Lesotho: kingdom of snow

We left Himeville at the foot of the Drakensberg after a peaceful night’s camping at Goxhill Trout Lodge, situated on a working dairy farm close-by. We were heading for the famous Sani Pass and then Lesotho. I was particularly excited as it would be my first visit to either and we were hoping to see the remains of snow that had fallen three weeks prior…

It was quick and easy to exit South Africa at the border control at the bottom of the 8km pass. The dry brown grass clad smooth, rounded foothills of the mountains and wooded valleys were spectacular as we ascended, more so because they contrasted with their white snow covered tops.

The tops of the Drakensberg mountains were capped with snow.
The top of the Drakensberg mountains were capped with snow.

Signs at the bottom and the top of the pass indicate that only 4WD vehicles are allowed access, and one can imagine that it must be challenging even for these when it is wet or snowy. Indeed travellers have become snow bound as bad weather has suddenly encroached, only to recover their vehicles weeks later – so one should enter prepared with sufficient spares, food, water and warm clothing. Now the pass was dry, rough, rocky and slow, but not difficult to drive.

The start of the pass.
The bottom of Sani Pass.

The views were, however, absolutely breathtaking both looking up the pass and back down to the valleys below.

Looking back to the valleys below the pass.
Looking back to the valleys below the pass.
Vehicles coming down Sani Pass.
Vehicles coming down Sani Pass.

Even though I’ve heard a lot about Sani Pass, it took me totally by surprise. As we ascended, there were patches of snow next to the road and we passed by an impressive frozen waterfall, where snow melt flowing over rocks by day, froze again at night.

Me in front of a frozen waterfall.
Me in front of a frozen waterfall.

The Lesotho border control is at the top end of the pass where immigration was surprisingly easy. We were stamped in without having to fill in any forms and only had to pay a R30 vehicle fee, without showing any vehicle registration papers.

Notice at the top of Sani Pass.
Notice at the top of Sani Pass.

Very exciting for me, the top of Sani Pass was almost completely covered in snow and the wind that swept over the highest pub in Africa (at 2 874m) was icy cold.

In recent years, Chinese construction firms have tarred a network of roads across this mountain kingdom and as we headed north-west on one of these, the newly completed A1, we could see traditional thatched roofed stone huts and their hardy herdsmen wrapped in blankets on horseback.

Basotho man on horseback.
Basotho man on horseback.
Wash day in the highlands.
Wash day in the highlands.

It was good to make our way slowly up and down the soaring slopes with their sweeping bends, where the snow gave way to golden brown grasses as we temporarily descended from the high ground around the Sani Pass. This part of Lesotho is rural, undeveloped and, apart from the snow, very dry at this time of year.

Dry low ground...
Dry low ground…

Next, as we approached the Maluti Mountains, with the road rising to heights of around 3 200m, the landscape turned into a white fairy tale world and at times one lane was still deeply covered in snow. We saw half frozen streams and frozen waterfalls next to the road as we headed for New Oxbow Lodge. This was the one night on our trip that we were not going to camp!

Reaching the snow of the Maluti Mountains.
Reaching the snow of the Maluti Mountains.

On the way we passed the Afriski Mountain Resort, one of the few such resorts in Africa, and we could see skiers gliding down the single, straight track. This run, which must seem quite simple to experienced overseas skiers, used to European and US ski resorts, still provided lots of fun for locals.

Thick snow covering half of the road.
Thick snow covering half of the road.

The next morning we descended Moteng Pass to lower ground where we saw more signs of agricultural activity, although all the crops were harvested. The landscape which is dry and brown at this time of year, was dotted with houses amongst the beautiful sandstone rock formations.

Fertile ground and beautiful rock formations.
Fertile ground and beautiful rock formations.

We left Lesotho at the Caledonspoort border post, in drive-through ‘McDonalds’ style. Without even exiting the vehicle, we had our passports stamped from inside a little window at the side of the border control gate. In spite of what I had read about rather extensive Lesotho border regulations, these were the easiest border crossings I have ever been through in Africa.

With 7 000km to cover in our five week trip, we only skirted the eastern side of Lesotho, but our two day visit was well worth it. Next time I’d like to experience more of the natural beauty and culture of this little kingdom. If you look at the Lesotho tourism website, you will realise that it has a lot more to offer!

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Visa-free overlanding with African Union passport

Having a valid passport and the necessary visas are two of the foremost requirements for any traveller. Apart from the annoyance of applying for visas, it can also be costly and hence African overlanders will be happy to hear that an African Union passport which will give them access to 54 countries is under way.

The dream of having one passport that will allow African citizens to travel the continent visa-free is one step closer to realisation with the new electronic African Union passport that was presented to the incoming chairperson of the AU and the Rwandan president at the African Union (AU) Assembly held in Kigali in July 2016.

The African Union passport that was presented to dignitaries at the AU Assembly.
The African Union passport that was presented to dignitaries at the AU Assembly.

The aim of the AU is to allow African citizens visa-free travel within their own continent by 2020, which is in line with the African Development Bank’s (ADB) plans to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018 – a move which would aid business and overall travel on the African continent.

However, travellers should not get too excited as this passport, which will have inscriptions in five languages (English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, and Swahili) is still a long way from being accessible to Joe Public.

Although the passport is currently exclusive to government heads and diplomats, the AU says it is here to stay. Non-dignitaries will have to be patient, however, and it remains to be seen if this idea comes to fruition.

Interim actions to ease travel regulations

The long term aim of the African Union is to promote a self-reliant continent and countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Ghana have taken the lead in easing their visa requirements.

Apparently Kenya is also in the process of easing visa regulations for most travellers, to enhance tourism in the country. The country also launched e-visas for UK and Irish travellers in July last year and discussions regarding regulations between Kenya and SA officials took place in July this year. One of the decisions taken to ease travel regulations was to issue three year multiple entry visas for frequent travellers. Visa service fees have also been decreased by more than R300.

The East Africa visa which is valid in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda is another good initiative to open up Africa but some have found that it is not that practical, as it isn’t available at all border posts.

Free movement of people on the continent can indeed create a “strong, prosperous and integrated Africa”, but it also may have disadvantages. Increasing terrorism is a real issue and the absence of strict immigration rules may aid the migration of terrorists across the continent. Also, there is the fear that non-nationals will take jobs that could have gone to local citizens, apart from the loss of government revenue from visa applications.  However, for the overland traveller, any efforts to reduce visa red tape and promote friendly and welcoming immigration officials will be welcomed.

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10 Reasons to visit Zambia

If you want to do some exciting overlanding, Zambia provides an excellent option to get a real taste of Africa.  The country has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, scenic back roads, interesting places to visit, exciting activities, variety in accommodation options and on top of it all, friendly people!

There are at least 10 reasons why you should visit Zambia:

 The iconic Victoria Falls

Zambia shares the incredible Victoria Falls with Zimbabwe. You will be as amazed at this spectacular sight just as David Livingstone was in 1855, being the first white man to lay eyes on it, saying ‘scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight‘.  If you slip across the border you can see these iconic falls from the Zimbabwean side as well. Otherwise you can take a helicopter/microlite/scenic flight from Livingstone to see them from the sky. If you are really courageous you can splash in Devil’s Pool from where you can look right over the edge of these massive falls.

  1. Adrenalin activities on the Zambezi River

For the adrenaline junkies there are a variety of activities to enjoy on the Zambezi River. You can go white water rafting, abseiling, swinging or bungee jumping over Batoka Gorge.

