So here I sit at the main view point on the edge of Fish River Canyon, Namibia. It is too early for my liking and the best way you tell that I have been rousted from my bed too early is that I am still clutching my travel mug full of coffee and I am still wearing my Pyjamas under my fleece. But so is Nic so at least we are a matched pair!
Having arrived at our campsite in Hobas in plenty of time last night, we dutifully set the alarm for 5:30 am this morning to make the 10 km drive out here to the main viewpoint overlooking the head of Fish River Canyon.
I have always believed that the only legitimate justification for being awake before 6 am is either a family emergency or in order to make it to the airport in time for a flight.
Nonetheless, here we are soaking in this utterly breathtaking view. Between our SLRs, iPhone and iPads, it is a struggle to capture the vastness of Africa’s second largest Canyon*.
Unfortunately, this morning we have an overcast day and the promise of the first rays of sun bitting the Canyon walls to reveal the pinks, greens, reds and brilliant blue of the river has not really come to pass. On this chilly morning, we are sitting and waiting to snap photos and drink in the beauty as occasional (and I mean occasional) patches of blue sky let the sun shine through and tease us in shockingly brief moments.
While we sit and wait for the next patch of blue sky, let me catch you on the trip so far.
At 7:30 am (an hour later than we planned), Nichol and I departed Cape Town on Tuesday morning. Our plan was to drive all the way up across the Namibian border and spend the first night just on the other side in Noordoewer. Truthfully, aside from the long drive through South Africa’s flower region (we missed the season by 2 weeks but it was still pretty) the most exciting thing about the drive was that Nichol let me take the wheel of the 3 tonne Land Rover for an hour or so. I was certainly a bit nervous and it takes time to find the right rhythm and clutch points in any new car, but this thing is a beast. Braking times are massively longer and with its loose joints for handling the off-road challenges, the Land Rover feels like an impatient filly, kicking at the traces as I urge her to go faster.
After 30 minutes my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel loosened and Nichol had relaxed enough to catch a few Zzs in the passenger seat.
Crossing the border into Namibia was very easy. I don’t know if it helps to have a Africkaans-speaking South African with me or if everyone really was as friendly and easy-going as they seemed. Either way, we arrived in Noordoewer as the sun was setting and decided to head to Felix Unite, one of several lodges and camps along the Orange River.
There was no camping for us on that first night I have to admit, as the sun was well set by the time we found Felix Unite and our 10 hours of driving (only 1 for me) made the idea of struggling to pitch camp for the first time in the dark just too much to contemplate. We succumbed to the temptation of discounted cabana accommodation with the added bonus of hot indoor showers.
“After a bottle of red wine and a steak dinner we fell into bed exhausted.”
Wednesday morning saw us back on the road early and we chose a much more managable itinerary. An hour and a half North of Noordoewer is the South end of the Fish River Canyon and we set the Ai-Ais Park entrance there as our first destination.
On the way, we took our first deviation off the main road and engaged the low gears of the Land Rover’s 4×4 system. Nichol had only recently purchased the 2004 Land Rover Defender that we are using so he was keen to see what she can do. The dry river bed detour just off the main (read unpaved gravel road) took us through a narrow canyon for about 10 km. There was no real climbing or obstacle course to navigate but having the 4 wheel drive on made easy work of the soft sand tracks of the canyon. The beautiful striations of copper ore and pink something or other up the steep canyon walls gave us a tiny preview of the vistas we were to expect t the larger Fish River Canyon. Not a bad way to ease our way into the 4×4 experience in my opinion, but I think Nicol was a little disappointed that we didn’t climb a small mountain on our first time out!
With the off road detour behind us we whizzed along the road to Ai-Ais and found ourselves at the hot springs at the gate of the park in no time. We took advantage of the free entry and had a dip in the lukewarm swimming pool to wash off the dust that now coats everything inside and outside the Land Rover. At the Ai-Ais Resort shop we bought some firewood and headed up to our ultimate destination, the campsite in Hobas at the North end of Fish River Canyon.
Everyone wants their first time to be special!
So on that Wednesday evening as the sun set behind the trees in Hobas, for the first time on our epic Southern African adventure Nicol and I set up the roof tent on the Landy and prepared to treat ourselves to a good Braai some wine.
The campsites here are flat and sandy, tenting on the ground here would be easy enough and there really aren’t the lions and hippos that really make a rooftop tent so appealing. Nonetheless the Landy looks so right with the ingenious foldout tent all set up, the aluminum ladder leading to the surprisingly comfortable queen size mattress and when full decked out in her awnings, side panels, shower curtains and with folding camp chairs placed in front, you would be forgiven for thinking that a 2 story canvas tent of dreams had fully consumed the truck.
Next came dinner, steaks and sausage grilled to perfection over the BBQ (henceforth to be called by the South African term Braai) a tomato, onion and green pepper mix was added to a grilled cheese sandwich concoction that I now know as Braai-Broodjie, essentially BBQ Cheese sandwich, yummy and marginally better for you than the traditional North American Kraft on white with butter on both sides.
The wine led to a glass or two of whiskey and with a promise in our heads to wake before dawn today, we laid our heads down again and slept soundly under a perfect African night sky.
Just a final note on something I am sure you may have been asking yourself. What about the animals??? So far this has been a travelogue about me, lots of wine and some stunning scenery. Well fear not. On our way out the the viewpoint we spotted our first wildlife. A few Springbok and some Ostriches dotted the roadside and upon our return to the campsite this morning a rather large Baboon was being chased through the camp by the staff as it tried to make off with left over Braai from the garbage cans scattered throughout the site.
We stayed here in Hobas for another day to sort out the truck, read up on our next adventure and enjoy the sun when it finally came out.
So for now, I leave you safe in the knowledge that Namibia is everything I hoped it would be and so much more, I am so looking forward to seeing more it in the coming weeks.
Take care my friends and remember to keep your eyes open, you never know when a Baboon is going to try to take off with your left-overs!!
* There is some debate that the largest canyon in Africa, said to be located in Ethiopia is not actually bigger, just longer or deeper or something like that. Either way, Fish River Canyon is worth a visit for sure!!!