Sunday, 29 April 2007

Botswana and the Delta

After our day off, it was time to hit the road again. And a new country - Botswana. The camp 4wd dropped us off at the tar road, and we got picked up by the Namibian public service, in the shape of a Dept of Tourism and Environment truck, which dropped us at the gates of the Mahango Game Reserve. All traffic has to stop here, and they assured us we'd have no trouble getting a lift to the border - about 10km further on. They were right, about half an hour later one of those overcrowded cars arrived. One day soon I'm going to pull rank as a middle aged female westerner and demand the front seat, but for this trip an older man, who had travelled with us from the tar road, snaffled it. We squished into the back seat with another couple of locals, and bounced our way to the border crossing, which turned out to be a very low key affair indeed.
Unlike many border crossings, there were no money changers or taxis on either side, so we began walking - taking our lead from the older gentleman who stoically strode on in the hot sunshine. We'd probably walked for half an hour when another government bakkie (the Botswana govt this time), stopped and gave us a lift - we were pretty relieved as there had been no other traffic at all, and Shakawe, the town we had to get to, was about 15km away.

Being delivered to the bus depot over the border in Botswana.

We were delivered to the bus depot and pointed to the bus to Maun, our final destination for the day, and about 300km away. So far so good - the bus left an hour later, so we had time to change some money and get some supplies for the trip, and about six hours later (in the dark unfortunately) we were deposited at Maun. Here there were loads of taxis, and we took one to Camp Crocodile, about 15km from town. This was another long day of travelling, and we were really tired by the time we arrived. However, they were so nice - the bar was open, and serving meals, and while we were eating we were informed that we'd been "upgraded", from a tent site to a bungalow. Fantastic. The bungalow is built with reeds, has electricity, its own bathroom, and a big bed with mosquito net built on a platform above the floor. It was Saturday night, but no partying for us. We were tucked up and sound asleep by 9.30 - loving Botswana already!
But here, it's all about the Delta and we have just got back from an overnight mokoro trip. This means we have been poled (or punted if you're from Christchurch!) down a maze of little creeks with reeds frequently flicking us in the face, while having all kinds of birds, frogs and dragonflies pointed out to us by our trusty poler who can see things we just can't. It was a great trip tho', made particularly good because our guide, Mike, really knew his stuff and could also speak passable English. Our only quibble was his tendency to burst into rounds of "Pole, pole, pole the mokoro gently down the stream..." - someone must have told him this was something that tourists would warm to, hmmm. Spotted lots more game, but it seems different when you're at water level and there's a herd of zebra cantering past, than when you're in a car. We also did a couple of walks, and believe me your level of alertness skyrockets when you're wandering about the grasslands of the Delta, known playground of lions (only heard, not seen), elephants (saw two herds of these, including one inquisitive young bull), hippos, hyenas and various other critters, armed only with Mike's copy of the Lonely Planet Southern Africa wildlife spotters guide. We spent the night under the stars, comforted by Mike's assurance that the hippos never come over this part of the river, and that the seemingly out of control bushfires nearby were also not a problem - "it's OK, there's a plan".

The polers gather round at the head of the river, and are allocated to tourists on a first come basis, all ruled over by a rather fierce Botswana woman with a clipboard.

We've only been in Botswana for a few days, and will probably only be here for a few more, but so far it's a very likable place. People have been kind and helpful, and I don't think anyone's ripped us off yet (tho' ignorance may be bliss in this regard). The place is full of dusty donkeys, which apparently are also eaten (this could account for their general cantankerousness), and, because of or in spite of the country's claim to one of the highest AIDS rates in the continent, colourful and plentiful poster and billboard campaigns extolling condom use, sexual abstinence and commitment to the use of anti retroviral drugs. This is a complete contrast to South Africa which has adopted a much more low key approach to public education on this issue.

