Archive for February, 2017

Along the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth
to Cape Town, South Africa.

Friday, February 10th, 2017

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Day 1, November 11: Port Elizabeth to Tsitsikamma National Park.

The weather had certainly changed for the cooler as we commenced our trip west, from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.

The change wasn’t just in the temperature, as everything else seemed very different to what we had become used to in other parts of Southern and Eastern Africa.

The roads, shopping centres and housing were much more western and white faces much more evident.

And the internet worked.

We drove into Jeffreys Bay, the home of Supertubes, one of the world’s most famous surf breaks. It was made even more notorious when Mick Fanning was nearly taken by a Great White in the opening moments of the 2015 J-Bay Open.

Remarkably he returned to the competition in 2016 and won.

A drive along the shopping strip at Jeffery’s Bay is like being in Torquay, Anglesea or Lorne. There are surf shops, cafes and all forms of associated surf culture.

Brands like Billabong, Rip Curl and Quicksilver were all there.

It’s a pity they’re not Australian any more.

Continuing westward on the N2, past Storms River Gorge, our next stop was Tsitsikamma National Park to see the Grootboom or Big Tree. This massive yellowwood is believed to be around a thousand years old: about the time of the Norman conquest of England.

We spent the entire drive, from Port Elizabeth to Tsitsikamma, listening to Leonard Cohen.

It was November 11, 2016, the day we heard of his passing.

Thea, Hayden, Evan and I were great fans. Leonard’s music was often heard in our house and it played a big part in the soundtrack of our lives.

Our accommodation in Tsitsikamma was within the park and yet again we got given the honeymoon chalet.

What is going on?

The bonus wasn’t the king-size bed or the spa but the spectacular views. The accommodation consists of chalets and camp sites, all of them have sea views. However the ‘honeymoon’ chalet had a particularly good position with 180° views of the Indian Ocean crashing into South Africa.

 

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Day 2, November 12: Tsitsikamma National Park to Plettensnerg Bay.

We had planned to do the 3.5 hour Waterfall Walk in Tsitsikamma National Park.

That was cut short by rain.

The rain wasn’t so much the problem, but rather the rocks we had to scramble over to get there, became very slippery.

Tsitsikamma National Park covers about 80 kilometres of coastline and is a popular destination for visitors travelling along the Garden Route.

It was spring in South Africa and the wildflowers were in bloom.

We came across three Giant Green African Grasshoppers mating. Another sure sign that spring was in the air.

As the rain came down, I could hear our raincoats laughing at us from the back seat of the car – stupidly we had decided not to take them.

There was nothing left to do but to return to the visitor’s centre and console ourselves with a cup of coffee.

Then the sun came out.

Plan ‘B’ was to go on the Suspension Bridge Walk. This was very crowded but at least there was a boardwalk for the entire journey and no rocks to worry about.

When we returned to the visitor’s centre there was a group of Hyrax playing on the lawn.

They are very comical animals and seem to love life.

 

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Day 3, November 13: Plettenberg Bay.

We were told that very little is open on a Sunday night at Plettenberg Bay, but lunch is always available.

We decided to spend the morning at Birds of Eden free fight sanctuary. This was only a 25 minute drive away, so there would be time to visit before lunch.

It’s the largest single dome, free flight sanctuary in the world, inhabited by African species as well as birds from all over the world.

Many of the birds have been rehabilitated. We even spotted a galah called Rosie who had been rescued – in fact all the parrots in Birds of Eden are ex-pets.

Our lunch was at Equinox, a short walk from Swallow’s Nest, our guest house in Plettenberg Bay.

It was a contemporary restaurant, with great staff and excellent decor.

The food was very good as well.

If you’re a tourist in South Africa, it’s great value for money. We had a four course Sunday lunch for A$15 per head.

The bar prices for wine is also very inexpensive, with the average bottle costing around A$15.

Craft beer is again very reasonable, with a bottle of King’s Blockhouse IPA only costing A$4.

Equinox was right on Plettenberg Bay overlooking a large swell. Late in the afternoon a couple of surfers arrived and attempted to tame the waves. When the surfers left the birds moved in and then the Dolphins.

 

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Day 4, November 14: Plettenberg Bay to Knysna.

Unseasonable wet weather in the Western Cape kept us confined to short trips, or indoors.

It wasn’t a long drive from Plettenberg Bay to Knysna, our next stop. We therefore had time to do a bit of housekeeping.

Thea’s nails were in need of major reconstruction and my hair was looking rather scraggy.

The last cut was in Zanzibar.

I was told that the ‘Cutter’ was due in the salon soon.

A hour and a half later he turned up.

It was a Monday morning and I think he had slept in after a hard Sunday night. That’s if the energy drink he was downing was anything to go by.

This part of the drive would continue on The Garden Route, along the famous Route 62, and then onto Stellenbosch and the Winelands.

‘Coffee culture has come to the Western Cape.’ Well that was the theme in one of the many magazine articles I read while waiting for my haircut.

Knysna is on a narrow bay, fed by the Knysna River and surrounded by hills.

We were in Paradise, literally, as this was the name of the suburb we were staying in.

Before checking into Hamilton Manor, our guest house, we did a short circuit around the area.

Noetzie Beach in the Pezula Private Estate is a very weird place.

We had to drive for several kilometres, on dirt roads, to get there and our only access was to Noetzie Beach. The rest of the area was enclosed in electrified fences and large gates covered in razor wire.

