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Posts from the ‘South Africa’ Category

Onwards and upwards to the Kalahari

Day – 109:

KLMS – 17,256

It’s fair to say that the days following the robbery were a low point for us. Although we only lost a couple of items, it was straight off the back of a number of things going wrong and unexpected expenses which only added to the frustration of allowing ourselves to make such a silly mistake.  It knocked our confidence at a critical time – a time when we should have been fully pumped about finally begining our African ascent, but we just felt pretty stressed!! We’d been so spoilt with our first few weeks in Africa, it felt like the rug had been pulled from under our feet. I realise now that this reality check was a good thing for us and after hitting the ground with a bump, we are more determined than ever to ‘get to the top’…even if at the time of writing there is no clear way out of the top unless Egypt, Libya and Tunisia sort themselves out soon!…but we’ll worry about that later!

So to brighten our moods we headed to Stellenbosch for a few days of wine tasting. While we were there we visited one of our sponsors, Tracks4Africa, who if you don’t know, have created a mapping software that is based off actual traveller waypoints. A constantly evolving map, it ensures that you always have the latest information on Points of Interest, road conditions, fuel stops, campsites etc. It really is something that we couldn’t live without, so it was great to meet Erin and founder, Johan to discuss our route and get loads of tips including their latest software updates. Thank you guys!!!

Tracks4Africa team
Tracks4Africa team

We were also treated to an amazing lunch at Moreson’s Bread&Wine restaurant in Franschoek by my very lovely brother Jon and his wife Michelle. That day we dined like kings – such amazing food and wine!! Would definitely recommend to anyone and spirits by now were well and truly lifted!

Lunch at Moresons.Thank you J&M x

 

Heading up into the Northern Cape, was like driving across Australia again –wide open expanses of barren land with the road ahead going as far as the eye could see. And yet, despite the remoteness, we still often came across roadworks! Every so often, 5km sections would be closed for repairs and waiting times were around 20minutes! It took 3 ladies to manage each stop. The first waved the red flag as you approached, the second turned the sign from Go to Stop and the third would push a barrier or place a cone across the lane. Similarly, the roadworkers tended to have one guy digging, whilst 2 looked on.  It seems in South Africa that many low-paid job roles are performed by at least 3 people! At least it tries to tackle the terrible unemployment rates. We soon got bored of the tarmac so headed off-piste onto an unsealed track, which took us through some fantastic rocky scenery, although as the weather turned for the worst and the rains began to fall, the road soon turned into a slippery, muddy mess. It was slow going, so by 3pm we were far from our planned destination so headed to the nearest town, Calvinia – our coldest night yet! I’m guessing that it got to around -5°C, as it was far colder than even our nights in Lesotho. In the morning, the tent was frozen inside and out – putting the tent away was not much fun at all, but at least there were hot showers to go and defrost in!

Frosty morning in Calvinia

Frosty morning in Calvinia

 

We drove the final KLMS to Upington the next day, one of the last frontier towns in South Africa where we would stock up on supplies before heading into the Kagalahdi NP. After driving through so much nothingness, Upington is a welcome change, on the banks of the Orange River so is surrounded by lush fields and vineyards. We found an awesome little camp on the banks of the river Orange and were lucky to meet the owner, Theo, who as it happened had spent 35years taking guided tours through Namibia! An evening with him and we had a route through our next country fully sorted!! We can’t wait to get there. Theo also had the coolest dog we’ve ever seen – a Boer Bull, which is like a ridgeback x Mastiff – just enormous!! As avid dog lovers we just adored her and even more adorable were her 3 week old puppies!! It took a lot of will power not to sneak one into our car, but we’ll definitely have to put in an order in for the next litter!

