Posted by: megandnath | February 18, 2011

Lucky timing

After the high of spotting animals in Hluhluwe it wasn’t long before we reached a low point in our trip (or maybe a high depending on who’s perspective you look at it from!). Megs was catching several long flights back to NZ on Sunday evening and I was staying in South Africa with Jono for another 10 days.

As you can imagine after spending every waking moment together for 2 ½ months; putting up an taking down our portable home, packing bags, hand washing clothes, suffering through stifling heat and sharing the numerous wonders, which there are too many of to list, it was painful to say goodbye. Thankfully after flying all the way from Durban to Dubai to Bangkok and Sydney Megs eventually arrived home and after getting an email confirming this my heart could once again operate in a normal way!

Back down in Port Shepstone again Jono and I have begun the task of training some of his new facilitators. Outdoor Education is a relatively new concept in Africa and using experiential education to positively shape the lives of young people is something very few organistaions are doing here. Besides from Outward Bound and a few other small places you could say that Jono’s program is at the forefront of this in South Africa. Check it out at www.lifeandtruth.co.za

 So how does the title of this blog relate to all that? Well it doesn’t really except for that late one night I was walking back to my room and spotted something in the tree above me, you might look at the picture below and think that its only a flower but this flower is very unique and nothing more than pure luck and great timing allowed me to see it.

 

Called Queen of the night this flower only blooms 1 night every year! Almost before our eyes it was slowly opening up and coming into full bloom, we quickly grabbed our cameras, climbed the tree and tried to capture this rare sight before it died for another year.

 I was pretty pleased with these shots as its not easy to get so much fine close up detail when shooting up a tree, in the dark and worrying about snakes!

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Posted by: megandnath | February 15, 2011

Hluhluwe Game Reserve – The land of the Rhino

After leaving Durban we headed south to Port Shepstone for a couple of days to check out where Jono lives and stock up on supplies needed for our adventure into the heart of Zululand. Port Shepstone is situated along the stunning south coast in an area covered with banana plantations and sugar cane fields. Then after passing back through Durban we speed north on the motor way following the coast up into Zululand.

The Zulus are South Africa’s biggest tribe and Kwazulu-Natal is their original homeland. The countryside is made up of rolling hills with small houses covering it like a well laid blanket, there appeared to be no real established towns just the ever continuing spread of small colorful homes.

Eventually after 4hrs in the back of a hot vehicle we arrived at the gates to the park, Hluhluwe is South Africa’s oldest game reserve and probably the world leader in rhino conservation and breeding.  Unfortunately South Africa is experiencing a major issue they are calling the ‘Rhino War’ with huge increases in the number of Rhino being poached for their horns. In 2010 alone over 240 Rhino were killed by elaborate poaching rings, a number which is dangerously high when you consider how fragile the population is and how few animals actually live in the wild. I had just finished a book called ‘To Save an Elephant’ about 2 guys who single handedly stopped the trade of Ivory back in the late 1980s. At that time over 100,000 African Elephants had been killed to feed the illegal ivory trade. Through bribery, corruption and absolutely useless control systems countries like Tanzania had all but lost their Elephants so rich people in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and the USA could have ivory jewelry and ornaments.  The ivory was smuggled out and sent to Dubai where it was then transferred to Hong Kong and Singapore before being sold onto its final destinations. These 2 guys literally uncovered the whole elaborate scheme and just like a secret spy type movie they filmed and photographed everything. Eventually they convinced the world agency in charge of regulating the trade in wild life to place a total ban on ivory. I can’t help but think more needs to be done now to stop the growing number of animals being killed for nothing more than thick hair in the shape of a horn.

Luckily for us Hluhluwe has a very high Rhino population and it wasn’t long before we spotted our first white rhino. Over the next 3 days we encountered an amazing 22 white rhinos and 3 black ones.  At one stage we came across a gathering of 6 of them as they nibbled the long grass just as the sun was setting, on another occasion we met a young white rhino on the road, it was intent on traveling towards us down the road and would not move, as we crawled back it would follow us, obviously it wanted to go where we were and nothing would prevent it from doing so. For at least ½ hr we sat watching it only 5m from the vehicle playing a game of cat and mouse together, eventually we backed away far enough for it to pass us and continue on its way.

