Africa Addict is for everyone who loves stories about African travel, safari, adventure, heritage and people; for lovers of Africa to find and share content about the great diversity of travel and nature on this amazing continent. Travel blog about Africa, its people and places, safari and wildlife, adventure, heritage, road-tripping and slow travel.
By Roxanne Reid There’s something remarkable about the Kalahari, a wilderness magic that saturates its open spaces, scents the air, fluffs up the clouds and is carried on the wind. It’s a place so timeless you can pass almost unnoticed. So when we got the chance to visit Kalahari Plains Camp in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana, we packed our safari bags without a second thought.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is huge, all 52 800 square kilometres of it. In the heart of Botswana, it’s the country’s largest conservation area and provides an experience totally unlike a Botswana safari in Chobe National Park or the Okavango Delta. Wilderness Safaris’ Kalahari Plains Camp lies in the northeast of this vastness, set in its own private 100 square kilometres of bundu.
Here in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve you’ll find open grassy plains, seasonal pans that dry up in winter, islands of acacia trees, and sand dunes covered with scrub. Yes, you’ll see lions and leopards and wild dogs here, but there are some arid area specialists that set the Kalahari apart. Think oryx (gemsbok), springbok, brown hyena and bat-eared fox, think ostrich, ground squirrel and the busy little meerkat climbing to the top of a wobbly shrub to get a better view. There’s a high concentration of cheetahs too.
The Kalahari isn’t just a place but a feeling; a sense of remote wilderness, the freedom of open plains and wide blue skies, the scent of possibility. It’s undulating sand dunes and thorn trees, the smell of wild sage, and barking geckoes clicking from the entrance to their burrows as the sun plunges to the horizon. It’s small miracles like the liquid call of a sandgrouse as it flies overhead or a white-faced scops-owl dozing almost unseen in a tree.
And of course it’s the bigger, brasher enchantment of unruly wildebeest clowning around for no reason and kicking up dust, the striking black and white markings of an oryx, black-maned lions roaring, and cheetahs flying across the veld barely touching the earth as they chase down a steenbok or springbok.
Oryx, or gemsbok
If you love safari and wildlife and you want to look beyond bravura destinations to really feel the wonder of nature deep in your marrow, the Central Kalahari is your kind of place. Once you’ve experienced the tug of its magnetism, you’ll carry the Kalahari in your heart forever.
Kalahari Plains Camp Wilderness Safaris’ Kalahari Plains Camp looks out over Big Pan, an open valley where you can watch wildlife from far away as it comes to drink at the waterhole, see all the way to a flat horizon that reveals sunsets in coloratura radiance.
The main area under thatch has a dining room and bar, and a lounge with sofas in blue and neutral shades with red accents. All are on wooden decks with a view of the waterhole. There’s also a pool area, an upstairs viewing deck and a small curio shop. Don’t miss a visit to the loo-with-a-view near the pool. The one on the left has a particularly good outlook over the waterhole, the vast valley and the boundless horizon.
The lounge area
The tented suites – ours was under a purple pod terminalia tree – have a queen-size bed, writing desk and en suite bathroom with dressing room. Since it was cold at night and in the early morning when we visited in June (though days were warm), we enjoyed the welcome hot-water bottle placed in our bed during the turn-down service.
The tented units with star-bed platform above
The bed, with a welcome message spelled out in dried beans
The bathroom with its pottery basins
Each unit has a deck ideal for relaxing cups of coffee or bird-watching. Upstairs on the flat roof is a viewing or sleep-out deck where you can enjoy a sunset or watch a sky perforated with stars.
Despite the cold, we enjoyed waking earlier than we had to before joining our first game drive of the day. This allowed us to experience the sunrise, watch shadows melt away, and hear birds begin their chorus, from turtle doves and red-eyed bulbuls to red-faced mousebirds and black-faced waxbills that came to drink at the bird bath in front of the lounge.
Things to do at Kalahari Plains Camp 1. Afternoon drive in the camp’s private area Don’t miss an afternoon drive on Wilderness Safaris’ private patch of the vast Central Kalahari Game Reserve; this is what a Botswana safari is all about.
It was pure Kalahari, with silky Bushman grass sparkling in the late afternoon sunlight, Kalahari scrub-robins bobbing around the bushes and kori bustards tramping across the veld in search of food. Four giraffe bent to drink at the waterhole, barking geckoes called as the day cooled and bat-eared foxes foraged in the grass, digging for tasty morsels. Patches of springbok, oryx and a few busy-body jackals completed the picture.
As guide Keboikabtse Paul Sefo stopped to inspect some leopard tracks we heard jackals howling so went to investigate. We found two young black-backs calling and stopped to appreciate the late afternoon sun on their rich coats, the blaze of orange as the Kalahari sun set. We didn’t find the leopard, but we did see a spotted eagle owl in a tree as it got dark.
When we returned to camp we discovered that those who had stayed behind had seen two feisty honey badgers come down to the camp’s waterhole.
2. Morning drive to Deception Valley Next morning we set out at dawn, but not before Paul showed us tracks at the bird bath about 10 metres from the lodge’s deck. A leopard had come to drink during the night. During the day, white-backed and lappet-faced vultures use the larger waterhole for bathing and preening and Mr Leopard is fussy, preferring the cleaner water of the small bird bath.
It was about 5 degrees Celsius, so we layered up with buffs and beanies and jackets and gloves, yet my eyes wouldn’t stop watering. None of that mattered when we found seven wild dogs loping across the veld toward the track in front of us at first light, one of them a pregnant alpha female. They jumped and yipped and grinned at each other. An eighth dog came straggling in from far away, head down in submission.
Wild dogs in poor light at dawn
All together now, they set off down a tweespoor track. We followed them for about 25 minutes as they trotted and stopped to scan and listen, intent on finding something to catch for breakfast. Behind them the sun rose deep crimson.
The dogs zig-zagged into the thick bush and we briefly lost them, but Paul branched off onto another track and picked them up further along. Twice more the same thing happened before they disappeared entirely. It was frustrating that we couldn’t go off road to follow them for longer, to see what they got up to. But here in a national reserve that’s not allowed.
Soon we were en route to the Kalahari’s famed Deception Valley, so named because of the mirage effect that makes the pan appear to be full of water even in the dry season. It’s all that’s left of an ancient riverbed now dotted with islands of trees and shrubs.
The journey was a chance to notice how the landscape changes from open grassveld to thicket with Kalahari apple-leaf trees and then to open pans and undulating dunes where the dominant vegetation is umbrella thorns and black thorns. Paul kept us entertained with sightings of ground squirrels, ground agamas, oryx and springbok. ‘See that springbok, he’s the dominant ram in this area,’ he said. ‘We know that because he’s peeing and defecating on the same spot. Non-dominant rams will do that in two different places.’
And then there were elephant tracks on the road, with the added enticement of fresh elephant dung. Guided by Paul, we could see the marks of its trunk on the road as it sniffed to check for water in this dry area in a year of drought. They’re good at that, elephants. If they detect the heady smell of water under the surface, they dig with their feet, trunks and tusks, helping both themselves and other animals to access water. But there was nothing here and the elephant had moved on.
Brown hyena tracks, lion scat, wild dog scat, cheetah tracks, more leopard spoor – they all kept our spirits up. These animals were here. We just had to find them.
Meerkat, or suricate
But we didn’t. You can’t expect to see everything in a single day; that’s not the way nature works. Especially in winter which isn’t the best time for game viewing in the Central Kalahari. To better your chances of a rash of spectacular sightings try the hot, green summer months when the desert springs to life.
But we’d had an exceptional early morning sighting of wild dogs – a first for us in a Kalahari environment – so we returned to camp thrilled about that. We’d also experienced a little more of the Kalahari magic.
3. Walk with the !Xhukwe Bushmen Don’t miss the opportunity for a cultural interaction with the !Xhukwe Bushmen. (Although the politically correct term is San, I asked them which they preferred and they favour Bushmen, so I’m being polite rather than insensitive in using that term here.)
A young Bushman pretends to be a steenbok caught in a trap
They set a trap and caught a ‘steenbok’, the action played out with much gusto and scuffling in the dust. They also mimed trapping a springhare in a burrow. For this, they used a stick with a steenbok horn tied on the end like a hook. They prodded from one side and frantically dug it out from the other – again with lots of action and dust flying. They were genuinely enjoying themselves in this play-acting.
How to make fire from scratch with just two sticks and some grass
At the end of the walk we arrived at an encampment of small thatched dwellings. They demonstrated how they make fire, using soft wood from the trumpet thorn and another harder wood to create, by friction, the spark that starts the grass underneath smoking. A little careful blowing and the smoking grass sprang into flame. I’ve seen it before, but this kind of magic never gets old.
4. Watch the waterhole in front of camp
Watch animals like wildebeest, giraffe, jackal, oryx, springbok, honey badger, white-backed and lappet-faced vultures come to the waterhole in front of the main area to drink. For an even better view, relax on the upstairs viewing platform with a glass of something cold, your binos and camera near at hand.
5. Cool off in the pool
Loungers at the pool
Summer days in the Kalahari can reach well into the 30s (Celsius), so you’ll be hot when you get back from a morning drive and can cool off in the camp’s salt-water pool. Even in autumn and spring months like April/May and August/September, the days can be hot enough for a swim although early mornings and nights are cool. Laze on a lounger by the pool, read a book, but keep your binos with you for a great view of any wildlife that comes to the waterhole.
6. Go bird-watching Enhance your game driving experience by seeing how many bird species you can spot. Or walk around the camp in search of them, especially at the bird bath in front of the lounge.
The Kalahari is home to more than 200 species, many of them arid area specials. Some of my favourites are sandgrouse, kori bustard, black korhaan (also called the helicopter bird because of the way it comes in to land) and the red crested korhaan. Guides sometimes call this the suicide bird for the male’s habit of flying vertically upward to about 30m, then drawing in its wings and dive-bombing to earth. It pulls up just short of the ground and flutters a short distance to land.
And just in case you think all Kalahari birds are dull-coloured, look out for the spectacular crimson-breasted shrike, violet-eared waxbill, lilac-breasted roller and swallow-tailed bee-eater.
7. Swap stories around the fire before dinner
A tradition on safari is a campfire in the evening, where you can watch the flames leap into the darkening skies even in hot weather, but pull your safari chairs closer to warm your hands when it’s cold. This is the time to talk about your day and any special sightings, to swap stories with other guests or ask the guides your burning questions about nature and all things Kalahari.
8. Enjoy the food You won’t go hungry at Kalahari Plains Camp, with breakfast, lunch, high-tea, snacks with sundowners and then dinner all well catered for. The chefs do a superb job. There was fresh fruit at breakfast – a joy here in the arid Kalahari. Delicious dishes like creamy mushroom risotto, roast lamb, and pear-and-almond tart were some of the dinner options during our visit.
9. Sleep under the stars
A great advantage of the flat roof of your tented unit is that you can ask the staff to make up the beds there for a night of star-gazing. Clean white linen, soft solar lamps, a hot-water bottle on cooler nights, and you’re set for a romantic night of wonderment. Watch millions of stars and see a Milky Way more packed with stars than you would have thought possible. This is all a bonus of the dry Kalahari air with almost zero light pollution to hamper the experience.
Sleeping out is also a chance to feel the heartbeat of the Kalahari, to listen for southern white-faced scops-owls, the cry of jackals or the roar of lions. (Read Sounds of the Kalahari for other special things to listen for.) Wake early so as not to miss a moment of the changing pink and lavender light along the horizon at dawn.
10. Go on a behind-the-scenes sustainability tour Ask to go on a tour behind the scenes to learn about the camp’s sustainability efforts. It runs on solar energy, so the Kalahari environment itself is the source of the energy in camp. All battery storage and most of the solar panels are hidden away out of sight of the guests.
In this arid environment so different to Okavango and Chobe with their natural water channels and rivers, it’s more important than ever to conserve water. The flat roofs of the rooms help to collect rainwater during the rainy season. Average annual rainfall in the Central Kalahari is just 115mm a year, but the camp’s storage tanks hold up to 150 000 litres.
Kalahari Plains Camp also has a borehole, but the water is so salty it’s only used for the showering and for the pool. A reverse osmosis desalination unit produces safe drinking water for the camp.
