Monthly Update – February 2019
February was officially Africa month for us because we spent the whole month on that continent. We spread that time across three separate African countries, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia.
In February we finished off our Ugandan road trip, visiting a few more amazing national parks across the country. We then headed to South Africa where we almost didn’t make it out of the airport (read on for details!). But once we made it in, we fell in love with the country and got our first taste of homesickness since we left Australia.
Then in the last few days of February we began our self drive experience in Namibia, picking up our four wheel drive rental and driving off across the savannah.
The Rest and Best of Uganda
We started our Uganda tour towards the end of January, spending some time at Murchison Falls National Park. After that we headed to Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibali National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and finally Mgahinga National Park.
The highlight of our Uganda tour and the main reason for going there was to see the endangered Mountain Gorillas. You can read more about our experience here. We also did two other habituation experiences with the Chimpanzees and the Golden Monkeys. You can read more about habituation experiences and our thoughts on whether they are worth doing here.
We absolutely enjoyed our time in Uganda. It’s a beautiful country with incredible scenery, wildlife and warm, friendly people. It was a great introduction to Africa, which left us excited to see more.
South Africa We Love You (once you let us in)
We are Cindy is really good at making sure that we have all the visas we need before we enter a country. If you’re applying for a visa on arrival, your are often requited to show proof that you’re going to leave the country before your visa runs out. Cindy always has printouts of our outbound flight details to show to immigration officials.
So when we turned up at Cape Town airport, we weren’t expecting any trouble. After all we had details of our flight to Namibia in two weeks to prove that we wouldn’t be overstaying our visa. So it was a huge shock when the immigration officer insisted that we needed to show her a return ticket to Australia. Of course we didn’t have one since our round the world trip is open-ended. She sent us off to the side to buy one anyway.
Fortunately while we were frantically trying to decided which country to book our ticket home from and how we could book one that we could easily cancel, her superior came over and gave us our passports back with three month visas stamped in them. He gave us another lecture about how we needed to make sure we understood all the rules before entering a country.
It turns out that the South African department of home affairs website says that you only need to show proof of a home ticket or an onward ticket. So for what it’s worth, we were in the right (unless the website is wrong).
Anyway, once out of the airport we picked up our hire car and headed off to our AirBNB in the heart of Cape Town.
Is South Africa really that dangerous?
We’d read a lot about safety precautions to take while in South Africa, so we were pretty well prepared. Still, our AirBNB host freaked us out a bit when we met her at the apartment. She basically said that most of the streets around us weren’t safe to walk in and that we should take Uber’s everywhere.
So for the next day or so we were ultra paranoid and we fell into the trap of thinking that everyone who looked slightly dodgy was going to mug us. It turns out that it’s pretty easy to fall into that trap in Cape Town as there are lots of homeless people and a lot of people who just seem to sit around on the street curbs in groups.
The reality is somewhat different though. You do have to be street smart or you’ll run the risk of being mugged. On our township tour we met three lovely German ladies who had unfortunately been mugged the day before at knifepoint, so that sort of thing absolutely does happen. They were understandably still pretty shaken by their experience.
But mainly this just means staying clear of certain areas that are known trouble spots and not walking around in the city at night. You should also make sure that you lock your car doors when driving and don’t leave anything visible in the car when you park.
Most of the crime in South Africa is economically motivated. There is very high (30%) unemployment at the moment, so you’re more likely to get mugged for your valuables than be the victim of a random violent crime.
After a day of driving around, our paranoia rapidly evaporated and we just as rapidly started to love South Africa, warts and all.
South Africa’s Natural Beauty
South Africa has incredible scenery, especially around Cape Town. Part of the coastline reminded us of the coastline back home in Victoria which made us a little homesick. You could easily spend several weeks just driving around and enjoying the views.
Wine, Wine, Wine!
Another thing that surprised us about South Africa was the great wineries that they have. We spent a few days trying out some of the wine regions around Cape Town and the wines we tasted were world class.
But the biggest surprise was the size of the pours you were given when tasting. They were essentially full glasses of each wine! In Australia you’re lucky if you get enough wine to have a proper taste. After the first winery I was seriously regretting my decision to be the designated driver for the day.
We only did two hikes in South Africa, one in Cape Town and one on the Garden Route. But there’s plenty more hiking to do there.
