South Africa
  part 2   page 1
     
More information below videos.
 
 
AFRICA!  St. Lucia
The iSimangaliso / Greater St Lucia Wetland Park was declared South Africaís first Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  1200 hippos share the wetlands with 2000 crocodiles, tens of thousands of fish, birds and invertebrates.
 
 
AFRICA!  On the beach at Durban
Every year South Africans take their vacations in Durbanís tropical climate where warm Indian Ocean waves crash onto silky sand beaches.
 
 
AFRICA!  Howick Falls
The falls drop over a cliff 107 metres (351 feet) high and are a part of South Africa's pioneer history.
 

June 19 continued ...

We moved across the border from Swaziland into South Africaís province of KwaZulu Natal.

Lunch was at Ilala Weavers in Hluhluwe. Ilala was established some 30 years ago with the goal of revitalising and enhancing age-old Zulu traditional handcrafts, which at the time were in danger of being lost forever. Their mission was also to improve the income and living standard of Zulu people through assisting in the development and guidance of their own home/cottage industries.

They were very busy so we took the wait time as an opportunity to visit the museum which is part of the complex. It was very small but most informative and we considered it time well spent.

     

It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at Ezulwini Game Lodge. It is a beautiful lodge and the rooms are well appointed ... except for two items which made us wonder, "why?".

The first was that the room light and the bathroom light were both controlled by one switch. If one wants to groom (or whatever) while the other sleeps ... difficult. And grooming gets us to the second item that set us on our tip toes ... literally. The bathroom mirror above the sink was not that large and was placed very high. How high? With Sherrie standing on her tiptoes, stretching up and looking up, she was able to see her eyebrows. There was a second mirror, but that was out in the room which made Terryís shaving most awkward. There were many more positives than negatives and those we mentioned in a suggestion box.

 

Across the yard from our room was the swimming pool, fire pit and braai (African word for bar-b-que) area. Beyond that was the enclosed formal diningroom and the open-sided eating area, bar/lounge.

As Terry crossed from our room to the bar/lounge a snake dropped from a tree above and landed on the ground beside him. It was a harmless twig snake, when motionless it looked more like a thin tree branch than a snake, but it did startle him.

photo curtesy of Greg Lasley 

We had dinner in the formal dining room set up for a part served - part buffet dinner. The table was dressed in pink and cream colours and instead of place mats they were using glassless picture frames ... how unique and clever ... a Martha Stewart type 'good thing'. This was our eleventh dinner together, friendships had developed and conversation flowed easily.

It is winter in South Africa. Because of the colder temperatures, it was not necessary to use the mosquito netting above the beds.

      

 

June 20

The iSimangaliso / Greater St Lucia Wetland Park was declared South Africaís first Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Sitting on the eastern coastline, Lake St Lucia and itís huge expanse of estuaries create the largest estuarine body of water in South Africa.

An hourís drive from our lodge, we boarded a flat bottom boat and skimmed the shallow waters to see just a smattering of the wildlife which occupies the waters and shores of one of the estuaries.

 

After feeding on grasslands during the night 1200 hippos take to the St. Lucia waters which, during the day, they share with 2000 crocodiles, tens of thousands of fish, birds and invertebrates. It is the hippos which are the driving force in the lakesí ecosystem as they release tonnes of droppings into the lake which fertilize the warm tropical water, creating Africaís most important fish and prawn nursery grounds.

We saw plenty of hippos. Some were lone travellers, others tended babies, while others socialized in pods including the usual tiffs between males.

 
 
 
 

Hippos find swimming with their massive bodies laborious ... instead they take a great gulp of air and walk along the bottom of the lake. An adult hippo can hold its breath for about six minutes while a baby ranges from a minute to two. As we passed by, many would submerge themselves in the muddy waters and others would pop up to take a look around.

The crocs who call these waters home are the Nile crocodiles which can tolerate both fresh and salt water. We caught some on the sunny shores while others, more shy perhaps, took to the water upon our arrival.

 
 

Birds were plentiful. Some perched in trees, others took refuge in the mangrove forests whose roots tangle into the rich waters, while shorebirds sought protection and food within the tall grasses which fringe waterís edge.

Driving into the village of St. Lucia, Arthur told us of the sleepy fishing town he knew as a youth. Today it is a tourist town with mostly restaurants, shops and accommodations. We stopped for lunch at the Ocean Sizzler Restaurant before driving back to Ezulwini Game Lodge for a quiet afternoon (some of the group wanting naps to recoup from late-night-early-morning birthday celebrations). Happy 29th Andrea!

