Our very own Pickyourtrail star Sanjay went on a honeymoon with Saranya this February. Listen to their story to understand how they tamed lion cubs and cheetahs in the wild expanse of South Africa.
Thousands of people dressed up in their finest, mouth-watering dishes on the simmer, and a million pictures waiting to be clicked. Weddings in India are celebrated like festivals. Our wedding was no different. The glitz & the glamour, followed by the tiring ceremonies. Uff! Are we not done yet? Oh, no, here they come again. Quickly adjusting the hair, fake smile, click, click, clickkkkkk!! Urghhh. We just wanted to run off and go on our honeymoon.
You know what, we actually did. I mean not the running part but we went on our honeymoon (well you can’t escape from an India wedding). Ah, the bliss of planning a honeymoon with your loved one is definitely special. Amongst the list of options was New Zealand. Though scenic beauty was what we were looking for, I discarded the destination as I had already been there. I was also conscious to not to spend our honeymoon in a cliched spot. But is it possible to experience wildlife, scenic beauty, and adventure all in one place? The question immediately vanished after we heard about South Africa.
Let us break the ice for you. South Africa is not just a destination for wildlife, the country is very diverse and has so many other things on offer. Powdery beaches, lovely vineyards, towering mountains, and green landscape to mention a few. But what caught our eyes the most was the opportunity to see wildlife in their own natural habitat and not caged like in a zoo. It was also Saranya’s first International vacation and I wanted to ensure it was memorable.
Do you also want to hear a secret on why I picked South Africa? Indian cricket team was touring South Africa that time and being an ardent cricket fan, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. 😉 Now, now, shuuuuuushh! She doesn’t know it yet.
Got on the flight to Johannesburg from Mumbai. The flight journey was very exhausting and we spent the rest of the day lazying around in our accommodation. In the evening, we rented a car to take on the South African wilderness.
Started on a road trip to Nelspruit and on the way, we ticked off some of the famous attractions along Panorama route.
Blyde River Canyon
Painted in red sandstone and a cloud of greenery, Blyde River Canyon is a prominent natural attraction in South Africa. We were awestruck just by looking at the sheer size of the landscape. Easily one of the largest canyons in the world, Blyde River Canyon is nature’s own child.
Exploration of the Mpumalanga region is incomplete without a visit to the iconic landmark of the Three Rondavels. A geographical masterpiece, the Three Rondavels did look like three beehive huts in disguise.
Lowveld National Botanical Garden
A stroll across the botanical garden and we came across an extensive collection of Cycads. We made a quick stop at the garden, had a tea, and then got back with the journey. Lowveld National Botanical Garden seems to be a great place to picnic with your family.
Lone Creek Falls
Easy to access, Lone Creek Falls was a beautiful spot to stop by on a sunny day. The entry to the falls costs 20 Rand each and it was totally worth it. The route leading up to the waterfalls is a bit slippery, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes.
In close distance to the Lone Creek Falls is the Horseshoes falls, another gem of an attraction. Unlike Lone Creek waterfalls, the road journey leading to the Horseshoes falls was strenuous and we thought of giving up. We are glad we didn’t. After the bumpy ride, we were presented with mesmerizing nature. The thunderous sound of the water was very pleasing to hear. The entry to the falls is priced at 10 Rand each.
That night we spent at a hotel in Nelspruit.
Packed our bags and set on a journey to the Kruger National Park. En route the Panorama, we stopped by a handful of the attractions.
Originally a single stream waterfall, the Mac-Mac falls is now split into two – a result of the gold mining in the region. Nevertheless, it was a lovely sight. The entry for the falls is priced at 10 Rand. We then went around the tiny stalls shopping for handcrafted souvenirs.
Set in the midst of a lush surrounding, Berlin Falls is an impressive waterfall destination that can be best explored on foot. If you are a bird enthusiast then all the more reason to visit. The waterfall is home to a wide variety of bird species. So, bring on those binoculars.
No, this is not a window in the heaven. We wish, it was. 😀 But if we think about it, in some way it actually is. Offering unparalleled views of the Lowveld National Botanical Garden, God’s Window looked like it was made from the heaven. The views here were absolutely gorgeous and you don’t need a better camera than your eyes to photograph the magical expanse. God’s Window is a must stop place if you want to experience the tranquillity of nature.
