Australia and Oceania, Africa · 101 Days · 128 Moments · August 2017

Garry's journi to South Africa

23 November 2017

Continuing - Cape Town After a very enjoyable tasting session on the verandah of the wonderfully refurbished old colonial era main building it was time to start heading home. We forsake any more visits to more wineries and opt instead for a scenic drive taking in the beauty of this area. Arriving home a little later than planned, we opt for a quick meal down on the waterfront and a relatively early night.

18 November 2017

Capetown Continuing Moving along again and our driver takes us to the first of his "gems" He chooses these because they are a bit (very) different and a lot of the bigger tour buses can't access the properties. Taking into account that today is such an unpleasant day we need a place that we can admire the view but also be protected from the weather and he knows just the spot! Earnie Elles Winery - Yes, the famous golfer owns this magnificent spread and we are first taken on a tasting in the great room followed by a cheese platters lunch overlooking the vineyard - But behind those big sliding glass doors we had been promised. What a great experience! Thank you Earnie! Next up our friendly driver takes us to Waterford Wines. Another striking building and gardens/vineyards (or wine farms as they are called in this part of world) Waterford is the home of the wine and chocolate pairing and this seems like a good idea. We enjoy it so much we buy some of the chocolates to bring home.
Part 16 Day 16 and continuing on in Capetown. It had been our plan today to take the "red bus tour" that would eventually take us to the starting point of the Table Mountain Cable Car. But alas the day dawned wet and windy. The cable car doesn't operate in these conditions and anyway the view from the top would be nil because of the cloud "table cloth!" After a late start it is decided that we will do the half day winery region tour that we have heard so much about. Some of these wineries are in beautifully restored Cape Dutch style estates and in grand locations with magnificent scenery. Anyone who has been to the Stellenbosch region will no what I mean. Our first stop along the way is at a Cheetah Outreach Park. Their aim is to make sure the Cheetah survives and doesn't become extinct through the shrinking of its natural habitat. We get to view the Cheetah although in slightly less than perfect conditions because they are sheltering in their "cubby holes" away from the fierce wind
Cape Town. - Continuing We end our city tour with a visit to the Castle of Good Hope. The oldest surviving building in South Africa. This pentagonal fortification replaced a small clay and timber fort built 1652 as a replenishment station for the ships of the Dutch East India Company. The stone walls between the bastions are 150 m long and 12 meters high. A very impressive building indeed and an excellent guide to show us around. Back to the rail station or more precisely the Rovos Rail office to pick up our luggage and our pre organised transport is waiting to take us to our accommodation for the next four nights - V&A Waterfront Apartments, a truly luxurious establishment with views over the waterfront and harbour. Security as you can imagine is very strict and they even take photo I D to enable you to get back in if you leave the gated complex by vehicle. We settle in and then take the short walk down to the waterfront for further exploration and a nice dinner at a nice tavern.
Continuing Cape Town In the afternoon we board our coach again for the remainder of our tour. Firstly,District Six "Named after the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. Originally established as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. It was a vibrant centre with close links to the city and port. By the beginning of the 20th century the process of removals and marginalisation had begun. The first to be forced out were the black South African in 1901. As the more prosperous moved away to the suburbs, the area became a neglected ward of the city. In 1966 it was declared a white area and by 1982 the life of the community was over. More than 60,000people were forcibly removed to a barren area known as the Cape Flats and their homes bulldozed. The District Six museum works with the memories of the District Six experience and with that of the forced removals more generally."

