A Travellerspoint blog

Swakopmund and Safari

sunny 26 °C

After almost a week in tents (and in my case without a sleeping bag) I was pleased to arrive into Swakopmund - Namibia's second city and the adventure capital of Africa.

I grabbed the opportunity to go sandboarding on the dunes. Similar to snowboarding, sandboarding down 100m high dunes is an amazing sensation. Later I progressed onto the jump and, with the steepest part of the dune below me, I managed to land the jump...before falling over again soon after.

Following the stand up boarding, I switched to the far easier, but equally thrilling, lie down boarding. I was clocked travelling at 64km/h by the speed gun - 1km/h less than the day's record. On an even faster course I was determined to do better, but crashed the board at about 50km/h down the dune before rolling another 20m down the dune. After initial panic, I assured everyone I was still intact and can now relive this, and other sandboarding glories on dvd. Although my legs were sore from climbing the dunes time and again, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The next day we travelled onwards to the edge of Etosha National Game Park, passing some intricate rock carvings and a 'petrified forest' (not as cool as it sounds - it is simply wood that has turned to rock).

Entering Etosha, we stopped to admire countless zebra, giraffe and wildebeast. Our campsite bordered one of the rare water holes of the area where we had our much anticipated first sighting of the African elephant. We looked on in awe, not only at his huge size, but also the sound created by his flapping ears. At sunset we watched the different ways the animals drank the water - the elephant spraying himself with his trunk; the giraffe looking almost comical as it bent low to dip his long neck into the water.

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Throughout the night we were kept awake by the roaring of lions and howling of jackals. Keen to see, rather than just hear the wildlife, we spent the following day on a game drive. We saw zebras wander across the path (bringing a whole new meaning to zebra crossings) and giraffes gracefully run through the bushes.

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The highlight though was unquestionably a close encounter with an elephant herd. As a group of 8 elephants passed about 30m from the bus, a huge 4m tall matriach separated from the others and began walking, at an increasing pace, towards the bus. My group, being the tourists we are, were delighted with the photo opportunities...it was only when the elephant started to provacatively flap her ears about 3m from the bus that we began to worry. It later materialised that the guide's view of the elephant had been completely obscured by the surrounding bushes. When the elephant burst through, the driver, who normally has the air of someone who has seen it all before, started shaking - and promptly stalled the bus. Eventually we fled down the road - for a while with the elephant in hot pursuit...

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After more safari driving we arrived in the sprawling Namibian capital of Windhoek, and a couple more days of travelling later, had arrived into Botswana.

Posted by chris89 07:33 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Heading north in southern Africa

sunny 23 °C
View Journey of the Wide Eyed Wanderer on chris89's travel map.

My tour group for my trip up to Nairobi are a curious bunch.

Two Russians, one the editor of Fulham football club's website, a couple of Americans, one a keen birder; the other a gay Californian, a few British gappies, some Norwegians and the customary smattering of Canadian travellers.

The trip nearly ended for me before it had begun as the tour bus left without me - forcing me to run down the street to catch up. Belatedly, I boarded the bus and, with everyone else already seated, found myself at the back of a bus with suspension so hard that the slightest bump caused you to jump on top of the person beside you.

After a long bus journey, we set up the tents in the rain. The highlight of the day was watching the much anticipated Champions League final. Having watched a jubilant Manchester United celebrate - and an inconsolable John Terry - I went back to the tent for an early start.

Although the trip involves a lot of travelling on bumpy roads, the journeys have been better than I expected. We play games to keep ourselves amused and watch the varied landscapes, and the wildlife that occupy them, pass by.

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With the weather improving, we travelled from north west South Africa, across the Namibian border, and into more arid landscapes. We finally arrived at the Orange River and, with the tent facing the water below, I joined Giselle, one of the members of my group, for a refreshing swim.

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We looked forward to a more relaxing day ahead which involved more swimming in the morning, followed by a long drive to watch the sunset at Fish River Canyon - one of the largest canyons in the world. Frustratingly, we all failed our stated mission for the day though - to cross the natural border of the Orange River and travel from Namibia, back into South Africa - without the need for passports. However, try as we might, the current proved too strong, and, after wading half way across, we would float hopelessly downstream - being dragged along sharp rocks in the process.

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After spending the night near the canyon, we began another lengthy journey to get to the edge of the Namib Desert. Desperate to spread our cramped legs, Giselle and I went for a walk to Sesriem canyon. Here we met another tour group, with whom I had connections, having shared a hostel in Cape Town with one of their group. As the light faded, we were glad to hitch a lift back with them and prepared for yet another early start the next day.

Waking long before dawn, we travelled to some of the largest sand dunes in the Namib Desert and watched the sunrise. Slowly warming up, we travelled deeper into the dunes to have a guided tour explaining how desert creatures survive, how to recognise their tracks and how the bushman of 30,000 years ago coped in such harsh conditions.

