For all our adoring fans who missed us, we’re back, for a limited time.
Our annual expedition to New Zealand, via South Africa and Singapore this time, got off the best of starts. The two `twenty-something’ girls who sat beside me on our flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg asked me in conversation what I did for a living. When I laughed and told them I had retired some five years ago, they were shocked. I thought you were about my dad’s age – 55! Thank you very much, I thought.
It’s an overnight flight to South Africa, on Virgin, and with a time difference of only two hours, it’s relatively easy to adapt. We were through customs and getting into our rented vehicle before 10am. We had made the same journey in 2003, before GPS and that time got out of the city no probs. This time, with a Sat Nav, it took us all round the houses, but as I had popped in inadvertently an instruction to avoid toll roads, I was half expecting it. So we poodled along on a leisurely route south-east through the heart of South Africa and its towns and townships. It’s not a tidy place and I’d forgotten the locals do like to walk in the road, and seem completely oblivious of your presence most of the time. The roads were either excellent or awful, with huge pot holes in the rural towns. I certainly would not like to ride a motorcycle round there, especially at night. It took us five hours to get to Ladysmith, about an hour longer than taking the motorway.
|Our room at Bullers Lodge|
Bullers Lodge was even better than when we were there last, back in 2003. The owners have changed, but the place is still charming and homely . Lots of round, thatched lodges sitting in beautiful gardens. We had the room with the terrace overlooking the town and the Drackensburg Mountains in the distance.
|Bullers Lodge.Our room's on the left|
|The manicured grounds|
|Getting into the colonial spirit in the `Boer' Bar|
On our first night we had dinner with two South Africans, who were very jolly, and knew a lot about the UK. They were quite keen to know if I had tried Biltong yet. I was tempted to say “If I want to chew a bit of leather I have several belts in a drawer in my room”, but I kept quiet and told them it was not for me.
Britain’s military presence in Africa in the mid to late 19th century was not one of our finest hours. I was expecting to take quite a hammering from our South African tour guide about our imperial zeal for gold and territory, as we toured the Anglo Zulu and Boer War sites, but she turned out to be a very sprightly 78-year old, who was born in Little Gaddesdon, about 10 miles from our old home in Welwyn Garden, but had lived in Africa for over 40 years and gave us, what I thought was a balanced view.
|`They don't like it up `em'|
I wanted to see Rorks Drift, where Michael Caine and co, in `Zulu’ saw off 5,000 Fuzzy Wuzzies, after the Zulus swooped down and attacked their small mission, but first Liz, the guide, took us to Islandwana, about 20 kms away, where two days prior to the Rorks Drift attack, the Brits made a tactical blunder with their encampment and thousands were massacred by a huge Zulu force who cut them to shreds. Small mounds of white stones, show where massed bodies are buried. It’s a strange and eerie place.
|With Liz Spiret, our Guide at Islandwana|
|The battlefield at Islandwana. The white stones denote mass burial sites of the British troops|
Rorks Drift is tiny and you can still see the outline of the defences. The two large buildings that were central to the story are still there too. One has been converted to a church, the other a small museum. About 100 soldiers defended RorksDrift, and 11 VC’s were awarded. God it was hot there. Around 32 degrees, but that didn’t last long as the sky darkened.
|The outline of the defences at Rorks Drift|
|The storeroom, set on fire by flaming Zulu spears|
|`Front rank fire'|
Our journey down to Durban was interrupted by several showers, but by the time we got to our hotel on the beach, it had stopped long enough for us to have a good walk along the promenade, which is huge. I was surprised at how big a city Durban was. After a great meal in a restaurant on the outskirts of the city, recommended by Trip Advisor, which was every bit as good as they said, suspended over the ocean, and where we were the only diners, we set off into the interior for our Game Park experience.
|The promenade at Durban. Storm clouds gather|
|The view to the north|
My eyes are not what they were, so we both shared the driving. Considering the game park is about the size of an average English county, it was quite difficult to find, but find it we did, and had two dull, damp days at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park which is claimed as being the second biggest game park in SA, and home to the white rhino, which is not white at all, though with all the wallowing going on in the mud, it was pretty hard to tell what colour they were. We stayed at `Hilltop`, the resort centre at the park, high up, staying in thatched huts, and eating centrally. Very posh it was too, and not too shabby with the regulation monkeys swinging through the trees and elan nibbling at the foliage outside the lodge.
|The lounge at Hilltop|
|Pat's clothes complement the land cruiser. Picnic basket at the back.|
We saw all the animals you’d expect, though at 5am, as you rattle round the park in the large open-backed vehicles, with your eyes peeled for any wildlife, it’s quite a surreal experience. And then 12 hours later the same day we also did a moonlight drive, which I thought was more enjoyable, even though we didn’t see the variety of wildlife we saw in the morning.
|Grid lock in the park when lion cubs are spotted|
|A white rhino experience|
Then it was back to Johannesburg and off to Singapore. There’s not much to dislike about Singapore. It is incredibly clean, no hassling from beggars or chancers, and the natives seemed friendly enough. They don’t like or respect queues though, especially the Chinese contingent. Pat had to put one in their place when she tried to muscle in the fried egg Pat had had been waiting to be cooked for her at breakfast. And like most cities now, every other person has a phone pressed to their ear. As our time was limited we took the city bus tour to orientate ourselves, but could not sit on the top deck too long; it was just too hot. We shouldn’t have worried, the rain which had followed us across Africa, found us again, and there were a number of huge thunderstorms to dodge.
|One of the iconic views of Singapore|
|The fountains of wealth at Suntec City|
|The Gardens By The Bay celebrate Chinese New Year|
|Part of the very impressive Rain Forrest walk|
|Our hotel near City Hall|
Singapore has, of course, the reputation for cheap shopping and while I only brought a new phone case for my mobile (great value for a fiver), Pat bought a couple of pair of shoes. Our hotel sat on top of a shopping mall, and on investigation, there were six music shops down there with about 200 ukuleles of all shapes and sizes for me to investigate. Uke heaven. I think we’ll have to go back.
|Pat looks to plan a kitchen for us, behind the two doors behind her.|
But now we are back in Wellington and guess what. Yes, it’s tipping it down. Pat is planning a new kitchen with the cat on her lap and I am re-aquainting myself with the Bose sound system I bought last visit.