Christmas in The Vaal & The Kruger, South Africa.

After we made our way back from Durban, we headed back to The Vaal where we would stay for Christmas. In the days leading up to it we went shopping, in the evenings we went for dinner and drinks. C’s cousins were staying for Christmas, their mother and aunt were due to join us on the day. C’s mother had also invited her best friend and her two daughters, and the additional friend popping in and out, so it was looking like a full house!

We had started to help decorate the house, wrapping the tree with tinsel and baubles and fairy lights with a fan blowing behind us as it was pretty hot. We arranged the table with Christmas crackers galore. It’s a strange sensation when you’re used to an English Christmas where it would be raining or snowing and chilly.

Unfortunately on the day I seemed to have brought the weather from home. I had waited in anticipation for my first sunny, hot Christmas day but in fact it was overcast for most of the day and just a little warm. Regardless of the weather was a fantastic day, we drank and played silly games and chatted away. For Christmas dinner we had giant king prawns, basmati rice and salad.

Obviousy followed by the presents and obligatory awkward group photos…

On boxing day, friends and family came over and we sat in the garden in the sun, with drinks and a buffet of food courtesy of C’s mother. A beer pong tournmaent ensued in the evening.
After the remnants of Christmas were tidied away, we started to pack our things once again, ready to head off to the Kruger national park safari. We were staying at Hazy view lodge, in a log cabin with a jacuzzi and a fire pit area.

Closer to the park they had these lovely unique huts to stay in that I was a tad jeaous of:

Some of us were still in the Christmas spirit

Our first day in Hazy view was spent sunbathing and relaxing, in the evening we lit up a fire and filled up a potjie pot (think witches cauldron full of a stew) to cook. We lounged in the jacuzzi with a few drinks and played cards after dinner.

The next morning we were up before the sunrise to get to the park early. We spent the day in the 4×4 driving through the Kruger. Springbok stood elegantly and watched us pass. Elephants and giraffes roamed freely in the distance, a black rhino walked out of the bushes and plodded accross the road in front of the car and dissapeared again.

As the morning went on and the weather grew warmer,you could smell the scent of the Kruger. It smells like baked earth, straw and animal pelt. Birds flicked through the sky, too quick to photograph, that were the most magnificent hues. Against the backdrop of blue sky and straw like grass, their bright red and orange feathers amazed me. Monkeys lounged in trees and hyena cubs were seen darting in and out of bushes.

We stopped off for lunch and to look around the souvenir shops. It rained for a little in the afternoon, and I was growing dissapointed at not having seen a lion. As we ate our lunch by the river we saw a hippo break the surface of the water and swimalong downstream before making it’s way up the bank.

After lunch, the rain drizzled for a little before stopping. We drove past grazing zebras and buffalo and more springbok as my hopes for seeing a lion began to dwindle. Towards the end of the day after a final stop off and a little more rain, we began heading back. Shortly before the exit, there seemed to be a lot of cars up ahead not moving. As we gradually approached and they began to move we realised why. Sleeping in the middle of the road were a lion and lioness. As I rolled down my window the male lifted his head and looked straight into my eyes, we sat there for a few seconds locked in this gaze that utterly outstanded me, before he lowered his head again and lay down in the sun. Seeing them on tv documentaries is one thing, but they were only a metre or so away from me, so close I could actually smell them! The size of the lion’s paw was probably the size of my head! For such ferocious beasts, they seemed prefectly uninterested with us, and simply slept in the road under the sun as if we weren’t there.

Now absolutely satisfied that i had seen a lion, we drove back to Hazy view. We were extremley lucky to have seen four of the “big five” animals there in one day. The only thing we missed out on was spotting a leopard!

The following day, C’s mother had arranged an activity day that involved paintballing, zipwires, quad biking and geckoing. We drove up, got kitted out and jumped in the back of a pick up to be taken to the zip wire point.

One by one, we took it in turns to have our harness clipped to the wire and jump off the platform to go whizzing through the trees.

Next we headed over to the quad bike track. I found out that I shouldn’t be trusted to drive anything because before we even got on the track, I proceeded to drive straight down a ditch. I also made the guide come and turn it back around as I had landed in long grass, and I didn’t want to get off in case there were snakes. I’m sure they absolutely loved me. We drove around the track through fields, over wooden bridges, through dense shrubbery, I was supervised the whole time so that I didn’t drive off of anything steep.

At least I was good at paintballing! Which was no easy feat under the African sun in overalls and a mask! As per usual, they didn’t have any overalls for super short people, so I had to try  and run whilst holding a gun in one hand and my trousers up in the other, so that I didn’t trip and fall flat on my face!

We stopped for lunch and got given our kit ready for the geckoing which is basically white water rafting but you’re in a single dinghy and you don’t have paddles. I had always wanted to try something like this and was really excited. Piling into trucks we headed to the river and carried the dinghies to the bank where we had a quick talk and demo.

We started where the water was calm and got in the dinghies and paddled along to the rapids. I had thought this would be fun but oh god! You don’t really get fast moving rapids in England so I wasn’t used to it, or trying to swim fully clothed, or pathetically try and steer myself against a current with my hands and lack of upper body strength!

At one point my dinghy capsized and went over my head so I couldn’t see, trying to swim against a current, with the guide shouting at me to grab the rope (rope?I couldn’t see the sodding rope because there was a rubber raft over my face?!) before I went down the waterfall. This part of the activity day was not my finest moment. I was pretty miserable and unimpressed and insisted I wanted to walk the rest ofthe way but there wasn’t a path. When people started telling me not to be so miserable, my mood only darkened further. I took a massive hit to my shoulder down one of the rapids and I actually made the guide drag me down the next one because I had given up.

There were several opportunities to jump off high rocks and into fast moving water with more jagged rocks. I only did one of the small jumps and passed on the rest.

The last day, we headed to Sudwala caves. Getting up the stairs after our activity day proved interesting! The caves are full of amazing natural formations and have a long history. Due to the natural airflow from a unknown source deeper in the caves, they have been used many times throughout history for shelter. They are surrounded by legend and rumour of bloody battles and lost gold. We did one of the hour long tours, walking through the caves and crawling into caverns.

After the caves and the agonising descent down the cave steps (worse than the way up) we stopped for lunch at a nearby cafe and then nipped back to the lodge to pack upand head on back to The Vaal.

We arrived back in the The Vaal on New Years eve, so we got dressed up and headed to Manhattan’s to meet up with friends and celebrate the new year. We were joined by S’s brother and other half who tried teaching me a saying in Afrikaans. I failed miserably!

After recovering from new years we spent the last week of our time in South Africa shopping, sun bathing on the boat and mucking around on the jet ski and tube.

Before we knew it, the month was up, and we were on the plane flying over the Serengeti heading back to England.

Thank you!

Due to the fact that the majority of my own photographs from South Africa were deleted, I’ve had to rely heavily on other people for the images used in these posts. I would like to say a massive thank you to the following people for kindly letting me use their images from our trip:

Carre King – You can follow him on instagram @ mrking777

Dion king – You can follow him on instagram @ dionfking

Sue King

Christopher Smillie – You can see more photographs on his flikr page  https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrismillie/

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Freelance writer who loves reading, cooking & travelling. Rarely spotted without red lipstick. Penchant for whiskey on the rocks.

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