Posts Tagged ‘Adventure Sports’

Climbing Kilimanjaro via the Lemosho Route, Tanzania – March & April 2017

Mount Kilimanjaro towers above the campsite

Mount Kilimanjaro lurks behind a gigantic boulder as seen from the Karanga Valley campsite

Mount Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in northern Tanzania, actually comprises three volcanic cones – Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira – and it’s the highest mountain in Africa, rising to 5,895 metres (19,341 feet) above sea level at its summit. The mountain and its shrinking glaciers are protected within the Kilimanjaro National Park, which generates over US $50 million per year in revenue, while trekkers create seasonal employment for an estimated 15,000+ mountain guides, porters and cooks.

Trekking routes on Mount Kilimanjaro

Official trekking routes on Mount Kilimanjaro

The first successful ascent of the mountain was achieved by Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. Wishing to follow in their footsteps 128 years later, the senior management team of the Singita Grumeti Fund – www.singitagrumetifund.org – set off on 1st March 2017 with a shared desire to emulate their feat. We enlisted the services and skills of Shah Tours – http://www.shah-tours.com/treks/mt-kilimanjaro/ – in order to get our group to the summit of Uhuru Peak.

There are seven official trekking routes by which to ascend and/or descend Mount Kilimanjaro: Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Rongai, Shira, and Umbwe. After much research and careful consideration, we opted to climb Kilimanjaro via the scenic and less trammelled western flank approach, known as the Lemosho Route, using the Mweka Route for our decent.

SGF team

Happy teammates at the top of the Barranco Wall

Many experienced Kili climbers rate the wilder Lemosho approach as their favourite of all the routes on the mountain – and we would certainly have to agree. Our eight-day Lemosho trek, which began below Shira Ridge, afforded us a spectacular start to our climb as we walked through the pristine indigenous forest that blankets the lower western slopes of Kilimanjaro. Inside the cool forest, we were treated to regular sightings of troops of acrobatic black-and-white colobus as well as inquisitive blue monkeys. The primates thrived in this idyllic and undisturbed environment.

Exiting the trees, the trail then took in some stunning scenery and sensational views, while providing plenty of time for our weary climbing crew to acclimatize properly with a gradual ascent that included a highly memorable crossing of the wild Shira Plateau.

Dinner time

Refuelling in the mess tent after a solid day of hiking

Having traversed the plateau, we detoured to Shira Ridge and Cathedral Point, which marks the summit of Shira Peak. Standing atop the ridge and gazing at the route ahead, we were left under no illusion that the real ascent would kick off the following morning, as we continued our assault on the imposing summit of lofty Uhuru Peak via Barranco Wall, Karanga Valley, Barafu and Stella Point.

Because Lemosho is the longest route on Kili, you not only get to see and enjoy more of the mountain, but your body also gets the best opportunity to acclimatise and adapt to the altitude-induced challenges. Consequently, the Lemosho success rates for summiting Kilimanjaro is significantly higher than for pretty much every other Kili climbing route.

Karanga Valley Campsite

Mount Kilimanjaro bathed in silver by the moon with Karanga Valley Campsite in the foreground

It is worth clarifying that the Lemosho route ultimately merges with the Machame track on day four just below Lava Tower, and at this point the serenity and privacy of the preceding days gives way to a much busier and noisier trail. This loss of tranquility and eroding sense of wilderness continues all the way to the summit and for the duration of the decent on the popular Mweka trail too.

While our experience climbing Kilimanjaro was rewarding and enjoyable, galvanizing the team with every passing day until we all stood together atop the summit on day seven, there were two factors that detracted from the ‘Kilimanjaro experience’…

SGF team on the summit

Singita Grumeti Fund team celebrating on the summit

The first was TANAPA’s seeming complete lack of interest in cleaning up the abundant litter and squalid toilets that are a never-ending nightmare when trekking on Africa’s highest and most popular mountain. It is unfathomable to me that those entrusted with caring for the ‘crown jewel’ of Tanzanian natural heritage are not doing a better job of cleaning up and safeguarding this iconic natural asset for future generations to enjoy.

The second disappointment was the large groups of loud-mouthed foreign louts that were drawn to Kilimanjaro to tick ‘summiting Kili’ off some imaginary list of machismo.

The relentless decent and vistas from Stellar Point

The steep decent from Stella Point back to Barafu Camp

We experienced this phenomenon firsthand during the final stages of our trek when a large group of inconsiderate Welsh yobs – along with their grossly insensitive guides – wrecked all sense of natural serenity and destroyed the wilderness vibe with their late night singing, shouting and general hooligan behaviour. Sadly, there is currently no code of conduct to police and control these types on unwanted visitor who degrade Tanzania’s wild places.

