Silence. Nothing stirs under the oppressive blanket of the harsh African sun. A ripple in the tall grass as a gentle breeze rolls across the valley floor. I pull at the collar of my uniform as I try and loosen its throttling grip. A trickle of sweat runs down my back, causing me to shiver, despite the heat, as though prescience of something coming. At first I think it’s my eyes playing tricks on me, as the green grass seems to shimmer and suddenly turn black. I rub the sweat out of my eyes with the back of my hand, shifting my rifle to my other shoulder. It’s not a cruel trick of the heat. The hill beyond out camp has instantly transformed. Thousands of Zulu warriors have materialised out of nowhere. I stare in horror - the depths of which I would never have imagined - as suddenly the chilling sound of the beating of thousands of shields mixed with an eerie ululation sweeps across our camp in warning of what is coming - a battle unparalleled in our nation’s proud history.
We have been invited to visit Isandlwana Lodge, located on the edge of the famous Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift battlefields - battles of loss and victory never before witnessed. “Wow,” I say as we drive along the gravel road winding between a sprinkling of local huts and the ominous hill of Isandlwana jutting out to our left, “Is that the lodge?” To our right, set majestically on the side of Nyoni rock, is the magnificent Isandlwana lodge.
After a royal welcome from Shane, the manager and his team, we are shown to our room. I’m distracted from the comfortable, elegantly decorated room by the floor-to-ceiling glass doors that provide unfettered views of the story before us. It’s like a time travel portal as I stand for a moment on our balcony clearly seeing the hundreds of dotted white stone cairns marking the graves of the thousands of British soldiers who lost their lives here.
“The Zulus attacked the British at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879,” Shane says as we stand atop the hill behind the lodge, looking out at the battlefield below. “A Zulu force of 20,000 warriors attacked the British camp of 1,800 soldiers.” A cool breeze sweeps across the remote outcrop we’re standing on, sending a shiver down my spine - or is it the tangible feeling of loss and victory forever etched on this landscape that I’m feeling? History, loss, death and senseless suffering mingle with stories of incredible bravery, hope and human compassion.
In the evening we are seated around a warm log fire, the mercury has plummeted to 8c. Sipping gluhwein and chatting about lives and history is the perfect segue into dinner - a delicious affair, and a fitting conclusion to the opening act for what lies tomorrow - our visits to the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift.
“Day waned and the night hung over the hill as we reached the last ridge beyond which had been our camp…in silence we marched down into the gloom below, where lay shrouded by a mericful pall the horrors of the past day…when we saw what had happened every man could not help crying to see so many of our poor comrades lying dead on the ground, which only a few hours before that we left them all well and hearty” (Col Crealock’s account)
It’s stunning waking up at Isandlwana lodge. A belt of mist has been draped across the valley floor as though it were a shroud in memory of the fallen. Only the stark landmark of Isandlwana peak appears above the shroud.
“I am Dalton,” Lindizwe says giving us his English name. “I am a descendant of Chief Sihayo.” As the descendant of one of the chiefs of the epic battle that played out on this stage of history, Lindizwe is the master conjurer. We are transported from the verandah where we stand overlooking the battlefields straight into the heart of the battle. Around us the smell of sweat permeates the air as thousands of Zulu warriors squatting on their haunches pause to take some snuff before the battle begins. Down below the red uniforms of the British soldiers look like tiny red ants as they scuttle between the white tents below the hill.
After painting a vivid picture of the background, we all eagerly pile into a vehicle and head to the Isandlwana battlefield, where we come face to face with the bravery and horror of this most epic battle. Climbing up the Isandlawana peak past countless white cairns is a somber reminder of the sad cost of war. Political decisions made thousands of miles away in gilded rooms that forever stamp red blood blotches all across the African planes.
“In memory of James Adrian Blakie…Killed here in battle, 22nd January 1879. Aged 19 years,” says one of the countless graves. It’s the British army’s worst defeat ever against an indigenous foe.
From Isandlwana we head, after a delicious lunch at the lodge, to Rorkes Drift, where once more we are drawn into the most epic battle. A battle where more Victoria crosses are handed out than at any other time. A story of incredible bravery, but one written in the sad waste of lives of both British and Zulu alike.
"As the Zulu army retreats from Rorkes Drift,” Lindizwe says as we stand next to the small stone strucutres where the battle took place, “they pass the returning reinforcements of Lord Chelmsford. Silently both armies walk right past each other. Not a word is said. Not a weapon is raised. The death - the loss - the horror, has been too much for both sides. Wars futility is etched on every face. Wars painful cost exacted in sons never to return, in wives left widowed, in wounded never to be whole again."
Back at the lodge as the sun sets over our time here, we enjoy an amazing braai outside on the deck, while warming ourselves around a roaring log fire. What a contrast as we sip our wine and look down on the lights of the huts dotting the plane below. The battle may be a distant memory, but the scars are all too visible under the silvery light of the rising full moon, in the endless white cairns dotting the valley like discarded bones.
We have travelled across a century and returned convinced both of the futility of war and of the need to celebrate and share our beautiful country and its epic history. Why just visit a place for your next getaway, when you can visit a place and a time - and have not just a holiday, but an unforgettable experience.
Isandlwana Lodge has 12 stylishly furnished en-suite bedrooms, each with a private balcony overlooking the panorama of the battlefield and plain. It's an ideal retreat for writers, photographers, hikers, adventurers, and anyone else wanting more than just a holiday. Besides the attraction of the history of this area, there is the beautiful scenery, quiet solitude, great food, and even exciting activities like hot air ballooning. To find out more visit the lodge's website.
For millennia man has wanted to fly, but has been held back by his innate fear of death by forceful impact. So I’m not sure why we didn’t think of kite surfing years ago. Standing on the beach at Langebaan, one of the best places to kite surf in South Africa, I’m in awe of the serious air time the kite surfers - or are they flyers - get. It’s a blend of sport and art, hip-hop and ballet.