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We visited a dried up lake which had left behind strikingly weathered (dead) trees. The highlight though was uncovering a spider's nest just under the sand, which had a doorway made from material similar to velcro. When opened, the spider would promptly stick out his leg and close the door again. Another joy was the simple pleasure of rolling down a dune. The only problem is that I am still trying to get the sand out of my hair!

Posted by chris89 08:18 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Cape Town and Shark Cage Diving

semi-overcast 23 °C
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After a long journey, I arrived into Cape Town airport late at night and was thrilled to be met by my parents who had taken a short holiday to visit me.

After catching up with each other's news, our sightseeing around Cape Town began in earnest the following morning. We travelled by the luxury of a hire car (no bus for me this time!) to the Cape of Good Hope - the most south westerly point of Africa. Here we enjoyed the views and crashing waves, before stopping off at a penguin colony on the way back.

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The next day was spent at two of South Africa's famous vineyards - Vergelegen in the morning and Spier in the afternoon. Although less exlusive than Vergelegen, Spier offered an incredible lunch buffet with different types of game (for example springbok and antelope) - all served to us in a private tree house! In addition to the expected wine tasting options, Spier also differs from other vineyards by hosting a cheetah reserve.

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Waking up to the best weather of our stay in Cape Town the following morning, we decided to ascend Table Mountain by cable car - only to find it had broken down. Determined to reach the peak of Cape Town's most famous monument, we began our climb from the botanical gardens of Kirstenbosch. Despite taking a wrong turning that led us (and the Americans following behind) up a steep ravine, we eventually reached the summit. Table Mountain's flat appearance is deceptive though and it was with tired legs that we descended. Having returned to the botanical gardens, we took a well deserved tea break - one of several during my parents' short stay. The problem now is that I am finding it difficult to get throught to my stomach that now my parents have gone, the days of scones and cream are over...

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On the penultimate day before my Mum and Dad returned home, they took me to their first, and favourite, winery which they had visited the day before I arrived. After some more wine tasting (for the first time ever I am now beginning to appreciate wine...) we enjoyed a tasty lunch and drove to one of Cape Town's nearby beaches. After paddling in the cold Atlantic waters, we watched a spectacular sunset - made all the more atmospheric by the threatening sky and crashing waves.

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On the day of my parents' departure, we fitted in a quick tour of Robben Island where we saw the infamous lime quarry and the cells occupied by Nelson Mandela and his collaborators. Indeed, our tour was led by a guide held as a political prisoner during the 1980s.

Sadly my parents then left me at my hostel (voted the best in Africa) as we shared an emotional goodbye before they continued onto the airport. I look forward to seeing them again in 6 weeks time. I soon adjusted back to the hostel routine though and, having made some friends, joined them for a dinner of warthog...as you do.

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Up at 4am the next morning, I began one of the highlights of my trip - shark cage diving. After a sleepy journey down the coast, and the inevitable seasickness, I began to wonder whether the experience could justify the hype. This feeling developed during a long, nauseating wait for the Great White sharks to appear, and then again as I dropped myself into the icy water.

No scuba diving equipment is used as (believe it or not) sharks are wary of the bubbles. Consequently, you stay in the cage, head above water, shivering, until someone sees a shark, then you throw yourself down to the hole in the cage and, holding your breath for as long as possible (almost as long as required for this sentence) you watch the sharks close in on the bait within touching distance of you.

Great White sharks must be considered the most perfectly designed killers on Earth - the way they come from deep and bite with such force is a sight to behold. We saw numerous sharks from 2m to 4m in length. My personal highlight was when the man beside me had just got out and, with attention elsewhere, a shark came towards the bait from deep and jumped substantially out of the water almost on top of me - whilst the top of the cage was still open! Staying in the water long enough to witness that was worth taking the next few hours to thaw out...

I have now joined up with my tour group, with whom I will travel north to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Posted by chris89 12:58 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Alice and the Outback

sunny 26 °C
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Travelling to Ayers Rock, or Uluru to use its Aboriginal name, I stayed in the only town in Central Australia of any real size - Alice Springs.

Arriving into Alice, I was suprised by the relatively low temperature (about 26 °C). Despite now being in 'autumn', I had expected the arid outback to be hotter than tropical Cairns. Moreover, I expected the desert to be red, barren and dusty. However, whilst it was certainly red, the area, even around Ayers Rock, remains comparatively green.

On my 3 day tour to Ayers Rock I was able to take in some of the lesser known highlights of central Australia. First up was 'King's Canyon' where small lizards basked in the sun and I tried not to get too close to the sheer canyon walls.

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That evening my group spent the night sleeping under the stars in a swag. A swag is little more than a sleeping bag cover which leaves your head open to count the shooting stars until you fall asleep. Due to the lack of major urban areas in the outback, the region is regarded as one of the best in the world to stargaze.

