Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Flower Festival

Chiang Mai, the capital of northern Thailand, is a fascinating city with lots to see and experience. With only three days in the city we barely scratched the surface but we arrived in time to catch the annual flower festival, visited some of the seemingly unending temples in the city, explored up and down busy streets and quiet laneways in the old town, wandered through a bustling night market and also much quieter local fresh food markets, took an excellent cooking class and ate lots and lots of delicious food. Hopefully the many kilometres we walked balanced out the calories we ate.

We missed the grand parade of flowers but the displays in the gardens were fantastic and although the flowers on the floats lined up nearby were starting to wilt they were still very impressive.

The main streets in the old town are busy and have lots of cars to dodge but the lane ways are delightful to walk along and the motor bike riders are not too numerous to become a problem. The red songthaews ferry people around the city for 30 baht ($1.20) provided you are heading in the same direction they are. There are new hotels going up in any available space and quite a lot of the temples are being renovated using the typical asian style of scaffolding.

We did a cooking class with the delightful Yui, a fount of information and practical advice and the dishes we prepared were delicious. After a visit to the market with Yui we left with a cook book so hopefully we can reproduce the tastes.

Chiang Mai is particularly noted for its dish of Khao Soi and one of the places which had the best review for the dish was a tiny open area on the northern edge of the old town. The reviews were right, it was excellent and it is no wonder all the tables were filled and people were lining up.

We couldn’t possibly count the temples in the old city and didn’t get to see any of the interesting sounding temples in the surrounding areas. The old temples which are often at the side of the new bright and fancy temples were fascinating. To properly see most of the temples and to avoid overload we would need to stay weeks and visit just one or two a day.

There are night markets every night but Saturday and Sunday have their own special night markets and we arrived in time for the Sunday session. The market covered at least two kilometres in the old town and all of it was packed with visitors, both local and international. Lots of craft work was offered and some delicious food. Some of the stalls and eating areas were even in temple grounds, a good way to see the temples lit up at night.

The fresh food markets were more our speed, we always try to visit them even if we can’t buy the produce. We even caught a performance in one morning market, an elderly lady singing with her husband accompanying her to the delight of the stall holders nearby.

Chiang Mai was a great introduction to northern Thailand but now we are headed for smaller places so we can get away from the crowds, see more of the country and visit some of the hill tribes.

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Zambia, Part 1

We haven’t written anything about our time in Zambia yet and we have come to the end of our second stint in the country having spent a month in Malawi in the middle. We are in Zimbabwe now for about three weeks and we don’t expect to have much time with access to the Internet so it’s high time we caught up on our blog posts.

After leaving Namibia through the busy border post at Katima Malilo, which took us about two hours and where we had someone scrape past the side of our trailer with their car and bending a bolt in the process which means we can’t use one of the support legs any more, we tracked north alongside the Zambezi River. The nature of the villages and roadside stalls in Zambia was noticeably different to Nambia.

We stopped for five nights at Ngonye River Camp. It’s a lovely quiet spot with a grassy camp site under shady trees on a slight slope above the Zambezi River. Jack and his wife who own the property do a lot of work with church missionaries and they have built a couple of chalets and a camp site to generate some income to fund their work. I flew the drone out over the river from our camp and captured these images.

While we were there we visited the little nature park up the road and paid a guide (good idea!) and walked out to the Ngonye Falls. Impressive! The series of falls are over a kilometre wide and you have to walk to a few spots to get a view of them. I was able to fly the drone and get some video as well as some still shots. The aerial perspective really showed off the extent of the falls. Our guide pointed out one of the falls and told us that it was called Jo’burg Falls because a local fisherman caught fish there to feed his family instead of traveling to Johannesburg in South Africa for work. Good plan!

We asked Jack about the beautiful and large tree trunks we were seeing stockpiled in various places along the road. He told us that the Chinese are paying the villagers $3 for each Rosewood Tree and that they are quickly disappearing from the countryside.

When we left there we drove north, still alongside the Zambezi River floodplain. We eventually turned east towards Kafue National Park, although we tried to go north from Mongu towards the source of the Zambezi River in the far north west corner of Zambia but ran out of useful road not far north of Mongu.

We settled for staying two nights at Ikithe Resort on Lake Makakaela about thirty kilometres north of Mongu. It’s a very pretty place at sunset and sunrise when there is very little wind and the glassy lake reflects the gorgeous colours while fishermen glide across the water, with barely a ripple, in their dugout canoes. While we were there we met a couple from Columbia in a Landcruiser doing a loop from Nairobi down through Zambia to Namibia then back up through Malawi and Tanzania to Nairobi again. They are avid bird watchers and we exchanged notes on where we planned to go in Zambia.

The Zambezi river does a bit of a loop from the source out west into Angola before heading east and south back into Zambia. We will try to get to the source of the Zambezi next year when we travel across Zambia through to Angola. There are huge teak forests up there which we are keen to see. Roger and Jenni, a couple of South Africans we met in Namibia, did manage to get up to the source of the Zambezi by driving through the Liuwa Plains National Park but it was still early in the dry season and we didn’t like our chances with the trailer as it gets very boggy out there and we didn’t have any information on the crossings over the Zambezi River in that area.

We came across this cart on our way back to Mongu where we headed east on the main road to Lusaka via Kafue National Park.

We didn’t go into the park itself but drove through it on the transit road from the west. The Columbian couple stayed in Kafue and they said it was great but they didn’t see a lot of animals. After staying one night beside the river on the eastern boundary of Kafue National Park, we drove down to a small town called Ithezi Thezi on the eastern side of the big lake, also called Ithezi Thezi, that borders the Kafue National Park. We stayed five nights at Chibila, one of David Shepherd’s old camps where he used to go and paint, and we absolutely loved it!!! It was so reasonable we stayed in one of the chalets which are set amongst the boulders high above the lake. Tree hyrax run around all over the place. So peaceful! We can’t recommend it highly enough.

