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It’s time!

Day 80.

So here we are, are last night at Gibela’s in Durban – a little backpackers that has become home over the last 2 weeks, but tomorrow we are heading off in Africa to begin our long drive home. Kylie arrived as expected on Friday – which was a miracle, having been told that once in port it could take anything from 2 days to 2 weeks! We’d also had another slight mishap with paperwork as we didn’t have a waybill or original port of landing bill, again, something we thought should have been flagged previously, but nevertheless, the agent worked her magic and within hours had managed to obtain an ‘Express Release’ stamp. Having been told not to get our hopes up for a Friday pickup, We’d made plans to meet a friend for lunch, but as we were walking out the door, the agent rang to say ‘Come now – your car is ready’. Hearts in our mouths we hurried down to the port, and donning the hi-vis attire waited in the portside cabin for all the final paperwork to be exchanged so we could get our car. Our agent on this side, was amazing and not wanting us to get charged for storage over the weekend, was rallying around everyone to ensure the car would get released on time….we waited. It got to 4pm and just when i thought they’d shut up shop for the weekend, the shipping guy said we could go and get our car! We all hurried out of the cabin and across the busy dock to where amongst hundreds of huge containers, sat our lonely little 20fter! The bolt cutters were raised to break it open, and standing there with baited breath we waited to see if it really was our Kylie inside. What a relief to see her shiny backside! And even more of a relief to see that our rooftent, rooftop box were all still there too! She was a little stiff, when Rich reversed her out, but after letting her run while we put the kit back on the roof she was good to go. It was so good to be driving our car again – she felt so big and strong compared to the little Fiesta we’d been whizzing round it! However, it’s the strangest feeling to be in something so familiar, yet everything on the outside is so foreign – she really is our little home on wheels now.

The last few days, have been busy getting back into ‘traveller mindset’ and organising the last prep for the car. Everything here is so cheap, so glad we didn’t buy everything in Australia as it’s a fraction of the price here. We also had the good fortune to meet up with a friend of a friend, who took us to experience a Super-15’s rugby game at the Shark tank, followed by some local cusine – Bunny Chow – which consists of a half loaf of bread scooped out and filled with hot curry! So delicious, but hot, hot, hot! He also took us to meet his dad up at a fantastic bistro north of Durban which he’s built. His dad is a true bushman and filled us in on his adventures in Africa – so much good advice!. Thank you Jason for you hospitality!!!

And now it’s time to go – tomorrow we head out into the Drakensburg, with out first stop being Lesotho ‘The mountain Kingdom’. Kylie will be put to the test as we head up the Sani Pass – but hopefully she gets us up to the top where a beer at the highest pub in Africa awaits!

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There she is!

 

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We’re in Africa!!

Day 68

So here we are, in Durban, IN AFRICAAAA!!! Still can’t quite believe we’re actually here, but i’m sure we will be saying that the whole way round! After a very easy flight, we arrived into Jo’burg in -1°C freezing fog conditions ( a little cooler than we expected!) so were glad to be moving quickly onto a connecting flight to sunny Durban.  We are currently staying in a fantastic backpackers – Gibela Lodge – in a very salubrious part of town, Morningside. We couldn’t have been made more welcome here and the standards and cleanliness make it hard to believe this is only classed as a backpackers – it is so much nicer than the hole we stayed in, in Freo and a fraction of the price. It really is our little oasis, and although we’re in a good area, all the houses are securely locked in behind high walls & electric fences – which we both found unnerving to start with, but you quickly get used to it!

Durban is renowned for being a dangerous city, but we’ve found that as long as you follow some common sense and avoid the no go areas it’s actually pretty pleasant. The city is a mix of beautiful old colonial buildings, alongside very rundown  sections all sitting along a beautiful ‘Golden Mile’ of beach . The area we’re staying in, is very close to Florida Road, which is full of amazing bars and restaurants – after $10 beers in Australia, we’re loving the cheap beer here ($2) and Rich is getting fully stuck into the various types of biltong which seems to be available in any animal! We are just so impressed with the food, the service and the high standards that everything seems to operate on here.