The staff are a big part of Kalahari Plains Camp's charm. From left: Mavis Ntsekwa, Mokgathanyi Jackie Elisha and Wame Teko
Note: We were guests of Kalahari Plains Camp for two nights, but I had free rein to write what I chose. We paid for all travel costs to get to Botswana.
By Roxanne Reid Life should be made of moments like these. We’re on the deck overlooking the natural bush of northern Namibia at dawn. A glorious pink sunrise unravels through the clouds as a jackal yelps in the distance and a spurfowl chuck-chucks nearby. We’re at Anderssons at Ongava Game Reserve bordering Etosha and our day of wild immersion has just begun.
The 30 000-hectare private Ongava Game Reserve adjoins Etosha National Park and shares a common boundary. Not surprisingly, therefore, Ongava is known as a Namibian safari destination. The newest camp, properly called Anderssons at Ongava, is named after Swedish explorer Charles Andersson who was one of the first two Europeans to ‘discover’ Etosha Pan back in 1851.
The bar area with a view of the waterhole to the right
The main area The public relaxing areas of Anderssons almost melt into the surrounding landscape, with swathes of open-air but under-cover seating areas. The colours reflect the tones of the winter bush. African masks and beaded aviary-style lamp shades in one corner continue the colour theme, while a red, white and blue beaded chair (many hours of work) is a fun departure.
The dining area
A sunken row of couches forms a viewing gallery in front of the waterhole, and there are thick wooden beams doing service as a bar and a buffet table in the dining room.
Lounge and sunken gallery
Pride of place are the waterhole and an underground photographic hide where you can enjoy the wildlife without intruding – but more about that later. A swimming pool also has a stellar view of the waterhole, so there’s no need to miss moments with the visiting animals.
Suites With their natural stone exterior and low curved roofs, the suites hunker down to blend into the environment. Each has a deck with a 180-degree view of passing game tracks that lead to the waterhole in the main area, so there’s an excellent chance of spotting game from the moment you wake in the morning. We watched a springbok and its lamb nibbling grass one morning, a jackal on another. Privacy/shade screens made of wooden slats can be adjusted to your liking.
Bedroom with a view
Inside, it’s all blond wood – the bed, the cupboards and the curved roof beams – with cream-coloured floors and calm blue accents. The overall feel is of spaciousness, even in the indoor shower that’s big enough to dance in.
Part of the huge bathroom
An alternative outdoor shower with a view is a nice touch for hot summers. When we visited in May – the threshold of the so-called northern Namibian winter – the aircon in the suite was still a life-saver in 34-degree midday heat.
Anderssons at Ongava staff (from left) Elizabeth Kalimbuse, Monica Sakeus and Kelly Haoseb
Things to do at Ongava Game Reserve Morning drive into Etosha Hop onto one of Ongava Game Reserve’s open safari vehicles at sunrise for a guided drive into Etosha National Park, right on your doorstep. When we visited in May 2019, Etosha – and indeed most of Namibia – was in the grip of a drought so dire that the President had just declared a State of Emergency. This area usually gets 400mm of rain a year, but there was a drought the previous year too. This year they had 80mm but too late for grass seeds to germinate, so the veld was parched and barren. There are some great waterholes in easy reach of Ongava, however, such as Okaukuejo (with its in-camp waterhole), Nebrownii, Homob and even Okondeka. You will probably spot giraffe, black-faced impala, warthog, kudu, zebra, wildebeest, springbok and oryx and, if you’re lucky, perhaps even lion or elephant.
Afternoon drive on the reserve
Lions at Ongava
An afternoon drive on the Ongava reserve itself is also worthwhile. There are some 100 different mammal species here, including white and black rhino (Ongava means rhino), lion, elephant, leopard, giraffe, black-backed jackal, Burchell’s zebra, wildebeest, springbok, black-faced impala, oryx and Damara dik-dik. We watched giraffe feeding on the high tree tops, found lions relaxing in the late afternoon sun, saw elephants munching in a patch of greenery. We also saw jackals, wildebeest, oryx, waterbuck and birds like kori bustard, Ruppell’s korhaan and ostrich.
Shortly before the sun set below the mopane trees, we found a crash of white rhinos feeding – six adults and two young calves. We listened to them snorting and grunting at each other when they thought they weren’t getting their fair share, the little ones’ squeaks sounding vaguely whale-like. Not bad seeing three of the Big Five on a single afternoon drive.
The drive came to a close with gin and tonics in an open area to enjoy the sunset light show before returning to camp for dinner.
Spend time at the camp’s waterhole When you’re not out on game drive or walks, spend time in the comfort of the main area with an eye on the waterhole. There’s a long sunken gallery where you can have front row seats at the waterhole without blocking the view of people in the lounge or dining room. We saw kudu, zebra, springbok, black-faced impala and warthog during the day here, and white rhinos drinking at night. Lions and elephants visit too. If you forget to bring your binos, you can wrestle other guests to share a standing spotting scope.
Go photo-mad in the ground-level hide
Kudu taken from the ground-level hide
If you’re a keen photographer, the ground-level hide at Anderssons will be a huge draw card. In a fun decor flourish, the entrance to the underground tunnel is formed by the back of a safari vehicle and the 10 chairs in the hide are comfy safari vehicle chairs too. In building the hide, they’ve thought of everything, from plugs for charging batteries and rubber matting to keep things quiet to a water station for marathon sessions. A coffee station is also planned. We spent some time there in the morning and heard Namaqua sandgrouse coming to drink at the waterhole. After sunset we enjoyed the sweet lilting whistles of the double-banded sandgrouse. Just imagine the excitement in the hide when an elephant, lion or rhino is drinking here.
Keep your eye on the webcam in your room
The fabulous TV monitor that allows you to keep tabs on what's happening at the waterhole
The suites at this Etosha accommodation have one of the coolest things I’ve seen on safari. Instead of worrying that you’re missing something as you loll in the cool and comfort of your suite with its day bed and shaded deck, you can keep an eye on the TV monitor mounted on the wall above the desk. It has a feed direct from the waterhole in front of the main area, so if anything exciting makes an appearance you can make a dash to see it in real life. Between the TV monitor, the waterhole and the underground hide, there’s almost no reason to leave camp!
Gaze at the stars Here in the pollution-free, dry air of northern Namibia, the stars will shine at their brightest, especially on nights with no moon or just a sliver. Admire the constellations and planets without city buildings to obscure the view of the southern hemisphere’s magical night skies. The camp has a small Celestron telescope to enhance your experience. Star gazing is usually offered around 7pm.
Have a drink around the fire before dinner
The fire pit area gets busy before dinner
Although days in northern Namibia are usually warm to hot and sunny, even in winter, evenings can get chilly in the midwinter months of June and July. Come sunset, a fire is always burning in the conversation pit near the bar at Anderssons. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a drink, mull over the events of the day and perhaps swap wildlife stories with fellow guests.
Enjoy a nature walk Bush walks are a great chance to read the ‘news’ of what has been happening when you weren’t watching. Tracks and signs, even scat, are a rich source of information in the hands of a skilled guide. This is also a time to slow down and use all your senses to really hear, smell and touch the surrounding nature, to learn about the uses of trees like camel thorn, sweet thorn, mopane and Kalahari apple-leaf. With a slower pace and less emphasis on big game, it’s also the time to spot smaller creatures like skinks, geckoes and elephant shrews. That said, however, you may get a chance to get close to white rhino on foot – an exceptional experience. Bush walks are a special treat here because they’re are not allowed in the adjoining Etosha National Park.
Take a dip in the pool with a view of the waterhole
Clouds reflected in the pool
Cool off in the heat of the day with a dip in the swimming pool. Its infinity rim blends seamlessly with the veld beyond, giving you a wide view of the waterhole and the game paths that thread their way towards it.
Go bird-watching Use your walks to and from your suite, or your morning nature walk to look for some of the more than 400 species of birds that live in the area. You may spot or hear the calls of Hartlaub’s spurfowl, Monteiro’s hornbill, violet wood-hoopoe, lilac-breasted roller, crimson-breasted shrike, Ruppell’s parrot, Carp’s tit or bare-cheeked babbler, among others.
Discover fascinating conservation research For me, one of the best things about staying at Anderssons at Ongava was the chance to interact with conservation researchers at tea time, before we set out on a guided afternoon drive.
When we visited, the camp had just opened and the new Ongava Research Centre’s (ORC) visitor centre was still being built. Now that it’s finished – it opened at the beginning of July 2019 – guests can wander through the exhibition area to learn about various aspects of research conducted on the reserve. They can also relax in the 36-seat auditorium for interactive presentations. It’s a safari meets science experience.
But we didn’t lose out. Before tea each day, Dr Florian Weise came to the lounge area to tell us about the work he and other Ongava researchers are doing. We heard mainly about rhino, lion and hyena research and it was enthralling.
Disappointing rainfall in the region has resulted in reserves resorting to emergency initiatives to avoid undue mortalities. Ongava has been supplementary feeding the mother white rhinos, without which their milk would dry up and the infant rhinos would succumb in a week
For instance, ORC researchers have been using DNA and interaction observations to study the parentage of Ongava’s rhinos. Previously it has been thought that the most mature bulls are the ones who are the dominant breeders. This has influenced choices of which rhinos to move to other areas to ensure genetic diversity in each population.
But Ongava is discovering that the biggest bulls are not in fact the ones fathering most of the calves. The females avoid inbreeding with their dominant fathers and often breed with newly introduced bulls. This will obviously change the thinking on which animals will be relocated to other reserves.
He also told us about a mapping project to determine the distribution of all four species of hyena – spotted hyena, brown hyena and aardwolf, which we all know because they occur in southern Africa, as well as striped hyena, which is found in north-eastern African countries like Ethiopia. It’s thought that hyenas might be declining across their range but scientists need more data to confirm this.
The Hyena Specialist Group launched the project in March 2018, asking citizen scientists – ordinary folk like you and me – to be the eyes and ears of researchers, who obviously can’t be everywhere at once. The idea is to submit digital photos of hyenas you see, together with accurate geographical co-ordinates, to either iNaturalist or the University of Cape Town’s MammalMAP project. ‘In this way, non-researchers can do their bit to help expand the data on where these animals occur,’ he said.
Dr Florian Weise shares some of Ongava Research Centre's work with guests
Some 15 000 sightings by members of the public have been received and early indications are intriguing. For instance, the brown hyena seems to have a wider distribution than previously thought. New records show that they’re resident throughout Zimbabwe, where only sparse sightings had been recorded before.
‘The new research centre at Ongava recently hosted an international workshop with hyena experts from around the world, to review the updated distribution maps,’ says Weise. The results of this large collaborative study will be release in 2020. ‘ORC hopes that the new research campus will provide a useful venue for many other international projects like the hyena survey.’
By Roxanne Reid There aren’t many places in the world where you can shower with an elephant before enjoying dinner around a campfire while live music pulsates with energetic township vibe. Not unless you stay at Etosha Safari Camp 10km south of Etosha National Park’s Andersson Gate in Namibia.
I fell in love with Etosha Safari Camp at first sight a few years back. Our ‘room’ was a free-standing chalet surrounded by mopane thicket and tall blonde grass so although there were lots of them, they were fairly widely spaced on the large property and we didn’t feel anyone was peering down our necks as we lolled on the porch in our safari chairs.
Self-standing units are spread around the property, to give you a sense of space and privacy
It scored bonus points for being accommodation near Etosha National Park, one of my favourite places to see wildlife. More bonus points for the air conditioner that preserves sanity in northern Namibia’s fierce summer heat.
You can't help but be cheerful in this colourful room
The rooms have since been refurbished. Now you’ll find sunshiny yellow doors and mozzie nets, bright orange sheets, zebra-patterned pelmets, and black-and-white woodcuts of animals like elephant and rhino on the walls. My favourite spot is still the shower with a mosaic of the back view of an elephant, its trunk raised up to where the water comes out, as if it has sucked up a trunkful to splash you with. It’s playful and I love it.
Shower with an elephant at Etosha Safari Camp
The main complex houses everything from the reception desk, swimming pool and a shop to the Oshebeena bar and restaurant, where you can enjoy your meals on the long verandas or in the courtyard.