In Cape Town we hiked to the top of Table Mountain. The route we took was just left of the chairlift. Although it wasn’t a long hike, we managed to choose an extremely hot day and the path was very exposed. If we did it again we’d probably take a different route that was less exposed to the elements.
On the Garden Route we did another short hike in Robberg Nature Reserve. This is a very small national park that has some wonderful coastal scenery, including a colony of seals.
Our Township Visit
Towards the end of our visit to Cape Town we took a morning tour of one of the townships near the centre of Cape Town. It was really interesting to learn about the history of South African Townships and how the residents’ living conditions are slowly improving. The highlight of the visit was when we went to the a Methodist church service, where we were treated to some wonderfully passionate gospel singing.
Driving the Garden Route
Our final week in South Africa was spent travelling along the Garden Route. We didn’t do the whole of the Garden Route but it was enough to appreciate its coastal beauty. Just like Cape Town, it also reminded us of back home.
Our Namibian Road Trip
We were pretty sad to leave South Africa behind (although we’ll be back shortly) but pretty excited to be heading to Namibia. We had two weeks of driving through the Namibian outback all planned out.
It’s only a short flight to Windhoek, the country’s capital. On the flight we had some spectacular views of the coastline around Walvis Bay where the desert sand dunes stretch all the way down to the water.
We had one night in Windhoek at a really cool guesthouse (complete with bunnies!). We picked up a four wheel drive Renault Duster on arrival which we nick named Dusty. She very quickly personified her name!
SIM Cards and the Kalahari Desert
Our first challenge was to head to the local mall to get some snacks and to find a SIM card. We managed to time that for evening peak hour which, considering that Windhoek doesn’t have a huge population, was super busy. It seemed that everyone in the city wanted to do their shopping at the same centre, which was odd since it was a Monday. Still we made it back to the guesthouse alive.
Our first stop on our road trip was the Kalahari Desert. It was certainly a strange experience to punch our destination into the car’s navigation system and have it tell us to head straight for 250 kilometres before turning again. Yes, Namibia has a lot of very straight roads!
Along the way we were treated to some beautiful savannah scenery that reminded us a lot of the Australian outback. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife to see along the way, apart from a few cows, horses, a handful of springbok and some cheeky baboons hanging around a picnic spot.
Our First Self-drive Safari
Almost all of this first day was on lovely sealed roads, which made driving very easy. Before arriving at the lodge we made a detour to the Hardap Dam Game Park to do our first ever self drive safari.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a heap of wildlife on display. It probably didn’t help that we were doing it in the middle of the day either. During the first half of the drive we saw only a handful of springbok and quite a few dead zebras and hartebeest.
We fared better in the second half. We spotted a few Ostriches, more Springbok, what we think was a Black Backed Jackal and a couple of Oryx. It was quite a lot of fun anyway and in over 50 kms of game driving we didn’t see anyone else. Namibia is pretty empty!
The red dunes of the Kalahari desert
After checking into our lodge, we took an evening sundowner safari out into the desert where we were a lot more successful at seeing some wildlife. We saw some living zebras, wildebeest, more ostriches, hartebeest and a rarely sited African desert cat.
At the end of the safari our guide drove us up to the top of a red sand dune to watch the colours of the desert change as the sun set. It was a spectacular way to end the day.
Off to Fish River Canyon
We spent the last two days of February at the Canon Roadhouse. The drive from the Kalahari Anib Lodge had us driving straight ahead for over 200km before transitioning to a gravel road for the last quarter of the trip. This took us by some more spectacular scenery and as you can see we were pretty much the only ones around.
The Roadhouse has some really out there decor which is pretty cool to come across literally in the middle of nowhere. From the Roadhouse we took a few short trips out to visit the nearby canyon which is the second largest after the USA’s Grand Canyon.
We also tried our hand at game driving again and spotted several groups of Onyx, zebras and Ostriches (including tiny babies!) Unfortunately all of the game in the area are very flighty and therefore very difficult to photograph.
On our second day we even tried to head to a watering hole where we’d seen zebras the day before but they beat us to it and ran off when we drove up. We tried to hide in a ditch and wait around to see if they’d return but in 39 degree heat we didn’t last very long! We quickly headed back to the Roadhouse for a couple of cold beers!
Looking forward to March
So that was our February. At then end of it we found ourself in Namibia in the middle of the desert with another week and a half of driving through the country to go. We’ll let you know how that went in next month’s update!