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Diary of an Awesome South African Adventure

Fifteen year old Tori Herbert explores the excitement and wonders of South Africa’s famous garden route from Port Elizabeth all the way to Cape Town

tree tops hero
Tori and her mother on the in the Tree Tops

Day 1 - Traveling to South Africa

After a 14-hour flight from Sydney straight to Johannesburg, I was pretty tired. As the pilot announced our descent I took a glance out of the window. The landscape presented a never- ending puzzle of contrasting yellow and green fields were overwhelming. The South African journey of discovery, mystery and adventure had finally started.

Shamwari Game Reserve

After our final flight to Port Elizabeth we were greeted by a driver who would be taking us to our accommodation for the next two nights – Shamwari Game Reserve. Our driver’s name was Joseph and he gave us our first taste of the amazing warmth and humour of South-African hospitality. After a tedious and tiring flight I finally relented to sleep while in the car. Before long Joseph announced that we had finally arrived. We were then greeted by two staff Members of Shamwari Game Reserve, smiles and a warm greeting – exactly what was needed. We were shown to our room and then had our first South African meal. I have to admit, I was surprised and impressed with the Cape Malay vegetarian curry. For desert we chose an assorted cheese plate and a remind-me-of-home brownie. Finally, we took refuge to our room and collapsed.

Day 2 - Our first South African safari experience

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Mother and daughter on a fun safari tour in South Africa

Woken up at 5am in the morning I was ready and hungry to discover my first taste of South Africa on a safari. Despite the obvious lack of sleep I was ecstatic and excited to begin the adventure. As the cliché safari ignited its personal roar to life, I stared out ahead of the car and again was met with the familiar feeling of being overwhelmed. The endless pattern of green shrubbery and bush was juxtaposed to the harsh red roads that swerved and intertwined with the mystic African landscape. I slowly began to fall in love with South Africa.
Our Guide is an educated, helpful and extremely friendly, Pascal. Every question asked is answered without a second thought. The endless appears decorated with animals scattered haphazardly. With the warm morning sun peering over the mountains, its light falls upon our first found animal – the Giraffe. We listen to how Giraffes only sleep 30 hours in an average lifetime, having the talent of switching off half of a brain while munching on the leaves, allowing some sort of sleep. Astounding, new and amazing. As we travel on we discover water buffalo, zebras, warthogs, orex, springbuck, bushbuck and even a hippo roaming freely across our path. The animals, of which I would view with disbelief on Animal planet, are now right in front of my eyes. Disbelief, amazement, adventure.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre – Born Free – Soth Africa

After a big breakfast buffet with a delicious range of selections we are taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. As we ride on the safari car, once again, I am constantly surprised at discovering another animal crossing our path. Once we reach the centre its time to feed the Caracals. These are 2 gorgeous kittens with alarming red fur and striking blue eyes. Fierce and successful hunters they are being hand raised having lost their mother. We then feed a baby Zebra called Zoe. Zoe is a 9 month old orphaned Burchell’s Zebra who would stop at nothing for a simple scratch.

This centre is where all of the animals are given veterinary care for the wide range of animals found on Shamwari reserve. The facilities are extraordinary because they have to cope with any illness or injury in wildlife from the most delicate bird to the enormous and not to mention dangerous rhinos, hippos and elephants. We then travel to “Born Free”, a conservation centre for big cats (lions, leopards and cheetahs) who have been rescued from poor treatment and neglect. Despite their problems these animals always have a majestic nature that surrounds them. We listen to Glen, the Animal Care Manager of the facility and carer of the cats that live there. He is a crazy character who makes us all laugh. He explains how each resident ended up in “Born Free”. The centre provides long term humane care for big cats that cannot be returned to the wild. It is sad listening to the stories of being kept in 3 by 2 cages and animals that have not grown their correct size due to poor nutrition and cramped conditions. However the commitment and care for these large cats are evident. There is a lot we can do to prevent this happening to other animals.

