Now that was a great night's sleep. Aircon. King-sized bed. Blissful. We awake to a new day and a new journey from Kasane and begin our southward bound travels back towards South Africa. We bid farewell to this oasis and the unmistakable smell of African luxury - polish and thatch.
It's an easy drive on great roads as we head from Kasane towards Elephant Sands, just outside Nata, about 300km away. We hit one road stop and are worried we might lose our meat, but thankfully they don't search the car and we just have to do the requisite “stand on the mat” thing….to kill bugs…we seem to have done this enough times.
We spot the turnoff to Elephant Sands wondering what it will be like. The road is sandy so we quickly engage four wheel drive so as not to have a repeat of yesterday. As we approach the lodge we see that the name is given for a good reason. A herd of elephant are drinking from the waterhole right in the center of the lodge. It's amazing. This is really up-close-and-personal…but it’s about to get even closer!
We are standing about 5m from the herd as they drink. All that separates us is open space and a slightly raised pool deck area. The African sun is doing its thing and soon we are cooling in the pool, sipping a beer and watching the herd drink right in front of us. Our chalet has a great view of the waterhole so we decide to sit there and enjoy our sundowners as the sun dips towards the horizon. We put our chairs in the shade on the side of our chalet and I decide I'll use this time to do some podcast recording. Soon I have my laptop setup up in this blissful environment and am busy recording a scene when suddenly a sixth sense causes me to turn around.
A massive elephant is making its way silently to the waterhole from behind us and is only a couple of meters behind us. With a yelp Nicky and I leap up and make a mad dash for the safety of our verandah while the large dusty grey elephant saunters by. Eish…Africa is crazy.
Soon I'm settled down again and all is good. I'm midway through another scene when I hear someone clapping on the verandah. I look up with irritation to see who has messed up my recording to see that I'm being warned of several elephant heading my way from the waterhole in front of me. A hasty retreat to safety is necessary. It seems my idyllic position is not really ideal for video recording as I'm on the elephants' path.
After rustling up a mince and nachos dinner we decide to stroll back to the pool area to watch the herd drinking at night. More and more elephants arrive. We see their huge dark forms silhouetted by the full moon as they emerge out of the bush. The waterhole is a hive of activity. Slurping, rumbling, stomping and the occasional trumpet of warning. Thick dust hangs in the air mingling with the wet earthy smell of the elephants.
Seated just meters from them it feels like we are in the middle of the herd. Every now and then one of them walks towards us causing a hasty retreat as their massive forms loom too close for comfort. Their thirst seems insatiable as they spend hours slurping the water while more elephant arrive. It's a spectacular scene lit by the dull light of the full moon.
However there is one big challenge. Getting back to our chalet. There is a constant stream of elephants appearing out of the darkness from all directions and leaving the waterhole again. Our chalet is in the path of on one of their main routes. We huddle together standing by the edge of the restaurant peering out into the silvery darkness looking for a safe path. Several large elephant are too close for us to walk and are looking at us. We retreat.
“Ok, family,” I say after five minutes, “this is our chance.” There are several groans of objection from the kids citing their youth and non-preparedness for an early demise as reasons to wait longer. However, we push on. Most of the herd is now on our left near the waterhole. They are at least 5 meters away! Several others have walked off towards our right but are off our direct path.
We scuttle quickly in the light of the moon toward a log, using it as some form of cover. A dark shape looks ahead. We freeze. It moves silently off. We dash and with several elephant coming up from our left we just make the safety of our chalet in time. The children will get to live another day - and more than that, celebrate the amazing invigoration of having lived that day in the incredible majesty and adventure of Africa.
We’ve left the excitement of Zambia’s Devil’s Pool and the majesty of Victoria Falls behind and headed back into Botswana in search of adventure. We’ve lived in some quite rustic spots lately, and so we are doing a civilization reset with a couple of days staying at the Mowani hotel in Kasane…Eish! Hotel! That’s a first for us on our trip. Electricity, own bathroom…with running water…aircon…paradise.
