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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kruger Park : Planning a Camping Trip

IMG_9623Nothing gets you closer to nature than pitching a tent under an Acacia tree. Listening to night fall and the awakening of the nocturnal animals makes you realize you are but a small piece of the creation. This is food for the soul.



It’s no surprise then, that many people actively search for an excuse to get to the bush. I often hear comments like “The Kruger isn’t bush anymore” and “There’s too much luxury at the Kruger Park to be a true bush experience”. While both statements might be true, I’m a firm believer that experiences are clouded by perspective.


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If your normal day consists of sitting behind a desk in a posh office, relaxing on the deck of a guesthouse or cottage in the Kruger will feel like roughing it – simply because it’s different. For me, regardless of where I stay, as long as I can hear and see the African bush, I’m happy. I’ve learned that you can enjoy a holiday staying in the luxury chalet of a wildlife reserve just as much as camping in a tent. It’s all a matter of expectations.



While we’re talking about expectations, people who know me, know that I can rough it with the best of them. As long as I have something to protect me against the rain and a couple of steaks to barbeque, I’ll camp anywhere. But, you knew there was a “but” in there, didn’t you. I’ve never had to carter my camping gear to the destination without a vehicle that had a boot. Boot as in something covered. Like a trailer or caravan or simply just my LC105 EFI’s luggage compartment. (Those who don’t speak Land Cruiser language, a 105 EFI stands for Land Cruiser Station Wagon, Model 105 4500 EFI ) 

No ma’am, we are going camping at the end of the month with a LC 79 Pick Up. Like in one with cattle rails and absolutely NO luggage compartment. And no canvas cover either, because it takes too long to manufacture and we don’t have time to leave the vehicle there. So, for the first time in decades (I refuse to say how many as I will reveal my age) I have to give serious consideration about how I’m going to get my gear to my destination – preferably intact.



Still not seeing the problem? Yes, I can hear you men out there grumble. Hubby also don’t understand it. According to him I’ve never had more space to load the camping gear. Let me explain the dilemma I’m faced with:



1. We live in approximately 500 km away from the Kruger Park, which means somewhere along the road you have to allow for a bathroom stop. With the gear stowed on an open pick up, someone will have to remain with the vehicle at all times – that rules out a nice Wimpy breakfast along the way.We live in South Africa after all.


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2. As we are traveling eastwards, although it is winter, chances of rain can’t be ruled out. So anything that needs to be kept dry, must be placed in waterproof containers.That’s not so bad, is it? Mmm, considering we’re camping that includes bedding, food, cameras, laptops (you didn’t think I would leave it at home, did you?) tents (not a major issue, but try to pitch a wet canvas tent and tell me again it’s not that bad), freezer, etc. Some of these items will need BIG containers if you have to stow it away. Now we do have canvas bags to cover some of the items, so this might turn out not to be such a big deal. .


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3. Then, my biggest issue. What do we do once we are inside the park? If you’re anything like me, you wait at the gate in the morning for it to open. Last night’s barbequed meat and toasted sandwiches are your food for the morning until you can stop at a picnic spot to prepare brunch. So, how do I keep the baboons and monkeys from stealing my food off the load bin? I’ve seen baboons at Balule run away with an entire cooler and scale the electric fence without missing a beat. A cooler on the back of an open vehicle will pose no problem to them. IMG_2349



So now I’m spending the next couple of weeks to figure out how to keep all hands off my equipment while I traverse through the Kruger Park. Once I’ve sorted the problem, I’ll update you on how I managed.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Augrabies Falls: Budget Camping Accommodation and Luxury Self Catering Chalets

Augrabies Falls South Africa


Whether you choose camping in a one-man tent or opt to stay in the self-catering chalets, the accommodation offered at Augrabies Falls National Park will satisfy the most discerning tourist.

Augrabies Falls National Park is situated in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Being a semi- arid region, the annual rainfall is low and extreme variations of temperature occur. The rock formations surrounding the Orange River Gorge add to the already high summer (January and February) temperatures, which average 41o Celsius, and can push the daytime temperature up to 70o Celsius. During the winter months daytime temperatures average a mild 20o Celsius while nights hover around 0o Celsius.

Regardless if you prefer to stay in the camping site or luxury accommodation, the best time of the year to visit the Augrabies Falls National Park is during autumn and spring. All accommodation offered by the park are within a short walking distance to the waterfall, restaurant and swimming pools. The park has a small, well - stocked shop to replenish supplies and fuel is available inside the park.


Rock Formations at Augrabies Falls

For those adventurous travellers, the resort offers activities like hiking, mountain biking, game drives and adventure sports like the Gariep 3-in-1 adventure.

