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MeezersUK

Swaziland to Rhino River Lodge

 

We wake to pattering footsteps on the roof above us. The monkeys in Swaziland are just as active and mischievous as those in Kruger. We watch them playing and chasing around the hotel grounds, then have breakfast and leave for our drive to Rhino River Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal.
 The Navmii app is STILL not working, I really wanted to give it a good review but it is proving too unreliable . Using the hotel's WiFi I have downloaded an offline map from Google and this gets us onto the right road.
Driving through Swaziland is an experience. There is so much litter everywhere we could be driving through a rubbish dump.  The scenery is beautiful in places, if you can look past the rubbish, and there are so many shacks and temporary structures people are living in , right next to nice, modern looking houses.  Animals too. We see goats, donkeys, cows , chickens and dogs, all wandering freely beside and over the road. I imagine these animals are valuable to their owners, so why aren't they secured in some way?  When a vehicle approaches animals by the roadside it slows slightly and the hazard lights are switched on to warn the drivers behind. But we still see several dead animals on the roadside.
Driving through Swaziland

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Google gets us to the border where we meet another lot of apathetic officials. I manage to omit getting our customs form stamped and am told to park the car at the border crossing and walk back to the building to get it stamped. I have nothing with me but the form, but it is still stamped, it's all a bit of a farce. As we enter South Africa there are protesters blocking the road. What they are protesting about I have no idea , but it gives us time to sort out the next offline map and they soon clear a gap and wave us through.
 We stop in Mkuze to fill up with petrol. While driving around Kruger we've kept the tank at least half full, now it's less than a quarter full and I'm relieved to find Mkuze is large enough to have a petrol station. I love how the attendants guide you in, I feel like I'm parking a jumbo jet ,:)  the attendant here is especially friendly ( they all are) and asks me where we have driven from and where we live. On being told 'England' he asks ' which side are you on?' and starts naming English cities. It takes me a minute to realise he is asking about football and which team I support. I don't like football, but DH is a Liverpool fan and there follows a discussion on the best players and goals. Wherever we go in the world I am amazed how football can start a conversation. Windscreen washed and attendant tipped, we continue on our way.

 We arrive at Rhino River around 2 pm.

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 Driving  through the reserve we see wildebeest  galloping for no apparent reason,  nothing is chasing them but boy, can they shift! and spot our first Nyala . We  get a lovely friendly welcome at reception and are told about lions killing a warthog not 100 yds from reception that morning. We are shown to our cottage, it's lovely, not posh, but very comfortable. DH announces he could live here :)

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We have a warthog wandering down our path.

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 We walk over to the dining area for lunch, it feels strange not to have fences around the accommodation like in Kruger, I wonder where the lions are now :)
We have just enough time to get changed before the afternoon game drive. The daytime temperatures so far have been perfect , low to mid twenties, but early mornings and evenings are chilly , especially when on an open sided vehicle, so it's trousers and fleeces all round.
We share the vehicle with a Dutch couple, I'm pleasantly surprised there are only six of us on the drive. We see giraffe, elephants and lions . I don't take many photos, we have seen so much in Kruger , but it is nice to sit and look instead of having to drive as well :) and of course, it's handy to have a guide to answer any questions.

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The elephants are beside the road and are eating the long grass. We have an unobscured view of how they twist the grass ( like we twist spaghetti) then place a foot on the base of the clump as they pull. If the grass comes up with roots still attached they shake it and bang it on the ground to get rid of the dirt. 

We have our first sundowners while watching the sunset, then back to camp for dinner and a sit around the fire.

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Edited by MeezersUK
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MeezersUK

Rhino River Lodge

 

Up at 5 am today for our first early morning drive. DH and the boys are actually ready on time, why couldn't they do that in Kruger? Maybe it's because there are muffins and hot chocolate on offer while we wait.