We had an interesting journey east across the Kafue River plains from there. The road was slow going but reasonable through numerous villages until we got to the pontoon across the Kafue River. Since the pontoon, which is only one car wide, couldn’t turn around we had to reverse the car and trailer onto it. We managed it fine but it could have been pretty tricky! Once we were on the pontoon we had to wait while a cow with a broken leg was dragged off the back of a cart onto the pontoon. After driving off the other side we had ten kilometres of very rough, but mostly dry black cotton soil which would have been impossible after any sort of rain. We reached Choma late-ish that night, found a rough and ready place for one night which I thought was probably a brothel, and then the next day we drove up the main road to Eureka camp just south of Lusaka. We were on tar but there were lots of nasty potholes, especially north of Mazabuka. It would be easy to break the car if we traveled too fast on these kinds of roads.

Lusaka is useful for shopping, otherwise I would avoid it completely. The traffic is terrible and it’s difficult to get around. We stayed at Eureka on the southern outskirts of the city (nice) and, after shopping in town, We camped at Fringilla Farm 50km north of Lusaka. Very friendly people and a good butcher there who makes biltong and boerewors as well as some home-made chilli relish! We ended up having a few beers with some of the locals at their sports club and picked up lots of tips on various destinations in Zambia.

It was a fair distance to our next destination so we broke our trip with an overnight stop at a place called Kalwa. We headed north until we reached a turnoff which took us to an old homestead which has been taken over by the local village and is now used as accommodation for the odd visitor. We camped on the front lawn and had a regular flow of the villagers walking past and kids stopping to check us out all afternoon. The evening and the night were very cool as we were still on the plateau at about 1,500 metres above sea level. As we went to sleep we could hear the villagers singing. Then incredibly, at four thirty in the morning we heard a large group chanting and singing in unison. The very loud noise got closer and closer, singing as they marched past our camp. We found out later that it was a group of youngsters getting their ‘early’ morning exercise as they learn how to be ‘Good Christian Youths’. The stamping of feet and the rhythmic bass voices and shrill ululations at that time of the night were totally unexpected and quite thrilling!

We elected not to visit many of the national parks in Zambia as they are quite expensive. Going north from Lusaka we did visit Kasanka NP though to see the Sitatunga buck which are adapted to living in marshes. They have really long feet! We stopped at Pontoon Camp for coffee and got a really good sighting of several Sitatunga around the waterhole. That was a really nice place under some huge, very shady indigenous trees. We elected to camp at the Kasanka Conservation Centre just outside the park to save a bit of money. Worked very well for us as they let you drive into the park before sunrise and come out after sunset. We did a fair bit of driving and in the north west corner we were driving on an overgrown track where the grass was quite a bit taller than the car. We navigated by looking for the most likely gap between the trees and trying to spot the shadow of the track underneath the grass. Eventually we had to backtrack when we reached a very boggy river crossing. When you get stuck in that black cotton soil you stay stuck!!

At another spot we climbed a ladder up to a viewpoint about twenty metres up a tree which looked out over the flood plains. Nearby was a spot where millions of bats can be seen at a certain time of the year … not when we were there though!

The chap looking after the Kasanka Conservation Centre turned out to be the head school teacher (three teachers in total) at the school which operates from there and caters for about one hundred children. Although it was the weekend he gave us a tour of the place which is funded by a private trust. We saw the tree seedlings which they were preparing to hand out to the nearby villages as part of a deal whereby they planted three trees for every one they cut down. In another part we saw the centre’s vegetable garden which is surrounded by an ‘elephant fence’ consisting of a series of very tall chilli bushes over a metre wide and a metre high. Apparently it works pretty well to keep elephants away from the crops around the villages. Pretty nifty we thought!

When we left Kasanka NP we were planning to camp at Lake Waka Waka and spend a day in Bangweulu national park north of there to see the Shoebill Storks. We had our doubts about driving those roads with the trailer and when we heard that Lake Waka Waka was not very inviting we decided to give both a miss.

Our next destination was Mutinondo, a private lodge which is further north and east of the main road. It’s a bit expensive but a very nice spot set high amongst the rocky inselbergs above a river which has many small waterfalls along its course as it winds its way between the hills. The camp sites don’t get much sun though so they stay quite cool. We stayed three nights and I took some shots of one waterfall and flew the drone out across the river to a group of inselbergs to the east.

The last place we stayed in Zambia was Kupishya hot springs, which is about thirty kilometres west of the main road. The camping is next to a fast flowing river and the hot springs are fantastic! Well worth it, especially in the morning when the air is cool and the steam rises off the water. We met Bob and Cheryl there, a couple of Aussies from South Australia, who have made around twenty trips to Africa and are funding the education and some medical bills for a couple of families in East Africa.

After leaving Kupishya we knew we had a big days drive to get to the Malawi border at Chitipa. We phoned a contact at the Zambian Immigration Services who confirmed that the border post would be attended that day and it would close at 5pm. The drive up the main road to Isoka went fine apart from some bad potholes, but we knew the next part would be more interesting on a gravel road running through lots of villages as it wound its way across country to Malawi. This turned out to be somewhat of an understatement as, for much of the way, the track didn’t follow any of our maps and where it got too eroded it took side trips through the middle of the nearby villages. We resorted to asking for directions at each intersection. It was slow going and as it got later we knew we weren’t going to get to the border by 5pm. We pushed on and eventually reached a few buildings on the outskirts of a village which looked vaguely official. A well-dressed chap sitting outside the first one told us that he was the resident Zambian Immigration Officer and that the border closed at 6pm. It was five thirty, so we had made it after all! The Zambian formalities were straightforward and then we drove a little further to a large old house where we found several Malawi at adjacent desks in a few of the rooms. One room was the immigration department and the other was the customs and revenue office. We got everything done except the third party insurance which we would have to get in Karonga, the next town down the road.

