Road Trip to the Caprivi

We were delighted when our friends, Dave and Elaine agreed to join us on a winter safari from Hermanus through Namibia and Botswana to the Caprivi. I had planned a journey of around 6200 kilometres and we did not want to undertake it alone, not because we were afraid of breaking down, but because it is always so much nicer to share experiences and have the benefit of some additional input and wisdom.

Our Route

We left Hermanus independently on Wednesday 20 July, but as fate would have it, we met up on the road at Worcester and traveled together thereafter. The first day was the longest , taking us to the well appointed Naries Lodge outside Springbok, at the top of the Spektakel Pass. This was nostalgic for all of us as we had originally met when we worked at Kleinzee in 1979. We enjoyed a comfortable night and there was ice on the windscreens the following morning!

We proceeded, via Springbok, to Port Nolloth and then up the west coast to the border crossing into Namibia at Oranjemund. This also brought back memories of the many years Renee and I spent there, early in our marriage. Sadly, it looked somewhat bleak and was missing the generous support of a wealthy mining company, as Namdeb is now eking out a somewhat precarious last few years of its life. The road along the north bank of the Orange river was fascinating and we drove through the largely worked out river gravel deposits before reaching the long road north to Aus. A lone Fish Eagle called to us as we left the river and headed into the desert. A deserted, but good road allowed one to set the speed control at 120 kph and know that in an hour that distance would be covered.

Our accommodation in Aus was at the comfortable Bahnhof Hotel and I enjoyed a cold mug of Hansa draught beer, before we had a meal in the dining room surrounded by people with whom we exchanged a few pleasantries. Next day took us east to Keetmanshoop and the Quiver Tree forest where we had our picnic lunch – then on to Mariental and the Boutique Guest House. We had time to visit the irrigation scheme farms and were able to enjoy our first taste of the wide variety of birdlife that is drawn to the area. Supper at the nearby Tahiti eatery was a simple affair, helped down by a good box of wine!

Our journey to Otjiwarongo on Saturday was interrupted when we approached Windhoek and found that our GPS did not take account of a new fly-over, so we missed a turn or two and got a bit lost before heading off to the north again. A stop over at a dam for lunch (our standard cheese and biscuits) was somewhat ruined when, after having been told that we could enter the premises, we were held to ransom and had to pay around R700 to get out!! Not even a cold beer from the car fridge alleviated our extreme distress at this imposition, especially considering that the place was a real mess, anyway!

Otjiwaringo eventually loomed and we checked in to the sprawling C’est Ci Bon Hotel. There was a large marquee in the driveway and we feared a loud party, but fortunately we were not disturbed. Dinner was taken in an adjoining facility, but there was not much to recommend the town and its environs. On Sunday we again took to the road and headed for Rundu and the Kaisosi Lodge. The GPS took us through some pretty bleak areas on the outskirts of the town and we wondered where we were heading, but it ended well and we found the lodge to be very comfortable. We took a cruise on the Cubango river and had a delightful time, seeing birds and Angolans enjoying the water. We did not see any crocs, but enjoyed a spectacular African sunset instead!

We were now in the Caprivi strip, our intended destination. Next stop was Drotsky’s Camp in the Okavango panhandle, but first we had a border to cross. As we approached the call went out for us to don masks, as Botswana still had a mask rule in place! Red tape prevailed, but we got through and suddenly we were on a new road with many potholes. Luckily it was only a short distance to the camp, where we were surprised to find a couple of ellies at the gate. Drotsky’s is very comfortably appointed and we enjoyed the opportunity to see many birds in the spacious gardens as well as in the adjacent camp site, where we searched for Pel’s Fishing Owls. Next day we went for a long cruise up the river with our guide, GB. He managed to find us no less that three Pel’s Owls in one tree, as well as many other birds and he also lured a Fish Eagle to the water with a fish head or two. We heard hippos and saw a few crocs before being thrilled by a Sitatunga disappearing into the reeds.

After a second night, it was time to move on again and we had to cross back into Namibia in order to travel further east to Camp Kwando. Our cottages on the river bank were great and the restaurant area was beautifully appointed with and excellent meal served by candle light. The gardens were productive for birds and our trip count continued to grow with every passing day, however, it could not compare with our previous visit which had been in summer, when all the migrants were present.

Next day saw us on the road again and we once more made an international crossing into Botswana at the Ngoma border post on the Chobe river. A short drive further east and we arrived at the bustling (and warthog populated) town of Kasane, where we spent two nights at the large Chobe Safari Lodge – not really our scene, but we had a couple of cottages right on the river bank, so not too bad. We went for a birding cruise on the Chobe river and saw a number of good species and quite a bit of game as well. One can only wonder at the eyesight of the guides who appear to be able to see everything without any effort. The cruising activities on the river are expanding all the time and we were amazed to see how many boats passed us , especially in the afternoons. Most, of course, concentrate on elephants, for the benefit or foreign tourists.

