Uganda

Dead Dutchmen Falls, Uganda

Dead Dutchman Falls, Uganda

Border crossings are almost always a drawn out affair what with the processing through immigration and customs for the country we are leaving and for the country we are entering, plus any add-ons  for third party insurance and local taxes. In our travels so far we have been able to get our visas at the border without any hassles but the paper work takes time. Visas are usually paid for in US$, which we do carry, but fees for a Temporary Import Permit for the car, or for road taxes, or for any other thing the country decides we need, have to be paid for in local currency. This means we also need to find an ATM or a money changer at the border. To do all this we figure a straightforward crossing is likely to take two hours so we are pleasantly surprised when we get through the Busia border crossing from Kenya into Uganda in less than one and a half hours. Hopefully its a good omen for our visit to Uganda.

We are still travelling with Jared and Jen and for our first night in Uganda we are headed for Jinja, the town on Lake Victoria located at the source of the White Nile. Well actually we are headed for a camp site 15 km down river so we are able to miss the traffic in the centre of Jinja but get stuck in the traffic snarl where the ring road crosses the Nile and roadworks are in progress around the construction site of the big new bridge. 

It is late afternoon when we reach The Haven River Lodge and it is probably one of the nicest camps we have stayed at in Africa. We have grassy sites overlooking the river and rapids, shade for us and sunshine for Jared and Jen … which are our respective preferences. Power and WiFi are available at the camp sites and the very clean showers have plenty of space and hot water. Complimentary glasses of orange juice are delivered to our sites on arrival and if we don’t want to walk the short distance to the bar and restaurant we can ring to have coffee or drinks delivered to us. The views of the Nile and the rapids, Dead Dutchman Falls, are fantastic. Its no wonder we end up staying almost a week.

The sun rises above the hills opposite and early morning is also a good time to watch the fishermen putting their nets into the river above the rapids.

As well as wonderful views of the rapids and the river we also have good views of the Plantain-Eaters which are a large Turaco. A Fish Eagle often perches in a nearby tree and hundreds of egrets roost on the trees above the falls. An inquisitive blue lizard watches us from a nearby tree.

Red-tailed monkeys scamper through the trees, they are a shy animal and don’t approach the camps so our food is not at risk from them. 

We travel into Jinja one day to complete a few chores and to visit the source of the Nile. Unfortunately we picked a Friday and traffic is even thicker and slower than when we arrived in the area. We get our new sim card and buy a few supplies at a supermarket, not as much as we hoped as the choices are very limited. Then we find a Mexican restaurant and Jared and Jen are very pleased with the food and declare it the best Mexican style food they have had since they left the US. 

After lunch we cross the river and drive down to some gardens where we can walk down to a monument to see where the White Nile starts its journey to the Mediterranean. There is some argument as to whether the Nile or the Amazon are the longest rivers but there isn’t much in it. 

Dead Dutchmen Falls, Uganda

The Source of the White Nile, Jinja, Uganda

Finally we decide that, although we would like to stay at the Haven for a while longer, we only have a limited time in Uganda and plenty we want to see so we better move on. We are heading toward Kidepo National Park in the far north east of the country. Its a long trip and we need at least two stops along the way. The first is at Sipi Falls in the foothills of Mt Elgon. We stay at Moses Camp and find level spots with fantastic views over the plains below and with just a few steps to a great view of the falls. Facilities are far more basic but we can still get warm showers as they heat the water then carry it to waterbags in the showers. The staff are very keen to make us comfortable and we relax and our one night stay extends to three before once again we feel we need to cover more territory.

A longer drive the next day gets us to Kotido deep into Karamojaland. This used to be a very dangerous area to travel through but since the people were disarmed in 2011/12 when 40,000 AK-47s were confiscated it has become safe for tourists to travel through. Now it is an interesting drive, reasonable roads for the most part and lots and lots of villages and people. Many of the Karamoja men wear hats with a feather stuck in them and Paul’s Akubra with his collection of feathers gains lot of attention and admiration.

We spend the night at the Karamoja Cultural centre where they have an area available for camping next to a small primary school. There are three young girls near the spot we will camp in when we arrive and they come and introduce themselves with the oldest shaking hands and the two younger girls executing perfect curtseys … wonder where that custom came from.

Its an easy drive next morning to the national park. While park fees are cheaper in Uganda than in Kenya or Tanzania they are by no means cheap. Here we have to pay $US40 per person per day plus $US50 for the vehicle entry so we are limiting our visit to the park to just 24 hours. Luckily the camping fees are cheap at just 15,000 Uganda shillings per person ($AUD5.50).

As we enter the park one of the rangers asks if we’d like to see a Cape Cobra which is a short distance up the track partly in the bushes. We get a reasonable view but then it slides back into the grasses, that’s close enough for me and I’m quite happy not to see any others but I think Paul would have liked a closer look. As we drive toward the main camping area we start to see some wildlife including zebra, buffalo and plenty of Jackson’s hartebeest. We have been driving through so many villages and small farms that it is nice to be back in the bush looking over plains to the mountains beyond. Some of the mountains mark the border with the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

At the main reception we have the choice of camping there or at a bush camp. We always prefer the bush but its also nice to have some amenities and when we find out the bush camp has showers and flushing toilets it makes it an easy choice. We follow a side track toward the bush camp seeing more game along the way and when we reach the camp we are very pleased with the location. It is on the top of a hill with 360 degree views over the valleys and plains.

Kidepo National Park, Uganda

Great Campsite in Kidepo National Park, Uganda

We pick our spots near the top of the hill and Jared and Jen drop off the trailer and we head out for a game drive. Paul has his camera mount on the side of the car ready for more game viewing and we see more of the same animals and also eland, duikers and elephants and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, a new one for us.

We complete a loop track near our camp then decide to head for another track on the other side of the valley. When the track becomes muddy and appears unlikely to reveal many animals we decide to turn around and head back by another side track. This track shows little sign of recent use and as we go further it gets narrower and narrower and with more and more signs of mud. Before long it is obvious we can’t get through this way but it is too narrow and too wet along the sides to turn around so we have to reverse to the junction of the two tracks and retreat the way we entered the area. Oh well, its far better than getting stuck.

We head out for another game drive in the morning with high hopes of spotting some lions but no such luck, we have to make do with more of the same animals and beautiful views as yesterday, not such a bad thing at all. After an early lunch we need to make tracks for the park exit to ensure that we are out within our 24 hours. 

Paul’s cold has eased a bit but he now has a tummy bug so its a short days drive and we stop for the night at a guest house and small camping area not very far from the southern gate of the park. Next day we have a longish drive across the north west area of Uganda to a camp site just north of the Murchison Falls National Park. By now Jared, Jen and I are all starting to feel the effects of the dreaded cold so we have a rest day the following day before entering the park. Its a very pleasant place to spend our down time with extremely friendly staff, good facilities and giraffe and cob (a type of antelope) wandering through the property.

Once again we will only be in this national park for 24 hours and the main attraction we are here to see is the waterfall so we book a place on the afternoon boat trip and head south toward the river. Its a good drive with interesting scenery and game scattered along the way and there are plenty of tracks we could explore but we have just enough time to drive slowly to the river where we have lunch while waiting for our boat trip.