Rhinos have incredibly bad eye sight so the whole time we were watching it wouldn’t have been able to see us but with its very good sense of smell and hearing it new exactly where we were. Some of the Rhinos we saw had massive horns that were as long as a human arm and pointed sharp at the end – a great sight to see an animal that was clearly very old but also very safe and protected in the park. Some places now cut off the horns so poaches won’t be tempted to kill them.

As well as the numerous rhino sightings Hluhluwe was full of Elephants enjoying the long grass and rich food sources that the rainy season has left behind. Over the 3 days we saw hundreds of Elephants of all shapes and sizes. On one particular occasion we meet the biggest Elephant I have ever seen strolling casually down the road, once again it wanted to go exactly where we had come from and so a standoff ensued. With the huge size of this one our 4×4 would have had no chance had it decided to flip us with its trunk so we quietly backed away, as we did the Elephant followed us always staying about 5m in front. Eventually we ran out of road and had to pull over to the edge and the monster Elephant passed within an arms reach of the car! Jono and I looked behind us to see the girls curled up in the back absolutely terrified that this huge animal would charge us and flip the vehicle. It was so big and so close to us it was impossible to photograph it! Just behind the vehicle it stopped in a mud pit beside the road and proceeded to cover itself in mud before meandering off into the grass.

As well as all of the Rhino and Elephant we also had another brilliant encounter with 3 spotted Hyenas. They appeared out of the bush just in front of us and trotted on past the vehicle, their mouths open and tongues out all covered in red blood having obviously come from a kill.

Unfortunately we never saw the Wild dogs that help to make Hluhluwe so famous and we will also have to leave Africa without having seen a leopard. It’s easy to get disappointed about having not seen these two animals but when I think about what wildlife we have seen we have been very very lucky. Meg’s and I both agreed that Hluhluwe made it into our top 3 game parks in Africa and if anyone is considering a visit to South Africa it should be at the top of your list.

Leaving Hluhluwe behind we headed back down the coast to Durban and back to Jono’s parents place, after 3 days of full on driving and peering out a window we were all very tired and welcomed the rest and relaxation as well as an extreme game of backyard croquet.

Posted by: megandnath | February 10, 2011

Durban

After leaving Cape Town we jumped on a shortish flight and arrived in Durban, half way up the Kwazulu-Natal coast. At this time of the year Durban is hot and humid, situated right on the beach its a perfect spot for beach bums, surfers and a sunny summer holiday.

We were picked up at the Airport by Jono, a good mate who I worked with at Outward Bound South Africa 6 years ago. After being on the go for 2 months this was our first chance to just chill out and not have to get through a jam packed day of exploring and being tourists. Staying at his parents beautiful place we spent a few days exploring Durban, strolling along the beach, swimming, going to the movies and catching up. It was amazing to sleep in real beds, sit on comfy couches and be in a real home again eating home cooked meals!!!

Posted by: megandnath | February 5, 2011

Cape Town

Cape Town is the mother city of South Africa and takes pride of place as the biggest jewel in its crown. The worlds first company, The Dutch East India Company, first established a base here hundreds of years ago to resupply its ships as they sailed from Europe to India carrying spices and other such treasures. The city itself sits under the watchful eye of Table Mountain, looming overhead and visible from everywhere it provides a backdrop that would make every city in the world jealous. Spreading out from the city bowl and towards the interior mountains grape vines cover the landscape making some of the worlds best wines. Jutting out southwards the cape peninsula sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean just west of where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet providing a playground for penguins, dolphins, whales and of course huge great white sharks. Not too far offshore sits the notorious Robbin Island where Nelson Mandela spent 27years in a maximum security prison.

After saying our goodbyes to the overland team, some we were happy to be rid of and others we will sorely miss, we headed to our accommodation. After 55 days on the road and living inside 4 canvas walls it was a sweet feeling walking in on an amazing place to stay that was practically all to ourselves, it wasn’t long before our gear was plastered all over the room and we were taking advantage of the endless hot water, comfy mattress, free internet and TOAST for breakfast!