The reason for the security are the ‘castles’ dotted throughout the the peninsula.

These are stately holiday homes, designed to look like stone castles, using the local rock and complete with turrets.

The strange thing is, that along the stretch of Noetzie Beach we could get to, they were sitting next to fibro-cement beach houses.

Quite a contrast.

Our next diversion was to Knysna Heads, the narrow opening to Knysna Bay.

On one side of the heads is a viewing area and housing while the other side is the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve.

The Southern Cape coastline is truly spectacular, with rugged rocks and a pounding Indian Ocean.

Parking is a strange affair in South Africa.

There are very few parking metres and the locals seem to control who parks where, for how long and at what cost.

There are official parking people or ‘car guards’ and they have a high-vis vest and identification to prove their authenticity.

Then there are the opportunists, who believe that there is money to be made by ‘pretending’ to be a parking official.

They may have a vest, of sorts, and no identification. They appear from nowhere, as soon as you approach a parking spot, and offer to “Watch your car, boss?”

For two reasons we decided to pay most of the people, official or not.

Firstly, in the hope that our car would be looked after and secondly, and more importantly, to give some money to the locals.

The suggested parking fee is somewhere between 20 and 50 cents Australian, so it wasn’t going to break the bank and it’s cheaper than parking metres.

 

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Day 5, November 15: Knysna to Oudtshoorn.

We drove along the N9 and then over the Outeniqua Pass and into Oudtshoorn, the Ostrich capital of the world.

We drove through the pass three times. All the best lookout points are on the right hand side, as you climb up through the pass, heading north from George. They are inaccessible from the left of the road, so we had to double back and then come down. Then of course we had to go through the pass again in order to get to Oudtshoorn.

There were two ostrich feather booms in South Africa, one between 1865 and 1870, the other between 1900 and 1914. The start of WW1 caused of the last boom to collapse. Fashion was the driver behind both booms and the price of the feathers soared. At one point during the first boom the value, per pound, of ostrich feathers equated to that of diamonds.

The town was named after Baron Pieter van Oudtshoorn, who became Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony 1772.

The town is full of grand old colonial homes, called ‘feather palaces’ that were built by the wealthy ostrich farmers, known as ‘feather barons’. There are also some magnificent public buildings such as the 1907 CP Nel Museum building and the NG Moedergemeente (Dutch Reformist Church) completed in 1879.

All signs of Oudtshoorn’s past glory.

There are similarities between cities in Australia such as Adelaide, Ballarat and Bendigo with Oudtshoorn. The difference is that Oudtshoorn made is wealth from feathers, not gold.

Parking was a different experience in Oudtshoorn. We arrived in the town just before lunchtime and decided to visit the museum first.

The temperature was on the rise again and there was no one around so we parked our car right out the front.

After touring the museum we walked a short distance to a cafe so Thea could get some lunch and I could get a coffee. When we returned to the car there were a few very dishevelled looking chaps hanging around the vehicles.

They made no attempt to even look like car guards and still expected me to pay for their protection, even though they had just turned up.

This lot went empty handed.

Craft beer, as well as barista coffee, is becoming very popular along the Garden Route.

I discovered Kango, a local craft brewery making a Larger and an IPA. Both are naturally brewed, the IPA was cloudy and both were very drinkable.

We had dinner at a local Italian/African, fusion restaurant.

The food was good, the wines inexpensive and the bill, so low that you wonder how its possible to make and serve a meal for that price.

What we didn’t know was that November was high season and the restaurants were full. We were told by our host to book in advance if we wanted a good one.

At the current prices I’m not surprised that many people are eating out.

 

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Day 6, November 16: Oudtshoorn to Hermanus.

This was going to be the longest drive on our trip.

We left Oudtshoorn at 10am and planned to have a coffee break on the way.

In Barrydale we discovered Diesel and Créme, a very funky cafe and western style bar serving good coffee, craft beer and an interesting menu.

It was in an old motor workshop and decorated with a eclectic selection of memorabilia, much with an automotive theme.

Very fitting being on Route 62.

Our drive to Hermanus took us over the Tradouws Pass on the R324. Again we drove both ways through the pass, as the only vantage points were on the return journey.

Hermanus is the whale centre of the Western cape and everything is geared to whale watching.

We had a drink at Coco, a very pleasant bar overlooking the Hermanus waterfront.

They even had binoculars on the wall, just in case you spotted a Southern Right Whale – we didn’t see any.

 

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Day 7, November 17: Hermanus to Stellenbosch.

All our accommodation in South Africa, apart from Stormsriver Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park, had been in ‘Guest Houses’. These are a fusion between a boutique hotel and a B&B. Many are built in old homes that have undergone extensive renovations to accomodate tourists. We always had an ensuite and the facilities were first class.

They are similar to the ‘Casa Particulares’ in Cuba.

The first recorded guest house was established in 374 AD by St Basil the Great, in Caesarea, (or Kayseri) Cappadocia, Turkey.

There are many benefits of staying in guest houses, such as personalised attention, quietness, lower cost and the food.

A guest house breakfasts was always a good way to start the travelling day.

The Gumtree Lodge in Oudtshoorn, prided themselves on their local produce. At breakfast there was local cheese, cold meats, chutneys and even single origin African coffee. In the evening the owner, Phil Putzel, even ran a little bar serving wine and craft beer, all locally produced.

