After leaving Quiver Tree Forest we headed further south towards Fish River Canyon. On the way we stopped for a couple of nights at the well known Canon Roadhouse, this is a strange place, absolutely crammed with old automobile bits and pieces (both inside and outside), verging on the slightly tacky, but strangely in the arid area that it is set, it just works.
While we were there, we were sat out the front having a quick beer from the bar (there were no other customers, either staying in the lodge or on the campsite), when I noticed a motorbike parked just out of eyesight in the shade of a tree, so I went to have a look. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realised that it was the same Honda 125 (with a UK plate) that we had previously seen outside the Burkina Faso embassy in Bamako, Mali. Just then Jordan appeared round the corner, he was just as amazed to see us as we were to see him!
After sharing a couple of beers from the bar, we invited Jordan back to the campsite for some dinner, and after a huge curry made by Jac, he set off to find a suitable place to put up his tent (he will not pay for a campsite, and they wouldn’t let him stay without paying even on our huge camp area). He has really had some amazing adventures, including doing the infamous Kinshasa to Lubumbashi route through the DRC, all on his trusty little thirty year old 125. Virtually every night he has slept in his tiny tent by the side of the road. It was great to catch up with him again and share tales, and after offering him anything he wanted from our food supplies (he refused to accept anything), he set off leaving a trail of dust in the early evening dusk.
Next morning we set off for Fish River Canyon, and just after turning off the main gravel road into the smaller access track to the Canyon there was Jordan again, so we stopped, and after a quick chat about the canyon (he was just leaving), he asked if we could spare some sugar, so Jac got in the back of Colonel K and appeared with half a small bag of sugar and a number on bags of dehydrated meals that we brought with us, and left a very grateful Jordan repacking his tiny bags on his bike.
We have been lucky enough to see the Grand Canyon in USA, which is officially the largest in the world, with Fish River Canyon being the second largest. There were virtually no visitors at the canyon view areas, and you can actually drive both left and right around the rim of the canyon for a few kilometres each way, with absolutely no restrictions or barriers to stop you getting to the edge (this is Africa after all), all adding up to a very pleasurable experience.
The views are breathtaking, and amazingly we even spotted a small herd of Zebra deep in the canyon. There were Eagles wheeling around in the hot air, and it was completely silent.
After spending a few hours at Fish River Canyon, we headed for the Hot Springs at Ai-Ais, where they have a campsite at the NWR run “resort”. We had met a few people that said it was quite a nice place, so planned to spend a couple of nights there. It turned out to be a disappointment,rather overpriced campsite, which is so often the case with NWR run places. It was very dirty, there was an outdoor pool (that we did venture into), but the bottom was covered in dirt and sand, and there was even green algae on the sides, and despite there being large numbers of staff about, the toilets and showers were in a poor state. We only stayed one night and moved on. Incidentally, the famous hot spring was closed off to bathers as the water temperature was too hot! It was extremely hot and sticky down there, even the dirty pool was warmer than a bath!
So next morning we set off towards the border with South Africa, planning to spend one night on the Orange River (this separates the two countries), This couple of hundred kilometres really does show up the countryside changing from arid desert to greener areas along the Orange River. But first we had to climb up out of the canyon floor (Ai-Ais is right in the base of Fish River), so after ensuring that we had a nice warm engine, we slowly (as usual) climbed, and climbed up to the main dirt track that was going to lead us to Aussenkehr.
We even saw a herd of the much rarer Hartmanns Mountain Zebra, these are distinguished by their lighter frame, unstripped under parts and the stripping going to the bottom of their legs.
Then as we started to drive along the river, everything changed, there were huge areas of green irrigated land, and there were large areas of vineyards.
This is still a very sandy area, so heaven knows how much water is being extracted out of the river to produce these grapes, but whole new villages mostly of reed and corrugated steel construction have sprung up to support these ventures.
We arrived at Amanzi River Camp, planning to just overnight here, but ended up staying for four nights, we loved it here. Each camp area is huge, and there is some nice natural shade from the trees. Its a family run campsite that specialises in 4 or 5 day canoe trips up the Orange River, they also hire out two man canoes on a very low day rate (80p a day after the first day). They are extremely relaxed with how and when you use the canoes, the only restrictions are the weirs above and below the campsite.
In places the cliffs rise almost vertically out from the river on the South African side, and the bird life in the nooks and crannies along the river is fantastic, with Falcons, Vultures, Eagles whirling and hunting high above the river, and then this Hadeda Ibis that was extremely noisy as we approached her cave just above the water line, then we realised that she was protecting her young in the nest behind.
