Day 6: Thursday July 25th 2019:
After a pretty good, albeit a little chilly night’s sleep I am up at 5.45am. I shower and finish packing before going to the restaurant for coffee and rusk prior to the morning game drive.
I ask at reception, “Were there any problems with our group overnight?” “None at all, sir.” Great news. However, not such good news when one of the staff reports that one of the boys was out of his room at 11pm.
I investigate and it’s true. The story is that he’d had to go to the other room to collect his kettle! That’s now milk, phone charger, sanitary towels and a kettle that it’s been impossible to wait until the morning to collect-I’m not impressed and tell the boy so. We decide he can attend the Game Drive but we will restrict his freedom at the airport later in the day. He is contrite and accepts his punishment.
No time for coffee and rusk and we set off at 7am.
As we leave the restaurant, Chloe Collins reinforces the opinion that Geography at Gowerton has been sadly in decline since Mr Mason took over when she asks “How are we going to see the animals in the dark?”
As we leave the compound dawn is breaking-it’s a beautiful morning with not a cloud in the sky.
The first things we see are a group of Springbok and a Blue crane. These are the national animal and bird of South Africa.
Last evening, several groups had seen a family of cheetahs. The photos they had taken showed how close they’d been able to get. This was number one on our list to see and Hannes set off straight away to try to find them. Ten minutes later we’re in luck. Seated on the horizon about 200 metres away a cheetah is sat scanning the horizon. Initially Hannes thinks it’s a male, but as we approach we can spot the 5 three month old cubs hiding in a small bush about 10 yards away from the adult and realise it’s the female. We pull up about 20 yards away and wait for a while. One by one the cubs leave the shelter of the bush and move over to mum.
When all her cubs were with her, she gets up and starts walking with her brood following closely behind. The adult seemed oblivious to our presence and walked within yards of our jeep. Hannes told us that the cheetah’s role was to manage numbers in the park and remove the need to cull animals. Cheetahs hunt springbok and small antelope and she would normally need to catch 3 or 4 animals a week to feed herself and her cubs.
Hannes told us she was stalking the Springboks that are just over the hill. We may be lucky and be able to see her make a kill. However, thankfully for some, the Springbok were too far away from cover for her to approach without being seen and she may have to wait until tomorrow for breakfast. Nevertheless, it was a magical 10 minutes and something that will stay with those who were there for a long time.
Next we spotted a pair of young Giraffes. They have the biggest heart of all animals and only sleep for between 2 and 4 hours a day. Next up the lions, there was a male and 3 females-all of them were rescued lions that had been bred to be shot on Game reserves. Life expectancy on the Serengeti would be 5-6 years but here on the reserve it’s likely to be 14-18 years old. The male is a really impressive animal weighing 220kgs. However, unlike the giraffe, lions sleep for 18-21 hours a day.
We then saw a herd of Oryx, another species of antelope which is the national animal of Namibia. It can go for up to 60 days without water.
Finally, we stopped at a water hole just as a Hippo surfaced. They are very unpredictable animals and kill more humans than any other animal. They can’t swim but bound along on the river bed.
While we were travelling Hannes tells me that our students had been really well behaved. He recalled that last year, one school had real issues at 2am-the situation was so bad that they sent 4 or 5 students home. Great to hear that we are at the other end of the scale.
We return to the Lodge by 9am. It has been another exhilarating experience and I saw more wildlife on each of these two game drives than I saw in total on the other four I had done in 1997 and 2000.
We go for breakfast and again there is a variety of choice that should suit any pallet. Nevertheless, I go for the old faithful of fruit and yoghurt followed by an omelette with cheese and peppers. It’s been a great start to the day.
After breakfast, I speak with last night’s nocturnal wanderer and tell him he’ll have to spend some time with me in the airport when we get to Johannesburg.
We check out and load the coaches at 10.15am and are on our way by 10.30am. It has been a notable and very informative 24 hours. Our experiences in South Africa have been fantastic, but I’ve no doubt that for many, the last 24 hours will have been the highlight-certainly it had provided much more than I had dared to hope for.
It’s an hour’s drive to George airport and we arrive on time at 11.30am-punctuality is rarely an issue because even in the large cities like Cape Town there are rarely significant amounts of traffic that lead to hold ups.
It’s time to say goodbye to our drivers Nico and Colin-they have done a tremendous job and been able to accommodate us with the minimum of fuss. We thank them both and give them a well deserved gift and tip.