Running a guest house isn’t without its problems, as we discovered in Hermanus. As we headed to breakfast at the Potting Shed Lodge, we discovered the owner, David, cleaning out the small pond next to the slightly larger swimming pool.

He was looking for a frog.

Apparently its croaking had kept the guests awake for much of the night and they weren’t happy.

On the way to Stellenbosch we made three diversions. The first was to the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens at Betty’s Bay, then Stony Point to visit the penguins and finally Pringle Bay for coffee.

The botanical gardens is located between the mountains and the sea, with spectacular vistas of both. Then there’s the plants, a stunning array of indigenous flora that was in full bloom, all set in 10 hectares of cultivated gardens. There are about 1,600 plant species in the area, more diverse per unit area than any place on earth. We even discovered a critically endangered Geometric Tortoise wandering across the lawn.

African Penguins were originally called Jackass Penguin, due to their donkey-like braying.

They are the only penguin that breeds in Africa and can grow to a height of between 60 and 70cm. They have a distinctive pink gland above their eyes which is used for thermoregulation in the wildly changing temperatures of the southern oceans.

On the way back to the car park we came across a group of young Hyrax playing in the rocks.

At any age Hyrax are very cute.

At Pringle Bay the cafe offered Red Espresso. The waiter couldn’t explain what it actually was but I decided to have a double shot anyway.

It wasn’t coffee.

It’s made from ground Rooibos tea and then prepared in an espresso machine.

It has no caffeine.

Worth a try, but only once.

 

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Day 8, November 18: Stellenbosch.

In Stellenbosch the Hop-on Hop-off wine bus or Vine Hopper is the best way to visit some of the wineries, taste some wine and not get picked up for drink driving.

When we went to book the Vine Hopper we were told that it was full (remember this was November and the height of the tourist season).

Plan ‘B’ was to drive ourselves.

The company soon put on more buses so it was back to ‘A’ again.

The Vine Hopper offer three routes with seventeen wineries open for visitors. It was Friday and the Friday tour takes in the northern wineries – we visited four of them.

The Stellenbosch wine tours was one of the highlights of our South African adventure.

All the wineries we visited offered a unique experience, not just the wine but the ambience and location as well.

We followed the driver’s advice and had the full wine and cellar tour in Bergkelder, then wine tastings in Beyerskloof and Simonsig, followed by lunch in Delheim.

Like everything else we have come across as tourists in South Africa, generosity and value for money were key.

The tastings were a half serve in a full size wine glass. It was your choice how much you drank.

We soon learnt to pace ourselves.

There was no time limit or pressure to buy at any winery. The cost for five wine tastings averaged A$5 and the Vine Hopper bus was A$60 per person.

The bus gave us plenty of time at each location.

Each of the wineries strived to be individual and their marketing reflected this.

Bergkelder was ‘Following nature’s lead’ while Beyerskloof claimed to be ‘The home of Pinotage’. (Pinotage is a uniquely African variety of grape, being a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage vine stock). Simonsig, who first produced sparkling wine in South Africa was, ‘The Cuvée experience’ and Delheim, being out of town, was ‘Worth the journey’

Our wine regions in Australia, and possibly others around the world, could benefit from how Stellenbosch market their area.

Like the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula, Stellenbosch is close to a major city, Cape Town. Yet they offer a unique ‘wine experience’ with restaurants, accommodation and services all catering to the wine lovers.

Most people don’t do a day trip from Cape Town, to visit the wine region, they come and stay for a night or even two.

Apart from wine and tourism Stellenbosch is a university town and therefore has a thriving alternative culture.

After Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in South Africa. It is situated on the Eerste River and is also known as the ‘City of Oaks’ due to the abundance of the trees that were planted by its founder Simon van der Stel in 1679.

Stel named the town after himself and Stellenbosch means ‘(van der) Stel’s Bush’.

The Dutch were excellent hydraulic engineers, which can be seen in Mill Creek, a canal that’s still runs down the main street.

 

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Day 9, November 19: Stellenbosch to Cape Town.

After a bit of gift shopping in Stellenbosch we headed for Cape Town, the final stop in South Africa.

On the way we drove via the other Cape Wineland towns of Franschhoek and Paarl. We then did a brief tour, circling around Table Mountain, before arriving at the Verona Lodge, our guest house in Cape Town.

We walked down to the V&A Waterfront, as we did every night, and got our first view of Table Mountain.

This 3 kilometre level plateau overlooks, and dominates, the city of Cape Town. It also seems to be a barometer to the local weather. When the ‘tablecloth’ rolls over the top, the winds are strong and the temperatures are cooler and when the mountain is clear, then so is the weather. The tablecloth is caused by orographic clouds that are created when wind rolls up the the mountain from the south-east and runs into cooler air causing the moisture to condense.

Contrary to science, there is also the legend that the tablecloth is caused by a smoking contest between the Devil and Van Hunks, a local pirate. Van Hunks was a prodigious smoker and the contest has been repeated yearly since the early 1700s.

Breaking dishes will be a constant reminder of African restaurants. It happened at least once a night in the majority of restaurants we visited.

If it’s not the crashing of plates, then it is the clatter of cutlery.

The staff, on the whole, have been fantastic but they do have a total disregard for the hardware.

We were told by one waiter, after we heard yet another crash in the kitchen, that a glass has a lifespan of about one week.