Huge baboons wander through the busy picnic area where people are either waiting for the next vehicle ferry to take them across the Nile or have just arrived from the south side on the last ferry before their lunch break. The baboons are big and confident, they rummage through rubbish bins and one hops into the open top of a safari vehicle and finds a banana before being chased out. They can be vicious and are very strong, I would not be at all keen on getting too close to one or trying to chase it away if it didn’t want to leave.

Our boat trip is on a two level open boat and although it is nearly full with people who have boarded on the other side of the river we manage to get some good seats at the front of the top so we have great views going up river. Its not long before we are seeing wildlife along the banks. The giraffe here are a much darker variety and the older they get the darker they become.

Hippos and crocs share the river and its banks and buffalo and waterbuck graze on the green grass.

There are scores of Pied King-fishers hovering above the river, there must be abundant fish, and darters rest on the branches after their morning fishing.

Murchison Falls, also known as Kabalega Falls, is not the highest or widest of falls but it is spectacular. Above the falls the Nile is 50 metres wide and it is then squeezed through a 6 metre gap in the rocks and it crashes through the narrow gorge with unbelievable power. Our boat stops a safe distance away where we are sheltered from the strong current by a small island so we can get some good views of the falls before we turn and return to the ferry crossing with more crocs, hippos and other animals being seen along the way.

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Murchison Falls, Uganda

When we get back to our vehicles we are lucky to get on to the vehicle ferry to cross the river with very little delay as we are all weary after the day’s activities and I for one am still suffering the effects of the nasty cold. We make our way to our campsite which is downstream on the banks of the river and all happily elect to eat in the restaurant rather than cook our meals. It is a delicious four course meal and a very pleasant end to the day.

In the morning we head south to Masindi then south west to the town of Hoima. This side of the country is heavily populated and there are lots of roadworks so the trip takes most of the day. We find a space to stay overnight and then plan our future travels. My cold is not getting better and Paul is also not 100% so we decide to stay in a BnB until we are completely recovered so we can enjoy our travels. Fort Portal is a town further south in the direction we want to go so we book a place in that area but about ten kilometres out of town in the countryside so we can recuperate in peace. Jared and Jen are travelling south when they leave Uganda and they want to visit Kampala so they turn east from Hoima toward the country’s capital. They will meet us in Fort Portal in about four days time.

Our drive toward Fort Portal takes us along more country roads ranging from narrow dirt roads to wide busy roads. Once again there are lots of road works and we decide Uganda probably has the most and biggest speed humps in Africa. Shortly before Fort Portal we leave the main road to reach our destination passing though the middle of tea plantations along the way. Our BnB is basic but very suitable for our needs. We are 11km from Fort Portal so we can pop in there if we need to but we are in a very quiet location just outside the tiny village of Kasiisi.

Our initial booking was for five nights but we extend several times and eventually stay for nine nights. Jared and Jen join us for three nights and leave one day earlier than we do. We make a couple of trips into Fort Portal to visit the small supermarket and have a look around. An excellent find is the Duchess Restaurant which not only serves nice food in a pleasant setting but also sells bread and cakes baked on the premises, cured meats including salami and chorizo, a range of locally made cheeses and also yoghurt.

When we are both feeling fully recovered and we are finally ready to move on we begin our trip with a visit to the market and a third visit to the Duchess for more goodies. While we are in town we get a message that Paul’s Mum is unwell and in hospital. Initially we are not sure whether to make the trip to Johannesburg and, if so, whether we should drive or fly. While we are waiting to hear more detail we continue south toward Queen Elizabeth National Park. When we get more news later in the day we decide to fly to Jo’burg. By now the quickest way is to continue a little further south then cross from the west of the country to the east via Mbara to Masala then up the highway to the airport at Entebbe which is south of the capital of Kampala. We overnight in Masala and continue on early in the morning.

When we entered Uganda we got a 3 month visa but just a one month Temporary Import Permit for the car which we need to extend because it will expire in a few days. After several attempts to find out where and when we can extend it we finally reach somebody on the telephone who advises that the office in Kampala is open today until 6.00pm so we decide to get that sorted so we can fly out very early the next morning.

The trip is smooth until we approach the outskirts of Kampala when we begin to strike some heavy patches of traffic.

It then eases again until we pass through the centre of the city and then it becomes totally chaotic. There are cars, motorbikes and people moving very slowly in one gigantic snarl.

It looks as though we will arrive at the Customs office at lunchtime so we decide to have some lunch first but when we arrive at the office at 2.00pm we find that they have just closed.

This could be a huge problem for us. We could be up for a sizeable fine when we try to take the car out of Uganda with an expired TIP. After wandering around and speaking to a few people the head security officer approaches us and he goes out of his way to help us after we tell him why we have to fly to South Africa. He gives us a photocopy of our Temporary Import Permit and takes the renewal fee off us, promising to get the thirty day renewal of the TIP processed while we are away. We can get the official paperwork when we come back from South Africa and we promise to be away no more than two weeks. It helps that he has a relative living in Australia.

Everywhere we have travelled we have found almost all the people to be friendly and helpful but here in in Uganda they have, if anything, been even more welcoming and helpful than elsewhere.

We drive south to Entebbe and to a hotel near the airport. Once again the people are very helpful and are happy for us to leave our car in their secure carpark while we are in South Africa and also to plug it into power for no charge. On top of that they provide a free airport shuttle so we can easily catch our 3.50am flight to Johannesburg via Nairobi.

We are in South Africa for a week and a half. Paul’s Mum is in hospital for most of that time but returns home a few days before we are due to leave. Since she has been home she has begun to improve and she is doing better now.

Unfortunately while we are in Johannesburg I receive news that my mother is not well so I make arrangements to return to Australia, leaving South Africa a day before Paul is due to leave. He has to return to collect the car from the hotel in Entebbe, collect the new TIP and travel to Nairobi to get our freezer fixed so we can continue our travels later.

Although our visit to Uganda ended rather abruptly, with a two day dash from the western region to Kampala and Entebbe, we have loved the people and been amazed by the diversity and fertility of the country. Massive rivers, lakes and wetlands as well as mountain ranges, forests and savannahs in the north. If you have a chance to go there then do so. It is a beautiful country.

Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley

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Take-off from Lake Magadi

After a week in Nairobi we are keen to escape from the hustle and bustle of this bustling city and return to the bush. We head south out of town toward Lake Magadi to begin our exploration of Kenya’s Rift Valley. We’re travelling with Jared and Jen while we explore more of Kenya and then we expect to head into Uganda with them as well before we need to go our separate ways.

The Rift Valley is an enormous trench which stretches from the Red Sea all the way to Mozambique. Lake Magadi lies just north of the Tanzanian border and is the most mineral rich of of the Rift Valley’s soda lakes. It is almost entirely covered by a thick encrustation of soda that supports colonies of flamingos and gives the landscape a bizarre lunar appearance.

The first section of our drive is through the sprawling suburbs and towns which surround Nairobi but eventually we leave the congestion behind and reach the open bush and begin descending into the Rift Valley. The bitumen road takes us all the way to Magadi Town which is a company town for the Magadi Soda Company. We could camp near here but we choose to head further on to a bush camp on the southern edge of the lake. Water levels in the lake are high and the normal track to the camping area is partly under water and not advised unless we have a guide so we get directions to travel further inland and bypass the tricky sections.

Our directions were to turn off the main track onto the ‘dusty track’ and they sure were’t kidding. In sections deep bull dust swirls up and over the bonnet and windscreen and the track wanders around with plenty of side tracks to pick our way through. The scenery is dramatic and the track far longer than we expected but even though it is dusty we enjoy the drive.

