African Safari - South Africa

Day 1 - Cape Town to Cederberg

We were up at 5am in order to check in for our Namibia-Botswana safari and be ready for the 7am departure. All went smoothly and, on the dot, 24 people climbed in to the seats of our 4WD safari truck, named "Sonny", with chief guide and driver, Justice, and food engineer, Jojo.

We stopped briefly on the way out to take in the classic view of Table Mountain across the bay, before heading inland to the wine region of Paarl. The landscape was lush and green, following the first decent winter rains in three years, with a spectacular mountain backdrop, wheat-fields and vineyards.

Classic view of Table Mountain

The rugged mountains backing Paarl

The vineyards of Paarl

As this is wine country, our tour started off with a short wine-tasting (perhaps to help people get to know one another), before heading on through the rich farmlands of wheat, lucerne and vines. Eventually the route took us up and over the rugged ranges to the east and down into the valley of the Olifant River.

Snow-capped mountains backing fruit orchards

Canola crop in the Berg River Valley

We were now in the valley called Citrusdal, surrounded by the ridges of the Cederberg Mountains. The Olifant River is a source of irrigation and, as its name suggests, Citrusdal is a rich green tapestry of orange, lemon and other citrus groves, as well as plantations of roibos, the famous South African herbal tea.

The campground / orange grove of Markuskraal was our stop for the night and was also the spot to learn the art of setting up and taking down the safari tents as well as general camp chores and routines. Following this, we could relax in the warm afternoon sun, looking out across the scented orange trees to the mountains beyond, before a first night group dinner - a braai (BBQ) prepared by the camp hosts - to continue the bonding exercise.

The citrus and roibos plantations of Citrusdal

Day 2 - Cederberg to Orange River

Once again we were up before dawn to ensure a 7.30am getaway - tents and sleeping mattresses had to be packed away in the truck before breakfast to ensure a timely start (this was not in fact a trivial exercise, as the the space provided in the truck made it necessary to compress everything to fit). The morning was chilly, but the sky was clear as we left Markuskraal campsite and headed north. It was to be a day of changing landscapes.

For the first part, we followed the valley of the Olifant River, as it wound its way through the Cederberg Mountains - the rich green of citrus grove and roibos plantation continuing up through the next valley of Vredendal.

Passing the Cederberg Mountains

Semi-arid landscape of the Karoo

From here, we gradually began to drift away from the mountains as the N2 Highway led us into the Karoo, a semi-desert region of flat rangelands. As well as the waving grasses and low shrubs, patches of wildflowers began to appear - the winter rains had made this region bloom again.

Wildflowers of ......

..... the Karoo

The further north we drove, the drier the landscape became, until we eventually left the Karoo to pass through the rocky hills of Namaqualand. With boulder-strewn slopes emerging from the flatlands, the vegetation became a lumpy tapestry of low green- and olive-leafed shrubs, interspersed with patches of purple wildflowers.

The arid hills of Namaqualand

Rocky hills and wildflowers

Roadside lunch stop

Passing a series of small, isolated desert towns, agriculture was replaced by sheep and goat-farming. The landscape once again flattened out as we reached the fringes of the Namib Desert - the shrubby vegetation was even lower and more dispersed - and eventually we found ourselves amongst spectacular desert scenery - dry, dusty and sandy soil with low barren hills of granite boulders that resembled piles of builders rubble. Only the occasional aloe tree seemed able to grow on their arid slopes.

Namib Desert landscape

Nearing the Orange River the landscape becomes drier with barren hills

After a brief stop at the desert town of Springbok, to buy some supplies, we pushed on. The hills became increasingly prominent and we finally crossed between them to reach the Orange River - with its narrow band of green vegetation winding through the desert.

The green fringe of the Orange River

Reflections of the hills of Namibia

On the far side of the river lay Namibia, but that was for tomorrow. We drove a little downstream to set up camp at the Fiddlers Creek campsite, an oasis of shady trees on the river's edge. Our fascinating day of landscape transformation from the green of agriculture to the browns and creams of the desert was over.