Ben – WE MADE IT!!! Last week we got to Africa’s southernmost tip, Cape Aghulas
Then west along the coast a bit to Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope (mission triply complete).
At Good Hope there was a sign proclaiming “LONDON 9623km” and pointing roughly north was, it had taken us roughly 48,000km and 325 days, we must have taken a wrong turn!
I say “roughly” because I can’t lay my hands on my trusty trip-log note-book at the moment, its locked in the Disco in a shipping container somewhere between Cape Town and Felixstowe. Yep she’s already been sorted washed and packed on her way, very sad indeed. She does have company though, in a big container with Sam and Cat’s Landcruiser (you may remember them from our fabulous week in Zambia heading South to North Luangwa).
Sharing the shipping saves cash, but Sam and Cat need to be home a little sooner than us, hence we decided to spend our last 3 weeks without the Disco. She deserves a rest anyway after doing such a fantastic and basically trouble free job of getting us here.
The 4 of us have swapped the trusty 4×4’s for a shared hired Toyota Etios for a few day -what a beast!
Monday was Disco and ‘Cruiser loading day at the port, and it was preceded by a very melancholy few days of packing and re-packing, trying to re-adjust to the needs of our 3 weeks “backpacking”, we have to make our way slowly from Cape Town up to Jo’berg to fly home on Sept 4th. Loading was quick and pretty well controlled, paperwork took a little longer, but seemed painless. Persuading a South African bank to give us our money to pay took much longer, but we eventually succeeded, and hopefully we’ll see our wagon’s in about 4 weeks time in the UK, we’ll keep you posted.
In Cape Town we stayed at Cape Town Backpackers, Jen ran in to sort things out and owner Andy (a fine Englishman), said we could have a well-discounted room when he learned we’d driven down in a Land Rover. When he walked outside he did say “I thought was a proper Landy, not a bl**dy Disco” (he has a lovely 110 Defender), but I think he was jesting ‘cos the price stayed the same and he was a bl**dy nice and helpful guy.
We celebrated the end of our journey many times it seemed, but twice in Cape Town. On Saturday night we went on the hunt for some live music with Sam and Cat. The semi-Metal-grunge-thing we found in Zula Bar to start with didn’t float our boat, but a more touristy/African Marima Trio in Mama Africa’s were good enough to see us out late, and leave us with fuzzy heads in the morning. On Monday night we also met up with Karen and Marcello, the British/South African couple we met in Malawi in their Defender doing the same journey on their way to try a new life in Cape Town. It was great to catch up with them, and “local” (well 6 or 7 years ago anyway) Marcello found us a brilliant Cape-Malay restaurant in the back streets of Bo Kaap where the large Malaysian community of old produce this renowned South-African take on their cuisine, ummmmmm!!!!
Being around Cape Town can be like being back in Europe already. It’s a stunning city, the centre is modern, the bay/harbour full of ships and fancy yachts and Table mountain backdrops the lot dramatically. It doesn’t take long to find some poorer grubbier area’s of course.
Down the coast (east) we visited Hermanus on our way in and out the city. Hermanus is famed for sightings of Southern Right Whale groups just off sure, and the bay is indeed full of them, but I only saw them at a distance, (Jen saw mother and calf at very close quarters as she walked back to our hostel from the supermarket, they followed her just off shore for ages apparently, lucky Jen!). To try and get a better look at these magnificent creatures the 4 of us are currently in Witsand further East still, past Cape L’Aghulas again (where the Atlantic ocean turns back into the Indian Ocean), and overlooking Cape Infanta where, (in the words of Lorraine the guest house owner) the “Whales are busy calving”. And ineed the bay is full of whales. Just off shore you can pick out maybe 5 or 6 groups of maybe 3 or 4 individuals at busy times as they bob up to the surface, occasionally slapping there tales in the water, or blowing great plumes of watery whale breath into the sky, or more occasionally breaching (kind of jumping clear of the surface), but they are still some way out. I’m still hoping for a closer look and keeping a beady eye on the horizon as I sit in the lounge of our incredible “apartment” overlooking the bay!! Incredibly when Jen rang Barry’s Holiday Accommodation and spoke to lovely Lorraine asking if they had dorm beds available she said no, but let the 4 of us have this amazing place for more-or-less the same cost as 4 dorm beds, we decided to stay an extra night! It is cold here now though, and the wind and rain have been on and off all day, quite dramatic. When you tire of watching whale out the front window……. you can watch Cape-Weavers fighting and building their nests out the back !!
Before the capes our journey through North-West South-Africa took as through Namaqua National Park (wine area), and briefly out to the coast and Doring Bay (wine area) before heading through the Cederberg Mountains and Brede valley (wine areas) to south coast (wine area). We’ve drunk a lot of wine.
