We promised ourselves that we would visit Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, in the extreme north of South Africa, again after previously seeing it in the ‘wet’ season. Last time we were here we had an amazing experience self driving ourselves around the park, but as you know sometimes when you revisit somewhere it can be a bit of an anti-climax, especially when you enjoyed it so much the first time.
First of all the border post at Mata Mata is unlike any other border that we have been through in Africa, leaving Namibia is so easy and stress free here (not all Namibian border posts are this easy), so after paying our vehicle tax (this is charged per 100km that you travelled while in Namibia for a HGV type truck) which worked out to be just under £20.00 for about 2 months travelling from the far north west border of Katima Mulio (border with Zambia), and out at Mata Mata, we got our Carnet de Passage and passports stamped to exit the country.
Where this border differs with most, is the fact that no commercial vehicles can use it, it is purely for visitors to the park. Secondly you have to have a minimum of 2 nights accommodation/camping pre-booked to be allowed access. We crossed early afternoon and we were only the third vehicle through that day. The other strange thing is that as soon as you cross the border out of Namibia you are of course in South Africa, the SA border post isn’t for another 120km, at the other end of the park at Twee-Rivieren. This also means that you can enter at Mata Mata, and exit also at Mata Mata, and not get a stamp for SA in your passport, this is also the same if entering from one of the remote border posts from Botswana, hence the name ‘Transfrontier Park’.
From the off Kgalagadi did not disappoint, this really is one of the best game parks in Africa (that we have been to anyway), and truly is a predators paradise. This is an extremely dry and arid place, and because of this there are no Elephants, Buffalo, or Rhino here, but it really isn’t any worse for that. There certainly isn’t the massive destruction here that is caused by large numbers of elephants to trees that you see in many places in Namibia and Botswana.
We spent 4 nights camped at Mata Mata (originally booked for 3), and self driving from here produced some spectacular game viewing from the cab of Colonel K including lots of Lions, and a couple of firsts for us with Caracal and African Wild Cat.
These African Wild Cats may look like a household tabby cat, but the are bigger (especially longer in the legs), and are a formidable hunting animal, we were lucky enough to see these on a few occasions in the bush, usually around or nearby a water hole.
There are a very large population of Jackals here in the park and they really do have to work for their food, you can see Jackals everywhere at all times of the day (even in the heat of the afternoon when everything else is tucked up in the shade), scavenging for bits of food here and there.
The other treat up at the Mata Mata end of the Park was the large number of owls present, and because the Camel Thorn trees are right up next to the track here, we were able to get up really close to them sometimes.
There are also huge numbers of birds of prey in this north western side of Kgalagadi, including White Backed Vultures, Lappet-faced Vultures, and the beautiful Secretary Bird.
This park does attract a lot of serious birders, and on one early morning game drive we were flagged down by a vehicle coming the other way, the driver was very animated and excited, he explained that a little further down the track was the best specimen of a huge Tawny Eagle that he had ever seen. Im not sure about that but we did see it and it was magnificent.
There are also many other birds of prey including the Black Chested Snake-Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, and the numerous Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, and many more……
Obviously there is a certain amount of luck with self driving in a park such as Kgalagadi, but as with all things in life you also make your own luck, we had 11 early morning game drives during our stay (inc the morning that we left the park), and every time we were out of the campsite by 5.30, in other words as the gates opened. During one of these drives from Mata Mata we saw a huge pride of lions, first counting four adults and four cubs in the long grass near the waterhole. Then incredibly we spotted at least another eight adults on the sand dunes further back, eventually they all came together before moving on over the back of the dunes.
We always went driving for a minimum of five hours each morning, sometimes longer, but there really is little point in driving during the heat of the day (and it was very hot!), but luckily the campsite at Mata Mata has a small swimming pool that is perfect for cooling off.
One day we arrived back at the camp and decided to have a spot of lunch, obviously sat outside the truck, so wound out the awning to get a bit of shade, it was stifling hot, with not a breath of breeze, it was very still indeed. After letting our lunch settle (an exciting mix of crackers, tomato and cold ham or cheese as always), we put on our cossies, and walked the 20 metres to the fenced pool. We were splashing around in the pool chatting to a South African couple went all of a sudden the campsite disappeared in a dust cloud, as a huge “whirlygig” tore through the site, there was an almighty crash, and in unison both Jac and I shouted “shit, the awning”, we grabbed our towels and ran back to Colonel K expecting to see the awning torn to shreds and laying in a heap on the floor. I couldn’t believe my eyes when we got there, the awning was still attached but on the roof of the Daf!!!! The two arms were snapped completely off the front of the awning and were just hanging there. Incredibly none of the other campers batted an eyelid at this happening, but eventually an elderly South African from the camp next door came to lend a hand. We disconnected the hinged wind-out arms completely (there was no way they were ever going to go back into the housing again), and managed to wind the rest of the awning in. A new awning is now needed, and a lesson learnt, never leave an awning unattended in Africa even on the stillest of days!!!!
Some campsites in Africa have a problem with Baboons or monkeys, but here in Mata Mata its Ground Squirrels, there are dozens and dozens of them, and they can be a real pain in the butt, very cute but they have got used to humans and obviously associate us with food.
Then one afternoon there was a new kid on the block, even cuter, and so much more fun, yup I found a solitary Meerkat under Colonel K, hunting and eating the giant caterpillars that were abundant in number here, these were about 3” (75mm) long and very nasty looking.
He would expertly (and very carefully) drag/roll these caterpillars in the sand which seemed to diminish the danger caused by the hairs etc, and then scoff them down, before catching another and repeating this operation. When he had eaten about four of these monsters, he just chilled down next to us.
It wasn’t long though before those pesky Ground Squirrels appeared to see who this little guy was. They were literally nose to nose at one point, until the squirrel decided its better to just bugger off.
When we were here before, the tracks around the park were in very good condition, and really weren’t a problem to drive on, but this time it was a different story, with the sand being very soft and deep in places within about 30km of Mata Mata, and on the track up towards Nossob, so we opted to keep the truck in low range for the 5 days that we were driving up in that area, the trouble was the deep sections were very sporadic, and even seemed worse some days and better on other days.
Let me just say that our 10 tonne Leyland Daf didn’t get stuck once in Kgalagadi, but on one particular day we were returning to Mata Mata after a very long morning drive when we hit a very long deep sandy section that was gradually going up hill. Ahead of us were two stranded vehicles, a Nissan Navara, and a Toyota Fortuna (a car version of a Hilux), both seriously stuck deep in the sand. We pulled off the track onto a sort of “drive around”, and got out of the truck to see if we could help. Behind us was a Landrover Discovery that was also deep in the sand and not moving. Neither vehicle had any sand ladders so Jac and I went back to the truck and got out our Maxtrax recovery boards, We got the Toyota out quite quickly, and he parked back down by Colonel K, the second vehicle the Navara was much more of a problem, not helped by the fact that the South African driver insisted every time we put the Maxtrax under the wheels that he gave it maximum revs and was chewing the lugs off of our boards!!! The issue was made worse by the fact that there were a few “helpers” that all insisted that he “gun it” out of the sand. I was getting a bit irate with seeing several hundreds of pounds worth of Maxtrax (we have 4 of them) being slowly destroyed, especially as we have used them lots of times on our LD truck without so much as a mark on them, I was asked to take the driving seat of the Navara. Oh shit!!!! No pressure here then, a stupid soft Englishman telling a load of burly Afrikaans out door types how to extract a stuck vehicle mmmmmm…….. Slowly, low revs, I can feel the Nissan coming up on the boards, and I just reversed it out…… phew, one up for the plucky Brits. Actually the guys were great and very much appreciated the help from us, it was scorching hot in the midday sun (it was about 12.30pm), and kneeling down in the sand resulted in burnt knee caps.
On our last drive from Mata Mata we found a male Lion under the shade of a tree, at first all appeared well, then Jac noticed that it had a bad wound on one of his rear legs.
Then the poor thing opened its eyes and appeared to be either blind in one eye or have suffered a bad injury.
We saw the same Lion the following morning and it was up and walking, but with a very bad lim. It was at a waterhole not far from where we had seen it the previous day, but things didn’t look good for this fairly young fella. We spoke to someone a few days later and they said lots of lions here get injured while hunting or fighting but apparently the survival rate for injured big cats is quite high. Fingers crossed.
Also on our way down to Twee-Revieren (about a 130km drive including detours), we were lucky enough to see a stunning Leopard dozing under a tree, before he disappeared off up into the rocky outcrops that litter this section of Kgalagadi. This was indeed a rare treat to see one of these cats in broad daylight.
We were due to stay in the park for 7 nights, but ended up staying for 10 nights, we love this place. From Twee-Rivieren we saw lots of Lions again, including some stunning specimens.
By day 6 we still hadn’t seen Cheetah and were staying out a little later in the hope of snatching a glimpse of these elegant cats. We were on our way back to Twee-Rivieren campsite, and with the gate in sight (always left open here during the day), we spotted three Cheetah under a Camel Thorn Tree. It was a fantastic end to another great game viewing, they were lying next to what was left of their dinner, a newly dispatched Springbok, the blood was still visible on their faces and chests.
To be so up close and personal with these Cheetah was a real privilege, and so close to the campsite it just goes to show you never should give up on self- drive game viewing.
Kgalagadi really does attract lots of very serious and indeed professional wildlife photographers, and one of the reasons for this is the stunning back drop that can be available for your photos. With this I mean the red sand dunes of the Kalahari. When the sun is low and the animals are in the right position the result can be breathtaking (unfortunately lots of the time the big cats don’t play ball and you end up taking photos into the morning sun).
Obviously there has to be a stable and reliable food source for all these predators, and in Kgalagadi there are huge numbers of Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Red Hartebeest,Gemsbok, Steenbok, and Giraffe. All of these animals obviously have to drink, and these waterholes provide the perfect ambush places for cats.
Whilst getting up at 5.00am (in the dark), to be game driving by 5.30am can be a bit of a pain (and its surprising how many European tourists can’t be bothered to get up early), most days it really pays off, and on one particular early morning just as the sun was rising over the dunes to the east, we were paid back in droves!!! We spotted two adult male Cheetah, one very close to the track and one up on the sand dunes beyond.
These boys were up and hunting!! We managed to follow them in the truck for about 40 minutes, and it was fascinating to watch them work as a team, one slowly crouching low in the bush, slowly working his way along, while the other one stayed on the higher ground looking for prey (probably Springbok). We even watched them climb trees, which we had never seen before. They only came together when they got to a large tree, and they both “sprayed” up the trunk, marking their territory.
We never actually saw them make a “kill” but it was a real treat to watch them for so long, and especially with them being on the move rather than just resting up in the heat of the day.
Whilst here we also had a few other “firsts” for us, we saw a Cape Porcupine out in the open, a few Bat Eared Foxes, and Cape Foxes.
There was yet another predatory first for us on the last day in the park we came across a Brown Hyena, these strange creatures are much rarer than the more commonly seen Spotted Hyena, he was very nervous of the truck and also kept looking around him, maybe there were Lions in the area too.
We also saw another Leopard, and another African Wild Cat during our ten days in the park, and out of 11 early morning game drives we saw big cats on all but one of them!! Thats not too shabby a record I think.
I just hope that SanParks (this is the South African body that run their vast array of National Parks), don’t ruin the park. At the moment it is still “raw”, and out of the three main campsites only one has a restaurant (the South Africans like to braii and cook for themselves), the roads are still tricky in places especially in the northern areas, and the capacity for visitors is still low compared to parks like Kruger and Etosha. Also the only game vehicle that we saw was from a lodge in Botswana, so you really have to self drive.
Whilst comparing it to Namibia’s Etosha, I have to say the campsites in Kgalagadi are on another level, in fact on another planet, with the ablutions being spotlessly clean, and literally half the price for a nights camping (approx £17.00 per night for two people and a vehicle).
I also have a suggestion to NWR (the government body that runs Namibia’s main tourist attractions such as Etosha, and Fish River etc), send your staff to Kgalagadi for a few days and see how you are supposed to interact and talk to clients!!!! By the time we left Twee-Rivieren, the Sanparks staff knew us by name, were most helpful about changing a night from one camp to a different one, and allowed us to book extra nights on a day to day basis, all carried out in a friendly smiling manner.
As you can probably tell we loved our time here, and it really is addictive, we just kept adding on days, you never know what you might see the next morning……..
We are gonna miss these guys!
Thanks so much for reading, we now have passed 40,000 visitors to Lorrywaydown, but are sadly nearing the end of our trip ,well only a couple of months to go.
I hope the number of photos on this post isn’t too much trouble to trawl through…..
Once again we enjoyed our time in Swakopmund, Namibia, and made use of this very westernised town, by getting the rear rack on Colonel K welded and strengthened (the box section had snapped/cracked in two places), and our spotlight supports stiffened up with a very smart piece of stainless steel welding.
We also had a full service done on the truck (we have rigidly stuck to oil and filter changes every 10,000km or 6,000 miles on this trip), Midvaal Garage also did a few minor repairs too. So with Colonel K in tip top condition before we headed south into the Namib Naukluft what could possibly go wrong, especially as the Daf has been so well behaved on this trip!
Swakopmund really is unlike another African town or city that we have been to, for one thing the climate is so nice after the scorching heat of Damaraland. Then there is the main attraction of this coastal town……. SlowTown Coffee, oh my god can they make a cappuccino?
Here we met some great people, including a nice German couple that are travelling in Africa in their very smart Iveco truck. The living cabin was previously fitted to hi sold truck, that was actually a Leyland Daf T244, the same as our Colonel K. The first night we met Artur and Conny, they insisted that we drink his homemade Apple Schnapps, this was after we had drunk copious amounts of wine…. we woke up the next morning with bad heads and they didn’t!!! The second time we met them (about a week later with their son and his wife), I insisted that this time we drunk MY drink, a bottle a Ballantines Scotch Whiskey…. Ha I thought, see how these Germans can take a “proper drink”…… We left them with an empty bottle, and we both had sore heads, and they didn’t!!!
One afternoon, we had just got back to the campsite after a cheeky SlowTown and a walk along the coast, when a “Bobo Camper” pulled in (these are a normal 2wd european style motorhomes), and we quickly noticed an English accent, they of course spotted our GB plates, and we started chatting, the next moment another two “Bobo’s” pulled in, also English. Eventually there were 13 or 14 of them on the campsite. It turns out that it was an organised tour, with a “guide” and a full time mechanic from Bobo Campers (complete with a spare camper), and it was organised by the Camping and Caravan Club of Great Britain (or something similar). Now we knew tourism in Namibia was changing!!! More of this later…..
Anyway we ended up having a really nice time with some of these guys, but especially Nigel and Sue who we had a braii with a couple of times in the evenings.
Before we left Swakopmund we had to say goodbye to a semi-wild cat that befriended us, “Bluey” was very scared of us at first, but after Jac insisting that we buy it tins of “Pampers” (yup that wasn’t a spelling mistake), it arrived on the dot at 5.00pm every evening and wouldn’t leave us, even taking to sleeping under the braii (barbecue to us Brits). The reason it would arrive until 5.00pm was it was petrified of the local staff, this was reinforced once when one of the cleaners was late leaving and “Bluey” saw him in the distance and ran under the truck and hid behind the wheel until he was gone. Strangely “Bluey” also knows his days of the week, because the staff only work half days on Saturday and Sunday, and old “Bluely” would tentatively appear about an hour of so earlier on these days.
