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!
Eish, it's cold. I must get these goats under cover. I know they are strong, but they will not survive outdoors in this snow. I pick up my stick to try and stop one of the stupid ones running into the road, luckily it jumps back because just at the moment a car comes around the corner. Everything is white, even the dirty goats.
One of our favourite places in South Africa is Franschhoek. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from the best coffee - and we're fussy on this front, to some of the best restaurants, to the fun European vibe, to the little town, to lots of places to enjoy a great glass of wine in a beautiful setting.
“Hey, but are you doing going on about Franschhoek…isn’t this blog about Clarens?”
It is indeed…and to me Clarens is the Franschhoek of the Free State, and possibly even Franschhoek on steroids!
After completing the crazy 90km Comrades marathon body alignment exercise, we are on the move again...black toenails and all, and our destination is Clarens. We're staying at Kiara Lodge, a timeshare resort about 10 minutes outside of Clarens. Our first shock is the weather. Brr! The sun is shining down boldly from above, casting a rich orange and red hue on everything, yet somehow it's more form than function. It's just not warm.
“This is the Free State in winter…sunny, fresh, but stunning,” I think to myself as Nicky and I float on the little dam at Kiara Lodge atop a paddle boat sipping our sundowners, soaking every sunray we can get like beleaguered lizards.
Yet what is amazing about this area is the Golden Gate Park. It's truly a stunning destination to visit. We set off on the Holkrans walk. It wends along the valley floor as it heads between towering rock structures on either side. At its end it curves around a large rock to reveal a massive cave. We scramble up into the cave and look out at the spectacular vista, framed by the cave, that our vantage point affords. Thick moss that must be centuries old grows on parts of the cave walls and is soft like some natural mattress.
A long set of wooden stairs leads up next to the cave. We clamber up them and the circular walk continues back along the ridge towards the hotel. It's surprises are not finished as the walk stops at more beautiful caves and amazing views of the valley below, framed by the endless blue sky above. It’s another world, and we are enjoying it all to ourselves.
A couple of days later we move to stay in a little cottage just 200m from Clarens town. Staying this close to Clarens means no need to drive anywhere because within walking distance are the best coffee places, incredible restaurants, walks, shops…everything. However there is one reason to drive - SKIING! Yes, you read right, skiing in Africa, it sounds like an oxymoron, but Clarens is the gateway to reaching Lesotho’s AfriSki resort.
It's early, in fact it's dark and we are up and today we are heading to AfriSki. After putting on our ski gear, which feels strange considering the brown hills around us, we clamber into Pajey and are on our way. It takes three hours to get to AfriSki, through border posts, along winding roads, over long winding narrow passes and past frozen waterfalls.
When we finally arrive at Afriski all the hills are brown and barren but AfriSki sports a single white strip like a line of Tippex fixing a mistake on the hills. The resort is empty - so we have chosen our day well and some clouds hang in the air with the promise of snow. The costs ramp up quickly for a day like today. There's the fuel…six hours worth, then entrance of R50 p.p. then ski hire and ski pass. We discover that half day prices start at 12 noon so we go for that. The end cost is about R500 p.p. which when I think about it is way cheaper than Europe!
We've brought the bum boards so spend some time sliding down a slope having find careening into the barrier at the bottom. We have about an hour before half day starts so we go to the pub. A warm log fire is crackling and we add a round of cappuccinos to complete the alpine experience. It feels surreal sitting in this snowy world with people clumping around in ski boots just hours from Clarens.
It's time to go get out gear and soon we are kitted and ready to hit the slopes. As we emerge out of the ski hire shop the snow begins to fall. It's the first snow they've seen in months. Huge soft flakes float gently down and soon everything begins to turn into a magical winter wonderland. We can't believe God's gift to us. It's stunning. It’s time to hit the slope….OK “slopette”. Only one slope is open, the bottom one, which provides a 10-second ride. Hey it’s Africa and we’re skiing…even 10 seconds is epic. We fly down it, we meander it, we try parallel skiing it, we try backwards, we even try doing circles. We just do fun.
By 3:30 we do our final run, savouring every moment. We have to head back now. I don't relish driving in snow on these mountain passes. As we descend the pass the snow starts to come down heavily blanketing the road in complete white and making driving much more challenging. “Watch out!” Nicky calls as I veer to the right to avoid a stray goat being chased by a blanket wrapped Basotho herder. His muddy goats are quickly turning white as the snow begins to blanket everything white.
Slowly the snow is left behind as we descend heading towards the border and Clarens beyond that. The sun dips in the horizon exploding the dramatic clouds into a pyrotechnic display. It’s as though the beauty cannot end, but then this the wonder of this beautiful part of Southern Africa…sip, shop, ski…sensational!
