About a year ago, Cilliers’ parents invited us on a two-week camping trip to and from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This park is so popular that you need to book it a full year in advance, which meant 12 months of pure childlike excitement for me!
My parents-in-law have done this 4×4 touring many times before; Cilliers grew up visiting places like Zimbabwe and Mozambique during school holidays. Those type of tours are on a much bigger and more serious scale, so this holiday was the perfect opportunity for me, the tour rookie, to be shown the ropes. Cilliers and I bought our first tent, a significant milestone in any South African marriage, and we were given a three-page list of what to pack. Our two-week itinerary included many national treasures, none of which I’ve visited before.
Our first stop was the Augrabies Falls National Park, which is an eight-hour drive from Cape Town. Here we camped for two gruellingly cold nights. And more than once we had to run after monkeys who stole food from right under our noses! However, this was all part of the fun and 100% worth it to see the incredibly impressive waterfall, canyons and rock formations formed over thousands of years. We also visited the famous Moon Rock – a big dome-shaped boulder decorated with little cracks and craters, and from here you see the beautiful landscape which stretches from horizon to horizon.
After two nights here, we packed up (in minus two degree Celsius weather) and headed for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Driving into the Kahalari Desert, on sandy roads surrounded by red dunes, I could barely sit still with excitement – we finally made it to the desert to look for Africa’s fiercest predators!
We spent just over a week in the park (we stayed at Twee Rivieren, Nossob and Mata Mata), and here days and nights seemed to melt together. In the mornings we got up early, packed our coffee and rusks (beskuit) and drove around hoping to spot the black-maned king of the Kalahari, a pack of wild dogs or maybe a leopard lazily chilling in a tree.
It seemed that driving around looking at nothing made us quite tired, so in the afternoons (back at camp) we would all resort to some form of resting. We are all avid readers, so most of the afternoons were spent reading and napping. And drinking cold gin and tonics, of course.
The nights were magical … True to South African camping tradition, we cooked on an open fire every night. The four of us, still smelling of sunscreen and enjoying a glass of wine, would gather close around the campfire, to tell stories and jokes (shoutout to my father-in-law*). For me, this was one of the highlights of the holiday … Because there, in the wilderness, blanketed by a starry sky, one became really aware of God’s beautiful creation.
Sadly, our animal sightings were few and far between. We saw many birds, springboks, blue wildebeests, gemsbok and even a brown hyena. But with over 400 lions in the park, we saw only one … Technically we saw more, but those were just the heads of a pride poking up behind a dune. The best viewing was of one male, a bit old and battered looking, laying in the middle of the road. However, that’s the deal – animal sightings are not guaranteed. That is the allure of the Kgalagadi … Life in this parched desert is still and slow, or maybe just out of reach like a mirage on a hot summers day.
From here we drove through Namibia. This was my first time in our neighbouring country, and it was as mystical and wonderful as I thought it would be. Rollings hills of red dunes stretched out like a big ocean all around us. And like a small boat, we slowly made our way over each one of them as we headed south across the country.
Our next destination was Ai-Ais Hot Springs at the Fish River Canyon. This canyon is the largest in Africa, the second largest in the world and famous for its breathtaking beauty and hiking trails (apparently the serious hikers call it The Fish). We did as little as possible, attempted a workout or two and spent enough time in the hot pools to ensure our skins were all wrinkled and creased.
From there we spent one night at the beautiful Amanzi Trails, right on the Orange River. This was our last time sleeping in our tents, which made me both happy and sad. By this point, after our time in the desert, dust was everywhere. To manually pump up our blow-up mattresses was starting to get to Cilliers, and I was quickly running out of clean clothes (my jean began to stiffen). The upside was that we’ve had almost two weeks of practice, so when we took down the tents and loaded the bakkie, we were done within 30 minutes.
We crossed the border and drove through the famous Namakwaland, a district in the North Cape that is as part of the South African heritage as koeksisters and biltong. Here lies the Flower Route, where every year around August to October, thousands of little colourful flowers sprout up in full bloom. It is goosebump-pretty and a sight to behold … Or so I hear. Of course, we saw no flowers. We drove for hours, seeing nothing but herringbone clouds drifting across the sky and casting moving shadows on the flowerless ground. However, there was that West Coast enchantment that can’t really be put into words. The land is unspoilt, wild and beautiful, and life there is simple.
Our last two nights were spent in Hondeklip Bay, a place so small that I don’t think it qualifies as a town. Here we stayed in a cute house overlooking the ocean, which felt like a five-star hotel after two weeks of camping. We passed the time by playing cards and finishing the last bit of holiday reading.
With one lion and zero flowers, our flora and fauna expectations were not necessarily met, but it was still a pretty special holiday spent with my in-laws. We headed home with happy hearts (and no clean clothes). What a privilege to live in such a beautiful country, on such a diverse continent, and to be able to make unforgettable memories with loved ones!
*My father-in-law loves telling the same jokes over and over again. And even if we’ve heard it million times before, we all still end up laughing. Whether it is at him or with him, I’m not sure. Here is one of his trusty old favourites that had me in stitches for about an hour.
Q: What is green and sits in the cupboard?
A: Last years’ hide-and-seek champion.
I will leave you with that.
Love and light,