. . . AFRICA 1999
Africa 1999

The Team

1. The Start
2. Southern Arrival
3. Cape Town Comfort
4. Namibian Sand
5. Africa Wins Again
6. Into the Margin
7. Kwaheri Kilimanjaro
8. Ugandan Abandon
9. A Turn into War
10. To Congo and the Worst Road in Africa
11. Mozambique Madness
12. Malawi to Zambia
13. Revisiting the South

Around-the-World 2001/02
Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.



World's Highest Bungee
(Click to watch the video)


Cape Town Comfort
17 February, 1999  (2,610km)
(Cape Town, South Africa)

Finally in Cape Town at the end of the first leg of our trip, and the memory of it is a mix of adrenaline, breathtaking scenery, and smashed windows.

Andy and I finally broke away from Johannesburg on February 6, after an extra week of bureaucratic contortions and paperwork. Our hosts, Tom and Donna Wolford, were gracious and accommodating as we shopped around for provisions. In fact their friend, Dr. Leon Verkhale offered his Series 2A Land Rover to us for our two weeks of outfitting. In Jo'burg's sprawl, a vehicle is a necessity and the favor was really appreciated. 

Roaring around the Jo'burg loop, we headed southwest intending to angle down to the coast and then follow it west to Cape Town. The air conditioner fought a losing battle with the heat and we began our 2litre a day water habit. Arriving in Kimberly at dusk, we selected our campsite for its proximity to The Big Hole, tore plastic wrappers off our gear, and managed to pitch camp in 1/2 an hour. Survived the first camp cooking and sweated through our first night.

On Sunday we found a spectacular Methodist church and a crusty old minister with sense of humour. He mixed evangelistic fire with veld wisdom which made for a very entertaining sermon. 

The Big Hole - first De Beers diamond mine

Sunset in the Karoo 

Pitching camp in Knysna - after a dozen camps it was down to 10 min.

Cango caves - the 'postbox' part of the tour requires belly crawling

The Heads at Knysna - a narrow channel that cuts between cliffs

Robinson Pass - a sea of wildflowers 

The beaches along the southern coast draw a stream of tourists

The world's tallest bungee - 70 storeys high

Lighthouse at Cape Agulas

Cape Agulas is the southernmost point of the African continent.  On one side is the Indian Ocean, and on the other the Atlantic.  This was a high-point of Andy's trip, "I always used to look at the African atlas and see that point at the bottom, labeled prominently, and wonder what it was like."  It turned out to be hazy from the salty air, with a strong wind whipping off the ocean spray.  It felt like the end of a continent.


Cablecar up to the top of Table Mountain

Cape Point is the southern tip of the cape peninsula - 

DeBeers diamond mines
Monday morning, The Big Hole, the largest man made hole in the world. Created almost entirely by pick and shovel, it was the central location of the great diamond rush. It spawned the De Beers company founded by Cecil Rodes. We also toured two of De Beers' active diamond mines, where diamond bearing kimberlite is blasted from volcanic tubes and hauled to the surface to be crushed and sorted. Interestingly, the De Beers family had nothing to do with the company. It was the De Beers brothers who owned the two farms on which the Kimberly diamonds were found. They sold the land rights for 21,000 pounds sterling – a large sum at the time, but a pittance compared with the $5 billion worth of glittering stones that have been hauled out since then.

Garden Route around the Southern Tip of Africa
Monday afternoon we turned south and the next few days were spent along the Garden Route.  Jeffrey's Bay - South Africa's best surf.  Happy Valley - an incredible twisting vertical plunge through chasms of lush greenery and plateaus of gorse and sage. Plettenberg Bay – a huge white sand tidal pan bordered by a steep hillside town reminiscent of the Italian Riviera. Knysna - a narrow water outlet to the ocean guarded by two massive cliffs - vacation houses perched a thousand feet above the ocean.

Leaving the Garden Route briefly we traveled inland to the Cango Caves on a side trip. Walking, scooting, and finally belly crawling - we traversed 1.2 km of the Cango 1 system. Baleen like stalagmite, pipe organ clusters of stalactite, delicate flutes and massive toppled pillars. It is an ancient cave full of growth and character. Recently Cango systems 2,3,4, and 5 were discovered - extending the known cave structure by several kilometres and ranking it with the world's best.

Temperate extremes were obvious as we headed back to the coast.  The cave region looks like a scorched red Martian landscape, with occasional thorn trees nourishing flocks of ostrich.  Dry and barren because of the ocean side mountain ranges which rip the moisture from passing clouds. Within 10km of the coast we climbed from the barren plain, up Robinson's Pass, to wildflower carpeted heights. Clouds boiled over the peaks like dry ice off a stage and chilly winds zephyred through the pass cut as we descended back into the verdant Garden Route again.