Day 3 - A new day, a new safari adventure!

on safari
Mother and daughter on a safari in South Africa

Straight from Born Free we begin our next adventure, the next safari. As the light begins its descent behind the large mountains ahead, the animals begin to make their long awaited appearances. We view enormous white rhinos grazing with their domineering horn leading the way. We observe a rare sight of two leopards resting. We watch holding our breath; colossal African Elephants within reach chomping carelessly on the thorn-covered trees that surround our car. The atmosphere of adventure is so real. We drive back with the diverse calls of the animals surrounding us, the need and desire of adventure grows, and Africa definitely is the place to provide it.

Staying at Gorah Elephant Camp in Addo Elephant National Park

After our last morning drive with Pascale – our guide – we reluctantly said farewell to Shamwari Game Reserve with no idea what was ahead us we set off for our next destination. We were headed to Addo Elephant Park to stay at Gorah Elephant Camp. I had little to no knowledge of where we were going to stay that night and as we arrived I can confidently say I was more than impressed. It was breathtaking. Luxurious tents were perfectly positioned one after the other joined with a wooden platform that snaked its way around each tent. Each tent facing the mountainous land. A waterhole was placed less than 200m away from the tents allowing perfect vision of warthogs, water buffaloes and zebras thirstily sipping the water to quench their long awaited thirst.

As we walked down to the main manor for a welcome homemade iced tea, we are quickly alerted to the fact that five lions had sprawled themselves at a distance of 500m away! This giving each visitor the perfect opportunity to view these regal creatures. In awe, mum and I watched and waited captivated by these amazing animals squealing with delight at every simple yawn and stretch. It does sound ridiculous for such little activity, but the whole scene was remarkable. We later understood our amazing luck learning that there were only 12 lions over the entire reserve. After our childish initial excitement we were then taken on another game drive.

No matter how many safaris you have been on, there will always be something new that will surprise you

male black rhinos thrashing head to head
Male black rhinos thrashing head to head

The incredible thing about these Safaris is that even if you are in the same place and go on numerous game drives each one is more unforgettable and breath taking than the last. It’s an exhilarating concept never knowing what could be around the corner. We surveyed the land that stretched to the horizon and I was dumbfounded by the destruction of trees that were left broken and destroyed on the ground floor. We were told much this was the result of the elephants using the trees for scratching purposes with young males knocking the trees out of testosterone fueled frustration. Elephant evidence was everywhere. We discovered zebras, Kudus, Hartebeests. But the astounding sight of two endangered male, black rhinos thrashing head to head was the highlight of the whole expedition. We all sat there taking in the reality of what we just saw, praising our good luck. Our guide, Gareth, assured us repeatedly he’d only seen that sort of sighting two times in three years.

mother baby elephants
Baby elephant following its mother at Gorah Elephant Camp

As we started our retreat back to Gorah Elephant camp the sun (sadly) began its descent behind the mountains. The darkness intensified shadowing across the charming views, taking them away and making us anticipate tomorrow even further. The illuminated manor lit the way back to civilization. We arrived to canapés and drinks in front of a fire. Another special concept of Gorah elephant camp is there is no electricity. Light is created by candles, the fire and gas lamps. The only exception is two lamps in our rooms (or tents would be more appropriate), which are charged by solar power. The whole thing made the experience more special. Dinner was a three course meal which was complex and out of the ordinary to my usual diet. Having ostrich fillet for the main, which is something I had never tasted before. After dinner a staff member escorted us back to our tents. We were puzzled and confused as to why we would need an escort. After finally voicing our enquiry we were told they were there to protect us from the wild African animals that may or may not be lurking in the dark. Mum and I giggled to ourselves but were later surprised and delighted when woken up by the roar of lions which seemed to be unnervingly close to our tent. Africa’s amazement continues to charm our senses. How can tomorrow be better than this?