Those two small gripes aside, the week we spent climbing Kili was a highly rewarding and extremely motivating experience that will undoubtedly stay with the entire SGF team for many years to come. I would go a step further and say that conquering Kilimanjaro is a worthy accomplishment that should be included on the bucket list of every Africa addict.

Summit in sight

Mount Meru pokes above a sea of clouds on the left, while Kilimanjaro casts its shadow to the right

Rampaging through the Richtersveld, RSA & Namibia – May & June 2016

Within the space of less than two weeks Wildebeest numbers swelled to around 400,000 on the Singita Grumeti concessions

In two short weeks wildebeest numbers swelled to over 400,000 on the Singita Grumeti concessions

The world renowned wildebeest migration in the Serenegtei-Mara ecosystem is a spectacle like no other that rightly takes pride of place on many an avid African safari goers’ bucket list.

Wildebeest as far as the eye can see

Wildebeest stretch as far as the eye can see

Colossal columns of ungainly wildebeest invaded Singita Grumeti in mid-May on their annual pilgrimage north to the Mara. Within a matter of days our verdant 350,000 acre concession was overrun by hundreds of thousands of hungry wildebeest. After a good rainy season, the huge herds thrived on the nutritious green grass blanketing the wide-open plains. The cacophony generated by these massive aggregations is almost more spectacular than the sight of this surging mass of hungry herbivores. Almost. But not quite.

By all accounts May 2016 saw one of the densest concentrations of wildebeest to grace Grumeti in the past decade. And to sit atop a rocky koppie and watch this epic spectacle unfolding – as far the eye can see – in every direction around you must be one of the greatest safari experiences in all of Africa.

 

The Rishtersveld Wildrun averages a marathon a day for five days across inhospitable desert terrain

The Rishtersveld Wildrun averages a marathon a day for five days across inhospitable desert terrain

June marked a rather less glamorous milestone for me personally, as I entered my fifth decade on this planet. It’s not everyone’s birthday wish to spend five days running 200km across the stark and often inhospitable desert terrain of the Richtersveld, but I nonetheless chose this challenge as a memorable way to celebrate the milestone of my fortieth year… But in hindsight perhaps it was more of an attempt to prove to myself that I wasn’t getting old just yet!

Running wild in the Richtersveld

Running wild in the Richtersveld

The arid Richtersveld is unquestionably one of the most elemental landscapes on the planet. Few landscapes on earth can rival the Richtersveld for arid beauty, big skies, sizzling sunshine and absolute desolation. Hauntingly beautiful and scorched by an unrelenting sun, the screaming silence of the Springbok Vlakte and gargantuan boulders of the Tatasberg Mountains are the holy grail of trail running for true wildrunners.

Richtersveld Wildrunners are best described as a diverse and determined cohort of modern day adventurers and I was fortunate enough to spend five days getting to know this intrepid group of desert duellers. Accompanied our Richtersveld Tours support staff, fifty determined trail runners took on the new transfrontier route: a two country desert extravaganza that was designed to expose competitors to the very best the Richtersveld has to offer – on both sides of the border – with deep canyons, rocky ravines, boulder-strewn mountains and stony desert plains.

So, if exploring off-the-beaten-track desert wilderness and shooting the breeze with fellow adventurous souls around a campfire under star-studded night skies sounds appealing to you, then I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending you don your running shoes for the Richtersveld run of a lifetime in June 2017.

For further info on the Richterveld as well as this incredible annual event, check out the magazine story links below:

http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Wild-Richtersveld-TFCA-Final.pdf

http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SA-4×4-Richtersveld-Wildrun.pdf

http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Sawubona-Richtersveld-TF-Wildrun.pdf

Running across the parched desert landscapes of the ancient Richtersveld desert is a primordial experience

Running across the parched desert landscapes of the ancient Richtersveld is a primordial experience

Singita Grumeti Fund Restructure & Kili Marathon, Tanzania – Jan & Feb 2016

Singita Grumeti Reserves 350 000 acre concession area is a scenically spectacular and wildlife-rich paradise

Evolving structures and specialised departments will more effectively preserve Grumeti’s natural riches

January saw a major restructure of the Grumeti Fund take place as well as the start of a consultive process to develop a much closer relationship with the Singita brand and management company.

Unsurpassed beauty with the short rains

The short rains create scenes of mesmerising beauty

As with any restructuring process there were some tough decisions to be made with certain departmental units shut down and staff transferred or retrenched. There was also a major reorganisation of the existing wildlife management department, which was split into three smaller and more specialised departments: conservation management, law enforcement and Grumeti relationship management.

The conservation management department carries out all habitat management and core conservation work, including the key focus areas of fire management, alien plant control and wildlife reintroductions.

