Kelbe Photography

Life In A Blink Of An Eye

The Road North

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There are so many routes to travel from Zululand to Botswana and beyond but one of our favourites is through the Berg at Golden Gate and via Clarens and all the little towns of the Free State. So we turned the car on that cold and rainy day from Vryheid towards the mountains. There was a chill in the air that definitely foretold of snow on the Berg and we toyed with the idea of a meander around the Berg but thought better of it when the weather remained damp. At Winterton we stopped over at a bed and breakfast. It is amazing how prices have risen. It is difficult to find even a mediocre B&B for under R1000.00 and they advertise B&B but charge extra for breakfast. Anyway it was worth it for the electric blanket. There is definitely snow on the berg but in the relentless mist and drizzle it did not look like it was here to stay and neither did we as we slowly climbed Oliviershoek pass towards Golden Gate and Clarens. Still, although stark the scenery is beautiful and there is little to complain about. I always think the thought of the Berg in winter is tempting but the reality cuts through the warm clothing and precipitates a dash to warmer climes.

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Clarens is one of our new favorite towns. They have the most wonderful cafes with home made food and not a franchise in sight. The commitment to art is fundamental and appears to bear little relationship to the relative profitability although I may be being unkind and maybe there are heaps of visitors with artistic yearnings and deep pockets. German and French voices chattering excitedly ring through the streets and crowd the cafes. After the best homemade soup I have ever tasted, Ok I was hungry and cold but it was still very good, we head on our way. Due to unforeseen circumstances and the machinations of our children, we cannot leave the country for a few more days and decide to head towards Gabarone via Pilansberg. The road less travelled is the one which changes on a whim with the wind or a glimpse of something through the trees.

Pilansberg Magic

Pilansberg is a park which I always associate with being not quite wild. The equivalent of a British safari park. I think it is the proximity of Sun City and the fact we only go there when attending conferences, usually on organised game drives well lubricated with wine. Despite this I know it can deliver interesting sighting. I once saw an aardwolf here on a night drive and the worlds foremost expert on headache , Peter Goadsby, almost always alludes to his time there when charged by an elephant, thinking he was about to meet his maker. The land cruiser stalled and could not retreat. I know because I was in the same party! Anyway the story has been used to warm up the crowd at international neurology conferences around the world ad infinitum. Indeed Pilansberg has had a reputation for dangerous elephants because they always rehoused troublesome and orphaned elephants there and if an elephant does not learn some manners at his mothers knee then he remains a delinquent for ever. Shortly after we were charged someone else was charged and killed in Pilansberg as I recall so we got off lightly.

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So it was without a firm sense of the true nature of the park we made our way there for a few days. Pilansberg encourages the soft stay in lodges but 2 of the resorts do cater for camping on the east of the park and we headed for Bakgatla for no better reason than we liked the name. It is a big resort with varied accommodation and a spacious camp site plagued by monkeys whose skills swinging through trees are only exceeded by their skills opening tent zips and rifling through the contents! Advantage to those of us who carry their tents with them wherever they go! No monkey is going to be rolling around on my bed!

Pilansberg is a pretty reserve, lots of rolling hills and fairly open terrain with rocky outcrops and cliffs good for leopards. It is small but feels quite spacious. There are numerous dams throughout the park making the access to water easy for game although the landscape was dry from lack of rain and the water levels , especially in the main dam, was low. The abundance of watering holes means game tends not to congregate and is more dispersed but we had wonderful elephant , rhino and buffalo sightings. Golden hour is glorious but short and finding something to shoot in that brief window is challenging. If the animals are uncooperative there are colourful hot air balloons flying every morning. The central dam is usually an excellent birding site, especially for kingfishers, but the low water meant the hide was too far from the waters edge to get good shots, everything was visible only in miniature raisin form. Dudley never lets me keep my raisins.

One day at the picnic spot 2 elephant came to raid the water tank and posed on the top of a small koppie. The gold standard is to shoot under the elephant from low down to enhance the impression of size and majesty so this was a God given opportunity until he decided to leave abruptly straight through our picnic of bacon and eggs.

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We found cats a lot more challenging spot this time but many were reported to us by fellow travelers. A tendency in this park is to zoom around at speed and cover ground in between supping beer at the cafe it seems. Anyway our luck turned when we spotted an impressive road poke of vehicles and knew we had found lion. After a quick check we peeled off because following the cavalcade was just not an option. One of the downsides of all the social media tools in game reserves now is everyone posts sightings on Facebook or What's app and the cars converge from all corners in a matter of minutes. Very Kruger!

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4 nights in Pilansberg passed quickly and, without even a sight of Sun City, we turned our faces north once more.


Gabarone is an enigma. It feels like you have not left South Africa. The shops, malls, franchises are a little South Africa and yet just 10 km out of town you can stay in a game reserve in the wild. Ok, that's an exaggeration but you know what I mean! Also the street food in Gabarone is quite amazing. At around 11.00 little fords and fiats pull up to the curb and all over the city food stalls spring up selling home made steak and chicken with pap or rice and sauce. I think then that the Botswanans don't need to visit KFC, with their inflated prices, after all. We had pounded beef with rice and chakalaka with pickles for the equivalent of R30.00. About a third of the price of any fast food franchise and far more tasty! So you can ignore the stores and the slick modernity and immerse yourself in more genuine African values. Street food, Soul food.

Did you know that the only cinemas in Botswana are in Gabarone. How amazing is that? I don't know about TV and Internet entertainment but it suggests a whole country of people who manage to develop alternative interests to vegetating in front of a screen. Maybe not but it's a good thought.

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10 km SW of Gabarone is a small game reserve surrounded by a residential estate which hosts conferences and educational visits and has chalets and camping. There is even a restaurant if you are feeling lazy. Better accommodation than your average capital city lodging especially if you are low budget like us. It is called Mokolodi and has become our go to spot when around Gabarone. Camping is a bit basic but the camp sites are all well spaced so you feel alone and they have donkeys for hot water which are a bit hit and miss and greedy for wood. We used our solar shower. The guards amble round in the evening so we fed them soup and coffee in exchange for wood. There are many mountain bike tracks, you can even hire bikes, and you can drive the reserve with warthogs, buck and birds which is a bonus. They say there are rhinos but we did not see any and as people are encouraged to walk it is likely not many. We found Mokolodi through the recommendation of Veronica Roodt again. As mentioned before she is a bush guru and mine of information worth listening to even though her tour guides are over 30 years old. Clearly not much has changed in Botswana. So if you are in the area looking for a place to bed down which won't break the bank.........