30 September – 2 October 2021
Nearing the end of our grand roadtrip, the drive from Palmwag to Etosha mapped at 322km. We had done enough driving in Namibia to know that the mileage meant nothing; the terrain would dictate the travel time.
Spotting 5 giraffe almost immediately upon exiting the gate at Palmwag Lodge was a clue that we were in the bush and should expect slow going.
What we did not expect was the 10km of the Grootberg Pass, with its white-knuckle narrow roads, and the car occasionally slipping and sliding on the loose gravel, nudging toward the low pile of rocks acting as a guardrail between the road and steep gorge. We were grateful to be in the big and burly Hilux – and wondered if the burnout cars commonly found along our route had proved powerless in these circumstances and just been abandoned in favour of something more suitable.
Our midway stop proved to be a fail. Fortunately for us we had had more than our fill at the Palmwag Lodge buffet breakfast because Kamanjab turned out to be a bustling petrol station and Spar; more of a rank than a one-stop.
The intersection did herald the start of 61km of glorious tar road, on which we could make up some lost time and perhaps even get in the afternoon swim that has eluded us the previous day!
There was much excitement when we spotted the first Etosha Conservancy sign and, with kind roads at our disposal, we arrived just after 15h00 at our camp, Okaukuejo.
Etosha is one giant pan, and the basin of a massive prehistoric lake that was around 300m deep in places. With scale like that to contend with and the park’s reputation as one of the greatest in the world, we had been entirely pragmatic in our choice of Etosha accommodation – chosen purely for being the shortest, easiest drive back to Windhoek for our flight home. And we had gotten very lucky.
Okaukuejo Camp’s claim to fame was a floodlit watering hole that attracted animals throughout the day and night. And our chalets were right on the edge of the watering hole, so we had swathes of animals coming right to us! This suited the agenda for our last stop perfectly: see as much as possible while doing as little as possible.
There were 4 rhino lazily wallowing in the watering hole while we unpacked our bags from the car and settled into our homes for the next two nights. They paid little attention to their onlookers, observing from the benches dotted around the rock-wall crescent that separated the human domain from the animals’.
With a giraffe silhouetted in the background and elephants entering from stage right, we knew we were in for very easy animal-spotting at Okaukuejo and could afford to take a load off with some wallowing of our own in the human swimming pool.
The Camp was compact but had everything you might need – a restaurant, a bar, a tourist office, snack shop, filling station and even a castle with spiral stairs you could climb to get a 3-storey high vantage point of miles and miles around. We took advantage of all but the filling station, revelling in being able to park the car for a solid 36-hours of downtime.
We had booked a dinner, bed and breakfast package, so the biggest task for the evening was to choose a meal from the set menu. Opting for an Oryx steak (for the third day in a row) was a great decision. Yet again juicy and tender, fast becoming a favourite that was bound to be craved and missed on our return home.
We had already seen enough wildlife at the watering hole to completely discount the need for a game drive, so there was no rush to get moving on the last day of our roadtrip-proper.
Easing into a buffet breakfast just after 9 (to meet the 09h30 cut-off) was about as pressured as the day was going to get. And even that warranted a little lie-down, after the obligatory check-in of the watering hole.
There was always something to see, with what looked like a hundred or more Springbok taking their turn, while a handful of Kudu were slowly edging in from the one side and Wildebeest trundling in from the outskirts. By the time we resurfaced, the players had again changed and a dazzle of zebra were playing swapsies on the far edge of the watering hole, with a few remaining Springbok who paced skittishly in anticipation. Ever faithful, a pair of giraffe obliged in the background to complete the (current) picture.
Our game play had been to hit the swimming pool at midday in the hopes of securing a set of loungers. A complete holiday cliche, all loungers had been spoken-for the previous afternoon, with towels and belongings claiming territory for absent persons.
Our thinking paid off and the pool area was near-deserted. Whether it was lunchtime, siesta or the crazy desert heat we head to thank didn’t matter, we got our loungers. We showed our appreciation by spending 3 long and lovely hours poolside, enjoying the day, the water and snacks from the tuckshop.
We were packed up and ready to go back to our chalet when we overheard another guest announcing excitedly that there were elephants moving towards the watering hole. We chivvied along and were rewarded with the sighting of a lifetime.
Almost on cue, as we got back to our homebase vantage point, 3 elephants came trotting in – literally trotting; I have never seen elephants move so fluidly – and entered the water on the edge closest to us. Then another 3… And a baby elephant… And a few more… And then a few more. They streamed in, a long line of all shapes and sizes, motivated to get to the watering hole and slotting in very neatly side-by-side so all could access.
There must have been 30 or more by the time the whole herd arrived. Some were drinking quietly at the edges, some splish-sploshing in the water, one was shooting water into the air from her trunk, two younger males were playfully locking tusks (until they got a stern look from a massive male).
And then, as organised as they had arrived, the leader started making tracks back into the bush, the herd restored its trail and within minutes they were gone again. I can’t recall having seen anything so mesmerising on any wildlife shows – and have seldom seen so well-executed a show as the effortless and seamless display the herd had put on for us.
Somehow our splish-splosh in the shower was less spectacular, but a necessary process to prepare for sundowners – on the chalet patio, watching some more “Watering Hole TV” – and another dinner on the terrace at the restaurant.
An early start the next day (necessitated by time constraints to get our mandatory Covid test results in time for our flight on Sunday) warranted an early night.
I happened to wake up in the middle of the night though and on the off-chance popped by head out the front door to see what was going on at the watering hole. Not much, just a mother and child set of rhino, being observed by some very diligent nature-mad humans. Good night, everyone!
29-30 September 2021
Banking on a relatively short (3 or so hour) next leg on our journey, there was time for a run along the beach and a hearty steak (Oryx), egg (scrambled) and hash potatoes (imitation of the night before) breakfast.
We pointed the car toward Henties Bay and began to drive the requisite 70km along the Skeleton Coast.
We stopped to view a shipwreck, grounded as recently as 2008; surprisingly recent given the assumption of modern nautical navigation technology as well as the dilapidated state of the rusted remains that bear testament to the brutal weather that probably drove the ship ashore in the first place.
We had little to do in Henties Bay with no sights or excursions to speak of – and not ready to eat again yet. However, it was a good opportunity to pitstop (last loo for 200km of dirt road, and we knew from firsthand experience that you never know what might happen on these treks) and stock up on roadtrip essentials (water and biltong for the drive; beers for arrival).
