Not much can be said about our adventures post-Cradock. We drove as far northeast as we could muster through rather dull countryside. We ate, we drove, we filled up the bike with petrol and used the loo intermittently until darkness swept in. Hoping to camp we followed the GPS to a bunk edge of town locale that was not to my father’s liking so we ventured further, breaking our oath to avoid driving at night until we were stopped by heavy road construction, diverting the highway’s path. We stopped by the police station to ask their advice about a place to stay and were escorted (yes, escorted!) to a small little B&B where we set up camp for the night. It had been a long day.
Travel and toil weighed on us heavily as we set out from our overnight accommodation. We set our sights on Nelspruit, some 7 hours out. We passed briefly through Johannesburg, the Los Angeles of South Africa as I’d like to call it, as it resembles the palm tree entertainment paradise of SoCal. Time was against us, however, as we hoped to hit the park by nightfall. My father drove the whole way. What started out to be a chilly drive (7*C) changed as we exited the highlands and descended in elevation. By four o’ clock we found ourselves in a warm (20*C), primeval land that resembled the African wilderness most imagine. Winding roads cuts into the land, splaying the land into bulbous mountainside and the occasional river. Through tunnels and over hills we rode, feeling the balmy air whip at our helmets as we grinned from ear to ear. It truly felt great but our adventure had yet to end.
We arrived at last into Nelspruit in search of a car rental, as motorcycles aren’t allowed into the park for safety sake. You see, in South Africa all game lands are fenced enclosures, and once inside you are at the mercy of the big beasts of the bush. A bike provides little protection when encountering a water buffalo, rhino, elephant, hippo, lion, or other intimidating animal high on adrenaline. Unfortunately the rental place was closed so we felt a bit trapped. We ventured into White River and further still to Hazyview—just outside of the park. By that point it was dark and the driving was increasingly dangerous. The “road” was little more than patches of tar road with faded lines and run down housing. Pedestrians walked boldly at the side of the road toward traffic, most wearing dark clothing. My father was exhausted from a long days ride and our options were few. We attempted to enter the park but ended up at a dead end. That gate, as well as the park closes after sundown. After a few tries we acquiesced to finer lodging for the sake of a soft bed. We enjoyed a drink and nibbled on some camp food, where sleep soon caught up with us.
Today we woke up and enjoyed a lavish breakfast, complete with chefs to make omelets to your liking. Afterward we made for the Avis in town and rented a car. We then headed into the park and spent the afternoon cruising the bush at our own leisure. It was a lovely day in terms of weather, shade, and animal life. We encountered countless impala, kudu, nyala, springbok, and gazelle. Truly I find most of them to look alike, though the kudu tower over them all. They are huge! We also saw zebra, warthogs, elephants, giraffes, a hippo, and a leopard up in a tree. The strangest thing about the experience is how random the encounters occur. One minute you’re driving with nothing but bush for miles on end and suddenly an animal appears in front of you.
My favorite encounter today was finding two giraffes crossing the road. In my last stint into the South African bush up in the Sabi Sand reserves the giraffes were some of the most elusive creatures. This time they were right before us! One was grazing at the side while another turned toward us and stared idly before turning to the side and walking off. They were younglings, not yet full grown, and still towered over us. They are such beautiful animals.
The strangest encounter, however, evoked very different emotions. After spying a host of zebra alongside a horde of impala we ran into a small cluster of Southern Ground Hornbill. They are an odd kind of large bird that somewhat resemble a vulture. Standing at around 2.5ft they looked like a meek, midget pterodacytl on foot. I got out my camera to take a picture and a couple of them took notice of me. They boldly approached the vehicle and before I knew it, 8 of them were too close for comfort. I quickly rolled up my window and drove onward, but I couldn’t shake how strangely terrifying they were. Velociraptors of the bush.
The sun got the best of us again and we had to take a roundabout way back to our lodging. Construction slowed us even more, despite the fact it is Sunday. We did make it, however. Dinner was had at a quaint seafood restaurant. My father enjoyed a Greek salad and I absolutely loved my veggie sushi roll. What a crazy, accessible world we live in where I can see African animals in the afternoon and dine on top-notch sushi for dinner. As for tomorrow, my hope is for us to camp in the park where we can enjoy the African sunset I love so very much.