Desert Sojourn through Africa
Our trip - a family sabbatical that our son had organised - had started two weeks earlier when we had stayed at the luxury Swala Camp (run by Sanctuary Retreats) in a remote section of the elephant loaded Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania.
We stopped here, not far from our desert elephant confrontation in this isolated area for a couple of days at the Mogotlho Safari Lodge where few travellers pull-up for more than a rest or an overnight stop. Still we had more encounters with elephants, hippo's and more and no other tourists to crowd us, with the girls spending an hour with a young leopard, just metres from their car. We had earlier split into a boys and girls vehicle for a day and told them not to follow us; they were elated and told us endlessly about this magnificent elusive beast which we had missed completely - so are the vagaries of wildlife watching. We'll never be allowed to forget it!
We stayed at the luxurious Baines Camp (named after Thomas Baines, the artist who also painted in Australia when he was a member of the 1855 A.C Gregory Expedition across the top of Australia) and the little less extravagant Stanley Camp (which was our favourite though), savouring this watery wonderland that is often referred to as 'Africa's Last Eden'. It is an incredible experience and while the wildlife is plentiful, we've found after four trips to the delta (not all as luxurious as this one!) that the wildlife isn't as easy to find or see, as say in Chobe - which is still, after a half a dozen visits, one of our most favourite parks in all of Africa.
Back at Maun after our delta adventure we said goodbye to half our group who were heading for Johannesburg and a flight home, while four of us slipped into the Hilux for a three-week journey through Namibia. This was to be a low-key affair with a mix of accommodation and camping in places as diverse as national parks, local hotels, game farms, private reserves and guesthouses. Why such an eclectic collection of accommodation? When we were running tag-along trips in Africa back a few years ago we found our fellow travellers loved the variety and the chance of meeting not only other travellers but also local farmers and workers, all of whom gave a different insight into life in Africa. It is something we try and do on every trip we have on that fabulous continent.
From Etosha our route took us through the dry desert country of the Himba people, traditional cattle herders who at present are having a hard time because of the drought gripping the country. In the towns a mix of cultures and people gather, the most obvious being not only the semi-naked Himba but the well dressed and groomed Herero people, the woman especially standing out in their finery of full length dresses and wide cow-shaped horn headgear.
We slipped through the tourist enclave off Swakopmund - a coastal town, rich in German heritage that is cooled by the cold Benguela Current, the town offering not only some fine restaurants and other beachside delights, but also a reprieve from the hot desert air that dominates much of Namibia.
Next morning we entered the vast Namib-Naukluft National Park, which covers more than 50,000sqkm and is more famously known for the Sossusvlei Dunes, some of which are amongst the tallest dunes in the world, towering over 300 metres above the sand plain that surrounds them. It was early morning, the sun just coming up behind us and white cloud hung amongst these red giants; it was a spectacular and somewhat eerie sight and one we had not seen before. Feeling a little over energetic Rob and I climbed Dune 45, a baby of just 85 metres, but still the climb up the ridge left us hot and panting in the cool mist-laden air. The view from the sharp-edged crest though was magnificent.
The road continues deeper into the dune field to end at a small car park, more crowded than we had ever seen it (it was school holidays in both Namibia and adjoining South Africa, so there were a lot of people travelling around). From the car park most people take the short walk to Sossusvlei itself (a small pan or dry salt lake surrounded by big dunes), or a strenuous climb to the top of 'Big Daddy', at 325 metres one of the biggest dunes in the area ... but not the biggest. That accolade goes to Dune 7, which at 388 metres above the plain makes our Big Red on the edge of the Simpson Desert look pretty small.
We crossed the border into South Africa and at Upington which is a major town in this part of South Africa we turned north, stopping overnight at the Molopo Safari Lodge before taking in the delights of the Kgalagardi Transfrontier Park which straddles the border of Botswana and South Africa. We've been here before and while this park is well known for its cheetahs, luck evaded us this trip and while we saw plenty of desert animals and lions, the fast moving spotted cat eluded us. Still it was a fitting end to our wanderings and we headed for Johannesburg and a long plane flight.
Still after a dozen long trips to Africa, including a 10-month overland journey from the southern most tip to the northern extremity of this great continent, we knew we'd be back ... we can't stay away. You'll probably end up the same - but whatever you do, go to Africa at least once!
If you are going for less than three months its more economical to hire a fully set up 4WD vehicle from one of the many hire car companies. We always use AfriTrax 4x4 Offroad rentals (www.afritrax.co.za). They can supply not only vehicles but also a full complement of camping gear, and even suggested itineraries and a driver if required.
Longer trips and those further afield to East Africa you should think of taking your own vehicle. See our website - www.guidebooks.com.au - for info on taking your own vehicle to Africa.
Start your trip in Johannesburg by staying at the Farm Inn (www.farminn.co.za)- just on the outskirts of Pretoria where you'll get a taste of Africa. It's also close to Afritrax headquarters, which will deliver vehicles there for you.
For exclusive luxury stays in a number of Africa's best wildlife destinations, check out Sanctuary Retreats (www.sanctuaryretreats.com) - their small intimate camps are fantastic!
For info on Giraffe Manor, Kenya see: www.thesafaricollection.com/properties/giraffe-manor/
To start your Botswana adventure check out: www.botswanatourism.co.bw.
For Mogotlho Safari Lodge, Botswana, visit: www.mogotlhosafarilodge.co.za
For info on Namibia visit: www.namibiatourism.com.na.
The White House Guesthouse located on a farm amongst pleasant rocky hills has camping and accommodation, see: www.withuis.iway.na
For camping and info on Kruger NP (don't miss it) and all the parks in South Africa visit, www.sanparks.org.
Our road trip was during the South African school holidays and many places were booked out. Take heed and plan your trip accordingly.
Still, there's one big trouble with going to Africa on a safari though - you'll never go just once!