There’s a shanty town alley of small spaces holding funky objects like entire car doors and their windows plastered into the walls as if they are building materials. There are old kettles, faded political posters and a tin lean-to roof stacked high with tin chests and old-fashioned suitcases. At the far end, a full-size train carriage painted light green has a medley of baskets and other bric-a-brac on its roof.
Old cars, bicycles, posters - they're all part of the decor mix
The township shanty style of the food service alley
Before supper, spend some time in the bar and ‘bottol stor’ crammed with more colourful and wacky objects. There are zinc baths filled with bottles, beer crates, Coca Cola crates, a Dover stove, car licence plates and old tin signs advertising Windhoek Lager, Cobra polish and BP oil. There are paraffin lamps, bicycles hanging from the ceiling, and a table made from a 40-gallon metal drum cut in half.
Sidle up to the bar and order a cold one
Crane your neck to enjoy all the signs around the bar, advertising the Ooh Shebeena Bar, the Down Corruption Bar, and more. Others signs boom, ‘Light of Admission Leserved’ and ‘Only for Colour Blind People’, while someone has scrawled graffiti on a wall: ‘White men can’t jump, black men can’t swim; white men can’t eat mopane worms.’ It’s lighthearted fun.
Unusual building materials make it fun to walk around the bar and dining area
In the pool hall there’s an old cabinet radiogram along one wall and a flatscreen TV showing sport on another – a mix of old-time style with functional modern tech. A third wall is filled end to end with shebeen signs from across the country – Hot Stuff, Huhu City Man Back, Young Life Bar. A few signs advertise other services such as the Look Good Beauty Bar, even the Obama Fish Shop.
Half-barrels are used as tables to serve breakfasts and salads at dinner
Outside in the courtyard some chairs in a circle around the fire are made from car tyres and fitted with comfy cushions, their arms and legs painted bright red, blue or yellow.
Dinner was a delicious gemsbok stew with pap and pumpkin, and there was kudu stirfry and tender chicken too, all set up as a buffet along the side of the train carriage. We ate by candlelight on the verandah and tapped our toes in time with live music around the small campfire.
Singing and playing, building the mood from mournful to merry, were Chris, Stefanus Gaeb and Jomo Africanus. Stefanus played a guitar made from a 5-litre Castrol oil tin attached to the amplifier, while Jomo played guitar, drums and accordion. One of the waiters, who had been shimmying while he worked, joined in here and there to strum a guitar or play drums. The diners bobbed their shoulders and tapped their feet to the rhythm, clapping at the end of every piece.
The Etosha Safari Camp entertainment begins before sunset and continues long after
I can’t tell you how much fun it all is – this spirited mish-mash of township flair and wit, finessed with warm hospitality, cold beers and hearty grub. Etosha Safari Camp is a lively place to spend a night or two on your way to Etosha National Park. Take a dip in the pool on a hot summer’s day but, come nightfall, don’t forget to experience the jollity at the Down Corruption Bar.
Things to do at Etosha Safari Camp 1. Go on a guided drive in an open safari vehicle into Etosha National Park, just 10km away. Choose from a half day (4-hour) or full day (8-hour) trip, or even drive there in your own vehicle. There are a number of excellent waterholes in easy reach of the Andersson entrance gate, such as Nebrownii, Okaukuejo (a waterhole you can see from inside the camp) and even Okondeka. You can expect to see kudu, giraffe, black-faced impala, warthog, springbok, zebra, wildebeest and gemsbok, maybe even lion or elephant.
Nebrownii waterhole, Etosha National Park
2. Wake early to watch the blood-red sun rise through the mopane trees around your cabin in the morning. Park yourself on your safari chairs on your porch in the evening to watch the sunset as the day winds to a close.
3. Cool down in the heat of the day with a dip in the pool in the main area. Laze on the chairs under umbrellas and read a book until it’s time to cool off again.
Cool off in the pool
4. Go for a walk around the property; the hills will give you a bit of a cardio workout.
5. Keep a lookout as you move about the camp for birds and small creatures, like the dainty dik-dik we saw on an early morning visit near our cabin.
The tiny Damara dik-dik
6. Explore the main area to see the funky decor, from old signs and rusted vehicles to political posters, bicycles, suitcases, tin trunks, and small statues of elephants and warthogs.
7. Enjoy a cold beer at the quirky ‘township’ pub, chuckle at some of the signs, park yourself in a chair ingeniously made from recycled car tyres.
8. Don’t miss at least one dinner during your stay. It comes with a side order of vibey music that makes for a full evening’s entertainment. It'll be one of the most fun things you do on your holidays in Namibia.
9. Browse or buy some of the affordable curios in the shop next to the reception area, like fridge magnets, bracelets and necklaces, scarves, etc.
Shady, grassed campsite
10. If you can’t bear to tear yourself away, spend a night or two at the Etosha Safari campsite behind the pool area. This is Etosha camping at its best. Far less busy than Okaukuejo’s overcrowded campsite, it has the added bonus of shade and grass that you won’t find at Okaukuejo. The ablutions and outdoor wash-up areas are simple but clean, and you have all the facilities of the lodge – like pool and restaurant – near at hand.
Crazy discounts you need to know about If you’re planning a trip to Namibia, do yourself a favour and invest in a Gondwana Card. R200/N$200 gets you a card for five years and gives you great discounts on some 40 Gondwana Collection properties across this vast and beautiful country. Namibians get a 50% discount on accommodation, and visitors from SADC countries get 40% discount on accommodation, both in their lodges and campsites. In addition, the card gets you 25% off meals and activities. It doesn’t matter whether your budget stretches to luxury lodges or you prefer camping, with discounts like these, what are you waiting for? Namibia is calling.
By Roxanne Reid Outside it’s all Namibian desert – sand, wide blue skies, red dunes, black-backed jackals and springbok. Inside are Hollywood touches that would make Zsa Zsa Gabor or Marilyn Monroe feel at home. Think pink ostrich feather ‘trees’, pink neon lights in the bar, and rose quartz lamps. This is The Desert Grace, one of the most stylish Sossusvlei lodges. Here’s why you’ll love it.
The lodge You’ll find the Gondwana Collection’s Desert Grace between Solitaire and Sesriem in south-western Namibia, about 50km from the entrance gate to the famous dunes at Sossusvlei. The outside walls of the lodge are brown to merge with the surrounding sand and dunes, but inside there’s an unexpected riffle of grey and pink. Pink pouffes, a pink hall stand and umbrella in the room, and pink wrought iron chairs on the entrance stoep all give stylish life to grey wallpaper, floor tiles and throws. Pink-shirted staff with broad smiles will welcome you with a delicious pink slushy, a welcome treat in the heat of the day.
The rooms hunker down and blend effortlessly into the desert landscape
We'd driven to this Sossusvlei lodge with a fully stocked fridge for camping on our extended Namibia holidays, so we were impressed to discover plug points in the parking lot for just such a situation, and a cleverly designed shade-roof made of solar panels. I found these – and the signature pinkness so unusual in African lodges – very cheering.
A large sculpture depicting the four elements dominates the main area, its wooden beams soaring to the sky and returning to earth, place for a fire in the centre. There’s a curio shop with a tasteful collection of clothes and beaded jewellery, a luxuriously pink-curtained changing room that begs you to duck inside and pretend to be a Hollywood diva.
A sculpture depicting the four elements frames views of the surrounding desert
Across the deck is the bar with its pink neon ‘One night in Namibia’ sign. Just imagine all the stories people might tell starting with those words. Couches and chairs make it more of a lounge than merely a bar, with a comforting fireplace for cosy evenings in the desert cold of winter nights. From the deck, you can enjoy the wrap-around view of surrounding dunes and desert with their rippling yellow grasses.
Shades of Hollywood glamour in the bar area
Looking from the bar's stoep towards the dining room with its roof that undulates like the dunes
The restaurant is a bright space with pink serviettes and pink-tinged water glasses, but we chose to sit on the deck to enjoy the light of the early morning sun at breakfast, passing wildlife at lunch, and a star-filled sky at dinner. There’s great attention to detail, like the stained glass depictions of zebra, gemsbok and jackal on the central service island, the pink-and-white-striped ice cream stand that encourages you to ‘beat the heat’ and indulge in the flavours of the day.
The dining room and deck at night
The room Given the hot daytime temperatures in early May, my two favourite things about our room were the aircon and the plunge pool on our front deck. A close second were the outdoor shower and the loo with a view, encouraging us to listen to the shifting sand and the chirp of birds and crickets. The bathroom was a symphony of marble, double antiqued brass basins and aromatic, Africa-inspired Rain toiletries.
The bedroom has floor-to-ceiling views just out of frame on the left
Giant-size photos of local people going about their daily lives grace the bedroom walls – for instance, a woman in a multi-coloured patchwork dress feeding hens, a man on a rise gazing out into the nothingness of the veld. Armchairs, loungers for next to our private pool, kikois and pool towels in a basket, a writing desk/dressing table with tea tray and a well-stocked fridge all made time in the room enjoyable.
Grey with pink accents is a refreshingly different colour palette for an African lodge
Catch the early morning sun on the entrance porch
Floor to ceiling windows with sliding glass doors provide an Imax-like view of the nearby dunes. Even on the cusp of the Namibian winter, they made the rooms hot in the afternoon because they face west. But we quickly learnt to draw the curtains if we weren’t inside, and then open them when the sun neared the horizon so we could enjoy the unhindered dazzle of changing colours.
Enjoy views of golden grasses, red dunes and camel thorn trees from everywhere in the lodge
Staff members Vistorina, Erica, Melania and Janille in the pink
Things to do at The Desert Grace 1. Enjoy an early morning walk before the heat of the day takes hold. Each trail is named after an endemic creature: the 3km Beetle walk after the flightless orange dung beetle, the 5km Gecko walk after one of my favourite little desert creatures, and the 7km Lark walk after the dune lark, which you’re sure to see on your walks around camp. This is a chance to slow down and see the tiny trails of beetles, birds and scorpions in the sand, leaving news from the previous afternoon and evening. You can do these walks at any time because they’re self-guided but for my taste early morning is best, when the air is still crisp. As writer Mary Davis said, ‘To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.’
Red Kalahari sand, yellow grass and a dead tree
2. Join a scorpion night walk after dinner with a guide like Likius Vaendwanawa. As with everything in nature, nothing is guaranteed but an ultraviolet light will help you notice the little creatures if they are around. You might be out for 30 minutes and see lots of them, or it might take you 90 minutes to find one.
Go looking for scorpions with a UV light at night (this pic was taken with a flash)
3. Go on a guided half-day visit to Sossusvlei, taking in famous dunes like Dune 45 and Big Daddy, the white clay pans and dead camel thorn trees of Dead Vlei and Hidden Vlei. This is a bucket list tick in southern Namibia, so if you haven’t been before it’s a must. These dunes in the Namib-Naukluft Park are part of the amazing Namib Sand Sea, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Covering more than 30 000 square kilometres, this is the world’s only coastal desert with widespread dune fields where fog is the main source of water. Here, amazing little plants and animals have adapted to live in the hyper-arid environment.
Dune 45, Sossusvlei
4. Enjoy a sunset drive along the copper dunes of the Namib in the 12 500ha Gondwana Namib Park. You can also do an early morning dune drive, but in my view it’s best in the evening when the day cools down and you can watch sunset paint the sky and surrounding landscape in a kaleidoscope of colours. Drinks and snacks on a red sand dune are part of the package. The drive is a chance to learn how sociable weavers live in giant communes and to see some local characters like black-backed jackal, gemsbok, springbok, blue wildebeest, hartebeest and kudu – if you’re lucky perhaps even a giraffe, hyena or cheetah.
Go on a dune drive in the Gondwana Namib Park to enjoy the landscapes and see animals
Drinks on a red dune
5. Go ebiking along the trails on one of The Desert Grace’s fleet of ebikes, which make the task of riding in the sand so much easier and more enjoyable. Instead of concentrating on fighting your way through thick sand, you can sail along with enough energy left over for admiring the scenery, perhaps even spotting a bat-eared fox. Don’t forget sunglasses, sunscreen and some water.
Ebiking out from the lodge is an activity for all ages
6. Cool off in your private plunge pool on the deck of your unit with a view of the surrounding desert. Or simply lounge in the sun or shade with a good book; you might even get a visit from a dune lark or other small creature.