Today we headed down to the shipping agents office to being sorting out our paperwork. Kylie is due next week and we’re keen to get going as soon as she’s arrived. We spent ages gathering our paperwork, expecting our first African admin meeting to be a nightmare, but it was fine. We met Maurita, our agent, who spent the first 20minutes talking about her cheesecake recipe – followed by a tour of her grandchildren who’s faces were proudly stuck up all over her walls. The paperwork part took about 2minutes, but she seemed to want to talk about anything other than shipping. She seems to become quite fond of her clients – particularly those coming from Australia – Oli and Lisa, if you’re reading this, she was asking after you and was thrilled to know you’d ‘got to the top’ already! Send her an email, she’d love to hear from you and see some of your photos.

So with Kylie still a week away, we’ve decided to hire a car and head off on a mini adventure. Tomorrow we’ll head north up to St Lucia (wetlands area) for a couple of days before heading into our first game park Hluhluwe-Imfolzi – which although much smaller than Kruger still has the Big 5. Excited much??? We’ll then venture out into the old Zulu battlefields to find Rorke’s Drift –although i might have to ban Richard from quoting Michael Cane all the time – ‘Stop throwing those bloody spears at me’. So hopefully our next update will have our first shots of some African wildlife, although, i’ve feeling the car we’ve hired is probably no bigger than a Fiesta, i never imagined our first game drive would be in such a little car – hilarious! 

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Ningaloo

Day 35:

KLMS Travelled – 10,106

The ‘Ningaloo Reef’ – we’d been dreaming of this destination for a long time and couldn’t wait to get there. The spectacular reef and its abundance of marine life earned itself a World Heritage status in 2010 so the snorkelling, combined with the prospect of finally being able to swim with Whale Sharks (which had been #1 on our bucket list for many years) meant excitement levels were going through the roof!

The Cape Range peninsular itself is pretty bleak – a sparse rocky landscape – it’s definitely what’s under the water, than what’s above it that makes this place so amazing! Exmouth, a typical cyclone prone town of unremarkable 1 storey buildings thrives off the Whale Shark tourism. Holding the monopoly over an experience that it is ‘once in a lifetime’ for many, prices are around $380 per adult!!!! It seems that ‘living the dream’ certainly comes at a price. We headed round to the National Park  and unaware of the booking system for the park campsites didn’t realise that most campsites are booked out weeks in advance.  Fortunately we managed to rock up in our usual last minute style and secure one of the last spots available at Yardie Creek – apparently the previous tenants had packed up a week early due to the strong winds. At this point, i think our over-excitement had made us oblivious to the strong gusts of wind as we were just thrilled not to have been turned away at the park gate! The weather forecast wasn’t looking great so we thought we’d sit things out for a couple of days and book a whale shark trip in for later in the week when hopefully the wind would have died down and the sea wasn’t so rough.

We set up camp for our first night at Yardie Creek and enjoyed beers at sunset with the rest of the campers onsite. The camping community is always a wonderfully random assortment of people from all walks of life – it makes for fascinating chats over sundowners. We picked up lots of great tips of where to go next as well places to avoid – as we headed back to camp the wind had really picked up and we began to wonder whether we were heading for the same fate as those who were camping here the night before. The wind got stronger and stronger throughout the night and trying to sleep was impossible – being in a rooftop tent in gale force winds was like being in a small plane in turbulence! We were literally hanging on –the car was rocking in the wind making the whole tent shake and  you could feel the wind rushing beneath us between the tent and the car – and the noise of the heavy duty canvas windows and doors flapping was deafening combined with the worry that the tent might shred itself to bits meant we had a long sleepless night. Fortunately our  South African Echo Rooftop tent is made of strong, heavy duty canvas, so survived the wild weather much better than we did! Mind you, as we much we love our Roofie, we were jealous of those camping lower to the ground as the wind didn’t die down for 3 days!!

Despite the weather, we still spent the days venturing out to the main snorkelling sites Turquoise Drift & Oyster Stacks – which were both some of the best snorkelling we’ve ever done – and straight off the beach! Turquoise Drift is particularly good as you can walk straight in off one sand bar and let the currents sweep you across to the next one. The water,  was teeming with colourful fish and corals and we even saw a number of turtles – fortunately it was pretty warm whilst in the water, but once out we had to huddle in the car with copious amounts of hot tea to warm up. It all wasn’t just watery adventures  – whilst packing up one morning a guy came running over to say he’d got bogged in the sandy creek crossing and could we pull him out. It was like music to Richard’s ears and if there’d been a phone box around, i’m sure he’d have run into for a quick change into his Superman outfit – he just loves a rescue! However, there wasn’t one, so minus cape  we set off to the creek to rescue the stricken father and his 3 children. Was good to be on the other end of the tow rope this time!

