Africa: The other big five

Africa: The other big five
By admin


LARGEST CANYON Blyde River Canyon

Geography lesson: This magnificent natural attraction cuts through South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains, overlooking the Blyde River and the Lowveld Riparian Forest.

Size matters: Blyde River Canyon is the world's third largest canyon, after the Grand Canyon in the US and Namibia's Fish Eagle Canyon. Extending over 20km in length, it boasts spectacular mountain scenery and magnificent panoramic views over cliffs rising as high as 800 metres from the river bed.

Among its standout features are the Bourke's Luck Potholes, where thousands of years of water erosion at the intersection of two rivers has resulted in the formation of surreal cylindrical rock sculptures with swirling dark pools of water beneath. There are also some breathtaking views to behold at spots like God's Window and the Pinnacle.

Sample package: Blyde River Canyon is among the highlights of Bench International's 15-day Essentially South Africa trip, which also takes in Kruger National Park, the Garden Route and Cape Town. Prices start from $2290. For more information, visit www.benchinternational.com.au.

HIGHEST MOUNTAIN Mount Kilimanjaro

Geography lesson: This dormant volcano is located in northern Tanzania, close to the Kenyan border, in Kilimanjaro National Park.

Size matters: It's made up of three distinct volcanic cones, with Kibo being the tallest at 5895 metres – making Mount Kilimanjaro the highest peak in Africa. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo's crater rim. The other two cones are Mawenzi (5149 metres high) and Shira (3962 metres high).

Anyone who is reasonably fit can potentially climb Mount Kilimanjaro, as no technical mountaineering skills are required. There are a number of different routes up the mountain, each providing a unique challenge and a variety of views – all of them being naturally spectacular. The easiest and most popular is the Marangu Route, with its well-defined trails, comfortable mountain huts and good facilities spaced at ideal locations.

Sample package: African Travel Specialists offers a Mount Kilimanjaro Climb, with a selection of different routes to choose from. The seven-day Marangu Route (a five-day hike) is priced from $1725. For more information, visit www.africantravel.com.au.

LARGEST DESERT The Sahara

Geography lesson: Located in northern Africa, the continent's largest desert covers parts of several nations including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia.

Size matters: Covering over nine million square kilometres – which equates to around 10% of the African continent – the Sahara is a naturally barren place, but one that still features a varied topography.

Most of its landscape has been shaped over time by wind and includes sand dunes, sand seas called ergs, stone plateaus, gravel plains, dry valleys and salt flats. Sand dunes make up around 25% of the desert, with some reaching over 150 metres in height.

There are also several mountain ranges, many of them volcanic. Most of the water found in the Sahara is in the form of seasonal or intermittent streams, with the only permanent river that passes through it being the Nile.

Sample package: A Sahara camel trek is featured in Busabout's 15-day Morocco Encompassed itinerary, which is priced from $1359. Visits to Fes, Marrakech and Essaouira are also included in the trip. For more information, visit www.busabout.com.

BIGGEST LAKE Lake Victoria

Geography lesson: Also serving as the main reservoir of the Nile, Lake Victoria lies mainly in Tanzania and Uganda but also borders on Kenya.

Size matters: Spanning an area of 68,800 square kilometres, this expansive body of water is exceeded in size only by Lake Superior in North America.

Many archipelagos are contained within the lake, as are numerous reefs, and it's home to more than 200 species of fish. The search by Europeans for the source of the Nile led to the sighting of the lake by the British explorer John Hanning Speke in 1858. It had been known to the Arabs as Ukerewe but he gave the lake its new name in honour of England's Queen Victoria.

Sample package: Lake Victoria is visited during Adventure Destinations' 16-day Kenya and Tanzania Camping Safari, which is currently on special at a starting price of $5199 (airfares included). Other highlights include wildlife viewing in the Serengeti and interaction with local tribes like the Maasai. For more information, visit www.adventuredestinations.com.au.

TALLEST WATERFALL Tugela Falls

Geography lesson: This awe-inspiring cascade is located in the Drakensberg Mountains, in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Size matters: At 948 metres in height, it's recognised as the world's second tallest waterfall in terms of overall height, behind Venezuela's Angel Falls. Tugela is a phonetic spelling of the African word Thukela, which means sudden or startling. It's certainly an apt description for this mighty waterfall, whose initially gentle stream makes an abrupt leap off what's known as the Amphitheatre Escarpment.

Tugela is made up of five consecutive leaps, with the biggest single drop being 411 metres. The waterfall is best viewed after heavy rains.

Sample package: A hike to Tugela Falls is among the highlights of World Expeditions' 11-day Drakensberg and Kruger Walking Safari. Prices start from $2990. For more information, visit www.worldexpeditions.com.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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