We had a few trips to the nearby town of Walvis Bay, which is a bit more industrialised than Swakopmund, but we enjoyed it all the same.
But it was time to move south, and boy does it change very quickly. Its a very gradual climb up from the coast on the gravel road, but you quickly go from sea level to over 3,000 feet (in about an hour), and the climate has suddenly gone from the cool moist air of Swakopmund to the intense heat and dryness of the Namib desert. The following photo was taken about 100km (60 miles) inland and looking back towards the coast.
Personally, we love this arid environment and its raw natural beauty. Yes it can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially travelling without air-conditioning in the cab, but you do get used to it.
We decided to stop in the Gamsberg Mountains, which was the first time for us, and it didn’t disappoint, Rooisand Lodge is in a stunning quiet valley near the base of the mountain, and we ended up staying two nights here (we were trying to work out a way so we could kidnap the owners stunning young Weimaraner dog, no chance!).
After rejoining the main gravel road that continues south, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn for the last time on this trip (probably), and of course had to do the photo thing….
We had a quick stop for coffee and massively over priced and over hyped Apple Pie at Solitare, where we also topped up Colonel K. While I was in the filling station, I took a photo of the piles of damaged wheels that had been dumped there, it was a timely reminder of how hard on vehicles even the more major routes in Namibia are.
As we decided not to go to the tourist trap that is Sesriem, and the Dunes of Sossusvlei, we took a more easterly route and headed for the campsite at Hammerstein Lodge, at the base of Tsarisberge Mountain. The campsite here really is an afterthought, and the lodge really doesn’t maintain it at all, the ablution facilities are basically the toilet and shower for the swimming pool (which was totally disgusting, even by African standards). But for some reason we decided to go on an evening gamedrive in the lodge’s safari vehicle, our expectations were low but hey it was very cheap (about £20.00 each), so in we piled with 6 German tourists that were obviously part of a large group and staying in the rooms.
What followed was without a doubt the worst safari experience we have ever had, and indeed was Africa shown at its very very worst. The drive took place on a private game farm, and there were very little in the way of animals, but what was there were encouraged to run to the safari vehicle that had a bale of hay in the back, this ended up with two zebra (the only two we saw), having to run in the afternoon heat to reach the Landcruiser, then the driver started to drive off so they had to run along side us. Then we stopped at the Rhino “enclosure”, and of course the Zebra started to get a little aggressive (frustration?), the driver then removed his belt and started hitting the poor Zebra, at this point I couldn’t keep my mouth shut any longer!! Then he gave the Zebra half a bale of hay and threw the other half into the two White Rhino. This was a terrible place and the Rhino were very stressed with the safari vehicle being there. The shocking thing for me was that the other guests really didn’t see anything wrong with this. One woman even asked the driver why the Rhino where so scared!!!! We hated the whole experience, and for once put a terrible review on the main travellers app that we use. I never took a photo in the whole time I was there, and well I guess you now know that I’m like with my camera ……..
By now we had realised that Namibia is changing (nothing to do with the safari trip from hell), two years ago, at roughly the same time of year, you would be lucky to see 4 or 5 vehicles an hour on the gravel roads, now its more 20-30 an hour, and there are so many more coaches and overland groups (just going to Namibia). Most of the campsites now have to be booked, you can’t take for granted that there will be space (this especially applies to the more popular places and those that have decent access roads). The other thing that has changed are the prices for camping, obviously supply and demand, many have increased by more than 50%, and they are still getting filled up.
Last time we were at the lovely Klein Aus Vista campsite was two years ago, and of the 10 campsites here, mostly there was only two or maybe three taken, this time we had to pre-book in advance, and of course it was full. This isn’t too much of a problem but on two of the camp sites the first night we were there were actually two groups. This meant that instead of maybe 20 to 25 people using 4 toilets and showers, there were about 60 people using the same number of facilities. This is a potential problem, the infrastructure just isn’t there in Namibia to deal with this massive extra capacity (especially in the government run National Parks such as Etosha). One Swiss guy that we met here in Aus summed it up by saying, everyone he knows in Switzerland went to Namibia this year and are also planning to go again next year.
Despite the relative overcrowding of the campsite we absolutely love this place, and 90% of people are only here for one night and then move on, so after 8.00am the place is pretty silent, until the next lot arrive in the afternoon. It is in such a beautiful place, and fortunately we were allocated the best campsite here, no10 right out on its own, and under a huge tree complete with its own massive Sociable Weaverbirds nest.
These birds (maybe 50-80 in each nest), are so active from dawn till dusk and you can even hear them chirping away during the night, and it is fascinating sitting and watching them working to constantly maintain their nest and to bring food back, better than any telly this…..
We put down a water dish for them and boy were they grateful, with dozens of them on the ground at a time for the first couple of hours it was there. It wasn’t long before others were also attached to the tiny dish of water, with this Desert Striped Mouse appearing from the base of the tree.
For us one of the highlights of this place is the walking up in the mountains behind, on various mapped trails, and on one particular walk we spend over 4 hours up in the hills, leaving early in the morning trying to miss the worst of the heat, but by 8.00am the sun was already very hot, and our 2 litres of water was all gone long before we returned to the truck. Stunning but very inhospitable.
Once we were back down from the mountain, we had to skirt around the back of the rocky outcrop to get back to Colonel K, it was here that we saw quite a bit of game (obviously completely wild and free roaming), and we walked past a male Kudu, but he quickly disappeared behind a huge rock before I could get a photo of him, so we carried on. Jac glanced back to see the stunning animal almost framed in a rock formation that appeared to completely enclose it, he was in the shade and feeling safe, though he never took his eyes off of us.
Back at the truck our new friends were waiting for us…..
Speaking of new friends, while we were sat in the lounge of the Lodge using their wifi for “research purposes”, an English couple appeared and introduced themselves. We spent that evening with Gordon and Linda, talking about theirs and our travels (they shipped a Landcruiser to Namibia 11 years ago and still love coming back each year). We had a lovely time with them and realised that we would also meet up with them again in a couple of days time down at Fish River Canyon.
On our way down to Fish River we stopped for coffee shop at a distillery, yes a distillery in the middle of nowhere, but right next to the newly built Naute Dam which is obviously supplying water to these vast agricultural areas, growing every thing from figs to grapes etc.
It was here in the carpark out the front that we were once again reminded of how much this country has changed, yet another large group of “Bobo” campers, about 14 this time, mostly German but also a few Swiss.
The trouble was, with all these campers parked outside it was very difficult to find Colonel K in amongst the others that look the same!!!!
Their “speciality” here is their own gin, but at well over £20.00 for half a bottle (350ml), it was a little bit to “salty” for our budget. We didn’t even get chance to try the stuff as the lady was so preoccupied with the large group, that the furthest we got was with a cappuccino…..
Sections of this route are quite corrugated, especially if you take the old route past Seeheim. There is a new route which was built for the building of the Dam at Haute (actually they just upgraded a more minor track), but unfortunately the old signpost is still there telling you this is the way to Fish River Canyon. We did about 20km down this route before we decided to call it a day and find an alternative way round, if the Daf didn’t break, I’m sure my teeth would have fallen out. The corrugations can be seen in the foreground of the photo below, its just like a short sharp speed hump every foot of travel.
Fish River Canyon was just as beautiful as the last time we were here, but there were a few differences, firstly there are now fences to stop you walking over the edge……mmmm, and of course there were the coach loads of tourists this time. But we got there early in the morning, (it was Jac’s birthday), made coffee and had our toast and peanut butter while overlooking this magnificent wonder of the world.
You can still drive along the edge of the rim (though I’m not sure for how much longer NWR will allow this), and it was at the far end of the track I noticed a patch of diesel under Colonel K. We have suffered a few fuel leaks over the past couple of years but have had most of the fuel lines replaced, so wasn’t sure where to expect this leak to be coming from. It didn’t take long to find out… there was a hole on the leading front edge of the diesel tank arrrrr….
It wasn’t a huge hole but was large enough for a regular drip, but I was confident that I could temporary fix it until we got to a decent sized town. So after driving back to The Canyon Roadhouse campsite, I set about fixing it with some epoxy resin that I had……. no chance, the weight of the diesel in the tank and the fact that it was pushing through what ever I applied meant that it wasn’t going to work. Then two members of staff from the lodge came along and promptly declared that they had some stuff in the stores that would definitely fix it……..An hour later and that didn’t work either for the same reason. Removing the tank wasn’t an option either as it had about 200 litres in there, and with the tank thats probably about 250kg in total.
As I was lying under Colonel K trying any little trick I knew, Gordon and Linda pulled up in the camp next door. Unbelievably Gordon had on board his Landcruiser a special putty/paste that is described as suitable for fixing fuel tanks and will even stick to oily surfaces, optimistic Gordon declared “this stuff will definitely work”, after trying on and off all day, it definitely didn’t work!!! Oh well we tried… How we tried…..
In between attempts to fix the tank we shared the pool for a cool off with the other residents.
As it was Jac’s birthday, we decided to eat in the Lodge restaurant, and asked Linda and Gordon if they would like to join us. We had a really lovely evening, and the food wasn’t too bad either, and of course this was washed down with a few glasses of wine.
We decided to get up early and head for the nearest decent sized town, in this case Keetmanshoop, to try to find somewhere that could mend the tank, but we couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to our fellow Brits. Well Gordon was up and about (sort of), but poor Linda was still in their roof tent, and was feeling a little worst for wear.
We were lucky with the garage that we first tried in Keetmanshoop, “Rassies” agreed to drain the tank (now down to about 140 litres), remove it and take it to a “specialist” who would place it in an acid bath, then carry out the repair, repaint the tank, then collect it, refit it and put the diesel back in the tank. We also agreed with them that we could sleep in Colonel K in their yard, as they had no idea how long the specialist brazer would take to do the repair.
We arrived at Rassies at 10.30am, carried our gas bottle to get it filled up (its about 50m outside their back gate), then walked across the road to the new Shoprite Supermarket and bought enough food for the next couple of weeks (we are heading to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park next). Got back to the truck, had a quick read, and before we knew it, our tank was back. The whole operation including me having to go and find an ATM as they don’t accept cards, took less than 6 hours, and cost just over £200.00, I was a happy bunny..
The guy at Rassies suggested trying a campsite just outside town, at the “Country Lodge”, well we did try it, but only got as far as reception. The very rude (we are getting used to this in Namibia now) receptionist told us that camping for two people would be 480NAD (nearly £30) a night, and bearing in mind its directly behind the Engen fuel station and close to a busy road, this is a ridiculous amount of money for Southern Africa. We offered to pay 240NAD, she said “no”, we said “goodbye”.
We ended up at Quiver Tree Rest Camp which is owned and run by a lovely Namibian guy that remembered us from two years ago, it was much busier this time of course, but we planned to stay for two nights as this would then leave us to drive to Mata Mata Border Post on the 17th November for our first night booked into Kgalagadi.
Next morning there was diesel under the truck arrrrrrrr! Looking underneath it was obvious that when removing and refitting the tank the guys had disturbed one of the fuel lines (the return pipe) and one of the joints was leaking quite badly. There was also a small weep from the tank outlet, but I was confident that this just need tightening, so we drove back to town and Rassies once more. An hour later we were back on the “road” and on our way to the campsite again, they declared it definitely fixed!
Next morning we packed up early to head to Mata Mata, and the pipe joint definitely was not fixed, oh well we will sort it later it wasn’t too bad. So off we went…… about 40km down the gravel road, Jac suddenly grabbed for her phone, oh dear we are a day early, its the 16th, not the 17th that we thought, so a quick u-turn and we are on our way to Rassies for a 3rd time. This time they replaced the fitting and all was well. I think they were glad to see the back of us and Colonel K.
Whilst at Rassies, I took a couple of photos of crashed vehicles that they are awaiting collection of, every single one had been rolled on a gravel road, there were no accidents involving other vehicles, and it just goes to show how people drive too fast on these strange surfaces, and very easily lose control.
The last night in Quiver Tree Camp Linda and Gordon joined us for a last time, another great night.
Next up we head to one of our favourite places on this trip Kgalagadi, and we are very excited about that, I hope it lives up to expectations
Thanks for reading
When I last wrote we were stranded in Oppi-Koppi campsite in Kamanjab, Northern Namibia, waiting for some hydraulic hoses to be made up and then fitted by a local garage so we could once again lift the cab to access the engine on our truck. As agreed first thing Monday morning we drove to Falkenberg Garage to have the posh new hoses fitted and we hoped to be on our way within a couple of hours…..what could possibly go wrong? Its just a simple job isn’t it? Oh I forgot this is Africa!!!
First up the two “mechanics” got straight down to work and very quickly (well quickly for Namibia anyway) fitted the four new hoses. With the German owner away on a breakdown recovery (this is their main source of work due to the shocking roads up here), the blokes were under strict instructions not to start to try and tilt the cab until the owners wife was present and watching proceedings. But despite her instructions they started pumping the lever and pushing far too hard on the “locked out” system. Guess what? Yup they damaged yet another fitting/hose. The owners wife went even more mental than I did and after another couple of hours of trying to bodge the newly damaged hose up, I stepped in and told them that they will have to get another hose made up, and that I’d return on Wednesday, but I insisted that the garage owner was there and working on the truck instead of his fitters.
So Wednesday arrives and sure enough the owner is there and the new hose is ready to be fitted, I’m feeling far more confident this time…….Pipes all fitted, so slowly and carefully the cab is pumped up, it goes up about 10mm and then locks……An hour later after lots of scratching of heads and a few phone calls to the hydraulic specialist in Outjo, I raised the question “do you think your guys could have installed the four hoses on Monday incorrectly?”, obviously judging by the look on the garage owners face, I was talking utter crap. I even asked if he wanted the “exploded parts list” drawings that were relevant to the hydraulic system, “no, there is no need” was the reply.
After another couple of hours and with me starting to seriously lose my rag with everyone (this should be a simple job, it is a self bleeding system), and the worry of the actual rams being damaged, I was told that I would have to drive to Outjo to the specialist who made the hoses.
After speaking to the very friendly Russell, the owner of ‘The Hose Centre’, we arranged to drive to him in the morning and he seemed confident that he could sort the problem out. After driving 160km from Kamanjab to Outjo, we pulled into a scruffy yard behind a Charcoal factory, and met Russell and his wife. Unlike the German in Kamanjab, Russell welcomed the fact that I had a diagram of the hoses and fittings, and after a couple of minutes of laying under the truck, he pronounced that he had miraculously fixed it……mmmmmm I thought…….. But sure enough the cab was going up and down perfectly, guess what? Yup the idiots had connected the new hoses around the wrong way, and the rams were pushing and pulling at the same time!!!!! thankfully they hadn’t damaged anything else while trying to get the cab to lift. So another 160km back to Oppi-Koppi for another free nights camping and all was well in Daf land once more.
While we were at Oppi-Koppi we had a fantastic walk out into the bush behind the campsite, it is a set out trail, but it was quite obvious that not too many people walk it (as with most campsites in Namibia, the vast majority of visitors only stay one night before moving on).