   

June 21

As we left Ezulwini Game Lodge on a clear, bright morning some giraffes were just getting up. It was the first time we had seen giraffes lying down in the wild ... close up.

It was going to be a day of mostly driving through Zululand, ending up on the coast at Durban.

The Zulu were essentially pastoralists. Cattle were central to their lives for ritual and wealth purposes. The cattle enclosure (isibaya) was the central feature in a typical, circular Zulu homestead which was usually built on a slope with the main entrance at the bottom end. The cattle enclosure held spiritual significance as it was believed the spirits of the ancestors could be found here since the head of the household was buried here as well. Women were usually not allowed to enter the cattle enclosure during rituals.

Beehive dwellings (izindiu) were situated around the perimeter of the cattle enclosure. They in turn were fenced in by a strong palisade made of branches from acacia trees. This fence was usually strong enough to protect the inhabitants from wild animals (even elephants).

 

Each member of the homestead owned his/her own beehive dwelling. Construction of the fences and hut frames was done by men and the thatching by women.

Each individual homestead was a self-contained economic unit supported by its own labour, cattle and fields - a macrocosm of the greater social structure of the Zulu people. The arrangement of the dwellings within the homestead reflected the social hierarchy. The dwelling of the Great Wife (undlunkulu) was situated at the highest central point of the homestead above the cattle enclosure and in line with the main entrance.

   

The circular enclosure was divided into two halves. Each side was headed by a chief wife whose dwelling was built on either side of the Great Wife. The dwellings of junior wives were situated below the dwellings of the chief wives. Below the wives were the homes of the married sons, then guests and next to the main entrance a hut for unmarried boys. Close to the fence were also small elevated huts for the storage of food.

Arthur suggested we might like to add to our G.A.P Adventures experiences a stop  at the grave site of Tshakaka Senzancakona, founder and ruler of the Zulu Nation, to our G.A.P itinerary. The vote in favour of the stop was unanimous (consensus side trips are a perk when travel group numbers are small). Next to the memorial and the rock he was sitting on at the time of his assassination is the King Shaka Visitor Centre which is part of the King Shaka Route. This route is a community based tourism initiative aimed at generating and developing economic activity inland from the beach resorts and is adding greater diversity of attractions along the popular Dolphin Coast.

Before Shakaís (short for Tshakaka Senzancakona) time, African black people had formed distinct cultural and linguistic groups. They had established trade links with Eastern, Middle Eastern and Arab traders. Dutch, British and Portuguese, who came later, traded cloth, beads and metal for ivory which created competition amongst the various chiefdoms.

By the end of the 18th century, the Nguni people in this region were prospering. Clans became too large and new settlements developed. The fertile land, crucial to the success of these communities, supported thousands of cattle and provided grain.

By 1800, this rapid population growth and increase in cattle caused a land shortage which forced many smaller clans into large defensive alliances. These larger groups competed fiercely for living space, grazing lands and trade with the Portuguese.

In 1802 a devastating famine pushed the tensions between the rival clans to a breaking point as food stores were depleted. Violent conflicts often caused weaker neighbours to embark on destructive migrations to get out of the way. It was against this backdrop of growing unrest that the powerful Zulu kingdom would emerge.

Shaka was born about 1787. His father, Inkosi, was of a relatively minor clan called the Zulu. As a youth Shaka showed military aptitude and courage and rose in army ranks to commander eventually becoming king of the Zulu.

Through conquest and voluntary subjugation, King Shaka brought scattered homesteads into a centralised social, economic, political and military system. Using techniques he had developed, Shaka reorganised the Zulu army into a formidable military force with triumphant results. The previously insignificant Zulu chiefdom had become a force to be reckoned with.

Shakaís new kingdom was built on strict discipline and he ruled over the largest territory and population of any other chief in southeastern Africa. He faced continual rivalry to his power base. Trials for misdemeanours were carried out by King Shaka and his trusted advisors; punishment was often death by clubbing. No one owned land in the new kingdom; the use of the land was for the benefit of all. The ivory from the elephant herds was, however, the property of the king and was traded to the Portugese. It was the lure of this commodity that would eventually entice the greatest threat to the Zulu kingdom; the white man. Shaka welcomed this motley group of white adventurers as suppliers of exotic goods and mercenaries with aid and European firepower to help crush his enemies.