  1. Amazing wildlife areas

South Luangwa and Kafue are the most popular National Parks of Zambia but the Liuwa Plains National Park is also a favourite for people who have visited there. The ambiance and spectacular number of animals in South Luangwa is extraordinary, while Kafue is the biggest game park in Africa. November, the beginning of the rainy season, is the best time to visit Liuwa Plains. You will then not only see dramatic skylines and pans exploding with flowers, but also large herds of wildebeest migrating from neighbouring Angola.

South Luangwa has a special ambiance.
South Luangwa has a special ambiance.
Puku in South Luangwa.
Puku in South Luangwa.
Itechi-Techi Dam in the southern section of Kafue NP.
Itechi-Techi Dam in the southern section of Kafue NP.
Early morning on the Busanga Plains in northern Kafue.
Early morning on the Busanga Plains in northern Kafue.
  1. Birding

Many of the smaller parks boast beautiful landscapes and prolific birdlife. More than 420 bird species have been recorded in Lochinvar, which is situated on the southern edge of the Kafue flats.  Over one million fruit bats roost annually in the swamp forests of the Kasanka National Park which is situated west of South Luangwa. Over 330 bird species have also been recorded in Kasanka, including rarities like Pel’s fishing owl, Pygmy goose, Ross’s loerie, Osprey and Wattled cranes and Shoebill storks. The nearby Bangweulu Swamps also offers amazing birding.

Shoebill Stork (photo taken from the internet)
Shoebill Stork (photo taken from the internet)
  1. Source of the mighty Zambezi River

The Zambezi is Africa’s fourth largest river system and it runs through six countries on its 2 574km long journey to the Indian Ocean. This mighty river which has been harnessed for hydroelectric power at various points, including the Kariba Dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe and Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique, has humble beginnings in western Zambia as a little spring that discharges water at around 30 litres per second. Thus the Zambezi starts as a little puddle, but it is exciting to follow its rapid growth. Barely 3km from the source it has formed into a stream about two metres wide and another 60km downstream it increases so much in volume that it feeds a 33KV hydroelectric plant.

Small beginnings for the mighty Zambezi River.
Small beginnings for the mighty Zambezi River.
  1. Waterfalls galore

Whilst the Victoria Falls are Zambia’s best known attraction, few people know that the Kalambo Falls are at 221m is the second highest uninterrupted waterfall in Africa.  There also are a number of little-known but beautiful waterfalls that are worth visiting during or shortly after the rainy season (November to April). Zambia consists of three separate plateaux (Southern, Eastern/Central and Northern/North-western), each one separated from the next by escarpments that drain the plateaux in the form of spectacular waterfalls. Get the guide book published by Quentin Allen and Ilse Mwanza to explore these spectacular falls.

Nyambwezu is one of the many lesser known falls of Zambia.
Nyambwezu is one of the many lesser known falls of Zambia.
  1. Historical sites

When the famous explorer David Livingstone died in Zambia, his heart was removed and buried under a tree at what is today known as the Livingstone Memorial Site. Apart from various other monuments and museums, Shiwa Nganda (Africa House) has an interesting history.  Stewart Gore Brown built Shiwa Nganda for his young English wife in the early 1900’s. The intriguing tale of his commitment to his dream and of her unhappiness in this magnificent home as well as in Zambia can be read in the book ‘The Africa House’. The mansion in northern Zambia can be visited by appointment.

Shiwa Nganda was built in 1855 by Gore Brown.
Shiwa Nganda was built in the early 1900’s by Stewart Gore Brown.
  1. Fishing in Zambia’s major rivers

Zambia has three major rivers: Kafue, Luangwa and Zambezi. All three are great for fishing and at certain times of the year keen fishermen contest to catch Tiger fish, mostly from boats.

Fishing on the Kafue River.
Fishing on the Kafue River.
  1. Pristine wilderness/natural areas

Zambia has some pristine wilderness areas to visit, like the Mutinondo Wilderness Area and Kapishya Hot Spring in the north-east and Luena Flats in the south-west.

Mutinondo is a unique geographical area, covering 10 000 hectares and provides habitat to over 1 000 plant and 324 bird species. There are over 50km of hiking/cycling trails, all maintained and signposted. The paths meander at times next to the Musamfushi River, through Miombo and riverine forest to various waterfalls, pools and around gigantic black granite rock domes.

Big granite domes against colourful Miombo woodland.
Big granite domes against colourful Miombo woodland.

At the Kapishya Hot Spring, on the Mansa River, gallons of clear, sulphur-free water bubble out at a temperature around 39 degrees Celsius. A weir was built below the spring to form a crystal clear shallow bathing pool, surrounded by lush trees.

The Kapishya Hot Spring.
The Kapishya Hot Spring.

It is challenging and exciting to traverse the Luena Flats between Lukulu and Limulungu where you will find little in the way of roads, but many options to make progress in your 4WD vehicle. It is impassable during the wet season and during the dry season road conditions vary between multiple track options of deep sand and long grass hiding hardened, rough mud. The area is totally flooded each year by the Luena River. The water overflows into the Ndandu channel which is the widest tributary to the Barotse Floodplain.

Friendly villagers on the Luena Flats.
Friendly villagers on the Luena Flats.
Deep sand on the Luena Flats.
Deep sand on the Luena Flats.
  1. Unspoilt African forests

In western Zambia you will be astounded to see long stretches of unspoilt African forest. Even though harvesting seems to be mostly well-managed, now is the best time to go if you still want to see pristine African hardwood forest. There are a large number of proclaimed and protected forests throughout the whole region west of Kafue National Park. It is incredible to experience a bit of what is left of unblemished Africa.

Passing through pristine African forest.
Passing through pristine African forest.

Zambia map

Go to the Zambia Tourism page to find out more or read about our visit to Zambia in 2015.

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How to be safe around elephants

It was twilight and not a good time to be out on foot with predators lurking around. The next moment we were shocked to a standstill! A big elephant bull was standing a few meters from us, clearly annoyed with our intrusion. It is difficult to say who got the biggest fright, us or our armed guide!

This incident happened a few years ago when we went for a guided walk in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park.  Then, if it wasn’t for the flooded river crossing, we would have been back at camp well before dark.

In many game areas in Southern Africa the camps are unfenced, which means that elephant can visit at any time. We had an elephant visiting our site while we were pitching our tent and also at night whilst sitting around the fire.

In situations like that is important to remain stationary. Do not approach the elephant or try to chase it away. When we walked into the elephant at Mana Pools, we stood still for a few moments before we very slowly retraced our steps.  If you keep calm the chances are good that the elephant won’t see you as a threat and will mind its own business. Of course there are no guarantees, as these people experienced whilst eating breakfast in Mana Pools.

Remember that it is best not to take fruit into a game area where elephant reside.  Elephant love fruit (especially citrus and apple) and have been known to take desperate measures, even overturning vehicles once they get a sniff of this delicacy.

Most people love elephants but know that these placid giants can be extremely dangerous, especially when they have young. Elephants are very communicative animals and humans can read a lot in their postures, stances and gestures and by doing so, prevent themselves from getting into life threatening situations.

How to approach an elephant sighting when driving a vehicle

  • Slow down as soon as you see the elephants. Do not go “rushing” into the sighting.
  • Assess the situation regarding escape routes, terrain and animal behaviour before settling down to watch.
  • If there are young ones in the group, you must be extra cautious and keep an extra safe distance.
  • Do not go closer than 50m to the animals and switch off the engine. If the elephants are comfortable, you can sit quietly and enjoy the experience.
  • Do not to let the elephants approach to within 20m of your vehicle and never allow them to touch it. If the elephants approach within this zone, switch the engine on, wait a few seconds and slowly back away.
  • If switching the engine on appears to aggravate the elephant, switch it off immediately, wait a few minutes and then try to retreat again.
  • If you are in an open safari vehicle, do not stand up or make sudden movements on the vehicle. This may frighten the elephant and cause a threatening or aggressive response.
  • If an elephant shows threatening behaviour, slowly retreat and give it space.

