#6 Durban – South Africa

Before I enthrall you with a fantastic tale of Tala Game Park in Durban.

Please allow me for a short time to remember a time a when I was  a few years younger and was lucky enough to spend some time in Africa.

My first time to South Africa was spent on holiday/vacation with some good friends from one of the many ships I have served aboard in my time at sea. I had six fantastic weeks to enjoy Johannesburg, Pretoria and many other wonderful places while I was there. I remember fondly the wonderful family that looked after me for a large part of my time there, My friends took me around to many restaurants, bars and clubs and also showed me the wonders and beauty of that is Africa.

Although spending time in each city was fun and exciting. My fondest memory of Africa will always be of Pilanesberg Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s largest parks and home to healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo – Africa’s “Big Five”.

Starting early from Pretoria we arrived at the park at around six thirty in the morning the sun was only just up, clear blue skies were the order of the day, the sun was just starting to warm the ground and it felt like it was going to be a great day. I had my Canon film camera loaded and had about five extra rolls of thirty-six exposure per roll so I figured I would have plenty of film for the park animals and for some photos of Sun City which is Adjacent to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. As we drove into the park we saw Baboons’, antelopes, and various other small game. Pilanesberg Game Reserve is massive at around 580 km of diverse and arresting bushveld terrain. It also includes an area for the animals if they feel like the tourists are too much to handle, where only the rangers can access.  I had only seen one elephant way off in the distance, he looked like a fly speck he was so far away. So after traveling around for a while with only sighting small animals we stopped for some lunch in one of the game park areas. As we ate our hand packed lunch I was amazed at the tranquility that surrounded me. Believe me when I say I would have loved to stay for a few nights in one of the many game parks that dot this game reserve. I knew we only had today and would have to head back to Pretoria at the end of the day. With a good four hours left in the park we still had so much to see. Back into the car we jumped and away we went. We had only traveled about five Km’s when we heard a crashing sound off to our right, stopping the car we could see around twenty elephants coming out of the bush only thirty feet in front of us. There were two males with their tusks larger than the many females that were behind them, as well as quite a few young elephant of different sizes trailing their mothers, I was beside myself with excitement and had almost climbed out the window to get some photos of this group, they were grabbing the branches of thorn trees, tearing them off and stuffing them into their mouths, it was so raw and powerful, it gave me a sense of deep respect for these wonderful animals and is one of the many memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Even though it was over much too quickly. We watched the last of the elephant herd move into the bush on the far side of the track. The father who was driving started the car and we headed off ready for our next encounter. I was still buzzing on adrenalin from that last encounter when we spotted a cheetah’s head just barely visible in the tall grass I took some photos even though he was at the extreme range of my camera. We moved further into the bushveld and onto one of the many small tracks that crisscross the park. As we drove around a bend in the track we saw in front of us smack in the centre of the track a bull male elephant all on his own, we stopped the car a good forty feet away from him. The father, who was driving the car, told us that he was a lone bull male who went back to the pack only when he wanted to mate. He said sometimes they could be very unpredictable. He also stated that if we waited he was sure the elephant would eventually move off the track. Again I was leaning out the window taking photos as the bull male decided we were a threat and mock charged us. He threw dust-up from his trunk at us and flapped his big ears, then he picked up a small branch with leaves and held it in front of himself and kicked dust-up with his feet, I was sure he was going to crush the car with one blow from his massive trunk, yet the father just backed up a little and then stopped again, He actually laughed at the bull elephant. I not totally sure who was the crazy one the elephant or our driver. The rest of us in the car asked him to get further away. He calmly said that the bull male was just trying it on with us and that we were in no danger. After being charged about ten more times with us retreating backwards in short bursts for about two miles. The bull male elephant wandered off into the bush and the father smugly said see I told you so. What an intense situation that was, I can tell you now that there were times that I nearly needed a change of pants.