Finally our Whale Shark day had arrived and we were up early and ready for our pick up to go to the marina. The weather was still awful and now the wind was accompanied by driving rain, but we were still keen to go no matter what! Our pick up time came and went and after an hour we decided that the trip must have been cancelled due to the conditions, we had no way of knowing as there is no phone signal, so feeling deflated we packed up the tent and left the camp – we weren’t sure when the next trip would go out and we really needed to start heading south. We drove 40km to the nearest phone box and rang the tour operator to work out what to do next. What followed was the most infuriating conversation, establishing that no, the trip had not been cancelled, we had simply been told the wrong pick up point!’ The blasé nature of the tour operator only fuelled the fire, insisting that we had got it wrong, not her. Raging by this point, that not only had we stuck it out in the wild weather for this trip and were now facing the possibility of missing out on a lifelong dream and hadn’t even had an apology we hung up the phone and headed the 80kms back to Exmouth to the office to have it out. Fortunately her manager took over when we arrived but despite her efforts there was no other availability for another 3 days so refunded our trip. We were gutted. Everywhere else was also just as booked up, but remembering that a guy we’d met at the campsite had done the trip from Coral Bay, we called the Eco Tours company down there and to our surprise they had 2 spots left for the next day! The anger soon subsided as we sped down to Coral Bay – so relieved that our Whale Shark experience was back on the agenda. 

Coral Bay itself is little more than 2 caravan parks but nestled next to the most beautiful bay, it has a very relaxed and chilled vibe in comparison to Exmouth. We’d been told to give it a miss, but we were so happy to be going on the trip that we saw Coral Bay through very rose tinted glasses and thought it was a great little place. So, Whale Shark trip take 2! The next day we couldn’t believe it when we woke up to blue skies and no wind – maybe fate had been trying to tell us something the day before? The trip itself was more incredible than i could have imagined – the spotter plane soon found a whale and we had our first swim less than an hour into the trip. The first drop into the water is an exhilarating experience – jumping off the back of the boat into water hundreds of metres deep, you’re heart is pounding as you scan the water to see where the shark is but as it gracefully emerges out of the blue it is just breathtaking.  Our second shark of the day was an 8m male, who seemed to enjoy swimming with us as much as we did with him and stayed with us for nearly 2hours. They are incredibly docile and curious creatures and as we swam towards him for the first time, he actually turned round to swim towards us – a hilarious sight as everyone tried to back-peddle as quickly as possible to get out of his way! Following 6 swims, we headed back to the inner reef for more snorkeling – this time fish, turtles, rays, reef sharks – just amazing and all topped off with a glass of champagne. So if you’re ever in the area, we couldn’t recommend Eco Tours @ Coral Bay highly enough – they’re a fantastic crew & will make your day really specImage

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Rutherglen – Broken Hill

Days on the Road – 7

KLMS Travelled – 1936

Following the stressful start, we managed to get visas in Canberra and were soon on our way to Rutherglen for our friends wedding. Watching one of our closest friends get married in an idyllic vineyard setting was the perfect way to end our Sydney chapter and with all the goodbyes now finished we headed onto our first real stop of the trip – Tocumwal on the Murray River. We were so excited about our first stop that we failed to notice the slight juddering of the car and it wasn’t until we’d turned into the middle of the state forest before we realised something was wrong. On stopping we could smell petrol and as Rich got out to investigate we could hear running liquid….petrol. Only an hour into the trip we had our first ‘breakdown situation!!! With over 200l of fuel onboard, watching it pour out of the car was terrifying, had we punctured the fuel line already??? Fortunately Rich realised what it was pretty quickly, remembering that when we’d filled up the auxiliary tank pump had been left on which had continued to pump petrol through the pressurised  overflow system. Disaster averted,(apart from about $60 fuel on the floor) we continued  into Tocumwal forest to find a camp spot by the river.

LIFE LESSON#2 – Always turn off your pumps!!!

It was getting dark by this point, so dodging Kamikaze Kangaroos was quite a feat – but we found the perfect spot. We set up camp and like excited school kids got the hose out test out the water system. We pumped water out of the Murray River, then waited with baited breath to see what we would get out of the filter – pure water – amazing!!! It’s probably the only time we will be that excited about a cup of water – but after all the hard work – that water tasted sweeeeet!

