Diving with Crocodiles and Face to Face with a Cheetah!

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Well, today has to have been one of the most exciting ever!!!!!  I mean… it’s not every day you get to dive with a massive crocodile or come face to face with an adult cheetah!

Had a good night at Earthbound and an excellent breakfast to get us on our way.  I can’t rave about this place enough.  We loved staying here and also loved Oudtshoorn – a great centre for sightseeing.  The sun was bright and very hot again today and all the mountains were out, including some of the high peaks we missed yesterday.

We set off at 0830, wanting to be at the Cango Wildlife Ranch website as early as possible.  It was only 10 minutes from the b&b.  In fact we needn’t have worried because for the first hour we were on our own, and even after that it was pretty quiet apart from a couple of parties.  The Ranch has been in existence for 30 years and is one of the highest accredited facilities in Africa.  They specialise in rescuing endangered species, and have breeding programmes developed to strengthen the gene pools and then re-introduce the strengthened gene back into the wild.  None of the animals in the ranch will be released, they live either at the ranch or in the adjoining wildlife reserve.  They are obviously happy and successful, there have been many cheetah litters and we saw about 8 young cubs when we were there.  They operate and are inspected to very stringent standards and we were very impressed with the cleanliness, spaciousness and overall condition of all of the creatures and their environments.  It was absolutely spotless.

We first visited the big cats enclosures and saw some of the cheetahs, a pair of white African lions, some leopard, and a white Bengal tiger.  We were soooo close up to them on catwalks over the enclosures.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to big cats before.

Then we had our first “encounter” which we had chosen to be with a cheetah.  We were given a thorough briefing on exactly what to do, where to be etc.  Our hands and feet were sprayed with decontaminant, and we were assigned to a ranger and a bodyguard whom we always had to stay close to.  Anyway, Raven, the cheetah (male) was 2 years old and such a beautiful creature.  He’d been fed (we’d seen that from the walkway) a big bowl full of minced springbok so we were clearly not very attractive to him.  One at a time we knelt down beside him and stroked his back and behind his ears.  Yes!  Just like a big cat!!!!  He purred like mad.  So loudly!   I was a bit dubious about the whole thing but in all honesty he was obviously enjoying it, there was nothing to stop him getting up and running off to his “den”  but he just purred away!  The coat markings were gorgeous.  Each cheetah has something like 200 spots and they are born with them.  The black hair is much silkier than the brown hair.  The ranger said that even though they were born on the reserve, they would still take down a gazelle or like sized animal given the chance and for that reason small children are not allowed in the encounter as the cats sort of “weigh up” whether they are dominant or not and might attack a child.  It was absolutely thrilling anyway and something we will not forget.

We then had a walk around the other enclosures seeing meercats (Sergei!!!!), flying foxes, African vultures, lemurs, snakes, African bush pigs, turtles, and crocodiles.  Lots of other birds too.  Finally it was time for our second encounter: a dive with a Nile crocodile!

They have a special pool for this which has about 3 crocodiles in and is biofiltered to be very clear.  Unlike the main crocodile pool which was deeply green and which they clearly loved.  In our swimwear, with scuba masks we got into a cage which was then winched into the pool.  The water felt so great by then!  We had a full safety brief of course about keeping everything within the cage, not shrieking or splashing about, no attempt to touch etc.  🙂 The crocodiles associate the cage with being fed so they come over to have a look.  In fact, only one could  be bothered to get up off the bank and come and meet us but that was all right because he was a whopper!  They have a rather horrid silent glide during which you can definitely hear the old Jaws music in your head ie DA DA DA DA DADADA etc.  Then when he got right up to us he suddenly gave a great jump and a thrash which was quite exciting, and then spent his time right up against the cage circling.  They are such primeval looking beasts.  So very odd…. nasty grin……  I suppose we looked at each other for about 10 minutes before we were hoisted out again.  One of the rangers took pictures of us from above and also went down into a glass viewing pod and took pictures of us underwater from there.  It was tremendous fun and it felt ok.  We once did a white shark cage dive and bitterly regretted that for so many reasons – adapting wild animals behaviour etc but this didn’t feel exploitative really.  Thoroughly thrilling.

