Touchdown in the Richtersveld
Anyone who has been to the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park knows how far away it is: easily a two-day drive from any major city in South Africa. That’s why it was surreal to touch down in a Pilatus PC12 aircraft on a gravel runaway in the desert, a mere two hours after leaving drizzly Cape Town.
The participants of the inaugural WWF Desert Challenge walked out into the sunlight like celebrities who had time-travelled to an alien planet. Mountains of bare rock surrounded the sleek, silver plane as we sipped sparkling wine and chatted to pilot Ed Gordon about his aviation exploits all over the country.
Earlier, Ed had invited each of us into the cabin for a quick pilot’s lesson or just to marvel at his wide-screen view of the world. Thanks WWF, you’ve ruined travel. No car trip or commercial airline will ever rival the experience of arriving in the wilderness by private jet!
We met the support crew on the runway and decamped to nearby Sendelingsdrift on the banks of the Orange River for a hamburger, a cup of coffee and to find out what on earth we’d gotten ourselves into.
The real fun starts tomorrow, with a 45km cycle over the ominously named Helskloof Pass and into the Richtersveld proper. The transfrontier park straddles the Orange River inland from where it flows into the Atlantic, with one foot in Namibia and the other in South Africa. We’ll be keeping to the South African side, cycling along challenging jeep tracks, hiking and abseiling into gorges where leopards roam, and drifting down the river in kayaks.
Those distant mountains are slowly turning purple as the sun gets lower in the sky. The excitement is tangible. Updates to follow, so stay tuned!
These daily WWF Desert Challenge blogs are by Jon Minster, a travel writer and freelance journalist who was invited to join the inaugural WWF Desert Challenge.