Inflatable gazebo!

Following the sad loss of our ‘outwell day-shelter‘ gazebo in high winds which had twisted the metal frame beyond repair, we decided to replace it with an inflatable one!

Yes, you read that correctly, a blow up gazebo!

We also took a bit of convincing, but in the end we realised that it is always the poles which break in gazebos.  We’ve got through two and we’ve heard tales of other people’s disasters.  The theory is that the inflatable ‘poles’ will just bend and flex in the wind without damage.

They are expensive, but we recently inherited some money from a dear friend Marg, who loved campervanning, so we thought that buying a gazebo in her memory would be a fitting way to spend it.  So we took the plunge and are now the owners of an ‘outwell vale air shelter‘!

vale air shelter

The inflatable gazebo!

We went with the vale air shelter because it looked the more robust of the options we considered and it has really good height – no need for even the tall goat to duck to access it.  It is smaller than our previous one, but we decided that the sloping shape of the old one meant we didn’t use the full size of it anyway.  Also in the rain you tend to not be able to use the rainy side of the gazebo, but for the new one we bought two side panels which should mean we can utilise the full area.  It will also be a good size to use in our gardens when we aren’t camping…and we’ll need to use it lots to get our money’s worth!

Even after a lot of practise the outwell day-shelter wasn’t all that easy to erect.  Every time we just had to trust that we’d got it up last time, so it must go up ok this time too….although with each use the poles got a little more bent and success seemed a little less certain.  The poles did have a ‘click’ mechanism to try and make sure you got them all at the right angle, but that never really worked.  Even when it was new we were never able to get them all to ‘click’.

Our hope is that the new one is easier.  In theory you just peg out the base and use the pump supplied.  The instructions on the bag don’t really explain how the valves work and on our first attempts, it would go up easily –  and then collapse when we stopped pumping!!  In the end we sort of figured it out, but we might do a bit of internet video watching before our next trip so that we’re confident.

Roll on next weekend!

L & R

Who invited Hannah?

Regular followers will remember that on our last UK camping trip (before the South African adventures), we had accidentally gone camping when there was a yellow wind warning and ruined our gazebo!  Since then we have bought a replacement gazebo (more about it in a future post) and wanted to try it out this weekend before camping with a group of friends for the Bank Holiday next week.

Having learnt our lesson, we looked at the forecast before we went – and looked not only at temperature and rainfall, but also windspeed.   Our hearts sank when we saw there was yet again a ‘yellow weather warning’ for high winds due to storm Hannah.  Who invited her?!

We were just going for a brief overnight stay, and the warning was scheduled to finish at 3pm, so we drove down to Stoneywish in Sussex anyway and decided to reassess the situation when we got there.

Of course once we got there, it would have needed to have been terrible conditions for us to have actually gone home again.  Our ‘spaceship’ tent is surprisingly robust, but being as it was very windy and the ground was soft, we pegged out all the guys with ‘delta pegs’.

Delta pegs are odd looking things, and are counter-intuitive about how to put them in, but they really do work well in the wind.  I think the idea is that when the tent pulls on the guy rope, rather than pulling the peg out, the unusual shape almost means the stake bit of the peg is pushed further in.  However they work, they did their job and our tent flapped and rustled but didn’t move!

Delta peg

We were even brave enough to leave it unsupervised for a short while to go for a walk.  We found a footpath through a free-range chicken farm, where the path goes straight through the chicken field, which was fun!!

We weren’t brave enough to put the brand new gazebo up in the gale, so we left that task until the morning… but that’s a story for another day!

R & L

Camping in the bush #4 – Campsites

The campsites in Kruger were well set up and had a nice fence to keep the animals out (or the humans in depending on your perspective!).

All of them were clean with flush toilets & hot showers.  Most sites had kitchens with an urn dispensing boiling water and every pitch had a braai stand so you could barbecue your dinner.  Here’s my quick resume of the ones we stayed in:

Berg-en-dal: we arrived late & it was busy so we struggled to find a pitch.  We left early, so I barely saw this campsite… all I can tell you is that the restaurant was nice and they served us a much needed glass of wine with our dinner!!

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Skukuza: also a big, busy campsite. Our pitch was fine, but didn’t have much shade.  There was a good shop and a lovely shaded river-viewing platform where I saw my first crocodile!

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Letaba:  we cheated here and treated ourselves to a bit of luxury!  I think you can just about still call this a ‘tent’, just a tent with electricity and a verandah!!

Luxury tent with verandah at Letabah

Shingdwedzi: we paid for a perimeter pitch and were in two minds whether this was worthwhile.  In someways shade was as important as being close to the fence and there wasn’t any system to allocate people to pitches. This restaurant had the nicest staff – and we were even persuaded to go back for breakfast on our last morning!

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Tsendzi:  this was our favourite and we were sad we were only booked in for one night.  It is a ‘rustic camp’ so no shop, electric or hot water urn in the kitchen. But there is solar power and gas to give light and hot water in the abulutions block.  It is a new camp and comes complete with skyview showers with no roof!

