Location: South Africa
The Absolute Best of Africa
What an adventure! What an incredible journey this has been! Never in a million years could I have dreamed that my experience on this magnificient continent could have fulfilled my dreams the way it has. My heart has been touched by the beautiful people of Africa and will never be the same again. The children with there beaming shiles make you realise how great this simple life really is. The game was more than I could have imaged also, seeing them in there natural environment was just incredible. The land, so different and diverse from country to country was very different to what I imagined prior coming to Africa but each country was so very unique and beautiful in its own way. Last but not least the sunsets of Africa deserve a very special mention. Never in my lifetime have I see so many beautiful & colourful sensets with the most spectacular settings in the background.
I'm going to try and summarize the highlights of my 70 days overland through Africa but as I begin to write I realise that is easier said than done.
Tanzania - Serengetti & Ngorogoro Crater
Mind blowing is all I can say. 3 days after I land in Africa this is where I am, possibly the most famous National Park in Africa. Day 1 of game driving we spot the Big 5 (Leopard, Lion, Rhino, ELephant & Buffalo) which is no mean feat and quite rare to do as spotting a leopard during the day is quite rare as they are usually out hunting in the night time.It can't get much better than this. The flatlands of the Serengetti with the acacia trees standing out for miles are a real highlight of the landscape here. The best sunset & sunrise I saw in Africa was here.
Tanzania - Zanzibar Island
Day 7 and what better a place to be relaxing from our full on first week than on a world famous tropical island. 4 days of hot & humid weather to spend our days by the crystal blue waters swimming and snorkelling and eating as much seafood as you could manage. Stone Town the main town on the island was georgous, had a real French influence similar to some Moroccan cities like Fez. Was great to explore the narrow alley ways and bargain with the locals.
Malawi - Kande Beach, Lake Malawi
In the heart of the real Africa we arrie to this mountainous, tropical country set on a huge freshwater lake that is more like the sea than a lake. It was the people in this small community that was the highlight. The local men would stand outside the gates to our campsite and befriend you in a way that made you feel totally comfortable and like you were there friend. They all had these made up names like Donald Duck, Banjo Patterson, Georgey Porgey just to name a few. As we walked deeper into the village it was the beautiful children who stole my heart with there infectious smiles. So happy and carefree with not a worry in the world. We spent many hours with them walking, talking, laughing and playing. The was the Africa I had come to see and experience.
Was I blown away by Zim because of the economic situation they are in and the poise in which the people handle the way there country has detoriated or was it because there was many times we were driving along in the truck and I would look out the window and imagine I was in the ute with my Dad driving around our farm. I truly felt like I was back on the Darling Downs. Never have I seen such an incredible day time sky in my life, blue as blue and big white fluffy clouds. I spend hours staring out at the sky daydreaming. It was sad to see a country with so much incredible potential to be in the situation it is. The people are embarrassed there is no food on the supermarket shelves, shops are closed down & the state of the Zim dollar. I was totally saddened to see how one man can destroy a once thriving nation. My dream is to return in the future and to see Zimbabwe in a different light.
Zimbabwe - Antelope Park
This place was beautiful! We had no expectation on what to expect and the moment we drove into this private property I fell in love and instantly thought about staying on as a volunteer except it cost about 2000 pounds for a month!! We had the opportunity to play with lion cubs that where just adorable although still a little fiesty! We also walked with the lions at sunrise. Hard to describe the fear you initially feel when this lion brushes past your legs for the first time and after 40 min, you are eager to pat it and play with it for as long as you can!!! They have been rared by humans so are used to the interaction.
Zimbabwe - Matopos National Park
What an incredible day we spent at Matopos stalking Rhinos. I felt like I was Steve Irwin at times!!! Basically we would follow there tracks and dung in search of them on foot. We were walking through dense grassland where you could only see for about 5m ahead which is pretty scary when you think a full grown rhinos weighs about 2 tonne. The absolute highlight came at the very end of the day when we spotted a mother and her 3 month old calf grazing, we got to about 15-20 metres away from them on foot. To be this close to these animals in simply unbelievable, until the calf stirred and started charging towards us out of intrigue more than anything. Our guide said if the calf made a noise we would have been in big trouble as the mothers are very protective of there off spring and she would have come charging for us and we would not have stood a chance!!!
