7 Weeks On- Reflections and Ruminations

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Our time in numbers….150 : 50 : 70 : 25 : 39 : x4 : 6/2 : 0

  • 150 +….hours of planning undertaken before setting off
  • 50%….underestimation of how much we would spend!
  • 70+….movies watched whilst on planes/buses
  • 25+….books read
  • 39….days back at work
  • x4….the days back at work for the number of ‘back to reality’ humph’s by Hedd
  • 6/2….number of application/ number of interviews until Helen got a job
  • 0….regrets!

Well I can’t believe its been almost 2 months since we landed at Heathrow after an amazing 6 month adventure. Since leaving back in October, in many ways things haven’t changed; family and friends are still as lovely as ever, the UK is still in recession, the weather is just as temperamental, Liverpool FC still aren’t playing terribly well! But in other ways things are very different; I now live with my big brother and sister-in-law, I’m no longer a member of my beloved Royal Chester Rowing Club, I work in economic development not climate change (and enjoying it!), and perhaps most challenging of all- I am living 174 miles away from Hedd. We try to see each other most weekends however, and last weekend we sat in the sun and reflected on our incredible trip. I hope you enjoy our summary….

If we had to rank the countries we visited….

….it would look a little bit like this:

Helen

Hedd

  1. Peru
  2. Zambia&Zimbabwe
  3. South Africa&Lesotho
  4. New Zealand
  5. Botswana
  6. Bolivia
  7. Argentina
  8. Australia
  9. Fiji
  10. Chile
  1. Peru/New Zealand/Zambia&Zimbabwe*
  2. Argentina
  3. Botswana
  4. South Africa&Lesotho
  5. Bolivia
  6. Australia
  7. Fiji
  8. Chile**

(*He couldn’t choose!; **8 and 9 missed out?…yes Northern Chile was that bad!)

Such a tough question, but the best moment for me of our trip was…

Helen

Hedd*

After a 3 day trek to Machu Picchu we went for double or quits and decided to climb Huayna Picchu-2720 meters. Achy and tired from the 5am start, we surprised ourselves and made it up to the top in 40 mins. I will always remember the sense of achievement pulling ourselves up that last stone step to the top. We found a rock overlooking the city below and rested. A feeling of absolute calm and contentment settled over me like a mist. It was at that moment when I realised just how privileged I was to be doing this trip and sharing it with someone I really loved.
  • Looking down on Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu.
  • Skydive from 15,000ft in Queenstown, NZ
  • Swimming at the top of Victoria Falls, Zambia

* My top three moments, impossible to pick one!

We didn’t have many, but the lowest moment for me of our trip was…

Helen

Hedd

I had an alarming number of ‘run in’s’ with human and animal excrement throughout the 6 months! There was the urine incident on our bus to Vina del Mar, where the bus’ toilet seem to have leaked on my backpack in the hold (still gives me the gross shivers!). And then I was poo-ed on by a bird on 2 occasions- the first in Agua Callenatis, Peru, on my new t-shirt and the second as I leaned my arm out our 4×4 of safari in Chobe! Ah well, I guess I just needed the luck! My three hangover days:-

  • On a bus from Puno to Arequipa in Peru.
  • In Sydney after the Red Wine at Ian & Teresa’s wedding.
  • The day after my birthday in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa.

Bucket List 2012 –

Perhaps inevitably we came back with a longer list than we went with as we heard fellow travellers stories of were they had been and opened our eyes up to more of the world. Here’s what made it onto both of our lists….

  • The Trans-Siberian Railway, China to Russia
  • Southern Patagonia
  • American Road Trip
  • East, West and Central Africa overland
  • The Arctic Circle (Aurora Borealis)
  • Western Canada & Asia (On Hedd’s list)
  • India and Nepal, trekking to Everest Base Camp (On Helen’s list)

So what’s next?

With the trip costing us more than we planned, as you can imagine there is the small, but annoyingly persistent, issue of debt clearing! So for both of us the immediate plan is to clear our debt as quickly as we can. Hedd is also ‘car-less’ at the moment so he has the added incentive for clearing his debt so he can buy a car and get his independence back! The next step is to both gain employment in jobs we enjoy within 1 hours of each other. For both of us that will probably involve getting a new job and relocating to a new area which, I think Hedd would admit himself, he finds a scary prospect! For me, I’m getting pretty used to that now! The goal is by Christmas 2012 to be living together in our own home (rented of course- lets not get ahead of ourselves!) After that who knows, maybe another trip – Hedd has a few ideas!!

Hedd’s final words of wisdom:

So the trip is over and we’ve come back to earth with a bang! Do I have any regrets, only one – that we aren’t still out there! It was an amazing experience and I’m so happy that we did it. I loved every minute of it, we visited so many amazing countries, met so many lovely people and did some extraordinary things. I have wanted to go traveling for a number of years, but have always found reasons to put it off. As much as I would advise people not to wait, to stop making excuses and just go, I’m happy I waited. If I hadn’t, I might not have fallen in love with Helen and we might never have gone on this trip together. It wouldn’t have been half as fun without her and I feel privileged to have spent six months traveling the world with her and I look forward to our next adventure. I guess I should finish with some wise words, so here they are: The world is an amazing place, try to see as much of it as you can. There is so much to see and its easier than ever for us to see them. However, the world is getting smaller and more westernized as global corporations pop up everywhere. Unique cultures are being eroded as youngsters are increasingly influenced by television and advertising. Many of the cultures and sights out there today, may not be there in a few years.

Going out with a bang (pt 2)- Livingstone and Zimbabwean Vic Falls

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Victoria Falls Lunar Rainbow- one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen.

6th April: So our plan of having a lie in didn’t quite work out. Our body clocks still thought they were on safari and we both woke up at 5.30am! But ah well it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the sunshine in the morning before catching a taxi to the Zambian ‘Frontier’ so we could walk over Victoria Falls Bridge into Zimbabwe- our 12th and final country of the trip. We got our exit stamp from Zambia and then made the rather soggy walk through no mans land, over Vic Falls bridge which spans the valley carved out by the Zambezi River, and onto the Zimbabwe immigration post. It’s a good 20 minutes walk from Zambian immigration to Zimbabwean immigration and you do get wet, but it’s definitely better to walk than to get a taxi as the view from the bridge of the Falls is fantastic. This waterfall truly is massive! 1700 metre wide and from the bridge you can see it all. Top tip though- don’t wear flip-flops. The ground is wet from the spray so I was flicking mud up the back of my legs the whole way- gross! At the Zim border we got our passports stamped and paid the $55 for our visas. A bit steep but I imagine GB makes it just as expensive for Zimbabweans to travel into the UK. It was then just a quick 2 minutes walk to the Vic Falls Park entry so we could check out all the viewpoints of the falls from the Zim side. We were worried we were going to lose money as we didn’t have the exact dollars for the entry ($30 each). But we needn’t have flustered, Zimbabwe has officially abandoned their own currency and now use US dollars, ever since Mugabe devalued the Zim dollar and ruined the economy….just another achievement to add to his list then! In the park and legs washed clean of mud, we browsed all the info boards and then set off on the 3km walk around the park to all its viewpoints. There have been 8 previous sites of the waterfall created as the Zambezi river has worked itself back upstream from fault line to fault line. The next line of the fault will originate from the area around the part of the falls called the Devils Cataract but will take another 10,000 years for the collapse. At 107 metres high, 1,737 metres wide, and pouring 1,100 m3/sec, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world. And yet again we were blown away by its magnitude and majesty as we wandered around the park, and of course getting absolutely drenched in the process! When we got to the viewpoint for Livingstone Island we were shocked at how close Zambia and Zimbabwe were at this point, plus we got a great view of the rock pool we swam in…it looked much scarier from this perspective face onto the falls; we swam so close to the edge! Absolutely saturated we came to the last viewpoint at Victoria Falls Bridge and saw many rainbows form and dissolve in the mist underneath it. Beautiful. We took the dry route back and the opportunity to dry off on our way to the park entrance. In the end I went to the bathroom and I took off my top and skirt to wring the water out before popping them back on and standing in the sun. Needed to at least look semi decent for where we were heading next, to visit the historically colonial Victoria Falls Hotel. We took a shortcut through the bush to the garden entrance of the hotel. The view from the hotel gardens is pretty impressive- the churning Zambezi cutting through the valley, the industrial elegance of the Vic Falls Bridge and the spray from the main falls continuously pushing up into the sky in the background. And then you turn around and see an equally impressive sight, which is the Vic Falls Hotel. A pillared sun terrace, white wash walls and terracotta tiles. We made our way, still slightly damp, to the Stanley Terrace and order a High Tea for Two (available each day from 3pm; $30). To share, we got a 3 tier display: 1 layer of sandwiches, 1 layer of plain and sultana scones with jam and cream, and 1 layer of dessert cakes; plus copious amounts of tea! It was delicious and we ate it all- we were stuffed! We enjoyed a delightful 2 hours eating, drinking and watching the rainbow in the mist travel from east to west under the bridge. It was a fabulous afternoon. After a mouche around the hotel we ventured into Victoria Falls Village. Not much was open on account of it being Good Friday, but we caught the end of the arts and craft market and Hedd bought the lowest and highest denomination of the obsolete Zimbabwe dollar- a $5 and a $100 trillion-dollar note! We walked back over the bridge and into Zambia again and thanked the lord for our good fortune. There was not a cloud in the sky and the Full Moon was really bright already; it was looking good for us seeing the lunar rainbow. We paid our entry into the Zambian side of Vic Falls Park and headed for the Eastern Cataract which is the best viewpoint to see the ‘Moonbow’- a rainbow produced from the light of the moon instead of the sun. We got there at 6.30pm and it wasn’t too busy but by 7pm the viewpoint was packed. We’d got a good spot and we waited for the sun to set and the light from the moon to do its magic. Suddenly we saw something try to form in the bottom left of the mist and soon a big arch of a rainbow formed. It was incredible. Sometimes the moonbow just appears grey, but the moon was drenching the mist in so much light we saw bands of red, blue and yellow. It was truly astonishing and I was so so pleased I’d been so anal about dates 1 year ago when we were planning the trip so we’d be in Livingstone for full moon. I was so so chuft to have seen it and it was a moment where I had a chance to reflect on just how lucky Hedd and I were to have been doing what we have been doing for the last 6 months. An amazing day.

Easter Saturday and another jammed packed day of activities. First up an Elephant backed safari! A rep from Zambezi Elephant Trails pick us up from the hotel at drove us 10 clicks out-of-town along the Botswana road to Thorntree Lodge within the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. On arrival the Head guide explained the background to the Elephant trails. The 6 adult elephants were all rescue elephants from the 1960’s-80’s when there was a massive culling exercise in the Zambezi Valley and a drought in the Gonarezha National Park. There are 3 little ones too- One, the daughter of the matriarchal female who went ‘bush’ and came back pregnant 10 months later; one the daughter of Liwa who after seeing Mashumbi getting pregnant, wanted one for herself so went off with the older male called Bop! And then little Sekuti who got brought home by the herd after they went grazing on a nearby island; no wild herds had been in the area for months so it seemed the little 6 month old had been on her own for some time. So all in all this herd’s history sounded like something off EastEnders! The guide also explained how they trained the elephants using positive reinforcement (i.e. treats and rewards) as opposed to the controversial ‘discipline and submission’ technique commonly associated with Asian Elephants. After all that (oh and signing our life away on an indemnity form no. 250!) we got introduced to the elephants. They are MASSIVE! And we couldn’t quite believe we were about to ride one. We mounted the elephant using a raised platform and we were on Mashumbi, the Matriarch and leader of the pack so we were out in front. All the elephants had someone on them apart from Sekuti who just came along for the ride, frolicking around the herd. We looked like a proper cool elephant family! The 1 hour trail led us through riverine bush and along the banks of the Zambezi. It wasn’t so much of a safari but we did see Impala. It was such a great experience being so close to an elephant. They are a lot hairier than I thought and the very tips of their ears are truly paper-thin, soft and smooth with lots of veins running through; much like a back of a leaf looks. Back at base it was time to feed Mashumbi her treats. You had to drop them in her trunk or throw them in her mouth, but I was completely rubbish at it. The trunk just freaked me out! It is such a funny yet incredibly alien thing with 2 massive nostrils! Anyway the whole 2 hours was really fun and elephants are lovely creatures. Back at the hostel and a budget beans on toast lunch, before getting picked up at 4pm for our booze cruise. We got picked up in a massive open air safari jeep which got stuffed with backpackers as they crawled around every hostel in town picking people up. It was so noisy and perhaps a flavour of what was to come! We got on our boat called Mukumbi from the stage outside The Waterfront Hotel and positioned ourselves by the bar (obviously!). $55 dollars, all you can drink with snacks and a hot buffet thrown in. Can’t complain about that! We soon got in the swing of things, with the bar man refilling our drinks without us even noticing at times! We were so engrossed in our various conversations with people that we almost missed sunset! But we caught it just in time, plus saw some game (elephants and hippo’s) too. It was really good fun and we continued the drinking back at the hostel with a load of trainee medics from America we’d met. My goodness can they drink!

8th April: another classic morning after the night before! Unsurprisingly we had a lazy morning, but were up and about by lunchtime to get ready to visit Lubasi Home Trust, the local home for parent-less and homeless children. It was set up by a guy from Sri Lanka who owned a few businesses in Livingstone and was shocked at how many children there were living rough on the street, either escaping from violent homes (due to the challenge of living in extreme poverty) or being orphaned (due to parents dying from HIV/AIDS). The area didn’t have any facilities to help these children so he stumped up the cash, bought the land and buildings at Lubasi from the government and set up a charitable trust to care for them. That was in 2001 and they have been going ever since, heavily reliant on the volunteer ‘mums’ who work there. Hedd and I were there to donate some of our clothes and shoes and just hang out with the kids for the afternoon. Hedd played football and I read to the girls. Each of the children were so different. The home is only meant to have kids aged 5-10 but there were children up to 18 there. And some were so quiet and withdrawn with others outlandish. The chap opposite in the pic was one of the outlandish ones who wore my sunglasses the whole time and enjoyed playing (almost breaking!) my camera. But he was happy so that was the main thing. I also had a stash of hair bands which I gave out to the girls. Whether they used them for the right purpose or as catapults I do not know! We stayed there for a good 2-3 hours then walked the 30 minutes back to town, having a strange interaction with a local who laughed and said “Before looking up I knew you (hedd) were a man and you (helen) were a woman, because you (man points to hedd) have so much hair on your legs….so much hair!” Hehe, very true random local man, very true!

9th April, and our last full day in Livingstone. Up and out early doors to catch one of the first flights of the day up in a microlight for a aerial view of the falls. I was so excited about this, which only grew as we waited our turn watching others take off and land. We were flying with Batoka Sky from their base at Maramba Aerodome just outside Livingstone town. Our 15 minute flight would take us along the Zambezi, figure of eight over the top of the falls and then back over the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and I couldn’t wait! Hedd was up first and I close behind in another microlight. My pilot was called Keith, he was from Scotland and had been here a month and it was great because it felt like he was as excited as I was to go up and have a glide around. I had a helmet on with ear phones so I could hear what Keith was saying. Although I struggled, goodness knows how non-english speaking people fare, he was Scottish after all! The falls from above are amazing, breathtaking and we got a great view of the Batoka gorge too. Keith pointed out various fancy hotels, and I could tell him “I’ve been there, I’ve done that”. Hedd’s pilot went low over the falls edge and he got wet from the mist. My guy went low over the national park and I got to see an elephant. It was a really great way to round the whole Victoria Falls/Livingstone experience off; I really recommend it! That evening to mark our last night in Livingstone we went for sundowner drinks at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. We got there about 6.30pm and it was pretty busy but we managed to get a table right by the water on the sundeck. The sun dips directly in front of you and to your left is the drop of the falls. Hedd went up to order our cocktails and was told to sit down (all waiter service here!), which was lovely but it did mean we waited super long for our drinks. We did manage to get them just in time for sunset though which is the main thing. Although I kind of wished the sun would move about 100 meters left so you would see it dip behind the falls, the African sunset was still tremendously beautiful and a great way to end our Victoria Falls adventure.

10th April and time to say goodbye to Livingstone which had been our home for 10 days and we had grown to love it. An hour flight to Lusaka in an even smaller plane (2 seats wide and an aisle) and a taxi ride to our hostel in Fairview, and we’d arrived at our last accommodation of the trip- Kalulu Backpackers. Not the nicest of hostels and the bathrooms were a 3 minute walk outside in the garden which was a bit odd, but the staff were friendly and they had 2 cute bunny rabbits and a crazy dog to keep us amused! Our last day of the trip we spent do a slight exploration of Lusaka. It’s not the nicest city in the world but we did make it to Kabwata Cultural Village in the South East of the city to do last-minute present buying for our families. Hedd has 3 sisters and 1 brother so plenty of people to souvenir shop for! Our last supper was at Mahak Indian Restaurant on Great East Road which was lovely. It wasn’t too far from the hostel so we walked to it. Although walking back in the dark I was convinced someone would jump out from the drainage ditches which run alongside most of the roads and made Hedd walk in the middle of the street with me just in case! Completely unfounded fear but we had been so lucky throughout the whole trip with regards to safety and crime, I just didn’t want anything to happen on our last night! Needless to say we arrived back to the hostel safe and sound! Just time for one last African cider (Hunters Gold) at the hostel bar, before packing and hitting the hay.

