“If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa,” declared American author John Hemingway.
And we couldn’t have agreed more!
When we took the plunge to embark upon a road trip that would take us through eight countries, covering a distance of 10,000 km within the ‘Mother Continent’ over a course of 45 days, we were not fully aware of the intense effect Africa was to have upon us. After all, this cradle full of all things splendid in nature is known to make you deeply aware of your place in the larger scheme of things.
With our 4×4 SUVs all fixed-up and branded excellently for the trip ahead, we were all set to begin our great African adventure from the pleasant coastal town of Mombasa in Kenya.
One of the most popular landmarks here is the centrally located sculpture of a pair of enormous elephant tusks in Moi Avenue. You really can’t claim to have been in Mombasa unless you have seen these, whether by foot or as you drive past them.
Kenya boasts of a sparkling coastline along the Indian Ocean which made sure we got access to some incredibly stunning beaches. Diani Beach is one among the most famous beaches in the country. With underwater sandbars and widespread palm vegetation, this beach is a must visit for everyone!
It was now time for us to drive on towards the Safari Capital, the bustling Nairobi. On our way there we made a stopover at the amazing Tsavo National Park where we spent the night at the Man Eater’s Lodge. This famous spot was featured in the hit Hollywood flick The Ghost and The Darkness. Tsavo National Park East is the much less visited side of the park and a wildlife photographer’s dream. Large elephant herds can be spotted roaming the vast scrubland plains that make up most of the terrain.
Apart from the larger [and definitely more ferocious specimens!], we also came across a couple of pretty interesting animals in this region.
Take the Dik Dik for instance; tiny, adorable antelopes native to the grasslands of eastern and southern Africa. These beautiful animals travel in pairs and if one happens to die, the other offers itself up as a sacrifice to an animal of prey like the lion or the hyena. Now, isn’t this example of true love and loyalty unlike any you have heard of before?
As we headed towards the celebrated Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya, we couldn’t help but take notice of the superb roads, the heart-warmingly vivid skies and the ever-changing landscape; all of which came together to make driving within Africa a soul-stirring experience.
Home to the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion & rhino), Maasai Mara is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa and is regarded as the crowning jewel of Kenya’s wildlife viewing zones. Apart from enjoying the glorious wildlife, spending a day in a Maasai village with the Maasai Tribe makes for a wonderful cultural experience. If you get an opportunity, do try to catch a glimpse of ‘Adumu’, a traditional jumping dance of the Maasai Tribe.
Next up on the road ahead for us was the country of Tanzania. This Swahili paradise is where you can really get up, close and personal with lions, giraffes and zebras.
Wildlife viewing in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is an awesome experience throughout the year, but certain areas offer a whole lot more at specific times in the year. The dry season (from late June to October) affords the best wildlife watching in general, with the wildebeest migration being the highlight.
If you’re travelling around this time of the year, you will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of witnessing up to thousands of wildebeest crossing the great Mara River – an event that was so dramatic and thrilling that it left us searching for words to describe it.
This incredible experience was followed by some thoroughly relaxing sailing atop a luxurious yacht, with gorgeous food and friends for company; a much-needed respite for our frayed nerves.
We drove through thick jungles, stoic mountains and also witnessed a roaring forest fire [hardly at a distance of two feet from where we were] en route to Iringa from the Tanzanian port city of Dar-es-Salaam.
The fates seemed to have decided that we live-up to the name under which we all had come together for this fantastic tour; that name being Adventures Overland!
As we exited Tanzania to make way into Malawi, what surprised us were the smooth roadways and the clean and hygienic surroundings of this tiny African nation.
Popularly known as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’, Malawi is delightfully welcoming of visitors and boasts of extremely well-mannered residents. Along with being culturally rich, it is also home to the third largest lake in Africa which makes it a lovely place to spend some quality time in.
Our arrival to Zambia, the next country on our route, coincided with the exact date six years ago when Team Adventures Overland had first set foot here. And that sure merited a celebration with loads of yummy food, great friends and flowing Gin. This was also the very first time any of us witnessed Gin & Tonic being made on tap, courtesy of a talented barman called Joseph.
With comparatively low population than its neighbouring countries, Zambia is known for its’ utter vastness and diversity. This is the land where our four-legged friends of all sizes roam about freely. We just couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted a giraffe and a couple of zebras wandering right within the premises of the hotel we were putting up in for the night, The Avani Victoria.
Zambia is also home to the absolutely stunning Victoria Falls. Known in the 1800’s by the title of ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ [The Smoke that Thunders], the ‘greatest curtain of falling water in the world’ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and situated on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
This breathtakingly beautiful natural wonder on the Zambezi River is also the world’s only waterfall with a length of over a kilometre and a height of over 100 metres. The spectacular sunset and the idyllic scene around were made even better by the breath-taking sight of elephants wandering along the riverside.
It was as perfect an end to our evening as we could have ever imagined.
