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When Durbanites Cari Kelly and her husband Ross were bitten by the Wild travel bug, nothing could stop them. They decided to put their international travels on hold for a few years to spend more time exploring South Africa with their Wild Card.

After receiving their first copy of Wild magazine in 2014, Cari couldn’t stop thinking about visiting all the fascinating destinations. She soon realised that the best way to see all the hot spots celebrated between Wild’s covers, was just to go.

The trip

  • 25 days (19 August – 13 September 2016)
  • 6,960km (about 1,700km of dirt roads)
  • 480l diesel
  • Lowest temperature: -2°C
  • Highest temperature: 30°C

Cari writes:

One night my husband came home from work to a very excited wife. I had planned The Kelly SA Epic, a road trip to nine parks, and he soon agreed. In June 2015 the planning began and as we received more Wild magazines, our trip started taking form.

We prepped our Ford Figo – we took out the back seats to create a large flat surface; on the sides of both back doors we stacked plastic drawers for clothing and non-perishable food; and the boot was fitted with a cooler box filled with fresh food, drinks and cooking and eating utensils.

The day we’d been looking forward to, 19 August 2016, finally arrived. We left Durban excited and ready for our adventure – our Figo fully kitted for a month of camping.

Stop #1: Golden Gate National Park

The black-streaked sandstone Maluti Mountains led us to the rest camp and reception. Permits in hand, we decided to attempt the one-hour Brandwag Rock Hike. We strolled up the mountainside taking in the magnificence of our surroundings and admiring the enormity of the cliffs. The viewpoint from the top of Brandwag gave us an amazing panoramic view of the area below. It was a brilliant start to our trip.

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Pictures by Cari and Ross Kelly

Stop #2: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The drive leading up to the park was undoubtedly beautiful. Most of the roads were in fairly good condition and we were able to keep a decent driving pace. On arrival, we found ourselves a site to pitch our tent for the first time. Twee Rivieren Rest Camp has a pool, petrol station, restaurant and little shop for essentials like ice, wood and ice-cream. That afternoon we took our first drive and were greeted with rolling red hills and expansive Kalahari plains.

During our highly recommended sunset game drive with the very knowledgeable guide, Ian, we were treated to sightings of bat-eared fox, Cape fox, jackal, steenbok, meerkats, wild cat and spotted eagle-owls. On the road up to Nossob we were spoiled with two young lions, a honey badger (what a treat!), giant eagle-owl and a cheetah with four cubs to top it all off.

It was here we experienced our coldest night (-2°C!) and we’re proud to say we survived just fine. After three days of Kgalagadi serenity, it was time to move on.

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Stop #3: Augrabies Falls National Park

Oh, the sound of the Augrabies Waterfall… The camp site at Augrabies is alive with dassies, red-eyed bulbuls and common waxbills. Since it was a scorcher of a day, a shady spot was very important. Early evening we watched as the dassies played and listened to the cascading waterfall in the distance. Don’t underestimate the monkeys and baboons’ sneakiness though – they are quick and extremely attracted by any type of food.

The majestic Augrabies Falls and surrounding rocks formations are covered in brightly coloured lizards scurrying all over the place catching insects. The river was quite low, but at sunrise you could still feel the light mist of the falls tickling your skin. The landscape – littered with desert broom and milkwood trees – was like nothing we’d ever seen before. The park has ample hiking trails and cycle tracks, and stargazing is a must.

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Stop #4: Namaqua National Park

We turned off to Namaqua just after passing Springbok, a small but buzzing little town. We decided to drive down Wildeperdehoek Pass for a gorgeous introduction to the many more flowers that were to come. Skilpad Rest Camp awaited… The wild flowers were a real spectacle and the hillside was carpeted in orange, but we still had to get to our campsite.

The trip to Koringkorrelbaai was rather precarious, but worth it and a fantastic end to a long day of driving. We chased the setting sun all the way to the coast. The dirt road suddenly revealed a little bay with crashing waves and coastal rocks. The rustic campsite (no ablutions, water or electricity) had a fire pit and a little wall for protection against the prevailing wind. This is remote camping, incredibly peaceful and a real remove from modern life.

No driving meant leisurely, romantic walks along the beach, discovering the fynbos landscape and, of course, marvelling at all the flowers – white, bright pink, yellow and orange. Our secluded beach day came to an end with sundowners on the rocks.

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Stop #5: Tankwa-Karoo National Park

After a quick stop in Calvinia, we were on our way to Tankwa-Karoo National Park. Once inside the park, an expanse of purple flowers and the stunning Gannaga Pass were next on the list. We wound our way down the pass to reach the Karoo’s expansive plains flanked by the Roggeveld Mountains. After a hot and dusty day with significant berg winds, we were not quite prepared for the simplicity of our accommodation. Dinner called for packet pasta prepared on our tiny gas stove in the car. After dinner we removed our tent’s cover and admired the glittering star-filled sky – an incredibly peaceful end to the day.

A windy breakfast ensued, but after our cereal was blown out of our bowls, we decided to pack it in for the next destination. As we drove out of the park we were greeted with impressive scattered fields of late-blooming yellow flowers.

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Stop #6: Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve

It was overcast and chilly, but that did not dampen our enthusiasm for the Cape Canopy Tour zipline adventure. We put on the rain gear provided and climbed aboard a 4×4 to meander our way up the mountain. With every bump in the road our excitement grew… At the top we leapt from a platform, disappearing into the clouds en route to the next platform and the next platform. Flying over valleys and rivers? Not to be missed!

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Stop #7: Agulhas National Park

We enjoyed a scenic coastal drive from Cape Town to Agulhas National Park. How charming is Cape Agulhas and its people! The scenic boardwalk along the beach to the southernmost tip of Africa to have our photo taken, was such a highlight. We visited the lighthouse for a fantastic panoramic view of the coastline.

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Stop #8: Garden Route National Park

The Diepwalle Forest Station is ideal for camping, especially if you live between George and Port Elizabeth as it is close enough for a weekend away. All the campsites are elevated on wooden decks with neat braai facilities. The Knysna Forest offers quite a few walks varying in length and difficulty. We found the 7km Elephant Walk through the forest awe-inspiring – trees create a continuous canopy and the forest floor is covered in mushrooms and moss. Highlight sightings included a giant fruit bat and a blue duiker.

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Stop #9: Mountain Zebra National Park

This park has three distinct habitats: open plains, woodlands and a mountainous area. The beauty of visiting Mountain Zebra National Park? The park is small enough to explore in its entirety, yet big enough to house a variety of wildlife. Some of our friends and family from Port Elizabeth joined us for the weekend and we ended up with a party of 15.

Once again, as has been the case with all the parks and reserves, the campsite was lovely: there is a walk up the mountain that starts at the campsite, plenty of shade and lots of birdlife. The white-browed sparrow-weavers and pied starlings entertained our new guest, a 15-month-old toddler, while the adults spotted springbok, wildebeest and zebra.

Our last evening was just for the two of us! A long and final afternoon drive led us to a special treat – a cheetah and her three cubs. Within seconds they crossed the road and disappeared into the bush.

Sad and with silence, the journey back home was calling. There was still so much to see…

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