There were also many types of Kingfishers as well including the quite common Pied Kingfisher, but for the first time on this trip we managed to get some photos of a Giant Kingfisher, this is the worlds largest Kingfisher, and it has a wingspan of almost half a metre, and a huge dagger like bill that gives it an almost pre-historic look to it.
There was also several African Darter’s, which when in the water only have their slender neck above the water and then gracefully slide under to fish again, this gives the impression of a snake in the water and is quite unnerving to see (especially when you are swimming near one).
We had the canoe for three days, and had a great time, paddling, swimming and fishing in the Orange River.
And yes I did catch fish! Safely released back into the Orange River.
Whilst at Amanzi, we met a really nice retired South African guy who arrived in a classic old Mercedes Benz 911 four wheel drive truck, he kindly gave us lots of tips for South Africa. The truck was home built by him and weighed in at a staggering 11 tonnes! And we thought Colonel K was a bit portly at 9.5 tonnes. Check out the Water Buffalo skull and horns on the front of the roof rack.
Then it was off to the border crossing at Noordoewer, this was to be our first land border crossing since we left Burkina Faso and entered Ghana. What a difference, we were through both borders in less than 45 minutes, and the customs officials from both countries actually knew how to fill in the Carnet de Passage! A very pleasant experience and it makes you wonder why North and West African borders have to be so difficult and time consuming.
After the all clear from the border officials we headed for the small town of Springbok, where we went into town to stock up on food and drink at the Spar, and bought a South African sim card for our trusty iPhone. We then found a campsite on the outskirts of town and stayed for one night.
From Springbok we headed west towards the coast, this first part of road is tarmac and takes you up over two high passes, the Sandhoogte Pass and then the Spektakel Pass, and make no mistake this area of the country (as is much of the rest of it) is very, very hilly.
After the Passes, the road turns into a gravel track until it reaches the tiny coastal town of Kleinsee, this track in places is very rough and not very well maintained. But Kleinsee is in the West Coast Diamond Area, so once there if you are travelling south you have a fairly good tarmac road to travel on, then at the southern end it becomes gravel again. As is the case with most mining enterprises at the moment, they are having a hard time, and we were told by one local that the Diamond mines in this area had recently been closed down, then sold by De Beers, and the new owner is in the process of re-opening the mines. This is very good news for the local population as apart from fishing, there is nothing else in this area for work. As you enter the Diamond Area you go through a barrier with a serious looking gate house, these were completely un-manned and we just slowly drove through waiting for someone to shout at us to stop but nothing, it was the same as we left in the south at Kolingraas, only this time there were a couple of guys in a huge high watch tower, but again we weren’t stopped. Im sure once all the mining is up and running again security will be stepped up again.
That night we stayed at the Municipal campsite in Hondeklip Bay, and in true African style you have to find the appropriate council building in the little town (nicely hidden away down a back “road”) to pay for the camping. They are also supposed to give you a key for the ablution block, which they didn’t, and we didn’t realise until we had driven back to the campsite and set everything up. Jac was not happy and said she wasn’t going back to queue up again in the council building, so we used our own toilet and shower. Hondeklip Bay is a very traditional small fishing town with a small harbour, and because it is so far north and a long way from the nearest main road, tourism doesn’t seem to have made a huge impact here yet. Its quite a rough and ready town and with just a couple of bars next to the harbour, it has got a decent amount of “character” to it. Tarmac has not reached the town but its no worse for it.
There is still a large ship wreck near the mouth of the bay, which was covered by a flock of Cape Cormorants.
Next stop was Lamberts Bay, and this was a full days drive, mostly on gravel and sandy tracks, but again the beautiful scenery of the west coast keeps you going, and of course you do still see some wildlife including a flock of Karoo Kohaan.
Eventually we ended up back on the N7 tarmac road and the change was instant, we were suddenly in the wine producing vineyards, stretching as far as the eye could see, right up to the edge of the Cederburg Mountains. Mmmmmm we are liking South Africa!
Lambert’s Bay is a big holiday town, and the campsite in the town was huge, so we only spent a couple of nights there, but it does have a stunning white sandy beach that stretches for miles along the coast, it also feels a very safe place to walk around.
But with the campsite having space for over 300 pitches and all of them right on top of each other (and it is fully booked for the 3 to 4 weeks over christmas and new year) we decided not to stay for long, and move further South, and closer to Capetown.
Thanks for reading