We got directions to a local motel which was not too far away but in the dark it was quite tricky too find. There wasn’t much open in town so we had a meal of snacks and a couple of beers. Welcome to Malawi. We were looking forward to seeing Lake Malawi the next day when we reached Karonga.

August 30, 2017 at 02:12PM

There’s nothing like waking up at 3:30am with an elephant trying to get into our tent and jumping up shouting at it and banging things to scare it away to get the blood moving!

Luckily the only damage was about six inches of torn canvas stitching.

We also had a hippo in camp, hyenas in the river bed and a lion across the river last night.

Since I was awake I watched the dawn break and caught two elephants crossing the river in front of a copper sunrise.

Right now the baboons are paying havoc around camp. Cup of tea time! from Follow Dusty Tracks http://ift.tt/1QYKaNc

Mountains, seaside, city and desert…

Time is marching on and so are we. Our South African visas are about to expire and we are crossing the border into Namibia tomorrow. There’s been so many places to visit, sights to see and things to do that I’ve fallen well behind on my writing. Our last blog post was about our time in Kwa Zulu Natal in the north east of the country and since then we have visited the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, travelled along the coast around the bottom of the continent with a side trip into the mountains of the southern Karoo, explored around Cape Town and finally driven north through increasingly dry country to the north west corner of South Africa. The post about our time in Lesotho has been almost finished for several weeks now and a couple of others are also in progress. In the meantime I’ll try to give a very brief summary of our travels and experiences.

Lesotho is a tiny country perched high in the mountains and is totally encircled by South Africa but has a very different culture and provided us with a very different set of experiences. We loved all of our time in the highest parts of the country which are in the east and centre. Most of the time we were above 2,500 metres above sea level (that’s about 8,000 feet) and some passes were well above 3,000 metres. Vegetation there is low and sparse, rainfall is low but they do get snow in winter and there is very little money to be made. There are few private motor vehicles and most travel is done on the hardy mountain ponies or more likely on foot with people thinking nothing of walking two or three hours up and down the hills to get to work, school or shops (although the latter are scarce). Sheep and mohair goats are tended by shepherds dressed in the ubiquitous brown blankets traditionally worn in the country although the ones worn in rural towns tend to be newer and brighter while they are rarely seen in the city. We were warmly welcomed everywhere we went and our week and a half felt much longer but also nowhere near long enough.

Returning to South Africa We headed for the coast reaching it part way down the Wild Coast region near Coffee Bay. We spent a couple of overcast and rainy days there so no swimming unfortunately but we feasted on a dozen and a half large oysters collected from the rocks for the princely sum of 50 Rand (about $5) and had a pleasant walk around the rocks and along the beach. We continued on toward the Sunshine Coast next and on the way we spent a very windy night by the lagoon at Hamburg before reaching Cannon Rocks where we stayed for three nights. We had some hot sunny weather there and Paul managed to get a quick dip in the ocean but by then we were far enough south for the water temperature to have dropped considerably so we won’t be swimming in the ocean for quite a while as the water temperature along the south and west coast of Southern Africa is way too cold for us.

A long day’s drive from there took us through Port Elizabeth and onward to the Garden Route. This section of the coast is covered in Fynbos, fine leaf bush, which is lovely to drive thorough even in summer when it is dry and it would be very beautiful in spring when the bushes are covered in flowers. We had planned to stay in the Tsitsikamma National Park but we had problems with the car’s gearbox so we decided it was better to stay in a town where we could find a mechanic. We limped into the pretty seaside town of Plettenberg Bay and stayed in a very pleasant caravan park there until it was fixed. The gearbox problems had been niggling since December and became worse while we were driving up and down all the passes in Lesotho so we had planned to have it fixed while we were in Cape Town but when it got stuck in fourth gear we had no option. The work ended up being done at the Toyota service centre in the next town of Knysna and it took over a week including time waiting for parts but we hired a car so we were still able to see all the sights in the area.
When we finally got the car back we left our trailer at the caravan park and travelled inland to drive a loop through a small part of the Karoo. The Karoo is a vast semi-arid plateau which covers almost one third of South Africa’s total area. We didn’t have time to see most of it, even less than we hoped due to our longer than expected stay in Plettenberg Bay, so we spent most of our time in the mountain range at the southern border with just a short drive across flat plains with endless horizons. The mountains are rugged and rocky and very steep and twisted so there were many climbs up, down and through amazing passes with an endless number of fantastic views. We camped in private campgrounds, national park campsites and had one night on the side of the road to Die Hel so we really can say we’ve been to Hell and back.

We returned to Plettenberg Bay to collect our trailer expecting to stay a night or two. We managed to score a fantastic site right on the edge of the lagoon with beautiful views and with lovely balmy weather we just had to stay a bit longer. We finally left after another three nights to continue our journey toward Cape Town. Bontebok National Park made a very pleasant stopover for one night and the next day we reached Kleinmond on the eastern side of False Bay where we stopped for a few nights to give us time to explore the area. A loop drive took us across and over the ranges to Sir Lowry’s Pass where Paul hoped I would get my first sight of Table Mountain however smoke from bushfires and distant cloud spoiled that idea but it was still a wonderful drive particularly around the edge of the mountain beside the ocean on our return to camp. We had traveled through Hermanus on our way to Kleinmond and stopped there briefly to visit a couple of galleries but we decided the town deserved a longer visit so we returned and easily filled in a long morning visiting another ten or so galleries and following up with a delicious lunch.

Moving further on we started our time in the Cape Town area with a few days near Stellenbosch, a prime wine region. Our camp was part way between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek on a lawn under some oak trees in the garden of a guesthouse, a delightful place to stay. We preferred quiet Franschhoek to the busier Stellenbosch but some magnificent wines and a delightful lunch at Lanzerac winery in Stellenbosch certainly justified our time spent there.