So fully stocked we headed up to the Kgaladari NP – or to pronounce it without the spitting – the Kalahari, 3.2million hectares of protected land that runs between South Africa and Botswana. Having only booked our camps last minute we could only find places in the more carefully managed South African side, which are still amazing but not as wild as the Botswana camps. So if you’re planning a trip make sure you book in advance,  but as we’ll be heading to Bots soon, we weren’t too disappointed. We took a morning game drive on our first day – watching the sun rise over the frosty Kalahari was just spectacular, if a little chilly from the open game viewing Landrover! We learnt a lot from our guide so it was a well worth trip and on the way back we caught our first glimpse of a leopard – only a glimpse but so exciting to see our first big cat. The excitement of the morning continued when we went out later that day and found our first lions. 3 large females and 2 cubs lying blissfully asleep in the sun – we spent a wonderful afternoon just watching them. It’s amazing how warm it get’s in the day (25-30°C) enough to defrost you after a night of camping at -5°C!

Morning game drive

Morning game drive

Our first lions

Wildebeast

Springbok battle

We drove further north into the park for the next couple of nights. Driving slowly through the semi-arid desert, its amazing to see how much wildlife has adapted to cope with the dry conditions – for me the most beautiful of which, the G(H)emsbok –the Kings of the Kalahari. Watching them stride out across the plains, with the long straight horns, distinctive black and white markings and their tails flowing out behind them, they look like something you’d expect to see being ridden into battle in a Lord of the Rings film. We drove until sunset before returning to camp where we spent the evening with new friends Steve and Kate, an English couple out here on holiday. The night got rather merry and sitting out under the most star filled sky i’ve even seen was just incredible.  We sat and listened to 2 lions calling each other. Although within a fenced camp, the noise gave us goosebumps – it was unreal. However, nothing prepared us for the next night when a lion came to within feet of the fence we were camped near and roared on and off throughout the night. I swear the roar vibrated through every part of my body and my heart pounded -i guess it was pure primal fear kicking in. I can’t begin to imagine how much more intense that feeling will be in Botswana when the noise isn’t going to be coming from behind a fence!

 

 

Wildebeast diving in front of the car!

Wildebeast diving in front of the car!

 

 

Alan! Alan! Alan!

Alan! Alan! Alan!

 

Nothing like corrugated roads to loosen a new wheel bearing!

Nothing like corrugated roads to loosen a new wheel bearing!

 

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Bad luck in Cape Town

So everything was going a little too well! Unfortunately a couple of days ago our room got broken into and my nikon camera (including lenses) Cannon compact and our laptop were taken : ( .After being so careful and keeping valuables so closely guarded, we came back from our day out, and decided to head to the bar upstairs. As we were only going to be a few feet away we thought our things would be ok locked in our room. Bad idea. Little did we know that 2 Zambian guys had just checked into the adjacent room and were carefully watching everybody else’s coming and goings. Twice Rich and i popped down to use the toilet, wierdly we both chose the hostel toilets and didnt go back to our room (if we had, we would have caught them red handed, which in a town where firearms and weapons are common, i’m glad we didn’t) however we both saw the guys near our room at which point my gut instinct was telling we something was wrong!! I actually talked myself out of it, after all, he was a guest here too and the doorway also lead to his room. I stopped and said hi and he talked back, I felt bad for assuming the worst and headed back upstairs.

I now know that our Zambian neighbours were in fact professional thieves wanted in 4 different countries. Using the same formula, they book ahead,arrive smartly dressed with baggage, check in and pay and then spend an afternoon watching the coming and goings of different guests to identify an opportunity. The cost of the room far outweighs the bounty they get later. The key to their success is just that, a master key they’ve fashioned from a screwdriver that opens most doors so they can slip in an out of hotel rooms unnoticed. As there was no break in and the door was still locked when we returned, we assumed they must have come through the loft hatch, but it is only from our research we have discovered who they are. Articles go back to 2008 and they are well known crims!

http://www.informante.web.na/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2323&PHPSESSID=4c73c27c349930f315e87d2b59084d93

Despite being well known, these crooks are so undeterred by the failing judiciary system that they still book with their real IDs. When the police arrived despite being able to supply passport details, phone number, cctv evidence and full facebook profile images the police barely took note! We have now wasted nearly 2days filling out police reports, going over everything again and again, fully aware that the police will do something between nothing and bugger all which I frustrating as all hell when we know who they are!

