such a high price it seems the risks are worth taking for poachers and the risk of getting caught is not a strong enough deterrent . If rhinos are to survive extinction,  there needs to be more focus  on tackling the source of the problem, not just the poachers who are simply supplying the demand.

After our animal encounters, we took the drive 4hours north to the battlefields, for a history lesson on the Anglo-Zulu & Boer wars. The scenery was just spectacular, with rolling green hills covered in lush long grasses – the livestock here look a lot healthier than those in WA! Driving through the rural villages, it’s hard not to be shocked by the poverty that sits just outside of the city. The disparity in wealth is unbelievable. From big mansions, well healed people and flash cars, to the small thatched circular huts , roaming cattle & ladies sitting on the verges cutting the grass with scythes.

We stayed in Dundee and were fortunate to meet Evan Jones the local historian who told us a lot about the history of the area and the battles at Islandwana and Rorkes drift, made famous by the film Zulu. He was keen to point out the inaccuracies of the film in detail, i didn’t like to say that i hadn’t seen it, but fortunately Rich had! He really helped to bring it all to life for us and made the visit to the battlefields a lot more interesting!

We’re now back at our base in Durban waiting for the car. Apparently it arrived on Tuesday, so we are now in constant contact with our agent to work out when it will be offloaded and through customs. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe not? This is Africa time now.

**Update as i post this. We found out yesterday that to get the car released we also needed the original copy of our ‘Bill of landing’ which we only have as a soft copy. The Australian shipping agent had failed to mention we would need this, so once again they have let us down and left us ill-prepared. Fortunately our shipping agent this side is being fantastic and has managed to arrange a permission to release without original paperwork and we could have the car by this afternoon!!

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We’re in Africa!!

Day 68

So here we are, in Durban, IN AFRICAAAA!!! Still can’t quite believe we’re actually here, but i’m sure we will be saying that the whole way round! After a very easy flight, we arrived into Jo’burg in -1°C freezing fog conditions ( a little cooler than we expected!) so were glad to be moving quickly onto a connecting flight to sunny Durban.  We are currently staying in a fantastic backpackers – Gibela Lodge – in a very salubrious part of town, Morningside. We couldn’t have been made more welcome here and the standards and cleanliness make it hard to believe this is only classed as a backpackers – it is so much nicer than the hole we stayed in, in Freo and a fraction of the price. It really is our little oasis, and although we’re in a good area, all the houses are securely locked in behind high walls & electric fences – which we both found unnerving to start with, but you quickly get used to it!

Durban is renowned for being a dangerous city, but we’ve found that as long as you follow some common sense and avoid the no go areas it’s actually pretty pleasant. The city is a mix of beautiful old colonial buildings, alongside very rundown  sections all sitting along a beautiful ‘Golden Mile’ of beach . The area we’re staying in, is very close to Florida Road, which is full of amazing bars and restaurants – after $10 beers in Australia, we’re loving the cheap beer here ($2) and Rich is getting fully stuck into the various types of biltong which seems to be available in any animal! We are just so impressed with the food, the service and the high standards that everything seems to operate on here.

Today we headed down to the shipping agents office to being sorting out our paperwork. Kylie is due next week and we’re keen to get going as soon as she’s arrived. We spent ages gathering our paperwork, expecting our first African admin meeting to be a nightmare, but it was fine. We met Maurita, our agent, who spent the first 20minutes talking about her cheesecake recipe – followed by a tour of her grandchildren who’s faces were proudly stuck up all over her walls. The paperwork part took about 2minutes, but she seemed to want to talk about anything other than shipping. She seems to become quite fond of her clients – particularly those coming from Australia – Oli and Lisa, if you’re reading this, she was asking after you and was thrilled to know you’d ‘got to the top’ already! Send her an email, she’d love to hear from you and see some of your photos.