 

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Day 10, November 20: Cape Town.

As we do in many cities, we took the Hop-On Hop-Off bus and explored Cape Town. There were four routes covering the city, coast and wine areas.

First we did the city and then the coastal route. The most memorable part of the city route was a drive through District 6. This is an inner suburb of Cape Town that was laid bare during the sixties and seventies. Over 60,000 residents were forcible removed by the apartheid regime in an attempt to stop racial integration.

The place has become a shrine with little development. All that remains now are vacant blocks of land covered in long grass.

After the bus we went walking around Cape Town. This took us past St George’s Cathedral, the Anglican church made famous by Desmond Tutu and his stance against apartheid. The role this church has played in the fight for democracy and the anti apartheid movement has resulted in it now being known as the ‘people’s cathedral’.

Next was the Company Gardens, started by the East India Company in 1652. The gardens were originally planted to provide fresh vegetables to the Dutch trading ships sailing between the Netherlands and the East.

The first wine produced in South Africa came from grapes grown in the garden.

South Africa is a very multi cultural country. Muslims, Malays, Coloureds, Blacks, Whites, Indians and others all form part of the demographic.

But it’s not very equal.

Wherever we travelled there was little sign of a coloured or black middle-class. Admittedly we might have been in the wrong areas but even in the restaurants and bars of the V&A Waterfront there were very few non-whites.

South Africa is also diverse, with a wide variety of cultures, religions, languages and ethnic groups amongst its 52 million people.

According to the 2011 census, Africans make up the majority with 79.2%, Coloured, 8.9%, Whites 8.9%,  Indian and Asian, 2.5%  and Others, 5%

Cape Town has a population of 3.74 million people with the white folk making up 15.7 %, a lot more than the South African average.

It’s no wonder that there seemed to be a lot more white faces there.

In the afternoon we discovered the South African Jewish Museum in Hatfield Street.

The Jewish story in South Africa is an interesting one.

It makes absolute sense that the Jewish community in South Africa played an important role in the dismantling of the apartheid system.

They know a lot about racial discrimination.

Jewish lawyers were the only whites willing to represent the ANC members charged with crimes against the state.

There was even one lone Jewish voice, in the all white parliament, during the apartheid era. Helen Suzman fought for thirteen years, from 1961 to 1974, to give the Blacks equal rights.

 

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Day 11, November 21: Cape Town.

The departure point to Robben Island, at the V&A Waterfront, is known as the Nelson Mandela Gateway – this sums up the tone of the trip.

In many respects it’s all about Mandela.

However the history of Robben Island goes back to the end of the 17th century, when the Dutch used the island as a prison for political prisoners.

The island has also been used as a whaling station, leper colony and quarantine station.

During the Second World War it was fortified and became part of Cape Town’s defences.

Due to wide spread pilfering of artefacts by the tourists, you don’t get much freedom to explore Robben Island. After the 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Town you are met on the Robben Island wharf by an armada of buses. From there you are taken around to the various sites, which you view from your seat on the bus before being taken to the main prison complex.

On the bus the commentary was informative and graphic. So much so that a middle aged African American woman, sitting near us, was reduced to tears after hearing the countless stories of atrocities committed on Robben Island.

The guided tour around the main prison area is given by former prisoners and again they painted a very grim picture of life there.

The highlight for most was seeing Nelson Mandela’s cell – this was his home for 18 years from 1964 to 1982.

This is probably the most photographed site on the island.

 

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Day 12, November 22: Cape Town.

On our final day in Cape Town we planned to go to Table Mountain.

And, as it has been for all our time in the city, luck was with us again.

The tablecloth had cleared, the sun was out and the wind had dropped.

The cable car had only just re-opened, after being closed for over a week due to bad weather.

We booked our tickets online and within an hour we were on the mountain. We even got a rare parking spot metres from the front of the cable car station.

Table Mountain is a constant backdrop to Cape Town. It’s only 1,084 metres high but dominates the city.

The views from the top are stunning.

Our host at the guest house, Sean, suggested that we walk to Maclear’s Beacon on the northern side then take the rim track, on the southern edge, back. It was a great suggestion and we had spectacular views in every direction.

Maclear’s Beacon is a large cairn on the highest point of Table Mountain. It was built in 1865 by the Irish born South African astronomer, Sir Thomas Maclear (1794-1879) to assist in measuring the curvature of the earth.

Our luck continued, as the clouds converged just as we neared the end of our walk.

In the afternoon we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope.

So it seemed, did everyone else.

The placed was packed with bus and car loads of tourist racing to get a snap of themselves in front of the sign post for the Cape.

The Cape of Good Hope is the most south western point in Africa. It’s the spot where ships coming, from Europe, start to travel more eastward than southward.

We then drove to the Cape Point Lighthouse and took the funicular to the top.

The wind was so strong that we had to hold onto the hand rails to stop being blown into the Indian Ocean of even the Atlantic.

We were in Cape Town for four nights and each evening we would walk to the V&A Waterfront for dinner.

It was a pleasant 30 minute walk and there was a huge range of bars and restaurants to choose from.

Getting back to our guest house wasn’t as straight forward, as we had to take a taxi.

There were plenty around but they weren’t allowed to stop and pick-up a fare.

Traffic was controlled by security guards, dressed like real police, they were everywhere.

Actual coppers were nowhere to be seen.

