Revisiting Kruger National Park

Kruger - 15

Zebra, and Giraffe Crossing, Kruger NP

We visited Kruger National Park twice previously and both times the park was very dry after enduring drought for several years. It made the animals easier to see but we wanted to see the park after the last two good rainy seasons so we decided to travel through the park on our way toward East Africa.

We entered the park at the Punda Maria Gate and spent a leisurely four hours driving to the Shingwedzi Rest Camp. We spent three nights at the camp which gave us a good chance to explore the area around it on drives each morning and afternoon before we moved south to Tsendse Bush Camp which is just south of the Mopani Rest Camp. After another three nights with more days exploring around there we headed out of the park crossing the border into Mozambique at the Giryondo Gate.

Even though there was plenty of good cover for the animals we saw plenty of wildlife and really enjoyed the different aspect the green growth and plentiful water provided.

There are boards at the rest camps where people mark the locations they have seen different animals and each day there were sightings of lions and leopard reported and we visited and revisited the areas they had been seen in. We had no luck with seeing lions but a leopard strolled across the road in front of the car on one of our drives. She headed for a bush just by the side of the road but before Paul could get his camera ready she had second thoughts about settling down there and moved through thick bush and out of sight. I managed to catch a quick shot through the windscreen.

Kruger - 9

Leopard, Kruger NP

The only other predators we saw were a couple of hyena lying beside the road early on morning.

I was particularly pleased with the numbers of giraffe we saw. they are amazing animals and can seem gangly with their long, long legs and their swaying walk but they somehow manage to always appear graceful. Sometimes they are busy feeding and ignore us but often they are curious and stop to stare at us just as we stare at them. I loved getting detail of their heads and lush long eyelashes and kind eyes as well as detail of their intricate patterns.

We saw plenty of buck on our travels. The waterbuck were plentiful near the rivers and pretty  nyala could be seen among the bushes.

We saw individual or small groups of buffalo frequently, particularly wallowing in mud in the riverbeds. We also saw two large herds numbering in the hundreds, always great to experience.

Zebra are another frequent sighting and warthogs were seen fairly often but they usually head away as soon as they feel threatened.

Amongst the birds we saw were the pretty Little Bee-eater and the stately Egyptian Geese.

Last but by no means least are the elephants. We saw plenty of them while we were at Shingwedzi and they are great to sit and watch as you can see the family interactions and their characters really show. Then as we approached the Mopani camp we saw more and more of them. There were hundreds in the area feeding on the lush growth.

Kruger - 12

Elephant at the Water tank, Kruger NP

From Kalahari to Kruger

Giraffe in the Okavango Delta

After we leave the Central Kalahari Game Reserve our next major destination is Kruger National Park so we need to cross Botswana and the top of South Africa. We have a few places we want to visit on the way and the first is a return stay in Maun.

We were in Maun for a couple of weeks last year and had some great trips into Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta and Paul really wants to fly over the Delta in a helicopter while it has a good amount of water in it. We also have a few chores to do in town, including cleaning off all the mud presently caking the car so we’ll return to Sitatunga Camp just outside of town and catch up with Gerald and Corinne.

We didn’t leave the Central Kalahari until late morning because we had spent time looking for game and negotiating a few muddy patches inside the park. The drive out to the highway also takes quite a while because of all the water on the track. Once on the highway its an easy but long drive and we arrive at Sitatunga in the late afternoon, just in time for a drink in the bar before an easy meal and bed. We stay four nights, the chores get done, the car gets cleaned, Paul processes some photos and video from our last visit and I work on the backlog of posts. Most importantly Paul has his helicopter flight late one afternoon and captures some amazing photographs. There’s one at the top and another couple here, with more to come.

Young elephant covered in white sand in the Okavango Delta

Buffalo in the lush grass in the Okavango

We finish our chores on Monday morning and by late morning we head east. Its a very long day to get across Botswana to the busy city of Francistown and then south for another couple of hours until it is time to leave the highway and find a bush camp. Along the drive east we were amazed by the amount of water along the side of the highway.