After two nights at Kasane, we headed south to Francistown on a good road, but only as far as Nata. Thereafter it was decaying edges, potholes, cattle and trucks, so that by the time we turned off into Francistown (a growing place) our nerves were somewhat frayed! Luckily our next destination, Nganagane Game Reserve was a haven of luxury and tranquility! This is a largely unknown place – they had only 27 bed nights during July – so we had the place to ourselves. Our hosts, Lee and David, were outstanding and we cannot praise Ngangane enough! It is super-comfortable and we had a great choice of venues to eat superb food presented by Supra, the competent chef!

Next stop was Gaborone, a frustrating drive south through endless incomprehensible speed limits. We had both received speeding fines on the drive to Francistown (because one cannot look anywhere but at the road and the traffic!) so we were careful to observe the rules. Gaborone is a large and bustling city that it growing at a furious pace, and we were glad to get through it and arrive at our friends, Harold and Geraldine’s lodge at Notwane. Two days with them allowed us to unwind and enjoy their hospitality and wonderful garden birds. Harold took us on a drive around the city, as well as to the sewage ponds to look for waders. How nice to see an African city or town without shanties all around. The local authorities do not allow squatting in any from, something South Africa could learn from.

On leaving Gaborone, we headed south and crossed back into South Africa at Ramatlabama – then into Mahikeng and the filth of a really awful slum of a town. What a change from Namibia and Botswana! We could not find any place to stop for a cup of coffee along the open road miles out of town, as the whole area is a cesspit of discarded plastic and glass! One can only feel ashamed of one’s country when faced with such lack of regard for one’s surroundings. We drove through Vryburg and Kuruman, once beautiful towns, but now reduced to rubble, before arriving at the Red Sands Lodge where we spent a comfortable night. Then it was another battle with endless trucks as we took the road south via Upington, where we were fascinated by the Solar One power generating facility. It stands 206 metres tall and is surrounded by 4200 large computer oriented mirrors. We then proceeded to Calvinia and the very nice African Dawn B&B. Dinner was at the Blou Naartjie, a very historic eatery in the old part of town, where we enjoyed traditional South African food.

And so we came to the last leg of our epic journey – the road home. We drove through the Karoo on the R364 and were amazed to meet three vintage Bentleys on the gravel road as they made their way north! Then it was over the Pakhuis pass and onto the N7, not forgetting to stop and buy bags of naartjies as we passed Citrusdal. The Spring flowers are starting to appear and we saw some wonderful fields of white, yellow and orange.

As we drove into Hermanus, we both gazed at the cleanliness and thought that it had been washed and polished. What a pleasure after the newly destroyed South African towns we had driven though. Our road trip was over and we were exhausted, but happy with what we had achieved and the companionship we had enjoyed. Life is too short not to make forays into one’s country and its surrounds and we feel rejuvenated by the experience! We have been welcomed with open arms by all we met and no task was too much for our generous hosts along the way.

Postscript; Our trip bird count stands at 252, a fair number for winter. I only hope that everyone was as pleased about this as I was! We actually travelled 6300 kms without any mishaps or punctures, marred only by the speeding fines. We were around 10% short on our budget, but, as Dave said, it was worth every penny! We had anticipated hassles at the many border posts, but, apart from the repetitive costs, we had none and could have taken much more with us had we known how easy it would be. We should probably have included a few days in Zambia and a visit to Zimbabwe, however, those borders are perhaps not as easy.

Ngangane stood out as the best place we visited in terms of its hospitality and facilities.

Image titles can be accessed by clicking on them.

Gladiolus maculatus

The appearance of Gladiolus maculatus on the contour path above the Cricket Club in Hermanus, brought to mind a water colour we have depicting this and other Gladioli painted by Louise Guthrie around 100 years ago. Louise was Renee’s great aunt and most of her botanical work is now housed in the Bolus Herbarium at UCT.

A Walk on the Contour Path

This morning Renee and I walked the Contour Path from Fernkloof to Northcliff as Anne had told us about the beautiful Gladioli that were in flower there when she walked with the BotSoc last week. She was right and we were very pleased to find a couple of beautiful specimens of Gladiolus maculatus close to Elephant walk. There were also many magnificent Leucadendron tinctum as well as many Proteas on the western end of the path.

How sad it is that the BotSoc arranges weekly walks and the members who can walk get to see so many interesting plants, but never share them with those who are not so privileged. The Herbs blog was initiated in order to facilitate such sharing of information, but it seldom gets used. I am probably the main user, but I know very little about Fynbos and Botany compared with all of those who spend their days following this fascinating subject. Please won’t you share your experiences by sending me a note and a picture or two, so that I can post them on the blog, instead of keeping all this wonderful knowledge to yourselves!!

If you look at the Hermanus Bird Club blog (click on it in the Blogroll on the right) you will see what I mean about sharing information. Our birders always do this and their blog is alive and well, unlike Herbs, which is doing nothing but stagnating!