23 October 2017

Continuing - Cape Town Next stop, The Diamond Works. A diamond cutting studio and jewellery design centre plus gemmological laboratory. A fascinating look at diamond cutting and has a history of diamond mining in South Africa with real life size replicas of famous diamonds. Of course like most gift shops you are given the chance to purchase the piece of your own choosing and while very tempting I somehow managed to hold myself back! I did rather enjoy a couple of glasses of their complimentary Champagne though while feigning interest. Lunch stop is taken at the Victorian & Alfred Waterfront. A development that has brought new life into the old harbour area of The Dutch East India Company in Table Bay. While keeping the old buildings they have been transformed into shops, craft markets, restaurants,taverns, theatres and hotels, all with great views over the harbour. This is the area where we will be staying for the next four nights.
Continuing - Cape Town On alighting from the train it was a great pleasure to be welcomed by Rohan Voss himself. Standing on the platform and greeting everyone with a hand shake and kind word. I made sure I thanked him for putting together this wonderful trip and preserving the wonderful old trains that would otherwise all end being scrapped if someone didn't save them for prosperity. I'm glad he was able to turn it all into a commercial success. He was pleased I enjoyed it so much. As a final treat we are taken on a day tour by coach for a snapshot of Cape Town before we all have to say our goodbyes. The tour commences with a walk through the Company Gardens (Old East Indian Company gardens) followed by a visit to the Bo - Kaplan Museum. The first Malays arrived in the Cape as political refugees and slaves during the 17th century. A very colourful area in what is now a trendy part of town but not so back then.
Part 15 Day 15 - Cape Town After dinner last night we are asked to join the staff and management in the lounge cars for a cocktail party. The ceiling is awash with balloons and steamers and the bar stacked with a wonderful array of various cocktails. Well you can't disappoint them by refusing can you? Nice night. The train makes it way in the morning to our final destination of Cape Town. A very interesting trip into town as we slowly make our way firstly through the rich farmland on the outskirts and then through the "settlements " on the fringes of the city. It can be a bit disconcerting watching it all unfold but we have been given a preview of what to expect in various towns along the way, so no shocks. It's a slow journey into the station proper and we arrive about 10 am as scheduled. "Just leave your luggage in your cabin our staff will collect it and bring it to the office!"
Continuing - Hermanus We love the very quirky fit out and she explains how it was all her ideas and staff are all proud to work there in their matching outfits, proudly posing for photos. If you get the chance go there and check it out. An afternoon exploring the delights and architecture of this lovely town together with a little bit of shopping fills in the time until our departure and trip back to join our train. A nice little doze on the way helps me recuperate. . It has moved on without us and we meet up with it again at the town of Worcester which will also be our overnight stay before moving on in the morning for the short journey in to Cape Town. As tonight is our last night on the train it is rather a gala affair and all the staff are dressed in their most elegant attire. Evening dresses on the girls and bow ties on the men. Once again a truly gourmet dinner is served and afterwards the head chef and his team are brought out and introduced to us amidst a lot of cheers.
Continuing - Hermanus Interesting watching some of the spectators as they risk life and limb at the rocks edge with waves breaking over. Picnic tables and chairs etc, little kids wandering around oblivious to the dangers, oh well. Hermanus. Once a renowned fish market and whaling station. But the whaling stopped by International Treaty in 1935 and now the WWF lists it in their 12 best whale watching sites in the world and tops the list due to its land - based watching from the natural cliffs. Don't tell anybody but I have a better spot for viewing - Off the cliffs in the Great Australian Bight (Head of the Bight at Nullarbor). We have heard that there is a classic car display in town but on searching out the address we are informed it has moved on yesterday. Oh well, that's me, a day late! Instead we search out somewhere for lunch and Cathy and Sharon have picked out a particular little restaurant- Betty Blue. Great choice and what a lovely lady owner! Very friendly, sits with us.
Part 14 Day 14. - Hermanus and Whale Watching An early start as the train gets underway at 6am, early breakfast too as we proceed on to the train stop at Ashton. Here we must leave the train and once again join our coach which will take us on the 160 klm journey to Hermanus via the scenic mountain passes. We travel over the Rooihoogte and Floorshoogle Passes via the Overberg towns of Villiersdorp and Botrivier till we reach Hermanus. Not a particularly good day for visiting as it is a weekend and in the middle of the annual whale watching festival so everything is a little more crowded than normal, but it is a beautiful day and entertainment is everywhere - buskers, singers, dancers. We find a hotel patio overlooking the scene and order a coffee, nice! Afterward we take the cliff side walk to take in the views and watch the whales as they play in the offshore water. Not real close unfortunately but that doesn't matter too much as we have seen them up close before.
Continuing Knysna After lunch we are taken on a walking tour of one of the older residential areas located on one of the islands in the lagoon. A nice look at one of the more elaborate holiday and retirement homes of South Africas more "well heeled ". On return to town we are treated to the spectacle of over forty Ferrari of various models in town for the day but on their way to Cape Town for the annual convention "get together " Having a lot of fun on the way! Returning by our coach along the coast to our train in George and a welcoming drink we then head off again along the very scenic Garden Route. What a beautiful part of the country this is. I can see why it is one of the major tourist attractions of the country. We continue on our way till we reach the town of Buffelsjagrivier which will be our stop for the night. Dinner is served along the way, what a wonderful day. Our golfing friends have enjoyed their day at Ernie Els famous Oubaai Golf Club. Everyone is happy.

20 October 2017

Continuing Knysna - Only a couple of months ago this area was devastated by a terrible bushfire that caused so much damage to not only the surrounding bushland but burnt many homes in the town as well. Indiscriminately, the fire spared a lot of houses but then a major catastrophe in the middle of these for just random flying debris. Recovery work has been swift and business have reopened in most parts, however , the steam train short journey we were originally supposed to take was still out of action. This was a pity as it was the last remaining section of the line from George which travels through the towns of Wilderness and Sedgefield on the way to Knysna and would have been a magnificent trip but previous landslides and upkeep costs have meant the closure of the line. They are hoping someone like Rohan Voss with his love of trains and a bit of money to spend might come and save the line. Hope so.

13 October 2017

Part 13 Day 13 - George and the Garden Route - Knysna We awake where we went to bed. No travel overnight as today is another day in our sightseeing coach. An early breakfast ensures we are loaded on and ready for today's travel. We drive along the coast from George which is situated in the heart of the garden route. The town itself sits on a 10klm plateau between the majestic Outeniqua Mountains to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. The Knysna Heads, the two sandstone cliffs guarding the mouth of the lagoon connecting the estuary with the sea - a dramatic viewpoint. Our trip includes a lagoon ferry ride to the heads and takes us past the old wharf complex that used to be stepping off point for shipping coming to this area. However, after so many ships failed to navigate the narrow heads together with the wild conditions encountered along this coastline eventually shipping stopped especially when Lloyds of London refused to insure any ships that tried to enter this harbour
Continuing - Oudtshoom - George The golfers on our trip have been enjoying this course today instead of our various activities. They all agree it was worthy of its world wide reputation. I'm glad I chose the scenic option though. The meal at the restaurant proves to be another memorable experience with some of South Africas finest wines served to compliment the meal. A rather later than normal evening and we return to the train for another night with dreams of what to expect tomorrow.

9 October 2017

Continuing - Oudtshoom A couple of our tour group had a go and also one of the young attendants from the train, who I might add, lasted the full 10 seconds! They also have a racetrack for two ostrichs and two of the "jockeys " from the farm have a race. Very funny. Back on our coach and we are now heading to our destination for the days end at George. We will rejoin the train there. The reason for continuing on in the coach is so we can enjoy the scenery and engineering marvel of the Outeniqua Pass which takes us from the dry "little Karoo" to the fertile wet plains of the coast at the old town of George. A truly fascinating trip and it was an Australian engineer that was responsible. We arrive at the George railway station to find our train already there and are greeted once again with drinks before returning to our carriages for a freshen up and to dress in our finest. Tonight we are dining at "Monets" the very swank restaurant attached to the famous Fancourt Golf Estate.
Continuing - Oudtshoom We retrace our journey back through the beautiful countryside to Oudtshoom and to one of the ostrich farms that allows tourist visits. Very strict regulations govern the opening of ostrich farms to tourists and this particular one has been hosting visitors for over 100 years. The ostrich boom of the early 20th century at the time of the boa and grand hats turned out many millionaires who in turn created elaborate lifestyles in this then remote part of the country. A wonderful lunch served on the verandah of the original homestead really set the scene. Most meal choices involved ostrich in one form or another, from steaks to burgers and everything in between- delicious! After lunch we are taken on a tour of the farm and shown the breeding flock as well as an interesting story about the breeding of ostrich. As a bit of tourist gimmick we are treated to a chance to ride an ostrich, they are very strong and can handle a weight of over 80 kg - I declined.

