Does anything quite prepare you for an adventure in Africa; quite simply, nothing can. My Acacia overland adventure of Southern African began in Zambia. On arrival into Livingstone we were transferred to our accommodation on the banks of the Zambezi River a few miles upstream from the spectacular Victoria Falls. I arrived a few days before my tour was due to begin, as there are so many activities to do and sights to see here.
Our first day was spent relaxing from a long flight on the banks of the Zambezi with a “sun downer” watching the glorious sunset and serene African surroundings as the next morning we had to up early for our first adventure down the Zambezi River – white water rafting. The Zambezi River is the fourth largest river system in Africa after the Nile, Zaire and Niger Rivers – running through six countries on its journey from central Africa to the Indian Ocean. All of these claims come second to its notoriety as one of the wildest white water rafting runs in the world its long, violent grade 4 – 5 rapids and steep gradients providing a challenge for even the most enthusiastic adventurer. We went through 23 rapids in total, some of which were absolute monsters, drinking our fair share of the river on the way. The rafting came to an end but another challenge lay in store for us – climbing out of the gorge itself! After the climb we went back to our campsite where we were able to watch a film of our rafting trip, a great end to a great day’s adventure.
The next day we were off to the Victoria Falls. This world-renowned “Smoke that thunders” took my breath away – nearly a mile wide and 100 metres deep, with walking paths so near the edge you can lean over and look into the gorge itself. Coming face to face with one of nature’s most astounding sights was spell bounding; the enormity of staring at the largest curtain of water falling on earth becoming clear as the spray from the water crashing into the rocks below soaked me completely to the skin.
From the falls we decided to cross the Livingstone Bridge and spend the rest of the day in Zimbabwe checking out Victoria Falls town. A place that was very different to Livingstone as we found the people a little pushier but the shopping was great. The market place was a hive of activity and not one for the faint hearted, however, if you have the time, patience, willpower and a friendly smile for your newly made ‘friends’ there are many bargains to be had. After collecting a number of souvenirs we were off to the ‘Boma’ for dinner. A traditional Boma dinner certainly gives flavour to this living, breathing continent – a combination of crocodile, kudu and warthog making for an indulgent and unique culinary feast; and traditional dancers and drums providing an atmospheric ambience before heading back to Zambia.
We were up early again the next morning to tackle the gorge swing. Often put forward as an alternative to those who can’t face the bungee jump, gorge swinging is a no less death-defying feat. The gorge swing has a longer freefall than the bungee, but the scare is lessened by being attached around your upper body rather than dangling by your feet – a little comfort and peace of mind before jumping off into the abyss. My mate and I decided that we would jump tandem; thinking that if we went together it would be less scary! However our combined weight made us swing further and travel nearly 180 miles an hour – more adrenaline pumping and scarier than if we did it alone!
Africa certainly holds attractions for those who desire an adventure rush, yet it’s still the traditional safari experience that draws travellers in their hordes, and we were no different. The next day we travelled overland, a short distance to Botswana for our first wildlife encounter. Chobe National Park, has one of the greatest concentrations of elephants in the African continent (the current count is estimated at over 120,000), as well as many other species of wildlife including hippos, baboons, hyenas, lion, leopard, antelope of all kinds of varied birdlife including, the Pied Kingfisher, Fish Eagle and the Saddle Billed Stork. But it’s not simply the abundant wildlife, which makes the park worth visiting as the beauty and splendour of the area also make this a worthwhile trip. The amazing variety of habitats, which range from floodplains, through woodlands of baobab, mopane and acacia trees, to verdant grasslands and thickets bordering the Chobe River all combine to give a real essence of Africa. However, the highlight of the safari had to be the afternoon ‘Fish Eagle’ boat cruise on the Chobe River where we watched a herd of elephants wrestling in the water, with hippo and crocodile trying their best to avoid the melee – simply astonishing! To see these huge beasts perform ballet type maneuvers while the rivers water is supporting their weight is incredible.
From here we headed to the dusty outback town of Maun, the gateway to Okavango Delta. We took a light craft flight over the delta to get a truly birds eye view of the lagoons, cannels and reed covered islands, which stretch for 1000’s of square kilometers – actually up to 16, 000 square kilometres! The next day our excursion into the Okavango itself passed through villages of local tribal people, before we climbed into a traditional dug out canoe (known as a ‘makoro’). We were poled through the reed-covered islands, a labyrinth of wetland channels by a local guide, or more exotic gondolier, before reaching the wilderness camp deep in the swaying grasses of the Okavango Delta. Camping is a key aspect of Acacia’s tours allowing access to more remote and secluded places and on reaching this particular site there was a chance to relax, dipping into the cool and refreshing waters shared by the crocodile. A natural swimming pool with an aura of peace and tranquility that comes second to none for those who want to delve into the heart of Africa itself.