Since 1816 Shakaís mother, Nandi, had lived as the Queen Mother, exercising great influence in the affairs of the kingdom. She died in 1827; the circumstances surrounding her death remain unclear. King Shaka may have ordered the execution of Nandiís personal attendants who were then buried with her. Cattle herds were driven from all over the kingdom to console him and public mourning was enforced for one year.

Shaka used his motherís death to rouse popular feelings against his enemies and political opponents. During this period of discontent Shakaís misjudgement of the white traders and his inability to exercise power over such a vast kingdom gave rise to a conspiracy to overthrow the king; a conspiracy which included his two brothers and personal assistant.

One day, Shaka, sitting on a rock, was meeting with a delegation and was, through his personal assistant, reprimanding them for being late. Suddenly his assistant threw his stick at the delegation, a sign that they should be executed, which induced then to flee. Shaka began to reprimand his assistant. Distracted and alone, apart from a few elders, Shaka did not see his brothers hiding behind a small fence. One brother leapt forward and plunged a spear through the back of Shakaís left shoulder, followed by the other brother who also speared the king.

 
 
   
 

Shaka tried to escape but stumbled and fell. His pleas for mercy ignored, the assassins continued their assault. Shakaís last words were recorded as, "You are killing me, but the land will see locusts and swallows [white people] come." These words proved prophetic. In 1829, swarms of locusts swept over Zululand devouring crops and pastures; nine years later, the Boers [Dutch word for Afrikaans farmers] invaded the Zulu kingdom.

 

In early afternoon we arrived in Durban, South Africaís third largest city and Africaís busiest cargo port. Every year South Africans experiencing winter, take their vacations and honeymoons in Durbanís tropical climate where warm Indian Ocean waves crash onto the silky sand beaches.

Our accommodations were at the Beach Hotel overlooking Durban Bay and the beachfront promenade. After settling into the large but basic room, we took a stroll down the promenade and onto the beach.

 

   
 

The water temperature was posted at 20 C and swimmers were concentrated in a narrow area marked by yellow and red flags. These flags marked the beginning and end of the area protected by shark nets.

   

Shark nets do not form a fence between sharks and people. They are fishing nets that catch sharks (and many other fish) and reduce the chance of an encounter between a swimmer and a shark at a protected beach. Shark attacks can cripple the tourist industry. There are 28 km of nets along a 320km stretch of coastline; protecting 38 locations. They seem to be effective. There have only been 2 serious shark attacks at netted beaches in the last 25 years.

Of the hundreds of species of sharks, only three ... the Zambezi, tiger and great white sharks ... are life-threatening to swimmers and surfers. The great white shark may not be caught (except in the beach protecting nets), killed or harassed. In 1991 South Africa was the first country to protect it.

The nets not only catch dangerous sharks but other sharks, rays, turtles and dolphins as well. Excessive mortalities can cause imbalances in the near-shore ecosystem and to reduce this effect, live sharks and mammals are removed from the nets, tagged and released. To further reduce mortalities, without compromising the safety of bathers, the Natal Sharks Board has reduced the number of nets at most beaches and temporarily remove nets during the sardine run. Humpback dolphins are particularly vulnerable to nets. Tests are underway where pingers and air-filled floats are being attached to nets to discourage the approach of dolphins.

 

Today, vacationers were enjoying the surf and we enjoyed watching them.

We noticed some people were filling up plastic bottles with sea water ... it didnít seem to matter if sand flushed in as well. If they didnít have a plastic bottle, they bought one from one of the vendors along the beach. Some of these bottles still had their original-use label on. We asked one of the bottle vendors what the water was used for.

 

"Itís a tribal medicine. I donít believe in it myself . They drink small amounts and it makes them sick and empties their stomachs. That makes them feel better."

 
 
 

"They donít care if they get sand in it?" we asked.

"No. The mud and sand settles. They put that on the floor around the outside of a room. It helps keep the bugs away," he made a little laugh. A lady came up and checked out a couple of bottles, first for any cracks or damage and then unscrewing the cap and sniffing inside. She took her choice , turned the jug upside down and drained out the last of the water residue, paid him a couple of coins and carefully checked her change. We talked with the pleasant fellow a little longer before he moved on with his 30 or so plastic bottles threaded on a long white cord.