First camp by the Murray River

First camp by the Murray River

The next day we headed up to Balranald to get final supplies before Mungo NP. The drive up to Mungo was our first real taste of remoteness. Having been in the city for the ‘nothingness’ was unsettling  to start with – (particularly for Soph, who is ‘connected 24/7) – there is no mobile/internet connection out here!  Mungo NP, is part of an ancient lake system which dried up 20,000 years ago and the huge rocky formations left behind as the lakes dried are called the Great Walls of China. We drove round the 70km loop, spotting our first big red kangaroos and dodging wild emus that ran alongside the car. We set up camp and enjoyed one of the most peaceful evenings i’ve had in a long time …well, apart from Rich setting his head on fire when trying to reset a gas bottle on the cooker! Can joke now, but at the time, watching your husbands head go up in flames is fairly alarming, particularly when your a long way from help! Fortunately, it was just the eyebrows and fringe that suffered!!

LIFE LESSON #3 – Never lean over a gas bottle, or anything flammable while trying to light it!

After Mungo NP, we headed North for Broken Hill. The trip on unpaved roads, gave us our first real taste of corrugations and what damage they can do! If it’s not bolted down – it’s coming off. We had a few minor causalities along the way – but . With plenty of stops to keep tightening everything up, we’ll be fine- good training for Africa!

We’re now camped in Broken Hill, for those who didn’t know the mining giant BHP started right here – Broken Hill Proprietary! It’s been our first chance to do some washing and access wi-fi so catching up on everything. We’ll have a day here before heading onto the Flinders Ranges.

Racing Kangaroos

The Great Walls of China - Mungo NP

The Great Walls of China – Mungo NP

Dirty - minus eyebrows and fringe!

Dirty – minus eyebrows and fringe!

And so we left Sydney

Days on the Road – 0

KLMS Travelled – 0

Thursday 1th April, 2013, we finally drove out of Sydney. After months of planning, we had both dreamt of this moment for a long time, but despite romantic visions of fanfares and high-fives, it wasn’t the triumphant occasion we’d imagined it to be. Having only finished full time work on the Friday prior, we’d left no time for final preparation/packing or unforeseen setbacks…and there were a few! We were both stressed and exhausted.

A trip to see Daniel at the Expedition Centre to help us fit a Pelican Box to the roof, also gave him a chance to fully check over our set up. Thank god he asked us about our water filter system, as what we thought would work –in fact did not and so needed Richard to completely rebuild it. Although frustrating at this point in time, it would have been a complete nightmare had we discovered this en-route! Ideally we wanted to be able to filter everything going into the water tank, but our amazing Doulton ceramic filter meant that not only were the bugs not getting through, but the water wasn’t going to go through it either, unless we got a much bigger pump. It took 3 days of trial and error and god knows how many trips to Mitre 10, but with some expert advice on hand, the mechanical engineer nailed the art of plumbing! (Our system now pumps straight into the tank and we filter out what we use).

With water up and running, there was only the remaining packing left to do – again easier said than done. Somehow we managed to find a place for most things, but we are packed in tightly! Am sure we will need to shed things as we go, as pretty sure we’re over the load capacity of the car. The last thing on our list before we left was to organise Tourist Visas for Aus. Now that we had both finished working, our 457 had also ended so we needed a holiday visa to cover us for the next few months. Again, something that we thought would be quick and simple, but proved to be a total nightmare. We tried to complete the application online, but were informed we had to go to the immigration office. We got up early on Thursday morning, headed to the immigration office in Sydney, only to be told that we had to have an appointment – there wasn’t one for 3 days!! Arrrgh Our only option would be to detour to Canberra – we’d read about the visa dramas you’ll face in Africa, but were not prepared for this! So following an exhausting and stressful few days prior to leaving, we drove up to McMahons point for the first ‘Landmark picture’ of the trip – the Harbour Bridge & the Opera House. It was a strange moment, having expected to either feel elated about starting the trip and emotional about leaving behind a place & people that we love so much – but by this point there was little left to give and we felt neither happy or sad. We just wanted to start the journey we’d been thinking about for so long.

LIFE LESSON #1 – No matter how much preparation and planning you do – there’s always an extra 10% you need to allow for!

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Our last drive across Sydney Harbour Bridge

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