On three occasions we managed to be able to corner a cab, negotiate a price and get in before he was forced to move on.

On our final night guards were again controlling the traffic, this time there were more of them and they had bollards. They were only letting taxis in that were pre booked.

We finally found a rogue driver outside of the control zone and flagged him down.

He explained that the security company and the big taxi groups had joined forces to control the price and keep the independent drivers from working the lucrative tourist areas.

The whole thing smelled of corruption – he wasn’t happy.

He told us that they were charging 100 Rand (A$10) to take the tourists back into the down town area.

This was about a five minute ride.

Our trip with him was about seven minutes and we paid 50 Rand (A$5).

The V&A Waterfront has interesting history, in that the ‘A’ in ‘V&A’ doesn’t stand for Albert, as you might expect. It actually stands for Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria. In 1860, as a 16 year old Midshipman in the Royal Navy, Prince Alfred visited the the Cape Colony and instantly became a hit with the locals. There is even a plaque on the waterfront commemorating the fact that he tipped the first truck of stone for the new waterfront breakwater.

Day 13, November 23 and 24: Cape Town to Melbourne.

It seemed fitting that on the flight from Cape Town to Dubai I watched the David Yates film, The Legend of Tazan. 

It was set in the Congo and nowhere near where we had been, but it was Africa.

Part 3: Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Ongava Game Reserve, Namibia to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

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Day 19, October 29: Damaraland to Ongava Game Reserve via Etosha National Park.

We left Toko Lodge mid morning and headed to Ongava Game Reserve.

It was suggested that we not take the sealed road route, but rather go via the Galton Gate, in the west and travel through the Etosha National Park to Andersson’s Gate.

This was our opportunity to ‘self drive’ our own game drive.

It was a great experience.

We stopped at five of the eight waterholes and found each one to have its primary inhabitants. They happened to be the birds or animals who were there when we visited.

This could change very quickly, as a new species came in to take control.

The ‘Elephant’ waterhole or Dolomietpunt was the fist we came across and as the name suggests it was full of elephants cooling off. There were zebras and springbok but they couldn’t get close to the water.

The ‘Vulture’ waterhole or Duineveld had ostriches but was dominated by the vultures. There were also zebras and a lone giraffe waiting patiently in the background.

The ‘Ostrich’ waterhole or Nomab also had vultures – fittingly the surroundings were flat and stark.

Our fourth stop was at the ‘Oryx’ waterhole or Olifantrus. The oryx soon left when two bull elephants arrived and started flinging muddy water around. There were also ostriches, eagles, vultures and zebras, keeping their distance.

Our final destination was the ‘Springbok’ waterhole, or Ozonjuitji m’Bari, there were also elephants, ostrich and zebras.

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Day 20, October 30: Ongava Game Reserve.

Andersson’s Camp is inside Ongava Private Game Reserve and very close to Andersson’s Gate into Etosha National Park.

Ongava was created in 1991 when four non productive farms were combined. It’s 30,000 hectares and shares a common boundary with Etosha National Park.

We had arranged to do an afternoon game drive in Ongava so we spent most of the very hot day overlooking the waterhole that’s just metres from the hotel lounge.

There had been a few animals there the evening before but there was now a cavalcade of zebras, Black Faced Impalas, oryx, wildebeest and a giraffe.

The giraffe was so cautious approaching the waterhole, that it took over 1.5 hours from when it first arrived, until it spread its long spindly legs to take its first tentative sip.

It was good to have the animals come to us for a change.

Andersson’s Camp was named after Swedish explorer Charles Andersson (1827-1867) who was one of the first Europeans to expose Etosha to the outside world.

Andersson’s spirit for adventure was forged at a very early age, being the illegitimate son of an English bear hunter, Llewellyn Lloyd. (How many letter ‘l’s’ can a name have?)

All the lodges we have stayed in have been unique in their design, Andersson’s Camp was both strange and special.

The walls around the bathroom and toilet area were built from loose rock held together with a web of chicken wire. Inside there was also an additional covering of fly wire – just to stop the nasties from entering.

There was also a wide use of corrugated iron and raw timber.

The shower base was a large tin tub set into the floor and the towel rails were rough cut tree branches.

Yet there was the convenience of hot water, plenty of power outlets and an oscillating fan. There was even a small in-ground swimming pool.

Strangely there were no locks on any doors.

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Day 21, October 31: Etosha National Park.

We were now back inside Etosha National Park and took the road from Andersson’s Gate, in the west, to the von Lindequist Gate, in the east.

The park was proclaimed a game reserve in 1907 and became a National Park in 1967. Etosha National Park is 22,270 square kilometres in size and gets its name from the Etosha Pan, which is 4,760 square kilometres in area. Etosha means ‘Great White Place’.

We made twelve stops, detouring off the main road, over a seven hour period. Eight of them were at waterholes.

The weirdest stop was at the Etosha Lookout. This was a two kilometre diversion, onto the Etosha Salt Pan itself. The pan is so large that you get the feeling you can see the curvature of the earth. Then there’s the added sensation of seeing water on the horizon, this is only a mirage.

The waterholes were again the best places to view the animals – there was a huge variety. From the more common, like zebras and wildebeests to the exotic, like rhinoceros and even lions.

We also saw ‘White Elephants’. These were actually bush elephants that had been wallowing in the light grey mud of the Springbokfontein Waterhole and had dried off to a very light grey.