12th April 2012 and time to fly back to Britain. To London Heathrow to be precise, and terminal 5 from where we had left 23 weeks before. I was ready to come home I think, and in reality we had to- funds had dried up! There will be time to reflect on best bits, low points and greatest moments in another post perhaps. But for now I thank you for reading this travelogue. The last 6 months have been incredible, and it has been a great pleasure to share the experience with you through this series of chronological posts which I suspect I will treasure forever.

Livingstone and Zimbabwean Vic Falls in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Hot, but a little chilly in the Vic Falls spray!
    • Food= Baked beans on toast, cereal and UHT milk (budget running very low!)
    • Drink= Just too much box wine!
    • A must see in your lifetime= A lunar rainbow, a ‘moonbow’ (you can catch one at Full Moon at Vic Falls or at Waimea in Hawaii)
    • One of the funnest thing to watch= the trunk of an elephant- literally has a mind of its own!
    • A kindred spirit= “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy”- Ernest Hemingway
Hedd’s words of wisdom:

What a place to end our trip. Victoria Falls is amazing, it is massive. The biggest waterfall in the world and we are seeing it in high water. Well of course you can’t see all of it in high water because of the spray, but what you can do is feel the full force of it. We saw the falls from the Zambia side and the Zimbabwe side and we got absolutely drenched. It was like walking through a monsoon in parts, so much water, so much mist, it was exhilarating. We couldn’t see the full falls, at each viewpoint we could only see a small section, but each section was so impressive and there were so many sections. We saw rainbows everywhere in the day and of course we had the privilege of seeing a lunar rainbow at night, quite a sight!! The falls is also where we did the craziest thing we’ve ever done, which says a lot given Helen did the highest bungy in NZ and I jumped out of a plane at 15,000ft. We swam at the top of Victoria Falls. Insane – Yes. Amazing – Yes! There were no safety harnesses here, just our local guide who would act as some sort of goalkeeper should you go too close to the edge! If you ever get the chance to do this, do it! You won’t regret it – unless you’re the unlucky one that goes over the edge!!

Going out with a bang (pt 1)- Zambia side Victoria Falls and Botswanna

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 Ahhh, good to be back!

My, my we had made it to Zambia. This was my must do country after we decided to come to Africa as it was where my parents lived for 9 years, where my brother was born and where I lived for the 1st year of my life. It is also where my parents met the Roberts and the McDonald family who remain a massive part of my life; representing second and third mum’s, dad’s and siblings. Big watershed moment for us too as this would be our final country before flying back to Britain, and my goodness were we going to make the most of it! After flying into Lusaka, and spending one night in the capital at Lusaka Backpackers, it was back on a plane for our internal flight down to Livingstone. The plane was tiny- 3 seats wide, but the pilot did us proud; super smooth and a great first view of Victoria Falls from the air on our final approach into Livingstone airport (top tip: sit on the left of the plane to get the best view). We were staying at Jollyboys Backpackers and a chap was there to pick us up from the airport and drive us the 6km into town. The backpackers was fab and we were staying in a little triangular hatched hut called ‘Hippo’ and everything inside had a hippo theme, it was great. Today was 1st April and we were flying back to Lusaka on the 10th- 10 days to fit as much as we could in, and have as much fun as our dwindling budget allowed. So first stop was to the tour desk to plan out our time and book our activities. Livingstone Island, Chobe Safari, Elephant Safari, Booze Cruise and Microlight….booked! We were going to have a great 10 days!

After a reasonable night sleep (although the pillows felt like they were stuffed with boulders!), it was time for our first activity- Breakfast on Livingstone Island. Now perhaps a potted history is required…as you all know Dr David Livingstone, the courageous Scotsman, in the 1800’s was, and still remains, the most pioneering missionary and explorer of Africa. His motto was ‘ Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation’ and he believed the key to achieving these goals was the navigation of the Zambezi River, and hence he spent a great deal of time around Victoria Falls. The town named after him and so to the tiny island on the edge of the falls we were about to visit. The island is the place where Dr David Livingstone first glimpsed Victoria Falls, or to use its traditional name: Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. We were visiting in the wet season when the falls is at its fullest, so we were sure to get soaked and we wore our swimmers in preparation. In fact we were lucky to even be able to visit the island as the operators were closing it on 3rd April (the next day) due to the high water level- we breathed a sigh of relief at our timing! At 8.30am we got a taxi (35,000 kwacha) to the very fancy Royal Livingstone Hotel. My my it was luxurious and we made our way through its lovely garden and onto the sun deck overlooking the Zambezi River with the spray from the falls hurtling into the sky. We were joined by 2 other older couples from the US and Durban, signed our lives away on yet another indemnity form, and then boarded the jet boat that would take us to the little island in the middle and right on the edge of the falls. We didn’t really know what to expect as our guide led us through the trees and foliage to a little clearing by the edge of the island, and it was there that Hedd and I got our first up close view of the mighty Victoria Falls. It was amazing! The Smoke that Thunders really is a good description; just gallons and gallons of water thundering over and down the cliff edge and we were sooo close! We donned the rain coats the Tongabezi tour company provided and took a walk right along the edge of the island, getting progressively wetter from the spray and marvelling at the sheer power of the falls, how big they were and how close we were to the edge. And then the guide asked “who wants to swim?”. Hedd and I couldn’t believe it. We had been told we wouldn’t be allowed to swim at the top of the falls because of the water level. Completely apprehensive but not wanting to miss out on an opportunity of a life time, we stripped off to our swimmers and along with the couple from Durban, we all held hands and got guided the way into a rock pool right by the edge of the falls by our local guide with dreads. We made our way very slowly and carefully into the rock pool and on arrival literally screamed with delight at the fact that we were actually swimming at the edge of the falls! I thought the water would be freezing but it was in fact really nice and warm and the current in this little rock pool was not as strong as you think. Either way I was pleased our guide was acting as a goal’ie, blocking the natural exit from this rock pool i.e. over the falls edge! It was just amazing. And such a surprise and we were both delighted to have done it. We then slowly made our way back to the island and to the tented dining area to dry off and redress before breakfast. A great way to wake up! We got served copious amounts of tea, eggs Benedict and scones whilst listening to the thunderous falls. Goodness knows where the staff conjured up the food (the island was tiny!), but it was all piping hot and delicious. Absolutely stuffed and just so content, we headed back to the Royal Livingstone Hotel sun deck feeling like we’d done enough activities for the whole day but it was not even 11am! The 2 other couples on our tour were staying at the hotel and they invited us to join them for a drink on the garden terrace. All very posh and our luck continued as they shouted us drinks as we chatted and attempted to dry off in the sun- lovely generous people. After a quick unplanned zip back to our hostel after Hedd realised he’d lost the room key in the Zambezi (!), we then made our way to Zambian side of the Victoria Falls Heritage Park to explore all the various viewpoints. Paying our $20 entry we headed straight for the ‘Knife Edge Bridge’. We wrapped up all our camera’s and money belts in bags within bags in preparation for getting soaked. And my goodness did we get saturated! Walking across the bridge that fronts directly onto the face of Falls, it was like walking through torrential rain and the bridge was like a river. It was so fun and I screamed a lot! Walking to the rain forest view-point we didn’t really get a great view of the falls on account of the spray but we really got an impression of its power as the water tumbles down, throwing up the spray that was getting us so wet. Moving away from the falls face we headed for the furthest away viewpoint along the Photographic Trail which ended right by Victoria Falls bridge. Incredibly I was pretty much dry by the time we had walked there and back on account of the sunshine. All in all we spent 2 hours in the park and we both voiced that we were so pleased to be ending our trip here and seeing one of the 7 wonders of the world. Amazing. After a spot of browsing through the Vic Falls African Arts and Craft market (top tip: over-priced, cheaper to buy souvenirs at Mukuni Park market in town), we got a taxi back to the town. Our journey was interrupted by having to wait at a junction for a steam train to pass. Now I was under strict instructions from my Dad (a train fanatic!) to take photos of any trains I might happen to pass. So up and out of the taxi I went and absolutely legged it down the road to get a photo of this very expensive looking steam train. We were 10 cars back from the junction so everyone else in their taxi’s must have thought I was bonkers, randomly running towards a train, but I got some good piccies for Dad so it was worth it! A chilled out evening at our hostel to end our fantastic first full day in Livingstone.

3rd April and time for the start of our 3 day, 2 night safari in Chobe National Park in Botswana- country number 11 of our round the world trip. It was a 1 1/2 hour minibus transfer to the Botswana border. We were entering Botswana via the Kazungula ferry across the Chobe River. Its one of the shortest border crossings at just 750 m wide and from the little power boat that took us across we could see 4 countries- Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana. Pretty damn cool! We got our exit stamps on the Zambia side, crossed the river and got our entry stamps for Botswana. Sinka, our safari guide from Kalahari Tours, met us on the Botswana side and drove us to Kalahari’s base in Kasane Town in the open 4×4 van that we would be travelling in for the next 3 days. First up was a 2 hour river safari and we boarded the big boat, made from what looked like 2 canoes glued onto a platform with 2 power engines at the back, and remarkably still stayed afloat as we made our way down the Chobe River. As we sailed up the Botswana side and then down the Nambian side of the river we saw lots of animals, impala, crocodiles, buffalo. But best of all we saw a big family of elephants with a little baby elephant drinking from the river, plus a hippo basking in the sun smiling. Our driver and guide on the boat though I have to say were rubbish. They didn’t explain anything, just intermittently pointed and said the animals name. But we still enjoyed it. Back at base the tour company laid on a fab lunch before it was time to collect our rucksack and board our 4×4 with Sinka to head to Chobe National Park and properly start our safari. We entered the park via the Sedudu Gate on the Western side. Chobe is the second largest park in Botswana at 11,700 km sq and it is unfenced so not to impact on the animals natural migration patterns. We soon came across 1 of Chobe’s 150,000 African elephants. There are so many of them, Chobe are having to transport some of them to other countries who’s elephant populations are struggling to bring the population down to sustainable levels. From Sedudu we headed East towards our camp at Serendela and we saw loads of game along the way: elephants, impala, giraffe, kudu, buffalo, marshal eagles…Particularly amazing was when we found a pride of 7 lioness’ who were stalking a herd of elephants. We thought we were just about to witness a kill but instead something equally exciting. The matriarchal female elephant charged the lioness’ away, trumpeting and thundering her massive feet. It was like watching a Natural Planet episode in real life; amazing! Sinka never let us miss out on the small animals too. Amazingly he spotted a chameleon from the 4×4 and stopped alongside the tiny thing and we watched it turn from bright lime green to an evergreen colour as it walked into the bush- very cool. But the highlight for me was seeing a ‘Tower’ of 15 giraffes on the plain by the Chobe River as the sun was going down and we got the chance to see them gallop. Such an elegant movement for such a long limbed animal. Wonderful! We got into camp at 6.30pm and after getting introduced to our tents and long drop toilet, we got our camp briefing from Malachite our camp leader. Basic rules, this was an open camp. Animals can pass through at anytime but apparently they won’t because the little paraffin lamps he has dotted around will scare them off (?!?) and to make sure you shine your head torch around before stepping out of your tent if you need the loo in the night! Proper bush camping then! Mr Roy, another member of the Kalahari team, was our cook and we enjoyed a dinner of chicken curry followed by vanilla sponge and angel delight. They then brought the marshmallows out and had a girl guide moment browning marshmallows on sticks above the campfire. Entertainment was provided by Mr Roy telling jokes and Malachite dancing and singing African songs. It was great! Bed by 9.30pm as safari life starts early at 5.30am.

5.30am and a wake up call from Malachite gently drumming on our tent roof. A quick wet wipe wash, cornflakes breakfast with a cuppa and we were off on the 4×4 for a 4 hour morning game drive. We were on the hunt for a leopard who enjoy the cool of the morning, and after driving along the river for a bit we went deeper into the bush watching the trees to try to spot a leopard. We didn’t find one! But of note we did see a troop of baboons play fighting and jumping between the rooves of 2 rondavel huts. They absolutely were destroying the thatch but it was fun to watch. We also saw a herd of impala leaping along the road flicking their back legs up really high in the air as they went- very cool. But all in all the morning drive was a bit slow and everyone admitted (there were 10 of us in the 4×4) they took a little snooze at some point in the 4 hours! Plus I got poo’d on by a bird again (the same had happened in Peru)! But as one of the other girls said, Jasmin, it is good luck so I shouldn’t complain! We got back to camp at 10.30am and Mr Roy cooked us brunch of bacon, sausage, scrabbled egg, corn fritters and beans. I was hungry for it I have to say after being out all morning and it was yum. We then had a 2 hour siesta (animals aren’t really about it the heat of the mid day). As we were getting ready to go for our afternoon game drive a herd of elephants came really close to camp munching on branches. It was amazing. They got so close! Then it was off into the western part of the park again for some more viewing. This time Sinka was on the hunt for some more lions. We didn’t find them but we did see plenty of animals. In particular, a whole range of aquatic birds and some of what Sinka called the ‘Ugly 5’- malibu storks, baboons and warthogs (hyenas and vultures make up the last 2). We asked if we could be by the river for sunset and Sinka got us there just in time. Then it was back to camp at 6.30pm. The next 3 day, 2 night group had arrived so they were 7 new people to get to know which was fun. Two of which we discovered had witnessed me running down the road towards the steam train 2 days previous. The exchange went a little like this, “oh yeah, you were that crazy girl in the black dress who ran to see the train”. Yeah, thanks for that! The singing and dancing had added justo tonight with the guides rising to the larger audience. How African men dance is just funny- they just seemed to be in a permanent squat position whilst jumping around! Bed at 9.30pm again, snuggling into our comfy mattress, pillow and duvet.

5th April and our last day on safari. Usual routine, 5.30am start. But this morning had the added excitement of Sinka announcing he had heard a kill in the night really close by our camp. It was a lion on a buffalo and it happened at 4.50am so Sinka was sure the lions were still in the area. So we jumped in the 4×4 and Sinka carreered off-road at speed into the bush. It was all very exciting! He then got radioed by one of the Kalahari team he had located the lions and Sinka literally stormed it to the road. We were going so fast I just held on for dear life as we hurtled around the corner. But we were first on the scene and saw 10 lions (9 females and 1 male) in a stand-off with a bachelor herd of buffalo. The buffalo won and the lions went under a tree for a sulk! We were the last 2 out of the 10 originals on the tour and for the remaining of the morning drive we got our own personal safari; just us and Sinka which was rather special. We were zebra hunting which saw us travel to the Ngoma Gate on the Eastern side of the park. No sightings for us, but it was a long shot anyway as it was wet season still and zebra migrate out of the park. But we were still pleased to see the eastern side as it was so different from the west-drier, quieter, more savanna like. Aside from a lot of birds we also saw the carcass of a big elephant. Sinka said it died naturally and had probably been there for a week. Vultures were circling overhead. It was sad to see, but that’s the reality of the natural world. Back at camp again and we enjoyed another brunch- its amazing how hungry you get from just sitting in a 4×4! No siesta for us though. We were off with Sinka again and heading back to the Sedudu Gate via the Tide Road. We thought we were just going home but no Sinka surprised us with another river safari and dropped us off at the Chobe National Park water border. We hopped on a small speed boat with 6 other people and we were off. It was so nice to see the animals from the water again and in a small enough boat this time to get really close to shore. We saw velvet monkeys, plus a massive crocodile out of the water with its mouth open. The guide was 100 x’s more informative than the first boat trip and told us all about the dispute between Namiba and Botswana over the island that stretches along the middle of the Chobe River- the natural boundary between the two countries. It went to the Hague and based on the depth of water the island was pronounced as belonging to Botswana. There is a big Botswana flag on the stretch of land now just to remind everyone! We were on the water for 2 hours and then it was back to base to catch our transfer to the border. Got our exit stamp from Botswana, power boat over to Zambia again, entry stamp and then the guy from Jollyboys was there waiting to take us back to Livingstone. Fair play, the whole operation was very slick! We were entertained for the 1 1/2 hour journey back by a pair of 18-year-old twins from Ireland who were staying at a nearby backpackers called Fawlty Towers. They were funny little things, really chatty and friendly, and they called Hedd ‘old’ and then quickly qualified him as ‘older’ to make it sound better. I was laughing my head off but soon shut up when I realised I was only 2 years behind him! Experiencing 3 days of warm beverage’s, we enjoyed a couple of ice-cold coca cola’s back at the hostel before turning in early doors. We were bushed, but what a great safari!