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.
Lazily I turn my head and lick the salt off my back. The sun is warm and the beach sand soft beneath where I am lying. A cool breeze carries a fine spray onto the beach as the waves tumble up the shore in their endless quest to gain higher ground. Just ahead I catch sight of a man coming out of the trees that hug the beach. Soon he is followed by more people, trailing behind him in a line like chickens following a hen. They pause momentarily before heading towards where I'm lying. As they come closer I watch them. A few of the other cows on the beach clamber to their feet and move away. But soon they have passed and are heading away down the beach towards the green hill that rises to touch the blue sky above. Lazily I turn my head and lick the salt off my back.
"28 kilometers! Are you crazy!" The kids are not exactly enamored about the idea of an 8 hour hike to see some waterfalls. However, we persist. As a family we are on a year tour of Africa - two daughters who have just completed school and a son who will need to be home/hut/car-schooled, plus two parents intent on experiencing it all. "One of our Africa Tour mottos is to Experience new things, so we are doing this," I say. Of course the teen girls are quick to retort, "But we have seen waterfalls before, it's not new." "You're right," I reply, "but walking 28 kilometers will be!"
Our guide, Caine arrives spot on time at 7am - Africa will always surprise you just when you think you have it figured out. After a brief explanation of the route we head on down the dirt road from the Pondo Hut where we're staying at the community run campsite in Mbotyi. The road winds down the hill and crosses a low bridge where the local women and young children washing their clothes in the river below call out greetings to us.
Shortly thereafter Caine leads us to a small local Spaza store, giving us an opportunity to buy some cold drinks for the walk ahead. The shopkeeper smiles and greets us as his two small children look curiously at the strange visitors. Soon we are stocked and on our way.
The path winds its way up a small hill and quickly enters a thick, dark forest. Huge trees frame the path like a tunnel. This incredible forest that stretches for miles in all directions is impenetrable and largely unexplored except for a few paths the locals use to traverse between villages. We feel like we are explorers deep within the Amazon jungle as we listen to the haunting sound of a crying baby coming from deep within the forest. "That's a Hornbill," our guide informs us, dispelling the mounting sense of trepidation. Long, tangled vines hang from the trees and butterflies dance in rays of light that occasionally penetrate the thick canopy above.
The path emerges from the dense forest into a new world. Hills carpeted with lush green grass roll out before us, dotted with colorful huts, all spread beneath a cloudless blue sky. We walk past lone huts with views that most of us would pay a fortune to own and finally emerge on the beach. We take off our shoes and our feet relish the soft powder white sand stretching down towards a tranquil azure sea.
A herd of cows lounge lazily on the warm sand of the beach - a familiar sight all along the Wild Coast. As we move towards them some clamber lazily to their feet and amble away. A large bull boasting huge curving horns watches us as we move towards him, but as we move on he flicks his head and turns to lick his hide, quickly returning to his restful somnolence.
Our path continues up from the beach across rolling green hills, over streams, and through stunning hidden valleys. Reaching the halfway mark towards our destination, we stop to swim in a cool river that cascades down a series of small waterfalls. It's a welcome break as the warm African sun begins to take its toll. It's a short break and soon Caine is leading us on - our destination, Waterfall Bluff beckons like a siren's irresistible call.
After 4 hours of brisk walking we arrive at the edge of a cliff with a steep path winding its way down. "Be careful here," Caine says, "it's far down there." The anticipation is mounting, we've walked far to see this spectacle. Yet we are careful as we descend as quickly as we can. The moment we have been looking forward to is near. And then we round the corner and the sight is spectacular, awe inspiring. There it is, one of only 19 in the world, one of only two in Africa, the only one in South Africa - a waterfall that falls directly into the sea,
A huge overhanging rock forms a cave at Waterfall Bluff where we settle down to have a picnic in one of the world's ultimate picnic spots. The giant waves roar in from the sea and smash against the towering cliff as if seeking to rise up and meet the water plummeting down from the waterfall. It's like watching a meeting of giants, from the secure, shaded shelter of a cave. We sit there enjoying our rest while staring transfixed at this titanic sight.
About 30 minutes later it's time to move on. "I want to show you more," Caine says in his perfect English, "let's go." We are reluctant to leave this spectacle, and the children who have not complained at all are also keen to stay longer. However we know it's a long hike back so we set off once again.
Just above the falls is Mamba Pool which tantalizingly invites the hot hiker into its cool embrace. It's a huge deep green, Olympic sized pool that refreshes us immediately as we dive into its refreshing depths. A cascading waterfall tumbles into the pool just above the pool before exiting below us to head on down to its final destination - Waterfall Bluff and the sea. It's a little scary swimming in the deep, dark pool as Caine has just informed us of the origin of the pool - "Once a large mamba snake was seen here!"
