Thursday, 11 January 2018

Africa Revisited. Self Drive Safari. Springbok to Cape Town.

The final leg of our journey. Day 33 we were back in South Africa and on our way to Springbok. Another interesting drive from the border through the Northern Cape to the largest town in Namaqualand. Springbok is situated in one of the driest areas of South Africa. A nice little town, which has been home to the copper industry, great for provisions and home to many quiver trees. We were able to revitalise our phone Sim at a very helpful garage and fill up with fuel before shopping. Then we set off for the campsite Springbok Caravan Site.

Web cam of the journey from Ai-Ais to Springbok. About 13 minutes.

The site at Springbok was not one of the best although it was clean and quiet. We were only staying one night. A better stop would have been at the Geogap Nature Reserve up the road. The reserve is known for its collection of rare drought resistant plants. If we travelled this way again we would stop there but we would probably stay for two nights. 

We did have a wander around Springbok and went to look at the "Klipkoppie" which was used at a fort during the Boer War. Next to the "Klipkoppie" is the beautiful Klipkerk, a stone church built in 1921. Sadly it was closed.

The last webcam of the holiday. Springbok to Cape Town via Citrusdal with views of Table Mountain. 9 mins.

The next morning we were up early for the drive to Citrusdal. The drive took us through the Cederberg Mountains well known for climbing and hiking routes. Sadly we would not have time for either. The drive however gave us another insight into South Africa. The area around Citrusdal is known for its citrus fruit farming. We arrived in good time at Citrus Creek Caravan Park a lovely location in the town and easy to find. The campsite was set amongst the trees with plenty of wildlife ( domestic varieties ) to keep us company.

The pool looked inviting but we didn't have time to try it out.

The friendly cockerels. There were also horses, geese and ducks wandering about.

There was a short walk to a local supermarket where we stocked up for our final few days.
Citrusdal is pretty much a one horse town which looks as if it has seen finer days.

The Spar was well stocked and used by the locals.

The High Street. Not much going on here.

High spot of Citrusdal. The jolly old PEP stores are everywhere.Good place to buy a blanket. 

The dummies outside the shops always amused me.

The local liquor store. Bet that was interesting on a Saturday night. Lucky for us it was mid week.
However, everywhere was pretty central. We chatted to the friendly campsite owner who told us the town was very quiet during the week but at weekends there was a big influx of itinerant workers who worked in out lying farms. Looking at the houses you could see the reflection of their former glories. In it's heyday Citrusdal would have been a lovely place to live. The campsite was beautifully tidy and the ablution block spotlessly clean. We enjoyed a BBQ with the help of the friendly cockerils, ear plugs optional! Strange but I never heard them in the morning.

 The next day we set off for our last campsite at Melkbosstrand north of Cape Town the Au Skip Resort.

We choose the scenic drive along the coast and stopped at a few pretty places on the way. The sea was pretty rough! It was windy but not really cold. Probably like one of our normal summer days. The beaches were pretty empty but I guess it was early in their season.

The beach at Yzerfontein. We had a meal in one of the beach cafes here and had a little wander about. The cooling breeze was great after the desert winds of Namibia.

By the time we got to Au Skip we were pretty tired. Only two more sleeps in our tent. We met up with the Camping & Caravanning Club group we had first met in Pretoria and swopped stories. Everyone had had a fantastic holiday. They left before us so we were on our own again. We drove into the town and had a brief look around then back to the campsite for tea.

The next day we decided to make the most of our time so near to Cape Town and spent the day driving into the town centre and going up Table Mountain. We were so lucky as the weather gods smiled on us and we managed to get to the top of the mountain to enjoy the fabulous views.

 The famous Table Mountain cable car. We managed to find our way around Cape Town fairly well. The traffic back to the campsite was dreadful but we still enjoyed the drive.

Views from the top of Table Mountain. Very touristy and some long queues but we did not have to wait too long.

One of the local residents. A draisy hiding from all the tourists

Well worth a trip to the top. Take plenty of water and a camera.

Our last night on the beach at Melkbosstrand. We had a lovely meal in a local restaurant before going back for our last night in the tent. The next morning we packed the tent down for the last time. We were off to a hotel in Cape Town for two nights in a luxury hotel. We were getting used to Cape Town traffic and managed to find the hotel without too much trouble.

 Time to unpack and unwind. After 36 nights in a tent and many adventures we needed it!

Our hotel was slap bang in the middle of Cape Town. We were around the corner from Kloof Street where there were loads of different restaurants to try. 

The hotel pool a peaceful oasis on a hot day.

 Our room overlooked the pool. We stayed at the Derwent House Hotel. A really friendly lovely place to stay.

We jumped on the City Bus, an open air tour bus and spent an afternoon cruising around the beaches and  sites of Cape Town. The tour has a commentary and you can jump on an off where you want. We jumped off at the Kirstenbosch Gardens and spent an hour or so looking at the plants and sculptures. This world famous garden ranks as one of the best and most beautiful gardens in the world. The bus was a great way to travel around Cape Town and really cheap at around £12 for both of us. We were pleased we did the Chapman Peak drive in the bus with the spectacular views but very narrow roads.