Zambia side Victoria Falls and Botswana in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Dry and warm, although cool evenings and mornings in the bush on safari
  • Food= Camp curries ala Mr Roy
  • Drink= A bit of delightful box wine by the campfire
  • Another crazy thing we’ve done to add to this trips list= Swimming at the edge of Vic Falls
  • Girl Guide camping flashback= Cooking marshmallows on sticks on the safari campfire
  • An unsung hero of the African safari=Quilea Birds- at dawn and dusk they swam in massive flocks from tree to tree creating a stunning aired display
  • The best free shower in the world= Walking across Vic Falls knife-edge bridge in the wet season!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

My first ever safari!! What an experience, it was amazing – the game drive we did in South Africa was nothing compared to this! Let’s start with the elephants. Chobe is all about elephants, they have around 120,000 of them. These creatures are massive and so interesting to watch. They are also extremely protective of their young, every time we stopped to take a picture of a baby elephant, one or two adults would move in front to protect them. Not so surprising perhaps given that there are lions in the park. On our first day we saw a confrontation between a pride of lions and some elephants, with the highlight being an elephant charging at the lions before running away to join the others. Simply amazing!! We also got to see hippos, crocs, buffalo, impala, kudu, baboons, lizards and more…so much wildlife, such a beautiful setting. To top it all off, we were camping. Yes, camping – in tents. The only thing that separated us from the lions, elephants and all the rest was a few paraffin lamps scattered among the grass. I was a bit worried at first, what if I get eaten by a lion, trampled by an elephant in my sleep etc. Some of the others in the group heard a lot of noise at night, said there was something outside the tent etc. I must have slept well both nights, because I didn’t hear a thing!! This was a proper safari and it was amazing!

Durban to Jo’burg- Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho

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Getting to see Lesotho, what a treat!

26th March: So today we went on our ‘Face to Face Zulu Village Tour’ with Tekwenie Eco Tours. The only ones to book that day, we got a personal tour which was a bonus. We headed off East away from Durban and into Zululand, stopping off at a supermarket on the way to pick up some treats for the children of the family we were visiting. Although I think the football we bought them Hedd secretly was plotting to keep, he didn’t succeed- they were gifts after all! On the way to our first stop at a view-point overlooking the Valley of 1000 Hills, I taught Alfred, our guide, a new word- Torrential- after explaining our damp time in Port St John. He like it a lot and stopped the car to write the word down and its meaning and proceeded to practice saying it, slotting it into various sentences. It was funny and certainly passed the time, seeing us getting to the Valley of 1000 Hills in no time. It was a ‘wow’ view- a green expanse of little hills (although I think 1000 is a bit of an exaggeration!) peppered with little clusters of circular buildings, home to the Zulu people, and the big Inanda Dam filling the valley like a natural lake. We then headed to Emaphephetheni village in the Nanda area of Zululand and to a cluster of houses belonging to the Ncibilika family who would be our hosts for the day. Arriving at their home, first thing we noticed was their million dollar view of the dam. When we explained this to our guide Jason, the 19-year-old son, that in the UK you would pay hundreds of thousands for a house with such a water view he very seriously exclaimed that this was too much money to be charging. Quite right Jason, we agreed! All the families circular houses were painted light blue with grey tin roofs- the colour Jason told us was picked by his Mum without input from the men of the household. They just had to do the painting! This was not a staged village, the family weren’t in traditional clothes etc; we were seeing how the Zulu people lived today and how, and what, Zulu traditions still influenced the course of life here. So first up- Zulu engagement. Jason took us down to the dam and picked us reeds to plait our own engagement bands. Around 26 years old Zulu people marry and its the girl who initiates the engagement by plaiting a reed bracelet and tying it on the boys right wrist as an indication of her intentions. The boy then presents his wrist to his parents for permission to marry and to agree the ‘terms’ of the partnership to present to the girl’s family (e.g. the requirement of 2 cows, land etc) and then the deal is done. Jason tied our bands so I guess we’re all going to marry Jason! I said neither Hedd or I owned any land or cows so I don’t think it will work out! We then walked to Jason’s grandmother- the villages natural healer. We found her in her round house with mud floor- it cannot be concreted so she can connect sufficiently with the earth- with little holes in the tin roof which projected little circles of light like a disco ball around the space. It was quite atmospheric. The natural healer is chosen from birth and knows how cure all ailments. So it was worth a shot…Hedd explained his back problem and with Jason translating, the lady suggested ‘Umuttli’- a natural remedy made of water, plants and bark- 3 teaspoons 3 times a day. It came in a Smirnoff vodka bottle, looked like mud and cost 50RAN! Armed with Hedd’s miracle solution we thanked the natural healer and went on our way through the long grass. Lunch was a novelty; spinach, butternut squash, salsa with Uphuthu- crushed corn- a little like cuscous. All very lovely but alas no provision of cutlery so we ate it Zulu style with our hands! Both me and Hedd struggled to get the food from the plate and into our mouths, but apparently food is meant to taste better using your hand. It was indeed nice food but I think I’ll stick to my metal cutlery for the future! Just enough time to join in with the younger girls dancing to music provided by the elder sister banging coca cola bottle onto a plastic barrel. Surprisingly tuneful, we kicked our legs following the moves of the little ones. On account of his back, Hedd instead jogged on the spot kind of to the music which I can’t emphasise enough how hilarious it looked! On the way back to Durban Alfred our driver took us through Inanda township where Gandhi lived for years from 1893 and the place where he first voiced his notion of non-violent resistance in response to colonial racial inequality. Gandhi! I couldn’t believe it. Inanda has remained a symbol of political activism and social justice ever since, including during Apartheid, and is where Mandela cast his vote at the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Pretty cool. In celebration of Gandhi and in recognition of our new-found awareness of Durban as the home for the largest population of Indians outside India, we went for tea at an Indian that night!

27th March and another morning on the Baz Bus, taking us to our next destination- Amphitheatre Backpackers in the Northern Drakensberg. My goodness what a lovely part of the world, mountains and meadows everywhere! Our backpackers was great apart from the massive deposit regime they ran for everything. So after leaving a hefty deposit to borrow a laminated piece of paper with a printed map on it, we set off for a beautiful walk through the acres of maize fields dotted with gorgeous pink and white cosmos flowers and along the Mpande River. It was a gorgeous walk with light beams cutting through the clouds and shining down on the Drakensberg mountains and the valley below- wonderful! This hostel was in the middle of nowhere so they laid on dinner so we tucked into that, enjoyed the sun set and headed to bed semi-early in prep for our early start to Lesotho the next morning.

The 28th March and time for us to visit our 9th country- Lesotho. We were so excited waking up; a feeling only slightly dampened by the freezing cold shower- no hot water, nightmare! Off by 7.30am in the minibus for the 2 hour drive to the border, through the Monantsapas Pass (2,800 m). We got our exit stamp from South African Immigration and I was looking forward to getting my Lesotho entry stamp but as we descended through the pass and into Lesotho our guide informed us that the caravan which housed the Lesotho board control office had broken 2 months ago and the authorities hasn’t replaced is. So there we are, no official immigration into Lesotho! But my goodness, isn’t the country beautiful. Stunning mountains everywhere, valleys of maize fields with the pink and white cosmos flowers, sporadic clusters of circular houses with thatched roofs, roaming goats and cattle and beautiful light. With over 80% of the country lying above 1,800 metres, it is the highest country in the world and understandably its quite chilly. In response the local population wrap themselves with woolen blankets, as we do with coats and scarves, as they go about their business. Originally the Lesotho people were nomads but nowadays they keep in villages and we drove as far as Mafika-Lisiu village (that is also where the road ran out!) to visit the primary school. Sitting in the classroom our guide talk us through a bit of background about Lesotho; Sesotho is their language, Lesotho people are called Basetho… We also got to see the new extension which was funded by Amphitheatre Backpackers through some of the money we pay for the tour. That made us feel good and after hanging out with the kids for a while in the grassy playground, we set off on foot to explore more of the area. We bumped into the school principal along the way and she explained that the school is the lifeblood of the village. The children who attend are given lunch so at least they are definitely getting one meal each day and more and more they are supporting children to go to secondary school and college (it isn’t free in Lesotho). Health is still an issue with the doctor only coming once a month to this area; TB, aids, HIV, diabetes and high blood pressure still claim the lives of Lesotho people more than it should. We walked up and around one of the many hills in Lesotho for 1 1/2 hours and then stopped for our packed lunch at a great viewpoint overlooking the valley of rondavel hut villages and meadows and the back of what is known as the ‘Amphitheatre’ within the Drakensberg mountains. Gorgeous! Our guide explained more about the way of life here, namely farming is the order of the day. In the summer the shepherds take all the animals (goats, sheep, cows) up onto the mountain which have flat tops like Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the meadows in the valley are planted with crops. In the winter the animals are brought down into the valley again and they use the many natural caves at the bottom of the mountains to keep them in when it snows. And we walked past many of these caves with the dry stone walls built by the farmers across the entrances to act as pens as we descended the big hill. We also got to see some Bushman paintings on one of the cave sides depicting the eland (a type of antelope) which the Bushman thought to be sacred. We then continued down into the village again to find some home-brew beer to try. The Basetho operate a flag system for the selling of food, drink and services. White flag means beer, red= meat, green= vegetables and blue= medicine. If a family has any surplus of any of these to sell they raise the appropriate flag on a tall post outside their home so people far away can see it and walk to it to buy or trade. It’s a hark back to their nomad days really but still really clever as the Basetho still live really spread out. We spotted a white flag and walked to the hut to try some local brew. The corn beer came out in a large plastic canister and looked disgusting! It didn’t taste much better either- like fermented yeasty porridge with a sour and smokey aftertaste. Needless to say, even after my tiny sip I cringed at the taste of it! Back to the minibus and a quick ride to meet the Natural Healer- 1 of 3 for the area. We all crowded into his little rondavel round house and he explained that he didn’t choose to be a natural healer, the ancestors did by giving him the gift to see and communicate with them in order to heal people. He first knew he had the gift when he was at secondary school and got really ill and foresaw the death of 2 people in his village before it happened. He then got taken out of school and sent for training as a natural healer. He wears read as that was the colour he had on when he realised he had been given the gift. I asked if he liked being a natural healer, and he said he didn’t to begin with but now it is okay. Unbelievably this man is in his 40’s- I told him he doesn’t look over 30! There was just enough time then for us to drive to another Basotho family to try a traditional meal (ate with our fingers again!) and to the little local shop to buy some bottles of Maluti beer (only produced and sold in Lesotho) as gifts, before we made a dash for the border which closed at 4pm. Our guide shouted to the 4×4 accompanying us to race ahead and tell the border staff that we were on our way and we arrived at 4pm on the dot and was through it by 4.05pm….phew that was close! As we drove home, the most fabulous day was topped off with viewing a gorgeous sun set over the Sterkfontein Dam.

29th March and our last journey on the Baz Bus- hoorahhh! We lazed away the morning lying on the hostels large lawn in the sunshine with the hostels ancient scruffy looking dog until the Baz Bus came to pick us up at 1pm to take us to Johannesburg. It was a classic Baz Bus journey; the 3 hour journey took us 7 hours. We got into the city at 6.15pm but then had a whistle-stop tour of the cities hostels before eventually getting to the northern suburb that we were being dropped off at 8pm! Nightmare! Our first impressions of Jo’burg? A city of gates and armed response signs; this city had seen a lot of modern-day history! Our lovely hosts for our 2 nights in Jo’burg were my parents friends from Zambia- Pete and Lesie Hey, and they picked us up from outside the ‘Ritz Backpackers’ and whisked us off to their home in the northern suburb of Bryanton. The further north you go in Jo’burg the richer it gets and communities tend to be ‘boomed off’ with guards controlling who goes in and out of the estate and individual houses behind big gates. Bryanton was no different and the Hey’s house was lovely. Set in a 1 acre plot, you forgot you were in a city. Leslie had made us a traditional SA dish of Bobotie- a dish of mince, bread, egg, spices with rice; it was delicious. All washed down with a selection of SA wine from Pete’s under the stairs wine cellar called ‘The Cave’. It was fabulous! Conversation was beautifully easy as we retired to the lounge with yet more wine, before retiring to bed. We felt so lucky to be yet again looked after by such generous hosts. The next day, and Leslie very kindly had taken some time out of work to act as tour guide. So 9am we were out the door and embarking ‘Leslie’s Tours’ around Jo’burg. We were indebted to her as Jo’burg is enormous and difficult to navigate around without a car. First stop- the Apartheid Museum (R55 entry), and straight away you were given the experience of segregation; issued with a ‘white’ or ‘non white ticket’ you had to enter the museum in the appropriate door. Straight away you got the feeling of lack of choice and that somehow, on whatever side you were on, you were missing out on something. Great way to start and the museum continued in that quality of engagement, with tons of photos and videos which made the whole thing quite interactive. What I loved also was that it was Leslie’s first time visiting the museum too, so we all enjoyed browsing the exhibits together and interesting hearing Leslie’s reaction to it all as she had lived through it as a South African. It was the first time since arriving in SA that I understood the ‘why’s’ of apartheid. It roots start in the colonial years where the whole notion of ‘otherness’ and oppression of the natives within South Africa began. After the British retreated, the Afrikans took over the baton of oppression, believing ‘one race for one homeland’ and the Afrikaan leader and cabinet truly believed that the ‘one race’ for SA was white. And hence came the years of race classification and the 150 acts of Apartheid where the segregation of races was the cornerstone. The years of detention of people just because of their political beliefs, such as Mandela. The years of militant nationalism where many people were killed, battered and hung. The years of uprising from non whites, as well as whites, disgusted with Apartheid, who’s aim was to make the country unmanageable for the Apartheid government so the government would have to concede to regain order. All culminating in Mandela’s release after 27 years, peace negotiations, and the 1994 democratic elections and the appointment of Mandela as president. So there we are, a horribly simplified, but useful chronology (I think) of events. It will be heartbreaking to watch South Africa’s reaction when Mandela dies, he’s in his 90’s, and he is so entwined in all of South African’s consciousness; they will be so sad. All in all it took us 3 hours to walk around the museum. I think you could have been there longer but it was a bit overwhelming so 3 hours was about our limit! We then headed across town towards Rosebank to wander around Rosebank African Arts and Crafts market for a spot of souvenir shopping and our stop for lunch. It was then back in the car to try to get to the Cradle of Humankind in North Gauteng, 40 minutes out of the city. But alas traffic got in our way and realising we wouldn’t make it for last entry we headed back home, patting Leslie on the back for such a great day. Tonight was our last night with Pete and Leslie and they put on a traditional South African ‘Braai’ (BBQ) for us. We all sat on the ‘stoep’ (covered patio) chatting, eating and drinking Pete’s lovely wine for the whole evening. The evening was topped off with watching an electric lightning storm in the distance before we all retired to bed. A great evening!

The last day of March and also our last few hours in South Africa before flying to our last port of call for this amazing round the world trip, Zambia. All feeling slighting fragile from last nights exploits, we said goodbye and thank you to Leslie and Pete drove us heroically with a hangover to the airport. Apparently we had sunk 5 bottles last night and I’m sure I was responsible for 2 of them! Saying goodbye to Pete, we rushed around the airport exchanging money, checking in (which in itself took 45 mins) and only just made it to our gate on time. Stressful enough as it is, without having to comprehend such things with a hangover! Needless to say we were relieved to eventually be settled on the plane. And I was so excited and content to be heading off to Zambia- a country I called home for the first year of my life and a country so close to my family’s heart.

Durban to Jo’burg in a snapshot:

    • Weather= A baking 36 degrees in Durban, chilly in high up Lesotho, overcast in urban Job’burg
    • Food= Anything traditional- from Uphuthu (crushed corn) ate with our fingers in Zululand to a South African ‘Braai’ at the Heys
    • Drink= Hedd’s special Zulu juice (yuk!)
    • Real life moment= spending the day in Zululand with Jason and the Ncibilika family
    • Good to see before its infrastructure is improved and hefty tourism changes it= Lesotho
    • Number of embarrassing stories gleaned from Pete Hey about my Dad= None that, scarily, I didn’t already know!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

In Durban we got a taste of modern Zulu life, away from the costumes and all the fanfare that other tours offer. We saw how they lived today, we ate with them and I even purchased some traditional medicine for my back! It was horrible, looked like mud and it didn’t work. But it didn’t do me any harm, probably gave me a thorough detox!! Finally in Jo’burg we got to visit the Apartheid museum which is a must for anyone visiting South Africa. You will know from our Cape Town blog that I hated the whole Robben Island experience as it was rushed, touristy and not very informative. Visiting the Apartheid museum was the opposite, so much information, presented in so many different ways, we spend 2.5 hours walking around, but you would have needed double that time to read and watch everything. For us it was the perfect way to end our trip in South Africa as we finally got to know the whole story of apartheid, how it impacted on everyday life and how it came to an end.

