During the Royal visit to South Africa in 1947 – this was the royal family from that small country called England, not the Zulu Royal Family or anything – there was great excitement! A special train was built, medals were struck and prime ministerships were lost – although Onse Jannie Smuts didn’t know yet that sucking up to the Engelse Koning would have that price, as he windgatted here with them at Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg.
In Harrismith there was the important task of choosing horses. Horses were needed so that Royal Rears could be saddled and taken for a ride. Whose horse would be chosen for which Royal when the entourage stopped at the City of Sin and Laughter, Harrismith Orange Free State?
The Royal Train puffed to a stop at Breedal station. Breedal siding, really, near the notorious, alcohol-soaked Rivierdraai stasie on the Bethlehem side of Harrismith.
Great excitement and groot afwagting. Breaths were held . . .
All I have so far is this: Dad says they chose Piet Steyn’s gentle grey gelding for Princess Margaret’s bottom. Here she is on another grey:
There may be more royal bottoms to follow . . .
. . and there are! I now have an actual picture of the day, the train, the princess and the actual gentle grey gelding:
The whole trip was a great adventure for the two princesses, being the first time either had been abroad. For Margaret, barely out of school but on the cusp of becoming a ravishing beauty, there was an added frisson. Wing Commander Peter Townsend, the handsome king’s equerry for whom she was already experiencing the early throes of love, despite him being sixteen years her senior, was accompanying them.
So the mounts provided by local farmers at various points, allowing the two princesses to enjoy rides with Townsend and the king’s assistant private secretary Michael Adeane were welcome escapes from the crowds. ‘We sped in the cool air, across the sands or across the veldt,’ remembered Townsend. ‘Those were the most glorious moments of the day.’
Engelse Koning – English King; King George; or Ou Jors if you weren’t easily impressed
windgatted – soireed; pompous party; unlikely to beindruk his voters
beindruk – impress
rooineks – Poms; Englanders; for many die vyand
die vyand – the enemy
groot afwagting – great excitement; and anticipation
Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique via Botswana. We only had a month, so not as leisurely as we would have liked. Can hardly believe it was fourteen years ago! The kids are now 19 and 15!
Mostly we drove at a leisurely pace and didn’t do great distances. We did put in a long day of driving on four stretches, which allowed us to chill most other days: Lusaka to Chipata in Zambia; Blantyre in Malawi to Tete in Mocambique; Tete to Vilanculos in Mocambique, and lastly Zavora to Nelspruit back in South Africa were all long-hauls. On those days we left early with the kids strapped in and sleeping. We’d drive for hours before breakfast. Aitch always had food or entertainment for them.
For the rest our days were unhurried. Slowly with the windows usually down, as we didn’t use the aircon. Anyway, speeding and potholes are not a good combination. At places we liked we’d stay up to three nights. Each of our five three-night stays felt like a complete holiday on its own. The Bushman off-road trailer proved its worth at every stop.
Waterberg, South Africa
On through Botswana and to the Zambian border at Kasane where a ferry carries you over the Zambesi. One of the ferries had dropped a big truck overboard and got damaged, so only one was in operation, which slowed things down. Took about four hours and we were safely across the Zambezi river in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and called all boats fewwies for a while. The battered and half-drowned second ferry and truck and trailer were visible looking sad at the side of the river. The border post was pleasant enough. They charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country.
In Livingstone we camped on the grounds of the Maramba River Lodge. It was full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though low.
Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. A warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies. Looked for Taita Falcons, saw Verreaux’s (Black) eagles soaring below. Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone was un-musical, but no other guests around, so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention. I thought I’d better step up and perform as Aitch had been doing all the lessons and homework, so I taught them Cheers! Salut! and Prost!
On the way out of Livingstone we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with centre white stripe and side yellow lines! Amazing!
BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. Unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines.
Some school kids walked up and said ‘Don’t worry, they know a mechanic at the nearby village’, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered his assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived with a metal toolbox on his shoulder, and between the two of them they peered, prodded, unscrewed – and broke the distributor cap! Using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them, they eventually gave up. ‘Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes’ was their verdict. Right!
‘There’s a VW agent in Lusaka’ says Carl cheerfully. Right! 200km away. As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM!! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block. The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! Well, four of us cheered. JP said ‘My pleasure’, Carl said ‘R200’, I said ‘Bargain’, Trish and the kids said ‘Thank you!’ and we were on the road again!
