300 Days: Capes & Dunes

Our next adventure was 12 days driving through South Africa and Namibia on a pumped up overlander. G Adventures have redesigned the typical overlander vehicle to be more comfortable and traveller friendly – photography windows, USB ports at every chair, driver in the same area as the passengers (not typical for an OAV), onboard wifi (in some areas) and fridges to name just a few features. The starting point was Cape Town and after meeting our group of 22 people, plus our guide and driver over a dinner of various game meats, we started our trip bright and early the next day.

Driving through Etosha NP

Early starts were to become a very common theme. Most days we would be up at before sunrise and leaving camp by 7am. I really thought I was going to dislike camping every day and waking up early when we are meant to be on holiday but actually… I really liked it.

When you are waking up to peaceful, bright orange sunsets, rising over great boulders or a savannah, it is all worth it.

Our morning routine would be to have a quick wash (shower or wet wipes depending on how tired we were or how good the showers were), pack away our bags into the lando, take down our tent (a good 5-10 minute process) and then have breakfast, usually muesli with some yoghurt or bread with spreads – if we were lucky, sometimes we had bacon or pancakes.

Our first day’s drive took us to Cederberg, a beautiful wine region with lots of rooibos bushes. Rooibos is a typical South African tea, which has a lovely red hue due to the plant and surrounding soil. It was a pretty hot drive up to Cederberg as the air conditioning wasn’t working on the lando so by the time we arrived we were all looking forward to taking a dip in the pool. Unfortunately, there were lots of flies around the campsite and pool but that didn’t stop us from jumping straight in and sitting in the pool up to our necks with our heads covered in flies!

We had a demonstration of how to put our tents up – easy once you get the hang of it but you definitely have to follow the process! Then a tour of the lando, showing us where our bags get packed, where the food, chairs and tables were etc.

Then we did some wine tasting which was good – not as nice as the Stellenbosch or Franschoek wines but still, I’ll never pass up a wine tasting! One wine in particular was delicious, a vermouth infused with rooibos, it reminded us a bit of gluhwine.

Next, we were onto Orange River. The Orange River is the natural border between South Africa and Namibia. The river was named by Colonol Robert Gordon, a commander of the Dutch East India Company after he visited the interior in 1779. He named it in honour of William V of Orange. Another belief is that the river is supposedly orange in colour and hence got the name the Orange River. Some of the group went kayaking and took a swim in the river and waded over to Namibia… technically illegal but hey, TIA.

Most evenings took a similar course, a delicious dinner followed by drinks around the campfire or the bar if we were fortunate to have one. Our dinners were amazing. We had, spaghetti bolognaise, chicken schnitzel, oryx stew, stir fry, chocolate bananas amongst many other dishes, all cooked over a campfire and a small stove.

The next day was a laborious day crossing the border. As you would imagine, border crossings take a lot of time and patience and we were all tested by the end of the whole process. We made our way to Fish River Canyon, which is apparently the second largest canyon in the world. After a gentle walk along the rim, we had sundowners, biltong and cheese as we watched the sun set. It was a good ending to what was a rather boring day.

A long driving day followed and we finally reached the Namib desert. This camp site, Sossus Oasis, was definitely one of my favourites. We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert and a few trees. The bathrooms were open air and it felt like having a shower in my own oasis. We sat and watched the sunset illuminate the red rocks and create an illuminating sky whilst enjoying a cold cider – savannah dry – it couldn’t have been more perfect.

We woke up early the next morning and I found this cute grasshopper on the bathroom door! Today we headed to Sossusvlei an area of red sand, gigantic dunes and searing heat. It reminded me of a mix between Uluru and the dunes of Dubai whilst remaining unique in the atmosphere it created. We drove into the desert, dunes surrounding us on both sides until we reached a point that the lando couldn’t manoeuvre. We jumped into 4X4 that took us over soft, bumpy, sand ways until we reached the walking point to Deadvlei.

Deadvlei is a very unusual area, unlike anywhere else I have seen. It is a white clay pan which is home to numerous peculiarly shaped dead acaia trees. The trees died around 600-700 years ago and now the skeletons are all black, scorched by the sun. They don’t decompose because it is so dry in the area.

Three of the guys and one of the girls in our group decided to climb the face of the 350m Big Daddy dune which was no mean feat. After about fifteen minutes, the boys made it to the top with massive cheers from us all on the ground!

The most infamous dune in the area is also the most photographed dune in the world: Dune 45. It got its name due to the fact it is 45 km from the start of the dunes and it is also number 45 in the numbering system of the dunes. You are able to walk the ridge of this star dune and the views from the top are just spectacular.

Dune 45, Namibia

Before reaching our camp for the night we made a quick pit stop at Sesrium Canyon, taking a short walk down into the bottom of 30m deep canyon. Our next campsite was fairly basic with limited electricity and water however none of that mattered when shortly after dark, their watering hole was visited by a big herd of zebra. We sat there quietly watching them take turns to drink. That night, we could also hear their neighs in the distance and their hooves as they galloped around – a very unique night!

The next day took us over the Tropic of Capricorn and into moonland with lots of rocks and quartz until we finally made it to Swakopmund.

Swakopmund is the adventure capital of Namibia with dune quad biking, sandboarding and skydiving as the key highlights. We opted to pass on these activities as we had done them before elsewhere and we wanted to save some pennies for some other activities coming up. What we did opt to do was make use of the two nights in Swakopmund to really relax and rejuvenate ourselves for the next part of the trip… so we booked into a hotel for two nights! It was well needed and we were full of energy and ready to get back to our tent the next day.

The drive from Swakopmund to Spitzkoppe (meaning pointed dome) was fairly short so we arrived with plenty of time to enjoy our next campsite. This was basic bush camping so long drop toilets and no water or showers. The landscape was almost mars like with its vast desert like plains and big rocky boulders. Both sunset and sunrise were beautiful as the sun bounced off the rocks creating a warming orange glow around us.

Spitzkoppe sunset

After a short drive through Damaraland we arrived at the Damara Living Museum. This open air area is not so much a museum but more an interactive exhibition on the life of the Nama people. We were shown around the small “village” by an enthusiastic guy who is from the Nama tribe. Each area showed how the Nama people used to live – a jewellery making station, a tool making station, a medicine lady with traditional herbal cures and we learnt how to make fire the Nama way. It was cool to see how these people used to live but it did seem very touristic and that this was just a way for them to make money. And it is. Because they can no longer live off the land as all hunting has been banned. Therefore, they have to find other ways to make ends meet and this is one of them.

Our last two days took us to Etosha National Park where we went on a couple of game drives in the lando. It wasn’t quite the same experience as in an open safari vehicle but we still saw lots of zebras and buffalo. We learnt that the zebra and buffalo have a symbiotic relationship whereby they the buffalo have good sight and the zebra have good smell and hearing so they work together to migrate and ensure they make it safely to the same points each year. On our afternoon drive we even got to see a small pride of lions taking a rest in the shade of a tree.

Finally, we finished up in Windhoek where we said good bye to a few of the group, with six new people joining, before the rest of us carried on to make our way to Victoria Falls.

Sunset in Etosha NP

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