Desert Knights – a Namibian mountain bike adventure

 

Desert-Knights-2014-12

Photo courtesy of Desert Knights Gallery

Being spontaneous has its rewards.  I got offered the amazing once in a lifetime opportunity to go and partake in the Desert Knights mountain bike adventure in Namibia!  Frankly, when I got the message I thought it was spam, but I had nothing to lose by responding and hey, presto, it was genuine!!!!  It’s an event I had looked at previously and thought looked like a bucket list must.  Who doesn’t want to cycle through the desert during full moon and canoe down the Orange River?

Image result for desert knights mountain bike

Photo courtesy of https://tfcaportal.org/desert-knights-2

 

The event takes place in the Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and combines 5 days of cycling and 1 day canoeing down the Orange river.  I have been lucky to spend a few holidays in this region and absolutely love it (read here). So we start on the Namibian side  of the park in Hobas and end on the South African side in Sendlingsdrift.  What is so unique is that the event takes place during full moon and most of the cycling is done from late afternoon and into the night.  How incredible to cycle to the Fish River Canyon and watch the moon rise over this iconic and beautiful place?  Or to camp in the dry river bed of the Gamkab Canyon?  As you can tell, I am beyond excited!

Our route area map

Having only gotten my entry a week ago, one week before departure, means that I haven’t had months to prep and train.  But here is another bonus, this is a tour, not a race.  You are supposed to enjoy the scenery, stop and take pictures and generally just appreciate the area that is truly a magical place on earth.  Luckily I ride regularly and am pretty fit….well here’s hoping.

Desert-Knights-2014-71

Photo courtesy of Desert Knights gallery

So I am off tomorrow and we start on Friday.  It has been a bit of a scramble getting my bike together as I was waiting on a part from the UK, but all is sorted in the nick of time as well as having to have the clutch replaced on our Toyota Fortuner.  But all was packed this evening and I am ready to get going early tomorrow morning.  Hopefully the sun will be shining and I will get to see some of the flowers through the Namaqualand en route which will be a treat.

This will be a solo mission, Simon and the kids will sadly remain at home holding the fort.  But a solo adventure isn’t always bad, it is good for the soul to have time to think, meditate, appreciate and rest and this is something that the silence of the desert does bountifully.

Image result for desert knights mountain bike

Photo courtesy of Jacques Marais Media

If you would like to follow my adventure on this event I will be posting to my personal Instagram page and to our Family On a Mission page.

Here is to a Bucket List Must!

Epupa Falls – Namibia

Jesse and Olivia could not say the name without laughing hysterically!  For them this was up there with toilet talk.  But they were also beyond excited to see the waterfalls featured in the animated movie, Zambezia.

Epupa Falls is one of the most incredible places to visit.  Situated in the northern most region of Namibia in the Koakaland on the Angolan border.  It is fed by the Kunene River and is 0,5km wide and drops down in a series of waterfalls that spread over 1.5 km.

IMG_8087

Epupa Falls taken close to the town

Getting there

The road to Epupa is pretty amazing.  Like most roads in Namibia it is gravel, but it is well maintained and a 4×4 is not necessary.  It is possible to get there without having to do a whole overlanding long trip, like we did.  You can fly into Windhoek and rent a standard car and drive up.  It is far more accessible than I expected.

Taking the trip from Windhoek, you will need to look at overnighting en route.  It is never worth pushing distances in Africa just in case something goes wrong.  A great place to overnight is around Etosha.  There is a new camp on the northwest side called Olifantsrus that has camping and chalets that friends stayed at and raved about.  We spent three days on our way up in a Game Reserve called Erindi and then overnighted in the town of Opuwo before getting to Epupa.  If you decide to rather push the distance and stay in Opuwo, we stayed at the Opuwo Country Lodge.  I would forgo staying in Opuwo unless necessity requires it as it is not a great town.  They have a good campsite, though you definitely need to book during school holidays.  We stayed the night on the weekend, so there was lots of music and partying going on in the surrounding area.  The road up to the lodge was a bit tricky and the area you go through not great.  The lodge area is well fenced and there is security.  The hotel itself has an amazing view.

IMG_7942

The view from the hotel

Fuel and Food

We did our major food shop in Windhoek, as you can get pretty much everything.  Fuel is something you have to plan for as you always want to have a bit more that needed just in case a petrol station doesn’t have, which is possible.  You are pretty much guaranteed to get good diesel at Kamanjab.  We filled our jerry cans at this point.  When we got to Opuwo we just topped up the main tank.  This is due to not always being able to get 50pp diesel there.  At the main garage in Opuwo there is also a decent Shoprite if you need to get some basics you have forgotten.  I had forgotten flour to make bread, so could get a local brand there.  Click here for my yummy beer bread recipe.  There was also cash machines and banks if you need access.

Culturally

Just before reaching Opuwo, you will start to see Himba people.  If you have children, it is a good idea just to show and discuss with them what to expect.  The women are completely topless at all ages.  When we got to the garage to fill up diesel, our car was inundated with Himba women trying to sell their wares and then also young kids from different tribes begging for sweets and money.

