Arriving into Johannesburg feels unexpectantly like a home coming. The city is instantly familiar. I had forgotten how beautiful the light is here in the early evening. Diffused as it is through the haze of veldt fires, the air has a golden glow. The sun is setting when we finally get out of the airport, and head our hire car in the direction of Sandton. I point out suddenly remembered flashes of the past as we hurtle along Gauteng’s amazing highway system (still the best in the world). Coming back to South Africa has stirred within me roots I thought long buried.
The beauty of South Africa’s vast and varied landscape is quite spectacular. Even the high-veldt, which is dry and, in many places, charred, has it’s own charm. A mustard yellow environment, dry and crackling in the winter air, speckled with mines and empty fields lying fallow for winter. Power stations and the tall cylinders of granaries break the straight, flat line of the horizon, miles in the distance. And everywhere, the sky, a washed out blue, dominates the eye.
Around Dullstroom we move towards the edge of the escarpment. This is South Africa’s little Scotland, all highland heather the colour of weak coffee. Round headed koppies rise out of the rolling landscape and in the dips and valleys dams of water team with trout.
The beauty of Mpumalanga’s mountain ranges is jaw-achingly breathtaking. We make our way towards Burkes-Luck-Potholes, through lumber country where the mountains are dressed with pine and purple heather and waterfalls galore. Hiking would normally be the order of the day in this part of the world, but with the rain and mist we keep on going. Passing through yet another landscape, the clouds lift and we get to see the magical vistas on either side of our high road. Sweeping scenery in shades of brown and khaki fall away on either side as we head towards yet another range of mountains silhouetted in the distance.
We visit Burkes-Luck Pot-Holes, where Australia’s OH&S lawmakers would be falling over themselves in dismay, and clamber over the rocks to peer down into the ravines and holes made by a million years of flowing water and churning rocks. The kids are fascinated by the geology and love bounding over the rocks (away from the edge!) and trying to collect tadpoles further upstream.
And after that, the scenery changes yet again, as we move over Blyde River Canyon, suddenly we are in safari country. Bush country, with its dry khaki grass and grey trees, and beige sand. And it feels good to be in the bush once more.
Ingwelala is a very special place, located next door to the Kruger and unfenced and open to all the animals. We sit around the fire, watching the steak and boerewors cook, and are visited by a rangy hyena, all sloped shoulders and cowardly demeanor. He skirts the camp furtively, tail between his legs, looking for an opportunity to nick the meat from the braai. In the morning a family of warthogs visit. They kneel down to eat, as though they are praying. They are also skittish, reacting to any sound with a quick lift of their heads, their bushy whiskers startling against the light. They run off, in a line, tails in the air. Later, the kids play at the playground, the warthogs and Nyala in the background.
It is all sitting around, eating and drinking and driving around in the search for animals. It is a bit like trying to locate a needle in a haystack. After all, there are 17000 hectares for them to hide in. Still, we have managed to see giraffe, sable, zebra, impala, steenbok, Kudu and this morning a special male elephant. Not bad for day two, hey?