Botswana via Zimbabwe
Having had our fill of exciting safaris, we were in for a treat as we entered Botswana via Zimbabwe. This is where we were offered the chance to explore the wilderness around in a private chartered flight. We flew in a Cessna 207 to visit the world’s largest inland delta, Okavango in northern Botswana.
Best viewed once skyborne, Okavango – also known as the ‘Last Eden on Earth’ – is home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammals such as the cheetah, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros and the African wild dog amongst others.
Flying at a height of 500 feet above ground level, with gorgeous scenery below us, we got to view the vast and varied landscape of the delta from an incredible aerial perspective. We even spotted a couple of lions napping! This unbelievable experience was all owing to Fly-in-Safari by Airshakawe and off course our remarkable travel enablers, Adventures Overland.
After spending three days at Maun in Botswana, we drove south via Sehitwa to Ghanzi and then via Mamuno Border Post towards Gobabis. Our final destination of the day was Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
The winding Trans Kalahari Highway (A2), which is around 1300 km long and passes through three countries – South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia – was a dream to drive on. Endless views, towering dunes and infinite sands of the Kalahari ensured this experience was registered in our memory as a unique one.
This is one drive we would highly recommend to any road trippers planning to visit this part of Africa.
Next up on our route arrived charming Swakopmund – Namibia’s largest coastal town that seduces you with its fascinating combination of sand dunes on one side and the glittering ocean on the other. Widely accepted as the adventure capital of Namibia, Swakopmund is home to sites like the Sandwich Harbour where dunes up to 100-metre-high plummet dramatically into the Atlantic Ocean. On any given day, a vibrant horde of flamingos can be seen crowding this spot which is also one of five Ramsar [wetlands conservation] sites in Namibia.
After Swakopmund, it was time for us to enjoy the sweeping beauty of the Namib Desert. Often referred to as the world’s oldest desert, this African treasure has been in existence for approximately 43 million years, having existed unchanged in its present form for the last 2 million years.
An exceptional sight to behold, the salt and clay pan of Deadvlei, Sossusvlei is an out-and-out must-visit destination owing to its towering red sand dunes [among the highest in the world!] and for the stark images of 900-year-old trees standing defiantly in the endless white stretch of it.
Sossusvlei, which translates to ‘dead-end marsh’, is where the desert meets the Tsauchab River which, when it fills up the parched pan, leads to one of the most spectacular sights in the world. You can also see plenty of animals and assorted plant life in the area that have adapted themselves to survive the extremely harsh climate herein.
“Wander often, Wonder always!” With this thought, we made a grand entrance into the 8th and final country of Africa Expedition 2019, South Africa.
The Garden Route is an approximately 200 km stretch of remarkable seascapes and makes for one of the best routes for a self-drive road trip. The shoreline is full of pristine beaches and bays, while pretty lagoons and lakes offer wonderful sights as you move inland.
One place here that definitely deserves a dekko is Oudtshoorn. One of the most visited tourist places along the Garden Route, it’s situated between the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountain Ranges. Visiting an ostrich farm is something you just have to do when in Oudtshoorn. We went on the only tractor safari on an ostrich farm at Safari Ostrich Farm. It is the first show farm in South Africa where the Kenyan Red and Zimbabwe Blue ostriches, as well as the local South African breed can be viewed.
The enormously educational and fun tour included us feeding ostriches, getting to touch and feel their feathers and eggs, and learning about the evolution of this stately bird and its significance to past cultures.
Our convoy now headed to Cape Agulhas, the awesome site where South Africa’s two oceans meet. With the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the warm blue of the Indian Ocean on the east, and a plethora of things to do and see – from the stately mountains to the mighty ocean, not to mention the impressive plant and animal life in between – Cape Agulhas proved to be a brilliant day-trip destination. Next up on our itinerary, Hermanus, ‘whale capital of the world’. Here, we found ourselves submerged in the ocean in a cage coming face to face with a shark sporting razor-sharp teeth while having only a few metallic bars. Now, that’s what real adventure is made of!
Apart from the above, we also visited other strikingly beautiful places like the Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope [both part of the Cape Peninsula] which proved to be perfect spots for some enviable photos to take back home. One of the most iconic of these was the Table Mountain, which is a flat-topped mountainous formation that overlooks the splendid city of Cape Town in South Africa.
Another activity that made us push our limits, and with the most thrilling results as well, was skydiving in Mossel Bay. Located half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, a skydiving stint at Mossel Bay is one experience that’s hard to beat when it comes to wow-factor.
Often referred to as the ‘World in One Country’, and most deservedly so, South Africa is a fabulous study in variety. It was unarguably the perfect destination for concluding our epic trip.
Africa has so much to offer and that too with a soul so pure that it really binds you in her magical spell. But the most beautiful moments in life always tend to move past swiftly and slip beyond one’s grasp, just when you want to hold onto them for as long as possible.
The time was upon us to bid goodbye to our companions of many days, but not before we shared ardent promises to meet again and get together to explore another mesmerising destination on this never-ending journey called life.