Fund game scouts on patrol

Grumeti Fund game scouts on patrol

The newly created law enforcement department specialises in anti-poaching work along with policing all other illegal activities taking place within the concession area, including illegal tree cutting, charcoal production and illegal cattle grazing. In tandem with poaching, these are the most serious law enforcement challenges confronting Grumeti. Bushmeat poaching, using snares, poison arrows, dogs, torches and motorbikes is increasingly inventive and widespread, especially during the migration. With Tanzania having suffered catastrophic elephant losses over the course of the past five years – the country is estimated to have lost around 60% of its elephant and continues to lose in excess of 10,000 pachyderms a year – ivory poaching is an omnipresent and growing threat in the Serengeti. These challenging times necessitated the creation of a dedicated paramilitary style anti-poaching force to more effectively counter the poaching pandemic at our doorstep.

The Grumeti relationship department concentrates on all levels of stakeholder engagement with a focal area being continuous and effective communication with all our government sector partners. This is a vitally important department without which Grumeti would be stymied by bureaucracy and cease to be able to operate.

A newly formed special projects role will necessitate employing a multi-talented generalist to fulfil a crucial inter-departmental role that identifies and drives new projects and innovative joint ventures, thereby also ensuring that the specialised structure being enacted does not become too siloed.

Singita Grumeti Fund Logo_Final (Crop) (1)The community outreach and research & monitoring departments remain unchanged for the time being.

Bedding down the new structure, getting buy in from all the Fund heads of department, and ultimately support from field staff is a mammoth undertaking and not for the faint-hearted. We have concurrently rebranded as the Singita Grumeti Fund and will be under-going a full revamp of all marketing collateral during the course of the coming year. From brochures and business cards to a new Singita Grumeti Fund website and communications strategy, there is a major push underway to market ourselves as a bona fide non-profit and diversify our donor funding base. It’s an exciting year ahead for the Singita Grumeti Fund.

During the annual migration hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra swarm across the Grumeti grasslands

Grumeti’s rich grasslands attract hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra during the migration

 

The Kilimanjaro Marathon – 28 February 2016

Two very happy Kili Half-Marathon finishers

Happy Kili half-marathon finishers

The final weekend in February saw a team of Grumeti staff head to Moshi to take part in the annual Kilimanjaro Marathon (www.kilimanjaromarathon.com).

Thankfully the race does not involve going up and over the highest mountain in Africa, but rather skirts the foothills sticking to paved and gravel roads. An impressively large contingent of Tanzanian runners bumped elbows with a handful of very swift Kenyan competitors, and a sizeable field of foreign runners from around the globe. The altitude ensures it’s a lung-buster, but the spectacular volcano views along the route more than make up for the travails of oxygen deprivation and aching legs.

The true highlight of the event was not crossing the finish line in front of a big cheering crowd in Moshi stadium, nor was it the prestigious medal they drape around every finishers’ neck… it was undoubtedly the ice-cold beers and refreshing swimming pool celebrations that followed immediately after completion of the race. In my book the pool party is in itself a good enough reason to return on 26 February 2017 to do it all again!

The Singita Grumeti team that successfully completed the Kilimanjaro half and full marathons

The Singita Grumeti team that successfully completed the Kilimanjaro half and full marathon events

Orange River Canoe Safari, Namibia – Sept & Oct 2014

Orange River canoe safaris are synonymous with bright blue skies, bright sunshine and mesmerising scenery.

Orange River canoe safaris boast deep blue skies, rugged landscapes and mesmerising scenery.

September kicked off with a four-day canoe adventure on the Orange River with my MBA classmates. Beginning its 2000km+ journey in the Drakensberg Highlands of Lesotho, the Orange – recently renamed the Gariep – River is South Africa’s foremost waterway. In its lower reaches, the Orange traces the South Africa-Namibia border and our multi-day camp-out canoe safari focused on the stretch of water snaking through the heart of the Ai-Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park .

Sjambok Rapid action

A canoe aces the infamous Sjambok Rapid

Felix Unite (www.felixunite.com) – leaders in multi-day Orange River canoe safaris – put together our guided and fully catered trip: a stunning excursion deep inside the ruggedly beautiful Richtersveld and a much-needed escape from the GSB classroom! Drifting along the languid river, we passed through a geological wonderland of contorted red rock canyons. However, the episodic appearance of rocky rapids ensured we kept our paddles and life jackets close at hand, and it wasn’t long before the notorious Sjambok Rapid took its toll on our flotilla of glass-fibre boats. Only five of twelve canoes made it through unscathed, while everyone else enjoyed some mandatory ‘bonus’ swim time! The next hour was spent bailing out boats, collecting equipment bobbing in the eddies below the rapid and drying everything out.