5 October 2017

Part 12 Day 12. - Oudtshoom - Cango Caves - Ostrich Farm Disembarked at Oudtshoom Station and board our coach for the trip to Cango Caves a hour or more drive through some spectacular country and hills till we reach the Cango Caves. "Oudtshoom is situated at the foot of the majestic Swartberg Mountain Range. Many rivers have there origins in the Swartburg, Outenique and Kammanassie mountains that surround the town. It is regarded as the centre of the Klein Karoo and renowned for the Cango Caves and the breeding of ostriches." We tour the Caves, a little late so we are forced to join with another group which wasn't too big a problem. Beautiful Caves with huge caverns and some really nice formations. Am I allowed to say? Nice but I think some of the Australian ones (Janolan, Wombian etc ) would be my pick.
Shongololo - continuing The Norwegians are two retired businessmen that travel the world playing golf at all the nice courses and then get paid for writing an article for a golfing magazine - Great work if you can get it! Add to this mix two guides, one for the Swiss German speaking (Jacqui) and one (Willem) for the English speaking and about twenty odd staff and you have a train of over twenty carriages including two dining cars (up the front of the train) and two lounge/bar/observation cars (at the rear of the train). We get our exercise by moving from one to the other. The train under its new ownership has been operating for two years and once a year in does a trip from Cape Town to Da es Salaam in Tanzania, traveling via Botswana,Mozambique,Zimbabwe,Zambia How Good would that be? Forward bookings are now three years waiting. Well that gives a quick overview of the train and I would like to thank Rohan Voss for his contribution to preserving the "Golden Age" of rail travel.

4 October 2017

Continuing - Shongololo We are expecting the balance of passengers to be roughly 50/50 but it works out to be only six or eight out of the total number of fifty two. A tour group from Switzerland makes up the bulk of the passenger - twenty eight plus their travel guide. Happy to have some Aussies on board. Beside Cathy and myself, Ross and Sharon, we have two from Melbourne - Garry and Rosemary. A retired lawyer and his wife.Marg and Anne from Sydney. Two golfing tragics and ex work mates.The Aussies make up the bulk of the golfing party (except for us!) We quickly bond into our own group, all getting along famously and soon firm friends. Add to this little group a couple from Germany - Werner and Erica a retired IBM exec and a fanatical Harley owner (both of them) and former competition rally navigator. A great couple and they quickly assume their place in our little clique as "honarary Australians"! The Netherlands contributes another ten, Sweden two and Norway two - (golfers).
Shongololo - continued Or in our case The Leisure Trip. This is primarily a tour covering a great deal of the major points of interest through South Africa. Travelling from Pretoria to Cape Town but over fifteen days and crisscrossing the country along some very interesting rail lines, some that are only used periodically by freight trains but travel through some seriously spectacular country. Most days we alight and take an accompanying coach trip to the points of interest along the way, returning us to the train around 5 o'clock in time to clean up and prepare for dinner at 7.30 During the day the train sometimes moves on a distance and we meet it at a different station. The carriages are all restored period carriages that have been revamped with ensuite bathrooms and lovely fittings with beautiful timber paneling. (Not quite like the old South West Mail that some of you will remember traveling on in the 60's)
Shongololo - Quick story Shongololo is the Zulu word for a long millipede, and this is apparently what they called the first trains that they encountered on their land. The Shongololo train that we are traveling in was originally a luxury Zimbabwe train that did trips from Zimbabwe and into South Africa. It however fell on hard times and in an attempt to save it Rohan Voss of Rovos Rail fame (but that's another story) bought an interest in the company. That turned out to be only partly successful as the train badly needed an upgrade with both carriages and travel routes. As a result Voss bought the business outright and completely revamped the whole operation. Restored the carriages to their former glory in his Pretoria workshops, repainted them in new green livery and relaunched the train doing specialist trips and corporate hire. The trip we are on is called the Good Hope Golf tour and offers either a special golf tour playing at all the major courses along the way.

3 October 2017

Cheetah Conservation Park - Wine Farm tour to Earnie Eccles Winery and lunch with a view!

2 October 2017

Cape Town Tour. The Diamond Works, worlds biggest diamond! (Replica) Colourful houses in the Malay Quarter. Beautifully restored buildings on the V&A Waterfront, The Old Castle of Good Hope - oldest building in South Africa.
Our arrival in Cape Town. Greeted by Rohan Voss himself! Nice wheels Mr Voss! City tour starts at Old Company (East India) Gardens still there and cared for. Statue of Rhodes and parliament building
Our last day on the train. Cocktails in the lounge bar. The “red carpet “ treatment!

1 October 2017

Hermanus - Whale watching and the crazy crowds.
Continuing Port Elizabeth After speaking with their teacher they happily agreed to pose for some photos. Excited but very polite! We have an hour to spare before the coach returns so to escape the wind we cross the road and take shelter in the new Sun Casino complex. A nice warm cup of coffee and free wi-fi so I am able to download a little more of my blog and check emails. Returning to the train in time for dinner and the train staff surprise us with them all dressed up in evening ware and looking very "glam"! Feeling slightly underdressed we join them for another beautiful meal as the train "attempts " to leave the station and turn around for our onward journey. I say attempt because it is not till after 11pm that we are finally on our way again. Not our drivers fault as someone has parked a freight train in the way leaving not enough line for us to manoeuvre our rather over long train. Someone gets a engine from somewhere and freight trucks are shunted out of our way.
Continuing - Day 11 - Port Elizabeth After getting off the train we walk the short distance into the city centre and town square with its beautiful old colonial era buildings. There is a coach waiting for us here and this has been arranged to give us a quick tour of the city and its surroundings. They call it the Windy City and it is living up to its reputation. Especially when we get to the top of the hill overlooking the city and you get the full force. Time to take in the sights of the Nelson Mandela statue and the memorial pyramid erected in honour of the wife (Elisabeth) of the city's founder. Port Elizabeth is a major South African port and a big industrial town, particularly motor vehicle manufacturing. BMW, Mercedes and Toyota. And we see acres and acres of cars parked ready for shipping . We get time walk the waterfront before dark and Cathy makes friends with a group of visiting school children that have been playing in the surf (freezing!) .

