One of the big splurges we bought on our yearlong honeymoon was our 26 day African Safari. It consisted of a 20 day overland trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, a two day transfer from Vic Falls to Johannesburg, and a four day safari in Kruger National Park. With the exception of a couple of days in a hotel room, we had to set up and sleep in tents every night. We love camping but we were a little nervous about camping for so long, especially in the heat of Southern Africa. We were also anxious about the group we would be traveling with for so long. Nevertheless, we were pumped to start our trip and see the countryside and animals.
Day 1 – Cape Town. We checked out of our Airbnb early and headed to the Nomad Tours office around 7:30 AM. Once we got to the office we checked into our safari tour and filled out paperwork. After waiting for everyone to check in we put our bags in the lockers on the truck and joined the group on-board. Our first stop was just outside of Cape Town for a view of Table Mountain. As I mentioned in the last post, we didn’t get to climb up Table Mountain and I really regretted it. The view was pretty gorgeous though but it also just poured salt on the wound of me failing to go to the top. We spent about 30 minutes enjoying the view on the beach. Next we drove to a mall for those that needed last minute items before we embarked on our long journey. It was a good thing they did because Diem needed hiking sandals and I needed socks. We picked up some camping pillows, a 5 liter jug of water for the road, and some snacks. Some people were already hungry so they prepared lunch in the parking lot.
The truck next stopped at Spice Route winery for some wine tasting in the Paarl winelands. We had 5 tastings each and some extra servings from some other tour members who weren’t drinking. Just like the wineries in Stellenbach, Spice Route was very pretty and also had lots of other restaurants & activities on site. We got some ice cream for 25 ZAR for 2 scoops and tried to sneak in a chocolate tasting but didn’t have time. After about an hour, everyone got back on the bus and we headed to our campsite at Marcus Kraal camp. We were pretty nervous about the campsites on the safari. I had thoughts of no running water, port-o-potties (at best), and lots of bugs. To our surprise the campsite had some newer buildings equipped with sinks, toilets, a pool area, and hot showers. Our tour leader, Cosmas, showed us how to put up the tents and we found a nice spot on the grass to set up our tent. The tent itself was a fairly large two-person tent and they provided us with mats to put on the floor. After everyone was set up, we gathered in the main hall and Cosmas briefed on the itinerary for the rest of the trip. The campsite hosts cooked us a nice buffet dinner and we got to know some of our fellow campers. After dinner, Diem and I jumped in the pool because it was so hot. Then we showered and went to bed. It was pretty hot in the tent when we went to bed but soon got really cold. We weren’t too prepared for the cold and while all the other campers had sleeping bags, all we had were the small blankets we got for free on the train ride from Oslo to Stavanger back in Norway.
Day 2 – Orange River. We woke up early around 6 AM and one of the rules for the tour was that we have to take down our tents before breakfast. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, cereal, bread/jams, coffee and tea. It was really nice and there was plenty for everyone which allayed another one of our fears for the trip, whether we would enjoy the food. After breakfast, we drove to the town of Springbok. We didn't do much here because the stop was mainly for our cook to get fresh food. Later, we stopped for lunch on the road and tried to find shade to avoid the heat. The truck didn’t stop much after that until we arrived at our camp site next to the Gariep (Orange) River. After seeing so much desert during the drive, it was nice to be near a body of water. After we put up our tents, Diem and I got some beers and sat by the river while some of the group jumped in the river. We enjoyed our drinks then showered and got ready for dinner. After dinner, a bunch of the group stayed up and drank at the bar. We weren’t planning on drinking much during this trip because we didn’t think the campsites would have alcohol, we were trying to save money, and we didn’t want to be hungover for a lot of the activities. While we were good this night, it became harder and harder to stick to our plan. It was noisy and cold once again so we only got a little bit of sleep.
Day 3 – Fish River Canyon. We woke up, took our tents down, and then had breakfast. After breakfast, we had a long drive ahead of us. Today we were heading over the Namibian border to Fish River Canyon. On the way, we dropped by several viewpoints of pics of the canyon and a poisonous tree. We arrived at the camp around 4 PM, set up our tents, and then left the camp again to drive to the canyon for sunset. The truck dropped us off at the start of a hiking trail along the edge of the canyon about 1 km away from the viewing platform. We walked along the rim of the canyon and had lots of great photo opportunities along the way but it was still very hot out. Everyone got to the viewing platform and we stayed there to watch the sunset. After the beautiful sunset, Cosmas gave us some history about the canyon and said it was the largest canyon in Africa and the third biggest canyon in the world. It was pretty impressive but after seeing the Grand Canyon, I can't say it was better. We drove back to the camp around 8 PM and had a late dinner, showered and went straight to bed. Cosmas told us that we had another long day of driving tomorrow, about 600 km (~375 miles) to our next camp.