Port Elizabeth to Durban- The Eastern Cape and Transkei

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Hello rural South Africa!

21st March and the start of our 2 whole days in Port Elizabeth. We were staying in a backpackers called 99 Miles Beach Lodge who had mixed up our booking a little bit which resulted in us getting a free upgrade to a double en suite room for free- result! So our time here got off to a good start. Day 1 and we were booked onto a 1/2 day township tour called ‘The Real City Tour’ with a company called ‘Calabash Tours’. Nelson was our tour guide and had grown up, and still lived in, a township in New Brighton so he was super knowledgeable about everything, passionate but not in a cringe way. He first gave us a tour of PE CBD pointing out all the historic sites from pre-colonial, colonial and apartheid days. Whenever he mentioned Mandela, he shouted his whole title (Baba Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela kaMphakanyiswa Gadla kaMadiba) and hit his fist on the ceiling of the car in celebration. He was 18 in 1994 when the first democratic election was held and he voted for Mandela. So to the townships…a corner stone of Apartheid was the segregation of people according to race, especially whites and blacks. The government uplifted Black people from the areas they had classified as white only area in Port Elizabeth and dumped them in areas outside of the CBD called townships. There families were given no compensation, only a piece of land with a brick-built outhouse toilet with a rubber bucket inside it. No drainage, no electricity and a single tap for water for a whole wave of families. With no building materials, these families built shelters out of whatever they could find, hence the metal/wood shacks that are now synonymous with our image our ‘townships’. In between the white and black areas were large bits of land which were left undeveloped- known as ‘Buffer Zones’. PE has 10 townships which are still home to 500,000 people. Apartheid policies are now abolished but choice and finance are the new barriers to integration. Black people are unlikely to afford a house in a previously white only area; and even if they did have the money many prefer living in the townships near friends and family. We visited the 7 oldest townships in PE including New Brighton, Kwazakhele and Zwide. They were all different. One which had now emerged as a middle class area where the township now looked like a UK housing estate. Some townships where the shack houses had been replaced with single storey brick buildings with drainage and electricity. But there were still plenty where families still lived in shacks without sanitation and electricity. The government have a housing programme target of replacing all the temporary shacks with brick homes by 2020. As Nelson took us to a view-point overlooking the sprawling townships, I couldn’t help feeling that achieving that target was optimistic. We drove through Embizweni Square which is an informal business hub in the township area, full of lots of little shipping containers from which locals run their business from. This was the place to come for a haircut as there were loads and loads of salons and barbers! It is here were you can also pick up a ‘smiley’- a sheeps head which the ladies on the street boil and then cut in half for their dinners to eat! The sheep once boiled looks like it is smiling at you whilst your eating it, hence the name. Needless to say it looked gross! Just off the square we stopped off at a ‘Shebeen’- what was an illegal drinking house during the Apartheid years. The Apartheid government banned black people from selling alcohol so people used to just go around to someones home and buy and drink socially there. Nelson bought us a drink at the former Shebeen, now called the Ship Inn, before we headed to our final stop at the township called Ramaphasa Village to visit a community arts and craft project. Hedd made a new friend with a little boy who lived next door who mocked him on his little arm muscles but still demanded Hedd pick him up and spin him around lots of times. It was a mix of cute and funny to watch! It was also here that I experienced first hand ‘Township Dust’. PE is so windy and the paths in the township are unsealed so as a big gust drove through the township a load of dust threw up and landed in my left eye. Man it was painful! So we ended the tour me half blind, but both agreeing it was well worth it.

After a chilled out morning on our second and final day in PE, we got picked up from our hostel for our ‘Tooth and Claw’ Game Drive at Schotia Private Reserve. It was a 40 minute journey to Schotia and my goodness what a 40 minutes. We had got picked up by the reserves owner called Peter and initiated by him we were treated to intense discussions about post apartheid South Africa and his stance against positive discrimination and then his views on how to solve Rhino poaching which involved the decriminalising ivory selling to rid the black market! I did my best to passively umm and nod and we both breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived and were able to get out of the 4×4! So Schotia Safaris- a privately owned and managed reserve, owned by the Bean family since 1833. The oldest private game viewing reserve in the Cape Province, it was also the first to have lions that can hunt for themselves. Its well stocked with over 2000 animals and over 40 species on the reserve. Our ranger was called Malcolm and as we drove off from base and through the gates of the reserve we both admitted to humming the Jurassic Park theme tune in our heads! We had 2x 2 hour game drives with a tea break in the middle and then a bush dinner afterward and we saw loads of animals. Lions, antelope, giraffe, vervet monkeys, zebra, rhino, hippo, warthog, kudu…. The park is split 1/3rd, 2/3rd’s to keep the rhino and lions separate so the lions don’t eat them and in the ‘no-lion’ part Hedd and I got to ride on the seat mounted outside of the 4×4 on the bonnet. When Malcolm first offered it to me I though he was pulling my leg but it was perfectly safe and I got to see the zebra really close up and Hedd the giraffe. It was amazing to be out of the 4×4 in the open air so close to the animals. Back in the 4×4 and I was busy ticking off all the animals we’d seen on the checklist Malcolm gave us, and having worrying exchanges with Hedd at the fact that we had eaten some of them (kudu, ostrich…)! Which was only reinforced come tea time at the open air lapa in the middle of the park, where we were served roast springbok! Ah well, we’re carnivores after all! After dinner we had another 30 minutes of night viewing to get a glimpse of nocturnal creatures. It’s also the best time to try to see a ‘kill’. Although we saw lions, they looked ready for bed rather than hunters at the ready so we settled for the sights of porcupines and hares as we drove back to the main gates. 4 1/2 hour game drive, a lovely dinner and a great guide in Malcolm; Hedd and I felt like we’d got great value for money and it definitely wet our appetite for our 4 day safari we were planning on doing in Chobe National Park, Botswana, a couple of weeks later.

6.30am pick up by the Baz Bus for our 7 hour journey to Port St Johns on South Africa’s wild coast. As we travelled further East we began to see a dramatic change in the landscape and feel of South Africa. Whereas the Garden Route was pretty westernised, the Eastern Cape was far from it and from Port Albert we were travelling the Transkei. 1.5-2.5 thousand meters above seas level, stray animals wandering the road and town after town where we saw no white faces apart from those travelling in the bus. This was one of the most scenic parts of South Africa but also the poorest. The Transkei was an independent country before 1994. Known as one of the ‘Homelands’, the Apartheid Government gave the corrupt government of these tribe based countries too little money to run the area. That plus their rurality resulted in the Homelands such as Transkei falling behind other parts of SA economically, leaving them the poorest part of SA after 1994 when Mandela abolished the homelands creating 1 nation 1 president. Mandela was born and brought up in Transkei and we drove past the villages where he was born and brought up. By the side of the road there is also the big house that the ANC gave Mandela at his retirement from government. It is within the grounds of this house that Mandela requested a replica to be built of the prison cottage Mandela was held in under house arrest after he was moved from Robben Island, and you can see it from the road. Mandela still to this day says that this cottage is the best house he has ever lived in! As we completed our drive through this rustic outcrop of SA with its sparse villages of thatch roofed huts, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we reflected how unlikely yet magical it was that this area grew such a powerful leader as Nelson Mandela. We got dropped off at a random Shell garage in a place called Mthatha by the Baz Bus and then picked up by our shuttle to take us to Port St John on the coast. We soon realised however that this shuttle bus was not exclusive, and it took us 2 hours to make the journey to the coast as we picked up and dropped off lots of different people along the way! We stayed at Amampondo Backpackers on Second Beach at Port St John and it was much more rustic accommodation than we were used to in SA- mud floors and walkways, bamboo outdoor bathrooms…rough and ready but after a little getting used to, we were game! 24th March and we woke up to torrential rain. Our plan to go for a hike and then to the beach were de-funked so we had a lie in, a bamboo shower and lazed the day away at the covered (fortunately!) bar. We soon got invited to join in a board game called 30 Seconds- a South African version of Trival Pursuit vs Articulate. Needless to say Hedd and I struggled, on average only knowing what 3 out of the 5 things on the card were that we had to then try to describe to our team. Who knew there were so many different South African cricket/rugby captains! Our last morning in Port St John and hoorah no rain! We ventured down the muddy path to Second Beach and it definitely lived up to its name- ‘wild’. Rocky cliffs, noisy waves breaking and 2 massive cows with horns just sitting on the beach minding their own business. After mooching about on the beach and having beans on toast for brunch it was time to leave on our crazy shuttle bus back to Mthatha. It again took us 2 hours, picking and dropping off people seemingly from and to the middle of nowhere along the way! But we got to the Shell Garage pick up safe and sound and in good time to catch our Baz Bus connection to Durban. I had good intentions of catching up on my diary writing but I abandoned that and just watch the amazing landscape through the frame of my window. Transkei is truly beautiful; valleys and mountains like grass topped versions of Table Mountain everywhere plus the best pink and orange sunsets. We even got to a see a Transkei special of a horse all saddled up galloping down the middle of the road, parting the traffic like an emergency vehicle as it went. Goodness knows where its rider was! 7 hours later, leaving Transkei and entering Kwazulu-Natal province, we eventually arrived in Durban at 10.30pm. Good to no-one at 10.30pm, we crashed into bed at our hostel Hippo Hide looking forward to our tour into Zululand the next day.

Port Elizabeth to Durban in a snapshot:

    • Weather= Wet and windy, with a sunny day in PE
    • Food= A student diet of beans and tomato pasta!
    • Drink= Squash
    • Favourite animal of all time= The Giraffe
    • Not a place to come in the rain= The Wild Coast
    • But don’t miss it= for its amazing modern history

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

I really enjoyed this section of our trip. We’d had fun in Cape Town and fun along the Garden Route, but this part of the trip while also fun was more culturally rewarding. We learnt so much more about the real South Africa today. We saw how some white South African’s (namely the owner of the Game Reserve) were unhappy with the Black Economic Empowerment programme designed to increase the upward mobility of black South Africans in the country. The owner of the Game Reserve was adamant that it was impossible to say that everybody in South Africa is equal while this policy was in place. Personally, given the history of the country and the fact that segregation still exists in the form of economic segregation (the majority of white South Africans are wealthy and the majority of black South African’s are still poor) then the policy has merit. We got a glimpse of the real difference in Port Elizabeth as we left the predominantly middle class area where our hostel was built and went to visit some townships and informal settlements. The difference was staggering. Our guide was fantastic and gave us a real insight into these communities, he would almost explode with joy when shouting out Nelson Mandela’s name and praised the government for their programme of upgrading the townships. The task is massive, and will never be complete by the government’s deadline of 2020, but progress is being made and that is positive.

The Garden Route- Mossel Bay to Storms River

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“On the road again”, but this time with the Baz Bus…

12.03.12, and we woke up with the strange realisation that 1 month today we fly home. But today was also the start of our hop on hop off tour of South Africa’s coast line using the Baz Bas as the mode of transport. So there is just one backpacker bus in SA and its called the Baz Bus. As we were to discover it is an incredibly cheap way to travel (our 21 day ticket cost £164 and would take us 2,300 kms) and convenient and safe taking you door to door from/to your hostel. However it isn’t the quickest or most efficient (picking up and dropping off from multiple hostels in each town passed) and it isn’t the most comfortable either! But hey we were game and we got picked up at 8.45am from our Cape Town hostel and our first destination was Mossel Bay- the start of The Garden Route. The Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay to the Tsitsikamma River Mouth is like a “necklace of bays, beaches, cliffs and rocky capes strung together along a line of pounding white surf”…well that’s what the free Coast to Coast backpacker guide said about it! We were just looking forward to having some beach time!

We were meant to arrive in Mossel Bay at 2pm but after 2 sets of roadworks which saw people get out of their cars for a stretch and a walk as we were waiting so long, we arrived after 3pm. Now Mossel Bay is not the prettiest town to say the least and our hostel (Mossel Bay Backpackers) left a lot to be desired. But this was the best place to come to for Shark Cage Diving which Hedd really wanted to do so here we were. As we wandered into the town centre to explore our feelings of disappointed about our first stop weren’t alleviated and to top it all we went to talk to the Shark Africa Diving Company and they said they hadn’t seen sharks all week as they are migrating around some island some where! The activity cost 1,300RAN and they told us if Hedd didn’t see sharks he could get a gift voucher which he could use anytime in the next year! Umm, thanks but no thanks! Hedd was really disappointed and our spirits took another knock as we got back to the hostel and got online. Zambezi Airways who we were flying with from Lusaka to Livingstone had gone bust meaning we had to buy new flights! Could this day get any worse! It was a laugh or cry moment and we shakily laughed it off, reflecting that so far we’d been pretty lucky with all our other flights and buses etc, something was bound to happen before the end of our trip. Now that Hedd wasn’t doing his shark cage dive, the next day we headed for Santos beach- said to be one of the best swimming beaches along the Garden Route. The sun was up, the beach was clean and sandy and the water inviting. Our spirits perked up. We sunbathed and swam and generally had a chilled out day. We had some food at the Santos Express Cafe which was an old train carriage by the beach which was fun and only decided to head back to the hostel at 5pm when the sun started to hide behind the clouds. Lovely day. Due to the Baz Bus route schedule we had to spend 3 nights in total at Mossel Bay which was far too long to lavish on such a place, but we were determined to make the most of it. So today we decided to hike part of the St Blaize Trail which starts at Mossel Bay and ends at Dana Bay. The whole thing is 13.5km long but we were only planning to do 4 km of it. So we made our way to the start point at Cape St Blaize Cave in the crazy heat and was already a sweaty mess before we even made it to the coastal path! But the trail was pretty cool. The coastline was rugged with jaggedy rocks protruding into the sea with great blue lagoons in between. The trail wasn’t too strenuous gently undulating up and down, but the heat made it more of an effort. Plus there was a load of these crazy little creatures all the way along the trail which looked a cross between a ferret and a guinea pig with big teeth which properly freaked me out. But we survived, if a little dehydrated!

The 15th marked our last day in Mossel Bay (hooray!) and we were due to be picked up by the Baz Bus at 2pm so we just chilled at the hostel for the morning and sorted out flights out for Zambia, booking with Proflight Zambia and costing £275 each- ouch! Our destination today was just a short way up the coast and inland to a place called Oudtshoorn. We got dropped off at George by the Baz bus, then Gavin picked us up in the hostel van to take us to Oudtshoorn and our hostel Paradise Backpackers. I really liked Gavin; an old black man with silver hair who bopped away to the tunes on the radio when he didn’t think we were looking! Cool guy! The drive from the coast to Oudtshoorn was stunning. We drove the Outenuqua Pass; mountains all around, beautiful clouds in the sky with sun beams cracking through, hop farms growing the fruit for the local brew. Yes, this was more our kind of place! The hostel was great too and they were so helpful with organising activities for us. We were sad to only be staying for 1 night. We went for tea at the restaurant across the road called Bella Cibo which Gavin recommended. We shared a Game Plate and got to taste Ostrich, Springbok, Kudu and Crocodile steaks. It was really fun and we both agreed Ostrich was our favourite- very lean and tender meat which melted in our mouths. Crocodile, however, was not very nice- a fattier version of pork/chicken! The next day we had a jam packed morning of activities. Starting at 8am our first stop was to Cango Caves- Africa’s largest show caves. We opted for the Adventure Tour (80 RAN) of the caves which would see us venture into the deepest sections of the Cango One route, through passages and narrow chimneys. Our guide was a local girl who was really comical and called us by our home countries. So for the duration of the tour I was Miss England and Hedd, Mr Wales! So a bit about the caves…their caverns began to form 20 million years ago when acidic ground water chemically eroded the 100 million year old limestone rock; although today’s dramatic stalactites and stalagmites only began growing 3 million years ago when water which once filled the caves drained away. Although SA’s earliest people found shelter here thousands of years ago, the caves were only ‘discovered’ in 1780 by Dutch colonialists. So there were 15 people in our group and as we descended the stairs from the caves entrance to the first cavern both Hedd and I were super excited. The first cavern was called Van Zyl’s Hall, named after the Dutch guy who discovered it, and had loads of stalagmites and stalactites in it which were called the Organ Pipes as that was what they looked like. Next up was Botha’s Hall where we saw a complete column, where a stalagmite and stalactite had joined together. This formation was called the Leaning Tower of Pieza! After the 2 chambers it was time for the adventurous stuff. After ducking and diving our way through ‘The Avenue’ and the ‘Lumbago Walk’, we got to ‘King Solomon’s Mine’. We climbed a metal ladder and squeezed our way through ‘The Tunnel of Love’ and crawl into the ‘Devils Workshop’. Next was our most challenging part- clambering up the ‘Devils Chimney’ and then cheetah crawling along a very low passage and then delivering ourselves through ‘The Letter Box’ head first! Incredible fun and such good value at 80 RAN. Oh if you were wondering how they found this route through the caves- it was discovered by a 6 year old boy for lived at the farm next door! Not great parenting their, but he did find an amazing route around the caves! Next up we were whisked to Cango Ostrich Farm by Gavin in the van, getting there at 11.45 in time for our tour. Our guide first took us through the history of Ostrich Farming- firstly for their feathers in the 1800’s and early 1900’s and then for their meat, as feather fell out of fashion. Their skins are also now used for shoes, handbags etc. Their leather is the second toughest in the world after the Kangaroo- we’ve ate that animal as a steak too! He then took us through to the incubator room and told us about their development. And then it was to the main event- meeting the Ostrich’s. They are truly funny looking creatures. The smallest head but with the biggest eyes. Their brain apparently can fit on a teaspoon and their eyes are heavier than their brains…not the cleverest animals then! We then got the opportunity to ride the Ostrich’s. 2 farm workers held the Ostrich, who had their behinds covered with fabric, and they helped you on to it. We were told to sit right forward, hold onto its wings and then lean right back. The farm workers then let go and the bird ran hell for leather around the large pen and I just hung on for dear life! I fell off into the arms of the farm workers after 10 seconds but Hedd lasted a bit longer (but not by much!). We were then ‘treated’ to an ostrich neck massage, where 6 Ostrich’s fight to get to the bucket of feed that you are holding to your chest. It was a little scary and gross with Ostrich slobber thrown in for good measure! We arrived back to the hostel after our morning of activity at 12.55pm, just in time to pick up our shuttle back to George at 1pm. 1 hr 15 mins later we were back in George and awaiting the Baz Bus to take us to our next destination along the Garden Route- Plettenberg Bay.