Campsites at Augrabies Falls

Campsites, Augrabies Falls Park

The campsites at Augrabies Falls National Park are shady and planned well. Short wooden polls, planted close enough to each other to keep vehicular traffic out, cordon off a grass covered semi- circular area. This grassed surface is exclusively for the use of tent campers and the absence of vehicles inside the circle ensures the safety of the campers.

Caravans, trailers, auto villas and camper vans utilize the area around the grass surface on the outside of the wooden polls. These sites are gravel covered and relatively level. Huge trees provide shade for both tent campers and the caravans. All campsites have electrical outlets and a communal camp kitchen, equipped with two - plate stoves and basins for doing dishes, is placed at a central location. The ablutions include a laundry and ironing room.

A maximum of six people are allowed per campsite, with one vehicle and one tent or caravan.


Self- Catering Chalet Accommodation for Visitors to the Augrabies Falls


Augrabies Falls National Park also offers chalets accommodating two adults and two children. These air - conditioned chalets are equipped with outfitted kitchenette, bathroom, microwave oven and two single beds. A double bunk bed, which is not suitable for adults, is available for children. Each chalet has barbeque facilities outside the building and several of these chalets are adapted to accommodate people with physical disabilities.


Family Cottages for Larger Families Staying at the Augrabies Falls


These two bedroom cottages have two single beds in every bedroom and a children's sleeper couch. The open plan kitchen is fully equipped with cutlery and crockery. The lounge provides seating for six people while the bathroom contains both a shower and bath. On the outside, provision is made for holding a barbecue and the units are air - conditioned to ward off the extreme temperatures of the area. Some of the cottages are also adapted to cater for people with physical disabilities.

Tourists planning to travel to and stay over at the Augrabies Falls National Park must reserve the accommodation in advance to avoid being turned away especially in the tourist season.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Mabuasehube with an Off-Road Caravan

As you all know from previous posts, Mabuasehube Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa,  is no place for the feint hearted. Due to the fact that there is no hotels or self-catering accommodation available, tourists must be completely self-sufficient.

Yep, that translates to CAMPING!



Now, if you’ve missed the previous post about the Mabuasehube Reserve that forms part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, here is a quick recap of the important facts:-



1. The reserve is unfenced. Yes, that means the campsites are unfenced too and visitors often find themselves held hostage by groups of lions.



2. The ablutions consist of pit toilets surrounded by a wooden snail-like structure open at the top and bottom. (If you don’t believe me about the lions, just check out the claw marks on the seats of those toilets.)



3. Mabuasehube forms part of the Kalahari Desert and the roads vary from sandy (and I do mean sandy) highways to deep rutted sandy tracks.



4. Your closest neighbours are often on the other side of the salt pan and more than a kilometre away as the crow flies.



Using an Off-Road Caravan when Visiting Mabuasehube

On our first visit to Mabuasehube we towed a Jurgens Explorer off-road caravan behind a Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 DiD. It was late July after a dismal rainy season and the sand resembled the upper part of a beach where the waves never reach. You know, that part where the hot sand always get into your shoes no matter what you do.



Off-Road Caravan at Matopi, Mabuasehube

It seemed like the best solution at the time as we could carry enough drinking and washing water as well as enough fuel for the four day stay at Lesholoago Pan. We also would be protected by something more than just mere canvas from the predators that roamed the semi-desert landscape. A fact my daughter made full use of by retiring inside when darkness fell and only emerging when morning came.



It also meant we could use our own shower as at that time, the campsite at Lesholoago didn’t have water. Over all, it was a great decision to go to Mabuasehube with a competent off-road caravan. But, as you can guess, it wasn’t all moonshine and roses.



Advantages of Towing an Off-Road Caravan to Mabuasehube 



Please bear in mind these my own experiences of using a caravan. Other people may have different opinions and you’d do well to research them before making a decision.

1. As mentioned before, we had a solid structure to protect us from the elements and predators. During winter, the nights at Mabuasehube is bitterly cold and the temperature often drops to well below zero. Having the protection of the caravan, the cold was barely noticeable inside.

2. We had ample space to carry supplies such as water, fuel and wood inside the caravan.

3. All our amenities were in one place. The caravan comes equipped with a fridge/freezer, washing basin, two plate gas stove, cutlery and crockery, king sized bed and bathroom cubicle.

4. The awning provided shade during the day and protection during the evenings against the dew. It also provided cover for the stove and washing basin.



5. It doesn’t take a long time to stabilize and you can set up camp fairly quickly.



6. The pull-out kitchen made having a cup of coffee or a quick meal along the road, easy as you didn’t have to unpack everything in order to get to the kitchen.