At the end of the track we reach the lake and it sure looks desolate and at first glance it is uninviting.

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Desolation

A group of Masai women and children are sitting under a shelter a little way from the water. They are obviously waiting for tourists to sell their bead work and curios to. Jared and Paul head off for a walk to see if they can find a suitable place to camp. They return successful and we drive around a small rise to a spot where we have an expansive view of a different section of the lake in one direction and a mountain range rising behind us. There is no shade around but we position our vehicles so our awnings overlap and we are soon settled down enjoying the peace and the view.

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Solitude at Lake Magadi

Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, pelicans and other shore birds brave the mineral rich waters and we see ripples from the fish which have adapted to survive in these waters. Not far away water bubbles up in hot springs. We could bathe in the springs and they are reputedly very good for muscles and health but it’s almost 40 degrees out of the water and hotter in so we stick to our shade.

We stay two nights in this splendid isolation, only broken by a few vehicles passing and by the expected visit from the local Masai. They stay for a while and then when they realise they won’t get any more sales they leave. They are particularly fascinated by Jared and Jen’s trailer, the open kitchen probably looks like a shop and one of the women is intrigued by Jen’s long hair.

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Masai children attempting to sell beads

Its the weekend and a few other campers and sightseers pass us on their way to the hot springs. They have driven the other ‘wet’ track, usually with a guide, and we are assured we can make it back to Magadi town without any problems. It will save us returning the much longer and dustier track so we decide to give it a go.

We follow the track as it leads us around the edge of the lake and pass close to several other groups of flamingoes.

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Flamingoes feeding

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Flamingoes Feeding

The track suddenly heads straight into the lake and we think we will have to backtrack but Jen finds a side track leading straight up a hill. After a steep climb we reach a magnificent view point where we have a panoramic view over the lake. Splashes of pink are clusters of thousands of flamingoes. At times large groups will take to the air and move to another section of the lake to graze on the algae.

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Flamingoes in Flight over Lake Magadi

We can see the track descend and cross a section of land below us, then cross what looks like a muddy section and then disappear as the water reaches the dry land. We’re having our breakfast here so we aren’t in a hurry and while we are enjoying the views we see a couple of vehicles appear around a point with wheels on one side of the vehicle in the water and the other on what looks like firm ground and the muddy patches appear easy and firm so we should have no problems. We hope.

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Magadi Viewpoint

It all turns out easier than it looks although we’ll certainly be getting the underside of the car cleaned as soon as possible to get rid of the soda which has been splashed over everything.

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Tricky exit from Lake Magadi

From Lake Magadi we are heading further up the Rift Valley. There are no main roads and the quickest way would be to follow the main road back to the outskirts of Nairobi then head out again on the next main road. We’re not keen to do that so we decide to follow tracks up the valley as we have been told they are dry enough to traverse. We backtrack to the start of the dirt tracks and then set out to travel about 100 km or less of tracks before we reach bitumen again.

Well the advice that the tracks were dry enough to get through was correct but last wet season was unusually wet and there has been heaps of damage to the track so we are often taking rough side tracks to get around the sections of bad erosion. Progress is slow, very slow, and when we see locals we frequently ask for information on the track ahead. Eventually  we get through without getting stuck anywhere but its late afternoon when we finally reach the bitumen road.

The place we thought we might camp is too far to reach and Jen finds an alternative which sounds good on Lake Oloiden which is a small lake next to the much larger and busier Lake Naivasha. We might be on bitumen but there are lots of slow moving trucks and it is getting dark and drizzling then raining for much of the drive so we are very glad to arrive at the camp. We find some level spots by the water then retire to the bar to enjoy the warmth of a fire while we have a refreshing drink and wait for our meal to arrive.

In the morning we enjoy our prime spots by the water.

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Tranquil camp at Lake Oloiden

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Breakfast in Style

Paul is out early and catches the birds fishing as the mist rises.

Pelicans float by then move into formation to herd fish to the shallow water where they are easy to catch but the locals use nets for their catch. A Hammerkop stalks the shore in front of us in search of a feed and naughty monkeys play on the slides.

After a leisurely start we pack to move to our next camp. On our way back around the bottom of Lake Oloiden and Lake Navaisha, before we get to the clutter of camps and kilometres of flower tunnels, we pass through a stretch of Nature Reserve which lines both sides of the road. Giraffe peer at us through the trees or graze up the hillside and zebra enjoy the green grass as well.

We’re tossing up whether to stay at Lake Bogoria or the nearby Lake Baringo (or both). Its mostly bitumen though so it will be a far simpler drive then yesterday. First stop is up the highway to the town of Naivasha. They have a good supermarket and we never pass up the opportunity to keep our supplies stocked up when we can and best of all they have a car wash so we can get the Magadi soda off our vehicles.

At Nakuru we leave the highway, and the trucks, behind and travel north. We take a side dirt road toward Lake Bogoria checking first that the road is open. We are assured by the first few people we ask that it is and we continue. Checking our GPS we stop as we pass the equator, time to send a message. While we are stopped we are told that this road to the lake is in fact closed and we need to return to the bitumen road and reach the lake from the north.

We cross back to the southern hemisphere, return to the main road then travel north to cross the equator again, this time there is an official sign so we need photos. By the time we reach the northern road to Lake Bogoria we are in fact closer to Lake Baringo so we decide to travel straight there and if we want to we can return to Lake Bogoria for a day trip.

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Crossing the Equator

Robert’s Camp is right beside the waters of Lake Baringo, much closer than it used to be actually as the water levels of the lake rose several years ago as a result of a seismic shift. Luckily the Thirsty Goat Bar and Restaurant escaped the waters and its a great place the relax in the late afternoon to enjoy the views of the water and the many birds in the area and to check for hippos grazing on the abundant grasses in the water.

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The Thirsty Goat Bar & Restaurant, Lake Baringo

Our camp site is a grassy area nearby and is a comfortable base for our stay, so comfortable in fact that we keep extending and eventually stay for five nights.

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Roberts Camp, Lake Baringo

A friendly hornbill who we name Rufus in homage to one of the friendly, and always hungry, dogs at Jungle Junction keeps us company and is always around when we are eating. We’re on the lookout for monkeys as always but they only visit the area a couple of times. Superb Starlings flash their iridescent wings as they hop around the camp.

Our first sighting of some of the many hippos who live in the lake is on our first evening. A strong wind is blowing across the lake and waves are lapping on the grass in front of the bar. In the bobbing waves hippos are feeding on the grasses, its always great to watch them. One morning I am up early and the sky is coloured with its pre-sunrise pinks and reflecting the colour into the water around the hippos. We have been warned to take a torch if we are up during the night, although the moonlight is usually all the illumination we need, as hippos come onto the grass to feed and sure enough we look out the window of our roof top tent one night to see three hippos munching happily on the green grass, very cool!

One day we take an early morning (well reasonably early) boat trip onto the lake with our local boat driver and bird expert Louis. We see heaps of birds. Small birds included lots of different types of weaver birds, bee-eaters, sunbirds and kingfishers and jacana.

Waterbirds include a close up view of a family of heron posing in a tree with a backdrop of red cliffs, a cormorant resting on a branch, Egyptian geese and a darter drying his wings. A Hammerkop works on a huge nest built in the fork of a tree. A huge Goliath Heron poses on top of a dead tree near the camp.

