Africa - I had visions of elephants, giraffes, lions and zebras loping across the veldt, silhouetted against the setting sun, David and I giving chase from the back of a jeep, binoculars in one hand, long lens camera in the other.
As it turned out my 'wind in the hair, communing with wildlife' dream didn't quite match up with D's idealised view of the dark continent. Did you know they make wine in Africa - on picture-postcard estates with beautiful
With its beautiful colonial buildings, stunning setting in the shadow of Table Mountain and slightly exotic edge, Cape Town is one of the great undiscovered tourist destinations amongst Australians and North Americans. We had 48 hours here before we began our South African road trip and it wasn't enough.
The biggest surprise about Cape Town is how modern and orderly it felt. We arrived so long after dark that even David was concerned about navigating to our hotel. We need not have worried. The route to the city was sign-posted and well-lit and driving in Cape Town turned out to be no more difficult than driving in Sydney. Arriving at night had the benefit that we had the roads very much to ourselves. Within an hour of touching down we were safely ensconced in our hotel room.
We can't say we weren't warned. There were signs everywhere and at least one local told us to lock the car even if we were standing next to it. 'They will open the doors and steal your food'. We have been the victims of car break-ins twice in recent years and it was not an experience we wished to repeat.
David, however, just sometimes won't take advice - and he was hungry. He opened the boot of our car to retrieve a couple of bread rolls from his backpack. Within seconds the thief had leapt from the bushes and dashed toward us. David threw the rolls back into the boot, slammed the lid closed and retreated, leaving me trapped in the front seat with the thief staring malevolently down at me from the roof of the car parked beside us. It was as if he was daring me to be foolish enough to open the door.
I came to South Africa for the animals. David came for the scenery. Neither of us went home disappointed. With safari parks coming later in our trip, our first stop after leaving Cape Town was the Winelands - a region rich in history, architecture and beautiful scenery. Centred around the towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, and set against a mountain backdrop, this is one of the prettiest regions we have ever visited. The myriad of wine estates seem to compete with each other for the prize of most picturesque.
With that advice ringing in our ears, our guide pointed his remote at the electronic gates separating the lion enclosure from the other animals at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. I had finally made it to the Africa of my dreams. Now it seemed I stood a good chance of being served as breakfast to the King of the Beasts.
We were on our first morning game drive - the sun just peeping over the horizon. The Land Cruiser had open sides - no windows, no wire mesh, nothing between us and the lions. The guide didn't appear to have a weapon. Someone asked if the vehicle could out run a lion.
The plume of smoke rose hundreds of metres in the air, like a dirty tornado, as if the weather gods were suddenly, unreasonably, angry with us. Then the traffic stopped. All we could see ahead was a long line of cars - and the smoke. We assumed there have been a car accident - a bad one. We were wrong! Judging by the sirens and all the emergency vehicles racing toward us it had not happened very long ago. Strangely, there were no ambulances - just police cars.
I wanted to wait it out but David doesn't do waiting very well. It
130 kilometres per hour - the fastest animal on the planet. In the pre-dawn light, six pairs of eyes scanned the landscape for our quarry. This was his habitat - he had been seen two days before and last night there were fresh tracks. With twenty years experience as a guide, Frans was confident he knew the animal well enough to flush him out. We passed by giraffes and antelope with barely a glance, stopping only briefly to investigate two large grey shapes a few hundred metres from the rough dirt road. On any other morning we may have been excited by the white rhinos, but not today.