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Craft vendors on the way to Kruger

We had another good nights sleep and feast of food for breakfast before Alfred dropped us back at the airport. We’d booked a hire car on line yesterday but when we got to the office it seems I’d booked it from Cape Town not Johannesburg (senior moment!). Nevertheless Europcar had loads to spare and it wasn’t a problem to get a car or to change our drop off date and destination. On line the website said we’d get a Renault Megane but we were taken out to a smallish Chevrolet car. As Stef watched me trying to squeeze our packs into the boot he rightly said the car was too small. Back at the office a different lady switched us to a larger car, a Kia something, amazed that we’d been given a small one in the first place. It’s costing us less than £30 a day to hire a car with unlimited mileage which we thought was not a bad deal.

Europcar throw in a comprehensive road map with lots of useful information and also told us how to easily get out of Johannesburg. Our plan for today is to get to Kruger National Park, a drive which is only about four hours if you stick to the main motorway, which of course we didn’t do. Despite there being lots of traffic around (we think we saw more cars yesterday than in the whole of the time we spent in Namibia) it was a relatively easy process to get out onto the motorway and to start our tour around South Africa.

We both thought that we could have been transported to Britain. Once out of the city the landscape is very green, much more so than Namibia, and there was a definite English countryside feel to it. We drove past ponds of water and lush green trees all framed in a hazy cloudy sky. The car is very comfortable and easy to drive and we were soon clocking away the kilometres.

Rather than staying on the anonymous motorway route we opted to turn off at Belfast and head through the more scenic countryside. At Belfast we were reminded that we were still in Africa as there were loads of people just milling around with nothing much to do. There were some pretty smart and swanky houses lining the road as well. We skirted around Lydenburg, taking the turn to Hazyview, and here there almost seemed to be a festival atmosphere in the air. It could just have been that our route took us past lots of different eateries so it looked like people were celebrating.

At some stage the road started to climb winding round and round the mountains with some pretty tight bends and we both mused about how much it would have been to have the opportunity to drive this section in our Porsche (which is no more). Or rather, Stef mused about the drive, I mused about how often he’d have to stop to let my senses rebalance or to be sick. We climbed and climbed until we were eventually driving through the clouds. One second we were in dense cloud but then suddenly we were in a lighter patch and the sun broke through again. Around us were green hills with what looked like crops all neatly lined in rows upon them.

Hazyview finally came into sight and we stopped here to pick up supplies. If we can we want to stay in self catering accommodation so we again needed to buy some basic food items. Stef has read somewhere that often the accommodation comes with no utensils so we also bought plates, cutlery, a cool box and a small braai grill. We won’t be able to make the fanciest meals ever with them but at least we’ll be able to eat. On the outskirts of Hazyview is a shopping mall that looks like it has just be extended. We made our way to the Superspar which had everything we needed. As ever it took much longer to shop with Stef than it would do if I were on my own as every decision had to be made by committee.

Back at the car we had just about an hour to make it through the park gate and on to Skukuza camp where we hoped to find accommodation for the night. Our map was a bit unclear about the distances involved but what we did know was that time was tight. Had we stayed on the motorway we would have had a couple of extra hours to spare but the scenic route had eaten away a fair chunk of time. The road from Hazyview to the park had a fair few turnings off it for various different lodges so we knew we would get a bed for the night somewhere even if it wasn’t in the park.

We finally made it to the Paul Kruger Gate with about 30 minutes to spare. AS Stef started to fill out the form needed for the car I went to check in at reception only to be told that there was no accommodation at Skukuza so they wouldn’t let us into the park. Even though it was the weekend we were really surprised, as were another British paid (father and son I think) who were also stuck with the same problem. I suspect there probably was accommodation but the reservations systems used at the park was down and they didn’t seem inclined to call the park and check. So we did an about turn and headed for the Protea Hotel just 100m away from the park gate rather than heading back to Hazyview.

This was a pretty price option, despite a massive discount, but at least they had availability. Considering it was a four star hotel, I didn’t think that £110 was bad for dinner, bed and breakfast but unusually for once it was Stef who was focussing on budget. There wasn’t really another option though so we checked in and had a very comfortable night. A buffet dinner was served in the Lapa, a round open air restaurant surrounded by a wooden fence which created the feeling that you were sitting in the middle of an African village. Dinner lived up to expectations and we ate much more than we should have done, both determined to make sure we got our money’s worth out of our stay here!