Private splash pool on the deck of your room
7. Admire the landscapes of golden grasses, then layers of red dunes and grey-blue mountains in the distance. Unlike the rest of Namibia which was in the clutches of a terrible drought in 2019, the area around The Desert Grace had had good rains before we visited in May, although average rainfall in the area is just 5-85mm a year.
Golden grasses, red dunes and blue-grey mountains surround you
8. Indulge in some stargazing in the clean, dry desert air where the lack of light or air pollution makes for spectacular night skies, especially when there’s little or no moon.
9.Enjoy a meal in the restaurant or on the deck for a view out over the dunes and camel thorn trees. Listen to the call of the Namaqua sandgrouse at breakfast, keep watch for passing springbok at lunch. At dinner you’ll find everything from pizzas and stirfries to curries and venison steaks, with enough veggie options to keep the non-carnivores happy. Don’t forget to choose your favourite flavour from the ice cream cart after dinner. We had espresso, prickly pear, and papaya sorbet on our first night, with sprinkles and maraschino cherries too. And don’t miss a drink in the bar with its pink neon signs, or on its deck at sunset. Order one of the signature pink cocktails to really get into The Desert Grace vibe.
The airy restaurant with its giant picture windows
10. Take a drive towards Namib Desert Lodge, another Gondwana Collection lodge on the same property. You may see some antelope and birds along the way, and get a change of scenery. Admire the fossilised dunes behind the lodge and enjoy a light lunch.
By Roxanne Reid What I love about Cape Nature reserves are their principles of conservation and ecotourism. Conservation comes first, but they recognise that ecotourism is an excellent way to introduce visitors to the amazement of nature that deserves to be conserved, and to bring in much-needed funds. Here are some of my favourites, from Cederberg to Kogelberg and more.
There are 25 Cape Nature reserves in the Western Cape. I’ve presented my favourites in order from the West Coast to the Overberg, Garden Route and Karoo. That doesn’t mean I think the first one is ‘better’ than the last; I haven’t ranked them. Each is different and special in its own way.
Cederberg Wilderness Area
Three hours from Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness Area could just as well be on another planet. Gone are the cars and noise, and you’re surrounded by Cape fynbos of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which takes up less than 0.5% of the African continent but is home to 20% of its plants. In addition, Clanwilliam cedars – which give the area its name – fleck the landscape. In place of buildings are mountains, rough sandstone rock formations like the Maltese Cross and Wolfberg Arch, and soaring raptors calling from the skies. You should hear baboons barking from ridge to ridge, see dassie, klipspringer or grysbok. You may even spot a porcupine or Cape clawless otter on your hikes, and camera traps have proved there are leopards in the mountains though they tend to stick to themselves.
Where to find it The reserve’s headquarters are at Algeria, about 220km north of Cape Town along the N7. It’s some 280km to the Kliphuis campsite on the Pakhuis Pass. The nearest towns are Citrusdal and Clanwilliam.
Cederberg accommodation There are gorgeous new two-bedroom cottages at Algeria, with full kitchen for self-catering, lovely views, and stoeps for braaing and relaxing. This is among my favourite Cape Nature accommodation. Other cottages not far away sleep from four to eight people. There are well-appointed campsites at Algeria and Kliphuis on the Pakhuis Pass on the way to Wupperthal.
Things to do Knock yourself out with activities like hiking (day trails and multi-day trails), mountain biking along laid-out trails, and bouldering at Rocklands, not far from the Kliphuis campsite. Or take it easy on a heritage donkey cart ride or slackpacking trail with a guide from the local community; start at the top of Pakhuis Pass and visit a local Moravian mission village.
Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve may be just 12 800 hectares, but it packs a punch as far as biodiversity is concerned because it lies in a transitional zone between two biomes: Cape Fynbos and lowland Succulent Karoo. It’s probably best known for its rare San rock art depicting elephants and the amazing sandstone formations of the Stadsaal Caves. Walk the short trail that goes around some of the main cave formations and you’ll marvel at the variety and creativity of the shapes that have been carved by wind and water over millions of years.
Where to find it You get to Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve via Algeria in the Cederberg (see above) where you need to get a permit. Algeria is about 220km north of Cape Town along the N7, and from there it’s another 35-40km along the Uitkyk Pass to Matjiesrivier.
Accommodation There’s no Cape Nature accommodation in this reserve, but it’s part of the Cederberg Wilderness Area so staying at Algeria (see above) makes a lot of sense.
Things to do Apart from hiking, which is one of the main reasons people come to the greater Cederberg Wilderness Area, the three biggest draw cards at Matjiesrivier are bouldering or rock climbing at Truitjieskraal, well-preserved San rock art, including an unusual depiction of elephants, and the amazing sandstone formations of the Stadsaal Caves (find out more about these in the link below). You need a permit for all of these; get it at the Cape Nature office in Algeria.
Rocherpan Nature Reserve on Saldanha Flats Strandveld enjoys a 5km stretch of coastline, much of which is a Marine Protected Area. But probably the reason most people visit is the seasonal vlei that’s crammed with birds, especially water birds. The pan is dry from March to June, so these aren’t the best months for keen birders to visit because you won’t see water birds or waders, flamingos or pelicans. That said, even during the dry months you’ll still be able to tick bush birds like weavers, robins, crombecs and larks, and sea birds like gulls and terns. There are nearly 200 bird species here, more than 20 of them threatened. A special along the coastal section is the handsome but endangered African black oystercatcher. Look carefully and you might also find wild flowers in the reserve, and perhaps angulate tortoise, steenbok, duiker or African wild cat.
Where to find it Drive north from Cape Town to Velddrif 150km away on the R27; Rocherpan is another 25km north of Velddrif.
Rocherpan accommodation Book a two-sleeper or four-sleeper eco-cabin (sleeps six if you use the daybeds too) with showers and eco-toilets. There’s a built-in braai on the stoep, which is a super place to enjoy both the start and end of the day. The cabins come with a fully equipped kitchen for self-catering and there’s an inside fireplace for cold winter nights. Bring your own food, drinking water and firewood.
Things to do Go mountain biking along the jeep tracks, do the beach or vlei walking trails (3-4 hours each), sit in one of two hides to spy on the birds, or indulge in some whale watching (best in June to November). Cool off on a hot summer’s day with a dip in the swimming pool or the icy ocean, pack a picnic to enjoy at one of two picnic/braai areas in the reserve. If you have an angling permit, you can go fishing along the shoreline.
In the Kogelberg Nature Reserve you’ll find a crazy diversity of pristine fynbos. It is, after all, part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is a biodiversity and endemism hotspot – you could say the world’s hottest hotspot. Come here to revel in mountains, kloofs and valleys, with trickling streams and a deep sense of unspoilt wilderness. Although the reserve is a haven for animals like grey rhebuck, klipspringer, porcupine, dassie and baboon, as well as a nesting site for Verreaux’s eagle and African fish-eagle, it’s the rare and endemic plants that are its most special attributes. The reserve is managed according to the international principles of a biosphere reserve, which means the central 18 000ha remains pristine and wild. It’s buffered by a less sensitive area, which is where most of the activities take place.
Where to find it Kogelberg is about 110km south east of Cape Town, via the N2 and R44. The nearest town is Kleinmond in the Overberg.
Kogelberg accommodation Enjoy the lovely four-sleeper self-catering eco-cabins at Oudebosch, each with sitting and dining areas and fully equipped kitchen, as well as a built-in braai on the deck. They have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one en suite.
Things to do Go white-water kayaking on the Palmiet River in winter or tubing in summer, enjoy mountain biking along a jeep track or hiking along one of the day trails or the two-day Highlands Trail. There’s birding too, with fynbos species like sugarbirds and sunbirds, or take a drive to Stony Point penguin colony about 30 minutes away. You should also be able to enjoy whale watching along the coastal section, especially from June to November.
De Hoop Nature Reserve is just a three-hour drive from Cape Town. One of its highlights is the Cape Floral Kingdom; the reserve protects some 1 500 species of plants. The vlei is a Ramsar wetland of international importance. Around 40% of southern right whales breed in the marine reserve that stretches 5km out to sea, making De Hoop one of the best land-based whale watching destinations in South Africa, especially from June to November. You can also spot some of its 86 mammal species, from Cape mountain zebra, eland and bontebok to grey rhebok and even caracal or leopard (though the latter two are elusive). Among the 260 bird species that are protected here, Potberg has the only Western Cape breeding colony of Cape vultures.
Where to find it De Hoop is in the Overberg, about 230km southeast of Cape Town via the N2 to Caledon, then the R316. The reserve lies on the coastal strip between Bredasdorp, Malgas and Witsand in the southern Cape.
De Hoop accommodation Most accommodation in the reserve is run privately by the De Hoop Collection. It offers everything from rustic self-catering rondavels with shared ablutions at the campsite, to luxury chalets and suites. There’s also the Fig Tree restaurant. Natural Selection’s new luxury concession with amazing views has recently opened at Lekkerwater.
Things to do There’s lots to do here, from hiking and mountain biking trails to game viewing, bird watching, vulture walk and picnic, walking on the white sandy beaches or doing a guided marine trail to learn about the creatures of the rock pools, from anemones and urchins to chitons and limpets. The Whale Trail is a five-night 55km hiking adventure from Potberg to Koppie Alleen; you overnight (bring your own bedding) in thatch-roofed buildings run by Cape Nature.
There’s lots to do at Goukamma Nature Reserve, but a large part of its appeal is its tranquillity and seclusion. Although it’s near Knysna on the busy Garden Route coast, you can leave the clamour behind and submit to the sounds of the sea and the forest. Some 220 species of birds have been recorded in the reserve, from sombre greenbul and Knysna turacos in the forest to African fish-eagle, African spoonbill, sunbirds, kingfishers and woodpeckers. The reserve’s main function isn’t to preserve an endangered animal, bird or plant species. Instead, it does a stellar job of conserving a ribbon of Southern Cape coast against overdevelopment that might try to merge Knysna and Sedgefield. The reserve also includes a Marine Protected Area that’s 18km long and stretches nearly 2km out to sea.
Where to find it About 480km east of Cape Town, between the Garden Route towns of Sedgefield and Knysna, is the right turn to Buffalo Bay. The entrance to Goukamma is about 8km down this road on your right.
Goukamma accommodation There are two- to six-sleeper cottages overlooking the Goukamma River, four- to six-sleeper log cabins that hunker down on the edge of indigenous forest at Buffalo Valley, and the four-sleeper Mvubu Bush Camp – an elevated, wood-and-thatch cottage in a milkwood forest on the edge of Groenvlei.
Things to do If you enjoy nature and walking, you’re spoilt for choice at Goukamma. There are a number of hiking trails from around 4km to 15km long. Choose from beach walks, dune walks through coastal fynbos, or walks through indigenous forest. Take your binos on your walks to catch up on some bird watching. From July to December, it’s a good place for whale watching too. Explore the rock pools at low tide to find anemones and sea urchins. Hire a canoe and explore the river or spend a few hours fishing for alien bass on Groenvlei – you can get a permit from the reserve office.
More famously known as Gamkaskloof or The Hell, the Swartberg Nature Reserve conserves a diversity of veld types from renosterveld and mountain fynbos to spekboom veld. On your hikes you may spot buck, baboon and dassie, or some of the 130 species of birds in the reserve, like martial and Verreaux’s eagle, Cape sugarbird and kingfishers. There are 4500 species of plant, including beautiful proteas that bloom in autumn. From a cultural perspective, caves in the reserve preserve San rock art. This is a place to find serenity, to relax and give yourself up to the place’s timeless quality. Note that you need a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle to access this reserve.
Where to find it Gamkaskloof is just off the Swartberg Pass 40km north of Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo or about 55km south of Prince Albert. The last 37km down into the valley along Elands Pass is very steep gravel with about 200 bends, some of them hairpins. It will take you two to two-and-a-half hours, so don’t skimp on time.
Gamkaskloof accommodation Restored old houses from the days before a road was built to access the settlement serve as self-catering accommodation in Gamkaskloof. Sleeping from two to eight people, they’re atmospheric, redolent of the old days and simpler times. There’s also a campsite with solar lights but no power points; bring your own supplies, firewood and torches.
Things to do If you love hiking, you’ll be in your element here, with short trails and the challenging four-day Swartberg Trail. Mountain biking is allowed at certain times of year (just get permission first). There’s also birding, game viewing, stargazing and a 4x4 trail. It’s worth exploring the little info centre at Ouplaas when you book in to find out about the people who used to live here.
