Posts Tagged ‘Hiking’

Kalahari, Namibrand, Sossusvlei and the Orange River, Namibia – Nov 2011

November proved to be a standout month packed with new experiences and great adventures, which is not a bad effort considering that 2011 has been a year dominated by some fantastic travels, incredible magazine assignments and epic new experiences.

The latest four-week trip kicked off with an Africa Geographic magazine assignment to 26,485 ha Mokala (www.sanparks.org.za/parks/mokala/) and it was fascinating to explore and learn about South Africa’s newest national park. The reserve is a stronghold for rare and endangered species and it’s doing great work breeding up and relocating the progeny of these threatened species to a wide range of national parks and private game reserves throughout South Africa.

Next stop was the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (www.sanparks.org.za/parks/kgalagadi/) and after six long years away, it was every bit as good as I remembered … with the exception of the roads! The increase in the park’s popularity and a newly paved road running all the way from Upington to Twee Rivieren Entrance Gate meant that more vehicles are bumping and bouncing along the park’s heavily corrugated roads. But the energising experience of being in this arid, wildlife-rich wilderness of rolling red dunes is well worth the price of a pair of new rear shocks!  We enjoyed good cheetah cub viewing, hyaena clans escaping the heat by relaxing in the waterholes, great lion interactions, a couple of Cape fox den sites with tiny playful puppies, and the emotional sight of a springbok ewe give birth to twins!

After five nights in the Kalahari, we made use of the special tourist border facility at Mata Mata to cross into neighbouring Namibia and the friendly faces of smiling border officials were a very unexpected and pleasant surprise. The excellent dirt roads of southern Namibia – with the exception of the well-used routes around Sossusvlei – were regularly graded and in considerably better condition than the South African park roads; our little VW polo breathed a huge sigh of relief as we exited the Kgalagadi.

The first Namibian port of call on the itinerary was &Beyond’s stunningly situated Sossusvlei Desert Lodge (www.andbeyondafrica.com/african_safari/namibia). Perched on a hillside below the Nuimib Mountains in the northeastern corner of the NamibRand Nature Reserve (www.namibrand.com), it is the ideal spot from which to appreciate the reserve’s arid landscapes and incredible natural beauty. The sophisticated desert-chic lodge comprises ten ultra-luxurious en suite stone and glass villas with private verandas and outdoor showers with superlative views.  If you rate your lodges according to their location, then I’d give this spot 13 out of 10!

After five fun-filled days exploring the northern NamibRand, we moved on to Kulala Desert Lodge (www.wilderness-safaris.com/namibia_sossusvlei/kulala_desert_lodge/) and found ourselves within spitting distance of the world-renowned Sossusvlei dunes. Those dunes are something special and looking down onto a soupy sea of dense fog shrouding the skeletal trees of Dead Vlei below us as we slogged up Big Daddy is an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

The NamibRand was so good that we headed back for round two, exploring the southern concession in Namibia’s largest private nature reserve. Tok Tokkie Trails (www.toktokkietrails.com) caters for a max of eight guests, but we were fortunate enough to have the the fully catered three-day trail all to ourselves and the personal attention bestowed upon us by guide Domingo and his back up team made for an extraordinary and unforgettable nature experience. Tramping through the desert and sleeping amongst the red dunes under a billion bright stars was the absolute best way to get up close and personal with the Namib.

After recharging with a couple of R&R days at the historical Hansa Hotel (www.hansahotel.com.na) and enjoying  a mandatory German beer tasting extravaganza around Swakopmund, there was one last stop at Camp Provenance on the Orange River before we headed for home. The following morning we scrambled into a glass-fibre canoe and set off to explore the Ai-Ais-Richtersveld TFCA with Felix Unite River Adventures (www.felixunite.com/river_trips/orange_river), embarking on a six-day paddle all the way from Noordoewer to the Fish River Canyon confluence. It was a great trip with good food, excellent guides, incredible stars and big enough rapids to ensure people took an involuntary swim at Shambok, Surprise and De Hoop rapids!

What an incredible trip made possible by magazine assignments from Africa Geographic, Explore and Travel Namibia.

Cape Town and the Otter Trail Run, South Africa – September 2011

After an incredible 9.5 years living abroad, I arrived in Cape Town on Thursday the 8th of September ready to embark on the next exciting chapter in Katherine and my life together. The first couple of weeks back home were dominated by admin, buying a car, researching apartments and where we want to live, meeting with my magazine editors and, of course, catching up with friends and family.

After a couple of weeks of writing magazine stories, proofing articles and fine-tuning the itinerary for next month’s Northern Cape and Namibian sojourn, the month concluded in fine style when I travelled up the Garden Route on a much-anticipated assignment to compete in and cover the gruelling Otter Trail Run (www.theotter.co.za). Dubbed the Grail of Trail, this brutal 42km full trail marathon weaves its way along the very same route of the legendary Otter Trail – South Africa’s most iconic and spectacular hiking trail – as it traverses the rugged coastline and fords the rivers of the majestic Tsitsikamma National Park.

On the morning of Friday September 30th, two hundred endurance athletes and one pretender (me) gathered in the inky blackness below a star-studded sky at Storms River mouth for the Otter Run: undoubtedly one of the hardest and simultaneously most incredible events I’ve ever competed in. Nervous tension mingled with an electric atmosphere in the cool morning air ahead of first light. As dawn broke on a picture-perfect day, we set off running through indigenous coastal forests, into deep ravines, over imposing mountains and across the fynbos-clad slopes of the Garden Route National Park, before overcoming one final obstacle – a precariously unstable floating bridge – to finally finish at De Vasselot campsite in Nature’s Valley.