Throughout the day we saw giraffe, wildebeest, warthogs, and many types of antelope and gazelle, we also saw a group of ostrich that tried to peck at me through the window of the car. We went to a section of the park with camouflaged hides that are used to watch the many types of predator birds that are in the park although they must have been elsewhere as we saw nothing but bush when we went there. We heard of sightings of the parks rhino’s from other people though we never got to see any of them. So with our time there over we headed to our final destination of the day Sun City. We made our way to the southern part of the park; Sun City is accessible from the Bakubung gate, as well as the main road. We entered Sun city and were given some small gambling tokens at the gate as it is home of one of South Africa’s casinos, I was not overly impressed with the gaming table area’s as I have seen better throughout my travels, there was also a huge building filled with gaming machines I would have said that there could have been as many as a thousand machines in this huge complex. Not being a keen machine player I was not overly interested enough to check it out except for a quick glance. So we headed off to the Palace of the Lost City, which is one of the major resorts in Sun City, it has fantastic architecture with a waterfall statue of cheetah’s chasing prey at its entrance, and a huge statue of an elephant called Shawu in the foyer. The whole palace was created for royalty; it is one of the most opulent and grand buildings that I have ever seen. Further away from the palace there are water slides, and wobbly bridges, there are elephant statues everywhere, heaps of pools for the kids and some for the adults, and they even have a wave pool. If swimming is not you thing they have a world-class golf course complete with crocodiles on the 13th hole so if you lose your ball there I would just call it lost and move right along. I loved my time in Africa especially photographing the animals and was looking forward spending some more time there back with the Queen Mary 2 even if it was for only one day.

Here are some links if you would like any further information about the Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Official website

The Pilanesberg Game Reserve Travel & Safari Guide

Wikipedia also has a nice site concerning the park.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilanesberg_Game_Reserve

So now back to our present time zone.

Cape Town to Durban: Date:  7th of February 2011

Our ship traveled from Cape Town on towards Durban and around the legendary Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope. These promontories were key beacons for the early explorers and are the source of many myths and legends. In 1488, Bartholomew Dias named the Peninsula Cabo Tormentoso, or the Cape of Storms. King John II of Portugal later gave it the name Cabo da Boa Esperanca – the Cape of Good Hope. In 1580, Sir Frances Drake proclaimed it to be ” … the most stately thing and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.”

We moved quickly through the Atlantic Ocean and into the Indian Ocean, as we rounded the Cape of Good Hope sailing up the coast past Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown moving towards our destination Durban.

As I knew months in advance that we were heading for South Africa I had worked willingly with the tour team aboard the Queen Mary 2, I had gone on tours for them helping out when they were short of people. I provided them with photographs of the tours when possible, I made myself as helpful as I could, even plying them with the odd box of chocolates or a bottle or two of nice wine. So that when I suggested that I be included for one of the four places going to Tala Game Park in Durban I was pretty much guaranteed a place, and I was over the moon when it was finally confirmed.

I polished all my lens and made sure my batteries were full I even took a mono pod (a single pole for stability) as I wanted these shots to be spectacular I was packed and ready to go days before we arrived and was excited to be back in South Africa and going to a game reserve.

Let me tell you a little about Tala Game Park, it’s a large private reserve with over 3000 hectares of land there are Rhino, Kudu, Wildebeest, Zebra, giraffe, Warthogs, Hippo and Ostrich as well as the rare Sable antelope. There are no predators here. No lions, Cheetah, leopards, Hyena or even elephants. You will only find mostly prey animals here and they have flourished as the grazing is plentiful and the park makes them easily accessible to tourists. That being said they are still very wild animals and care is to bepredators advised while in the confines of the park.

We took tour busses from the docks, which headed straight out of Durban so that we only had a small glimpse of Durban lifestyle before we were on the highway headed toward Johannesburg, only we would not be going that far. The bus ride took around an hour and a half before we turned of onto a smaller road and headed off at a ninety degree angle away from the main road, we saw a signpost “Tala game Reserve” and headed into the park, after a twenty-minute journey into the park we were let off in a dirt car park, we were then escorted to a thatched dwelling where we were greeted with a refreshing juice drink. After a short break all of our guests were placed onto land rovers each with an experienced guide.

As it worked out we managed to get all but one of the guests loaded and away on their own safaris. That left all the tour guides and one guest to board the final land rover. As there were only six of us including the driver in the final vehicle, I was able to call shotgun which suited me as I wanted as perfect a field of vision for my photographs as possible, we all had plenty of room in our vehicle as they can hold up to ten people. Our driver introduced himself to us and asked us if we wanted to follow the others or make our own way. We had a quick vote and promptly headed off in a different direction to the other vehicles.

Our driver spotted the first giraffe way off in the distance so we made our own track as we headed off into the bushveld to see what we could get close to.

We came up to a young giraffe feeding from a thorn tree our driver got us really close we were only around fifteen feet away from him, although you could only see the top of his neck, as he was swallowed up by the bush and grass. After about ten minutes our driver moved on I wont go into all that we saw or how far we traveled but we saw plenty of giraffes as well as a flock of ostriches. There were some Zebra though only in ones and twos not in the herds that I was expecting, we drove right up to a family of Warthogs and they didn’t even try to run away “if alarmed the warthog will run away with its tail sticking straight up” we watched as the babies snuffled in the dirt while mum and dad ate grass. There were antelope’s playing and bounding in the grass, as well as groups of six or more scattered around the open areas.  I was able to photograph all of these as well as some Wildebeest. There were new-born animals everywhere in each group. It was nice to see life renewing and to be able to capture it with my camera.

