We had such an amazing wildlife adventure to Southern Africa to see the animals in the wild, it truly was a dream come true. I had been researching Africa for the past two years and came to know the history and the attractions of some countries. The first two countries I was looking forward to visiting were Kenya and Tanzania to experience the famous Wildebeest migration. At the time of planning Kenya became politically unsafe with the neighbouring country of Somali causing much unrest. So to my second preference of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana which were reputed to be fairly stable countries. I located a local travel agent in Cape Town who was recommended by a contact of mine. This agent, a young South African guy by the name of Huntley from African Overland Tours, provided the best service I have had in organising my trips. Not only did he arrange the safari I had chosen, he assisted with my planning activities in Cape Town and responded to umpteen questions along the way. We were fortunate to have the pleasure of his company one afternoon in Cape Town.
Our journey began in Johannesburg after our long flight from Singapore. Arriving early morning with the temperature at zero degrees, we were fortunate that our lovely hostess at the bed and breakfast had a room vacant for us. After a few hours sleep we had pre-arranged for a driver to take us to the famous Apartheid Museum. Driving through the suburbs, we noticed the landscape was very dry and bleak looking. Apparently Johannesburg receives no rain during the cold, dry winter months. The very modern museum, built of concrete, metal and steel tells the story of apartheid in all its complexity, its history and bears witness to suffering, heroism and tragedy. Reading some of the stories of the freedom fighters gave an insight into how badly treated the black people were and how brave they were. I have since read Nelson Mandela’s book ‘The long walk to freedom’ which I found truly inspiring.
Leaving Johannesburg behind after a day’s sightseeing on the hop on-hop off bus, we boarded the overnight train to Cape Town after a very confusing start at the ticket office. When we arrived there load shedding for the power was taking place which meant some areas were in darkness for a period of time.
Our train journey was very enjoyable and relaxing watching the scenery passing by, albeit very cold for us as there was no heating in the cabin.
Before arriving in Cape Town we enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, mashed potato, grilled tomatoes and salad, all for $9. Taking a short taxi ride, we soon arrived at the Protea hotel which was originally one of the most feared prisons in the world around the 1880’s. The convicts were used to work on the basin and breakwaters for the now famous V & A Waterfront. Today the hotel offers very comfortable accommodation with spectacular Table Mountain as a backdrop.
Cape Town in winter was rather cold and chilly, especially for us. So we rugged ourselves up and wandered into the city which is a relative easy walk from the waterfront. Cape Town is known for its friendly people and whenever we looked a little lost, there was always someone to assist us with directions. We strolled through the Company gardens with its beautiful old trees, many Egyptian geese, pigeons and hundreds of friendly squirrels. Strolling north, we came across the colourful houses of the Cape’s Muslim community, known as Bo-Kaap or the Cape Malay Quarter. Originally the residents were descendants of slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and various African countries who were imported by the Dutch in the early 16 century. Nowadays the area is becoming multicultural because of its location on the slopes of Signal Hill and its close proximity to the city.
Whilst in this region we decided to take the opportunity to visit Cape Agulhas where we sailed by in 1951 on our journey to Australia and where Ole was born. Hiring a car for two days, we drove along the beautiful coast road on a gorgeous sunny day stopping to visit a very old vineyard established in the 1700 with many historical buildings. Driving further along the coast, we were fortunate to see a pod of whales at Hermanus which is famous for its Southern Right Whale. The town even has a whale crier who alerts people to the whales coming into the bay.
Continuing along the coast road we eventually arrived in the tiny village of Cape Agulhas which is the geographic southern tip of the African continent and the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Wandering along the path way past the famous red and white Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, it is easy to see why many ships have found their graves off this very rugged coastline. After a very scrumptious breakfast prepared by our delightful hostess we travelled north through the colourful farming areas of Breadesdorp to the lovely old town of Swellendam onto Barrydale through the very windy Tradouw Pass, passing many Chacma Baboons along the way, some sitting on the middle of the road.
Having another two days in Cape Town, we used the Hop on-Hop Off bus to see many attractions which included the famous Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens established to conserve and promote indigenous flora and well known for its large collection of Protea; the Protea being South Africa’s national flower. Visited the World of Birds sanctuary which rescues many injured birds, had a short visit to a township where we got drenched in a sudden downpour.