The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve came into being to protect a small herd of Cape mountain zebra and their habitat. The population has grown from five individuals in 1976 to around 50. You might also spot eland, kudu, red hartebeest, klipspringer, steenbok or even caracal, and you’ll almost certainly hear baboons barking from the krantzes. The landscapes here are rugged, with mountain peaks and deep gullies. Look around and you’ll see Table Mountain shale and quartzite and well as Bokkeveld sandstone. Here you’re at the point where four plant biomes dovetail: the Cape Floral Kingdom, Succulent Karoo, Subtropical Thicket and Evergreen Forest. My favourites little plants here are succulents called bababoudtjies (babies’ bottoms). Gamkaberg also has a wealth of Khoisan rock art and early marine invertebrate fossils.
Where to find it Gamkaberg Nature Reserve is halfway between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn off the R62 (about 400km east of Cape Town). Cape Nature has identified that the directions on Google Maps are wrong, so rather download Cape Nature’s map here.
Gamkaberg accommodation There are four self-catering eco-lodges in the Gamkaberg, sleeping from two to eight in safari-style tents with communal kitchens and ablutions (except the two-sleeper Xami eco-lodge, which has its own kitchen and ablutions). If you’d rather go more rustic, there’s a remote camp at Ou Kraal with eight beds in four simple huts, reached via a one-and-a-half-hour 4x4 trail or a six-hour hike. Or sleep in a tent at the campsite near the main office and info centre.
Things to do Go nuts here with a traditional rock climbing route, a day hike (choices from 0.7km to 14.5km) through Succulent Karoo and Subtropical Thicket, or book a multi-day hiking trail at Tierkloof. Look for Cape mountain zebra or buck, birds like martial eagle and African fish-eagle, bustards, korhaans, larks and kingfishers. Drive a 4x4 trail to explore the reserve, admire its landscapes and special plants, its sweeping views.
Set among a glorious Karoo landscape with rolling mountains, gorges and rivers, Anysberg Nature Reserve is a place to find a lot of open space, fresh air and stars, as well as a profusion of Cape fynbos. You should also see animals like Cape mountain zebra, black-backed jackal and buck. The riverine rabbit and brown hyena live here too, both subjects of recent research, but you’d be very lucky to spot them. There are about 180 bird species waiting to be ticked, and some sites of ancient San rock art. Note that you need a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle to enjoy this reserve and there’s no cell phone reception, ensuring an away-from-it-all sense of peace.
Where to find it Anysberg is between Ladismith, Laingsburg, Touwsrivier and Montagu in the Karoo. It’s around 350km from Cape Town and 75km from the Karoo town of Laingsburg.
Anysberg accommodation There’s a range of self-catering accommodation, from camping to two- to six-sleeper cottages. There are also tiny two-sleeper log cabins at Tapfontein (bring your own bedding), which you can get to only via a 4x4 trail or by horse or mountain bike.
Things to do Things to do at Anysberg include hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, swimming in a pool at Vrede (where the cottages and campsite are), and stargazing in the clear dry Karoo air.
âBy Roxanne Reid Some places have exceptional universal value, whether in terms of their cultural or natural significance. Giving them protection status is a way to foster their preservation for generations to come. On the tip of Africa is a country rich in places that deserve such safeguards. Here are ten sites that have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Africa.
Sadly, despite all of them being inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites between 1999 and 2018, four have not yet been declared national heritage sites in South Africa itself. They are the Vredefort Dome (inscribed 2005), Richterveld Cultural & Botanical Landscape (2007), Khomani Cultural Landscape (2017) and Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (2018). If South Africa is to properly preserve these important sites for future generations, the next logical and urgent step is to lobby to make sure that they are declared national heritage sites.â
Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape(cultural)
Local women building a traditional matjieshuis (photo: Pieter van Wyk)
The dry mountain desert of north-western South Africaâs Richtersveld is more than an area of impressive landscapes, plants and geology; it is also where you will still find semi-nomadic Nama shepherds. For more than 2000 years they have built traditional rush-mat houses (matjieshuise) and moved their sheep and goats to different stock posts with the seasons. This way of life, which persists today, has helped preserve the succulents of the area, showing harmony between man and nature.
The three Nama villages in the community area are Kuboes, Lekkersing and Eksteenfontein. Stay over in the villages to experience the culture, the stories, the Namastap dancing, then explore the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Parkâs glorious mountain landscapes in your 4x4.â
Khomani San man with traditional bow and arrow (photo: Kalahari Red Dune Route)
The Khomani Cultural Landscape coincides with the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the border between northern South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Here the red sand has been occupied since the Stone Age. Today the Khomani San still live in this harsh semi-desert area, although they are no longer nomadic. Their ability to track and hunt animals is legendary, as is their knowledge of the food and medicinal value of plants of the Kalahari.
The Interpretive Centre at Mapungubwe National Park is well worth a visit
Mapungubwe National Park lies in the far north of South Africa, where the Limpopo and Shashe rivers meet and you can peer over baobabs into Botswana or watch eagles soar over Zimbabwe. This is the oldest known kingdom in southern Africa, older even than Great Zimbabwe. Archaeological treasures found in the area show that the people who lived here between 900 and 1300 AD were part of a powerful state that traded with Egypt, India and China through Islamic traders on the east coast. Gold artefacts excavated here (like a golden one-horned rhino) are part of South Africaâs finest Iron Age legacy. Mapungubwe was once the most important inland settlement in Africa, a place where the kings lived on top of the mountain, apart from the commoners in the valley below.
Donât miss a tour to Mapungubwe Hill and a visit to the stylish Visitor Interpretive Centre at Mapungubwe National Park for an insight into the heritage of the area.
Prison, leper colony, military base, Robben Island in Cape Townâs Table Bay was all of these between the 17th and 20th centuries. What remains today are old quarries, the 18th century tomb of Hadije Kramat, 19th century buildings like a chapel and parsonage, a lighthouse and some military structures that hark back to World War II. Perhaps most famous of all is the bleak prison where Nelson Mandela and many political activists and freedom fighters spent time during apartheid. Mandela later became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Today, you can tour the island to see sites like the leper graveyard, a lime quarry, the army and navy bunkers and the prison. The tour, conducted by ex-prisoners who tell their personal stories, ends with a visit to tge cell where Mandela srayed.
The Cradle of Humankind, about a 90-minute drive from Johannesburg, is where about 40% of all the human ancestor fossils in the world have been discovered, including Mrs Ples and Little Foot. Places to visit include the Sterkfontein caves and the Makapan Valley where the Taung Skull (Australopithecus africanus) was found. Other early hominid fossils of the area include Paranthropus, which dates back 4.5 million to 2.5 million years.
The Maropeng Visitor Information Centre is a good place to start your heritage exploration. Other more adventurous activities in the area include water sports and ziplines.
Table Mountain on the south-western tip of Africa, one of the most famous landmarks in the world, forms part of a national park that is home to the Cape Floral Kingdom. Of the worldâs six floral kingdoms, it is the smallest and most diverse for its size. It includes forests, wilderness areas and nature reserves, covering a wide swathe of the Western Cape and spilling over its borders. It is one of the worldâs biodiversity hotspots, which takes up less than 0.5% of the continent of Africa but is home to an astonishing 20% of its plants. Nearly a third of them occur nowhere else on earth.
Exploring the mountains of the Cape will bring you into contact with this natural heritage, or visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town for easy access to some of its fynbos wonders.
Vredefort Dome near Parys, about 120km from Johannesburg, is a crater made by a meteorite impact. It is about 300km wide and is the biggest crater geologists have found on earth and nearly twice as big as the impact that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The explosion was millions of times more powerful than the biggest atomic bomb ever made. It is also the oldest crater, dating back 2023 million years. The Vredefort Dome is only the central part of the impact crater. The middle to upper zones of the earthâs crust have been exposed in the surrounding area.
Apart from guided geotrails, activities in the area include sky-diving, abseiling, canoeing, white-water rafting and fishing.
Vast bodies of water are a feature of Isimangaliso Wetland Park
iSimangaliso is 3 280 square kilometres of natural ecosystems on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast. It is a place of pristine beaches, coastal dunes, estuaries, lakes, swamps and wetlands, ocean and coral reefs. It stretches 220km from Maphelane in the south to Kosi Bay on the border with Mozambique in the north and includes habitats for a range of marine, wetland and savannah species. Discover 700-year-old fishing traditions and 25 000-year-old dunes, see more than 520 bird species like flamingos, animals like the Big Five, hippos and crocs, as well as nesting turtles.
Go snorkelling or scuba diving to explore the coral reefs and colourful underwater life. Game drives, horse riding and kayaking are just some of the other adventures you can have in the area.
Rest site on the Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail (photo: Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site)
This site in Mpumalanga is the youngest UNESCO World Heritage Site i South Africa, inscribed in July 2018. The Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains include 40% of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, which is one of the worldâs oldest geological structures. Here you will find well-preserved volcanic and sedimentary rock that dates back 3.6 billion years, which is when the first continents were just beginning to form. There is also evidence of the impact of meteorites from 4.6 to 3.8 billion years ago.
One of the best things to do here is to drive the 37km Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail between Barberton and eSwatini (Swaziland), stopping at each info panel.
Maluti-Drakensberg Park (mixed: natural and cultural)
Jagged peaks are a feature of the Maluti-Drakensberg Park
The Maluti-Drakensberg Park covers 14 740 square kilometres of the mountains between Lesotho and South Africa, including uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. It is a landscape of spectacular beauty, massive basalt peaks and buttresses, sandstone cliffs and caves, forests, grasslands and burbling rivers. Find endangered species like the bearded vulture, many endangered fish species, and some 250 endemic plant species, including almost all the remaining sub-alpine and alpine vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal. It is a place of cultural significance too, with one of the most concentrated groups of San rock paintings in Africa â more than 600 known sites containing up to 40 000 individual images.
One of the best activities to enjoy here is hiking along the numerous trails, keeping your eyes out for birds and ducking into caves to explore the rock art.
By Roxanne Reid Luderitz, Namibia, is wedged between the Namib Desert and the icy Atlantic Ocean, a colourful hamlet in a windswept landscape. To get there you must drive 340km from Keetmanshoop along a single straight road that takes you through forbidden diamond territory. When you crest the last dune, the town appears out of a barren landscape like a mirage, as misplaced as any tiny German hamlet could be.
As you enter town on the B4, you’ll pass naked whitish-grey sand dunes on the outskirts then a whole lot of dark, volcanic rock. It’s bleak enough to be the aftermath of a radioactive bomb blast. Not for Luderitz those rich red sand dunes that make Sossusvlei so photogenic. And it always seems to be furnace hot here, or with a ferocious wind pumping off the sea and careening down the streets, kicking up dust and sending litter skittering.
I have to confess that Luderitz isn’t one of my favourite places in Namibia, but it’s definitely worth a trip if you’ve never been before – especially if you take in the ghost town of Kolmanskop and the wild horses of the Namib at Aus along the way.
Look for the wild horses near Aus, about halfway between Keetmanshoop and Luderitz
The town was founded in 1883 by German trader Adolf Lüderitz. Its early days were all about trading, fishing and harvesting bird guano from the rocks. Then in 1908 diamonds were discovered nearby at Kolmanskop (see ‘things to do’ below) so business in Luderitz boomed and its German population doubled between 1908 and 1910. This was the golden age for buildings and ‘diamond palaces’ in Luderitz. Later, after the boom went bust, Luderitz returned to being a dozy little town of fishing boats and wind and dust. If it has any appeal at all, it’s that little has changed since the early 20th century.
Things to do in Luderitz Kolmanskop ghost town
Kolmanskop ghost town
The main attraction in the area is to visit Kolmanskop ghost town 10km to the east. Kolmanskop was a bustling diamond town in the early 1900s. But in 1927 better finds were discovered elsewhere, the town declined and most families moved away by the 1930s, the last stragglers in the 1950s. Kolmanskop started to lose the battle against the encroaching desert sand. You can read all about it in my blog post Kolmanskop: why to visit Namibia’s ghost town. If it weren’t for this fabulously atmospheric and photogenic place, which exerts a hypnotic pull, I’d probably not have visited Luderitz more than once.