Overall, I loved the idea of the caravan and the convenience it offered.



Disadvantages of Towing an Off-Road Caravan to Mabuasehube



You guessed it, there is a “But” in there somewhere. Towing an off-road caravan that by its nature is a large, heavy structure, does have a number of disadvantages. I suspect many of my complaints about the caravan are of my own doing, but it just didn’t justify the hassles I experienced. Here is why I say that:-



1. Off-road caravans are heavy beasts. Empty it weighs nearly a ton and fully loaded you creep to nearly one and a half tons. Moving that beast around in sandy soil is no picnic. If you consider that my husband and I usually travel alone and that despite my size I am not the strongest person in the world, this caused many grunts and complaints along the way. Even on level tarred surfaces the sheer weight of the caravan was daunting.



Couple this weight with sand dunes not compacted and rutted and you might get this result:



Stuck in Sand Between Nossob and Matopi



Going up a large loose dune, the vehicle in front of us braked suddenly. We had to stop and the digging above was the result. In the end we had to winch both the car and caravan to the top of the dune. We were so intent on getting the vehicle out of the sand, that we stopped checking for predators after a while. On our return we found these two just on the other side of the same dune.



Lions Mating on Nossob-Mabuasehube Road



2. As stated before the roads are heavily corrugated at times. During our first visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the road between Askham and the entrance gate at Twee Rivieren, were not tarred. The corrugations were so bad, people were often asked to drag empty tires behind their vehicles in order to try and tame the corrugations. So our first taste of what corrugations could do to an off-road caravan came relatively early on our trip. By the time we reached Mabuasehube from Nossob, I was getting used to cleaning up inside before we could bed down for the night.

Although the Jurgens Explorer is a competent off-road caravan (and believe me if I say we tested it on a variety of terrains) the inside is still manufactured from a type of hardboard. This means that the thin wooden panels had to withstand an amount of vibration. They often didn’t. I cleaned up mayonnaise, sugar, coffee and various other stuff that simply shook out of the cabinets on the corrugations. Although these items were in closed containers, the locks on the cabinets failed and the contents were shaken out – this was before the time of clip – seal plastic containers. Cleaning up before you could set up camp, prolonged the getting settled process unbearably long after a hard day’s driving.



3. Dust. I hate dust. The clips of the slide windows on the Jurgens Explorer didn’t hold up on tough terrain and would shake the window open. Even the slightest opening allowed the dust to settle on the bedding and we had numerous nights where we had to shake out the bedding first before we could go to sleep.



4. Due to the amount of fuel and water we had to carry to Mabuasehube for consumption, we had little space for other camping equipment inside the caravan, The cabinets inside the caravan is small and being winter, we had to pack our clothes in suitcases which had to go on top of the bed. Camping chairs, table, and various other items also found a traveling space on the nicely made bed. We had to unload this first before we could get some sleep.



5. Accessing the fridge while on the road was a menace. The fridge/freezer is located under the three-quarter sized bed on the nose side of the caravan. You had to lift the bed to get to the fridge. When loaded with items, this proved to be irritatingly difficult. Even when the bed was made, you still had to lift it to access the fridge.



Now, you might say these are petty concerns, but travelling for weeks on end with the same problems, these petty concerns become major irritations. Would I use an off-road caravan to Mabuasehube again? Maybe. You have to decide what is more important to you. For me, I don’t think I’d do it again.



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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve – Attractions and Activities

As stated in the previous post about Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve this resort in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, provides tourists on a budget holiday with many attractions and activities to occupy their time for days on end. Besides the relaxing atmosphere of the reserve and the wildlife and birds visiting the camp, even adrenaline junkies will have their fix of sorts.

What Makes Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve a Sought After Destination?

 


Well, just look at what is on offer in and around the resort. You can:-



-  Go on a 36 km long 4x4 trail and traverse sand and mountain


– Take any of the numerous hiking trails in the reserve,
– bike your way through the meandering roads of the reserve,
– go game viewing and bird watching,
– visit the famous ‘Roaring Dunes’ of the Kalahari,
– go dune boarding down the red dunes of the Kalahari, 



Let’s start with the ones I personally did – ok I’m lying – physical activity is not really my style, but the rest of my family has no such qualms.



Dune Boarding at Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve



Dune Boarding at Witsand Kalahari


If physical activity is your passion, you can take the kids and hire a dune board (currently R110-00 per board per day) from the reception office and scale one of the fairly high dunes in the reserve. From other dune boarders (remember I’m not one for exercise) I learned that it pays to wax the board thoroughly before embarking on the downward journey.