There was precious little to see and do on our route, so big ups to Chris for planning ahead for a lunch break in Uis, which was more or less halfway through the 420km we needed to do for the day. And was a “blink and you’ll miss it” town, at best.
Brandberg Rest Camp was modest and welcomed in equal parts; allowing a leg-stretch around the terrace and a laugh at the novelty decor (including an L-shaped pool table) while we waited for our toasted sarmies.
The second half of our drive seemed to stretch on and on, slowed as we navigated the mountains, with their narrower roads, uneven surfaces and twists and turns that we hadn’t had to negotiate on the flat, straight, endless desert roads. During our planning, we had read on several reviews that drivetimes are guesswork at best and it’s always advisable to add 1-2 hours allowance on each leg. True story!
We arrived in the Palmwag Lodge camp at around 17h30, much later than we had intended, thinking we’d arrive mid-afternoon and lounge around in the pool, to beat the heat.
Nevermind though, our glamping tents were spacious and comfortable, each with a table and benches on its private patio, and fully-kitted for self-catering, including steel wine glasses, which was all the sign we needed to open our bottle of red to accompany the sunset.
Palmwag is famous for the elephants in the surrounding area, so it was hardly surprising but still delightful when all it took for elephant-spotting was to walk into the open-air dining room for dinner!
The thatched A-frame had clearly been designed to provide for a panoramic view, with no more than a wooden bannister across the far end. The few diners already seated were watching as a herd of elephants casually made their way across the veld, with a perfect orange ball of sun setting over the silhouetted horizon behind them.
Dinner in the restaurant was a multi-course affair with wine pairings, which was beyond our current appetite so we opted for the a la carte pool bar restaurant instead. A far better fit, with wraps, burgers and melt-in-your-mouth Oryx steaks.
Thankfully, we’d already seen the elephants so there was no pressure get up early to go on a game drive, so we could lounge at the pool area after all, with a few beers and shooters to loosen up after a long day in the car.
The glamping tents offered the best night’s sleep! Equipped with anything and everything you’d expect in a hotel building (including a portable aircon), the beds were every bit as comfortable, with light duvets, warm blankets and soft pillows that worked with the dead-of-night darkness and middle-of-nowhere silence for optimal slumbering.
I was very surprised when a gardener pointed out some footprints, showing that elephants had walked through the camp the night before! They must have tip-toed for us not to hear them…
27-29 September 2021
With a spring in our step for the daily desert rise-and-shine on a work-free workday, we started the day with running a loop of our camp, down to the main gate and across and around a neighbouring camp we discovered had been hiding behind the rocky outcrop against which our chalets were nestled. Thankfully we were out early enough to benefit from the flat and dry desert course, before the sun sapped all energy and any will to move at all.
Having worked up an appetite, we were grateful for the leftovers from the braai the night before, wolfing down our Oryx, fried onion and cheese steak rolls.
We packed the truck and hit the road, with 346km – of mostly dirt road – to contend with to get us to Swakopmund.
The Namibian countryside is so vast and varied that parts of the journey seem disconnected, like you’re on a completely different road on a completely different roadtrip to the one you were on a few kilometres back (or a few kilometres forward, for that matter). Sure, a lot of the view is arid, deserty desertness… But then a massive charcoal-coloured rocky outcrop will appear, or you’ll drive through a deep gorge that must have been a raging river at some point, or tightly overlapping golden hillocks that looks like someone took to the land from above with a massive rotary beater.
Most of the journey is flat and wide dirt road, dry and compacted to allow for some speed, but rocky enough to caution against going too fast lest your tyres pay the price. The bits through the gorge can be quite harrowing though; steep and narrow, and making us grateful for the stability of our big, heavy double-cab truck with its 4×4 capability that we hoped not to need.
Arriving in town, we had little trouble finding our Airbnb accommodation since it was adjacent to a substantial landmark, the sparkling new Platz Am Meer shopping centre. In a light and bright modern complex, our fully-kitted duplex promised to serve us well for the next couple of nights.
Hungry from a long day’s travel, we dumped our bags and headed straight out. Surprisingly, the temperature had dropped radically and it was barely 20 degrees! Fortunately not windy as Luderutz had been, so perfectly manageable with a change of holiday uniform, into jeans and a hoodie.
We found a cosy garden cafe called Wurstbude, across the road from the beach and sheltered by overhead vines, and settled in for a leisurely late lunch/early dinner, with a very cosmopolitan mix of samoosas, seafood, pizza and goulash.
Although it was chilly, it was still worth a walk back across the Paddock Gardens to the Platz Am Meer, and braving a seafront terrace table for the sunset. It was good to round off the day with making plans for the rest of our stay, before heading home for movie night.
We awoke to a grey day. Not quite raining but not quite not raining, the air was thick and wet. Not great for sightseeing… But perfect for a morning run along the promenade.
With no clear intention, we ran around the beach side of the mall and past the pretty Paddock Gardens (that already had the sprinklers going).
Conveniently, there was a paved path that ran along the beach – literally, a few metres from the water, not the usual roadside pavement! – on the whole stretch between our mall and the waterfront and lighthouse on the other side of the strand. It was an easy run, at sea level and in a light mist from the cool morning. As an added bonus, our loop encompassed the local Park Run route, so another box incidentally ticked.
Juices flowing and appetite stoked, we showered and jumped in the car to go explore Walvis Bay.
The roads were good, but there was not much to see en route bar the odd sprout of a suburb on the sea side and sand, sand, sand on the inland side. We stopped for a photo opp at Dune 7, so-named (according to Google) because it is the 7th highest in the world, at around 383m. To give perspective, the Big Daddy at Sossusvlei the day before had been around 350m… Although it did look a lot bigger, probably because of the context of the setting.
There are 4×4 and quad biking excursions available at the dunes and, judging by the odd trail of footprints, some souls choose to hike up and barrel down, but we had a different agenda so kept moving to Walvis Bay.
We planned our arrival as a drive-through experience to see us to the quayside for some fresh seafood, but had to make an obligatory stop to photograph the flocks of flamingos treading gingerly in the shallow foreshore.
The modest waterfront had a handful of restaurants and shops; we chose the anchor and were soon feasting on delicious fresh battered hake and fried calamari.
We had left Ian at home, working, so made our way back once our lunch was done.