Flood waters beside the highway across Botswana

Our long day put us in easy reach of the Tuli Block, a collection of privately owned properties which are mainly game reserves. As well as the opportunity to see wildlife we also hope to enjoy interesting scenery and to see some of the cultural history sites in the area. We start re-thinking our plans almost as soon as we leave the bitumen. A patch of very slippery mud has us sliding all over the road with our tyres caked and unable to grip. If there is a lot of this mud it will make it difficult to get to all of the places we have planned. Luckily the place we hope to spend a night or two in is not far and we reach it with only one more tricky spot, a creek crossing on the property which had been churned up by crossing vehicles. We get stuck momentarily but our diff-lockers save the day and we don’t have to get out the winch.

Our camp site is lovely with beautiful trees all around and our own private ablutions and wash up sink. A short walk down the bank gets us to the Limpopo River with more lovely trees across the river on the South African side. We wanted to spend at least one more day in the area exploring but decide to shorten our stay and reach what we can today and then cross into South Africa.

We want a bush camp not too far from the border but as soon as we cross into South Africa the nature of the countryside changes. Fences stop us from leaving the road as the land is either under cultivation or managed as private game reserves for hunting and meat production. We push on and just before it gets dark we are happy to find a lodge which offers camping just outside the small town of Alldays. The site is a bit rundown and the bore water is dreadful but at least it is safe spot to spend the night.

Our next stay is a huge contrast. The Zakanaka camp site is in the Soutpansberg Mountains not far from the town of Makhado (previously known as Louis Trichardt) and it has lush gardens, a backdrop of impressive mountains, immaculate and very decorative amenities, free fire wood, our own private covered kitchen area including a stove and sink, cleared walking paths and delightful hosts. Gail and Alistair invite us to join them for sundowners when we wander up to the house and we swap tales as we enjoy watching the changing light and the sight of a shy bushbuck wandering past. It is so nice in fact that we decide to stay another night. This gives Paul a chance to download and sort his recent photos and to fly the drone. Gail and Alistair join us after dinner to see some of Paul’s photos and give us directions for the most scenic route to Kruger.

The drive is delightful and we enter the park before lunch time, plenty of time to start our game viewing on the way to our first camp.

 

 

Central Kalahari

CKGR-4

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a huge park, the second largest in the world at 52,800 square kilometres, and has a wide range of animals scattered throughout it. It is technically a desert but has a range of habitats and as we are visiting after the rainy season there is abundant vegetation. Accommodation in the park is limited and can be difficult to book so our camp site locations are dictated by what is available at late notice. We are entering through the Xade Gate which is a long way south and west of the main part of the park we want to visit. Our first two nights in the park will be more than 160 km from the entrance so we spend a night bush camping just outside the park boundary. Unlike our last camp just outside the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier park we have no nocturnal visits from lions, the only wildlife we see are some butterflies forming a cluster on damp sand.

CKGR-1

After we leave the park reception at Xade the first section of the drive is through quite dense bush and slow going and, although we see signs that elephant have been in the area very recently, we don’t catch sight of any. In fact we see very few animals at all until we reach Piper Pan where we see the usual complement of Springbok and Oryx. A less common sighting is the fascinating Secretary Bird, so named because the feathers sticking out from its head can appear similar to pens stuck behind the ears of an office worker. Not sure I see that myself but it makes a memorable name.

Central Kalahari - 1

After lunch at one of the campsites we continue the second half of the journey and arrive at our campsite by mid afternoon. Just as we are nearing it we see giraffe crossing the road in front of us. More and more appear and eventually we count seventeen, the largest herd we have seen. They are walking away from the direction of our camp so we hope it is on their normal path to or from water.

