Travels with Andrew, Heide and Lachlan. Stories, photos, tips and recommendations for family travel.
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A Day in Kruger National Park After our break from the animals to explore the Panorama Route, the next activity on our agenda was a day self-driving in Kruger National Park. Although most of our other wildlife experiences on this trip were on private game reserves, we wanted to experience the quintessential South African Kruger […] The post Family Safari – Kruger National Park appeared first on Airports and...
A Day in Kruger National Park
After our break from the animals to explore the Panorama Route, the next activity on our agenda was a day self-driving in Kruger National Park. Although most of our other wildlife experiences on this trip were on private game reserves, we wanted to experience the quintessential South African Kruger experience. It was an interesting challenge having to spot the animals ourselves, rather than relying on guides to find them.
We were staying about a twenty minute drive away from the closest park gate to Hazyview, the Phabeni Gate. This meant an early morning start to get there around sunrise to be there when the gate opened. Early morning and late afternoon are the best time for game viewing. Our plan was to start early, then take a break for a lunch and a rest in the middle of the day. Then we would do some more animal-spotting in the afternoon before making sure to exit the park before the gate closed around sunset. The rules at Kruger National Park are quite strict, you need to be outside the park, or in one of the designated rest camps in the park by sundown.
We had to leave before breakfast hours at our hotel (the highly-recommended Rissington Inn). Fortunately, we were able to order a picnic breakfast the night before. The staff had it waiting for us to pick up before we hit the road. This was eagerly consumed while we sat in the line of cars waiting for the park gate to open.
Animal-spotting in Kruger National Park
We really weren’t sure how many animals we’d be able to see in a day in Kruger National Park. In the park, you have to stick to the designated roads and you have to find the animals yourself if you’re self-driving like we were. We didn’t see any big cats or rhino, but as you will see we saw enough animals and birds to exceed our expectations.
The first sighting, predictably, was impala. These guys are the most common animal on safari drives in South Africa, to the point where you tend to ignore them after the first couple of days. Their graduated colors are quite pretty, especially in early morning or late afternoon sun.
Not far into the park was the first waterhole we came across. These are always worth checking out for hippos or other animals coming to drink. There were some hippos on the far side of this one, too far away for pictures. The main attraction at this waterhole was a magnificent fish eagle. It stood majestically next to an impressive nest, looking over the water.
A little further in to the park we saw another bird of prey, this time a snake eagle.
We were heading toward Satara Rest Camp, the largest rest camp in Kruger National Park. We planned to stop there to check out the visitor center. Also, we wanted to check out the board where visitors report where they have seen various animals. Before we made it there, though, we had a major sighting ourselves, coming across a group of elephants.
Heading Further Into Kruger National Park
After stretching our legs and getting some information at Satara, we headed deeper into the park. Just outside the camp we saw one of the smaller animals to be seen in Kruger National Park as it ran across the road in front of us. Reviewing the picture I grabbed revealed that it was a mongoose.
The speed limit in the park is only 50 km/h to protect the animals. We were moving slowly enough that we heard a noise coming from the river next to the road. Parking in a pullout area looking over the river we saw what was making the noise. It was a large flock of red-billed quelea. These birds flock in vast numbers and are a bit of a menace to crops in some places.
A short time after seeing this phenomenon, we decided to check out some of the dirt roads that parallel the main road. With less traffic, we were thinking we might have a better chance of seeing animals. This plan worked, as we came across some vervet monkeys and a kudu with impressively large and curly horns.
Back on the main road, we came across another group of elephants, this time closer to the road.
Heading towards our planned lunch stop, we took another diversion on a dirt road to check out a couple more waterholes. Crossing a (dry) river ford, we saw some shapes in the distance. Fortunately there was no one else on the road, so we were able to stop and check them out. They turned out to be buffalo, the second of the “Big 5” for the day (along with the elephants).
