Private School Swakopmund – 4 Day Naukluft trail

The 4 day Naukluft trail is 60 kilometre of mountains and undulations.  A group of 11 Grade 9 pupils of Swakopmund, 4 parents and their teacher tackled this trail from the 5th of October to the 8th of October and was led by Kobus Alberts, member of Wild at Heart Safaris.

This is the story of their trials and tribulations:

The boys: Matthias, Lukas, Morne, Dieter, Bozidar and Vincent. The girls in the group were Diana, Jasmin, Carmon, Ashleigh and Adriana. The adult group consisted out of Werner, Bres, Ilse Lichti, and me. Ian and Glenn were the parents that would stay in camp and acted as back up should anything go wrong.

Arriving at the Naukluft camp, the group sorted themselves and their bags for the following days of hiking.  A male baboon quickly taught us to be observant at all times, by stealing some of the food.

The next day the group left, and spirits were high.  Following a river system the hiking was nice and easy.  Very soon that would change, when the first hill was approached. “Hamburger Hill” as it was named later, is a hill of stature. It does not look high or big, but once you start climbing it, you suddenly realised it is a hill of note.  Resting on top, the views to the South were spectacular.  Following contours towards Fonteinkloof, the walking continued at a good steady pace.  Arriving at 11:10, we decided to have a lunch break in the shade of the big Fig trees at the fountain.  Heartbreak Pass was to be our next obstacle after lunch.  Usually the group walked in the following formation:  I followed by all the boys and then the girls and the rest of the adults.  After reaching the top of heartbreak pass, the boys showed some true gentlemen manners by going back and assisting the girls with the back packs up heartbreak pass.  This was to be repeated later in the day as well, but at this stage we did not know it.

Towards the end of the day, the mountain where the shelter is situated was sighted, but it was still a long distance away.  At this stage Dieter was very tired, and was assisted by Bres and Ilse.  I took the rest of the boys on a fast walk to the shelter, so that I can return and help with rucksack carrying and morale boosting.  As it turned out the morale boosting was being applied heavily by Bres, Ilse and Werner already.  The whole group reached the Putte shelter at 18:15.  There were some very tired people around, and after having a meal, silence descended on the camp. After some coffee and a meal the adults also went to bed. Ilse, having a strong dislike of scorpions slept on the roof the shelter.  This strange habit of hers to pick strange places to sleep was to be repeated through the rest of the trip.

The next day saw the group heading to Bergpos. On the way an “Oryx dung spitting competition” were held, and Dieter came away as the champion.  At Bergpos there was no water, so everyone was reliant on their own water supply, which has become relatively hot by this stage.  Werner and I walked down to the Cathedral fountain, and even had a swim in some of the pools.  During this walk a formula of note were also invented by Werner. E=mc².  Very applicable and will be used on every hiking trail to come.

After lunch the hikers continued on their way to Adelhorst. On the previous day I have noted that the group really struggled to keep a good pace after lunch and this was to be repeated every day.  About an hour into the hike, the group’s rhythm would become better and then the pace could be picked up again.  Due to the heat and the altitude, there were several nosebleeds, but all under control.  Carmon, daughter of Bres had some problems, so the pair of them kept on walking while the rest of us were resting in shade on the route.  The two of them arrived at the shelter about 15:55, while the rest of the group arrived about 16:05.  Having some daylight available, the group used the opportunity to have a quick wash, and prepared their food in style.

After some more coffee and talking about life and undulations, the adults also went to bed. Ilse slept on a raised cement slab outside the shelter.  Hartmann’s mountain Zebra made a nuisance of them, but eventually left us alone for a good nights rest.

The last day was to be the longest as well.  The previous days we covered 18 and 17 kilometres respectively, while the distance for the last day would be 27 kilometre.  The terrain we walked through is known as “the plateau”, but very little of this area even remotely looks like a plateau. Undulations kept coming and had to be negotiated.

With little shade and no water en route, the group would walk for 1 hour and then rest for 10 minutes. This routine came in very handy, as the first 3 hours in the morning the total distance covered were about 11 kilometres.

After lunch the heat was well and truly with us, and the pace of the group also showed it.

After joining the Waterkoof trail, the going got even tougher.  There were serious hills to be climbed, and on the other side, some serious downhill’s to be negotiated.  All of this took some time, so we only reached the fountains at about 16:30.  What a joy these cold clear water pools are!  Everyone filled their water bottles and washed their faces, and you could feel the morale lifting as we set off on the last stretch of our journey back to base camp.

Morne and I arrived at the office at 18:45. (We started walking at 06:45 in the morning, so it was a long day in the veldt)

At 19:00 every single person of the group was present, and the last 500 metres were walked to Hikers Haven. In the meantime Glenn and Ian kindly sourced some meat and sausage, and were barbequing them as we arrived.  What a smell to welcome in the tired hikers.

It was tough.  There were blood and there were tears.  Every single person in this group of hikers learned something about themselves.  Every single person realised that hiking is like life, giving up is not an option.