We had a number of things planned and after an afternoon off recharging the batteries we were off the next morning exploring. We purchased our tickets for the hop on/off bus and first stop on the list was Table Mountain – the views from the top were stunning! Over the next 2 days we bussed, walked, shopped and ate all over the city. We also meet up with Ali and Chris, who were on the tour with us from Vic falls to Cape Town, and together we rented a car and drove around the cape peninsula for a day.

It was fantastic to do our own thing; get up when we wanted, eat what we want etc but we couldn’t help talking about the tour, where we had been, our favorite things, what we want to do again and funnily enough over the couple of days we ended up bumping into most of the others several times.

I had spent a bit of time in Cape Town 6 years ago and was interested to see how things had changed, thankfully everything seems to be moving in a positive direction, the streets are safe and clean and there is a real feeling of a vibrant happy city. Not a lot has changed but there is a noticeable difference in the number of #scruffy# people hanging about probably because they were all shipped off when the football world cup rolled in. Like any society with hugely different social classes you can almost feel the difference between rich and poor, often it is visible right in front of your face as a flash BMW drives past while some guy is begging for food and there are certain areas you would never want to go day or night but Cape Town seems to be leading South Africa’s march towards being a more democratic, equal city.

We have certainly loved every minute of it!

 

 

 

Posted by: megandnath | February 4, 2011

Day 53-55, The Rainbow Nation

The final leg of the journey has approached so fast I cant believe we are almost at the end. I have always loved Namibia and this visit was no exception; a clean, safe, well equipped country perfect for traveling in. Thankfully on this visit we explored a number of places I had never visited and it cemented my love of the place. If you want wide open landscapes, rugged mountains, to drive 500km in a day and only see 2 cars and some of the most sublime wilderness then Namibia is for you.

Our entry into South Africa was impacted on heavily by the governments decision to only allow SA registered vehicles in, something we found out well after we had started. This meant our English registered truck was not allowed in! The process of crossing the border was therefore much more complicated, requiring leaving one truck at the campground next to the border, transferring into another one to cross and then transferring into the other Africa In Focus vehicle, also English registered but already in the country when the rules changed. Finally we were on the road again and heading south towards Cape Town.

The Northern Cape province is about as populated as Namibia (as in no one lives there) and the terrain is covered in huge slabs of granite rock infiltrated b y small bushes and shrubs, occasionally a farm would add a slight difference but it was pretty obvious that rainfall was not a common thing. Our stop that night was at one of the regions premier wine farms in a tiny town called Trawal, supplying 30million liters of wine it had received several top class awards. Not being wine snobs ourselves we were reluctant to take part in the wine tasting but not wanting to be the odd ones out we decided to give it ago. We both came to realize we despise red wine but don’t mind a good glass of white, now we know how to drink it properly.

A shortish drive the next morning and we arrived at Table bay with its stunning view out over the Atlantic ocean towards Cape Town, Table Mountain and the famous Robbin Island. There is no doubt Cape Town is one of the worlds most beautiful cities thanks mostly to the towering Table mountain. After a walk on the beach and watching the numerous kite surfers ripping it up in the rough surf we headed away from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, another famous wine region.

We had dropped a few passengers along the way that afternoon so the final evening consisted of what we called ¨ The Top 10¨, our last night under the stars was spent remembering all the good experiences and funny stories over the last 2 months.

The next morning we spent a few hours shopping in stellenbosch and then it was straight into Cape Town and things were all over!

After 12,000km, 9 countries, 55 days with 47 of those putting up and taking down the tent, all but 1 of the big five and numerous other animals, hundreds of smiling faces, thousands of waving hands and enough amazing experiences to write a book about the overland adventure was sadly over. Well this one anyway…..

Posted by: megandnath | February 2, 2011

Day 51-52, The Fish River Canyon and Orange River

After leaving the heart of the desert behind we headed south once more towards the Fish River Canyon. It was another long day in the truck, most of it spent snoozing or trying to dodge the sun by tying towels over the windows. The further south we head the hotter things get and todays temperature hit a new high of 45 degrees! At 6pm that night the thermometer at the camp ground reception still read 40 degrees and it was almost impossible to sleep that night.


