From coast to coast

I’ll start this post by mentioning a little from our time in Mozambique a little under a month ago, if I can remember back that far that is. Well, here goes… Our main reason for going to Tofo beach was so that I could get a bit of diving in as this is one of the world’s top dive sites and I was definitely not disappointed. Discovering the world that lies beneath the ocean waves has been one of the major highlights of my travels and the diving off Tofo beach was the highlight of that particular highlight. I dived with Tofo Scuba who I can recommend as an excellent dive charter, but enough about them and onto the diving… In a word it was amazing – most of the sites are deep going down to about 30 metres and the main draw is the the manta rays that drift gracefully into cleaning stations to get parasites and other rubbish removed by lots of smaller cleaner fish. It was quite a sight when I saw my first cleaning station, these two huge (3m across or so) manta rays circling around with a trail of little yellow fish in their wake, it was really beautiful. On a later dive a manta passed right over my head, within about 2 metres, with me just suspended in water agog as this giant creature that was so nonchalantly and gracefully drifting within such close proximity to me. And as if that was great enough most of the dives were also accompanied to the melodies of passing whales singing to one another. This was definitely the first time that I have dived and become so wholly immersed (no pun intended) in the experience. As well as the mantas I also saw many lion fish up close – they’re a personal favourite of mine, the first octopus that I’ve ever seen, a giant whiptail ray, a loggerhead turtle and quite a few massive potato bass and so much more that I shan’t even begin to bore you with. It was such an fantastic place to dive.

From Mozambique we travelled to Johannesburg to stay with my cousin Martin, his wife Joanne and their son Michael. We were so warmly welcomed and had a wonderfully restful week that even managed to encompass seeing lots of lions and a couple of giraffes at a rather lavish and somewhat surreal kids birthday party where the only type of food on the menu for the children was sweets of many lurid colours. I wouldn’t envy the parents after that party with sugar-crazed children running amok everywhere.

I think at the time some home comforts and a hassle free week (dealing with the Madagascar embassy excepted) were just what we needed and it was really great to get to know Martin & family properly.

From there we were with renewed energy to tackle the last leg of our travelling proper in Namibia. We hired a car, an old skool MK1 VW golf with a modern interior installed and duly named ‘Steve’, and set off on the long, straight road to Namibia. Along the way we stopped off for the night at a campsite that had emus and springboks running around everywhere. I found the emus rather scary, especially after what that one that Rod Hull had did to him. I just made sure that I didn’t get up on any roofs and resolved that if I did I check that the area was clear of emus first. It did give me a bit of hassle though when I was trying to get to the car from our tent – I kept getting fronted off and had to take an alternative route and hide from it for a bit. Still, when they’re not being scary they’re pretty funny creatures them emus although maybe best left to the Australian outback where there’s a lower roofs per square mile ratio.

From there the road became increasingly straighter, dustier and deserted. As if to emphasise the fact some tumble weed really did blow across the road in the front of the car! Our first stop was at fish river canyon – a pretty damn impressive canyon formed by geological activity and, less surprisingly, the fish river. Next up was the town of Luderitz, a place that looks much like a traditional German town (Namibia is an ex German colony) stuck right on a windy coast at the end of 300km of desert and wilderness. The Diaz peninsula was the real highlight here – a landscape that looked more like the moon than the Earth and that also had an abandoned Norwegian whaling station slowly turning to rusty ruin, great for some decay photographs! One of the really fantastic things about Namibia is that there are so few people so it’s possible to enjoy so many of the country’s great wildness locations as just that – it’s rare that you see another person while out and about.

Just outside Luderitz is the long abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskopp. We had a fascinating wander around all these buildings that were slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding sand dunes. I have a real thing for derelict places and was in my element here, snapping away at the decay.