Congratulations to all the pupils for surviving, and in the end, enjoying this hike. The area, game seen and just to feel the elements of nature upon their faces made this trip a memorable experience.  Every single person helped each other, Jasmin and Diana for their support, Ashleigh for pushing through the “barrier”, Dieter for getting up the next morning and hiking again.  Bozidar, always checking out the route, but always walking. Vincent the silent assassin.

To all the adults as well, without your support and utter patience at times, it would have been impossible to complete this trail.

 

There is Just No Good News

It started on the 7th of August 2010.  The team consisted of Johan Bakkes, Doc, Kallie, Kokkie, Bonte, Paul and I. Before the hike commenced there were several e-mails flying between the lot of us, and it boiled down to one specific point:  All had to be intensely aware that water will be the main problem once we start the hike.

The idea was to hike down the Kuiseb River, from the bridge to Homeb.  The main limiting factor would be water, or rather the lack of water.  At about 17:00 the team were dropped at the bridge, and camp was set up around the first bend in the river. Our very first sighting were a small herd of young kudu, and it is a good indication that there is water around.  So it was, an open pool of stagnant water, slightly brackish to taste.  Food was prepared and we still had 20 litres of clean water, and it was used to good effect.

That night I had a good look at the men that would join me on this hike, and to be blunt, some of them seemed a bit old, what a surprise I would later get!!

At 05:00 Kallie awoke the camp with a lively “Good morning friends”.  This was to be the wake call every day.  At 06:00 we were off, and what a flying start.  All of us carried at least 7 litres of water and more, as well as a variety of other tools like spades, pots and other camp gear.  The rucksacks were heavy to say the least.  We would walk, at a very good pace, for half an hour and then rest for a while.  The first 2 hours we hiked in the shade of the canyon, and then the sun started beating down on us. At the 3rd stop of the day, Kallie and I started comparing distances with our Global Positioning Systems, and since then there were not a lot of good news.  Our distances were totally different, and would stay that way until we hit the Gaub River.

Lunch started at 12:00 and ended at 14:00.  After lunch we will walk for another hour or until we get a good water source.  On that first day, we found a pool at around 15:00.  While I and Kallie and Paul were discussing the virtues of the pool, the rest of the gang arrived.  Death were seen in there eyes, and by that I mean, some of the big men were tired, really tired.  Camp was made not far from the pool, and a “gorra” was dig next to the pool, in order for water to slowly cipher through. The pool was slightly reddish in colour, with a strong taste of Rock Hyrax urine, and an after taste of Mountain Zebra dung.  The pool was thus aptly named “Rock Hyrax Urine fountain”.

Day 2 saw us heading further into the canyon.  Thus far we have seen Oryx, Mountain Zebra and even some Klipspringer, so game were quite plentiful.  Slowly the canyon started narrowing as we walked south.  Underfoot it was extremely deceiving.  Smallish pebbles covered most of the ground, but once you set foot onto them, they will give way, and you will end up in very soft sand.  To avoid the pebbles you could walk in clearly soft sand, so we were between the devil and the deep blue sea.  The pace did not drop however, and my respect for these men grew as the day draw on. Kallie was in the lead most of the time, followed by the rest of us.  As we neared a bend in the river I could hear Helmeted Guinea fowl making some noises and whistling a lot.  Suddenly I saw the guys ahead of me stop, and as I looked ahead of them, I saw a Leopard running away into an inlet branching off from the main river.  All the guys were stunned into silence, and one could see the awe and happiness in their faces about this sighting.

Lunch on day 2 was at a beautiful big pool, the best one we have found thus far.  There were even some small fish in the pool and it was really cold and clear.  Sadly that was not our camp for the evening.

Again at about 15:00 we found a relatively big pool, and decided to camp here.  By this time there have been several discussions about going on further down the Kuiseb or trying to take a detour via the Gaub River.  The main reason behind this was that as soon as we pass the Gaub river inlet, the Kuiseb River starts to open up, and the pools of water will disappear quickly.  We can still dig, but we would have to dig to a depth of 8 metres or more.  The decision was made to walk out via the Gaub River.

At this stage Kallie and I were very nearly agreeing on how far it still was to the Gaub and how far we have come thus far.  Several mathematical calculations were used, sometimes add 40 %, sometimes add 120 %, but in the end we came to the same conclusion.  Doc and Johan Bakkes are the really clever guys of the group and they doubted the distances severely, but kept walking, like true men.

08:00 the next day we reached the Gaub River inlet, and started hiking up with it.  The idea was to reach the Gaub fountain for the evening’s camp.  I have been to the fountain 11 years ago, and it would come back to haunt me badly during that day.  The Gaub canyon started very narrow and very spectacular.  At one bend we found a Zebra digging a “gorra”, totally oblivious of us.  For a while we stood there, watching nature unfold in front of our eyes.  The sun was in our faces and the wind in our hair, the beauty of the Gaub was in our eyes, and we could smell the bushes and grass in the river.  We were slowly becoming one with nature.