After putting the tents up we drove a further 10km to the very edge of the canyon; no barriers, no warning signs, no fences – just a drop of close to 400m if you went to far. The canyon was huge, so big it was impossible to photograph it. The winding brown river snaked its way along at the very bottom and the huge cliff faces and gullies cut the landscape up into chunks of gray/brown collapsing land. It was quite amazing to look behind you and see a huge flat wide open space filled with nothing and then in front of you a gigantic slash in the land. The canyon is actually the second largest in the world behind the Grand Canyon in the USA.


A much shorter but equally as hot drive the next morning bought us to the Orange River, the natural border with South Africa. Along the way herds of mountain zebra and springbok could be seen enjoying the last of the shade. The Orange River stretches from the 3000m mountains in Lesotho (a tiny mountain country in the middle of SA) all the way to the Atlantic coast, the last 500km makes a natural border with Namibia. Currently SA is experiencing huge floods across most of the country, maybe not making the news in NZ due to the flooding in Aussie.

As I sit at the bar overlooking the huge swimming pool (a god send in this oppressing heat!) the murky brown river rages past with the yellow, brown and black hills of SA only a few hundred meters away on the other side. Tomorrow morning we cross into SA for the last few days before we arrive in Cape Town, although we have loved the trip we are now looking forward to the freedom of doing our own thing and eating what we want.

 

Posted by: megandnath | February 1, 2011

Day 49-50, The Namib Desert

After 3 days relaxing in swakopmund; reading, sleeping in a real bed, having endless hot showers, eating from fully stocked supermarkets, browsing the web on our first high speed internet and 2hrs quad biking in the desert (SO AMAZING!!) we moved onto the last section of our overland adventure.

The Namib desert is a vast area of sand dunes, dried up ancient lakes, dead trees and the constant driving winds. Starting in Swakopmund and traveling south all the way to South Africa it forms a harsh boundary bordering the rough Atlantic coast on the east and the high mountains on the east. For endless kilometers sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see, their perfect lines and ever moving shadows create beautiful visual pictures and the deepest oranges, reds and browns mix together to create an eye stimulating experience. The desert seems like an inhospitable place where nothing could live but surprisingly Ostrich, Springbok, Oryx and countless other small creatures spend their days searching for water, eating what they can and sheltering from the burning sun.

Almost all of Namibia, Botswana and huge parts of South Africa are classed as either desert or semi desert, defined by the amounts of rainfall they receive a true desert never really gets any more than 20mm per year and a staggering 3500mm of evaporation, whereas a semi desert can get huge amounts of rain but that is equaled by the same amount of evaporation.

As we traveled south from the coast the scenery changed dramatically and slowly the stony gray expanse gave way to waterless plains then dry arid mountains, eventually the desert appeared and the glow of red sand dunes illuminated the sky as the sun set. The next morning we left camp well before the sun was up and drove further into the huge sand dunes up a dry river valley. Sossusvlei, known by the bushman as ¨where people disappear¨, is in the heart of the desert and surrounded by towering sand dunes. Interestingly a sand dune can not get any higher than 350m (due to high winds) and no steeper than 35 degrees.

Arriving at dune 45, we jumped out of the truck and headed off to climb our mini Mt Everest, after about 45mins of 2 steps forward, 1 step back we eventually made it to the summit in time to watch the sunrise. Slowly the visually lifeless desert came to life in color. The run back down was much faster only taking some of us 4mins!

We carried on further into the sand covered world and transferred into 4wds for the last few kilometers before another 20min walk to a dry lake filled with dead tress, a great backdrop for photography. By now with the sun high in the sky and its piercing rays seemingly burning through clothing it was time to head back to the shade of trees and the promise of a cold shower.

That afternoon we drove to a nearby farm and camped in the dead set middle of nowhere. With nothing but a bush toilet and the truck to get us through we set about hiding from the sun until it started to cool off. In the late evening the farmer came to meet us and took us on a 1.5hr walk/talk about the desert and the people that live in it.