Reaching the waterholes, we were rewarded with the sight of a hippopotamus at a much closer distance than the earlier sighting. We were the only ones there, it’s really worth getting off the sealed roads and onto the dirt to escape the crowds. Although we saw some people in regular cars on the dirt roads, we were glad we had rented a 4WD SUV.
On the last stretch of road before our lunch stop, we added zebra and warthog to our Kruger National Park animal list.
Our lunch stop was Tshokwane Picnic Site. After some pretty decent food from the outdoor cafe (and ice cream from the store), we were ready to get back in the car for our afternoon’s adventures in Kruger National Park.
An Afternoon of Animal-spotting
Our first stop was Orpen Dam. This is one of the few places outside the rest camps and picnic sites where you are allowed to get out of your car, and there is a covered viewing area that looks over the dam. The main attraction while we were there was a number of crocodiles, peacefully coexisting with the dam’s waterfowl.
While we were watching the dam, a troop of baboons passed by on the far bank.
This was as far into the park as we went, as we had to make sure we made it out of the park before the gate closed. On our way back to the gate we came across another group of elephants, not just close to the road but some of them actually on the road.
As we were on the last stretch of road heading toward the gate, we saw a number of cars stopped. This is usually a sign that there is an animal worth stopping to see. After waiting for one of the stopped cars to move, we were able to move into position to see what everyone was looking at – a family of spotted hyena lazing in the late afternoon sun.
We had made good time heading back to the gate, so we had time for one last detour onto a side road. We figured it was one last chance to see a big cat. Realistically, this close to the park border it was a long shot. Our day did indeed remain catless, but we did manage to see a giraffe posing majestically in the late afternoon glow. This was a nice finish to our day in Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park Practicalities
We just had one day to get a taste of the self-drive Kruger experience, as we planned to stay on private game reserves for most of our animal adventures in South Africa. However, it would be a great experience to spend a longer time in the park itself. This is a less expensive option than the private game reserves, and staying inside the park at rest camps and moving around to different areas of the park would provide a much more in-depth experience. It’s on our list of things to do one day. This is how most South Africans experience the park, so there are self-catering accommodation and camping options to help keep costs down.
There is a wealth of information online, but I would recommend starting with the official South African National Parks website. You can make most arrangements directly with them, to avoid having to pay unnecessary fees to travel agents or other middle men. It’s also a good idea to check with traveller forums (e.g. Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet) close to your planned trip. There are occasionally short-term issues that pop up that can impact travelers. These can include strikes by park workers or issues with various accommodations or restaurants in the rest camps. The tourist infrastructure in South Africa is generally pretty good, if a bit neglected at times. However, it is still Africa after all, so some unpredictability is to be expected.
However you experience Kruger National Park, it’s something that should be on the list of every traveller. It’s one of the great wildlife experiences of the world.
After the first game reserve experience of our family safari trip (in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in South Africa’s Waterberg region), we headed west towards Kruger National Park. Before seeing the park itself, we took a day off from animals to check out the famous Panorama Route. Getting to the Panorama Route We left Honeyguide […] The post Family Safari – The Panorama Route appeared first on Airports and...
After the first game reserve experience of our family safari trip (in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in South Africa’s Waterberg region), we headed west towards Kruger National Park. Before seeing the park itself, we took a day off from animals to check out the famous Panorama Route.
Getting to the Panorama Route
We left Honeyguide Ranger Camp after one last game drive and a hearty breakfast. Our destination was Hazyview, a small farming town just outside Kruger National Park. We had a choice of two routes. One option was to take the freeway most of the way, but there was a more direct route. This involved more secondary roads, but they looked major enough to be OK, and would likely be more interesting. This was definitely true, as we drove through townships and mining communities. We saw evidence of poverty and some pretty basic construction techniques, but also vibrant communities. There were lots of small businesses – car washes, grocery stores, building material sales and others.