“Hi, I’m Shaun,” the friendly guy behind the counter at The Kite Lab greets us with a smile. “Josh is going to really enjoy this,” he says. Josh has long wanted to learn to kitesurf, and has spent endless hours mastering his power kite, enjoying being dragged through the sand and water in the quest for the thrill. The Kite Lab, in Langebaan says it is “South Africa’s number one kitesurfing lessons and gear centre” so they seem the obvious choice for the next step in Joshua’s flying adventure.
Soon Josh has his kit, and is headed down to the beach along with his instructor. “I’m George (pronounced in some indecipherable Greek way - which really makes this Greek-styled village feel authentic), I will be teaching Joshua,” he says. “When the conditions are right,” George continues, “we train at Shark Bay.”
“Hmm,” I think to myself, “I’m glad the conditions are not right - the name sounds ominous.” Later I find out it’s a name given for harmless sand sharks that come their during certain times to mate. “But today, because the wind is a little bit light,” he says gesticulating towards the wind which seems to be blowing pretty hard as far as a Durbanite is concerned, “today…we will learn here at the main beach.”
While Nicky and I relax on the beach, Josh and George begin the first of his two 3-hour lessons, flying a kite. He’s taught how to control it, what the power-zone is, reading the wind, and loads more. He seems to be mastering this, so we wander off to grab a beer at Pearlys overlooking the beach. This is the life! When we return Josh has upgraded. He is now attached to a real kitesurfing kite and is learning to control it on the beach.
“Josh will now let the kite pull him in the water, without the board,” George explains. “But he is very safe. I will talk to him with the radio,” he says pointing to a radio that is attached to the head gear Josh is wearing. I’m really impressed by Kite Lab’s training system. Not only does this radio provide a safety system whereby the instructor is always in contact with the student, and there is a rescue boat also on patrol that can be radioed at any time to pick up a wayward student, but it also puts the instructor in the student’s head. What better way to learn, than have your instructor giving you instructions all the time while you’re mastering your manoeuvres .
Soon Josh is having serious fun as he’s dragged like some hyperactive seal through the sea. Every now and then he manages to manipulate the kite and he leaps right out of the water, while all the time George runs along the beach issuing instructions.
“Tomorrow,” George says, “Josh will use the board.”
I can see he’s really excited about that…Josh, that is - and George too!
The weather does not play nicely and so “tomorrow” turns out to be the “day after tomorrow”, but soon Josh is back in the water, and this time he has a board strapped to his feet too.
“It’s important for him to understand the kite first,” George explains, “and then he can focus on the board.”
We watch as Josh begins to master standing. It reminds me a bit of when I learned to ski - it takes time, but as Alan who is the founder of the Kite Lab said earlier when we spoke to him, “once you’ve learned you never forget!”
By the end of his second lesson Josh is getting up and beginning to experience the thrill of the ride.
Houston, we have a problem. The bug has bitten. It’s like giving cake to a sweet'oholic. Josh has tasted the thrill, the power, the adrenaline of kitesurfing…he hasn’t flown…yet, but he knows he surely can. For now he’ll have to wait, because our time here is up, but he’s already plotting his return.
“Josh,” a friend asks him a few days later, “what has been the best thing you’ve done on your year-long holiday adventure?”
Without hesitation he answers - “Kitesurfing!”
Our travels are not only about the places we visit but the adventures that can be experienced. And so we've been up-close and personal with elephants, kissed a hippo, battled giant spiders, slept under the stars, paraglided off mountains, rafted rapids, skied snow-clad Africa slopes, canoed with hippos, swum with crocs...so of course we need to party with the monkeys next! And what better place to do it than with Drakensberg Canopy Tours situated next to the Drakensberg Sun hotel in the central berg.
“Hi, I'm Shonta. Welcome to our canopy tour.” We're seated outside under a huge tree around which the center has been built. We're watching a video of the adventure that lies ahead. The adventures depart every 30 minutes which must be a logistical feat in itself.
The Drakensberg Canopy Tour has 12 rides that fly high above the trees of the ancient Nkwanke Forest, part of a world heritage site. “The forest has many old Yellowwood trees," Shonta says, "and you will get to stand on top of some of them.” I can feel the excitement rising as we see and hear more about what we can expect. I feel like a kid staring at cookie jar. Let's do this!
“You can go through to meet your guides,” Shonta says, and we move to another room. Here we’re introduced to Moses our lead guide and the “Safety Officer” Sindi. Being led by Moses on an adventure like this seems fitting - who better to lead us through the parting of trees.
Safety is high on the agenda here, which considering we're going to be connected by a few wires high in the air sounds like a great idea to me. Soon we are decked out in our high-tech diapers, and ready to go and find adventure. “Sanitize your hands,” Moses says as he gives us our “braking gloves”. Now that's attention to detail - important details - why share bugs just because you’re sharing fun?
We climb onto the back of a bakkie and are bouncing our way up the mountain. Spectacular views of the central Berg open before us as we climb higher and higher along the gravel track up the mountain. “That's Barry's grave,” Moses says pointing to a grave as we disembark.
“Eish! Is Barry someone who didn't make it through the adventure?”
It turns out he was a dude from long ago - not a canopy tour casualty. This all adds to the anticipation of what lies ahead.
As we descend into the thick forest that rises from the valley below I imagine I can almost hear Indiana Jones music playing. Well, that's at least how I feel. Like some intrepid explorer about to walk across swaying bridges and slide along vines through trees. OK, hopefully, cable vines!
“Canopy tours started in Costa Rica to study forest animals,“ Moses says as we walk into the forest. In fact, I noticed a board as we were getting kitted out, listing all the animals people had seen on their adventures. I can already hear a symphony of bird life in the trees all about us.
We arrive at the first platform. It’s just a short ride to get us used to the idea of flying through trees. “It’s called the Rabbit Hole,” Moses says referring to Alice’s experience. This is where our world will change as we enter another world. Sindi clips us on and on and on…OK, this does feel safe.
“You’re always clipped on twice,” she explains, plus there are various backup ropes and cables. I think you have more chance of dying being attacked by a swarm of angry butterflies…maybe that’s what happened to Barry?
