Study focus: flora & fauna of the high plains
- Students arriving at Johannesburg International airport will be met by our guides and transported 2-hours south of the city to spectacular Golden Gate Highlands National Park, nestled in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains.
- Here we will check into a lodge that resembles an 18th century Basotho village with grass thatched “roundawel” huts and be invited to a welcome ceremony.
- A great range of wildlife should be visible from our lodge without having to go on a game drive. Black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Bruchell’s zebra can be seen on the open plains here while the rare Bearded Vulture and Bald Ibis can be spotted along the ledges of sandstone cliffs where they breed.
- As we sit down to a delicious dinner, the high sandstone peaks of the park will reveal a breathtaking tapestry of red, yellow and purple hues as they are illuminated by the warm rays of the setting sun. Welcome to South Africa!
Overnight: Basotho Cultural Village Rest Camp, Maluti Mountains
Study focus: geology of southern Africa / human migrations / San Bushmen prehistoric art / indigenous rights
- Today we enter one of the most dramatic regions in all of Africa – the Drakenberg Mountains, meaning “Dragon Mountains” in Afrikaans language, or “Khah Lamba” (Barrier of Spears) in Zulu.
- These 200-million-year-old geological formations form a barrier of soaring spires 150 km long that have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Many people consider the Drakenberg their favorite place in all of South Africa because not only is the region visually stunning, you feel as if you have the entire place to yourself.
- Our drive today takes us south past the spectacular Amphitheater, Giants Castle and Cathedral Peak, names that fail to fully describe the majesty of this mountain range that is snow covered in winter (June-August), but verdant green during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.
- Nelson Mandella once described this region as: “a landscape that gladdens my heart, no matter what my mood. When I am here I feel that nothing can shut me in, that my thoughts can roam as free as the horizons.”
- For more than 4,000-years the Drakenberg Range was home to San Bushmen that found refuge here as hunter-gatherers when Bantu-speaking agricultural tribes from the Congo River region forced them out of the lowlands. White settlers and Zulu tribes eventually displaced and exterminated the San so that all that remains of their culture today are over 40,000 individual rock paintings they left behind at more than 600 cliff sites.
- Our destination today is the Kamberg Nature Reserve, deep in the Drakenbergs, where we will hike 3-hours through a gorgeous landscape to Game Pass Shelter, a site that is considered the crown jewel of San art in all of South Africa.
- It was here that the “Rosetta Stone” of African Bushman art first provided archeologists with the key to interpreting the deep symbolism and spiritual content of these prehistoric paintings – showing how hunters gained power from the animals they killed.
- Students interested in the art of early man will find few examples better than this. Eland, Africa’s largest antelope with high fat content, were almost revered as gods by the Bushmen. They were their preferred prey, depicted on the sandstone walls in great numbers using many colors and highly sophisticated shading techniques.
- Our self-catering lodge this evening will provide an opportunity for everyone to put on their chefs hats as together we prepare a delicious meal. Silver Hill Guest Lodge, located in the beautiful Kamberg Valley is made up of three, luxurious, self-catering lodges that will comfortably sleep us all.
Overnight: Silver Hill Guest Lodge, Kamberg Valley
Study focus: fresh water wetlands / waterfowl / hippos & crocodiles / sea turtles
- We’re up early this morning to take in the glory of sunrise in the Kamberg Valley while a few volunteers in our group help prepare everyone a hearty breakfast.
- We’ve got a pretty long drive to Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park today, but there will be no shortage of scenery or places we might like to stop and explore along the way.
- The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park bordering Mozambique and the Indian Ocean has been declared South Africa’s third largest park and first designated World Natural Heritage Site. It encompasses an immense mosaic of habitats ranging from sub marine canyons, coral reefs and beaches to forested dunes, mangrove estuaries, coastal plains and dry woodlands.
- Home to the largest hippo population in South Africa and over 1,000 crocodiles, the park’s mega fauna runs the gamete from humpback whales and sea turtles to rhinos, zebras and elephants. The park also boasts more than 520 species of birds, more residing in a single area than exist in most countries.