The following are the most obvious threatening behaviours displayed by elephants:

Standing tall

The elephant is standing or moving with her head held well above her shoulders, the chin is raised and the elephant looks down at her adversary over her tusks with eyes open and her ears maximally forward. The animal appears to increase in height and will sometimes deliberately stand upon an object such as a log or anthill in order to increase its height. (Elephants normally stand or move about with their eyes cast down.) A direct gaze with the chin raised as opposed to tucked in, looking down over the tusks, is primarily used by females as a warning toward non-elephant threats, such as predators and people, as if to say: “I’ve got you in my sight, so watch it”.

Shaking the head

If the elephant shakes its head abruptly so as to flap the ears sharply, it is annoyed. The shake usually starts with the head twisted to one side and is then rapidly rotated from side to side. The ears slap against the side of the face or neck making a loud smacking sound. Head jerking (a single, upward movement followed by a slower return) and head-tossing (the head is lowered and then lifted sharply so that the tusks make an arc) are also mild threat displays.

Spreading the ears

The elephant faces an opponent head-on with ears fully spread (at 90 degrees from the body), presumably for the purpose of appearing larger. Elephants sometimes spread their ears when they are excited, surprised or alarmed.

Swinging the trunk forward and blowing it

The elephant swings and tosses its trunk in the direction of an adversary, typically while trumpeting.

Tusking the ground

The elephant bends or kneels down, tusks the ground and uplifts vegetation as a demonstration of “look what I will do with you”. It is mostly done by musth males.

Mock charging

The elephant rushes toward an adversary or predator while spreading its ears and just stops short of its target, swinging its trunk forward and kicking up dust. A mock charge is often associated with shrill trumpeting.

Throwing debris

The elephant lifts or uproots objects and throws it in the direction of an opponent. An elephant’s aim can be very accurate, even at some distance.

Bundu bashing

The elephant causes a commotion to demonstrate strength, tossing its head and tusks back and forth through bushes or other vegetation while making a noise.

Charging

The elephant rushes toward you with its ears spread and its head raised or lowered while it has the apparent intention of following through. Its trunk may be tightly curved under so that the tusks can make contact first. A real charge is usually silent and extremely dangerous. Try to get away as quickly as possible!

See a full list of elephant behaviour, compiled by professional ecologist Audrey Delsink who is a member of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group.

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Finding the roots of Tracks4Africa

By Johann Groenewald (co-owner of Tracks4Africa)

People often wonder how Tracks4Africa started out.   Today’s company with twenty-odd employees and product representation all over the world started out as a simple quest for information.  I asked founder, Wouter Brand, to take me on a trip to see where it all began.  The mode of transport would be Wouter’s only manner of travel these days – motorbikes and the destination would be nowhere specific, other than the remote Namibian landscape.

The bikes with Brandberg in the distance.
Our destination was remote Namibia.

Around the year 2000, GPS equipment became available for the recreational user and a few technically minded travellers quickly seized the opportunity to better orientate themselves to their surroundings.  Wouter recalls a trip to Namibia around that time with friends in  Kaokoland, which is a very remote part of Namibia and where getting lost is easy.  Knowing where you are is only part of the navigation story; knowing where to go is also vitally important.

Our trip started in George in the Southern Cape where I picked up Wouter and the bikes in our van.  As I was pressed for time I suggested that we transport the bikes to Windhoek from where the real action would start.

While GPS devices were readily available in 2000, they had no maps of any worth for the remote areas we now intended to travel.  At that stage manufacturers had the daunting task of mapping cities and national roads accurately enough to enable GPS navigation.  There was absolutely no focus on these remote parts of Africa, so travellers took it upon themselves to record tracks and waypoints which they then shared with one another.

Back then the only way of getting a route loaded onto your GPS was to transfer a track from somebody who had travelled that particular road. You could then follow it on screen, almost like we use the backtrack function these days.  You would also make sure that you recorded your own track as you drove because if you got lost you could retrace your steps.

Stopping in the Irindi Game Reserve.
Stopping in the Irindi Game Reserve.

Our trip in July 2016 would be very different.  We now have highly detailed paper and GPS maps of remote parts of Africa and our bikes are fitted with GPS’s and these latest maps.  On our first day we set off for Uis, the unofficial gateway to Damaraland.  We left the tar road at Okahandja and rode through the Irindi Private Game Reserve to Omaruru from where we continued to Uis. We stopped at intersections to check our maps as it is often difficult and always dangerous to read the map while riding, especially on unpaved roads.

On that first day I had to meet and get acquainted with my borrowed iron horse; it was a very long time since I was last on a motorcycle as a youngster. Getting used to the feeling of the bike slipping over the little sand berms on the gravel road was my main priority.

I met Wouter in 2001 and at about that time Tracks4Africa was born when a name for this community of travellers was suggested by Johan Strumpfer.  A website was created where these travellers could upload and download tracks and waypoint files.  Although the sharing of data was structured, no maps were available yet.

I had a very basic background in GIS (a Geographical Information System is a computer system for capturing, storing, checking and displaying data related to positions on earth’s surface) which I shared with Wouter.  He was a data analyst and as such used to writing his own software to achieve complex calculations.  Soon Wouter was compiling all the tracks and waypoints that had been uploaded by travellers to the website onto a map of Africa. There were no procedures and we had to make them up as we went along.

Wouter on his bike with Brandberg in the distance.
Wouter on his bike with Brandberg in the distance.

In very much the same way, but with modern equipment, we decided to travel around Brandberg.  Basil Calitz from Brandberg Rest Camp in Uis accompanied us on his Africa Twin to show us a few hidden gems; one being this stunning Quiver tree with Brandberg in the background.

Lone Quiver Tree near Brandberg.
Lone Quiver Tree near Brandberg.

Basil returned to Uis while we continued to Ugab Rhino Camp, passing Elephant Rock on the way.  There is now a new community campsite at the rock which we duly added to the map; the T4A traveller never being off duty!

Negotiating deep sand in the Ugab Riverbed.
Negotiating deep sand in the Ugab Riverbed.
The motorbike is dwarfed by the walls of the Ugab River Canyon.
The motorbike is dwarfed by the walls of the Ugab River Canyon.

As we entered the Ugab Riverbed, we had to negotiate the deep sand through the canyon.  Whilst we did not see any game it was a truly spectacular place to be and we were later informed that the elephants were on the White Lady side of the river.

The top of Divorce Pass with the Ugab Riverbed in the background.
The top of Divorce Pass with the Ugab Riverbed in the background.

As we exited the river to head north to Twyfelfontein, we had to negotiate Divorce Pass which is steep and rocky and got our adrenaline pumping. We were relieved to reach the top unscathed.

Whilst riding I was reminded of T4A’s development, when in the year 2003 we stumbled upon software which enabled us to create a map that would be compatible with the GPS we used.  Up till then we only had a map in raw GIS format; thus it was a great moment when we could load our own map to the GPS.  It was not routable (it could not give point by point directions) but we could load all our data at once onto the GPS instead of loading the individual tracks and waypoints.

I still recall testing this very first map on a trip in the Mkgadikgadi pans in Botswana – another place where one can get seriously lost.  Friends were following us as I drove. The route wasn’t clear, so I followed the GPS. When we emerged at the main road an hour later everyone wanted to know what this amazing ‘GPS-thing’ was which had given us the correct directions.  The greatest endorsement came from my wife who finally trusted the gadget I had been playing with.

