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ADEKS TRAVELS AND TOURS
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The Four Deserts Route covers the entire southern area of Namibia, from the Orange River up to the Tropic of Capricorn. Namibia boasts four great and very different desert systems. It comes as a surprise for some that desert landscapes are not just endless stretches of sand but may be rocky and mountainous as well, at times punctuated with vast gravel plains.
In the east lie the deep, red sands of the Kalahari Desert. With a total area of 1.6-million km², it is the largest continuous stretch of sand in the world. The long, parallel dunes were formed about 20 000 years ago and are partly covered with grasses, punctuated by gnarled old camelthorn trees and shepherd’s bush. Game manages to survive by means of special adaptations, and large herds of oryx, springbok and ostrich are once more moving across the landscape, followed by increasing numbers of vultures, marabou storks and other scavengers. The Kalahari is the home of the San Bushmen, people who have been able to live so frugally from these resources, perfecting the art of sustainable living.
The Nama Karoo covers most of southern central Namibia, driving a deep wedge northwards of the Orange River (and South Africa) to about 120km south of Windhoek, with a narrow strip along the edge of the Namib reaching up to Angola. The sedimentary geological formations take on dramatic proportions in the Fish River Canyon, the second-largest canyon on Earth, formed during the break-up of Gondwanaland some 130-million years ago. Various hikes and drives afford one an opportunity to view the increasing herds of springbok, and also of oryx, kudu, mountain zebra and ostrich. Much of the Nama Karoo consists of wide plains, broken only by the dark, enigmatic massif of Brukkaros Mountain, some 120km north of Keetmanshoop. Perhaps it was the tranquillity of this huge desert that inspired the construction of a fairytale castle in the midst of this landscape at Duwiseb, to the west, a century ago.
Situated at Aus and extending southwards, the Succulent Karoo is mainly a winter-rainfall area. Bizarre-looking shrubs store moisture in their leaves and stems to tide them over the dry times. The Succulent Karoo is the most plant-diverse desert in the world and has been listed as one of the world’s 25 global biodiversity 'hotspots'. Although these floral wonders are at their best after the rains, they are well worth investigating throughout the year. Lüderitz provides a fascinating breakaway, its harsh, minimalistic landscape resembling that of an island. In the vicinity one can hear and see African penguins as they go about their activities, and on a visit to the ghost diamond mining town of Kolmanskop one wonders at the lives of the past inhabitants of this desert settlement.
To the north, the Namib Desert lies in a narrow strip along the Atlantic Ocean. The scenery ranges from shifting, glowing red dunes in the south to gravel plains with inselbergs in the central parts, and jagged blue mountains in the north and east, with deep valleys cut by ephemeral rivers. Fog supplies the life-giving moisture for plants and animals. Here, visitors have a wide range of experiences to choose from: clambering up some of the highest sand dunes in the world at Sossusvlei at dawn; discovering the ancient, fossilised red dunes south of Solitaire as they stand frozen in time; gazing at huge black lappetfaced vultures as they arch across the sky; or following in the tracks of a solitary oryx across the gravel plains. One of the ultimate ways of experiencing this desert is to drift by balloon over the endless red dunes in the early morning sun.
This route introduces visitors to a kingdom rich in natural beauty and cultural heritage, where visitors are invited to explore and experience the many facets of a country filled with diverse environments and cultural unity.
Swaziland provides a unique opportunity to experience a living culture, one where tradition is still very much alive and not a re-creation merely for tourists. Here, many local people dress in traditional attire as a matter of course. The Swazis have a distinctive, colourful national dress known as emahiya that is regularly worn by men, women and children. Different accessories and head-dresses are used, depending on the status and age of the individual, as well as the occasion.
Though there has been an influx of Western ideas and goods in modern times, the old seems to sit easily alongside the new. Cultural heritage is still deeply rooted, with traditions carefully protected and sustained. Two major events in the traditional Swazi calendar are the incwala or kingship ceremony, and the umhlanga or reed dance.
There is a good network of tarred roads across Swaziland, and most places frequented by tourists are easily accessible with family cars. However, places off the beaten track may require vehicles with higher clearance and, especially after heavy rains, a 4x4 may be preferable. Expect to find grazing cattle wherever you go and beware of cattle crossing the roads, particularly at night.