We even tried to catch sight of the Hippos although they were in an area we could not get to, we came across a tree full off nests that were hanging upside down from many of the branches, to me they looked very unusual sort of shaped like a small penis and a ball sack, I took some photos of them and you can make up your own mind about the shape.

In the whole park there were two stand out moments for me that really made my day, the first was when we drove to within forty yards of around seven Rhino just grazing in the grass they were surrounded by flocks of Egrets and there were ostrich and warthogs in the same vicinity.

I got some of the best photographs I had taken all day here in the Tala Game Reserve.

I was in a euphoric mood as we left the area thinking that was the best and that it would be hard to top my experience with the Rhinos. As we drove through the park towards our starting point we talked between ourselves about how great the day had been.

When we saw another small giraffe smaller than all the others we had seen, the guide stopped and we watched amazed as its mother joined this beautiful yet small giraffe.

They wandered through a region that was low scrub bushveld it was a fantastic sight and again I took as many shots as I could of the mother and baby (calf) giraffe as they closed the gap between them.

At one time the mother spread her front legs so that she could get low to the ground to get to the succulent growth that grew there.

Then there was the sound of another vehicle approaching on the opposite side of the giraffes the baby went closer to the mother and allowed me to get some photographs of the two of them together.

It was a beautiful ending to our day. Our guide asked if we had a fun day and if were we ok to head back to the resort, I personally had a great time. We were all excited about what we had seen and spent the ride back talking about it amongst ourselves. When we arrived back we had only a short time there before we started herding all our passengers back onto the bus for the long journey back to the ship.

Epilogue: Now while I had no doubt in my mind that I had a fantastic day and felt very privileged to have experienced it all. I did feel sorry that my fellow casino crew members would not have been able to experience what I had been able to. I need not have worried this time as Andy our manager had decided to go to a Zulu Village and was able to arrange this on a personal basis, he took quite a few of the casino crew with him and then after they had seen the Zulu village their guide suggested that they go to a different park where they got to see elephants and a lion pride and much of the game that I was able to see while in Tala Game Reserve.

Here are some links to Tala Game Reserve.

http://www.tala.co.za

The link below is a U Tube video, that shows you the park and animals it tends to go on a bit so just watch what you feel like.

‪http://www.africa-24.com

 

So overall Durban really showed us her best and gave us an experience and a memory to be treasured, I know that Africa will call me again and next time I will hopefully spend more than a few days here “weeks if I am lucky” experiencing as much as this land has to offer.

To be continued:  #7 Mauritius


#5 Cape Town – South Africa

We arrived in Cape Town on the 4th of February 2011 we would be here overnight and leave on the following afternoon, After most of the passengers disembarked a few friends and I went out to see the city. As this was our first time here we decided that we would take one of the red tourist busses, that way we could see what we wanted and still have time to get to the top of Table Mountain which was high on my list of must see places while in Cape town. While still onboard our ship we had been able to exchange a very small amount of our US dollars to Rand’s, which was the local currency enough to get us through the day, we were hoping to be able to get some more Rand exchanged outside somewhere.

We headed off to the shuttle bus outside the port, which dropped us into the waterfront area and we were able to pay for and jump onboard a red tourist bus the kind that you will find in most city’s and start our journey through the city, Traveling in this way allows you to safely see some areas that you would not necessarily have made the effort to go to.  We went to so many places throughout the city as well as going to some of the outer suburbs.

We went to Mouille Point which is one of the nicest suburb areas with a lot of money being spent in this area, our driver pointed out so many places and areas  that I can only remember a few of them. There was Robben Island a former penitentiary island 10-kilometres from the city, where many famous political prisoners were held for years.

And in one of the most famous moments marking the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech in decades on 11th of February 1990 from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall only hours after being released.

All of this was explained to us by the driver as we drove around. Now you can get off and on these busses whenever you want at any designated stop.

Although we had two days here I had given my second day here away to one of my casino staff that had to stay onboard on the first day, just because I am kind hearted and the good-natured person I am of course.

After we toured throughout the town looking at the forts and city in general we headed to our main destination which was Table Mountain.

As we got closer it was possible to see the cable car which was the way we would get to the top of the mountain.