Botswana - Chobe National Park
It was time for more game viewing but this time from a very different perspective, by water on a barge on the Chobe River. At one point on the river 4 countries meet - Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia which was pretty amazing. This game viewing was incredible to see 30 or so elephants of all ages grazing along the rivers edge playing with each other and going for swims in the river was cool but it got even better for me. Further downstream we spotted about 20 hippos in the water. These animals intrigued me from the very beginning as to me they were the gentle giants of Africa, yet so dangerous. I could have sat watching them sub merge and paddle for hours. Being the new amauter photographer that I am, I was in search of one particular photo and that was of the yawning hippo. The million dollar picture of Africa had been achieved!!!
Botswana - Okavango Delta
Okavango Delta was a must do on my list of things to do whilst in Africa. The delta is formed by the Okavango River which comes south through Angola and basically flows into 16000 sq km of lagoons, channels and islands that form the delta. We met our mokor (dugout canoe) drivers and paddles through the channels of the delta for a few hours through this incredible swamp land with thousands and thousands of water lillies everywhere. We reached our camp on one of the islands where we would spend the next few days doing nature walks, sunrise and sunset mokoro rides, playing delta balls in the water holes. This truly was getting back to nature, so peaceful and tranquil -- words simply cannot do it justice. Of course the other highlight here was my Big toe injury (toe injury #6 of the trip so far - there was to be many more casulties to come after me!!!) - I somehow managed to kick my toe on a tree stump so darn hard that I actually cried and luckily I had nurse Alex to help me bath it and Dr Mark to inspect it daily and check the progress and bandage it for me. You'll be pleased to know the toe nail is no longer there and a new one is slowing forming. Mak never tell someone a dead toe nail smells like a dead animal, you might regret it later!!!
Crossing the border into Namibia through the mighty Kalahari Desert you can soon be forgiven for forgetting you are in Africa. Suddenly when you hit the towns/cities you feel like you are in Germany. Was so weird but I was excited to see a proper bakery that sold schnizel rolls!!! Namibia is very modern and has all of lifes luxuries easily accessible, the real Africa was now over.
One thing that made me realise how small this world truly is was while we were camping in Etosha National Park I did a double take to see some good friends of my former London roomie, Razor walk past. Was quite weird to be in the middle of Africa talking to them about Raz & Shaz!!! The world is way too small!!
Cheetah Park was another definitely stand out. We camped on a family farm where the owners had taken to caring and raising injured or orphaned cheetahs. They actually had 3 pet cheetahs we got to pat and watch feed in the backyard. Was a completely different experience to actually being 5 metres away from a cheetah in the wild of the Serengetti. Still to be that close to this fierce animal was totally incredible and slightly scary to say the least!!
Sossusvlei (Dune 45)
Famous for the mighty red sand dunes that rival the Sahara desert in Northern Africa. Dune 45 is supposedly the largest individual sand dune in the world and I can attest that it is pretty darn big!! Was a mission to climb it and we didn't even reach the very top. Sossusvlei itself is the area in which the hundreds of dunes are located and we spend a good few hours here wondering around the national park. It really was beautiful especially with the lighting in the late afternoon.
Fish River Canyon is the 2nd largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon and having not seen it I couldn't compare but I though Fish River was incredibly huge. We arrived late in the afternoon and got to see a sensational sunset over the canyon with lightening and thunder as well which was pretty incredible. We had a Wine & Cheese night here for dinner. What a fanastic time we had by the time we got back on "Murray" it was about 8:30pm and everyone was pretty charged. It was the best ride on the truck we had in the 70 days I was onboard. Everyone was pumped, the music was blaring and the best of the best Oasis crew members showed what they where made of! The highlight of course being Aussie Mark second rendition to Sweet Child of Mine and the wood burn on his knee that turned into an infection that just would not heal, or was it Stevo's hip thrusting on the Esky or of course Dave's lap dancing --- too many highlights really but it was the best 30 min!! We then arrived to a bush camp! Yep, we were all full and had to set up camp at 9pm at night!! Somehow we managed and settled by the fire for some more drinks. Tent wars had become a way of life on the road and tonight was to be my night!! Alex (my tent buddy) was heading to bed when I hear "Kirstyn, Where's our tent?" Uh Oh, its not where we put it up!!! We couldnt' find it for a good hour and eventually found it away from all the other tents abuot 50 metres. The good thing everything was still in it so we just got into bed and went to sleep!! The next day was to be the hardest driving day I experienced with a killer white wine hangover!! The worst part was we had to cross the border into South Africa and of all the border crossing we did through out Africa this had to be the worst and most inefficiently operated. There was 2 people on duty and it literally took us 2.5 hours to get through. We had to queue in the blistering sun with shocking hangovers this entire time. First impressions of South Africa where not good that's for sure!!