Each party gets an allotted site and there were plenty of trees for shade.  Although there are fewer facility there was still a friendly member of staff called Rogers who came round to check everything was ok.

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Maroela: another more basic campsite, but with electricity.  It is fairly close to Orpen where there is a shop, swimming pool etc.

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Here’s what my holiday buddy wrote to the Kruger magazine about the staff:

Leaving no stone unturned

Having flown in to Maroela Campsite KNP from Cape Town with minimal gear, the Manager, Zondi Seepane noticed and furnished our site with a table! Early in the morning I commented to the friendly cleaner in the ablutions on their cleanness, later to find she is Nikiwe, Zondi’s wife. Then after an exhilarating morning walk we tried to start the hired car up around mid day, to discover a dead battery. While waiting for a replacement car Zondi and family took us on an African time drive to Orpen in his bakkie. What an impressive campsite team!

Zondi, Nikiwe and grandchildren

 

Lots of the sites had electricity hook up points – which we never did work out how to use!  During our stay, South Africa was on quite a high load-shedding regime (ie planned power cuts to manage demand), so it wasn’t too much of a loss, but another time we’d work out what adaptor we needed to buy.

If we were planning another trip we would probably go to fewer sites and stay longer at each, as moving on so regularly was a bit tiring.  The last three sites were probably our favourites, but the decision of where to go also needs to consider travel to the park (we would definitely not recommend route N4 Malelane Gate – that was a scary road) and the different habitats and therefore animals you want to see (compensation for the scary road and the busy campsites was a nice sighting of a rhino!).

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself, who’s to say my holiday buddy would have me again?!

L

Embrace your inner goat!

 

 

Camping in the bush # 3 – kit

Generally camping in South Africa is quite easy.

On my trial run in the South of England the week before I left, I had to contend with rain, gale force winds and ground so soft it was like pegging our tent in soup! I’d used 2 sleeping bags, a hot water bottle and a double layer of thermals to keep warm!!  Compared to that, South Africa is simple.

My main problem this trip was being too hot to sleep – can’t say I’ve ever encountered that in the UK!!

A potential problem could have been that the ground was too hard for pegs, but my holiday-buddy had read up on that – and had packed nails for both herself and me! (We had 4” ones, 6” would have been even better).  We also took a mallet, even though it was heavy…with baked hard ground it was well worth its weight in baggage allowance!!

My buddy had a ‘lunar’ tent by First Ascent.  In the picture below she’s left off the outer shell to be cooler.  Great idea… until it started raining in the night!!!

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I slept in the ‘spaceship’ (AKA hyperlight ultamid-4 ) and if felt luxurious having it all to myself on my comfi new sleeping mat!

Being as the northern part of Kruger Park is a malaria zone, I bought myself a mosquito net.  I went with this Sea-to-Summit net because it was chemically treated and has a mesh size of 516 holes per inch. (The WHO recommends a minimum of 156 holes per square inch).

I used a bent paperclip hooked into the holes of our adjustable tent pole to hang it, which worked well.  Fortunately I’d had a practise run and realised that tucking it under my lightweight, mummy-shaped mat wasn’t going to work.  To get round this I used the loops at the bottom of the net (designed for pegging it out) and tied a piece of elastic between the two at the head-end and the same at the foot-end.  This gave me a net which I could suspend from my improvised hook and then loop under my mat securely.  After a few nights I learn to take my water-bottle, book etc inside the net with me.  By leaving them at my ‘bedside’ it held the net out a bit, meaning it wasn’t so near my face.

The only bit of kit that didn’t work well was my sleeping-bag.  I couldn’t bring myself to go camping without it, but even in a compression sack, it took up a lot of suitcase space, and I didn’t need it.  A couple of times I pulled it over me, but a thin blanket or even a jumper would have sufficed.  More often I woke up sweating and wondering how it could be so hot even though the sun had also gone to bed!

L

Camping in the bush # 2 – neighbours

We may have been in the middle of nowhere, but that doesn’t mean to say we didn’t have neighbours.  Some nights it was really quite noisy – frogs, insects, birds and hippos can all be quite talkative at night!!

I was fortunate enough to camp all over Kruger National Park – starting in the South and working our way North over 12 days.  My holiday buddy had planned it carefully so that we would get to experience all different sorts of habitats.  At the start of our trip we had an amazing sighting of a rhino and on our final nights we were woken up by lions roaring in Mareola!

Our constant companion were the hyenas.  We had two good sightings of them on the roads in the south.  They are much fluffier than I expected.  I quite liked them!!  Yet in the souvenir shop there were stuffed fluffy elephants, griaffes, lions and leopards… but no hyenas!

In Shingwedzi I woke up at 4am as we were booked on a bush walk.  I unzipped my tent, peeped out… and peering  back at me was a hyena, just 10 m away.