The waterholes have wonderful names like Gemsbokvlakte, Olifantsbad, Ondongab and Charitsaub.

I think you need to speak Afrikaans to pronounce them.

Our accommodation was just outside the park at Emanya@Etosha Game Lodge. This, by contrast to the earthiness of Andersson’s Camp, was an Apple Store – a vision of minimalism in white.

But form certainly didn’t follow function at Emanya@Etosha, as everything from the building design to the shower seemed to be at odds with practicality. The bathroom was larger than most bedrooms, yet I even had trouble fitting into the tiny shower cubicle, which was stuck in a corner.

But that didn’t really matter, as there was no hot water anyway.

The the strangest paradox was the offer of a foot spa and massage after you returned from your game drive in Etosha National Park.

You are forbidden from leaving your car in Etosha, so this treatment is totally unnecessary.

I am not usually this critical of hotels – they are what they are.

However Emanya@Etosha Game Lodge claims to be five star. Their brochure proudly boasts: “Explore the warm soul of the African bush from the supreme comfort of your sumptuous accommodation…”

Despite the starkness of the design, we were continually reminded that we were still in Africa. There were ostrich, kudus and even a group of Leopard Tortoises wandering around the grounds. Then there was a very active waterhole close to the hotel pool.

There is always a bright spot in any stay and apart from the animals around the waterhole, they served ice cold draught beer.

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Day 22, November 1: Etosha to Otavi Mountain Region.

This was our ‘est’ experience in Namibia.

Hoba Meteorite, the larg’est’ known in the world, was discovered by Jacobus Hermanus Brits in 1920.

It weighs approximately 50 ton, is 3 metres long and 1 metre thick. It struck the earth 80,000 years ago.

Having done over 3,500 kilometres on gravel roads it was strange to be back on bitumen.

Tar can be so boring.

Our only two, one night stops were at Emanya@Etosha Game Lodge and Roy’s Rest Camp in the Otavi Mountain Region.

They couldn’t have contrasted more.

Emanya@Etosha strove to be upmarket with a sleekness that verged on sterility. Also everything was impractical in its design.

While Roy’s, like Andersson’s Lodge, was eclectic, rustic and to my mind, far more reflected Africa.

The only thing that seemed to be at odds with the environment was the ‘House’ music playing in the bar.

That didn’t last long.

We arrived at Roy’s mid afternoon and the temperature was in the high thirties.

There was nothing to do but sit by the pool and jump in every now and then to cool off.

Wrecked cars seem to be a feature of the landscape in Namibia.

You see them by the side of the road, decorating the entrances to lodges or farms.

At Roy’s Rest Camp they were part of the architecture and built into the very fabric of the building.

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Day 23, November 2: Otavi Mountain Region to Okavango Delta.

We were now in the north east of Namibia.

It was no longer dry and hot, but humid and hot.

Our accommodation in the Okavango Delta was at the Ngepi Camp on the Kavango River.

Our room was literally suspended over the water.

There were Hippos in the river, just opposite our treehouse, and elephants, buffalo and warthogs on the far bank.

On our first afternoon in Ngepi Camp a herd of more than 25 elephants came down to drink.

We never saw them again.

The shower and toilet were outside and to get to them, we had to negotiate an open deck.

There was no guard rail, just a three metre plunge into the river if you got it wrong.

We made a pact with each other, that if one of us needed to go to the loo during the night, they would wake the other and let them know.

Apparently there are also Crocodiles in the river, so a midnight swim wasn’t advisable.

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Day 24, November 3: Okavango Delta.

It was a strange night at Ngepi Camp.

Apart from sleeping above the river, there was the added interest of strong winds and the constant threat of rain.

November is the start of the wet season and there are ever-building thunderheads in the sky. As the sun set in the west, the sky lit up in the east.

Then the thunder started.

All night it seemed to circle us but it never rained.

At some point during the night the thunder stopped, then at dawn the birds started.

It was a weird feeling being able to shower in the morning, while watching the Hippos wallow in the river just opposite.

I wondered how many other pairs of eyes were also looking at me.

Just over the river is the Bwabwata National Park, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of animal activity. It’s also an important migration route from Botswana to Angola for the African elephant. I guess the herd of elephants, that we saw the previous day, were on there way to somewhere else.

Ngepi Camp has a sense of humour.

It starts by telling you, as you are wending your way along the long approach, that; ‘You are nearly there.’

There are a variety of other signs, around the camp, that show a real sense of fun.

There’s a toilet block just near the hotel bar. Not unusually it had two entrances, male and female, however once inside it was actually one facility, with two toilets.

The one on the left was in grey with the toilet seat permanently bolted up. While the one on the right was decorated in pink.

My favourite sign was the one in front of the pontoon swimming pool, that’s actually in the river. ‘World’s 1st Hippo and Croc Cage Dive’

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Day 25, November 4: Okavango Delta to Caprivi Strip.

We took the B8 or Trans Caprivi Highway across the Caprivi Strip to Camp Kwando.

This was through the Bwabwata National Park which was full of signs warning us of Elephants.

We didn’t see one.

Camp Kwando was on the Kwando River, which is the border between Namibia and Botswana.

Our view was of another country and our next destination.

The Caprivi Strip or ‘panhandle’ is the finger of land in north east Namibia that borders Botswana, Angola and Zimbabwe. It’s the only place on earth where four countries intersect.