After a rest stop, Chris and I drove to the Swakopmund old Town – no more than a few kilometers away – and used an online walking tour to self-guide through the quaint little town, making note of what to show our friends when we returned as a group later.
The town is remarkable since most of the buildings date to the turn of the last century and have been maintained in pristine condition. The town has all the old-world charm of yesteryear, but look like they were painted yesterday!
Being a holiday town, there is a high concentration of pubs and restaurants. The walking tour circuit had given us a chance to see a lot of them up close – and review the menus displayed outside.
With experience on our side, the evening’s running order was a relatively simple choice: Butcher & Brewer on the waterfront for sundowners (because it housed Swakopmund craft brewery), then Fachwerk beer garden (because it was the oldest building we’d seen, 1899) for pre-dinner and lastly Brauhaus for dinner (because the internet reviews placed it as undisputed best German food restaurant in town).
It was a winning combo. We were back at the waterfront well in time to enjoy a couple of draughts while lapping up the seaside view. Then we had a fun game of giant Jenga in the Fachwerk beer garden, while the other patrons were participating in a very leisurely game of Bingo. Then the Brauhaus dazzled us with perfect schnitzels, eisbein and crunchy bratkartoflen (roast hash potatoes).
25-27 September 2021
Leaving behind lovely Luderitz, we hit the road to take us into the desert at Sossusvlei. The roads in Namibia are really well maintained – which must be no mean feat with the wind and the desert constantly trying to cover them – but also very economically distributed between landmark towns.
Consequently, we needed to retrace our route, past the Ghost Town we had passed on our way in and then visited properly the previous day, and about another 100km inland to get to the turn off to move north towards Sossusvlei.
This new route, although a main artery, was a dirt road, which slowed our progress somewhat. With the first item on the day’s itinerary being lunch at a German restaurant pitstop, Helmeringhausen, there may have been sense of humour issues had it not been for our holiday high spirits, a downloaded playlist (we had already learnt that consistent cell network is not a thing in Namibia) and the benefit of experience meaning we’d planned and packed padkos snacks.
Once again, our landscape view shifted from light sand to rocky outcrops to the sort of desert you see in the movies (dark peppercorn knobbles of shrubs on a red sand scalp) and then to the golden longer brush you expect in a game reserve back home. With a low mountain range – we suspected to be the Tirasberge – framing on all sides, the view could contend to be what Uncle Peter would call a vistarama.
We attempted the much-talked-about game of I Spy, but once we’d gone through Sand, Rock, Fence, Road, Sign, Sky and Telephone Poles, the options were pretty much to start again or quit. We chose to quit while we were ahead.
Arriving in the booming metropolis of Helmeringhausen revealed nothing more than a handful of buildings; a general dealer, a house, a post office, the hotel/curio shop/restaurant lunch stop and a 2 pump service station … Which proved usefully-timed as Chris spotted our back passenger tyre was flat as we left the restaurant.
The garage attendent popped a plug into the tyre and we were off, crisis averted.
Except it wasn’t.
About 100km later our back driver-side tyre burst. Argh!
Fortunately, the boys knew what to do and – besides a big mission to get the jack in the exact right place to hoist up the massive car – it was a relatively smooth operation to change out the dud tyre for the spare, which had been nested under the car.
We had been very fortunate to break down somewhere with cell phone signal – which had been at best erratic on all roads – so I was able to make myself useful and contact Avis to report the mishap and get instructions. The lady at the Avis call centre found a matching tyre at Maltahohe, 80km down the road (and not a whole lot off our route) and we dutifully obliged; spending a half hour in another of Namibia’s tiny towns while the tyre was replaced and the spare renested.
The detour meant that we arrived in our homebase for the next two nights much later than expected. It was after 6.30pm and we were chasing last light to get safely to our haven in the very remote and daunting terrain. We were relieved and delighted to arrive at the Desert Quiver Camp in one piece (and 5 functional tyres) as the darkness enveloped the road.
Sossusvlei and surrounds are famous for the dunes and the desert experience, which are immensely popular with international tourists and nature buffs alike. Consequently, accommodation options vary from camping to glamping to eye-wateringly priced luxury camps. We had taken our chances with the reasonably-priced chalets at Desert Quiver… And our bet had paid off.
Simple but tasteful, modern and very comfortable 2-sleeper chalets with aircon (essential!), kitchenette, braai facilities, and generously spaced for unobstructed views of the desert on all sides, with a serviced clubhouse with pub and pool, if you felt social.
After a fairly harrowing extended day on the road we declined the option to drive 4km down the road to Sossusvlei Lodge for buffet dinner, opting rather to have a sundowner at the pub and fashion a picnic dinner from our leftovers from Luderitz and our padkos supplies.
Great decision, leaving us to appreciate the great outdoors and continue with our newly-acquired amateur star-gazing hobby while Chris stole the show, whipping up fried cheesy hotdog toasties on the hotplate in our kitchenette.
Awaking to an already-warm 7am, we applauded ourselves for heeding the advice of the receptionist the previous night; she had warned us that leaving for the dunes too late could ruin the experience because of the oppressive heat.
With fruit and leftover hotdogs in the fridge, it was quick n easy to get a slap-up breakfast together and hit the road.
We were ideally placed, with the Gate to the Namib-Naukluft National Park a few kilometres down the road (just beyond the restaurant we had declined the previous night). However, once in the park it was another 60km to get to the shuttle that transports tourists around the dunes.
The shuttle drivers were very friendly, got us packed into the game drive vehicle efficiently and before you could say “so much sand”, we were trundling across dry salt pans and over the silky red sand dunes to get to the Dead Vlei valley with its graveyard of trees, unable to survive the dry saltiness of the ground in which they had been seeded.
The Big Daddy Dune arched above and was a 1 – 1.5 hour hike to complete end-to-end but, with the sand already as hot as it was, there was no incentive to commit to more than a few mid-dune pics for posterity and perspective. No regrets; it’s an awe-inspiring landscape and the magnitude and rugged beauty can be appreciated from any level!
The shuttle then took us across the plain to the smaller curved Big Momma dune, which sheltered a watering hole below. We were able to walk from the parking area where the water was little but a mirage on the horizon, and cross the caked clay to the water’s edge. The driver told us that when the floods come, the entire basin gets filled – way beyond the area where we were currently parked – demonstrating exactly how extreme the ecosystem is.