“I think we should go to Chobe,” Nicky wakes me up dissolving my vision of a sedate day at the lodge. She's right. We are all the way here, let's do it. The girls opt for aircon and pools and Nicky, Josh and I head out to explore Chobe. After parting with about R400 - that's costly for just three people - we enter the park in search of the big game. However, it's not the big game we're expecting that we will find. We see lots of kudu, elephant and some amazing bird sightings. However the “big game” is avoiding getting stuck. The roads are Mozambique-style roads - thick and crazy sandy. We spend more time plotting routes and approaches than looking for animals.
After engaging everything including low range and diff lock we decide to take a direct road back. This turns out to not be a good idea. We had thought because the road was not along the river, like that previous road we had been driving, it would be better. We are wrong. It's worse. Very thick sand and hilly.
Nicky closes her eyes as we approach a particularly daunting hill ahead. I put foot giving Pajey full torque. We slide and slither up the thick sand. “Oh no!” I say, which causes Nicky to open her eyes. A vehicle is coming down the track in the opposite way. “You don't move,” Nicky yells. So I hold my course refusing to budge off the road in the hope that he will try and drive off to the side into the even thicker sand. He's going nowhere either. He knows he will be stuck. Eventually as we are nearly on top of him and he's fishtailing towards me I pull to the right…and immediately come to a grinding halt.
To say that Nicky is not particularly enamoured with me is an understatement. However all is not lost. I am able to slowly reverse backwards down the track while Nicky gesticulates furiously at the other vehicle making it clear they must move aside. Eventually, he decides to move aside rather than face the glaring Nicky, and with a lot of scary sliding he manages to get slightly off the track. Giving Pajey full throttle again we slither and slug past him finally making it up the hill.
It's a long drive…or at least it feels that way with us not relishing the thought of getting stuck and having to dig ourselves out in 40c heat with wild beasts everywhere. Thankfully we make it and are soon cruising back homeward bound on a tar road again. Josh has loved the whole experience and wants to do it again…but I fear his mom is not that much into 4x4 adventures.
We have decided to do a cruise on the Chobe because it is famous for its amazing elephant sightings. Grabbing our snacks we are soon seated on the boat by 3:30, grateful that it has a roof to protect us from the sun. The river is glass smooth and we enjoy some magnificent sightings of elephant - close up. As they beach the boat, so we can watch an elephant close by on an island, it decides to walk right up to the boat and then into the water. It's magnificent being so close to them. Later we see more elephant crossing the river with a small baby in tow. The baby literally vanishes under the water, with its trunk popping out of the surface every now and then for air. Somehow it makes it, cooled down and faithfully following mom.
After witnessing another unforgettable sunset over the river, we finally return home. The boks are playing again, and this is one of the few occasions we have a TV - in our own room. They had better not let us down. Thankfully they don't as they hammer Samoa. Now that was fun. Lying in the cold aircon room we let the sweet call of sleep claim us. It's our final night of luxury. Aah, enjoy, tomorrow we're on the move again as we begin to head south, towards home.
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)
We are on our way again and headed to the famed Etosha. Etosha means “the great white place” - and you can see why. Everything is covered in a fine layer of white dust. Even the animals. The zebras are more like albino zebras. The trees look like they’re covered in snow - except for one thing. It’s over 40c!
It doesn't take long before we see what this vast open white barren landscape offers. Huge herds of animals clustered around the meager water supplies or huddled under the pitiful shade offered by the tiny trees. We pull up at a dam and hundreds or springbok, zebra, giraffe and wildebeest are standing languidly around the pan. Impressive. We never see such vast numbers of animals in South Africa.