Caprivi - between Angola & Botswana

We dropped the car back in Tsumeb at noon, and spent a useful afternoon doing our laundry, getting some money, acquiring a hessian bag to wrap our sleeping mattresses in, and, oh yes, watching the Australians destroy the South Africans in the cricket world cup semi final.
So, we were ready to head to the western Caprivi. The Caprivi strip is part of Namibia thanks to a territorial swap agreed between Britain and Germany (who ran German South West Africa, as Namibia was then known) in 1890. Britain got Zanzibar in return. I'll let you know who I think got the best deal!
Today's travelling was going to be a series of hops - firstly we walked to the local "bus" depot about 1km away. Buses in this part of the world mean anything from an overloaded car, to a minibus with a trailer, to a regular bus - but for our first leg, a short one to neighbouring Grootfontein about 50km away, it was the car. An older lady sat in front with the driver, and Max and I and three small children (though not nearly small enough!) sat in the back. I've said before how good the African children are when they travel, and these three sat quietly, ate their biscuits and generally looked adorable. I ended up with the six year old on my lap, a real flyweight, and their older brother solemnly told me their names and ages in his best English. Very cute indeed.
We were duly delivered to Grootfontein's bus depot, and quickly collared by a minibus driver for the next leg to Rundu, a trip of about 250km. He told us he needed four more people, and that they'd phoned to say they were coming. Yeah right!! After a couple of hours, rather than more people coming, he lost a few customers to a bakkie (aka ute) that passed by. It took another hour and a half before he had sufficient passengers to contemplate the trip. Luckily the roads are pretty good around here, and the trip only took about three hours. From Rundu we needed (well, wanted) to get to Bagani, on the turnoff to Botswana. We knew there was a camp near there that would pick us up. It was about 4.30 when we set off from Rundu, and we had about another 200km to cover. I sat next to a rather earnest young man, a teacher trainee who was going to be teaching English and agriculture. He, and the bloke next to him who was older and had been a fighter in Angola (by this stage we were travelling virtually along the Angolan border) told me all about the area, the trees, what Namibia needs, how good it has been since independence (in 1990) - most of which I actually understood. I borrowed the teacher's cell phone, called Ngepi Camp, and arranged the pick up. Somehow, after about 10 hours of travelling, we were delivered to Ngepi, just in time for dinner.
A slow start today, in fact a slow day. We enjoyed a late long breakfast, wandered along the Okavanga River (the camp is along the riverbank), read our books, had a snooze, and at 3.30 roused ourselves for a mokoro (dug out canoe - these days made of fibreglass for environmental reasons) trip to see hippos, crocodiles and the birdlife. It was very pleasant indeed, accompanied as we were by a knowledgable guide and a cooler full of drinks!

We got back in time to see an overland truck had arrived, depositing 20 or so loud young things from Ireland, England and Australia (somehow, we haven't come across too many Kiwis on this trip). Quite a different vibe tonight from last night as they pretty much took over the place. We spent a while chatting to an English couple who have been traveling in South Africa and Namibia for 9 months in their 4wd, and also to Kasper from Latvia and Renata his Brazilian girlfriend. Kasper had motorcycled down from Europe, and Renata had just recently joined him. There are people here doing the most amazing things, and I do think that if we were to come back again we would seriously consider a vehicle - we have missed a few things simply because you can't get there unless you have your own transport.

Etosha - it's all about the animals

We were really excited about going to Etosha - it was one of the places we had actually got round to researching before we came away, courtesy of some great picture books from the Wellington Public Library. We had very high expectations, and booked in for five days/four nights.
Arriving at our first campground, Namutoni - at the eastern end of the park- after traveling all night we decided a shower break was in order and it wasn't till after 3pm that we set off in search of animals. Etosha has a large number of waterholes, and the idea is that you go to these, park up and wait. So we did. And were rewarded with big herds of zebra, springbok, wildebeest and quite a few giraffe all coming down to drink. It's really a beautiful sight to see these animals in such numbers.
As has become our habit on this trip, we were up the next morning at the crack of dawn with hot coffee in our Bush Buddies (really cool camping cups we bought in Swakopmund) and our muesli stashed in the back seat to be consumed later. Our big sighting this day was two lions - a male and a female - both hiding in the long grass, not far from a group of springbok. Then a couple of warthog wandered into their path and for a while things got really interesting. The lions were down on their haunches, and the warthogs just kept on coming. Then they realised the error of their ways. When a warthog wants to, it can move quickly, and these two scarpered. When they get scared, their tails stick up and the little tufts on the end remind me of the flags that tour guides wave outside European cathedrals. They are a real advertisement of where they are, so we (and our lion friends) could watch their progress. However, the lions soon lost interest - I think essentially they are pretty lazy - and focussed again on the springbok. It was great to watch all this happening in front of us and while we never actually saw anything kill or eat anything else, I am now less queasy about it. There really are thousands of springbok, and I'm sure the loss of a few of them to keep the lions going is no big deal.
The next couple of nights we spent at a campground in the middle of the park, called Halali. The Namibian Wildlife Resort people, who run the park, are renovating the sites, and Halali is looking very spiffy indeed. The loos are fantastic, really huge, with lovely new tiles (as opposed to the usual old concrete), and fittings. Luckily there is also a large roofed dining area for campers here as we got some rain as we were about to cook dinner. So far the weather has been perfect for camping, warm without wind, quite a novelty for Wellingtonians. The rain didn't last too long however, and we got to have our post-dinner drink without getting wet.
We had heard that most of the animals were moving to the east and north of the park, and the next day seemed to bear this out. We didn't see anything like the numbers of animals we'd seen over on the eastern side, but did see our first herd of elephants. There were around 8-10 of them, no babies unfortunately, but all busy wandering around chomping trees and doing elephant stuff. It's amazing how much time you can spend watching something like this - goes much faster than a TV doco!

