Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Southern Swing

After a comfortable night back at the Tamboti Guesthouse, where we stayed on our first few nights in Windhoek, we were once again off on safari, this time doing a broad sweep of the south of Namibia. I was personally looking forward to this part of the trip as it was more focused on seeing the various extremes of landscape and features of Namiba than the animals and culture. The whole of this first day was spent in a tedious drive southward, but when you consider that Namibia is 4x the size of the UK, an extended period of travel was to be expected. The good news was that for this part of the safari there were only another 4 other guests accompanying us, in comparison to the 11 fellow passengers from last week, and therefore it would be a more comfortable affair. After over 6 hours of travelling we arrived at our campsite after sunset, with a bone chilling wind blowing in from the south. This was to be our coldest night under canvas.

We awoke early the next morning to a bright sunny morning that seemed no warmer than the night before, but the wind that had woken us during the night was dropping, so we hoped for a warmer day ahead. Our campsite was adjacent to the Quiver Tree Forest heritage site which we had not seen in the dark of the previous evening, but was startlingly obvious in the daylight. The Quiver Tree, so named because the local San tribesmen used the hollowed out limbs of the trees as a quiver for their arrows, is a peculiar type of Aloe that only grows in Namibia and small pockets of northern South Africa, and this site represented the highest concentration of Quiver trees in the world. They were odd looking trees in a surreal kind of way, growing out of the rocky boulders that were strewn across the landscape, casting weird shapes and shadows in the early morning light.

Next we had a wander through impressive rock formations of what was called the Giants Playground, on account of the fact that the rocks looked like they had been stacked purposely by benevolent giants. It was cold enough to make us wear hats, scarves and warm jackets and we were glad to hop on to the truck and carry on our journey south.

We were heading now towards one of what Fiona & I considered the highlights of this part of our trip, the Fish River Canyon, a massive gash in the arid Namib Desert over 100kms in length and 550m deep. This canyon was up until recently thought to be the 2nd largest in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the USA, and is still ranked 3rd after a newly discovered canyon in Ethiopia. As you approach over the barren wastes there is little warning that the canyon is there until you suddenly reach its edge, where you are confronted with a view of almost biblical proportions. It was a stunning site, and standing on its rim made you feel so small and insignificant, as if the slightest gust of wind might blow you in. We travelled along the rim for a couple of kms to another viewing point, and the scale of the place was no less impressive. It is possible to do a 5 day, 80km hike into the canyon, but that is only for the hardiest of explorers and we will save that adventure for another day... We doubled back and drove another few kms along the western part of the rim for even more spectacular views. The Fish River Canyon had lived up to its hype, and I was fully satisfied that we had witness one of the many wonders of Namibia that not too many get to see.

That night we stayed at a fantastic campsite situated just outside the canyon park, which had a myriad of old cars and tractors littering the place like works of art, and some of the best facilities we had encountered. This is a good point to mention that all of the many campsites we had stayed at were excellently appointed, with clean and well maintained facilities, and a lot better than any campsite that I have stayed at in New Zealand, USA or Europe. Considering we were travelling in one of the hottest, driest, and most arid places in the world, water was abundant, for the most part drinkable, and even the shower pressure acceptable in most places. I think the rest of the world could learn a lesson from Namibia and the infrastructure they provide for the tourist campers.

The campsite also had a main reception and lodge with one of the most interesting bars I have ever been in. Continuing the theme of old cars outside, the bar & restaurant area was a vast hanger of a building decked out with old cars, trucks, and tractors, some converted into fireplaces, some in to dining areas, and a huge collection of other Namibian transport memorabilia & signs. A big square bar sat in the middle of the room, serving some of the most expensive beer we have had on this trip, but considering that we were hundreds of miles from the nearest town, in the middle of a desert, we were not too upset. Plus we got to watch the last half of the Super 14 final there, and unexpected bonus.
The campsite was set amid some small hills with a number of walking tracks leading to the tops, so Fiona and I climb the nearest one to watch another beautiful African sunset, of which there seems to be one every night....

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