After over 30 hours spent in planes and airports I arrived in Cape Town. So once I’d finished completely crashing the first night, I had a full day to explore before I was to meet my group at 6pm.
I decided to hop on one of the city tour buses that takes you all around Cape Town in a big loop also stopping at Table Mountain. After getting far too excited when Toto’s Africa came on between information I hopped off at the gondola stop for Table Mountain and joined the line to head up to the top. Having been clear weather and skies when I arrived, a bunch of cloud suddenly (and characteristically) came over the mountain, luckily this cleared fairly quickly so you could see the incredible views all around. After exploring more at the top, seeing a beaver looking creature and taking some snaps, I came back down and travelled around the rest of the city including the harbour. Saw some seals chilling in tyres and messing about in the water, birds nesting on the harbour wall and some incredible yachts and boats, all with the backdrop of table mountain behind. I came back to meet my group and we all went for a great really affordable and meat heavy meal! As a general trend I’ve been really pleasantly surprised at how cheap everything is here, I got a rump steak and a couple of beers in a nice restaurant for just over £10.
The next day we hopped in our Lando (the name for our bus that we have to do penalties such as sit ups etc for calling a bus or coach!), and started the drive to our first camp site a vineyard about 4/5 hours north of Cape Town. We stopped a couple of times to pick up supplies etc, one time being told we had to always close the windows because of baboons, #africaproblems. When we arrived at our campsite we all hopped off the Lando and learnt how to set up camp and unload all our tents kitchen equipment and bags etc. This trip would be camping pretty much all of the time. The tents were actually pretty simple to put up and when everyone pitches in it doesn’t take too long. We then had a wine tasting of six different wines for the equivalent of a fiver and then dinner with a few drinks before hitting the hay for a 5.45am start the next day.
So having packed down our tents, washed, ate breakfast, loaded everything back in the the van we hit the road ahead to head north to the Orange River. Now this drive was supposed to be about 4 hours. However a couple of hours in we broke down on the side of the road. After all pitching in to try and push the truck which we managed to do but didn’t fix the problem, we ended up being stuck there for a good few hours experiencing the African sun in all its glory. We were rescued by a mini bus that would drive us the remaining four hours or so to our campsite. Luckily we were staying by the Orange River so got to jump in and have a swim before a lovely dinner of bbq’d lamb. After a relatively late start and another swim with the campsite Labrador, we hit the road to the Namibian border.
Luckily the border crossing was pretty straightforward and we got through pretty quickly, feeling the temperature rise and the desert landscape begin. It even got so hot we ended up having to turn the bus air con off for risk of overheating using ‘Africa air con’ (open windows) instead. After a few hours we arrived at our campsite, quickly unloaded and put up our tents, before jumping back on the Lando to head to Fish River Canyon. Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world behind the Grand Canyon and we would be doing a short hike before a dinner of nachos at sunset. The was incredible with some of the best views of the trip so far as you can probably see by the pictures.
The next morning we had another 6am start to leave nice and early for a long drive day. Within the first twenty minutes we had driven past wild Ostriches, Zebra and Springbok. After this we arrived at our campsite, we had a few hours to chill out as tomorrow was to be a busy day. So having packed down our tents by 6am we all jumped in the Lando and headed to the national park so we could climb Dune 45 before it became too hot. The climbing was tough going with the sand not providing the best support but the views at the top were incredible and you also got to run down! After some delicious brunch cooked by our tour manager Maryke we then headed to the most popular tourist destination in Namibia (apparently) Deadvlai, which still only had maybe 10-15 other cars there…. Got to love Africa! This was the very instagrammable clay flats which are a jeep ride and 1km walk away. We also saw ‘big daddy’ and ‘big mumma’, two giant sand dunes about with the biggest ‘big daddy’ being roughly 300m high. We saw some crazy people climbing this in the midday desert sun… I gave that one a miss. We also stopped by at another canyon before heading to our campsite.
I opted to hop on a desert tour with our local bushman guide Frans. We drove out into the desert and saw zebras and oryx, as well as learning a lot along the way. Some highlights include Frans catching a lizard and showing us how we would eat it if we were stuck Bear Grylls style, him digging in the sand and showing us a little trap door belonging to a dancing white lady spider, hearing about how to stare down a hyena, and also learning about how he survived encounters with a black mamba and cobra. We arrived back just in time to see a huge herd of zebras at the waterhole next to our camp site. They are probably the most skittish animals I’ve ever seen, we sat and watched in silence from about 20 metres away whilst they proceeded to very slowly and carefully approach, then run off for seemingly no reason before repeating the whole process again occasionally actually getting a drink. After dinner by he campfire I went back down to watch the waterhole and saw a slightly ominous looking black figure of an animal trying to approach the zebras. So the waterhole had a small light illuminating it but darkness all around and sitting there not knowing what this thing was was pretty unnerving. It was most likely a jackal or hyena but still not something I’d be too confident in dealing with!