Up early the next morning, we visited the Olgas (called Kata Tjuta by Aboriginals). These were created from sediment deposits, in the same way as Ayers Rock, but are actually higher than the more famous monolith. The Olgas differ in that they form several separate rocks that look like huge mole hills.

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We then headed to Ayers Rock. I had the opportunity to climb the rock, and was very tempted by the challenge, but the Aboriginals have made it clear that climbing the rock, which is so sacred to them, is very disrespectful. Recognising that as a tourist I am not always a force for good, I decided that I would do a good deed by instead walking around the base of the rock and admire the Aboriginal art.

Personally, I found Ayers Rock far more impressive from a distance and enjoyed watching the rock change various shades of orange as the sun set. Experts claim the rock changes colour 17 times - though I think they must have been smoking something... The next morning I watched sunrise at the rock, before heading 500km back to Alice Springs.

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Knowing I had 2 days in Alice Springs, I spent my first day sunbathing by the hostel pool. Alice, to be brutally honest, is not an interesting town - unless you meet one of the many aboriginals. One woman saw a frozen chicken in a shop and immediately started a conversation with me about the relative merits of pre seasoned chicken. This was one of several slightly strange interactions with Aboriginals...

In the evening I went with some Irish friends to the only place showing the season ending Premiership football matches - the casino. Whilst I enjoyed watching Manchester United seal the title, it is my experience at the blackjack tables that will live longest in the memory. Starting with 10 dollars (£4), I had soon reached a dizzying peak of 50 dollars (£20). Knowing to quit while your ahead, I went to watch some football. After the match though, tempted by the ease of my previous winnings, I played again - and lost it all having been dealt some awful cards. Luckily, I made a small recovering before the casino closed at 3am, and nearly managed to break even. I think losing the money was important though, because otherwise I would be eager to return to a casino to get another taste of the gambling buzz. Ironically, I found out later that this week is 'Gambling Addiction Week'. Maybe I should attend one of the meetings!

On my last day in Alice, I visited the reptile centre and tried to look relaxed as a huge python curled his body around mine.

Tolday I leave Alice and travel back to Sydney where I will spend the night with my cousins before getting on the plane to Cape Town.

Posted by chris89 18:43 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Hitting the road again

semi-overcast 28 °C
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After staying another week with my relatives in Sydney, and being treated to an expensive buffet at the top of Centre Point Tower, I packed my bags again and headed north to Cairns in tropical Queensland.

Cairns is a mecca for backpackers, who visit due to the town's proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. For me, the desire to visit the reef was arguably the catalyst for my gap year travel. Having become a certified diver whilst I was in Honduras over Christmas, I spent my first 2 days on a 'liveaboard' boat which enabled me to sleep out on the reef and go diving every few hours - spending the time inbetween sunbathing on the deck!

The diving was fantastic with such a variety of colourful fish and corals. However, the most memorable dive was the night dive. Shortly before jumping into the dark water, the boat's underwater lights were turned on to reveal countless sharks, some 2m long, circling the boat - a scary proposition! The sharks were not the only highlight of that dive though as our underwater torches found sleeping turtles and a fish who protects himself at night by resting in a bubble of his own mucas.

Returning to the shore in the evening, I walked the length of Cairns esplanade and watched the setting sun turn the sky pink and yellow. The recently renovated esplanade has a beautifully refreshing man made lagoon and has several free BBQs - on which I have enjoyed a few steaks! The following day I enjoyed a day of rest in the sun, working hard to top up my tan after a few rainy days in Sydney.

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Fully rested, I travelled north to Cape Tribulation the next day. My organised tour included several stops on the way, the highlight being the boat trip along the Daintree river to look for crocodiles. Unlike my previous, unsuccessful, experience in the Amazon, this time I saw several crocodiles - from the (almost) cute baby croc to the 4m long, 100 year old, 1 toothed grandfather!

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Arriving in Cape Tribulation I spent the remaining part of the day, and the following morning, exploring the amazing scenery. The region is an undulating area of rainforest which gives way to white sand beaches and the coral reef just below the surface. Due to the infamous 'box jellyfish' I was unable to go swimming. However, I was more than happy to stay sunbathing on the beach!

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The rainforest surpassed my expectations as I saw small turtles swimming in a creek and nearly stepped on a snake. I was also forced to surrender and find an alternative route to avoid a particularly stubborn lizard, about a metre in length, that was basking in the sun. Earlier, I had been told to lick the back of the green ants in the rainforest. Having found some I did - and wow I never knew an ant could be so flavoursome...and sour!

After being picked up the next day, I had several further detours on the way back to Cairns. These included seeing where Steve Irwin had his final wildlife encounter, spending time in Port Douglas (a nearby resort) and enjoying a refreshing swim in the river running through Mossman Gorge.

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Back in Cairns, today has been a quieter day, recovering from the night before, when some French friends and I went to a bar's 'all you can drink' power hour. More usefully, I have also spent the day preparing for my flight to Ayers Rock tomorrow!

Posted by chris89 01:02 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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