Contrasting with the basic accommodations and structures we were passing, we were surprised to suddenly come upon an almost new shopping mall. This made a great bathroom stop (sometimes it’s a problem to find these in South Africa). We had a late lunch there, at KFC. Despite the familiar red and white surroundings, communicating in our Australian and American issue English was a bit of a challenge. We were definitely off the regular tourist path here.
We had once again underestimated how long it would take to get to our destination. As the sun got lower, we started to see some more scenic views as we got closer to Hazyview.
With some miles still to travel after this picture was taken, it was dark by the time we got to Hazyview.
Accommodation in Hazyview
There are a number of places to stay in Hazyview. Some of the more well-reviewed (but also more expensive) options are resort-style, with lots of amenities and activities. We needed a place to sleep, and eat breakfast (and probably dinner), so we were looking for a more traditional style of hotel. Based on information and reviews online, we chose the Rissington Inn, and were not disappointed. The service was impeccable (maybe a bit overwhelming at times), and the food was great. We’d definitely recommend a stay here.
The hotel was a bit tricky to find in the dark. We had to navigate down a bit of a rough track as it is set back a ways from the main road. We checked in, then quickly unloaded our luggage into our room before heading to the dining room for dinner. As you may recall from our last post, it was Lachlan’s birthday. We had arranged with the Rissington Inn in advance for a cake to be served for dessert to celebrate.
Unfortunately, after our early start for the morning game drive and long day’s drive, Lachlan was too exhausted to enjoy more than a very small piece of his second birthday cake for the day. The staff kindly packed up most of the cake, and we had it for dessert the next couple of dinners as well.
We slept well that night, and woke up the next morning to get a good look at the lovely hotel grounds, including the view across the lawn that stretched out in front of our room.
The Panorama Route
After yet another hearty South African breakfast, we set off to explore the Panorama Route. Our first stop was the aptly-named God’s Window, for our first look out over the spectacular Blyde River Canyon.
We then headed as far north as we had planned to go on our day trip, to the Three Rondavels. The plan was to work our way back towards Hazyview. We figured we’d find some lunch along the way (spoiler alert – this was not as easy as we thought it would be). You can tell how popular a Panorama Route scenic spot is by the number of souvenir stalls there. The Three Rondavels had a lot of these. Unfortunately, the morning sunlight made getting a good photo a bit tricky. I suggest a Google image search if you want to see what they look like in better light.
From the Three Rondavels viewpoint we could also see the reservoir behind the Blyde River Dam.
Looking south from the Three Rondavels viewpoint there were great views into the Blyde River Canyon, and the interesting colors in the canyon walls.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Apart from the Blyde River Canyon, the major attraction on the Panorama Route is Bourke’s Luck Potholes. This is a surreal landscape of circular holes formed by swirling eddies where two rivers meet.
There were a lot of people here, including tour groups and school buses. However, the site covers a large area so it wasn’t too crowded. There are cool bridges over steep gorges, and then an area of shallow water and an interesting small waterfall where you can see some small potholes up close.
By this time, it was early afternoon, and between the sun and the walking to and from the various viewpoints and around the potholes we were pretty warm. We were glad to be in South Africa in winter time, albeit a very mild winter as you can tell from Heide and Lachlan’s short sleeves and sunglasses.
Where to eat along the Panorama Route
It turned out to be more difficult than we thought to find somewhere for lunch on our Panorama Route day trip. We figured there would be somewhere to eat mid-way through our itinerary of sights, but this wasn’t the case. There is a place at Bourke’s Luck Potholes that sells some food, but it didn’t appeal to us, so we just had something to drink and some protein bars from the emergency stash we carry while traveling. This wasn’t the first time our emergency provisions have saved us, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
With our hunger kept at bay for a while, we were able to hold out until we got to the small touristy town of Graskop, where we had a late lunch at Harrie’s Pancakes. We managed to grab a table just before a bus full of tourists got there. Despite how busy it was, the service was good and the pancakes were very tasty. There are other restaurant options in Graskop, but you can’t go wrong with Harrie’s, they live up to their reputation.
