Gone Safari - Africa E7 Trip Report

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Expeditions7 Africa - July, 2013
Text & photos by Kurt Williams


The Expeditions7 Africa Fleet

My favorite thing to do, is go where I have never been - Diane Arbus

Pinch me… was this really happening? My spring had already been fairly action-packed and there I was boarding a flight in Atlanta with a final destination of Johannesburg, South Africa. The timing was quite serendipitous. You see, my lovely wife Candace has been quite patient with my travels the last few years, and her only stipulation this season was that we do a big summer trip together before I tear out again. Now, she loves to travel with me and is quite the sport when it comes to bouncing around in a 4x4 for days on end, but her true dream trip involves beaches, good food, massages and shopping… not exactly how the travel goes down on E7. She took the bull by the horns and planned a week on the beach in Costa Rica with a group of friends. It was great to spend some time with my sweetie before hopping on a plane in Atlanta, bound for Johannesburg, to launch the Expeditions7 Africa Leg.

Yup, things were getting real. I joined Bruce Dorn in Atlanta and the two of us would make the 16-hour flight together before meeting with Scott Brady and Paul May in South Africa. Bruce is an all-around amazing character and I’ve had the opportunity to travel with him on previous E7 segments, but his knowledge really shines when you get him talking about Africa. He’s spent a great deal of time exploring and photographing the continent over the years. Paul runs a US- based business importing a variety of 4x4 products from South Africa and along with Scott has developed some key relationships in the area that proved extremely beneficial to our travels.


Toyota Motorsports facility, home of Giniel De Villiers’ Dakar winning Hilux race program

Our week in Johannesburg was far from humdrum. We spent a great deal of time prepping the Expeditions7 fleet in some loaned space at Eezi-Awns facility. We were able to tour the Toyota Motorsports facility, home of Giniel De Villiers’ Dakar winning Hilux race program amongst other race platforms. Additionally I was able to continue my crazed obsession with visiting 4x4 and camping goods stores all over the world, gaining perspective as to their market approach and product offerings. We were able to tour National Luna, Eezi-Awn, Front-Runner and a handful of smaller 4x4 shops and manufacturers.


Rhinos at Pilanesberg National Park

Paul, Bruce and I took off for a day in the Sherpa, the VDJ79 Land Cruiser I piloted across the Aussie Outback, for a day on the town. We visited Pilanesberg National Park, northwest of Joberg, where I spotted my first big game: rhinos, hippos, giraffe, zebra, and various smaller mammals. How do you describe the natural high and rush of adrenaline when you first see an elephant grazing on vegetation just feet from the vehicle? Mesmerizing perhaps? Combine that with doing so from the seat of a Land Cruiser, one I had not only grown to love, but a place that is generally my favorite to be.


A variety of game dot the landscape at Pilanesberg National Park

Our final few days in Joberg were spent finalizing the packing and organizing of the trucks. A surprisingly short week later Greg Miller and the remainder of the team would arrive and the expedition would be underway. The team was rounded out by members of Greg’s family, including all of his sons and son-in-laws. One couldn’t ask for a neater group of gents to travel with, and there was never a shortage of laughter.


Game Spotting


Elephants enjoying the water of the Okavango Delta

Expeditions7 had already circled the northern hemisphere, and was well on the way to completing a circumnavigation of the southern hemisphere, having trekked across Australia in true Outback fashion. Next up was Africa and big plans were in store

Our voyage would take us north from Joberg to the Le Bola Bola recreation property owned by the proprietors of Front Runner. There we were treated to a most splendid first night in the bush, complete with delicious lamb chops cooked on a brai grill over the fire. The next morning, we broke camp, said goodbye to our gracious hosts, and burned towards Botswana where we visited the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. There we were fortunate to see a herd of roaming rhinos just a short drive from our camp.


Elephants and Land Cruisers


Can you see me?

The gem of our game experience was the self-drive game tour through the Okavango Delta in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. The Okavango is flush with wild game species, including the mighty African bush elephant, hippopotamus, and a variety of antelope, Nile crocodile, lion, cheetah, leopard, hyenas, rhinos, and the African wild dog. These animals, along with hundreds of bird and fish species, thirst for the Delta’s precious water making game-spotting extremely fruitful at nearly any water hole. We were quite fortunate during our stay in the Delta, seeing thousands of animals including a pride of lions, and experiencing a pack wild dogs running right through our camp. Self-drives in the region require a permit from the local governing tribe (Khwai Development Trust) and our guides Shane and Cat fit right in with our posse, leading the pack from the helm of Shane’s HZJ75 Land Cruiser pickup complete with years of desert patina.