I did have half a plan to do a quick review of the wines drunk here, but they are all a hazy memory already I’m afraid. We did have a lovely bottle of Lutzville Sav’ blanc in Doring Bay, a fine glass (and only about 4 pounds a bottle), served with a mighty-fine Hake, Calamari and curried sweet potato dish at the little Cabin restaurant. Here we also splashed out for a room for the first time in 50 nights, our roof-tent is like home now, even though it started getting pretty cold through Namibia.
In the Cederberg we camped at Driehook farm, and had to sample their own Sav’ Blanc. We did a back to back test here with the Lutzville, Jen proclaimed that the DrieHook “smells more than the Lutzville” and indeed it does, a finer fruitier fresher drop, but at about 7 pounds a bottle we’d recommend the Lutzville as better bang for your buck. The following day we thought we’d head out and stretch our legs a bit. The lady at Driehook scribbled us a map and we headed off on a 6 hour hike to and from the “arch”, a rock formation high above the farm. All started well, but the map combined with a path marked by “piles of rock” in a landscape of rock pile didn’t work well, we walked all day and never saw the arch. The landscape all around is beautiful though, so no harm done.
The stunning landscape carried on as we headed south up and over the Cederberg range to Ceres, and onwards to the Brede valley. After failing to find anywhere to camp-up near Robertson as planned, we ended up in a lovely campsite near the river in Bonnievale We were yet again the only people in the camp, like I said, its got cold recently. As we relaxed and started to prep some food the campsite owners turned up walking their dogs, and we had a lovely chat before they headed off, a dog short. It seems one of the 3 always goes missing but they always pop back a couple of hours later in the bakie (south African pick-up) to collect them. When the bakie returned we were presented with a lovely bottle of Bonnievale red to congratulate us on managing to get there from the UK by road. Somehow we’ve managed not to open that one though, and its in the Disco on its way home. We’ll let you know how it was when we get there too!!
I didn’t mention the Namaqua National park did I? This was our first stop in South Africa this time, (coincidently Namaqua dry white is our top recommended boxed wine from the whole trip, and at about 4 pound 50 pence for 3 litres, you really cant go wrong!). We lucked out in Namaqua, its famous for its fields of wild flowers in the early SA spring, and we arrived 2 days after the first had opened, quite a site.
Jen: Before reaching South Africa and after our last blog instalment we travelled south for 2 weeks down from Windhoek, Namibia. As you know we had an enforced loop to and from Windhoek to collect an important item of jewellery! After some deliberation we decided we’d head South towards Sossousvlei before taking the trip back up to Nambias capital.
First stop was a star gazing farm where we camped up on a very blustery hill but one with stunning views in all directions down onto the Naukluft Mountains. We spent a chilly evening ing a huge telescope to see the night sky. Ben and I have spent many nights on our trip gazing up at the stars but struggled to figure out much of what we’re looking at. Our host took us through various constellations (slightly bemused that he need confirm where the Southern Cross was), nebula, the moon and the finale was looking at Saturn which was just mind blowing. The facts and figures he was going through were somewhat bewildering with the vastness of it all, Ben with his engineering mind got the gist of it all slightly better than me. All in all it had been a great introduction to the Southern night sky.
We then headed South slightly to the Namib Naukluft park where we camped up next to a very cold river with lots of birds chirping and tweeting all around us. We took a “beginners hike” along the Olive Trail. We hiked up the side of the mountain and could see the deserty, red mountains all around, to me most similar to the desert areas of the West coast of America. After climbing over the top of the mountain we dropped back down the other side into the bottom of the dry river bed, a huge and very deep canyon that had cut through the landscape. The rocks were every colour imaginable and we did think it would be good to know a little more about the geology of this landcape. After scrambling over lots of huge rocks in the bottom of the river bed we came to a section that looked amazing, layers of pinky white rocks towering over us in a particularly narrow canyon. The pool of water in the bottom reflected all the shapes and colours making it all the more stunning. After getting all quite excited about how amazing it looked we then realised this was the part of the walk our guidebook had mentioned where the use of chains is required. The guidebook had explained “even the most feeble of hikers will have no issue” – no worries then…. I was sent over first so Ben could take some nice piccies
The start was straight forwards and I made good progress until ¾ of the way over. Now it seems only right at this point to mention that the wall of rocks was pretty much vertical, we were about 3 metres above the pool of rocky water below but most importantly we have been in Africa a long time now and are therefore very used to things not always being maintained, not secured properly, gaping holes where you’d least expect them etc etc. So having made it ¾ of the way along it was time to really put my faith in the African chains that were randomly pegged (I hoped) along the rock face and had a lot more give in them than I’d of liked. At this point I lost it slightly and could not bring myself to lower myself down a metre or so taking a leap of faith in the African chain as I went. After Ben suggesting lots of different options and me giving myself several good talkings to Ben decided he’d come across past me and try and figure out the best route as I’m precariously balanced on a small ledge, holding on to the chain I’m not so keen on.