Day 4 - Discovering Tsitsikamma (a pleasant unscheduled surprise)

A familiar feeling of confusion woke us up at 5am, jetlag. Or was it the roaring of lions? I can’t decide. Whatever the reason, we lay in bed listening to the courageous roars echo from one mountain to the other until we finally decided (or worked up the courage) to sit on the deck and watch the sunrise. As we sat waiting snuggled under a blanket, birds called to one another from unseen places making their mark on the African landscape. They screeched and echoed across the mountains. Finally the long awaited sun started to creep across our surroundings, lighting and highlighting the different sectors of the land. Pink mixed with blue created a personal paint pallet, which sheltered the sky. Before long an unwanted army of clouds interrupted our perfect moment of paradise. Not soon after, Gareth arrived with a freshly squeezed juice, tea and coffee on our deck. We reluctantly dragged ourselves away from the view and got dressed. Breakfast was overwhelming with so much amazing food. A groaning table was decorated with an extensive range of fruits, meats, juices and cheese; a muesli parfait even graced the table. When I thought there possibly couldn’t be any more, I was wrong. Also offered were an irresistible variety of hot breakfasts.
It was time for our last game drive. This safari we had very close encounters with most of the animals we saw. Zebras graced us with their presence along with water buffaloes and two elephants. All within 5 metres of the vehicle. Five meerkats were seen racing the car only to dive into a sanctuary underground. Heads reluctantly peered out from safety of the unknown.

As we travelled back to the manor a warm air confronted us. The breeze carried a mixture of precise smells, prominent was elephant dung and others that I couldn’t decipher. When we arrived back we are alerted to the animals that had overcome their fear to quench their thirst at the waterhole. Warthogs, water buffalo and zebras. It takes a tedious amount of time for the dazzle of zebras to finally take a long-awaited drink at the waterhole. In contrast the warthogs confidently strut, though drinking as quickly as possible to minimize their time spent at risk. The scent of lion surrounding the area is still new and fresh. The buffalo in all authority had no trouble. We heard that a large elephant had taken a sip from the communal waterhole. Before long it was time to depart to continue on our South African journey.

waterfall
Tori and her mother at Tsitsikamma waterfall

The clouds slowly began to creep upon us and form a solitary blanket over our heads as we picked up our hire car at Port Elizabeth. Organization does not come easily to my Mum and me, so the simple task of working our navigator was a difficult problem. We ended up driving in the complete opposite direction of where we were actually supposed to go. After 1.5 hours of driving and our confidence erased, we decided to admit to each other that we had no idea where we were. After an argument we decided to call our next stay in Tsitsikamma and tell them our current situation. Turns out that we had indeed programmed the wrong destination and we should be 2 hours in the opposite direction. Frustration was apparent but we soldiered on. The drive ended up being remarkable. Mum and I were completely overwhelmed at how many hitchhikers there were. Signs were plastered one after the other stating that hitchhiking was prohibited on certain sections of the road. When we passed a section of road with desperate people holding signs of their desired destination, Mum and I looked at each other with disbelief. We didn’t offer anyone a ride though. Ivan Milat had done his work on our Australian psyche.

As we travelled we could only get one radio station. The station was littered with old-school disco and Broadway tunes, which we happily sang along with the occasional pop song making its way into our car. Of course I cheered when this happened and Mum didn’t care otherwise.

We passed villages, roadside stalls and even surprisingly McDonalds. But the main view we passed we’re the Tsitsikamma mountain range. The massive mountains were decorated with scattered white rocks. Each mountain was messily positioned one after the other. The mountains long, estranged fingers stretched out across the skyline stealing the spotlight for miles and miles.

Exploring Tsitsikamma

Before we new it we had arrived Tsitsikamma, At The Woods Guest House. There was a lovely community feel to the little village, which was positioned at the base of the colossal mountains. After unpacking, due to the exercise deprivation and energy build up, we decided to take a walk around the village. Walking down the main street, little buildings lined up smack against each other mimicking a little southern American town. Fairy lights were strung and looped between the trees in an orderly fashion. As we continued through the little town we finally found our destination a quaint restaurant.

The restaurant was decorated with trophies of hunting expeditions. I had a quick glimpse around the room only to see various animal horns staring back at me from the walls. I continued examining the room only to be taken aback by the zebra head situated above my head. I persisted then to be completely shocked by a stuffed leopard placed on a stand overlooking our meal.

After dinner we amble slowly back to our comfortable beds. Collapsing again for a solid nights sleep.

Day 5 - Ultimate great white shark cage diving (frightening) experience

We woke up anticipating today and trying tremendously hard to bottle our excitement (tinged with a hint of fear). Because today… we were going shark diving, but not just any shark, more the mother/king of them all – The Great White.