Rather than stay in or very near the centre of Cape Town we moved to Kommetjie on the west coast of the peninsula south of the city on the way to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Naturally one day was spent visiting those places and several other days visiting places in and around the city including the top of Table Mountain, the Botanical Gardens, and several drives and visits to areas along the waterfront. We met up with Paul’s niece, Kate, and her partner Dean several times and enjoyed some good company and delicious meals with them. The drives between Kommetjie and the city were always scenic as we had a choice of travelling along the edge of the coast on a road carved out of the mountain or crossing the range between rock strewn hills. The whole area is very beautiful and the weather was kind to us but the traffic was often heavy.

We didn’t need to travel too far north of Cape Town to leave the traffic congestion behind, especially after we left the fray to follow a scenic route through several mountain passes to our first overnight stop at Ceres. The following day was well away from any highway and traffic with dirt roads beneath us and lots of mountains and amazing views all around us on our way to Clanwilliam. From there we had planned to head for the coast and a 4wd track to take us north but strong winds and the forecast of more to come convinced us to check the maps again. Our alternate plan was to take the highway north most of the way to the border, stop overnight in a Nature Reserve near the town of Springbok, and then spend the rest of the time we had available visiting the remote and rugged Richtersveld National Park. It almost went to plan except for a wrong turn on our way out of Clanwilliam which meant the first part of our trip was along a very scenic dirt road instead of the highway, and when we arrived at our planned destination for the night we found the office and gate had closed fifteen minutes earlier at 4.00pm. The caravan park in town was less than inviting but a Guest Farm not far out of town offered camping. We rang to check the camping was still available and were offered a room for the same price. What a bonus and, as it turned out, what a lovely place to stay.

We enjoyed our drive out to the Richtersveld coast and up to Alexander Bay on the border with Namibia before turning inland and driving an hour and a half into the Richtersveld National Park, still within South Africa. We spent our first two nights at Pootjiespram camp on the Orange River and spent a lovely day relaxing at a real bush camp with plenty of shade and firewood for a camp fire meal. What a contrast to our drive the next day. We headed into the centre of the park which is a mountainous desert region where rain rarely falls, less than 500mm each year, and life sustaining moisture comes from early morning fogs. Here the plants were tough and hardy but an amazing variety including the bizarre Quiver Trees and Halfmens Trees. The hills and mountains were also incredibly varied with colours including greys, browns, pinks, oranges, blues and blacks and even greens although the green came from the color of the rocks and sand, not from plants. We spent the night surrounded by amazing boulders which were great for Paul to take photos in the evening and morning. We’re spending our final night in the park, and South Africa, at the Sendelingsdrift camp near the main gate. It’s on the Orange River and usually a Pont takes you across the river into Namibia. This was how we planned to cross the border but it’s out of action for three months so we have to backtrack to Alexander Bay for our border crossing.

So tomorrow we’re entering Namibia, the fifth country of our African odyssey and we will spend about three months in the country. Time for lots of adventures!

Across  Mozambique 

A journey through the Mozambican bush.

Baobabs on the Track, Mozambique

Baobabs on the Track, Mozambique

It’s a warm and humid morning on the shores of the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. We are sitting under some shade trees drinking coffee while we are using the free wifi at the very pleasant, but strangely named, Kilimanjaro Cafe in the small town of Vilanculos. We got into town in the late afternoon yesterday after two long days of driving across Mozambique from South Africa. Sitting in this very pleasant place drinking decent coffee it’s a good time to reflect on our journey into Mozambique. So let’s rewind to the start two days ago …

We leave our camp at Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park in South Africa and from there we drive north to the Pafuri picnic site and have our mid-morning coffee. While we sit at a rough wooden table under some massive fig trees we enjoy watching a large herd of Cape Buffalo browsing and drinking along the banks of the slowly flowing river below us. Throw in a couple of warthog, some kudu and you have the scene. After coffee we organise ourselves for the border crossing into Mozambique … money for visas, passports, third party insurance, truck and trailer registration documents, etc. After putting a required sticker on the back of the trailer we head the short distance east to the Mozambique border. The South African formalities are a breeze. Then we pass through a boom gate and, so it seems, a time warp into a scene from a spaghetti western. We enter a derelict town with wide dusty streets, faded signs in Portuguese and a few remaining intact block buildings with faded white and grey, pock-marked render. A couple of armed soldiers direct us to park outside the customs building and we walk across the street to the immigration office.

The elderly chap in the immigration office is helpful and cheerfully accepts our money, quite a bit more than we had expected, for a thirty day visa after we fill out the requisite forms. While we are doing this we chat to a South African bloke going the other way. He tells us he is running a farm near Mabote, which is on our route, and he gives us some tips on finding the right onward track at a couple of towns and also what to expect across the street when we front up to the customs officers.

We recross the dusty square to the long, rectangular customs building and are directed up a short flight of stairs into the front office with a long wooden counter. Behind the counter is one, somewhat rotund, customs officer in a smart blue and white uniform. He doesn’t say anything, just places some forms on the counter in front of us to complete and sign. It takes us a little while as we have to find and enter the correct identification numbers for the car and trailer as well as our personal details. We are expecting this chap to quiz us and I have 100 Rand in my pocket in case we need to smooth the way, but all he does is to take the completed forms and wave us away.
Back outside we head for the Landcruiser and are quickly intercepted by two young uniformed soldiers. Now it is their turn. They explain that they want to search the whole vehicle for illegal goods. We smile and agree, they can look at whatever they want. But this is not the answer they want and they quickly lose interest.

A third soldier wanders over and he does speak a little better English. He asks us to open the back of the trailer and we show him the kitchen but there is nothing there that interests him. He spots the cool box on the back seat and asks if we have any beer or cold drinks. Unfortunately for him all we have in there are several bottles of water. Eventually he starts to lose interest and asks us if we have purchased our temporary license. We tell him we don’t need one as we have our international driver’s licenses but he insists that we must pay R100.