Witches Mountain

Witches Hat Mountain in the Richtersveld

Having been fortunate enough to tackle the Orange on numerous previous occasions, I’ve also had the opportunity to write and publish a couple of magazine features on these popular and highly rewarding canoe safaris over the years…

http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Travel-Namibia-Orange-River-Safari-Final.pdf

http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Explore-Namibia-Gariep-River-Canoeing.pdf

Regardless of how many times I get to experience this magical river, I never tire of spending quality time on the Orange. I would classify the rapids as ‘fluffy’ rather than terrifying, but it is – in my humble opinion – the extreme arid beauty and mesmerising star-strewn night skies that make this canoe safari so enjoyable and utterly addictive. Check out www.felixunite.com/river_trips/orange_river for further details or to make a booking.

The sensational arid wilderness settings for a memorable overnight camp

A sensational riverside setting ensures another memorable overnight camp alongside the Orange

 

Celebrating after Cape Town Ultra

Celebrating after the Cape Town Ultra

Despite the fairly heavy workload involved with finishing off my MBA, I still managed to find a smidgen of spare time to hit the Table Mountain trails. The highlight being taking part in the inaugural Cape Town Ultra Trail Run (www.ultratrailcapetown.com). Tackling the full ultra was way beyond my current levels of fitness and training, so I opted instead for the short course route above the City Bowl. Starting from the city centre, we initially ran through the Company Gardens and Greenmarket Square before ascending through Bo-Kaap to traverse the length of Signal Hill, circling around Lions Head and then up onto the lower contour of Table Mountain before a final bone-jarring descent back into the City Bowl. Surprising even myself, I somehow managed to clinch a rather flattering 7th place on this hybrid 20km urban-trail run!

West Coast sunset

West Coast sunset

September and October also necessitated a final big push with my thesis in order to overcome the final MBA hurdle. My topic involved conducting an actor network analysis of the various social and environmental networks operating in the Bergrivier Municipality (www.bergmun.org.za). The research portion of the study demanded I take regular data collection excursions up the West Coast. On one of these occasions I was fortunate to be accompanied by my wife and young son for a couple of days in Velddrif (www.velddriftourism.co.za).

With a stunning seaside location overlooking Laaiplek Beach, Sunset Villas (www.velddriftourism.co.za/content/sunset-villas) boasts ocean-view sunsets of the highest order. Our unit comprised two en-suite bedrooms, an open plan living room, dining room and kitchenette, as well as a balcony with braai and five-star sea view.

Late October also saw the long-awaited publication of the final instalment of the Central Kalahari adventure that I shared with my brother-in-law in Botswana late last year.  If you haven’t read our tale of breaking down deep within the CKGR with only lions and Cape cobras for company, then you can access the SA 4×4 feature covering this epic adventure here: http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SA-4×4-CKGR-Cover-Feature-Proof.pdf

We had the West Coast's Laaiplek Beach all to ourselves when visiting Velddrif

We had the West Coast’s Laaiplek Beach all to ourselves when visiting Velddrif

Two of Singita’s Finest Safari Lodges, RSA & Zimbabwe – May & June 2014

The quintessential African sunset with baobab silhouette on Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe

The quintessential African sunset with baobab silhouette on Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe

The month of May got off to a rollicking start with a weeklong safari to two of Southern Africa’s top safari lodges.  Accompanied by fellow Passage to Africa private guide, Richard Coke, we led a Texan family on a highly enjoyable weeklong Singita safari.

The cliff-top view from Singita Pamushana Lodge

The cliff-top view from Singita Pamushana Lodge

The trip kicked off at Singita Pamushana (www.singita.com/pamushana-lodge/) on the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe. Managed by the not-for-profit Malilangwe Trust, the wildlife-rich private reserve is an extraordinary wilderness area adjoining the Gonarezhou National Park in southeastern Zimbabwe. Amazingly, Singita Pamushana Lodge is currently the sole camp operating on this stunning 60 000 ha reserve. Like a collection of vulture nests perched along the rim of a giant rocky koppie, the lodge offers unbeatable bird’s eye views over a unique landscape peppered with rocky outcrops and a sprawling lake down below.

The wildlife viewing was top notch, especially considering it was early May and the bush was still pretty thick. Aside from plentiful elephants, white rhino and huge buffalo herds, we enjoyed memorable sightings of cheetah on the prowl and a pack of wild dog drinking from Banyan pan. Aside from game drives and a short walk tracking rhinos, there was some high quality fishing on offer in the lake below the lodge, and our team caught a few small tigers along with more tilapia than they knew what to do with!

Our private charter pilatus jets turned a few heads wherever we landed

Our private charter Pilatus PC-12’s made for easy travel and turned a few heads wherever we went

 

Giraffe chewing on a shoulder bone

Giraffe chewing on a shoulder bone

From Pamushana we flew back to South Africa and Singita’s flagship Lebombo Lodge (www.singita.com/lebombo-lodge/). This world-renowned safari lodge boasts fifteen loft-style suites on a 14 000 hectare, exclusive-use concession deep inside the Kruger National Park. Built above the N’wanetsi River in the east of the park, Singita Lebombo stares out across the stream and onto an undulating savannah-woodland landscape that stretches across the unfenced border and into neighbouring Mozambique.  Imaginative wood, steel and organic interiors – all encased in glass – provide a stylish and modern feel to the luxurious Lebombo suites, which make the most of their lofty positions overlooking the river.