Tori shopping
Tori shopping in Stanford, South Africa

Counting down the hours until 2:00 when our boat was to depart we were filled with eagerness, enthusiasm and a trace of fright anticipating what was awaiting our fare. To pass the time, spontaneously, we decided to venture out of De Kelders and to Stanford, a small town with an apparent love for antiques and quirky coffee shops. Extremely fascinated due to my secret love for places like these we found ourselves daringly entering nearly every shop that crossed our path. We discovered unique jewellery, vintage goods and antique, a diverse array of galleries and even a few markets. With our love for shopping surfacing we were in a dumbfounded state browsing and buying through the town. We revealed an idiosyncratic shop called “Gypsies” which had a random collection of African and non-African items. We found a lot of different things that you wouldn’t expect to find many places in the world. It had such a crazy collection that I was selling baby bunny rabbits and chickens for R20 ($2.80??). Mum bought a beaded gecko and African styled glasses cord. The owner gave me an Egyptian inspired necklace to remind me of Gypsies, gratefully we left happily.  After visiting countless antique and vintage stores soon enough it was time for what were waiting for… great white shark cage diving.

It’s time to dive with Great White Sharks in the cold ocean waters of South Africa

Once again our wonderful morning was eclipsed by the incredible afternoon activities. 350kg protective cage, a 10mm thick wetsuit accompanied with booties, connected head pieces and swimming masks revealing our bare hand and lower face and we were ready to go. As we reached ‘The Hot Spot’ with 5,000 great white sharks the high seas roared as the boat was jolted left to right. Faces of horror as the motion sickness started to set in surrounded me. Oblivious to the curse of motion sickness I looked on searching for our aim of the day.

Mum and I got into the freezing water, with six other people, petrified of the great whites thrashing and circling us meters of more inches away from our so called safety cage. But boy it was worth it. The adrenaline, once again, thumped and pumped its way through my body blocking out the freezing cold water, which stung and shocked my body. I mean it’s the Atlantic Ocean after all. The men threw in stinky fish (huge old tuna heads) attached on thick ropes to attract the sharks closer for our benefit. As the ropes were slapped and strewn across the choppy seas I watched on with pure fascination and amazement as the sharks dared to come closer each time

Sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals of all times. Stereotyped and branded as a “killing and eating machine” when viewing these angelic and powerful animals you tend to start thinking differently. Of course their whole structure is manufactured to be one (if not the best) of the best hunters of the ocean. But when your meters away from these creatures you view their powerful movements through the water in an almost envious way at how fearless they are. Surprisingly they looked almost peaceful. As I watched on all feelings of fear and the immense cold disappeared. It was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever accomplished.

Finally the line was crossed. The deceased fish heads were dragged closer, as did the shark. Retreating in the confined cage the shark dared to come closer too. Soon enough the sharks nose was edging in the cage, teeth bared, and centimeters away from the man’s face next to me. In my shock and horror my screams were barely audible among the bubbles that shrouded my face. Reaching the surface all of us were screaming with a mixture of exhilaration, thrill, terror and excitement. It was certainly a way to get your adrenaline going.

African penguins, seals, whales and dolphins: South Africa offers a spectacular marine wildlife

As we retreated back to land, despite the motion sickness that returned to many of my fellow divers, the atmosphere buzzed with excitement. As we returned we visited Dyer Island which held the African penguins. We then went to another island, which held all of the Seals. We watched the seals playfully interact with each other, the island held over 60,000 seals. We laughed at the impossible numbers but as we looked on further the statistics became more realistic. Every possible area was covered with the shiny skin bathing in the sun and pouring out into the water were more diving happily and looking at us with the same interest that we had with them. One thing I must counteract was the smell, which travelled to our boats. I have to admit that it was incredibly putrid. When we reached base camp and got warm again we watched the movie, which was being filmed the whole time while we were on our expedition. Laughing and excited we watched on reliving the moment.