We really enjoyed our extended time at Oppi-Koppi, and after having our photo taken with Colonel K (all longterm campers have their photo taken and put in the yearly “overlanders book” in reception) we set off for Palmwag.
The gravel road here takes you up over the Grootberg Pass, a very long and in places a steep climb or descent, but always a beautiful route.
By the way, the sky may look stormy in the above photo’s but it is because Jac took them through our heavily tinted windscreen.
And yes that is well over 5,000 feet above sea level.
We last stopped at Palmwag with our Dentist friends from England about 18 months ago, and then it was pouring with rain, the river was in flood and the water was washing through the reception. Now the river is dry, its very hot during the day, though cooler at night, but camped right at the end of the campsite on the very edge of the riverbed, under the palm trees, it felt very good.
We decided whilst here, we would engage in a Rhino Tracking trip, out into the mountains to hopefully see the rare Black Rhino in this amazing desert landscape, this did take a bit of thinking about as at £210.00 for the two of us, this was going to be an expensive trip. We have also seen desert Black Rhino before, and of course many Black and White Rhino on this trip, but this promised to be a little bit special.
So after meeting the “tracking team” consisting of the driver (we were in an open LandCruiser), co-pilot (the drivers wife), and two actual trackers, we set off at 06.15am. My god it was seriously cold with a major” chill factor” as demonstrated by Jac trying desperately to keep warm.
In the end we didn’t actually see any Black Rhino, though the two local trackers did follow a female and her calf, but by the time we caught up with them the Rhino had disappeared over the next hill. We did however have a very enjoyable morning in an area that you couldn’t visit on your own.
Part of the money that we paid does go towards Rhino Conservation and although this area is very hard to access, it still has a huge problem with poaching. In fact almost all the Rhino in this area (approx 100 animals in an area the size of Wales) have been tranquillised and had their horns cut off so there isn’t the temptation to poach them. Though incredibly the manager of the lodge told us that they recently found the dead carcass of a Black Rhino, that had previously had its horn removed by the rangers. It is thought that the poachers were so angry after tracking the rhino for so long and then finding that it had been de- horned, that they shot it anyway!!! We were also told that a local gang of poachers could expect to only get $200US to $300US per horn, obviously a huge sum of money to these guys, but someone somewhere is making a lot of money from these horns before they get sold in China etc.
Anyway, the Manager decided that as we weren’t “successful” in seeing the Rhino (though we fully understood theres a good chance that we wouldn’t) we could go on an afternoon game drive free of charge. This was a very generous offer that obviously we jumped at.
This game drive was very different to our morning tracking experience, and despite seeing quite a lot of animals, we were very glad that we hadn’t paid for it. We have had some amazing safari drives (mostly self driving) and this was really appealing to those that had maybe just arrived in Africa for the first time. The driver was also driving around the Reserve far to fast to be able to see much or experience the place really.
Leaving Palmwag you almost immediately hit the Veterinary Fence, this stretches right across Namibia, from the Skeleton Coast in the west to the Botswana border in the east. This is to check and stop the spread of various animal disease’s (mostly Foot and Mouth disease), and means that you cannot take uncooked Cloven Hoofed animal meat southwards through this physical barrier. It obviously feeds the local officials and their families quite well too.
So while at Palmwag we made sure we cooked all our beef mince (enough for three nights dinners), and this just left chicken in our fridge that was uncooked. Guess what, apparently chicken now have hoof’s!!!! Yup our chicken and uncooked eggs were to be taken away from us ,or we could cook it there at the police road block, so Jac took them and gave them to the Himba women that were selling jewellery next to the vet fence. When pressed, we were told that there is a disease called “Newcastle Disease” or something like that, so chicken products are now not allowed.
We had stopped at at least 2 other Vet fences in the previous two months and they hadn’t even bothered to spray our tyres, so you make up your own mind…….
We had been warned that the tracks around the Twyfelfontein area were also in a very bad state now (although last time we were here they were fine), and that to drive these gravel roads takes much longer.
To be fair though some sections were bad with corrugations and some deepish sand, but there was actually a grader driving up and down this area, and the worst bits were being done.
That night we stopped at a really nice community camp site, tucked between some high rocky outcrops and the dried up river bed of the Aba Huab, it really is a beautiful place, so quiet.The toilets and showers were a little to be desired. All were open air (really not a problem for us), but shower heads, and doors to the toilets were definitely optional in this case.
This place is HOT, VERY HOT, and we met a couple of German motorcyclists ,they had flown their KTM 990 Adventure’s into Windhoek airpor), and it was perhaps the first time I wasn’t envious of someone in Africa on a bike. They were covered in sweat under all their protective gear (all fully vented of course), and worst of all they were exhausted from all the constant corrugations in the gravel roads, and were keen to find out if it improved further north. We had bad news for them!
Check this out…… you don’t see a road sign for 100km and then theres four in 30 metres lol.
After an overnight stop at Brandberg Mountain, again camped next to a dried up riverbed, this time the Ugab, we stopped at the small town of Uis where there is a small local supermarket where we stocked up with essentials.
Next up we headed for an old favourite of ours, the campsite at Spitzkoppe. This place is as near to “bush camping” without actually “bush camping”, if you see what I mean. The so called camping sites are so far apart that you can’t see or hear anyone else, and the whole place is on the sand base between huge granite hills and rock formations, it really is a special place. We were lucky enough to get one of the most secluded spots at the very far end of the area.
This is Jac after an early morning scramble up over the granite boulders above our campsite, it gives you an idea of how big these rocks are.
Spitzkoppe is also a great place for walking as well as climbing (although one usually involves the other here), but it really needs to be early in the morning as the heat after say 9.30am is intense, and a hat and water are essentials.
The only showers at Spitzkoppe are at the reception (about 5km from where we were camped), and for this reason most people that stop here only stay for one night. Most sites have a long drop toilet, although during the heat of the day these aren’t a great place to be, and of course there is no provision for water away from the reception, and obviously no electric to run your little onboard fridge. This makes roof tent camping quite difficult for more than one night. We have no such issues in Colonel K, with solar panels, onboard shower and toilet and a 300 litre capacity of fresh water, so ended up staying in this special place for a few days, and it was wonderful.
In the photo below you can just make out the vehicle of our nearest neighbour, and that was after climbing over the boulders to be able to see them.
But at Spitzkoppe the really memorable thing is the sunset, as it descends down below the distant hills, and over the savannah type terrain, especially after a small climb up on the granite boulders. But what do you do while waiting for the sun to set? Well you dick around of course………..
While we were at Brandberg, I was walking round the back of the truck and sort of punched the spare wheel (punched in a friendly way obviously), and noticed that it moved slightly, so I punched it a bit harder, and sure enough something was wrong. Before we left the UK my nephew Glen very kindly did a few bits of welding for me, and one of those jobs was to fit the spare wheel carrier on the rear hoist (this was previously slung horizontally under the chassis, thereby cutting down ground clearance, and making it almost impossible for me and Jac to change a wheel in anything other that ideal conditions). I was concerned about the strength of the welding that Glen was doing knowing that the road conditions were going to be very bad in places in Africa, “no worries mate, that will definitely not break” Glen informed me. Well he was spot on, the wheel carrier was as solid as a rock, but the 32mm galvanised steel box section that it was welded to, had sheared through both above and below the wheel. This wheel and tyre combo weighs a total of 135kg, and the consequences of that coming adrift while driving along really don’t bear thinking about!!!
During one evening at Spitzkoppe we had just returned to the truck after watching a stunning sunset, and lit the campfire for our evening dinner, it was virtually dark and we were surprised to see a young couple in a small car driving slowly past us and looking at Colonel K, they drove once round the granite outcrop, and came past us again, and incredibly stopped about 30 metres from us and put up their ground tent!!! In all this massive place, that was in fact quite empty, this bloody couple had to pitch their tent right next to us. Hey, but that wasn’t an issue really, perhaps they just weren’t confident camping on their own…… But what was a problem was the noise they were making, they were in a tiny two person tent and were shouting at each other, and then they decided to use the long drop toilet, still shouting, after we were in bed, and by this time I think they had been on the “pop” for a bit. They really did spoil the “peace & tranquility” I was not amused…..
So after few days at Spitzkoppe we headed to the coastal town of Swakopmund to get the rear rack repaired, but on the way guess what? a spotlight bracket snapped off on the corrugated roads and almost went through the windscreen…… more welding!
We were lucky to find a first class guy that builds overland campers (he was recommended by the Norwegians that we met at Oppi-Koppi), Stefan did a fantastic job repairing and strengthening the rear rack and also strengthening all the stainless steel spotlight brackets on the front of the truck, a top guy.
We have also had a full service done on the truck at a garage that we have used a few times in Swakopmund.
We have decided to stay in Swakopmund for a while, and make full use of the coffee shops, restaurants and bars, and Jac has even had her hair done. Can any man explain why my hair takes 5 minutes and a woman had to be seated for 3 hours? one of life’s mysteries I guess. Of course after the massive heat of the North of Namibia and the desert of Damaraland, the cool coastal temperatures are very welcome, and walking can be enjoyed at any time of the day (though the sun is still very fierce).
Anyway thanks for reading
While in Livingstone (whilst carefully avoiding Evil Two Face the Manic Monkey, see previous blog post), Jac decided to make Bread. Apparently its a special camping recipe for a flat bread that she obtained from a German couple we met in Malawi, who incidentally gave her a sachet of yeast specially for the purpose. What could possibly go wrong?
The mix looked amazing and was left to “rise” apparently…….
And the ‘after’ photo proves how promising this was looking, and the smell was amazing, my mouth was salvating wildly at the thought of getting stuck into Jac’s first attempt at home made camp bread.
The next day we drove into Livingstone, and bought a loaf of bread!!!!
We left Zambia the same way we entered and had a much smoother border crossing (though definitely not a smoother drive along that bloody broken road), spent a night in Katima Mulilo, and then headed back to one of our favourite campsites in Namibia, Mobola Lodge, right on the banks of the Zambezi river.
The camp even has an early warning system and deterrent against Crocodiles, ‘Aegon’ the largest German Shepard that I have ever seen, just sits at the waters edge waiting for one of these huge reptiles to surface and then goes completely bonkers!
The Caprivi Strip is a beautiful and quite diverse region of Namibia, and we really love the feeling of “true Africa” you get from it, but the long long tarmac road is mind numbingly boring, dead straight for hundreds of kilometres, the heat was 40c+, we have no air conditioning, and there is the constant threat of Antelope, Elephants, or even cattle, deciding to take on Colonel K in a one to one battle. You inevitably end up going a little crazy………
We ended up back at the campsite at Tsumeb, and parked up under the most impressive tree, simply stunning.
We stayed here for a few days, using the washing machines as they actually use hot water (its very rare to find a washing machine in Africa, and almost impossible to find one that actually uses hot water, so we normally wash by hand).We made good use of these facilities washing all of our dirty clothes, towels and complete bedding. We also got our gas bottle filled up, and re-stocked with food. We were all set for Etosha National Park………
We entered the Park using the eastern Namutoni Gate, and started slowly game driving around the eastern fringes of the park.
Wow, how different it was compared to last time we were here with our friends from England in late January 2016 (the wet season), its now so hot and dry, and the dust was everywhere. The other difference was the shocking condition of the gravel tracks in the Park, the corrugations were horrendous, and everyone was moaning about them. This was going to take its toll on any vehicle……..
We were parked up at one particular waterhole, watching the game jockeying for position to get a life saving drink, and admiring a huge Martial Eagle sat on his viewing position nearby, when he took off and hit its prey in the rocks next to the truck. We never did see what it caught in its talons, but I guess a rodent, small snake or a lizard, but we ended up sitting there for quite a while watching all this happening.
Anyway time was moving on and it was time to start heading to Halali camp, where we were booked in for the night. Colonel K had other ideas and although the dash and gauges were lighting up when the ignition was turned on, that was as far as we were going, not even a click from the starter motor, nothing!!! Bugger, now we have a problem….. Oh and guess what? no phone signal….. and our sat phone was tightly locked away in the back of the truck……… After about 10 minutes of fiddling about trying to start the truck (but still from within the cab, this isn’t a great place to be outside your vehicle), and deciding we need to fetch the satellite phone from the back, a very friendly Belgian tour owner/operator appeared with a Landcruiser full of guests, and insisted that we stay in the cab and he will use his sat phone to ring Namutoni Gate, to get a ranger and mechanic out to us. After the phone conversation, he shouted across to us that they were indeed sending people out to assist us, but he would again ring them in about 10 minutes to make sure that someone had indeed left and were on their way- this is Africa after all !
The second call confirmed that “hopefully”, “maybe” a ranger was on his way, and we worked out that they should be with us in a maximum of 30 minutes. We thanked the Belgian guy and his guests for waiting around and for him using his sat phone, and agreed that if we indeed made it to Halali camp that night I would buy them all a beer! One and a half hours later, still no mechanic or ranger appeared, then as if by magic the 5.9L Cummins engine turned over and fired into life……. Weird but a huge relief.
So, lessons learnt, when in a National Park keep the sat phone up front, keep a few essential tools in the cab, and never ever rely on NWR staff…….
We got to Halali and explained that we might need an extra night to sort out an issue with our vehicle. Without bothering to look at her computer and giving us proper attitude, the answer (as always) was “fully booked!”, “can you check please?”, the answer of course was (without checking) “fully booked!”
Within 5 minutes, Jac had logged onto the NWR website and booked a second night at Halali…………. Unbelievable really, but everyone has the same experience as we do.
Anyway hopefully we sorted the starting issue, just by tightening a few loose connections in various places, behind the dash, starter motor etc. Nothing was obviously very loose but lots of places the nuts took a turn with a spanner. It hasn’t been a issue since, but Im sure it was caused by the very badly deteriorated road conditions in Etosha, the truck is literally being shaken to bits, and we aren’t the only one. We have met others that have suffered punctures and mechanical problems. Apparently the Government hasn’t got the money to run a ‘grader’ in the park…… The problem now is that they have gone so far that they actually need new gravel applied in many places.
Anyway we spent two nights actually in the park, then 3 more nights at Etosha Safari Lodge (campsite of course) where we drove in each morning at sunrise. Of course we saw lots of amazing animals as you can see below.
And of course there are the predators, and at this time of year with the concentrations of game around the water holes, these guys do not go hungry. We were especially lucky to see and follow a beautiful Leopard in the early morning light, as he made his way from a waterhole trying to find somewhere to flop down and spend the day in the shade somewhere.
Its always a rare treat to see one of these largely nocturnal cats in daylight, but its especially rewarding when you are self driving. Of course there were other predators, including a huge number of Black Backed Jackals, who were always busy scavenging for eggs, or left overs, or basically anything edible, but it wasn’t unusual to see lots of quite large groups of jackals here at the moment. We also saw Spotted Hyena, Bat Eared Fox, and Lion.
But the Lions here in Etosha seem to be learning to use manmade things to improve their comfort and hunting habits, including this huge male Lion that was using a culvert under the gravel track for not only shade from the fierce mid day heat, but also as a hide out to ambush an unsuspecting Springbok or Impala. “Hawkeye Jac” spotted this one using her binoculars, while scanning around the nearby waterhole.
