South Africa & Dubai 9/15

Home Up Cape Town 9/15 Dubai 9/15 Kruger National Park 9/15

Aging excitedly...

Kruger National Park: Happy birthday stare from a local

Time marches forward relentlessly, but how it is spent is every individual's choice. My choice to celebrate another decade birthday was to be some places I’d never been, do some things I’d never done and to share the experience. ML bailed because of the very long flights - understandable, so Ben, Craig and I flew halfway around the world, first to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then to both the east and west coasts of South Africa. We didn’t do a big trip like this because it was easy – it wasn’t. We did it as an opportunity and adventure taken, not missed, and to that end it was a remarkable success.

Dubai introduction

 

We arrived after our 16 hour flight from LAX on a double decker Emirates A380 (first picture below) at 7:30pm GST. In my experience and opinion, Emirates Air set the bar for customer service. US airlines should pay attention. Our brief stay in Dubai included Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world, attached to the largest mall in the world and the largest fountain in the world (second picture below) - you get the idea, along with an informative mosque visit (third picture below) and an afternoon and evening desert adventure (fourth picture below). Click through to the Dubai page for much more.

Cape of Good Hope - South-western tip of Africa

Emirates A380 LAX-DBX 16 hours!

Dubai mall fountain at night

Jumeirah Mosque

Dubai desert sunset over the dunes

 

Kruger National Park introduction

 

For a bit of what it's like to self-drive through Kruger National Park, play the 11 minute video below, accompanied by Gilda Radner's "Let's talk dirty to the animals", The Rolling Stones' "Beast of burden", and Guns and Roses's "Welcome to the jungle". Edited from over 7 hours of raw dashcam footage by Craig in Windows Movie Maker 9. If you're on a slow connection or if your browser won't play or allow the embedded Windows media player, click here to download or stream the ~.5GB MP4).

 

Kruger National Park is huge – about the size of New Jersey, located on the northeast side of South Africa, west of Mozambique. We arrived at tiny Skukuza (SKZ) airport around 2pm after connecting through Johannesburg from Dubai - 10 hours of flying and a couple more on the ground. SKZ is inside of the southern end of Kruger National Park, so upon landing we had to pay our daily park entry fees (~$US70 for all three of us). Undeterred by our long flights, we picked up our Avis Jeep Grand Cherokee and headed south. I found driving on the left quite easy in Kruger because the speed limit was low and there was no traffic of any type, except for those frequent big animal jams (video above). We were incredibly lucky seeing all of the big five (lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhino) as well as many other large animals (first picture below) in just a few hours on our first day. We stopped for some supplies on our way out at the Skukuza store and just barely beat the gate closing time at 6pm.

 

Photography from the car

Protea Kruger Gate chalet

Chalet living room

Chalet view down from loft

 

Just 100 meters outside of the Kruger Gate, we pulled into our hotel, the Protea Kruger Gate, where I had booked one of their 7 chalets (second picture above) many months before. For some reason on Protea’s website it is difficult to figure out the layout of their chalets, so let me decode here. There is a living room (third and fourth pictures above), a ground floor master bedroom with a king bed (first picture below), a ground floor second bedroom with two twins pushed together (second picture below) and a big upstairs loft bedroom with two twins (third picture below) along with a fully equipped kitchen (fourth picture below), two bathrooms, and a large outdoor braai (barbeque) with a dining table in front of it. For me, staying outside of the park at a real hotel was both much cheaper than the all-inclusive private lodges and much more civilized than the camping setups inside the park. We had no intention of roughing anything on this trip. That said, WiFi was non-existent in the chalet and 1990s slow at the lobby and restaurant. Cell coverage was okay all over the hotel property and all through Kruger National Park. The hotel restaurant did a great job on lunches, a bad job at dinner and a terrible job on box breakfasts for our early game drive.