Birdseye View


Sleeping Beauty


Not to be bothered.


Roaaaaaaar!

Our Okavango experience ended with a helicopter flight over the desert floor, undoubtedly the ultimate way to spot game, from a vantage point not served up by nature herself. Three at a time we loaded into the Robinson R44 for a quick tour. The flight was epic, counting game by the hundreds as we buzzed overhead.

Saving the best for last Bruce loaded into the helicopter to take the final flight of the afternoon. The plan was to capture footage of the E7 trucks en route out of the Okavango from the air. We would pick Bruce up back towards the highway and be on our way. Well, things don’t always work out according to plan... While performing preflight checks before his last liftoff, the pilot discovered a failed back-up magneto and was officially grounded for the day. He phoned his office back in Moun and spare parts (and a spare heli) would arrive the following morning. Bruce would take to the air in a replacement bird the following morning to capture the footage the helicopter was chartered to capture. After a day-long delay, Bruce got his footage, so we picked up Bruce and hit the road-- the Skeleton Coast was beckoning!


Follow the Leader

We entered Namibia and traveled to Windhoek for resupply, and to meet with Volker of Desert Magic Tours. Volker would serve as our guide for the duration of our trip in Namibia. After some quick hellos and introductions Volker piloted us to Sossusvlei, Namibia from the helm of his FZJ75 pickup. As a side note, he prefers the petrol (gasoline) motor over the common diesel applications due to its high rev’s and light weight in the dunes. He proved this quite vividly in the dunes throughout the trip, blasting up sand hills one could barely imagine passable.


Up and down

Our travels across the barren Skeleton Coast and Namib Desert were nothing short of surreal. Sand flows in every direction, making the trucks seem so miniscule in a giant expanse of rolling sand. Volker led us through the desert following what seemed to be an instinctual route, winding through the ever- changing dune faces; some so steep we could do nothing more than lock the brakes and slide down the slip face to the valley below. As we pushed further into the dunes our point of no return became more apparent and inescapable, and as we dropped off the steep dunes to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean itself the point of no return was absolute; we simply had to complete the trip northward.


Have we landed on Mars?

When Volker briefed us on our Skeleton Coast plans at Sossusvlei before crossing our first dune he had me sold: ghost towns, shipwrecks, and dunes that can’t be conquered but in one direction. I was beyond excited! I’m a ghost town nut, period. I love reading about them, I love poring over photos of them and of course I love visiting them. There is certainly no exception for ghost towns in foreign countries, and while I might not always have the cultural background and historical context of these sites, they are still equally intriguing to me.


A human skeleton rests amongst washed up sea items, humbling.

The first ghost town we visited was Meob Bay, an abandoned customs office utilized during the height of the diamond mining along the coast. Following Meob, we visited Grillenberger and Charlottenfelder-- both diamond mining towns left to succumb to the desert sands and ocean winds, inhabited by nothing but the memories of former residents long-departed. Abandoned towns are far from the only ghosts resting along the Skeleton Coast: the hulks of shipwrecks of all varieties rot away on the seashore. We visited the Eduard Bohlen, a large shipwreck that now stands inland due to the migrating shoreline of sand, as well as the Shawnee, a tug boat left mired on the beach. We dropped one final sand dune slip face down to the highway towards Warvis Bay. Mission complete!


Ghost towns along the Skeleton Coast

Our final night camping as a team was in a small campground in Swakopmund, Namibia. We said our goodbyes to Volker, and had a fantastic seafood dinner on the coast. The next day, we would return to Windhoek, and the following day Greg Miller and sons would be flying home. With the bulk of the team flying out of Windhoek, it was down to Scott, Bruce, Paul, and myself to transit the vehicles back to Johannesburg, where they would be stored before continuing on the Expeditions7 journey to Antarctica and South America.


The E7 Africa team posing in front of the Eduard Bohlen shipwreck

Like every trip the reality really sets in when you get to the airport and realize you’re headed home soon. Not a week has gone by since my return that I haven’t found myself daydreaming of days wandering the Skeleton Coast. I hope to return soon…

You can read Bruce Dorn’s version of the E7 Africa segment in the Winter 2014 issue of Overland Journal. Also, be sure to check out the Expeditions7.com video on Africa and other continents.
 

cruiseroutfit

Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
With such fascinating scenery at each and every corner of the road I took far more photos of the adventure this go around. Here are a handful of others I figured were worth sharing. I hope you enjoy!