He leads us back to a large, open-sided concrete shelter which the soldiers are using to stay out of the sun. Sitting on the ground a little further towards the back is an African woman with a child. He takes us up to her, says a few words to her and tells us we must pay her R100. We ask if we can get a receipt and he says, yes, yes. A few more words to the woman and she pulls out a large receipt book replete with carbon paper and she starts to fill it in. We shrug our shoulders, pay the money and accept the receipt. We are free to continue our journey.

From the border post we follow a fairly well-formed dirt track heading south through the ecological buffer zone that runs down the eastern border of the Limpopo National Park. Our farmer friend told us to follow the graded road on this part of the trip down to Mapai. We find enough graded sections to assure us that we are on the right road and we are also using an App on my iPad called Tracks4Africa to navigate.

Graded Road to Mapai, Mozambique

Graded Road to Mapai, Mozambique

It’s still tricky when the track branches unexpectedly and we end up on a smaller and narrower parallel track which takes us through a wonderful forest of fever trees.

Fever Tree Forest, Mozambique

Fever Tree Forest, Mozambique

Fever trees are a type of thorn tree which grow fairly tall and have the typical spread and flattened top. The trunks, branches and leaves are all a beautiful light green color which contrasts with the reddish dirt and the blue sky. I think they are called fever trees because if you sleep under them you wake with a fever, possibly malaria. They look so inviting but watch out for those thorns though!

The narrow track rejoins the graded road and we are soon driving through a string of small villages. The Limpopo River is away in the middle distance on our left for this part of the trip and we will cross it when we eventually turn east to the town of Mapai. The course of the river is discernable by the taller trees and thicker, green bush but everything is dry and grey to our right. The villages in this area are quite small and only a few kilometres apart. Cooking pots are hanging on raised wooden racks made from bush wood, or on nails in single posts. The huts are mainly round and roughly thatched and some are raised on stilts. The village centres tend to be under the biggest shadiest trees where the villagers sit on stumps or wooden logs. We see almost no signs of anything for sale in these villages and no cars. They are several days walk from any town.

Mozambican Village

Mozambican Village


Mozambiquan Village

Mozambican Village

Our progress is slow and steady, we are averaging around 40km per hour but often having to slow to half that speed for rougher patches in the road. We reach an intersection in the early afternoon. To the east is the town of Mapai and to the south west is the Mapai camp site in the Limpopo National Park which we had thought we might stop at for one or two nights. But it is still fairly early and very hot so we decide to continue heading east.

We aren’t sure how long it will take us to reach the coast and our farmer friend had told us that GPS systems aren’t much use out in the bush here. He also told us that when we leave Mapai we need to find a sandy track that follows a line of green, treated timber power poles and to follow those all the way to Machaila and then to Mabote. But we still need to get to Mapai first and it is on the other side of the Limpopo River.
From the intersection we head east. This close to the river, and this close to a town there isn’t really any space between the villages so we are driving casually down the road trying to match the snatches of directions we have been given with the road in front of us. In the main we choose to follow the one that looks most used.

Eventually we come to a stretch of road, well not so much of a road as something that looks like a deep bed of churned up river sand. We are pretty sure this is the way to Mapai so I change to first gear in low range and keeping the revs up we head across the sandy bed. It’s about 150 metres to some solid ground on the other side and we have our fingers crossed that we don’t slow down because, with the weight of the trailer, we are unlikely to be able to get going again. We did drop the tyre pressures when we started which helps a lot and we manage to make it to the other side with thick billows of fine black dust enveloping the trailer and car. Then, as we follow the road, we see a boom across the road and some guys sitting around under a tree. Is this the right way?

We stop and look at our maps, and then figure we might as well ask someone. As we draw closer to the boom we see a rough sign which says something about an Immigration border and quotes a fee of R100 per vehicle (which is about 10 Australian Dollars) or 300Mt in local currency. The whole thing looks distinctly fishy! As we stop at the boom one of the guys comes up to us and says what a terrible bit of road that was. They would have heard and seen us approaching from their seats under the tree. Based on what we hear later I wouldn’t be surprised if the road was left that way so they could make some extra cash extracting vehicles from the sand.

We can’t see any alternative to paying something to these guys but R100 is a bit rich so I pull out my wallet and take all my Rands out which comes to about R50. This is all I have I say. Not enough he says. Eventually, after some remonstrations on our part, we start fishing out some coins so we get enough together to keep him happy. We wait for our ‘official receipt’ and we are free to move along.

Pretty soon we can see some boats lying high and dry on the sand so we figure we are getting closer to the Limpopo River. The track is great, no soft sand to worry about here! We cross a narrow stretch of shallow water with a rocky bottom and that’s it! We have crossed the “great, grey, greasy Limpopo River” and we only have a few more kilometres until we get to Mapai.

Banks of the Limpopo River, Mozambique

Banks of the Limpopo River, Mozambique

When we reach the intersection with the north-south tar road we find a petrol station which we didn’t expect so we take the opportunity to fill our tank even though we are carrying plenty of fuel. The town of Mapai is just a few kilometres north. We also spot a sign pointing the way to the next village of Machaila and lo and behold there is a line of green, timber power poles running alongside the track.

Gravel Road, Mozambique

Gravel Road, Mozambique

Our maps show that the road to Machaila is a narrow sandy, two wheel track. From where we are standing the start of the track looks much wider and well-formed, but that may change of course as we get further from town. We decide to keep moving east. We will be heading away from any rivers and we assume that there will be fewer villages so if we can’t make it to Machaila we may be able to spend the night on the side of the road.