In hindsight, we should have got a picnic lunch from our hotel. This is an option that most full-service hotels in South Africa provide, as there are a lot of excursions in the country that will take you to places where restaurants are sparse. Although, we probably would have still stopped at Harrie’s for an afternoon snack.
Mac Mac Falls
The last stop on our Panorama Route tour was Mac Mac Falls. This was a more low-key site than the others we visited, surprisingly not charging an admission fee like all the others (although these fees are pretty nominal, and go towards the upkeep of the sites).
The afternoon shadows made it difficult to get a good shot of the falls, we had mistimed the light again.
On that low-key note, our Panorama Route adventures were over, and we headed back to our hotel for another good dinner and an early night. Our plan was to get up early the next morning to head into Kruger National Park to try our hand at a self-drive safari. More on that in our next post …
After a brief stopover in Johannesburg to get over our jet lag, we headed to our first game reserve – the Entabeni Safari Conservancy. Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Day 1 A slight miscalculation in travel times (turns out you have to add a bit extra to Google Maps travel times in South Africa) and some time taken […] The post Family Safari – Entabeni Safari Conservancy appeared first on Airports and...
After a brief stopover in Johannesburg to get over our jet lag, we headed to our first game reserve – the Entabeni Safari Conservancy.
Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Day 1
A slight miscalculation in travel times (turns out you have to add a bit extra to Google Maps travel times in South Africa) and some time taken to see some sights in Pretoria meant that we didn’t arrive at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in time for lunch like we had planned. Fortunately, the friendly staff at Honeyguide Ranger Camp whipped up a light meal for us which we ate by the pool.We finished just in time for our first game drive.
Climbing into our game drive vehicle, we met our guide Cuan. We joined another group who were sharing the vehicle with us, a three-generational group of South Africans (a couple of them now living in the U.S.). With great anticipation we headed off for our first game drive of the trip.
We weren’t very far away from camp when we started seeing some wildlife, starting with a wildebeest. These guys are abundant on the reserve.
Shortly after, we saw our first giraffe. These elegant creatures are known as the models of the bush, often striking very photogenic poses. This was the first of many, many pictures of giraffe that I would end up taking on our trip.
The Entabeni Safari Conservancy is set in former farmland that has been stocked with wildlife. It is now managed for wildlife conservation, as well as tourism, with a number of lodges hosting guests who come to see the wildlife. We chose this as our first game reserve experience as a “warm-up” for Kruger National Park. It was also a good introduction to the game lodge routine for Lachlan. Being former farmland, there are a number of dams and ponds that are a home for waterfowl as well as a source of drinking water for the animals.
Multiple lodges in Entabeni mean that sometimes you end up sharing wildlife viewing with other people. This does have the advantage that the drivers from different lodges work together to find elusive game. They communicate by radio, giving everyone a chance to see the full range of animals on the reserve.
After seeing some of the more common animals, we headed toward an area where hoped to see some elephants. There are a relatively small number of elephants here, and they tend to be a bit reclusive. After some fruitless time searching, it was time to stop for sundowners. This is a game reserve tradition, that occurs on every evening game drive. As the sun goes down, the guide finds a safe, open area and stops to allow guests to get out of the vehicle to stretch their legs and enjoy a cocktail while watching the sun go down. We usually choose a gin and tonic for our sundowner beverage. It seems appropriate in Africa.
While we were enjoying our sundowner, the elusive elephants emerged from the bush. After finishing our drinks, we got back in the vehicle and headed for a closer view. It was hard to see them in the gloom, and they soon disappeared again into some heavy scrub, but it was great to get our first view of these giant creatures for the trip (and Lachlan’s first time to see one in the wild).