Back on the coast at the west end of the Garden Route we camped at Mussel Bay. Discovered by Bartholomeu Dias in 1488 it was used as a watering stop for centuries. Near the spring is a famous tree that served as a mail post for passing Dutch traders. East bound ships would leave messages to be taken home by west bound spice laden galleons. Excellent oysters.

World's Tallest Bungee
The campers in the adjoining site told us about the world's tallest bungee. We'd missed it in our meanderings through the country. Re-tracing our path back to Jeffrey's Bay, we came to Bloukrans bridge. At 216 meters, the central span can accommodate a 70 storey building. After strapping up, I teetered over the edge - the stream was a metallic glint far below. The crew yelled 5,4,3,2,1... and leap out, arms straight out, then yank one in and spiral into a dive straight down - the ground blurring. The elastic cord used stretches 3 times it's length so the arrest is quite gentle, but the rebound takes you within 30m of the bridge, and the second drop is almost as long as the first. Bounce, bounce, hang upside down blowing in the breeze. The winch man descends like a spider and you are hauled back up to the dizzying height.

Unclipped, smile to the video, walk back over to the harness chair, re-strap... this time tip-toe to the edge - backwards. On five, spring out like falling backwards into bed, then head way back and curl into a back dive. Arch up at the extremity of the arrest and bounce upright - standing... then down again. After two jumps I was adrenalined out. Andy captured the lunacy on video for posterity.

Late lunch at the Boardwalk in Plettenberg Bay, chicken curry again, and then a petrol fill up at Caltex. Andy scratched a little prize contest coupon - and won! So now we have R1,600 ($400) towards future accommodations! We straggled into Swellendam and ate noodles and cream corn from the can. Our camp pitching skills are improving and we are down to 10 minutes from arrival to kettle boiling.

"woke up with damp dew and chilly cloud - little worn from prev. day's exertions, but the cloud burned off like a pool cover rolling into the ocean and we walked out of breakfast to blue sky and mountain backdrops"

Off to Cape Agulas, the southernmost point of the continent. Arriving mid-morning we ground out to the marker, Andy gleefully engaging the low gears and diff lock. Pictures, video, toes in surf, etc. Thence to Cape Town. Descending the mountain pass we were awestruck at the view. The city is truly gorgeous, and Table Mountain is much higher than it looks in the pictures.

Cape Town
We found accommodation in a hostel downtown, and were awoken to the car alarm on Sun. morning. Thieves like to hold an old spark plug in their fist and use the end to shatter car windows. Our alarm has an infra-red sensor that clicks on with movement and that saved most of our gear. I lost my backpack with rain shell and most of my Kilimanjaro ascent gear. Before leaving Jo'burg we had bolted a steel trunk into the back of the vehicle, and bolted a safe inside the trunk. It seemed paranoid at the time, but with a steering lock, alarm, immobilizer, car insurance, contents insurance, locked trunk, and locked safe - we didn't lose much of value.

Sunday continued to be an odd day. We dropped the truck off (3 days to ship in new glass) and walked around the city. As we were headed toward the restaurant for dinner we noticed three men yelling on the sidewalk, suddenly one staggered away supported by his friend, blood streaming down his stomach and side from knife wounds. Dinner was subdued.

Despite our experiences, Cape Town is one of the safer large cities in South Africa. It's beaches are beautiful, and the malls and stores rival any large North American city. We rented scooters while the truck was in the shop and wound through the city's charms. Sunset from Signal hill. Twisting though the coastal road in the Cape Point reserve. Shredding traffic down the Kloof Nek connector from Camps Bay. Fantastic dinners at fractional prices each night. And daily e-mail access at the Virtual Turtle cafe.

South Africa is still struggling to integrate a large proportion of it's population. We noticed electricity grids newly installed in the townships, and modest new houses. The country is developing a sense of pride and the populace seems generally content with the work of the ANC. The two keen concerns are crime and employment. I read a book called the “South African Vision” which was a summary of a systematic survey of the population to determine its mood, five years after the end of apartheid.  Virtually everyone remains solidly loyal to the country and willing to continue to make sacrifices to rebuild, with one strong caveat – the horrendous crime rate must be cut.  This country and its people are so great that I can’t help believing that things will work out.  

We plan to ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain this afternoon. More spectacular views. Tomorrow we'll head north on the second leg of our trip; Namibia, Botswana, and ending up at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.  I'll have to brush up on my Swahili!





Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com