Stifling dry heat aside, travelling in Namibia is almost as much fun as the places you stop and see. Most of the travelling is done on dirt roads through these amazing desert landscapes past a smattering little mountain/large hill ranges. Before visiting Namibia our impression of the desert was of a vast expanse of shifting sands, what we hadn’t appreciated was how wonderfully diverse and beautiful desert landscapes can be as we travelled through 100s of kilometres of hardy pale desert grassland, desert scrub, karoo and dunes, and all of this without another soul in sight.

From Luderitz we stopped off at the most remote wilderness spot – a farm (Namtib Biosphere Reserve) 30km from the nearest road on a campsite with nobody else on it and 3km from the farm. All around we could see nothing but hills and desert. As night drew we witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets of our travels as the dust turned the horizon a thick red once the sun had ducked out of sight. Gradually as the sunset faded the stars started to come out in force until the sky was overflowing with tiny points of light tightly packed into the expanse of sky all around us. The number of stars that you can see when there is no light pollution is really breath taking – the milky way looks like a grey slash running across the sky, always pointing to the southern cross – an ever-present star formation from our travels, one that you cannot see from the Northern hemisphere.

Next up was my original raison d’etre for wanting to visit Namibia – the shifting red dunes of Sossusvlei. I had wanted to go since seeing some amazing photos of the dunes and wanted to see and capture something similar myself. Well, I wasn’t disappointed as on our first day there we drove out to the dunes just before sunset when the low sun lights the towering dunes from just one side leaving the other side in heavy shadow and accentuating the carefully sweeping form of the dune’s ridge. It was a beautiful and majestic sight. The next morning we up before sunrise to get to the dunes for sunrise. Again, the dunes looked really beautiful in the low light and went on a few walks over and along a few dunes and saw a couple of dried up lakes – now just baked and cracked salt-whitened earth. We were glad of being up early as by 10am the temperatures has become stiflingly hot and we had to retreat back to the (overpriced and shabby) campsite to take refuge in whatever shade we could find.

I should mention now that our diet for the last week had been rather limited due to the scarcity of supermarkets (there are none, except in the big towns which we were a long, long way from). Coupled with the cooking facilities being just a braai (BBQ) at every campsite all we ate was braaied boerwors sausage sandwiches for dinner and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Fortunately the sausage was very nice and readily available at every campsite and I had lots of fun perfecting my fire making technique every night.

Next up we visited the nearby Namib Naukluft national park that had far better camping facilities, friendlier staff and was reasonably priced. We spent a couple of days here and did a couple of pleasant walks totalling about 28kms through dried up river beds, down steep sided gorges and over hills. Back at the campsite I had to chase off the ‘very naughty’ baboon who came marauding through the campsite now again. we didn’t fancy taking a baboon damaged tent to Madagascar with us!

On our way back down to South Africa we stopped off at the ‘Quiver Tree Forest Restcamp‘ in Keetmanshoop to take a look at the quiver tree forest and Giant’s playground – bizarre piles of rocks for miles around. The real highlight of our time here though was the wild meerkats who lived on our campsite and would scamper around digging in the sandy soil here and there looking for grubs. We have both longed to see meerkats since seeing the famous wildlife on one episode “Meerkats United” and was simply awesome to be able to see them in the wild for real, and to have them so close to where we were staying was such a bonus. They were fairly tame as well and a nursery of young meerkats came right up to Viv to investigate her. The bloke who ran the campsite had a menagerie of other animals that had been rescued for various places including three cheetahs, a huge warthog and a week old springbok.

From there we had over 15 hours driving in 2 days to get back to Johannesburg where we are currently back at Martin and Joanne’s house. We both enjoyed Namibia hugely and would love to go back in the future. For pure beauty of landscapes we think that it rivals New Zealand, it really is a spectacular country.

We do have lots of pictures from Namibia but unfortunately there was no decent internet cafe to upload them so for the time being you’ll have to live with the just the words.

Only a couple of days left in South Africa now, we’re flying Madagascar on Thursday for the start of our voluntary work and currently getting very excited by it!