Friends, this is your last expedition update. The final account of the long and sometimes dangerous journey that has tracked the outline of Africa through 33 countries.
The battered expedition Land Rovers roar towards the Cape of Good Hope finishing point. “It’s a race against time – we want to empty the much travelled calabash back into the cold south Atlantic on Madiba’s birthday.
The great man has been such an inspiration to this odyssey, his picture with our family and his handwritten message in the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill, has encouraged thousands of others who live along the outside edge of Africa to endorse its pages. Without your support this journey could never have happened so please join us in the final countdown to the longest and most exciting humanitarian journey ever undertaken.
Day 447 – South Africa’s beautiful coastline!
Up before sunrise Bruce’s voice crackles over the radio. “Is this the second to last morning on expedition?” Yes, comes my reply – day 447 says Ross. From Koppie Alleen we look out over a bay that stretches from Cape Infanta to Rys Punt just east of Arniston.
The view is reflected in Peter Chadwick’s sea specks sunglasses. Peter is with the World Wildlife Fund marine programme and knows this coast like the back of his hand. We look out over the bay excited to see breeching, tail slapping, Southern Right whales – they are in every direction. “Up to 40% of the world’s population of Southern Right Whales breed in this bay,” explains Peter.
“It might be just a small piece of the South African coastline but in a world context it’s huge and shows the burden of what we as South Africans carry on our broad shoulders in terms of protecting these special places.” This is one of the greatest places in the world to observe this incredible marine life spectacle.
We follow the sand dunes, white against the green fynbos through the missile testing area to the fishing cottages at Kassiesbaai, the Bay in Arniston named after an 1815 shipwreck and Waenhuiskrans, named after a massive lime stone cave close by. Outside the shipwreck museum in Bredasdorp hundreds of local school children line the road to welcome the expedition and sign the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill. Tables groan with the weight of koeksusters, melktert and sandwiches, and once again we’re overwhelmed by good old fashioned South African hospitality.
With flashing lights and a wailing siren a red and yellow National Sea Rescue Land Rover escorts us into Struisbaai, more school children sing and wave and at Cape Agulhas, where the two oceans meet, we hand over three conservation stones taken from the most Westerly, Northerly and Easterly tips of Africa to Ettienne Fourie, manager of Agulhas National Park and Richard Mitchell, the mayor.
We have a long list of lighthouses that we visited and photographed on the outside edge of Africa but the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas is surely one of the most beautiful on the entire coast of Africa. Completed in December 1848 it is styled on the famous Pharaohs Light of Alexandria in Egypt. In the early years fat from the fat-tailed sheep in the area was burned to fuel the light.
Day 448 – Madiba’s birthday – 12 hours to go
Early morning, the Cape Agulhas lighthouse still flashes a warning out to sea. School children at Elim message the Scroll with the words: “Happy Birthday Madiba”. A mole-hilled track bounces and shakes the overworked Land Rovers through the fynbos down to Quoin Point. “There are these small abalone poachers tracks everywhere,” says Alwyn Engelbrecht, a wonderful local character who’d spend time with us at the beginning of the expedition and is now helping us at the end.
It’s a race against the clock. We’re still determined to empty the calabash at last light today. It must be on Madiba’s birthday – we owe it to the great man. At the Danger Point lighthouse Land Rover owners flash their lights in a greeting – they’ve heard we were coming and gather around to wish us well. It was off this point that the Birkenhead, then the largest ironclad ship in the Royal Navy, came to her famous end on the night of 25th February 1852. It was a wreck that immortalized the words: ‘women and children first’. All together 445 people died on the Birkenhead, but every women and child was saved.
Alwyn phones ahead for fish and chips at Gansbaai. We eat them as we hug the coast – chip fat all over the steering wheel. Hermanus, Onrus, Kleinmond, Betties Bay – the beauty of this piece of Africa’s outside edge is truly remarkable. You have to have gone the full circle to appreciate the splendour of our own coastline. On to Gorden’s Bay and the Strand where more Land Rovers of well wishers join the convoy.
It’s 4pm on day 448 – looking across False Bay we can see the outline of Cape Point – so near but so far. Already late afternoon clouds are covering the sun. Headlights on. The wind howls and tugs at the Landies. Down Baden Powel Drive, the shacks of Mitchell’s Plain on our right. The waves break a few meters to our left – we couldn’t be closer to Africa’s outside edge if we tried. There’s a traffic snarl-up in front. A police van has crashed into a car. “Phone the gate,” I say to Mashozi, “see if they will stay open.” Into Muizenberg, past the colourful beach huts, the railway line on the left. Men in yellow reflective jackets wave red flags.
Bloody road works. On through St. James and picture postcard perfect Kalk Bay. The Cape Point gatehouse phones back. Yes, they’ll stay open. Our tyres squeal through the curves. On through Fish Hoek and historic Simon’s Town. “Slow down,” warns Mashozi as we climb up through the curves with cliffs falling away to our left.
The Cape Point Nature Reserve officials urge us through the gates with waves and smiles. There’s a long line of Land Rover lights behind us. “We’re all together,” comes Ross’ voice over the radio, “let’s go.” Just a few minutes left before sunset the convoy turns hard right and drops down to Cabo da Boa Esperanca, the Cape of Good Hope. Ross shoots ahead and sets up the camera.
The team bundles out of the Land Rovers. We slip over the rocks and the long tubes of black green kelp. We all place our hands on the calabash as much travelled water taken from this point 448 days ago glugs slowly back into the cold South Atlantic. With great jubilation we hug, kiss and shake hands and line up behind the Cape of Good Hope sign. Captain Morgan is tapped from the secret tank under my Landie. We raise our mugs in a salute to Mama Africa – WE’VE MADE IT.
But it is not over yet. Next day above historic Cape Town Castle adventurer Mike Rumble, armed with a symbolic mosquito net, free falls from an aircraft then parachutes down to a gathering of over 500 well-wishers. With him he brings a message of congratulations from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Derek Watts, well-known Carte Blance presenter introduces the expedition team. An audio-visual presentation depicts our journey and thanks all the sponsors who through their involvement in this humanitarian expedition have clearly shown that they care for Africa. It’s a great celebration. Siyabonga, asante sana, salama and kwaheri – until the next one.