The next day we drove to Swakopmund through more of the desert seeing more wild zebras, baboons, flamingos and dolphins whilst driving. We would be in this coastal town for a couple of days. Now this was where a lot of extreme sports happen, however having done all of them pretty much in New Zealand I instead chose to visit the township to see how local people live and learn about their culture. We learnt the click language, about their traditional Victorian dress, visited a kindergarten ran by a volunteer using a cardboard box as her blackboard, and sampled Namibian cuisine (I wasn’t too much of a fan but did try everything including the grub). It was really good to get an insight into the local people and how they live.
After more time relaxing in the afternoon and a wander through town the next morning we left to head back out to the desert to Spitzkope. I had never heard of this place however it is really in the middle of nowhere, our bathroom facilities for our campsite consisted of one long drip toilet. However it is a huge granite rock formation that is absolutely beautiful! After being warned to wear closed toed shoes to protect from scorpions at night, we spent the afternoon climbing and exploring some of the rock formations before Anton (one of the leaders of the tour who drove the Lando) cooked us a second absolutely fantastic Brai (South African BBQ). We had fish with garlic and butter, and a local dish of lambs liver which was delicious. We then finished off with some smores. After this we had another briefing for the next day when we were casually told: if you get a scorpion sting on your foot you can just put it in near boiling water as its less painful and helps break up the venom; that we should move our tents in the morning before packing them to avoid disturbing any snakes or scorpions that might have decided they would be a pleasant place to hang out; that we could sleep under the stars but there was a small chance of something joining us in our sleeping bags; oh and also that black mambas the snake that can kill you with its venom are in this part of the world. So slightly nervously I went back to my tent making sure the zip was well and truly zipped up.
After surviving the night snake and scorpion free we headed across more desert for our next stop. Along the way we visited the living museum of the Damara people. This was slightly touristy but still interesting to see and learn about the traditional tribe of the area, their medicines, making fire and how the chief had up to ten wives! We then went to see some rock drawings and learnt about how they were used for spiritual and educational reasons which was also fascinating. At the campsite it had been rumoured desert elephants sometimes came through so we all eagerly tried to spot some, unfortunately this didn’t happen but t was a nice evening by the campfire all the same! We set off nice and early the next day as we’d be heading to Etosha national park for two nights where we’d be able to camp next to a waterhole and do our first game drives.
After a morning driving we arrived at Etosha national park, upon entering we saw some zebra, lots of different types of antelope, and then a giraffe off in the distance. After arriving at our campsite we unloaded and set up our tents for the next couple of nights, before heading to the pool (really roughing it in africa!). However firstly we popped over to the waterhole to see what wildlife there was and spotted a couple of giraffes and some zebra having an afternoon sip. The waterhole is in front of a fenced area so you sit slightly raised and can watch the wildlife come and go safely there. It’s also strictly no talking, and I may have politely told off some loud Germans along the way… I went back after the pool and sat with some of my fellow tour mates with a G&T and some cheese and crackers watching the animals come and go from the waterhole. We didn’t see many others than zebra and giraffes but still the setting was absolutely beautiful. I even sat there as a storm started to come in seeing the dust and wind pick up and suddenly cover the landscape. The sunset was out of this world and the storm did indeed hit, we didn’t get too much rain but a lot of thunder sand and lighting. It was also pretty entertaining seeing the Icelandic girls in my group get super excited at seeing light night for the first time each time it crackled through the sky, as a non lighting virgin it was still a sight to behold. In the evening I went back and saw about twenty giraffes, as well as my first big five sighting of rhino. We saw a female and calf as well as a male, the male just sort of tried to get near the female and when that didn’t work took a nap, other than that the giraffes were extremely tentative and jumpy.
The next day we did a game drive in the morning and evening in our Lando with Anton our driver. If I haven’t mentioned yet, and you weren’t aware, Africa is hot, extremely hot. Namibia and the desert landscapes we’ve been in are also extremely hot with temperatures reaching 42 degrees on some of our days… So the morning and evening were the best times to see animals as it’s cooler and they’re more active. We were really lucky seeing a hyena right by the side of the track and also elephants, lots of giraffes and springbok, and finally towards the end of the day lions, meaning after a couple of days we had already seen three of the big five. Seeing all of these creatures in the wild really is a sight to behold. I also spent more time in the breaks (other than trying to nap) at the waterhole where we saw more elephants and giraffes. Etosha national park was really great and also for the fact that yes although the campsite had around twenty spots and you did get other tourists, it didn’t feel overrun or like the animals were being too disturbed. For example when we spotted lions it wasn’t us and a hundred other vehicles there was just one other at first then another who joined. This made it a much better experience for us and probably the animals too!