De Kelders Coastal Walk

6 Hurriers attended the walk from De Kelders to Gansbaai and back yesterday morning. We had beautiful weather and the views across the bay from the coastal path were magnificent. The appearance of two Humpback whales close to the shore added to our enjoyment and we also saw seals and some very distant Southern Right whales.

On the birding front, despite us not really concentrating much on birds, we managed to identify 29 species, including a Giant Kingfisher en route to Stanford and a Klaas’ Cuckoo at De Kelders. We covered a distance of 8.2 kilometres in total, and enjoyed a cup of coffee at ‘Coffee on the Rocks’ before returning to Hermanus.

Another Beautiful Winter Day in Hermanus

We walked into the village yesterday morning with a view to looking through the many art galleries, (there are 24 of them, attesting to this being the art capital of the Western Cape) which are part of the annual Hermanus Fynarts Festival. It was a really beautiful day and the sea was as flat as it could be. The first whales have arrived and the sightseeing vessels were out in the bay. There was even a lone fisherman standing on a rock in the sea opposite the Marine tidal pool. He must have swum out with all his gear!

As we went around Gearing’s Point we were able to appreciate all the new sculpture on display. This is also part of Fynarts and it draws many art lovers to this wonderful part of the world. One particularly moving exhibit (bottom centre) paid tribute to a young girl called Tanya who was found dead in the rubble of a Mariupol building.

Over the Mountain to Plaaskombuis

This morning saw 10 happy Hurriers setting out from the Visitors’ Centre and walking the Contour Path to Elephant pass, before heading down the other side of the mountain to Plaaskombuis, where we enjoyed an excellent cup of coffee together. David led the walk and ensured that we stayed on the right paths, however, he could not be blamed for Mick locking his keys in his car or Jenny having to engage Mike to fish through her house window for the house keys which were also locked in the car. Then Renee and Ronnie returned to Fernkloof, but forgot to pick up Renee’s car so had to return yet again! I promise you we only had coffee!!

Velddrif Birding

We left Kagga Kama on Monday morning and headed to Velddrif, at the mouth of the Berg River. Our journey took us north via the spectacular Middelberg Pass to Citrusdal, then across the Swartland via Piketberg to Velddrif, where we stayed in a beautiful cottage at the very well-appointed Quagga Lodge, on the banks of the river and about four kilometres upstream from the town. It was a perfect birding destination, with a kilometre of river frontage along which to amble and enjoy the plentiful water birds.

Sadly, our planned visit to the salt works on the river could not be realised, as new owners have prohibited all birding, thereby frustrating a huge cohort of SA and foreign birders, who used regularly to visit this important site where numerous waders, many quite rare, could previously be observed. We did, however, find the Poetic License gin distillery, and we did manage to raise our trip list bird count to around 95 birds (without the help of any gin!). This included African Marsh Harrier, Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, White-backed Pelican, Purple Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron and many others, that we could see from the river bank in front of our chalet. The Hermanus Bird Club will be visiting the area for three nights in August, and this was a fine foretaste of what can be expected.

A Weekend at Kagga Kama

We were thrilled when Andrew and Gillian invited us to join them and Tanja and David for a weekend at the Kagga Kama Reserve on the eastern edge of the Cedarberg mountains, opposite The Tankwa Karoo NP. Whilst our cottage left a bit to be desired in term of finish and space, the setting was so superb as to allow us to gloss over any imperfections and just enjoy being in a bit of paradise. We walked through the most amazing rock formations and enjoyed spectacular sunsets and wonderful meals, whilst relishing the family ties.

Birding was not too good although Andrew did manage to add three lifers to his tally. We only identified around 24 species in two days, attesting to the paucity of species in the area. Our low count was not for lack of trying!

Walking Piet’s Amoeba

There were only the usual four walking this morning – Gert, Mike, Renee and Ronnie! Where is everybody? It was a good stroll of exactly six kilometres and we enjoyed warm Berg wind conditions. We were lucky to come across a beautiful 70cm Puff Adder on the Klipspringer trail. No doubt he was also enjoying the warm conditions! This was the first Puff Adder that I have seen in Fernkloof in years. Unfortunately, he skedaddled before I could get a picture.

The Erica plukenetii were in full bloom on the slopes of Lemoenkop and made for a spectacular display of red!

Phillipskop

Today Mike led nine lucky hikers on a walk at the Phillipskop Nature Reserve outside Stanford. It was a crisp clear morning and we enjoyed the 4 kilometre hike through beautiful fynbos. It was such a pleasure to get to a new area and see the mountains from a different perspective.

We took the opportunity to visit the cave on the east side of the property and were able to see the rock art on the cave wall. This is a unique site and the only one in the area. The recent rains meant that the streams were flowing and we enjoyed a picnic on the stream below the towering Rock Stacks.