Having explored some of the best attractions along the way, we were thrilled to see what’s in store for us at the Kruger National Park, where we would be staying for the next two days. Referred to as one of the best destinations to experience wildlife in the rawest form, Kruger National Park held a special place in our itinerary.
Our stay at Kruger was covered end-to-end, which means breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be taken care off. The rooms were rich and the rustic ambience added to the jungle rawness. What’s more interesting is, even before going on a safari, we saw elephants, monkeys, impalas, zebras, and giraffes, as we drove from the main gate till our accommodation.
Our accommodation was overlooking an empty space only to be soon invaded by a herd of 4 elephants. From our elevated top deck, we could actually touch the elephants. They were that close. Such a heartwarming welcome it was. More to come, we told ourselves.
In the evening, we ventured on a safari inside the Kruger National Park. The first animal that caught our eyes was a leopard. Not bad, huh!
Our vehicle was soon parked next to a lake so we could have a glass of wine/beer and chips. Thanks to the scorching weather, the rhinos came in first to drink water from the lake, followed by a huge herd of elephants, a 20-30 of them. They started playing, splashing water all over each other. Such a wonderful sight. For a minute, we thought it was just children playing and forgot that we were standing there in the middle of the jungle. Our Ranger cum driver brought us back to our senses as he began to explain the nuances we should be following inside the jungle and the history of Kruger National Park.
Just when we were about to leave, we had a flat tyre. So, there we were, a group of 6 people and 1 ranger, stranded in the jungle midst. It was pitch black and few of us were holding our flashlights to help the ranger change the tyres. As these lights could also attract animals, the ranger had his gun on the ground at arm’s reach. After a while, we got the vehicle up and running. While we were driving back to our accommodation, we saw a very huge object in front, only to realize it was an elephant. Damn you dim lights! We waited for it to cross and continued again. This time we spotted a giraffe. Experiences like these are very hard to come by on a daily basis. Overall, we had a beautiful third day.
The next morning, we were already in the jungle by 5.30. We spotted a pride of 8 lions (4 fully-grown + 4 cubs), drinking water. It is during this time they generally shift from their sleeping spot to their original habitat, we were told. We also learnt that each pride has their own land space and trespassing would result in one pride killing the other. Oh, is this the reason they are called a pride, I wonder.
We spotted a small crocodile as we crossed the lake. ‘Is this the only crocodile here?’, I asked the ranger. Apparently, there were a lot of these only to be washed away because of a calamity. And then we saw something really scary. Two hippos were fighting. We initially noticed some sort of activity under the water but couldn’t exactly figure out. A closer look and we could spot the giant head and the jaws of the hippos. OMG! They were huge.
As we continued our journey into the wild, a rhino then made a quick appearance. Past the rhino we went and caught a leopard eating an impala. Apparently, the vehicle before us had a clear view of the leopard chasing the impala and then preying on it. The leopard upon spotting us ran away with the corpse. This marked the end of our morning safari.
Kruger National Park is so huge that travelling in a different direction will give you an opportunity to spot a different species. In the evening, we were driven to the site of the giraffes. This time around we spotted giraffes, monkeys, birds, and elephants.
And that is how we spent our two days in Kruger National Park. It was an amazing experience. The way they treat the animals is a testimony to much they love them and respect wildlife. We will highly recommend this if you are a wildlife enthusiast. Raw wildlife plus a luxurious accommodation to soak all that in. What more can we ask for?
We bid adieu to Kruger National Park and drove to Johannesburg airport to catch a late evening flight to George. As we were getting food inside the airport, came a pleasant surprise. We saw South African cricket players. Surprisingly, they were not guarded and were walking around freely. Just like any other person. Now, that’s totally strange. You’ll definitely not find the same scene in India. I walked up to AB de Villiers, talked with him for two minutes, explained how big a fan I am and he wished us for our honeymoon. No fuzz whatsoever.
We reached George at around 6.30pm. From there, we rented a car and drove to Knysna, only to crash for the night.
