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Eastward Bound 🐘🐘🐘

Eastern Cape


View South Africa & Namibia 2024 itinerary on margofiala's travel map.

We headed straight inland from the coast to Graaff-Reinet, about 4 hours northeast, deep into the Great Karoo. The drive reminded us of the change in landscape from the mountains to the endless flat prairies at home. The Karoo is a large semi-desert area covering 400,000 sq kms/155,000 sq miles, a large part of the interior of South Africa. The Karoo is from an ancient San word meaning “land of great thirst”. Graaf-Reinet is a town known as the “jewel of the Karoo” and is home to Camdeboo National Park, our next destination.

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We started in the game viewing area of the national park, where we met three new animals that we hadn’t seen before, first the Blesbok, with a very striking white face:

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The black wildebeest, even uglier than the blue wildebeests we saw in Namibia?

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Black wildebeest and blesbok together:

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And the Vervet monkey, the first of many we would see:

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We also saw the Mountain zebra in their element. We had seen them before in Kgalagadi, but not in the mountains. Their stripes are only black and white, no brown like the Plains zebra. They are also striped down to their hooves, other zebras stripes kind of fade down their legs. Most of all, their strips are very defined, their bums are quite striking!

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We saw many other animals, but from a distance so hard to get good pictures of. The baboons and a springbok hanging out with two ostriches did come a little closer:

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Our first hike was the Eerstefontein trail that winds through the Valley of Desolation up to the base of the mountain. It was VERY hot, about 34c/93f. The best part of the hike was: a) we survived, and b) I lost my sunglasses on the way up and found them on the way down!😊

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The Valley of Desolation is what the park is most famous for. Set against the endless plains of the Great Karoo, it really earns its name.

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The spectacular rock formations on the perimeter of the valley are made of piled dolerite, the result of volcanic activity 100 MM years ago. We hiked a loop around the top of the mountain, called the Crag Lizard Trail. It was very rough and rocky, not well maintained, but not as hot so we liked it!

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View of the town from the mountains:

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Graaf-Reinet is a very colonial, quiet town kind of in the middle of nowhere. Their church stands out, but all the buildings look “built for the heat”:

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There is a township right beside Graaf-Reiner called Umasizakhe. We had done a township tour in Cape Town at Langa, but decided to get another perspective in a rural location. Kwanele was our guide, age 28, born and raised in the township. He attended school locally and has just completed his college degree, studying business and tourism. He took us around the township and talked about both the challenges of growing up there but also the benefits too, such as a close community. Umasizakhe is one of the oldest township in SA and was the hometown of Robert Sobukwe, one of the original leaders within PAC (Pan Africanist Congress), a key political activist group that fought for the end of apartheid. The corrugated metal huts are eventually replaced by the government for small homes, but the process takes time, so many corrugated huts still stand. Some of the original homes were soldier barracks (from the Boer War over 100 years ago and were just recently renovated, ugh). Note the painting of occupants “shadows”. We also discussed politics and the upcoming election. It was all very enlightening.

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Our last day here was May 11 and we wanted to join our friends in Edmonton who were celebrating the life of Kathy’s brother and our good friend, Kevin Kennett. We really wish we could have been in two places at once. Cheers Kevin!

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Onto Addo Elephant National Park. We were excited to see more animals, at another spectacular SANPark. Established in 1931 to protect what was left of the huge elephant herds that once roamed the Eastern Cape, (11 elephants to be exact), today there are more than 600 in the park, so it truly has been successful. There are also many other animals in the park as well, such as lions, black rhinos, Cape Buffaloes and many others, but this really is an elephant park.

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Welcoming committee: Vervet monkeys

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Our first elephant sighting of the day was a large male:

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Quickly followed by a heated discussion, perhaps a herd or territory dispute?

It’s incredible how close they will come to the cars, a bit scary!

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We saw this elephant late afternoon, he played in the mud, had a drink and then walked away. Very cool to watch.

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A herd, or parade of elephants:

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Have you ever wondered how an elephant drinks?

There is a good reason you aren’t allowed to drive in the park after sunset, this is what we saw on the way to our accommodation (within the park), yikes!

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Plains zebras, see how they have a brown stripe between the black stripes? That is the difference with mountain zebras:

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Another brilliant kudu:

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An ostrich pair:

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A red hartebeest:

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Finally we saw Cape Buffalo’s, one of the big five. Quite the headpiece. We actually saw them twice, first late afternoon:

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The next day, look closely at his nose in the last two pictures:

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The famous Dung Beetle ….. critical here for obvious reasons (elephant dung is not small):

Our accommodation was at SANPark’s Nyathi Rest Camp. Our first stay in a SANParks facility and it set the bar high. It was recommended by Marguerite and Francois, the newlyweds we met in Kgalagadi Park and it was wonderful!

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As we were leaving the park the next day, we were sad to say goodbye to these gentle giants:

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More interesting signs…always a good reminder in life:

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The first sign for buffalos we’ve seen:

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Our last destination in the Eastern Cape was the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, an area of lush rainforest along the coast. It felt less developed than the rest of the Garden Route, and has great hiking on a dramatic coastline. Our first hike was the famous Storms River Mouth Trail, across a series of suspended bridge and up the mountain on the other side - a short but steep climb but well worth it! (200m/650ft elevation gain over just 2 kms/1.2m each way)

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Kayakers and tubers, maybe paddle boarders in the summer?

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The suspension bridges:

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A deep crevice that seemed to go on forever:

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And up to the top:

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The Big Tree is over 800 years old, a 36m/118ft tall yellowwood. Quite a wide girth!

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Where the highway crosses over Storms River canyon is quite dramatic:

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We also hiked part of the Dolphin Trail at the property. We just wanted some exercise and to enjoy the views but ended up spotting a Southern Right whale, apparently very early for their annual migration, the hotel staff was very excited!

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Our accommodation was very unique! We stayed at the Misty Mountain Reserve in a metal framed glass cube submerged in the rainforest. Designed to feel “close to nature”, literally in the rainforest:

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Pictures just don’t do this justice….enjoy the 4 videos, turn up the volume for a commentary:

Several signs warning of furry friends, we only saw one vervet monkey but it scurried away quickly:

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The main lodge and restaurant was lovely as well:

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Our cube was not that far to walk to (10 mins) but we were provided with a gator for the time we were there. Dean said “I want to be just like Phil!”:

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On our way to the Port Elizabeth airport we stopped in Jeffrey’s Bay “J Bay” to see the surfing there. Apparently #4 in the world for surfing at Super Tubes, “the best right hand ride in the world”. It also looked like a great beach!

We had lots of dog time! Piper was the resident dog in Graaf-Reiner at our accommodation. She followed us around faithfully, but also wouldn't go in the rooms. She had a toy lion and ostrich, funny to see. Bojak was the resident dog at the Cube who loved his belly rubs and chasing the gator. The 2 cute jackals are from Addo:

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NEXT STOP: Flying to Johannesburg, picking up a rental car and heading for Kruger National Park 🦁🦁🦁!

Posted by margofiala 15:42 Archived in South Africa

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Comments

Wow! Just wow to everything! Especially loved the Cube with that outdoor bed & bathtubs.

by Connie

My fave photos were the ones of you hiking and included the swaying bridge. Too cool!
BTW Larry and Fido look like one of their parents was a fox?!

by Donna-Lynne

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