Reasons to visit:
The Swaziland Route offers a variety of activities from hiking, horse riding, bird-watching and game-viewing to the more daring white-water rafting, caving and abseiling. For the less adventurous, there are plenty of alternatives, whether it's a quiet game of golf or a trip to a health spa. On the cultural front, Swaziland provides a unique opportunity to experience living African culture on a day-to-day basis. Special cultural highlights are the annual incwala (kingship) and umhlanga (reed dance) ceremonies.
There are plenty of enterprising artists in Swaziland and many of the outlets on this route stock the creations of local crafters. Whether it''s weaving, pottery, wood carving, candle making or painting, here you''ll not only have the chance to make a purchase but you can also usually see the crafters at work too.
It is also a place of wildness and natural beauty. There are numerous private and public nature reserves and game reserves in Swaziland, and several conservation initiatives have been set in motion to preserve the country’s rich natural heritage for future generations.
Sibebe Rock in Pine Valley just north of Mbabane, the capital city, is the largest single intrusion of pluton in the world. The earliest signs of life on Earth, fossilised blue-green algae which dates to around 3-4 billion years, can be seen in the Malolotja Nature Reserve. The unique Mbuluzi Cycad (Encephalartos umbeluziensis) and ironwood forests that occur in the Lubombo Conservancy, in the northeast of Swaziland are worth a visit for nature lovers.
Visas:Visitors from some countries may not need visas for South Africa or Lesotho, however please check this with your travel agent.
Road networks: Roads on the Maloti Drakensberg Route are generally good, but it is essential to check the condition of roads in the more rural areas of Lesotho as these roads may only be suited to 4x4s. Leaded fuel and diesel are available throughout the route; unleaded fuel is available in most towns in South Africa but only in Maseru in Lesotho. Speed in Lesotho is limited to 50kmph on general roads and 80km/ph on freeways, whereas South African speed limits are 60km/h in towns and 120km/h on national freeways.
Banks and credit cards: Banking facilities are available in most towns in South Africa, while in Lesotho, banks are mostly found in Maseru and major centres. During the week, banks are usually open until 15:30 in both countries but do close early on a Wednesday in Lesotho (13:00). On Saturdays, they are only open until 11:00 and not at all on a Sunday. Credit cards are accepted in most towns in South Africa, but only in Maseru and at major hotels in Lesotho.
Communication: Modern telephone services link all South African towns on the route with the rest of the country and the world. The international dialling code is +27. Telephone services are available in all main towns in Lesotho and mobile phone reception is excellent in the lowlands. The international code for Lesotho is +266. Dialling out from both countries requires 09 before the international country code.
Border Times: While the main border post at Maseru Bridge is open 24 hours a day, it is advisable to check the border times of smaller posts with any of the local tourism bureaus. Maseru Bridge is open 24 hours a day.
A country within a country - the history of Lesotho:
During the early 19th Century, the King of the Zulu people, Shaka, was at the height of his power and reigned over the area now known as KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa. Many of his subjugated chiefs took flight in an attempt to form their own domains. This resulted in a period of terror in southern Africa and the scattering of the Sesotho-speaking tribes of the highveld.
The Maluti Mountains formed a natural defence against invaders and many small tribal groups took refuge in the region. One such group lead by an enterprising chief, Moshesh, selected a small steep-sided plateau at Buthe-Buthe, which they successfully defended for two years before moving to a better fortress at Thaba Bosiu ('mountain of the night'). For 10 years, Thaba Bosiu proved to be impenetrable and the name rapidly gained fame. Fugitives from the tribal wars flocked to the area and were incorporated into the tribe.
By 1830, the tribe had become a large cohesive unit - newly proud people who had recently been hiding in the surrounding hills and valleys to escape slaughter and famine. They began calling themselves Basotho or Sotho people and to refer to their small kingdom as Lesotho. Moshesh, now known as Moshoeshoe, grew in stature and his military skills and diplomacy ensured that his Kingdom remained unconquered until shortly before his death in 1870.
In 1852, the British gave independence to the Boers (Afrikaans people) who then established their Republic as the Orange Free State. As some of the land given to the Boers was originally occupied by Basotho people, there was bound to be conflict. The Free State Commando was determined to destroy the Basotho people. Thaba Bosiu withstood most of the attacks. In 1868, however, the British were called to rescue the situation after a successful Boer invasion. The British protectorate of Basutoland was declared soon afterwards.
Multi-party politics took over in the 1950's and independence for Lesotho was eventually granted in 1966. Conflicts and coups d'etat followed. A coup in 1986 overthrew Chief Jonathan and reinstated the authority of Moshoeshoe II (the great-great-great grandson of Lesotho’s founding father). Since then the government has remained stable and successful, and development is ongoing. In 1996 his son, King Letsie III, succeeded King Moshoeshoe.