Day 4 – Namib-Naukluft National Park. After breakfast, we had a long drive to Naukluft National Park. We ate lunch on roadside along the way and arrived at the camp around midday. We set up our tents and then drove to Seisreim Canyon. Our guide took us inside the canyon and showed us a couple of trails. There was supposed to a pool of water that we could swim in at the end of one path but when we got to the end, we saw there was only a puddle of water left. In total, we spent about an hour there and then headed back to camp. We went to the pool at the camp and had some beers with the other travelers. Before bed we had a run in with an Oryx on our way to brush our teeth. Diem creeped pretty close which we later found out was really dangerous. Still, it was pretty cool to see one so close.
Day 5– Sossusvlei Dunes. We had an early morning sunrise at Dune 45. It was a beautiful sunrise but a pretty tough climb to the top. After sunrise we got into 4x4’s to the Deadvlei and saw some Oryx along the way. Deadvlei is a white clay pan located near the more famous salt pan of Sossusvlei, inside the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia. The clay pan was formed after rainfall, when the Tsauchab river flooded, creating temporary shallow pools where the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. When the climate changed, drought hit the area, and sand dunes encroached on the pan, which blocked the river from the area. The trees died, as there no longer was enough water to survive. There are some species of plants remaining that adapted to surviving off the morning mist and very rare rainfall. The remaining skeletons of the trees, which are believed to have died 600–700 years ago (1340- 1430), are now black because the intense sun has scorched them. Though not petrified, the wood does not decompose because it is so dry.
After walking around for about an hour, we got back on the truck to drive to Naukluft National Park, our next camp. Along the way we stopped at Moose Bakery for apple pie. The tour guide said that it was the best apple pie in the world, but it wasn’t that great. We got to campsite around 4 PM, set up tents, and chilled by the pool until 5:30 PM. At 5:30, we wot on the camp owner’s truck and drove around farm spotting animals. We took a tour around the desert with a guide. We saw lots of Oryx (gemsbok), mountain zebra, baboon footprints, and a springbok. The host gave us a history of the Bushmen of Namibia and how they were wiped out by the European settlers. He also gave us tips about how to survive in the desert and the animals that live here. We learned that the Oryx we saw yesterday at the campsite was a lot more dangerous than we thought. Their horns are needle sharp and have killed men, lions, and other predators so often that everyone pretty much stays away. Since other animals are so scared of them, we definitely wouldn’t have gotten so close if we had known. We learned that the desert is actually struggling right now because it got too much rain in 2011 and haven’t had any big sandstorms to rip up the roots of the plants. At the end of the tour, we watched the sunset from a viewpoint and then headed back to camp. When we got back, we had dinner and chilled before heading to the bar/lounge area in front of the watering hole to wait for the zebras and antelope to appear. It was an amazing sight. We saw tons of mountain zebra and oryx come to drink throughout the night and then went to bed under the stars.
Day 6 – Swakopmund. We stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn and took a nice group picture. After, we stopped at Walvis Bay and saw pink flamingos. Diem really liked them but after about 10 minutes, we got back on the truck and went to the hotel where we would be staying. For the next two nights we would be sleeping in a bed under a roof and we finally had internet again so we checked email, posted and browsed. We went to a group dinner at Neopolitana, had a lot of wine, and had a great time with everyone. We stayed and went to the bar afterwards for a couple of drinks and dancing and then went home.
Day 7 – Swakopmund. Today was a free day for people to book a number of different activities in the area. Some people went on ATVs, did sandboarding, or went on dolphin cruise. We didn’t have any activities planned today and we just slept in and then grabbed drinks with some fellow tour members. Diem and I grabbed dinner at the Fish Deli and had fish and chips and sushi, then we just stayed in.
Day 8 – Spitzkoppe. We had a nice breakfast buffet at the hotel and then got back on the truck at 10 AM. We stopped along the way at Henties Bay, the Lichen fields, and a beach with the shipwreck for some pictures. We got to Spitzkoppe at 3 PM and had lunch at the campsite then went for walk around the rock formations with local guide for about an hour. Spitzkoppe caves still have some various 2000- to 4000-year-old prehistoric rock paintings. We took a few pictures of the drawings and some group pictures and then walked back to camp. We hung around the fire pit for a while until dinner. We had a nice dinner around the fire and under some beautiful starts and then went to bed. It started raining around 1 AM so we had to zip up our tent windows but some people slept outside and had to run to their tents.
The first eight days of the safari were a great intro to Southern Africa. The highlights for me were the desert tour in Namibia and watching the water hole at night, the sunrise at Dune 45, and Fish River Canyon. During the next portion of the tour we would be visiting two more national parks and would see a lot more animals.
See the full gallery of our first week here: African Safari – Part 1.