It soon becomes apparent that our maps are out of date. The sandy track is being upgraded to a gravel road. It is tricky driving though as the road has not been properly leveled and we have to concentrate. Many of the culverts are still being constructed. Again our speed is no more than 40km per hour and typically slower. Very occasionally we might have a short run at 50km per hour.

It doesn’t take long before we realise that this country is very, very dry and is experiencing the full impact of the long drought that has affected so much of southern Africa. The villages are a bit further apart and there aren’t as many large shady trees. As we travel parallel with the power line we realise that this is probably one of the few bits of modern technology that connects the villages in this part of the country. We start to see firewood and large bags of charcoal for sale on the side of the road, but we don’t see any crops at all. One of the most common activities in the villages is the drawing and fetching of water from nearby wells. The women carry the plastic containers of water on their heads with no discernable strain even though they must weigh around 20kg.

Water carrier, Mozambican Village

Water carrier, Mozambican Village


Village, Mozambique

Village, Mozambique

Our progress is steady and we can see that we will probably reach Machaila after dark so we start looking for a place on the side of the road, or a village where we might ask permission to camp. From one of our maps we know that there is probably a camp site near Machaila that one of the villages has set up and we hope that it is still there. For some reason we don’t see anywhere that attracts us and we reach Machaila just after dark.

It is Saturday night and there seem to be quite a few people around and about. Some of the lighted buildings look like bars and eating houses. We are tired and the air is still very warm so we don’t feel inclined to tackle a town full of people in party mode. Heading south east we turn onto the track to the next town, Mabote. This is definitely a two wheel, sandy track and the camp site is supposedly located just a few kilometres along it.

In the dark we do the best we can to try and spot the camp site. When we are sure we are close I get out of the car. There are two side tracks that are possibilities. I spot a young girl walking towards me from one of the tracks and I ask her about the camping. Luckily the Portuguese word for camping is similar and she seems to understand me. She points back down the track she has just emerged from and I ask her to show me. We walk a short distance and she points further into the bush where I can see a small building, roughly constructed from local timbers. There is a cleared space near the building that looks perfect. We have found the camp site!

As we walk back to the road I hear sounds of other people through the bush. The other side track must lead to a village that is very close by. Then a voice from that direction calls out and the young girl answers. Somebody else has heard us and wants to know what is going on. There is a brief conversation called out in the dark through the bush, just as though we were merely in the next room.

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Back at the car I describe the place to Julie and we head down the track to the building and then get out to decide where to park the trailer so we can leave most easily in the morning. The young girl reappears and says no, we must go further down the track and deeper into the bush. So we go a little further and find a larger space with a bush shower and long drop toilet. This is even better!

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique


Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique


Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique


Long Drop, Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

Long Drop, Camp Site, Machaila, Mozambique

As the space is dotted with trees we have to unhook the trailer and turn it around ourselves then hook it up again. We are tired so we set up the roof top tent on the car instead of opening up the trailer. Much easier even though we haven’t done it many times before, and not for a while. After a quick dinner we are lying in bed looking at the stars and there is a slight breeze which is very welcome. The air is still very warm and dry.

After a while we start to hear singing. It sounds like a group of kids being led by a few adults. The rhythm and tones are distinctly African and we have smiles on our faces as we fall asleep.

We are up just after sunrise the next morning and sitting enjoying our coffee in the cooler air when the young girl returns and presents us with a visitors book to fill in. We can see the rate from the previous entries and after we pay she gives us a receipt. Very organised and we have been left to ourselves although it would have been great to hear some more singing. Fairly soon afterwards we pack up and head out, turning east towards Mabote which we expect will be a bigger town.

Sandy Track near Machaila, Mozambique

Sandy Track near Machaila, Mozambique

Now this is the kind of bush track we have been expecting. We are still following the power lines and treated timber poles but the track is sandy and has just two wheel ruts so if we meet a car coming the other way one or both of us are going to be heading into the bush. I don’t think we saw another vehicle the whole time though. And no villages or very few until we reach the shores of a lake which we don’t see because of the thick growth of dry reeds. There is obviously very little water but the dry reeds are thick and the road turns north to a causeway which crosses a narrow neck in the top of the lake. As we turn north the road ‘improves’. This section seems to have been upgraded some time ago. We preferred the sandy track though. It was actually smoother and we could keep a constant speed, albeit a little slower.

Not long after we cross the causeway we reach Mabote, a dusty town with block buildings lining a main street. We drive around the block and turn up the main street towards the buildings. There are a few side roads but almost all activity seems to happening here. It’s around lunch time so I suggest buying something and I park outside a place with a promising sign ‘Snack Bar’. It’s all promise though as all they have is a single fridge with a couple of dozen Coca Colas. When I explain that I am looking for some food a young chap takes me down the road to a place that has a few more people and is serving food and beers. After I figure out that ‘frangos’ means chicken I choose something from the menu, but I have no idea how it will be cooked. When I add that I want it to take away I have to pay a bit more to cover the cost of the polystyrene container. It takes some time, but eventually I am back at the car and we head out. The chicken comes with rice and some salad. Not great but it keeps us going.

We pass through several villages where they seem to have concentrated on producing charcoal and we see many spots with dozens of large bags of charcoal for sale. I’m guessing that there will be trucks that pick them up to take to the bigger population centres on the coast where there is less wood around.

Drought Conditions, Mozambique

Drought Conditions, Mozambique


Mozambican Village

Mozambican Village

The gravel road is now quite wide and a bit smoother and a couple of hours later we reach the main north south highway through Mozambique, the EN1. We turn north and head for Vilanculos where we are pretty sure we should find a much bigger town and a place to stay by the sea.

It’s not long until we turn east again and it’s only about 15 more kilometres to the town. There are many more people now and the traditional villages have almost given way to block buildings and also small houses made from corrugated iron. Wow! They must be hot inside during summer. There’s much more for sale alongside the road now including fruit and vegetables. With the numerous mobile phone towers along the highway there are also plenty of buildings painted with the red and white of Vodacom, a major telephone company in Africa.