With wet clothes we head on, grateful for our cool clothing as the sun beats down relentlessly upon us. After about 20 minutes Caine once more leads us toward a bluff of rock jabbing out into the ocean. We're following, not sure if this is a view point or just the way back. To our surprise it's the former. A magnificent spire of rock with a huge hole in it, to rival the famed "Hole in the Wall" further down the coast, rises out the sea below us. It is truly stunning and totally unexpected!
"It's called the Cathedral rock," Caine says, as we look on in wonder. From our vantage point high up on the cliff, the Cathedral rock stands immutable like a lone sentinel in a swirling vortex of waves. Like Waterfall bluff there are no signs, no official viewpoints, in fact there is not even a defined path. How is it possible that such natural beauty lies so unacclaimed in this land? In any other country there would be paths, signs, photo spots...but then there would probably be shops selling postcards, guided video tours and a MacDonalds...maybe it's better this way. Undiscovered, and as beautiful as it has been since the dawn of time.
We could spend hours just looking at this sight, but we still have a long hike home. We set out with 5 liters of water, but now we are running low. The sun and the distance are taking their toll on our fluid supply. Everyone is thirsty and there is only a liter left with about 3 hours to go.
Following Caine as we wind back up green hills, marveling how he knows where he is going, we meet two woman carrying huge bags on their heads. "It's muscles," Caine says, "they are carrying them to their village up there," he says pointing to a village in the distance. The village looks to be about 10km away. The round trip must have been at least 25km or more, with half of it carrying 30 or more kilograms on their heads...barefoot, of course.
Our vague concerns about sore legs and thirst vanish as we look on in awe. We continue following our guide as he makes his way over hills and across grassy plains, seemingly following some hidden map. I'm watching the path as Caine had told us to be careful of snakes and so I don't realise where we are until I look up. It seems once more we are walking out onto a rocky outcrop.
"Be careful of the gap and the cliff. Go on your stomach" Caine says as we get close. "Secret falls is there," he says pointing down. We walk carefully over the gap and then lower ourselves and slide towards the edge of the cliff.
"What!" I reply, "that is..." words fail me at this point as I look down at the sight before me. "I don't understand," I begin again. "What is this falls called?" I ask again. "Secret falls," Caine replies. And what a secret it is! Here before us is another magnificent waterfall plunging directly into the churning sea below. This seems even bigger than Waterfall bluff that we saw earlier. The view is truly beyond words. The roar of the sea far below rises up carrying with it the smell of its salty spray. The waterfall cascades down a huge cliff plummeting into the sea far below - what a triumphal way for the river to end its long journey from the hills far away.
"I never knew there were two waterfalls that fall into the sea," I say to Caine, still stunned and transfixed by the sight. And as it turns out nor does the rest of the world. Wikipedia with all its collective knowledge lists just 19 such waterfalls and 2 in Africa. It's wrong! There are 20 waterfalls emptying into an ocean, and 3 in Africa, and 2 right here just kilometers apart! It's called Secret waterfall because that's exactly what it is. No path, no signs, no knowledge of its existence by our modern world. It's plummeted into the sea for millennia upon millennia, yet the world has not known, except for a few locals, like Caine who have enjoyed this sight for many years. Maybe this is the world's best kept "Secret" after all.
The rest of our walk back, despite the heat and thirst is almost euphoric. Finally after 9 hours of sensory indulgence we arrive back at Mbotyi beach. We plunge into the cool waters of the estuary and luxuriate in finally resting. I lie in the water thinking. We have just experienced the most incredible and beautiful walk possible. We have just witnessed the most astounding views and sights imaginable. And all of this was not because of some fancy tour or some signposted walk, it was made possible by our guide. A local, born and raised in this area. A local with a love of his land and a passion to share it. A local who is making a difference. This is how we should experience Africa, because in the experiencing we are also touching lives. And who knows, you may just see something that is such an incredible secret, the world does not yet know about it!
YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE LIKE CAINE: Our goal is to share the stories of "locals" who are making a difference in their communities and touching lives. In doing this we hope that we can help touch their lives too. Our ability to touch their lives is of course up to you. By sharing this story, more people will not only experience these incredible sights, but Caine and the local community will also benefit. Please click Share below to spread the word! If you would like to help Caine or find out more about the amazing activities he offers (horse trails, overnight hikes and more) then visit here for more details on how to contact him. No middleman - just straight to the local - and that makes all the difference!