The bushman of Southern Africa were a nomadic group who lived off the land and nothing else, carrying no possessions at all apart from hunting equipment they moved from place to place hunting, gathering and exploring. They were small people with an amazing ability to live in the hottest and driest climates, bushman men never ever actually drank water, saving this for woman and children only, instead they survived off the moisture from plants and the raw meat they killed. With their yellow skin they could sneak to within 5m of an animal and fire a tiny poisoned dart at it, following it until it finally dies. Often the bushman would have to last 4-5 days between meals and due to this they developed very loose stomach skin.

One of the first lessons a bushman taught his son was never to kill a mother animal, simply by killing a mother you killed potential food and thus made life for your own children harder. A way of thinking that could be compared to how we westerners are treating the Earth for future generations.

Amazingly that night we camped right next to an ancient bushman camping spot, the caves roof was black from their cooking fires, the stones were smooth from being used as tools and small pieces of ostrich egg shell that were used for jewelery could be seen scattered on the floor.

Posted by: megandnath | January 31, 2011

Day 42 – Cheetah park – Ooops I missed one!


After leaving Etosha National Park we drove South to a small town to do some shopping and internet, unfortunately northern Namibia’s internet connections have been terrible, not only slow but almost impossible to find. after leaving town we headed North again for a few hours to a campsite and Cheetah Park. The rain was pelting down again and we had to sit in the truck for an hour until it slowed down a bit, the campsite had become a river and finding a high/dry spot was a difficult task.

The Cheetah Park is home to 3 tame Cheetahs who live like domestic cats. They were born wild but raised around people from day 1 and have now become use to human contact. It was very cool to rub their heads and neck and listen to them pur like a domestic cat – only slightly bigger with sharp teeth and claws! Their fur felt just like a normal cat only a lot thicker. Meg took some time to relax but eventually got comfortable and even went in for a quick pat and photo.

Next we moved onto the wild Cheetahs, the farm has a very large area that houses 16 of them. Namibia is perfect Cheetah territory and a lot of farmers have problems with them attacking livestock so instead of shooting them they call the park who come to remove them and re locate them to a safe area. Most days the feed the Cheetahs donkey meat so we tagged along on the back of a truck and watched the spectacle. There was no doubt these animals were completely wild and if you made a wrong move you could end up in a bad way.

It was a great photo opportunity and an awesome way to get close to an animal you usually only see from quiet far away, if you see them at all.

After leaving the Himba tribe we drove south and soon left the wet, lush landscape synonymous with the wet season rains. By the time we had reached our campsite that night our surroundings had changed dramatically.  Damaraland is the home of the Damara people who also use the click language made famous by the ancient san people, or bushman.

Western Namibia, as it stretches from Angola in the north to South Africa in the South gets considerably drier the further south you travel. Damaraland sits in between the wetter northern area and the beginning of the Namib desert thus making its landscape an ever changing environment. Despite sitting almost right on the Atlantic coast it is one of the driest areas in Africa and the ground is covered in rocks, stones and sand every shade of red, orange and yellow imaginable. Small shrubs and grasses try to grow but the sun and lack of rain dictate life in this area. Small herds of springbok can be seen nibbling on what nutrients grow here and the elusive desert elephants and rhinos wander around searching for water.

Dotted around in every direction huge piles and towers of rock reach skywards creating small mountians, it was in these natural shelters tens of thousands of years ago the nomadic bushman created their stunning rock paintings. As they moved throughout the harsh landscape searching for food and water they would stop at these rock outcrops to rest, the paintings and engravings created by them depict the animals seen in the area and the experiences the bushman had in the area. They also used them to teach their children what each animal looked like and where to find water.

Our first stop was at Twyfelfontein, Namibia’s fist world heritage site which was actually added to the list at a committee meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand. Here over 2000 carvings can be found chipped into the soft sandstone rock and it has the highest concentration of rock art found anywhere in the world. Elephants, Rhino, Giraffe, Zebra, Lions and various antelope can be found engraved everywhere throughout the rocks along the well made trails. That night we camped at a brilliant spot and celebrated a group members birthday with cold drinks, a great meal and a specially made birthday cake that our expert chef created on a fire!