The basalt plains to the north of the lodge are well-known for their lion concentrations and it wasn’t long before we came across a coalition of four males resting up after devouring a waterbuck. Mating lions the following morning and a visit to a rocky hyena den were other highlights, but nothing could match the grand finale of watching a female cheetah stalk and take down an impala on our last evening drive: a great end to a wonderful week in the African wilderness.

An alert female cheetah surveys her surrounds to make sure no other predators steal her kill

An alert female cheetah surveys her surrounds to ensure no other predators sneak in and steal her kill

 

During a very hectic and intense second term on the MBA, there was only limited time available for undertaking photojournalism assignments. In amongst all the schoolwork and exams, I managed to keep up a fairly gruelling trail running schedule in order to maintain my sanity! The beautiful and brutal Heldeberg Challenge was followed by a perennial favourite, the Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge, but the highlight of June was undoubtedly snagging an entry to the fourth edition of the Grootvadersbosch Trail Challenge (www.quantumadventures.co.za/2013/09/12/grootvadersbosch-trail-run/).

Dad's biggest supporter

Dad’s biggest fan and trail running supporter

Taking place in the wonderfully wild and diverse Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve and adjoining Boosmansbos Conservancy, this magical two-day trail run is synonymous with everything genuine trail runners wish for: natural beauty, pristine wilderness, no other people, and lots of flowing single track. Located right on Cape Town’s doorstep, it is a virtually unknown tract of Western Cape wilderness that eclipsed even my wildest expectations.

But don’t just take my word for it, the fact that the organisers of both the Otter African Trail Run and African X – two of South Africa’s premier trail events – chose to come and run Grootvadersbosch this year should convince you that this is a truly special place. So if you live in the Cape and enjoy trail running, hiking or simply spending time in nature, then be sure to check out my latest Do It Now feature on this incredible World Heritage Site: http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/DIN-Grootvadersbos-Trail-Run-Final.pdf

Running wild on the mountainous trails of the scenically spectacular Grootvadersbosch World Heritage Site

Running wild on the mountainous trails of the spectacular Grootvadersbosch World Heritage Site

African X Trail Run & Karoo Nature Safari, South Africa – March & April 2014

The African X takes trail runners on a three-day adventure from Sir Lowry's Pass to Bot River

The African X takes trail runners on a three-day off-road adventure from Sir Lowry’s Pass to Bot River

In mid-March, the Groenlandberg Mountains – just outside of Cape Town – reverberated to the sound of more than a thousand feet pounding along pristine mountain tracks, as 275 two-runner teams went head to head during the three-day ProNutro African X Trail Run. While the vast majority of teams took part for the sheer pleasure of running wild along some of the Western Cape’s finest nature trails, the event also attracted the veritable who’s who of South African trail running and the battle for African X supremacy proved a tightly contested affair. When the dust finally settled, it was the unstoppable team of AJ Calitz and Bernie Rakudza that triumphed over defending champions Michael Bailey and Ben Brimble, who in turn relegated the Salomon pairing of Kane Reilly and Thabang Madiba to third spot on the podium.

Running through the Groenlandberg foothills

Running wild through the Groenlandberg foothills

It would be wrong to talk about the ProNutro African X event (www.africanx.co.za) without mentioning the dedicated Stillwater Sports team that organise and host this world-class event each year. Chatting to other runners out on the trail, everyone was in unanimous agreement that African X is considerably more than ‘just another trail race.’ Thumping tunes and tireless race announcers greeted us each time we trundled into one of the well-stocked replenishment stations strung out at regular intervals along the route. The logistics boggle the mind, yet the water tables were always staffed by a bevy of enthusiastic young volunteers who looked as genuinely thrilled as the rest of us to be out and about in the mountains.

With outstanding attention to detail, the African X experience is characterised by a professional, relaxed and friendly vibe. The facilities at Houw Hoek Inn (the event HQ) are excellent with a battery of hot showers, cold craft beers, professional sports massages, excellent medical support, top-notch security and absolutely delicious food. Exuding an intoxicating combination of challenge and fun, the African X is – in my humble opinion – hands down the most well-organised and exciting multi-stage trail race currently taking place in the wilds of South Africa.

Check out http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Do-It-Now-African-X-Trail-Run.pdf for the full feature article on this incredible event.