Returning from his epic victory in the gruelling Leadville 100 mile ultra marathon in America, Ryan Sandes, the soft-spoken trail runner extraordinaire, dominated what was arguably the greatest trail running field ever assembled on South African soil to clinch first place in Africa’s premier off-road running event to clinch the coveted Grail. Shaving an impressive seven minutes off André Gie’s record, Sandes finished in a blistering 4h40m.  I staggered over the line two-and-a-half hours later in around 110th place, but, thankfully, well within the eight hour cut-off time.

October is looking like it should be a good month with spring in the air, Katherine returning from Kenya and an exciting magazine assignment to the Northern Cape and Namibia on the horizon. Here’s holding thumbs that the Springboks can play out their boots at the Rugby World Cup and turn a good October into a month to remember … Go bokke!

Glacier NP, New York, South Carolina and Minnesota, USA – July 2011

Scenically spectacular Glacier National Park (www.nps.gov/glac/) is a very special place.  Impressive mountain panoramas, snow-capped peaks, icy blue glacial lakes and dense lodgepole pine forests come together and produce jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes that demand you get out the car and go hiking.

Especially memorable moments in the mountains of northern Montana included drifting off to sleep after lunch on a large flat rock in the middle of picturesque Snyder Lakes under a big blue sky surrounded by towering snowy peaks.  Hiking through the snow to reach Granite Peak chalet and enjoying the wrap-around mountain vistas from the lodge.  However, the roundtrip hike to Iceberg Lake definitely took the cake and topped my list of must-do walks in Glacier.  Scenic mountain terrain and excellent wildlife viewing – grizzly bear feeding, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats – combined to produce an extraordinarily rewarding hike that culminated inside an amphitheatre of mountains at a snowmelt lake peppered with drifting icebergs.  Didn’t I mention … Glacier is a pretty special place!

After eighteen days exploring three of America’s finest national parks it was time for the long drive back east with a final overnight stop in Teddy Roosevelt National Park to check out the Badlands of North Dakota.  After a hectic week playing catch up back in Minnesota we embarked on our next sojourn as we tackled the skyscrapers and unfamiliar territory of New York city.  We flew out to NYC primarily to visit my sister Nicki, followed that up with a family reunion at the beach in South Carolina and finished off a whirl-wind month of high adventure with a Pennsylvania road trip to see Katherine’s alma mater and attend her Bucknell college reunion.

It was an action-packed month of fun travels and exciting magazine assignments that took me from the wilderness and forests of the American West to the concrete jungles and beaches of the East.

London, Reykjavik and America’s finest parks, UK & USA – June 2011

While the travels have become mellower of late, our adventure has also evolved into an increasingly global sojourn that continues to delight at every turn with new destinations and an ever-increasing variety of action attractions.  After nine glorious weeks trekking and tramping to all corners of Nepal, Qatar Airways transplanted us from Kathmandu to London.  The change proved a real shock to the system … not to mention the sensory overload of returning to one of the world’s premier cities.  A ten-day whirlwind tour of England followed as we enjoyed theatre in the West End, test cricket at Lords, boozy pub lunches, a couple of festive birthday celebrations and I even managed to squeeze in a couple of meetings with magazine editors.  The London stopover culminated with a long weekend away with family where we stayed in a delightful little lock-keepers cottage in Rye (www.visitrye.co.uk) on the south coast of England.

My sisters (Carolyn and Sue) pulled out all the stops making sure we were treated like royalty, while my brother-in-law ensured we were fed like kings during our UK stay.  The braai meat was plentiful and beers were never in short supply – a real treat after all the noodles and rice of the last few dry months!

Next stop was Reykjavik en route to the USA.  We selected the very friendly and accommodating Hotel Sunna (www.sunna.is), which boasted an enviable hilltop location within easy walking distance of all the city’s major sights and restaurants.  With a mere 72 hours in Iceland we could only scratch the surface and Sunna was the perfect base for our explorations as we concentrated our limited time on the capital and its neighbouring attractions.  Spending the best part of a day at the idyllic Blue Lagoon hydrothermal spa (www.bluelagoon.com) was a real highlight, while the thrill of half-day whale-watching and puffin-spotting boat cruises came a close second.  Tours with both Elding (www.elding.is) and Special Tours (www.specialtours.is) provided me with my first glimpses of Minke whales, as well as impressive views of thousands of nesting puffins on the islands of Faxafloi Bay.

We arrived in America on June 15th and after a couple of days of feasting and catching up with family, we embarked on a long-awaited and much anticipated three-week road trip out west to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks (www.nps.gov).  My quest was to find and photograph wolves and bears in the backcountry while we soaked up the beautiful mountainous scenery.  The parks did not disappoint.

Record precipitation in the Rockies this winter meant the higher hiking trails were still buried under deep snow; however, this 300% higher-than-average snowfall forced the animals to congregate in the lower elevations.  We were thrilled to see black bears foraging, grizzly bears hunting, wolf and plenty of moose, elk, pronghorn and deer.  Absolutely idyllic weather conditions with deep blue skies, warm sunshine and barely a cloud in three weeks ensured we thoroughly enjoyed our time camping and hiking in Wyoming.

American parks are super-easy and affordable to explore with negligible park fees, cheap camping, free backcountry permits for overnight hiking deep into little-visited wilderness areas and wildlife-viewing that could tempt and woo even the most experienced African wildlife connoisseurs.

Next up we collect my sister-in-law from Bozeman airport and drive up to explore Glacier National Park in northern Montana before making our way back to Minnesota and heading east to visit friends and family in New York and South Carolina.

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