The first thing we do when we get to town is to find an ATM so we can get some local currency. At the second bank we have success so we start exploring the town looking out for the local camp grounds which we have read about. It’s Sunday afternoon and the town is quite busy, especially along the beach front. The road is dusty and narrow, and with so many people and vehicles we find it quite tricky to negotiate. This is not our thing so we head south of town looking for a place which, on paper, looks much more inviting. We drive through a lovely little suburb near the airport with a mix of traditional huts and concrete block buildings. The sandy yards are all neatly swept and lined with heavily trimmed bushes and trees. It has a nice feel to it.
South of the airport we get to the place we are looking for. It has a good looking beach, a huge swimming pool and a camping area, but the pool is empty and the place is closed. They have run out of water!

It’s getting late and there’s nothing for it but to head back to a place we saw earlier beside a lagoon just west of town. It’s not near the beach and it’s not somewhere we will be staying at for more than one night. We get there to find that the camp ground is closed and the only person there is a guard. He is very friendly and shows us a couple of chalets, one of which overlooks the lagoon. It also has an air conditioner, a mosquito net above the bed and, most importantly, a hot shower! We ask how much and are somewhat perplexed when he quotes a price in the millions! We have only just been to the ATM but we didn’t get that much. It is only after we ask him to write the amount in the sand that we understand he means ‘thousands’. Some quick calculations and we work out that it is about $50. A bit more than camping but very inviting after a long hot day so of course we take it.

We get set up for a light supper, have a very welcome shower and sit outside on the small verandah with a cold beer and a glass of wine while the air cools. The lagoon looks like it’s about half full and there’s a chalet built on poles which will be ‘over water’ when the rains arrive. There are plenty of mozzies around and we eventually head inside for the night.

The next day we head back into Vilanculos to get some supplies before we head south. After shopping we spot the Kilimanjaro Cafe with free WiFi. Looks good and we need to do some research on our next ‘port of call’. It’s also a chance to get online and catch up with family and friends.

Next stop is definitely a place by the beach!!

November 23, 2016 at 04:19PM from Facebook

We are leaving Maputo, Mozambique today and heading for Swaziland where we will be back in the bush for a while. We have had a great time in Mozambique and we will return if we get the chance. Maputo is bigger than expected, very busy and quite a dirty place but the people are great and very helpful!

Best to stick to the main roads though. As soon as you try a short cut or enter the side roads in the suburbs you are on dirt tracks with plenty of dips, lumps and pools of water … generally traveling in first gear. You do get to see more things at that speed though 😉

Yesterday we visited the small Art Gallery and the arts and crafts market (both terrific) and then had dinner in a Portuguese restaurant for our last night. Wonderful food even though it was aimed at tourists. We have enjoyed trying the local cuisine as well. from Follow Dusty Tracks http://ift.tt/1QYKaNc

Long Beach, Robe South Australia 

We had a glorious day for a drive on the beach yesterday. Arriving at Long Beach north of Robe in South Australia the water looked so inviting we decided to stop for a swim and a mug of coffee before driving down the beach and into the scenic town of Robe.

The water was very good … and COLD!… so we didn’t stay in too long and enjoyed the hot coffee afterwards.

As you can see in the photo and in the video there was almost no surf but a couple of people were trying to get up anyway.

Tea Tree Crossing, The Coorong

A few days back we crossed the lagoon in the Coorong National Park at Tea Tree Crossing. We made a short video using an iPhone. Turned out pretty well so we’ll probably start making some more.

The camp site on the other side (on the Younghusband Peninsula) has some big grassed areas and a few places where the higher trees and bushes provide some protection from the wind. We loved it and will certainly return if we have the chance. I took some evening shots back at the lagoon crossing and got my feet wet when the tide started coming back in. In the morning I climbed up a very large sand dune near our camp to get some shots at dawn. Such amazing views in all directions, taking in the lagoon, the dunes and the skirting bush and then right out to the Southern Ocean.

Camp in the Coorong National Park Tea Tree Crossing South Australia

Camp Site at Tea Tree Crossing in the Coorong National Park

Raining in the Coorong!

It’s raining in the Coorong! Such an amazing place in all kinds of weather.

img_9845-1

The Coorong, SA, Australia

At the moment the sand flats alongside the lagoon at Hell’s Gate (Parnka Point) are slowly flooding. Large flocks of water birds are scurrying hither and thither across the shallow water, obviously feeding on whatever the water has brought to the surface.

The landscape is divided into horizontal shades of grey, with pale pinks, greens and browns in the hardy plants that curve around at the back of the sand flats. The water in the lagoons is a pale grey-green and the sand flats are a muddy grey. The dunes along the far side of the lagoon are only vaguely visible during the heaviest of the rain squalls. The sky is a luminous and uniform pale grey. There’s no hint of the sun at the moment other than the soft light in the clouds.

Yesterday was a marvelous sunny day and the weather should clear later. So right now we are sitting here, listening to music and taking the odd photo when the urge grabs us. It’s pretty wet but we are staying dry and filling buckets with good clean rainwater. This place is a fair distance from any large town, although there are some small villages not too far away which cater to the large farming operations around here.

I first visited the Coorong in 2009 and have wanted to return ever since then to spend a decent amount of time exploring this long stretch (130 kilometres) of the South Australian coast. We have a week here. We need a few more supplies so we will backtrack to Meningie then head down to Tea Tree crossing. When we get there we will check the conditions to see if we can get over onto the Younghusband Peninsula which forms the western border of the Coorong between the ocean and the lagoons. It is possible to drive on the beach all the way up this peninsula to the mouth of the Murray River where it ends its long journey from the Snowy Mountains to the sea.