Wouter taking a break in the Desolation Valley.
Wouter taking a break in the Desolation Valley.

Back to the present, after day two, Wouter and I found ourselves in Aba-Huab Camp in Twyfelfontein.  There we met another lone biker from the US.  At dinner he explained to us that he wanted to do this trip ‘unplugged’.  No GPS for him, only paper maps which he had bought at the airport. I told him they were only good for lighting the fire and gave him our T4A Namibia paper map.  He would not discard his own paper map, however, as he had made notes on it as he travelled I could not help but think that he was basically redrawing a bad map to try to make it useful.

Wouter with the Namibia paper map.
Wouter with the Namibia paper map.

The next day we rode together to Palmwag.  It was very uneventful gravel riding after the Desolation Valley.  After lunch we headed for Kamanjab and just as we took off, the American’s bike broke down.  He had a number for someone in Kamanjab which he called for a pick up but I whipped out my Tracks4Africa Guide App and gave him two numbers for garages in Kamanjab, one marked as a tow-in service.  I think it then dawned on him just how convenient it is to have information at your fingertips when you need it.  Being unplugged only gets you so far.

After we created the first GPS map, things really got underway at Tracks4Africa.  The community realized that we now had the power to create our very own map of Africa, just the way we wanted it.  The T4A forum became a place where specifications were debated and new ideas presented.  It grew into a very lively discussion and years later we were told that it was a great example of open innovation where users give input as to how the product should develop.

Rules had to be established for putting data on the map.  We applied a ‘three recordings rule’ which said that three independent recordings of a remote track had to be submitted before it would go onto the map.  We also quickly realized that not all waypoints submitted should be included, e.g. the location for where ‘lion killed springbok’ did not make the cut.  But there was a great energy as like-minded travellers contributed years of travel experience.  We realized that it wasn’t merely a map, but a record of the collective travel experience of the Tracks4Africa community.

Wouter and I decided next to head to Henties Bay from Kamanjab.  As he had just had a shoulder operation eight weeks before the trip, we ruled sand and technical riding out and stuck to the gravel roads.  Between Uis and Henties Bay I started feeling a new sensation on the bike which turned out to be a flat tyre.  This resulted in my first lesson on fixing a tyre on the side of the road.  Wouter is a master of the craft and showed me his side stand hoist method of raising the wheel off the ground.  It still took us an hour to get the job done and made me realize how exposed one is on a bike.

Fixing a flat tyre on the way to Henties Bay.
Fixing a flat tyre on the way to Henties Bay.

Riding into Henties Bay it was misty and cold as we hit the salt roads and we gladly resolved to take a warm bed instead of a tent.

The Tracks4Africa map really grew from strength to strength in the years to follow and various mile stones were reached.  Even though the business really started when we sold the first commercial version of the map to cover costs, it was still just a hobby on the side.  Then in 2007 Tracks4Africa was the first company to offer a routable GPS map from Cape to Cairo… the rest is history. Wouter had to really pull out all stops to achieve this.

Back to the present and Wouter bid me farewell in Swakopmund after a daunting 70km in the mist from Henties Bay.  I had to get back to Windhoek and he was visiting friends in Walvis Bay.   On my way to Windhoek I had the inevitable second flat tyre, 50km from Okahandja.  As Wouter had all the tools and spares on his bike, I could luckily call on my good friend Mossie who stored the van for us, to come and collect me. Thanks partner!

Waiting by the roadside for Mossie to pick me up with the van.
Waiting by the roadside for Mossie to pick me up with the van.

The bike I was riding has the number plate “TSORO WP”.  Tsoro is the word for honey badger in the Pedi language and this has become the symbol of the Tracks4Africa community.  A honey badger is a small but relentless animal that will persevere to find what it wants.  There is also the myth of the symbiosis between the honey bird and the honey badger.  It is said that the honey bird will either take you to a snake or a beehive.  The snake is an enemy of the honey bird while the honey badger feeds on them. Honey is a treat for both and the honey badger will always leave some honey for his friend, the honey bird. This is the way in which the Tracks4Africa community operates as well.

But there is another trait of the honey badger which is very apt to Tracks4Africa founder, Wouter Brand.  Like the hyena and leopard had to admit defeat to the much smaller but ferocious honey badger, Wouter will not stop at anything and nothing will get him under.

Wouter is a true pioneer and it is only through his dedication that Tracks4Africa has become what it is today.  He would not like me to say this but he has survived cancer for three years now and even with the shoulder operation shortly before our trip, he still got on his bike and rode like the wind.  I salute and thank you for your guidance and the path on which you have set us all. It is an honour to count you as a friend and to have you as a business partner, Wouter.

As a parting note I have to say that the Tracks4Africa community is its essence.  Thank you to the people who call themselves Tracks4Africa data members; each one of you is a legend of independent travel in Africa.  If it wasn’t for you, sharing your data and experience, Tracks4Africa would not exist. Equally important are the map users who contact us with corrections. This is the best way we know of to map Africa.

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Spice up your trip to the Cape Winelands

The Cape Winelands area is renowned the world over, not only for the outstanding wines produced there, but also for its exceptional beauty. If you ever happen to be in the Paarl area, one place that will spice up your trip is Spice Route, a mere 40 minute’s drive from Cape Town.

Tasting wine under the old oak tree...
Tasting wine under the old oak tree…

Spice Route not only offers breathtaking views over the vineyards, Simonsberg Mountain and even Table Mountain on a clear day, but also a sensory feast for the palate. Owner Charles Back had in mind a one-stop gastronomical destination for local and international tourists when he bought Seidelberg wine farm and started developing Spice Route in 2012.

Entrance to Spice Route.
Entrance to Spice Route.

A selection of hand-picked artisan producers who put as much thought, skill and passion into their products as the Spice Route winemaker, offer their variety of products to people who enjoy the good things in life. Be warned that you need a full day to really enjoy all the specialities on offer at Spice Route, even though all attractions are clustered together under aged oak trees, some in the original beautifully renovated Cape Dutch farm buildings.

The De Villiers artisan chocolate factory is housed in one of the historical buildings.
The De Villiers artisan chocolate factory is housed in one of the historical buildings.

The gastronomic specialities include craft beer, biltong, artisan chocolate,  tappas, pizzas, home distilled products, cured meats, choice coffee, home-made ice cream, preserves, traditional South African cuisine and of course Spice Route wines. Art lovers will marvel at the art gallery and glass blowing studio.

What there is to do at Spice Route:

Taste

  • A choice of Beef, Kudu, Eland, Springbok and Ostrich biltong and ice-cold craft beer from the Barley and Biltong Emporium.
  • Delicious preserves and fresh products of the season at Brenda’s Deli.
  • A variety of Spice Route wines which are grown and made in the cellar at Malmesbury.
  • Italian and Spanish style superior quality charcuterie at Richard Bosman cured meats.
  • Artisan chocolate.
  • Fine grappa and eau de vie at Wilderer Distillery.
The Wilderer Distillery.
The Wilderer Distillery.
Fine grappa and eau de vie on taste.
Fine grappa and eau de vie on taste.

Enjoy artisan skills

  • See how they make the chocolate at De Villiers Artisan Chocolate.
  • See how the grappa and eau de vie are distilled at Wilderer Distillery.
  • Witness the entire beer production process at Cape Brewing Company.
At the Cape Brewing Company you can see how different beers are crafted.
At the Cape Brewing Company you can see how different beers are crafted.

Eat

There is a choice for every palate, from gourmet burgers at the Barley and Biltong emporium, to tappas and pizzas at La Grapperia or traditional South African cuisine at the Bertus Basson restaurant.