At another early morning (manmade) waterhole, we were sat there for at least 10 minutes, trying to work out why the game were so reluctant to approach the water for a drink, it was obvious that they weren’t happy, maybe we had just missed a pride of Lions or a Leopard and their smell was still lingering and making the Kudu wary.
Then Jac again spotted a small pride of Lions using the solar panels that are used to pump water from the borehole as a sunshade.
We stayed and watched these cats for over an hour, with the youngster playing with what looked like a lizard or something that he had caught (still alive). The amazing thing was the amount of vehicles that pulled into the waterhole area, saw there was not much happening and then just drove out. One Hilux pulled in with two american guys with huge cameras and lenses on board, after a quick scan around, out came their breakfast, and with their yogurts in hand I leaned out of my window and whispered across to them, “Lions”, and indicated the direction, the reaction and expletives that came from the car was comical. But it just goes to show you have to take your time and look around, the other important thing for me is that we don’t have air-con in our truck and so we always have our windows open, whether driving or sat game viewing. About 90% of vehicles in Etosha, have their air-con set at max, and only drop their windows when they need their massive lenses to photograph something (if they have seen it). The other thing that air-con does is make you drive so fast, as you are cocooned in your ice cold vehicle that you miss so much between various waterholes (honestly I’m not jealous of any air-conditioning in the searing heat of Africa lol).
Staying just outside the Anderson Gate, proved a much better option for us, camping was almost half the price as being at one of the NWR camps inside the park. The only down side was not having one of the fantastic flood lit waterholes that all the camps have inside the park, but we were parked on grass instead of the concrete dust bowls of Halali. Also as its privately run (part of the Gondwana Group) you didn’t feel like you needed a shower AFTER you had just had a shower! It was only about 10km back to the park gates, so we were in the park by about 7.00am each day.
But as usual some of the highlights of our time here weren’t about the big animals and this time we sat and watched (at quite a distance away) a Secretary Bird on her nest and re-gurging her meal and feeding her two chicks.
Other birds we saw were the huge Lappet-Faced Vulture, and lots of Tawny Eagles, Goshawks etc.
Also as we were pottering about in the Park in the mighty Daf, a snake appeared across the track in front of us, I pulled up and asked Jac to snap a couple of photos of it before is disappeared off into the bush (it was moving fast!). After a few shots with a slightly trembling hand, Jac announced “whoa it turned and is threatening me”, she got the shot just before it disappeared out of sight.
Eventually our time in Etosha was up, and we made our way towards Damaraland via the small dusty town of Kamanjab. We have stopped here a few times now and have always stayed at Kamanjab Rest Camp just outside town. But we had been told by a few people about another Lodge/Camp in the centre of town and decided to try this place. Oppi-Koppi is yet another great camp here in Northern Namibia, and as long term travellers driving a non-African registered vehicle we can camp for free!!
As we drove into the camp, we passed a couple that were looking at us intently, I waved and they waved back but pointed at the truck and carried on watching us. I did wonder why they were taking such an interest in either us or Colonel K, but just put it down to German tourists (at least 80% of tourists here in Namibia are Geman) that hadn’t seen a European truck in these parts. I was wrong on many accounts, as within ten minutes of parking up John and his wife Oddrun came and said hello. First of all they are Norwegian, and they were also here in a European truck, a really nice 4×4 Scania (ex-Norwegian Army). But the crazy thing was (and the reason that they were looking at us as we drove in) was that they have been following and reading our blog for the past two years, and were surprised to actually meet us.
We spent a fantastic evening with John and Oddrun, exchanging stories, and hearing about their amazing up-bringing and early years living in Africa. This trip for them is almost a home coming, we wish them a safe and fun journey up through East Africa.
The first morning of being at Oppi-Koppi, I got up nice and early to take advantage of the cool morning air to check over the truck after the punishing corrugated roads of Etosha. After removing all our storage boxes from behind Jac’s seat, and securing everything else before tilting the cab (you don’t want any flying items falling through the windscreen), I started pumping up the cab and got it just over half way, when all of a sudden the pump handle suddenly lost all resistance, looking underneath the front of the truck, showed the culprit, the hydraulic hoses on both rams had gone, releasing all the hydraulic fluid all over the ground….. Bugger.
After a quick look to see if it was something I could sort out (no chance!!!), I drove the short distance to the one garage in town. The two hoses that were leaking were completely knackered and needed replacing and it looked like one of the others was also leaking very slightly. So the choice was have the hoses removed and sent away to Outjo (about 200km away) for new hoses to be made, or drive to Swakopmund or Windhoek where new ones could be made there. I wasn’t keen on driving on more badly corrugated roads, and not being able to access the engine if we again had a problem. So the guys removed all four hoses connecting the rams and someone drove them to Outjo that day. That was on Friday so it looks like we are stranded until early next week, but I spoke to the garage owner on Saturday and he confirmed that he had just collected the hoses and they would fit them first thing Monday morning.
Whilst I was at the garage, the owners wife was showing me some of her amazing metal art work that she had made, when one of the mechanics spotted a snake up on the roof of the workshop, it was funny how they all reacted to the unwelcome visitor (the snake not me), with only the female owner remaining calm and clambering up on a pile of bricks armed only with a plastic rake!!! Everyone else had very quickly disappeared. She seemed to think it was a Boomslang, a very poisonous snake, and seemed a little upset that she didn’t catch it, and that it had probably gone through into her adjoining house!!! Its a very different way of life out here…….
Anyway we are stranded for a few more days here at Oppi-Koppi, but there are worse places to be stranded, its got a very very reasonable bar (we watched the SA v Australia Rugby last night), a decent menu for food, and even a very small pool, and of course the camping is free……. So as not to impose on the owners generous offer of free camping too much (we really aren’t free loaders you know) we have taken to at least spending a reasonable amount of money in the bar……. well its only fair eh.
Thanks for reading
While at Urban Camp in the Namibian capital Windhoek, we were reminded once again how small a world this is. We bumped into a German couple that we had previously met in no less than 3 other places, first Jungle Junction in Nairobi, then in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, then Malawi, and now again in Namibia. They had even travelled a very different route to us to get to these places, with us driving into Uganda and Rwanda, whereas they stayed more towards the east coast.
While in Windhoek we took the opportunity to sort out the truck, after its long lay up in storage and to replenish supplies of fresh meat, vegetables and of course drink.
But after a couple of days here, we headed north up the good tarmac road to the town of Tsumeb, and a campsite that we have used a few times before, but had heard from another overlander that it had shut its campsite for good. This was definitely wrong information and indeed a brand new ablution block had been built, and very nice it was too. The other attraction of this place is the pool, its massive, and allegedly a full Olympic size, who am I to argue? Of course most of the time its completely empty!
From Tsumeb, the natural thing to do is head further north where you come to the eastern gate of Etosha National Park, this is somewhere that we plan to spend at least a week, but its not that easy for us! While in the UK we received an email from ADAC (the German company that issues our Carnet de Passage), stating that SARS (South African Revenue Service) has submitted a customs claim against the truck, they apparently have no record of us leaving South Africa. Following advise from ADAC we decided to get the truck out of the SADC customs union (consisting of SA, Namibia, and Botswana) completely, we would need to do this at some point before shipping Colonel K home next year anyway.
So we decided to travel to Livingstone in Zambia, the home of Victoria Falls. We had been there before, but we really like Zambia and Livingstone is quite a lively town and there are quite a few places to camp. On the map it simply meant a short drive along the Caprivi Strip, across the Border at Katima Mulilo and the road around to Livingstone, the trouble is its easy to get sucked into what appears a short drive in Africa, on the map it doesn’t look very far, but it is in fact well over 1,000 km EACH WAY! Or to put it into perspective, the equivalent to driving from Calais to Spain, and back just to get some paperwork stamped arrrrrrrrr…….. Oh well, we would make a trip of it, and we have got plenty of time I guess.
The first leg was from Tsumeb to Rundu, where we camped right next to the Okavango River, this beautiful river forms the border with Namibia and Angola, and we took advantage of the owners evening boat trip up the river, to see the sunset and have a beer on board.
As Europeans, its very very difficult, time consuming and expensive to obtain a Visa to visit Angola, don’t ask me why, it just is…… So with the river levels so low at the moment, it was quite frustrating to watch locals literally walking through the river from Namibia to Angola, and back again obviously.
Mind you, Im not sure I’d fancy taking my chances in the water here, whilst it might be a bit too shallow for hippos at the moment, we saw other animals that might make you think twice about crossing or indeed washing at the waters edge…..
But we also saw many kingfishers, weaverbirds, etc along this great river.
There were also a pair of magnificent peacocks on the campsite, these may not be African but they were in amazing plumage.
Continuing along the tarmac B8 road, the next leg took us from Rundu to near Divundu, where we had been recommended a campsite by the Germans in Urban Camp. Oh wow, Mobola Camp really didn’t disappoint, again its right on the Okavango River, but it has been done so well. Owned and built from scratch by a German guy, this place really is one of the best camps we have stayed at in Namibia, its small with only about 8 campsites, and about 6 self catering chalets. There is no provision for food, but there is a bar on an island that has to be accessed via a very rickety bridge (only one person at a time). We loved it here and ended up staying two nights.
From the bar, the views over the main river were of course incredible.
In Africa, its very easy to get blasé about the risks, its not that often that you really get threatened by any sort of wild creature, but we tend to be fairly cautious, (we did come across a huge Black Mamba once while walking in the hills in Namibia), especially when after walking across the dodgy bridge you are confronted with a sign such as below….
And guess what? Yup we had a snake appear just off sandy path to the bar…… best to be cautious I guess.
Namibia, can be accused on being “a bit westernised”, and in many of the more tourist areas this can definitely be true, but once you are on the Caprivi Strip (now known as The Zambezi Region), things really change. Here apart from a few small towns, the vast majority still live in tiny family “villages” usually consisting of 4 to 6 mostly timber and grass huts surrounded by a flimsy boma to protect livestock at night from predators. It suddenly feels like you truly are back in Africa.
While at Tsumeb we met a lovely young Dutch couple that were on a cycling trip around southern Africa, though at the time they were in a hire car and were still waiting for some of their gear to turn up, we spent a really nice evening with them. Next morning we said goodbye and really didn’t expect to see them again. Then half way between Rundu and Divundu, we started coming up behind Jeordie and Ninka, hire car gone they were back on their bikes.
After a quick 10 minute chat, we refilled their water supplies from Colonel K’s filtered tap, wished them all the best and waved them on their way, I’m sure they are going to have a great few months touring on those bikes.
The tarmac road here is smooth (mostly), straight and pretty much empty of traffic, though at one particular “pee stop”, the lay-by was very busy with another couple of tourists.
There are quite a few warnings of elephants crossing along this road, especially in the Kongola area around the crossing of the Kwango River. These are not idle warnings either, just after we passed one similar sign, just in front of us a herd of about 10 elephants sprinted out of the bush and across the road, by the time we reached where they crossed they had completely disappeared, leaving no sign that they were there at all. It pays to be vigilant.
After one night’s stop over in a bit of a crappy campsite just outside Katima Muliio, on the banks on the Zambezi, we had an early start to get to the border at Wenela to cross into Zambia. The queue for immigration leaving Namibia was horrendous, there were about 3 coaches full of pedestrians all needing their papers cleared. It seemed to take forever with only one immigration officer manning the desks!!!! After Immigration (about an hour’s queue), we went to customs to get our carnet stamped, then police, then the dreaded Namibian Road Charges desk (as a vehicle weighing over 3.5 tonnes we have to pay separate road charges). With all this completed we drove to the Zambian border post at Sesheke, hoping that we didn’t catch up the coaches, the border car park was chaos compared to Wenela, we were suddenly hit with wave upon wave of “fixers”, “money changers” etc, we politely declined their slightly dodgy services, and after a bit of banter with a huge 6’6” Zambian guy they left us alone. In fairness if you didn’t know what you were doing at this border, it might be worth your while using one of them, but this was 45th and 46th land border that we have crossed in Africa on this trip, and so we are really old hands at this game.
First we had to stand in front of a temperature sensor, to prove we weren’t a direct risk to Zambia’s heath, then produce our yellow fever certificates, then we could proceed to immigration (no health check, no Visa), after parting with $100 USD for two 30 days Visa’s, we went to customs to get the much needed stamp in the Carnet de Passage, paid our road tax, paid our carbon tax, paid our council levy (yes honestly), and then it was the small matter of 3rd party insurance……. There is no choice but to take the only company at the border, theres no competition here. There were 3 ladies behind the glass in the booth, we it appeared were the only tourists with our own vehicle, the battle lines were drawn! After handing over our Carnet for the engine size, and weight of the truck, the lady dealing with us proclaimed that it would cost 680 Kwatcha (£57.00), “no” Jac’s replied “that is far too much”. “ok 480 Kwatcha”, after consulting her book once more. We said it was still far too much, and insisted that we were driving a private camping car with just us in it. Eventually she got the right hump and told us we must deal with her Boss, she was definitely not happy!! Eventually the Boss, wrote out our insurance disk and charged us 182 Kwatcha (just over £15.00) for 30 days insurance. This might sound like an expensive border crossing but considering that we are driving a 10 tonne truck, the total cost for the two of us and the truck was less than £139.00. The total time taken from Namibia into Zambia was a tiresome two and half hours.
But only just over 200km to Livingstone, so that shouldn’t take long……. About 100km of this tarmac road is horrendous, most of the time is quicker and easier on the truck just to drive off of the tarmac and in the bush, or one wheel on tarmac and one in the sand……… It really is monsterously bad……..I promise you, pictures cannot do it justice.
If you started this “road” with any sort of weak link in your vehicle, it would definitely break. This is the problem with tarmac in Africa, it great when its new and if its maintained, but it very soon becomes a lot worse than the track that it replaced. Give me sand or gravel tracks any day.
We headed straight for our favourite campsite in Livingstone, Muramba River Lodge, our plan was to stay here for at least a few days, but after seeing the state of the place (it had really deteriorated in the last year) and the disgusting state of the showers (and full of mosquitos), we only stayed one night, and instead drove to The Waterfront Zambezi, which while a nice place is very different from Muramba. The Waterfront campsite is aimed at big tour groups, but the campsites are quite far apart so they really arn’t a problem.
What is a problem here though are the Mosquitos, and the Vervet Monkeys……… First the Mossies, oh my god Livingstone has a major problem with these bitey buggers at the moment, we’ve not seen swarms of mosquitos like this since we came through northern Senegal in 2015. The worst place is the bar area, just after sunset, there are clouds and clouds of them, the only thing to do is cover up and use plenty of repellant (Deet is our new best friend). Fortunately despite daytime temperatures of mid 30c, it does cool off in the evening so long trousers aren’t too much of a hardship. This is a Malaria infected zone so its best to be cautious.
