The long drive home

so… we changed plans, the beauty of a road trip is being able to adapt, we decided and I’m not entirely sure why, maybe i couldn’t face the minus degrees of Niewoudstville or the farm dog on the step all night again… but we decided in Brandvlei, after a leisurely lunch and after a casual coffee in Kenhardt, to see if we could drive the remaining 500km to Langebaan in an afternoon. You can!

Augrabies falls to Langebaan is possible!

14 stop and go’s, 10 hours driving, 2 hours worth of rest stops, 2 adults and 1 wonderful two’er over 1000km in 1 day. You can… if you have a wonderful Erica who decided to sleep the last three hours from brandvlei to clan william and woke up in time to see the spectacle that is a full to the brim dam.

You can! but should you??? no… your bum is seriously going to be numb by the time you get home. Your back will hurt and you will feel like a zombie and you will miss the quiver trees, the waterfall, the glacial pavement and the awesome farmstalls.

Wonderful wonderful holiday filled with wonderful memories and a superb spur of the moment push home at the end.

Day 8 – 28 July – Kalahari Trails and back to Augrabies

I woke up this morning a little saddened because we are on the way home. We have had such a wonderful holiday. Its comforting to know that we know the way home, without map books and GPS and that we have a list of awesome places to pop into on our way.

Professor Anne, is so knowledgeable, it really is amazing how much she knows about the Kalahari. This area is a special place and  listening to someone talk about it from the heart, puts it into perspective. Its home to people, home to animals, a special place of much diversity and not just a tourist attraction.

I scratched the tummy of a MeerKat this morning, little Casper is only 6 months old, him and his sister, Kitty were abandoned by there group in March, most likely due to food shortages, they were the runts of the litter but looking at them now they are just beautiful. Until the 21st of June, they slept with Anne in her bed, not gross at all because she front lines them to keep away the fleas and gogga’s. If i had a rodent in my bed I would certainly frontline it :). Erica was over the moon to be able to tickle them both under there chins and on top of the heads. I think it must of been the highlight of her trip.

We left with the views of rolling kalahari hills on either side of us, driving past salt pans and farmlands, and sociable weaver nest suspended cleverly on phone poles, a road that runs straight down the side of Namibia and straight into Upington.

There is a guesthouse, restaurant, farmstall about an hour from Upington, delicious biltong and perfect spot to pick up a few little things as momento’s.

We had lunch at a quaint, pub and grill in Keimoes, we turned left at the only major intersection. The owners are clearly SA rugby and cricket fans, right down to green springbok curtains. Yummy burger for lunch and a much needed cuppa and we were on our way, with some pressies as well.

Our next stop the very popular Pink Padstal, I am totally in love with the old tin implements been used as decoration here, I have a fun idea for the dogs at home. I want to make them a corrugated steel farmhouse dog house, complete with stoep and minature windmill and a little cactus garden in a wheel barrow. Another fun idea is to make wind-chimes usng old metal coffeepots and tin cups, really awesome. The Pink Padstal has very interesting signage for the loo’s like “shake dry” for the men and “drip dry” for the ladies. Absolutely classic. Its a wonderful rest stop filled with interesting goodies.

We arrived nice and early here at Augrabies, I unpacked and sorted out our stuff while Phil and Erica made fire. We had a nice early dinner and then went exploring over the big granite boulders that make Augrabies really interesting. Erica dropped her water bottle and it rolled off the walkway, down the rocks and burst open about 15 meters down and then rolled into the Augrabies’ main fall. I felt awful that we were litter bugs and Erica was very sad to have lost her water. Shame she cried bitterly in her Dad’s arms. We put a smile back on her face though by going back up to the shop and buying water for all of us.

The restaurant has a wonderful view and an interesting menu, Kalahari Kebabs are snails on a stick! and no we didn’t eat that, we only ordered a coffee which was superb and enjoyed the view and the silence except for the distant roar of water.

Just as the sun was shining low into the sky and turning the granite into glowing boulders we left to take some photo’s. Boulder climbing is such a lovely thing to do, especially when they are so huge and when they lead to wonderful spine tingling drop off’s and awesome photo opportunities.

Tomorrow we visit some familiar towns like, Kenhardt, Brandvlei and Niewoudtsville, something new to see are the glacial scars in the rocks near Niewoudstville, I am looking forward to this. It should be very interesting.

Day 7 – 27 July – Nossob to Kalahari Trails

Roar… apparently that’s all the camp at Nossob heard last night, all night, not much sleep to be had. I must have been dead asleep because I slept like a baby until Erica woke me up at 4 to go to the toilet, after that we were awake until 5 chatting in the bed and watching the stars shine on our bedroom roof, wonderful invention night lighhts.

