Africa: The Last Leg

Already on the beautiful island of Zanzibar we were planning the last leg of our African trip. This meant some frantic online searching for safari-equipped 4X4s and of course our plane tickets to get back to Namibia. We managed to secure both, although waiting until the last minute to book our bush and camping-equipped 4X4 was not a good idea in retrospect- it was the end of April which is the beginning of the busy season, and these vehicles are in high demand. We finally found one though with a very reputable company (this is also a very important consideration when renting in Namibia), Savanna Car Hire in Windhoek. We got ourselves a Toyota Hilux double cab equipped with a rooftop tent, fridge, and all the camping and emergency road gear you can think of for a 15-day rental which set us back around $100 per day with all of our insurance included- not bad when you consider that you are completely self-sufficient for that period of time. The only other expenses you can expect are the camping fees which average around $30 per site and, of course, fuel. There are however plenty of places in Namibia where you can find a secluded place to pull over and set up camp without paying any fees at all, but if it’s the fancy washrooms with showers, restaurants and many times even swimming pools you want, you will need to pony up on the campsite.

Our first night in the desert

If you're going to drive in Africa, you gotta learn the signs!

Having been to Namibia a few months prior on our overland tour, we knew there were some places we wanted to return to and spend some more time in, namely some areas in the Namib Desert, Spitzkoppe, and Etosha National Park. As well there were also places that we wanted to explore for the first time such as some areas off the beaten track in the Damaraland and Kaokoveld regions. As with any road trip there would also be some more impromptu stops and in some cases these would prove to be among the highlights of the trip. So, a portion of our road trip was planned and at other times we changed our course and decided to wing it, but our 15 days went without a hitch and we loved every minute of it.

Inside Dead Vlei

Another scene from Dead Vlei

After leaving Namibia’s capital of Windhoek we headed south into the Namib Desert, spending our first few days around the incredible sand dunes and desertscapes of Sossusvlei. We started our mornings before the sun came up and usually didn’t return to camp until well after sunset. Not only are the times around sunrise and sunset the most photogenic, they are also the moments of the day that offer some reprieve from the oppressive temps that is all to common in this part of the country. Many afternoons the mercury climbed to well over 40 degrees Celsius. After we had our fill of the desert we headed towards the Skeleton Coast until just north of the Cape Cross Seal Reserve which is a real treat for all your senses! Here the mornings can be downright chilly and the winds blustery but its rugged scenery is well worth checking out. We then headed inland again spending a couple of nights in one of our favourite places… Spitzkoppe. We were blown away by its beauty the first time around and knew that we couldn’t leave Africa without becoming a little better acquainted with the area.

An oryx poses pretty, Sossusvlei

The seal colony at Cape Cross

Spitzkoppe by night

We then pushed further into Damaraland through the Brandberg area and onto the incredible territory of Twyfelfontein. This region was a spontaneous stop for us and became one of the trip’s highlights. It was here where we discovered many amazing petroglyphs that dated nearly 5000 years old. It was also in this area where we hung out with a herd of over 30 endangered desert elephants and spotted a couple of cheetahs to boot! From Twyfelfontein the roads became progressively worse which signaled our arrival into the Kaokoveld (Kunene) region. This area is arid at best but the further north we pushed, beautiful Baobabs became more prevalent. At some points we couldn’t have been more than 30 kilometers from the Angolan border but we based ourselves out of Opuwo, the hub of the Kaokoveld and the capital of Namibia’s northern tribal lands. The town itself is a hubbub of activity. OvaHimba push shopping carts through the supermarket aisles, Herero women trade their wares in the streets, and groups of Zemba girls hang out on the corners. It's truly a colourful display of life. We did head out to one Himba village not too far from Opuwo which was a nice insight into their culture and a fun afternoon. This experience was much more positive than the one we endured during our overland tour. This time it was just us, our interpreter, and a village full of Himba women and children who were just as happy to spend time with us as we were with them.