The outside seating at La Grapperia.
The outside seating at La Grapperia.

The not-so-hungry can enjoy home-made ice cream or delicious pastries with a choice of coffees at the Cottage Café. If you like Mexican Tortillas, you can look forward to Santa Annas which will open in November this year at Spice Route.

A choice of coffees available from DV Cafe.
A choice of coffees available from DV Cafe.

Be it winter or summer, you can either sit snugly indoors or if the weather is warm, enjoy the views on a pristine sunny day.

A room with a view... the inside seating at La Grapperia.
A room with a view… the inside seating at La Grapperia.

See

  • Feast your eyes on the artwork at the Barn Artists and fine hand-blown glass art at Red Hot Glass Studio.
  • At the Trading Company visitors can buy a variety of authentically handmade, limited edition products, most of which are made from natural and raw materials.
Fine pieces of hand-blown art at Red Hot Glass.
Fine pieces of hand-blown art at Red Hot Glass.

So renowned is Spice Route, that close to 400 000 people visit there each year, including local families whose children enjoy the playground, the open air and beautiful surroundings. Entrance is free but a nominal fee is charged for each tasting experience.

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10 Things to do in Southern Namibia

Namibia is a big country with vast open spaces and to properly tour the country you need many weeks. However, for travellers who have little time available it is possible to experience some of the beauty of this extraordinary country by exploring the south in about fourteen days.

Seasoned travellers describe Namibia as ‘Africa Lite’ because it is an easy country to tour; the road network and infrastructure are good and the people friendly and efficient. Combine this with the unique beauty of the stark landscape and you have the ideal holiday destination. An added bonus is that most of Namibia is malaria free.

The best time to visit southern Namibia is between April and October which are the cooler months and outside the rainy season when flash floods can occur. If you visit in April/May you will be intrigued by prolific growth in the veld shortly after the rainy season. There is little as soul soothing as the long, waving grass and the spectacular colour changes in the surrounding mountains in the late afternoon.

Soft long grass swaying in the afternoon breeze.
Soft long grass swaying in the afternoon breeze.

If you have only two weeks available and you don’t want a rushed holiday, you can enter Namibia from South Africa through the Noordoewer border post near Springbok, which is very efficient, explore the back roads of southern Namibia and exit at the Ariamsvlei border near Upington. This pleasurable route will take you over about 1 500km of excellent dirt and tar road and you will get a good taste of what Namibia offers.

Southern Namibia

This route will allow you to do the following:

  1. River raft on the Gariep (Orange) River

There are a number of camps on the river at Noordoewer where you can experience river rafting, camp or lodge and enjoy the ambiance of this mighty river which forms the border between Namibia and South Africa.

The Gariep River forms the border between South Africa and Namibia.
The Gariep River forms the border between South Africa and Namibia.
  1. Marvel at the vineyards and reed houses of Aussenkehr

From Noordoewer, on the way to the Ai-Ais National Park, you will pass Aussenkehr on the northern banks of the Gariep River. This gigantic farm produces tons of export grapes annually and during the harvesting season close to 20 000 seasonal workers live in their quaint little reed houses. While you are there, visit the Aussenkehr Nature Reserve and drive the Quiver Tree Forest 4WD Trail. You have to get a permit for this at the Norotshama River Resort where you can camp or stay in self-catering chalets.

Quaint reed houses at Aussenkehr
Quaint reed houses at Aussenkehr
  1. Visit or hike the Fish River Canyon

The majestic Fish River Canyon is one of the most spectacular sights in Africa.  Its formation started about 350 million years ago but the river itself now runs in a bed 1,5 million years old. A geologist’s paradise, its walls display a clear record of much of the geological history of the region. It is unimaginable that today’s canyon once used to be the huge Namaqualand Mountains which were eroded to a vast plain, then became the Nama Sea when continental drift caused an ocean trough. It took millions of years to completely fill the Nama Sea with sediment which was transformed into hard metamorphic rock by heat and pressure.  Only much later did erosion start playing its part in creating the canyon. The more adventurous with more time can do the five day Fish River Canyon hike.

The majestic Fish River Canyon.
The majestic Fish River Canyon.
  1. Relax at the Ai-Ais Hot Spring

You can hang out at the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort for a few days and enjoy the soothing warm water of the spring, do some day hikes or just enjoy the natural beauty of the Ai-Ais National Park.  The resort offers camping as well as lodging and has facilities like the spa, outdoor swimming pools, a shop, restaurant and fuel station.

  1. Visit Seeheim where the town is a hotel

On the way to Seeheim you have to stop at the Canon Roadhouse to enjoy an ice cold drink and marvel at the antique automobiles from yesteryear.

Canon Roadhouse
Canon Roadhouse

Seeheim will take you further down memory lane. Today it consists of a solitary hotel on a barren hill, a furniture factory at the back of the hotel, one house, a taxidermist and a lonely railway line.  In its high days, during the first two decades of the 1900’s, Seeheim was bigger than Keetmanshoop!

Around 1903 Seeheim was an important train junction for all trains travelling to and from South Africa and it was compulsory for all passengers travelling between these two countries to stay over at Seeheim.  In those days there were three hotels, a post office, a railway maintenance yard and a few houses.  The Seeheim train station played an important role in the agricultural industry as all farmers of the district had their equipment delivered to the station and their produce was transported to various markets by trains arriving from the south, north and west from the coast.  At that stage the Fish River which flows close-by had permanent water holes which enabled farmers to produce vegetables and tobacco on the fertile agricultural ground on the river banks.

During the First World War the trains on this line carried loads of troops and later, after the first diamond was found in 1908 near Kolmanskop the town became even more of a hub. As expected the town boomed, and even boasted a brothel! The Seeheim railway was an economic life line in this remote area as it also transported firewood, water and later charcoal. There was a big flood in 1922 when 550 mm of rain flooded down in two days. The Riverside Hotel was washed away and many residents had to move to Keetmanshoop.

The current bridge over the river was built in 1974 when the road between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz was tarred. The road no longer ran through Seeheim and as a result it became a ghost town. Even the Seeheim Hotel closed and stood empty for 24 years, before it was restored and re-opened in 1998. The hotel was renovated and upgraded, now having 28 bedrooms, a swimming pool, a lovely lapa area and camping facilities.

Seeheim is worth a stop.
Seeheim will take you down memory lane.
  1. Stop by at historical Aus

If you are interested in history, you should stop by at Aus and visit the graves, prisoners’ camp and fortifications from World War I. You can also do the 9km Schutztruppe hiking trail which will take you about 3 hours. As you head west from Aus west on the B5 to Lüderitz, you will pass feral horses at the Garub Pan.

The feral horses of Garub Pan.
The feral horses of Garub Pan.
  1. Dip your toes in the icy Atlantic Ocean at Lüderitz

Lüderitz was founded in 1883 as a trading post, fishing village and guano-harvesting town. It enjoyed a temporary surge of prosperity when diamonds were discovered in the early 1900’s in the nearby Kolmanskop. Little has changed since the early 20th century and sites to visit in this historical German town include the Adolf Lüderitz Memorial, Felsenkirche (Church of the Rock), Haus Goerke Museum, Lüderitz Museum and Woermann Haus. Unfortunately Diaz Point and Diaz lighthouse are currently closed for tourists due to renovations. This charming harbour town is tourist friendly and offers excellent facilities and a variety of activities such as boat trips and desert tours.