Desert sand is slowly reclaiming abandoned buildings at Kolmanskop
Early 20th century architecture Explore Luderitz’s early 20th century Germanic architecture. The town is a strange mixture of lovely, well-restored German-style buildings from the diamond-rush days of the early 1900s, some old, sad and very bedraggled buildings from the same period, and quite a lot of ugly, scruffy buildings with no style at all. The old power station looks like something from a bombed town, derelict, windows broken.
The four-level Goerke House is a rather imposing ‘diamond palace’. It was built into the rock in 1910 for German diamond mine inspector Hans Goerke. Later used as a magistrate’s residence and declared a national monument in 1975, it’s now owned by Namdeb Diamond Corporation and used as a guesthouse for visiting VIPs. It’s open for guided tours between 14:00 and 16:00 on weekdays and from 16:00 to 17:00 on weekends. I believe the sumptuous Art Nouveau interior is worth seeing, but in three visits to Luderitz I haven’t managed to get inside.
Felsenkirche, or the church on a rock
Next door to Goerke House, an austere skinny church looms against the skyline. This is the Evangelical Lutheran Church – best known as the Felsenkirche (church on a rock) because of its position on the granite outcrop called Diamantberg. Although it has Victorian Gothic influences, its Germanic roots are clear from the stained-glass panel above the altar, which Kaiser Wilhelm II donated. The church was finished in 1912 when just over 1000 Germans were living in Luderitz. Now a national monument, it’s only open for an hour before sunset each day, but it’s worth visiting the site for its view over Luderitz and the bay beyond.
Old buildings along a dusty street
Take a walk along Bismark Street to look at some of the other early 20th century German colonial buildings, like the station building which is still in its original state, the Deutsche Africa Bank building, and the Krabbenhöft & Lampe building which today houses self-catering apartments you can rent. Look out for Woermann Haus and Rudikerhaus on Main Road near the Waterfront.
Another old building showing German colonial influence
Shark Island Nowadays, Shark Island is a campsite that gives views back towards the town and out to sea. You’ll need to pay a small entrance fee to visit the site even if you’re not camping there. A lone monument to local leader Cornelius Fredericks who died here hints at its dark history as a ‘death island’. (The names of Germans who died are etched into a much bigger wall.)
Monument to local leader Cornelius Fredericks at Shark Island
Back in the early 20th century, the German empire used Shark Island as a concentration camp during the Herero and Nama wars of 1904-1908. Some 3000 men, women and children died here in unspeakable conditions. Chances are that when you visit, you’ll experience the icy winds that blow full force across the little peninsula – and that was only one of their problems. Forced labour, too little food, uncontrolled spread of disease, beatings and even rape were some of the others. Small wonder that only about 20% of those who arrived ever left.
Shark Island campsite
Fishing and sailing Luderitz has one of the best harbours on Namibia’s inhospitable coastline, so the fishing industry adds a rugged, salty flavour to the town. It’s not surprising, then, that fishing and sailing charters are popular activities, for instance to Halifax Island to see African penguins. Charters leave from the Waterfront, where tourists enjoy the shops and restaurants.
Diaz Point and wildlife Take a drive to Diaz Point – where Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Diaz planted a cross in 1488 – for a chance to see seals, penguins, flamingos and dolphins, and listen to the thundering of the ocean.
Other things to do in Luderitz include a drive to Agate Beach 8km north of town for a beach walk if you don’t mind being windswept; the Atlantic waters are too cold for comfortable swimming. Or join a tour into the Sperrgebiet National Park for a chance to see the 55m high Bogenfels rock arch that plunges straight into the sea. Note that you’re not allowed into the Sperrgebiet (forbidden diamond territory) on your own or without a special permit.
As for Luderitz restaurants, you won’t find fine dining but you will find a number of places offering satisfying plates of fresh seafood, steak and good Namibian beer.
Luderitz accommodation Although it’s a small town, there’s quite a choice when it comes to Luderitz accommodation – from camping and self-catering to B&Bs and hotels. The Luderitz Nest Hotel has great sea views, but comes at a price. For a cheaper alternative still with a sea view, try The Cormorant House. Alte Villa guesthouse is a smaller, more personal guesthouse for those who don’t like big hotels. See Afristay or Booking.com for rates and bookings.
If you prefer not to stay in town and don’t mind driving 120km to visit Kolmanskop and Luderitz for the day, I can recommend the rustic campsite (no power points) at Desert Horse Campsite at Klein Aus Vista, near where you may also see Namibia’s wild horses. That’s exactly what we did the last time we visited Luderitz.
By Roxanne Reid The stories of Africa’s trees are also tales of its people and animals, from Herman Charles Bosman’s withaak to Rudyard Kipling’s Limpopo fever tree. Think baobabs that are 6 000 years old or marula trees long believed to have elephants stumbling away drunk. In these 10 stories about trees in Africa let’s root out the fables, facts and fictions about some remarkable African trees.
1. Baobab bar The Sunland baobab in Limpopo is one of the world’s widest; about 30 people could join hands around its trunk. Radio carbon dating suggests parts of it are more than 1700 years old. Old baobabs become hollow and in 1993 Doug and Heather van Heerden, who own the farm where it stands, cleared out the compost build-up in the hollow. They discovered Bushman artefacts and tools that Voortrekkers used to fix their ox wagons. They turned the hollow space into a pub complete with door, railway sleeper bar and draft beer. ‘We’ve had 60 people inside the pub at once,’ says Heather, ‘but a big branch broke so now it’s open plan.’ In April 2017 another part of the trunk collapsed, though the oldest wood is still standing. ‘We remain open and the bar remains inside. We’re hoping the broken trunk will start to grow again.’
Where: Sunland farm, Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo. Factfile: Baobabs flower on spring nights and bats pollinate them.
2. Circles in a forest If you visit the indigenous Knysna forests on South Africa’s Garden Route you’ll understand what inspired Dalene Matthee’s book Circles in a Forest. Ahead of his time, her character Saul Barnard worries about the forest’s survival and the exploitative greed of timber merchants. Matthee died in 2005 and her ashes were scattered at a monument near an 880-year-old Outeniqua yellowwood. The tree towers above the canopy and Saul would be pleased to know it is now protected as a Champion Tree, which may not be damaged in any way. Walk one of the ‘Circles in a Forest’ trails nearby to immerse yourself in the forest atmosphere.
Where: Krisjan se Nek picnic site, Goudveld Forest, Knysna. Factfile: Outeniqua yellowwood is South Africa’s tallest species, reaching up to 60m. In the past, the trees were used for ship’s masts.
3. Wonder tree The Wonderboom is a 1000-year-old giant wild fig. Over time its branches drooped to the ground and took root to form a circle of 13 daughter trunks – something not typical of the species. Voortrekkers rested under it in the 1830s. In her 1882 book In the Land of Misfortune Lady Florence Dixie noted that more than 22 ox-wagons and hundreds of people could shelter under it. The mother tree suffered some damage in the early 1900s when people dug holes looking for the Kruger millions. Today its crown is the largest of any South African tree – about half the length of a rugby field. It has been declared a Champion Tree in a Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries project that protects notable trees.
Where: Wonderboom Nature Reserve, Pretoria. Factfile: Local legend claims it’s so huge because a tribal chief is buried under it. The summer fruits turn yellowish-pink when ripe.
4. Safe house poplar A skinny Lombardy poplar outside the safe house belonging to Ruth Fischer Rice was a beacon of hope for people on the run during apartheid. Ruth’s father, activist Bram Fischer, led the legal team that defended Nelson Mandela and his co-defendants during the 1963/4 Rivonia Trial. Although the prosecution wanted the death penalty, the team secured a sentence of life in prison. This changed the course of history, allowing Mandela to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994. ‘The people who stayed with us were mainly young men and a few young women referred to us by people we knew,’ Ruth remembers. ‘Some stayed for several months. There was surveillance but we were never raided. A storm-water drain ran from our street to the neighbouring [Johannesburg] Country Club, through which our son could lead anyone who needed to escape.’
Where: Corner of Lothbury and Fawley avenues, Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Factfile: The poplar tree is a fast-growing alien that sends out suckers – even from the stump after it is cut down.
5. Spring glory Zimbabwe’s musasa trees (also known as igonde, msasa and mutsatsa) drop their leaves in winter. Then, for just three weeks each September, the new leaves create a blaze of colour before they turn green for summer. ‘They are a variety of tones from palest blush to burnt orange and burgundy, with gold and reds in between,’ says artist Lin Barrie, who completed a series of paintings inspired by this spring colour. ‘Musasas were part of my early bush experiences, with branches to climb on, colour to marvel at and carpets of flowers and mushrooms beneath. My father was a keen walker and birder and as a child I often went with him on excursions to the musasas. They were the backdrop for birds like spotted creepers, owls and pennant-winged nightjars.’ Lin’s oils and acrylics of natural scenes are in collections around the world.
Where: Mukuvisi Woodlands in Harare, Zimbabwe, in September. You can see permanent displays of Lin Barrie’s art at her studio in Borrowdale Brooke Estate, Harare, or at the Cape Gallery in Church Street, Cape Town. Factfile: The orange caterpillars of the musasa moth appear in masses in March to feed on the trees.
6. The lion fig ‘Just north of Busanga Bush Camp in Zambia’s Kafue National Park lies an enormous sycamore fig tree on elevated ground,’ says safari guide Isaac Kalio. ‘The local tree-climbing Busanga lion pride likes to rest in the horizontal branches, so although it’s a beautiful picnic spot you first have to check who’s there! It produces four fruit crops a year that attract many animals. Tiny wasps breed inside the fruit and are in charge of pollination. The sycamore fig has been incorporated into Zambian teaching about HIV/AIDS because just as you can’t tell by looking at the outside of the fruit if it contains insects, you can’t tell by looking at someone’s face if they are HIV positive.’
Sad news is that this particular sycamore fig tree at Busanga fell in April 2019.
Where: 500m north of Busanga Bush Camp, Kafue National Park, Zambia. Factfile: The genus is 60 million years old and the sycamore fig was mentioned in the bible.
7. Symbols and stamps The quiver tree is Namibia’s national tree and a symbol of the south, where it grows in rocky areas of desert and semi-desert. It got its name in the 17th century when Dutch Cape colony governor Simon van der Stel learnt that the San hollowed out its tube-like branches to make quivers to stash their poisoned arrows during the hunt. The trunks of dead quiver trees were also used as natural fridges to store water and meat because the fibrous tissue has a cooling effect as air passes through it. A member of the aloe family, it is protected in Namibia. It featured on Namibian postage stamps five times between 1961 and 2010 and appears on the Namibian 50c coin. Quiver trees were declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2010.
Where: Quiver tree forest 14km northeast of Keetmanshoop, Namibia. Factfile: The quiver tree can live 100-200 years but only starts flowering at 20-30 years and has bright yellow flowers in winter. It is well adapted to hot, dry climates but coming under increasing threat from climate change.
‘Yes, there on the grass, in the shade of the withaak, the leopard and I lay down together. The leopard lay half curled up, like a dog, and whenever I tried to move away, he grunted. I am sure that in the whole history of the Groot Marico there have never been two stranger companions engaged in the thankless task of looking for strayed cattle.’ Herman Charles Bosman, In the Withaak’s Shade
8. Oom Schalk’s tree When Herman Charles Bosman’s character, Oom Schalk Lourens, lay down to rest in the shade of a withaak (white thorn) tree while supposedly looking for lost cattle, he imagined the tip of his boot was a hill called Abjaterskop. Before long a leopard appeared on the hill and started sniffing his feet. Its breath swept over his face in hot gasps as he lay paralysed with fear. Then the leopard turned and lay down next to him half curled up like a dog. Bosman’s deceptively simple satire brings alive the scenes and characters of the hardcore bushveld and mampoer country of the Groot Marico. Sadly, this story from Mafeking Road ends with a red splash on the leopard’s breast from a Mauser bullet.
Where: North of Groot-Marico town, North West. Visit the Bosman literary festival each October at the Bosman Living Museum in Groot-Marico, a replica of the school where Bosman taught in the 1920s. Factfile: The long thorns are whitish or bluish in colour, giving rise to the dual names of withaak (Afrikaans for white thorn) and blue thorn/blouhaak. White spiky flowers appear from August to October.