Next the Vervet Monkeys….. I love watching any sort of monkeys and apes, especially the young playing and frolicking with each other. I could watch them for hours……… We have met aggressive Baboons (indeed I was confronted by a mother and baby inside Colonel K when we were in Ghana), but Vervets are cute, mischievous, lovely creatures right???? mmmmmmmm
One afternoon the usual group of Vervets were being their usual naughty selves round the truck (we were laying by the small swimming pool), they were swinging and hanging from our hammock (the Vervet’s not me and Jac), jumping on the roof and playing on our table and chairs, when Jac noticed one of them standing on our top hung window (the insect blinds were down), so I got up to chase them away, enough is enough eh. Then all of a sudden the lead male of the group (the biggest one) decided to take offence of me chasing his young clan away, he bloody started running towards me!!!! I shouted, clapped my hands and generally tried to look as big and scary as I could, it wasn’t enough and the little bastard wasn’t backing off in fact he kept coming towards me in a mega aggressive fashion. It was then that I saw his face, oh my god what an ugly brute!!!!! Half of his top and bottom lips was missing and he had lost many of his teeth, obviously in a fight!!!! Wooooooooo scary!!!!!
We have since watched this nasty Vervet attack several tourists as they walk to the ablution block, or sit taking photos of the little cuties playing. All joking aside a bite from one of these monkey’s could be very nasty indeed, its best to respect them and give them their space. The funny thing is a group of Germans and Italians on a “happy bus”, pulled up and parked nearby, as they were setting up their tents, I could see them tutting at us over our “over exuberant” use of our catapult (a loaded catapult is the only thing they respect). They changed their minds once some of them had literally been chased into the ablution block, bags swinging and lots of shouting later. Be ready, be armed!!!!
Obviously while at Livingstone we had to visit Victoria Falls, from this the Zambian side. We knew that it wasn’t going to be as spectacular as when we saw it from Zimbabwe over a year ago, for two reasons. Firstly the vista from Zimbabwe is so much better, the volume of water pouring though that side is much greater, and secondly the water levels are quite low at the moment, having just come out of the dry winter period (most of this water actually falls from the sky many thousands of kilometres away).
So having paid what is frankly a crazy amount of entrance fee (360 Kwatcha, this would have been 20 Kwatcha if we were from a Southern African country), we walked down to the Falls. As expected, though it is always a spectacular sight, the water was hardly flowing over the Zambian side, but still pouring over the Zimbabwean side.
From the Falls you get a great view of the old original steel bridge, forming the border between Zam and Zim, this bridge was commissioned by Sir Cecil Rhodes around 1900, and was completely manufactured in Cleveland, England and then transported by sea and across land where it was assembled into place in 1905. When put in place, the British engineers were baffled by the fact it was 1.5 inches too long, the next morning the bridge had contracted by 1.5 inches and all was well in “Engineer’s World”!!!
We drove across this bridge the previous year and incredibly only one truck is allowed on the bridge at any one time, fortunately in reality this isn’t a huge problem because the border crossing is so slow that theres never a queue to get on the bridge anyway. The hut in the centre of the bridge is the place where lunatics jump off with a bit of elastic tied round their ankles!!!
The other surprise here (tucked away in the bush) is the World War 1 memorial, its incredible how many young men from this far flung post of the British Empire (Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia in those days before independence) gave up their lives. The picture below is just one of the plaques on the memorial, there were many other names on there plus hundreds of locals (not named).
Then of course there’s the very dodgy memorial to David Livingstone at the Falls, this is an almost comical caricature of the intrepid explorer and was donated by Total (Zambia) LTD, only a few years ago.
So next up we have got that shocking road to do again, the border crossing, and then the long drive back to Tsumeb, but we do have a good week in Etosha NP to look forward to.
If there’s no further blogs posted, you know that “Evil Two Face” the mad psycho Vervet Monkey from Hell has bitten me and infected me with Rabies!!!!!!
Thanks for reading
What a roller coaster of a ride the last six months have been.
We parked up our Leyland Daf truck based camper at the Trans-Kalahari Inn, near Windhoek Airport back in March, and headed back to Blighty (UK to non-Brexiters) for the best part of six months. With our home rented out to the Canadian Mafia, it was always going to be tough going, constantly moving from one “squat” to another, living out of our luggage bags.
But of course our family and friends came up trumps, providing a welcome smile as they opened their spare rooms to us.
The whole trip to Europe was really emotional, we sadly attended two funerals. Firstly our good friend Richie, who lost his battle with cancer quite soon after we flew back, his very well attended funeral service was in the stunning setting of the catacombs in Canterbury Cathedral. A fantastic send-off for a very popular and well liked gentleman, Richie will be sorely missed.
A few months after we got back to the UK, my eldest sister Heather also lost her battle with cancer. I consider myself extremely lucky to have spent lots of quality time with her before she very quickly deteriorated, and she got her wish of dying at home with Mike her husband and her two boys, Stu and Pete with her as she passed away. Heather really was a true fighter, and kept going by setting herself goals such as still being around to attend Stu’s book launch of “Don’t be a Dick Pete”. Though I do wonder what she thought of the book as its a fantastically funny but very near the knuckle story of Stu’s relationship with his younger brother Pete, but of course it was also about his parents, and wider family (I had to sign a disclaimer when we were in Uganda last year).
Her next milestone was being around for the birth of her second grandchild, Stan was amazingly born on her birthday………. What a present!!! Unfortunately she wasn’t to spend enough time with her grandchildren. I will always miss my big (little) sister, but I will always remember her.
Enough of that sad stuff!!!!
We had some great times while back, including a week in Somerset with Jac’s family celebrating her brothers 60th birthday.
Next we spent 3 weeks in Southern Devon, in a beautiful thatched cottage that was very kindly lent to us by two of our good friends. This place is stunning and we had the most amazing weather.
The walking in this area is second to none, and we enjoyed very long walks on the Coastal path here, it is truly relaxing. But surprisingly we saw an incredible number of poisonous Adders here, we saw 5 of these beauties in 6 days, mostly on the dry stone walling, but also on the path, lazing in the sun. We’ve never seen so many snakes in such a short space of time, and that includes Africa.
After Devon we met up with a couple that we met in Malawi a year ago, Lloyd and Emily were cycling from Nairobi to Capetown (nutters…..), and we ended up spending a few days with them at Chitimba Camp. This time we met them at their home in Brixton, London, and of course the day involved CYCLING!!!!! We cycled from their place to a wildlife photography exhibition, in a museum in West London. We had a fantastic day with this lovely couple, that ended with us having a barbecue (braii to non-europeans) up on the roof of their apartments.
After leaving the UK in March 2015, Jac and I had been together constantly without a break, so what does a bloke do to correct this? He buggers off for a week on his motorbike with a mate of course.
What could possibly go wrong?………… Well for a start I didn’t take into account that James thought that a Yamaha MT10SP (a brand new all singing supa-dupa naked sports bike) could actually fly. James put this theory to the test about 4 days into our Euro trip in the Pyrenees mountains, when on one particular hairpin bend he decided that straight on WAS an option. It wasn’t!!!!! James left the road at high speed, took out a wire fence and landed on a barn roof about 20 metres below the road. I didn’t see the accident and ended up coming back to find him, by which time the small mountain road was full of emergency service vehicles. Unbelievably Jamesie Boy had climbed up out of the valley below and after a trip to the local hospital was released with not much more that a few bumps and bruises!!! A lucky boy, alas his brand new Yamaha was no more, and James flew home, and left me to ride home from Southern France to England on my own.
Maybe being with Jac isn’t so bad after all!!
Next it was Jac’s turn for some girly time, and she had a great time in Suffolk with her friends Jocie and Kate, though I got a feeling it was a few days of Gin and Tonics really.
We had a great week in the Lake District in a cottage on the side of Coniston Lake, the view from our abode was truly stunning, and once again the weather was very kind to us, with only one day out of the week being wet.
Of course we did lots of walking, including the Old Man of Coniston, and Grizedale Forest amongst others.
Ok so my bike trip with James was a bit of a disaster (but could have been a lot worse), so what do you do? Go on another bike trip of course!! This time Jac and I set off and travelled through France for just over a week, before meeting James and Sam (his girlfiend on his old Kawasaki, as his new Yamaha was smashed to bits) in the far South of France. We then spent a really great week with them in France, Andorra and Spain, ending up in the stunning Picos Mountains for a few days in northern Spain.
Sadly James and Sam had to catch the over night ferry back from Spain to UK, and we slowly made our way back via the coast road, stopping at some beautiful places.
Back in the UK, we spent another 3 weeks in Devon, enjoying some more stunning walks, until…………………
…….Disaster struck, we were walking on the coastal path when I got attacked by a 10 foot long Python, as I was grappling with this huge serpent, a fire breathing dragon swooped down from the sky and tore it from my grasp, unfortunately as the dragon turned in mid air his tail drew across the path, and I tripped over the spiny, scaly tail and before I knew it, I lay in a tangled heap at the bottom of the bank with a badly damaged tendon. Jac’s version of events are very different, she says I just tripped and twisted my ankle……. but what do women know?
The next two weeks were spent on bloody crutches!! I hate Dragons!
Our last few weeks were spent with family and friends in our home county of Kent, and included a lovely day out at Chartwell, the family home of Winston Churchill with our friends Ray and Aileen who arrived in their stunning Triumph TR5 car. Pulling up in that car is like walking a puppy, it certainly attracts the opposite sex.
Once again we would really like to thank everyone that has let us stay in their homes, while we were back in England, and for making us so welcome.
But for now we are back in Namibia, our truck started first time, and all appears to be working ok.
We are currently camped in the very convenient campsite at Urban Camp, which is pretty much in the centre of the city and have restocked our fridge and cupboards as best we can, and tomorrow we head north to the Caprivi Strip and into Zambia.
Thanks for reading and I promise I won’t leave it for six months before the next blog post
So we had booked 5 nights camping at various sites in Kgalagadi, but we had a few days to kill before we entered the National Park, so we thought we would try Molopo Kalahari Lodge for a few reasons, it had private ablutions, it was on the way to the park, but most importantly it had a swimming pool!!! En-route to the lodge we stopped at the tiny town of Askham, and incredibly it had a great little coffee shop (where we had the usual conversations about where we’ve come from, and what we’ve done for the last 2 years etc), and we even got the “offer” to stay at a property on the Isle of Man for the week of the TT races…….. Its a strange world.
While in Askham we walked along to the liquor store, imaginatively named Askham & Tellham, where in true rural African style we had to push our faces up against the wire mesh to view the offerings on show, stocked up with cheap plonk and tonics for Jac’s gin, we headed on to Molopo Lodge.
We stayed here for three nights, and arriving on 14th February we decided to eat in the restaurant as they had a sign up saying they had a special Valentines Night Menu. The very friendly waitress showed us the detailed Menu with all the choices for each of the 3 courses, the only trouble is it was in Afrikaans, and bless her she tried to translate it, but although she spoke good English and seemingly good Afrikaans the translation really didn’t work, she just kept saying the Afrikaans words. In the end the chef came out and had a go which was a little better, ok we thought lets go for it, at 185 Rand each (£11.50 each) we thought it looked good value.
We had a couple of drinks in the bar, together with the barbers/dentist chair and old fuel pump before heading into the restaurant.
Just before we walked through to the restaurant the chef appeared with a “sample” of Malva Pudding (I think he had taken a bit of a shine to Jac), as Jac enquired earlier what it actually was. This sample was a huge portion of a dessert complete with custard, not too dissimilar to our treacle pudding…… oh well maybe the portions of the 3 course meal will be quite small.
For starter’s we both ordered pizza with a tzatziki dip, obviously expecting either narrow strips of pizza, or maybe one tiny round baby pizza, we were wide eyed when the waitress bought us both a full sized pizza covered in cheese, and this was the starter!!!
The food was very good actually but the quantity was a little too much for us. Incredibly we were the only ones that had the Valentines Menu, and indeed there were only about 4 or 5 other guest eating here that night. Soul destroying for the chef and staff I’d think.
In the three nights we stayed here we were the only campers, and the only guests that stayed more than 1 night, so we really didn’t need the private ablutions, but we did have the pool completely to ourselves.
Molopo is a really nice lodge and money is currently being spent on it, but the pool was really quite dirty, you couldn’t see more than 100mm into the water, and the bottom was very slimy in places not that you could see it, but of course that didn’t stop us jumping in to cool off, though I did notice that here Jac didn’t put her head under.
But the great thing about lazing around the pool here was the enormous amount of Masked Weaver birds that were nesting above us.
And check out this old Apple computer that was in the lounge.
We even had a complimentary freshly baked loaf bought to our campsite by the chef, it was lovely too.
At last it was time to leave Molopo Lodge, and hit the tarmac into the red dunes of Kgalagadi National Park.
Arriving at the gate, we were surprised to find that Twee Rivieren (Two Rivers), was not only the entrance gate into the park but was also the South African Border Post and all your exit stamps had to be carried out here. So although we would still be in South Africa for another 6 days we had to do our immigration and customs documents here, you then do the same at another gate when leaving into Botswana or Namibia for immigration into that particular country. I guess thats why its now called the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The other large bird that was always on its own, but in large numbers was the Kori Bustard, and we did spot a few of the elegant snake eating Secretary Bird’s.
But we came here for big cats, and amazingly within an hour we came across a male Cheetah, he had obviously only just had a kill as his stomach was very extended, and infact we were convinced it was a heavily pregnant female until Jac zoomed in on the photos later and spotted his “bits” at the back, but wow what a great start to our time here.
Sitting there on our own, we watched from Colonel K this beautiful animal wander off into the grass and flop down under a tree about 20 metres from the track for a well earned kip. Now we were worried if we had peaked too early, would we see any more cats while here?
With our alarm set for 5.15am (every morning that we were there), we were ready to depart in Colonel K for a game drive by 6.00am (this is the earliest you can leave the campsite, and you must return by 7.30pm each evening), this is the best time to view the game and of course the early morning light makes for great photo opportunities, especially with the backdrop of the red sand dunes.
Another first for us was this lovely Cape Fox that was asleep on the gravel track until our old Daf woke him up.
And then there was this young Black Backed Jackal.
The Kalahari at the moment is indeed a beautiful place, every where is so lush and green, but it does make spotting animals quite difficult, but we had an advantage over other vehicles, our secret weapon Colonel K! From our elevated position we could see over the top of the long grass, this was especially advantageous when the gravel tracks disappeared after about 50km north of Twee Rivieren and the tracks became sandy and sunken below the surrounding grass land sometimes by over 2 feet.
It wasn’t long on that first early morning drive that we spotted a huge pride of Lions, 2 fully grown males, 2 fully grown females, 1 slightly younger female and 4 youngsters, and best of all they were hungry and hunting!
We sat there and watched as the lead female very slowly and stealthily crept up to the crest of the sand dune, and we could just make out a small herd of Gemsbok (approx 8-10 of them), and she gradually started to position herself to get the other side of them. All this time the other females and the males watched her, and knew instinctively to stay back out of the way, the young cubs just stayed nearer to us playing/fighting and sunning themselves in the early morning sun. Unbelievable, and a real privilege to watch.
But even the very playful cubs constantly kept a close eye on what Mum and Dad was up too.
We watched the lead female (from a distance) until she disappeared over the crest of the dune, and of course the other adult Lions and the youngsters eventually followed, we hoped that they would drive the Gemsbok over towards us on the track, but we figured that was not going to happen and so after edging along trying to spot them again for a while we gave up and moved on.