Variations on the colour khaki are everywhere and on everything in Southern Africa. Tents, furniture, guides uniforms, vehicles and especially tourists. They are all decked out in it.

The French and Germans tour groups love to get into the African experience with a uniform of khaki hats, shorts, T-shirts, shirts, boots and sox.

There’s more khaki than you’d see in Puckapunyal during a graduation day ceremony.

I somehow can’t see them wearing it in Paris or Berlin once they return home.

The layout of Camp Kwando was very simple and it worked.

There were three circular areas, under thatched roofs, that were linked by a boardwalk.

In the centre was reception and a lounge. To the right was the dining area and to the left, the bar.

All this faced the Kwando River.

Large seed pods were continually falling around the lodge area, dislodged either by wind or the Grey Lourie Parrots or ‘Go Away Bird’ that were everywhere.

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Day 26, November 5: Kwando River on the Caprivi Strip.

We had booked a boat trip on the Kwando River in the afternoon, so the morning was spent sitting on our veranda, watching the river flow past and the seed pods dropping.

This was our last full day in Namibia so it was great to be able to reflect on what we had seen and done.

We had been hoping to take a dugout canoe or mokoro through the backwaters. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible as the drought had reduced the water level so much they weren’t passable.

The bird life around Camp Kwando was relatively active but animals sightings were sparse.

I saw a lone buffalo on the Botswana side but not much after that, until we did the river cruise.

The buffalo was an old bull that had passed his used by date and was now destined to wander the rest of his days alone.

Life in the wild it tough. There’d be no retirement, surrounded by family and friends for him.

Kwando is a river that flows both ways. Like the Tonlé Sap in Cambodia, it’s flow changes direction from the wet to the dry season.

Elephants are destructive, but they need to be.

Much of the deforestation that we had seen is all part of the ecosystem in Southern and Eastern Africa that can be attributed to elephants. They tear down the trees for food, which then allows grass to grow, providing food for grazing mammals.

Our guide for the afternoon river cruise was Hidden (not a typo but his real name). He lived in a local village and told us that many of the backwaters were now too shallow to use, even for the locals.

We bottomed out a number of times, even on the main river. At one point I wondered if it was the river bed we bumped over or a submerged hippo.

There was large amounts of floating reeds in the river, again caused by elephants. And again beneficial, as it helps the plants to proliferate by dispersing them downstream.

Our second night at Camp Kwando was jut as hot and humid as the first.

It was uncomfortably warm in the dining area even though it was outside. The problem was that there was no ventilation in the thatched roof.

There was nowhere for the hot air to go.

Using convection, the Egyptians discovered natural air conditioning, with ‘Windcatchers’, around 1,300 BC. I was beginning to wish that the concept had travelled south.

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Day 27, November 6: Kwando River on the Caprivi Strip to Chobe River, Botswana.

We took the longer, more scenic, route to Katima Mulilo along the C49. The road had recently been sealed, so the drive was easy.

The border crossing between Namibia and Botswana was painless. The main concern was bringing a foreign registered vehicle into the country.

Fortunately our paperwork was all in order.

We saw so many road signs, warning us of elephants, in Namibia but never sited one.  It was therefore ironic that as soon as we crossed the border into Botswana, we saw elephants by the roadside.

But there were no signs anywhere.

Our accommodation was in the Water Lilly Lodge, an older style hotel in the centre of Kasane and right on the Chobe River.

Kasane has a Spar supermarket and therefore ranks as very sophisticated, according to the office staff at our last stop, Camp Kwando.

Our room looked right onto the pool which was very inviting in the 35°C heat. There was also a 35 meter high pole next to the hotel buildings and I wondered what it was.

Then it struck me, it was a lightning conductor.

A useful feature, considering the thunderstorms we had had over the last few days. And essential, knowing the hotel roof was thatched.

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Day 28, November 7: Chobe River, Botswana.

Through the hotel we booked a morning game drive in the Chobe National Park. It started at 5:30am as this is the best time to see the animals.

The most interesting part of this drive was that we spent a lot of time on the Chobe River, the border between Botswana and Namibia.

The river backdrop made the photos different to what we had experienced.

Chobe National Park is 11,700 square kilometres in area, which gives the animals plenty of places to hide and avoid the nosy tourists.

We did see lions, elephants, hippos and a rare Sable Antelope.

There were also hundreds of impalas. These are known in Chobe as ‘McDonalds’, as they are fast food for lions.

Young Impalas are born at the same time each year, at the start of the rainy season. They have the amazing ability to be able to control the gestation period and choose when to give birth.

As well as the morning game drive we had also booked an afternoon game cruise.

Our boat contained a mixture of nationalities. Two Spanish girls, a Dutch couple, three from Japan and the two of us.

Of course English was the language of conversation.

The Chobe and the Kwando are in fact the same river, with the direction of the flow influenced by the seasons.

Like the morning drive, the afternoon boat trip offered a very different perspective for game park photography.

Again the river aspect was the focus.

The Chobe River and Chobe National Park are a very important tourist attraction in Botswana.

This means lots of tourists. It was crowded in the park in the morning and just as busy on the river in the afternoon.

Looking over the Chobe River into Namibia we could see plumes of smoke rising into the sky. This was coming from the crop burning, that happens just prior the wet season.

