Adventurous Couple goes on 80 000km road trip through Southern Africa

Kirsten Arnold’s #AdventureShare is a beautiful tribute to 2.5 years of allowing dreams to come true. Life is short and fragile and the best time is right now – this is what prompted Kirsten and her husband, Ben, to leave behind their jobs and road trip through some of the world’s most spectacular places. Kirsten’s #AdventureShare is a beautiful reminder to connect to your younger self, listen to your dreams and go for it. Over to Kirsten.

Walking safari.

Walking safari.

Our adventure in a nutshell

In 2016 my husband Ben and I resigned from our jobs in East Africa and moved back home to South Africa to start a much-dreamed-of sabbatical. A few things happened that really shook our reality – I had a near-fatal bout of malaria, a friend of ours lost a leg to a shark and we lost a few people who were close to us. All of these experiences really shook our reality and we fast forwarded our timeline, realising that there was no better time than the present to start living our dreams.

Having sold our trusty old Land Rover while we were away in East Africa, the first thing we did on arrival back in SA was find a new one so that the travels could begin. Our plan was to have no plan. We wanted our adventures to spontaneously evolve around the things we are passionate about in life and that we never had enough time for while we were working like maniacs. Planning some grand escapades was a priority, but we also just wanted to spend time with each other in the outdoors, trail run, chasing wind for paragliding and kite boarding, and having a chance to connect with friends and family.

Land Rover

Our dog, ‘The Edge’, on one of our camping trips.

We decided the best place to start was on our own doorstep exploring South Africa and in less than a month of arriving back, we were on the road heading down the Garden Route. Our first trip was 2 months long, taking us from our home in Port Elizabeth down to Witsand where we made a U-turn and headed up to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve for a Big 5 walking safari (via the Baviaanskloof and Great Fish River Nature Reserve). With a whole lot of detours and catching up with friends in-between, we went home via the Drakensberg and Hermanus! By all means a spontaneously unpredictable route.

That was just the beginning of a proposed 1-year sabbatical that has turned into more than 2-and-a-half years of adventuring over 80 000km in our Land Rover. It hasn’t been one endless journey as we have returned home for short periods between travels, but we are never home for long as our wanderlust and itchy feet have kept us constantly on the move. Our adventures have included an epic 2-month overland camping trip with friends through Botswana and Namibia. Along the way we stayed in our rooftop tent, which served as a 4×4 home away from home for months on end.

We have hiked the Fish River Canyon and run the Tsitsikamma hiking trail. We have planned special trips with our Jack Russell, “The Edge”, taking her to dog-friendly places in the mountains where we can splash around in rock pools, run wild and explore together. We have made great new friends along the way and have been introduced to new experiences like the Namaqualand Flower Festival that we loved so much last year we went all the way back this year. We love driving circles around South Africa chasing wind, trail running and getting off the beaten track.

What I loved most about this adventure

I have loved slowing down and having the chance to reconnect with Ben, rediscovering our passions and finding new ones. Being able to do some of our adventures with friends adds to the fun and the unpredictability of our travels and has kept it interesting and exciting.

Road trip

Kirsten and Ben in Botswana with their Land Rover.

A special part of the journey has also been having the time and space to achieve some personal goals such as getting my paragliding license so that I could join Ben, who has been a passionate paraglider for years, in the skies.

What was most challenging

There is not too much that is challenging about having the opportunity to spend more than 2 years travelling and designing our own adventures. If I look back, I think the hardest part was making the decision to quit our jobs ahead of schedule and leave the security of careers that provided us both with a steady income. We had spent years saving every hard-earnt penny to enable us to ultimately take our sabbatical, but when it came to the crunch we still hesitated thinking we should work longer and save more money. But you will always think it is not enough. We learnt the hard way that life really is short and unpredictable and so we chose to take the plunge and make it happen then and there.

My greatest memories of our adventures so far

We definitely have an incredible collection of unforgettable memories – here are a few that encapsulate what makes us tick:

Sleeping under the stars with just a sleeping bag and no tent in the Big 5 iMfolozi game reserve and Fish River Canyon.

Standing on top of the breath-taking Amphitheatre in the Drakensberg looking down at the Tugela Falls.

Walking the Fish River Canyon with just Ben to share the magical vastness.

Running into the frigid Atlantic Ocean for a swim on the isolated Skeleton Coast of Namibia with brown hyena footprints and a sprinkling of bones along the way.

Swimming in a specially designed floating swimming pool in the Okavango River on the Caprivi Strip with a herd of elephant on the opposite bank and the thought of hippos and crocs in the water beneath us.

Flying with Ben and our friends, Sarah and Sebastian, off the Map of Africa site in Wilderness while Sarah and I were doing our paragliding course (read Sarah’s #AdventureShare on travelling across the USA in a campervan). Being together in the air for the first time was nothing short of magic. Every flight I do is exhilarating, but there was something special about the day this dream became a reality.

