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?
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!
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)
Desert time. Today we are heading out to explore the desert with Batis Birding Tours. At 8am a cool looking 4x4 vehicle rocks up outside our accommodation. Now that's service! “Hi, I'm Dayne,” the friendly driver says. “Welcome to our Living Desert Tour.”
We are heading out to explore a portion of the world's oldest desert - the Namib desert that surrounds Swakopmond like a threatening tsunami. “Hmm?” I wonder to myself as we whisk along the streets en route to pick up another group . “What in the world can we see in a dry desert?” We've driven through and walked in this desert already on our adventures in Sossusvlei. Besides a few Oryx it's seems pretty devoid of life. Well that is besides the 202 tyre carcasses we counted from Sossusvlei to Swakopmond.
To experience the desert like never before join a tour here.
We've just spent three incredible nights in the Richtersveld. Wow. Off the grid - no electricity, no water, no signal, no fuel. Just endless epic wasteland. Now we're headed to The Growcery for some canoeing adventure on the Orange River. We bounce and negotiate our way out of the wilds of the Richtersveld finally arriving at Sendlingsdrift - which has nothing besides fuel.
I stop Pajey at the petrol station so we can refuel and Nicky heads out to find out about the border crossing. When I try and start Pajey he's asleep. I pop the hood and see that not only has the battery terminal come lose with the shaking, the entire mounting for the battery has broken. On closer inspection, I see it was attached by a cable tie and that's broken. After lots of effort, I manage to get another cable tie in. And then we discover we can't open the back boot. It's been giving us hassles, but now it's impossible. With lots of energy, I eventually manage to open it. By now I'm hot and greasy and time is slipping away.
We decide to take the “shortcut” via Namibia and then back into South Africa to our next destination - The Growcery. Yeah sure. Shortcut! Hours of border cursings - I meant to type “crossings” but autocorrect knew better and changed it. We finally get across enjoying the 30 second pont trip. Now open road...gravel...
“I can hear a strange noise,” I say after about 30 minutes of driving. I stop the car to check it out. Joy…the back wheel is flat. So much for tough and expensive Cooper tires. Oh well we will just have to change it and move on. It's a good spot to change a tire - if there's such a thing - because the road is flat and straight. However, there's a problem. The jack won't fit under the car with the tire flat. Well, that's very clever! We try and maneuver the car but it does not work. Finally, we have the idea of trying to inflate the tire and then put the jack under. It works and while sipping warm beer for sustenance we have the tire changed and are back on our way again.
Finally, eight hours later, four border posts, one battery problem, one tire problem, just before sunset we arrive at The Growcery. It's like an oasis. Green - welcoming, and it has a pub! “Where's the beer?” are my opening words.
“Hi, I'm Jason,” says a smiling young guy. “Welcome to The Growcery.” I seat myself at the beautiful outdoor pub with a cold beer in hand and complete the book-in form. Jason gives us the lie of the land - “We are a green, organic establishment,” he says. “We grow our own vegetables,” he says pointing at several vegetable patches, "we recycle everything,” and he explains the process to us. The Growcery seems like an oasis in the area. Admittedly we've just come from the harshness of the Richtersveld and our Namibian adventure but it is a green oasis. Lovely grass and trees in what otherwise is a dry area.
“Wow, hot showers and electricity,” I exclaim in joy. It's hard to explain this place. It's eclectic, hip, trendy, comfortable, tasteful, fun, vibey…something like that. For example the showers I was mesmerized with, they're not dark dank holes as is often the case at a camping spot. They're cleverly and trendily built with rocks and tin and are open to the sky above and even partially on the one side affording you an amazing view while luxuriating in a fantastic warm and full throttled shower.
The bar area is vibey and flows onto the green grass where lights dot the lawn and bar area at night pulling in thirsty campers like moths to the flame. We've just come from camping in the sand of the Richtersveld and so when we arrive at our campsite we are again hugely impressed. Grass…electricity…water. Wow. But it's more than this.
It's the layout, the details that show me the people who run this place are concerned with more than just camping but the experience of camping. An example is the welcome board at our site “Welcome to a the Growcery, Blewett Family” - It's a small touch but it's this detail that is everywhere. Another example are the amazing photo collages that decorate the walls of the toilet area, again details that make even the places where you wouldn't expect much, feel like you're at home.