Next stop Lochinvar National Park at the south end of the Kafue National Park. We’d never heard of it but saw it on the map. Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate after dark. ‘Sorry, but you can’t go in’, said the soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but I have to’, said me. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man’. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’. ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks’. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside’. ‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars. A primitive camp, so we rigged up our own shower. Nice big trees.
It has beautiful flood plain lakes in the middle of dry surroundings.
South Luangwa National Park in Zambia was my main destination – I had read about it for decades. It was everything and more I imagined. Flatdogs Camp just outside the park was a blast, too. Big shady trees, a hearty meal available if you didn’t want to cook, and a swimming pool with a slide. Jess loved it so much she wore a big hole right through the bumular zone of her cozzie.
We met an American Mom with three kids. She’d married a Zambian man in the USA and had shipped over a converted school bus to tour around Zambia.
Then into the park – a long-awaited dream. It was terrific. Saw puku antelope for the first time.
To get there we had to drive from Chipata town – that dreaded road we’d been warned against! Well, the grader had been a few days ahead of us and it turned out to be one of the smoothest stretches of the whole trip!
On to Malawi
Chembe village on the shores of Lake Malawi, and freshwater snorkelling off Mumbo island in Lake Malawi, cichlid fishes, and bats and swifts in a water cave.
Chembe village beach fig tree, Lake Malawi
We stayed at Emmanuel’s. Fair-minded people will agree with my assessment of it as ‘luxury’ but Aitch veto’d that and stuck it firmly under ‘basic with roof’, even though the shower was almost en-suite.
Outside the room, Aitch was in heaven:
Leaving Malawi we crossed the wide Zambesi at Tete, where we stayed in a motel on the right bank as we wanted to head straight off the next morning. Probably Aitch’s least favourite lodgings of the trip – mozzies and an empty swimming pool. Leaving town two garages had no petrol. They said the word was that the town on the far bank had, so we crossed back over the Zambesi, filled up and crossed back again. The kombi liked that!
Our biggest luxury was three nights at Vilanculos Beach Lodge. Sea, sand, a bar, lovely food, huge soft beds, friendly staff. Especially João, who spoiled the kids rotten, writing up cooldrinks to our room number! They thought he was a wizard.
We took a boat to Bazaruto Island and then on to Two Mile reef offshore in the big Indian Ocean. Lake Malawi and Bazaruto were Aitch’s main snorkeling destinations and she LOVED them both! Two-Mile reef really is ‘like an over-stocked aquarium’.
Two Mile Reef, two miles east of Bazaruto Island off Vilanculos, Mocambique
Zavora Bay near Inharrime. Stunning lakes and a wi-ide bay; A reef at the point, so you can walk in and snorkel in sheltered water for a kilometre; Lovely cottages – houses, really, on top of the dunes overlooking the bay. Our best find in Mocambique. We hadn’t heard about it before and we fell in love with it. We agreed: “We MUST come back here one day!”
Ponta Zavora, Mocambique
One Child, One Beach
Here’s where the kids got sick. We tested them – high positive readings for malaria. Luckily the lodge owner gave us Co-Artem pills which we fed them and then set off early next morning for South Africa.
When we got to Nelspruit hospital they tested all clear! The Co-Artem had done its job perfectly!
Two Memory Highlights: The rivers – stunning! The Chobe, Zambezi, Kafue, Luangwa, Shire, the Zambezi again (at Tete it’s wi-i-ide and beautiful), the Save and the Limpopo rivers were all magnificent and welcome and we stopped and stared. South Africa has some lovely rivers, but these were wider, swifter-flowing and clearer.
The friendly people. Everywhere we went we were helped and fussed over and we heard laughter and “No Problem!”, and quite often: “Are these your children?”
Accommodation: We camped 14 nights; Basic shelter with roof 6 nights; Comfy lodgings 7 nights; Spoiled ourselves with luxury 5 nights;
Duration: Five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; Eleven 1-night stands;
Cook’s Tour: Thomas Cook (1808 – 1892) was an English businessman best known for founding the travel industry. In 1855 he took two groups on a ‘grand circular tour’ of Belgium, Germany and France, ending in Paris for the Exhibition. The expression ‘A Cook’s Tour’ was humorously used for any rapid or cursory guided tour: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”.
Trish (Aitch) and 5yr-old Jess made a paste-and-cut album when we got back from our trip to five Southern African countries. I found it lying around so thought I’d photograph it and paste it here as a gallery. Hope you enjoy.