By then it was past 11am, over 35 degrees and a long time since breakfast, so we jumped back in the car, retracing our footsteps and stopping for the occasional photo as we drove back to the permit office at the Gate for lunch in the adjacent restaurant.
We got back to camp at around 1 and since we’d been admin-forward in ordering a braai kit from reception in the morning (they offered a shopping service where you select meats, veg, salads and breads from a checklist and they deliver in the evening), we had absolutely nothing to do all afternoon besides relax at the clubhouse and enjoy the pool.
We thanked our lucky stars that we had gotten all our sightseeing done early; by now it was baking hot – around 40 degrees – and there was a blustering hot wind. The wind was so strong and so consistent that I had to position myself to sit facing into it to avoid a faceful of hair like Cousin It from Adams Family. It was also so hot that it was like having a massive hairdryer pointing at you. Fortunately we didn’t have to lift a finger because everything would have been an effort!
Once our braai pack arrived, we set about making our fire. The pack included a homemade firelighter that required us to gather dry sticks from nearby bushes to act as kindling for the wooden logs provided.
We had ordered generously, so feasted on delicious Oryx steaks, Namibian lamb chops and local wors, with foil-wrapped potatoes and onions as well as tubs of coleslaw and pasta salad. A fitting finish to a fantastic day.
24-25 September 2021
A Namibian trip had been on the cards for years; deprioritised for the very many other adventures that had swallowed up all the not-enough leave days.
Having robbed us of a planned trip to Lesotho in July with our friends Michele & Ian, finally the pandemic provided the perfect window of opportunity for a cross-border flit, between a brutal winter 3rd Covid Wave and any hope of travel abroad opening up again while South Africa was on the Red List.
Highly motivated, Christian took it upon himself to sketch a magnificent roadtrip for our Awesome Foursome that would include desert, sea, mountains, bush and city breaks all wrapped up in a 10 day whirlwind tour. With the magnitude of expansive Namibia, it was going to be a lot of driving. But with good company and lots of exciting excursions ahead, we jumped at the chance!
We booked our flights; holding our breath that the Covid infection numbers would stabilise and the borders remain open. When things looked promising, we booked all the accommodation and the rental car and that was it, the (impatient) countdown began.
You could tell we were hot to trot because we’d booked the red-eye flights out to make the most of our first day of holiday. This meant leaving home at 03h30 for the airport – and a very long hour’s wait between check-in and boarding, in an eerily quiet airport, with “closed until further notice” signs in the Lounge windows.
The flight was uneventful (no doubt thanks to the ridiculous hour and the smattering of passengers sleeping off the early start) and we were soon disembarking the little plane, on the runway in what looked like the middle of nowhere. No city to be seen in any direction; just dry brown semi-desert. How awesome.
We got our rental – a big double-cab Hilux that would see us through even the most rugged parts of our route – and hit the road, with an ambitious 500km of open road standing between us and lunch in Keetmanshoop.
Heading South, the miles sped by on well-maintained roads with little traffic. And not much to see bar the same dry barren veld on either side of the road.
Needing to break the journey, we randomly settled on Kalkrand as a roadside dot on the map. It proved to be little more than that when the reality presented itself; dry, closed petrol pumps, a dodgy pub, a rip-off tuckshop and public toilets at N$2 per person for the pleasure (loosely-termed, with no toilet seats or cisterns and toilet paper rations allocated on upfront cash payment – with exact monies required or no change issued).
Back in the car with massively overpriced water and chips, not 10 minutes later we drove through Namibia’s version of the Harrismith one-stop. Would have been far better suited to our intentions. Typical!
By 2 o’clock we reached Keetmanshoop, which was the town at the crossroads at which our southerly journey turned west towards the coast. It proved to be an awkward time to get lunch, with several places already concluded their lunch sitting and only reopening for dinner at 5.
Determined not to do a fast food chain lunch, we found the Bird’s Nest Hotel was open, and happy to serve us in their courtyard terrace. We ordered wraps and had our first Windhoek draught to celebrate our arrival in Namibia.
Far from done with driving for the day, we were back in the car by 3.30 with another 330km yet to do to get to Luderitz.
The terrain gradually metamorphosed from the dry veld generously dotted with brown shrubs, to rocky landscape and then to the sandy desert we had been expecting all along. Not an ideal drive to be playing I Spy, with so little stimulus!
We were very pleased when we eventually got our first glimpse of the shimmering Atlantic. Even though it was just gone 18h30, it was still light and we got to enjoy spectacular views from our digs for the next two nights; sea-facing suites in an Airbnb on the Shark Island peninsula that jutted out into the ocean from the base of town.
Luderitz is a sweet and compact little town so nothing was very far from our homebase. We decided to get moving to catch the last of the sunset at the Luderitz Yacht Club, a few hundred metres away at the waterfront, obviously.
The barman served us ice-cold Windhoek draught in ice-cold beer mugs and we celebrated our arrival before heading off to The Portuguese Fisherman, which our host had recommended to us for dinner. We saw why, with a magnificent meal of fresh seafood plucked straight off the local coastline.
Curfew and the long day curtailed any further shenanigans and we were pleased to get an earlyish night to recharge the batteries.
We had driven past Kolmanskop on our way into Luderitz and had a sneak peek of the famous Ghost Town, which was #1 on our To Do list. A few enquiries revealed that there were guided tours at 9.30 and 11, so we chose the latter to allow for a breakfast in the restaurant in the Ghost Town beforehand.
The tour was brilliant. Our guide set the scene with the story of Luderitz, named after a tobacco dealer from Bremen. Looking for copper, he had completely overlooked the diamonds that existed in abundance just down the drag. Over 5 million carats were mined in Kolmanskop; 90% gem quality diamonds (10% industrial) compared with 60/40 in Kimberley.
Although even that was relatively short-lived when 1927 saw the start of the death of Kolmanskop when bigger diamonds were found on the other side of the Orange River so all the people and equipment went there. There was mass exodus from the town which eventually died completely when the hospital closed in 1956.
Kolmanskop is an open air museum, where visitors are guided through the existing buildings to get the history and anecdotes, and then are free to wander at will in and out of the houses and businesses of the deserted town.