A lioness going about her business, crossing the road en route to some shade.
We got the chance to play good samaritans this afternoon, firstly helping out after a 4wd had rolled. The roads, while all gravel, are really pretty good, but the professional outfits really drive too fast, and this one had just lost it in the gravel and rolled, ending up back on its wheels. There were five passengers on board, with a variety of injuries, thankfully nothing more than nasty cuts and I think a broken collarbone or arm. Help was on its way, so we spent half an hour or so searching for people's possessions that had scattered, specially spectacles. Max found a pair, which turned out to be from a previous accident on the same gentle bend. Maybe there's a lesson there?
Our second helping hand was for a couple of women travelling in a campervan - which had a flat tyre. Max is good at this stuff, and sorted it out in about 20 minutes, once all the right bits for the jack were found. And, we ended up having a couple of nightcaps with them later in the evening - the campervans all have fridges, so the wine/beer was cold, a bit of a luxury coming from the car version, where our red wine is almost at boiling temperature some evenings.
More lions the next day, and more herds of animals as we made our way back to Namutoni for one final night. Our last morning in the park was fantastic - we had a close (possibly too close) encounter with three male lions. They weren't in a hunting mood, they were just strolling over to the trees to find some shade for the day - but hung out at a waterhole just to rattle the zebra and wildebeest.
The game animals I'm sure can tell when the lions are serious, as they were watchful and wary, but didn't run away or look too anxious at all. And, I guess, when it comes down to it, it's a numbers game. If there are 100 zebra and three lion, only one animal is going to go, if at all. Chances are it won't be you, so don't panic. And they weren't. We have got some great pics of the lions with relatively unconcerned zebra all around them. It's not quite how I'd imagined the kings of the jungle would be treated by animals that were potentially their dinner.
It was a great few days, and I now have a new found respect for the patience of the wildlife photographer/observer.

Swakopmund - aka Little Germany

After driving back to Windhoek over the Spreetshoogte Pass (try saying that with a mouthful of toast!) we spent a couple of pleasant days at Chameleon Backpackers, camped on their lawn with a handful of others - including Martin from Manchester, who had come all the way on his motorbike!
Our next leg was a shuttle bus to Swakopmund - a strange little town with the Atlantic on one edge, and the Namib desert on the other, and in between a collection of German-inspired buildings housing antique shops, cafes, bars and upmarket safari outfitters. All very un-African, but again kind of pleasant in a strange way. We found coffee at the Village Cafe much to our liking, and spent a part of each day there reading the Namibian newspaper - enjoying most the letters to the editor on subjects ranging from road conditions, how to sort out Namibian football in time for 2010, and the neighbour's bad habits; all written in the most vehement and flowery English - fabulous with a cappuccino!
We did a tour into the desert with Tommy - a local character if ever there was one - and a couple of older Afrikaans farmers from near Pretoria, up in Namibia on holiday. They didn't have much in common, except a disregard for the abilities and potential of black Africans, which they communicated to us in no uncertain terms. When we told them what we were planning, the farmers in particular were actually quite concerned for us. I'm sure they think we will come to a dire end (hopefully they are wrong!). Anyway, back to the Living Desert tour - where Tommy leaps out of the 4WD every now and collects sand beetles (huge, black things that really scoot along) so he can feed them to the snake, chameleon, lizard, skink, scorpion, etc, that he also finds for us. It was a great few hours, we learned loads about the desert and how things survive there (basically only because of the sea fog), and got a really fun 4WD trip round the dunes too.