30 September 2017

Part 11 Day 11 - Day at Leisure on Board Travelling all night with some brief stops here and there. Funny, you only wake up when the train stops, otherwise the gentle rocking just lulls you to sleep. We are virtually traveling due south through the Northern Cape to De Aar then south east to Noupoort where we stop until early morning before moving on through Cradock (nice clean looking town) Now in the Eastern Cape area, due south to Port Elisabeth our destination for the day. We arrive a little later than anticipated because of some minor mechanical issues about 4pm. It has been a great day of sightseeing from the train as it makes it way across the country. Lots of banter between guests as we sit in the observation car. Me trying to catch up on my Journi but getting plenty of excuses not too.
Continuing - Kimberley The name changed to the Belvedere to take advantage of luxury hotel demand and operated up to the 60's when it was gifted to the Irish nuns as a monastery, but then when the Irish were banned from teaching in SA they left and eventually the building returned to public ownership. A beautiful building with a grand staircase and stained glass window. A guess Mr De Beer could afford it! Returning to the train we farewell Frank and he probably returns to his job as a stand up comic somewhere while we down a couple of the "welcome back" drinks then shower a change for dinner as the train pulls out of Kimberley Station and onwards to our destinations.
Continuing - Kimberley We do the tour, then climb into the lift to go down the 800 meters to see the old working mine. Teresa are old tunnels running off wit rail tracks and old workings. In reality we go down 3 meters! To a reconstruction of what the mine was like. Then walk through a door and you are back in the inevitable gift shop! Very clever! Lunch back in the city and then a visit to the William Humphrey Art Gallery - showcasing the art collection of this benevolent man who left his entire collection of valuable art and furniture to the city. To complete the tour we next take a drive along the streets where the rich and prosperous lived or still living till we get to McGregor House, another museum of a collection of military history of South Africa as well as animals and other assorted interests - Well I loved it of course! The building that the collection is housed in is the former sanatorium built by De Beer for the convalescence of English TB sufferers.
The Garden Route - Scenery and view of old railway bridge along the coast road and railway.
Knysna - The boat trip to the heads, scenery, and some of the devastation caused by the recent bushfires.
Big night out at Monet’s - The famous Fancourt Golf Estate at George . Beautiful meal, great wine.

29 September 2017

High gate Ostrich Farm - riding, races etc - Scroll right to left for more photos
Cango Caves - nice!
Part 10 Day 10. - Kimberley Breakfast at 7 - I am again first there. Not because I am hungry, I just like to watch the passing parade while I enjoy a coffee and attempt to catch up on my "blogging " Disembark at 9 for our day tour. Frank is our tour guide for the day and he promises to teach us more about diamonds than we know. He fancies himself as a bit of a "stand up comic" which is fine by us as he regaled us with his various stories. Kimberley is Capital of The Northern Cape and well known for the discovery of diamonds that led to its establishment in 1893. Our first stop is at "Big Hole" Diamond Mine Museum. A theme park of sorts but built on the site of the original De Beers mine. All dug by hand and following to volcanic tube that the diamonds are found in. Work here stopped before the mines became the modern way they do things nowadays. With modern technology they can return and continue mining in they need to.
Continuing - Bloemfontein After Naval Hill the coach takes us to the former State President's residence "Olivenhuis" now housing an extensive collection of South African art. A great tour guide gives a very informative narrative as we view the collection. The gardens also offer a wonderful collection of sculptures from the zany to the traditional. We leave via a different exit after our coach became stuck on entry approach and blocked the road until we all got off and the coach could free itself! I knew I shouldn't have been eating so much! Returning to the train and we head off towards our next destination - Kimberley
Part 9 Day 9. - Bloemfontein Bloemfontein is the seat of the South African judicial system. "At the end of the 19th century it was also the capital of the old Boer Republic of The Orange Free State." We take a drive through town then visit the Women's Memorial at the Anglo Boer War Museum. A reminder of life in the concentration camps and commemorates the 27,000 women and children that died in these camps. The museum itself depicts the hardships endured by all during the war and the history from 1652. Lunch is in the new shopping mall overlooking the waterfront - a lake fed by a spring (the fountain in the the name Bloemfontein). Next door is the newly renovated stadium that was one of the venues for the 2010 World Cup. Obviously a lot of this new infrastructure relates to this event. We drive to the top of Naval Hill for a panoramic view of the city. A statue of Nelson Mandela is one of the focal points and lots of locals seem to enjoy running up the steep hill to the top.