Interesting cultural snippets:
The Maloti Drakensberg Route covers an area rich in culture with four separate, yet intertwined, cultures predominant in the area. The Basotho culture is dominant in Lesotho, but many Basotho people live in South Africa as well. Similarly, Xhosa culture is particularly dominant in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces of South Africa, but Xhosa people can be found all over the country. English and Afrikaans cultures live alongside both Xhosa and Basotho. All across the Maloti Drakensberg Route, a strange mixture of languages is spoken with many words interchangeable between the four languages. What follows is a brief mention of some of the most noticeable features in the four cultures:
The Eastern Cape:
The Eastern Cape is the second-largest of South Africa’s provinces and is the cradle of South Africa's leadership, being the birthplace of Madiba (Nelson Mandela) and the traditional home of most of the national politicians. Much of the province is undeveloped, which, for the tourist, means that it is unspoilt and somewhat unique.
The Eastern Cape is malaria free and has some of the famous southern African reserves such as the Addo Elephant Park and the private Shamwari Game Reserve. The variety of plant and animal life in the Eastern Cape is one of the most diverse found anywhere in the world. The streams arising from the mountains and flowing to both the Indian and Atlantic oceans are home to Brown and Rainbow Trout, while the rare Lammergeier Vulture soars aloft.
The heritage of the Eastern Cape extends back to the birth of modern man and beyond. Ancient rock art sites, fossils and dinosaur footprints can be found in the province. The towns and villages are intimate while the country folk are warm and welcoming.
Although English-speaking South African and Lesotho people were originally descendent from British colonials, so much time has passed and so much cultural integration has occurred that these people are fiercely patriotic and definitely call themselves African. The English ‘Africans’ are unique in that they follow western culture and yet retain the essence of being African - appreciating the slow life, the open spaces, the diversity of cultures and the beauty that is Africa.
Afrikaans people are descendants of the original Dutch settlers who came to South Africa in the 1600's. Today, the Afrikaans culture is still strong, with many unique and interesting characteristics. Afrikaans food is particularly interesting with so-called boerekos (farmers’ food) being sweetened vegetables, meat - usually braaied (barbecued), potatoes and breads.
The Basotho blanket is probably the most noticeable icon of the Basotho people. The traditional usage of animal skin coverings has been transferred to the blanket, which is carried in all weather. The Basotho blanket’s beginnings can be traced back to European and missionary influence and the pressure to 'dress decently'. Gifts and increased trading opportunities with the British have ensured that the blanket became an increasingly popular form of 'covering up' and different patterns and designs emerged. The blanket as a form of dress was not always accepted with favour, however. Even during the British royal visit in 1947, wearers of blankets did not feature strongly in photographs. In the late 1980s, the popularity of the blanket took an upward swing. Today, many Basotho will not be seen without their blanket, and indeed have different blankets for different occasions. The blankets are made almost purely of wool to ensure an even body temperature even during the heat of the summer.
Some of the most remarkable crafts made by Xhosa people are beaded. Beaded bags, beaded adornments for headdresses and beaded jewellery are some of the items made. Unique colours and patterns are used, many depicting Xhosa huts or other traditional items. Xhosa dancing and singing are also a strong part of the culture.
Rock art of the Maloti Drakensberg Route:
The greatest concentration of rock paintings in the world occurs in southern Africa. Some sites date back 27 000 years. The art is sophisticated both in detail and depth of meaning, with animal images being a major symbolic element. It is found mainly in caves and on rock overhangs.
Rock art is not simply a record of what the artist saw in their environment but an example of how art can be used for religious purposes. The San artists selected culturally significant themes to record experiences and provide inspiration, and their art is therefore a record of their beliefs.
The red, yellow and maroon paint used in most rock art is made from finely ground ochre, a soft rock coloured by iron oxides. The powder was mixed with water or blood and possibly vegetable juices. The paint has lasted such a long time because the small ochre particles have bonded with the rock surface. Black paint was made from charcoal or manganese oxide and white paint from clay. Neither of these paints bonded well with the rocks and so today gaps can be seen where the white and black paint used to be.
The Maloti Drakensberg Route area is dotted with numerous rock art sites. These sites are indicated on the printable route map (accessible from route homepage). Some of these sites are not easily accessible and it is advisable to request a guide or to determine their exact location before attempting to find them. Please enquire at the regional tourism information centre for more details about the sites and their locations.