Fun in the desert, watching out for scorpions and snakes.

Our next leg was another train trip - from Swakopmund through to Otjiwarango, scheduled to arrive at 12.30 at night, so potentially another problem for us that was too complicated to solve from afar. We had a beautifully printed train ticket, advising that departure was 4pm, and that we should be at the station 30mins beforehand. We also had read in our (not so) trusty Lonely Planet that Swakopmund Railway Station was a building of true beauty... You will guess correctly from this that the train didn't leave at 4pm, and the railway station was basically a brick hut in a dusty plain. We waited patiently at the station, read our books, did a puzzle, ate our sandwiches, watched the other passengers (who watched us). We are both amazed at how well behaved African children are. They are quiet, patient, nice to their siblings, helpful to their parents and never seem to grizzle or need entertaining.
There was plenty of time to take photos at Swakopmund station.
The train arrived at about 10pm and possibly because many of the passengers had given up on it, was pretty empty. We had a sleeper carriage to ourselves, and slept comfortably till about 6, when it got light, and the train turned into a game viewing carriage. How good is that? This also meant that we didn't arrive at Otjiwarango in the middle of the night, but about 8am - and before we knew it, we were in a taxi to the Shell Garage a few km away, and then onto a minbus to Tsumeb. We had arranged to collect a rental car there the next day, as we really weren't sure when we would be arriving, but were able to arrange to collect it on our arrival, and by midday were zooming up the highway on our way to Etosha National Park.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Windhoek and Namib-Naukluft

I can barely say Namibia, and now I'm here. It's a great place to visit, and even for someone from empty New Zealand, this country gives new meaning to the word "underpopulated". It's around the same size as NZ, but has around 2m people - less than half our population. And it shows. So far we've seen vast empty savannah and desert, one small town and the capital Windhoek, which seems about the size of Lower Hutt.

Our first experience of Namibia was a tad uncomfortable - the bus from Cape Town dropped us off at Keetmanshoop at midnight, and the rather fabulously named Shutzen Haus weren't there to collect us, nor did they answer their phone. We asked the Wimpy/service station staff if we could pitch our tent on their patch of lawn, when they told us there was a campground at the back - saved!

We had stopped in Keetmans hoping to be able to rent a car and drive to the Fish River Canyon. We were always unsure as to how this would work out as we hadn't been able to find out anything prior, and sure enough Louis, the only car rental agency in town, was on holiday and unable to help us. Hmmm. We booked a train ticket to Windhoek for that night, and set about exploring. This didn't take too long - the internet was down, so that was no diversion; it was getting hot and dusty so we decided to have lunch. Found a Hungarian restaurant that served far, so confusing. Got some money out at the bank. Did some grocery shopping and found, finally (after looking all over Cape Town) some gas for our cooking stove. Not an entirely wasted day after all.

At 6pm we were back at the station to board our overnight train - we were in business class, for the exhorbitant sum of about $26 NZ each for the 12 hour trip. The seats were great, they showed a couple of movies, and we slept well, arriving in Windhoek more or less on time.

Businnes class, Namibia-style.

We got a cab to the information centre, and there found the most useful and competent person we have met on the entire trip. Maria answered all our questions, gave us information, arranged a rental car for us and let us leave our bags at her office while we went off and had a well-earned breakfast. We spent a couple of hours poking around the city, and then picked up the rental car and headed off to Naukluft - the mountains on the edge of the Namib desert. My impeccable map-reading soon had us heading away from them, and we stopped at a guest farm before it got dark (and before we went too far in the wrong direction!). There was a Dutch couple also camping there, and we had an enjoyable evening chatting with them over a bottle of cheap SA red.
Typical driving in Namibia - they boast the world´s best dirt roads, and they probably are. The wild ostriches are just an extra.