So with Kylie still a week away, we’ve decided to hire a car and head off on a mini adventure. Tomorrow we’ll head north up to St Lucia (wetlands area) for a couple of days before heading into our first game park Hluhluwe-Imfolzi – which although much smaller than Kruger still has the Big 5. Excited much??? We’ll then venture out into the old Zulu battlefields to find Rorke’s Drift –although i might have to ban Richard from quoting Michael Cane all the time – ‘Stop throwing those bloody spears at me’. So hopefully our next update will have our first shots of some African wildlife, although, i’ve feeling the car we’ve hired is probably no bigger than a Fiesta, i never imagined our first game drive would be in such a little car – hilarious! 

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A holiday from holiday

Day 61:

KLMS Travelled – 11,932 Kylie + 2,047 hire car

With Kylie on her way to Africa, we were faced with 2 glorious weeks of proper holiday time with my parents. No putting up tents, no dashing for midnight bush wees, hot water on demand and as much wine, cheese and chocolate as you could imagine – bliss! Our 2 week loop started in Fremantle (Freo) an awesome chilled out little town with huge personality. It feels very different to anywhere else i’ve been in Australia, almost foreign, with it’s heritage sandstone buildings, markets, quirky people and it’s famous cappuccino strip – we’ll be glad to go back and and spend some time here before we fly out.We also took a spin over to Rottnest island and hired bikes to go an explore the island – well worth a visit – particularly on Tuesdays when they do half price deals – sweet. The island is famous for Quokkas, a hopping marsupial  which early dutch settlers mistook for rats, and so named the island ‘Rat Nest’ – fortunately they’re much cuter than rats – so have become quite a tourist attraction. We spent the day cycling round the island and despite Mum’s reservations about making it the whole way round, having not been on a bike for 20years,we all made it!

Moving onto Margaret River we were bowled over by how amazing it was – beautiful rolling wine countryside right next to the sea – what more could you ask for! The wine here really is top notch and we spent a day on a tour going round some of the smaller vineyards – between us all we built up quite a bounty of wine and chocolate – there were going to be some good times ahead! Well, with it being winter what else are you going to do, when it’s too cold to hit the beach?? We also realised that this would be our last opportunity to fully over-indulge for a long time and so made the most of everything that came our way. It’s fair to say we’ve both packed on a few pounds, but think this is a good strategy to have a little extra padding before we reach Africa, as god knows what we’ll be eating or god forbid what bugs we may encounter.

Further south, we headed into Pemberton with it’s forests of huge Karri trees – a couple of which are so tall that they used to be used as fire lookouts. You can still climb up them, so we decided to brave it and have a go. The climbing trees simply have metal spokes sticking out of the trunk that you pull yourself up onto – there are no  harnesses, no helmets and nothing to protect you if you were to slip – and at 61m – it’s a long way down! Full of bravado we both began the ascent, but as the ground fell away, the shakes began to start and the legs went like jelly. It was absolutely frightening, but not wanting to look a loser in front of everyone, the only way was to take a deep breath and keep on climbing. The view from the top was unreal, but knowing that i know had to get down off this thing, i didn’t stand around long to admire the scenery. It was pure relief when my feet finally touched the ground – my single tree climb was enough for me, but Rich insisted on going to the Bi Centennial tree which was even higher 75m!

After the forests, it was time for the beach again and we spent our last few days down in Denmark & Albany. The coastline here, is some of the most beautiful in Australia – Mandalay beach and Elephant Rocks are must sees if you’re down this way – as are the pies in Denmark!!! This area is of great significance for us Bostonians, as this was where Matthew Flinders also heralding from near Boston UK, began to chart the coastline of Australia. It may have been over 200years ago, but he’s still one of the towns biggest celebrities!

It was a fantastic way to spend our last few weeks in Oz, made even better by being able to share it with family. It’s strange to think that our time in Oz is coming to an end. We’ve had the most wonderful 4.5years –  living the most unbelievable lifestyle, seeing so many beautiful places and getting to share it with our amazing friends. Words can’t describe how much we will miss it! But, our sights are firmly set on the next adventure and we are so ready to go now – in 3days time we are going to be flying to Durban!!! Just can’t believe that after a year of thinking, planning & prepping  – this is finally happening  – we are going to AFRICA!!!!

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