Honeyguide Ranger Camp
A few words about our accommodation in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Honeyguide Ranger Camp. It’s a classic tented safari camp, meaning that you sleep under canvas, but the standard is definitely more like “glamping” than regular camping. In fact, our particular unit was the most amazing tent I have ever experienced – and the only two story tent I have ever stayed in. Lachlan had his own separate bedroom upstairs.
We chose Honeyguide Ranger Camp after an extensive online search looking for safari lodge accommodation that was (relatively) affordable and would accept kids. Many safari lodges are adults-only, but Honeyguide Ranger camp not only accepts children, they make them welcome. The guides and staff were friendly and very patient with kids. We let slip that Lachlan’s birthday was the day we were leaving, and the kitchen staff surprised him with a birthday cake after breakfast.
You’ll notice that I said earlier that Honeyguide Ranger Camp is “relatively” affordable. There is no escaping the fact that staying in a safari lodge on a game reserve costs more than staying in a regular hotel. The truly budget accommodation options tend to be found outside the game reserves, although later in the trip we stayed in a youth hostel in Swaziland that is located inside a reserve.
Offsetting the cost somewhat, all activities and meals are included in the nightly rate. Some places also include unlimited drinks, but these tend to be the places that are very expensive. Frankly, fancier accommodation doesn’t make the animal viewing any better, and that is the point of a safari vacation.
Safari Lodge Routine
A typical daily schedule at a game lodge goes something like this:
Very Early: You wake up when you hear the drums. Throw some clothes on and gather for coffee and rusks (a South African hard cookie/biscuit – good for dunking in your coffee).
Early-Mid Morning: The morning game drive, starting around sunrise. Somewhere on the drive you stop at a scenic spot for coffee and to stretch your legs.
Late Morning: Back to camp for a very hearty breakfast/brunch.
Noon – Early Afternoon: Time to relax. Take a nap, read a book. Sometimes there are options for a guided walk in the bush.
Around 2 pm: A fairly light lunch before the next game drive.
Mid Afternoon: The afternoon game drive begins.
Sundown: The guide finds a good spot to watch the sunset and have a cocktail. This is followed by the drive back to camp while a guide with a spotlight looks for nocturnal creatures.
Early Evening: You eat dinner soon after arriving back at camp. Sitting around the fire after dinner telling stories and comparing sightings is a traditional safari activity. But remember, the drums will be beating very early the next morning …
Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Day 2
The first highlight of our morning game drive was seeing the shy and extremely cute Steenbok. This is one of the smaller antelopes native to South Africa.
I managed to capture a shot of a giraffe that sums up the Entabeni Safari Conservancy’s blend of great scenery and game viewing.
We also had our first sighting of zebra for the trip on this drive.
As the sun got higher in the sky, our guide asked us if we were up for an adventure. Of course, we said “yes”, so he headed up a very rough and steep trail. We ended up at an elevated view point with great views across the reserve. This is where we stopped for coffee and to stretch our legs.
After our coffee break, we headed off in search of more animal action. We soon came across a pair of rhinos, and our guide parked the vehicle pointing into the bush so we could watch them for a while.
One of the rhinos grazed his way toward us. Our cameras kept clicking as he approached.
Amazingly, he just kept coming toward us. He ended up passing so close to the vehicle it was difficult to photograph such a big beast at such close range. He wasn’t aggressive or disturbed at any time, and we all sat in silence and enjoyed the encounter. It all seemed oddly peaceful and exciting at the same time.
On the way back to camp for brunch, a group of warthogs provided some comic relief.
When we had finished brunch, Heide had a nap while Lachlan and I went for a walk to the camp library. As well as books about South African wildlife, there were specimens of skulls, eggs and other educational displays. The Honeyguide Ranger Camp library overlooks the camp waterhole, and some warthogs showed up to entertain us with their antics.
After a light lunch we headed out for our afternoon game drive. The other family we were sharing the vehicle with had left the camp after brunch, so Heide, Lachlan and I had the vehicle and guide all to ourselves. We saw some more animals that we had seen before on previous drives before getting the exciting news that another guide had spotted a cheetah and her cubs. We headed towards the area of the reported sighting and began searching for them.
