On Day 1 of our land tour we got into a truck with 19 strangers and 2 guides and set out from Cape Town heading north towards Namibia. Our first activity was a visit to a rooibos and buchu tea farm and production facility in Cederberg. These plants can only be grown in the western part of South Africa. We all know and love rooibos but buchu is another beast altogether – minty and herbal and root-y.
That day we also learned to set up our tents – large green canvas tents with unforgiving metal frames. Our first tent was un-pitchable. See below. We swear we got really good after this, with only minor amounts of cursing and blistering.
On Day 2 we drove up to the Orange river, which forms the border between South Africa and Namibia. With the landscape getting progressively sandier, we enjoyed a dip in the river and got to know our fellow truck travellers better over our traditional African dinner of stew and pap eaten with our hands.
Before crossing the border on Day 3, we got the chance to canoe down the Orange river for a few kilometres, appreciating the start of the Namib desert views. In the afternoon we got to have a quick dip in the pool heated by the Ai-Ais Hot Spring.
We rose early on Day 4 to walk the rim of the Fish River Canyon as the sun rose. Some say it’s the second largest canyon in the world, but it seems to depend on what metric is being considered. Regardless, we enjoyed the amazing views and canyon-side breakfast from our truck.
Next we visited the Quiver Tree Forest, featuring a dense population of these unique, aloe-related trees.
That afternoon we visited Giant’s Playground, where we climbed over immense stacked volcanic rock formations. The area really feels more like the ruins of some ancient civilization’s brickwork.
Day 5 served as a driving day, taking us deep into the Namib desert. We camped on a plain adjacent to the towering sand dunes of Sossusvlei, and were subjected to the harsh evening sandstorms that pummelled our faces and tents. That evening we started to become acquainted with the desert wildlife, hearing the barking geckos and watching out for the jackals circling our camp.
On Day 6 we rose early again to be the first truck at Dune 45. We started our ascent in the dark and made it to the top in time to see the sun rise above the horizon.
We spent the rest of the morning driving and walking through the red dunes of Sossusvlei. We made the trek by foot to the famous Deadvlei (Namibia’s “Death Valley”) to see the otherworldly dead, dark camel thorn trees rising out of a flat clay pan, surrounded by red sand dunes.
That evening our campsite host, a local bushman and desert expert, provided us with a guided tour of the enormous property. He demonstrated a few tips for surviving in the desert, including capturing (and eating) live lizards. There was also a watering hole near the campground and that night we witnessed a herd of zebras clashing with oryx for priority access. This excellent day in the desert was one of our absolute favourites from our time in Africa.
On Day 7 we made our way north past the Tropic of Capricorn and then to the coast, spotting a few flamingos at Walvis Bay before heading up to Swakopmund. The transition from the scorching desert sun to the cool (and often foggy) coast was rather shocking, but with two nights planned in a hotel we were ready for a break from the sand.