So it was a harsh wake up call and hopefully one that won’t be repeated. Fortunately we weren’t completely wiped out, bank cards, passports and car keys are safe, we weren’t harmed and the items are replaceable, including the contents of our laptop -so we will move on!

The car has also needed quite a bit of TLC, including a new wheel bearing, radiator patch up and a new engine manifold gaskett ( fortunately we were carrying a spare!) . In reality, all these things we’d been aware of for awhile and you have to remind yourself that when covering more distance in a few months than you normally would in a year the fix ups are more frequent! We were recommended a great mechanic, who not only got Kylie back into tip top shape quickly, he also had us round for dinner to share routes and tips for Botswana! So if you need a mechanic in Cape Town, Allan Kessel at ANG service is your man!

Its been a full on few days – our run of bad luck finally peaked at 3 things with our Iridium Sat phone giving up the ghost with $500 credit still on it. We’re debating whether to replace it or just try and sell the sim. Many have said we won’t need one? Life on the road is certainly not always rosy, but rolling with the punches is just part of being an overlander! Aside from the dramas, we were really enjoying Cape Town – hiking up Table Mountain, Robben Island, museums (too cold for beaches?) but our last few days haven’t given us anytime for fun stuff! we’re looking forward to getting out of the city and back into the bush!

Funnily enough there are no pictures with this post, so you’ll have to use your imagination!!

[image. Sun shining over table mountain and Cape Town taken from Robben island ferry]
[image.robben island prison]
[image. Richard and Sophie selfie shot on top of Table mountain. Looking cold, but very happy]
[image. Dinner at Mama Africa’s -safari mixed grill]

Lions, elephants and whales

Day: 94,

KLMS: 14,321

First of all, it seems our Spot Tracker doesn’t work in South Africa – so sorry if you’ve been trying to locate us! We will update our route for you soon, but hopefully the coverage will improve as we reach Namibia so you can keep an eye on where we are.

After an amazing few days in the mountains, it was time to head south again, so we trundled across the Free State, staying briefly in Aliwal North & Craddock on the way down to the Eastern Cape. We tend to plan a rough route the night before and work things out as we go, but the night before the final Lions the route had to be meticulously planned to ensure we went via a pub that was showing the game. So with a pub sourced and the route timed to arrive just before Kick off, we set off for Addo, all going well until Rich realised the match was actually kicking off 2hours earlier than planned and we needed a plan B. ASAP. After initial panic, cursing and raised voices Tracks4Africa blessed us with directions to a pub only a few kms away! We called ahead and they said they would open early for us and put the game on! It was a sign. We skidded into Middleton Manor with only minutes to spare and the young barman opened up for us and the wild crowd of 2 cheered as the Lions won their first series victory in 16years! We were in such a hurry to watch the game, we’d paid little attention to where we actually were – from the outside a beautiful country manor – landscaped gardens – an assortment of free-range animals – lots of young adults? As it turned out, Middleton Manor is in fact a rehab centre – where patients spend the second half of their year long programme – not that you would ever know unless you asked. Talking to the guys there was an eye-opening experience. All had chosen to go on the programme, desperate to re-start their lives before it was too late. Our barman, only 21, was recovering from a 7 year heroin addiction – so young to have seen the things he’s seen but the way in which he spoke was wise beyond his years and now with a new sense of direction he was only weeks away from being reunited with his family including his 18month old son determined to prove he was a changed man and get his life back on track. The treatment they choose is brutal, the first half is spent somewhere he could barely talk about except to say that he picked up a bible for the first time in his life and reading that was the only thing that kept him alive, but the reward if you survive that place is Middleton Manor where softer treatment continues and they begin to prepare for life back in the real/clean world including working at the manor guesthouse and pub. We both felt very touched by their stories, and inspired by their determination to start over again – we wish them all the best of luck with their recoveries.