 

Exploring the self-guided Bossie Hiking Trail in the Karoo National Park

Exploring the self-guided Bossie Hiking Trail within the scenically spectacular Karoo National Park

After a demanding first term on the full-time MBA programme, it was with much excitement (and some relief) that we took a five-day family excursion up the N1 to explore the little known Karoo National Park near Beaufort West. The Great Karoo is a vast and unforgiving landscape with the Karoo National Park (http://www.sanparks.org.za/parks/karoo/) standing out as the crown jewel of this sprawling, semi-arid wilderness.

The endemic Cape Mountain Zebra

The endemic Cape Mountain Zebra

Dominated by the lofty Nuweveld Mountains and fringed by undulating plains, the park is home to a fascinating variety of specially adapted fauna and flora that is ideally suited to surviving in the Karoo’s harsh conditions. Wanting to restore the Karoo Park to its former glory, SANParks has re-introduced a number of locally extinct species to their former ranges, including lion, brown hyena, black rhino and Cape mountain zebra. Game drives and guided walks in the company of an armed and knowledgeable ranger were the order of the day for exploring the wide-open natural expanses of the reserve.

During our stay we made use of one of the park’s eight Cape Dutch style family units, comprising two en suite bedrooms (three beds in each), a fully equipped kitchen and dining room (although breakfast at the Salt & Pepper Restaurant is included) and a veranda with braai, comfy sofas and some incredible mountain views.

Each evening as the sun sank behind the hills and the light softened, setting the endless Karoo canvas ablaze with glorious hues of orange and crimson, we would light the braai fire and crack open a couple of Windhoek Draughts, toasting our good fortune at being able to recharge our city stressed souls amidst such stunning natural beauty. There’s no denying the picturesque Karoo National Park is a special place.

The Karoo Rest Camp nestles in a pretty mountain valley looking onto the cliffs and crags of the rocky Nuweveld Mountain Range

The Karoo Rest Camp nestles in a pretty mountain valley looking onto the rugged Nuweveld Mountains

UCT Graduate School of Business MBA, South Africa – Jan & Feb 2014

Family photo at my little sister Michelle's 21st birthday celebration in Franschhoek

Family photo from my little sister Michelle’s Disney-themed 21st birthday celebration in Franschhoek

After bringing in the New Year with family at Angala Boutique Hotel (www.angala.co.za) in Franschhoek, we returned to Cape Town and started to gear up for a BIG 2014. After much deliberation, I decided to take the plunge and accepted my offer to study a full-time MBA at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (www.gsb.uct.ac.za). With UCT’s MBA programme moving up the Financial Times international rankings to an impressive 59th place, there is no denying the prestige attached to Africa’s premier MBA qualification. My interest is specifically in the sustainability stream that the Graduate School of Business offers as part of its MBA course electives bouquet.

Maria and Charlie

Maria and Charlie

The demands of this intensive year-long masters programme will no doubt necessitate big changes to my photojournalism assignments schedule as well as on the home front. After four months of maternity leave, Katherine has gone back to working half-days and is bravely keeping the family ship afloat, while Maria – Charlie’s devoted nanny – has quickly become part of the furniture and an indispensible member of the family. There is absolutely no way I could make this busy year work without the support of my fantastic wife as well as Maria’s help with caring for Charlie and keeping the apartment ship-shape.

It’s also been great to have my sister, Carolyn, brother-in-law, Jean-Marc, and nephew, Dom, back from the UK and staying in Cape Town for the summer. Their timely return to the fairest Cape has given Charlie an opportunity to get to know his older cousin during some fun-filled beach days and lazy picnics for the boys at Kirstenbosch.

Charlie – being the chilled-out little kid that he is – seems to adapt surprisingly easily to new situations, fitting in effortlessly with our adventurous lifestyle. Whether he’s dancing to Freshly Ground at a Kirstenbosch sunset concert or climbing Table Mountain with us, the little guy seems to really enjoy himself.  Not bad for someone who is just six months old!

Charlie with cousin Dom on Clifton beach

Charlie with his cousin Dom on Clifton beach

On the photojournalism side of things, I’ve had to scale back my magazine assignments quite dramatically to free up my schedule to accommodate a fairly hectic and heavy MBA workload. However, despite a mountain of school work, I’ve managed to squeeze in a couple of exciting short assignments…

The first is a three-day escape during mid-March to take part in and write about the African X trail run (www.africanx.co.za) that takes place in the mountains above Houw Hoek Inn just outside of Cape Town. This adventure sports assignment will be followed by a five-day family excursion to check out the Karoo National Park (www.sanparks.org.za/parks/karoo/) during late-April. At this stage my final assignment is lined up for the first week in May and it’s a Passage to Africa privately guided safari (www.passagetoafrica.com/privately_guided_safaris) to sample the top Singita lodges in South Africa’s Lowveld and across the border into Zimbabwe. This will be my first foray into privately guided safaris since joining the Passage team as a partner guide (www.passagetoafrica.com/team/stephen-cunliffe) late last year and I look forward to working more closely with them on both African and Asian safari itineraries in the future.