We began the day by visiting the Safari Ostrich Farm. The family-owned farm is a great place to be in. Our guide explained everything about the history & the behaviour of Ostrich. We even learnt that the ostrich egg can withstand up to 140 Kgs. Not fully convinced, we did our part to break it open. We stomped on it and even jumped. But, of no luck. Those eggs were really hard.
Our next stop, Cango Wildlife Ranch. Here they rescue animals from the wildlife, treat them for injuries, and release them back depending on the condition. From lions to hippos to kangaroos to peacocks, Cango Wildlife Ranch has a mix of different species. And they are so concerned about their animals. They study their patterns, understand what they like & what they don’t and make sure they are taken care of all the time.
At Cango, We had seven different encounters to choose from:
- Adult Cheetah
- Junior Cheetah
- Croc cage diving
We opted to pet an adult cheetah.
So in general, cheetahs are supposed to be very friendly unless you cause any trouble. We were strictly instructed to approach them face to face and not to go behind or pull the tail. I started rubbing the head, neck, and belly. It purred and I became more confident. Started caressing its cheeks & forehead and the cheetah was having a ball. But sadly, my time was up and Saranya took over. As she started petting the cheetah, there was no reaction. But as she continued to pet for a while, it started purring. So, yaay! We can now have our own cheetah 😀
After the experience, we drove back to Knysna.
Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour
We also wanted to try bungee at Face Adventures but the jump looked scary. We just settled for the green surrounding and clicked few pictures.
We drove to Hermanus. The small seaside town with the backdrop of mountains and a lakefront was beautiful. The entire town shuts down at six in the evening and is so peaceful. We wandered around the shore to indulge in some whale watching. But sadly, it was an off-season. Since we had driven around 450 Kms for the day, we went into sleep earlier than usual.
We reserved the day for Shark Cage diving in Gansbaai. After a short explanation on the reason for the extinction of sharks, we were taken to the middle of the ocean. Eight of us were put together inside a cage and then dropped into the water. The sharks were circling around the cage as they were baited and drawn closer. All we managed to find were copper sharks. The copper sharks were close to 12 feet, whereas the Great Whites are usually 15-18 feet long. Maybe, some other day, Great Whites. 😛
Next on our adventure list was the skydiving experience. We drove down to Mother City skydiving in Cape Town. We immediately fell in love with the raw landscape and it seemed like a perfect spot to skydive. The staff were very friendly and while on the ground, there was DJ to soothe our nerves. We then hopped on the plane and off we went.
We continued our journey towards Cape Town and reached the city at 5 pm. The last thing we did before crashing for the day was check the waterfront.
To experience the city to the fullest, we set on an expedition to the top of the Table Mountain and rode on the cable car. Along the truly amazing ride, we found the opportunity to look at some of the stunning views. Our Cable Car ride at the Table Mountain was followed by a visit to the Penguin Colony in the Boulders beach. Yes, penguins do exist in South Africa.
At the beach, there is no partition between you & the penguins and you can just walk beside them. Penguins, I say, are very lazy. They are so lazy that they sleep while standing.
Next up, we visited Seal Island. Crowded with over 5000 seals lying one over the other, the Seal Island carried a lovely atmosphere to watch the creatures in their natural habitat.
We ended the day by having our dinner in an Indian restaurant.
On the final day of our trip, we took a morning flight to Johannesburg. From there, we went to Lion’s Park. We had the opportunity to feed giraffes, play with the lion cubs, and take enthralling pictures.
After our playtime in the park, we returned back to our hotel to unwind before we head on to take part in the cricket match in the evening.
It has always been my dream to watch a match at least once in Lord’s, Wanderers, and MCG. Finally, there we were enjoying the T20 match between India and South Africa in the Wanderers. The electrifying atmosphere and a win for India sealed the day for us. And we were on cloud nine.
But the happiness didn’t just end there. We were lucky enough to click a photo with Sunil Gavaskar 🙂 And this marked the end of our exhilariting honeymoon.
From wildlife to scenery to adventure to cricket, we experienced it all in South Africa and this trip will forever echo in our hearts.