The tour began in the Town Hall, which sounds pretty lush for this weird manmade oasis in the Namib, at the turn of the last century. The Hall had a champagne lounge for the ladies, a smoking and poker room for the men, with a restaurant that had bell strings suspended from the ceiling and over the tables such that each could command personalised service from the kitchen, where you can still see the original stoves that prepared hundred of meals a day. It also had gym equipment and housed the first library in southern Africa. Below was the bowling alley – complete with still-operational mechanism to return the ball from the skittles end to the start of the lane! – with the original bar and bar-fridge still in place.
The Hall was on Kaizer Wilhelm Street (Millionaire’s Row), where you are still able to walk through many of the buildings, including the architect’s house, the Quartermaster’s house that also acted as B&B for the VIP guests and international artists who came to put on shows on the stage in the Town Hall.
Our guide told us that the houses were very advanced for their time. There were seawater taps in the houses. Fresh drinking water was imported from Cape Town in barrels, by the thousands of kilolitres! There was even a seawater swimming pool with diving board.
The hospital was also very advanced for its time and could bed 250 people at a time – which seems like a lot since there were only 300 German adults, 44 children and 800 Namibian workers living in Kolmanskop – and first Xray machine in Southern Africa, which was an essential not for health purposes, but rather to detect diamond-smuggling. There was also a wine cellar below because the head doctor believed all patients should have a glass of wine every day.
Even though the town was established in 1911, every house had a telephone and electricity. There was an ice factory that used sea water tanks, amonia gas and electricity to freeze in about 24 hours. Complimentary frozen blocks were delivered to everyone each day to put into their cold cupboard to keep their food cold, along with a crate of lemonade and soda water; all delivered by mule-drawn taxi.
One of the colourful anecdotes shared was in the butchery, where the story goes that the menfolk would get hammered in the bowling alley bar, get into trouble with their wives and then break into the butchery to steal all the sausages when their wives refused them dinner. The butcher would then consult the barman to see who had been at the alley and consequently send them a bill for their haul. Sounds like a fun caper – and like a reasonably good existence in general, bar the actual living in the remoteness of the desert and the punishing windiness.
We suspected the excursion was going to be the highlight of our tour. A great start that was going to be hard to beat!
Still full from the sumptuous breakfast, we skipped lunch in favour of a drive around the Peninsular that we could see across the bay from our deck. Our hosts had put together a printed album of the highlights of Luderitz so we knew to expect a 60km loop with several bays and lookout points.
We picked the more interesting ones; Diaz Point (for the cross placed there by Bartholomew Diaz in 1488) and Halifax Bay for views of the Penguins on Halifax Island and the grave of George Pond of London, who had been outcast from Luderitz and walked to Halifax Bay to reach his only friend on the island, but died of hunger and thirst waiting for the low tide so he could get across. It was, as we suspected commonplace, blowing a gale, so George probably had quite a miserable end of days, poor chap.
Very pleased with our day’s achievements so far, we took a time out at a pizza bar in town called Ritzi’s to grab a cold beer before our walking tour of town. With everything so close together, we figured there was no rush.
Good thing too, because the 2 sights we’d earmarked in town turned out to be literally a couple of hundred metres apart. It was a 20 minute affair to see the famous Lutheran church with its spectacular views and original stained glass windows and Goerke Haus, which was built on Diamond Hill by the richest man in town for his lady, for her arrival from Germany. No expense was spared and he built a fabulous mansion, with everything fully imported from Germany. All for nought though; she got to Luderitz and couldn’t abide the wind so left him and went straight back to Germany.
To be fair, it really is a windy town. But we still enjoyed the view from our relatively sheltered deck as we recounted the many highlights of the day, so this Mrs Goerke might have been a bit hasty.
We closed off our time in Luderitz with sundowners at a fun local pub in town called Bottles, dinner at Essenweitz at the Waterfront and then star-gazed from our deck, thanks to the clear skies and carpet of bright stars that seemed so much closer than at home.
NORTHERN CAPE Part 2
Having already spent our first night in the Green Kalahari belt, the plan was for our second day to be spent travelling to the farthest end such that the remainder of our trip would be spent winding our way back (slowly) in the direction of home.
This meant that Wednesday’s plan began with a visit to Augrabies Falls and had us sleeping in Kakamas.
With only 70km to cover and very relaxed hosts at Bezalel Wine Estate, there was no hurry to start our day. With the sun up and the makings of a lovely morning, it was very refreshing to put on our running togs and take a jog through the vineyards again while we discussed the finer details of the plan for the day.
We settled on a picnic at Augrabies Falls. And we already had all the supplies. Bonus.
On the road with our friends, Motley Crue (the audiobook into which we were now thoroughly engrossed), the time (and the endless bushveld scenery) whizzed by and we were soon at Augrabies Falls National Park.
We pulled up at the main building and – whether it was because of Covid, being midweek or just winter in the Northern Cape – discovered we had the place to ourselves.
Taking the winding path down to the gorge, it was a now-rare pleasure to be able to enjoy the open-air excursion mask-free. The Park has set up wooden walkways and viewing decks along the edge of the gorge and we walked end-to-end, able to admire the fierceness of the falls, the magnitude of the gorge and the scary drop between us on the overhanging viewing deck and the water so far beneath us.
Having done 2km along the walkways, we were ready for our light picnic lunch and enjoyed our sarmies, watching the little dassies sniffing and scurrying about the place, like chubby little Daxies.
The Kakamas Hotel was also directly on the N14 which runs from Upington to Augrabies so we’d passed it on our way through and, with the hotel being on the far side of Kakamas from the Augrabies side, by the time we checked in we’d had two passes through Kakamas which, thanks to boundless graphic signage, was enough to give us locals-level qualification on lay of the land and a very clear agenda. Wine-tasting and pizza at Die Mas.
The Kakamas Hotel for all its small town lodge charm boasted a 4-star rating, which showed in the efficient way we were managed from car to our ultra modern suite, with slimline admin consisting only of our obligatory Covid declaration form and the three little words everyone is always excited to hear: Breakfast Is Included.
Pausing ever so briefly to appreciate our pretty home for the night – from the gravel pathway across the shaded lawns down to the pond where the local gaggle was lazily sliding across the still waters – we were motivated to get back in the car and on our way to our next adventure.
Die Mas had come recommended to us by friends in Jo’burg, and lived up to the anticipation that had been set.
With Wine, Brandy and Gin tasting on offer, we settled (as the only customers, spilt for choice) at a bench table at the outer edge of the grapevine-covered terrace to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and wonderful view, and ordered the white wine flight.