After we went home to get ready for dinner at Thyme at Rosemary’s, but not before a detour to maybe catch a glimpse of a whale. As we arrived the sun had began its descent beneath the never-ending horizon. We watched on to the amazing pink that threw itself among the sky. Addicted we looked on searching for whales, spotting three in the first 5 minutes. I personally watched one particularly large whale and followed its movements. I then spotted a pod of dolphins which, apparently, are very difficult to spot. With pure happiness we rejoiced with our untainted luck as we had seen the self-proclaimed big five of the sea. Great whites, whales, Cape fur seal, African seals and dolphins.

Dinner was just as amazing. The setting was perfect. Set in a tea garden like atmosphere. I had the utmost respect for whoever designed the interior. Every decoration or spare area was complimented with a quirky design or item to brighten the atmosphere. As we dined in the back eating our local South African cuisine, fairy lights were snaked throughout the vines that circled the courtyard. That and the low-lit gas lights were the only source of light highlighting the mood even further. The food was absolutely amazing and I was glad that I tried something entirely different. We left content and once again buckled into the comfort of the warm beds provided by the roundhouse bed + breakfast.

Day 6 - An adrenalin-fuelled day in South Africa

I normally would start by saying how great breakfast was and how I was looking forward to the day but I only really have two tales today. Don’t get me wrong, the breakfast was (again) amazing and I was looking forward to the day ahead but the day was all about cheetahs and canopy tours. Oh yeah… and I couldn’t forget watching the worlds highest bungee jumping of course. The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour was the first activity on our agenda. As they started to brief us on the safety requirements my heart started to pound as the adrenaline started to rush in. We even had our own private paparazzi that accompanied us to capture all our actions of courage on DVD. Suspended and flying in the air over the animated and breathing forest seemed easy. But as I looked out over the extensive gap from one platform to another I had a reality check. The treetops swayed in a harmonious symphony to the wind. Tranquility filled the atmosphere. I again caught a longer glimpse of the distance between my feet and the forest floor. I can tell you confidently that is was a long, long, long way down.

The daring participants leapt out into the nothing before me shrieking with laughter, exhilaration and anxious calls of the thrill. I had no idea what awaited me. As the lovely instructor Donae locked me securely onto the 10mm thick wire the adrenaline began to pump through my body again. After a moment’s hesitation and keeping a light-hearted exterior I took the leap of faith into the air. Exhilaration, thrill and elation. As I soared through the forest canopy an even more intense feeling of freedom drove through my body. It was an incredible experience. Soon after our confidence increased as we leaped into the air instead of waiting for an encouraging push from Donae. Mum was after me. I could read by her face how petrified she was due of her immense fear of heights. She reluctantly stepped onto the platform and screeched as her fears were being conquered. As she reached safety and security she half heartedly stated, “I didn’t open my eyes”. Later on her fear subsided slightly with her improvement of not even needing to get pushed and opening her eyes. However the screech of exhilaration and fear slightly altered, turning into a squeal. As we soared, leapt and flew, widening our comfort zone was incredibly satisfying. We left with our heads held high and a sense of invincibility. We even bought the movie that showed us in the action. The whole experience was mind-blowing.

Next, a quick stop at Bloukrans Bridge, the connector between the Eastern and Western cape. We wanted to see the biggest bungy in the world. A feat beyond our bravery. We watched people throw themselves into plain air into the gorge below which was surrounded by jagged rocks ejecting themselves from the confined area. We watched mesmerized and feeling some what sick as thrill-seekers much whooped as they fell into the gorge below putting their lives in the hands of a piece of elastic. The idea of throwing myself (safely of course) off a bridge for adrenaline purposes flirted briefly. My sanity reacted differently in the end winning the persuasion war in my mind and therefore not doing the extreme deed. I left with a hint of regret…

Visiting the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation & Awareness Centre