Later in the day we came upon a big herd of Zebra, and from there the wildlife increased dramatically in numbers.  Lunch was had in the shade of a high cliff, and yet no fountain was in sight.  We started of again, water running low in our water bottles, but still firm in the believe that the fountain is near.  Two rest stops later, still no good news, as there were still no fountain.  Baboons in the hills, and a lot of animal paths indicated that there must be open water somewhere, but we just could not find it.  Finally we decided that we would walk for another half an hour and then start digging for water.  At this stage we only found 1 pool of water, so water in the Gaub was even scarcer than in the Kuiseb River.  As we came around a bend, the fountain appeared.  What joy there was in my heart, because I was doubting myself immensely by that stage.

Open and cool water and a brilliant camp site we found.  I, Kallie, Bonte and Paul walked upstream to realise that the fountain is nearly 1 kilometre long, with very fresh water near the start of the fountain.  Birdlife in abundance, and Mountain Zebra coming down to drink, as we sat and watched the sun set.  That evening there were some song around the campfire, and one could sense that the mood was light and cheerful.

The next day we reached the low water bridge at about 07:30.  We walked a total of 60 kilometres during the 3 days.  Andre van Niekerk of Wild at Heart Safaris collected us from the bridge.

What a hike it was. It was hard, and the pace set by the team was never less than 4 km/hour, at times 6 km/hour.  Each member of the team contributed in his own way.  The banter taking place and also the serious chats around the campfire will always stay in my mind.  Johan Bakkes with all his stories of his travels, walking stronger every day.  Doc, a man that does not hike that often, yet was always there when we rested.  Bonte, the oldest of the group, walking with his easy pace, seemingly not sinking into the soft sand.  Paul, the nature lover, always walking by every pool to look for tracks, eyes always scanning the sky for birds, and then Kallie, the quickest of us all. A long stride and never seeming to tire, he led us most of the way. Kokkie got blisters on the first day, treated them, and never looked back.  I could see he was limping at one stage but never had I heard a word of self pity, he bit on his teeth and kept going.

Although the news was not always good, this group of men were hikers of extreme competence.  To be honest I think the best I have walked with thus far, and I already did some serious hiking in Namibia and elsewhere. It was a soul enriching experience for me, and I will use the memories to provide me with fuel for my mind when on long and lonely hikes in Namibia.

Kobus  Alberts

Angola: A beautiful country in Africa

Leaving Namibia at the Ruacana border post, the Angola trip is on it’s way.  The road leads over a low water bridge over the Kunene River, and then becomes a two-track road.  With Mopane scrubland encroaching on the road we travel parallel to the Kunene River towards Foz de Kunene.

Due to the condition of the roads, the group travels very slow, and the first couple of nights we camp in dry river beds next to the road.  Iona National Park is a big conservation area in the South of Angola that the group travels through in order to get to Foz de Kunene.

After 3 days of slow driving we reach the mouth of the Kunene River, as it flows into the Atlantic Ocean.  Camping on the rivers edge and waking up to the sound of Bank cormorants on their way to the ocean is truly a special experience.  The next 2 days will take us Northwards along the coast towards Flamingo.  About halfway the dunes get very close to the ocean, so one can only travel this area at low tide, and with a local guide that knows the area.

Flamingo lodge lies in a stunning area.  A big river has carved its way open to the Atlantic Ocean, and while doing this caused “canyon lands” to form.  The lodge is situated in and on these heights, and gives you an excellent view of the Ocean.  The building is not permanent, but good enough to keep the elements of nature away from your body.  With hot showers, and an open air restaurant with a view on the setting sun, one cannot really ask for any better settings.

Leaving Flamingo we travel to Namibe, the capital of the South West of Angola. Visiting the market place is a hectic and fun filled experience. Anything under the sun is available, and it is your typical African Market. Busy, loud and bustling with energy.  The beach at Raphael’s is our next destination.  What a stunning site. A beautiful bay with white sandy beaches.  Two days spending here, exploring a bit of the surrounding area, which is just as stunning.

Lubango were to be our next destination.  Travelling up the

Serra de Leba Pass at 40 kilometres per hour is a wonderful experience. Well built and maintained this is a highlight of the tour. After visiting the Dorsland Trekkers graves and memorial in Humpata, the group left for Lubango.  A bustling city, Lubango is the heart of the South of Angola.  Visiting different sites in and around Lubango takes about 2 days. One of these sites is the Cristo-Rei, a huge statue of Christ overlooking Lubango.

Leaving Lubango we head for the Namibian border at Santa Clara again.  On the way the road from Cahama to Xangongo must be driven.  It is one pothole after another, so this 75 kilometre takes about 4 hours to drive.  Really very bad, but at least one gets time to look around, due to the very slow pace.  After crossing the border, Namibia is a welcome sight to behold.

Angola is truly a spectacular country, very big, and with this trip which lasted 15 days in total, the group only got to see the Southern bit of Angola.  A lot of various and changing landscapes makes this a trip to remember. When next planning a trip to Angola, or a Namibia safari please visit our website.

Kobus Alberts