Also remember that rock art is a finite and fragile resource protected by the National Heritage Resources Act and it is an offence to damage sites in any way. Rock art should not be touched or wet. Dust and smoke can also cause damage.
The Eastern Free State:
More about the Eastern Free State:
Majestic mountains form the backdrop to this exciting adventure tourism destination. A few of the enchanting sites that await you include sandstone cliffs that have weathered over the years to resemble interesting figures like ‘Queen Victoria seated on her throne’ at Fouriesburg and Mushroom Rock near Clarens. Fertile valleys of crops are interspersed with fields of sunflowers and pink and white cosmos. The Golden Gate National Park is home to a wide variety of game and prolific birdlife, including the rare Bearded Vulture.
Battle sites dating back to the Anglo Boer War, ox-wagon spoor carved in the sandstone at Zastron, ancient fossil footprints and Bushman paintings are a few of the glimpses the tourist can catch of a by-gone era. The Basotho Cultural Village with its arts and crafts offers a place where they can learn more about the music-loving people of the eastern Free State and share a moment of their lives.
The Sterkfontein Dam with its 103km shoreline is the ideal playground for water sports and fishing. Other adventures in the region include abseiling, hiking, birding, 4x4 trails, mountain and rock climbing, clay pigeon shooting, cycling, hot air ballooning and fly-fishing. The annual Cherry Festival at Ficksburg and the Mealie (‘corn’) festival at Reitz are two of the many special occasions that showcase Free State fun and hospitality.
"Tlo Bone – ‘come and see!"
Lesotho - The Mountain Kingdom:
More about Lesotho:
Lesotho is the ultimate secret tourism destination, a place to discover the wonderful mountain vistas and the culture of the Basotho people who inhabit the spectacular highlands. This is a land of contrasts with modern facilities and easy access in the main towns. But, if you venture further afield, you can find yourself in a pristine and rugged natural environment with perhaps a herdsman and his small herd the only beings in sight.
Outdoor activities abound and include basic mountain climbing, rudimentary skiing, hiking, fly-fishing, bird-watching, 4x4 trails and the famous pony trekking. Accommodation can be supplied in a Basotho village in traditional huts or in comfortable modern facilities. An essential purchase when visiting Lesotho is the Basotho hat, a woven hat in the shape of Mount Qiloane. The hat is worn by locals and often used as decoration in houses.
Flags for information:
When visitors pass through villages in Lesotho they will frequently see a flag flying from a tall pole. This usually indicates a place where something is being sold. A white flag means 'joala', a locally brewed sorghum beer. A Yellow flag means maize beer, red means meat and green means vegetables.
A tall flag, usually white, at each corner of a homestead announces the wedding or marriage of a daughter.
Thaba Bosiu – ('the mountain of the night') – is the stronghold of the Basotho nation. The historical town of Morija hosts the Morija Museum and Archives as well as the celebrated annual arts and crafts festival. Lesotho is also probably the only country in the world where people sit on the side of the road and chisel sandstone bricks from the many sandstone cliffs and outcrops to sell as building materials.
The largest ongoing engineering water project in the world – the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – has created a unique opportunity for tourism by working with local communities to develop magnificent nature reserves that have overnight trail huts and camping facilities surrounded by unique flora, fauna and rock art and overlooking spectacular views. The amazing spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla), the national flower of Lesotho, can be seen in some of these reserves.
The weather in Lesotho varies considerably from season to season and can also change rapidly during a single day. Summer is the wet season, with localised thunder storms a common occurrence. Flash floods are a danger so avoid riverbeds as far as possible. In winter, the night temperatures can drop below zero even though the days are often sunny and warm. It is wise to be equipped for all temperatures at any time of the year as the altitude variations result in totally different conditions as you travel the mountain passes.
The simplicity of life and the crystal-clear mountain streams are part of the experience of the Kingdom of the Sky.
The Caprivi Strip, now known as the Zambezi Region is a verdant paradise in the north east corner of Namibia. Katima Mulilo is the main town with Kongola, Bukalo, Linyanti and Ngoma being much smaller centres within the region. The Mafwe and Subia are two main groups in East Caprivi, where Silozi (a Zambian language) is the lingua franca and only written indigenous language of the region. In the Bwabwata National Park there are 10 villages housing a majority population of Khwe San people, part of a much larger San (or Bushmen) population that extends from Botswana to Angola. The continued residence of so many indigenous people in a state protected area is an unusual feature in Southern Africa and a testament to the Namibian government's commitment to co-management and benefit sharing.