Table Mountain aerial cable car was established in 1929, takes visitors to the top in one of two cable cars, each with rotating floors and huge windows to ensuring everyone a view, cable cars depart around every 10 to 15 minutes.

The more energetic souls, if you are one of those can climb up to the top using paths that are clearly marked and the really adventurous of those can also do some real climbing. There are many experienced guides here you only have to go on the web before you come here to find a guide who will be able to sign you up and get you on your way.

The trip in the Cable car costs around $180 Rand about $20 – $25 US dollars for a round trip although you can purchase a one way and walk back down or walk up and catch the cable car down if you are so inclined.

Due to only having a limited amount of time here today to see the town and table mountain we opted for the there and back option.

Going up was superb with everyone getting a chance near the windows as the cable car ascended the floor rotated, I myself was able to photograph many aspects of the trip up the mountain, arriving at the top of the cableway we first saw that there was a gift shop and a cafe, so before we started exploring we all had a cup of cappuccino and just sat in the cafe looking out onto the stunning views that surrounded you, this gave you some idea of what was to come. Suitably refreshed we went exploring.

Now Table Mountain when you look at it from below gives the impression that someone took the top off the mountain with a giant meat cleaver, leaving the flat top that they called Table Mountain today. As the day progressed I found that the many views I saw of the mountain, from diferent angles provided the basis of the reason it is called table mountain the locals state that the table-cloth is the mist, when the weather is right a blanket of mist falls onto the mountain creating the impression of a table set for dinner.

Anyway back to the top of the mountain it is not as flat as you would think although for a mountain top it certainly is flat.

We decided after walking around half of the mountain that once you had seen one part it all seemed very similar, although if we had more time we would have explored more.

One of my favorite authors is Wilbur Smith and in many of his books he refers to Table Mountain as a place visited by politicians, prime ministers, and many famous people and I felt that having visited this mountain I was in good company.

I was told there are animals on this mountain, one of them the Dassie or rock hyrax can be seen sometimes by tourists, although I never saw one in the whole time I was there.

Heres one of those small useless facts that will stay in your mind, there used to be all sort of animals here the last lion was killed on the mountain in 1802. Apart from these you can find porcupines, mongooses, snakes and tortoises.

We strolled around looking at the stunning views available as well as traversing through the many trails that crisscross the flat to of the mountain, when we had enough we headed back to the red bus pickup point to continue our tour.

Back on the bus we went over the saddle of the mountain to Camps bay which is a thriving beach area with lots of cafe’s and a lively beach scene,

We got of the bus for a while and went for a stroll through the downtown area and onto the beach.

I was  regretting not having my board shorts because  I felt like a swim.

We got back onto the bus and it took us past the football stadium made famous for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and onto the waterfront where we started the trip.

We walked down to the area called Victoria & Alfred waterfront or the V&A as the locals called it, walking past some boutique shops selling everything you might feel you need or not whatever the case may be. We went up to the markets near the aquarium and while strolling through the markets I bought some small knickknacks and my friends Andy and Sasha bought a small drum made with stretched skin over a wooden hourglass frame. It was at this time we found out that due to it being a holiday the money changers were closed and the small amount of Rand we had been able to change on the ship was almost used up. When we finally found one that was open they wouldn’t change money without a passport and all of ours were back on the ship. So not being able to change anymore money we decided on one of the few restaurants that we could afford, well I personally couldn’t afford it so Andy paid. It was a fish and chips shop and the food though reasonably cheap was excellent. We then wandered around the V&A complex and on through the many areas found here, we stumbled onto one of the strangest statues I have seen in a while, it was made using Coke a Cola crates.

Here are some facts about the V&A waterfront area. There are over 400 stores and 45 different Waterfront Cape Town restaurants and bars for people to choose from.  it is also where you can find some of the trendy Cape Town clubs, There are also many places to buy African artifacts although most of them were much more expensive than I would have liked to pay.

after walking around for a while,we caught the shuttle back to the ship, I gave one of my staff the opportunity to go out that night and to be able to get out the next day and to enjoy this fabulous place as much as I had.

You have to understand that when working on the ships, sometimes you might only have a few hours to see a place and you make the best of it.

There are many people who work onboard who do not even have the time to go out at all so I consider myself lucky enough to visit these places even for a day.

If you are very fortunate you could end up going back to the same ports and be able to see so much more. Yet there are times that you only get one chance and its up to you to live life to the fullest seeing as much as you can in the short time that you have.

I hope you have enjoyed this little piece of Cape Town as we sail away to our next port.

Durban in South Africa.