Outside Dubai Airport Terminal 1 on a Thursday evening. It was the Eid al Adha long weekend so the airport was super busy with everyone trying to get away for their holidays.
Rianda wanted to head back to South Africa, her home country, so we decided to take advantage of the Eid Al Adha long weekend in September to plan a week long break.
I had been to Southern Africa three years ago, and had only spent limited time in South Africa and was keen to head back.
Emirates had direct flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg for a not so cheap $1450 each. During one of the frequent Qatar Airways sales though we managed to get tickets for a bit more reasonable $760 each.
Being my second time to Southern Africa, I managed to convince Rianda to fly into Johannesburg and then do a road trip to Swaziland and Lesotho, using my friends Jason and Jordan's visits to help put together an interesting plan.
My flights for this trip were on two different airlines, flying 5 segments:
Day 0: Flying Qatar Airways (QR) from Dubai to Johannesburg via Doha (DXB-DOH-JNB).
Day 4: Flying South African Express (XZ) from Bloemfontein to Cape Town (BFN-CPT).
Day 9: Flying Qatar Airways (QR) from Cape Town to Dubai via Doha (CPT-DOH-DXB).
After checking in we headed to immigraton where they had reconfigured the queue to one giant long snaking line. It was moving pretty quickly though and we were through with plenty of time to spare.
After catching the train to Concourse D, we headed to the Marharba lounge for a quick bite to eat. It was absolutely packed but luckily a couple of seats opened up soon after we entered.
Heading downstairs on the way to gate D17 to board the short flight to Doha.
Our QR777 sitting at the gate.
Watching an episode of Vice Principals on the IFE soon after boarding.
The chicken sandwich, cake and OJ I have had countless times flying Qatar Airways.
And at Doha's Hamad International Airport at 10:30pm.
Our flight to Johannesburg wasn't until another 4 hours so we headed off to the food court for some coffee.
After chilling for a bit we headed to the gate, getting some South African rand on the way.
A second round of chicken sandwich, cupcake and OJ shortly after take-off on the QR 787.
Watching the start of X-Men: Apocalypse, where they had censored the word 'god' so as not to offend anyone. I then pulled out the eye shades and ear plugs to get a bit of much needed shut-eye.
Chicken and rice for breakfast an hour before our arrival into Johannesburg.
We arrived early and were off the plane and waiting in line at immigration 20 minutes earlier than scheduled at 10:30am. Rianda went to the South African queue and was through in minutes. I went to the foreigners queue and took quite abit longer. 25 minutes later I made it through and luckily Rianda had already picked up our luggage and we were ready to go.
We headed to the Avis / Budget counter to pick up our car for the next few days. We had a bit of hiccup when the agent told us that the car we had prepaid for was not available and asked if a Honda Accord ok. I responded incredulously that we really had to settle for a Honda when we had paid extra for a BMW and she quickly relented and went to talk to her boss. 5 minutes later she was back and said our BMW was only 10 minutes away.
They tried to pull the same trick on the poor guy on our right in the photo below too. His agent was a little more stubborn but after 5 minutes of heated back and forth, she finally acquiesced too and gave him the same class Mercedes.
Our BMW 320i for the next four days. Powered by a 2.0 litre turbo inline-4 outputting 135kW through an 8-speed gearbox.
Our plan for the next four days was to drive east to Swaziland and spend two nights at Mkhaya Game Reserve before heading south-west back into South Africa and down to Maliba Lodge in Lesotho on day 3. On day 4 we would cross back into South Africa and drive west to the city of Bloemfontein and catch a flight to continue our trip to Cape Town.
We were on the road by 11:30am and on the highway east to Swaziland.
Stopping to pay the 45 rand toll.
Mkhaya Game Reserve has only two entrance times of 10am and 4pm each day, so we had to be at the entrance to the park for the afternoon entry time. With time short, we couldn't really stop for lunch on the way so just snacked on some nuts and raisins I had brought. There was some leeway at Mkhaya on the exact arrival time but as you have to be escorted onto the game reserve there was a strict 5pm cut off.
We were making pretty good time as we reached the half-way point and were confident we would get to the game reserve before the cut-off tme.
We reached the South Africa / Swaziland border just after 3pm and headed through to be stamped out of South Africa.
The queue wasn't too long but when we arrived at our turn the immigration lady decided to close her window! We pushed ahead to the front of the second window though and after a bit of grumbling we finally had our passports stamped.
