April 29, 2020

A Lock Down on the Wild Side

Africa is my dream, my second home and my passion.

I spent a lot of time in Africa throughout my late teens/early twenties, it was my haven. I had been longing to go back since the moment I left in 2013, particularly now I had an established photography knowledge base, I was dying to visit and photograph the stunning landscapes, culture & the incredible wildlife in the African bush.

Along with photography, wildlife research & conservation has always been another passion of mine, more on this will follow in a later blog (bare with me – I am still working on the latter!), both led me to booking the trip I had been dreaming of for years. On 19th October, I did it, I booked flights to South Africa – I was finally going back! From that moment on I was counting down the days until I flew on 14th March 2020. My mum and her partner, Jeff, also decided to come along for the ride (you’ll find out later why I was more than grateful for this), neither had been to South Africa, so I was excited to show them why I loved it so much.

Leading up to the trip my excitement grew day by day, I couldn’t wait to step off the plane & have that warm African air hit my face, to see those beautiful sunrises & sunsets and to be in a culture where everyone is so happy and friendly no matter what they had in life.

So of course, everyone is fully aware of the current world pandemic, before we set off on our trip we did lots of research, South Africa was not a high risk country having only a couple of cases, the UK was just entering phase 2, we were confident that we would be okay travelling, so we set off on our long journey. On 15th March at 5pm we arrived in Johannesburg, I finally felt that feeling I had been waiting so long for, my heart felt warm, I was in the place that truly makes me happy. I had organised a full on itinerary to make the most of our 2 week stay, we stayed in Joburg for the night to rest after a long journey, the next morning we jumped in our hire car and headed to Pretoria. We spent the day visiting the Voortrekker monument and the area that surrounds it, the view was beautiful, the weather was amazing, it was a great first day.

The next day I had organised a 10km hike at Hennops Hiking Trail, just west of Pretoria. It was so peaceful and an absolutely stunning route, I can highly recommend if you ever visit. We set out early as we had a 5 hour drive to Hoedspruit in the afternoon. We unfortunately were set back by a flat tyre, so had to take the hire car back to swap for a different one, so we didn’t arrive in Hoedspruit until 11pm.

I was so excited for the next day, we were off to Kruger National Park, the place I feel most myself, in the bush! Not before taking a trip along the Panorama route though, we visited Echo Caves, Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Potholes, Berlin Falls & Gods Window.

That evening we made it into Kruger Park by the skin of our teeth, getting to the gate just before 6pm when it closed. I had never done a self drive safari before, so I wasn’t sure how lucky we would be with game viewing, but the peace and tranquility of being in the bush is like nothing I have ever experienced, driving for hours and hearing nothing but nature is just a feeling I can’t describe. It turns out luck was on our side this visit, we couldn’t of asked for a better experience. Of course, I am still dying to see that elusive cheetah in the wild, I have been trying for years with no luck. Friends of mine have this story that we saw a cheetah on our way back to the lodge, after a night out in Hoedspruit when I interned in the Timbavati for 3 months in 2012, of course I drank a few too many beers and don’t remember it – so I am still convinced to this day they are pulling my leg! But I will have to keep coming back until I see that wild cheetah! I hope the photos give you a sense of how magical the African bush is!

After 4 days in the bush, we were sad to be leaving (any stay is never long enough), but we were off on our next adventure, we were stopping half way in Durban for a night and then flying to Cape Town. After the bush, Cape Town is my most favourite place I have ever visited, it’s a city surrounded by mountains, with the most beautiful beaches, a city which has it all.

Of course, by the time we arrived in Cape Town we were aware of the world going into lock down and international travel slowly being reduced. This is when we hit panic mode. Our flights home on 30th March had already been pushed back 24 hours, then they were cancelled. The South African lock down had been announced. We had 3 days to try and figure it out. The only flights we could get booked were with British Airways on Saturday 28th March, 2 days into the lock down, so we had no idea if it would actually go ahead or not. Of course, those flights were cancelled too. The next available flights were on 21st April, after the lock down is meant to end on 16th April. Unfortunately we got news yesterday that these too have been cancelled. Nightmare right? But we have rescheduled until 2nd May, and are just keeping our fingers crossed that the government will send repatriation flights in the meantime. The most important thing is that we are all safe & have full health.

But anyway, after making all our calls and organising flights, we decided to make the most of our 3 days of freedom in Cape Town before the lock down. We took a beautiful drive up to Chapmans Peak and finished on Hout Bay beach for sunset, where I took some ‘couple’ photos of mum & Jeff. The next day I decided to hike to the top of Table Mountain, mum & Jeff weren’t feeling the hike so they went to visit the penguins on Boulders Beach. On our third day we visited Clifton Beach and had a wander around the city centre.

Then the time came, lock down in South Africa. We were very lucky, our landlady let us stay in her beautiful apartment for a fantastic rate. The lock down here is very strict, you are only allowed out of the house to go to the food shop or pharmacy. There is no leaving for exercise. No walking your dog if you have one. Worse still, there is an alcohol ban, absolutely no alcohol can be sold. Sucks right!?

As I am writing this, we are on day 8 of lock down, there has been some hard moments, but it has given me time to reflect on things that are important in life. It has allowed me to see what I have achieved in life and what I still wish to achieve. It has given me the motivation to do the things I didn’t make time for as ‘life took over’. But most importantly, it has made me truly believe, that it is so important to keep smiling, every second you can and always be positive. It doesn’t matter what life throws at you, you never know how long your journey may be. Things may not be ideal for us right now, but we are in a beautiful country, in a lovely apartment at the foot of a mountain, have many friends and family who have looked out for us and sent us their wishes, things could be a lot worse. The light may not be at the end of the tunnel for us just yet, we are dying to get back to see our family, friends and furry family, my god do I miss my beautiful doggy and sassy ginger mare, but everything could be so much worse. We have to be thankful for what we have, not for what we don’t, and boy am I thankful my mum & Jeff are with me, I don’t know if I could cope alone.