We spent a few days in Stellanbosch which is a famous wine region in the Western Cape. Our 1 full day here was spent on a winery tour of 4 wineries in the area. What a great day! We couldn't have asked for more perfect weather to tasting beautiful wines and sitting outside in the sunshine soaking up the incredible views of the mountains around us. Had we have been sensible we would have had dinner upon arrival back into Stellanbosch but not us, it was time for more booze and to hit the town which incidentally is a huge uni town so on a Monday night the town was actually pumping!!! I should have passed out I'm sure of it but thanks to Nerissa for saving me with the Red Bull I pulled through to have a pretty big night - unlike some -- Mak!!
All along I had been so excited to get to Cape Town as I had heard such fantastic things about the city but initially I wasn't ready to be in a big city after 8 weeks of being in rural Africa, being in a Western and very modern city was a huge shock to the old system. It took me a few days to warm to the city and adjust back into the swing of life in the city and I must say it is a beautiful city. With the beautiful Table Mountain in the background overlooking the city , it has a real mix of Melbourne and Sydney. Unfortuntately I ended up with a bad case of tonisilitis here and was under the weather for a few days but was lucky to be able to rest up and recover quickly for the last stage of the trip.
It was sad saying good-bye to majority of the guys in Cape Town after spending an intensive 54 days together!
South Africa in general was a really beautiful country and I felt so many similarities to Australia here as we drove down the Garden Route on the southern coast. Unfortunately the time of the year was ideal as we were heading into winter so it was rather chilly and definitely not beach weather!
Once we left the surfing mecca of J-Bay (Jeffrey's Bay) we headed north-east towards Jo-burg but to a small country that is completely land locked by South Africa called Lesotho. It is appropriately named "Kingdom in the Sky" for good reason. This place truly was paradise and one of those places I could see myself getting lost in on purpose. It was back to the real Africa I came too see, to a country that has the highest low point in the world meaning it is a very mountainous country!! It was really cold and in the middle of winter it well and truly snows but sitting around eating dinner at night was only fun if you had a few bottles of red to numb the cold!!! The hard core overland traveller in me ended here when I knew my sleeping bag wasn't up to this harsh weather so Tracy and I upgraded to the luxury bungalows!! We thought we were in heaven with a super duper doonas and our own bathroom!! It was money well spent I say!!
Our days in Lesotho were just magical, although a little wet the first day we still did a 3 hour hike to the gorge and on the second day 5 of us did a pony trek through the mountains to a waterfall. It was so scenic and beautiful, I just totally felt like I could stay here and live this lifestyle.
Our last stop was to the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa where we camped in the Royal Natal National Park. To me this place is a definite must see on any itinerary to South Africa. These mountains were just incredible. We did a short 20km walk while we were here & stupidly I only bought my party (street) shoes with me and ended up with massive blisters on my toes as you do when you walk this far in inappropriate footwear but nevertheless it was all worth and was the best hiking I think I have done.
From the Drakensburgs it was a 5 hour drive into Jo-burg where the journey was to end. That 5 hours was one of the most memorable times on Murray as the 10 of us that where left sat up the front on the beach and talked about all the great times we had on the truck over the past 70 days and there was lots of funny, funny things that happened and unless you where there to experience you don't appreciate the humour of it all! After so long living off the truck it was sad to have the last journey but also there was joy not to be living out of a locker and in a tent any longer!!
Each day in Jo'burg there where very sad farewell's. Jo & I were the last 2 of the passengers and crew to leave out of 28 and every day we would look at each other and say why are we last, this is so hard. These people became my family, they learnt things about you a lot quicker than normal friends would because we were in close quarters 24/7, they shared such incredible experiences that will last a lifetime.
AFRICA --- What an unbelievable destination! From the pristine sands and blue waters of Zanzibar, the most incredible sunsets in the Serengetti with the acacia trees in the foreground. the smiling faces of the children of Malawi, Zim Zim Zim my absolute highlight, water lillies in the Okavango Delta, the deep red colours of Namibia, beautiful untouched Lesotho and the beauty of the Drakenburgs in South Africa - AFRICA REALLY DOES HAVE IT ALL!!