To our surprise about a kilometre along the track we spotted the head female of the pride coming over the dunes towards us, we know it was the same one as she was fitted with a collar for monitoring the pride for conservation purposes. Wow she came right up to the truck, sniffing the air, and still looking very hungry. She was truly a beauty, and had very few marks on her head or body, it was a shame that she had the collar on but if it helps protect them then I guess it’s a good thing.
There may be lots of grazing animals in Kgalagadi, such as Gemsbok, Springbok, and Red Hartebeest, but she still has to produce the goods or the whole pride suffers.
We had a cracking first full day in the park, and it was topped off with a swim in the swimming pool a Twee Riveiren, but next day was a long game drive, the 166km drive to Nossob camp. Now that doesn’t sound much but on the official map it suggests that in a normal 4×4 vehicle (not a 10 tonne Daf) and not stopping, in other words not game viewing it WILL take a minimum of 4.5 hours.
So leaving Twee Riveiren at 6.00am we set off for Nossob, the track soon loses its gravel and becomes very sandy, but not too deep. Just before the sand appeared though we saw this fella making his way across the track, not sure what type of snake he is but it didn’t look too friendly to me!
I also spotted a huge black scorpion but wasn’t quick enough with our trusty Lumix. Then guess what we spotted this little lady in the long grass just to the side of the track.
Then Jac realised that not far behind her were two youngsters, yes 3 Cheetahs together! This was getting better and better.
After a few minutes the mother started to move off and they were obviously in full hunting mode, I really wouldn’t want to be a young Springbok with this lot nearby.
What a place! And then we spotted our first true black maned Lion, a real beauty.
Our two nights at Nossob went far too quickly, but the campsite is always full (its not very big, and that makes it far more special), and as usual we met some really nice people (and some strange ones).
Once again we saw Lions including a group of three lioness’s that Jac spotted from miles away, we just sat there and they crossed our track right behind Colonel K.
And more Black Maned Lions.
This really is predator spotting heaven, but there were also many other animals about such as this Yellow Mongoose that seemed to like sheltering under the truck in the campsite. He might look nice and sweet but apparently they do bite and do carry rabies………
Also at Nossob, there was a huge number of Abdim’s Stork present, mostly roosting in the trees, but occasionally doing a good impression of a flock of vultures circling high in the sky.
Near to the storks were a huge number of Tawny Eagles cooling off in the trees in the midday sun.
Our last night in Nossob was met with a huge down pour complete with a massive thunderstorm, not too much of a problem for us in the truck but a bit of a nightmare for those South Africans that were either in roof tents or those that were mostly in ground tents, but hey it is the rainy season.
Next morning we were a little surprised that there wasn’t the usual rush for the gates at 6.00am, but we had the journey back to Twee Rivieren to do again and it took us 8 hours to get up here with all the stops and slow game viewing. I have to say I was not ready for what was in front of us, the lovely sand track that we had on the way up had turned literally into a river, in some places it even had a flow to it. No wonder no one was in a hurry to leave!!!
As always water finds its own level, in places it was only a few inches deep, in other low lying stretches the water was at least 2 foot deep (600mm), below is a photo Jac took out of the window as we were driving along, check out the spray way above the bottom of the window, it was relentless!
The worst section was the first 80km or so, after that I think the water was draining away, and obviously it was evaporating in the African sun, but during that first 80km for most of the time we could feel the water hitting the underside of the cab, that meant that the engine was being completely covered by spray and water rushing over it. The warning buzzer was blaring (this signifies that either the air brakes have failed or oil pressure has been lost) but with all the gauges showing good pressure we carried on ploughing through the flood. Then the rev counter packed up! Still the deafening buzzer was blaring. Eventually the rev counter started to work again and things started to return to normal, but I was so glad that we were in a four wheel drive high clearance truck on that day!!!
After one night at Twee Riveiren we set off at 6.00am the next morning for our final camp at Mata Mata. The game in this part of the park is prolific, and it was here we had another first of this trip, we sat and watched a large colony of Meerkats, disappearing into their burrows and then coming back out and standing on their rear legs for ages at a time.
It was here in this area that we saw even more Cheetah, and the sightings were exceptional including watching one family hunt, an amazing time.
Apart from the big cats in Kgalagadi, the other surprise for me was the number and variety of birds of prey, there must be so much food for these raptors, and it was great to sit and watch them, sometimes at very close hand. Like this magnificent Bateleur Eagle (or Short tailed Eagle).
There really were so many fantastic raptors here……..
And this huge Martial Eagle….
A Black-chested Snake Eagle…
Or this Black-winged (Black-shouldered) Kite with its amazing ruby red eyes….
We were sat watching a huge Lappet-faced Vulture that was sat resting on a branch, when all of a sudden a Tawny Eagle landed next to it, they just sat and stared at each other in seemingly disbelief that this could possibly have happened!!!
Then we watched this Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk very tentatively trying to extract something from the undergrowth, it was very wary of what ever it was trying to catch, perhaps a small snake?
Then there was this African Harrier Hawk (or Gymnogene) watching closely a Tawny Eagle slightly lower down, all of this being watched by a pair of Starlings, and of course Me and Jac’s.
Thats the great thing about self driving safari’s, you can always stop and look and watch something. But for me a really special moment was watching a Snake Eagle scoop up a live snake and fly off with it to a nearby tree, unfortunately we didn’t have the camera ready and we were moving when we first spotted the snake dangling from the eagles talons, but it was an unforgettable sight.
Mata Mata is a much larger camp than the others that we stayed at in the NP, and that means that there really is a rush to get out of the gate at 6.00am, but the game viewing more than makes up for it, and again we saw some fantastic Lions and Cheetah.
Mata Mata was the only place that we saw Giraffe in the Transfrontier Park, but they were in quite large numbers here.
There is history in this massive place too, in 1908 a German force of over 500 soldiers entered (from what is now Namibia) into what is now the Transfrontier Park with over 700 camels brought over from North Africa (they soon realised that horses were useless in the dry Kalahari) in pursuit of a Nama leader by the name of Simon Kooper, armed with machine guns the locals didn’t stand a chance, but Mr Kooper escaped and took refuge in what is now Botswana under the protection of the British. We also met an ex soldier that served with the South African army in the war with Angola, and he explained that the reason that the water holes in the park are at such regular intervals (approx 20km apart) was that it was set up as another supply route, just incase the main route north was cut off, it was never used but the water holes still to this day supply fresh water along these dry river beds.
On our last day we saw this massive Eagle Owl hiding in the dense tree by the side of the track, and in complete contrast a stunning Hoopoe.
You can probably tell that we loved Kgalagadi, and the obvious comparison is with Kruger NP in the east of South Africa. In my opinion there really is no comparison, yes at Kruger you can see the fabled “Big 5” (there are no Elephants, Rhino or Buffalo in Kgalagadi), but for us Kruger is like a huge zoo, with tarmac roads, large numbers of visitors and massive rest camps. For the most part if you are on an organised tour to SA you will most probably visit Kruger NP, its just easier to stay and travel around. Whereas Kgalagadi has very limited accommodation (there are chalets at the rest camps, but its mostly camping for self driving guests), and narrow sand tracks between camps, and long may that last, its an amazing place, we bloody loved it!!!! So much so we stayed an extra day at Mata Mata before heading across the border into Namibia.
Thanks for reading, sorry for all the wildlife snaps (actually I’m not apologising for them ha)
After leaving Knysna, we drove the short distance to Buffalo Bay (or as the Afrikans call it Buffells Baai), this was a much nicer place to camp and explore after the vastly over hyped seaside town of Knysna. Though it was seriously windy on the campsite as it is right out on the narrow peninsular and so is surrounded by the Indian Ocean on 3 sides. It really was a stunning location and the pristine sandy beach stretched for mile after mile.
But the thing that Buffalo Bay is most famous for is its surfing beaches and every day there was various surf dude’s and dudesse’s (is there such a word?) taking off on their boards, some to a very high standard. What I couldn’t understand was why Jac was always so reluctant to leave her vantage point!!!!
Shark attacks are a real danger here to surfers, and so provided on the beach is a metal box that contains a Shark Bite Kit. But this is South Africa and so the box has to remain locked, you are provided with a telephone number (probably a premium rate number) and provided there is someone to answer the call on the other end of the line (not a given), and you can give them the correct location of the box, then you will be given the combination for the lock, you just have to hope that the shark bite isn’t too bad, all this takes time eh. This kit is provided by a local private hospital, so a good cheap way of advertising.
As usual there were plenty of stunning sunsets.
As many of you know we lost our German Short Haired Pointer just before we left on this trip, and after having Dillon for 16 years he has been sorely missed by us, but at Buffalo Bay we spotted Dillon’s double (or is that his reincarnation), it really did look like him, right down to his markings and his movement and actions. Jac went all gaga……
Next stop was the small Garden Route town of Wilderness, a very upmarket place with the usual fine array of coffee shops and curios (mostly tat stuff) where we stocked up on food and booze and then headed for Wilderness National Park. After Tsitskamma National Park (see previous post) we really weren’t expecting much, especially as Wilderness NP is little more than half the price of the camping at Storms River camp. But we have come to expect the unexpected on this trip and Wilderness NP was indeed very very nice. The campsite was much smaller than the one at Tsitskamma, and is stretched out along the river bank, and its all lush grass, and not too regimented (we hate these campsites with lines or boundaries).
Whilst here we did a bit of hiking, rented a canoe, and of course did plenty of swimming in the river just in front of the truck.
On one particular walk we had a choice of route to reach a waterfall, one was across stepping stones and one was via a pontoon, so we went for the pontoon not really knowing what to expect. When we got to the crossing we had to use a very unsteady self propelled pontoon, using a series of ropes and pulleys, all very new to us Pommies.
The waterfall was a little disappointing but it was a lovely walk for about 3 hours. We had a family of Egyptian Geese for company in front of the truck, and of course the usual Guinea Fowl.
When walking back from our canoeing trip we came across the biggest tortoise that we have seen on this trip, he was massive, and seemed oblivious of our presence.
As we are planning to spend next christmas and new year here in South Africa, we thought we would enquire about camping here again this December. The very friendly woman at the park headquarters (and for once quite efficient), informed us that the christmas and new year camping (about 80-100 camp spots over the two campsites) were all booked within 40 minutes of them being released on line! This is like Glastonbury, and I’m truly amazed that their cranky old website managed to cope with all that.
We also met some lovely people at Wilderness, an English couple that have bought a house near Capetown that were staying in one of the chalets at the back of the campsite, and their neighbours, two woman that were camped next to us. We had a really nice evening with the four of them sharing travel stories, and tales of wine (they do live in the middle of the vast wine region).They introduced us to a wine sold in a plastic bottle and costs less that £2.00 for 750ml, Tangled Tree Butterscotch Chardonnay, its lovely. We have since found out that it is sold in Checkers Liquor and have of course stocked up accordingly. We also met a Dutch couple that we had previously met in Malawi, and it was great to catch up with them and share tales.
Mossel Bay, mmmmm we stayed at the camp from hell. It was awful, the town was ok but the campsite was akin to a prison camp, and it was completely packed with pensioners here for the reduced rate that is applicable to them on Municipal campsites. I never took any photos in the 24 hours of staying here, and I take a lot of photo’s, and this really sums this place up. We also met some very rude people here (though that definitely does not include the lovely couple from Scotland that were thankfully in a camper next to us) that seemed it was their given right to look inside our house, well I got news for you, it ain’t your given right, and you ain’t coming in!!!!
After Mossel Bay we had really had enough of the coast and the Garden Route with all its touristy things (its really lovely in places but can be busy and touristy in others), and so we headed for Bontebok National Park, just outside the historic town of Swellendam.
Bontebok NP is not about the wildlife, you really have to understand that, and reading the visitors book at the park reception shows that many people come here expecting a mini Kruger, and it definitely isn’t that. What you do get from South Africa’s smallest National Park, is stunning scenery, quite a few hiking trails, a super clear river to swim in, and of course the chance to view Bontebok.
We loved our few days in Bontebok, again the campsite is nice and compact but each site has lots of room, and most are surrounded by trees.
Around the campsite the birdlife was really prolific, and eventually I managed to get a photo of a Mousebird, these really do never seem to stop still for very long and are always deep in the bush, very frustrating to get shot with my trusty Lumix.
Then the cheeky bugger turned around and waved at me!
But we really do enjoy the company of these feathered friends, especially watching the Weaver birds.
Ok no more bird shots!
Awww maybe one more of this Grey Heron that we spotted when out walking then……
But a great way to cool off here is to have a dip in the mountain fresh water of the river, its perfect after a few hours hike, and surprisingly warm (ish).
The other thing that we will remember about Bontebok was the vast number of tortoises, we must have seen 20-30 of them in the few days that we were in the National Park, and they were mating too, a strange sight, and an even stranger noise.
After a few days exploring Bontebok, we had a quick trip back into the old town of Swellendam which is very nice (there really are two very different halves to the town), a bit of shopping and a top up of Colonel K’s finest tipple and we headed off into the winelands toward Worcester.
Swellendam is also the start of the Winelands, these vast areas of vineyards go from here right through to Stellenbosch and wine is produced here on a vast industrial scale. We stopped one day for a coffee at a farm shop (known here as a Padstal), it was of course owned by a vineyard, in this case Bonnievale, so two bottle’s were bought. Later that day we stopped for lunch at a very nice restaurant just before Worcester, again owned by another vineyard, this time Rooisberg Wines. They really are one after the other and each town produces its own maps showing all the local vineyard’s. Guess what? That night we camped at a wine farm…… and so it goes on.
After the hustle and bustle of the Garden Route and the Winelands, we decided to cross over the mountain range via one of the many steep passes, and up into the Highveld, or the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo) as its known here. This is a huge semi arid desert area and was much more to our liking, especially as we found a lovely place to camp on a farm about 40km from the main road, it was great to be back on the gravel tracks and of course seeing WILD wildlife.
It might seem strange to some people but we love these wild and remote places, and when you see things like a flock of Blue Cranes near the gravel track, it really is special.
The farm really was like an oasis in the desert, with a number of small dams (ponds to us Brits) that were a haven for birds such as weavers, herons and a few ducks.
It was a great place to relax for a couple of days, but once again there was the seemingly never ending threat of fire looming over us, this is a very very dry place and as evening drew in we realised that there was fire raging up in the hills and the smoke was coming towards us AGAIN! Thankfully the wind dropped overnight and by morning the smoke had almost disappeared, the owners of the farm didn’t seem too concerned, so we relaxed a bit.
From the Klein Karoo, we headed back to the main tarmac road and decided to head for the tiny town of Sutherland, slap bang in the centre of the Great Karoo. Off the main road we spotted a Union Jack, and a Scottish flag flying over to the right, and a huge sign painted on the tin roof of an old derelict building saying “The Lord Milner”, hopefully there might be fresh coffee at the end of this ‘rainbow’! What we found was a very pleasant shock. You have to remember that this is in the middle of nowhere, a semi-arid nowhere, and just 2 or 3 kilometres down this dusty scruffy track was an immaculate Scottish style country hotel! Even South Africa can still throw up surprises.
