26 July 2018

Check-out from City Lodge Hotel, Johannesburg was quickly followed by check-in for Mango Airlines Flight 249 departing for Durban, and the one-hour hop enabled us to arrive promptly for our first engagement at the Zulu homestead of Shakaland.

We were in for remarkable demonstrations of axe making (and wielding), spear making (and throwing) as well as beer making (and drinking.) Whilst I don't envisage Stella Artois having to stave off competition anytime soon, it was an interesting taste sensation.  But probably not one to be revisited.
Cameron was fully immersing himself in the local culture, confidently sporting tribal headgear throughout our stay. He also appeared to have mastered the rudiments of the traditional Zulu courtship dance.  However, after closer investigation, it transpired he had merely stubbed his toe in a pair of flip-flops.
Saturday embraced a two-hour boat trip to get up close and personal with hippos and crocodiles on the St Lucia estuary.  In fact, we'd already become acquainted with the latter at The Crocodile Centre at Mtubatuba, where close to 800 members of the species are monitored and cared for.  Gnarled, ancient and notoriously bad-tempered, Mr Stockdale took the opportunity to actually hold one of these magnificent creatures.
Our flirtation with the natural world continued, unabated, at The Umfolozi Game Reserve, where our two-night stay furnished us with the opportunity to embark upon three game drives, including a dawn run, starting in near total darkness.
Four jeeps, one occupied by a group of extremely excited (some would say raucous) Year 9 and 10 girls, trawled the slopes of one of the most pristine reserves in Africa.  Mrs Pankhurst had warned against over-optimism and cautioned the group that we were playing 'the long game'.
That said, gratification was deferred for about two minutes, after which we had already encountered a herd of impala and a pregnant giraffe.  The jeeps abandoned their convoy and separated in search of further excitement.
We weren't disappointed.
Upon their return, the groups exchanged stories of various sightings; elephants, along with their calves, rhinos, giraffes and buffalo to name but a few.  Lions, however, proved to be the elusive member of the 'big five'.  But maybe that was no bad thing.  A nagging question kept running through my mind; what would happen if a small group of the aforementioned Year 9 and 10 girls disregarded all the advice, dismounted from the jeep and inadvertently wandered into the territory marked out by a 350kg African lion?
The consequences, however unpalatable, gradually dawned on me; the poor beast would just have to fend for itself.
The final drive concluded, and stories of the sightings, rather like fishermen's tales, were becoming increasingly exaggerated.  I know this because I don't think a cheetah can even ride an elephant.
As if the day couldn't get any better, our representative from Bundu Bashers, Craig Goodenough, in spite of his name, exceeded all expectations and arranged for the final round of The Open to be screened in the hotel lounge. Good times indeed.
Our only round of fixtures on the Durban leg of the tour has marked the end of our 100 per cent winning streak.  The facilities at Northwood School for boys were the best we have encountered thus far.  Immaculate water-based AstroTurf, electronic scoreboard, luminous balls, they had the lot.  In a closely contested encounter, we were finally undone by a couple of short corners and went down 2-0.
At Northwood's sister school, Danville Park High, the girls shared the spoils, the Under 14s winning 18 to 5 and the Under 16s...well, I'm not sure we actually lost; it's just that we ran out of time.  Trailing for much of the game the girls rallied, clawing their way back to 9-11, whereupon the final whistle sounded.
New friendships were forged as the tour party was hosted overnight.  Tomorrow we leave Durban, and the sun-soaked shores of the Indian Ocean, to begin the final chapter of the tour.  In 'The Mother City'.
By Mr Stockdale

For more photos from the trip, please visit the Birkenhead School Facebook page.