Boats in the Luderitz harbour.
Boats in the Lüderitz harbour.
  1. Bust the diamond ghost at Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop ghost town just outside Lüderitz was founded in 1908 after the discovery of diamonds. In its high days the town boasted all basic amenities including a hospital, school and power station as well as entertainment for the miners living in the desert: a ballroom, skittle alley, theatre, sports hall, casino and even an ice factory! After World War I the town declined as the price of diamonds crashed and mining operations were moved to Oranjemund. The town was abandoned in 1956 but today this ghost town is a popular tourist attraction.

Remnants of a luxurious lifestyle.
Remnants of a luxurious lifestyle.
The ghost town of Kolmanskop.
The ghost town of Kolmanskop.
  1. Marvel at the splendour of the Tiras Mountains

Heading back east from Lüderitz on the B4 and then north from Aus on the C13 you will pass through the Tirasberg Conservancy on your way to Bethanie. There are various camping and accommodation options in the area and you should plan to spend at least one night to enjoy the late afternoon splendour of the Tiras Mountains. Stop by at Bethanie and visit the two national monuments in this small town: the Rhenish Mission Church and the house of Josef Fredericks.

The beautiful Tiras Conservancy.
The beautiful Tirasberg Conservancy.
  1. Play with the giants and explore Quiver tree forests

Just north-east of Keetmanshoop you can visit a Mesosaurus fossil site, dolerite park, do a different Quiver Tree 4WD Trail and explore the big dolerite boulders in Giant’s Playground, with the nearby Quiver Tree forest and Cheetah enclosure. There are various pleasant camping and lodging options on nearby farms.

The boulders at Giant's Playground.
The boulders at Giant’s Playground.

You can find all the above points on the Tracks4Africa GPS map of Namibia and more information and photos on our website. Don’t forget to take your trusted travel companions, the T4A paper map of Namibia and the T4A Namibia Guide Book when you visit Namibia.

 

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Ins and outs of a Carnet de Passage

You cannot travel across borders without a passport. A Carnet de Passage en Douane (CPD) can be seen as a ‘passport’ which allows your vehicle to be temporarily imported into a foreign country while you overland.

What exactly is a Carnet?

Most people refer to a Carnet de Passage as a Carnet or CPD. It is an international customs document which offers a guarantee to a foreign government that the vehicle identified in the Carnet, if granted temporary importation status, will be removed from the country within the specified time limit. In the event that the vehicle is not removed within that time frame, the country may claim from the authority who issued the Carnet all duties and taxes that would be required to permanently import the vehicle to that country.

Normally a Carnet is valid for a maximum period of one year from the date of issue. If a South African registered vehicle is being shipped or flown out of South Africa on a temporary basis, the Carnet will facilitate customs formalities for both the export and re-importation of the vehicle into South Africa.

A Carnet is recommended for all African countries on the southern and East Africa route, but it is compulsory for Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. We have, however, heard reports of travellers who managed to buy a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) upon entering Kenya.

A Carnet normally makes the formalities during border crossings easier for travellers but some countries (like Uganda) do not accept or recognise a Carnet. Even if you have a Carnet you may still be expected to buy a TIP at a small charge.

Where do you get a Carnet?

Automobile Clubs worldwide affiliated with FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) issue Carnets.

The Automobile Association of South Africa (AASA) is the only authorised issuer of FIA Carnets to citizens/permanent residents of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Normally a Carnet is bought in the country in which the vehicle is registered but it is possible obtain a Carnet from a different Automobile Club, e.g. if you are a foreigner who buys a vehicle in South Africa. (See the last section of this blog on ‘What if you are not returning the vehicle to the point of exit?’)

How does it work?

A Carnet may be purchased as a 5-page, 10-page or 25-page booklet. You use one page per country, each time that you enter. If you enter a country a second time (e.g. on your return trip) you will need a new page for that country. The fee for the booklet varies between R3 000 and R4 200, depending on the number of pages and the duration of the Carnet and a deposit/bank guarantee is also required.

You must apply for the Carnet at least two weeks, but preferably one month, prior to your departure, but be aware that it will only be issued to you a few days before you leave. A Carnet will be issued for a maximum period of one year; if you want to extend your trip, AASA will issue you with a new Carnet. A fee will be charged and your cash deposit/ guarantee will be carried over to the new Carnet.

While you overland, make sure that the stub of each page is stamped upon entry and exit of each foreign country.  The Certificate of Location on the last page inside the Carnet should be endorsed by SA Customs (if you are returning the vehicle to SA) on entry, confirming the final destination of the vehicle. It is proof to AASA that the vehicle is back in South Africa. (It may also be stamped at your nearest police station.)

What does it cost?

If you obtain a Carnet in South Africa: for most countries a refundable deposit/bank guarantee of R10 000 is required if the value of your vehicle is below R380 000. If it is between that and R500 000, a 10% deposit of the vehicle value is required, if the value of your vehicle is between R500 001 and R800 000 a 50% deposit is required and if the value exceeds R800 001 a 100% deposit is required.

The deposit for Ethiopia is R20 000. For Sudan and West Africa countries you pay 10% of the value of the vehicle (minimum R20 000). For Egypt you have to deposit the equivalent of 200% of the value of your vehicle. This prevents many overlanders from including Egypt in their itinerary!

Non-SA citizens or permanent residents will automatically be required to lodge a 100% value of the vehicle as a guarantee. Go to the AASA website for full details on the pricing per country.

You don’t pay this deposit per country, but the maximum payable amount once-off. For instance, if your itinerary includes Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia you will pay the maximum amount (R20 000 for Ethiopia) plus the booklet fee.

Getting your deposit back

Once you have returned home from your trip, you need to courier the Carnet back to the AASA head office or take it into the office where you acquired your Carnet in order to have the cash deposit / bank guarantee discharged and credited to you.

 What if you are not returning the vehicle to the point of exit?

Many foreigners who do an Africa overland trip prefer to buy a vehicle in SA and drive it to Europe. If they intend to return to South Africa, they can obtain a Carnet through AASA. However, if they don’t intend returning the vehicle to South Africa, they can obtain a Carnet through their home automobile club.

For instance, the General German Automobile Club (ADAC) issues Carnets for Europeans who buy a SA registered vehicle and will not be returning to SA to discharge the Carnet. They can discharge the Carnet in Europe.

The amount of the refundable deposit/bank guarantee in this case depends on the countries to be visited and the vehicle type and value. This varies between 5 000 and 60 000 Euros for a Carnet that is valid for all African countries (including Egypt). Typically the Carnet fees for an Africa overland trip would be around 600 Euros.

The bottom line

For some countries a Carnet is compulsory. For other countries where it is not essential, it may ease the border crossing but some countries will still expect you to get a TIP, irrespective of if you have a Carnet or not.

Some travellers will be put off by this additional layer of cost for their journey, bearing in mind that many vehicles cross most borders without one, while others will prefer the sense of security and comfort that a Carnet provides for overlanding.

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Top trek: Fish River Canyon

Most sources cite the Fish River Canyon as the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in America. It certainly is one of Africa’s great natural wonders and the iconic five-day hike is rated among the top treks in the world.

If you follow the river diligently, the route is about 90km but thanks to some scenic shortcuts we hiked 75,5km in total. Officially the distance is covered over five days and four nights but we spent five nights in the canyon as we preferred to start the initial steep descent at midday. It is a tough hike as you have to carry everything that you will need to survive for five days (apart from water) and although the terrain is not technical, thick sand, boulder hopping and exposure to the elements make it quite challenging.

