I am so glad that Southern Africa has
real winters. This morning it was very cold when I got out of the
tent just before the sun rose. It had been a completely clear night
and there was a wintry mist hanging over the camp site. I was
breathing clouds of condensation and had to make some tea quickly
to warm up my hands. It was such a beautiful morning though,
especially when the sun came over the horizon and broke through the
mist. Before too long the sun was warming everything up. This is
the advantage of winter in the southern hemisphere: the sun still
But, wintry morning aside today was a very
significant day for quite another reason. It was Neil's last
morning in a foreign country and my first day as an official
immigrant. It was our last border crossing, at least for a while.
Today we entered South Africa.
After a further 120km of beautiful landscape we exited the
Kingdom and entered the Republic. It felt like a big moment for
both of us, despite the fact that we still have about 2,500 km to
go before we get to Cape Town.
When we explained to the border official behind the counter what
we had done he wouldn't believe us until we showed him all the
stamps in our passports, by which time all the others in the office
were interested. Once he understood where we had come from and that
I wanted to stay he happily gave me the maximum three month stamp
in my passport telling me that 'then you can do nothing but rest
for the first month before you have to go to Home Affairs'. I'm not
sure we can be that relaxed about Home Affairs – it is still Africa
after all - but he was a nice man and I was certainly grateful for
the 90 days!
The border did throw us one final curveball – to top off all
border crossings perhaps. The stamp holder in customs didn't want
to stamp us in on our vehicle carnet for various reasons - and what
have I told you about stamp-holders? This was quite stressful for
us as it is a document we have completed meticulously throughout
the whole trip. It is vital for the temporary importation process
and for getting back our large deposit which is sitting in the UK.
Anyway, Neil's diplomacy won the day once again and, after some
delay, we were free to go.
There was an immediate and marked change across the border. The
roads opened up into four lane highways with service stations and
SOS phones. The other key difference was the high volume of fast
traffic and fancy cars, like we have not seen anywhere else on this
continent. The Land Rover managed to reach its maximum speed of 90
kmph but suddenly seemed rather out of place.
With our impressive new average speed and no potholes or police
stops to slow us down we made it to St Lucia, on the coast, with
time to spare for a wander amongst the smart hotels and restaurants
and huge supermarkets. This was a completely westernised holiday
resort and evidence of how SA is so different from the rest of the
On the way to Durban we saw a strange sight, which can
best be described as British council estate meets African village.
There were two rows of neatly built, evenly spaced, identical
round, brick huts. Bizarre.
Driving into Durban was an influx of traffic and city madness,
although this time it was organised madness. However, after
trekking through Africa for a few months this high density fast
traffic seemed more nerve-wracking than the animals and potholes
that we had become accustomed to.
It was wonderful to see Granny Joan and yet another key landmark
on this trip. For us to arrive at the home of one of our family
members really did bring home how imminent the end of our trip has
Granny Joan's flat has a fantastic view over the city to the sea
and we could even see the new football stadium lit up in the
Oscar's is a lovely little restaurant,
which is a Durban institution – at least for my Gran and her mates.
Granny Joan kindly treated us to a delicious lunch there with a
couple of her friends.
Afterwards we decided to try and grab some World Cup atmosphere
by watching the England vs. Germany match at the fan park on the
beach. You all know the events and the score so no need to expand
on that but it was, nevertheless, fun to watch with a whole variety
of locals and tourists and to wave my England flag albeit less and
less enthusiastically as time went on.
We waved off Granny Joan by 7am to
embark on our longest driving day yet – around Lesotho to
Bloemfontein. As you drive through the Free State, in the heart of
South Africa, the landscape opens up into huge open panoramic
scenes of bush and mountains. The only people we saw were at the
swanky petrol stations, in a few isolated towns and at the STOP and
GO signs where they were working on the roads. People used these
stops as a business opportunity. At least the entrepreneurial 'make
a buck at the traffic lights' is still going strong here'. There
were no villages though, or random people wandering along the road
as we are used to. We really are in the hinterland now.
the increased average speed is quite satisfying now that we are
nearing the end of our journey, we are both glad that there haven't
been many motorways on this trip. One thing we can say for the
roads we have taken – they haven't been dull!
The temperature dropped as we got more and more inland and we
knew there would be a chilly night ahead as we set up our tent –
the only crazy campers on the site.
Day 221 | 30 Jun 2010
Steenbokkie Campsite, near Beaufort West, South Africa
A chilly night indeed. We were
grateful for the thermals and the gloves and the fact that the
rising sun did bring some warmth with it.
More fast motorways
enabled us to hum along at our maximum speed through more open,
beautiful scenes. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the bright
winter sunshine and mists created stunning effects, particularly
early and late in the day. There were even fewer people today, not
even anyone to sell us lollies at the roadwork Stop and Go's.
