My recent African adventure was wild!
Just as I had hoped it would be. No this did not involve drunken nights (well not too many) but it did involve getting stared down by a lion in an open jeep and diving with sharks.
The 2 1/2 weeks I spent in South Africa and Swaziland has been my favorite vacation, even topping the Galapagos!
It was my second time in South Africa – I was there earlier this year in the stunning Drakensberg and Golden Gate National Park and it was my husband’s third time. We choose Durban as a starting point since neither of us had been there before and planned our itinerary from there knowing that wildlife viewing and diving with sharks would be the main focus of our trip.
In Durban, we stayed in a private 120-year-old historic townhouse that we booked through Wimdu, a vacation property booking site. I soon learned that living in Durban could be an adventure as I read over the instructions about how to keep monkeys out and how to get them out should they sneak in (apparently yelling and shaking a broom at them should do the trick).
Wanting to maximize our time in Durban, we booked two tours through Urban Adventures, a walking tour through Durban’s markets where Michael our guide explained the significance of each of the different markets. I made an impromptu stop at a Sangoma (a traditional healer) at the herb market. While it wasn’t on the itinerary, I ended up getting treated on the spot, which I can honestly say was the wildest and most fascinating medical treatment I’ve ever received (more in an upcoming post).
The next day we did the Zulu Heritage Trail with Urban Adventures where we learned more about S. Africa’s largest tribe and visited the place where Nelsen Mandela voted for the first time. Crazy to think that it only happened in 1994.
Next, it was off to St. Lucia located in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. St. Lucia is a village of only 500 residents, but it has some of the wildest residents I’ve ever met. Most places will have at least the odd streetwalker, but they take on a whole new meaning in St. Lucia.
These ones are of the four-legged variety in the form of hippos, who have been known to cruise the main street throughout the night. There’s also at least one resident leopard and more mischievous monkeys than I could count jumping from roof to roof.
It was also in iSimangaliso Wetland Park that I experienced some of my wildest adventures thanks to Heritage Tours & Safaris. Like coming within several meters of a herd of hippos. And staring eye to eye with a hyena on a night drive. Observing the endangered Samango monkeys on the western shores of iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
And of course stopping in our jeep safari tracks at Hluhluhe-Umfolozi Game Reserve while two male elephants wrestled with each other several meters in front of our jeep.
Our wild adventure continued into Swaziland where we visited the Mlawula Nature Reserve and Hlane Royal National Park. Here, I came face to face with several rhinos including a baby rhino and his mother. It literally took my breath away!
We also braved Swaziland’s only canopy tour in the Malolotja Nature Reserve. It’s the most exciting canopy tour I’ve ever done! One of the zip lines was a dizzying 60 meters from the ground!
I had three of the most incredible hours of my life at Tembe Elephant Park. On one safari drive, I witnessed a lioness hunting. Unsuccessful she then moved within a couple of meters at us staring us up and down for over 20 minutes!
Note to self – don’t ever challenge a lion to a staring contest, you will lose. One woman in the jeep behind us was so scared that she sat on the floor and covered herself with a blanket!
That would have been incredible in itself, but minutes later we came across a herd of 20+ elephants. The elephants in Tember are among the largest in Africa.
They surrounded our jeep and two adorable baby elephants who were only 3 days old introduced themselves, while cautiously staying close to their mothers! I will remember it for the rest of my life.
South Africa is known for its wild adventures below the waters and being avid shark divers we couldn’t pass this up, so headed to Protea Banks for diving with African Dive Adventures.
My favourite were the baited dives. On one dive we were surrounded by 17 sharks. No Great Whites, but 15 Oceanic Black Tips and 2 Bull sharks – both of which are good sized sharks!
Still not having our fill from diving, we headed back towards Durban to Aliwal Shoals, famous for its reefs and sharks. Here we saw some of S. Africa’s most famous underwater residents – the Ragged-tooth shark, or Raggies as they’re affectionately referred to.
Good thing Dick our Divemaster with Agulhas Dive Centre knew where their local hangout was. Thanks to the Raggies, I’ve now dove with 14 different species of sharks.
Our wild adventure would not have been possible without our rental car from Sunny Cars. Renting a car gave us the freedom to explore some of the more remote places we visited which would have been difficult with public transportation.
I would highly recommend renting a car if you want to travel independently and cover a lot of ground like we did.
I have dreamed of seeing African animals in the wild since I was a kid. But nothing could have prepared me for how much it touched me and changed me. Especially when I learned how many challenges both the people and animals of South Africa and Swaziland are facing.
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Disclosure: I was fortunate to work with the aforementioned companies/destinations on my Wild African Adventures tour, but as always all opinions expressed remain my own and nobody promised me any baby animal sightings.