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  No sign of the Dutch couple this morning, so it's just the four of us in the vehicle. It's a very quiet start, we see zebra and warthogs and our first close up ostrich ( we saw one on the Cape Peninsula tour but way off in the distance). DS18 has a new pastime. On asking what made all the little holes we see everywhere in soft ground, our guide tells us about the ant lion larvae and shows DS how to lure one out of its trap. On our way back to camp we find the lions, still a little too close for comfort.

 

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 Breakfast is served, then we have a few hours to relax until the afternoon game drive. I get some photos of the nyala, they are very timid compared to the animals we saw in Kruger. A family of warthogs trot past our sun loungers, they certainly aren't timid. I hope they aren't luring the lions closer :)  DS and I ' fish,' for ant lions but have no luck. The cottage has a plunge pool , me and DS brave a dip but it's freezing, even by UK standards.  

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Lunchtime soon rolls around and then it's time for our afternoon game drive. 
 Just us four again . Another larger family has arrived but they have a vehicle to themselves.  First stop is elies feeding. They are browsing from some tallish shrubs. It makes me smile how they use their trunks to feel/ smell for the tastiest leaves. It reminds me of a short person ( me :) ) reaching for something they can't see on a high shelf. The tips of their trunks skim backwards and forwards over the vegetation and you can almost hear an ' aha! There it is,' when they find the leaves they're looking for.

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 I've got my fingers crossed for rhino today. It's my birthday and I've requested a rhino sighting :) it takes a while , alot of backtracking, checking spoor and tracks , but our patience is rewarded, we find a black rhino. Shortly afterwards, like the proverbial London bus , two White rhino show up.
I'm surprised to learn there are no territorial issues between the black and white, they simply don't recognise each other as rhino! The rhinos at the lodge have all had their horns removed. Before this was put into practice they lost 15 rhino in two years to poachers!

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We find the lions again, a bit further from camp this time thank goodness, they are eyeing up a couple of giraffe,  but the giraffe know they are there so it's a bit of a stalemate.

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 Back at camp , as it's my birthday, dinner is served in a private Boma . It's lovely, with a fire lit and lanterns. DS18  is sitting with his back to the unscreened area and swears he can hear rustling. I promise I'll warn him if anything creeps up on him, but he still looks over his shoulder several times a minute :)   After we have eaten dessert ( I've given mine to DH cos I'm stuffed) I'm aware of singing, and it's getting closer. The staff are singing ' happy birthday' in an African language and bring in a birthday cake. I wish I'd recorded the singing , it was lovely. As was the cake, but we were all too full to enjoy it. 

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Rhinos and an African ' happy birthday' , this is going to be a hard birthday to beat :)

 

 

Edited by MeezersUK
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Rhino River Lodge to St Lucia

 

Our last morning drive was another slow one. Just the four of us again and alot of driving around looking for tracks. I'm sure we saw the usual suspects, but the only sightings I've noted are giraffes and a ' diver/darter bird' We saw one of these in Costa Rica, but it was always perched with wings spread, drying it's feathers. This one was actually diving and it was fascinating to watch. It would disappear below the water for a minute , then it's head and neck would appear, moving through the water  like a snorkel,  before disappearing again and re-emerging several feet away with a good sized fish. The fish was too big I think, it juggled it trying to swallow it and ended up dropping it. Lucky escape for the fish.

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The giraffes were practice sparring, I assume it was a practice as they seemed to be chilled out between  hammering each others necks. I took more video than photos, when I can work out how I'll put it on here.

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We also saw our first ' sausage tree' I can't believe we have been two weeks in South Africa and have only just seen one

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 Back at camp we pack up  and check out. I've enjoyed our stay, the staff are so friendly, the food is very good and our accommodation  comfortable. But we all agree we preferred  driving ourselves around Kruger , choosing what to watch and for long . My original itinerary had us staying at the lodge before Kruger and I think that would have worked better. 