Next day we got ourselves back on track and out to Naukluft proper - and began walking the Olive Trail about 10am. It's only 10km, and scheduled to take 4 hours, though we thought we'd do it in about 3. No, actually. It was a much tougher walk than we had realised, much of it over huge river boulders, through fantastic gorges with cactus and quiver trees clinging to the sides. I was on the lookout for the elusive mountain zebras, but while we saw quite a lot of evidence that they had been around, we didn't see any animals. The highlight (?) of the walk was the landmark "rock pool with chain" where you had to hang onto a chain, high above a stagnant pond in a narrow rocky chasm, and find footholds to get you round the cliff face. I did it, but not without a moment or two of doubt.

Brilliant scenery, but hard going.

Our stop for this night was the Namibian Wildlife Resort campsite at Sesriem, the closest camping to Sossusvlei - the amazing sand dunes and lake pans of the desert. The campsite is government run, and I believe we may have been given the worst site in the whole place - we had to drive to the loo it was so far away, and had only a broken park bench and a dirty braai as facilities. Ah well. But, we did see, as we were tucking into our noodles, a circling jackal. He wandered away, obviously disappointed that we weren't cooking anything more to his liking.
We were up the next morning at 5am, so as to see the dunes at sunrise ... and for a change it was actually worth it. We were halfway up the climb, when the sun came up, sharpening all the shadows, and changing the colour of the sand and the vegetation. It's a really beautiful spot; the dunes are massive and seem to go on forever. We hiked out to Dead Vlei, an old lake pan with dead trees, so photogenic that even my pictures look fabulous.

Our Saturday night was spent at the Gecko Desert Lodge, just us and the stars - and what stars. We had a great campsite here, with our own bathroom and outdoor kitchen - luxury! And got to eat breakfast in the morning entertained by a jackal stalking a herd of springbok. Perfect.

Cape Town

We have been looking forward to Cape Town, having heard so many good things about it from all those ex-pat South Africans in Wellington. It didn't disappoint - we ended up spending a week here, wandering around the town (safely, for a change), the waterfront and further afield to Stellenbosch/Paarl/Franshoek wine areas, the Cape Peninsular and Robben Island. Oh yeah, and another walk, this time up Table Mountain.

Cape Town certainly is a fine city, beautifully located and with a great atmosphere. However, in spite of its reputation as a centre of racial tolerance, there was plenty of evidence to the contrary, notably in District Six (an inner city area from where the coloured and black population was forcibly removed, and their homes and workplaces demolished) and the vast Cape Flats - the euphemistically named "township". Every city or town of any size has a "township" where black people live, often in appalling conditions. These days of course they also live in the towns, if they can afford to, but the townships are exclusively black, and apparently crime and AIDS ridden. The AIDS rate for Sth Africa is around 40%, which is horrifying to think of. The government is slowly pulling its head out of the sand over the issue, but still prefers to downplay the situation. Not sure how long this attitude can last as eventually you would think the death rate must impact on the ANC's voting population. Speaking of the ANC, it was interesting to observe on Robben Island (the small offshore island which was prison to Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners for many years), the attempts to rewrite the history of "the struggle", downplaying and marginalising the role of the Pan African Congress - today, a political rival of the ANC, and always (it seems anyway) a more radical group. Our guide at Robben Island (robben is Dutch for "seal" - the English renamed it Penguin Island, but the Dutch name has proved the more enduring [kind of a metaphor for the country in some ways]), Michael, told us his incredible story. He joined a communist group as a young man and was trained in guerilla warfare in Mozambique and Angola, and then sent to East Germany for further training, before returning to Sth Africa and being promptly arrested and jailed for illegally leaving and re-entering the country. His story, and the fact of such widespread external involvement in "the struggle" made me realise that the story of apartheid is much more complicated than I had realised. I'm sure the Afrikaans population felt they were fighting a war; Michael certainly did. Still, it was incredible to think that the white population could forcibly continue to rule the country so brutally when they are outnumbered 10:1.

Table Mountain looks spectacular seen from the deck of the boat on which we were ferried to Robben Island.

On a more cheerful note, we had two great outings - to the wine district where we happily sampled the very well-priced local product, and to the Cape which we visited on the day of a howling gale.

The nearly most southern tip of Africa, the Cape was as close as we got. Reminiscent of Wellington in a howling northerly.