9. The manhood tree The most noticeable thing about the sausage tree is its sausage-shaped fruit, which can grow as long as your arm and weigh up to 10kg. ‘In some parts of Africa, people use the fruits to enlarge their manhood,’ says safari guide Livingstone Sana. ‘With the instruction of a traditional healer, a boy climbs up the tree and chooses a young fruit. He cuts a round hole in it to mark his size then leaves the fruit to grow. When it gets to the right size he climbs the tree again and cuts the fruit down without touching it so that it doesn’t continue growing too big.’
Where: Just north of Little Makolololo Camp, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Factfile: The flowers, which open at night, have an unpleasant smell that attracts bats to pollinate them.
10. The tree of life The marula is called the tree of life for its many uses from food to medicine. ‘It’s a photographer’s best friend in summer when leopards climb it for shade,’ says Londolozi ranger Alistair Smith. ‘The growth structure provides comfortable platforms for them to rest. Other animals almost guaranteed to be near a summer-fruiting marula are elephants. Once they’ve eaten the fruit off the ground they often shake the tree so more crashes down.’ He adds, ‘Male and female parts are on different trees so Shangaan people believe a pregnant woman who wants a daughter should drink tea made from the bark of a female tree; for a son, she drinks tea made from the male tree.’
Where: Londolozi in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Mpumalanga. Factfile: The green African moon moth breeds on the tree. The fruit is made into beer and the ever-popular Amarula liqueur. That the fruit makes elephants drunk is a myth.
Note: This article first appeared in British Airways’ High Life magazine with wonderful watercolour illustrations by Hazel Buchan.
By Roxanne Reid Imagine the foresight it must take to see a bare patch of Karoo veld and dream up a fully fledged village and health spa in the middle of nowhere. This is what happened when Scottish railwayman James Logan founded Matjiesfontein in South Africa back in 1884. Discover why to visit Lord Milner Hotel and Matjiesfontein in the Karoo.
Imagine too the tenacity of Logan going ahead with his plans to build The Lord Milner Hotel in 1899, in the early stages of the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902. Before long some 10 000 British troops were camping around the village and the Matjiesfontein hotel was taken over as a military hospital, the turret as a lookout.
The facade of the Lord Milner Hotel
Once the war was over, the town and hotel were restored to their intended purpose as hotel and health spa while the concession at the station did a roaring trade supplying steam trains with water and passengers with refreshments. People who flocked to Matjiesfontein for its curative clean air in those early days included the likes of writer and feminist Olive Schreiner, Winston Churchill’s father Randolph, colonial empire builder Cecil John Rhodes and writer Rudyard Kipling.
That Matjiesfontein today is a time capsule of the Victorian era is thanks to another visionary who came along almost a century later. Hotelier David Rawdon did such a good job of restoring the hotel and town to their former glory that Matjiesfontein was declared a National Monument in 1975.
Old fashioned fuel pumps and broekie lace on the main road
There’s an ageless tranquillity here that’s hard to find in the fast-paced modern world. There’s little traffic so you can wander the streets in peace, admire old buildings and outdated petrol pumps on the side of the road, follow a puff of dust and see where it takes you.
The Laird's Arms pub
When the Blue Train or Rovos Rail stops at the Victorian station, visitors pour out like ants to visit the Matjiesfontein museum and the hotel, to admire the buildings in a time warp. It’s a frenetic time with lots of foot traffic and clicking of cameras, but things settle down when the whistle blows and the train moves away again on its trans-Karoo journey.
Then it’s time for those left behind to take tea in one of the hotel’s lounges or order a drink in the pub, to go for a walk across the veld or, later in the afternoon, to watch the sunset and the first glimmerings of what will be a spectacular night sky here in the dry Karoo.
Relax. Breathe in the clean Karoo air. Surrender yourself to be restored and revitalised so you can face a return to city life with equanimity.
Matjiesfontein train on its trans-Karoo journey
Things to do in Matjiesfontein 1. Download the free Matjiesfontein VoiceMap app (Apple and Android) as a guide to walk you around the village, point out some of the old buildings and fill you in on the little village’s intriguing history.
2. Take a trip on the old London double-decker red bus. At 18:00 each day except Sunday it takes visitors on a short tour of the village, picking out some of the landmarks like the house where Olive Schreiner stayed and the field where England and South Africa played the first friendly cricket match (James Logan was a great cricket fan). Finish your whistle-stop tour at the Laird’s Arms (see point 5) next to the hotel in time for a drink before dinner.
Old carts and a London red bus outside the station
3. Delve into the past in the Matjiesfonteinmuseum – all three of them. The Transport Museum has a collection of vintage cars from the 1930s to 1960s, old bikes and train carriages. The Railway Museum on the station platform has a station master’s office dating back to the 1890s and the original signal room.
Wouldn't you love these see these gents out on the road in Matjiesfontein?
Victorian furniture in one of the small, cold rooms beneath the station
By far my favourite place to get lost for an hour or two is the Marie Rawdon Museum under the station. There are vast collections of everything from kitchen utensils, old cameras and typewriters, to bedpans, dolls and war souvenirs, even a full-on pharmacy. The rooms under the station used to be a jail during the Anglo Boer War; feel the cold and damp and imagine what it must have been like for the prisoners during a Karoo winter.
Collection of bedpans and basins in the museum
Museum collections include cobbler's equipment and woodworking tools
The apothecary, or pharmacy, in Matjiesfontein museum
4. Walk around the village with your camera to capture memories of the restored old buildings. See the house where Olive Schreiner stayed in attempt to cure her asthma in the dry Karoo air, the old post office (now a gift shop) where she used to post her letters. Admire the bank building with its original teller’s counter and banking equipment intact, the pink church that used to be a concert hall and school until the 1960s.
The old post office
The yellow courthouse and jail would have been known to Boer hero Gideon Scheepers who spent time in the Matjiesfontein jail before he was tried for treason in Graaff-Reinet and executed by firing squad in 1902.
Matjiesfontein court house and jail
Visit Logan’s General Store (now a coffee shop) and see the flourmill and mineral waterworks where Logan produced lemonade and ginger beer to sell to travellers. A windmill harnessed the Karoo winds to generate electricity – a South African first – and power the mill. There’s a rather nice collection of succulents in the garden today.
Matjiesfontein General Store, now a coffee shop
5. Spend some time in the Laird’s Arms to soak up its saloon-like ambience. A local character, Johnny, plays rousing honky-tonk tunes in the evenings while you order a drink at the polished wooden bar with its shiny brass taps. It’s a wonderful place to imagine what the atmosphere in Matjiesfontein must have been like more than a hundred years ago. If you’re here at lunch time, order a pub lunch.
Johnny at the piano in the Laird's Arms
Atmospheric dark wood and brass in the Laird's Arms pub
6.Explore the hotel, its grand staircase and reception rooms for a feel of what those who came here for their health at the turn of the 20th century would have experienced. Take a seat here or there to fully appreciate the moment.
The grand staircase in the hotel's lobby
One of the sitting rooms at the Lord Milner Hotel
I love the sitting room at the back where the piano is; last time we visited a young couple was enjoying a cup of tea, retreating into the coolness from a stinking hot day outside.
The music room, with its piano and harp
7. Ask the staff about the ghosts that are said to haunt the hotel. On our very first visit we heard about a woman in white who is sometimes seen near the tower. On our most recent visit, we commented on the strange eyes of the blonde-haired child in a painting in the Marie Rawdon Museum. The chap in the museum told us that a visitor had recently taken a photo of it with her cell phone, another with her daughter’s camera. Then she screamed and came scuttling out as if the hounds of hell were at her heels. Turned out the cell phone pic was fine, but in the other there was a shadow over the child’s shoulder as if someone was standing behind her. A Matjiesfontein ghost? Who can tell?
Painting of the girl who may have a Matjiesfontein ghost over her shoulder
8. Explore the gardens behind the hotel to appreciate how they survive in the Karoo extremes of really hot summers and really cold winters. If you go far enough you’ll discover the swimming pool, where residents can relax on a lounger with a good book.
Rooms set in green gardens
9. Duck into the tiny traveller’s chapel along the river behind the hotel to imagine how perfect it would be for an intimate wedding. Take a moment to appreciate the serenity and listen to the sounds of the tinkling fountain outside. The building’s original use was far less unruffled; it used to house gas-generating equipment to light the town.
Traveller's chapel, Matjiesfontein
10. See David Rawdon’s house where he died in 2010. It’s the last cottage down the side road where the pink church is. Someone told us he ordered champagne the night he died and the bottle and glass have been left untouched. Someone else told us it was whisky so – as with all good legends – the stories are already getting jumbled.
11. Enjoy dinner in the Victorian-style dining room with its dark antique furniture and heavy drapes. The food is of the traditional Karoo variety, with bobotie, lamb shank and malva pudding making an appearance. Service is friendly but slow when the dining room is full, so try to relax and downshift to Karoo time.
Things to do in Matjiesfontein: take a walk on the Karoo veld
12. Go for a walk in the Karoo veld, to feel the ‘sense of wild exhilaration and freedom’ that Olive Schreiner so loved. There used to be a British encampment with 10 000 men and 20 000 horses here in about 1900, so you might even pick up a relic from those days.
The hotel at night
Matjiesfontein accommodation When it comes to your Matjiesfontein accommodation, you get a choice between suites or rooms in the hotel, historic cottages in the village, or the lower priced Matjies Motel for more budget conscious travellers. I’ve stayed in a cottage in the village, the main hotel (which I love for its classic style) and the Riverbank Rooms at the motel. The latter aren’t as posh as the hotel but still perfectly comfortable at a lower price, with the bonus of a parking spot close to your door.
By Roxanne Reid Which are the best African safari holidays? If you’re mad about wildlife and safari, chances are that these 7 parks everyone should visit are on your wish list. They span 7 countries in southern and East Africa. I’ll tell you what to expect, the best time to visit, other things you can do there, and some of the ins and outs to be aware of when planning your safari.
It’s impossible to compare one park or reserve to another so I haven’t ranked them, but presented them in a logical order from south to north. Just because Kruger is listed first doesn’t mean it offers a better safari experience than the Mara, which is listed last. Each of the 7 offers something a little different and each deserves a visit on its own terms.
Kruger National Park, South Africa A Kruger National Park safari is a must. This is South Africa’s most well known park, about 500-600km from Johannesburg, depending on whether you enter from the south or the north (or a 50min flight away). It’s high on anyone’s list of the best place for safari in Africa because of its astonishing diversity – 147 mammal species, 507 bird, 336 tree, 49 fish, 34 amphibian and 114 reptile species. Apart from the Big Five, which account for much of Kruger’s popularity, other animals to look for include hippo, crocodile, cheetah, hyena, wild dog and sable antelope. Stop near a waterhole and be patient – you’ll be amazed by how much you can experience. You may see all of the Big Five on a single morning’s game drive, but don’t forget to appreciate the smaller creatures too, to look among the brush for mongoose and into trees for an elusive owl having a snooze.
Elephants drinking in northern Kruger
Best time to visit Kruger National Park The dry season (May to October) is the best time to visit Kruger. May to August is cooler, but October can reach more than 30 degrees Celsius. Birders will enjoy September and October because that’s when the migrants return. I personally avoid December to March, which are very hot and can be wet, with flooding washing roads and bridges away from time to time.
Things to do at Kruger
There’s a wealth of things to do in Kruger, from self drives to guided game drives and night drives which are a great way to improve your chances of spotting nocturnal species like leopard, hyena, serval and porcupine.
Guided bush walks, backpacking trails and three-day wilderness hikes are perfect for immersing yourself in nature and experiencing it with all your senses. They’re usually more about tracks, small creatures and plants than big game, but you may get to watch big game like elephants and rhino at close quarters too.
For something different, sign up for a self-drive 4x4 trail or go the full hog with a multi-day camping-out eco-trail through the bush with a guide.
There’s a number of rock art and cultural heritage sites you can visit too, like Masorini and Thulamela.
Spotted hyena cubs in the early morning light
Ins and outs
Kruger can get very crowded, with many vehicles swarming a sighting. Visit the south and central Kruger to see the Big Five but expect a crush of vehicles that can result in gridlock; go north for a sense of wilderness and the joy of not having to share your sighting with too many other vehicles.