IMG_7878

Olivia watching the children

My son found it very overwhelming and our friends son, who was 12, didn’t know where to look.  So discussing their culture is a good way to prep so that the children know what to expect and can be respectful.  I love showing them such diverse cultural differences.  It shows that diversity is beautiful and that respect is a human right regardless of how different we are!

Himba Women

Himba women riding to get water

If you do stop to take a picture, you will have to ‘pay’.  They want sweets or medicine, which you don’t want to give as they are both addictive.  Supplying fruit or food is better.  Also paper and pencils or pens are great, especially for kids.  Be mindful of giving things in plastic, as the packets/bags/wrapper will most likely just be thrown onto the ground and not disposed of properly.

They are also a nomadic people, so you will see shells of villages and camps.

Himba hut

Outside an abandoned Himba hut

Epupa itself

IMG_7973

Our first Baobab just before reaching Epupa

Epupa is like a little green oasis.  The campsites and lodges are all along the river right above the start of the waterfall.  We stayed at one of the most furthest along campsites called Epupa Camp.  Don’t get confused by Epupa Falls Lodge, we went there and then panicked as they were full and didn’t have our booking.  We then worked out we were in the wrong place.  It is a quieter campsite a bit higher up the river.  They have both camping and little chalets.  The main area has a bar and a swimming pool and wifi.  You can sit and have a drink and a dip in the pool or walk across the bridge to a little island.  You can’t swim in the river because of crocs and must just be wary when walking along the river bank.

The campsite was treed with date palms.  There was a shower and loo ablution stand per two camps with a donkey boiler.  The staff would light the donkey boiler morning and night, though the mornings tended to be a bit tepid as needed more time.   The showers don’t have a roof, so you shower at night looking at all the stars.

 

Just beware of monkeys, don’t leave any food out unattended.  They are so quick and if you turn your back for a second, they grab and run.

If you need any washing done, there will be local ladies at the gate to the campsite in the mornings.  You give them your washing and your powder, though I would supply the powder per wash as they pretty much used most of what we had budgeted for the whole holiday.  The rate charged depends on how many garments there are.  You also buy firewood at the gate from the locals.  Make sure that you have lots of change as you have to pay exact amounts.  This goes for pretty much all remote places throughout Namibia.  So often we wanted to buy wood etc but only had large notes and the local didn’t have any change.

With regards to safety, always beware of petty theft.  So don’t leave things unnecessarily out and unattended.  Walking through the town to the falls was very safe and we didn’t feel worried at all.

Activities

IMG_8110The falls itself is free to access.  We walked from our campsite and you can stand right on top of them.  There is even a walk down to the bottom of the valley.  If you want to go to the view point, you will have to pay money.  It wasn’t a lot and the best time of day is definitely later towards sunset.

Epupa Falls

Above Epupa Falls

There is a village tour and also a river rafting trip.  Both are organized through your place of accommodation.  We did the river trip with the kids, which was such fun.  You get driven roughly 8ks up the river and then you paddle back down.  The rapids were very mild, so very safe with the kids.  We saw crocodiles and birds and had our snack and cooldrink on the Angolan side of the river.

We spent 3 nights at Epupa, but I could have happily spent more.  It is tranquil and beautiful and so culturally rich!

It’s the Little Things that count

Just because you’re in the middle of nowhere doesn’t mean you have to suffer.  I have come to realize that when you are out in these remote amazing places it is the little things which just ‘make it’.

 

DSC_8464

Finding a small shop in the middle of nowhere and getting some ‘luxuries’.  Below is a picture of the shop….we nearly missed it

DSC_8465

So here are some of my non negotiables to making all things good while camping:

  • Good coffee – thank God for aeropress
  • Good wine – pack more red than white so don’t have to worry about chilling
  • Good food – you can do more than just braai on a fire
  • Clover full cream or low fat long life milk tastes the best (it doesn’t kill the taste of your Rooibos tea)
  • A comfy pillow – I will sacrifice clothes for my pillow
  • A sheet or kikoi to sleep on – it really makes a difference
  • My Paez shoes – they pack flat, light and are closed! Socks and takkies can get very hot but slip slops aren’t always practical and your feet get dirty
  • Facial wipes – means I can wear some make up 🙂
  • The solar shower bag – nothing better than a shower after a dusty day
  • My kindle
  • Good music
  • A good comfortable camping chair (a lot of time is spent sitting round the fire)

DSC_9165

Namibia…it captures my heart

IMG_8524

My husband, Simon, and I suddenly realized that our Easter Holidays in South Africa were much longer than usual (usually around 10 days but this year it is 17).  So we thought we better take advantage and go somewhere and we truly have some gems on our back doorstep from the Cedarberg to the West Coast or up the Garden Route or even up to the Kgalagadi.  We decided to ask the kids where would they like to go (they have been to all these spots) and both emphatically said Namibia!  This partly surprised me as it is hot, the distances to cover are generally pretty vast and you can be in some incredibly remote spots (so no riding bicycles in campsites with other kids).  Yet on the other hand it didn’t surprise me at all!