“Look mom, I’m flying,” I shout as I glide effortlessly along the first ride. Maybe I didn’t say that out loud, but I still feel like I’m flying. I’m ready for the real deal now…Bring on the long rides! As you complete the ride you are immediately clipped to a safety cable as you move along the platforms high in the trees. “Now this is what I’m talking about,” I say as I look at a long cable stretching out into the distance over the trees far below. The views are amazing. It’s a totally different perspective being so high up in the canopy of the trees.
“We call this one the Black Ferrari,” Sindi says, “because it's the fastest ride.”
Now I’m sure I can hear that Indiana Jones theme song. The adventure is here. I watch as my family one by one leap off the edge of a platform suspended high above the forest floor, and whiz at high speed, with hoots of glee, along the line. After a signal from Moses it’s my turn. I lift my feet and I’m off. Boom! It’s an adrenalin hit. An epic feeling as you literally feel like you are flying and a blur of green races past beneath you.
“Hey, but what about stopping? Eish, I should of asked about that earlier…too late now…” Actually, this is the best part of these rides. Stopping is easy. You have a glove that you press down lightly on the cable and you come to an easy stop. However, to make this even safer many of the rides have, as Sindi calls it, “ABS…You don’t have to do anything. Just hold on and enjoy the ride. I will stop you at the end.”
As I come hurtling along at what feels like the speed of sound, the platform on the other side approaches quickly. Here’s to testing the ABS system. Amazingly in seconds I come to a sudden halt as I land featherlike on the next platform, a look of exhilaration plastered across my face.
“This is the Morris Minor, short and fast….this is the Red Ferrari, the second fastest…this is a 360 year old Yellowwood…” And so it is not only that we are having an exhilarating experience, but our guides are making sure we learn new things, and have lots of laughs too.
“OK,” Sindi says as we stand at the edge of another ride. Lift your feet and don’t sway,” she says as we look out at the cable vanishing between a rock face on the left and trees on the right. “Otherwise you will do bushmen paintings on the rock and then on the tree and arrive looking like braai meat!” Well, who wouldn’t look forward to a ride after that. With pumping heart, I fly across the canyon and through the gap - not doing any painting with my body en route, nor arriving like braai meat.
From the longest ride at 170m in length to the second highest ride in Africa at 65m high, the experience is a green blur of excitement, interspersed with incredible tranquility and stunning views as we move along walkways attached to cliff faces and around ancient trees. It’s all over too quickly, well that’s how it feels. Actually we’ve been out here nearly 3 hours, but as the old saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun” which means that time really flies when you’re having flying fun!
It’s a short hike out of the canyon and like clockwork we’re picked up by the bakkie and whisked back down to the mountain. Hey, but it’s not over! As we watch a video of our adventure that a dexterous camera man took during our adventure, we are served a most delicious subway-style lunch. What an amazing way to end an amazing adventure. Actually, this is better than Indiana Jones…at the end of his adventures he’s the one getting eaten.
We are leaving the wilds…"farewell wild beasts, its been amazing." But as Arnold always says, “I’ll be back.” However, we are not leaving the adventures. Leaving Kruger we head to Hazyview where we are staying at a timeshare called Waterberry Hill just outside the town.
After settling in, toasting the sun that dips into the valley below us where a pair of rogue elephants, as we find out later, have escaped for a drink too, I retire for the night. I’m in the shower…and it’s attached to our accommodation, that’s a treat, and I look down at my feet. They tell a story.
The soles are dirty brown and the heels are cracked and dry. I've tried occasionally to put Ingram's lotion on them - I've tried to scrub them, yet they remain irresolutely the same - dirty, cracked, and dry. They are testimony to our months of adventure - wild outdoors - no shoes - no calendars - no worries! The modern conveniences are great, but I still love the great outdoors more.
🍻 Here's to dirty feet! 🍻
Today we have an adventure of a different kind planned - not wildlife, but wild times!
“Hi I'm Dirk, and this is Richard.” We have arrived at a farm near Hazyview in excited anticipation of our first off-road Segway experience. We've seen these self-balancing scooters in shopping centers - in movies - on the beachfront - and always wanted to try them. But what really appeals to us is doing it off-road.
Six alien looking contraptions are lined up awaiting their pilots and soon Richard is explaining how they operate. “They balance themselves,” he says standing atop one of the two-wheeled contraptions. He demonstrates how to operate the Segway. “Who's up first?” he asks. I quickly volunteer, keen to get as much time possible in this experience.
“Whoa…that's so weird,” I say as I navigate my Segway tentatively for the first time. It just has two wheels - it shouldn't stay upright - but it does. Lean forward and it goes faster. Lean back and it slows down. Tilt the handle and you turn on the spot. Soon we are all turning and twisting and scooting around like some alien dance scene.
“OK, follow me,” Richard says, as we wave farewell to Dirk and head down the farm road. It's the most amazing feeling. There's no roar of an engine, there's no effort required, yet you're flying along the road. In fact these machines can get up to 30km/h, but at the moment we're just gliding along slowly.
“These are Macadamia trees,” Richard says as we stop next to some small trees. He then goes on to explain the workings of this farm and the fascinating story behind the macadamia plantations. But the strange part is that we're just gliding along as though we're perched on some invisible conveyer belt. We pass through plantations, past lakes, beehives - “Those are for pollinating the nuts,” Richard says a safe distance from the busy hive. I never realized you needed bees to pollinate these trees.
We've done a lot of amazing experiences on our travels - paragliding, swimming on the edge of waterfalls, mokoro trips with hippos - and there's one thing I've learned and that is it's always more than the activity itself, it's the experience. The same applies today. It's not just the strange, effortless, flying feeling of being on the Segway, it's the experience - the beauty of this lovely area and learning about the plantation and farming.
“Ok everyone, on this straight portion you can all go as fast as you want,” Richard says. Aah..finally we are set free. Josh and I lead the pack as we fly along the road. It truly feels like skiing. You're standing upright and you can sway your legs from side to side to create a weaving motion. The trees rush past me. “Yeehii,” I shout as I soak up the thrill of my “African bush ski experience”. Epic.
We stop next to a dam for a short break and while sipping bottles of water Richard explains how he's been swimming in this dam for ages and now discovers there's a crocodile living here. Gotta love Africa.