Walking into Tenikwa wildcat Care and Rehabilitation Centre furry, wary faces eyed my every movement from behind fenced confined spaces, peeking with fascination and curiosity. It all seems a bit of a blur now. We worked our way from Africa’s smaller cats (cervals and caracals) to the larger (leopards and cheetahs). None of the felines could be returned to the wild because they were born in captivity. However they also have a wild animal rehabilitation centre. We didn’t get to see any of these animals because human contact is minimized for easier reintroduction into the wild. The regal cats that grew and flourished behind the wired fences captivated us. However the deepest passion of the owner and the supreme ruling cats at Tenikwa were the majestic cheetahs. Their regal nature projected with their broad shoulders and golden eyed and with amazing patterns that covered their bodies. I new I would enjoy the experience of walking these amazing creatures but I didn’t realize how much you could become attached to such a wild animal. As I looked up, the guides, Jacob and Brian, harnessed (yes, like large dog harnesses) the two cheetah brothers with affection, passion and clear attachment. After being briefed on the basics and necessities while walking these cheetahs it was time to do the deed. Their names were Zulu and Tuma meaning lightning and rain.  The cheetahs relaxed and purred allowing us to stroke their backs and walk side to side.

Tori walking a cheetah 1
Tori walking a cheetah at Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation & Awareness Centre

Cheetahs are cats and unlike dogs they lead the way. Entranced we mimicked and followed them cautiously aware they are wild animals. If they ran, we ran (with a lot of effort to keep up) if they slowed, we slowed, it was a game of “monkey see, monkey do”. As we walked these incredible animals, any threat or even movements set off their cautious nature. They cheetah’s different reactions fascinated us and to see them so close was extraordinary. Afterwards Mum and I could barely believe the fact that we had just walked Cheetahs. The experience left me with a deep love for the furry felines.

As we drove back the sun began to set, yet again, deep behind the mountains. As the full, beaming circle started to sink it cast its remaining rays across the landscape. As I soaked up the remains I stared across the land and was again greeted by the overwhelming beauty of South Africa.

Last Day - Visiting Capetown

Unfortunately, today is our last day. An early departure called for an early morning departure. Wearily rising to yet again load us in the car the sad reality that I was going home the next day overcame me. While being here in South Africa so many amazing, unforgettable and unique experiences have been presented right in front of me. Stupidly it has taken me this long to finally discover what an amazing opportunity I have been presented with, these thoughts persistently dispersed through my head as we drove to Capetown.

Historic and colourful Bo Kaap Houses in Cape Town South Africa
Historic and colourful Bo Kaap Houses in Cape Town South Africa

Driving through numerous towns and villages gave me further insights into the unseen South Africa, seeing the spectacular red mountains that towered over, in contrast to the mountains, minimal towns. Watching the scenery was crazy, everything is so different to my comforting country of Australia.  After a two-hour drive to Capetown (I admit we were a bit late) we arrived in Capetown. We swiftly dropped off our luggage at our last stay for the trip “The Royal Love Nest”, according the sources it is where Prince Harry and Chelsea Davies spent their secret love trysts. Mum couldn’t get enough of advising everyone on this simple fact.

As we arrived in Capetown despite (disappointingly) that the weather was foul, the creative and historic atmosphere was clearly evident. Capetown is definitely a city with controversial history. Our first escapade for the day after arriving in Capetown was to have an open-bus tour around the city. We fooled ourselves into thinking that we could brave the cold and sit on the top level of the bus as we flinched at the cool drizzle as it strikes our face. Soon enough we admitted the truth to ourselves and trudged downstairs to watch longingly at the vibrant city outside of the windows. As we passed streets that held decades of good and a lot of bad history we welcomed the experience. Soon enough we were entering the city centre and I slowly began to fall in love. The streets were compact with quirky stores and vintage clothing boutiques with a fusion of original café and the hidden nocturnal nightclub, which was found on every corner. I fell in love with individuality and originality of it. With the lack of time on our hands we skipped the exploration of the city centre on foot and instead with our worn-out state of minds we decided to walk around the local Aquarium. I admit I was very impressed with the extensive range of animals that we discovered and learnt about. After we went for an early dinner at Marco’s African place.

Sea turtle at the Cape Town Aquarium
Sea turtle at the Cape Town Aquarium

During the immaculate meal we were treated to traditional African entertainment. Down beneath where we sat (on a higher level) we watched on a group of 3 boys and 3 girls harmonize and entwine their voices accompanied by an assortment of instruments to compliment the sound. Mum, not surprisingly, got really into it. We left joyful and cheerful but a bit sad that tonight was our last night in South Africa.

View all of Tori’s amazing images in her Wildlife, Capetown and People and Places photo diaries.

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