The chap serving us had no sooner poured into the tasting glass when a gust of wind came along and blew it right over! With no intention of wasting any more wine, we moved inside to an upright-barrel table.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the white flight, we ordered the red as well. While swirling and sniffing and sipping and critiquing, a couple of swarthy chaps came in and sat at one of the sets of table and chairs.
With awe, we watched as they ordered the wines, the brandy and the gin tastings all in one go. AND a Brandy and Coke long drink each for in between. They did a bit of swirling and some sniffing, but mostly slinging and giggling and having the best time.
We, meantime, had been served the bad news that the kitchen was not operating. So no pizza. But, when in Rome and all that, so we did a brandy tasting (seemed to be working for our neighbours) and ordered a bottle of Rose Pinot Noir instead.
The wind had died down so we moved back outside and enjoyed the start of sunset with the lovely local’s finest, pleased to see our super-tasters from inside leaving with arms laden with the cases they’d bought to take home.
An extensive Google to try and find a dinner alternative revealed a distinct lack of options. Not believing what we were seeing, we took a drive through the part of town that seeped inland from the N14 and despite finding schools, the usual handful of town buildings, a compact and neat suburb and after a brief foray into the local settlement, we found that Google had indeed been telling the truth.
Fortunately, our hotel had a restaurant, so we had a very pleasant poolside dinner with another bottle of Die Mas Pinot Noir for good measure.
While our hotel was a pretty slice of the countryside, it was also right on the main road, which left nowhere to do our now-ritual morning run.
Good opportunity for a sleep-in and a hearty brekkie before the hop back along the now-very-familiar N14 to Upington.
We’d called ahead and arranged early check-in at our hotel, the Oasis, which soon proved to be a lot of value for our money, from the prime location on park-and-walk-anywhere Schroder Street, to the airconditioned reception to the access to the amenities at the Protea next door. And yes, Breakfast Was Included.
Since it wasn’t yet midday, we had plenty of time for a session in the fitness centre in the Protea. Chris opted to do weights and whatnot while he had access to the equipment and I filled the gap of my missing running partner by running along with the Olympics contestants on the telly in the gym. I did 2 sets of 3000m steeplechase with the world’s finest athletes, cheating a bit since I didn’t think the hotel would appreciate me leaping on the treadmill or splashing through the kiddies pool for authenticity of my virtual event.
Our pre-planning had uncovered a local offering called “Sakkie Se Arkie” that looked worth a try. The review promised a relaxing couple of hours of sunset cruise down the Orange River, which sounded about our speed. Showered and ship-shape, we prioritised going down to the jetty to book so that we would work timings around that excursion.
Fortunately we had taken the car purely because the Orange River Wine Cellars tasting rooms were 4km from the hotel or we would have felt very foolish driving to Sakkie Se Arkie, which we’d assumed as a turn of phrase when the Oasis receptionist had told us it was ‘around the corner’, but which turned out to even be understated since it was just on the other side of the Protea Hotel building!
Sadly, the cruise season had not yet begun (combination of weather and lack of demand) so there would be no Arkie for us. But there was wine-tasting, so all was not lost.
And neither could we be since the tasting rooms were literally on our road. Four short kilometres straight-straight down dead-straight flat-as-a-pancake Schroder Street.
We were very soon seated at a table at Orange River Cellars with a flight of 7 of their finest wines to sample; 3 whites and 3 reds of our choosing + a bonus red one that was new and being promoted.
We worked through the rainbow of generous tasters while lunch was served and then, with nothing else on the agenda, ordered a couple of glasses of our favourites and frittered away the afternoon, absorbed in the novelty of wine-routing.
We had hoped to get a pint of Guinness somewhere in the Northern Cape to add to our online Index. Some Google research had offered the promise of an Irish pub in Upington. And of course it was said to be on Schroder Street.
A few doors down from our home base, we had driven past it on our way out. It looked shut at the time, but we irrationally hoped it was something odd like small town hours or curfew-related restrictions or somesuch.
No such luck. On our return to our side of Schroder, a close up inspection revealed a note in the door that advised the pub was closed owing to lockdown and it was unknown when or if it would reopen. Equal parts sad for them and disappointing for us.
This only left the Red Ox for us for sundowners.
A complete surprise, the Red Ox proved to be a particularly shiny hidden gem. Upmarket enough to be associated with Sandton’s Butcher Shop or Rosebank’s Grillhouse, but with the added appeal of being riverside with spectacular sunset views over the Orange, our only regret was that we had eaten so recently since the delicious cuts on display in the counterstyle showcases and in the “Buy to Braai” fridges at the entrance were nothing short of mouth-watering.
We made do with sampling the local Kalahari Lager and Red Ox pilsner as it got dark and we planned our next day.
When we had done our planning, we had only booked up until Upington, leaving the last couple of nights free in case we wanted extra time anywhere or got referrals along the way. Neither being the case, we were flying a bit blind, with the internet as our guide.
Scrutinising the route home, we made two decisions; firstly, to spend Thursday night in Kuruman (because we’d heard of it and there was a hotel in the same chain as the Kakamas Hotel that we’d so enjoyed) and secondly, to return home on Friday since the remaining distance was manageable and there was nothing else ‘must do’ en route.
Thursday morning began with a last run in the vineyards, accessing them by crossing the Orange on the bridge we’d seen from the Red Ox the night before, followed by a hearty breakfast at the hotel – a rare-pleasure buffet, carefully managed by the banqueting staff in line with rigid Covid protocols.
The only stop we made on the trip to Kuruman was at Kathu.
Established as an iron ore mining town, our limited view of Kathu gave us the opinion that although nice enough, there’s not a hell of a lot to see and do, so we settled for a quick visit to the local mall.
Leaving Kathu, it would appear that the town holds future promise with a lush looking country club and some adjacent residential development.
We did not hold a similar opinion of Kuruman which, sadly, was dusty and delapidated by first impression.
When the hotel manager at check-in warned us off the town’s claim to fame, the Eye of Kuruman, because of threat of vandalism and theft, the day’s fate was sealed.
We had booked a garden unit and it was right next to the pool so we did with our last afternoon on this roadtrip what we so seldom do on holiday. Absolutely nothing. And loved it.