It’s amazing who you meet when travelling, and actually having the opportunity to stop and talk to people, share stories, learn new cultures is what makes travelling so special. We have already met so many great people and everywhere we go, when people realise we’re in an Aussie car are keen to know about our journey and offer support in anyway they can from accommodation, food, booze or even just a toot and a wave as they go past. The Afrikaaners are also keen to know what we think of their country. They find it sad, the way in which South Africa is portrayed to the outside world and feel that many people are put off coming here by what they read in the news, so are thrilled to see tourists. We too had reservations, and yes, there’s no denying this country has many underlying problems, but as a visitor we couldn’t have been made more welcome, the standards of food and service are higher than those in Australia (and a fraction of the price!!)the scenery is just spectacular and the wildlife is just unreal.

After the Lions, we headed to Addo Elephant park for our next animal instalment. We spent a couple of days driving through the park  and got our first real close up encounters with elephants – who fortunately seemed pretty chilled out with the cars going by, but even so we felt relieved to be facing them in Kylie this time, not a fiesta! We had a great day of animal viewing, but still no sighting of the big cats – we could hear them, just couldn’t see them! For anyone visiting, don’t bother about camping in the park itself as it’s always really busy and for a much better price you can camp at the Aardvark Guesthouse which has fantastic facilities and is only 10km from the gate.

After Addo, the weather warmed up and the next few days were spent ambling down the Garden Route discovering the delights it had to offer. StormsRiver has to be one of the most spectacular coastlines i’ve ever seen, with the rugged cliffs dropping dramatically into the sea. The manicured camping spots sit right by the water’s edge and as our timings have coincided with the annual whale migration we were treated to an afternoon of  twenty or so whales breaching time and time again. It was a show like no other!! The next day we took our fading fitness for a hike to the suspension bridge and up onto the cliff tops – a walk that should have been easier than it was – truckers syndrome seems to have well and truly arrived!  The rest of the Garden Route is a beautiful drive, the road winds through several more amazing little towns and beaches – Kynsna, The Wildnerness, Mossel Bay – it’s barely African – but stunning all the same!

We found our next little piece of paradise at De Hoop nature reserve – tucked away between Cape Town and the start of the Garden Route, many people miss it – but it’s an absolute gem. The camping area is right by a salt lagoon (vlei) which is a twitchers’ paradise with over 3,000 species of birds and around 30,000 birds living on it currently. Despite lacking in bird-identification skills, it was still fun to spot ‘the big white bird’, the ‘funny looking black thing’ and the very rare ‘long- legged cooty-whatdyacallit.’ I did correctly spot flamingos though and plenty of ostriches! The other side of the Vlei, turns into huge towering white sand dunes that mark the edge of the marine reserve – the water was so clear that from the dunes you could sit and watch the whales and dolphins swimming nearby as well as the occasional shark! It is just stunning, and as it’s so remote, the stars at night are amazing so we joined a star tour to try and learn some of the constellations.

Today was a big milestone in our trip – Cape Agulhas – the most southern point in Africa which means the only way is up from here! In a straightline, it’s only 8,000km to the top, but we’re probably going to triple that! We’ve had a very easy introduction into Africa so far and we can’t help but wonder what lays ahead of us as we begin our journey north?? But first, we are really looking forward to getting to Cape Town.

Addo Elephant

Addo Elephant

Storms River

Storms River

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Sunrise at De Hoop

Sunrise at De Hoop
Sand dunes De Hoop

Sand dunes De Hoop

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Cape Agulhas & good luck rainbow!

Cape Agulhas & good luck rainbow!

Fiesta adventures in Zululand

Day 78

1,500 Fiesta Klms

Just back from our mini adventure – wow, driving in Africa is definitely not for the faint-hearted! Driving out of Durban was like being in Gran Turismo, everyone drives so fast and if you can’t keep up, then the polite thing to do is get out of the way and drive in the hard shoulder! Despite pushing the little fiesta up to 110km/hr, we soon realised that our place belonged firmly in the hard shoulder so pulled over to allow everything else to pass us. This would have been fine, except you are then faced with trying to dodge all the people, market stalls, animals that seemed to line the motorway despite being miles from anywhere. Coming from a place which has a population of only 20million, we can’t get over how many people there are here!