Paragliding

Paragliding along the way.

Greatest lessons learnt

Being spontaneous, stepping out of our comfort zones and letting our imaginations run wild have taken our journeys further, opened us up to new and exciting experiences and kept us inspired and motivated. I saw a sign at a festival last year that said, “Get in touch with your inner child” and the simple statement unexpectedly resonated with me.

We don’t have kids but we love the time we get to spend with our family and friends’ children. What they remind me of every day is that the most important things in life are to have fun, have no fear or inhibitions and to never stop exploring. Ben and I have found a way to spend more time doing these things and our life is richer for it. The reality of being an adult makes it all too easy to forget these lessons, but the simplicity of being a kid is the essence of being human and we should all get in touch with our younger selves more often.

Greatest outdoor adventures

One of our greatest adventures was our 2-month overland trip with our friends, Neville and Kath, through Botswana and Namibia. This is the only trip that we put a lot of planning and research into as the campsites are in high demand and are few and far between. In the Central Kalahari, thanks to our rooftop tents, we had front row seats to witnessing a lioness on the hunt galloping through the camp beneath us. We explored the Okavango Delta by boat and watched elephants swimming like submarines in the Chobe River surrounded by the bushveld teeming with hundreds of giraffe, zebra, buffalo, vultures, carmine bee-eaters and baboons.

We let Victoria Falls soak us to the bone and felt awed by the vastness of the Etosha pans. We found the elusive desert-adapted elephants of Damaraland, cruised the Skeleton Coast and sipped bubbles at sunset while watching a full moon rise over the Spitzkoppe. When we parted ways, Ben and I climbed the dunes of Sossusvlei, spent a few solitary nights in the Namib Desert and ended this chapter by hiking the 5-day Fish River Canyon Trail.

Namibia

Setting up camp under the stars in Spitzkoppe, Namibia.

Another experience that will stay with us forever was doing a Big 5 walking safari in the iMfolozi Game Reserve where our group was charged by a lioness while on foot. On our 3rd day of walking, we had not seen anything for hours and were distractedly looking at the views down to the river below when we turned a corner straight into 2 sleeping lionesses in the path. I am not sure who got more of a shock – our guide in front or the lions. One of the lions fled but the 2nd one charged straight at us with a thundering roar before turning away at the last minute. We had all concertinaed back into a speechless pile but our incredible guide at the back had lightning speed reactions and within split seconds of us alarming the lions, stepped out of the group and had his rifle aimed at the lioness charging us. It all happened so fast we didn’t have time to really process the events until afterwards. The question, “What if she had followed through with her charge?” was definitely in all of our minds but if she had, our guide had more than proven his worth and experience with his quick assessment and reaction to the situation.

It is a privilege to be able to experience and spend time in what are truly some of the last wild places on our planet. It is humbling, energising and good for the soul sleeping under the stars and entwining your daily wanderings exploring the rhythms of the wildlife around you while soaking up the solitude of these vast open places. These experiences have left us more passionately in love with the wilds of Africa than ever before.

Our next bucket-list adventure

We have just returned home from a 3-week trip that took us to Wilderness, Anysberg Nature Reserve, the Koue Bokkeveld, Namaqualand, Stil Baai and the Swartberg. Usual Arnold-style, we don’t yet know what the weeks ahead will hold but with summer on our doorstep, we will definitely be taking advantage of the improving weather and planning a few spontaneous adventures. Next year we want to spend a few of Europe’s summer months hiking and flying in the Alps, but until then we will see where the wind takes us!

Tips for other women who’d like to do something similar

Life is full of responsibility and commitments but this should never stop you from taking every free minute you have and turning it into an adventure. Whether you have a day, a weekend, a month or a year at your disposal, make the best of it. Be courageous and daring in your dreaming. Get out of your comfort zone and try new things. New opportunities and ideas are waiting around every corner and the more you embrace this, the more you realise the possibilities and value that filling your life with curiosity and adventure brings into your world. Yes travelling costs money but it’s what you do with your time that makes all the difference.

If you enjoyed this #AdventureShare, check out this digital detox adventure: Our romantic weekend away in a Gypsy Wagon.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Kirsten and Ben ,
    Carla was sending me your great story .
    I’m full of admiration and happy that we met you !

    When coming to Europe don’t forget Belgium , sometimes we have wild birds around !
    But we have a lot of other things to see .
    I wish you both all the best !!!

    With love

    Guido and Dina

  2. You were always destined to do great things. You are truly fulfilling the potential you showed as a young girl. So proud of you.

  3. Dear Kirsten you used to take great care of my family planning our trips to Africa. As I searched while planning a trip to Madagascar this time I found your post.
    Reading this about you does not surprise me a bit. I am happy for you.
    I can host you in Barcelona

    Béatrice

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