Next morning we were up early to join our safari group to commence our 21 day epic journey through Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Our group consisted of 6 Aussies, 1 German and 3 English people and our delightful two guides Chris and Matthew. After being introduced to the group, we met our trusty vehicle – Rose which was going to carry us from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, a distance of nearly 6000 km. The sky turned beautiful and blue for our first day of the safari, travelling around the picturesque coastline from Hout Bay to Cape of Good Hope stopping to take photos of the Cape Mountain Zebras and many ostriches. After a climb up a very steep hill to see the Cape Point Lighthouse, we enjoyed a very tasty fish lunch. Continuing on our drive, we stopped next at the Boulder Beach African Penguin colony where we watched hundreds of penguins sunbathing on the rocks.
Next morning, we were up early which seemed to be the norm on this safari. Leaving Cape Town behind we were destined for Cederberg which is a massive rock wilderness with giant sandstone boulders. After stopping at a small township to purchase our supplies, as we were a self catering group, we reached our destination for the night which was chalets set in secluded bushland.
Continuing on our journey, we drove through very arid areas, stopping at the South African border to have our passports stamped and onto our permanent lodge tents for the night. The tents overlooked the Orange River, such a beautiful setting compared to the dry, dusty desert outside the accommodation grounds. The facilities included a bar overlooking a large swimming pool, the water being too cold for most of us to swim and a restaurant.
Early next morning the sunrise over the Orange River was very beautiful. Doug and I had a restful time as most of the group ventured out on the river to canoe down the rapids. When our guide appeared we assisted him to prepare brunch. Our journey continued on dusty, bumpy roads, through the desolate looking country where we occasionally caught glimpses of goats, springbok and Oryx, past the Fish River Canyon to our Mexican looking cabins. Late afternoon, we drove to Fish River Canyon which is the second largest canyon in the world with a depth of 550 metres to see the sunset over the massive canyon.
We were on our journey, early morning to drive over the same dusty road to the bitumen road at Bethanie, but that didn’t last long as we soon hit the dirt road again. Stopped at Helmeringhausen Hotel and Guest Farm to have the most delicious apple crumble, an unbelievable place in the middle of the desert. Early afternoon, we arrived at our tented camp in the parched Namib Desert with an Oryx lying in the shade of a tent. That evening we had barbecued ostrich, not as tasty as the springbok we had eaten earlier on our trip. The desert can be very cold at night, particularly in a tent, yet warm during the day. Getting out of bed at 5.30 was rather a challenge. Our early start was to queue at the entrance of the Naukluft National Park where we would drive to the 300 metre high Sand Dune 45. By the time we arrived, many vehicles were already in the parking lot and the climbers had begun their very steep ascent up the sand dune. Further along a very sandy track where we had to use the park vehicles, is Deadvlei which has the highest sand dune of 370 metres. Some of our group climbed it but we wandered through the dry clay pan, instead. Diving across the desert roads, we saw many sociable weavers which build permanent nests large enough to house over 100 pairs of birds, very old looking nests.
Continuing on our safari, the next day with an early start again, we drive along the rough, sandy roads, stopping at the Tropic of Capricorn to have a group photo taken, then onto the seaside resort of Swakopmund to arrive late afternoon. As we were driving by the ocean, large flocks of flamingos were feeding on the platinum at the water’s edge. Swakopmund has many old German colonial buildings and is a very friendly town to wander around. Having so many attractions to see, we decided on a Modesa Township tour as we were more interested in the people. Modesa has a population of 20,000 and was created by the apartheid regime to segregate people according to colour. On entering the township, we bought fruit to give to the friendly children along the way. Stopped to chat with a voluntary teacher at a tiny two room school with dirt floors, further along, visited an orphanage where the Herero woman chatted about the children she cares for. We really enjoyed the tour with our young guide who provided us with a small meal of porridge bread, maize, spinach and grubs, tasted not too bad and were entertained by a local singing group.
During the next two days we drove along the Skeleton coast which is known for its many ship wrecks,onto Brandberg Mountains to see the ancient rock paintings of the white lady and on a very rough road to the Petrified Forest. There we discovered the very strange looking bush called the Welwitschia which lives for thousands of years but only manages to produce a few leaves.
Continuing on our journey in Namibia, heading north to Etosha National Park which covers an area of 22,912 sq km where we would see an abundance of animals in the wild, firstly calling into our lodgings for the next two nights. Although Etosha is dominated by an enormous salt pan which spreads across a quarter of the park, it has an abundance of wildlife, including 114 mammal species and 340 bird species. Mid afternoon we drove into the park to get our first glimpse of wild life up close. On arrival at the first waterhole, we saw lions, large herd of elephants, giraffe, springbok and Oryx.