Phil and I have gotten very clever, when we want to get up early we sneak out of bed and pack everything not needed for breakie in the car. Erica has been eating her oats porridge on the go while in the park.

We worked out we have driven 700km inside the Kgalagadi Park. We have been in the car from the time they let us out the secure camps at 7:30 until 5:30 in the afternoon. We’ve enjoyed every picnic spot available. Stopped at every watering hole, driven to the top of every lookout point and taken every loop. We’ve sat undaunted by time and distance and just drunk in the Kalahari with the car off and the windows open.

We’ve listened to buffalo grunting, watched springbuck hopping, watched a mouse climb a stalk of grass, been witness to the rather weird mating ritual of the pale goshawk, been amused by the skittish antics of the black backed jackal, seen how gemsbok just have the need to pose on the top of ridges with red dunes beneath there feet and listened to a cheetah calling and purring. Oh yes I did say cheetah.

We have not seen Lion today, but we have been treated to a superb half hour with a cheetah and another superb half hour watching giraffe lope along at there own speed.

The cheetah was the highlight today, we’ve never seen one in the wild. This male was quite chilled out, and not at all bothered by his audience. Listening to his purr was thrilling and hearing him grunting and calling was just amazing. I really sat in silence just enjoying the experience while Phil took photo’s. My turn with the camera and I got some wonderful shots.

We’ve even seen Kudu which is new in the park. The guy from Picketberg comes here all the time and he’s never seen them. Perhaps a small population.

The yellow mongoose and the slender mongoose were in the mood to pose, so sweet to watch them foraging and mongoosing about. I’m not entirely sure why the slender mongoose is called slender its as red as a red hartebeest. I would have called it a red mongoose, nice and easy.

We don’t feel totally happy with our sightings, lion would have been nice, leopard even nicer. But this park is not that far and now that we have a feel for the distances and places to stop we feel pretty positive that we could get here in less sleeps and rather spend more time in the park.

Kalahari Trails is nice place to stop, we are staying in the self catering house, its the property of Professor Anne, from the UK, I hope we get to see her and her Meerkat’s tomorrow.

Day 6 – 26 July – Twee Rivieren camp. Kgalagadi

grrrrt is the sound of us travelling to Nossob from Twee Rivieren in the Kgalagadi Transfonteir park on 100km of corrugated roads, we’ve learnt that they grade the roads every month, but this park is fully booked all the time so the roads don’t stand a chance.

We crawled our way through 160km of wilderness yesterday and were very well rewarded, today though we were on a mission, black maned lion and everyone knows that Nossob is the camp most famed for sightings.

We drove the speed limit for 130km and it just shows that to see wildlife you have to crawl through. We did see the Cape Fox, very similar to the black backed jackal, but after all our time with these treasures yesterday we can spot the difference.
Also a brown hyena bounded across the road up ahead and dissapeared into the long gras, my first thought was who let there long haired dog out. They really are long haired and shaggy and not at all like the spotted Hyena.

We were delighted to find lion poo, we inspected it closely, it was in the middle of the road afterall, we even took a photo, huge! and it was fresh Lion poop. Unfortunately the lion was nowhere to be seen and that section of road was beneath the veld level with high bushes on either side, so he could very well have been just out of sight.

Luckily our chalet was ready at 11:30 so we were able to book in early. It was so nice to sit on the stoep and have crackers and cheese and be amused by tame squirrels. So very cute. Erica is so clever i only had to tell her once, no we don’t touch wild animals, in a way i wish i hadn’t said so, because one was so friendly I’m pretty sure it would have climbed onto my lap. Much to my surprise there are also tame Suricat’s in the camp, i wouldn’t have thought so because they are on the “what was spotted where board”.

20km North of Nossob, we were treated to over an hour of activity at a watering hole, just springbuck, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, ostrich’s and black backed jackal. Nothing we didn’t see yesterday but what was so special was watching the different species interact. The jackal, you have to love them, actually growled and stood down 4 or 5 Blue Wildebeest. To our amazement the Wildebeest gave way and he got a quick sip. A minute later the Jackal was bounding around, tail in the air, nose down a mouse hole – all this right in front of the bonnet.

About 30 springbuck were outnumbered muscle wise to 4 wildebeest who refused to budge from the water, humbly the springbuck just filed past the car to go stand under a tree next to us.

We kept thinking with all this “food” where are the LIONS. With much reluctance we decided to try the next four water holes, another 40km of grrrrttt and no animals at any of the holes. Fed up we turned back to Nossob hoping to see some lions.