It was just a 1 1/2 hour drive to Plett’, stopping off at Wilderness, Sedgefield and Knysna on the way. We were staying at Northando Backpackers in Plett’- a 5 star hostel- as a treat for Hedd’s birthday on the 17th, and indeed our room was lovely. We had a little planning session on what activities Hedd wanted to do for his birthday the next day but we didn’t have a car which was turning out to be a big issue with all the things he wanted to do being out of town! Not a good start but we kept up beat and grabbed a pizza for tea. Next morning, the 17th, and Happy Birthday Hedd! I made him breakfast in bed which consisted of a coffee and a big chocolate birthday cake complete with 6 ‘none blow out’ candles. I sang him Happy Birthday in my best Welsh and English as Hedd attempted to not catch fire from the novelty candles which were now acting like sparklers! They did burn out in the end but we did have visions of starting his birthday with a call to the fire brigade! He opened his card and pressie and was upbeat until he looked outside and saw it was tipping it down with rain…oh dear. I was remaining as positive as I could for the both of us and we walked into town in the rain to organise some calls/skypes from home to wish him happy birthday. He felt a lot happier after speaking to his mum on the phone and having the traditional Burkhalter out of tune Happy Birthday song shouted/sang at him through skype’s videophone! It was the first time I’d seen/spoken to my brother, Marc, and sister in law, Sarah, since I’d come travelling and it was really lovely to see and hear them. Deciding it wasn’t worth forking out on activities in this rain, we went for brunch at a local cafe and as the rain started to ease, had a wander around the shops and then down to the beach for a drink at the Lookout Deck Restaurant. Hedd had his favourite cocktail- a Mojito! We walked a little up the coastal path and then as the sky threatened to rain again, made a quick dash back up to the hostel. The hostel had a resident masseuse so Hedd got a 40 minute neck and back massage complete with a Happy Birthday sang to him in her native language- Xhosa. She was urging me to join in with her but I had no idea what I was doing with all the clicks that they use in the language and ended up huming along! But that was pretty cool for his birthday. It was Wales v France in the Rugby 6 Nations and we had found a bar that was playing it so it was a quick change and fast walk to catch the start. As we settled down with drink at Flashpackers Sports Bar we soon got chatting to the only other Welsh supporters there- a man called David and his South African friend called Lorna. David was from Denbigh- a town under 10 miles away from Gellifor where Hedd grew up! Another crazy small world moment for the trip, and soon us 2 couple were joking around like old friends. It was a good game, and I enjoyed supporting Wales especially as they won 16-9 and therefore won the entire 6 Nations competition! Always back the winners! We had a lovely meal at a restaurant close by called Nguni’s and Hedd got to try another bit of game- a big Springbok steak. And then it was back to Flashpackers in time to see the second half of the England v Ireland game and yet more drinks! It was St Paddy’s Day and a group of FNB Bank workers were on a team bonding fancy dress night out and had various challenges to complete. This involved Lorna getting her face licked and Hedd putting on one of the girls dress! Very funny. I managed to get a stumbling Hedd back to the hostel. He had a really good Birthday night out and that’s all that mattered. So the next day and another ‘morning after the night before’ for Hedd! He didn’t move from the room all day apart from when I made him a bacon butty and only allowed him to have it if he ate it with me at the table outside! Good night then! As Hedd spent the day recovering, I headed for the beach as it was now sunny (hoorah!) and there bumped into Lorna and David again from last night. She was just at the beach picking up her 2 girls from Lifesaving and Surf School which most of the towns kids go to on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It made me think that Plett’ must be a great place for children to grow up in, being in the sea every weekend. After getting my fill of vitamin D I headed back to the hostel after buying hangover food for Hedd and there we stayed, watching Spider Man 3 on the telly in the evening. The 19th and our last day in Plett’, and guess what Hedd’s back in the land of the living! It was sunny still and Hedd decided he wanted to see the beach I’d been to the day before so off we went. As we walked through town we past an all black protest against a local MP and his policies. It was the nicest sounding protest I’d ever seen- whistles and shouting still but also the unique, rhythmic and soul touching sound of African ladies singing. It was fantastic, and we watched the protest (at a safe distance mind!) before continuing down to the beach. We walked up and down both Central Beach and Robberg Beach, with the massive Beacon Island Hotel separating the 2. Robberg Beach was pretty much deserted and we messed around playing our own version of French Bowles using our flip flops and a water bottle as the marker. The lifeguard down the beach must have thought we were mad! Grabbing a cold drink at a bar on Central beach we bumped into Lorna and David again and Hedd got the necessary ribbing on getting so tipsy on his birthday…all good fun! Making our way back to the hostel we chilled we cups of tea and waited for our Baz Bus pick up at 6pm. Next stop…Storms River.

So it was only an hour ride to Storms River Village and our hostel, Tsitsikamma Backpackers. It was super dark by the time we got there though and the village had no street lamps. Proper rural! The hostels receptionist, Mitchel, was super welcoming and we had our Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour booked for the next morning before we knew it. We went for dinner with a guy called Christophe- a Belguim guy travelling on his own who we met on the Baz Bus. As we ventured out to find the village main street in the pitch dark we began to regret not remembering our head torches! But we found the street okay without any trips or falls and decided that this place was more of a Hamlet not a Village! We had dinner at Tsitsikamma Village Inn- a lovely pub type restaurant where the food and service was great, before strolling back to our hostel. We met an English couple in the kitchen who were from Wiltshire called Mary and Andy, and I made us all a cuppa as we chatted before heading to bed. We were all doing the Canopy Tour the next morning together and arranged to meet the next morning to walk down together. And that’s what we did at 9am the next day, meeting Stein our other friend from the Baz Bus at the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour Office. We got a better view of actually where we were on the way to now it was light; surrounded by the Tsitsikamma Forest and Mountains. It was gorgeous and so green. We could see why the locals called it the garden of the Garden Route. After a quick safety briefing and the usual signing of the indemnity form, we all got harnessed up and furnished with gloves, helmet and our individual pulleys. Then it was all aboard a big 4×4 truck and we bumped our way to the start of the canopy tour 10 mins away. The tour involved a course of 10 ziplines and 1 rope bridge, which we were to go along, 30 meters above the Tsitsikamma Forest. The platforms in the sky were built around the giant yellow wood trees that made up the forest and the longest zipline was 91 meters long. Hedd and I were both game and threw ourselves into it after the lady guide showed us the technique; your strong hand behind acting as a brake, the other holding onto the ropes, legs up on landing. Pretty easy and a lot of fun, especially being amongst the friends we’d made the day previously! After 2 1/2 hours we had completed the course and we all got given lunch of ham and cheese toasties back at the office. We discovered that the canopy tour company was a part of a wider company called Storms River Adventures who run all sorts of sub companies and social projects, including the restaurant we were eating in and our backpackers. Their goal- Community Upliftment, with the profits of each venture going into social responsibility projects, school feeding projects, HIV/Aids awareness and environmental conservation. Really worthwhile and I was pleased our money was going into such a cause. That evening we were being picked up by the Baz Bus again to take us on our next leg, but we used the afternoon the best we could heading off on ‘The Big Tree’ walk in the Garden Route National Park. So this tree is a Yellow wood, 1000 years old, 36.6 meters tall and 8.5 meters wide and was raved about in the village. So we went and saw it, paying 10RAN for the privilege. And indeed it was big, towering over the other trees in the canopy. We walked the Ratel Trail around the forest which was nice enough, but forest walks aren’t Hedd and I’s favourite. But Hedd was constantly on the look out for snakes and bugs which apparently covered the whole of Africa in his mind, which I found highly amusing! We made it back to the hostel at 5pm and after freshening up went and found Stein, our Dutch friend, sitting at Marilyn’s Diner where we all had dinner together. He was catching the Baz Bus that evening too. Now Marilyn’s Diner was a bright and boisterous Elvis themed diner and inside had 3 really old but beautifully restored Chevrolet’s and was covered with Elvis pictures. Now this would have been perfectly normal in a town in America maybe, but we were in a tiny hamlet in South Africa within a National Park! It all felt very random! But there you go, always expect the unexpected. We all enjoyed American style burgers and caught the Baz Bus together at 7pm. Goodbye Garden Route, hello Port Elizabeth…

The Garden Route in a snapshot:

  • Weather= A mix of warm sun and showers
  • Food=Game, Ostrich and Springbok our particular favourites!
  • Drink= Hedd doesn’t want to see Savannah Dry for a while, lets put it that way!
  • Don’t bother with= Mossel Bay
  • Instead go to= Sedgefield (looked beautiful)
  • A term I want to introduce to the UK= ‘Community Upliftment’

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

There comes a time in every traveler’s journey when you realise you don’t have enough money to finish the trip and you’ve already used up the “backup” credit card on activities you didn’t know about, but didn’t want to miss out on. For us, this realisation dawned on us in Mossel Bay, at the same time that we found out that Zambezi Airlines who we were flying with in Zambia had gone bust months ago, but hadn’t told us! An absolute nightmare, it was looking like we might have to cut our trip short!! However, we were saved by the generosity of our parents who agreed to bail us out and would do so again in Port Elizabeth when we realised we had gotten our sums wrong! So a massive thank you to Paul & Diane and to my mum and dad, Ian & Bethan, for loaning us the money we needed. And as Helen keeps telling the whole world about my hangover days, I will point out that I’ve only had 3 (1 in Peru, 1 in Australia and 1 in South Africa) during the whole duration of this trip and in my mind that’s pretty good going and a whole lot better than if I’d been at home for the same time period!

Cape Town- South Africa’s Mother City

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My favourite city in the world!

So after almost 24 hours on the go we touched down in Cape Town, got a Backpacker Airport Shuttle to our hostel (RAN 270), Amber Tree Lodge in The Gardens area, showered and crashed into bed. I half expected to not awake until the afternoon the next day but no, up at 9.30am on the 8th March hungry! And so pleased we did as the weather was stunning, Table Mountain was clear and adhering to my Mum’s advice, “if the mountain is clear, you go up it…now!” We hopped on the Cape Town City Sightseeing Hop on/Hop Off bus at stop 7 just by our hostel, buying the Red Route Ticket for R140, which promised to take us around the city, up to the cable car station and around to Camps Bay and Clifton area. We drove through District Six, past the Castle of Good Hope and then up Table Mountain Road to the Cable Car Lower Station, admiring the view of the equally tall hill next door to Table Mountain called Lions Head. Blessed with no que, we bought our return ticket (R195) and boarded the cable car jostling with the other tourists to get the best spot at the glass-less front. However, all this panic was in vain as the floor actually rotates as you go up so everyone gets a go with the glass-less front and a chance to see all the different views! Very clever! The cable car ride was surprisingly quick and we were up at the top in no time. The view of the city, what South African’s call the Mother City, from the top were truly an amazing sight. Spanning from left to right, you got the aerial view of Lions Head, Robben’s Island, the UFO like 2010 Fifa World Cup Stadium, the City and the V&A Waterfront and in the distance the bays and mountains which stretch out from Cape Town masked slightly from the heat haze. So a bit about Table Mountain- it is 6 times older than the Himalayas and is famous for its flat-topped profile. It also made the new 7 Wonders of the World list. As we walked anti clockwise around the top on the Dassie Track, Agama Track and the Klipspringer Track to Maclears Beacon I got increasingly stressed about finding ‘the rock’ which my parents got a picture on when they lived in Zambia in the 1980’s and my grandparents too when they visited the city when they were younger. In the end, to cover all bases, I got photo’s of me on many rocks that looked vaguely familiar from those photos! Surely one of them will be the right one! At Maclears Beacon we reached Table Mountains highest point at 1,085 meters. Walking to the Beacon we got fab views of Camps Bay and the Cape Peninsular.  Walking to the Upper Cable Station along the Escapement edge we were afforded amazing views over the city and Bloubergstrand. It was hot work and after 2 hours of walking we got a refreshing drink and snack from the terrace cafe overlooking Camps Bay. We made our way down from the mountain at around 3pm and hopped onto the City Sightseeing Bus again which took us to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, passing by Camps Bay (the place to be and be seen), Clifton (the most expensive area in Cape Town), Bantry Bay, Sea Point, 3 Anchors Bay and Mouille Point Lighthouse. We hopped off at the Aquarium at the Waterfront to have a mooch about and buy our Robben Island tickets from the Nelson Mandela Gateway by the Clock Tower. They sell up pretty quick but we got 2 places on the 11am tour 2 days later. We got the second to last bus at 17.00 from the Clock Tower back to stop 7 and had a quick freshen up before heading out for dinner at a local Italian. We were both knackered from jet lag and our exploits that day, we almost fell asleep in our food! After a Skype date with Mum and Dad at a local internet cafe, I monumentally crashed into bed exhausted but content that we had made the most of our first day in the Mother City and we had been up Table Mountain in the crystal clear stunning weather.

9th March and time for our day trip to the Cape Peninsula. We got picked up at 8am and after touring the cities hostels picking up people we got on our way along the coastal road towards Cape Point. Our first stop was at Hout Bay Harbour where we spent 40 minutes wandering the wharf and its markets whilst some of the group went on a boat trip to see the seals. We had seen plenty already on our travels and decided to save the pennies instead. Everyone back together again we continued our way South, passing South Africa’s smallest pub called ‘The Workshop’ which holds just 20 people at once. And then we were on Chapman’s Peak Drive- a very picturesque  coastal drive with fantastic views back to Houts Bay. Simon’s Town was next, an important Naval Town in the past and also where Napoleon died a captive. Apparently he was fond of the local South African wine and was buried with a bottle in his coffin! We were here to see the African Penguins at a place called the Boulders- a natural  reserve for the little creatures. We got right up closer to around 100 penguins all clustered or scampering about on Foxy Beach. There were babies there too, still grey and fluffy. We witness an assassination attempt at an egg as a seagull tried his luck swooping down to grab an egg but the penguins saw him off. It was then onto Cape Point driving along the coast of False Bay. On the way we came across a troop of baboons and closed our windows really quickly as apparently on the smell of food they get über aggressive and try to get into the vehicles. Luckily we were okay and we soon found ourselves entering the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. We stopped 5.5km away from the visitors centre and got the bikes out from the trailer to ride the last stretch of road to see the reserve close up and work up an appetite for lunch. Hedd decided to sit this one out on account of his back playing up again and instead was chief photographer from the minibus. I was on a pretty dodgy bike which creaked terribly at every pedal, but I made it to the visitors centre in one piece really enjoying the ride. I found Hedd helping Grant, our guide, with lunch. Ham and cheese rolls with feta salad- yum! After lunch we made it to Africa’s most Southern West point- Cape Point. We parked up at the base of Cape Point Lighthouse and took the funicular up to the top. The lighthouse is a bit decrepid now but we still got a fantastic view of False Bay to our right and the Cape of Good Hope to our left. Rejoining the bus we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope, eventually getting a pic of us by the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ sign after battling our way through a conveyor belt of Chinese tourists taking picture after picture! After paddling our feet in the sea it was back on the bus for the1 1/2 hour express haul back to Cape Town. I slept the whole way still not being able to shake the jet lag! Fish n chips for tea (taste of home!) and a yet another early night to try to become jet lag free.