28 September 2017

Shongololo - Cocktail night leaving Port Elizabeth- friends Werner & Erika, lots of banana coladas!
Port Elizabeth - View from lookout and memorial pyramid to Elizabeth and Cathy with the kids.
Port Elizabeth - Beautiful old colonial buildings around the town square.
Continuing - Ladysmith battlefield Winston Churchill (he was a war correspondent and was arrested) Mahatma Gandhi (part of the Indian contingent) and General Lois Botha. (Later to become the first President)" "A story on which the sun never sets. Britain marched into the South African war in the spring of 1899, confident that it would all be over by Christmas! The war lasted three years and was to become the most costly war Britain had ever fought" Just my rambling - Something like 600,000 British against 60,000 Boers and it wasn't until they started their scorched earth tactics, burning the fields and homes, putting the women and children in concentration camps (sickening!) that they gained the upper hand. Rejoin the train and travel via Kronstadt to Bloemfontein for our next adventure! I love to sit out on the observation deck in daylight to watch the passing landscape, you don't get a lot of chances during the day with the activities.
Part 8 Day 8. - Ladysmith Battlefields Having travelled overnight up the escarpment through Pinetown, Hammarsdale, etc.Lots of tunnels as we climb, pity it's so dark.Then on through Pietermaritzburg (Don & Jeannes home town). Continuing on till we get to the town of Ladysmith where the train stops for the rest of the night. Today's excursion takes us on a tour of the battlefields, however, firstly we are taken into town to the siege museum. A very interesting place too, especially for me - I love my museums! This town was under siege by the Boer forces for (I think) 118 days until relief came. We were taken to the top of Wagon Hill, the hill closest to town and the only one occupied by the British forces. You can still see the remains of the old fortifications around the crest of the hill. Wagon Hill is were both the South Africans and the British suffered heavy loses and was subsequently declared a National Monument in 1938 "Walk in the footsteps of three great leaders -
Continuing - Durban Tour continues and we drive along the port side admiring the view of the ships and yachts in the harbour and not so salubrious buildings gradually decaying that must have once been an upmarket neighbourhood. A drive along the famous "Golden Mile" promenade of Durbans beachfront reveals a different picture, new upmarket buildings and very clean with lots of people enjoying themselves, picnicking and promenading along the beachfront. I have heard about Durbans famous beachfront and I am impressed. Returning to our train for drinks and a shower before the train pulls out of the station. Then it's out on to the observation deck at the rear of the train to watch the passing landscape as we head for the hills to the west. Yes! Pity about the ugly blight on the outskirts of town of the squatter camps on The hillside and beside the rail line after leaving the station. But I had been warned!
Continuing - Durban Following our performance we visit the nearby Reptile Park and its display of crocodiles, tortoise, snakes and python. The huge amount of crocodile suggests to me that many end up on plates and worn as belts and handbags. A quick cup of coffee and it's back on the bus for the return journey to Durban. Next stop the famous Victoria Markets. Not so exotic as in their heyday, it is still an interesting experience to wander around the various stalls, although many are closed because of the long weekend. The surrounding streets are a hive of local markets as well but could do with a bit of a clean up. Rubbish everywhere, apparently they don't want to deprive someone of a job by cleaning it up themselves! A visit to uShaka Marine Village for a lunch stop and a lot of people watching. We don't bother entering the theme park itself preferring to find a place to sit and eat and watch the world go by. Very busy because of the weekend so it's not hard. Even has wi-fi
Part 7 Day 7. - Durban Overnight inside Durban station. Nice and quiet, today is Sunday and it is also Heritage Day so tomorrow will also be a public holiday. Heritage Day is when all South Africans regardless of race or colour celebrate their own particular heritage and it seems (to an outsider) to be a good idea. Depart the train and make our way to the waiting bus for our day tour of Durban and district. Durban is the third largest city in South Africa and has a large industry and very large deep water port. We visit the cultural village of PheZulu Safari Village high up the hills overlooking Durban. It's a beautiful drive up through the hills towards Pietesmerezburg (but not that far) and we get to view the rail line that we will be traveling on tonight. Unfortunately for us it will be dark and we will miss sights. The cultural Village and associated performance by the Zulu people is another rousing performance but I feel a bit wearisome for them, having to perform every 2 hou

27 September 2017

Continuing - St Lucia You have probably guessed it already by now! But the threatening storm arrives and we all don our supplied rain gear - ponchos, and the boat turns around to make the return journey. We turn our chairs around so our backs are to the wind and rain. Everyone is in good spirits so it doesn't spoil the day. Arriving back at our jetty the rain magically stops and we make our way to the bus for our trip into town for lunch. St Lucia is a lovely seaside tourist town and we find panga nice seafood place for lunch. A walk around town afterwards before heading off back to our train and the waiting drinks. Another successful day on the Shongololo Express. We depart Empangeni for our overnight trip to Durban - Lovely dinner in the dining car while underway.
Kimberley - McGregor Museum - beautiful old building. Former Sanatorium then Hotel.
Kimberley - Big Hole Diamond Mine - De Beers

26 September 2017

Part 6 Day 6. - St Lucia Wetland Park Overnight we have travelled from Hluhluwe to Empangeni from where we take our coach to iSimangaliso Wetland Park where we are to enjoy a two hour boat cruise on lake St Lucia. We al This park covers over 600,000 acres from St Lucia in the south to the Mozambique border in the north. Declared a world heritage site in 1999 it supports a wide variety of animals, plants and birds. The highest bird count in all Africa, the highest forested dunes and the last remaining stands of sand forest and the biggest peat beds in the Southern Hemisphere. The weather looks threatening as we make our way to the jetty and waiting cruise boat. No one bothers taking the upstairs open area and we all huddle together downstairs. Traveling slowly down the waterway we are greeted by many families of hippos as they cluster together for comfort and protection.
Bloemfontein - The women's memorial at the Anglo Boer War Museum - Commemorates the 27,000 who died in the concentration camps.
Bloemfontein - The new mall built around the lake and some blackboard advertising.
Kimberley Station - Some local ladies cooking Popjie
Continuing - And close this time too. Unlike last viewing. Cameras clicking like crazy, more vehicles turn up and whether it's this or something else he decides to move on. As he stands we notice that it is with a lot of difficulty. His left hind leg is hanging loosely and dragging. Obviously in trouble he struggled up the bank and slumped over at the top where we notice another lion almost obscured in the bushes. Someone asks "What will happen to him?" The guide replying "He will die". But can't we do something? A vet maybe? "No - This is nature and living in the wild, these things happen " So that's our encounter with a lion. Still no leopard but lots of Buffalo, rino, zebra, monkey as we make our way back to the main gate then to the train and welcome back drinks!

