Hot-air ballooning over the Namib Desert
Some things are definitely worth waking up in the dark for. The sky had just started turning a watercolour wash of grey-blues as we began to float above one of Africa’s most astonishing landscapes. Under a giant multicoloured balloon, a wicker basket of people peered over the edge at the oldest desert in the world stretching to infinity. We were hundreds of metres up when the sun started to seep over the horizon, painting the Namib in liquid gold. The desert looks photogenic on the ground, but seen from a bird’s-eye view at sunrise it’s truly breathtaking, in the truest sense of the word: A rolling sea of apricot dunes rippling in endless waves; mountain ridges spilling their deep blueberry shadows; herds of oryx- and zebra-speckled silvery plains. After an all too brief hour, we glided down to land in the middle of nowhere. Stepping out of the balloon to a champagne-breakfast feast spread out on white tablecloths in between the dunes was the last touch of magic to a morning I’ll never forget.
Do it balloon-safaris.com
Sarah Duff is a travel writer and photographer who’s travelled to more than 50 countries on assignments ranging from trekking in Patagonia and learning to surf in Costa Rica to living with a Zen priest in Japan
Kayaking the Quirimbas Archipelago
The splash and gurgle of a paddle sucking its way clear of the Indian Ocean. The chatter of seabirds roosting in the lush mangrove forests. The cheerful giggle of island kids calling ‘Mzungu! Mzungu!’ as we haul our plastic kayaks ashore.
This was the soundtrack of my multi-day kayak adventure through the Quirimbas Archipelago, one of my favourite corners of Africa. Setting off from the charming Ibo Island Lodge – itself worth a few nights’ stay – we spent an unforgettable week exploring the islands of the archipelago, a declared national park.
As we paddled – at a relaxed pace, of course – from one island to the next, a traditional dhow sailed ahead carrying everything from dome tents to bucket showers and cold beers. By the time our kayaks hit the sandy shores, the crew had the bucket showers rigged and the campfires going. And so the days unfurled: Slap-up breakfast in camp, then a leisurely paddle to our lunch- and overnight stop, before an afternoon of snorkelling, fishing, paddling or exploring. Forget the package tour, pack your sense of adventure and discover Mozambique by paddle instead.
Do it iboisland.com
Richard Holmes is a Cape Town-based freelance travel writer. When he’s not jetting off to some exotic location, he’s usually found paddling out at his local break, or unearthing the Mother City’s latest foodie haunts
Hiking Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains
He looked like a disco-era gigolo, draped in a shaggy fur coat, ruffled at the collar like a lion’s mane. This guy – the alpha male of a huge troop – sat dozing while a younger male rummaged through his coat, searching for ticks. Around them, scores more gelada monkeys sat spread across a grassy knoll, foraging in the earth. Meeting geladas – or ‘bleeding heart’ monkeys – is a highlight of hiking the 35 km northern escarpment of Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. Averaging an altitude of 3 050 m, its landscape is on a scale beyond imagination. Spread out in front of us were endless panoramas of
high plateaus and plunging valleys studded with rock formations that look like celestial chess pieces. Staring across it, you’re constantly witnessing an astonishing drama of light and colour, and shifting shadows that dance across stupendous ochre crags, deep ravines and towering rock spires. Aside from geladas, the park is home to walia ibexes, magnificent mountain goats with enormous horns, and Ethiopian
wolves, Africa’s most endangered carnivores. The silence was immense, broken only by wind whooshing through the wings of bone-crushing lammergeyer vultures that circled overhead, and the occasional mooing of cows and goats crying out from rural villages that exist as they have, unchanged, for hundreds of years.
Do it simienpark.org
Keith Bain is a freelance writer, travel journalist and magazine editor based in Cape Town. A former university lecturer, he has co-authored books about Cape Town, East Africa, Italy, Ireland, Eastern Europe, India and South Africa
Safari in Malawi
When I arrived at the lodge, elephants were crashing along the dry riverbed like juggernauts through the undergrowth. John – the sunburnt British owner – came running over, his khaki shorts flapping with excitement. ‘They’re heading for the island!’ We stood on the rickety suspension bridge, a Golden Gate of the African bush, and watched the wrinkly elephantine backsides. Showing no interest in the safari tents on the island, the herd lumbered on to another part of the 1 800 km2 reserve, and John heaved a sigh of relief.
That night, we sat on the deck with the only other guest, who, like most South Africans exploring these parts, had a bakkie resembling a survivalist’s Christmas stocking. John explained that the elephants could be quite destructive along the riverbanks. They were also just getting used to humans when a third lodge opened in the reserve, and managers African Parks introduced 500 more elephants from two overpopulated parks. While this may sound like a famous game-viewing destination, it was actually Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve – one of three Malawian reserves being turned around by African Parks. You’ll now find the Big Five in Majete Wildlife Reserve and a refreshing lack of crowds in all three, making the lakeside nation an exciting new safari destination.
Do it africanparks.org
James Bainbridge is a travel writer based in CT, where he runs travel writing courses (facebook/travelwritingcourses) and authors Lonely Planet guides. Originally from the UK, he came for the 2010 World Cup and ended up with a wife and kids
Tapas touring in Barcelona
I hesitated before taking a sip of the vermouth – memories of far too much of the cheap version consumed during my student days had left me doubtful. Our foodie guide for the night told us there is even a time of day called the vermouth hour in Spain. It had been a hot day in Barcelona, but the heavens had just opened with a thunderstorm. So, when in Barcelona, I thought… And instantly, the chilled, herbaceous aperitif made my taste buds sing. A far cry from my youth, thank heavens. This was just the start of an evening’s tapas and wine tour. With a small group, we explored the tastes of Barcelona: Starting in an old-fashioned bar in the hip and ancient neighbourhood of El Born, we tasted vermouth paired with classic tapas of spicy patatas bravas, oozy tortilla and cheesy croquetas. Then it was on to a trendy spot for cava, white wines and modern tapas; lastly, a private wine-tasting room for the reds and fortified wines, paired with the best Spanish cheeses and charcuterie. All the while our guide regaled us with fascinating foodie facts, the history of the wines chosen, and insider info about El Born. I felt, if only for one night, like a local.
Do it devourbarcelonafoodtours.com
Lisa van Aswegen is a freelance food- and travel writer and editor, and moved from Cape Town to Berlin in 2016. She spends as much time as possible exploring Europe with her 8-year-old son and writing about it on her blog, lilylovespickles.wordpress.com
Nothing can prepare you for the raw and ethereal landscape that is Antarctica – beautiful, absolutely silent, unsullied by the world. Our ship sails smoothly through clinking ice and our views are of towering white mountains and icebergs scattered in the inky ocean. Penguins bob past, heading out on fishing forays, and whales blow spray plumes in the middle distance. The light is blinding white, it hurts your eyes and they stream constantly – partly for the harshness, but mostly for the pure emotive beauty of the place. It’s mid-summer and the sun is shining brightly, but its icy cold. It’s a window of perfect weather sailing the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands. A respectful ‘see but don’t touch’ experience, leaving the great white continent as we found it.
Do it cruises.co.za
Keri Harvey is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Travel articles, books, websites and radio programmes are what she does when not on the road, ocean, or in the air. She has travelled all her life and intends to do so until her last breath