No trip to the Cape is complete without a stop at Boulder Bay to admire the penguins. As always, very photogenic.
The climb up Table Mountain was a bit of a tough outing indeed, but relatively short, and we were rewarded with great views of the coast and the city (as you are if you take the comfortable and speedy cable car, which has a revolving floor so you get a 180 degree view on your trip).
It´s a tough climb, but worth it.
This was our last night in Cape Town, and we celebrated by eating out at the Africa Cafe, a terribly touristy restaurant where you are fed a set menu of dishes from all over the continent and entertained by the staff drumming and singing (

Around the coast

Time now to see the jewel of South Africa - its fabulous coastline, and our first stop was a Xhosa-run establishment called Bulungula (check out in the Transkei. A really beautiful location, and an interesting experiment in running an eco-friendly resort, with local Xhosa ownership and involvement. It was a bit of an effort to get here, as the bus trip ended on the highway, from where Rufus (a 70 year old Xhosa with a long history of driving things, including trains, taxis, trucks and tankers) picked us up in 4wd and took us the remaining 100km or so to the village. He entertained us most of the way with stories, including one he shared with Max about his circumcision, which happens in early adulthood without anaesthetic. The boys are sent into the bush to recover from the "operation" and when they return they are men. Just like that!

The Xhosa live in these picturesque round houses (rondevals, in Afrikaans), dotted across the hills. They shout to each other from hill top to hill top, a practice that is still used when speaking on their mobile phones in Cape Town, as we were to discover.

So, having arrived here at this little piece of paradise, we spent a few days wandering along the coast, checking out the local restaurant (open 3 days a week, anything you want to eat as long as it's pancakes, and great brewed coffee - which made a change to the Nescafe we are becoming accustomed to), and visiting a gardening project when the villagers are encouraged to practice permaculture, irrigation and propogation. All good stuff.

In between visiting the permaculture project and patronising the local restaurant, some serious relaxing was in order in the beautiful surrounds of Bulungula, in South Africa's Transkei.

Next stop was Cintsa, another picture perfect piece of coast, where we had our first serious rain - rain is always serious when you are staying in a tent. However, here we were perched on a wooden platform, so no problems really. We visited the local school where the students put on an end of term performance for us. A great experience - they sang and danced for an hour and a half in groups of girls, boys, and littlies, all under the enthusiastic instruction of Marjorie, the principal. At the end of the concert we all had to get up, introduce ourselves and show the children on a tatty map of the world where we came from - for which we each got a round of applause. On a slightly more sombre note, our donations went towards a school feeding programme, which supplied food, utensils and a cook and ensured that the children got two meals a day - cereal in the morning, and soup for lunch.

How adorable are these kids - we were privileged to see their end of term concert.

The surfing mecca of Jeffrey's Bay was our next stop - the waves weren't great, but the weather was, so we got the chance to swim and lie around in the sun. We hired a taxi for a few hours and did a trip out to nearby Cape St Francis, and the village of St Francis - where it is decreed that all houses be whitewashed and have thatched or tiled rooves, and be in Cape Dutch style. It all looks rather fabulous, even if slightly manufactured. There are canals around which the houses are built, and lots of speed boats and kayaks. And, no, in case you were wondering, black people do not live here.

The bus trip through the Garden Route was really spectacular, and this was one place we were sorry we didn't have a car. It would have been nice to have been able to stop when we wanted.
Our final coast stop was Mossell Bay - chosen as it broke a long bus trip nicely. However, it was a real find. Full of maritime history (Bartholomew Dias stopped here while trying to find the route to India, eventually discovered by Portuguese compatriot Vasco da Gama - no James Cook in this part of the world), a lovely coastline and pleasant places to eat and drink, we spent a very happy 24hrs here, camped on the back lawn of the Mossell Bay Backpackers.

A mini road trip

It felt like time to hit the road, we had been in Africa for a week, and still hadn't seen any wildlife, except some blokes in downtown Durban.

We decided to hire a car for a week, and do a trip up the east coast to Hluhluwe (more or less pronounced Shlushluwe) Game Reserve, and the St Lucia wetlands. Great campsite near Hluhluwe (did I mention we have a tent?), and a great safari day too where we saw elephants, a cheetah, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, baboons, loads of impala and nyala (which were of great interest to the cheetah), and also lots of exotic birds and nests - weaver birds build the most amazing nests. A fantastic day.

Giraffes are just beautiful, and warthogs are so ugly that they´re beautiful too.