25 September 2017

Continuing - Hluhluwe Cameras busily clicking away and move on a few meters and there as promised are the zebra. A large herd of them too, so no need to have worried. Next up, a small herd of elephants, complete with babies and once again right there in front of us. Quickly followed by a group of grazing rinos down by the river. Lunch at the beautiful Hilltop Lodge, overlooking the countryside for miles. A snack and a beer, even wi-fi, so I can download my blog and check emails. I have been told that to view a lot of wildlife you need to come to parks like these and not necessarily Kruger, which is great but huge. We are not back on the road long and it's a succession of animals from giraffe, rinos, baboon, more zebra etc but still no lion! Then a call comes over the radio - lion spotted! And away we go! Only a couple of klms so we are there before too many of the others. I would be lyin if I said I didn't see a lion, lyon on the bank of the river but there he was!
Part 5. - Day 5. - Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park A 5.30 am start today, so just a quick breakfast before we alight and once again climb aboard our "game drive" Safari vehicles for our visit to Hluhluwe Park. It has been promised that we will have a warm (31 deg) day but the morning is a bit cool. Hluhluwe is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa. It consists of 960 sq klm of hilly terrain 280 klm north of Durban in central Zululand. A state run park known for its rich wildlife and conservation. All big five are here and it has the largest population of white rinos in the world. We are barely through the gate (about a 20 min drive away) and we spot the elusive zebra and call out to stop but are told "Don't worry about zebra, you will see plenty of them " We have our doubts as we only saw two "rumps" in the famed Kruger! Another minute and there is a huge herd of Cape Buffalo- the ones that were also impossible to find in Kruger! So far so good.
Continuing - Swaziland In what i imagined to be a relatively poor country the amount of roadworks being carried out duplicating the highways amazed me. When I compare the amount of traffic carried on these roads to Australian roads they are way in front of us. But then again after traveling and viewing South African roads they too are way in front of us. I am constantly comparing. We rejoin the train and soon underway to our destination tonight - Hluhluwe back across the border in South Africa. Another gourmet dinner served on board with a lovely bottle of Shiraz - How good is this?
Shongololo - observation deck
Always a welcoming drink on our return from a hard day of sightseeing!
Ladysmith - Remains of fortifications on Wagon Hill.
Ladysmith - Wagon Hill and monuments to the fallen. Both sides.

24 September 2017

Continuing - Day 4 The Mantegna Cultural Village is our main stop and we arrive early to wander around the village checking out the beautifully built Swazi huts. Then it's into the performance arena for the next hour where we are treated to the most fantastic display of traditional dance and song. I'm not normally into this but this time it really is something special. We then continue through the Ezulwini Valley passing the Ludzidzini Royal residence. Lunch stop is at Mantegna Lodge, a beautiful spot overlooking the country side and the imposing Execution Rock. After lunch we visit theNgwenya Glass complex. This amazing place recycles over 20,000 tons of glass each month. Set up in 1987 it produces tableware, glasses, jugs etc and uses recycled cooking oils to fire the furnaces, as well as purified engine oil. Very interesting place with great products and very inspiring program. Returning to the train at Mpaka I am amazed at the amount of road works being carried out.
Durban - City sights - Ladysmith - The Old Town Hall - took many hits during the siege
Durban - The not quite so lovely side! Camped in the rubbish beside the rail tracks.
Durban waterfront - the famous beach and lots of happy visitors enjoying it.
Durban - People Watching!
Victoria Street Markets - Not so exotic as their hey day.
Cathy and her new friend at Durban Reptile Park
Durban - Zulu Cultural Village - In the hills behind Durban
Part 4 Day 4 - Swaziland Overnight our train has departed Malelane Station and moved on until we arrive in Swaziland at Mpaka This tiny kingdom covers only 17,000 sq klm - the second smallest in Africa. We board our accompanying coach and welcomed by Ronni our driver from previous days. First up is the drive to Manzini and Swazi Candles where we are meant to go to the markets but for some reason (lack of time?) we don't stop. Our info says "a hive of activity displaying a wide variety of skillfully crafted woodcarvings, colourful textiles, and superb basket work for which the Swazis are renowned " - However, we will never know!
Continuing - Kruger Park M I sseOur guide says "Now you can tell everyone that you have seen the big five" Mmmmm! Maybe! But I am hoping for something a bit better than a scull! Anyway, the day is drawing to a close and we agree Kruger is wonderful park and you can't always be sure of seeing all the animals in one day. There will be numerous opportunities in the coming days for more game drives. Returning to our train we are once again welcomed with glasses of bubbles or juice and this time Drambuie? As well - Cheers! Shower and another fine meal in the lovely dining car. Love this life!
Durban - Yes loved this city!
Continuing - Kruger - only Park Lunch is taken at Aesaal Camp, a not quite as grand a camp as Skukuza but it has a very passable bush Restaurant seating delicious, cheap meals. Back on board our vehicles we still have a few hours of wildlife spotting ahead of us before we leave the park and we still haven't seen lions, leopards and buffalo. Three of big five. Yes! There is a lion, on bank on the other side of the river - only about half a kilometre away! I will have to take your word for it. It could be cardboard cutout or inflatable toy! My phone / camera doesn't zoom that close to tell, but I take a shot anyway. A similar story is our sighting of a leopard- There it is, on that big rock. We can see the head but not the body. After a few minutes of waiting the leopard disappears from view to the back of the rock but "are rewarded with a view of its tail! All done except for the Cape Buffalo. We stop to admire a white scull on the side of the road.

23 September 2017

Continuing - Kruger Park Only a few klms into the park and we encounter our first taste of African wildlife in the form of a herd of elephants. They are making their way towards the road so our driver stops and we wait for them to get closer. They cross right beside us, not taking any notice of us at all. But I guess they know our presence. Over a dozen elephants including babies makes form an exciting start to our day. Further exploring and we spy giraffe, hyenas, rinos and the rumps of a couple of zebra through the bush. Morning tea is taken at Skukuza Camp - more like a resort with restaurants, supermarket , service station, luxury accommodation and camping. Even a school to meet the needs of families that work and live here: We do some shopping and buy a coffee before heading off again on our game drive. This time more Impala, monkeys and even a hippo soaking himself in one of the man made watering holes.
Having fun on the St Lucia waterways - lots of hippos though!