Apart from the many birds, Lake Baringo has more than 460 species, we enjoy the scenery as we motor around the lake. The effects of the rising water levels are obvious in the many flooded buildings where most fittings have been removed to be used elsewhere and only the shells remain.

For the highlight of our bird watching we first purchase three small fish from a couple of local fishermen. They are paddling small rafts made from branches laced together with twine and have inserted balsa wood into the fish so they will float on top of the water.

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Fisherman on traditional craft

We then motor to an area of the lake where we can see two fish eagles high in a tree. Louis whistles and the holds a fish high and then tosses it out to float on the top of the water. The fish eagles take off and fly toward us and scoop the fish from the water, magnificent. The process is repeated for the other fish eagle and we watch them disposing of the balsa wood then eating their catch before one of them is lucky enough to get another easy catch.

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African Fish Eagle

With all of our bird watching and relaxing at Robert’s Camp we don’t get around to returning to Lake Bogoria, maybe another time. Now it is time to head north into the remote and rugged area around Lake Turkana and the Chalbi Desert.

The Caprivi Strip, Namibia

Hippos in the Okavango River,
Nunda River Lodge,
Caprivi Strip, Namibia

The Caprivi Strip is a narrow band of land in the north east of Namibia stretching more than 400 km east from the north east corner of the main body of the country. At its western end it is only around 40km wide with the Okavango River and Angola as its northern border and the north west corner of Botswana as its southen border. From there it narrows to less than 30km wide and then expands in the centre to follow the course of the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers before tapering out where the Linyanti flows into the Zambezi River. As well as having these large rivers flowing along the edge of or through the Strip this area enjoys a higher rainfall than the rest of Namibia and the vegetation and country is markedly different to the predominantly dry country we have encountered everywhere else in Namibia.

We’re planning on spending the last two weeks of our time in Namibia on the banks of these permanent rivers in the Caprivi Strip but first we have to make a detour. While we were in Etosha our trailer fridge/freezer stopped working. Luckily the freezer was nearly empty and our fruit and vegetables were also low so we managed to keep our food in the far smaller fridge in the Landcruiser but it needs fixing before we leave Namibia. The nearest authorised repair place is in Otjiwarongo which is on the road south from Etosha toward Windhoek. Jared and Jen have a bigger detour to make as they need to travel all the way to Windhoek to get some warranty repairs made to their trailer. We both have time to fill before our appointments so we set out from Etosha at a leisurely pace planning to find a place to stay near Otjiwarongo either tonight or tomorrow.

By mid afternoon we have visited Tsumeb and reached Otavi without finding a suitable camp for the night and we call into the supermarket to buy a few supplies. As we are leaving, Boet, who drove with us up to Marienfluss, greets us. He and his wife Martie live just a few minutes away and he invites us to visit which we do. Afrikaans people are extremely hospitable and before we know it we are camping on their front lawn for the night and Martie is cooking a delicious dinner for us all. We swap stories about our travels since we last saw them and about other travels they have done in southern Africa and have a very enjoyable evening followed by a delicious cooked breakfast, and lots of cups of coffee, in the morning.

Thoroughly fortified we continue south to Otjiwarongo. There’s a camp site in town but it is far from appealing so we decide to try Weavers Rock camp about 30km south of town. Its set up on a hillside with great views, has a pool and a bar and restaurant, good WiFi, and very friendly staff so its easy to decide to stop here. We plan to stay two nights as the repairs are to be completed tomorrow (which is also Paul’s birthday) and Jared and Jen will stay a third night.

Weavers Rock,
Namibia

In town the next day the repairs are quickly carried out (turns out it was a broken pipe which released all the gas) so we stock up at the supermarket and butchers, and we find two good cafes for our breakfast and lunch. Back at camp we prepare a birthday dinner; Jen makes a delicious eggplant dip for starters and a large pork belly is spiced and slowly cooked on the braai to be accompanied by roast vegetables and our last bottle of good Franschoek wine from the Cape Winelands.

We’ve enjoyed this camp so much that even before dinner Paul and I have decided to extend our stay for an extra couple of nights. Jared and Jen still need to leave as planned so we farewell them and arrange to meet later. After Windhoek they are heading for Khaudum National Park and will be travelling through it on their way to the Caprivi Strip. We have decided not to visit it partly because it is very sandy and we don’t want to tow the trailer through the park and also because we want some rest and relaxation time before we leave Namibia. Paul has loads of photos he wants to work on and I’m way behind on my writing. It’s wise to travel through Khaudum with at least two vehicles so Jared and Jen are meeting up and travelling with Roger and Jenny, the couple we met on our last night in Etosha.

After our four nights at Weavers Rock we start our journey north toward Caprivi. We travel back through Otjiwarongo and Otavi and stop in Tsumeb to have new tyres fitted and then pass through Grootfontein. It’s late afternoon by now but we have a long way to go before we reach the area we want to stay in and we would like to make it there tomorrow so we drive until after dark and stop at a roadside rest area before making an early start and continuing in the morning.

Our early start pays off as, even with a stop in Rundu, we reach the Okavango River and find a lovely camp near the tiny settlement of Divundu. The Nunda River Lodge offers chalets, safari tents and camp sites as well as a great deck over the river, bar and restaurant, swimming pool and ablution blocks which offer extremely hot water supplied by a donkey which is lit each morning and late afternoon and boast a small, well-tended garden in the centre between the toilets and showers. There are only nine camp sites and we aren’t lucky enough to get one right on the river for our first night but they juggle the bookings and we get a fabulous and large river-side site for the remaining nights.

We end up staying a week and a half and enjoy the luxury of a well run camp ground combined with our location right at the end of the camp sites so we can sit on the edge of the river and feel like we are out in the bush on our own. Numerous hippos spend their days nearby and while they move to feed at night they don’t go too far as we can hear them at random times throughout the night as well as all through the day. There are crocs in the river as well but the only ones we see are a couple of youngsters, less than two metres long on the far bank. One day we watch in delight as a herd of elephants stir up the dust as they wander along the river bank opposite our camp. We haven’t crossed the Okavango here so technically we’re on the western bank but the river winds so much we are facing west and can enjoy fabulous sunsets over the water.

As well as the animal life we love the birds around us. Majestic African Fish Eagles call from the tops of nearby trees. Their call seems to symbolise the sound of Africa to me. Pied Kingfishers hover above the river and dive into the water to find their catch. Tiny bee-eaters sit on the branches watching and their dive is for insects flying below them. A White-browed Robin-Chat becomes so accustomed to our presence that as I am peeling apples for stewing it briefly lands in the handle of the pot before the pot tilts and he flies off. Other birds hover and hop around with starlings flashing bright blue.

We drive into Divundu a couple of times. It boasts two supermarkets as well as smaller shops and businesses and of course several shebeens. Fresh produce is scarce but we are fairly well stocked and enjoy what we find to supplement our diet. Another outing is down river to the Mahango National Park. We set out before breakfast and take a slow drive along the river road to a picnic spot. There’s nothing in particular here except a shady clearing above the water and we happily sit here for several hours having breakfast and coffee then reading and relaxing as we listen to the sound of hippos and birds. It’s not a big park and game doesn’t seem abundant but when we think about what we’ve seen it amounts to an impressive tally. The animals include Kudu, Impala, Zebra, Lechwe, Elephant, Buffalo, Warthog, Hippo, Vervet monkeys, Baboons, Ostrich and Sable Antelope. Birds are also plentiful including the pretty Blue Waxbill, Lilac Breasted Roller and Little Bee Eater, the brilliant Crimson Breasted Shrike, the unusual Violet Wood Hoopoe, the ugly Maribou Stork, and the regal Saddle-billed Stork. Paul returns the next day to visit the waterhole in the late afternoon and gets some close up views of elephants and an ostrich drinking, which is quite unusual.