31 Jul – 07 Aug 2021
After a long year of ups and lockdowns and the bitter disappointment of a cancelled skiing trip to Lesotho in July, a roadtrip getaway was exactly what the doctor ordered. And, with international borders a challenge, the Covid virus still in a brutal Third Wave and a country recently ravaged with violence, where better than the most remote part of the country, the Northern Cape.
Knowing little about the region, surface-deep research revealed that we’d uncovered a hidden gem. Having thought of the Northern Cape as desert, we were delighted to find that it is also home to the Green Kalahari, a lush fertile strip along the Orange River with all sorts of unexpected and exciting things; most notably, a wine route!
Intentions set, we plotted a fun and relaxing week-long roadtrip. And having booked our leave at short notice, were in the car a few days later, heading off on our adventure.
The first day was the longest drive with 480km to Kimberley. A relaxed departure, good roads and traditional Wimpy pitstop had us at our hotel late afternoon, to enjoy the last of the sunshine. And to revel in being in short sleeves after having struggled through weeks of gruelling Joburg winter.
We’d picked the Protea Marriott because of its location overlooking the famous Big Hole of Kimberley, fancying drinks on the terrace while taking in the biggest hand-dug pit in the world…
But a hole is honestly not much to look at, so we went to the Big Hole Museum (literally next door) instead.
The Museum is housed in an Old Town reconstruction of the early buildings that sprung up around the mine and became the first beginnings of Kimberley.
The museum (and access to the Hole viewing deck) was already closed when we got there, but we were free to wander the dusty streets with its quaint collection of examples of the shops and offices that must have serviced the miners that flocked to dig their way to fame and fortune.
The experience includes an Old Town pub and grill, called The Occidental. Decorated like an old world tavern, but with the benefits of new world technology and a very modern menu, we settled into the sepia setting to spend the evening watching the Springboks play the Lions, while munching on delicious deep fried pork belly and rump strip nachos, washed down with the local Vokof craft beer.
On Sunday morning we decided to do our own jogging tour of the newer part of town to build up to breakfast, so hit the roads on a winding tour that took us past sportsgrounds, university, schools and shopping centres.
A quick Google had revealed that a lot of coffee shops and breakfast spots weren’t open on Sundays and nothing much opened before 10, so we figured we’d squeeze in a quick walking tour of the old Victorian suburb of Belgravia to give Kimberley a chance to wake up properly.
We showered, checked out, and drove (no more than a few minutes) to Lodge Road to go and see the beautifully preserved building, some 130+ years old.
Belgravia is a stark contrast to the modest suburbs we’d run through earlier in the morning, with manicured lawns and water features bridging pretty fences and the neat and sturdy brickwork that had so well preserved this slice of history.
Using the internet as our guide, we matched house numbers with significance, which centred mostly around the Oppenheimer dynasty.
Unfortunately the museum and gallery were not open (unclear as to whether a Sunday thing or a Covid thing), which motivated us to get to the breakfast that had morphed into a brunch.
Good thing too, because when we got to the Crazy Horse to get their famous Full English (and then some) breakfast, we were initially disappointed to be told that they were no longer serving breakfast…
But fate was on our side because this forced us to try a Kimberley special; crumbed and deep-fried rump drowned in cheddamelt sauce. Served with the most buttery mash. What a treat!
The kitchen was not only epic but also super quick, and we were on the road again just after midday, heading towards Groblershoop for our Sunday night stay.
Driving the Northern Cape really is ‘the open road’. With decent highway slicing through the flat dry bushveld, barely any traffic and continuing the audiobook we’d started the day before (the story of Motley Crue, as told by the band members), the two and a half hour drive was almost relaxing.
Sunday 1 August
As a pitstop to break the journey, we’d chosen Groblershoop for its remoteness, and a quaint little farmstay cottage overlooking vineyards and pecan nut trees on a working farm.
We were most pleased with our choice and were soon lazing on the deck chairs on the sunny stoep – exactly as we’d imagined we would be from the moment we’d seen the ad on Airbnb – admiring the lush lemon trees in our oasis garden, with the grey wintery vineyards as backdrop.
There’s really not much to report about the rest of the day, since we barely moved more than a few metres from the deck chairs to the bench table to play backgammon for hours while the sun set and the stars appeared on the pitch black blanket of sky.
On meeting our host, we had asked about running trails in the area. He’d indicated that we were welcome to run through the vineyards, which would lead us to the Orange River. So, since we awoke to a perfect morning, that’s exactly what we did.
We were fortunate to be exploring this part of the world at this time of the year because any sooner and it would have been too cold and any later too hot to have both a refreshing morning trot and a leisurely start to the day. What a novelty to be able to run in these surroundings and deposit ourselves on the riverbank (which looked remarkably like a beach!).
Also in no particular hurry – with our host having invited us to take our time checking out and to just leave the keys in the door (!) – we were able to take our time exploring the farm and still fashion a relaxed brunch from the things we’d brought with us in our cooler, planning ahead for our remote location and self-catering.
Monday 2 August
Having previously enquired, we were expecting no-option self-catering at our overnight on the Bezalel Wine and Brandy Estate, so we broke the 130km-odd journey up with a quick stop at Kalahari Mall (which an inadvertent slip of the tongue had us calling it Calamari Hall from the get-go) in Upington to get a few supplies. Nothing fancy, just snacks and treats to see us through, with lunch to be the main meal of the day.
It was very easy to spot our home for the night, with a very conspicuous castle-like entrance on the main N14 road we were travelling from Upington.
We knew immediately that we’d chosen the right place when we were met at the door by an enormous chocolate coloured dog, who took to us immediately and spent the better part of the afternoon bringing us things to throw for him to retrieve.
With the afternoon’s primary entertainment being a wine and brandy tasting, we prioritised getting a good lunch on board to line the stomach. For once we, never usually liking to be the only people in a restaurant, were grateful for the freedoms it allowed, so we could take off our masks and enjoy the garden and playing fetch like good humans.
With a hearty lamb pie and delicious springbok ciabatta behind us, we started our tasting at around 3pm.
Martiens, the owner and 4th generation farmer on the Dyasons Settlement, narrated us through a captivating couple of hours, effortlessly mixing tastes of their wine, brandy and infusion products with education on how everything is made and colourful anecdotes of his family’s heritage and experiences.
There was lots to tell, bearing in mind his great-grandfather had started Bezalel Estate, having moved to the Kalahari from Johannesburg, where his grandfather had been the Bezuidenhout who owned the farm that included the current Bez Valley!