The next day we headed to The Brandberg mountains, home to Namibia’s highest mountain and the famous white lady bushman paintings. The 1hr walk took us up a dry river bed with rock hyrax (a rat/guinea pig type animal) and orange/blue lizards scurrying everywhere. The horribly hot sun burns everything it touches and the landscape here was an even more dramatic display of bright red rocks, orange sand and whithering trees. Eventually we made it to the bushman paintings, although somewhat faded over time its incredible that they have lasted thousands of years of rain, sun and sand storms.

After leaving the dry interior behind we made our way towards the harsh dry coastline and onto the Cape Cross seal colony. Home to between 80-100,000 seals the smell was absolutely terrible but the small seal pups and grumpy mothers did provide some comic relief. As we pulled into the once German town of Swakopmund the sand dunes of the Namib desert could been seen on the other side of the town, our destination after our 3 day stop in Swakopmund. 

Posted by: megandnath | January 24, 2011

Day 43 – Himba tribe

Tucked away in the bush of northern Namibia lives one of the most interesting tribes you’ll ever meet. If you didn’t know abut them you could easily drive right past. Tucked away behind small hills, deep within the thick green trees and down small sandy tracks tiny villages exist because of the handwork of its residents. No water mains run out here, no power lines bring any form of energy, no postal services deliver and very few maps even bother to print the name on the map.

As our truck rolled to a stop on the sandy road we were greeted by a middle aged man wearing nothing but some old sandals, shorts and a traditional headscarf. Waving his stick he directed us towards his small village. Surrounded by a fence made of tree branches were 6-8 small huts all constructed from mud and sticks with a thatch roof. A couple of small children appeared from one of the huts eventually followed by an older lady. The Himba tribe of northern Namibia must easily be on of the worlds most authentic tribes living a very traditional life that has only changed slightly with the arrival of westerners.

As the lady walked towards us her naked breasts swayed from side to side, the Himba woman wear nothing above the waist besides a few ornamental pieces of jewelery. Her skin was covered in a bright reddish/brown paste from head to toe, no part of it left unpainted. Her hair was woven together with the reddish/brown mud into tight strands almost like dreadlocks, on her head she wears some form of animal skin headdress and around her shoulders, waist and breasts is an interconnected sling like system covered in jewelery. Around her waist hangs a number of layered animal skins, again all tinged reddish/brown from her body paint and as your eyes follow her legs down you are meet with an assortment of ankle bracelets.

Everything the Himba woman wear has meaning, nothing is waisted or worn just for show, from the headdress to the necklaces and ankle bracelets each item explains something; their marital status, age, sexual development and family group.

From behind the Himba woman peer the small children, wearing nothing but milk bottle top bracelets, they struggle to hide their curiosity and excitement. As they turn around their bottoms are marked a dusty white, the only part of their body not totally black. Then as they smile their huge white teeth appear and their small hands wave from side to side. Slowly but surely more village members appear, children run out of nowhere and younger Himba woman with all different sized and shaped breasts appear carrying baskets.

Over the next 2hrs we explored the village, inside the huts and around the dusty field, meeting the chief, his 3 wives and playing with his 35 children! The Himba woman seemed totally comfortable standing almost stark naked in front of westerners and the children appeared not to have a care in the world as they clambered over us. They absolutely loved being thrown into the air, hung from their feet and being taken on piggy back rides, every time you put them down they’d do their best to latch onto you and not let go.

One young lady, who was apparently 15 (but we all think she was much more developed than that) showed us how they cover their bodies in the reddish/brown paint, use smoke to clean themselves and as a perfume and how to grind maize between rocks to make food.

Unlike many local tribes around the world the Himba do still live traditional lives; they sleep in mud huts, heard cattle, wear their unique dress everyday and not just when tourists arrive, learn the traditional ways of the bush as appose to going to school and suffer from health issues modern medicine can fix in the blink of an eye. Even though they live in one of Africa’s more civilized countries they somehow manage to define their culture from the other tribes and live it everyday of the week, not just when they choose to.

Our visit was one of those experiences that makes you appreciate what you have at home but also reminds you how other people live, a moving experience that ignites the adventurer and the humanitarian in you at the same time.

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