It is just as well we have such a large site as the camp is almost full when Jared and Jen and Roger and Jenny arrive after their Khaudum trip but they are all able to join us on our waterside site. They loved Khaudum with its huge herds of elephants and very remote bushland. They tell us that the trip out of the park was very sandy, and they had to dig themselves out on two occasions. We would certainly have struggled with our trailer and while we may have missed a great park we have really enjoyed our time here beside the Okavango River. Roger and Jenny stay two nights then head south into Botswana. After Botswana they are planning to travel into Zambia so we may cross paths again there. We stay an extra couple of nights so we’ve had a good week and a half of relaxation to ready us for more adventures. Jared and Jen are going to spend another two days on maintenance and paperwork before they also head south into Botswana. We’ve been travelling with them most of the time since we met in Luderitz which was more than two months ago. Our plans for the rest of this year differ but hopefully we’ll catch up somewhere in East Africa next year. They have been great company.

We drive further east through the Caprivi Strip until we cross the next major river, the Kwando. About 30km south along the river we find another wonderful camp along the river bank at Malyo Wilderness Camp. This camp is far less structured but has a different charm. There are a few safari tents but most of the area is grassed with scattered trees providing plenty of shade but also good spots to set up our solar panels. There is no power or potable water here but we are self sufficient and happy with the simple camp. There are very few other campers and we quickly decide we will spend three nights here. Tall reeds cover the opposite bank and birds hop in and out of its shelter. Pied kingfishers are plentiful as are the beeeaters. Both are lovely to watch as they hunt for their food … diving for fish in the water or snatching insects out of the air.

There are two small sections of national park near here and we spend one of our days exploring. We drive through Mudumu Game Reserve and are not hopeful of seeing much game but grazing along the side of the road are Zebras, Warthogs and Impala. A little later Paul spots an elephant approaching the road. He’s very shy and as soon as he sees us stop the car he retreats into the bush. We reverse to give him room and after a pause to gain his courage he approaches the road. Once again as soon as he spots us he turns back into the bushes so we reverse even further to give him more room and finally we are far enough away for him to feel confident he has enough space. He completes his crossing and disappears into the bush on the other side.

Further south we take a side road toward Nkasa Lupala Nature Reserve. This is the bottom section of the Caprivi Strip and the Linyanti Swamp can be very muddy and difficult to travel in during the wet season. It has dried out enough now to allow us to travel through part of the park but there are still large sections which are impassable. We spend several hours driving slowly along rough, ‘two spoor’ tracks but apart from about twenty or thirty vultures circling or perching in trees not far from the road we see very little game. Apart from warthogs that is, they are so numerous we rechristen the park Warthog Park. Finally we are rewarded with some elephants, hippos and an African Fish Eagle perched in a tree just above the track. We may not have seen lots of game but it has been a lovely day and we return to camp ready to move on the next day.

Our final camp is just outside Katima Mulilo on the banks of Zambezi River. This camp is far more manicured than the last two with paved campsites and well maintained lawns and gardens. Once again we are able to set up right on the bank of the river and it is a very pleasant place to spend our last two nights in Namibia. It is three months since we arrived in this wonderful country and we have enjoyed every bit of it. It is a country with great variety; in its geology, climate, vegetation and people. We have met so many friendly people, both locals and fellow travellers, and seen plenty of wonderful animals and birds. From here we head across the border to Zambia and no doubt more great adventures.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Elephant, Halali, Etosha NP

Etosha is one of Namibia’s major tourist destinations and a great place to see lots of wildlife. The park is more than 20,000 square kilometres with the huge Etosha salt pan as its heart. Bushveld, waterholes and open plains surround it. The opportunity to see Black rhinos is a major draw card but there are lots of other animals to see here as well. It’s a busy place and it is best to pre-book accommodation but by the time we work out when we were likely to arrive it is too late to book, so we’ll just have to take our chances. We reach the western gate late in the afternoon after travelling down from the Kunene River and spend the night in a camp across the road from the entrance.

We make a very early start in the morning and it is just as well as the first two camping areas we reach have no vacancies and, allowing time for stopping at waterholes, it is late afternoon by the time we reach Halali Rest Camp. All of the rest camps have a variety of accommodation as well as camping, all have a waterhole you can visit from inside the rest camp allowing you to view wildlife at any time of day or night. The main three rest camps also have swimming pools, restaurants and a shop. We would like to have had a couple of nights at Oaukeujo Camp as its waterhole is the best place to see the rhino and lots of other animals frequent it as well but it is also the most popular camp and it is fully booked.

Halali has a huge camping area and we have no problems getting a site here and we happily stay for four nights. The waterhole here is just a short walk from our camp and makes a great spot to sit with an early morning cup of tea or coffee, a late afternoon drink and nibbles, and an evening viewing when the floodlights illuminate the animals venturing in for a drink. In between we drive along the network of tracks through the bush land and along the edge of the pan and visit the waterholes either for a short period, if it is dry or there are no animals around, or for longer if there is lots of activity.

Zebra are numerous as are black faced Impala and Springbok. It’s mating season for the Impala and males spar to claim their right to be the alpha male and to chase the females, generally unsuccessfully as far as we can see. Other antelope we see include Kudu, Hartebeest, Oryx and Wildebeest. Giraffe appear behind the trees or cross the open land in their swaying gait. There are lots of elephants in the park and we see a good sized herd on our way in and also at Halali waterhole. Ostriches appear to float above the mirage on the salt pan and bob through the grassland. A couple of lionesses snooze in the long grass near a waterhole and make all the other animals nervous. We see rhino at a couple of waterholes including Halali, they look especially solid under the night light but when a family of elephants are there first they make the rhino look much smaller and he circles around warily with a couple of the female elephants watching him carefully until they allow him in to drink. Warthogs scamper through the grass with tails held high looking ridiculous as usual, and somehow appealing at the same time. If they are around there will be leopard but we’re not lucky enough to see them, they are very shy and hard to spot.

We see lots of birds as well. The Lilac Breasted Roller displays its beautiful colours perched on a branch looking for insects but when it flies a whole new set of colours is on show. Tall Secretary Birds stalk through the grass along with Bustards and Korhaans. Kingfishers and Bee-Eaters swoop and birds of prey soar above us.

After our four nights at Halali it’s time to head out the eastern gate. There’s another rest camp here, Namutomi, but we’ve been told it’s full. We call into the reception there on the off chance and talk our way into a site for the night. It’s a lot smaller and the grass and trees are very welcome. There is an old German Fort here and it’s worth a look even though it isn’t being well used at present and the accommodation, restaurant and bar which used to be in the fort are closed and dilapidated. It seems you can no longer sleep in the old soldiers quarters as you used to be able to do. The waterhole is being revamped and the only ‘cat’ we see here is the mechanical kind which is enlarging the hole. Instead of spending sunset at the waterhole we return to our pleasant campsite. Neighbouring campers, Roger and Jenny, join us and our last night in the park is spent sitting around our campfire chatting. This has certainly been a great place to visit.

Raining in the Coorong!