We walked away richer for the experience and with a selection of bottles of what was available for sale.
The area and industry had really suffered from the prohibitions of the last couple of years so we were pleased to be able to support local industry with such self-satisfaction.
We returned to our cottage at around 5, in time to crack open a bottle of the Colombard we’d just procured and wile away the sunset overlooking the vineyards and the tranquil little pond that completed the picture.
2-4 Dec 2020
It was our decision to end off in Port Alfred - the closest big dot to the East London airport, from where we would need to depart for home on Friday - that our 'few days in Kenton' became a roadtrip of the Eastern Cape. Port Alfred was just that little bit too far as a homebase from which to satellite to the places we'd earmarked as of interest.
We'd had to make some big decisions and trade-offs to make everything fit, one of the more difficult ones being foregoing staying over in Kenton. We had rationalised that it was the most likely destination we'd return to for a longer stay and so comprised to a drive-through on this trip.
We left a murky Colchester behind and drove through a chilly and drizzly Alexandria to pause in Cannon Rocks to see what there was to see (not much; 2 canons and 2 anchors) and then emerge in a sunny Kenton-on-Sea. Quite a microclimate experience in only 80km!
We parked in town, did a bit of window-shopping (mostly of bakery and restaurant menus; can you ever really be too informed??) and walked down to the beach. Even though it was clear skies with the lightest breeze, the beach was empty. Maybe the inclement weather had been there earlier, maybe it was because it was a weekday and shoulder season or maybe Kenton does lunch or siesta in a big way.
It was quite nice to have the blue flag beach to ourselves though.
Also nice to have taken the walk rather than drive down. Gave us time for a proper gawk at the big and beautiful holiday homes, choosing which would be ours should our ship come in.
It was then just a short hop (a bit like the Garden Route) to Port Alfred, where we had no trouble finding our accommodation, one road before a massive bridge and one road on from the main road. Even the navigationally-challenged like me could not but help find the place!
Wiltshire cottage is a little granny flat in the garden of the main house, on a road dotted with Wiltshire rental properties. Owned and managed by a lovely couple, we were warmly welcomed, given a tour and some great advice on what to do and see in the neighbourhood.
Not in any rush to go dashing out again, we enjoyed the comfort of our cosy lounge with an episode of The Crown, which had us hooked after the episodes we'd watched in the downtime enjoyed at our Colchester studio.
Sunset saw us taking a wander down to the beach - an easy walk and near impossible to get lost with beaches curling our neighbourhood on two sides - and along the beachfront to seek sundowners at The Highlander pub, opposite the St Andrews Golf Course.
With Prawns as the chef's daily special, sundowners soon turned into a seafood feast, which seemed very fitting for our seaside surrounds.
Always a treat to be able to walk home from dinner and en route we smelled the most delicious aroma wafting from a heavenly restaurant that we resolutely decided would make for the perfect farewell dinner.
With precious little to do on our last day, we started the day with a slow run around the golf course and along the beach. When we got back and were cooling off on our little patio, our host's stopped to chat and gave us both advice on what to do for the day and an invitation to join them for a social in the evening.
Following their advice, we took a little drive down the coast to see the Lighthouse. Even though tours had been cancelled because of the pandemics, it was still possible to drive right up to the lighthouse - and get some great pics from the prime location.
Our host, Roy, had recommended a roadside diner for our lunch. On arrival we found them mid- power failure and apologetic that things were taking longer than usual. We were in absolutely no hurry, so settled in at the beer garden at the back. It was worth the wait and our surf n turf and seafood combo were both excellent (in value and in taste).
That left time to retreat back to the couch for a few episodes of The Crown before taking Roy up on his invitation to visit his bar in the early evening, while Leanne was hosting her bookclub in the main house.
Popping across the garden with the last of our beers, we were greeted by a tableful of gents, communed for their ritual bi-weekly social.
Roy had an impressive bar, walls lined with memorabilia that it had clearly taken a lifetime to collect. Beer bottles, Stein's, framed pictures of important event... His flash guided tour didn't do justice to the treasure chest of memories!
Roy also had a private library annexed onto his bar, with an enviable collection of hardcover books that concentrated on biographies and autobiographies; right up Christian's alley so led to an energetic back and forth about which ones were best, which stories were believable and what gaps remained to be told of protagonists who were still alive and making history.
On completing the tour, chairs were added to the table for us and, as cameo guests to this clique, we were faced with the usual set of questions (where we're from, what we do there, what we were doing here and for how long) and then were peppered with appropriate stories in response from group, who were mostly retired to Port Alfred from Joburg, Durban and CT.
They were great company and had it not been our last night, we might have been tempted to stay longer. But alas, it was, so we made a break for it and headed down to the beach for the sunset.
Of course, I'd completely misjudged the directions and so the spot we'd earmarked for sundowners was on the wrong side completely and already well into dusk by the time we got there!
No mind, we still had the restaurant to look forward to and so we made our way over there.
What a gem of a find! Only open 2 months, KC Italia was an intimate eatery with a very focused menu of no more than 8 pasta specials. A good thing too as we still struggled to choose from those limited options! In the end, the coastal theme drew us to the prawns linguine and the salmon tofe (fancy name for shells pasta).
Able to see into the kitchen through the wide window connected to the dining area, we could see the chef working his magic and creating his masterpieces. It was very up our alley to be able to watch him swirling delicious things in the assortment of pans and scooping our steaming food into bowls, to be picked up immediately and served to us at our table seconds later.
We had a long and lingering dinner, enjoying every bite of our meal. It was so wonderful I would have licked the bowl if I thought I could get away with it! And I said as much to the chef when he came out to check on us and he beamed, obviously thrilled at the sincere compliment.
His partner, the hostess, spent quite a bit of time chatting to us, excited by their impetuous decision to open the restaurant - post both of them being displaced by Covid closures - and optimistic for their chances for a busy December holiday period. She said that there was fortunately still consistent appetite for restaurant-eating in Port Alfred since there is a large retired community, who have been less economically affected by the pandemic.
A portion of that community were still having a whale of a time when we got back to Wiltshire Cottage. The bookclub had become a lot more audible and we caught snatches of the conversation and intermittent roars of laughter from the gents at the pub.
With a plane to catch the next morning, we snuck into our cottage and popped on an episode of The Crown rather than getting tangled in the raging nightlife in our back yard.