Behind the scenes tour at Eezi-Awn's facility in South Africa


Highly suspect of characters like us


We bumped into Kingsley Holgate, world-renowned African explorer


Desert Rats


Toyota Motorsports facility, home of Giniel De Villiers' Dakar winning Hilux race program


Game Spotting


Scott capturing some elephants on the move


Hungry Hungry Hippo


Thirsty Elephant


Long road on the horizon


Precious water on the Okavongo Delta


A chance shot of some wild dogs


A great meal followed up by a hand-written receipt @ Moun, Botswana


That sums it up nicely.


Meat Selection


Camp at Sossusvlei


Discussing Logistics with Volker


Standing Proud


Rolling Solo


Two-track into the dunes


The Sherpa in her glory!


The knife edge of a dune


Posing for a picture


Camping on the sand
 

cruiseroutfit

Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters

Where might they have gone?


Yup, I'm stuck


Perspective


Cruising down the coast


Yup, I'm stuck again


A curious onlooker


Dropping the dunes


Making Camp for the Night


Shipwreck along the Skeleton Coast


Dropping a slip face in the Namib Desert


The dunes of the Namib Desert


Kids being kids...


Sturat Baillies custom 4-Door 70 Series Truck


Baillies Off Road, Land Cruiser mecca


Checking out the National Luna production and engineering process


Touring the 4x4 shops of Joberg


Touring the 4x4 shops of Joberg


Fashion Diva on both sides of the camera - Bruce Dorn


Touring the new Front Runner facility


Paul May buttoning up loose ends on a 70 Series at Eezi-Awn

I hope you enjoy the pics!
 

shortbus4x4

Expedition Leader
Awesome. Dry season is the time to go to see animals and it looks like you timed it perfectly. Thanks for the pictures.
 

mph

Expedition Leader
Well, that looks like a lousy time. Glad you did not have any fun at all:)

Great report and pics! I love the Follow the Leader picture!
 

Kiwi-Yank

Adventurer
Just swung by the forum!

WHAT AN AWESOME trip - you folks had a fantastic trip!'
That is something that you will remember for a lifetime!!!

I loved the pix of "the vehicle on Mars", the sable antelope, and the journey through the dunes on the Skeleton Coast.

Just fantastic - thanks!!!

K-Y
 

kpredator

Adventurer
southern africa

nice pic of the gemsbok,got to try the dune,coastal trip sometime!!!!

some one once said

the only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to africa
for he has so much to look forward to.

thanks for the photos
kp
 

cruiseroutfit

Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
Just swung by the forum!

WHAT AN AWESOME trip - you folks had a fantastic trip!'
That is something that you will remember for a lifetime!!!

I loved the pix of "the vehicle on Mars", the sable antelope, and the journey through the dunes on the Skeleton Coast.

Just fantastic - thanks!!!

K-Y
nice pic of the gemsbok,got to try the dune,coastal trip sometime!!!!

some one once said

the only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to africa
for he has so much to look forward to.

thanks for the photos
kp
Thanks guys!

Great report Kurt, thanks for sharing your view and images. Such a fantastic adventure we had.
An adventure I'll never forget. Great folks, great scenery, great vehicles... the perfect combination. Thanks for making it happen!

gran viaje
grandes y hermosas fotos
desde sudamerica
desde Chile
un gran saludo a los viajeros
pluma blanca
Me alegro de que disfrutaban las fotos, Gracias!
 

4xdog

Explorer
Thanks for the pix, Kurt. I'll be travelling to South Africa and Zimbabwe at the end of June, my first trip to the continent, and I'm lookin' at ideas for a bit of holiday after work is done. Your trip report does give one ideas...
 

cruiseroutfit

Supporting Sponsor: Cruiser Outfitters
Thanks for the pix, Kurt. I'll be travelling to South Africa and Zimbabwe at the end of June, my first trip to the continent, and I'm lookin' at ideas for a bit of holiday after work is done. Your trip report does give one ideas...
Go to a game park, in fact go to as many as you can. You can book tours to the Okavongo Delta out of Moun and I'm sure Joburg and Capetown too. Off course Kruger and others are much closer and I'm sure worth a visit. Post some pics when you visit!
 

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