“There's two options here,” Richard says, “the easy route or this more technical but interesting route. Which one do you want to do?” Come on…what a question. We want to do the trickier, technical route. Bring it on!
It is amazing what these segways can do as we maneuver them over ruts and rocks and beneath low hanging trees. Soon we are back on the normal track and skiing along around the final block and down towards Dirk and the end. “Wow!”'I say as we arrive, “this is truly amazing Dirk. Skiing in the African bushveld. That's what this is. Epic!”
Dirk's Segway Africa Tours just recently started and I'm convinced it's going to be a huge success, especially as he goes on to explain his future plans - Segway safaris in a game reserve, moonlight tours, sundowner tours. It's amazing as it is - imagine doing this in a game reserve watching wild animals and finishing it off with snacks by a waterhole.
“We definitely will be back!” we all chorus together as we bid Dirk and Richard farewell. “Definitely!” I mean, who wouldn’t want to ski effortlessly along the stunning, wild roads of Africa?
We’re slowly heading south, having left the incredible adventure of Elephant Sands behind, passed through Nata and are now headed to Tuli game reserve, not far from the SA border and about 400km from Nata.
Finally at 5pm we arrive at Molema Bush Camp in Tuli after the road slowly gets smaller and smaller before turning to gravel and then into a 4x4 track. The sun is rapidly heading toward the horizon as we setup our tents under a bug tree - a keep trying to type “big tree” but for some reason this phone changes it…must be a warning? Hopefully, the tree will give us some shade because at the moment we are sweltering.
As hardened campers we have become quite efficient and soon our campsite is set up and Josh is busy preparing homemade burgers for us. As we sip a cold beer I say, “This will be fun guys. Wild beasts everywhere, and just us alone in the bush.”
There’s only one other group at a nearby campsite. “We can handle the wild family!” I say. But little do I know there’s one beast we’re not that good at handling!
“There!” Nicky shouts pointing at something fast and dark scuttling across the floor as darkness settles over our camp and we prepare our evening meal.
“A scorpion or spider. Kill it!”
It's a call to arms and I respond with valor, grabbing a shoe and chasing the beast in the darkness. The last thing we want is a spider running into our tent. It's fast and dexterous but ultimately no match for me and soon it has been dispatched. Peace reigns.
Me:1 - Spider:0
The heat is oppressive. It's now 7pm and it's still in the high 30s and doesn't seem to be abating. “How on earth will we sleep in…”
“Spider!” shouts someone. And sure enough there is another large spider running across our eating area. Like synchronized swimmers we all raise our feet in unison as the beast scuttles past. Didn't I just kill that spider?
“Another one!” screeches a kid, pointing at yet another large arachnid making its way across our eating area.
“OK, spiders. If it's war you want it's war you'll get. We are prepared for this!” I dig out the bug spray. I knew there was a reason we had carried this around for so long. Soon I have sprayed a protective barrier around our eating spot and all around our tents. That will put and end to any more forays by scuttling beasties.
Me:2 - Spiders:0
Bliss reigns…The food is sizzling away, and we’re relaxing (with our feet off the floor).
“Spider!” sounds the shrill cry again. These beasts are immune to the poison and there seems to be no end to them. Are we camped on their house. They're scuttling all over the place and have us on the run.
It's one too many! The family retreats. For a while I try valiantly to hold the fort, much like Don Quixote, I'm armed with a broom attempting to joust with my furry foes. It's a nimble dance as I have to balance keeping my feet briefly on the ground while attempting to wield my ungainly and inappropriate weapon. The family looks on from the safety of the car, faces pressed to the windows.
After a near encounter with one of the beasties…which scuttles through my legs and into our toiletry bag…I realize I'm losing this battle. Discarding my weapon I run for the car feeling the hot breath of my pursuers behind me…or it could just be the hot wind…but either way the battle is over.
Me:2 - Spiders:2many!
It’s 8pm and we're all seated inside the car - the aircon on, our phones plugged in for charge, and the doors shut to protect us from the attack. We laugh as we think of where we are. This is adventure…who knows what else the night will bring. Giant spiders gnawing through our tents, elephants...Oh, forgot about those…
Dawn...There were no spider or elephants in the night…however there were lions. Thankfully after my exhaustion after my gallant display of chivalry while jousting the furry beasties - which are apparently called Solifugids or Red Romans - I snoozed through the roaring. With dawn comes our awaking as the cacophony of bush sounds rudely brings you back from sleep. The bark of baboons, the serenade of doves, the shrill cry of some nameless bird. The bush, it's awake…and so I crawl out and soon have coffee and mealie meal brewing away.
We're camped under a huge Nyalaberry tree which provides beautiful and much-needed shade in this hot part of Africa. We've quickly learned what's important for camping - shade, grass, electricity, water…and the bonus, our own ablutions. Our campsite here has the first and last of this list, and the bonus ablutions.
We can't walk away from the campsite as we're in a game park - hence the roaring - so we spend the day under our shady tree reading, working, relaxing…soaking up Africa.
“Hi, I'm Sakeo,” our guide says. Sakeo is key to the operations at the camp and has been very attentive to ensure our stay here has been comfortable. This afternoon we are going on a game drive wth him.
We wend our way through the bush on the landrover while Sakeo shares his fascinating bush knowledge with us. It's amazing that I've been on many bush drives yet there are still so many things I don't know.
“It's easy to tell which is the male zebra,” Sakeo says as we watch a herd nearby. “It's normally the one at the back as he protects the herd.” Now surely I should have known that by now. However as it turns out there is still plenty I need to learn as Sakeo tells us about the different animals we see.
After stopping to enjoy some sundowners near a dry river bed we head back sweeping the search light in search of animals. The leopard - as usual - are elusive although we do come across a herd of elephants, some bush babies perched in trees and a lone Wildebeest sentinel. Here too I learn how the males remain alone in their territory while the females move around.
“I’m glad I’m not a wildebeest,” I think to myself as sleep slowly draws me away while the night sounds reverberate all around our small tent. I’d far rather be in my tent with my female…Note to self: Don’t become a wildebeest.