Opinions vary as to the length of the canyon – between 90 and 160km – as it is not well-defined at either end, and it has a maximum width of 27km and a depth of 549m. The silence, solitude, brilliant night sky and towering walls provide a truly inspiring experience. If you love sleeping under the stars, this hike is for you! One night we saw a silvery, incandescent shooting star that would have made Walt Disney green with envy, as it streaked earthward against the backdrop of the Milky Way; its tail extending for kilometres…

There is no marked trail in the upper sections and no official overnight stops. You have to find your own way, monitor your progress and decide where you want to camp for the night. Fortunately it is difficult to get lost between the majestic canyon walls, although hikers must be careful towards the end of the hike as the canyon widens. There are sufficient long stretches of beach that provide ideal camping spots and we managed to pick up enough wood for a bonfire each night.

 Facts about the canyon

The oldest rocks in this region existed long before today’s continents were formed by the break-up of the Gondwana super continent. These basement rocks are 2 000 million years old, almost half the age of earth. Since then tectonic movement, erosion, climatic forces and volcanism have shaped the complex geology that we see today. The formation of the canyon itself started about 350 million years ago.

The majestic Fish River Canyon.
The majestic Fish River Canyon.

A geologist’s paradise, its walls display a clear record of much of the geological history of the region. It is unfathomable that today’s canyon once used to be the huge Namaqualand Mountains which were eroded to a vast plain, then became the Nama Sea when continental drift caused an ocean trough. It took millions of years to completely fill the Nama Sea with sediment which was transformed into hard metamorphic rock by heat and pressure. It was only much later that erosion started playing its part in creating the canyon.

 Today the plant and animal life in the canyon is quite surprising: Hartmann’s mountain zebra, leopard, baboon, rock hyrax, kudu, klipspringer, wild horses, rock lizard, leguaan, dragon flies and scorpions. Among the birds that we saw were fish eagle, grey heron, and Meyer’s parrot.

Fish River Canyon map (Copy)The route

The route is not technical at all and is mostly quite flat. The initial descent, however, is slow and challenging for people with acrophobia, luckily aided by chains.

According to a guide that we had met, the river was the lowest that he had seen it in his 21 traverses, explaining why we had no wet river crossings and a lot of deep sand. However, the water level was still high enough to afford us a lunch time swim every day, a wash at the end of each day and sufficient drinking water.

Our group at the starting point.
Our group at the starting point.

From the starting point, we descended the 500 odd metres to the floor of the canyon. We had a big group (20 people) of whom one had a serious fear of heights, so the descent took us 2,5 hours.

The descent is steep!
The descent is steep!
Beautiful light on the canyon walls.
Beautiful light on the canyon walls.

Once down, we were all very grateful to give our ‘jelly’ legs a break and camp on a long stretch of beach where we could wash off the first sweat of the hike. Although the going was tough, the stunning rock formations and soft light on the rock faces intrigued us.

Tangled Tree Cabernet Sauvignon. The light-weight and unbreakable packaging makes it the ideal wine to take on a hike.
The light-weight and unbreakable packaging of Tangled Tree wines makes it the ideal wine to take on a hike.
The girls drinking in the peace and quiet of the canyon…
The girls drinking in the peace and quiet of the canyon…

Day 1: Total walked = 11,5km. Trek time (including tea and lunch stops) =  8:03.

Next morning from our camp we walked in the shadow of the canyon for most of the day on long stretches of deep sand interspersed with rocky river crossings. It was warm but fortunately a sporadic gentle breeze cooled us. Although the majority of our group were experienced hikers, about half hiked with well ventilated running shoes instead of hiking boots. This was a huge mistake as the sand filtered through the mesh and they ended up having to stop every few kilometres to clear their shoes.

Starting out fresh.
Starting out fresh.

Although the terrain is difficult, it is extremely scenic and we thoroughly enjoyed a swim during our lunch break as it was hot.

 

Johann and Michelle Groenewald with the sole remains of one of three Vespa scooters after an attempt to drive them down the canyon in 1968.
Johann and Michelle Groenewald with the sole remains of one of three Vespa scooters after an attempt to drive them down the canyon in 1968.

Day 2: Total walked = 17.4km. Trek time (including tea and lunch stops) = 8:16.

All bodies awoke sore and stiff from the heavy backpacks. The day started out on boulders (all shapes and sizes) and once again long stretches of thick sand. Although the going was slow and tough, the load of the backpacks was alleviated by the splendour of the towering canyon walls and the plant and animal life down in the canyon.

A carpet of bright yellow flowers…
A carpet of bright yellow flowers…
Boulder hopping…
Boulder hopping…
Walking in the shade of the canyon walls (Photo: Jeanne Heunis).
Walking in the shade of the canyon walls (Photo: Jeanne Heunis).

After 16 rugged kilometres we reached Palm Springs with its hot sulphur spring water flowing at 57°C. This is the ideal place to have a tea or lunch stop and rejuvenate sore feet and aching bodies in the pools below the spring, if you don’t mind a slight eggy whiff in the air. 

Relaxing sore feet in the pools of Palm Springs.
Relaxing sore feet in the pools of Palm Springs.

About half an hour’s walk from the springs there is a beach where we had our lunch stop and enjoyed a swim. After that it became very hot and dry as we turned away from the river.  Everybody was tired, the bodies sore and many had blisters by the time we reached our overnight spot. All were very relieved to take off their backpacks!

 Day 3: Total walked = 17.9km. Trek time (including tea and lunch stops) = 7:59.

The going got a bit easier as the canyon widened, although there still were patches of thick sand. The terrain was dry and rocky and the sun blazed once out of the shade of the canyon walls. Not long after the 40km mark we took a shortcut to cut out a long loop in the river, over a steep hill that tested a few nerves. 

Walking away from the river.
Walking away from the river.
Trekking through a moon landscape.
Trekking through a moon landscape.
A steep shortcut.
A steep shortcut.

Day 4: Total walked = 18,8km. Trek time (including tea and lunch stops) = 8:34.

We started out next to the river, mostly on big boulders which aren’t really difficult to walk on unless you have knee or ankle problems. We once again encountered long patches of deep sand and this is where wider soled boots helped those who had them.

Starting the day next to the river.
Starting the day next to the river.

Most of the day was again hot and dry as we walked away from the river, taking two shortcuts, none as strenuous as that of the previous day. These provided a nice break from the riverine scenery and gave us a glimpse of more rugged country.  Always grateful to reach camp we spent a cool night with a few gusts of wind briefly kicking up some sand. 

A dry trek away from the river.
A dry trek away from the river.
Breathtaking sunset on our last evening.
Breathtaking sunset on our last evening.

Day 5: Total walked = 7.5km. Trek time (including tea and lunch stops) = 3:59

Just as everybody was getting used to their backpacks, so they became lighter! The canyon opens up  and the terrain is mostly flat, with plenty of thick sand. We started early and the lure of luxuries ensured a brisk  pace on this last day, finishing at Ai-Ais at around 10:00.  Feeling a great sense of achievement we rejoiced with ice-cold drinks while some went off to relax in the warm waters of the spring. 

Desperate measures to try and keep deep sand out of shoes! The ankle skirts made by Hanli Swart really helped to keep sand out of boots but the masking tape on the trainers did not last long.
Desperate measures to try and keep deep sand out of shoes! The ankle skirts made by Hanli Swart really helped to keep sand out of boots but the masking tape on the trainers did not last long.