Even if you are not into the gliding down a dune at what feels like 100 km per hour with the wind in your hair, the climb to the top is still worthwhile. The view from atop the dune is spectacular and you have a panoramic vista over the roaring white dunes.



Visist the Roaring Dunes of Witsand Kalahari Reserve


'Brulsand' Viewpoint at Witsand Kalahari Reserve



From the viewpoint you have a wonderful view of the roaring sand of the Kalahari. This is probably the most well-known feature of the Witsand Kalahari Reserve and tourists are intrigued by the sound rising from the white dunes in warm and dry conditions.

The white of the roaring sand contrasts sharply with the rest of the red dunes and although the simple explanation for the difference in colour lies in the amount of oxidation around the sand, the white sand just lends a little more mystery to the dunes.



View from viewpoint of Roaring Dunes of Witsand Kalahari



Explore the 4x4 Trail at Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve


This is one of my favourite activities at Witsand Reserve. Approximately 20 km away from the reserve, a 36 km – long 4x4 route takes drivers over some small to medium dunes and some mountainous terrain with breathtaking scenery. The route itself is not all that taxing on either driver or vehicle, but it sure is a lot of fun. Hurtling up a dune at almost full speed, or having a ‘windgat’ driver stop halfway up a rolling dune, tends to get the adrenaline pumping and lift everyone’s spirits.

One of the Dunes at 4x4 track Witsand
Dunes at 4x4 trail Witsand Kalahari
On the way to the route you’ll encounter signs like the one below which will put a premature smile on your face. For those not fluent in Afrikaans, roughly translated it means: treat all gates like your pants’ zip – zip it and close it. 



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On the way to the route you can expect to see cori bustards, sociable weaver nests and if you keep your eyes open, various other semi-desert creatures.



With more than 170 bird species and various antelope and other desert creatures, combined with the exciting semi-desert vegetation, it should be clear by now, why your should take time to visit the Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve – Location and Accommodation

Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve in the Northern Cape provides tourists with a nice stopover between Gauteng and Namibia or the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The word ‘stopover’ is, however, not completely appropriate. You could easily spend a couple of days, even a week, at the reserve and never be bored. This is a must-see destination in anyone’s budget holiday as the prices are reasonable (even cheap for camping).

We used the Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve as a stopover in 2005 and stayed for only two days. In 2007 we rectified our mistake and spent a couple of days more at the resort.



Where is Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve?



View Larger Map

From Gauteng you take the N14 towards Upington. Just after Olifantshoek, you will find a road sign indicating the turnoff to the reserve. From here it is a gravel road and depending on the season, the road can be a little hair-raising for tourists travelling with a small sedan or normal caravan. The turn-offs to the resort is well-marked and if you happen to miss the first turn-off from the N14, you will find another one a couple of kilometers further on. Their web site www.witsandkalahari.co.za provides all the details one could require. 



Accommodation at Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve


You can choose between camping and staying in self-catering chalets. The campground is well maintained and although shade is at a premium on some sites, especially during the hot summer months, overall camping at the reserve is a pleasant experience.

Be careful during the summer months as the resort is in the Kalahari region of South Africa and the temperatures can be scorching. During winter months, make sure you have adequate blankets because although the days are moderate and pleasant, the nights can be downright freezing.



During 2007 we elected to make use of the camping facilities and being December, we had quite a bit of rain (with the inevitable leaking nylon tents) and very hot temperatures. So, check where you pitch the tent so that you don’t end up in a river of water during the night.



The self-catering accommodation is more than adequate and comfortable. Fully equipped kitchens, lounges and crisp and clean bedrooms are the order of the day.

Witsand Kalahari Accommodation

Management of the reserve tried to cause as little disturbance to the vegetation as possible and natural bush surrounds all the chalets. You might even, like we did, get visits from Steenbuck and a variety of other animal life around the camp. They even provided a birdbath and drinking point for the animals at the chalets, so sitting on the porch and relaxing with a cold one, could be very rewarding in the early morning and early evening.



Birdbath Attracts Wildlife at Witsand Kalahari



With friendly staff, adequate accommodation and plenty to do and see, this is an ideal destination for any tourist travelling through the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. In the next post I will tell you what to do and see in the area. Trust me, if you are a nature lover, you don’t want to miss out on all the activities this wonderful resort has to offer. Even the off-road enthusiast will have a blast.

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About This Blog

Here we try to bring you information about African destinations, both "on-road" and "off - road" with relevant information on how to reach the destinations, what to take into consideration and reasons why the destinations are recommended.

I encourage readers to comment and make suggestions and even share destinations they feel is worthwhile to investigate.

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