25th - 27th November 2009: (Graaff Reinet (Camdeboo) & MZNP)
After a relatively relaxing morning we packed up, walked around the Campsite one last time and headed South toward Plettenberg Bay. From there we cut inland in the direction of Graaf Rienet.
The obvious route was to take the somewhat beautiful but perhaps infamous Prince Alfred's Pass which goes over a large mountain range. This was because firstly I had never done it before and secondly because a few book I read recommended it as a must!
The Rock formations and natural beauty were something to behold! I wish I could have done the road in a more relaxed fashion!
The first 30 or so km went fine but as we got higher, things got steeper and the roads became very deteriorated in parts. This is all very well if you have a 4x4 but I was in my little Chico and he was doing well...well just about!
The road carried up and down going through some incredibly hair-raising terrain, then we came down to a little river where we passed just about the only car we saw and would believe it, the one passenger was someone I had studied with a Stellenbosch University!
From there I had about 40km of pass to go and it was such a beautiful section and interestingly seems to have been constructed by Thomas Bain, who is renowned for opening up routes through various area in South Africa, such as Bains Kloof!
Soon the beauty was turned into nerves as the car was sick of all the bumps and started playing up and literally on the last climb it cut out. I was thinking oh my gosh what next, we are in the middle of nowhere with no cellphone reception...
the next minute a bakkie (pickup) came around the corner and said we were near the end so I knew if we could get going we may have hope. 15 mins later after a little fiddling, the car got going and we stumbled down to the relative safety of the first tar road.
From there it was about 300-400km to Graaf Reinet through interesting little towns like Willowmore and Uniondale. It was a bit of a nightmare as the car gave us many scares on the route and on top of that the temp was pushing 40 degrees, maybe more (with no air conditioner) and the wind made the SE of Cape Town seem like a breeze.
We got to Graaf Reinet and found a place to spend the night and organised a place to get the car fixed. Only then could I reflect on some of the beautiful areas I had seen that day.
Just before Graaff Reinet we had driven past the Camdeboo which forms part of the SANParks and which the Valley of Desolation falls under. I was excited about visiting this place the next day and so explored Graaff Reinet in the late afternoon and evening. This town was everything and more than I had heard. It was lovely and the setting stunning! Also the Cape Dutch houses gave one a sense of old romantic South Africa!
The next day we woke up and took the car to get checked out. Fortunately the guy checking out the car knew a lot about Golfs and quickly found that some sealing near the Carborator had ripped. He was helpful and by 11am we were back on the road.
Our first stop was the Valley of Desolation and this comprises a pass that takes you up to the top of the mountain that overlooks Graaff Reinet and maybe a 100km in all directions. It was so worth it! We didn't see many animals as it was heating up, but we heard baboons, saw some nice birds and also saw some Meerkats which was great as it had been a while!
This is the road upto the top...
The views were spectacular but sadly as for the last day or to and next day these are all taken with my powershot as the SLR pics were deleted!
From there we drove on to New Bethesda to visit the Owl House. The area continued to be lovely and we saw some Ground Squirrels at the turn off as well as a lovely Martial Eagle on a pole, possibly eying them out!! Its always a pleasure to see these graceful eagles outside SANParks as its nice to know they are able to survive in these areas still!
From New Bethesda it was about 150km to Cradock and as the road was empty, the trip went quickly. A late lunch at 4ish and then the excitement really started as we were heading to Mountain Zebra National Park for the first time!!!
We got into the gate and immediately started seeing a variety of animals. Wildebeest, Mountain Zebra, Springbok, Vervet Monkeys, Eland, Kudu and more. There wasn't really more than a few hundred metres driven without some animal being seen. The Vervet Monkey's were in large troops and were very relaxed providing some really entertaining viewing. We then carried on and heard monkey's chattering, a clear sign that there was a predator in the area. Patiently we waited but as nothing was visible we drove the next 200m into camp and checked in and as the Night Drive vehicle was departing and there was space, we got straight on and continued the drive. We went past the chattering monkeys and the guides were also convinced that there must be a predator in the area.
The first Mountain Zebra of the Trip!
A solitary Eland...
And then some Cape Buffalo which was a nice surprise!! Notice the ears are tagged.
The drive was educational and it was a bonus going on some roads that were private. We came across a herd of about 20 buffalo or more, Black Backed Jackal, more Eland and a good number of Steenbok and other antelopes. It started getting cold and was dark at this time and as we started losing hope of seeing anything more the call came out 'CHEETAH'!!!! Yes sure enough it was a cheetah...couldn't believe it and we figured it was probably the one that the monkeys were chattering at earlier, as we were in the same area. The Cheetah was in hunting mode and about 50m in front of it were 3 Red Hartebeest but stupidly the guide started shinning on the cheetah and giving away its position. More than likely the cheetah wouldn't have had a chance but I was angry that the guide could make such an elementary error and give away its position.
Arguably the worlds worst pic of a cheetah
but I didnt realise the pic captured this much info as it looked completely black until i zoomed in - guess it can be used as proof
Interestingly the sighting proves yet again that cheetah will hunt at night and as I have seen 2 male cheetah just after they had killed a +/- 7 year old male kudu a few years back (proving they also take on large prey occasionally) I knew that we had ruined any opportunity for the hunt to take place.
Anyway enough sour grapes from my side...we headed back to the camp and did thank the guides for a very interesting drive and we went about the process of finding a camp site in the dark, something I would have to get used to on all the days I camped on this trip
Some very nice neighbours helped us out with their light and then we got going quickly with preparing dinner etc I have to say that it was an absolute pleasure using the virgin facilities of the campsite. The kitchen was cleaner than any I have ever seen and ! would imagine it had just been installed?? We kind of messed up the sauce for the rice and my braaing took ages so we got a great dose of camping at MZNP but it was all worth it and it just meant we had more time to enjoy the place instead of going to bed early. All in all we got such great value out of camping there that I will go back as soon as I can. We also loved the various Jackals calling into the night and we fell asleep to this sound, excited about our drive the next morning!
Next installment will be the rest of MZNP and then Golden Gate National Park...all a build up to the week in KNP! Stay tuned