All too soon it was time to go. We squashed everything back into our cases and ditched a load of paper and any toiletries we didn't need.  We drove our van back to Bobo Campers depot and were soon on our way to the airport.

The sum total of our trip. 4700 miles, 4 countries, 27 camp sites, 1 hotel  all in 38 nights.

 Another adventure over. What's next?

Well a trip to Russia, courtesy of Camping & Caravanning Club European Holidays is on the cards in May this year. Taking our own van this time. Also Greece in September this year again with our van. A busy year ahead then.

So keep tuned in.

Are we going back to Africa?  YES.October 2019!! Can't wait.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Africa Revisited. Self Drive Safari. Namibia. Back to the Desert.

Back through the desert, we left the solitude of Solitaire Desert Farm and headed up the road through the town of Solitaire. Known for it's display of rusting cars we stopped briefly for a few pictures.

A very touristy stopping off spot. Solitaire has been used for a number of film sets. We were soon moving on into the heart of the desert on our way to the dunes at Sesriem.

The drive through the desert took us on some amazing desert roads with no other vehicles in sight. Good job we had the tanks well topped up with fuel and plenty of water. Not a good place to break down and well away from any phone signal. Fortunately, it was only a drive of around 2 hours, though the roads were very bumpy in places.

Seseriem is in the Namib desert close to the Naukluft Mountains. The "Sesreim Gate" is the main access point into the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Really handy as you are camping inside the park so you can make the early morning dash to see the sunrise over the desert!
The camping at Sesreim is also very near to the Sesreim Canyon and well worth a visit. We were only spending one night here and could really have done with two. It was a good hours drive to the sand dunes and an hour to get back to the camp site. We pitched up under a tree on an enormous pitch and got ourselves orientated before we took the drive to the dunes.

 A dash cam of our drive through the dunes including getting stuck!!

We were glad we had a bit of shade. Sesreim Campsite is very busy and really needs to be booked. Entrance to the park cost us 400 Namibian Dollars for the permit. We ventured out to see the sights. The road through the park is tar which made for an easy drive. The first huge sand dune we encountered was the Elim Dune. You can actually climb to the top of the dunes and many people did. We took in the fantastic views.

The drive through the dunes to Soussusviel has to be a highlight of the trip.

We lingered a while at Elim Dune and then drove on passing Dune 45 ( the most photographed dune in the world) towards the parking place for Sossusvlei.

Dune 45. 

Some of the skeleton trees.

Dead Vlei, another salt pan with the skeletons of trees left. Some of them over 500 years old. A strikingly beautiful place once you get there. It was a challenging walk and the sun was very cruel.
We were glad we wore our boots, hats and took water. The sand was burning so not a place for flip flops.

We decided to drive to the end of the 4 x 4 trail before we walked over the dunes for about 2 k to see Dead Viel. After an adventure in the very soft sand where we got well and truly stuck! We were given a short lesson in sand dune driving by a very friendly ranger. We had to deflate the tyres and drive faster than we had been doing. Den soon got the hang of it and we made it there and back in one piece. There were other 4 x 4's that had managed to get completely stuck so we were a bit smug! It is possible to get a shuttle bus.

Getting the tyres re inflated. We were rather alarmed at how much air we had to let out of the tyres before we could get going in the soft sand. We felt quite pleased with ourselves once we were back on solid ground.

Sadly our day at Sesriem was soon over. We made camp watched the sunset over the desert and had a meal in the restaurant, we slept well.

The next morning we decided not to race for the sunset back to the dunes. I counted over 40 vehicles and many coaches going down the road at around 5.30am. Picturesque as it may have been, we didn't really fancy the tourist scrum. Instead we left the camp after watching a few early morning visitors and headed in the opposite direction for the canyon.

An early morning troop of Wildebeests tripping around the camp.

The morning moon just about ready to disappear.

We didn't realise they we should have got a permit to visit the canyon but there seemed to be no one around. We didn't feel too bad as we had already paid to enter the park. As we arrived at the canyon we spotted a group of German tourists being given a guided tour. We watched their route from a distance and then followed discreetly. The Sesreim Canyon is a narrow fissure in the sandstone 30m deep in places it had been carved out by the Tsauchab River. It was used by early settlers who drew water by knotting together six lengths of hide rope ( called reims) hence the name ses reims.

The very steep steps down into the canyon. Not for the faint hearted.

A dash cam of our journey from Sesriem Canyon to Betta Camp. 5 Minutes.

It was incredibly still and quiet in the canyon and quite spooky. The steps down were very steep. Amongst the rocks were pools of water. We were aware of the party of tourists in front of us but spent some time taking in the atmosphere on our own before scrambling back up the rock steps. I suspect that not many loan tourists actually find the way down! We could have stayed longer as it was nice and cool in the bottom of the canyon.

We left the canyon and were soon off on a short but very poor road to Betta Camp.  The drive to Betta took us through some very arid landscapes. Interestingly there were some luxury lodges we passed.

Le Mirage Desert Lodge and Spa. A curious fusion of castle and Moroccan riad

Blending perfectly into it's environment I'm sure it would have been an exciting place to stay.