Within an hour our list includes springbok, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, oryx (aka pie bucks), jackal…and then…lion! They are right on the side of the road and we pull up next to them. They fix us with their beady golden eyes and I recall the recent incident where lions ate a tourist. There's a thrill being just a meter away from this amazing animal. We snap millions of photos as we soak in the sight.
A little later we come upon Etosha - literally. A herd of elephant who are white with the dust of Etosha. Spectacular. The sightings are amazing but we must get to our campsite. So we head towards Halali campsite. Here's hoping for green grass and shady trees.
“Eish!” we exclaim as we arrive. White dust swirls in the wind while the oppressive heat strangles everything in a constricting tourniquet. We look at this and wonder how we will put up our tents in this harsh environment. Should we wait till its cooler? Finally we decide to bite the bullet…or dust, and just do it. We crack open a beer and within 45 mins we have setup camp and are headed to the pool.
As the sun sets we head to a waterhole at the campsite. It's like a movie theater. Loads of quiet people are seated staring out at the waterhole. We find a secluded rock and are soon sipping wine and watching God's imax as the fiery African sun sinks in red and orange splendor into the dusty horizon. The small waterhole turns gold as birds twitter excitedly welcoming the cool. It's like the end of a battle. A battle between light and dark - heat and cold. The earth relaxes. It breathes a sigh of relief as the sounds of the evening fills the air like a celebration of the end of this war. Tranquility. Peace. Bliss.
Our first night in Etosha was great and we awake feeling refreshed. The night chilled considerably ensuring that we had a great sleep. While the nights are cool the day quickly warms and we decide to go and check out the pan attached to our campsite. We are treated to black faced Impala, that only occur in this area. After soaking up the sights and ambiance of the waterhole we head out on a game drive in search of game.
Alas it's not as successful as our experience yesterday. We bounce along the corrugated roads for about two hours but don't see much. “I think we should head back,” someone wise suggests and we all agree. We are hungry and the animals are on vacation. Back at the camp we satiate our never ending thirst and hunger pangs and leap repeatedly into the pool to cool down. It's a great way to spend an afternoon. Laptop + pool = Productive Work. The only issue is the internet here is like sucking triple thick milkshake though a hollowed out piece of dental floss…Painfully slow.
We return to the waterhole at the campsite. This evening we are treated to a rare sighting - three black rhino. I haven't seen black rhino in ages and it's a treat to watch them, of course made even better with a crispy white wine.A cloak of clouds is spread over the sky which is acting like a duvet cover for the land and not allowing the heat to escape. “Hey look at that rhino,” I whisper in a muted voice to the kids, “is that something coming out its butt? Is it having a baby?” We all look carefully trying to see as the orange light of the spotlight casts an eerie, dusty color on everything. The one rhino does seem to be separate from the other two and acting strange but it's hard to see for sure. So we decide to wait…and wait…and wait. Eventually the rhino moves off into the bush and although we can hear it we can't see it.
Wait…wait…silence. The only sound is the occasional crashing of rhinos moving in the darkness.
A small rabbit tentatively drinks water from the hole. A black backed jackal scurries past. A female kudu, obviously startled by something bounds into the light only to go bouncing off again into the darkness.
Wait…silence. Stars. That's great, at least the duvet cover has lifted.
Eventually at 11:30pm we call it quits. Was that a baby rhino? Did she have it? Maybe we will find out tomorrow? Africa's story is always being written. For now we will sleep and await her next chapter tomorrow.
As the camp stirs in preparation for the day the sounds easily penetrate our tent rousing us from our night's sleep. “Let's go to the waterhole,” Nicky suggests. So we get dressed - which here in the wild is simple - switch pajamas for shorts worn yesterday, shirt is already on, and you're done. However there is no sign of the rhino.
We're expecting great things today after the nearly-maybe rhino birth. Yesterday Nicky was gifted by the blue bird of happiness. Joshie had pointed out the blue birds all around us - starlings - and a few minutes later one deposited it's load on Nicky, shaking it's butt to make sure everything was out. With this direct gift from the blue bird of happiness surely some great thing must be coming, and we are in for a treat we will soon find out.