22 September 2017

Our local Tavern - We didn't get time to try it - luckily! Drinks in our bar instead.
Our poor limping lion as he makes his painful exit.
More animals
On Safari again! Swaziland this time!
Continuing - Day 3 A very early start! Continental Breakfast at 6am because today is Kruger day. We alight from the train to be given a bag of "goodies " to get us through the day and are met by a small fleet of game drive safari vehicles - Toyota "bakkies " (Hi lux) with extensive modifications that allow for up to nine passengers in the back. We only need to accommodate six so it is a pleasant fit. Our driver is Mosi - (short for an unpronounceable name) and a very knowledgeable guide he happens to be. It is only about a fifteen minute drive to the Kruger Park gate but then about three quarters of an hour to get in. We need passports and the vehicle is checked for firearms. Poaching is a serious problem still and we are told that an average of two rinos are killed everyday- just for their horn. Two million hectares of National Park and home to an impressive number of species - 336 of trees - 49 of fish - 34 amphibious- 114 reptiles - 507 birds - and 147 Mammals including The Five!!
Continuing - Returning back to Nelspruit takes about two hours and we arrive to be greeted by the train staff serving yet more "sparkling refreshments " or orange juice if you prefer. Nice touch! Showered, we make our way to the club lounge for a cold beer before making our way back through the many carriages to the dining cars and another magnificent meal. The train departs for Malelane , our overnight stop.
Continuing - We stop in Nelspruit and alight to join up with our accompanying coach. Today's tour takes us on what is known as the Panorama Tour. Pilgrims Rest is an old gold mining town and has been declared a National Monument - a "living museum " Gold was discovered in 1873 and attracted 1500 prospectors. Today the restored buildings house shops and restaurants etc Australian We particularly like the Royal Hotel and sit out the front enjoying a "Castle" while watching the passing parade. This town is high up in the hills and a very twisty road to get there. We travel through thousands of acres of plantations both softwood and hardwood (Radiata and Australian eucalyptus) After lunch we visit Burkes Luck Potholes - deep cylindrical cavities formed by erosion by floodwaters. A tourist favourite obviously. Then on to "God's Window". One of Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve most spectacular viewpoint. Views over the Lowveld and cliffs over 700 meters, you can see Kruger National Park
Continuing - Showered and refreshed we make our way to dinner. Two beautifully restored carriages make for a very opulent setting and we are treated to a Gourmet three course dinner. As the train always stops for meals this eliminates any possibility of disaster on the table (One would hate to spill ones wine on the linen wouldn't they!). A relatively early night and we are gently rocked to sleep and only awaken when the train stops for our overnight stop in Waterval Boven (Waterfall) or eMgwenya as it is now called! Awake nice and early, shower, and ready for breakfast we make our way to the dining car and are first there by about 15 minutes- oh well! From early first light the train has been making its way down from the escarpment and our first views of rural South Africa are dramatic ones. The engineering to build this rail line and the super highway that also comes down from the top to bottom has me very impressed.. m
Continuing- We visit the Hector Peterson Memorial, named after one of the first students killed in the 1976 uprising against the Apartheid Government. In Soweto there is a street, the only one in world the world, that was home to two Noble Peace Laureates - Desmond TuTu and Nelson Mandela. Back to the train station for yet more "refreshments"! And then we are shown towards our accommodation on the train. Beautiful! This is luxury living! We settle ourselves in, unpacking some clothes and assorted paraphernalia before the train pulls away from the station and we are on our way for fifteen days of travel through South Africa and Swaziland. T
Part 4. - The Shogololo Express Another early start. Breakfast in our room at 6am, then its into our transport to take us to the Rovos train station in Pretoria. Although only 57 Klm away and great freeway it can be a very slow trip because of the huge volume of traffic using it, especially on a Monday morning (which it is!). No trouble encountered so we arrive early for check in at the beautifully restored Rovos railway station. Now privately owned by Rohan Voss the owner of the rail carriages and operator of the rail tours. Welcoming drinks again! Champagne, Orange juice etc. Getting used to this. The others on our tour arrive bit by bit and we are then taken on a coach tour of Pretoria and Soweto once again. But this time we visit different sites and now have a good grasp of everything in the local area. We take in the Union buildings and embassy area, downtown Pretoria, The Voortrekker Monument commemorating the "Great Trek" of the 1830's.

21 September 2017

Swaziland - The glass works and the story behind it.
Swaziland - Execution Hill and happy diners
Swaziland Cultural Village - The performers were really enjoying themselves, so were we!
Swaziland - Cultural village - well done
Made us promise to return and give our report on our journey through Africa. He was particularly interested in our train journey through to Cape Town. Andre phoned our hotel and our resident driver "Lucky" came and found us then drove us home to our "digs" Another great day in SA and we look forward to tomorrow and the start of our 15 day rail journey. Stay tuned.
Continuing - Apparently famous in this city as a seafood restaurant of the highest order. We were not disappointed. As a surprise bonus we were joined by Andre the owner and he regaled us with stories and answered all our questions of life in Johannesburg - nice man! Made us promise to return and give our re

20 September 2017

Continuing in Johannesburg We awake very early and sleep won't come back so it's back into the hot tub for a soak, shower and make our way back to the dining room for breakfast. Surprise Surprise! We are first there. Another gourmet meal to start the day, complete with complimentary Champagne and fresh oysters! I can get used to this. Today is a rest day with nothing planned, so we idle away the morning, me doing my blog before getting a lift into one of the neighbourhood malls for a look at how the South Africans do things. An interesting place - The Rosebank Mall. First stop is the very extensive Art and Craft Market. What a place. And the quality and range of things on offer is staggering. Beautifully carved objects from stone of all sorts and timbers of all sorts plus everything else that can temp you (but not us) We follow up with a refreshing beer then a wander around the shops before settling in at a restaurant we have been recommended to try - Fishmonger - Apparently famous
Back on the train again! Tough life!
Rinos playing in the mud! - On safari Kruger Park
Lunch in Kruger - try the local tucker!
Kruger - More animals!
More Kruger animals - giraffe
Kruger Park - Wildlife spotting on Safari
Kruger Park - On Safari!

19 September 2017

Shongololo Express - Welcome back drinks!
God's Window - Views over Valley to Kruger!
Bourkes pot holes!
Royal Hotel - Pilgrims Rest - great little town!
Continuing - We leave Soweto and head to the Apartheid Museum in Ormond. This huge museum takes a minimum of three hours to view without stopping too much to read the extensive display material. Very confronting and emotional experience. Well worth a visit if you visit Johannesburg. Right next door is the theme park that incorporates an old gold mine that you can go down the shaft to view the digging. We don't have time for this however and return to our hotel for a refreshing drink before getting ready for dinner. We are sitting in the Piano Bar listening to the magical talent of the resident pianist when he comes to our table to introduce himself. Nice man - Nice touch. Dinner at the hotel is another culinary experience to savour and we treated with some traditional delights before calling it a night. A relative early night as we are all falling asleep not yet in sync with our new time zone.