And there was a separate coffee shop and a Pub, The Milner’s Arms, a little transport Museum, and a Post Office (well sort of), this really is an incredible place. It was built by a Scot by the name of Jimmy Loga. After arriving in Capetown to work on the railways and somehow he managed to gain the sole rights to sell drinks on the train (there is also a train station here) that ran from Bulawayo (now in Zimbabwe) to Capetown when the railroad first started around the early 1900’s. After making a few Bob doing this he decided to build a health resort for the rich and famous of South Africa here at Matjiesfontein, and apparently he did very nicely out of it, and for many years it was the place to come to.
Nowadays the place survives mostly by a twice weekly visit and an hours stop of “The Blue Train” a luxury train that slowly does that same journey (only now its only from Jo’Burg to Capetown), but this time its full of about 80 tourists, it must be a nightmare to be there when that lot arrives, and thankfully when we were there it was very quiet. There is even an old Routemaster double decker London bus to take them on a short trip………
Here we met John, there are a couple of things thats worth knowing about John. Firstly John was born here at The Lord Milner (allegedly), and his mother worked here as a maid. When we arrived John seemed extremely bored, and it was also his job ,it seemed, to encourage people into The Milners Arms, to spend money on drinks. But the main thing to know about John is that he was funny, in fact John was bloody hilariously funny. If this was really his job then he was extremely good at it.
John was convinced that we were a honeymoon couple (god knows why), and in the quarter of an hour that we spent with him we laughed so much, he really was one of life’s naturally funny guys. Mind you we still didn’t spend any money in the bar, it was only about 10.30 in the morning,but we had to sing along with him at the piano !
After all the bush fires that we had seen it was good to see that there was cutting edge firefighting equipment on hand!
We were pleasantly surprised that a new tarmac road had been built, or upgraded for the 100km drive north to Sutherland, and despite it being very hilly in places, we made time quite quickly.
We were told by Paul (the invisible man from Kloof) that Sutherland was worth a visit for the star gazing, and it didn’t disappoint. Sutherland town is a tiny town that is full of old Victorian, or slightly later buildings that seem to be incredibly preserved, and despite its remoteness it has a really nice friendly feel to it, oh and its full of guest houses and coffee shops/restaurants!!
So what makes Sutherland so popular with tourists? Well the remoteness (its hundreds of kilometres away from any towns), and its altitude of 1,550m (about 5,100 feet), mean extremely clear skies and zero light pollution. For this reason the international community decided that Sutherland was the ideal place to build the most powerful telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. Along with this a whole mini industry has sprouted up for amateur astronomers.
We found our campsite just outside town, and booked Jurg the owner to have one of his private star gazing sessions that evening.
First thing we had to do was to meet our guard dog for the time we were to spend there, Jurg told us to camp at the last spot, number 7, and number 7 was also the home of Trompie the resident Jack Russell cross something or other. Trompie Van Sterland was adorable and was determined to look after us and Colonel K!
Sutherland is also known as the coldest place in South Africa and gets snow most winters, but this was the summer it was very hot during the day and still in the low 20’s C in the night.
That evening we had a really good couple of hours out in Jurg’s ‘Boma’ where he has four satellite controlled high power telescopes, he is quite passionate about his hobby, and despite having to buy all this amazing equipment only charges 100 rand (about £5.80) for two hours. There was about 8 or 9 of us with him that night (incredibly mostly English), and there were many gasps, and “wows” as eyes went to the telescopes, as we were shown the unbelievable colours of a nebula, dying stars, and new stars. The only issue was that it was almost a full moon and so this restricted some of the things that he wanted to show us, but it was an absolutely crystal clear night.
At the end of the evening Jurg asked if we would like to view the moon, but warned us that because of the brightness of the moon that night we would suffer from black spots in our vision for about 10 minutes afterwards, but assured us that it would pass and no lasting damage would be done!!!! Ok lets go for it….. WOW what a view, the craters were so clear it was incredible. After we had had our fill of “burnt retinas”, our host asked if we had a smart phone, and so he placed the camera lens of our crappy old iPhone 4 to the eyepiece and clicked……
We had a great evening, and learnt a lot about something that we previously knew nothing about, but it was back to our trusty camper to find Trompie still awake and in his guard house.
Next day we drove to SALT (Southern African Long Range Telescope), and spent a couple of hours being shown around the various telescopes. Access to SALT is via a very very steep road, and boy in the heat this made Colonel K grunt! Again it was very interesting, but some of the stuff was way over out heads, in the end we stuck to the kiddies displays, they explained things in a way that meant you didn’t need to be a quantum physicist to understand it!!!
There are about a dozen telescopes here on the site, not just the main SALT telescope, and many countries have built their own smaller (but still very powerful) telescopes and rent the land but they are operated remotely from their own country (UK, Germany, South Korea, USA, Poland and many others have their own scopes here). SALT is also part owned and funded by many countries with South Africa only owning 30% of it, its a truly international place.
After all this high tech stuff we badly needed a coffee so headed back to Sutherland, and was told by a local to try the Blue Moon guest house, we had a lovely lunch here in this very Engish tea rooms type place. We also met a large group of Afrikaans here and after one old guy insisting to talk to us flat out for ten minutes solely in Afrikaans, and us not understanding a word of what he said, his daughter came over and roughly translated that he was telling us that they are farmers that leave out in the remote areas of the karoo, and every so often they all get together and visit the “Big City” (Sutherland, obviously) for the day to do shopping and have lunch……… Characters eh….
The other thing that Sutherland is famous for is the graves of a young British soldier. Trooper Davey Burnett was unlucky enough to be in this extremely dry place and in 1901, during a rare down pour he drowned in a flash flood. He was buried in the graveyard (a rough scruffy patch of land on the edge of town) with a full gravestone.
Then when the army heard about this (in the same year), they decided that he should have a proper military grave, so only a couple of yards to the left is his second grave ,its not just a metal cross. Though which one has his body in is anyones guess.
When we heard this story from Jurg, we were intrigued to see these two graves, so with Colonel K parked on the street we started up the track to the graveyard, and as we were going up, a car was pulling out, they stopped and the four occupants (2 British, and 2 South Africans) told us that the graves of Davey Burnett were not here, and they had looked for ages and couldn’t find them and were off to find another graveyard…… After two minutes of looking around the graves Jac spotted the metal cross, and within another few minutes we had found the grave stone, its a tiny place, and I’m not sure how they missed both of them.
Leaving Sutherland and heading north again theres only dusty gravel tracks to drive on, and its about 150km to the main road, but wow what stunning scenery.
After about 350km we arrived at another remote town called Brandvlei, and found that our first choice of camping about 15km out of town was full (it only has two campspots), so she kindly recommended The Casablance Guest House and Camping on the edge of town. Our hopes of Brandvlei being another “Sutherland” were quickly dashed as we realised that it is quite a poor town, and very scruffy, I guess it’s got a population of about 4,000, so still quite small.
The Casablance Guest House and Camping is neither really, there is absolutely zero facilities for campers, with no toilets or showers, we just parked in the back yard on the dusty gravel. The Lady owner appeared, and when we asked about a WC or shower she said she would give us a key to the house and we could use the bathroom in there. After a brief chat with this very friendly but slightly “away with the fairy folk” woman, we settled down and made a coffee in the truck. After a hour I decided to use the bathroom in the house, oh my god that place was weird…… It was like a shrine to the forties and fifties, there was old vintage clothes hanging in random places around the house, and despite it being afternoon it was dark in there, all the curtains were closed, and of course there was no electricity!!!! Then I eventually found the bathroom (which also opened into a bedroom), it was like a set from a Stephen King or Alfred Hitchcock film, over the bath was an old dress, almost like an old lacy wedding dress, then above the toilet was an old white corset, but worst of all was the pink girdle that was on a cut down mannequin next to the wash hand basin, and all that was in there to provide light was a tiny rechargeable solar lamp, very very creepy!!! All the place needed was a few nasty looking dolls, and it would have been like a cross between the Bates Hotel and The Bride of Chuckie.
Next morning the lovely owner told us that she doesn’t get any trouble with the locals because of the four massive dogs that she has, and of course she has a snake in the house! Luckily we didn’t meet the snake.
We are currently camped just north of the large town of Uppington, and have booked 5 nights camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, we are really looking forward to visiting this vast desert area, but were surprised that some of the campsites are fully booked, so we have about 4 days before we drive to the park.
On the way to Uppington, and afterwards we saw this massive structure in the distance, its truly impressive, and can still see it from our campsite just on the horizon, its called Khi Solar One and its a solar tower, I don’t fully understand it but if your interested you can google it.
Thanks for reading, sorry its a bit long, but I needed to catch up
Lots of people warned us about travelling through the Transkei, “don’t stop unless you have to”, “don’t wild camp on the Wild Coast”, these were just a few on the many warnings that were given to us as we left the Kwazulu-Natal areas of Durban through to Port Shepstone.
The Transkei was once an “Independent State” set up by the apartheid government of South Africa to create a so called homeland for the Xhosa people, the only country in the world that recognised this new Independent State was South Africa. It was a farce, and set up to try to appease the growing hostility against the apartheid regime, it was of course funded by South Africa, it is still to this day a very poor region of South Africa.
Apart from the old Capital town of Umtata (now renamed Mthatha), this vast area is populated with thousands and thousands of Xhosa villages, its very rural, but there are people everywhere (little room for a pee stop in this place). The guide books reaffirm the warning of car jackings, violent crime etc, but we didn’t see any of this in the few days that we spent in the Transkei, admittedly we were very cautious and only camped at recognised camping spots.
But one thing the Transkei area definitely has is beauty, buckets of beauty, and for me one of the most stunning areas of South Africa. You could pick up the 21st Century Transkei area and drop it into many much poorer areas on the African continent and it really wouldn’t look out of place.
There is no coastal road running from Port Edward to East London (the beginning and end of the Transkei/Wild Coast area), instead you have to head inland to Mthatha. This means that you drive from sea level in Port Edward, and then in Mthatha you find yourself at 4,000 feet, but this only tells half the story, to get to this height, the terrain is seriously undulating, and I would guess that you actually climb closer to double that during the drive.
There is talk that the South African Government are thinking about building a new coastal route from north to south, personally I can’t see it ever happening, the cost would be astronomical, it would be like building a brand new road through the European Alps, including bridges, tunnels etc, etc.
In the old days, gambling and prostitution were illegal in South Africa, but hey guess what? They made it legal in the “Independent State” of Transkei, and within a few hundred metres of crossing into the former Transkei, yup there’s a huge very seedy looking casino, so not too far to go from your nice holiday home at Margate, or Port St Johns.
One lovely place that we camped was at Kei River Mouth, this was actually on the river rather than on the shore, and the steeply sided cliffs on either side of us, that had been cut away during millions of years, really was beautiful.
Our next stop on the Wild Coast was for me the best campsite that we have stayed at in South Africa (so far), it was at the western side of the river at Cintsa. Here we camped behind the sand dunes, and each camp had its own ablutions (WC and shower), it wasn’t posh, it was a little rustic, but it was a really nice place. The caretaker here came out to meet us, a frail old man that had lost most of his voice after major throat surgery, he was 96 years old, yes that wasn’t a typing error, he was 96!!!!!! We also met a friend here, a dog that we really fell for, apparently no one owns him, but we fed him the last of our dog food that we had bought in Kenya, and he followed us everywhere….. or to be more precise he led us everywhere.
We had some great walks along the beach here, you could literally walk for miles in either direction, obviously the Indian Ocean here is crystal clear, and each rock pool has its own eco system, most have coral, fish and crabs in them, it really was a little bit of paradise for us, and of course apart from locals fishing on the beach, there was no one here.
After the quiet and tranquility of the Wild Coast, it was a bit of a shock getting into Port Elizabeth, this is a big modern town with a bustling harbour. We found a nice campsite about 8km out the far side of town, right out on the headland known as Cape Recife. The Willows is quite a large resort with not only a camp site, but also lots of self catering thatched bungalows scattered around the place, the view from our site was fantastic (apart from the dead seal on the beach).
We decided to stay here for a few days and Jac needed a little retail therapy to recharge her girly batteries, so off we went to the newest and biggest mall in town (actually it was a little out of town). Google maps got us to the mall, and it was indeed a large place, or it seemed a large place from the outside, because we very nearly had an international incident on our hands. As we turned off the main road and into the mall parking area, I happened to notice up ahead a 2.0m height restriction (in true African tradition there is no warnings about this), and as we are 3.5m high, it really wasn’t going to work! Luckily there weren’t too many cars entering the mall at the time (this is no Bluewater or Lakeside, but probably nearly as big), and I ended up reversing all the way back and out of the traffic lights the wrong direction. Back in PE we found another shopping Mall, took up 4 car parking spaces and had a pleasant few hours looking at thing we can’t afford (or so I told Jac).
On the way back as we approached the campsite we found ourselves in the middle of a bush fire, luckily the very strong wind was coming straight in from the sea, and so was blowing the fire and smoke inland and away from the campsite. Just after we drove through we heard that they had shut the road for a few hours because of the smoke. This situation stayed with us for the next couple of days, and at night we could see the flames still burning in the distance, apparently destroying the Nature Reserve on the other side of the road. Then just as we were sat outside drinking Gin and Tonics, and cooking our braii (barbecue), the wind suddenly stopped, literally ceased from I guess a constant force 4, to zero wind. Then 10 minutes later it started again only this time our force 4 had turned 180 degrees and has coming off the land, and of course driving the fire directly back towards us!!
All of a sudden Port Elizabeth’s Fire service was roaring around the camp, there were blue lights and vehicles everywhere. We were told to pack everything away, and be ready to leave at a moments notice if we get “the call”. By now it was dark, and we could clearly see the flames not too far away, and there was ash covering everything, we didn’t get much sleep that night! But somehow they managed to stop the fire entering the very dry areas and trees of the campsite and at about 6.00am the fire fighters decided to sound their siren while driving about the camp to indicate the all clear. I was actually up and about by then and knew what it meant, but some campers took that as a sign that they must evacuate the campsite…. quite amusing really.
We left the campsite that morning, not wanting to tempt fate for a second night, and as we turned out on to the road we realised how close we came to losing Colonel K. The fire had actually crossed the road and had burnt large areas right up to the campsite fence. Quite a scary experience, but it is a real danger here in South Africa at the moment. There is evidence that many of these fires are started deliberately, and some seem to think that there are an unnatural amount of bush fires in the areas recently lost by the ANC party to the Democratic Alliance (the DA), and are blaming ANC supporters for starting them, Im not sure about that, but as we have experienced here, there are lots of fires happening and doing a hell of a lot of damage to farms, forests, and Nature reserves.
After PE we continued west along the Garden Route to Storms River in Tsitskamma National Park, we planned to spend quite a bit of time here, but as with most things on the Garden Route it was stupidly expensive. The campsite without the conservation fee’s (we don’t pay these as we bought a 12 months Wildcard while in Kruger NP), was 485 rand per night (over £30.00), so only paid for two nights in the end. The ablutions arent that great either for that money, and the tourists…….. What a shock, there were coaches after coaches pulling in here for 2 or 3 hours at a time. We hadn’t experienced this in the last two years of being in Africa…….Coaches!