We turned our attention back to the people playing in the surf. Some wore bathing suits, others shorts and tops while other just wore street clothes; everyone seemed to be having fun and the children squealed as waves chased them back up to dry sand ... a few adults were squealing like the children and giggled when they got caught.

 
 

We met up with some of our group back at Pier 107, a restaurant bar in the Beach Hotel. Dinner, at a fancier and more expensive restaurant than we had been to on this trip, was an opportunity for us to say farewells to Jess and Jack who were returning to London and Michael, who was cutting his planned trip short and returning to Pretoria. The dinner also gave us a chance to meet our new travel companions, Mark, Laura and their son, Zack from Oregon and Nick, from England.

    

  

June 22  

After making a quick stop at a very modern and very large shopping centre we left Durban and drove west. 

    

 

The landscape changed from rolling hills to arid terrain of scrub brush and cacti and then to stretches of grazing cattle, forests and fields of maize.

This area in the 1800s was the scene of numerous bloody conflicts and northern KwaZulu-Natal is home to the largest concentration of battlefields in the southern hemisphere. Through the years alliances switched among the Zulus, the Boers and the British ... sometimes allies, sometimes foes. If battlefields are your interest, you can visit www.battlefields.kzn.org.za.

We stopped at Howick Falls and took a 2.5km hike into the gorge. The falls and surrounding area are a national heritage site and historic monument.

 
 
 

After switch-backing down the steep gorge wall, we came across a colony of Rock dassie.

The Rock dassie, a little fuzzy tailless critter, looking like an oversized guinea pig (about the size of a plump house cat) .. is aptly named as itís rocky habitat provides the crevices and crannies in which it finds shelter. Despite their size and appearance they are the African elephantís closest living relative. They are social animals who are active during the day and their colonies are usually betrayed by the urine stains on the rocks and piles of droppings in selected places. The crystallized urine, "hyracium", has been sold as folk medicine in South Africa for centuries.

 

The waterfall was a lovely sight dropping over a cliff 107 metres (351 feet) high. The falls and town were named for Henry Grey, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who had recently acquired the title of Lord Howick after his ancestral home in Northumberland, England. Two other towns were also named Howick at the same time ... one in Ontario, Canada and one in New Zealand.

When pioneers first came to this area, they found it easiest to ford the river just above the falls but many attempts were fatal as wagons and people were swept over the falls. The town began as a small post with hotel and blacksmith services. The first hotelkeeper provided a ferry after his young son was swept over the falls while attempting to cross on horseback. The hotel, built in 1850 (destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1872) has a guest list including Paul Kruger, Cecil Rhodes and Mark Twain.

 

We arrived in the pleasant town of Himeville, in the Southern Drakensberg Mountains, in late afternoon and the temperature reminded us it is winter in South Africa.

 

Himeville Arms Hotel, with itís old English charm and decor, was established in 1904. We could see that it must have deserved itís "most famous country hotel" designation in its day. Today, however, it looked tired and the owners, who have it for sale, are not prepared to sink anymore money into its upkeep. Perhaps new owners will restore itís prestige.

Our room was in a stand alone cottage ... a large, very cold room, with only a small ceramic wall heater in the corner farthest from the bed for heat. Itís radiant heating capabilities extended only a few centimetres from the source. There was a fireplace in the room but wood was scarce and it only served to suck out what little heat the room had up the chimney.

 
 
 
 

Warmth was found in the main lodgeís pub. The district is renowned for its trout waters and the pubís decorations reflected those interests. The prime interest for our group, however, besides keeping warm, was the European Football semi-final game between Germany and The Netherlands on tv.

Back in the room we piled as many blankets as we could find on top of the bed. Sherrieís feet were still so cold she couldnít fall asleep. We had to laugh, because before coming to Africa, her main worry was how she was going to handle the expected intense heat. In desperation she soaked her feet in the old bathtub until they turned red, dried them quickly, put on socks, ran across the frigid tile floor of the bathroom and across the cold floors of the large room to the front door to turn off the bathroom light, back across the room and scrambled beneath the blankets ... to be rewarded, finally, with sleep. 

June 23

It was warm beneath the pile of blankets but our noses were cold. There was reluctance to step out into the cold, but we had an exciting day ahead and were anxious to be on the move.

 

Arrangements had been made with Kingdom in the Sky Adventures to supply guides and 4x4s for a trek via the Sani Pass into the Kingdom of Lesotho.

   
continue to Lesotho

continue on in South Africa part 2 page 2

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