 I want to do some souvenir shopping on the way to St Lucia and I assume Navmii will continue to be unhelpful. So reception print out directions to Ilala Weavers and we find our way there easily. I spend a little too much time shopping and as we are booked to go horse riding at 1 pm in St Lucia   we aren't able to stop for coffee and lunch in their cafe. 
 Of course, being pushed for time, I manage to take a wrong turn and we arrive at the stables with minutes to spare. In Kruger we asked why we hadn't seen any dung beetles and were told it was the wrong season, so we are surprised to  see dung beetles busy in the yard here ,but we don't have time to take photos.  There are two others riding with us and our horses seem to be randomly allocated. I owned a horse decades ago , swapped him for a mortgage and have only ridden once since - in Costa Rica two years ago, which was also when DH and the boys rode for the first time. In Costa Rica we had a very enjoyable private ride on very well mannered horses. DS18 and I were able to canter , much to his delight , DH and DS21 chose to trundle along at a slower pace and we had such a good time I should have known better than to try and repeat the experience.
 Our horses this time were not so well mannered and more inclined to take advantage of the lack of experience of their riders.  We rode through a wetlands area and our guide told us about some of the trees and wildlife. We saw zebra, warthogs and water buck.  I was asked if I wanted to canter and rode with one of the guides away from the others so we could take a longer route. There followed a  moment from a comedy sketch when we heard ' whoooaa! Stoppp! Whoo! ' and turned to see DHs mount in hot pursuit of our horses with DH bouncing around and gamely clinging on for dear life. His horse stopped when it reached ours and was led back to the others at a more sedate pace, DH was ok and even joked about his impromptu gallop, but it could have had an unhappy ending.

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 After our ride we had a short drive to our accommodation in St Lucia. There was some confusion at check-in due to a guest with a similar name, thank goodness I print and carry copies of all paperwork , it was eventually rectified and we were taken to our apartment, where the key promptly jammed and they had to get a caretaker to open the door for us! But it was worth the wait, our apartment was lovely. This is turning into a day of minor fiascos. By now it was late afternoon and we hadn't eaten. We drove to the Ski boat club for a late lunch,/ early dinner overlooking the estuary. We saw pelicans and the tail  I end of a crocodile, but no hippos. We were advised to drive if we were going to be out after dark,  as hippos roam the town at night and you do not want to bump into one on foot!  I wouldn't want to bump into one while driving either, but  we actually went for a little drive around town the three nights we were there, hoping to spot a hippo in the street, but had no luck.

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Back at the apartment we have a night drive booked but have a little time to relax and connect to WiFi for the first time since Swaziland. The night drive is niggling me as it is advertised as 7 pm start online, but our pickup time is 8 pm. I queried this before leaving the UK and was assured 8 pm is correct. I log on to my email at 7.10 pm and find an email apologising for the error and confirming pickup is at 7 pm. Mad panic! We run down to the entrance gate but our pickup  is nowhere to be seen. I run back to the apartment thinking I'll phone the company, but my phone is out of charge. Then DH is shouting me that the ride has just arrived and hurry up cos we are late! Grrr! No we are not! I pride myself on being punctual and hate to be thought late, the other passengers are not English and seem to be unaware of the misinformation , they probably assume we are just bad mannered ,keeping them waiting.
Anyway, we eventually head off to the wetlands at a speed that suggests we have to make up for lost time. I hope our driver slows down once in the reserve, or we're not going to see alot :)  Our first sighting is a chameleon, even driving at a slower speed I'm not sure how the guide spotted him.

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We see zebra , nightjars sitting in the road , then not a lot , until DS catches eyes gleaming in the spotlight and yells ' stop'  , it's a leopard and it's on the move. Not inclined to hang around for photos. We follow it for quite a while but it's always just out of range and I begin to feel bad incase we are hindering it's hunt for dinner. You can't really sneak up on an impala with a safari vehicle  in tow :) Our guide obviously agrees because we say ' goodnight' to the leopard and leave it in peace. Our next and last sighting are hyenas. But they are even less inclined to be caught on camera. They are a distance off the road and we follow best we can but keep losing sight of them. I am amazed how fast they can move as they reappear a long way ahead of where I have my camera focused.