Up early in prep for our next full day of activities. Today was our day touring the Stellenbosch wine region with a company called African Stories. Our guide called Bruce picked us up at 8.30am and after some more picks up we were on our way North out of the city. The mountain had its table-cloth on this morning- a meteorological phenomenon that causes the cloud to tumble-down the mountain slope like billowing fabric. Very cool and I just loved how everyday Table mountain looked different. We also passed an overpass which suddenly stopped in mid-air. I asked Bruce about it and he brushed it off saying “ya, the government ran out of money and abandoned it”. Its been used in a lot of films too apparently driving cars off the end of it! The first winery we visited was called Villiera and Bruce took us on a cellar tour explaining the wine making process. The weather was fantastic and we took the tastings out in the wineries gardens. Bruce very impressively ‘Sabraged’ a Brut Champagne to kick things off. Basically he took a cold bottle of bubbly, took the wrappers off the neck, found the seam of the bottle where it meets the lip of the neck, then striked the bottle at that point upwards with a sword, and the cork still encased in its glass wrapping comes clean off the bottle. The pressure in the bottle from the fizz means no glass gets into the wine. It was fantastic! So after that display we tried 2 different types of champers, 3 whites, 2 reds and a dessert wine. A lot of wine and we were still on the first of 4 winieries- oh dear! Next up was a place called Fairview. The winery is famous for its goats cheese and its ‘Goats do Roam’ wine- their (piss)take on the French’s Cotes Du Rhone wine. There was a big food and wine festival on so the place was heaving, but we found a free tasting table and helped ourselves to 6 tastings, sipping the wine whilst trying different types of cheeses. My favourite wine was a Viognier dessert wine I tried. Next up was Solms Delta winery and the place where we were having lunch, thank goodness!  Now Solms Delta is in a stunning spot- a sunny walled lawn with vines in the fields and soft weeping willow trees blowing in the breeze. Under one such tree we were led by Leon, our customer liaison officer, in the tasting of 6 wines. He explained the history of the place which was really interesting. It was founded by Mark Solms, a world-renowned neuroscientist and the guy who located the part of the brain that makes us dream. He saw the social and economic problems being faced in SA and he decided to make wine and set up a trust that benefits the estates historically disadvantaged residents and employees. Over 50% of the profits from the wine goes into the trust so Solms must at best just break even on his investment. My favourite by far of the 6 wines was a Bubbly Cape Jazz Shiraz- a sparkling red wine! It was super yum and was the wine I chose to have a glass of whilst I tucked into my lunch of steak with blue cheese sauce, roasties and salad. Just what I needed after 3 wine tastings! And then it was time for our final winery, Zorgvliet, which was in an equally beautiful spot. We had our tastings in a grand room within a grand colonial building, overlooking majestic mountains. I think we tried 5 wines but by this point our palate was shot, so I just enjoyed wandering the beautiful gardens and soaking up the great view of the surrounding mountains. Driving back to Cape Town we drove through Stellenbosch town, the 2nd older town after Cape Town and now a well-known university town where women out number men by 7 to 1! Anyone needing to find a wife, this is the place to come! We arrived back at 5.30pm; too stuffed from lunch to contemplate dinner, we nursed our heads and whiled away the evening planning our Baz Bus road trip across SA.

The 11th March and our last day in Cape Town. We had breakfast on the balcony looking up at a crystal clear table mountain but as we chatted to the hostel owners they informed us the cable car had broken down so nobody could enjoy the clear views. We both reflected just how lucky we were on that first day to have gone up  and seen it clear as we took the 30 minute stroll down to the V&A Waterfront where we were due to get the ferry across to Robben Island for our tour at 11am. On our way we walked through The Company Gardens which had a gorgeous tree-lined walk way with lots of statues and flowers and plenty of inquisitive squirrels. Then through St Georges Market Square which was already bustling with stall vendors selling souvenirs and curios. Then all the way down Long Street to the waterfront. It was hot work, 32 degrees today and not a cloud in the sky, but at least we were going down hill! We were already seeing some of the 42,000 cyclist who had taken part in the 109km Cape Argus International Bike Race along the coast road that started that morning. It must have been tough in this heat but apparently a local had won the race so everyone was celebrating. We arrived in good time for our 10.30am boarding time but there was still a big que at the Mandela Gateway building to get onto our ferry. Needless to say we didn’t manage to get a spot on top deck for the 30 minute sail over to the island which was a shame. But we did manage to see a pod of about 20 dolphins swimming the waves off the boat which was super exciting.  As we got off the ferry we were herded into buses which would take us around the island. I think both of us though it’d be a walking tour so were feeling pretty uncomfortable as we squished ourselves down into the slimmest seats in a crammed bus. We looked at each other with worried expressions…this was not our type of tour. As we set off around the Island our tour guide introduced himself- a German who was studying African Political History at Cape Town Uni- and fair play he knew his stuff. I was relieved, we was telling us the history of the place with such passion, I almost forgave the fact that he wouldn’t let us off the bus to look at some of the sites close up! We first travelled to the prison-house where Robert Sobukwe, leader of the Pan-African Congress, was held in isolation purely for his political beliefs. The Apartheid Government thought him so dangerous to their goal for one race (white), one nation-hood for SA that he was never actually free (being put on house arrest after Robben Island prison was abandoned) before he died of cancer. Pretty sad. Next up we passed the Leper cemetery and the male leper church (The Church of the Good Shepherd)- I hadn’t realised that the island had once been a leper colony before the cure was found. We then stopped and was let out of the bus near the 19th century lighthouse with a great view back to Cape Town. The view was truly amazing but it was not what Hedd and I had come to the island to see and we felt we would have preferred to stop at more of the sites to do with when the island was used to house political prisoners such as Mandela. Then it was back on the bus and passing yet more interesting things we weren’t allowed out to see. Including the Lime Quarry where Mandela along with the many other political prisoners carried out their life sentence of hard labour. Dressed in just shorts and shirt they had no protection from the freezing cold in winter or the blistering heat in summer. Without sun glasses the reflection from the white limestone day after day was blinding. Nelson Mandela today is unable to shed tears due to the damage caused to his eyes from working at the Lime Quarry. The cave at the quarry was the prisoners only shade and was the place they urinated, ate and held political discussions as to the future of a free and democratic SA. The guards never ventured in there on account of the smell! It was also the place where Mandela and the other university educated political leaders taught others about economics, philosophy and politics in general so that they all could be prepared for a free SA. They never gave up hope even though most of them were serving life sentences. Our last stop (and we got off the bus- hoorah!) was at the high security prison where the political prisoners were held. Here we got a tour around the prison by an ex political prisoner which included a visit to B Section which held many of the leaders from the various ‘banned’ political organisations. This included Mandela who spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island. Now this part of the tour should have been a massive highlight but our group was too big and the guide too inaudible. We didn’t think we got the authentic story the Robben Island Tourist Board had intended for us to have by having an ex-prisoner tell the history. We got back on the ferry (had to sit downstairs again) feeling a bit disappointed by the Robben Island Tour. We felt it was important that we had gone but that it wasn’t worth the 220 RAN we’d paid. We got back to the V&A Waterfront at 2.30pm and were ready for lunch. However the place was packed with cyclist and their families celebrating which created a great atmosphere but meant we didn’t manage to eat until an hour later, and even then it was a MacDonald’s! We still got a great view of the mariner from our Maccy D stools though! We then made the walk back to our hostel which took us a whole heap longer than this morning as we were walking up hill and it was just as hot. We collapsed into the hostel’s comfy sofas with an ice cold drink and chilled for the rest of the evening. Having eating so late in the day and on account of the heat, neither of us fancied dinner so we just packed all our things ready for our road trip with the Baz Bus starting the next day and had drinks on the balcony watching the sun dip behind Table Mountain one last time.

Capetown in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Hot hot hot, 30 degrees plus
  • Food= Big lunches, no dinners (I know naughty)
  • Drink=Plenty of wine!
  • Do before anything in Cape Town= Table Mountain
  • If you have time= Walk up Lion’s Head for sunset
  • Maybe miss and go to Camps Bay instead= Robben Island Tour

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

The first thing you notice about Cape Town is the mountain. It’s impossible not to, it’s everywhere. I’m not the biggest fan of big cities, too many people rushing around, too many tall buildings etc, so as far as big cities go Cape Town was a breath of fresh air. It has to be the best setting for a city, surrounding the impressive Table Mountain. We were lucky that we had an amazing view of the mountain from the balcony at the hostel each morning, but almost everywhere in the city you could look up and see the mountain  – wonderful!! We were very fortunate to get up on top of the mountain on our first day there, it was clear and the views were amazing. The next two days the mountain was covered by clouds and the day after the cable car was broken. So if you’re ever in Cape Town, do as the locals say  “mountain first, then everything else”.

Sydney- The Wedding and Other Adventures

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Always love a good wedding! 

Our first afternoon in Sydney started in the pub around the corner from Lucy’s flat in the area of Balmain (North West of the Harbour Bridge). Lucy is a Royals girl and has been living and working over in Sydney for 2 years and kindly was putting us up for 2 nights, so we were in the pub waiting for her to get back from work. 2 glasses of wine later and she was home and after a merry catch up over another couple of bottles of wine we all stumbled into our respective beds wondering where the evening had gone!

Oh my goodness did we feel delicate the next morning. I saw Lucy off at 7am as she had a rowing race to get to (needless to say she wasn’t feeling quite up for it!) and I eventually managed to coax Hedd out of bed to start getting ready for Ian and Teresa’s Wedding. Ian and Teresa are Royal Chester Rowing friends again. Ian was the Boat Club Captain when I first joined RCRC and Teresa his long-term Aussie partner. They both did the Caledonian Crossing Challenge last year, which saw us all row across Scotland through the canals and lochs, and thats where they met Hedd and we discovered that perhaps our paths could cross in Sydney over their special day. And so it came about- an invite to a wedding in Sydney for 2 backpackers! At 10am we began our mission to Narrabean (North of Sydney, up the coast) which saw us catch a bus to Circular Quay, then a ferry across to Manley and then another bus to Rowland Reserve, Narrabean. In all it took us 3 hours! We were one of the first to the large catamaran where the floating ceremony was to take place and, as it began to shower, was ushered onto the boat by the celebrant called Mary to get out of the rain. At 13.30 the coach with the guests staying in Narrabean arrived along with the Grooms Party. So a bit about the Grooms Party outfits- they were in beige deck shoes, blue Chino’s, beige/off white linen shirts and then a beige and thin blue stripped linen blazer. Very nice and wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in the Stewards enclosure at Henley Regatta! I soon spotted Laura, Andy and Steve- the other RCRC guests and rushed out to greet them. It was so lovely but equally so bizarre to see them , at a wedding, on the other side of the world, after 5 months of not seeing them every week! We managed to catch up on news before heading onto the boat for the arrival of the bridal party. The bridal party arrived in a blue and cream stretched VW camper van. Oh my goodness it was too cool for school! And Teresa looked absolutely stunning in an off white satin halterneck dress with fitted body and full chiffon skirt, with a delicate lace bolero. Her hair was big and pinned back with dramatic eye makeup and daring red lipstick. The flowers were devine- pastel blue pansies and cream roses. I would say the theme was 1950’s chic vintage drama, and the whole thing was gorgeous! With everyone on board we set sail to a pretty cove to moor up and start the wedding ceremony. There was a string quartet and they played as Teresa and her 2 grown up daughters, the bridesmaids, walked down the aisle. They both looked so happy and in love. They said beautiful vows- not the traditional religious one. There was a line about “my arms being your home”  and such like- lovely! Then Emma, Ian’s daughter, read a poem and then Ian read a tear jerking reading about Teresa being the best of him. Then it was the giving of rings, the kiss and the couple signed the register to the band playing ‘All you Need is Love’. All in all a great, down to earth, personal ceremony. There were nibbles and drinks at the free bar as the photographer organised us all into the various groups for the photos. We braved the top deck for those as the showers had died down. And then we set sail for the marina and during the journey we had the speeches- Erin, chief bridesmaid and Teresa’s oldest daughter; Steve, best man and my ‘Chester Dad’ from RCRC; and Ian, groom saying his thanks. We got back to the marina around 4pm and all had a group shot outside the boat before the whole wedding party got whisked off in the stretched VW camper for more official photos. All us guests got back on the bus and got dropped off at the bar just down the road from the evening reception which was to start at 6pm. After being so careful with my dress the whole day, the destruction of the dress began as the velcro from my rain jacket pulled and puckered the chiffon over-layer of my skirt on the bus- oh dear, at least it survived the ceremony! At 6pm we managed to blag ourselves a ride in the VW camper limo to the evening reception as it had started to pour down with rain. Plus it was too good an opportunity to miss- very very cool wedding transportation! Then we were at Narrabean Surf Club enjoying yet another free bar! Steve, bless him, had brought the Royals flag with him from Chester and had put it up in the venue, so when Lucy had arrived all us Royals had a picture underneath it with the bride and groom. And the night continued with many more glasses of champagne, more yummy finger food and dancing to the live band. Hedd made the mistake of switching to the red wine and soon got the nickname ‘Disaster Boy’ as he fell asleep in a chair as the night came to an end! Lucy very kindly saw that we all arrived back to her flat safe and sound at the end of a great day.

04.03.12 will only be known to us, Hedd especially, as the day after the night before! I joined Lucy on the sofa with copious cups of tea and movies from 10am. Hedd didn’t rise from the horizontal position until 3pm! We said our goodbyes to Lucy and ventured out once more to navigate ourselves to Narrabean where we were staying with the rest of the royals gang for the rest of our time in Australia. This time though we didn’t bother with the ferry and just 2 uncomfortable bus journeys later (in our hung over state) we arrived at Ian and Teresa’s apartment right on Narrabean Beach. It was an absolutely stunning spot and we couldn’t quite believe our luck as we dumped our rucksacks in our room stepping out on our personal balcony overlooking the ocean! BBQ for dinner and plenty of reminiscing over the events of yesterday and Royals banter about Hedd and his antics with the red wine! Being apart of the Royals extended family for nearly 2 years, he was used to such ribbing! We slumped into bed at 11.30pm still feeling delicate but looking forward to our day of sailing the next morning.

We woke up to the sound of the ocean, a mere 50 meters from us. Such a gorgeous way to wake up. After showering, breakfast and putting our sea legs on, we all drove to Church Point Marina for our day of sailing on Ian and Teresa’s yacht. Debbie- another Royals lady had just flown into Sydney that morning and met us straight from the airport at the marina too for the day sailing! Very impressive stamina! So our boat was called Wind Maiden- 40 ft, 3 cabin boat, worth $225,000, and Ian and Teresa were trusting us lot to sail it! We got loaded up with drinks, food and bodies and then pushed off from the marina. My first job was to collect in the buoys and then I was on the head sail port side windlass with Debbie, pulling in or letting out as we tacked and jibed our way out and around the estuary. The weather was stunning; clear blue skies, warm and sunny. Almost a shame that the weather didn’t come a day earlier for Ian and Teresa’s wedding but Teresa didn’t mind as she said she would have been too hot in her dress else. Where we were sailing was also beautiful- pretty little bays, high top hills and we even passed the beach and little town that is used to film Home & Away! Hedd got a go at steering and, after almost tipping us all in by over-steering on the jibs, got the hand of it and quite fancied himself as a skipper! By the time we had reached Refuge Bay- our lunch stop- my arms felt like they had had a good workout. We enjoyed a lovely meat and salad lunch, washed down of course with a beer. After a while relaxing on the boat we all got our swimmers on, jumped off the boat and swam to the beach at Refuge Bay. There was a waterfall at the beach and we all enjoyed a neck and back massage as the water thundered on top of us as we stood underneath it. It was then time to swim back to the boat and set sail back towards the marina. None of us had any concept of time and we were surprised that it was as late as 4.30pm when we got back to Church Point. We dropped Hedd and Debbie off at this point as Hedd’s back was feeling tender and Debbie was just exhausted from her flight, and took on board 3 other crew members who actually knew how to sail. Which was a really good thing as now we were going to take part in a race, Ian as skipper and Andy, Teresa and I crewing along with the 3 experts. I was on the port side head sail windlass again with Andy this time and Teresa was on the main sail. It was a handicapped race with different categories going off at different times with the intention that we would all finish together (mayhem!). There were 25 boats in our category but over 100 boats in total taking part, which made for a fab sight as we all set sail with the sun slowly setting. Our race began at 5.30pm and Ian did really well steering us into good wind giving us an ace start. At the start and around the 2 markers we had to go around were the most exciting parts as all the boats bunch together and jostle for the best position. It was funny how some sections of the race could be slow-paced and calm as the wind drops and then the very next minute be so rapid and frantic as we get a gust and try to go the most with it. Very exciting and definitely wet my appetite for getting into sailing much more when I get home. The whole event lasted about 2 hours which went by in a blink of an eye, and we got back to the flat after stowing the boat after 8pm. BBQ again for dinner and we all headed to bed happily tired after a full and jammed packed day of sailing.