The hyena was just the other side of the fence

Mareola went one better than that though!  Below is a picture of our tent set up.  Just the other side of the fence was the hyenas’ path.  In the evenings they would walk very purposefully backwards and forwards sometimes just 2 or 3m away.  It was difficult to tell whether we saw the same animal several times, but one time we saw two at once.

Suffice to say I was very grateful there was a fence!!

L

Camping in the bush # 1 – packing

We’re all familiar with back-packing, but suitcase camping – that was a new one for me!

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Turns out that by the time you’ve packed your tent shell, your tent inner, your tent pole, your sleeping bag, your sleeping bag liner, your sleeping mat and your mosquito net, your suitcase is pretty much full!!  Fortunately my kit is fairly lightweight for backpacking, so I was able to stay within our 20kg weight limit and still squeeze in some clothes!

The trick was in careful packing…including squeezing all the air out of the compression sacks.  Most of our compression sacks are waterproof ones for backpacking.  For this trip I left the tops open as there was no danger of them getting wet and that way as I pulled the compression straps the air was able to escape easily and I could squash them smaller.  Then everything was carefully organised to make use of all the funny little corners of my suitcase.

For a bit of ‘luxury’ we bought a cheap pair of folding chairs when we landed and then donated them to the campsite staff when we left.

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More about my adventures will follow!

L

Putting a spring in your step #3

I know I previously told you how much I love my scarpa leather boots, but there are occasions when you don’t want to wear something so bulky and you don’t need ankle support… yet you do want something waterproof and with decent grips.  I didn’t have anything that fitted that description so I recently took myself shopping.

I did try on the things in the sale, but of course the ones that gave me that ‘ahhh’ feeling weren’t in the reduced section!  Typical!!  Anyway they weren’t too expensive – ‘Belfour women’s walking shoe’ from Mountain Warehouse.

Mountain warehouse Belfour walking shoe

I’ve never had any Mountain Warehouse own brand shoes, so I’ll keep you posted how I get on!

L

The camping season has begun!

This weekend saw the start of our camping season… shame we didn’t realise there was a yellow weather warning for wind today in Sussex!!  Both goats survived the experience ok, but sadly our gazebo less so!

However, before that rather over exciting end to our trip this morning, we had a very  pleasant evening cooking on our campfire.  Neither of us had any pancakes on Shrove Tuesday last week, so we made up for it by trying out fire pancakes – very tasty!

L & R

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Cooking drop-scone pancakes on the fire!

Putting a spring in your step #2

I have spent many hours thinking about shoe options!!

Depending on your activity, I think sometimes lightweight is more important than sturdiness.  In fact there are two schools of thought about sturdy walking boots – some people think they give your foot and ankle more protection, others that the muscles don’t work as hard when they encased, so they don’t strengthen and remain vulnerable to injury.

And then there is waterproof vs breathability. Personally I prefer shoes that let my feet breath and I’m willing to get damp feet in the knowledge that if the shoes are breathable my toes will soon dry out again.

The other thing that I think is important is letting your toes spread out, it’s not good for your feet to be squashed, especially if you’re expecting them to carry you a long way!

And then you need to consider what terrain you’ll be covering ….and what sort of gaiters you want to put with the shoes….

… all in all I’ve tried out many shoes – none of which I wouldn’t recommend!!

The brand that is currently my favourite is ‘altra’ because it is zero drop – which means there is no incline between foot and heel which is better for my neuroma and because their shoes have a wide toe box, as don’t like squished tootsies .

I did the Pembrokeshire coastal path in Altra ‘lone peak’ shoes – and unlike the other goat, I didn’t get any blisters!!  Sadly those shoes now have holes in the mesh, the mesh wears out fairly quickly where your toes rub against it.  That said they did walk many miles!!  I’ve now replaced them with  the new model of the Altra lone peak – which is pink & pretty!!  Will have to see how I get on with them now that the good walking weather is here!

R

 

Postscript: In response to ‘follow your inner goat”s comment below, here is a picture of the pink shoes… complete with feet in them!

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Putting a spring in your step #1

The sun has been shining, the daffodils are out, so it’s time to dig out your walking boots and put a spring in your step!

I love my walking boots!  They are scarpas.  I don’t like wet feet, so after some bad experiences I decided to get boots which are both leather and goretex to make doubly sure!

Scarpa boot - leather & goretex

They have been comfortable since the day I got them.  I generally think you should think ‘ahhh’ when you try shoes on, and if those ones cost a little bit more, it is money well spent!  I always wear them with an extra pair of socks to improve the fit and avoid blisters… although I confess I did get a little blister by the end of walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path, but that’s a long way!

So, now Spring is here, I decided it was time to give my boots a bit of TLC.

First I cleaned them with Nikwax cleaning gel and a toothbrush

cleaning my leather boot

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Then I rinsed them off and applied this waterproofing wax for leather. It feels completely wrong to put it on when the boot is wet, but it seems to work!

Waterproofing leather boot

And then after a good buff, I’m all set for whatever adventures Spring holds!

L

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