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.