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Namibia by Bike

In July we arranged for the adventurous Morley family to take a cycling holiday around some of the most spectacular desert scenery of Namibia. They were supported by a back up vehicle, an expert wildlife guide and a special cycling guide and had the time of their lives. We hope you’ll enjoy this report written by David Morley

"Our arrival at the airport caused a stir. As we wrestled our large bicycle shaped bags through doorways designed for more ordinary luggage, heads were shaken in mild disbelief as we explained our holiday plan to those who asked: to do a cycling tour of Namibia.

As regular visitors to Africa with Africa Exclusive, we’ve been constantly drawn back to the varied animal and bird watching, the landscapes and the ways of life. But this time we wanted something more active than a traditional safari.

So after meticulous planning by John Burdett’s team at Africa Exclusive, and Tristan Cowley’s team on the ground in Namibia at Ultimate Safaris, our party - myself, my wife, Sue and our two sons, Will (23) and Tom (21) set off in early August 2010, flying to Windhoek via Jo’burg.

The idea was explore Namibia by a series of guided bike rides, camping in spectacularly remote places with occasional stays in lodges to clean up and relax. A Land Cruiser carried the luggage and camping gear with our guide and cook. I had some cycle touring experience. Sue, Will and Tom had none. This trip was to be in semi arid desert, mostly on gravel roads and sandy tracks - quite a contrast to the green and wooded Surrey Hills closer to home.

By common consent, it turned out to be our best holiday ever.

Our first night had us camping at almost 6,000ft at the top of the Spreetshoogte Pass near a remote farmstead. The temperature dropped from a sunny 30? mid afternoon to barely above freezing as we stared into the campfire - ‘Bushman’s TV” - after a delicious meal cooked by Rodney, our cook, over a wood fire. Orlando, our guide who turned out to be a former captain of Namibia’s national football team, pointed out the Scorpion in a night sky brimming with stars.

The next day our first ride - guided by Ian, our cycle guide - took us 60 kms down the steep hairpin bends of the Pass to flatter, more corrugated, riding to the desert oasis/fuel station Solitaire. It was hot and dusty work punctuated only rarely by a passing car. At Solitaire we felt we’d earned a slice of Solitaire’s famous apple pie. It’s baked in-house by the owner and local celebrity, a Scotsman known simply as ‘Moose’. A 50 trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill was cellotaped to the till, “How much is that worth?” Will asked. “Two eggs” Moose curtly advised.

From there to Sesriem, where we set up camp and bedded down for the night. Up early with the sunrise we cycled another 60 kms to Sossusvlei to explore the gargantuan reddish sand dunes - a classic Namibian image. Orlando took us on a tour of the dried up river bed - its escape to the sea cut off by the advancing dunes. Drawing from his encyclopedic knowledge, he explained everything from how the impressive landscape was formed, down to the minutia of how the dune beetle runs to avoid burning its feet.

On the third day we rode to the canyon near Sesriem before moving to a remote campsite to the foot of Bloedkoppe Mountain and exploring the strange granite landscape. Everything we needed, including water, had to be brought with us. A particular pleasure after a day in the saddle was the ‘field shower’ set up by Orlando and Rodney. Sheer bliss.

The next day was another early ride to the waterhole, startling oryx, springbok and jackals along the way. Exhausted, we arrived back at camp for a second breakfast - a pleasurable feature of the tour - before setting off for Swapkomund, a town. Civilisation at last.... After checking into our hotel and washing off four days of sand we dined in the best restaurant in town overlooking the crashing Atlantic.

Instead of the lie-in our sons were looking forward to, we set off early the next morning for a boat tour of Walvis Bay. The cold Benguela current swirling into the Bay creates ideal conditions for marine life - it’s famous for oysters - which feed massive populations of seals, pelicans (christened the ‘Namibian Airforce’ by the locals), dolphins and, sometimes but not this time, whales. The tour started with a seal heaving itself unexpectedly out of the water onto Tom’s lap and included a sighting of a jacka mating pair ‘stuck together’ on the shore. We had to explain to the captain - anxious to land to attempt to assist them - that “it’s not the leg that’s stuck’...

The next day Ian took us on a cycle tour of Swakopmund, followed by a rocky off road ride and a long ride to the moon landscape. The highlight was a long fast ride down into a river basin before lunching al fresco while Tom tested his footballing skills against Orlando - there was only one winner! Then a drive to Spietzkoppe mountain campsite where we camped in a cove carved into the towering rock.

The following day was our longest ride - almost 80kms on an undulating gravel road to Mowani - another isolated campsite nestled between huge red boulders. The Bushmen rock carvings were a must see.

The final day of riding took us to the organ pipes and Burnt Mountain. Both of these geological phenomena were expertly explained by Orlando who seemed to possess the incredible talent of making even rocks seem interesting. For the rest of the day Orlando took us to track the elusive desert adapted elephants. After some intense hunting, a large herd lumbered gracefully into view and grazed in silence on the trees in the dried up river bed.

The last three days we exchanged bikes for wild animals - for fairly obvious reasons biking is not permitted in the game reserves. In Etosha National Park we saw rhinos, giraffes, elephants and lions. From there we travelled to Okonjima where we were upgraded to the family suite at the lodge, which can only be described as absolute luxury. It came as a stark contrast to our humble camping life but we resolved to endure! We came face to face with a group of cheetah on a walking tour, tracked leopards and watched honey badgers and porcupines come to our own private watering hole to feed on left overs.

What a trip. The great Namibian wilderness, the quality of Rodney’s wood fire cooking, Orlando’s amazing knowledge, Ian’s cycle guiding skills, the isolation, the wildlife, the hot days and cool nights, the stars, the landscape, the birds, the people we met and most of all the fun we had together.

Thanks to Africa Exclusive and to Ultimate Safaris for making it happen.

The Morley Family"

Africa Exclusive can arrange for you to see spectacular Namibia by guided safari vehicle, by light aircraft, by self drive or by bike! Take your pick and contact us to explore one of the world’s most amazing desert lands.

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