Our first destination was St Lucia, an incredible wetlands area and the first World Heritage site in South Africa. We arrived in the afternoon and although a blissful little place, unfortunately our accommodation was not what it looked like on the picture…well maybe it did 20years ago, but not now. Oh well, it was extremely cheap and once we’d fumed the room out with mozzie killer, it was just about bearable! It’s on nights like these we wish we had our comfy & clean bed in our tent! We are counting the days until Kylie is here! That said, it was pretty cool to sit on the balcony at night and here the hippos in the river just below us…our first African animal!

We took a boat trip the next day down the river to view the hippos close up – a fact i didn’t know was that hippos can’t swim! When you see them in the river, they are either standing in shallow water, or walking across the bottom and  jumping up to the surface now and then to take a breath!

Heading north we ventured up to our first game reserve – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi , the oldest reserve in Africa and credited with saving the white rhino from extinction. We stayed in Insinkwe bushcamp just outside the park – thankfully this one was fantastic! Driving into the park for the first time was exhilarating – you just didn’t know what would be around the next corner and being in a tiny fiesta only added to the excitement.  It must have been beginners luck, but in the first afternoon we saw 4 of the big 5 including both black and white rhino as well as giraffe, zebras and an assortment of different antelope. Our first encounter with an elephant however, was slightly terrifying, as we pulled up to the river’s edge, the dominant bull decided to charge out of the water straight towards the car in front of us. There was a mad panic as the cars all tried to get out the way, but luckily our little getaway car was amazing at reversing at high speed and we were soon able to breathe a sigh of relief! Our second close encounter was with a white rhino! Slowing down to check out 2 warthogs to our right, we didn’t realise that when they started running off, it wasn’t because of us, but a rhino charging full pelt towards us all from our left.  Fortunately, the rhino saw us and turned in time to miss our car (which is a miracle considering how bad their eyesight is) and i only saw him as his horn was about level with the passenger window! How we all missed each other i don’t know, but it certainly made for one hell of a first game drive!

We felt so privileged to have seen a number of rhinos on our trip they are under huge threat from poachers with the horn trade being bigger now than ever, fuelled predominantly by the demand for Chinese medicine. The game parks in South Africa are investing heavily to try and protect rhinos as much as possible and success stories of how many poachers have been caught or killed are banded about in the newspapers. However, with  rhino horn commanding such a high price it seems the risks are worth taking for poachers and the risk of getting caught is not a strong enough deterrent . If rhinos are to survive extinction,  there needs to be more focus  on tackling the source of the problem, not just the poachers who are simply supplying the demand.

After our animal encounters, we took the drive 4hours north to the battlefields, for a history lesson on the Anglo-Zulu & Boer wars. The scenery was just spectacular, with rolling green hills covered in lush long grasses – the livestock here look a lot healthier than those in WA! Driving through the rural villages, it’s hard not to be shocked by the poverty that sits just outside of the city. The disparity in wealth is unbelievable. From big mansions, well healed people and flash cars, to the small thatched circular huts , roaming cattle & ladies sitting on the verges cutting the grass with scythes.

We stayed in Dundee and were fortunate to meet Evan Jones the local historian who told us a lot about the history of the area and the battles at Islandwana and Rorkes drift, made famous by the film Zulu. He was keen to point out the inaccuracies of the film in detail, i didn’t like to say that i hadn’t seen it, but fortunately Rich had! He really helped to bring it all to life for us and made the visit to the battlefields a lot more interesting!

We’re now back at our base in Durban waiting for the car. Apparently it arrived on Tuesday, so we are now in constant contact with our agent to work out when it will be offloaded and through customs. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe not? This is Africa time now.

**Update as i post this. We found out yesterday that to get the car released we also needed the original copy of our ‘Bill of landing’ which we only have as a soft copy. The Australian shipping agent had failed to mention we would need this, so once again they have let us down and left us ill-prepared. Fortunately our shipping agent this side is being fantastic and has managed to arrange a permission to release without original paperwork and we could have the car by this afternoon!!

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