Does anything quite prepare you for an adventure in Africa; quite simply, nothing can, as my experience on Acacia’s overland South West Safari would lead me to discover. Our tour through Southern Africa began in Zambia and on arrival into Livingstone we were transferred to our accommodation on the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles upstream from the Victoria Falls. Arriving in plenty of time before the tour began I made the most of the opportunities available in the area – this being one of Africa’s adventure capitals offering a range of activities, from bungee jumping to sunset cruising.
Our first day was spent relaxing from a long flight on the banks of the Zambezi. Watching the glorious sunset and serene African surroundings with a “sun downer” was welcome respite as the next morning we had to be up early for our first adventure – white water rafting down the Zambezi River. The fourth largest river system in Africa after the Nile, Zaire and Niger Rivers, the Zambezi runs through six countries on its journey from central Africa to the Indian Ocean. All of these claims however, must 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. Our journey took us through 23 rapids in total, some of which were absolute monsters and we gulped down our fair share of the river on the way, but the challenge didn’t end there as we then had to climb out of the gorge itself. Back at camp we ran through the day’s events once again and rediscovered our sense of adventure – our white water rafting excursion rewound and played back on film.
Next on the list was 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 falling curtain of water on earth becoming clear, as the spray soaked us all completely to the skin.
From the falls we crossed the Livingstone Bridge and spent the rest of the day in Zimbabwe checking out Victoria Falls town. Showing another side to this diverse continent Zimbabwe was very different to Livingstone despite its proximity. We found the people a little more demanding when it came to tourists, but the shopping experience was pure excitement. The market place was a hive of activity and not one for the faint hearted, however, with a little time and patience and a friendly smile for our newly made ‘friends’ there were many bargains to be had. After bartering and staking claim to numerous souvenirs we were ready to indulge in our traditional ‘Boma’ dinner – a combination of crocodile, kudu and warthog making for a culinary feast; traditional dancers and drums providing an atmospheric ambience before heading back to Zambia.
It was another early rise the following morning allowing us plenty of time to tackle our next challenge – 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. Enjoying a longer freefall than the bungee, 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 friend and I decided that we would jump tandem – thinking that if we went together it would be less scary. Our ingenious idea didn’t quite go according to plan, our combined weight making us swing still further. Travelling at what seemed like nearly 100 miles an hour this was more adrenalinee pumping and scarier than if we had done it alone!
Challenges aside, it’s still the traditional safari experience that draws travellers to Africa in their hordes, and we were no different. Our first wildlife encounter would take us overland, a short distance to Botswana into Chobe National Park. Boasting one of the greatest concentrations of elephants in the African continent (the current count is estimated at over 120,000), the park is also home to hippos, baboons, hyenas, lion, leopard, antelope and varied birdlife - but it’s not simply the abundant wildlife, which makes the park worth visiting as the beauty and splendour of the area also ensure 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. The highlight of the safari was the afternoon ‘Fish Eagle’ boat cruise on the Chobe River itself where we watched a herd of elephants wrestling in the water, these huge beasts performing ballet type maneuvers with nearby hippo and crocodile trying their best to avoid the melee.
Our next stop was the dusty outback town of Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Taking a light air craft flight over the delta we were able to get a 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 kilometers. The following day we trekked into the Okavango itself passing through the villages of the indigenous tribal people – a brief insight into local culture before our river journey by traditional dug out canoe (known as a 'makoro'). After being poled through the reed-covered islands by our local guide we reached our next destination – a wilderness camp deep in the swaying grasses of the Okavango Delta. Truly relaxing and off the beaten track here we had a chance to kick back, relax and dip into the natural and refreshing waters – a second to none experience for those who want to delve into the heart of Africa.
A further highlight of island camping in the delta was seeing the wildlife close up –especially at night, our proximity to the natural world becoming clear as the noises came closer to our tents. The animals presence made for a dramatic walking safari the following morning as we ventured out on foot to track the wildlife that had visited camp that night – trekking through the Okavango meeting buffalo and giraffe, with nothing but the experience of our guide between us and the possibility of danger.
Back on the road trip across Botswana we had the opportunity of meeting the Kalahari Bushman – a hunter-gatherer tribe thought to be the descendents of the first inhabitants of South Africa, with records dating back 30,000 years. The harsh conditions which they contend with have been amplified by the encroachment of modern civilization with its huge cities, large farms, and grazing cattle – many of them 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 devised by Acacia, ensuring the tribe keep their land, preserve their culture and continue their historical survival.
Leaving Botswana we 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’.
Our game drive was off to an impressive start as immediately after we passed through the gates we were greeted by a pride of lions. We were also lucky enough to see elephants, leopards, rhinos, giraffes, springboks and a multitude of other animals and birds, but the most memorable experience 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 wildlife sighting. Our group stayed for two-nights in the park, the campsites seeming more like mini resorts with full bar, restaurant and swimming pool facilities available, however the highlight has to be the flood lit waterholes that come to light after dark – offering incredible opportunities for late night wildlife viewing, with animals such as elephant and rhino coming to the waters edge to drink.
Our next stop was Swakopmund, Namibia’s only seaside resort – a great place in which to combine relaxation and adventurous pursuits. On arrival our group opted for quad bike desert driving, a trip which incorporated the most amazing vista as we watched the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean from the top of a massive sand dune.
Swakopmund itself, is yet another adventure capital visited on the South West Safari and we were ready to pack in more than one experience on our second day here, starting with sand boarding – an adrenaline sport that is clearly nothing like snowboarding, especially after a few mouthfuls of sand. Then, setting our sights on the skies my friend and I decided on tandem sky-diving, our second optional activity in the adventure capital. After a training, safety briefing and equipment check we flew up to 10,000 feet and jumped out for a 30 second free fall rush before pulling the parachute and coasting down through the skies – impressive views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the massive sand dunes of Namibia on the other. A first time parachutist this definitely has to be judged as one of the more addictive adventure pursuits, as I am now ready to do a thousand more. We were thoroughly rewarded for our efforts on our return to the camp with a South African Bar-b-que or traditional Brai cooked up by the rest of the group – just one of the delicious meals on a tour where we ate like kings and queens.
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 as dramatic, as it is awe-inspiring.
Heading south once again the tour continued to Fish River Canyon, a spectacular wilderness area with equally astounding game viewing and the penultimate Namibian highlight before we crossed over 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 one of Africa’s most unique and barren landscapes.
Cosmopolitan Cape Town was the last stop on the South West Safari, 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 making 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 from the city and the vibrant mix of bars, restaurants and art galleries are best viewed with plenty of time to spare.
The only question left to ask is where will I go next after such an extensive tour of Africa? This wondrous continent deserves many more holidays, so I am now planning my next trip, again travelling with Acacia Adventure Holidays, but this time to East Africa. I can only hope that it is as memorable as the first.
I travelled on the 19-day South West Safari with Acacia Africa – www.acacia-africa.com
By Jody Corothers, age 29.