One of the petroglyphs in the Twyfelfontein area

Desert elephants, Twyfelfontein

Himba woman near Opuwo

After leaving Opuwo we made a beeline for Etosha National Park, entering from its westernmost gate. We spent our first night at Okaukuejo and our remaining nights at Halali, our favourite of Etosha’s camps. We had such great experiences with Etosha on our Nomad overland tour, but nothing could have prepared us for all the wildlife we spotted during our days of self-driving in the park. We really got to know some of the animals during this time; their habits and schedules, which made tracking them a whole lot of fun. Being in your own vehicle you can also spend as much (or as little) time as you want with each animal encounter. During our time in Etosha we saw more animals that make sense to list, and slept each night under the stars with the calls of the wild all around us. These were also very early mornings and late returns to camp, but there can be no question that the best time for wildlife viewing is during the early morning and late evening hours. We were rewarded royally one morning when a lone leopard crossed our path. The sun just came up, and it was just the leopard and us- one of our favourite experiences for sure! After Etosha we spent a couple of nights in the Waterberg region and that took us to the end of our 15-day road trip through Namibia. We put on a staggering 4,700 kilometers in those 15 days but man… was it worth it!

Night shot of a rhino at an Etosha waterhole

Male lion at the golden hour, Etosha

Early morning encounter with our leopard

Two exhausted lionesses and six reasons why!

Another male, another golden hour

A lone lioness and acacia tree

A black-backed jackal scurries along

We caught the Windhoek to Cape Town bus a couple of days later and there in Cape Town is where we enjoyed our last six days on the African continent. After four months we had come full-circle to the city we had started our journey, and one of our favourite cities in the world. We rented a car for a couple of days to explore some of the other sights scattered around the Western Cape and fell even deeper in love with the area. There can be no doubt that our trip to Africa was epic and one we will always remember and one we will probably always want to replicate. Seven countries and four months of experiences that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. But this will not be the last we see of Africa!

The colourful surf shacks at Muizenberg beach

 

Advertisements

Cape Town (…is more than just a town!)

Never before have our feet tread upon the African continent, but this is where we now are, and will be, for the next four and a half months. Over the past 14 years we've travelled Asia extensively, and this year we decided it was time for change. Africa seemed like a good change. After a very long flight we arrived in Cape Town in the southwestern-most tip of South Africa. For someone who's never been to Africa before, no other city could break you in more gently than Cape Town. Due to a date cancellation of our original overland camping trip, we had 12 days to explore Cape Town- far more time than we ever like to spend in a city, but we soon discovered that Cape Town is so much more than just a city.

Our first couple of days were spent jumping from office to office sorting out visas for our upcoming visit to Namibia as well as attempting to get an extension on a South African one (note: if you are Korean and want to spend more than 30 days in South Africa, get your visa BEFORE you come). When not dealing with bureaucratic bullsh!t we walked… and walked a lot! We walked through the colourful old Muslim section, Bo-Kaap, and walked to the V&A Waterfront- a lively place of art, food and shops. We walked throughout the CBD and walked through Woodstock and District Six. We walked up and down Long Street probably a dozen times. We walked through the Company's Gardens and we walked up Lion's Head. Then we got a bus pass!

Walkin' around Bo-Kaap

One thing we also did during our first few days in Cape Town was take the City Sightseeing Bus (the “Red Bus”) which is a great way to orientate yourself to the city and it's surrounds. Touristy, yes, but fun and informative too. It does a very handy circuit through the city and outskirts as well. Camps Bay, Clifton, Sea Point, Hout Bay, Kirstenbosch and Constantia (as well as many more) are all included stops along its routes, and you can get on and off as you please.