 

Chalet master bedroom

Chalet 2nd bedroom

Chalet loft bedroom

Chalet kitchen

 

I’m about as far as a person gets from being a nature freak, yet even I was taken in by how everything about Kruger National Park screams “full of life”. Seeing very large animals, mostly antelope types, roaming around everywhere, including the hotel grounds, became our new normal. Baboon screams woke Ben and I the first night and whenever we left the chalet we were told to set the top and bottom “baboon locks” so they wouldn’t pull the sliding door off and make themselves at home. A recent hotel grounds leopard sighting kept us on our toes traveling between the chalet and the hotel restaurant. Deet is mandatory outside to deal with the mosquitoes. Kruger is in a malaria zone, although we were in the off-malaria season. In addition to Deet, we came armed with prescription Malarone, which we started taking before arriving and had to continue for seven days after we left. Inside the park, animals wander everywhere (four pictures below) and in a very real sense we were the ones in the cage, so to speak. We did three half-day park drives on three successive days, two self-driven in our Jeep and one driven by a professional in a tall open air vehicle. Click through to the Kruger National Park page for much more.

 

Leopard stroll

Zebra herd

Lazy kitty by the stream

Elephant up close

 

Cape Town introduction

 

Cape Town is a beautiful, welcoming city – a place I’d return to if the opportunity presented itself. I'd especially like to spend more time in wine country. A quick two hour flight from Skukuza on an Airlink RJ-135 brought us to Cape Town for this third and final part of our trip. We used a professional driver in Cape Town, John Farthing +27 (0) 82 572 9403, who earned and deserves my highest reference. A proper English gentleman if there ever was one. After checking in at the African Pride 15 on Orange hotel in the afternoon we visited Table Mountain via the aerial cableway, which was worthwhile (first picture below). On our first full day, we started with a helicopter tour and then a long driving tour of the Cape peninsula (second picture below). We spent our last full day an hour outside of town in wine county, visiting five wineries across two of the major wine areas, Stellenbosch (third picture below) and Franschhoek. Click through to the Cape Town page for much more.

 

We toasted the end of our ten-day decade birthday travel adventure with a very local and authentic dinner at Mama Africa (fourth picture below). The next day we returned home through a marathon of flights from Cape Town to Dubai and then Dubai to LAX. The customs and immigration lines at LAX were very long, but we skipped by to our (free - gotta love Emirates Air!) limo home using Global Entry, which in my opinion is a great investment for even occasional travelers.

 

Table mountain base

V&A waterfront & Table Mountain

Stark Conde winery Stellenbosch

Mama Africa restaurant

 

Photography minutia

 

We were armed with what turned out to be just about the right photography equipment. To help with spotting animals from a distance, we brought a good compact set of binoculars. Craig and I shot with my D800e and D700 DSLRs, always with one having a long lens and the other having a wide lens mounted. Our DSLR lens compliment included my go-to Nikon 16-35mm f4, Nikon 28-300mm, new Sigma 150-600mm C and Nikon 50mm f1.8. Ben alternated shooting on the DSLRs and my Sony DX100 point & shoot. Videos were taken using the Xiaomi Yi action camera and a Kodak Playsport HD.

 

Epilog - Lessons learned

 

There were challenges and triumphs all along our journey, but we met each challenge and made some memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

 

What worked extremely well? Everything about Emirates Air, using only carry-on luggage, lots of small portable computing power, massive USB drives for pictures and videos backup, the Hyatt Regency Dubai, self-driving Kruger, Tracks for Africa GPS maps and waypoints for Kruger, renting a chalet at the Protea hotel just outside of Kruger gate, our driver in Cape Town - John Farthing, Societi Bistro restaurant in Cape Town, the De Trafford winery in Stellenbosch, and GeoBlue - reasonably priced primary medical insurance for international travel.

 

What didn't work well at all? Hauling my tripod along and never using it, worrying about Dubai customs scrutiny, over-doing our first travel days on way too little sleep, dune crashing in the desert, and too much food coupled with too little exercise.

 

As always, I appreciate any and all feedback or questions on these humble pages.

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