Kruger offers a huge range of accommodation options, from exclusive but expensive luxury lodges to mid-range self-catering camps and budget camping stays. There are restaurants in many of the larger tourist camps for lazy days when you don’t want to cook.
Given its excellent road network, Kruger is one of the easiest parks to self-drive, even without a 4x4; just get a good map and GPS with accurate software.
There are pleasant picnic spots dotted around the park where you may get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs, go to the loo or have a prepacked meal. You can even hire a gas cooker to cook your eggs and bacon.
Daily conservation fees per person in 2019 are between ZAR93 (for locals), ZAR186 (±US$13) for SADC visitors and ZAR372 (±US$26) for international visitors, according to the exchange rate. Depending on how long you plan to stay, it may be worth getting a Wild Card, which means you don’t have to pay entry/conservation fees.
Remember that Kruger is a high-risk malaria area. Even though the risk is lower in the dry season, consult your doctor or travel clinic before your visit.
Etosha National Park, Namibia Etosha National Park, about 500km north of Namibia’s capital of Windhoek, is one of the best places to see wildlife in Southern Africa. Although you won’t find hippo, buffalo, crocodile or wild dog, expect good sightings of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra and antelope from eland to the tiny dik-dik. The landscape is very open so you can see a long way and don’t have to struggle to photograph animals through thick bush. In the dry season, animals come regularly to a small army of waterholes, which are good places to sit and be patient. Olifantsrus (campers only), Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni camps each have their own waterhole too, so your game viewing doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down and camp gates close.
A clutter of different species at Nebrownii waterhole in Etosha
Best time to visit Etosha The dry season (June to September) is the best time for an Etosha National Park safari. Summers (October to February) are very hot, with average temperatures well over 30 degrees C. Winter days (May to July) are sunny and warm in northern Namibia, though it may get cold overnight. July and August are very busy in Etosha, with many European tourists choosing to visit during these months.
Things to do at Etosha
The best things to do in Etosha are game drives and waiting at waterholes, but spend some time at the in-camp waterholes too, especially at Okaukuejo and Halali’s Moringa waterhole.
The park offers guided drives. My choice would be a sunset drive, which combines some time out in the park after dark for a chance to see nocturnal species. This is special because you’re not allowed to self-drive in the park before sunrise or after sunset.
For something completely different, visit Etosha Safari Camp to experience the shebeen with its energetic township vibe. You’ll find it 10km south of Anderson Gate near Okaukuejo. You can camp or stay in chalets there too if you want to avoid the very busy Okaukuejo camp.
Watching elephants at Moringa waterhole at Halali camp
Ins and outs
The rest camps and campsite ablutions were refurbished in 2007 for Etosha’s centenary and haven’t had much attention beyond basic maintenance since then, so they’re a little tired.
Don’t expect wonderful food or service in the restaurants, even though they’re pricey; the better option is to self-cater if you can. You can restock with basics at the shops in the main camps of Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni.
Daily conservation fees per person in 2019 are N$30 for locals, N$60 (±US$4) for SADC visitors and N$80 (±US$5.50) for international visitors, plus N$10 per vehicle.
Etosha’s fairly simple road network means it’s one of the easiest parks to self-drive; you don’t even need a 4x4 in the dry season. Some of the road markers are a bit faded so make sure you have a proper map as well. You can buy these at the shops in the main camps.
There are a few places where you may get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs, go to the loo or have your sandwiches, although they’re not very well maintained. I prefer to eat in the car at a waterhole, when you still have a chance to see wildlife.
Although the risk of malaria is lower in the dry season, consult your doctor or travel clinic before your visit.
Okavango Delta, Botswana The Okavango Delta in landlocked Botswana offers one of the most diverse safaris in Africa. Covering between 6 000 and 15 000 square kilometres, this montage of islands, water channels, floodplains, swamps and game tracks owes its existence to the Okavango (Kavango) River that flows from the highlands of Angola. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of few inland deltas in the world. The variety and quantity of wildlife here is a draw card. You have a chance to see some 160 mammals – from elephant, lion, leopard, wild dog, cheetah, hyena, buffalo, hippo, croc, giraffe and zebra to antelope specials like sable, roan, sitatunga and red lechwe. Birding is also excellent with some 500 species, including African fish-eagle, Pel’s fishing-owl and numerous bee-eaters and kingfishers.
Elephants in the Delta as seen from the air as you fly in to one of the private camps
Best time to visit Okavango Delta The best time for wildlife sightings on a Okavango Delta Botswana safari is from July till October, when temperatures are moderate and the Delta is flooded. April, May and June are a little less busy with visitors though sightings are still good. December to February are hot, wet months.
Things to do in the Okavango
Depending on water levels and camp location, you may be able to game drive here, or your activities might be mainly boat-based. Either way, don’t miss poling along the waterways in a mokoro (dug-out canoe) to slink quietly up to birds, frogs and other animals.
Bush walking with a guide is a wonderful way to connect with nature and see small things up close. Note that walking isn’t allowed in a national park like Moremi, but is allowed on private concessions in the Delta, though it may be seasonal depending on water levels and the length of the grass.
For the ultimate close-to-nature indulgence, book a night at a camp that offers a romantic sleep-out on a star bed platform. Wilderness Safaris has a few of them.
Whatever you do, don't miss spending time on the waterways in a mokoro
Ins and outs
Botswana’s high-value, low-impact tourism model is both good and bad for visitors; it keeps a lid on the number of tourists but it also means that the Delta is an expensive destination, filled largely with luxury private concessions that offer exclusive safaris, with the added cost of flying in over the Delta on a charter plane.
You can enjoy a budget safari in Moremi Game Reserve on the edge of the Delta, where you can self-drive and camp if you have a 4x4 and strong skills in driving in deep sand in the dry season and mud in the wet season.
Daily conservation fees at Moremi in 2019 are BWP120 per person and BWP50 per vehicle (±US$11 and US$4.60 respectively). If you’re staying at a private luxury camp in the Delta, your park fees will often be included in the price of your accommodation.
Malaria occurs in the Okavango, although the risk is lower from June to September. Consult your doctor or travel clinic before your visit.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe A good choice for a Zimbabwe safari is Hwange National Park. It’s the country’s largest park at some 14 650 square kilometres, or half the size of Belgium. It’s best known for its high density of elephants. Its mix of different veld types makes for game viewing all year round. There are more than 100 species of mammals including the Big Five (though rhino numbers are small and they’re less easy to see because they prefer thick vegetation). There are also hippo, hyena, cheetah, wild dog, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and antelope like sable, eland and kudu. Birders will enjoy nearly 400 bird species, especially raptors. Wildlife relies on pumped waterholes, which are superb places to see game, especially elephant and buffalo. Originally run by diesel generator pumps, they became known as the heart-beat of Hwange. In recent years many have been converted to solar pumps.
Photo by Wilderness Safaris, which has three private camps in Hwange
Best time to visit Hwange The dry season (July to October) is the best time to visit Hwange. This is generally when wildlife congregates in larger quantities around the artificial waterholes to drink. Low season is January to May, when accommodation is cheaper but some of the camps close. Birders will want to visit from October to March when the summer migrants swell the number of species they can spot (like southern carmine bee-eater, for instance). For photographers, the months December to March provide contrasts between dark cloudy skies and lush green vegetation. Just be aware that in these months humidity and day-time temperatures are high.
Things to do at Hwange
As with all parks and reserves on this list, game driving will be the hallmark of your experience. But spend time at some of the raised viewing platforms or sunken hides at waterholes for a change of pace.
If you stay at a camp on a private concession on the edge of the park, you will be able to do night drives to spot elusive nocturnal species.
You can also do early morning bush walks on private concessions, a chance to see, hear and smell things you’d miss in a vehicle and to learn from excellent Zimbabwean guides how to interpret tracks and signs.
The Elephant Express, a converted railcar operated by Imvelo Safari Lodges, is a different way to see wildlife on the open plains and in forest woodlands.
Horseback safaris have become popular, with two operators now working in and around the park.
If you have an interest in culture, arrange to visit a local village to learn about the community.
Daily conservation fees in 2019 are US$5 per person per day for locals, US$8 for SADC visitors and US$20 for foreigners.
There’s Hwange accommodation for all budgets, from camping and basic huts provided by Zimparks to luxury camps on private concessions. Although the latter are expensive (but with low-season discounts), they make for a wonderful personal safari with excellent guides and delicious food, and often come with a hide and a waterhole at the camp.
You can self-drive and self-cater in Hwange but be aware that Zimparks facilities at Main Camp, Robins Camp and Sinamatella are run down and very basic. Bring everything you need with you, including drinking water. To be safe, I’d recommend a 4x4 for self-driving here, especially in the wet season.
Guided drives are in open safari vehicles.
There are a few places in the national park where you may get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs or enjoy some coffee from your thermos or a packed meal.
Hwange is a high-risk malaria area, especially from October to May. Consult your doctor or travel clinic before your visit.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia The particular appeal of the 9059 square kilometre South Luangwa National Park is its unhurried, uncrowded wilderness atmosphere with a high concentration of game. On this Zambia safari you can expect dry woodland, mopaneveld, and lush riverine vegetation along the Luangwa River with its oxbow lakes. There are 60 mammal species in the park, including elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and wild dog. You’ll also see hippo, croc, puku and waterbuck along the river, and there are a few special endemic species to watch out for, like Thornicroft’s giraffe, Cookson’s wildebeest andCrawshay’s zebra. Birding is good, with over 400 species, including nearly 40 raptor species and lots of water birds like African fish-eagle, openbill and saddlebill storks, and kingfishers.
You have an excellent chance of spotting leopard at South Luangwa National Park
Best time to visit South Luangwa The best time for a South Luangwa safari is the dry season from June to October. The best time for birding is from September/October, when summer migrants start to swell the numbers. November, April and May are shoulder season, when you’ll still have good sightings but can snatch some good bargains on your accommodation, although some remote bush camps close. December to March is low season, when temperatures are high, some roads are inaccessible, most of the rain falls and many camps close. Plusses of this period are good birding, lower accommodation prices, fewer visitors and lots of newborn animals. However, sightings aren’t as good as in the dry season because the rains make the bush quick thick and animals don’t have to come to the river to drink. If you hate heat and humidity, you might prefer to avoid October to April.
Things to do in South Luangwa
You may spend some of your time game driving, but South Luangwa also offers some of the best walking safaris in Africa with operators like Robin Pope Safaris and Norman Carr Safaris.
Even if you’re self-driving in the park, budget for at least one guided drive to learn about some of the seasonal roads and good spots for finding game. A sunset/night drive is a good choice because self-drivers aren’t allowed in the park at night and this gives you a chance to see nocturnal species. Guided drives are in open safari vehicles.
Visit Tribal Textiles at Mfuwe village just outside the park to watch local artists make hand-painted textiles combining traditional African art with contemporary design.
A few kilometres from Mfuwe is Kawaza village, where you can learn about the culture of the local Kunda people.
Hippos lazing in the Luangwa River
Ins and outs
Daily entrance/conservation fees in 2019 are US$20 for SADC visitors and US$30 for international visitors.
Some camps close in the wet season.
There are a number of private lodges in the park, with prices from the mid range to super luxury. They offer twice daily game drives with excellent Zambian guides who know the area well.
If you’re looking for a budget camping safari, book at one of the campsites in the Game Management Area (GMA) bordering the park; they’re obviously cheaper than staying in lodges inside the park but there are no fences between the park and the GMA so you’re not cut off from the wildlife.
If you’re self-driving, you need to be fairly adventurous in a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle because many roads in the park are little more than jeep tracks; they get remade each year after flooding. Make sure you have good GPS software because you’re unlikely to get a map of the park when you enter at the gate.
I can’t remember seeing any places inside the park where you can stop to stretch your legs or enjoy a packed lunch.
South Luangwa is a high-risk malaria area, especially from October to May. Consult your doctor or travel clinic before you visit.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania The Serengeti – 14 750 square kilometres of savanna, grassland, riverine forest and woodland in northern Tanzania – is one of East Africa’s classic safari destinations. Here you’ll find the Big Five, over 500 bird species and of course the Great Migration, when around two million wildebeest and zebra migrate north from southern Tanzania to Kenya and back again. Big cat sightings are common (especially lions because of their high population density here), as are elephant and buffalo. Don’t despair if you’d rather avoid the crowds that..