At first, we thought the cheetah had hidden up in some thick bush and we weren’t going to be able to see her. However, our guide persisted, and eventually he found her. She and her cubs were quite a way back from the road, so it was difficult to get a clear picture. However, it was great to see our first big cat for the trip.
The other interesting sight for the afternoon was a giraffe at a salt lick. Because the Entabeni Safari Conservancy is a limited geographical area, the animals don’t get everything they need in their diets from food available to them on the reserve. The salt lick is one of the ways the animals’ natural diet is supplemented. For a giraffe, reaching ground level is quite a project. First, the giraffe needs to make sure no predators are in the area. While it has its head near the ground it is vulnerable to attack. It can’t run away quickly due to the position it has to get its legs in to reach the ground.
Soon after, it was time for our sundowner, closing out a great day’s game viewing.
Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Day 3
The next day we planned to drive to our next destination, Hazyview, to see the Panorama Route and spend a day in Kruger National Park. We calculated that we would have time for the morning game drive and brunch before we had to get on the road.
We started our morning drive with a pretty view of the sunrise.
We spent the first part of the drive trying to get another look at the elephants, in broad daylight this time. After some fruitless search time, we caught a glimpse of something moving in the trees. We had found the herd, moving along parallel to the road.
We got our best view when a bull elephant emerged onto the road ahead of us. He wanted to use the road (and we wanted to let him), so our guide did some fancy reversing to get out of his way. We had to move quickly, so unfortunately I didn’t have time to get a picture. After that excitement, we found a spot to stop for our coffee break and have our guide take a family portrait to commemorate our time in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy and Honeyguide Ranger Camp.
Heading back for camp to eat brunch before we packed to leave, we stopped for one more special sighting – a baby hippo that had emerged from the river.
Just before we got back to camp we saw a mixed group of wildebeest and zebras, and that wrapped up our adventures in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy. After another hearty brunch (topped off by Lachlan’s surprise birthday cake) we hit the road and headed to our next destination, the town of Hazyview, just outside Kruger National Park.
While not action packed with as many predators as Kruger National Park, the Entabeni Safari Conservancy is a great place to get an authentic safari experience. Also, the scenery is spectacular. It’s only a few hours drive from Johannesburg, so great for a side trip from Johannesburg for people who don’t have time to get further afield to the more remote parks and reserves. It’s in a malaria-free area, so a good choice for people with small kids. We’d recommend Honeyguide Ranger Camp, but there are other accommodation options in the reserve as well.
A Johannesburg Stopover Our major travel for 2017 was a trip to South Africa and Swaziland. The main goal was to see some of Africa’s wildlife on safari. Kruger National Park was the planned highlight, but we had two weeks to check out a few different game reserves and do some non-animal sightseeing as well. […] The post Family Safari – Johannesburg appeared first on Airports and...
A Johannesburg Stopover
Our major travel for 2017 was a trip to South Africa and Swaziland. The main goal was to see some of Africa’s wildlife on safari. Kruger National Park was the planned highlight, but we had two weeks to check out a few different game reserves and do some non-animal sightseeing as well. Our first stop in South Africa was Johannesburg.
South Africa is a looooong way from the US. The most direct way for us to get there from Houston is to travel to Atlanta to connect to the direct flight on Delta from Atlanta to Johannesburg. We weren’t sure how we would handle such a long flight, so we planned for two nights in Johannesburg. The idea was that we may need a day to recover from the flight, but if we felt up to it we would have a day to do some sightseeing in Johannesburg.
Finding reasonably priced accommodation for a family of three close to the airport in Johannesburg turned out to be more difficult than expected. We were very fortunate to find the Blue Mango Lodge which turned out to be a great option. It’s a friendly B&B with great personal service and good food. Also, the owner Stevie makes a mean gin and tonic (this is important in Africa).