The next day we drove out to St Lucia - the river is home to herds of hippos, and doing a boat cruise is the best way to see them. We were lucky with our timing as they only started running the boats again today after the problems with the big tides. In fact, the St Lucia estuary had just been broken for the first time in six years. None of this seemed to bother the hippos though, who sat/wallowed in the riverbanks just as always. It was great to see big family groups - big being the operative word for some of them (males I guess), who truly were enormous.

We had heard some good things about Swaziland, so decided to head there next. Luckily there was no problem taking the car across the border, and we found another nice campsite within the Mlilwane Game Reserve. This meant waking up in the morning and seeing zebras over the fence - very cool indeed! We also ate our first game meal here, barbecued (or braiied, in local parlance) impala. I did feel a little bit bad, but it tasted pretty good. We had to laugh when we saw the menu for the following day was impala stew - there must have been some leftovers!
We went for a hike up to a local view point - there were three peaks we could see from the campsite, and so we headed out towards them, and ended up, somewhat to our surprise since we were aiming for the middle one, at the one on the right hand side, Matenga View Point. It was a pretty stiff climb, specially in the heat, of about 2 hrs, but a great walk all the same - and a good view (as you would expect) from the top. Coming down was a relative breeze, and we spent the afternoon relaxing round the pool - this is camping African style!

Max with Swaziland all around him.

Our campsite was invited to a Swazi dance show that evening, and off we duly went in the minivan. It was such a hoot - I don't think they were exactly over-prepared, and there were lots of funny moments when unscripted things (like the lead singer/dancer's impala skin skirt dropping to the floor during a vigorous dance manoeuvre) happened. But it was a lot of fun. In fact Swaziland was generally quite light-hearted and relaxed, specially noticeable after the Sth African cities. Interesting to see that part of what seems to be the national dress, is a sarong-like shawl, with a picture of the Swazi king on it, like a giant tea towel. We saw them being worn all over the place, by men and women.

Next stop was the Drakensbergs - specifically Monk's Cowl. I think the Inkosana campsite is probably the best we've stayed in. Fantastic facilities, close to hiking trails, and lovely grass to pitch our tent on. We did a half day walk here, and it reminded us very much of New Zealand - the day was cloudy and foggy, but still quite warm, and the vegetation was similar to the Tararuas, including lots of ferns. Another really nice walk


An edgy town - the people, the streets and even the ocean. Durban's foreshore suffered from a series of huge 6m+ waves just after we visited, which also affected the rest of the coastline.
We spent a few days here, mostly on serious R&R - checked out the beach (best moment was when the surf lifesavers made an announcement warning of the dangers of thieves, rather than of the ocean!, finishing with "don't say I didn't warn you"). The city has a pretty good art gallery, and of course there was the rugby - we watched the Hurricanes get theirs at the ABSA Stadium, home of the Sharks. And, we were spotted and taken pity on by the president of the Sharks Supporters Club (George Laas) and invited back there after the match. Rugby seems incredibly important to the white Sth African community, here in Durban anyway. The Supporters Club is a really big deal - and we got to meet a few Hurricanes, including Jerry Collins (who also addressed the crowd), which was fun (though George seemed surprised that we didn't already know each other!!).

The famous Durban surf.

Thursday, 12 April 2007


We have spent five weeks in South Africa, and have covered a very small part of this large country. Johannesburg was the starting point. I had arranged to be collected from the airport, and was feeling confident after a good flight, and a fun weekend in Sydney. However, this was all blown away after watching the frankly terrifying tourism promotion video for the city on the plane. Basically it said, be very very careful, and leave as soon as you can!! The drive in from the airport though was nothing special, lots of pick ups with mostly black men in the back of them, all driving home from work through dusty hot roads. The motorway would put Wellington's efforts at roading to shame, and the traffic was interspersed with fancy European cars, among the more workmanlike bakkies (lingua franca for "ute").

We did an organised tour to Soweto the next day - pretty sobering stuff, but these days a mixed neighbourhood with some select areas looking like middle class NZ, where the politicians live we were told. Maybe Soweto's become like Harlem, an address with attitude! However, it's home to millions more who live without running water, sanitation or reliable electricity.
Two sides of Soweto, a typical shanty house, alongside Nelson Mandela´s old home (now a museum).