One of the things that make Cape Town such an enjoyable place to walk around is its architecture- a blend of styles left behind by each colonial period with a few home-grown treats in between. Dutch, Victorian, and more than its fair share of art-deco buildings can all be admired in Cape Town. But the pièce de résistance of Cape Town has to be its iconic Table Mountain. Visible in one form or another from nearly everywhere on the Cape, it's a mountain, a national park, and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature (of which we have now been to 5). It even has its own plant kingdom (1 of only 6 in the whole world)- the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is home to more than 2,200 species of flowering plants alone. It also supports a huge array of wildlife (over 300 species of birds), from penguins and ostriches to zebras and klipspringers- Table Mountain NP has it all. But it is its dramatic beauty that makes the mountain so special. On one side the mountain appears completely flat on top, hence its 'table' name. The backside however reveals an altogether different mountain as the “Twelve Apostles” drop dramatically into the Atlantic Ocean. The native Khoi inhabitants referred to the mountain as 'Hoerikwaggo' which meant 'mountain in the sea'- a name very fitting if looking at it from Bloubergstrand. It is also a hiker's paradise with hundreds of kilometers of trails winding their way around and on top of the mountain and all the way out towards Cape Point. For those not up to the task of climbing to the peak, there's a really cool cable car that rotates 360 degrees as it whisks you to the summit. Without a doubt, a visit to Cape Town would not be complete without a visit to Table Mountain.

Table Mountain as seen from Lion's Head

On one day we rented a car and drove out to Camps Bay and along the Atlantic coast via the stunning Chapman's Peak Drive and on to Cape Point (a part of Table Mountain NP) and the Cape of Good Hope. The views along this drive are breathtaking and a highly reccommended route to take. We then carried on to Simon's Town and Boulders Beach to visit the resident penguin colony- a feast for all the senses!

The penguin colony @ Boulders Beach

Another day we devoted to the more sinister history of Cape Town- the Cape Town under apartheid rule which uprooted tens of thousands of blacks and coloured people from their homes in District Six and other areas and relocated them to the townships of the Cape Flats. The District Six museum is a good starting point to collect information and stories from the former residents followed by a walk through the now barren spaces of District Six itself. After that we took a tour through two of the largest and oldest townships in Cape Town; Langa and Gugulethu. Our guide that day brought us to his own home in Langa (a closet-sized room actually) which he shared with eight of his family members. The washroom in the building was a one sink, one toilet affair that was shared with all of its 40 residents. It was a harsh and sombre reality that this still exists today. But the people of the townships are proud of what they have and strong for what they've endured, and if you ask them you will hear the same answer over and over again- they wouldn't want to live anywhere else. This doesn't mean that they wouldn't like to upgrade their living standards, it simply means that the townships are their home, their community, their support systems, and no one will ever take that from them again. My only advice to anyone taking these township tours is this: make sure that the tour you're signing up for benefits the townships you're visiting- not all tour companies give back to the communities they visit, and try to support the communities first hand while you're there. This doesn't mean giving handouts to begging children (in fact you should never do this) or even buying handicrafts you don't want, it simply means try buying your water or drinks from a local shop or eating at a local restaurant. We had the most amazing braai at a local restaurant in Gugulethu run by the sweetest woman. Just saying!

Chasing ostriches near Cape Point

Before coming to South Africa we were inundated with warnings and statistics on how dangerous of a place it can be. Having never been to Africa before we listened and were somewhat apprehensive about our upcoming travels. But after arriving in Cape Town (a city with a staggering annual homicide rate of over 2,200) we were soon relieved at what we saw and as soon as we dropped our guards we were exposed to all the good and beauty the city had to offer. But Cape Town is more than just a city- it's the mountains, the scenery, the greenery, the outdoor activities, the views, the beaches, the flora and fauna and the coastlines. Then there are the vibrant neighbourhoods, the waterfront, the architecture, the food, the wine, the people, the good times. Cape Town is a beautiful city full of beautiful people. Drop your guard and embrace this city and you will be rewarded. It is a destination in itself. We had 12 days to discover Cape Town and I think we got to know it fairly well, but we left it wanting more. Luckily we have a few more days to spend here before we fly home in June.