Following our stay at Savanna in Sabi Sand, we spent three nights at the Cybele Forest Lodge near Hazy View and the Kruger National Park. The resort was lovely and the food wonderful, but it was not the best place to stay if you plan on doing any sightseeing. It is located at the end of a long and bumpy road up in the mountains. It was cooler at that elevation, so the fireplaces in the rooms were nice and the pools were heated. My sister and I took advantage of the spa on the day of our arrival. If your plan was to stay put and relax, it would be the perfect spot. Unfortunately, I rarely plan to stay put and relax, and I had booked three excursions.
Our first afternoon at Cybele was spent relaxing, using the spa, and enjoying a wonderful dinner. They are known for their food, and it was superb.
The next day we started with a half day panorama sightseeing drive from Cybele to the Lisbon Waterfalls, the Bourke’s Luck Potholes and God’s Window. Our guide and driver Edward was both knowledgeable and funny, a really nice guy from the Swazi tribe, who told us the local names for all the locations, historical tidbits and funny tourist observations. His grandfather used to hunt in Kruger Park, before it was a park.
Maybe it was just because Edward knew we were Americans, but he told us that “Americans just want to have fun, whether they see animals or not” while “The Chinese always get into trouble, getting out of their vehicles with long camera lenses to get a good picture. If we get word of someone in the park needing help, it is the Chinese.” According to Edward, if Germans don’t see anything but elephants, “They want a refund.” He kept this steady stream of late night comedy material and local lore up during the drive time between photo sites.
As we drove through the very scenic area, Edward explained that is was formerly called the Eastern Trans Vaal and is now known as Mpumalanga. Mpumalanga means “the place where the sun rises” in Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa and the Tsonga languages. Many of the Afrikaner names are being changed to names in the local tribal languages. Edward confided that he was forced to learn Afrikaans in school, and wasn’t happy about it.
Our first stop was the Lisbon Falls, where the sun was shining and there were few other people. The landscape was different from what we had seen in Sabi Sand; mountains and rolling hills, tall trees and the Lisbon falls with its lush green plunging drop. It was beautiful. At all of the tourist attractions you can find local people selling crafts such as animal carvings and jewelry. There was a sign that said that the sales benefited the women of the community, and they were encouraged to come and sell in that area to support their families. We took the opportunity to do a bit of browsing.
The Bourke’s Luck potholes were gorgeous. It was warmer and there were more people. Edward relayed the story of how Bourke fell down the potholes and not only came out unhurt, but with gold he had found at the bottom. It started the gold rush, hence, Bourke’s Luck, meaning good luck. We had good luck here as well, as the sun continued to shine. I took my shoes off as many others did and soaked in the water above the falls under the watchful eyes of the tourist safety monitors.
Luck evaded us though at God’s Window. God had pulled the curtain and it was shrouded in heavy mist. As we drove away and looked back, you could see that the mist extended only a few hundred feet. It reminded me of how Table Mountain in Cape Town can have a tablecloth just hugging the cliffs.
Edward suggested we visit a local raw silk “factory” and its shop. We did and got the story on how the local silk worm husks are turned into spools of silk and then woven into scarves and clothing. The factory employed about 20 local women spinning and weaving. Edward told us that the women were local women who were previously unemployed, so this little industry was a very good thing and the results were impressive. So of course I purchased a very beautiful and local creation. (www.africasilks.com)
The five of us lunched on delicious pancakes (crepes) at Harry’s Pancakes, and purchased two lovely carved wooden Kudus from a vendor walking the sidewalk. Haggling is an accepted practice. My sister spent 60 Rand on her Kudu, while I got mine for 50 Rand ($6). After lunch Edward drove us back to Cybele, where we prepared for our afternoon excursion, a short drive through Kruger National Park at dusk to an outdoor dinner spot inside the park.
The outdoor Kruger dinner was booked through Cybele prior to our arrival, and we were hoping for the experience described on the Cybele website; sundowners within Kruger, a bonfire to sit around and dinner under the stars. Unfortunately, we did not get it. We drove through the park with Chester, a Kruger National Park Guide, the only people legal to drive in the park after dark. We slowly wound our way along the dusty road, mostly devoid of game. We got a lecture on the importance of dung beetles, and saw a tortoise. From a distance we saw a baboon and a male Kudu.
We did not stop for sundowners, but arrived at our dinner spot after dark. After enjoying the overwhelming expertise and thoughtfulness of Savanna Lodge, we were disappointed with the dinner portion of the evening.
The night drive back to the gate where Edward waited for us produced only owls. I don’t blame the rangers for what we didn’t see during the drive. It is always hit and miss on a game drive, but the dinner experience was far from what was promised. Edward had been escorting us since 9 am, and finally dropped us at Cybele at about 9 pm. His day was even longer than ours, having to return the vehicle to its base and then make his way home.
The Cybele staff was most helpful regarding the disappointment of the night dinner in Kruger. It had been booked with a vendor, the one who dropped the ball. Cybele graciously refunded the entire amount of the dinner. During our stay at Cybele, the staff did their utmost to make us happy and correct any problems, this one being the largest one.