- This afternoon we will explore this dazzling, life-rich realm aboard a cruise boat that will take us along shore for close encounters with hippos, crocodiles and water birds.
- Our lodge in St. Lucia is nestled in a lavish tropical garden with breathtaking views overlooking the Great St. Lucia Lake, one of the world’s largest estuaries.
- All rooms have spacious balconies to take in the expansive view and the restaurant features fresh fish dishes that are world-renowned.
- This evening, after dinner, we can hike the beaches by torchlight in search of leatherback turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.
Overnight: Seasands Lodge, St. Lucia Wetland Park
Study Focus: Zulu culture / orphan project / Swaziland & culture
- We enjoy a good breakfast this morning before setting off on our kayaking adventures in St. Lucia Wetland Park.
- After a great morning in St. Lucia we leave the coast and drive inland a short distance to Dumazulu Traditional Village. Here, in the heart of Zululand, we can experience many fascinating aspects of Zulu culture from pottery and basket weaving to spear and shield making.
- Dumazulu, (meaning “Thundering Zulu”) is home to over fifty Zulu people living full time in this living museum. Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini set up this education center to provide jobs and homes for many orphaned youth that will dazzle us with the energy of their dancing. Students will engage in a service project here that benefits the many AIDS orphans and community school.
- Traveling north, we soon enter the Kingdom of Swaziland that has Mozambique as a neighbor as well as South Africa. Entry visas are not required so immigration is a breeze.
- This is an ancient land, rich in human culture, with remains and artifacts of nomadic, hunter-gathering peoples dating back 100,000-years. Bantu invaders whose ruling royal lineage of chiefs dates back to the 18th century replaced the original Khoisan Bushmen here centuries ago.
- Our destination today is Niseli, near the Swaziland border with Mozambique. A private safari lodge nestled at the foot of the Lubombo Mountain Range in the heart of the Swaziland’s “Lowveld” offers game viewing of giraffe, wildebeest and other plains animals, but more importantly, it offers a glimpse into the life of the Swazi people.
- The traditional Swazi social unit is the homestead, a traditional beehive hut thatched with dry grass. Within the polygamous homestead each wife has her own hut and yard surrounded by reed fences. Other huts are used for single men’s quarters and there are stockades for family livestock.
- Students will have the ultimate cultural experience spending the night in a grass hut, enjoying a traditional dinner and hearing Swazi songs and legends around the campfire.
Overnight: Nisela Lodge, Swaziland
Study Focus: Africa’s Big 5 – elephant, rhino, lion, leopard & Cape buffalo
- Today, right after breakfast, we drive north a short distance and enter Kruger National Park, our wilderness home for the next three days.
- With 7,525 sq. miles of unrivaled diversity, the world-renowned Kruger National Park offers wildlife experiences that rank with the best Africa has to offer.
- Established in 1898, Kruger National Park is an almost perfectly preserved slice of Africa as it was hundreds of years ago. Over 220 miles long and 65 miles wide, Kruger has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Together with contiguous protected areas in neighboring Mozambique and Zimbabwe, this area ranks as one of the largest preserves in all of Africa.
- We enter the park at Crocodile Bridge, the eastern-most entrance, and start our wildlife safari immediately. This is excellent rhino territory! White rhino are often seen in the mixed woodlands here while the shy Black rhino tend to stay deep in thorn thickets.
- This southern end of the park is one of the best places to spot the Big 5 – the mammals big game hunters in the past considered the most dangerous to stalk and kill: rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard.
- Not only does this area have a great diversity of game, it has an unusually high density of hyenas.
- As we drive slowly north, 22 miles to our lodge, we will enter open savannah lands excellent for cheetah viewing. Cheetahs prefer flat, open plains to allow them speed in pursuit of their prey.
- Lower Sabie River Rest Camp is our destination this day. Located on the banks of the Sabie River, one of the few perennial flows in Kruger National Park, large numbers of game are attracted to the abundance of water, sweet grass and foliage found here.