I go to check in for our Kulula airways flight to Johannesburg-Casey Williams’ ankle is still troublesome and we try to get her a wheelchair-none available, so a baggage trolley has to suffice. We check in, pass through security and head for departure where Mr Thomas conducts the Donkey of the Day vote. As usual we are spoilt for choice of who to vote for, with the following all making a strong push to be awarded the shirt.
Gavin Williams had caused some consternation on the evening game drive when his guide had pointed out a copse of trees from Australia.
“What you can see Australia from here?” he enquired-Only if you’ve got good eyesight Gavin, it’s over 6,000 miles away!! I’m afraid I must shoulder some of the blame here as I taught Gavin geography in year 7.
Similarly struggling with her geography was Miss Morgans who had asked, “What country is Johannesburg in?” She then compounded things when she said, “Well there were so many cities being banished about that I got confused.” I’m glad to say that Bishopston carries the can for Miss Morgans’ geographical and literacy development.
Mr Lewis couldn’t believe Miss Morgans’ geographical shortcomings and when his son Ben joined us he confidently asked him, “What country is Johannesburg in?” “I’ve no idea.” said Ben. Well that’s a Gwyr education for you!
Mr Cullen was nominated for being ‘frightened to death’ by the lesser spotted Cape Twig.
Alex Hughes’ assertion that a T-Rex was one of Africa’s big 5 also earned him a nomination.
With over 50% of the votes Alex was a clear winner and donned the shirt with pride.
We board our plane at 1.05pm and are in the air on time at 1.35pm. Kulula airways is clearly South Africa’s version of Easy Jet, not only don’t they have any wheelchairs but there is very little space between the seats. When the drinks and snacks trolley comes around-you have to pay for them! Needless to say there were few takers within our group.
We land on time at 3.10pm, collect our baggage and make our way to Terminal 1 for our Qantas airways flight to Sydney. Here’s where our problems really begin.
We find check in and start to pass the group through. When we try to load our 6 kit bags, there is no provision for them and we are told we will have to pay for excess baggage. That problem is easily solved. Qantas has a 30kg weight allowance-all of our students have resourcefully managed to get their cases down to the 20kg limit required for internal flights-mind you there are some bulging and pretty heavy looking hand luggage bags being carried. Therefore, if we take each kit bag through with two students they won’t exceed the 30kg limit.
Molly Madden comes to see me, she’s a little upset-I’m not surprised. On the Kulula flight her case had been opened and her money had been stolen. I tell her not to worry, we’ll make sure she has the money she needs for the rest of the tour from the Central Tour Fund. We should be able to reclaim it from our insurance. Molly wasn’t the only one whose case appeared to have been tampered with-the lock on Mr Cullen’s case had been broken as well.
We report the issue with both Molly and Mr Cullen’s case to security. They are able to fix Mr Cullen’s but tell us we need to report the theft from Molly’s case when we land in Australia.
Then the biggest issue-Fern Evans’ name is not included on the group ticket. 83 seats have been booked but only 82 names are on the ticket. This is potentially a major issue as airlines are very particular that the passenger manifest matches the passports of those travelling. Miss Preuss and I wait with Fern while things are resolved. After phone calls to our travel company back home and much negotiation with the airline-Miss Preuss clearly has potential for a future with the diplomatic corps, Fern is allowed to travel and passes through check in just before it closes at 6pm.
It has been a very testing two and a half hours, but Fern has handled the stress incredibly well. As we walk towards security Miss Preuss tells me “I’m going to have a glass of wine on the plane to settle me down.” “Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll be having a double whisky!!!!”
On the positive side, the issue with Raffi Richards’ passport and the flight manifest have been sorted by the travel company and he is able to proceed as normal.
That’s not the end of the stress though, after passing through security we have to have our passports checked again-with only 4 desks open it takes us another 20 minutes to get through. With none of the three of us having eaten since breakfast and tired from the journey our patience is getting tested!!
When we eventually meet up with the rest of the group in Departures we are told that Qantas have called an additional security check which means we all have to queue to have our hand luggage checked for a second time. As that’s finished there is just enough time to upload day 5 of the diary to the website before the departure gate is opened and we board. Fern, Miss Preuss and I will certainly be looking forward to dinner on the plane-let’s hope it’s worth it.
We take our seats and await take off but our scheduled 7.10pm flight takes off an hour late-I’m not surprised with all those additional checks. The pilot informs us that we should be able to make up for lost time in the air. Tired and a little fretful we look forward to Australia-Sydney first before we transfer to Brisbane. We will be moving our clocks forward 9 hours so day 7s diary entry shouldn’t take too long to write-time will tell.
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