We head out and are soon questioning the wisdom of our decision. The roads are trying on vehicle and driver as we bounce over ruts and corrugations. The sky takes on its dark hue as the rising heat mingles with the white dust.Etosha is all about the massive 120km pan that for most of the year is dry. We've skirted the pan but we are now on a road that takes us out into the pan. The road ends and we get out of the car.
White. Endless white stretches out merging in a blurry line with the white-dark sky. It's eerie, amazing, stark, endless. If you walked out there you would soon be lost in a void of featureless white. Chatting to a ranger we find out that a baby rhino was spotted.Could that be the end of our story?
The heat drives us back into the car and we decide to head back via one last waterhole. As we come upon the waterhole we are treated to an amazing sight, or as Nicky says, “This was the one thing I really wanted to see in Etosha.” It's two elephant bathing in the pan. We sit watching them wallow in the cooling water at stages almost completely submerged before they reappear again. These huge beasts know a good thing when they find it - and now that we've had Nicky's bluebird it's time for us to take the hint from them and retreat to the cool of our waterhole - the swimming pool at the campsite.
As the sun begins to set we head to our spot - the waterhole.
A fiery ball muted by earth's dusty mantle.
The water turns to polished gold.
A lone rhino.
She rubs her leathery hide on a worn log.
From white to black
She emerges from the golden liquid.
A heavy foot falls.
Dust rises in warning.
Suddenly galloping hooves.
A lone rhino.
Doves flutter in unison with their mirrored twin.
The earth waits.
Her breathe held.
He emerges alone.
Seemingly birthed by the violet darkness.
A deep rumble of excitement.
He races towards the water’s silent offer.
His mother following rumbles her displeasure.
The glass is shattered by dipping trunks.
Thirst is satiated.
Africa's dusty mantle washed off once more.
As silent, as swift, they are gone.
A lone rhino.
Finally even color departs.
A silent vigil.
The earth sighs.
Swakopmond has been luxury. Great accommodation and the best coffee we have found since our favourite coffee spots more than 2000km away in Franschhoek, South Africa. But now it's time for the wilds again, and now we are headed to Spitzkoppe, a relatively short two-hour journey, although as always it includes 40km of gravel road.
It's 3:30pm when we arrive at the Spitzkoppe campsite, and the mercury is a whisker below 40c. This place must be torture in summer. Huge boulders rise above us…the Spitzkoppe I assume. Nicky leaps out to find out about where we are camping. We're in for a surprise. The campsites have no water, no electricity, and open-air long drop toilets. Eish! In Richtersveld we were expecting it…but this has taken us by sirprise…plus we’ve just come from the flat-white, air-conditioned luxury of our last place. Nothing like brusselsporuts after icecream - Hmm, not sure that analogy works as I prefer brusselsprouts to icecream, but I’m sure you get the idea.
We drive to check out the sites.
They're right. There's nothing. There’s only one thing we can do…go to their outdoor pub!
Beer, soaking in the outback environment and all feels good. We're also welcomed by two very friendly and very tame meerkats. It looks like these little fellas could add lots of fun to our experience here, but now we need to figure out our sleeping plan before it gets dark.
There's a covered shadecloth area next to a huge towering boulder. We decide to forget tents and just sleep outdoors under the shade cloth. If we are going to be in the wild, let’s embrace it with two hands…and a mouthful of dust - and hopefully not too many scorpions.
The evening is sealed with the perfect trio - watching a beautiful sunset from atop a giant boulder, sitting around a camp fire braai, lying on top of a giant boulder marvelling at the Milky Way and counting shooting stars. But now we must retire to our rudimentary campsite. Here’s hoping the wind doesn’t blow!