I have always wondered why a shot of a hippo yawning was so special. That afternoon, on the Chobe River, I discovered that the ’yawn’ is actually a bull trying to assert his dominance over the herd.

We started the day with a sunrise and ended it with a sunset.

In Africa both are spectacular.

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Day 29, November 8: Chobe River, Botswana to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Our Toyota was ‘repossessed’ by a driver from Autovermietung Savannah CC, who would be taking it back to Windhoek.

He would only take a day to get back.

We then were driven to the Zimbabwe border. Unfortunately a group of French tourists got there just before us.

This border crossing was in stark contrast to the one coming into Botswana.

There twenty people to be processed by two officers who seemed to do everything manually and in triplicate.

Then that paperwork was passed on to another guy who actually put the visas in the passports.

As we intended to walk across Victoria Bridge to Zambia at Victoria Falls we bought ‘double entry’ visas.

This made things even more complicated.

The drive to Victoria Falls was through the Zambezi National Park. There wasn’t much activity, just a few Elephants crossing the road.

It was very hot when we arrived in Victoria Falls, about 36°C. We were staying at Amadeus Gardens, a guest house that was a little too far out of town. Stupidly we walked into Victoria Falls township in the heat, there we found the Shearwater Cafe.

They had an espresso machine and a contemporary menu, which included the obligatory serving of ‘wildlife’.

The Shearwater Group seem to own most of Victoria Falls. Their name wasn’t only on the cafe but on just about every other tourist activity in the area.

At the recommendation of our hotel, we went to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for dinner. Even though it was very close to our hotel, it was suggested that we take a taxi there, as most of the backroads in Victoria Falls are closed after dark.

Apparently ‘wild animals’ still wander the streets at night. I wondered what wild animals they were referring to.

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is built on a plateau, overlooking Zambezi National Park. Here you can watch the animals coming down to the waterhole, while you are also having your evening drink.

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Day 30, November 9: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Due to hyperinflation in the 1990s, the Zimbabwe government stopped printing their own currency in 2009. They now only use US Dollars.

This has its issues.

One is that the smallest denomination is one dollar – you never get change smaller than that and every bill seems to come to an even dollar.

The next day we walked back into the Victoria Falls township and found a much shorter route. This was good as the temperature was skyrocketing into the high thirties again.

Visiting Victoria Falls was the main objective of our time there, that and having High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel.

We had a long walk along the falls, unfortunately many of the attractions were lacking water, due to drought – we were still the dry season

November in Zimbabwe sees the lowest water level and the hottest temperatures.

There are 16 viewing points along the length of the falls and we stopped at them all but didn’t necessarily take snaps.

Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the indigenous Tonga name meaning ‘The Smoke that Thunders’) is on the Zambezi River and borders Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In 1855 David Livingstone was believed to have been the first European to discover the falls while on his quest to find the source of the Nile River. He named his discovery in honour of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. There is a statue honouring Livingstone’s achievements at the start off the Falls Walk.

Victoria Falls, along with Niagara Falls in the US and Argentina and Brazil’s Iguazu Falls are regarded as the world’s premier waterfalls.

Victoria Falls was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

The Victoria Falls Bridge is at the end of the 16th viewing point. It crosses over the Zambezi River and is the border post between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The bridge is designed as a Parabolic arch and completed in 1905, with a total length of 198 meters and a hight of 128 meters.

It was conceived by Cecil Rhodes, who founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia. His dream was to: “…build a bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls.”

Unfortunately there was no spray that day.

Later that afternoon we walked to the Victoria Falls Hotel for High-Tea on Stanley’s Terrace.

This overlooks the Second Gorge and the Victoria Falls Bridge.

We decided not to have either tea or coffee with our tiered platter of sandwiches, cakes, and Devonshire Tea.

It was far too hot.

I did have a wine and Thea, keeping with British Colonial tradition, had a gin and tonic. After our High Tea we sat on the lawn and watched the warthogs playing on the grass, while security chased away the pesky baboons.

The Victoria Falls Hotel was built by the British in 1904 and was originally designed to house workers from the Cape-to-Cairo railroad. The property is still owned by the National Railways of Zimbabwe but is now a luxury five star hotel.

When we returned to our hotel, which certainly wasn’t five star, there were a group of Americans having a drink around the pool.

I think they were drowning their sorrows, as Donald Trump had just been elected.

We all agreed that we would remember where we were that day. Just as we had when the news broke about the assassination of JFK, Chernobyl and 9/11.

It was another world disaster.

Day 31, November 10 – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Our flights from Victoria Falls to Port Elizabeth, via Johannesburg, was in Business Class.

This wasn’t our choice.

It was the only flight we could get and it cost us more than our Emirates flight from Cape Town back to Melbourne.

Determined to make the most of the expense we went in search of the Business Class lounge, as soon as we checked in at Victoria Falls International.

It was closed.

The lounge in Johannesburg was open and very full.

I allowed myself one beer, as I had to drive, once we got into Port Elizabeth and picked up the rental car.

So much for flying Business Class.

We arrived in Port Elizabeth and the temperature had plummeted 20°C to 16°C, it was also raining.

After getting the hire car we went straight to the Admiral’s Lodge Guest House.

As they didn’t serve dinner we had to quickly find somewhere to eat.

The closest place was a drive away which was a pity because Charlie’s served excellent Craft Beer.

Yet again that day I was restricted to one glass.