Today we swim…like we never have, we’re headed to swim in Devil’s Pool, on the very edge of the mighty Victoria Falls! We arise early and soon have bidden two of our kids farewell as Nicky, myself and Sarah head across the river and to Zambia for the ultimate in crazy adventure. Here’s hoping we make it back…thankfully the kids have a few dollars to sustain them. Our plan is to walk to the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia from Zimbabwe, as it's cheaper and hopefully faster than bringing a car through customs. It feels strange walking across a border - and is definitely a first for us.
We are through the Zim border in minutes. Painless. And then we get to enjoy the amazing walk across the bridge that spans the canyon. It's a slightly scary feeling both because this bridge was built in 1905, over a hundred years ago, and because there's a sign than warns that only one car at a time is allowed. The river roars in the canyon way below, an epic sight from this vantage point.
It's quite a walk to reach the Zambia border but finally we arrive there. Eish! Two buses have arrived and there is a long line of people waiting to enter. Oh well, we are still early, it's only 7:45am and we only have to be at our meeting point at 10. So we wait. We are well entertained by the antics of the baboons which are all over the area. They obviously get food because they are very aggressive and often cause people to scuttle away from them. After about 30 minutes we reach the front of the line. Nicky and Sarah are stamped and just before the border official takes my passport he decides it's time for a break, and promptly heads out of the building. We are left staring at an empty cubicle. Patience…patience.
We were planning to walk, what we think is 5km to the hotel, but succumb to the offer of R50 for a taxi ride. As it turns out, once we are dropped off, its only about 1km. Oh well, at least we arrived feeling important. We step back in time and arrive in the colonial era. We are at the Royal Livingstone hotel. A regal hotel with opulent buildings flows across lush green grass to the Zambezi River. We seat ourselves on the deck and soak in the splendour of this place.
“Welcome everyone," says Captain Harry as we board the boat to Livingstone Island. We've been told there are many parts to our adventure - not just the swim in the pool, and this is our first part. Soon we are gliding expertly along the river towards the "smoke that thunders”. A plume of spray rises ahead of us signaling the huge drop of the mighty Vic Falls. It seems crazy that we are on a boat heading towards this spot.
We arrive at Livingstone Island, so named because this is where David Livingstone first viewed Vic Falls from. “Ok everyone,” says Nyama, our guide, “follow me to the view site.” The day is warming up quickly. It's just 10:30 and it's already well over 30 degrees. But all of this is meaningless when we look at the view before us. A yawning gap opens before us and is painted by the stunning colors of a massive rainbow that crowns the spray rising from the falls. The cameras whirr as we try to condense this immense vista into a single scene. Impossible.
“Right everyone,” Nyama says as we stand on the edge of the water. “This is where we swim. We swim out towards the middle,” he says pointing towards the river that flows directly over the falls, “and then we go left.” I'm sure he's joking. But he isn't and soon we have plunged into the very welcome coolness of the Zambezi and are swimming towards the falls which plummet hundreds of meters down, just meters ahead of us.
It gets shallower and we're instructed to stand and link hands as we move in a chain through the water. I'm wondering if this is for safety or so that if one gets swept over we all go leaving no witnesses. However, we are soon on another rocky outcrop. Before us is the famed Devil’s Pool. It's a small rock enclave right on the very edge of the Victoria Falls. I am convinced there is no other country in the world that would ever allow a tourist attraction to be made out of such a crazy spot. This is why I love Africa.
“You climb in here,” Nyama says “and then swim to the edge.” And this is the edge. The very edge. There is nothing between this edge and hundreds of meters of waterfall. My heart is racing. It's an incredible adrenalin high. I'm swimming on the edge of a waterfall - not just any waterfall, but Vic Falls. I reach the edge. “Climb up here,” Nyama says beckoning me to join him on the ledge that is the final barrier between me and oblivion. A small film of water flows over this ledge before plummeting into the abyss.
Soon all three of us are perched on the very edge of Vic Falls. It's exhilarating. I'm relaxed and pumped. I'm floating and flying. It's epic…until…
“Eish!” I yelp as I fling my leg up into the air…which is not really a good idea when you're perched on the edge of an abyss. But I can't help it. Something is biting my feet. This river is infested with crocs and other beasts. “What was that?” I ask now somewhat concerned. “Heh heh,” laughs Nyama, “you have found the baby crocodile.” Well who said this wouldn't be fun! It turns out it's hungry little fish - just like in a foot spa, but I don't want that here.
Far on the other side visitors in Zim look at us - as we did yesterday - in shock. The view from there is stunning. But seeing people right on the edge of the waterfall defies all reason. Yet here we are, enjoying the thrill of swimming in the mighty Zambezi on the edge of Victori Falls.
Mention must be made of the photographer. While our hearts are thumping at the craziness of this entire experience - what he does is beyond crazy. He runs up and down the edge carrying various cameras taking photos from every conceivable angle. He literally is standing on the water that cascades over the falls, millimeters from the edge. Crazy, but not only does this add to the drama of the moment but it results in incredible photos.
Leaving the pool, firmly resolving to do it again, we swim back to the island. The epicness of the experience is not yet over. Set under a canvas tent is a beautiful white tablecloth covered table. “What can I offer you to drink?” our host asks as we arrive. And soon we are sipping juice and tucking into exquisitely presented poached eggs and bacon, accompanied by warm scones and bran muffins. And all this on an island in the Zambezi River on the edge of Victoria Falls.
“This is the best scone I've ever had,” Sarah says as my teeth bite through the warm, crisp outside into the soft middle. She's right. This entire breakfast is truly superb…no, this entire experience is more than that - it's without doubt a BL (Bucket List) must..for anyone who loves a little adventure in life!
Book your final bucket list experience at Devil's Pool here ;-)
She rises once more in spectacular fashion over the river in front of our tent. It's our last day in Namibia. It's been an incredible time here. A land of contrasts, a land of beauty, a land of vast openness, a land where we must certainly return. But as for now it's time to move on. Soon we are off, through two borders and driving through the Chobe Game Park in Botswana.