We survive! The night started warm but slowly as the desert cooled the temperature dropped. However, the wind remained away and our little gypsy shelter kept us all warm. The two resident meerkats are around. They are extremely cute and more than happy to be held when they're in the mood.
Nicky has discovered we can hire an electric bike for R200 for the day. So we grab the two they have and set out to explore. We soon discover what camping here is meant to be. There are some stunning remote campsites - as long as you are self equipped - own water, cooking equipment etc. - which we are. They're framed by huge smooth boulders that make excellent shelters and stunning backdrops. We scale one and sit and soak up the quietness. “You know what?” I say to Nicky as we sit enjoying the majesty of this place, “next time, now that we know what this place is about, we must camp out here in the wilds.” She nods her agreement… “next time” being tactitly assumed. If we were traveller-explorers before, we’re now addicted traveller-explorers! Nothing can be done to cure this problem, but feed the need!
Riding the gravel roads on the electric bikes is blissful ease. No effort required as they power effortlessly along under their battery power. To make us feel like we are doing something we occasionally spin the pedals. It’s like riding a magic carpet, through a fantasy world, as we silently fly along the roads in amongst massive boulders cast like a giant’s discarded die.
We’ve discovered the perfect lunch spot and so returning back to the campsite we pack our vittles and head out to The Arch. It’s a giant rock arch suspended miraculously in the air above another large boulder. We all clamber up and seat ourselves in the welcome shade of the arch and soon the sizzle of jaffles on the gas burner mingles with the clink of ice in our Sauvignon Blanc. Not bad for “roughing it”. Yet another truly epic picnic spot.
A group of tourists, from one of the many large overlanders we’ve seen, appear. These overlanders typically arrive in the late afternoon, setup camp, eat, and leave early the next morning. The trips are all about how many places can you see in how few days. Been there…done that! We watch as they snap a few photos of the arch and vanish as quickly as they appeared. “That’s not how I want to travel,” I say as I sip my wine. Everyone agrees. In fact that’s the difference between a tourist and a traveller. The tourist wants to see the sites, the traveller wants to experience the sites.
Back at the base we decide to grab an early shower. The open showers are warm and rejuvenate us leaving only one thing required. Something for the never-ending thirst of Africa. We settle at the pub sipping huge Rock Shandies, lying on the hammocks and playing with the meerkats. Another day in Africa!
Wait…the day is not over. There's still time for sundowners…of course! While Nicky drives the car Josh and I whizz along on the electric bikes as we head out to find the perfect spot to end another perfect day in Africa. We find a huge rock and we all clamber up it and enjoy the sunset as it paints the large rocks of Spitzkoppe the early evening hues of Africa’s special red. It’s rustic here. It’s dusty here. It’s remote here. It’s desolate here...It’s stunning here.
120 tyre carcasses in approximately 140km! That's the count of blown tyres lying on the side of the road, that I noticed - I'm sure I missed many - while traveling the gravel road from Sossusvlei towards Swakopmond in Namibia. The August issue of Go! Mag featured our family's year long adventure around Southern Africa. And what an incredible experience it has been. We are currently exploring the arid splendor of Namibia. However the start of our adventure here was tyre-ing!
Nearly 20,000km of traveling in South Africa, everything from the game reserves to the Richtersveld, and no problems. But just 80km of gravel road in Namibia and we get two punctures! Eish! We were left wondering how we would handle the thousands of kilometers of gravel roads we had planned ahead of us. And then we learned some vital tyre advice from experienced locals, for would-be gravel road travelers - whether driving on the diamonds of Namibia or the rough tracks of South Africa, advice I wish I'd known before we set out.
We've now driven thousands of happy kilometers on Namibia's diamond studded gravel roads with no problems. Of course this doesn't mean we won't have issues but I really wish I had known all of this tyre'fic advice earlier on. It would have saved us a lot of cost and worry. After all the places where adventure really lies are at the end of those 500km gravel roads. Next stop - Etosha, Caprivi, Botswana and beyond.