So with plenty to look forward to during a busy start to the year, watch this space for further updates on how things pan out over the course of an action-packed 2014…

Family photo from the Freshly Ground Kirstenbosch concert on sweltering hot Sunday evening

Cunliffe family photo taken at the Freshly Ground sunset concert on a summery Sunday evening

Robben Island Swim and the Kalahari, RSA & Namibia – May 2013

With Table Mountain looking on, the team prepares for the Robben Island-Blouberg swim crossing

The month kicked off with our long-awaited and much-anticipated Robben Island swim on Worker’s Day.  We had actually planned to do the 7.8km Robben Island-Blouberg crossing much later in the month, but work-travel commitments and a spell of good weather prompted a last minute rescheduling.

Arriving at Big Bay in Blouberg

On May 1st, the water temperate measured a balmy 14 degrees (much more pleasant than the South Easter-induced 9°C that we’d experienced on a couple of our training swims!) and the sea was flat.  Conditions were ideal except for a huge fog bank that rolled in overnight, reducing visibility to twenty metres at most.  Next morning our chief Safety Officer, Clem Gutsche, looked a little apprehensive, as did the six swimmers!  Derek Frazer of Big Bay Events was overseeing our official swim as a representative of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (www.capeswim.com) and he repeatedly delayed the start time in the hope that the fog would lift.

At 1pm, still buried in fog, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer and, hopping aboard our three rubber ducks, bounced across to the island.  About a mile offshore we broke out of the fog and encountered glorious, sunny conditions for the remainder of the journey to Robben Island.  The combination of blazing sunshine and flat sea made for an incredible swim… Well at least for the first 80% of the crossing!  Towards the end, while swimming through a total white-out, I was exceptionally grateful for GPS technology and the experience of our boat drivers and safety officer.

For two hours and twenty minutes I swam the crossing stroke-for-stroke with my brother Matt and it was a privilege to complete my first wetsuit-less Robben Island swim in the company of this experienced human polar bear!

The VW California Beach in action in the red Kalahari sands of southeast Namibia

After recovering from a sinus cold that I picked up during the swim, I set off on a ten-day magazine assignment to Namibia for SA 4×4. Inviting my sister Nicki – who was out visiting from New York – to accompany me as co-pilot, we took a four-wheel-drive camper van to explore one of the biggest blank spots left on the Southern African map. Although considered a ‘soft-roader’ by many, the VW California Beach did us proud as it dominated the loose gravel and rolling red dunes of southeast Namibia.

The strange-looking Quiver Tree

There were so many trip highlights that I actually found myself struggling to do justice to our adventure despite having an 18-page, 4000-word SA 4×4 cover feature to work with. Of all the great things we did, I would nominate quad-biking through the dunes with my sister in search of wildlife as the top experience on our Namibian sojourn. But even more entertaining than watching my quad-bikingly-challenged sister master her four-wheeler, I really enjoyed the people we encountered along the way.  Almost without exception, the folks we came across in Namibia’s remote southeast were amongst the friendliest, most welcoming, humorous and downright decent characters I’ve ever met anywhere.

Aside from the awesome people, we also discovered some absolute gems well-worth visiting next time you find yourself travelling through neighbouring Namibia.  Do yourself a favour and make sure you check out Mesosaurus Bush Camp along with Giel Steenkamp’s outstanding Mesosaurus Fossil Tour (www.mesosaurus.com); take a time out and spend at least two nights at Marianne Nell’s idyllic DuneSong Breathers chalets (www.dunesong.net); enjoy a braai-to-remember while camping at remote Red Dune Camp (www.reddunecamp.com) on Tranendal Farm or pop in to visit the Kalahari’s friendliest couple, Pieter and Hanlie Möller of Terra Rouge Guest Farm (terrarouge@iway.na), which lies a short springbok pronk from the Mata-Mata entrance gate to the Kgalagadi TFCA. All of these spots come highly recommended and I can vouch that they’re well-worth a visit…

The fully furnished and luxurious DuneSong chalets lie on a low red dune below star-strewn skies

Cape Town and Table Mountain Hiking, South Africa – April 2013

The Sea Point Promenade view from our Three Anchor Bay apartment in Cape Town

In comparison to the start of 2013, April was a somewhat less hectic and travel-intensive month.  Rather than disappear on another trip, we decided to concentrate on enjoying the epic late summer weather in Cape Town.

Training at the 3.2km Llandudno Cold Water Swim

Another good reason for staying close to home was to enable me to train hard for our Robben Island swim, which is on the cards for early next month.  Along with five friends, I’ll be swimming the traditional 7.8km ocean crossing from the island to Blouberg. It’s an official swim under the watchful eye of the Cape Long Distance Swimming Association (www.capeswim.com) so that means no wetsuits allowed… Yikes!