(We camped at a few spots much further up the Murray River on our way from Victoria to South Australia and swam in it a few times, but the weather was a lot hotter then … over 40 degrees Celsius. The Murray and Darling Rivers are the heart of the third largest river system in the world after the Amazon and the Nile and in the past were heavily used by barges, paddle-steamers and other craft to carry goods to and from the interior. The Coorong itself is a series of lagoons stretching down the coast from the mouth of the Murray and filled from time to time when the Murray River floods. Farming up river has drastically reduced the amount of water flowing into the Corrong which has endangered this sensitive environment and habitat for many types of birds. Thankfully the management of the water levels in the Coorong has improved in recent years)

As we travel slowly south through the Coorong I’m hoping to get right in amongst the sand dunes and get some shots of some of the birds and hopefully some great sunrises and sunsets. The light yesterday evening was pretty good and the pale blue light after sunset was quite special. We have already seen several Emus, falcons, Black-shouldered Kites, Pelicans, and many different waders, cormorants, darters, avocets and other water birds.

I love this wild place. If you don’t know much about the Coorong then follow these links to learn more. Perfect for anyone who wants to find a peaceful corner that really feels remote and has great birdlife. The scenery grows on you and the longer you stay here the more you’ll see.

Wikipedia entry for Coorong National Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coorong_National_Park?wprov=sfti1

South Australian National Parks website: http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/Find_a_Park/Browse_by_region/Limestone_Coast/Coorong_National_Park
Virtual Tour: http://www.georama.com.au/coorong/

About Purnululu

Why Go, How to Get There, Where to Stay, What to Do

Located in East Kimberley in the far north of Western Australia between Kununurra and Lake Argyle to the north and Halls Creek and the Tanami Desert to the south, Purnululu National Park covers an area of 239,723 hectares and the Bungle Bungle Range covers 45,000 hectares of the park. Within the range are striking orange and black banded sandstone domes, 200 metre escarpments and spectacular chasms and gorges. These exceptional natural formations are the reason the park was World Heritage listed in 2003. This part of Australia was inhabited by Aboriginal people for more than 20,000 years. The first colonial exploration was in 1879 and it was followed by gold mining and later a pastoral industry which continues in the region today. While Aboriginals and pastoralists were aware of the formations, knowledge of their existence didn’t reach the broader public until the early 1980’s and tourism to the area has been growing since then.

Paul and I spent almost a week in the park when we entered Western Australia 12 months ago and we had both been twice before that but this is such a special place we couldn’t miss revisiting it while we were in the area. Travelling independently and camping in the park is the best way to experience the magic but if you can’t do that then it is well worth visiting with a tour company who have their own permanent accommodation in the park or at least taking a day trip. That can be done either in your own 4WD vehicle or on tour buses running from the caravan park located next to the highway. Many people who camp in the park stay for just a couple of nights and that length of time will allow you to visit most of the attractions and some of the walks but more time will allow you to experience it more fully.

Access is from the Great Northern Highway 269 km south of Kununurra and 108 km north of Halls Creek and is only possible during the dry season. Actual dates can vary according to seasonal and road conditions but it is usually open from 1 April to 30 November. The weather can be very hot, particularly early and late in the dry season. From the highway a 53km track passes through Mabel Downs Station to the Visitor Centre. This track is only suitable for 4WD vehicles and single-axle off-road heavy-duty trailers. Track conditions change depending on when it was last graded and what the weather conditions have been but you can expect rough sections, corrugations, dust and several water crossings. The track is not difficult if taken slowly. Reduced tyre pressure will make the ride more comfortable and can reduce the chance of punctures.

You will need to allow at least 1½ to 2½ hours for the journey from the highway but if possible allow more as it is well worth a few stops along the way to fully appreciate the scenery.
Park entry and camping fees can be paid at the Visitor Centre but pre-booking and payment for campsites can be made online and is strongly recommended in peak periods to secure a site. For more details go to http://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/campgrounds or ring the DPaW Kununurra office on (08) 9168 4200 during normal business hours. There are two camp grounds; Walardi in the southern section (generator and non-generator areas) and Kurrajong in the northern section (non-generator only).

Once at the Visitor Centre it is 27km to the Piccaninny carpark in the southern section and 20km to the Echidna carpark so make sure you allow enough fuel for travel between sites. You also need to make sure you have all other supplies you will need although untreated bore water is available from taps in the campgrounds.

The walking tracks in the park are generally rated as Class 3, easy to moderate, or Class 4, with some rough ground, but the one or two-night Piccaninny Gorge Trek is Class 6, only for fit, well-equipped and highly experienced walkers. The guide describes the first 7 kilometres as relatively difficult with it then becoming even more difficult.

Day walks include:
• easy walks of less than a kilometre around the Domes Loop or Stonehenge Nature Trail or up to Kungkalanayi, Osmand or Bloodwood Lookouts,
• two to four kilometre walks into Cathedral Gorge or to Piccaninny Lookout in the south or into Echidna Chasm or along the Escarpment in the north,
• four to five kilometre walks into Homestead Valley or Mini Palms Gorge (closed at present … July 2015), and
• a ten kilometre walk up Piccaninny Creek past the Window and into Whip Snake Gorge.

Flights over the Bungle Bungle Range provide a far different perspective and allow you to see the full extent of the range as only a small portion is accessible from the ground. You can take a helicopter or light plane flight from places outside the park including Kununurra, Warmun (Turkey Creek) and the caravan park at the turn off from the highway but for maximum time in the air over the range, flights can be taken from the airstrip located inside the park on the way to Piccaninny carpark. I’d visited the park twice before but hadn’t flown over it and on our visit last year Paul and I took a 40 minute helicopter flight. There are shorter, and cheaper, flights available but this took us right over the top end of the range to the area known as the Valley of the Giants and it was a truly wonderful experience I would highly recommend if the budget permits.

Piccaninny Creek