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 The ride back to town is cold. We have coats and blankets but I'm still shivering we can see our breath in the chilly night air. It's  11 pm when we arrive back at the apartment, four hours has whizzed by.

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MeezersUK

Rhino River Lodge to St Lucia

 

Our last morning drive was another slow one. Just the four of us again and alot of driving around looking for tracks. I'm sure we saw the usual suspects, but the only sightings I've noted are giraffes and a ' diver/darter bird' We saw one of these in Costa Rica, but it was always perched with wings spread, drying it's feathers. This one was actually diving and it was fascinating to watch. It would disappear below the water for a minute , then it's head and neck would appear, moving through the water  like a snorkel,  before disappearing again and re-emerging several feet away with a good sized fish. The fish was too big I think, it juggled it trying to swallow it and ended up dropping it. Lucky escape for the fish.

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The giraffes were practice sparring, I assume it was a practice as they seemed to be chilled out between  hammering each others necks. I took more video than photos, when I can work out how I'll put it on here.

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We also saw our first ' sausage tree' I can't believe we have been two weeks in South Africa and have only just seen one

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 Back at camp we pack up  and check out. I've enjoyed our stay, the staff are so friendly, the food is very good and our accommodation  comfortable. But we all agree we preferred  driving ourselves around Kruger , choosing what to watch and for long . My original itinerary had us staying at the lodge before Kruger and I think that would have worked better. 

 I want to do some souvenir shopping on the way to St Lucia and I assume Navmii will continue to be unhelpful. So reception print out directions to Ilala Weavers and we find our way there easily. I spend a little too much time shopping and as we are booked to go horse riding at 1 pm in St Lucia   we aren't able to stop for coffee and lunch in their cafe. 
 Of course, being pushed for time, I manage to take a wrong turn and we arrive at the stables with minutes to spare. In Kruger we asked why we hadn't seen any dung beetles and were told it was the wrong season, so we are surprised to  see dung beetles busy in the yard here ,but we don't have time to take photos.  There are two others riding with us and our horses seem to be randomly allocated. I owned a horse decades ago , swapped him for a mortgage and have only ridden once since - in Costa Rica two years ago, which was also when DH and the boys rode for the first time. In Costa Rica we had a very enjoyable private ride on very well mannered horses. DS18 and I were able to canter , much to his delight , DH and DS21 chose to trundle along at a slower pace and we had such a good time I should have known better than to try and repeat the experience.
 Our horses this time were not so well mannered and more inclined to take advantage of the lack of experience of their riders.  We rode through a wetlands area and our guide told us about some of the trees and wildlife. We saw zebra, warthogs and water buck.  I was asked if I wanted to canter and rode with one of the guides away from the others so we could take a longer route. There followed a  moment from a comedy sketch when we heard ' whoooaa! Stoppp! Whoo! ' and turned to see DHs mount in hot pursuit of our horses with DH bouncing around and gamely clinging on for dear life. His horse stopped when it reached ours and was led back to the others at a more sedate pace, DH was ok and even joked about his impromptu gallop, but it could have had an unhappy ending.

P1020374.thumb.JPG.e5e5d48ee5afb9f5e8d1a482be243d9c.JPG
 After our ride we had a short drive to our accommodation in St Lucia. There was some confusion at check-in due to a guest with a similar name, thank goodness I print and carry copies of all paperwork , it was eventually rectified and we were taken to our apartment, where the key promptly jammed and they had to get a caretaker to open the door for us! But it was worth the wait, our apartment was lovely. This is turning into a day of minor fiascos. By now it was late afternoon and we hadn't eaten. We drove to the Ski boat club for a late lunch,/ early dinner overlooking the estuary. We saw pelicans and the tail  I end of a crocodile, but no hippos. We were advised to drive if we were going to be out after dark,  as hippos roam the town at night and you do not want to bump into one on foot!  I wouldn't want to bump into one while driving either, but  we actually went for a little drive around town the three nights we were there, hoping to spot a hippo in the street, but had no luck.

