One thing I had not planned on was taking so many great hikes and nature walks in South Africa. I went on the Grand Circle Highlights of South Africa trip, which I took in conjunction with Outlook Safaris Classic Safari trip. This was exactly the combination of trips I wanted to take in South Africa, since I wanted to enjoy both the nature and culture. This trip had it all! South Africa is a land of true unrivaled beauty with a variety of vast and stunning scenery. Being able to hike amongst it was a real treasure that provided some unforgettable experiences. I traveled from May 12 to June 11, 2016. I purchased my own pre-trip from Outlook Safaris (http://www.outlook.co.za/) and the South Africa base trip and post trip to Victoria Falls from Grand Circle (www.gct.com) .
I booked 5 nights in Kruger Park with Otlook Safaris, which has no single supplement and leaves any day of the week. It included two safaris a day, a nice hut in the parks that was more like timeshare, two meals a day, and round trip transfers to and from Johannesburg. The strength of the dollar and the devaluation of the Rand made this a real bargain for me. Part of what was included in the 5 night package was a ranger-led walk in Kruger Park. It was advertised as being an exploration of “birds and insects,” which had no appeal to me. However, I was automatically signed up for the nature walk in exchange for one of the safaris because I had booked 5 nights at Kruger. So I went with the flow.
The Outlook Safari team picked me up from my hut in Skukuza camp at 5:15 am and drove me to the lodge where I met with rangers and went in their safari vehicle. I realized that we were in for something quite different than “birds and insects” when we got out of the vehicle and they gave us instructions for what to do if we ran into a dangerous situation, and loaded their shotguns. As they inspected our clothing to ensure we were not wearing any clothes that would unduly attract animals, we hard lions and baboons in the background. Indeed, during our nearly three hour walk, we came just feet away from a mother rhino and her baby, a family of baboons, the ever-present impala, kudu, and giraffes. The sounds of the jungle were everywhere. I hardly expected to get so close to the wild animals and figured this would be it for hiking on this trip. But not so!
Once I joined the Grant Circle part of my trip immediately afterwards, I was in for another hiking surprise. Our trip leader informed us that there would be several hikes on the trip. The first hike we took was a 45 minute walk around the Panoramic Route to see some of the waterfalls on the way from Johannesburg to Kruger Park (I stayed at Kruger Park twice on this trip). This was in the Drakensberg Mountains, and the canyon in the escarpment is the third largest in the world after the Grand Canyon. We walked along the Bourke’s Luck Pothole which is part of Blyde River Canyon. It was an easy circular hike, with some rocky terrain to deal with, but easy enough for everyone and challenging enough for those who wanted to make more of it. And waterfalls were coming from several directions. This truly beautiful area is very close to the area known as God’s Window. In this part of the canyon, we saw blooming aloe everywhere.
Our second hike lasted well over an hour as we followed a ranger in a private reserve in Hluhluwe, at Bushman’s Lodge where we were staying. The animals came right up to our lodge doors and open viewing areas. As we walked with the ranger we saw herds of wildebeests, zebra, giraffe, and impala everywhere. We sauntered back in the dark following flashlights as we made our way through the jingle thicket. We were in fact never really far from our lodge. But the walk was invigorating and easy.
The most beautiful walk of all was the two mile hike in the Fatherbed Reserve in Knysa, which was along the Garden Route. We saw the most stunning lookout points along the way, and the sun drenched cost of the Indian Ocean. There were 129 steps going down, and after I took them I was told there were another 130 steps left go to the sea caves. I did the extra steps down, only to see people coming back up as soon as they reached the bottom! It turned out those steps were just optional, and most of our group skipped them and opted for a motorized route to a restaurant for lunch. So I did all that huffing and puffing for an optional diversion! For those who didn’t want to take the entire walk, they would just walk a bit of the way to see the stunning Indian Ocean coastline and the flora and fauna that is indigenous to that part of South Africa, including many varieties of proteas and orchids. Then a trolley picked them up and brought them back to a lodge area where we had a hearty lunch waiting for us. But for those who walked the entire way and went down 260 steps, the reward was in the magnificent scenery of the coastline, including sea caves, and wonderful exercise in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.