I couldn’t quite believe it when my alarm went off at 5.15am the next day. But it was indeed time for me to get up and get ready for my early morning outing with Mosman Rowing Club. All rowing occurs super early in Sydney as that is when the weather is coolest and also so people can row before work. So that’s where I found myself, in a car with Ian, Debbie and Andy at 5.30am off to Spit Point for an outing on the flooded river bed there. We decided to go out in a quad and Ian put me at stroke with the responsibility of setting the rhythm and steering! Needless to say I had a furrowed brow come the end after all the concentration. We were on the water by 6.15am with lights on our boat to guide the way as it was still dark. We sculled to Sugarloaf Bay on the still lake like water watching the sun come up as we rowed, enjoyed the views of the limestone rock sides and mangrove forests, and then rowed back to the club. We were all finished, boated packed away and ready for a cuppa at the cafe across the road by 7.45am! By the time we were back at the flat at 8.15am, it felt like I’d already been up and active for half a day…a very efficient workout and a super experience! After a bit of Africa travel planning, Hedd and I ventured out into Sydney city on the bus to do some sightseeing. We wandered down to Circular Quay and along to the area called The Rocks where we were afforded with a great view of both the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. We sat on a bench admiring the view as we ate our homemade sandwiches. There was an absolutely ginormous cruise ship too in the harbour and we both reflected how terrifying it must have been on that Italian cruise liner that sunk last month. After lunch we strolled back around the harbour to the Opera House and booked ourselves onto the 1pm $35 Sydney Opera House Tour which was a 90 minute tour inside the building and around the theatres. Our guide was really knowledgable, explaining the architecture of the building and all about the acoustics. We saw inside the 2 drama theatres and also 1 of the 2 big Halls. Not the Opera Hall though, the Concert Hall; I think we would have had to have been on the $100 tour to see inside the Opera Theatre! As we were in the Concert Hall, Sydney Symphony Orchestra were rehearsing so we got to stand and listen to them which was a big bonus. They sounded wonderful. We also got to go out onto one of the Opera House’s Balconies which had a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge. The tour ended with a film all about the Opera House’s history and construction which was super interesting…. The Opera House design was selected in a global competition. Many of the designs were boring boxes but this one guy- Jørn Utzon- from Denmark submitted an extremely rough pencil stretch of a building of waves. His design was dismissed originally. But one member of the judging panel was late in arriving and insisted on reviewing all the previously dismissed designs. On seeing Utzon’s sketch he proclaimed him the winner. However that original build time of 3 years and 9 million budget was a complete under-estimate and many more years and millions later and a change of Australian government resulted in Utzon being squeezed out of the project before its completion. Utzon never actually visited the Opera House, his life’s work and crowing accomplishment, after it was finished. Very sad story. The Sydney Opera House is the 2nd most globally recognised image after the MacDonald’s Golden Arches, so Utzon achieved his original design brief of creating an iconic building for Australia. After the tour we grabbed a cold drink and sat on the Opera House promenade enjoying the sunshine and the view. We met up with Lucy and Steve late afternoon to have a goodbye drink and thank Lucy again for putting us up, and then Steve, Hedd and I took the 50 minute bus back to Narrabean together. We got back at 7pm just in time to freshen up and go for a ‘last supper’ as a gang of royals before we all flew off to our various different locations the next day. We were sharing an airport taxi with Laura and Sophie, who were going off to NZ, early the next morning so we said goodbye and a massive thank you to Ian and Teresa that evening. By the time we had packed and tidied up it was midnight and we crashed into bed trying not to think about the fact that we had to be up just 5 hours later!

6am pick up, 1 1/2 hour journey and $74 dollars lighter we all arrived at Sydney airport international departures. We said our goodbyes to Laura and Sophie and gave them some last-minute tips on NZ, before checking in for our flight to Cape Town and the start of our final leg of the trip. I couldn’t believe we were at our last continent already but any sadness was soon replaced by excitement at the prospect of visiting my favourite place, Africa, once again.

 Sydney in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Rain on the big day, but sunshine on the whole
  • Food= Yummy food in miniature at the wedding and a lot of BBQs!
  • Drink= Champagne Bellini’s and too much red wine for Hedd!
  • Damage caused by the Royals reunion= Surprisingly none
  • Favourite Day= Hard to pick, the wedding and the day of sailing were equally superb

Hedd’s (not so wise) words of wisdom!:

At every wedding there has to be someone who get’s a bit over excited, drinks too much and makes a bit of a fool of themselves. It’s almost a certainty. Unfortunately, at Ian and Theresa’s wedding that was me. A combination of drinking all day, a free bar (having been on such a strict budget for over 4 months) and some not so wise words when referring to the Shiraz provided at the free bar. I shall certainly never profess that I can “drink this stuff all night” ever again. That being said, before I got too drunk and fell asleep I had a wonderful time at what was the most laid back and fun wedding I have ever attended. The ceremony, on a boat was a first for me and was such a beautiful setting and very fitting for the happy couple. I want to say congratulations to Ian and Theresa, to wish them all the best for the future, to thank them for their hospitality and to promise that next time we meet, I shall stay away from the red wine!!

Melbourne to Sydney on Highway 1 and The Blue Mountains

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Rain rain go away, come again another day…

It was February 26th but in this camper the day was only referred to as the Carling Cup Final Day! The morning was spent with Hedd driving us to Sale along Highway 1, after leaving a very hot Melbourne, anxious to book us into any type of accommodation with Foxtel Sports so he could watch his team, Liverpool, play Cardiff in the Final. We ended up in the Best Western Motor Lodge, the one and only establishment with the aforementioned TV channel. After checking into our room and double checking once more that it indeed had Foxtel Sports, Hedd relaxed enough to enjoy a bit of exploring. We made our way to the coastal village of Seaspray and then drove the Ninety Mile Beach to Golden Beach. The ninety mile sweeping beach in the shape of a shallow smile was really cool to see and had sand dunes all along it with golden fine sand. And it was sunny so we could actually see, walk along and enjoy this Ninety Mile Beach not like when we were in North Island New Zealand battling against the rain and mist to see Northland’s own Ninety Mile Beach! After paddling in the sea and having a chill out on the beach we made our way back to Sale. Touch and go whether we would make it as the fuel gauge was on empty for a considerable length of time, we were relieved to reach the edge of the town and dive into the nearest petrol station. Take out pizza for tea whilst watching a movie and ticking down the time to the match. As the alarm sounded at 2.15am for Hedd to take his position in front of the telly to watch Liverpool v Cardiff football game. My original intentions of joining him on the sofa was soon forgotten and I stayed in bed and dozed in and out of sleep with Hedd’s cries of delight and sorrow as Liverpool struggled through full-time, extra time and penalties to eventually win at 6 o’clock in the morning! Oh dear, got to love time difference!

Waking up just a couple of hours later, we woke up to rain. We drove through showers, chasing the sun, up the coast to a place called Lakes Entrance where it was still dry. Reliably informed by the tourist information ladies that “the storm was a’ coming”  we whipped around all the lookout points around the town before the rain caught up with us. The best lookout was funnily enough down Lookout Road, where we were afforded a view over Rigby Island, the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes, Reeves Channel, part of the Gippsland Lake Coastal Park and the Bass Straight. It was pretty with turquoise seas, white sandy coves and foliage covered small islands. Like a miniature Fiji! But alas the rain had caught up with us and as we ate our lunch in the shelter of our camper our spirits got lower as the rain got heavier. We set off north up the coast once more, turning off at Orbost to take the scenic coastal drive to Cape Conran. I was driving and it was really nasty driving conditions, 90 km/hr max, with the wipers tirelessly sweeping streams of water off the windscreen. My anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that a massive lizard dashed

out into the road which I had no choice but to run over. I screamed a lot; this lizard was easily 1 meter long and felt like I was going over a speed bump! We arrived at Cape Conran in a break in the rain and I must say I was pleased to get out of the car. The camper wasn’t damaged but Hedd said he could see lizard guts as he looked under the vehicle; squeamish and irrationally thinking all lizards were now out to get me, I ran away from the camper and onto the sheltered, white sand beach of Cape Conran. It was very pretty and we paddled our feet until we began to feel the rain again. Back in the camper and driving north again to our overnight stop at a town called Eden. However it wasn’t the paradise the name suggests as we creeped into town in the torrential rain and mist which made the 5pm look more like night-time! We found a holiday park next to Eden Beach, parked up, cooked soup for dinner and rooted ourselves on a covered picnic bench with a pack of cards and a bottle of wine to see the rainy evening in the best we could. We fell asleep that night to the sound of rain on the camper roof. Oh Australia, where did your infamous sunshine go?!

Tuesday 28th Feb and a bout of bad luck struck Hedd. He started the day gently rolling into the car behind him as we left Eden (the gentleman was not bothered at all and was more annoyed that Hedd made him wind his window down whilst it was tipping it down to see if he was okay!); next up was a big rock flying up and hitting the windscreen creating a big chip; and finally as we stopped for lunch at Batesmans Bay for lunch the crockery box fell out of the camper as he opened the side door smashing our 2 glass cups! Needless to say Hedd was not a happy chappy! Still raining we got back on the road and headed towards Jervis Bay and the Booderee National Park- our stop for the night. We stayed in the National Park campsite called Green Patch- pretty basic but fine for just 1 night. We reluctantly left the camper and legged it over to the covered BBQ’s to make dinner- Chorizo sausage salad. Then legged it back to the camper where we hid from the heavy rain until, again reluctantly, we had to get out to brush our teeth before bed.

Happy Leap Year Day! Guess what, it was still raining! We worked out it hadn’t stopped since lunchtime on the 27th and by now our rain coats were drenched and we were both fed up of being constantly damp and not being able to do or see anything. These feelings were heightened especially in Booderee National Park as in the sunshine we could see that the place would be stunning, fantastic white sandy beaches, fun forest walks and cool historic sites to visit. We were determined to see/do something here. So we drove down to Green Patch Beach, where indeed the sand was white and the waters clear. Then we drove to the Cape St George Lighthouse ruins. Putting our soggy coats on, we braved the weather and walked up to it reading the info boards and visiting all the different lookouts. The weather now was truly atrocious- cold as well as wet instead of just being wet. But the lighthouse ruins and its history were quite interesting. The lighthouse had never served its purpose well, being designed all wrong and being in the wrong location; it became a showpiece. However each of the families that lived in it had tragic accidents so it was thought to be a highly unlucky (some may say cursed) place. People drowning in fishing nets, falling off cliffs, catching diseases, getting shot…all sorts of horrendous endings! Reading all about that plus the inclement weather soon saw us leave the place sharpish and driving out of the National Park and up the coast to Wollongong- our last stop on Highway 1 before heading west into the Blue Mountains. Having lunch and stocking up on maps and information on the Blue Mountains from Wollongong information centre, we set off for Katoomba- Blue Mountains main town. Passing familiar place names on our way, we drove through Penrith and Liverpool, before arriving in Katoomba at 5pm in the thick mist and rain. My goodness, the place really did look miserable! As we drove into Katoomba Falls Caravan Park- the only one in town and within a 1 hour radius- we couldn’t believe our eyes when we read the sign saying ‘No Vacancies’! Hedd went into the office anyway and looking so depressed the lady took pity on us and moved a load of bookings around so she could give us a pitch for the 2 nights we needed. Phew, thank goodness for that! We had pitch 13- unlucky for some but at that point in time, for us, our saviour! Nothing else to do but to make dinner, we headed over to the camp kitchen only to be greeted by a big group of 50-year-old + couples who slightly drunk offered us cheese, biscuits and dip. They were all from Newcastle, north of Sydney, here for a golfing holiday. But on account of the rain had done little golfing and a lot of drinking instead! As we proceeded in making our beans on toast the group took great interest in us and were given the title “the young people”. “Give the young people more dip and biscuits”, “give the young people some chairs”. And after our beans on toast one of the wives came over with 2 Aussie Patties (burgers) full with salad, cheese and sauce for us saying “she couldn’t see us going to bed with only beans on toast in our bellies” . Although pleasantly full after our beans on toast we weren’t ones to pass up on free food and enjoyed our burgers tremendously whilst chatting away with the group. Before they could feed us with more food, we retired to the van. For a while I refused to get out of the van on account of the foul weather, cleaning my teeth my putting my head out of the window. But eventually nature called and I legged it to the loo and back. Even though the amenities block was less than 20 meters away, I still managing to get absolutely drenched. I went to sleep hoping, wishing and praying that tomorrow we wouldn’t wake up to rain drops.

Naturally waking up at 7am, the first thing I notice was the silence…halleluiah it wasn’t raining! We both looked at each other and without speaking raced to get dressed to head out and actually do some sightseeing. We were walking out of our campsite and towards Katoomba Falls by 7.30am, picking up the Prince Henry Cliff Trail which wraps itself along the mountain side with views of the Blue Mountains and the valley below culminating at the 3 Sisters rock formation at Echo Point. We were so excited to be outside doing something we almost skipped along the trail. But we soon came to an obstacle- “Path closed due to recent bush fire activity”. We weighed up our options- turn back and go along the boring road with no views or push back the very flimsy gate, think blow it and proceed. We went with the later option and continued to enjoyed the spectacular view as we made our way to Echo Point. We were going along quite happily when we turned a corner and faced our “ah, this is what they were talking about” moment. A whole staircase of wood obliterated into charcoal! We clambered along and quickened up the pace in the fear of getting caught! Eventually we came to Queen Elizabeth Lookout and bent around the sister “closed path sign” and we were back on the path of legitimate walking! As we approached Echo Point we got our first sight of the rock formation called the 3 Sisters. Hedd was so chuft if was seeing them as he had convinced himself he would be confined to the camper until we got to Sydney. I had again some deja vu moments as I stood taking very similar photographs to the ones I took back in 2004 but I still took them! So the legend of the 3 Sisters goes that 3 beautiful sisters from the Gundungurra people were in love with 3 brothers from the neighbouring nation of Dhuarruk people, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers were warriors and decided to take the maidens by force. Tribal war forced the Kuradjuri (clever man) of the Gundungurra people to turn the sisters into stone. He intended to restore them after the danger had passed but he was unfortunately killed in the battle and to this day nobody has been able to break the spell and turn the 3 sisters back to their natural form. Hmmm not such a clever plan after all! We then walked further along the track and down part of the Giant Staircase until we hit another ‘danger do not pass’ sign. We decided not to push our luck and turned back towards our camp site really pleased we’d had the break in weather to see the key sights in the Blue Mountains. After a well deserved breakfast and showers we headed out again but this time in our camper to drive Cliff Drive, culminating at Sublime Point, and stopping off at all the various lookouts on the way. As we checked out Honeymoon lookout, Kiah lookout, Leura Falls, Gordon Falls lookout and eventually getting to Sublime Point lookout we had seen the Blue Mountains in the now clear, cloud free weather from many different perspectives and, as the sun started to shine, saw why they were called ‘Blue’ Mountains. A blue haze appeared before our eyes in the valley as the sun hit the oily atmosphere created by the eucalyptus trees, gets scattered with only the blue being absorbed by the canopy giving its blue appearance. An optical phenomenon called ‘Rayleigh Scattering’. As we made the walk back to our camper from Sublime Point Lookout the spits of rain began once again and we smiled at our timing. Arriving back at the campsite we resume our hermit lifestyle as the rain lashed down on us once more. We were just pleased we had got our morning of sightseeing and whiled away the afternoon playing cards and listening to music. As it was St Davids Day we celebrated with a dinner of Lamb Burgers!

So the 2nd March marked our last day with the camper and we reflected upon what a vastly different 2 weeks we had had in terms of weather since picking it up in Melbourne, as we made our way past Penrith and Liverpool again and onto Sydney. Navigating ourselves into the big city wasn’t as bad as we had originally feared and we arrived at the Hippie Camper drop off by the airport our stress levels surprisingly low. We now just had to see that we got our bond refunded and hope they didn’t charge us anything for the chip in the windscreen. Hoorah everything was fine! As we waited for our taxi to take us to our first cheeky freebie place to stay, we wondered what mayhem would proceed that weekend when Royal Chester Rowing Club members regrouped and descended on the unaware Sydney suburb of Narrabean…

Highway 1 to Sydney and The Blue Mountains in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Cold, wet and miserable!
  • Food= Anything quick to cook in the rain (soup, salad, beans on toast)
  • Drink= Wine and plenty of it!
  • The area flooded in New South Wales= The size of France
  • Items thrown out due to saturation= Both our trekking sandals
  • Shouldn’t have done it but pleased we did moment= Walking along the closed, due to forest fire, Prince Henry Cliff Walk in Katoomba!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

Rain, rain, rain…the heaviest rain in that region in 12 years! Great, well we could at least be grateful for two things. Firstly we were mainly traveling via the coast and were not in the areas effected worst by the flooding. Secondly, we were traveling in a camper van, and camper vans are so much better than a tent in the rain! Despite the rain, we still managed to have a great time and saw some cool things. Sometime you just have to make the most of a bad situation, which we certainly did. We went to all the places we were going to and although I’m sure that Jervis Bay and the Blue Mountains would have been so much more spectacular in the sun, we got to see them. We were even lucky enough to get 4 hours of no rain and no fog in the Blue Mountains, so glad we got up straight away and just went out to see what we could do. So there’s the lesson, when the weather is good make the most of it, and when it’s not make the most of that too!!

