South Africa - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 4

Kosmos in Hartbeespoort (near Pretoria)

Sunday 16th March

Today was another fantastic day in paradise, yet again. I find it hard to believe Helen when she tells me that we will continue to enjoy ourselves even more over the coming weeks. Once again, we awoke to a cloudless sky and 25oC temperature with a light breeze. The mercury ultimately rose another ten degrees by midday.

This morning, the four of us took a trip to the top of the mountain on the chair lift. As expected, the views atop were outstanding and we could see as far as the naked eye could focus. As it turned out, a whole group of paragliders was out in force, launching themselves off the sheer edge of the mountain and into flight. One after the other, they lifted their ramjet chutes into the air and ran to the edge of the cliff - a leap of faith it seemed. At one point, there must have been twenty or more of them in the air, gliding effortlessly above our heads and over the valley. Interestingly, however, we never saw anyone land and even now have no idea how they got back to the ground again.

In the early afternoon, Wim and Helen dropped us off at a nearby Cheetah conservation park. We spent about three hours there altogether and leaned more about Cheetahs than I ever thought was possible. They have been successfully breading cheetahs now for many years at this facility and have numerous cubs and breading pairs. After our initial orientation briefing where we learned about the history of how the centre came to be, we visited some enclosures containing Honey Badgers (including an Albino) and then Wild Dogs. I never knew that Wild Dogs could be so interesting. They have a fascinating social hierarchy and their behaviour patterns, once explained, were also very revealing. We then climbed aboard a couple of 20-person game viewing trucks and went on to see some Vultures and some Hyenas and, finally, some Cheetahs. Up to this point, however, all the animals were in enclosures and the whole thing was starting to look very much like a zoo. I’m not a great fan of zoos in general and much prefer to see animals in their natural habitat. But then some gates ahead of us were opened and we went through to another area of the facility. As we slowly drove around the meandering pathways cut through the trees and brush, we saw an assortment of birds and game including Kudu, Ostriches, Springbok and plenty of other animals to keep our cameras active. Every 5 minutes or so, both trucks would stop and one of the guides would get out and deliver a lecture about various aspects of the animals lives and behaviours whilst a couple of park hands would feed the animals. Finally, we went through some more gates and into yet another area of the park. One of the two park hands, who had been distributing food to the animals as we progressed through the park, started to yelp repeatedly as if calling for something. Both trucks stopped and a few minutes later, a Cheetah came out of the brush and headed in our direction. Everyone gaped as the majestic predator came right up to the truck in anticipation of his afternoon meal. Since we were in the enclosure with the animals, this must have nee the closest we could possibly get to a cheetah without being on its lunch menu. Shortly after that, another two Cheetahs arrived and several very large chunks of meat were thrown towards them. They each grabbed a slab of meat and dragged it into the shade of a nearby tree and started to devour it – all right under our noses. The whole scene was nothing less than spectacular and I felt a real privilege to have seen it. The guides continued to explain more about the Cheetahs, their habitats, feeding habits and so on but I could barely concentrate on anything they were saying as I was captivated by what I was looking at. The trucks headed back to base shortly thereafter and we concluded our day out having once again seen more wild animals than we had expected.

This evening, we came to the realisation that we had not, in fact, paid for our game-viewing excursion from yesterday at the Cradle. We never intended not to pay but it was just that the opportunity never arose and we were never presented with the bill. We were genuinely taken by surprise when we realised this. Oh well.

I looked through the Lonely Planet guidebook a little further last night looking for some inspiration on how we are going to traverse the distances from South Africa into Namibia and onwards into Botswana. It seems that there are a couple of decent looking options that I will explore. There is a train that runs between Cape Town and Windhoek and a luxury bus service that travels the same route as well as between Windhoek and Gaborone. Bother are very much cheaper than travelling by air. We will probably decide what to do when we get to Cape Town in a couple of weeks.

This evening, Bertie & Mags came down to join us all for a late supper. They are the previous owners of this guest-house that we visited the other day. It turns out that they will be visiting Victoria Falls right around the time that we are anticipating being there and we may very well get the chance to see them again when we get there.