Victoria Falls to Cape Town Tour, 21 Days from £950. Find out more
My 30th birthday was looming and I could not stop thinking about a trip that would get me back to basics and back in to my element - on the travel highway. What better than a three week African overland camping safari! Let’s hit the dust...
I arrived at the first port of call, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe with my trusty old backpack and camera in tow. I could hardly wait to unload my bag and walk twenty minutes from the lodge to experience the grandeur of one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world. Let me tell you from experience ... when the locals say you will need a poncho, it’s true! I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the most beautiful rainbow arched over the main cascade. I can appreciate why they call it ‘the smoke that thunders’. The Zambezi River was full and flowing hard as it tumbled 500 million litres of water per minute over the falls – now that’s impressive! I trundled along the rainforest walkway feeling small and insignificant next to the mighty and never-ending whirl of water before me.
There are loads of optional heart-pumping activities for the adventure junkies out here. Bungee, White Water Rafting, Gorge Swing, Abseiling ... You name it, it’s all here at the Falls which share the border with Zimbabwe and Zambia. I opted for a much tamer half day canoeing trip on the placid upper Zambezi River. The morning started by driving through the Zambezi National Park where we were served egg & bacon sandwiches whilst receiving instructions and a safety briefing before taking to the water. The guide identified a huge variety of birdlife as we paddled thirteen kilometres downstream with some rapids along the way. As I was enjoying the beauty of the scenery (and some adrenaline whilst manoeuvring the rapids!), I turned round to see the couple behind capsize! I find a stretch of relatively still water, stabilise and help them back into their inflatable canoe. We had a laugh and just before continuing downstream I turned around to see a hippo not more than thirty metres away, all exposed on a sand bank we had just passed by! I was the first to say that I thought hippos stuck to the calm waters near the banks and the guide replied ‘Yes, that is true but welcome to Africa’!
The next day we loaded up our safari truck and headed for Chobe National Park in Botswana. The concentration and diversity of animals along the riverbank was truly amazing. The guides know that from 3pm, after the heat of the day has passed, until just before sunset is the best time for viewing. As we approached each riverbank, I was surprised to see so many different animals on our three hour river cruise. We saw lots of hippos grouped together (this time fully immersed with only their eyes above the water), crocodile lazing in the sun, buffalo, kudus (a large elegant antelope), zebra and giraffe. A large herd of elephants plodded to the water with their young to cool off. The mothers dug out a puddle in the mud for the baby elephants to splash and play – Wow.
After a long day driving on what seems like a never-ending straight stretch of road, we arrived at Maun – the gateway to Botswana’s Okavango Delta. I chose to take a one hour scenic flight up and over the delta – I think that is the best US$95 I have ever spent! Me and my tent mate from Switzerland took to the skies in a four seater plane. After only a few minutes of flying over the airstrip and residential area, we are hovering above a beautiful myriad of waterways spanning as far as the eye can see. Each body of water is a mouth to another island or wetland which is home to countless birds and animals. The water is so clean that from the air you can see the silhouettes of the hippos huddled together underneath the water. With the help of our pilot we spot giraffe, buffalo, zebra and elephant before witnessing a vivid orange sunset on our way back to land. What a fantastic experience!
The next day we prepared a couple of things into a small bag and headed 20 kilometres by motorboat and then transferred to mokoros into one of the very channels we saw from above the previous day. The poler quietly and gently moved the dugout canoe through impeccably clean water, reeds and waterlilies. We arrived at our camp along the banks of one of the channels where we stayed for two nights bush-style. There are no roads, no electricity, no showers, just the raw bird-chirping bush. How nice to get away from technology and all things commercial and just to rest. We had a team of four qualified guides (who are also our mokoro polers) plus one of our two tour leaders take us on safari by foot. Each morning we headed for a walk to see what we could spot. We managed to see some zebra, buffalo and elephants there. Retiring to the camp we ate traditional African food of maize, meat and a vegetable side dish. As the sun set the sky turned into an uninterrupted roof of the brightest stars and we chatted and sung by the fire. I found myself feeling like a very happy camper.
Waterberg Plateau National Park was our next stop where we enjoyed a short hike 200 metres up via incredible and colourful rock formations to the flat-top plateau before continuing to Etosha National Park. We had a few hours to chill by the pool and enjoy a bite to eat in the rustic restaurant at the campground before heading out for our afternoon game drive. I couldn’t believe how big the park was - it covers more than 22 000 square kilometres and contains 144 mammal species. We spotted loads of animals through the savannah and especially around the waterholes before heading back to camp just before sunset. We returned for a whole day’s game drive the next day and saw black rhino, hyena, jackal and oryx amongst a truckload of zebra and springbok plus some lions lazing under the shade of a tree. Another success … I can’t believe our luck! I am well and truly into the swing of holiday mode now.
Swakopmund was next on the agenda, on the far west coast of Namibia. I had been recommended by other friends who have been to go quad biking in the dunes. Most of the group booked onto a half day quad-biking/sandboarding combo trip. Talk about adrenaline overload. We were equipped with a helmet and talked through how to operate these fun-loving machines. We were off into the wild dune yonda with excitement in our bones. We cruised the dunes for two hours before submitting to the sandboard. Lying down on this thing going full speed is most exhilarating! We all had a laugh at the quantity of sand that had crept into various hidey holes (like ears, pockets and shoes). I think I was still getting sand out of my hair two days later but would not have changed a thing. It was so worth it! There are loads of activities to enjoy here from skydiving to horse-riding and all the bits in between. There is also a good variety of restaurants and bars and great shopping at the local markets or in the various boutique stores to be done.
About 300 kilometres down the road through the breathtaking ranges of the Namib National Park we overnighted for two nights at the Agama River Camp. As the sun went down the sky turned into the most vivid pink and purple. I don’t think I have witnessed a more stunning sunset in all my life. The next morning we headed to the giant sand dunes of Sossusvlei. This is one of the world’s oldest and highest deserts with the dunes extending every which way as far as the eye can see. We took a guided tour with a bushman who explained the makings of the desert and who found living lizards, spiders and plants along the way. He told stories with such energy and enthusiasm that I knew he loved the place. We walked over the dunes to deadvlei and I stopped in my tracks. Here the sand changes to a white colour where there once was a temporary body of water leaving vegetation behind. Some of these old trees are 900 years old! This turned out to be my best day yet.
We headed for the Fish River Canyon and took an easy three kilometre stroll along the rim of the second largest canyon in the world (behind the Grand Canyon in America). Such a wide and colourful expanse, the reflection of the sunset was mirrored by the stream running along the floor of the canyon – very nice!
We crossed the border into South Africa and it was suddenly our last night camping. Pitching my tent had become part of a regular routine. My tent mate & I had quite the system happening and had managed to master the set-up in a cool ten minutes flat. In Citrusdal we enjoyed some hours relaxing in the hot springs which were located at our very camp ground. An uber chilled group of eight plus two tour leaders sat in front of the fire and enjoyed some great food and great company over a couple of drinks.
Three hours south we arrive into cosmopolitan Cape Town. We had one and a half days to enjoy Table Mountain, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and whatever else we might fancy doing. We met for a farewell dinner on Long Street, the main drag just down from our hotel. Mama Africa’s serves up a bushman’s platter which allows us to experience some of Africa’s delicacies/game (including Zebra, zudu, ostritch, springbok, crocodile), while grooving along to some first-rate African drummers. A fantastic end to a memorable overland African safari!
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