When we got out of the car in Beaufort West we knew that the
temperature was going to test our camper's courage. It would only
be dreams of a warm bed to come in a few days that would keep us
Freezing. No exaggeration, literally
freezing. There was ice on the tent and no feeling in my fingers or
toes. We decided, after shivering ourselves through a long night,
that tonight we would be taking a room. To hang with the budget!
As we were packing up we had another amusing incident with a guinea
fowl, this time of the attacker variety. Neil decided to have a
face off with one who then proceeded to chase him all the way round
the car. Believe me, that was funny.
And so we set off for a day of meandering through the Western
Cape. I'd heard people say that South Africa is the most beautiful
country on the continent. I thought I'd reserve judgment until I'd
seen it but I have to say, it really does take your breath away.
We drove through Prince Albert – think England in the early
first half of the 19th century – and were amazed by its beautifully
preserved high street with houses, church, school and many lovely
shops. Was this really Africa? It didn't seem like it. We then
drove over the Swartberg Pass which winds its way up to 1,600
metres and gives the most amazing view across the mountains. We
passed many farms and tucked away little villages. Do these people
realise they live in one of the most beautiful place son earth? We
pulled into a small vineyard to do some tasting and came away with
some delicious port.
And to top it all off, we found a room which didn't break the
budget in the cute little town of Calizdorp. In fact it wasn't a
room but a whole cottage with, joy of joys, electric blankets in
the bed. Hoorah for a warm night.
Only two days to go and today we went
to a very significant place. We drove down to Cape Agulhas, which
is the southernmost point on the African continent. It could have
been anywhere to look at but it felt good to know that we have
officially trekked as far south as we can. Cape Agulhas is also the
point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.
We spent the
night in Arniston, just along the coast and were glad that it was
warmer so that we could get back into the tent. We were also warmed
by the fact that Holland beat Brazil – what a great result.
One more sleep. I can't believe we've
finally got to this stage. One more night in the tent. One more
bowl of porridge on the stove. One more diary entry. It's a strange
mixture of excitement and sadness but we certainly made the most of
our last day.
We meandered through the minor roads of the
beautiful Western Cape and ended up in the town of Tulbagh, another
one of these time-warp towns that could have been picked up from
Devon and dumped, thatches and all, at the bottom of Africa. It had
a remarkably preserved church, the oldest still in use in South
Africa, and its Church Street was lined with white thatched houses,
all with explanatory plaques to explain who had lived in them in
We decided to eat out on our last night, after watching Germany
vs. Argentina in a cute little pub. We had a lovely meal before
heading back to pop up the tent for the last time. Although it is
sad, I can't deny that the thought of walking into a bedroom
tomorrow night and going to sleep in a ready made bed is quite a
happy one. Especially as, rumour has it, there are electric
blankets in the bed!
7 months and 10 days on the road.
And after all that, here we are in Cape Town. The Great
Trek South is done. The Land Rover is parked. For now at least.
For the last nine months we have spent every waking, and
sleeping, hour together. We have been through some very challenging
times and countless amazing times, the memories of which we will
keep forever. That is the great thing about a trip like this. No
one can ever take the memories away. They may take away everything
else for whatever reason and we could end up as poor as church
mice, but we'll always be able to relive the stories, laugh again
at the funniest moments and be touched again by the strength of the
people we have met along the way. Neither will we lose whatever
that thing is that Africa leaves with you. It changes you and makes
you see the rest of the world in a different light.
We are happy to be done, for now, but we know that we will be
back in the Land Rover and back in the heart of Africa sometime
Our last day was wonderful, far exceeding our expectations. It
was an absolutely perfect winter's day - perfect sunshine without a
cloud in the sky.
We had had our first glimpse of the iconic Table Mountain as we
drove into Cape Town. That was an emotional moment as it was the
sight that we had been dreaming of for a very long time.
We had a small arrival party planned but decided first to spend
a couple of hours by the beach, further up the coast, to soak in
the view and the reality of what we had achieved.
At 12.30 we pulled into the car park on Blouberg beach, near
Neil's parent's house and we were blown away by our reception.
There was a huge crowd of people, an enormous banner and balloons,
as well as flags and vuvuzelas. It was so special and we are very
grateful to all the friends and family who came welcome us in.
Thanks must also go to Alex and Linda, Neil's parents, who then
hosted a braai all afternoon. We ate like kings and so enjoyed
catching up with friends and family. And while we're at it, we
would like to thank everyone who has encouraged, supported and
prayed us through the last nine months. Particularly to our
parents, who have generously hosted us at either end of the trip
and have allowed us to follow our dream, supporting us every step
of the way.
And then it was time for bed, in a real bed, in a real bedroom,
with a real electric blanket. We were exhausted and happy and sad
all at the same time. In a way we would have loved this year to
carry on forever, but we know that it is right to stop and to find
our place back in real life again. We are excited about the next
phase of our lives, which starts tomorrow, after a very long