Luckily the Swaziland side was much smoother and we were stamped into the country in only a few minutes. It was also a bit of a milestone for Rianda, with her first visit to another African country! I was surprised that despite being born and raised on a continent with 53 other countries that she had not explored more of Africa, but this is apparently very common for alot of South Africans.
We still had another 88 kilometres to go until the Game Reserve and with it being 3:15pm by the time we got back on the road again, we were not going to make the 4pm time to meet our guide for the drive into the reserve. Rianda rung the park headquarters though and told them we would be slighty late, with an estimated ETA of 4:30pm, and they said that that would be no problem.
There were quite a few pedestrian crossings in Swaziland, and each crossing had 4-5 speed bumps that we had to slow down for. The multitude of speed bumps must have done something to the air pressure sensors in the tyres as as we got closer to Mkhaya, the car warning display warned us that the tyre's were low on pressure. We drove on though and 1 kilometre later we finally got to the reserve entrance and a quick visual check of the tyres showed apparently nothing wrong(?).
Our guide, Bonghani. We followed him in his Land Rover to the Ranger station where we parked up the BMW.
We then had a quick welcome drink and some water before heading off in the Land Rover for the afternoon game drive.
A couple of Nyala in the golden light of dusk.
A croc by the water.
The hippo's keeping a close eye on us.
And with both eyes.
A warthog dashing through the scrub.
Giraffe's munching away.
My last time on a game drive in Africa was over 3 years ago in Kruger National Park, so was great to head out again and see the beautiful animals up close and in the wild.
As we drove to the Stone Camp as darkness fell, we caught a glimpse of some white rhino in the brush.
On arrival at the camp, we were greeted and given a moist towel to freshen up with and were then shown to our cottage for the next two nights. The Stone Camp has no electricity, with kerosene lamps used for lighting and gas for cooking and hot water. I was abit apprehensive before we arrived but the cottage was perfect and a great way to get close to nature and enjoy literally getting away from real life.
And the Mkhaya branded toiletries. The camp had 12 cottages in total, and they were reasonably spaced out with ~100 metres between each of them to ensure you had plenty of privacy.
Our two night stay at Mkhaya Game Reserve was 8,400 rand, or ~$600 for the two of us. Quite reasonable considering it included four game drives, a walking safari and five meals during our stay.
We then headed to the camp restaurant for dinner. Tonight was al fresco with only candles and the campfire for light.
Sparkling wine. After the redeye flight and long drive to the Swaziland, it was great to finally relax.
For the starter we had grilled tomato with mozzarella and then the very tasty gem squash soup.
We had a good chat with the English couple next to us. They had been to South Africa many years ago for their honeymoon, and had decided to return again and also to add on Swaziland too. They had done a bit of travelling over the years too, and had notched up 86 countries visited.
The ladies then brought out the hot dishes for the main, Nyala, roast pork and vegetables. Each of them were wearing a dress with the portrait of King Mswati III, the last ruling monarch in Africa.
A very tasty feed (left), and a bit of an experience after watching Nyala prancing about in the wild. For dessert (right) we had a fried chocolate donut.
Apparently the ladies were going to put on a bit of a dance after dinner, but we were super tired after the long day so left early to get a good nights rest before tomorrow's early morning game drive.
At 5:30am hot coffee and rusks were delivered to help us wake up to be ready for the 6am game drive.
After putting on some warm clothes we met up with some of the other guests and then headed off to spot some wildlife.
Some more Nyala in the brush.
A giraffe walking by with the distinctive 'left-right' gait.
A warthog looking for breakfast.
Poking her tongue at us!
Female horns/ossicones are usually covered in hair, while the male ossicones, like this one, are bald on top.
The two giraffes with the warthog lurking in the background.
The very curious hippo's again.
Guineafowl pecking around back at the camp after we got back at about 8am after the morning game drive.
The ladies brought out some corn for them and they went crazy trying to eat it all up.
Breakfast was served soon after. There were some spits of rain so we had it under the thatched dining area.
A decent breakfast was served with bacon, sausages, egg as well as fresh fruit, cereal and toast with freshly brewed coffee.
Back at our cottage after breakfast where our bed had been made while we were out.
Looking out our 'front door' at some Nyala.
There were no fences around the camp so the animals were free to come and go.
Our 'loo with a view'! Nothing but passing animals looking in though.
A male Nyala looking directly into our bathroom.
We then had a lazy morning with a good nap in our cottage after the early morning rise and filling breakfast.
At 11am we met up with Bonghani and after a short drive in the Land Rover, headed off for a walking safari through the scrub. The game reserve has no predatory animals such as lions or leopards so it was quite safe to walk round without the protection of being in a vehicle.