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Back at the apartment we have a night drive booked but have a little time to relax and connect to WiFi for the first time since Swaziland. The night drive is niggling me as it is advertised as 7 pm start online, but our pickup time is 8 pm. I queried this before leaving the UK and was assured 8 pm is correct. I log on to my email at 7.10 pm and find an email apologising for the error and confirming pickup is at 7 pm. Mad panic! We run down to the entrance gate but our pickup  is nowhere to be seen. I run back to the apartment thinking I'll phone the company, but my phone is out of charge. Then DH is shouting me that the ride has just arrived and hurry up cos we are late! Grrr! No we are not! I pride myself on being punctual and hate to be thought late, the other passengers are not English and seem to be unaware of the misinformation , they probably assume we are just bad mannered ,keeping them waiting.
Anyway, we eventually head off to the wetlands at a speed that suggests we have to make up for lost time. I hope our driver slows down once in the reserve, or we're not going to see alot :)  Our first sighting is a chameleon, even driving at a slower speed I'm not sure how the guide spotted him.

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We see zebra , nightjars sitting in the road , then not a lot , until DS catches eyes gleaming in the spotlight and yells ' stop'  , it's a leopard and it's on the move. Not inclined to hang around for photos. We follow it for quite a while but it's always just out of range and I begin to feel bad incase we are hindering it's hunt for dinner. You can't really sneak up on an impala with a safari vehicle  in tow :) Our guide obviously agrees because we say ' goodnight' to the leopard and leave it in peace. Our next and last sighting are hyenas. But they are even less inclined to be caught on camera. They are a distance off the road and we follow best we can but keep losing sight of them. I am amazed how fast they can move as they reappear a long way ahead of where I have my camera focused.

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 The ride back to town is cold. We have coats and blankets but I'm still shivering we can see our breath in the chilly night air. It's  11 pm when we arrive back at the apartment, four hours has whizzed by.

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St Lucia  3 days

 

I'm running out of enthusiasm and photos now, so I'm going to put our last three days in one post.
St Lucia is a pleasant enough little town, I never expected it to be entertainment central, but we struggled to fill our time here. With hindsight I should have booked one night in St Lucia to allow us to do the night drive and hippo/ croc boat trip , and the remaining two nights in Hluhluwe umfolozi reserve. But at the time a couple of days unplanned to do as we pleased seemed like a good idea, it's never worked in the past so I don't know why I thought it would work now.

This guy has been perched outside our window every morning

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 Our first free day we did the drive to Cape Vidal. In my mind we would leave early and be at the beach in time to snorkel at low tide. DH and the boys haven't surfaced from their slumbers ' early' in the last two weeks , I must have been deluded to think they would start now!
 It was almost 10 am when we joined the very long queue at the entrance gates to the wetlands reserve.  Low tide was, I think, 8.30 am ish, so snorkeling had gone out the window.
 We drove slowly , taking all the turn offs to view points and rocky beaches, the scenery reminded me of certain coastal areas in the UK, and we saw about as much wildlife :) several duikers disappeared into the undergrowth as we went by, and that was it. It was all a bit ' ho hum' . At one view point we were coming down steps , along with several other tourists, when a coach load of young, teenage school children were coming up. I lost count of the ' hellos, good mornings, how are yous ?' every other child greeted us, some wanted to shake our hands. So polite and friendly!  Of course UK kids are exactly the same ;):)

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 We eventually arrived at Cape Vidal. Hmmm, again, not what I expected. It was a nice beach, but I've seen nicer ( we've plenty of stunning beaches in the UK, just haven't got the weather to go with them ) it was quite busy with people but the waves were big and didn't lend themselves to swimming , they pulled me under going out and knocked me over coming in :)  We sat on the beach for a while, ate our picnic lunch , then back to the car to find a monkey had peed over the windscreen :) lots of monkeys in the car park. Many sitting and sunbathing on top of the vehicles. We also found a family of banded mongoose. One caught the scent of something underground and within seconds he had dug down and claimed his treat .