Screech. “What?” says Nicky as I come to a sudden halt. “There, elephant,” I say pointing out the window. A large herd with midget elephant too is on both sides of the road. It's amazing, but while we are enjoying the sighting most of the other cars just fly by. We soon discover why. After snapping the photos we are off. “Eles!” I shout. “Eles!” I shout again…and again…and again. Ok, so that is why people don't stop. There are gazillions of elephant in this area. It's really amazing. They are crossing the road all the time.
However up ahead we notice two vehicles stopped. It can't be elephant, it must be something else. “Wow,” Nicky says pointing off to the left just on the edge of the road, “wild dog!” Or Painted Dog as they are now called. They've made a kill. A large kudu is lying in the road and the wild dog are all over the place. The trees are thick with vultures awaiting their turn. The wild dog are full, judging by their satiated postures and the vultures are hungry. Every now and then the vultures swoop in for a snack and the wild dogs go crazy chasing them.
Soon we are leaving Botswana, which is painless, and entering Zim. Eish! This is the most costly border crossing of all. It's all in U.S. Dollars. Crazy. And I just keep on paying. And of course I need to use cash - dwindling supplies. After about R900 on road taxes and I think I'm done. Only to be met by another dude outside who says all cars need reflector stickers - which they sell…and we need to pay the road toll too. So it's off to another office and another R250. Crazy!
Feeling fleeced we are finally through all the borders and headed to Vic Falls. We have low expectations of Vic Falls Rest Camp, where we are staying. The TripAdvisor reviews we have read have been bleak - “basic”, “poorly maintained” etc. Eish! However, we are pleasantly surprised. I think it's all about expectations and comparisons. We have come from 14 days of tents, outdoor ablutions and toilets, often no electricity, etc. For us this basic hut with communal ablutions is wonderful. Plus there are trees and grass. Aah, how we have come to appreciate the simple things.
After a quick reconnaissance of Vic Falls, which seems to be more modern than when we were here over ten years ago, we settle down for our first night under a real (thatch) roof for several weeks.
I awake. It seems dark. In wonder what time it is. I click the light on my watch. 5:40am. Excellent. The alarm was set for 5:45am. We’re going to Vic Falls today and we want to be there early, not in the heat of the day. By 6:10 am we are at Vic Falls. I think we might be the first people here. Amazing.
The scenery is incredible. As we race from view site to view site we are blown away. What's really amazing is the beautiful rainbow created by the rising sun. Each viewpoint we stop at looks more incredible than the previous one. While the falls are low, the volume of water and the scenery is still truly epic.
“Look there!” Nicky says pointing to people walking along the edge of the waterfall on the Zambia side. We look and see a group of crazy people walking across the top of the falls. It's madness. And then they get into the water. It looks like they could be swept over at any stage. A guy taking photos is literally running one the edge. We are sure he is going to fall. And what's even more crazy is we are planning on doing this tomorrow. It's called Devil's Pool.
At the end of the falls we watch a group way down in the valley below preparing to head out on their rafting adventure. It looks like fun as they plunge yelping through the first rapids. As we're leaving the falls the crowds begin to pour in as the tour groups arrive. We've spent close to four hours here and had most of the view points to ourselves. Definitely the time to come.
We've decided to finish off our day with a sunset river cruise. It's expensive but we need to experience some of the amazing parts of Zim…especially having come so far to be here. Nicky has managed to negotiate us a decent price from a roadside seller. Everyone here sells everything. This lady is setup in a little hut and sells the cruises. We finally get it for $35 per person. Apparently they will pick us up at our lodge, and so they do.
At 4:15 a comfy 7-seater car pulls up and soon we are delivered to a jetty inside the national park. A lovely double decker boat is moored there and no sooner do we board than she is off. This is efficient. What's really great is there are only about 10 other people on the boat - so it's not crowded.
What attracted us to this cruise was not just the excitement of watching sunset over the Zambezi- but that it apparently includes snacks and as many drinks as you want.
We seat ourselves on the upper deck and a lady arrives with three plates of snacks and a choice of drinks. I was dubious about the “free drinks” part, but it's true - beer, wine, whiskey, gin and tonic etc. it's all available. Not only is it available they keep coming and asking us if they can get us anything else. We are very impressed.
But that's only the part of it. What's ridiculous is the scenery. We cruise sedately along the river. It's like a game drive as we see Bush Buck, crocodile, hippo and elephant. And then of course there is the sunset. It's not possible to describe the sunset over the Zambezi. It's a huge molten ball of lava, red and fiery, slowly sinking over the distant trees across the Zambezi. Wow! A warm air blows in our faces as we soak up the tranquility, the epic beauty of this moment.
Smooth. Whiskey. Rich. Smokey.
That's how this feels. There is a resonance between the rich, smooth taste of the whiskey and the rich, smooth, smokey sojourn of the sun towards the horizon. Africa at its best. The sky turns red, orange, gold. The hippos snort. A pair of elephant pick at the trees on the river's edge. Africa, Zimbabwe, beyond words. Zwow!
Leaving Ngepi behind we now push further into the Caprivi Strip towards Camp Chobe, our final destination in Namibia, right on the border of Namibia and Botswana. Soon the long drive, the heat is behind us and we are setting up our tents on the edge of the Chobe river.
As our fire crackles and the white wine clinks in the silver goblet we are treated to a most amazing HD show. A herd of elephant come down to drink at the river just 50m in front of our camp. And in the distance behind them a massive herd of buffalo is on the move. It's so large that a huge dust cloud hangs over them. As the sun melts away behind us we enjoy our evening meal and look forward to spending our last few days in Namibia on the edge of this beautiful savanna.
Did I say we had left the heat behind? It seems not. As we crawl into our tents at 9:30pm the heat does not abate. I haven't been this hot in years. I hope we will sleep. I doze…I must be alseep, I think?
"Dad! What's that noise?” I awake…I was asleep. But no more. The heat is oppressive.
“Dad, there's something making a noise in the kitchen area.” I listen. There is something moving in the kitchen. I shine the torch from within the tent but can't see what it is. “There's a noise outside our tent too,” says another worried kid's voice from their adjoining tent.
“There!” says Nicky in a muted gasp. “An elephant!”