This evening at 5:30 we took our coffee and went to go walk on the trail inside the camp, it really is lovely being able to walk outside through the veld without the fear of predators. That lovely grass I spoke about yesterday lined the path most of the way. The path is only 800m long but with a toddler it takes a little longer that the 30 minutes they say. We came back home at dusk to a beautiful sky all orange and pink.

While Phil bathed and put Erica to bed, i went to go sit in the hide. sadly no Lion. It was nice to sit outside at night and listen to the night sounds and the hyena laughing in the distance. A very knowledgable chap from Picketberg, was telling me what i was hearing, because of him, I now know I also heard the black backed jackal calling out a warning yip. I also learnt that buck eyes shine green at night and predators orange. I came back after an hour so Phil could have a turn, sadly no Lion either.

Tomorrow we will see Lion.

Day 5 – 25 July – Kgalagadi – Twee Rivieren Rest camp

Shhh… don”t tell. We started our day feeding all the camp birds bread, well they actually helped themselves to Erica’s peanut butter sarmie first and then we helped them the rest of the way. It was so nice having these little birds hopping around our feet, they really are tame and obviously well used to handouts. The Southern Yellow Billed Hornbill is so full of spunk and attitude, we had four strutting there stuff for us.

The days been very long, we left our chalet at 9am and returned at 5pm, besides a half

lunch break in an open picnic site we have been in the car all day. The roads are so bad, its like driving over a corrugated roof, we have been jiggled and rattled beyond belief, except for one stretch of road where I managed to reach the parks maximum speed of 50km, we crawled at a spectacular 25km the whole day, we did 180km in 7 hours. Now there really are benefits to creeping through nature. You would never spot a little striped field mouse at 50km, but we did and we watched it mousing about for a few minutes. Very very sweet and I must admit to liking the smaller things in nature just as much as the big attractions like the big cats.

Unfortunately the big cats still elude us, we did see a wild cat, a little bit bigger than a domestic cat, very interested in us but also very skittish and it didn’t stick around for a good photo moment.

The black backed jackal were my favourite today, they were everywhere, lying in the shade just chilling. Running next to the car with us, not fussed at all, the little thing stuck its nose in every hole. One stood across the road and just watched me, while I took the most amazing photo’s, what amazing eyes, such a peaceful moment, which quickly passed as this little opportunity grabber chased after a Southern Chanting Pale Goshawk, who had landed in the grass about a 100 meters from us. Seriously this little jackal tried to get up the tree the hawk was in.

Another awesome moment sticks out amoung all the rattling, three Tawny Eagles were perched in a dead tree, they were talking to each other and then much to our delight two mated, and we caught it on camera.

We watched a secretary bird battling something in the long grass, we couldn’t see what, but the something won today.

Gemsbok, Blue Wildebeest, Springbok and Red Hartebeest abound, there is certainly enough food in this park to sustain the kitties. They are everywhere and we had opportunity to watch them sleeping, eating, butting horns, at the watering holes and just chilling in  the shade.

Two black birds of prey, we could not identify them had caught something small, a mouse maybe, an aerial battled ensued and the winner was a Huge Tawny Eagle that bullied them into dropping there mouse. The eagle swooped down quickly and claimed his prize, just in time too because a black backed Jackal was running full speed to the spot the mouse was dropped.

We spotted three bat eared foxes, what beautiful creatures, very elusive and seriously not fond of cars and people, a treat to see.

The Cape Ground Squirrel was everywhere, so incredibly cute.


Day 4 – 24 July – Augrabies falls to Kgalagadi National Park

I was up really early, the sun was just coming up over the gorge, it was absolutely freezing out, too cold even for the dassies, but the reward, absolutely nobody just me and all that water crashing 58m down below. The sun tried especially hard to warm the earth. I had made a cup of coffee to take with me, but by the time I got to the bottom it was cold. Now that’s a cold morning 🙂

While we were busy packing the car this morning, the earth trembled and one could hear the sound of thunder, yes an earth quake, just a little one, but an earth quake all the same. It was amazing feeling the earth move under your feet. Felt alive.

In no time at all we made it to Upington, where we had an early lunch, filled up the car and bought our provisions for the next few days. The road from Upington is pretty much straight, we follow the Red Dune Route, which sounds ominous but the road is most certainly tar and in excellent condition. From time to time you signs for Namibia, I can’t quite believe we are so far North. Phil napped most of the way and Erica happily chilled without any fuss playing puzzles. In no time at all the landscape has changed completely a few scragily trees here and there and grasslands as far as the eye can see, the colour of the grass is really indescribable and photographs do no justice at all.