He again made good progress up to the tricky bit and then took a slight leap of fatih in the chains to lower himself down towards the water, despite saying all the right things to boost my confidence I could see the look on his face quite clearly when the chain gave away a bit more than he’d of liked and I was still no further forwards! After more “get on with it Boller, get over it and just get yourself down there” type talkings to myself I decided I had to do just that… I took up the chain, lowered myself down and it’s that point the chain slackened off far more than I’d of like and I fell a metre or so banging my elbow, fortunately the chain held up in a non African way and I held on so no major damage was done. It took me quite some time for my legs to stop trembling but I was very relieved to be off the rock face and looking back on the days hike the chains kind of made the whole walk worthwhile.
From the Naukluft Park we continued down towards Sossousvlei which is home to the huge red dunes that Namibia is so famous for. We had a day or so waiting around to get into the park (things were still busy in Namibia’s main tourist sites due now to the European school holidays). We really wanted to camp inside the park as it gives you extra time at sunrise and sunset to see all the crazy colours of the dunes compared to staying outside the park. The wait was most definitely worth it. Ben and I had a fantastic evening watching the sun set over the famous Dune 45 (we’d been warned to avoid it for sunrise seeing as hoards of people, in particular the overland buses) descend on it. It was certainly hard going as we climbed up and the wind was whipping up the sand but having battled to the top we pretty much had the place to ourselves and from there you could see the beautiful shapes and shadows of the dunes in the distance.
The following morning we were up before sunrise, queuing at the gate with a few other cars to get over to Sossousvlei pan ready to see the sun come up. We reached the end of the tar road as it was getting light and without really thinking about it bounced the car on to the 4×4 part, the sand was much much softer than I expected, Ben kept the motor running and went down the gears, neither of us saying anything to the other but both silently praying we’d not got bogged down. Fortunately with the trusty disco and some skilled driving from Ben all was good and we were the second car to reach the car park. We climbed up the dunes, I felt slightly guilty as there were no other footprints where I was walking and I felt I was damaging them in some way. The sun was now hitting some of the dunes around us and the colours changing every few minutes. At the top of the dune we then caught glimpse of the white pan at the bottom of the red mountains of dunes, totally in shade at this point. As we struggled on over the dune the sun started to hit the pan and the colours all changed yet again. It would have been lovely to spend quite a few days enjoying the dunes but unfortunately we had to get on, and journey back towards Windhoek.
We made it to Windhoek late afternoon and rushed off to see Benita the lovely owner of the jewellery store. The ring was stunning, slightly different to what we were both expecting but simple and beautiful with a gorgeous turquoisey Namibian stone – just perfect for me. I wore it for a day or so around Windhoek but then reluctantly decided it was best to tuck it up safely in Rodney (code name for the safe on our disco). Overland dirt, grime and generally bashing it around didn’t seem the best start of it’s life so I’m very much looking forward to unpacking it when we get the disco safely back to the UK.
We took a great trip out to Luderitz, a small German town on the windswept Atlantic coast, sandwiched between the icy ocean and dusty desert. As you drive out West towards the town you drive through hundreds of kilometres of spectacular desert scenery. Unfortunately there was no chance of any bush camping around here as the whole area is full of diamonds and therefore nobody is allowed off either side of the main road. Ludertiz is full of some beautiful colonial buildings and the location sandwiched next to the desert and ocean was very impressive. We took a drive out to the Luderitz peninsula, to call it windswept is an understatement but it gave us a fantastic view back of the town and we also got to have our first glimpse of African penguins. Most importantly for me we’d been recommend a very nice coffee shop which supplied a huge and delicious slice of Red Velvet Chocolate cake.
Our final stop as we left Ludertiz was Kolmanshop, an old diamond mining town in the middle of the desert. With bigger and better diamonds being found elsewhere the population all moved on in search of increased wealth leaving all the houses, hospital, school and shops to be engulfed by the desert. The town is now open to visitors and there are lots of old items still left in the houses and some rooms are literally full of sand dunes inside. It made for a fascinating stop and the opportunity to try and take some interesting photos.
Our final stop off in Namibia was Fish River Canyon and Ais Ais hot springs. The Canyon is very impressive and again reminded me of the West coast of the US, being quite similar to the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately you cannot enter the canyon without committing to a 5 day hike along the length of it… far too much for me and Ben so we made do with seeing it from a couple of viewing points and looking down on the vast cutting through the landscape.
Ben – So our Final couple of weeks in Namibia and the drive down to Cape Town are done. It’s incredible to think we’ve been all that way and on the road for best part of a year now. We have a few weeks ahead to enjoy South Africa, and so far so good, then we’ll be heading back home. We are both really looking forward to seeing friends and family, maybe see you soon?
Ben and Jen.