It’s raining in the Coorong! Such an amazing place in all kinds of weather.

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The Coorong, SA, Australia

At the moment the sand flats alongside the lagoon at Hell’s Gate (Parnka Point) are slowly flooding. Large flocks of water birds are scurrying hither and thither across the shallow water, obviously feeding on whatever the water has brought to the surface.

The landscape is divided into horizontal shades of grey, with pale pinks, greens and browns in the hardy plants that curve around at the back of the sand flats. The water in the lagoons is a pale grey-green and the sand flats are a muddy grey. The dunes along the far side of the lagoon are only vaguely visible during the heaviest of the rain squalls. The sky is a luminous and uniform pale grey. There’s no hint of the sun at the moment other than the soft light in the clouds.

Yesterday was a marvelous sunny day and the weather should clear later. So right now we are sitting here, listening to music and taking the odd photo when the urge grabs us. It’s pretty wet but we are staying dry and filling buckets with good clean rainwater. This place is a fair distance from any large town, although there are some small villages not too far away which cater to the large farming operations around here.

I first visited the Coorong in 2009 and have wanted to return ever since then to spend a decent amount of time exploring this long stretch (130 kilometres) of the South Australian coast. We have a week here. We need a few more supplies so we will backtrack to Meningie then head down to Tea Tree crossing. When we get there we will check the conditions to see if we can get over onto the Younghusband Peninsula which forms the western border of the Coorong between the ocean and the lagoons. It is possible to drive on the beach all the way up this peninsula to the mouth of the Murray River where it ends its long journey from the Snowy Mountains to the sea.

(We camped at a few spots much further up the Murray River on our way from Victoria to South Australia and swam in it a few times, but the weather was a lot hotter then … over 40 degrees Celsius. The Murray and Darling Rivers are the heart of the third largest river system in the world after the Amazon and the Nile and in the past were heavily used by barges, paddle-steamers and other craft to carry goods to and from the interior. The Coorong itself is a series of lagoons stretching down the coast from the mouth of the Murray and filled from time to time when the Murray River floods. Farming up river has drastically reduced the amount of water flowing into the Corrong which has endangered this sensitive environment and habitat for many types of birds. Thankfully the management of the water levels in the Coorong has improved in recent years)

As we travel slowly south through the Coorong I’m hoping to get right in amongst the sand dunes and get some shots of some of the birds and hopefully some great sunrises and sunsets. The light yesterday evening was pretty good and the pale blue light after sunset was quite special. We have already seen several Emus, falcons, Black-shouldered Kites, Pelicans, and many different waders, cormorants, darters, avocets and other water birds.

I love this wild place. If you don’t know much about the Coorong then follow these links to learn more. Perfect for anyone who wants to find a peaceful corner that really feels remote and has great birdlife. The scenery grows on you and the longer you stay here the more you’ll see.

Wikipedia entry for Coorong National Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coorong_National_Park?wprov=sfti1

South Australian National Parks website: http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/Find_a_Park/Browse_by_region/Limestone_Coast/Coorong_National_Park
Virtual Tour: http://www.georama.com.au/coorong/

Fiery Billabong

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

We have been watching dark billows of smoke on the south-western horizon all day but as we begin the six kilometre track to Sandy Billabong they become even thicker and more expansive. It’s not long before we reach the edges of a slowly burning bush fire. We pause to take a closer look and test the strength of the wind and decide to continue. The fire to the left of the track is moving back towards Muirella Park, whilst on the right it is moving slowly north. When we reach the billabong the ground is black and the dry grass and bushes have been completely burned away. The place looks open and barren without all the brush between the scrubby trees. Some small trees are still burning and a few stumps are smoking here and there and probably will be for days. The breeze stirs up the ash lying on the bare ground and the prospect of camping here is not an attractive one.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Near Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

We drive to the edge of the large billabong and we can see that this is a lovely place. There are lots of different water birds and the billabong is surrounded by paper-bark trees. It is a few hundred metres from where we stand to the other side of the water. What a pity we arrived at the same time as the fire. We find out later that it has come up from the south and has been burning for many days.

I get to thinking about the scene around the billabong and the effect the smoke will have on the light around sunset and sunrise and what that might look like over the water and around the trees and reeds that skirt the billabong. It is not surprising then that I am back there a short while before the sun sets. I have followed a track part way around the billabong and driven across the blackened earth to an unburnt patch of ground about ten metres from the edge of the water. The ground all around the car is black. I cross the burnt grass and walk down to the green, muddy strip at the edge of the billabong. The air is hazy with smoke and I can see that the fire has completely circled the billabong. Many of the paper-bark trees have been burnt. Only a few will be dead though, the rest will be left with patches of black and white bark … hence their name Melaleucas.

The name Melaleuca is derived from the Ancient Greek μέλας (mélas) meaning “dark” or “black” and λευκός (leukós) meaning “white”, apparently because one of the first specimens described had fire-blackened white bark. See “Melaleuca” on Wikipedia for more about these trees.

In fact the fire is still burning strongly in many places. Just a few metres to my right some trees are alight and I can feel the heat on my shoulder and back.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

As it gets darker the fires brighten and light up nearby patches of bush and water. Fifty metres to my left a large tree at the edge of the billabong is completely ablaze and the water there glows red and orange.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Across the way the dark grey trees and water are obscured by thick smoke.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Everywhere I look I can see patches of flames; some amongst the grass at ground level, others climbing up the creepers and trees and smaller fires high up in the taller trees. Occasionally the sound of burning trees crashing to the ground comes to me across the water as well as from my left and right. I am keenly aware of everything that is happening around me. I’m not taking any significant risks but I need to be watchful.

It is a while before I start taking photos. Smoke filters the last light of the day, obscuring distant, darker corners and softening the colors. I feel the heat of the fire on my back as I take photos through the smoky blue haze lying just above the water.

Brilliant white egrets stand out in the shadows along the far edge of the billabong.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Dozens of Black Kites swoop in and out of the smoke until it is almost dark, flying low between the black tree trunks hunting for insects and small mammals now looking for new cover. I watch the colours in the sky turn to orange and then to darker russet tones at sunset followed by the blues and purples as the cloak of dusk settles.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

With so many small fires still burning it will not be a peaceful night. The water birds keep calling to each other until well after dark. Several times I am fooled into thinking that there are other people nearby, but I’m the only crazy person here. The calls from the ducks and geese sound like a constant refrain echoing around the billabong; “Shall we stay?”, “Shall we go?”

Eventually it is time for me to drive back to camp. All I can see in the dark are the spot fires and the white hot cores of a few burning tree stumps. Then I see the fire front along the creek to my right. Strangely I see quite a few frogs and birds just sitting on the road as I drive along the track. It may be the coolest bit of earth around. The fire is on both sides of the road for a couple of kilometres.

For the rest of the evening I contemplate the surreal nature of these scenes hoping that I have captured just some of the experience with my camera.

I return before dawn next morning, driving back down the same track to the edge of the billabong. Flocks of White Ibis forage in the blackened ground amongst smoking tree stumps. Despite the early hour the kites are already starting to fly low across the country.

The morning colours are quite different. Light pastel shades of blue gradually change to pale, hazy greens in the smoke that has settled over the water in the early morning. I have arrived early enough that the nearby ducks, geese and egrets have not seen me approach against the dark backdrop of the trees. Jacanas skip across the water lilies. Looks like they all decided to stay.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Some larger birds are back as well. A White-Bellied Sea Eagle glides over to some tall trees and a Jabiru glides past from over my left shoulder and lands on a fallen tree in the middle of the water. Because of the smoke I can hardly see many of the birds.