The Zambezi Region has two of the five permanently flowing rivers in Namibia (the Zambezi and the Kwando, which have their catchments in Zambia and Angola). In years of heavy rainfall, these rivers flood over an extensive area. In fact up to a third of the Zambezi Region is floodplain. Two other rivers are often regarded as rivers in their own right - the Chobe and the Linyanti – but they are really extensions of the Zambezi and Kwando rivers respectively.
The Zambezi Region experiences a tropical climate and during dry winter months, large populations of elephant and buffalo are known to congregate along the Kwando, Zambezi and Chobe river corridors, making this time of year good for game-viewing. Water flows in these rivers vary from year to year, depending on the rain falling in the catchments. The Caprivi Wetlands Paradise is situated in a malaria area and travellers are advised to take relevant prophylaxis, always use mosquito repellent at night and sleep under a mosquito net.
Reasons to visit:
The Zambezi Region is Namibia’s bird paradise. It has varied habitats including broad-leafed and acacia woodlands, mopane forests, riverine forests, grasslands and floodplains, and therefore boasts more than 400 species of birds. The eastern floodplains and grassveld are accessible by 4x4 vehicles, but only at certain times of the year (May to November). When the waters of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers are high you can visit parts of this area by contacting one of the lodges on Impalila Island or the staff from Impalila or Kasika conservancies for a local guide.
There are three state-protected game reserves on the Caprivi Wetland Paradise (see map for location); the Mamili, Mudumu and the Bwabwata National Park. Here, the limited road and infrastructural development adds a sense of adventure and wilderness. In the dry season (May to November), these parks are home to large herds of migratory buffalo and elephant. Attractions in the wet season (December to April) include bird-filled pans fringed by water lilies and inhabited by hippo. Look out for the water-loving antelope – lechwe, reedbuck and waterbuck – in the floodplains. You may even see roan and sable antelope or a glimpse of the rare, semi-aquatic sitatunga found in the dense papyrus reed beds.
The Bwabwata National Park is located in the 200km stretch from the Kavango River to the Kwando River. Nambwa and Bum Hill campsites are located along the Kwando River in this park and have set a precedent in Namibia by being the first conservancy-owned and -managed tourist facilities in state protected areas. Mudumu and Mamili National Parks were proclaimed at Namibia’s independence in 1990 and are located south of Kongola.
Closer to Katima Mulilo town the habitat changes to mopane woodlands, where you can expect to find Arnot’s chat, white-breasted cuckooshrike and many species of woodpecker. After the rains these forests are really exciting when pools of water gather in the black, sticky cotton soils and attract numerous waterbirds, including migrants such as lesser moorhen, blacktailed godwit, great snipe and many more. About 20km east of Katima Mulilo take the Kalembeza road north towards Kalizo and Island View Lodges on the Zambezi River. You can expect to see many raptors and grassveld species in this area, including Dickinson's kestrel and yellow-throated sand grouse. On the banks of the Zambezi River between the two lodges is a breeding site for carmine bee-eaters. Thousands of these birds gather annually from September to November.
Birding in and around Katima Mulilo is brilliant. One can expect to see, among many others, African finfoots, African skimmers, African fish eagles and, if you are lucky, bat hawks on the Zambezi River. Birding in the gardens of the Zambezi Fish Farm, Caprivi River Lodge and around Katima Mulilo should produce specials like the Schalow’s turaco, trumpeter hornbill, coppery sunbird, eastern nicator, eastern bearded robin, Hartlaub’s babbler and western banded snake eagle. Night specials include pennant winged nightjars, wood owls, barred owlets and three-banded coursers.
As one leaves Katima Mulilo towards the west the state forests host some exciting birds too. These teak forests (Baikea plurijuga) host at least eight species of sunbird, including Shelley’s and purple banded. You may also be lucky enough to see the Stierling’s wren warbler, black-eared seed-eater (canary), broad-tailed paradise whydah and the northern grey-headed sparrow. Travelling south-west from Katima Mulilo on the gravel road (C49) to the Mamili Game Park is a 4x4 adventure of its own. The Mamili Game Park borders Botswana and is a swampland with copses of large trees. The swamplands are filled by local rains and overflow from the Linyanti River. In this special environment, birding is very exciting. You can expect to see large numbers of pygmy geese among hundreds of waterbirds. This park also hosts a few pairs of resident wattled cranes and, if you are lucky, you may get a sighting of the uncommon Denham’s bustard.
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