A Southern yellow-billed hornbill up in the tree. Southern Africa is experiencing a drought at the moment with little rain in 2-3 years so the park was parched and dry.
Rianda teasing a poor scorpion with a stick down into his burrow.
The hippo's chilling in the lake again.
A not too alive giraffe.
After about an hour on our safari walk, our guide, Bonghani, got a tip from one of the rangers that some rhino were closeby. After a bit more walking we finally spotted this big beautiful girl!
And an infant rhino metres away from his mother. Bonghani said that it was a relatively young 18 months old.
We were really quiet and just marvelled at being so close to such a magnificent creature that is threatened in most of the continent by the absolute menace of poaching.
Bonghani confirmed that they were white rhino, and said that if they were black rhino we wouldn't be able to be so close as we were as they can be very aggressive.
Once the mother and infant became less wary of our presence, they both cuddled up for a bit of a snooze. Such an amazing and memorable experience, and we felt very privileged at being able to get so close to these magnificent animals.
Some more Impala in the distance as we headed back to the Land Rover at the end of the walk.
Guineafowl pecking about back at the camp.
We got back to the camp just after 12:30pm and sat down for lunch under the big tree.
Tasty bean salad to start.
The Nyala filo with cranberry sauce and curry and rice for the main.
And the sweet and tasty apricot and bread pudding with custard for dessert.
Back at the cottage where I couldn't resist the Mkhaya chocolate. For the afternoon we just chilled at the cottage, read a book and enjoyed the serene quiet and peaceful beauty.
At 4pm we managed to summon the energy to head outside again for the second game drive of the day. Unlike the game drive in the morning, it was just us and our guide/driver Bonghani, with the other guests in the other Land Rover.
A giraffe on the track ahead of us.
Up in the trees.
A couple of giraffes reaching up for some dinner.
Switching from the 'left-right' gait to a much faster gallop!
A Hornbill hopping between branches.
Nyala in the scrub as dusk fell.
We were driving along and spotted some rhino in the brush. Bonghani stopped the Land Rover and asked if we wanted to go for another walk to see the rhino up close again. We couldn't say yes fast enough and slowly walked over with Bonghani.
Poaching used to be rampant across Swaziland, and by the end of colonial rule in the 1960's there were hardly any antelope left, let alone the big 5 animals. An English-Swaziland man called Ted Reilly then turned his small family farm of Mlilwane near the capital Mbabane into a wildlife sanctuary.
Today Reilly and his team of 300 staff run Big Game Parks, a trust which operates Hlane Royal National Park on behalf of King Mswati III, as well as Mkhaya and Mlilwane in Swaziland.
Ted and his team successfully reintroduced 22 large wild animal species back into the country, including lion, elephant, rhino and hippo after they were largely killed off by hunters.
Poaching in Swaziland remained a signficant problem however, and in 1990, Ted in protest dumped a rotting rhino carcass that had been killed by poachers on the Royal palace steps. The stunt caught the attention of King Mswati III, who then gave Ted the authority to help write new anti-poaching legislation, which resulted in the Game Act.
The resulting Game Act was a very powerful piece of legislation. Unlike in neighbouring South Africa where poachers have the option of paying a fine to avoid imprisonment, all poachers go to jail with a minimum of five years imprisonment and can be increased to 15 years. Poachers must also pay a significant fine (~$15,000 per rhino) or have 2 additional years in jail.
One of the rhino's fast asleep.
Park rangers were previously only allowed to carry spears and knobsticks against poachers with AK-47's, but after the Game Act they are now armed with rifles. They also have the power of arrest and are able to search anyone, anywhere in the country, not just in the parks, without a search warrant.
There is also standing reward of $3,600 for any information that leads to the conviction of a poacher.
Since 2011 there have been almost 5,000 rhino's killed by poachers in South Africa and the slaughter of these poor creatures is at epidemic proportions. Since 1992 after passage of the Game Act, just three rhinos have been killed by poachers in Swaziland.
As with our walking safari in the morning, it was a breathtaking experience to be able to get so close to these big magnificent beasts. Far from being dangerous and violent animals, white rhinos are actually quite docile. Most of the rhinos in Swaziland are quite trusting of humans because they have been spared hunting and poaching for several decades.
After the awesome end to the game drive, we arrived back at camp for dinner.
Quiche and sweet potato soup to start.
Pork and Impala for the main.
And a very tasty chocolate profiterole for dessert to finish.
After dinner the ladies put on a bit of a show by the camp fire.
And of course we joined them for some dancing and singing for a bit of fun and merriment on our last night at Mkhaya!