Eventually the rising sun lights up the tree trunks on the far side of the billabong. I take my last photos and my work here is done.

Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

Sandy Billabong, Kakadu NP, NT, Australia

A Bend in the River

Reflections from a camp on the Ord River in Western Australia

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Sunset on the Ord River

We have spent a lot of time near the sea in the last year so it was a very different experience to camp on the banks of a large inland river in the north of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This was not our original intention when we left Kununurra though!

On the recommendation of the “Unimog Mob” (who we met on the Canning Stock Route) we thought we might head to Cape Domett on the coast about 150km north of Kununnura. Unfortunately we discover that the access road to the coast passes through private property and the owners have closed it to the public. So instead we continue west along the road towards Carlton Hill Station and then, on a whim, turn south along a bush track for five kilometres and find a very quiet spot on a bend in the Ord River where we camp for three nights.

Sitting beside the river we are fascinated by its rythms. The liquid patterns of the currents and eddies on the surface of this broad river flow past in an ever-changing continuum. Patches of calm water and turbulence form and re-form around rocks, fallen trees and in the shallows. However long you watch you can never be sure that the flowing lines, textures and light ever repeat themselves in quite the same way. After a day or two it seems to us that the river has created its own subtle definition of time that has become the measure of our day.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

currents and eddies in the Ord River

It is also the centre of life for an abundance of wildlife. Black Kites and Whistling Kites quarter the skies above us, instinctively flying the angles across the breeze for lift and speed. A Black Kite drops briefly to the river bank to drink some water then flies a short distance to a dead tree higher up the bank. It waits there until a gust of wind blows along the river and provides the lift for an almost effortless take off. Within seconds it has climbed many metres above the river.

On two occasions we watch some Brolgas, beautiful pale grey storks, come down to drink at the river’s edge. Both times they are accompanied by one or two small kangaroos which hang back until the Brolgas have finished drinking. This takes a little while because their beaks are so long and they are so tall. They scoop small amounts of water up and then throw their heads back to swallow. We saw several kangaroo on the drive in here and we hear several more in the brush behind our camp. Their tracks and droppings are everywhere.

On the first two days we watch a Whistling Kite eating its catch on a branch over-hanging the river very close by our camp. On the first day he eats a fish, but on the second day he has caught a small bird, the plucked feathers floating in the breeze until they come to rest on the surface of the water and float on down river.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Corellas and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos fly overhead at dawn, catching the early light on their snow white feathers, and several times a day fly down to the sandy bank on the far side of the river to drink. They stand in the shallows at the edge of the river, dip their thick beaks in the water, then lift their heads too swallow.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Corellas

For the first two days we don’t see any crocodiles at all. On the third day as we walk along the river bank in the shade of some large paper-bark trees we hear a big splash from around the bend in front of us. We look for tell-tale marks along the bank to see if we can spot the tracks and slide marks where a croc has entered the water but it is very difficult to be sure as there are plenty of kangaroo tracks along the bank as well. A little later, on our return walk, we spot a croc on the far bank of the river and assume that this is the one we had disturbed earlier.

Saltwater Crocodile, Ord River, Western Australia

Saltwater Crocodile

When we get back to camp and we are sitting having coffee another crocodile launches itself from between some rocks and then walks up onto the sandy bank opposite us and lies there sunning itself for a few hours. It is a fair sized saltwater crocodile (a “saltie”) so Paul is a little more vigilant when he is filling buckets from the river.

A hundred metres to the north of our camp a dead kangaroo is lying in the middle of a section of dry river bed. In the early morning we see eagles and kites feeding on the carcass but they don’t stay long because they get too hot if they stay at ground level in full sun for very long.

On our way here, to get to our camping spot under some shady trees, we drove for a while along and then across part of the dry river bed, picking our way over the harder stone and rocks, and avoiding the softer sand beds. Such a beautiful spot. We see several willie willies pick up a lot of dust as they travel across the sandy river bed behind us and over the far bank of the river. Apart from providing shade the trees around us act as a wind break and keep most of the dust away from our camp although once or twice the wind does shake things up a bit.

In the shallows of the river opposite our camp are three elongated rocks in a line, the first smaller than the second and the second smaller than the third. In the low light at dawn and dusk they look like the back of a gigantic, partly submerged crocodile. Another large rock extends out from the opposite bank and I take a few photos of it. Towards the end of our stay we find out that the place is called Skull Rock and named for this rock.

Skull Rock, Ord River

Skull Rock

As we sit in our camp and look down river to the west we see tree-lined banks and a hill behind the bend at the far end of our view. In the evening the sun sets behind this hill giving a red glow to the sky and turning the length of the river gold. Green and blue reflections light up the river during the day. On our first and last night we cook on a camp fire. Then after dinner we sit and watch the stars and their reflection in the river.

Front Row Seat

Front Row Seat

All around our camp the trees are stacked up with flood debris. Twigs, branches and whole trees are strewn about. In the wet season we figure that the area we are camping in will be underwater when they release water out of the Argyle Dam. At least it makes collecting firewood easy.

One afternoon a pair of Jabirus (Black-Necked Storks) fly up river from the west. They don’t see us sitting in the shade of our camp until they are directly opposite. One of them gives a short squawk and then they pass behind some trees overhanging the river.

When we leave we both agree that we will make an effort to return to this part of the Ord River when we travel through Kununnura.

Big Dunes in a Big Country

Canning Stock Route – Well 43 to Breaden Hills

Big dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

Big dunes, Canning Stock Route, Western Australia

From Well 43 we have an easy run east in between dunes for the first 8 or 9 km then the track takes a 90 degree turn and travels due north for more than 20km. Most of the time the track heads generally north-west but wanders along until a low section of a dune can be crossed. This section is however quite different, the dunes are straight and uniformly high and the track marches north straight over them. They are significantly higher than previous dunes we have crossed but at this time of the day the sand is cool and the track firm so there are no problems with any of them and we can enjoy the drive and the views. These look like the classic shots of the stock route with the next dune in the distance and wide flat stretches of spinifex running east west between the dunes.

More Big Dunes, Canning Stock Route

More Big Dunes, Canning Stock Route

Eventually we take another turn east and cover another 9km on a straight run between the dunes to Well 44. The vegetation has changed yet again and bushes line the side of the tracks and whip at our cars. Red berries brighten some and others are acacias bursting into blossom. The occasional low purple flowers add extra colour.

After a cuppa at the well we are heading north for about another 15km before turning west and I’m expecting more of the same but this time the track is not so straight and the dunes to be crossed are lower. Some are also softer but as they are not very long or steep I have no problems. At the spot where we turn west a dry lake bed has white gums dotting the rim. A camel is using the shade of one of them and ambles off as we watch. Another white gum offers a good amount of shade for a camp and although it isn’t yet lunchtime we decide we’ll enjoy the spot and we take the afternoon off. We’re ready for a day off but haven’t found the right spot so early finishes are a good substitute.