The Great Ocean Road (GOR) and The Grampians

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Camper van’ning- a whole heap of fun!

First things first, let me introduce you to our Camper. Decorated in butterflies and flowers, she’s on the Hippie side of the spectrum but deep down it’s a Mitsubishi Express 7300- white van man van- kitted out with a fridge and wash basin in the boot and a bed in the back seats. Basic, budget option but it had absolutely everything we needed and we were super excited when we finally got our keys (the staff at Melbourne Hippie Campers are not the quickest!) and drove off to start our Aussie road trip.

GOR Day 1- Melbourne to Airleys Inlet

After filling our fridge with food supplies (and of course cider!) from a nearby Woolies supermarket, we were off on the M1 motorway heading towards Torquay and the start of the Great Ocean Road. The people who had hired our van previously had left us a fantastic book, ‘Budget Camps and Stops Australia’ by Paul Smedley, in the glove box and we used it to find Torquay Park Area where we pulled up to cook our dinner that night. Cooked by Hedd on our gas stove we had Kangaroo steak salad and we ate it on a picnic bench in the open air and sunshine overlooking Torquay Beach and the kite surfers occupying the Bay. Not a bad first dinner! Now hiring a camper van is not the cheapest so we had the intention of freedom camping as much as we could to balance out our budget. However ‘Surf Coast Shire’ (the most ridiculous name for a Council) had other ideas for us with signs up everywhere saying ‘no camping or sleeping in vehicles’. So after checking out Bells Beach and Point Addis lookouts we reverted to Plan B and got our holiday parks in Victoria book out to find a cheap campsite. Airley’s Inlet Holiday Park was the new target and we set off in earnest as it was getting dark. On the way we saw our first Kangaroo. It was just by the side of the road and it was massive! No cute little Skippy; this one could have done you serious damage. Needless to say we didn’t get to close to it! We arrived at the campsite at 8.30pm to a very closed reception. However the owner Arys who was watching our disappointment on CCTV took pity on us and came down to reception and book us into a powered site for the night ($22.50). Relieved at our good fortune, we cracked open a cider and sat inside our camper toasting the first night in our new home.

GOR Day 2- Airleys Inlet to Apollo Bay

Making the most of the camp kitchen we had fried egg on toast for breakfast, made the compulsory cheese and relish sarnies for later and checked out before 10am. We drove to the Lands End Lookout a couple of minutes away and then walked along the coast to Split Point Lighthouse. Fondly known as the White Lady, the lighthouse was built in 1891 and is 34 meters tall. But most importantly it is the lighthouse in the TV show ‘Round the Twist’ and we sang the theme tune an embarrassing amount as we walked towards it! The lighthouse was pretty cool and as we wandered around it we really wished we had a laptop so we could watch an episode of ‘Round the Twist’ for old times sake. But alas no laptop and we walked back to the camper via Step Beach where our attempt at a jog for ‘exercise’ turned into a mess around dodging waves…running on sand is hard! We double backed on ourselves driving back to Anglesea to visit the golf course there which is also home to a big family of Kangaroo’s. However we saw none and we were soon heading back towards Airleys Inlet and onwards to pioneer more of the GOR. Heading towards a town called Lorne we passed under the Great Ocean Road Arch which is the largest enduring WWI memorial in the world. You see 3,000 Australian returned soldiers and sailors had built the road and the wooden arch crossing the road commemorates the construction of the road and the sacrifice made by so many in the First World War. It was a nice thing to stop at. We arrived in Lorne at lunch time and we grabbed a couple of cold drinks and took our camp chairs and sandwiches down to the beach to have lunch. We chilled there for an hour or 2 reading and watching the waves before continuing the journey turning 10km inland from the GOR to check out Erskine Falls. It was a pretty 30 meter drop waterfall but the steps going back up to the car park were a killer. The walk was shaded which was a bonus but it was still baking! On our way back to Lorne we stopped off to check out Teddy’s Lookout and the fab view it offers of the GOR as it winds and tracks itself mountain one side and the sea on the other. It’s why the GOR is one of the best drives you can do in the world! We then headed to Kennett River, parked up and then walked up Grey River Road which is a well-known hot spot for Koala spotting. The walk is through Manna Gum Forest- the Koala’s preferred diet- and as we searched the high trees for signs of movement our attention was diverted by amazing bird life. Kookaburra’s (which actually look really evil in real life) and these amazing little parrot like birds called Crimson Rosella’s. We saw a few Koala’s early on in the high trees but they were all curled up sleeping so we couldn’t get a good picture. But Hedd was on a mission and we walked over 30 minutes up hill before we decided to call it quits. But as we were walking down hill our eye level was more inline with the Koala hang outs and we saw loads more and these ones were much more active. Very cool! It was then back in our camper towards our stay for that night in a free (and legal!) campground past Apollo Bay down Horden Vale Road. But on the way on a branch overhanging the road we saw the most awesome Koala. We pulled up and spent some time with him. He was really big and so close up and was being really active. In fact as we turned to leave the little creature got even more active like he didn’t want us to go! I think he must just like the attention! After taking what seemed like hundreds of photo’s of the Koala we decided we probably captured him pretty well and headed off to our campground. So our freebie campground- a field next to a lake with long drop toilets. Nothing fancy but with plenty of trees for us to park our camper in a shady spot which was good. Only thing was that it was down a long unsealed road that seemed to go on forever but perserver…there is a campsite down there eventually! Tea that night was meat balls and salad which we ate on a slightly dubious camp table with a broken lid and leg! But we managed all the same, washed up with cold water from our sink and headed to bed hoping to wake up with kangaroo’s all around the camper the next morning.

GOR Day 3- Apollo Bay to Princetown

So no kangaroo’s this morning, but instead we woke up to rain! That was a bit of a shock and hadn’t stopped by the time we made it to Cape Otway. We had come with the intention of visiting the lighthouse but at $17.50 entry each just to get close to it we cut that plan short, had breakfast under our boot escaping from the rain and then resorted to plan b and drove to Blanket Bay instead to check out the beach and walk a section of the Great Ocean Walk. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we arrived and we enjoyed a stroll on the beach covered by a blanket of smooth flat rock (hence its name) and then a short hike through the bush along the Great Ocean Walk track to Point Lewis Lookout. We got yet again a great view over the rocky coastline and the blue haze of the sea below it. Then it was back on the GOR turning off at Moonlight Head Road (unsealed again- sorry camper van!) to The Gables car park. From here we took the 20 minute walk to the Gables Lookout through coastal health and woodland, arriving at the lookout which offered us spectacular views of some of Australia’s highest sea cliffs. If they had been a bit whiter and the weather not so hot I could have been looking at the great cliffs of Dover! We then hopped back into the van and drove to Wreck Beach car park where we walked down the 366 steps to the beach. It was super hot now and it felt like we were on a desert island searching for treasure as we went looking for the anchors of the 2 ships- the Marie Gabrielle and the Fiji- who became shipwrecked here many moons ago. After our successful hunt we sat on the beach eating an apple and looking out to sea and the tricksy under the surface rocks that had caused disaster for those 2 ships long ago. Then it was the hot haul back up the beach and those 366 steps to our van. We were now reaching the GOR main attraction- the limestone rock formations of Gipson Steps and the 12 Apostles- just outside Princetown. And boy did we realise, as we fought our way

through bus loads of people to get down the steps to Gipson beach to check out what all the fuss was about. Just a big rock really a little way out to sea, but the late afternoon sun hitting it brought out its brilliant colours- orange, yellows and creams. Then, just a little way up coast, we arrived at the 12 Apostles. Again a collection of limestone rocks just out to sea. There were never ever 12 of them and there are even less now that many have fallen victim to wind and wave erosion. Much like Gipson Steps the place was packed with day trippers but the Apostles are still a cool sight to see, if perhaps a little ‘bigged up’ by the GOR tourism board. We found a lovely campsite back at Princetown to stay the night- Apostles Holiday Park- pitched up, showered and made tea before heading back to the 12 Apostles for sun set- the best time to view the Apostles. There were still plenty of people there but not the crowds from earlier and secured a spot overlooking the beach to watch the sun go down. Unfortunately it was cloudy so we didn’t see the traditional big orange ball pour itself into the sea on the horizon which was a shame, but instead as it did the sun tinged all the clouds in the sky red. So all around us the sky was touched with crimson, it was really rather beautiful. Then as it got darker 4 little penguins arrived back from their day at sea and wibble wobbled their way up the beach to their nest. You normally see a lot more but it was malting season so penguins stay up to 2 weeks out at sea without coming back. So after watching these 4 guys for a while and being sure that this was our lot for the night we  headed back to our campsite to sleep.

GOR Day 4- Princetown to Narrawong

Woke up today with my right ankle twice its normal size, 4 large bites circling my ankle bone- ouch! After some breakfast, some anti histamine pills and a struggle to get my sandles on, we were off and headed for Loch Ard Gorge. Loch  Ard Gorge is a series of limestone caves, bays and arches and also the site that the Loch Ard ship sank in 1878 hence its name. It was already getting warm as we walked to the various look out points and down the steps to the beach. With its easy access and limestone archways I found Loch Ard Gorge almost more impressive than the 12 Apostles. But maybe that was just me! Don’t shoot me GOR Tourist Board! We then drove to Muttonbird Island lookout and wandered through Loch Ard Cemetery which have memorials of those who lost their lives in the wreck. Thunder Cave was next where the sea crashes into and up the cave creating a lot of white water and thunderous noise. That was pretty cool. It was now super hot and you could really feel the lack of o-zone; we were relieved to get back in the van and have the breeze in our faces as we drove along our last stretch of GOR towards Warrnambool, stopping off at our last limestone formation called London Bridge. Now just a rock stump out to sea, the main arch connecting London Bridge to the mainland fell into the sea in 1990 marooning 2 tourists on the newly formed island! They were rescued soon after by helicopter but that would have been one hell of a holiday story to tell the folks at home! Just before hitting Warrnambool we stopped off to visit ‘Cheeseworld’ in Allansford where Hedd fed his mild addiction to cheese with a cheese taste and some lunch. And then we were in Warrnambool- a rather hefty town that marks the end of the GOR. Saying goodbye to the GOR we made our final drive of the day to a free (and legal!) campground, called Saw Pit, in Narrawong.

On our way to the Grampians…

1/2 a tablet of Hedd’s 9 x strength anti histamines later and an ankle still the size of an elephants, we  made our way further West to Cape Bridgewater in a hope to spot a blue whale. Today was a scorcher and as we parked up at Blowhole car park there was not a cloud in the sky. But alas no whales either, but we did walk to a petrified forest which was quite cool. Then it was time to leave the coast and head north on the A200 towards the Grampians- Victoria’s rather attractive mountain range. And my goodness did we notice the change in temperature- the heat got increasingly unbearable as we got further and further inland and the winds hurtling across the plains into the camper were boiling too; we could get no relief. Eventually we sacrificed the fuel and put the air con on. Phew, did we need it! We had lunch at a rest stop called The Griffin as an ode to the local pub in Ruthin where we had leaving drinks, and then made our way up Mt William- the highest peak in the Grampians. You can walk the 2k to the summit but we didn’t get that far it was just too hot! We arrived into Halls Gap, the Grampians main town, early afternoon and paid the information centre a visit to find out what we could do in the area in this heat. They confirmed that it was indeed in the upper 30 degrees and was gonna get into the 40’s over the next few days! Crazy hot! If we wanted to do any walks it would have to be in the early morning with plenty of water. Armed with that info we tried to be as active in the heat as possible, visiting the Brambuk Cultural Centre to learn more about the Aborigine heritage before succumbing to the inevitable and collapsing in the shade with a cold can of pop at our campsite- Takura Holiday Park. And there we stayed, having ice lollies, reading, playing cards seeing in the evening. I did have an exciting encounter with a Crimson Rosella though, courtesy of the gentleman from the caravan across from us depositing a load of bird seed in my hand and saying “meet the locals”! All was well until I got swooped by another Crimson Rosella with a gammy eye and then I freaked out and scattered the seed everywhere. I then felt like Mary Poppins until the all the birds, now a party of 4, ate all the seed and flew away! BBQ steak and salad for tea and then the terrible task of trying to get to sleep in a roasting camper van. Open the windows for a chance of a little breeze but the likelihood of being bitten alive by bugs? Or slowly sweat to death in the metal box that was our camper?….decisions, decisions. We opted for the breeze!

A day in the Grampians…

So it didn’t get cool enough to sleep until 1am even with the windows open, but I didn’t get bitten to badly so all in all an alright night! Ankle was still swollen by now just the size of a cow not an elephant so Hedd’s super pills seem to have been doing the trick. We had a jammed packed itinerary this morning so we started early to outrun the sun travelling up Mt Victory Road to Reed Lookout. So the short walk to Reed Lookout saw us looking out over Victoria Valley, Victoria Range, Serra Range, Lake Wartook and the Mt Difficult Range. In plain english…an expanse of green forest with a few lumps and bumps in it as the topography changes. It’s just massive which did go some way to remind us just how big Australia is as a whole. Its one biggg country! We then walked the 30 minute to The Balconies and as soon as I got there the memories came flooding back of when I was here last- 2004 with my 6 girlfriends from school the summer before uni. It was so bizarre replaying it in my head as I wandered around the place 8 years later but now with my boyfriend. So the Balconies are 2 bits of rock which protrude out like 2 balconies from the mountain side and overlook and overhang the expansive green blanket of forest canopy which is the Grampian National Park. We were very naughty and climbed down the lookout so we could actually stand on the balconies and look over the edge. Highly illegal but well worth it! Next stop was MacKenzie Falls and yet another deja vu moment for me as we made it to the Mackenzie Falls Lookout after the 30 minute walk. I’m not sure if Hedd and I were just waterfall’ed out but we didn’t find this one that special so we admired it for a while and then got back to the car to move onto our third and final port of call- the Boroka Lookout. It was an easy 5 minute walk to the 2 viewing platforms that look down on Halls Gap Valley and out onto the Eastern Plains, which was good as it was now baking hot. We took our last pics of the Grampians and stood admiring the view before hopping back into the camper to start our long drive to Melbourne signifying the end of our GOR and Grampian adventure. 3 1/2 hours and the loss of 50% of our body fluid later, we arrived in Dandenong just East of Melbourne at the Big4 Holiday Park. After several cold drink later and some time in the shade we felt vaguely human again. Beans on toast for tea and the hot weather gave us the opportunity to wash and dry our clothes in double-quick time. Another blindingly hot night, we resorted to playing cards in the side entrance of our camper in an attempt to grab some breeze which never came. In the end we just watched the nights goings on from our entrance, patiently waiting for the angry heat to dissipate. We saw an alarming number of posoms which made us agree that however hot it was we couldn’t leave the door open over night. Although we closed up at midnight, it wasn’t until 1am again that it got cool enough to sleep.  But as the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener. For whilst we were praying for cooler weather little did we know New South Wales was about to get the worst rainfall it had seen in years, and we were heading straight for it…

The Great Ocean Road and The Grampians in a snapshot:

  • Weather=Boiling, 30 degrees plus, though cool in the evenings on the coast
  • Food=Meat and salad
  • Drink= Castaway Pear Cider
  • Best Direction to drive the GOR= Melbourne to Portland like we did, you are on the sea-side of the road the whole way
  • Top Tip to avoid the crowds on the GOR= Go to all the amazing hideaway places, 10 -15 mins off the GOR and go see the Gipson Steps and 12 Apostles early morning or late evening

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

What a great week this was. Firstly our camper van was very cool, a bit scary to drive on the busy motorways getting out of Melbourne, but once we got onto the Great Ocean Road, it was a dream. The GOR is a great scenic drive, although the 12 apostles at the end are a bit overrated in my opinion. Most people rush there to see these rocks, but the real beauty is the drive itself. We got to see some beautiful beaches, stunning cliffs, nice towns and plenty of wildlife. The highlights were definitely the giant Kangaroo we saw on the first night while searching for somewhere to camp, and the chilled out Koala hanging out on his tree by the road side (after we had spent an hour walking to find them and he was just chilling by the road!). And to think I had been worried about Australia being full of snakes, spiders and crocodiles…