Namibia truly captures your soul.  We have only done a few holidays there visiting Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon, Twyfelfontein, Spitskoppe, Etosha, Hoanib, Epupa and have also done Van Zyls pass….with the infamous trailer!

IMG_8689

Our campsite below in the mountains before entering the Hoanib Valley the next day

IMG_8388

Driving across Knersvlakte after doing van Zyls pass.  It was 40deg Celsius in mid winter

But the way the scenery changes so suddenly from red dunes to black rocky mountains to flat grasslands with jutting rocks is truly magnificent.  You literally can’t help but feel very insignificant and small when standing in the vastness that is Namibia and soak in this incredible creation that God made.

IMG_1311

Jesse and Olivia on the pan at Sossusvlei

So in 10 days we are heading back across the border to visit this magical country and my two cannot wait!  I love how they now appreciate being in places with not a soul for miles around.  That time in the car is not necessarily an evil thing, but time spent chatting and drawing and reading or listening to stories (we try not to limit device us to only when on the national highway do those long long sections).  And no, it is not always harmonious, but that too is okay.

This time we are returning to the Brukkaros Crater, which is a very unknown gem not far from the border.  We were there in 2015 for a single night and I have longed to go back with a bit more time to spend. We will try get up to the upper campsite, but apparently the road is incredibly bad.  It was hairy when we went up previously!  We want to do the hike into the crater and see all the incredible crystals in the rocks.

Simon watching the sunset from the Brukkaros campsite.

Then we are going to Luderitz, which we haven’t been to yet, to visit Kolmanskop.  We will take the kids into the surrounding dunes and then down to the Richtersveld while hopefully seeing the Wild Horses on the way.

Now  the food plan and shopping starts as we have to take pretty much everything along.   I love the prepping and planning and food sorting.  I truly believe that just because you are in a remote spot doesn’t mean that you can’t have truly delicious meals.  I am going to try my friends soda bread that can be cooked in a pan on our gas stove.  Am hoping it works out as that will be so brilliant not having to knead and leave to rise and knead again and then still cook in the fire in the cast iron bread pot.  I will post the results when I try it 🙂

So count down begins to the next awesome adventure!!!!

#namibia #overlandnamibia #overlandingwithkids #namibiawithkids #overlandingwithchildren #brukkaroscrater #travellingwithkids #africa #familyonamission #vannierop #remotetravel #remotecamping #campfood #cookingonafire

 

 

Overlanding as a Family

We are by no means the hardcore full time overlanding family.  We live and work in Cape Town and have our own business.  So our holidays have been windows into this amazing continent we live in.   We decided when the kids were little that overseas holidays were just too costly from South Africa and to rather explore what is literally on our back doorstep.  In order to do so, vast distances have to be covered.  We took some French students to Namibia with us two years ago and they could not get over the huge distances we needed to drive.

IMG_6503

I used to hate car trips!  The quicker we got somewhere the better and heaven forbid we had to stop.  My husband and I used to see how quickly we could do these stops but that had to change when we had kids.  Doesn’t matter how you prepare, a trip always takes a million times longer with children.  The one needs to wee, you stop to do so and then just as you get going typically the next one suddenly needs to wee.  Doesn’t matter that you specifically asked them and they categorically said they didn’t need to!  So when we invested into our overland trailer with these long trips in mind as a family, I had to change my mindset.  The journey had to become part of the holiday.  Stopping for tea alongside the road or a wee break with a 20minute play all became a part of the holiday.   So when heading off on those road journeys with children, give yourself extra time on the trip.  Reduce the distance and if necessary make it in stages instead of pushing it.  Suddenly it won’t be so stressful anymore as you are not chasing such a tight deadline.  When you are relaxed, your kids are relaxed which makes for a much more pleasant time.

IMG_9669

On these trips we go with our Toyota Fortuner D4D 4×4 and our Mission Trailer.  The trailer makes travelling with kids so easy, as we can pull over anywhere for lunch and not have to unpack half the car to access the kettle.  There have been many late campsite arrivals where I have been able to immediately start cooking and am done by the time everyone else has just finished setting up as our kitchen is immediately available off the side of the trailer.  Also, when we are in spot, we can setup and then go off with the car to game watch and not have to pack everything up.  The draw back with the trailer in very remote places on bad roads is that unless you are a champion reverser (like my husband), you can get into some very tight and hairy situations.  It is also heavy and hard work on those very sandy roads, like in Botswana, and travelling with a second vehicle and a snatch strap is a necessity.

IMG_9692

My husband, Simon, has threatened often to sell it but I refuse.  As a mum, it makes my life so easy.  Also, we are invited along on many trips because of our useful kitchen accessibility and the extra storage which means we can carry that extra drink to watch the African sun go down.  Cheers!

#familyonamission #overlanding #overlandingwithatrailer #travellingwithkids #overlandingwithkids #missiontrailer #4x4family #campingwithkids #childreninafrica #africawithchildren #travellingmum #dontrush #makethejourneytheholiday