A Free Day in Johannesburg
As it turned out, we woke up for our day in Johannesburg ready to go for some adventures. We got a ride back to the airport from the Blue Mango Lodge staff to pick up our rental car. After sorting out all the paperwork we settled in to our ride for the next two weeks, a white Nissan X-Trail 4X4. This was a comfy SUV that turned out to have some pretty serious bad-road capability. This would be tested later in the trip.
Johannesburg is a major city that would warrant a week’s worth of exploration, but we only had one day. After considering other major sights like the Apartheid Museum and Soweto, we decided to check out the Cradle of Humankind.
The Cradle of Humankind – Maropeng Visitor Centre
The Cradle of Humankind is an area where many important hominid fossils have been found over the years providing much of the information known to science about the origin and development of human life. Our first stop was the Maropeng Visitor Centre. Many of the fossils found here are an display, with information about their significance.
In the basement level of the building there are displays about the development of life in general across all species. We also took a bizarre boat ride through differently lit chambers. I’m not sure what the educational point of this is. At least it was a bit of a palate cleanser for our jet-lagged brains struggling to absorb the overwhelming amount of information from the various displays.
After seeing everything inside the building, we followed the trail around the very distinctive building. Climbing to the top we found a great view of the surrounding area. As you can see, it was all pretty brown due to South Africa’s dry winter weather.
With no other options nearby, we ate a surprisingly decent lunch at the restaurant at the top of the building. After lunch, we headed to the other must-see element of the Cradle of Humankind, the Sterkfontein Caves.
The Cradle of Humankind – Sterkfontein Caves
The Sterkfontein Caves are a set of limestone caves that are the site of some of the most important hominid fossil finds. They are worth visiting for their historical significance, not their natural beauty. Unlike most caves visited by tourists, you won’t see stalactites and stalagmites. These were all removed by limestone miners in the late 1800s. These miners discovered hominid fossils that were then investigated by scientific expeditions from the 1930s onwards.
The caves are close to the surface in some areas, with openings that are probably how the unfortunate hominids ended up in the caves to become fossils. There are no signs that they ever lived in the caves.
We got to see an underground lake, and managed to spot some of the blind shrimp that live in it. The bright orange hard hats we had to wear were a fashion highlight.
It was late afternoon by the time we were done with our cave tour, so we headed back to our B&B. After an excellent dinner and one of manager Stevie’s special gin and tonics (for Heide and Andrew, at least) we slept very well that night.
Pretoria and Onwards
The next day we planned to head out to our first game park of the trip. With only a few hours drive to get there, we figured we’d have time to see some sights in Pretoria. As it turned out we spent more time than we thought we would at our first stop, the Voortrekker Monument.
The monument was built to commemorate the Great Trek across South Africa by pioneering Boer families. As well as its impressive scale, there are lots of interesting details.
The gardens around the monument were immaculately kept with some interesting native African plants, including a spectacular coral tree.
Around all the interior walls at ground level are incredibly detailed sculptured panels depicting events from the Great Trek.
Downstairs is a cenotaph and a museum with displays illustrating the life and times of the Boers who made the Great Trek. Like most historical museums, it makes you glad to live in these modern times. There is a bit of an ominous undertone seeing the celebration of the Afrikaner culture that ended up bringing Apartheid to South Africa. However, we enjoyed our visit, and spent more time there than we’d planned.
After we finally got away from the Voortrekker Monument we planned to stop and see some historical buildings in downtown Pretoria. Due to construction and the general chaos downtown we decided to skip these and instead headed for the freeway. This was just as well, as the trip out to our first game reserve took longer than we thought. We made it to camp just in time for a quick lunch before our first game drive. More on that in our next post …
Utah National Parks This post will summarize our summer 2016 road trip visiting all the Utah National Parks, with pictures and links to individual blog posts for more details. As well as the parks themselves, we enjoyed the drives between them, so these drives deserved their own posts. Some of the most spectacular scenery we […] The post Summer Road Trip – Utah National Parks appeared first on Airports and...