Mid-afternoon four vehicles approach from the south and continue on without pause and a while later the Unimog mob appears with Jim driving the truck and Julie following in the jeep. Usually the jeep is towed on an A-frame but it is unhitched at present so they can easily use it for side trips and Dominic and Eloise swap between the vehicles. They stop for a short chat and move on to find their own spot for the night. Apart from all this traffic the afternoon passes peacefully with the occasional bird to watch. Tiny wisps of clouds appear in the sky then disappear, melting away as we watch, just as another pops out of the blue in another spot. There is plenty of fire wood and we decide it is a good opportunity for another butterflied lamb roast which we can cook on the fire and then enjoy the stars. The pink in the dry lake bed intensifies around sunset and reappears for Paul to take some shots before sunrise. When he comes back from the morning shots he wonders if I lost a sandal during the night as he found one of mine moved from its normal position at the bottom of the steps. We didn’t hear anything but obviously a dingo was prowling the camp during the night looking for food. We put everything else away but guess we’ll have to make sure our footwear comes inside with us too.

We plan another easy day and early stop, neither of us is in a hurry to finish this track, so we aim for Well 46 which is less than 50km away. It is one of the restored wells although we are not sure of the quality of the water. The first part of the day’s drive is heading west along a flat plain between two widely spaces dunes. Occasional clumps of bushes provide more splashes of red and yellow but I’m loving the wide expanses of pale yellow spinifex filling the plain and the termite mounds dotting the areas between clumps.

We are approaching Gravity Lakes, we’ve found their name intriguing and we are interested to see them. We pass to the side of one of the lakes and on the other side of the next we find the Unimog mob and we stop to chat again. The track goes around the edge, the middle looks firm but we have no intention of checking whether it actually is. When the sun is overhead the smooth and shiny surface of these lakes appears black or very dark blue but from a different angle it is quite pink or as Paul says, ‘the rich red colour of wet bricks’. This lake is a deeper pink and far larger than the one we camped by and there is a very interesting looking jump up in the background but there is little shade here. The kids are having fun digging mines in the smooth mud, a great life for kids. Jim and Julie are also planning on stopping at Well 46 so we will see them again then.

Heading north east now we have some more dunes to cross but these are so low they barely merit the name dunes, maybe I’ll just settle for sand ridges for these ones. The track winds about more and while there are still some lovely open patches of tall spinifex there are more shrubby sections and even the odd section of rocky ground to be crawled over. Well 45 is a quick cuppa stop and Well 46 is as pleasant as we hoped. Scattered white gums provide our choice of camping spots and while the well water is brown and a little muddy it is fine for washing ourselves and our clothes. It’s a week since our last rest day so we’ll take the rest of today and tomorrow here and we can both get some work done with our photos.

Julie and Jim and the children arrive soon after lunch and later in the afternoon a couple arrive from the north to spend the night. They are followed by another Outback Spirit mob on their next trip. Luckily there is room for them to camp a little away from us so while this is the busiest camp we have had on the whole trip we don’t feel crowded. We’ve set up the studio but don’t get any work done on our photos as we spend the time talking to Julie and Jim or to the kids either at our camp or around their fire.

Unimog Mob at Well 46, Canning Stock Route

Unimog Mob at Well 46, Canning Stock Route

The morning is another social time with only a little work done. The kids love talking to people and they get a lesson in Photoshop as Paul tries to work as well as covering topics as varied as chemistry and birds. More vehicles come and go from the north and the south during the morning with some stopping for a chat and others racing through without pause, we wonder why they come out here. It’s nearly midday before the Unimog mob are ready to head off and we retreat back into the studio for the afternoon to continue our tasks.

There is more traffic in the afternoon but we are inside most of the time and don’t chat. Two couples stop for the night but they aren’t camped near us so we don’t even get around to saying hello, certainly not our usual camp etiquette. It certainly is a busy place with more than 20 vehicles passing through or stopping but anywhere on the track we stayed would get as much passing traffic. Our camp is well set up and we have good amounts of shade for our vehicles and plenty of sun for the solar panels and as we haven’t got anywhere near as much work done as we hoped we’ll stay another day. We’ll have to wait and see if the increase in traffic is just a one day coincidence or if this is the start of the busy time as the season progresses and school holidays approach.

Our visitors overnight and in the morning are of different varieties. A black and tan dingo was prowling around while we were enjoying our campfire and we make sure our footwear is inside and all rubbish burnt or secured before bed. In the morning we find the large mat at the base of the steps has been dragged a distance of about 5 metres. Not sure what attraction a rubber mat has but there are no marks so the dingo obviously didn’t find it tasty. I’m a light sleeper so I’m surprised he could get it out from under the feet of the steps without making enough noise for me to hear.

Dingo raid, Well 46, Canning Stock Route

Dingo raid, Well 46, Canning Stock Route

The morning visitors make a lot more noise. Large flocks of budgies chatter as they swoop overhead and land in nearby trees and flocks of Zebra finches cheep as they flit between trees and the ground in search of food. Paul takes a big lens to water near the well to catch some shots, not easy as they are seldom still and I sit by the camp watching the finches hop over our left-over firewood and rapidly retreat with a flurry of wings to the nearest tree at any imagined danger.

The first vehicles appear shortly after 9.00 but thankfully the flow is slower than yesterday. We spend most of the day cocooned while we make headway with our photos, mostly general file maintenance tasks today which always need doing but often get deferred. There is one other overnight camper but it is a much quieter night and while the dingo is still prowling around he leaves us alone in preference to our neighbour who is sleeping on a stretcher under the stars.

We get away early and move onward. Progress is quick, or at least for us, with small sand dunes and mild corrugations as the track winds between bush and spinifex. A solitary hill in the middle of a plain provides a great spot for our morning cuppa and we consider stopping for the night as there could be great photos in the late afternoon and early morning. A stone cairn is adorned with flat rocks bearing names of people and groups who have been here and three of the stones show the Unimog mob, Jim, Julie, Dominic and Eloise, were here two nights ago. Looking around we see more hills up the track which beckon and we decide to continue on.

Big Country, Canning Stock Route

Big Country, Canning Stock Route

The sand dunes have stopped now and I’m missing them already. That’s even though I’d been worried about getting stuck on them again. The easy driving continues with a few rocky patches and although we didn’t get close to the hills we had been looking at from our cuppa vantage point the Breaden Hills appear ahead and the track takes us along the western face of the range. We stop a couple of times for photos then the side track to Breaden Pool takes us right into the middle of the range passing between tall steep hills capped with flat table tops of red rock and spinifex. Some of the hills are conical and others have flat faces, some are positioned perfectly for late afternoon and evening shots and the ones on the other side of the track will light up with the early rays in the morning. I have very few doubts about where we’ll be spending the night tonight.

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

The track narrows and becomes dustier as it passes between masses of young trees and we reach the car park at the end of the side track and take the short walk to the pool. I spot my first Mulla Mulla flowers for the season on the side of the hill, now I really know I’m in the north of the state. There is water in the pool but too stagnant for swimming. The birds love it and butterflies flutter on the moist ground.

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

We decide to spend the afternoon around here sitting in shade enjoying the light breeze. Paul sits patiently by the pool until the birds come for a drink to catch a shot of them.

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Breaden Pool, Canning Stock Route

Later we find a spot for the night along the track. Paul takes photos of the surrounding hills at sunset while I’m enjoying the view from the camp. During the night the wind starts blowing and steadily grows and the temperature drops. As it blows down the valley it bounces between the cliffs and feels quite eerie. While Paul is rugged up for his morning photos in a jacket and beanie I stay warm in bed watching the day open and unfold with constant changes as the early light grows and the sun follows to begin warming up to another beautiful day.