Other lodges on the out skirts of the national park, not as basic as we had got used to!

 The night before there had been heavy rain  ( the first rains in five years) and part of the road was very damaged. Fortunately we got through with no problems but it took 4 hours. We were very pleased when we arrived at Betta Camp. Luckily we were in time to book an evening meal although there was a pleasant shop there that also stocked provisions. We were able to fill up with fuel and this was obviously a good stopping off point. 

The petrol station at Betta. 

We had a very nice kitchen on our stand along with tables and chairs. We even had a viewing platform which you could sleep on outside. The ablution block was fine but it was a very hot place to be with a strong desert wind, which made it very dusty. We were grateful for our bit of shade.The girl in the shop came back specially to cook our evening meal. We had a lovely steak and a few glasses of very nice wine.

Next morning we were off again. A long drive to Aus and the campsite at Klein Aus Vista. The road to Aus took us back up and over the mountains.

Another short 6 minute dash cam of our trip from Betta to Klein Aus Vista.

We travelled over some quite scary mountain passes and I was quite relieved Den was driving. As we came down out of the mountains and on the long desert road to Aus we had a horrendous incident when the tyre on our truck literally unravelled. How Den hung onto the van I don't know? At one point we thought it was going to roll over but eventually we ground to a halt and shakily got out to inspect the damage. We were in the middle of nowhere on the B4.

The dot in the road is the remains of our tyre.

Changing a tyre in the desert.

We skidded a long way.

The remains of the tyre. Amazingly it didn't actually deflate but Den had to hammer the mudflap bolts off.

The damage looked frightening but we were OK and the van could be driven once the wheel had been changed.

Den remembered how to change the wheel and we had everything we needed to do it. The temperature was now in the high 40's so we were a little stressed by the time it was done. A couple of friendly drivers stopped to give us moral support. By the time we had sorted the tyre and ourselves out we drove into Aus and stopped at the garage to get a new tyre. It was Sunday but they were open. Even the garage guy was shocked at the state of our tyre. We had been very , very lucky!!!

By the time we arrived at Klein Aus Vista we were ready for a large drink. Klein Aus Vista was a wilderness site with no electric but there was an ablution block. The site was nice very peaceful and quiet. The main buildings which housed the restaurant, pool & bar was a short drive up the track. I think I may have preferred a proper bed and meal in the restaurant that night but as it was we had a BBQ and enjoyed the solitude. The town of Aus seemed a nice place with a pretty church I would have liked to explore further but we decided to leave early the next morning to look for the feral desert horses  at Garub on route to Ai-Ais our next stop.

We managed to find the feral desert horses. The desert horses survive in the most hostile conditions and there are around 200 of them. I actually thought they were a bit sad looking but at least they were fed by local people and a charity had been set up to protect them on a regular basis. They looked a bit thin to me but they are thriving and benefiting from the extra food! 

The last place we visited before we bid farewell to Aus was the small German military cemetery maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Here German and English soldiers are laid to rest alongside each other. When German colonial troops surrendered to South African forces in 1915 a prisoner of war camp was set up at Aus. Here 61 prisoners of war and 60 members of the garrison lie, most of them victims of the flu epidemic in 1918. We paid our respects at this very moving place so far from home for these mainly young men.

We were now off to our final destination in Namibia the hot spring resort of Ai-Ais over the mountains and a visit to Fish River Canyon on the way.

We had to stop here at the Canon Roadhouse. An amazing lodge that is filled with old vehicles and memorabilia. We had a cold beer here and admired the exhibits. Ever on wards to our next destination Fish River Canyon.

One of the beautiful quiver trees endemic in this part of the world. The quiver tree or kokerboom ( Alors dichotoma) is so called because bushmen used to use its leaves as quivers for their arrows. It grows very slowly and stores water in it's leaves.

A web cam of the drive from Aus to Ai-Ais. 6 minutes.

The Fish River Canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and is the largest in Africa. 161 km long and 27 k wide it is 550 m at it's deepest point. Situated in the National Park this is a great hiking area. Sadly we only had time for a brief visit but it is spectacular.

 Fish River Canyon in all it's glory. For some reason one of Africa's least visited wonders. It was certainly deserted when we got there.

We were on our own at the viewing platform, so we were able to fully appreciate the fabulous views which are truly breathtaking.

Enjoying the splendid isolation at the top of the cliff overlooking the canyon.

Finally our last stop in Namibia the Ai-Ais Spa Resort. Back up into the mountains we soon arrived at the campsite.

Ai-Ais ( pronounced "eye ice" ) means "burning water" in the Nama language and it certainly was. I think we can truly say that our day and night at Ai-Ais was the hottest of the trip, well into the 40's by day and 30+ at night. The resort has a hot spring pool which stays at a constant 65 degrees. We got up early and had a fabulous dip in the pool.

After a brief but invigorating stay we set off on the last leg of our journey back into South Africa. We loved Namibia and will be back 2019 if all goes well. We headed back towards the  border crossing at the  Vioolsdrift Border Post back into South Africa. A very casual crossing this time which was remarkably speedy. We were soon on the N 7 heading for Springbok.