Stunning views and sauntering rhinos. Wonderful waterfalls and roaring lions. Here are the scenes from South Africa as we drive from Johannesburg to Kruger
In hallowed antiquity when the Big Bang was recent history and the Earth was still a molten gaseous mass and finding its shape and solidity, it is in Mpumalanga that the first stones of the earth's crust cooled. Today Mpumalanga wears its age beautifully and driving through this province of South Africa is, well, a collection of breathtaking moments strung together.
I know this because, instead of flying from Johannesburg to Kruger like most tourists do, I travelled by road through this province. It was a good decision because though Mpumalanga is South Africa's smallest province, its size isn't a yardstick for the excitement it holds within its boundaries.
The first 200 km of the drive from Johannesburg were pretty uneventful; it is after Dullstroom on R540 that the drive started making me gape around frequently. And this continued for the next 10 days that I spent from Dullstroom to Kruger. I spent my first afternoon fly-fishing at a beautiful resort set in woodland with many secluded lakes where guests can fish in peace. I caught three trout in 15 minutes. It was the perfect wind-down after a nine-hour flight followed by a four-hour drive.
I spent the next two days driving across beautiful landscapes and stopping by at wonderful waterfalls and hidden swimming holes. Eventually, I got to Hazyview, close to the Kruger National Park. Since I had the next day to relax at my hotel and enjoy the spa, I promptly forsook that and was at Kruger Park's Phabeni Gate with my little car at 6 a.m.
Kruger has such wide tarmac roads that I forgot I was driving in a wildlife park — till a gentle reminder came my way in the form of a 2.5-ton double-horned rhinoceros that stepped onto the road from the foliage. I braked, and the rhino turned and sized up my car. It seemed as if he were using the tip of his horn as an aiming device. But then he perhaps decided the car was too inconsequential for his time and effort, and ambled on. Thank heavens — he would have gone through my car like a knitting needle through a grocery bag.
Kruger also has unsealed roads smooth enough for cars. On one of these (Road S10), I stopped at a kopje to take in the view, and a full-grown angry lion stepped on to it and gave me a deep throated roar that rattled the windows of my car and sent a chill down my spine. Apparently, he was telling me to move on because a lioness also coyly peeped out from behind the scrub on the kopje.
My two days before the last were in the Kruger area, and I spent these at the very comfortable and luxurious lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. This reserve has no fenced boundary with Kruger, so the game move as they please between the two. On the game drives here with naturalist Jonas and tracker Issac, I saw an entire bouquet of African wildlife — lions, leopards, a brotherhood of buffaloes, plenty of rhinos and huge elephants — at close quarters.
My final day in South Africa was an easy one in Hazyview. The lodge here is a drop-dead romantic hideaway that features comfortable, air-conditioned tents discretely strung out along a gently flowing river. Its spa is a canopied affair on the river bank, and so instead of artificial lounge music I had the gleeful sound of the river as it tumbled over rocks and gurgled along to match the skilful ministrations of Melissa, my masseur.
It was the perfect end to my Mpumalanga driving trip — like the lovely soundtrack that accompanies the closing credits of a feel-good movie in grand cinemascope — packed with drama, adventure and excitement.
(For details, visit www.southafrica.net)