Perennial springs supply water to the waterholes around the park. The park is extremely dry with very rocky ground and sparse, bushy country. We could not imagine what food sustained the animals. Early next morning, we arrived at the park entrance at 6 am to beat the buses. At the first waterhole, we saw more elephants and to our delight, they wandered right in front of our Rose. Further along the road, we caught a glimpse of the huge black rhino feeding on the bushes. Being early morning, few buses were on the park roads which allowed us to see many animals, including – Red Hartebeest, Steenbok, many Burchell’s Zebra which differ from other Zebra because of the shadow stripes, Impala, Blue Wildebeest and Warthog. We did not see many birds here, mainly Pied Crows and Kori Bustards.
The following day we drove on bitumen road, for a change, to Windhoek, capital of Namibia. Being Sunday most of the town was closed so we had a relaxing afternoon that made up for the next day, which was rather long and tiring. We were driving in the Kalahari Desert which has the second largest wildlife reserve in the world and includes the very heart of Botswana. The reserve was established as a sanctuary for the San Bushmen, the original inhabitants for over 30,000 years. We stayed with the Bushmen in a small game reserve which the Government gave to them to manage. The Bushmen are delightful people and are very enthusiastic about nature and maintaining the reserve.
Now in Botswana, we continue on our journey to Maun which is known as the gateway to the Okavango Delta where we spent two nights in a wilderness tented camp. The Okavango Delta is the only inland delta in the world. Instead of flowing into the sea, the annual flood of fresh water from Angola spreads over 15,000 sq km of the Kalahari sand into a maze of lagoons and channels. Firstly we had to transfer all our gear that we needed, including tents, cooking gear, etc. into a four wheel drive as the road into the Delta was extremely sandy and only a rough track. When we reached the Delta we had to transfer the same gear onto Mokoros (dugout canoes). Then the Polers pushed the Mokoro along with their long poles through narrow, windy channels of tall reeds and across large lagoons where we kept a close look out for the lurking hippos. Sitting still for one and half hours was rather a challenge and were glad to reach our island. The Polers set up camp in a short time and we soon had our cup of tea. Late afternoon, the Polers gave us a guided nature walk and then returned to camp for dinner and bed in our small tents. Early next morning, the Polers had us walking through the rough Savannah country tracking animals such as Impala, warthogs and giraffe. We located many hippos splashing around in a large lagoon.
The next morning, early to rise again, we packed up and left the camp site as it was, in nature. After a much shorter Mokoro ride through the reeds and lagoons, passing many hippos along the way, we arrived back at the mainland. Chris, our guide had all our Polers and the ones from the village sing ‘Beautiful Africa’ to us. What an emotional experience it was, they were such delightful people.
During the next two days, we drove along desert roads, seeing many animals such as cows, goats, giraffe and elephants, staying one night near the vast Makgadikgadi salt pans and onto our destination at Chobe National Park. Our lodge for that night was ideally situated near the placid Chobe River. Late afternoon we were taken on a game cruise on the beautiful river where we saw hundreds of elephants, grazing on the grasslands, buffaloes, hippos, and many varieties of antelopes, giraffe, crocodiles and numerous birds.
Very early the next morning, two of us decided on a game safari through the bushland boarding the Chobe River. Best decision I made as we managed to see so many animals and birds, some which we had not seen before, including the wild dogs and Roan Deer. The elephants, buffalo, giraffe and Impala were very close to the bumpy, sandy track. To my delight, I managed to capture the magnificent, Lilac Breasted Roller in flight. This colourful bird is the national bird of Botswana.
I could have stayed longer in this National Park as there was such an abundance of animals and birds. After the safari trip, we continued onto the Botswana, Zimbabwe border which was the slowest crossing taking one and a half hours to our final destination of Victoria Falls which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Victoria Falls area is very expensive compared to Namibia and South Africa as the currency is in American dollars. The falls themselves are very spectacular covering a length of 1.6 km and a depth of a 100 m. The local people are very friendly and the township was within walking distance of our hotel. The following morning we had arranged a flight over the area to get a difference perspective of the massive falls.
They say ‘all good things must come to an end’. With sadness, we bid our fellow travellers a safe journey home after the most amazing adventure I have ever had.