I got out the car to take some photo’s of the most interesting nests, made by social weaver birds, they nest on the top of telephone poles, only because there are no trees. They build these huge big balls of grass. The noise they make is amazing, just a flutter of twittering little things, in and out, in and out. I could easily have sat there in the shade of the thorn tree that was under the pole and just watched and watched this busy little hive.

We have a list of animals spotted in the Kgalagadi Park:
Red hartebeest
Those little shy brown duiker buck
Ground Squirrels, oh my how freaking cute
Wild Dog
Tawny Eagle
The heaviest flying bird in the world the Cori Bustard, weighing in between 13.5 and 19 kg, its huge

Can you believe all that ticked off in an hour and a half, can’t wait for tomorrow, but I really hope we see leopard tomorrow.

Our picnic is packed for tomorrow, everything ready at the door, our plan to get up really early and hit the road, nice to have an empty car so we can make a nest for Erica in the back of the SUV.

I even cooked for tomorrow night, so we don’t have to stress about dinner.

Oh and I almost forgot, the water here at Twee Rivieren comes straight out of the ground, no filtration, no chemicals, just so, its really oily, really weird because you wash your hands and they still feel oily, like you’ve been eating chicken drumsticks with your hands, which we had by the way. It was so weird that we had three guys in our chalet from the maintenance team. Such nice guys, the one said he was born in the park and the waters always been like that, seriously he washed his hands under the tap and looked at us most confused like we were crazy. What nice guys though and such spirit and laughs. They left here laughing probably at us silly tourists. Classic.

Day 3 – 23 July – Niewoudtsville to Augrabies Falls

oh my gosh… the farm dog from last night was on our mat this morning, i heard him in the night, so i think he must have slept at the door, poor thing. When we left this morning he went bounding off back to the farm house, job done!

We had a superb sleep, listening to barn owls shrieking off and on, its a scary sound, if you’ve never heard it before you’ll think Banshee 🙂 its was freezing this morning, no frost though, so it gets colder?

So our GPS… well the directions were interesting, turn left was mentioned a gazillion times, but each time a farm gate was in our way, turns out she was right we should have taken the many tracks offered which would have led us back to tar. Instead 100km on a not so nice dirt road led us eventually to the tarred R27.

Had we not taken this detour via Leoriesfontein, we would have missed a Spar in a converted house and a Windmill museum, ironically this TO DO, was on my list but was dismissed because the detour of 50km and back to Loeriesfontein was too much. I must have really wanted to check out those windmills…

The museum was closed, but we still walked around in a field full of windmills of different sizes, with a cold karoo wind making them chatter and screech it was eerie but beautiful, if one could understand wind, you would have heard a mechanic called for Q20.

100km later we trundled into Brandvlei feeling shattered and rattled. We found diesel, an atm and the Windmill Restaurant which serves the most amazing burgers. In summer this place must cook but this thatched restaurant should be cool.

Kenhardt is our next little town to get to, 140km to go, 8 stop and goes, nothing in between and Erica had had enough of the car already in Loeriesfontein. We managed to squeeze 4 movies on to my Galaxy tab, so Erica can watch movies during the most boring bits of this road trip. Along the way the telephone lines are used as trees by these little brown birds who next communally.

We found the coolest farm stall in Kenhardt, metal mugs, mixing bowls, baking tins, everything and anything you can think of all piled onto an old wagon. Tin plates screwed to the wall. Scarecrows on the fence all dressed up in 1900’s ladies clothing, Erica was enthralled by the big “dolls”. Wonderful coffee and a cute little kiddies corner as well. Just what we needed after all those km’s.

70km’s to Keimoes and three huge bridges allow as to cross the mighty Orange River, some more stop and goes and more huge bridges and we cross back over the orange river to get to Kakamas, there are vines everywhere and I mean everywhere as far as the eye can see on both sides of the road for km’s and km’s. In between acres of cemented ground. We finally put one and one together and realized this is raison country.

Augrabies National Park, wow, place of great noise indeed, all you can hear is the water. The gorge is really beautiful, stunning, but not the same as the 100m waterfall outside Niewoudtsville, but really not comparable either. They’re busy doing renovations to the board walk system, so we can’t access most of the walks, but this one loop had no tape and we ended up being able to walk out onto a viewing deck with no floor, just those big construction boards with gaps in between, anyhoo, out I go, of course, and finally can see the bottom of the waterfall, beautiful, rainbow and all. Erica loved running full speed, shrieking and laughing along the boardwalks, such a good release of energy. We finally got settled in to our challet, and one of my first discoveries is a warning about what to do in an earth quake, yes earthquake! Since 2010, things have been shaking here, with the biggest tremor 4.9. I don’t think I’ll be teetering out over the abyss tomorrow.