The best part of the island camping in the delta was seeing the wildlife close up, especially at night as we could hear all sorts of noises close to our tents! The upside to this was the following morning when we ventured out on foot for a walking safari to track animals that came close to camp that night. There is nothing more exciting and exhilarating than a walking safari with nothing but the experience of our guide between us and the possibility of danger. We got close and personal with a buffalo and on the way back to our camp we crossed paths with the ever-graceful giraffe. Simply amazing!
Back on the road trip across Botswana we had a great opportunity to meet the Kalahari Bushman. The bushman, hunter-gatherers, are thought to be the descendents of the first inhabitants of South Africa, with records dating back 30,000 years. The harsh conditions which the bushman contend with have been amplified by the encroachment of modern civilization with its huge cities, large farms, and grazing cattle – many of the bushman being driven off their native lands to make room for mining and farming operations. However, there is some hope in tourism, with the industry providing economic assistance through tours such as those provided by Acacia ensuring the tribe keep their land, preserve their culture and continue their historical survival.
We left Botswana and crossed into Namibia – our first port of call being, Etosha National Park. Covering an area of 22,270 square kilometres, the park is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish. Its name stems from the massive mineral pan that dominates the area, ‘Etosha’ meaning ‘great white place’. Immediately after we passed through the gates we were greeted by a pride of lions. What a way to start a game drive! We spent two nights camping in the park and on our safari during the day we were lucky enough to see elephants, leopards, rhinos, giraffes, springboks and a multitude of other animals and birds. The highlight however, was watching four lionesses stalk their pray for over two hours before taking a young gemsbok. Once the lionesses made their kill two large male lions and four bouncing cubs came out to feed – another incredible sighting! Our campsites in the park were more like mini resorts with full bar, restaurant and swimming pool facilities available. However the best part was the flood lit waterholes that came to light after dark to illuminate animals such as elephant and rhino that came to the waters edge to drink.
Next we headed to Swakopmund, Namibia’s only seaside resort where there is the opportunity to combine relaxation with adventurous pursuits, but it’s the beauty of the destination itself, which adds to the experience. The day we arrived we all went out on the quad bikes into the desert to watch the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean from the top of a massive sand dune. The next morning I was up early and ready to start a full day of exciting activities. I started with sandboarding – don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s like snowboarding – it’s not! Once I had eaten a few mouthfuls of sand I was off to go tandem sky diving. A training, safety briefing and equipment check followed – then we flew up to 10,000 feet and jumped. After free falling for 30 seconds we pulled the parachute out and coasted down through the skies watching the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the massive sand dunes of Namibia on the other. This was my first jump I made and I’m now ready to do a hundred more! On our return the rest of the group greeted us with a traditional Brai – South African bar-b-que. Another delicious meal on a tour where we ate like kings and queens – the food was never short of delicious throughout!
Leaving the coast we traveled South and inland to the Namib Naukluft National Park. The beauty of Namibia‘s dunes was unveiled on desert walks – a slower paced activity with our guides unearthing the inhabitants of this semi-arid land. The tiniest shift of sand could lead to a spider burying in a hole, or faint tracks might provide insight on the animals of the night, out hunting for their next meal. The continually shifting sand dunes also provided pause for thought with the enormity of the fact that right where we were standing could soon be covered by ocean. However, no trip through the Sossusvlei region of the Namib-Naukuluft National Park would be complete without a dawn hike up ‘dune 45’ – one of Namibia’s highest sand dunes at around 300 metres. A sunrise vista that is definitely as dramatic as it is awe-inspiring.
Heading south the tour continued to Fish River Canyon, a spectacular wilderness area with equally astounding game viewing and the penultimate Namibian highlight before we crossed into South Africa. The second largest in world, the canyon extends for 100 miles north to south along the Orange River in Southern Namibia reaching widths of 17 miles (27 km) and depths of 1800 feet (550 m). Movements in the earths crust created the canyon, estimated to have formed around 500 million years ago: a natural catastrophe, which has led to a unique and barren landscape.
Cosmopolitan Cape Town is where my tour ended but we decided to extend our visit here to make the most of our stay in what has been described as one of the greatest cities in the world. Acacia’s optional extended city and short stay tours make this a simple and hassle free add on to any overland adventure. The famous Stellenbosch Wineries and the Cape of Good Hope are only a short distance away and the vibrant mix of bars, restaurants and art galleries are best viewed with plenty of time to spare. I am now planning my next trip to Africa with Acacia to East Africa. I hope it is as memorable as this one.
The above information was written Jody Corothers, 29, a passenger on the Acacia Adventure Holidays 19-day South West Safari. The tour costs NZ$1325 (no single supplement) with twice-monthly departures, year round. The price includes transport, road tolls and taxes, camping and cooking equipment, most meals and services of tour leader and driver. Return international flight, local payment excursions, visas, departure taxes and transfers are excluded. Tour SWS19 should be quoted on booking.