We left Oudtshoorn at about 1130 and headed south on the R62, heading across the great plains of orchards and ostrich farms, bordered in the distance on all sides by the mountain ranges.  Lots of ostrich farms today.  A really beautiful drive.

My route instructions told us to turn off the N9 and head for the Prince Alfred Pass, the R339 and take that to the coast.  It didn’t mention quite what a thrilling road this is!!!!  Prince Alfred Pass  so it came as something of a shock to find we had chosen to travel about 80 km on unpaved, very narrow, potholed (in parts) and rugged road with a sheer drop to the valley on one side.  In a Ford Fiesta!  🙂  By the time we realised that the road was indeed going to be like this all the way, it was too late to turn back so we continued along.  Unbelievably beautiful views all the way, pretty quiet.  We met one motorbike and 2 4 wheel drive vehicles along the route.  Bob was just amazing.  He really enjoyed it and we were both very glad we’d done it.  I was just not expecting it though because I’d deliberately chosen any optional “detours” on the R62 to avoid long patches of grit roads.  DO have a look at the above web link though as it gives a lot of information about this brilliantly engineered road and its builders and also video clips of various bits.

We finally emerged at Plettenberg Bay at about 3pm!!!!  Bob was gasping for a drink and some food.  There were no facilities along the pass at all.  We drove across the beach road at Plettenberg Bay and pitched at a fish place.  Had the most massive plate of calamari.  Bob had chips with his.  I had a big glass of sauvignon blanc and Bob had a coke zero.  It all came to about a tenner.  Honestly, I’ve never had a plate of calamari like it.  Plettenberg was absolutely spectacular and it was nice to see the sea again!  Queen Mary 2 must have been out there somewhere! There is a big bay with different white sand beaches and surf.  Gorgeous for a holiday I would think.

We picked up the N2 and drove east a little way to a place called Nature’s Valley which sounded nice.  Drove down to that through deep woods where there were baboons (saw lots of babboons today) and parked by the lagoon.  There is a huge lagoon which is perfect for gentle swimming and also a massive surf beach.  The sand is really fine and white.  We had a walk on the beach and I paddled in the lagoon.  There were quite a few families down there fishing and having a brai!

We headed off at about 445, back to the N2 and 20km to our place for the night.  We crossed the Bloukrans Bridge (216m) the highest bridge in Africa and the highest bungee jump in the world.  We won’t be doing that!  Other things we won’t be doing are the wobbly bridge walk where you walk on a grizzly slatty bridge under the main road bridge or the Flying Fox which is a 200m cable slide from the middle of the bridge.  Face to face with crocodiles: YES.  Jumping off the highest bridge in Africa and jolting my retina out: NO!!!

Our lodge tonight is the Tsikamma Manor  a nice little place at Storms River, just outside Tsikamma National Park.  There are huge forests here running down to the sea and a lot of rivers converging.  It is a centre for white water rafting which I hoped we might do, but things are a bit dry apparently.  We could do blackwater tubing but I don’t fancy that very much.  Anyway, we got here at about 5 and the manager, a very sweet man, upgraded us into the honeymoon suite!!!!  A very large room with yet another enormous bathroom, this time with a double shower and a large Jacuzzi bath.  Bob couldn’t wait to get in that after all his driving and we were still full up from the calamari so we decided not to go out again for dinner but to stay put.  I walked over to the bar and got him a nice cold beer and a cider for myself and we settled in here.

What a brilliant day it’s been.  I can’t tell you how much we’ve enjoyed this road trip.  South Africa is a fabulous place.  Yes, it undoubtedly has its problems but I can honestly say that all we’ve encountered during our time here has been warm welcome and genuine happiness to greet us.  The surroundings are sublime, the food and wine great, plentiful and cheap, the accommodation brilliant and there is so much to do.  We’re going to have to come back again and do a longer road trip all over.  Not sure when, but we’ve got to do it.  If you’ve not been, I do encourage you to come to Cape Town and try the Garden Route or R62 like we’ve done, you could have a wonderful couple of weeks.  Maybe not Prince Alfred pass though if you’re a bit squeamish or driving a Ford Fiesta 🙂

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