18 September 2017

Shongololo Express - Luxury
Shongololo train - Luxury travel
Rovos Rail - preparing for departure.
Rovos Rail - Check in at the station

17 September 2017

Fishmonger- great Restaurant!
Our tour continues and we make our way to Soweto township. This area was previously a no go area only a few years ago but now becoming more gentrified and am told that house prices here have quadrupled in the last few years. Our first port of call is to drive past Winny Mandelas house, where she still lives on and off while in town. Sporting a large ANC flag on the roof. Next stop is at The Mandela House. The old original home of Nelson and first wife. Now a museum - restored to its former "glory" and a very interesting place to visit - quite busy with tourists but not too bad considering. Lots of stalls selling souvenirs etc outside and even a Mandela Family Restaurant.
Part 3 continued. We have a tour booked for today and our driver , Henry, is waiting at reception for us well before time. Firstly he takes us to the Mandela house, a rather imposing mansion just around the corner from our accommodation. It was home to Mandela while he was in office and afterwards till his death. It is now occupied by two of his grandchildren although there are hopes that it will eventually become a museum. A striking feature of the neighbourhood is the high fences topped by razor or electric wire together with guards on duty outside a lot of the homes. Oh well! I guess this is Johannesburg. Henry takes us on a tour of downtown Jo'burg showing us both the good and the bad, a very interesting city indeed and slowly returning to some some of law and order. People and businesses now returning to the city, well the better parts anyway. I think it might take a little longer for other areas such as Hillbrow which seems to a bit of a "basket case".
Part 3 Dowling African Adventures. The Residence is a beautiful boutique hotel in the "safer " part of Johannesburg. We are welcomed with a refreshing sparkling wine and enjoy the ambiance of our surroundings before being shown to our beautiful room. Quite unbelievable! Huge rooms with a sitting room / office and outdoor deck area incorporating our our personal spa bath with lovely views over the surrounding gardens. Not long before we are soaking away the aches and pains of the trip while indulging in the complimentary African liquor - Amarula A rather peaceful sleep for a while anyway, before the body clock tells you it is time to wake up (not y A six am start, we shower and make our way down for breakfast in the beautiful dining room. Very attentive staff and we are dining on oysters and salmon to start with! I can get used to this! Followed by the special Resonance breakfast - that should keep me going for the day!
Part 2 continues - A direct flight to Johannesburg from Sydney takes fourteen and a half hours. The aircraft used is the Boeing 747 - One of the last routes that they fly. A nice flight ,if a little more noisy than the modern counterpart. Excellent meals and ample liquid refreshment provided! Two rest periods where they switch the lights out (I don't bother trying to sleep) A good selection of movies to watch and we touch down about 6.30pm. A long wait through customs where only a couple of the booths are open to deal with the hundreds of passengers. No such trouble if you are a South African, they have about a dozen manned booths catering for a relatively low percentage of passengers. Virtually straight through. Anyway after another hour and a half we emerge out into the terminal proper, our luggage is still going round the carousel and thankfully all there. Our uniformed driver is waiting and takes us on 30 minute trip in luxury vehicle SUV to our home for the next three days.
I still had a tissue in my pocket, so back through again! Then they had to pat me down because I supposedly had something on my knees (I don't have metal in my knees) Anyway, I finally got through with Cathy telling me to calm down - Then they pulled my backpack apart looking for something, found it! My nasal inhaler! Spare my days! Sitting having a coffee and waiting for Ross and Sharon to turn up on their flight from Wagga. They arrive and presumably we are to fly out at 10.50am, but us being us this becomes 12.15 pm (not too bad i suppose ) Ross and I decide to have a beer to start the day. they only cost $20 a shout so we stop at one and decide to let Qantas supply our needs when we in flight. We board and take our seats - down the back in the two seat configuration that we prefer. Another very windy day insurers we have an "interesting " take off,
Southern Africa Adventure. Part 2. Well we are finally off on our Southern Africa journey. It all comes round if you wait long enough. We set the alarm for but of course sleep doesn't come that easy with the excitement of travel so we are long awake, showered, coffee done by the time Graham arrives to give us a lift to the airport (4.30). Fly out from Brisbane is 6.00 am and we don't really have that much time left after check in. It is a one and a half hour trip to Sydney and all goes well considering that Sydney airport was largely closed to flights yesterday because of the high winds that they were expecting more of today. A very rough landing because of the wind. A shuttle bus takes us to the international terminal where we go through all the necessary pre flight procedures and me being me gets singled out for extra attention (what is it about me that attracts this?) Not just the normal screening but two goes through the full body scanner - I still had a tissue in my

16 September 2017

Apartheid Museum - Johannesburg - Confronting!
Menu board and my choice - tasty!
Nelson's house
Mandela Family Restaurant - Soweto
Downtown Hillbrow. Cleaning up!
Champagne for breakfast! Mandela house - Nelsons lovely mansion

15 September 2017

On our way to South Africa
About to fly out from Sydney to Johannesburg

1 September 2017

Southern Africa travels with the Dowling's. -Part One Well time has come for another journey! This time our destination will be Southern Africa. Mainly South Africa but will also be visiting Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. Travelling by train through South Africa with side trips to most of the important sites. We will be leaving home mid September and flying to Johannesburg. From there we start our journey and return from there to Australia one month later. As you can imagine we are getting very excited. Once again we will be joined by our friends Ross and Sharon our travelling companions on our trip through Spain and Portugal. I hope the weather is kind to us and travelling at this time of should be very pleasant, hope so anyway! Temperate days and cool nights. This is a new blog page and I am trying to get an early start so I can come to grips with it before we fly out, hence this advance entry. Stay tuned for further updates in a couple of weeks. Cheers for now - Garry

15 August 2017