Tuesday, 7 June, 2011
Leaving Kruger: Bateleur to Graskop via the Panorama Route

By 6:40 a.m. we'd dropped off our keys and were headed for the Kruger exit at Phalaborwa Gate, three-plus hours away. Today's early start isn't for game viewing, but nonetheless, we're still on the lookout for cats.

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Tom and Jana too early

Our route from Bateleur to Phalaborwa Gate: Southern S52 east, H1-6 south, Mopani Rest Camp, H1-6 continued, H14 southwest, H9 to the gate. Except for the slight detour to Mopani, we didn't take any side loops on our way out of Kruger today. No time!

On S52, between Bateleur and the first tar road, we saw elephants, impala, and waterbucks, and then we were lucky enough to see one last lion, a young male, heading home after a night of hunting. Bonus cat!

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Goodbye, kitty!

Stopping by Mopani, we were hoping to get our car washed, since we'd be only on tar roads from here on out. No way are we going to return the car to Thrifty with that much dirt, not only on the exterior, but in every crack and crevice in the interior. No telling what the cleaning fee would be! Plus, our hope is that if we wash the car, the scratches all down the side from pushing the sedan to the limits on the secondary and tertiary roads of Kruger won't be so visible.

Unfortunately, the car wash at Mopani was closed, it looked like permanently. However, it wasn't a wasted stop, because we visited their shop and were finally able to find the elusive Kruger map and guidebook available in English! Granted, we were on our way out at this point, but this will still help identify some of the mystery creatures we've encountered.

The Letaba River crossing on the H14 gave us one of the best hippo sightings of the trip. They were big and close and didn't take kindly to us stopping to take their photos. Why are hippos so mean spirited? We stopped on the bridge and got out of the car for several minutes. No traffic approached from either direction. I love how uncrowded Kruger has been. It's going to be weird returning to civilization.

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Hippo in the Letaba River




Hungry for humans!

After the hippos, we saw more zebras, giraffes, and elephants before reaching Phalaborwa Gate, our exit from Kruger. I handed the guard our exit permit, and all was in order. Then he requested to search our trunk. Finding it completely free of poached wildlife, we were free to leave at 10:30 a.m.

The name “Phalaborwa” was given to this area by the Sotho tribe and means “Town of Many Car Washes.” Lucky for us, we found one as soon as we exited the park. I made up at least part of this paragraph. It is for you to decide which part!

The car wash guys cleaned the car inside and out and even polished out the scratches. It was amazing. We figured the cleaner the vehicle, the less scrutiny from Thrifty upon its return. Now our hope is that the scratches don't become visible as the clean wears off in the next day and a half. They cleaned the car for an hour and a half and charged R135, about 20 bucks. So totally worth it. The only damage to be seen now is the chip (or maybe two) in the windshield.

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Mitigating the damage

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Tom and Geoffrey

While we were waiting for the car, I walked to the two closest convenience stores to try and get some rand from an ATM. Much to my dismay, both ATMs were out of service. We hadn't had an opportunity to get any cash since arriving at the airport, and our supply was very low. The car wash would use up most of what remained, and we still needed gas! Luckily, by the time the car wash was done, one of the ATMs was back online. We got cash, gas, and finally headed out of town a little after noon.

This afternoon we're driving the Panorama Route over the Drakensberg Escarpment and along the Blyde River Canyon, one of South Africa's most scenic areas. The scenery started at Abel Erasmus Pass, up a steep and twisty road with breathtaking views of rugged mountains, high cliffs, and waterfalls. We stopped on the pass at 1:30 and made sandwiches at a litter-strewn and graffiti-covered picnic area. It was the first turnout we'd come to without vendors.

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Our clean car at Abel Erasmus Pass

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From our picnic site

The Blyde River Canyon, at 33 kilometers long, is one of the largest canyons in he world and, unlike the canyons we're used to, is covered in lush green foliage. There are several viewpoints around the canyon, most of them charging a nominal entrance fee.

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The Drakensberg Mountains

The Three Rondavels (R5 per car), at the northern end of the canyon, was the first place we stopped along the canyon, having somehow missed the turnoff for World's End. The Three Rondavels are named after the oval African huts with thatched roofs which they resemble. This is considered by many the best viewpoint for the canyon, and it certainly was for us, since later in the afternoon the views were obscured by smoke.

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Jana claims the Blyde River Canyon

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The Three Rondavels

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Souvenir stands

Next we visited the spectacular Bourke's Luck Potholes (R5 per car plus R25 per person). The potholes are funky cylindrical holes carved into the rock by whirlpools at the confluence of the Treur River and the Blyde River. There's a 1-kilometer path with several pedestrian bridges leading to the best viewpoints.

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Waterfalls at Bourke's Luck Potholes

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Canyon at Bourke's Luck

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Bourke's Luck Potholes

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Interesting scene

While Tom and I walked the path and scrambled around on the rocks, Linda went shopping and bought the one souvenir no visitor to Africa must leave without – a wooden giraffe.

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What the...?

Leaving Bourke's Luck, we started seeing fires. At first we thought they were wildfires, but soon we realized they were being purposely set. Apparently in the winter they burn the tall wild grasses around here in a controlled manner to prevent uncontrolled fires later on. Makes sense, but it doesn't help our views. Wonder View was a free viewpoint, which is good, because all we could see was smoke!

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Smoky Wonder View

Our last scenic stop of the day was God's Window (R5 per car). Like I say, it was pretty hazy by now, but it was still neat because of the trail up through the subtropical rainforest.

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Indeed

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Jana at God's Window

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View from God's Window

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Subtropical succulent

At 4:45 we arrived at Blyde Chalets in Graskop. Reception is located in a gift shop, but they'd already closed the shop for the day. Luckily, there was a note on the door that to check in, phone the posted number. Unluckily, we still don't have a working phone! Now what? We've already paid for the room. As we were pondering our dilemma, a passerby came to our assistance and located the manager at his chalet around back. So we checked in and all was well.

Our chalet tonight has two bedrooms, one bath, and a kitchenette. Nothing spectacular, but it was fine except for one thing – No heat! That was okay in Kruger, but here in the mountains, it's cold.

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Our chalet

We had dinner at The Glass House, adjacent to the chalets. This was the only night of our South African holiday that we weren't locked in a compound, so we were actually able to walk to dinner. I had rump steak with mushroom sauce and chips. Tom and Linda had lasagna and salad. Our meals were excellent, and the African art decorating the place added great ambiance. We all had Irish whiskey for dessert to brace us for the return to our cold rooms.

I don't know the outside temperature, but it was 58 degrees in the chalet, which is too cold for indoors! Sleeping was okay with the super-warm blankets provided, but we were very cold until we went to bed. I turned on the burners on the stove, and we huddled around for warmth!

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Already did, thanks


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