As I peer out our tent I see a large dark form walking past the front of our tent. It's huge this close up. The kids are in a panic as more noises around the tent signal the presence of the herd. We convince them to stay quiet in their tent. We all wait. What's the elephant done in our kitchen area, where we heard it earlier? Will they leave our tents alone? Heat…silence. A low rumble. The elephants are still near. Heat…silence.
In the morning, as the sun slowly paints the land in colour chasing the darkness away, we arise to see what the elephants did. Besides on chair that has toppled over, there is no sign they have been here, besides their huge tracks all over our campsite. After a quick filter coffee to wake us fully to the day we head off to the lodge where we are scheduled to go on the Canadian Canoe Safari.
We walk down to the river and are soon in three canoes with our guides, Nelson, Andrew and Anton. I've never tried a Canadian Canoe. They are basically a “normal” canoe but someone forgot to tell the Canadians that a paddle can now have two ends. So the poor fellas have been canoeing on one side then the other all these years.
However it turns out to be really easy - well especially when I let Andrew, who was our guide, do most of the hard work. The river is really low, compared to the rainy season when this entire plane is flooded. While this means that the motor boats can't travel it makes for fun on the canoes. The river meanders like a drunken snake through this true African landscape. However, the wind starts to blow. This is a true African savanna after all, that's what you get. To me, it adds to the ambiance as the dust rises and swirls above a huge herd of zebra who are crossing from Namibia to Botswana.
We pull up our canoes to watch the zebra and they look warily at us. “We're going to walk to our snack spot from here,” Andrew says, “to avoid paddling through the dust.” And so we walk across the open planes towards a copse of distant trees. Andrew and Nelson start an impromptu game of soccer as they walk...with a ball of elephant dung. This is soccer Africa style.
When we arrive we are greeted by Amy the manager of Camp Chobe and she has set out a table with some welcome snacks. “I'm sorry about the wind,” she says, “but I've tried to position the Cruiser to protect us.” We don't notice any wind. We are just enjoying the vast splendor of Africa's hot open savannas enjoyed appropriately with a Savannah Lite in one hand and a tasty snack in the other.
The canoe back is easier as the wind is mostly behind us and the guides keep the children active by testing them on the various birds we have been seeing. “What's that?” Andrew calls to the girls in the other canoe while pointing at a black and white bird. “It's an Openbill lapwing,” says Hannah creating a new bird, before settling on “No, I mean a Blacksmith lapwing.” We might never be bird experts but at least we are slowly learning.
Arriving back at Camp Chobe and the day is now really hot. We spend the afternoon enjoying a mixture of swims, drinks and working on our devices in the lovely lodge lounge area. Finally as the sun heads towards its duty to wake the Aussies, we relax at our campsite once more toasting a beautiful day in Africa while the smell of our curry cooking mingles with the ever dusty smell of Africa.
It's our last day in Namibia. It's been an incredible country to visit. Encapsulated in our tents as the night comes alive with the sounds of the wild we watch a David Attenborough show on Africa. The amazing part is that he visits all the places we've just been to. Now it seems so much more real, especially watching it in the heart of Africa's wilds. Sleep beckons. “What adventures does Africa have in stall for us tonight?” I wonder as David's soothing voice pulls me towards sleep, “And so the zebra move across the vast dry planes of Etosha in search of water, hoping to….” Zzzzzz
For more information on Camp Chobe in Namibia, see here!
Getting close to the wild…that’s what we have planned for the day here at Ngepi. Today we will navigate down the river, a few inches above the water on mokoros. It's something I’ve always wanted to not do. If that makes sense? It sounds exciting…but then there’s the risk of encountering hippos. But how can we not do it…we love adventure. And so we find oursleves alighting from a vehicle just below Poppa falls where the guides put the mokoros into the water.
"We will stay in the shallow water," Christopher the guide says as we get ready. "We all work together," he continues. "If you see something you tell everyone. If we see hippos we will respect their space." Well, that's a relief...I just hope they respect our space too.
Soon we are seated low in the water in our mokoros. This is going to be up-close and personal. We paddle up stream for a short while and get a great view of Poppa Falls, which are more rapids than falls. "Look there," Christopher says, pointing at a distant rock. "It's a Rock Pranticole. One of the top rare birds of this area."
"Well that's a great start," I think as we all stare through the binoculars trying to locate the bird Christopher could spot with his eyes.
We begin our journey down stream and meet another party coming up. One of their makoros is in a bit of trouble as the guide is caught in a rapid with his two guests. It looks like they could all capsize at any moment. Christopher quickly rows to his rescue and helps him out of the rapid and then instructs him on what to do. It just shows how important it is to have experienced guides, and I’m feeling a lot happier.
The journey down the river is like chilli chocolate. Sublime, relaxing, smooth...but with an edge of zing as you're constantly looking out for the hippo - which we know there are plenty of. And it's not long before, "Over there," says Christopher who is standing and rowing one of the makoro. He points about 100m ahead where a pod of hippos is rising and sinking in the water. Thankfully we will be able to give them a wide berth.
The bird life on the river is abundant and Christopher is like a walking...or paddling...bird book. He names every bird, tossing in the Latin too, plus features of the birds. "A pair of African Skimmers," he says pointing to a little sandy island. We see these rare birds, with only about one thousand in Southern Africa, with their strange red bills looking contently back at us.
"Wait until your guide gets your boat secure," Christopher says as we pull up against the river bank. We all leap out and are soon following him along towards a local village. The midday sun is baking down as the villagers move around doing their daily tasks. We're given a fascinating inside look at village life - how the grain is crushed, their homes and storage places, sleeping mats and much more. It's amazing that so little has changed for these people in thousands of years.
As we continue on we pass locals with fishing poles cut from reeds trying to catch fish on the rivers edge. A herd of cows are grazing on an island in the middle of the river, and we see one wading across. Obviously they're not worried about the crocs and hippos.
And then on cue, as we round the corner..."Hippos!" Christopher says his sharp eyes spotting them. “Up ahead just next to that island." The current and rowing is taking us quite quickly towards them. However from my limited butt-close-to-the-water-with-hippos experience this looks tricky. The hippos are spread from the river bank towards the island. "How do we get past them?"' I'm wondering. The answer comes quickly as we race towards them. We're going to go for the gap between them and the island. If they come our way I'm ready to leap out of the boat and make a mad dash for the island.