The main draw for people on these coaches are the suspension bridges across the narrow gorge, that are a very short walk from the coach park and temporary restaurant (the original building burnt down…. another fire). These are billed as “world famous”, mmmm I’m not sure about that, and the original bridge built by the British has been removed and a new one built in its place, along side another new one so the coach party’s can easily get to the “new” old bridge.
But despite the cost, one thing made the visit to Storms River worth it…… a fantastic walk west from the campsite to a waterfall. The leaflets say its a 7.5 kilometre walk but that it is quite challenging and you should allow 4 hours to complete it,…… four hours to walk just over 4.5 miles, yeah right… if your a 96 year old caretaker!!!!!
So armed with a rucksack containing plenty of water, a few nibbles, camera and swimwear and towel (just in case theres somewhere to cool down) we set out from Colonel K. The first few kilometres were a breeze, sure it was undulating much like the coastal path is in Cornwall, then we dropped down to the shore again, and the path disappeared. There was no path, but there was a few painted feet on the massive jagged rocks showing you the “easiest” suggested route. This walk suddenly turned into cross between a rock climb and a scrabble (both in places). At one point you literally have to edge along a ledge with your toes on the rock face and you hugging the cliff. One of the toughest short “set out” walks that we have done.
Eventually we got to the waterfall, and for once it didn’t disappoint, it was a 50 metre drop into a large pool only 2 metres above the sea.
We were hot and sweaty, and the water was ice cold, but before I knew it, Jac was in her bikini and straight in. I could see from her expression that it was even colder than my toe test told me, but obviously I couldn’t let the males of the world down, so in I jumped……BLOODY HELL THAT WAS COLD!
On this trip we have swam in some great and wild places, but oh my god that was the coldest. It was lovely and refreshing but in the end I started to cramp up in the cold and with the pool being so deep decided to get out and the two of us just laid there warming up like a couple of lizards.
The sea here really does come in, in a wild manner, it wasn’t windy while we were at Tsitsikamma, but the waves are constantly smashing into the rocky shore.
In front of where we were camped we watched a pair of Giant Kingfishers hunting along the shore, these are the worlds largest Kingfisher, and are more like a small bird of prey in size, beautiful to watch though.
While we were at Storms River a couple told us about a lovely campsite just before Plettenberg Bay, and the clincher for Jac was, it was within walking distance of a fantastic Italian Restaurant on the beach. So off we set for Arch Rock in Keurboomstrand, this is a very affluent area with some massive holiday homes, when we got to the entrance to Arch Rock there was no mention of camping and there was a large sign suspended across the entrance (too low for the Colonel to get under), but it looked like the whole thing might swing open. So off Jac went to see what the place was about, she reappeared a few minutes later with the owner, who obviously wanted our business and told us that he would get his maintenance man to remove the sign so we could get under.
Fifteen minutes later and a lot of balancing on the ladder, the extremely heavy sign (complete with metal box section backing), was down.
Perfect…So off we go under the entrance, only trouble was that I guess the remaining bar was 3.49m high and we are 3.5m high!!!! Other that letting down the tyres we weren’t going to fit, so after many apologies to the owner and a very fed up maintenance man we drove on to Plettenberg Bay and found another campsite.
This time we ended up on a huge campsite on the very edge of Plett (this is what the locals call Plettenberg Bay), thankfully it was fairly empty, though as it was a weekend there were a fair number of local families here just for one or two nights, and so all the beach front camp areas had been taken. As we drove through the site looking for a suitable place to park up, we spotted a couple of old acquaintances in their old Mercedes Unimog, it was Stonne, and Hilda from Belgium.
We last met this lovely couple over a year ago in Swakopmund, Namibia, and they were on their way to Port Elizabeth to ship their truck home. They had driven through to Lusaka in Zambia when Stonne started to complain about a “bit of a headache”, and as it was during the wet season and pouring down in Lusaka and beyond, they decided to head back to the Caprivi Strip area in Namibia. When his head aches, and other aches and pains didn’t improve they were both convinced Stonne was suffering from an acute case of Malaria. Then in Northern Namibia he took a serious turn for the worst and was rushed at high speed in an ambulance down to Windhoek, where he was diagnosed as having a brain haemorrhage, and very quickly had his skull drilled to relieve the pressure. After a spell in hospital in Namibia, they flew back to Belgium to rest and recuperate. Because of this scare they have understandably decided to cut short their African adventure early, and are going to travel Europe more extensively. It was strange because somewhere on our travels, we were told that Stonne had been taken ill in Lusaka, but had heard no more about it since then.
We had a couple of great evenings drinking with this lovely couple, and we wish them all the best for the future.
The campsite at Plett actually turned out to be a really pleasant place, and as with many places in SA we once again met some really nice people here. The lagoon that is in front of the campsite is really stunning, and is a perfect place for a swim especially if you have kids, and of course a great place to walk along the beach.
After Plett, it was only a very short drive to Knysna, and we had very high hopes for Knysna. We had met many South Africans that go here for their holidays, and really raved about it, so our first stop was an overnight at the “East Heads”. Knysna town itself is situated on a huge lagoon, which has two quite big islands in it (both of these islands are completely jam packed with large detached holiday homes), and the entrance to the lagoon from the sea is through a narrow gap guarded each side by high cliffs (the East and West Heads).
We had heard that there is a lovely restaurant at East Head, but soon realised that there was a 5 tonne weight limit on that road, and the car park was full so we drove to the campsite and walked along the narrow road to The East Heads Cafe. We had a fantastic meal here (it was a late lunch), and soaked up the views from the terrace with our wine.
We only stayed here one night, but it was only about 5km’s to our next campsite right on the edge of Knysna itself (Colonel K’s temperature gauge, never fully moved round). Once again Jac was looking forward to doing a bit of shopping, and I was looking forward to a few cafes and a nice lunch. I have to say we were more than a little disappointed in Knysna, yes the Waterfront has a few quirky shops and sure there are lots of cafes, but really its a little like a cross between Brighton and Margate, only much smaller and of course much warmer (oh and a bit posher).
Next we are off to Wilderness NP, Mossel Bay and then inland to the winelands.
Thanks for reading
Well, the complete idiots at Limpopo Caravans did eventually finish the work on the roof of Colonel K, it turns out we had two leaks one under the solar panel (sorted by removing completely, and resealing), and another under the air-con unit (again removal of the Dometic unit and a new piece of flat aluminium sealed across the joint fixed this). We also had 4 new leisure batteries fitted, these power everything in the living accommodation (fridge, lights, water pump, toilet fan, etc). In the end our bill was 9,200 Rand (£575.00), but after a very heated discussion with the workshop manager and the owner, where we pointed out that we have incurred considerable costs due to it taking 7 days instead of 3 days, and there was some damage caused to one of the units where they left Colonel K out in an epic storm over night, we eventually agreed to pay them 4,000 Rand (£250.00).
After a quick stock up of essentials (Yum Yum Caramel Crunch Peanut Butter), we set out on the long drive down to Hilton, near Pietermairitzburg, with an over night stop near Newcastle. We arranged to meet Sandy and her sister Ninette at a very swish small shopping complex on the edge of nearby Howick, then followed Sandy to her dads smallholding. The farm is set in the most beautiful of settings, set on the side of a steep valley about 10km outside of the very upmarket town of Hilton.
Christmas didn’t quite go to plan as both Sandy’s parents were admitted to hospital just prior to our arrival, with her Dad Nico, having major surgery and being released on christmas day! We stayed at Ninette and Brendon’s on both christmas eve and christmas day, and had a great time getting to know their family and friends, and were made so welcome by everyone. Christmas is very different here to in the UK, perhaps the biggest difference in the weather, everything is done outside, including the eating (though obviously shade is needed). The other thing that seemed very different is that kids don’t seem to be showered by dozens and dozens of presents.
Brendon took me on a tour of his timber yard early on christmas morning, delivering some cold meat to his security guys. This was an extremely impressive set up, with all the ripping saws, pressure vessels and the workshops where fencing, trellis, and garden furniture is produced. He employs 100 people here, with approx. 90% of them women (its mostly men driving the trucks, and security), apparently Zulu women are much more hard working and reliable than Zulu men. Almost all his staff are housed on site just outside the yard, it seems that Brendon really knows his staff and looks after them accordingly, it seems that this is also the key to having a peaceful and safe time living in theses parts. Attacks on farms in South Africa are a real problem, with violence on an unprecedented scale, since being in SA we have seen many accounts of this. Another common problem is deliberate forest/bush fires, and there were a spate of these just before christmas, and many people believe there were started by disgruntled employees that were not happy with their christmas bonuses!!!!! A very different world eh.
Sandy had arranged to fly to Port Elizabeth (on the south coast) for four days and Ninette was also going away, so we happily agreed to stay at the farm and to look after Nico.For someone that had just had major surgery, he was doing his best not to show it !!! It was impossible to keep him still and rested as he really does like to entertain visitors .We were also kept busy rounding up the extremely errant cattle that were determined to escape and cause havoc at every available opportunity.
The four days that Sandy wasn’t about were mostly taken up with driving Nico to various hospitals and clinics, not only seeing various doctors with his own ailments but also to visit Jeanette, his wife. In between these medical stops, we were treated to the sights of Howick and the surrounding areas, including all Nico’s usual bar and pub stops, and the stunning Howick Falls. We wish Nico, Jeanette, Sandy and the family well for 2017.
Nico’s neighbour’s, Alister and Elma, made us particularly welcome and we enjoyed a fantastic evening meal at their stunning new house. Alister decided a few years ago to get rid of all his cattle etc and stock his farm with various African game, including Zebra, and various types of Antelope, all for his own game viewing pleasure. They also have a few “A Frame” self catering chalets that they let out, this really is a beautiful place, both the house, the farm and the views.
We really hit it off with this lovely couple and ended up having a great New Years Eve at their son Callum’s house (also on the farm), and then being invited back on New Years Day (with slightly sore heads) for lunch of Haggis, Tatties, and Neaps, all expertly cooked by Alister (yes he is originally from Scotland).Callum was also particularly interested in Col K, having just left the British army .
On Nico’s Small holding, there was a lovely (if slightly dim) dog called Lola, that lived on the farm but was owned by one of Nico’s tenants June. June and her daughter also disappeared from the farm for a few days and so we agreed to feed and water Lola ,she was sleeping under Colonel K anyway. Suddenly another dog appeared, Hobo the very old and stiff Jack Russell apparently just goes from farm to farm spending a few days at each one before moving on to the next, it seems that they all feed Hobo. Now we have two dogs curled up and sleeping under the Daf.
One night we were awoken by Hobo barking and growling, then there was lots of slapping noise, and more growling, Jac got up and peered out of the truck window to see Hobo proudly standing over, and still growling at a very dead snake. We also heard stories of Hobo killing cobra’s and puff adders, he might be old and grey but he’s still quick enough to dispatch a deadly snake, maybe thats why farmers are so keen for him to visit them! Hobo stood guard over the decapitated reptile for the rest of the night, and the next morning until it was taken away by Alister.
After New Year it was time to leave Hilton and to, as promised, visit “The Invisible Man”, a fantastic character that we met over a year ago while travelling in his old Mercedes 911 truck in Namibia. Paul lives only about 80km down the road from Hilton in a amazingly affluent area called Kloof, this is only about a 40 minute drive to Durban. He cut short his truck travels and returned home, not really knowing why (something just told him in his head to go home). Within a very short time he was admitted to Hospital and it was found he had a very rare infection that had spread from his skull and had infected all his spinal disc’s, very very painful, and caused they think by a button on the top of his baseball cap after he bashed his head!!!!! Anyway thankfully Paul has made a full recovery and is definitely back to his old usual crazy self. Paul explained that as he was supposed to still be travelling, he couldn’t accommodate us in his house as he still had tenants in there, but we could park or stay at his “granny flat” where he was currently living. His “granny flat” was a large 2 bedroom bungalow that was bigger than most peoples house in the UK. We stayed here for seven days and used his spare bedroom which had its own ensuite. Luxury……..
We really had a great week here with Paul, meeting some of his friends, having Braii’s, eating out, visiting the sights of Durban, and surrounding areas.
Paul really does have many stories to tell, about characters that he has met and known. Some of them almost unbelievable, but guaranteed to make you laugh, including the story of his old friend that used to own this armoured car pictured below, stories maybe from a bygone age from South Africa.
On one particular day Paul drove us into Durban where the plan was we would rent some cycles and bike north along the sea front. A great plan that was doomed from the start!! First of all as it was still holiday time here in SA, all the roads to the Waterfront area were closed off by police and the only option was to park up in one of the “rougher” areas of town and walk in……. not really an option in Durban. So after a drive about town, Paul thought it would be nice to visit one of his old haunts in the dock area (Paul and his family sailed their yacht on two year Indian Ocean adventure many years ago). The Pub had been closed long ago……… ok not a problem Paul knew a lovely place on the way back to Kloof where we could have coffee and cake (the key to Jacs heart), guess what?….. NO CAKES!!! Despite Paul being very apologetic we had a lovely day, and this was topped off with meeting one of his friends in the evening and us all going for what must have been the best Thai food we’ve ever had.
We did manage to walk along the waterfront on another occasion up to a very upmarket development to the north of the city, they have even built a brand new pier for the holiday makers.
Eventually we had to leave Kloof, and Paul was back to “work” on Monday, so on Sunday 8th of January we re-boarded Colonel K to continue our journey. We really hope to see Paul again, whether that is in SA or England, he really made us welcome and we enjoyed spending time with him again.
We didn’t want a huge journey that first morning but wanted to follow the coast down toward Port Elizabeth (in the south), so Paul recommended Rocky Bay which is just south of Durban and still in KwaZulu-Natal. This is quite a large campsite but in a truly stunning location.
We ended up staying here for a couple of nights and again met some really friendly people. We also saw first hand, camping “South African Style”, for many this involves having locals not only setting up your caravan, awnings, tents etc, but also in some instances getting the locals to wash your dishes for you in the morning and clean your braii (barbecue), like I say a different world eh….
Next up we decided to stop in the small town of Port Edward, this is the last place in KwaZulu-Natal, before you enter the much more troubled and possibly dangerous Transkei region (we had already been warned not to stop on the road in the Transkei, due to the high numbers of car jackings and robberies here). In the Port Edward area there are lots of campsites, but the 1st one we tried wanted 600 Rand (£37.50) a night for camping (for us and the truck), NOOOOOO THANKS….. The next place was closed and up for sale, the third one whilst looked open had its gates firmly locked shut and no one was answering the phone…. At the fourth campsite I managed to wake up the owner only to be told they were now shut until Easter (she did say we could stop there but as she was so rude to me I said don’t bother)……. Then we rang the fifth one (The Port O’ Call Campsite) to be told we can stay there but there would be no security that night as it was short notice and he wasn’t expecting any clients that night!!! After all that driving about, we settled for a night here, and it turned out to be a nice quirky little campsite. This campsite is also up for sale!
On the way to Port Edward we went through some very English sounding places including Trafalgar, Port Shepstone, and of course Ramsgate and Margate, Ramsgate is slightly more up market than Margate….. sound familiar?
Next we go into the Transkei and then the much hyped Garden Route…….
Thanks for reading, sorry its a little behind the times, I promise to try harder!