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February 14, 2005

Diamonds, Sand Castles and Curious Blooms

A new exciting expedition to Namibia, Namaqualand and South Africa’s Cape Province

The vast continent of Africa has spawned some of the greatest adventure and exploration stories of all time. Here at Adventure Associates, we embrace lands and regions that don't always appear on the cover of glossy travel magazines. Thirty-two years ago we pioneered group travel to South America for Australians, then Antarctica and the Arctic, laying a trail now followed by almost every major travel company here.

When the opportunity to create a new adventure possibility in the vast, sand-swept former German colony of South West Africa arose, we were immediately interested. When combined with the seldom visited, luxuriant Atlantic coast of South Africa, we knew we had a winner.

Adventure Associates' chairman, Dennis Collaton, has painstakingly researched this exclusive exploration and will lead it into the mysterious realms of the diamond-rich, sand kingdom of Namibia and then onto the springtime splendour of South Africa, Namaqualand and the lush Cape Province.

"Our tour will be a combination of desert, dunes, veldt, vlei, mountains, green valleys, gentle lagoons, wild coastal scenery, country villages, townships and vibrant cities," says Dennis, "all in relaxed comfort and carefully selected accommodation."




About the time Columbus was seeking out new lands in the Americas, the vanguard of European explorers, the Portuguese, were sailing up and down the west coast of Africa en route to their new conquests in the East Indies.

As their little vessels groped at the desolate shores looking for a way around the horn of Africa, they stopped to leave navigational markers, usually huge stone crosses, on the rocky promontories jutting out from the world's oldest desert, the Namib. So totally inhospitable and forlorn was this region, that the Portuguese almost completely ignored it.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the Germans annexed the region as part of an unseemly European colony snatch and stuck it out until they lost the lot after WW1. One hundred years ago, a lowly rail worker delighted the Kaiser when he stumbled on a few loose diamonds in the sand and unwittingly uncovered one of the richest diamond fields in the world.

Today Namibia is a modern independent republic, finally free of colonial influences. With a delightfully anachronistic German hangover, the vast, sparse country is home to a dozen varied ethnic groups with such evocative and colourful names as the Kavango, Herero, Himba, Damara, Nama and Basters.

The natural environment of Namibia is so stark and foreboding it is the ideal location for a "Creatures That Time Forgot" remake, yet naturalists and ecologists find a great deal to get excited about. The enormous dunes of the Namib, the world's highest and oldest, date back 80 million years and strike the visitor with their sublime, sculpted shapes and majestic, apparently endless ranges. Dig amongst the sand and rocks and strange flora emerges. The giant Welwitschia, a living fossil, plus lichens, lithops, acacias, camelthorns, the bizarre succulent Hoodia and extraordinary Kokerboom are just part of Namibia's unique floral catalogue rooted in Africa's most diverse natural habitat.

As one travels south towards the tantalisingly named, Namaqualand, the landscape melts seemlessly from the apparent rocky desolation of the great Namib to the lush and bountiful Cape Province, where vineyards and blossoming gardens herald a whole new Africa to explore.

Southern Africa's cosmopolitan gem and so-called, Mother City, is Cape Town. Founded in 1647 as a refreshment, relaxation and replenishment port by the Dutch East India Company, the city is blessed with dramatic scenery and a mild climate that makes it one of the most beautiful in the world. Kaapstad (as the Afrikaners call it) and the seaside town of Port Elizabeth some 700 kilometres hence, enclose one of the most scenic and botanically abundant regions of Africa, known to tourists as The Garden Route.

Favoured by holiday-makers and drive-trippers, the Garden Route begins in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cape Floral Region Protected Areas and winds through one panoramic ocean vista after another, then into and across cavernous ravines, interspersed with idyllic villages like Mossel Bay and Kynsna. Here the sun-scorched plains of Namibia seem another world away, yet are an inescapable element of the wonderful tapestry of Southern Africa.
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