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We drove the swamp forest trail on the way back. We saw more animals here, mainly buffalo, wildebeest and zebra.

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Back in town we had a very good meal at Reef And Dune , then another fruitless drive around  looking for hippo.

Our last full day felt to me like a wasted day. I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to planning and organising, but if I leave it to DH and the boys, we do nothing. 
We tried to walk what should have been ( according to the map) a circular nature trail. But we lost the trail halfway and ended up having to retrace our steps. All we saw were dung beetles. Instead of rolling dung they seemed to be involved in territorial scuffles at the entrance to their hidey holes. Watching them kept us amused for a while and saved the nature trail from being devoid of wildlife. DH noticed that there was even an absence of birds, and DH notices very little :)

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 We tried to fill the rest of the day with visits to the local beaches ( nothing special) walking the boardwalk ( took ten minutes) and souvenir shopping ( we found three souvenir shops) there is a market at the end of the main street. Pineapples must be in season as they made up 90% of produce available :) behind the fruit and vege is a craft market. The quantity is quite exciting , but on closer inspection every stall was selling the same thing, I doubt much if any of it was produced locally.

My total haul for the afternoon was two fridge magnets and a box of rooibos teabags :)

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Is the 'no swimming' sign really necessary ? :)

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Our last morning we had our hippo/ croc boat trip. This was excellent. We were on the smaller 'Shoreline' boats, so not too many passengers. The captain's commentary was amusing and informative. I never knew hippos were such thugs. Compared to them the crocodile sounds almost civilised :)  It was early morning and still rather chilly so we saw only one croc, but again , the captain gave us alot of interesting information. We also saw various birds, a giant kingfisher , a couple of fish eagles. I laughed to learn that rather than relinquishing a fish too heavy to carry, the fish eagle will use it's wings to paddle itself to shore. It was a fantastic end to our trip. 

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 We got back to our apartment in time to have a small breakfast and check out. Now I was stuck. It was 10am and we didn't have to return our car at Richard's bay airport until 1 pm. What to do for an hour or so? We visited a craft shop we'd seen earlier beside Siyabonga jetty, but there was little to tempt us. We debated having a look around Richard's bay, but the car was loaded with luggage and everything was packed, ready for our flight home. So we decided to just get to the airport early, return the car and have lunch in the airport cafe .
 We managed to kill twenty minutes looking for a petrol station to top up the tank before returning the car, but we were still at the airport by 12 noon.  We returned the car then discovered the cafe and check-in were not open. We sat for over a boring hour in an empty terminal. The cafe opened around 1.30 and we were able to quiet our rumbling stomachs. Check in opened shortly after and we were soon on our way to Johannesburg and then Frankfurt and then home.
 I'm already planning a return trip next year ( well , actually, I was planning a second trip before we'd taken the first :) ) seeing the Spring flowers of the Western Cape  is on my bucket list and we couldn't go all that way just for flowers ,so Kruger will probably feature again. But I have also promised DH we will go back to Costa Rica and I've added a couple more destinations to my list after reading trip reports on here. So, maybe next year, maybe not, but I'll definitely be back :)

Edited by MeezersUK
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  • 1 year later...
Dave Williams

Some very interesting details on things I haven't as yet read others have reported on from reading your Kruger section. As a potential first timer like me descriptions of the walks and night drives and what you saw are very important in making my mind up where I might decide to take one. Mental note...take a can opener too!

Many thanks for taking the time to write an excellent report.Dave

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  • 1 year later...
Dave Williams

A second read here because our delayed 2020 trip will now go ahead in 2021 and I'm thinking of extending it from 4 to 6 weeks. Looking for ideas of where to go. I note your comments about going to Kruger last....we probably start there and I have 12 nights booked in St Lucia...:o:o .... which is deliberate chill out time!

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MeezersUK

Hi Dave

 I'm  also tentatively  planning for next year. Hoping to be back in Kruger next November.  I still haven't  posted last years trip report, I really should as I spend ages reading everybody elses , only fair I contribute. :)

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