Day 2 – 22 July – Langebaan to Niewoudtsville

What a lazy day! yawn… we only left Langebaan at 10am, not because we slept late, nope not at all, we were on Two’er time. Our daughter Erica is just 2 and a half, she’s such a little thing to be on such a big road trip, but this is not her first although I don’t think she remembers hearing those Ellies in Addo rumbling in 2010.

The berg river, is flowing impressively, we stopped to check out that wine estate, its just before Picketberg on the left, and it runs along the river, but sadly it was closed, it is Sunday. Anyway so glad we tried to go there because we spotted the old roads bridge.

Erica and I munched nut bars and went for a walk, at one point stepping over a 5cm gap in the bridge and seeing the river below, the bridge is closed, a little scary but why not. Lunch was a sensible stop at Picketberg’s Spur, much to Erica’s delight we now have a purple balloon on our road trip.

We zooted on past Picketberg, and up the next pass, but had to race down the other side due to a maniac truck driver with his hazards on, clearly some brake issues… i should have let him pass as he was on my tail for km’s, nowhere to pull over, sandwiched behind another truck no fun at all.

The van rhynspass is spectacular, built in 1881, by the Bain family. What a view, like looking at an aerial photograph. At the top is a beautiful escarpment and a sweet little town called Niewoudtsville, we quickly found our accommodation for the night, on a farm called Willemsrivier. We’re staying in an old farmhouse, 3 bedrooms, sleeps 4, so quaint. This farm was an integral part of the Boer war in the early 1900’s, Smuts himself used this farm as his base and referred to it as an Oasis during the Boer War, because the farm owners went out of there way to make the General’s feel welcome.

We visited a 100m waterfall on the Doring River, about 15km down the road, wow, Capital W. Amazing. Erica and I posed for a daring photo for Phil, on a rock about a 1m from the edge of the “small” waterfall, but believe me it felt scary. You can feel and hear the water thundering down, really grounding. I picked up some pretty stones, something red, a white quartz and pink quartz as well. The waterfall is most spectacular from June to October in a “good rain year”. I could easily have sat on a rock in the sun like one of those little black lizard’s and just breathed the quiet.

Our next stop for today and final attraction was a private farm with a quiver tree forest. Amazing, car parked in the middle of nowhere, and up the mountain side Erica and I go into the forest. We were being extremely careful of the teeny tiny succulents growing in the loose dry shale. I hugged a quiver tree that was probably 300 years old. These tree’s that look like tall aloes grow in the most unlikely places, the earth is so barren and dry its hard to believe that anything can grow, but the evidence is everywhere from the huge trees to small petite little plants with tiny flowers. What a view from half way up, just Mesa’s and Butte’s everywhere. This place feels special, perhaps the ancient trees standing guard over such a forbidden landscape have something to do with it.

Phil says he feels safe, its to freaking cold for anyone to be lurking around outside. The weather website says 4 degrees tonight, but it feels like zero. At least our home for tonight has an electric blanket on the bed and a gas heater so we are snug inside, but we feel very sorry for a young boxer, typical farm doggy who has made his bed for the night on the mat outside the door.

Day 1 – 21 July – Fisherhaven to Langebaan

and we are off, wow, how hard has it been to get accommodation in the South African National Park Kgalagadi. We have cancelled this trip  three times this month, but thanks to someones late cancellation, it can only be, we’re finally going to see the Black Maned Lion.

We took a slow drive today, the roads were wet and it was very windy. Our first stop today Peregrines Farm Stall on the N2, just outside Grabouw, perfect coffee and the best biltong I’ve had in ages.

A lovely visit with Phil’s sister in Thornton, yummy chocolate buscuits and a good break out of the car and we were back on the road, we are staying tonight in Langebaan at my Dad and Sisters, wonderful to be with family before we hit the road. Erica is of course over the moon to be with her Gumpy, Aunty Helen 🙂 and her Aunty Linda and Lorraine too.

On the way to Langebaan we stopped at another farmstall, on the R27, not Vyevalley the other one, I’ll get the name on the way back, but anyway they have devine bread and a wild cat sanctuary. It was raining so the tours were cancelled but we’ll check it out on our way home.

Tomorrow we’re stopping at a wine farm just outside Picketberg, for some highly recommended organic red wine… can’t wait to give feedback