As we get near them they erupt as their huge grey forms splash through the water issuing loud threatening grunts of disapproval. Thankfully they all head away from us and not towards us, as we slip through the gap with them still hurling insults at us. I'm left thinking "This is Africa. This is adventure”
It means "Howzit?"
And the answer is "Awesome".
Part of the awesomeness, besides the beauty is the tranquility.
Walking barefoot all day in the soft sand. Soaking up the stunning scenery.
Spotting hippos. Swimming in the river. Relaxing on a soft beanbag.
Lying under a shady tree. Definitely...awesome.
As the sun sinks behind us turning the river golden brown we head out to have a bath. Not just any bath - but a bath experience. We grab some logs of wood and light a fire under the donkey boiler to get warm water. Soon we are seated in a warm bubblebath tub set atop a platform suspended over the river. What a setting to reflect on our day, to watch hippos, to hear the fish eagle cry. A tepid wind stirs the reeds on the river bank. Africa is preparing to sleep once again. Soon night's dark veil will be drawn and a new chapter will begin...
For more information on Ngepi Camp in Namibia see here!
Sparks rising from the campfire.
For more information on Ngepi Camp check it out here!
We’re en route to Ngepi in the Caprivi Strip, leaving behind the hot and dry planes of Etosha. The road is tarred, which is great although the wind which has turned the sky into a grey dusty blur continues. "Oh to see the sun again," I think to myself as we drive. I can't remember what blue looks like. Here's hoping the wind lets up before we reach Ngepi.
As we turn down the dirt track for the last few kilometers to our destination we begin to wonder what we are in for. Various signs mark the 3km dirt track as we bounce along towards our destination, such as, "All 4x4 drivers engage four wheel drive, diff lock, low range and cross your fingers. All other drivers continue driving as normal." The humorous signs continue giving us hope that this could be a great camping spot.
Finally, we arrive. We leap out of the car in anticipation. We're greeted by an amazing looking reception area. An open, thatched area which houses the reception and pub flows onto a lawn - grass - 🎶🎵 - and from there to a deck set on the edge of a huge river, part of the Okavango Panhandle. Wow! We've never seen so much water and lush tropical forest in Namibia. Wow...did I say that already?
Soon we are headed to our campsite which is close enough to walk to the bar area - important - but far enough away to be private. It's on the edge of the river and surrounded on all sides by trees creating a private, shady and grassy 🎶🎶 campsite. Wow...OK, I'm overdoing that "wow", but it is. The sound of birds fills the air mingling with hippos grunting in the river.
Ngepi Lodge is full of character, as the funny signs hinted at. The toilets and showers are another example. All the toilets are open air toilets surrounded by pole fences. But they are amazing - flushing toilets with basins and mirrors, set in stunning surroundings. As we explore we find a closed area with a sign saying "Ladies please remain seated during the entire performance". We enter to see what is inside. I'm wondering if it's a lapa for shows. It's not. It's another toilet with trees growing all around it.
As our campfire crackles on the banks of the river the evening silence is punctuated by roars - not lions but hippos. The ground almost shudders as their roars reverberate through the evening air. What an amazing place. Let's just hope the hippos don't decide to graze on us and our tents as we sleep tonight, because there's nothing between those roaring beasts of the river and us besides a few millimeters of fabric. Africa...only in Africa.
"I'll make some coffee," I mumble to Nicky as the early morning light seeps into our tent. It feels like I'm sleeping in a tropical jungle because outside the birds are welcoming the new day with a chorus of song. However, there's not going to be coffee...not yet at least. "You have to come and see this," I call from outside where I've gone to turn the gas cooker on.
Nicky emerges and we watch a fiery ball of orange slowly lift its huge bulk above the trees across the river. It reaches out towards where we are standing on the river bank with a golden finger as though beckoning us to experience the adventures of the new day. Sipping filter coffee while enjoying the slow rhythm of the river as it slips by, we watch a herd of buffalo come down to drink.
As the day warms up quickly we decide to go and try the "World's first hippo and croc cage dive”. It's a floating swimming pool suspended in the the river. As I dip my feet in the scary feeling of what lies below the dark brown water tingles my spine. Eventually I throw caution to the wind and leap in. It's dark and eerie but deliciously refreshing as I burst out the water as quickly as I plunged in.
Negpi is not just about the beauty of this tropical, desert oasis, it’s about sustainability too. We have heard from Mark, the owner of Ngepi, that he wants Ngepi to be “the most environmentally friendly camp in the world.” And so we head out on a tour with Rob, the manager, to see what they are doing. "We are 100% solar," Rob says as we look at an array of solar panels in a field. He shows us a building that houses banks of batteries that provides all the power for all the campsites, chalets, etc. Amazing what we can achieve from the power of the sun.
I have never been to a place where the ablutions are such a feature. You want to go to the toilet or have a shower, just for the experience. Every one of these is different, and even these tell a story. We arrive at two showers set side by side. The signs indicate one as "Today" and the other as "Tomorrow".
"Today," says Rob as we enter the shower, "is lush and tropical." Inside there are trees and the shower has been integrated into this natural beauty. "However," continues Rob as we exit "Today" and enter “Tomorrow". “Tomorrow is not going to be good if we continue treating the earth like we are!" Inside the shower is barren. Concrete. No trees. A painted tin saying "toxic waste" and no hot water - which Joshua found out when he went to shower there. I’m impressed. Who would of thought of even using your ablutions to teach important lessons, while making them so much fun.
Rob continues to explain various other projects Negpi is involved in like the wood project to stop deforestation of the area, the tree project to provide income and help re-establish decimated areas, the recycling plant, the organic vegetable garden, and more. By the end of the tour, I’m not only convinced Mark’s vision is achievable, I’m exicted about it - because he’s managed to not simply try create an eco-sensitive camp, but care for the local community and educate visitors too.
Tomorrow we will be doing something totally different. Totally crazy, we’re going to get up close and personal with the river… (to be continued)