The stunning weather at this time of year also got us back walking on the beautiful mountain that resides in our backyard with regular trips up Lions Head and couple of overnight hikes with friends and family to the delightfully rustic Hoerikwaggo Trail Tented Camps and luxurious Overseers Cottage on the back table. Everyone who lives in Cape Town should make a point of getting onto the mountain at least once a summer to sample these affordable weekend escapes that lie in easy striking distance within the city limits (www.sanparks.co.za/parks/table_mountain).

Two Oceans Trail Run finish

After an enforced five-month layoff from trail running thanks to a Wild Coast Wildrun induced knee injury, I finally got the all clear from the doc to start running again and celebrated my return to fitness by taking part in the Two Oceans Trail Run (www.twooceansmarathon.org.za/events/trail-run/general) on Good Friday. The knee held up well over the mountainous 22km course, the weather was great and the Devil’s Peak scenery spectacular … It was fantastic to be back running in the mountains again!

March was also a productive month on the magazine front with a number of exciting new stories hitting the shelves.  Africa Geographic ran a big feature on Khaudum, Namibia’s wildest national park, and its elephants, which you can check out at: www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Africa-Geographic-Khaudum.pdf

While on the trail running front, Explore South Africa published Transkei Trailblazing – the last in our series of epic mullti-day Southern African trail runs – and you can view the story here: www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Explore-South-Africa-Wildcoast-Wildrun.pdf

The Overseers Cottage atop Table Mountain overlooks the hustle-and-bustle of the Southern Suburbs

Overnight Hiking on Table Mountain, South Africa – Oct 2012

The idyllically located Overseers Cottage boasts unrivalled views over the Peninsula and False Bay

After six months of training, October was supposed to be a hardcore trail running month with media invitations to take part in three big races. The Chappies Challenge (http://www.energyevents.co.za/) was a 21km warm up for the main events: the inaugural Retto Edition of the 42km Otter African Trail Run (http://theotter.co.za/) along the mountainous coastline of the Tsitsikamma National Park followed by the epic 250km Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (http://www.extrememarathons.com/). Unfortunately, acute patellar tendonitis in my left knee – courtesy of all the beach running in last month’s Wild Coast Wildrun – forced me to withdraw from all three events and instead embark on a six-week rehab and strengthening programme at the Sports Science Institute in Newlands.

To pull out of the Otter and KAEM was absolutely gutting, but at least the doc encouraged me to do lots of walking and hiking as part of the recovery process.  This provided the catalyst for a month of regular table mountain hiking excursions with one particular weekend of multi-day hiking standing out above the rest…

Friday the 19th of October saw our group of 11 friends hire out the 12-bed Orangekloof Tented Camp (http://www.sanparks.org/gallery/index.php/parks/table_mountain/ht_orange_kloof/).  Located barely a hop, skip and a jump from Constantia Neck, this eco-friendly and thoughtfully-designed bush camp is one of the four Hoerikwaggo trail’s camps scattered across the mountain chain. All camps offer bathrooms with hot water showers, comfortable beds, fireplaces, fully equipped communal kitchens and self-catering dining areas. Guests need only provide their own bedding, towels and food.

Spring flowers bloom on Table Mountain

Orange Kloof Tented camp lies tucked away within an ancient restricted-access Afromontane forest that was until recently closed to the public. The result is an old-worldly forest and tranquil setting that combine to ensure a superbly relaxing wilderness getaway right in the very heart of Cape Town!

After a rather damp Friday night braai, Saturday dawned bright and clear with deep blue skies overhead as we set off to tackle the hike up the restricted Disa River Gorge. Despite having grown up in neighbouring Hout Bay and nearby Llandudno, this was the first time any of us had ventured up this magical mountain trail.  The scenic route traces the river into a steep sided gorge all the way to the base of Hely-Hutchinson dam wall and then continues across to above Kirstenbosch before arriving at the idyllic Overseers Hut perched on the edge of the Mountain.

The beautifully furnished and ultra-comfortable Overseers Cottage provided an incredible opportunity to enjoy a night atop one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  Accommodating up to 16 people, it was a real privilege for us to settle into this stylishly renovated old stone cottage. Comfy couches, a big fireplace, gas-heated hot showers and big soft beds with crisp linens ensured we slept like babies even as thick mist enveloped the mountain outside.

Sleeping high above the city proved a truly memorable and highly recommended experience.  To find out more about hiking trails and overnight accommodation on Table Mountain, click on the following link:  http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Explore-SA-Table-Mountain1.pdf

Katherine and I will be headed to Botswana next month on an incredible sounding 8-night &Beyond itinerary to experience Chobe Under Canvas and Nxabega Okavango Camp – two of the finest luxury tented camps in all of northern Botswana.  More on this exciting assignment in next month’s blog update…

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