- With lion, cheetah, elephant, hippos, rhino, warthog and herds of 800 Cape buffalo found in this area, Lower Sabie Rest Camp supports game densities almost unparalleled in the park.
- Checking into our safari tents, we will have a chance to rest and wash up before setting off in open-air jeeps for a sunset game drive. At night the diversity of game seen in the Lower Sabie area is hard to equal anywhere else in Kruger National Park.
- A delicious dinner followed by a group-sharing circle on an observation deck with hippos grunting in the waters below us, will be the perfect ending to a great safari day.
Overnight: Lower Sabie River Rest Camp, Kruger National Park
Study Focus: animals of the plains & bushveld / Southern Hemisphere constellations
- Today we take time to relax in our safari tents and enjoy breakfast with the birds before our departure.
- Kruger National Park is vast and we will cover a good portion of it today as we drive slowly north towards our next lodge, looking for wildlife all along the way.
- Olifants, the Afrikaans word for elephant, is the name of our next lodge. Warm and welcoming, Olifants Rest Camp sits atop a hill towering several hundred feet above the Olifants River, offering a panoramic vantage point for spotting wildlife.
- Single room thatched bungalows are fitted with twin beds, en-suite facilities and patios that look out cross the vast surrounding bushveld.
- Because Olifants Camp is situated in a transition zone, two distinct types of vegetation can be found here, offering a wide range of game viewing possibilities.
- In the north, low-lying Mopane trees provide cover for zebra, impala, kudu and elephant. To the south, rolling plains are dotted with buffalo, giraffe, kudu and ostrich, while along the Olifants river crocodile and hippos abound.
- Instead of another sunset game drive this evening, we will stretch our legs with a guided game walk, the perfect way to learn more about the African bush close up.
- Returning to our camp at sunset, we will prepare for a final night in the park – celebrating our adventures with a traditional bush braais (barbeque) and a campfire under the star-studded African sky.
- Any student that has never had a lesson in the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere is in for a special treat this night.
Overnight: Olifants Rest Camp, Kruger National Park
Study Focus: meteorite crater / salt lake
- We wake up at first light this morning and set off on a sunrise game drive in an open-air jeep. While it is possible to see wildlife everywhere in Kruger National Park on self-drive tours, the safari vehicles offer an extra element of excitement, and this time of day is perfect for it.
- We still have time after breakfast to explore some game drives in the central part of the Park before we exit Kruger at Phalaborwa Gate and drive to Tzaneen for lunch.
- On our way to Johannesburg we will stop at Tswaing Nature Reserve, just north of the Pretoria, for a picnic snack at ground zero of one of the youngest and best-preserved meteorite craters the world has to offer.
- Over 220,000 years ago, a meteorite the size of a house slammed into this site with the energy of 100,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs, wiping out all life in a 35 km radius and scattering remains of our earliest ancestors in all directions. What better place to enjoy the last picnic of our trip?
- Today, the great crater contains a lovely salt lake and wildlife abounds in the area. We can stretch our legs here along easy trails before completing the one-hour drive to our hotel.
Overnight: Johannesburg Hotel
Study Focus: history of apartheid in South Africa & new constitution
- It would be remiss to visit South Africa without gaining some insights into the remarkable process that brought this nation through the painful years of apartheid into a modern nation state with the world’s most progressive constitution.
- From our hotel we drive through the frenzy of Johannesburg to the outlying township of Soweto, home to Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and epicenter for the resistance to white rule.
- A museum here honors Soweto schoolchildren that were slain in a police massacre in 1976. A picture of this event, that was broadcast worldwide, may have done more to end apartheid than anything else. That iconic image shows a slain 13-year old boy (Hector Pieterson) being carried by his friend while his grieving sister runs alongside.
- Following our visit to the Hector Pieterson memorial and museum, we will visit a family home in Soweto to share tea and hear first-hand perspectives about life in post apartheid South Africa.
- At mid day we pack up and travel the short distance to Johannesburg International Airport for the return trip home.