Utah National Parks
This post will summarize our summer 2016 road trip visiting all the Utah National Parks, with pictures and links to individual blog posts for more details. As well as the parks themselves, we enjoyed the drives between them, so these drives deserved their own posts. Some of the most spectacular scenery we saw was found on the roads between the national parks. Each heading is also a link, click for more info on each one.
After flying in to Las Vegas and picking up a rental car, our first stop was Zion. This is a great place to start your tour of Utah National Parks. Unlike other parks, accommodations and facilities here are on the canyon floor. Zion has great hiking, with easy trails for families with kids and challenging multi-day back-country trails for the more adventurous.
The distance from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park isn’t very far, but there is plenty to see along the way. The road out of Zion park passes through a historic tunnel (with viewing windows cut into the side). It also passes the very impressive Checkerboard Mesa, one of the parks most interesting features. Closer to Bryce Canyon, the Red Canyon area of the Dixie National Forest is also worth a stop.
This is probably the most well known of the Utah National Parks, with good reason. The scenery is other-worldly, you’ll definitely take a lot of pictures here. We were lucky enough to get to join a full moon hike, which was a great experience. If your schedule allows, consider timing your visit with a full moon. There are some easy hikes along the canyon rim, but getting down into the canyon is recommended. Proper hiking shoes are recommended as the trails tend to have loose gravel (and steep drop-offs). Bryce Canyon sits at the highest altitude of the Utah National Parks, so be prepared. Stay hydrated, and build in a bit of extra time when planning your hikes to rest along the way.
This segment is worthy of a full day with a lot to see and do along the way. Utah Scenic Byway 12 includes some stunning stretches, with breathtaking scenery. There are places to check out along the way like Kodachrome Basin State Park, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and the Anasazi State Park Museum. Hell’s Backbone Grill is conveniently located for a lunch stop and serves healthy and tasty food.
Capitol Reef is the least visited of the Utah National Parks, but is definitely worth a visit if you have time. As well as great scenery and hiking (without the crowds), Capitol Reef offers insights into the (hard) lives of the early Mormon settlers. There are still historic orchards in the historic Fruita district. These are now run by the National Parks service, so you can pick your own fruit if you’re there at the right time of year.
Arches and Canyonlands are two highlights of any tour through Utah National Parks. Neither of them has any accommodation inside park boundaries, and Moab is the logical place to stay while visiting these two parks. There are some great restaurants and shopping in town. There are also other things to see around town outside the parks. With lots of adventurous activities you can do with one of the many outfitters in town, it’s worth scheduling an extra day or two here.
This park contains some of the most iconic scenery in the Utah National Parks. This park is very accessible with many sights that can be seen with only a short walk from their parking area. There are also more challenging hikes for the keener hikers. This park is compact, and gets a lot of visitors. This can result in long lines to get in, so best to arrive early in the day. In summer this is a good idea in any case, to beat the heat.
Canyonlands is in some ways the opposite of Arches. Instead of Arches’ individual sights, Canyonlands is mostly about the wide vistas. This park is huge, and some parts are seriously remote. We chose to join an organized tour (combination 4X4 and rafting) which helped us see parts of the park we wouldn’t have been able to get to by ourselves.
Check out this post for a gallery of photographs from our road trip through the Utah National Parks. With so much to see, we couldn’t fit all the pictures we took in the individual posts.
Utah National Parks Pictures We took a lot more photos in the Utah National Parks than we could fit in the blog posts. Here is a gallery of photos from each of the parks. Zion National Park Bryce Canyon National Park Capitol Reef National Park Arches National Park Canyonlands National Park The post Utah National Parks – Pictures appeared first on Airports and...
Utah National Parks Pictures
We took a lot more photos in the Utah National Parks than we could fit in the blog posts. Here is a gallery of photos from each of the parks.
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