Our grassy campsite is partitioned off by a tasteful pole fence and has a covered kitchen area on the one side and a large fire pit in the middle, while before us we have a stunning view of the river. A fish eagle cries. The sound of Africa and a fitting welcome to our new home for the next few nights.
Darkness descends and we sit sipping the requisite snifter. “Hi everyone,” a voice says behind us, “I'm Deván and I will be your guide tomorrow.” Aah, joy. The river rafting. One of the main reasons we have come here. Deván then learns all our names. Now that's impressive. Jason, who welcomed us did the same. It reminds me of the old TV program, Cheers - which had the song chorus, “where everyone knows your name.” We feel like part of the local family.
We're doing the half day river rafting on the Orange River. It covers a distance of about 15km which should be nice and leisurely. We meet at 10:30, a civilized time to begin an excursion, dump some vital fluids (aka beer) in a cooler box and board the vehicle that will take us to the start. “If you get hot open the window, it's Africa airconditiong,” says Jaym the other guide on our excursion. There's already an occupant seated in the vehicle, Kayla the dog. She knows where the actions happening and she's not missing out. Soon we are bouncing our way along the dirt road towards our start.
“OK everyone, these are the signals,” Jaym says as he explains the basics of river rafting to us. It's just our family and another family also with three kids but their youngest looks only about two years of age. Wow. Pretty adventurous family.
Soon we are in our Ark rubber ducks and paddling sedately down the river. The river is wide and smooth and our six boats are effortlessly gliding down the river. We notice another group also on the river however they have fiberglass canoes. “I'm glad we're in an Ark inflatible, they're much safer and easier to control,” I think as I watch the other group wobble down the river.
After about 30 minutes of sedate drifting Jaym stops his ark. We all bob nearby like obedient ducklings. “OK everyone. There's a rapid coming up. Follow my line. I will firstly go right...” and he explains the plan. Sounds good to me, let's get the action on.
Around the corner we can feel the pull of the river as it gains speed and up ahead we can see the rapids. “Yeehi,” I shout as we bump and bounce across the rapids. They're not big rapids but they are fun. We all emerge unscathed on the other side and are soon drifting in tranquility once again. Soon we see the lead raft heading to the side and we all follow and disembark.
“This is a really interesting geological area,” Jaym says. We've landed on the Namibian side of the river. The best border crossing I've done. No forms. No wait. And so beautiful. “It's a lava extrusion,” Jaym explains pointing at a huge black rock that looks like it's oozed its final hours into the river. He also points out fascinating petrified mud stones.
We're back in the river and the dotted farms and cabins give way to amazing cliff formations. A herd/pack/flock...whatever of cormorants perch on the rocks observing us while high above a fish eagle soars on the thermals. “We're having a floating lunch,” Deván says as we tie our canoes together bobbing beneath a massive rock cliff. Soon the guides are laying out a smorgasbord feast on one of the canoes complete with tablecloth, cutlery and the best setting for a lunch ever - literally floating on the river.
“Wow, this is good,” I exclaim as I tuck into my pasta salad, filled with fresh tomato, parma ham, basil, rocket, and more. I'm not sure if it's the organic goodness of Growcery's home grown food or the setting or both, but this is delicious and spectacular.
After a leisurely lunch, we set off again getting to experience sections of tranquil rowing where we marvel at the bird life and scenery plus a few small but fun rapids. As we near the end the canoe party stretches out a bit as everyone rows at their own pace soaking in the ambiance and tranquility. That's what this place is all about. Relaxing, experiencing, enjoying, living.
There's a sign hanging up in the pub area that says “Some people die at 25...but are only buried at 75” - The Growcery, the canoe adventure, is for those who are intent on living every moment of their life to the full. As Jaym said, when discussing the name Growcery, “It's not just because we grow all our own vegetables, it's about people growing through what they've experienced.” I certainly feel at least an inch taller...inside where it counts! We will be back...next time for the six-day river adventure. “Aah, now I know why this place is called the Growcery...it's the one reason they didn't mention. It's because being here grows on you. You just can't help it.”
To find out more about the Growcery or Orange River Rafting check out their website!
In an earlier post I shared our 8-hour adventure with, led by Caine our guide, to see one of apparently only two waterfalls in Africa that plunge directly into the sea (the other thousands of kilometers north). However what he shows us is not what we expect at all, it blows us away, as we explore the unsigned, unnamed, and unexpected places of the Wild Coast of South Africa. Click here to read about this adventure and our surprising discovery...or join us on a short video experience by watching the video below.