Your hiking gear

  • You will need a good backpack of at least 45 liter capacity to fit everything in. Pack enough food to eat well but be careful not to overload your pack. The golden rule is that you should not carry more than a quarter of your body weight. Make sure that you pack is adjusted to fit, so that the bulk of the weight is supported on your hips, without the hip belt cramping the upper thigh muscles.
  • Take good hiking boots. DON’T walk in sneakers as you will have to cross long stretches of deep sand which will creep through the mesh of your shoes, chafe your skin and make your walk really uncomfortable. Also, boots will give you better ankle support over the boulders.
  • A walking stick is a huge help on the boulders and especially during the steep descent on the first day.
  • Sun hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunblock.
  • One set of clean underwear for each day and two pairs of socks. Wearing knee-high stockings or thin socks underneath your thick socks (preferably mohair hiking socks without seams) really helps to limit blisters.
  • Two clean shirts that dry quickly and two pairs of shorts to walk in.
  • One pair of slacks and a warm top for the evenings as well as a thin wind jacket.
  • A buff, beanie, thermal tights and socks to sleep in.
  • An extra pair of comfortable shoes to wear in the evening.
  • Toiletries (remember your lip balm and biodegradable soap).
  • Small towel (a drylite towel is light, takes up little space and dries quickly).
  • Remember to take a head lamp.
  • Toilet paper and matches (please burn your toilet paper for the sake of the environment – it will not degrade and is exposed by wind).
  • Thick space blanket and/or ground sheet.
  • Mattress, sleeping bag and liner.
  • Hiking gas stove, firelighter and set of pots.
  • Coffee mug, plate, fork, knife, spoon and pocket knife.
  • Dishwashing liquid, sponge and drying cloth. A collapsible basin will be helpful.
  • A plastic container or bucket of at least 2 litres with which you can fetch water for cooking and washing. Hang this on the outside of your backpack.
  • Water purifying drops, tablets or filter bottle.
  • A small first aid kit with bandages (or ankle guard in case of ankle sprains), mercurochrome and plasters (in case of blisters), electrolytes for dehydration and Imodium for diarrhea.
  • Don’t forget your camera!

Paperwork

  • Passport.
  • Medical clearance certificate, signed by your doctor. (Get it when you book the hike.)
  • Conservation declaration form. (Get it when you book the hike.)
  • Paper map of the hike and a GPS with T4A map.
  • You will have to supply your medical aid name and number when you sign in for the hike at Hobas camp.

Tips

  • As a safety measure the group should have a designated hiker who will cover the rear and make sure that nobody is left behind.
  • There aren’t any official overnight stops, so your group must cover enough distance each day to ensure that you finish the hike in time. The first third of the hike takes the longest but is also the most scenic. Don’t worry if you only manage around 15km per day on the first two days; the terrain evens out towards the end and gives you opportunity to make up on distance.
  • If you vacuum pack your meat, you can braai every night. However, this luxury will cost you dearly in terms of the weight that you have to carry.
  • A compression bag will reduce the space that your sleeping bag takes up in your backpack tremendously.
  • A liner for your sleeping bag will keep it clean and if it is hot you can sleep in just the liner to protect you from insects. You can buy one at an outdoor store or make yourself one by folding a sheet and stitching it together.
  • Taking a tent is very much a matter of preference. Some members of our group took tents and were very happy for it, mostly because they could keep all their things out of the sand and have a bit of privacy. But those of us who did not take tents didn’t regret it. We loved sleeping out in the open under the stars.
  • We found that thin foam mattresses didn’t really provide enough of a cushion, unless you fold them double. The inflatable mattresses are a bit heavier (unless you can get a three-quarter length) but do offer more comfort.
  • We only needed our warm gear on the last night, but you should go well prepared for cold weather as that could really make your hike unbearable if you can’t keep warm in the evenings.
  • Take a geologist with you, or at least read up about the geology of this magnificent area before you go.
  • Start out as early as possible every day. Apart from being the most beautiful time of day, it also affords you coolness for a part of the day as you are able to walk in the shadow of the canyon.
  • A variety of light-weight hiking food is available. See this review.

 Facts about the hike

  • A maximum of 30 hikers per day are allowed and because of extreme weather conditions the hike is only open between 1 May and 15 September. It may be closed during years of severe drought.
  • There are two escape routes.
  • A shuttle service is available between Ai-Ais (the end) and the starting point near Hobas. Booking is essential.
  • Camping and chalets are available at Ai-Ais and camping at Hobas.
  • Minimum age allowed to do the hike is 12, but with the weight that hikers have to carry, I would advise against taking children of that age.
  • Bookings can be made by contacting Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) at reservations@nwr.com.na or tel. +264 61 285 7200. You can also contact the Ai-Ais Resort at +264 63 683 676/7 or Hobas Camp at +264 63 266 028.

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How to dust proof your canopy

By Peter Barber

Overlanders love travelling the back roads but driving off the beaten track inevitably means driving gravel roads…. and having everything covered in dust when you arrive at your destination after a long day’s drive.

During our seven month overland trip last year I took great care to dustproof our canopy as best I could before we left. I ensured that all the canopy doors catches were tightened up as much as possible (whilst still allowing the doors to close properly) so that the doors fitted snugly to the canopy frame and compressed the rubber seals.

However, the rubber seals gradually deform, don’t go back to their original shape and can let dust through eventually. If I had the time I would have tightened the door catches again after leaving the new canopy in the sun for a few weeks.

Instead, with a head torch and marker pen, I climbed inside the canopy and got someone to close all the doors properly. I looked for chinks of light and marked these areas with the pen. This is done best with the canopy out in bright sunlight or at night with a bright torch shining on the external sealing surfaces.

Once I identified where the light came in, I cleaned the rubber seals and let them dry. Then I got some Silicon sealant , cling wrap and a helper, choosing a wind free day otherwise the sticky cling wrap would get tangled with itself.

I applied a generous seam of sealant to the areas where the door seals would touch the opposite sealing surface and especially where I had seen light. Then I placed a layer of cling wrap over it and gently ensured that it stuck without over compressing the seam (you want the door seals to do this). I would advise you to finish all the sections on one door and then close it, applying just enough pressure to get the catches to ‘catch’. If you ‘over push’ the door closed it will squeeze out more sealant than it should and when the door returns to its ‘normal’ closed position when you stop pressing it, there will be a gap.

Use cling wrap to cover the wet silicon sealant before you close the door.
Use cling wrap to cover the wet silicon sealant before you close the door.

Once dry, I opened the doors, removed the cling wrap and got inside to check for the entrance of light again. (If you still see light, repeat this process.) The rear door is the most important one to do because of the dust vortex effect at the rear of the vehicle.

This procedure worked pretty well for us, but finally the doors started leaking dust again and I couldn’t summon the energy to repeat the exercise more than twice during the trip. It is still not clear to me why our canopy was okay for a while and then leaked again. Eventually we ended up putting a sheet of plastic between the tailgate and our gear which kept most of the dust off it, but it was messy and inconvenient every time we opened the back door and tailgate.

Dust proofing the tailgate

You need to have all the sealing surfaces overlapping each other to have a chance of a good seal. So where for example the tail gate closes adjacent to the sides of the load box, you should pop rivet aluminium plates onto the inside of the load box onto which you stick self-adhesive rubber, then apply the sealant bead to this rubber surface and close the tailgate against this.

Fit overlapping aluminium strips to the sides of the load box.
Fit overlapping aluminium strips to the sides of the load box.

At the bottom of the tailgate, where it hinges, cut a piece of canvas long enough to overlap each side of the tail gate by about 6cm and wide enough to generously cover the gap between the tailgate and the load box. Pop rivet one edge of this long strip to the tailgate, holding it in place with a strip of aluminium. We tucked the opposite side a few cm underneath our fridge and sliding drawer boxes and kept it there by stuffing foam rubber in with it. That was good at keeping out dust along the bottom edge of the tail gate.

Cover the gap between the tailgate and the loadbox with a piece of canvas.
Cover the gap between the tailgate and the loadbox with a piece of canvas.

(Please share your ideas of dust proofing your canopy with our readers – Editor)

 

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