Most of the campsites in the park are very spaced out, our nearest neighbours are 14 km away. Our campsite is on a rise above the San Pan but the views are limited by trees and the ground is uneven and covered in prickles, maybe that is why it hadn’t been booked already. Paul shovels away the prickles to give us room to sit and to work at the kitchen and we shovel out some sand under one side of the car to level out the vehicle. Its not an ideal spot but the reappearance of the giraffe next morning makes up for it. They are passing behind the car and are very curious and stop to gaze at us.

Central Kalahari - 2

We head out for a drive in the morning and spend most of the day parked under some trees beside the Tau Pan which is not too far away. We see quite a few antelope milling around but none are very close. Its very pleasant though and a lovely spot to enjoy being out in the bush and reading in between gazing around. After lunch we decided to drive a little further around the pan and then to head back to camp. Less than 200 metres away we see a young male lion lazing under a bush. We watch for a while but then our attention appears to annoy him, or perhaps it is just time to make a move, and he ambles off. We are able to follow for a while but he eventually leaves the road and heads into the bush.

After another night at our campsite we move to our next camp which is only a few hours easy driving away. The only time we need to pause in our drive is when we see another lion. Sometimes it can be difficult to see lion in the bush, this one is hard to miss. Its actually lying on the road as we approach and shows no sign of moving until we get quite close when it moves to a bush right next to the road. We travel past and apart from turning to watch us he shows no sign of disturbance, and before we leave the area he has settled down for another snooze. At least he is not on the road now so he won’t have to move when the next pesky lot of tourists drive by.

We arrive at our new camp, Lekubu, by late morning. It is also lacking a view but at least it has no prickles. It is situated just at the start of Deception Valley so we continue on to a better spot for a picnic lunch and soon find another grove of trees near an open area with large herds of Springbok and Oryx as well as Zebra. Recent rains have added a sprinkling of wildflowers to the grass.

CKGR-2

As we continue our drive we see plenty more game including lots of ostrich roaming across the pans along with large herds of wildebeest, oryx and springbok.

Central Kalahari - 3

Deception Pan is damp and, rather than take one of the tracks right next to it and risk getting bogged, we travel part way around on a drier track. Its getting later in the afternoon and storm clouds are gathering but there is time for yet another photo of the majestic Oryx, this one in full flight.

CKGR-3

Rain starts before we get back to our campsite and soon becomes very heavy. We had considered camping in the grove of trees where we had our lunch but now we see why the camp sites are set on rises away from the edge of the pans. The track becomes very muddy and we slide our way through several sections of the track but reach our sandy and safe camp site with no problems.

We have one more night in the park and another longish drive to reach it the next day. We are a little concerned about the track, or at least I am, but our trusty vehicle, and experienced driver, get us through the muddy patches with no worse than a little slipping and sliding. We pass the two largest of the campgrounds, Kori overlooking the Kori Pan and Deception not too far away. Here the sites are closer together and they are the easiest to reach, perhaps accounting for why they are all fully booked. We are continuing on to one of the three camp sites in the Passarge Valley via tracks that pass by Sunday Pan and Leopard Pan. Again we are 14 km from our nearest neighbour. We haven’t seen as much wildlife in this area but the scenery has been great and the camp site is by far the nicest we have been in so it is well worth the drive. Thankfully no more rain falls during the night. Instead we leave the area to the sight of the valley still slumbering under a heavy morning mist.

Central Kalahari - 7

The mist lifts as we breakfast beside the Leopard Pan. There have been recent sightings of, you guessed it, leopard and we are hopeful but out of luck. Still it is a very pleasant place for our cereal and coffee before we make the long drive out of the park and up to Maun. Luckily the sun is drying out the roads but we still have several patches of mud to negotiate and twenty kilometres of large mud pools on the road after we leave the park. We even have ducks swimming on the road. I thought this was supposed to be a desert!

 

 

Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park

 

Kgalagadi NP - 11

A Field of Springbok

When we visited Botswana last year it was towards the end of the dry season and the weather was getting very hot. Too hot, we decided, to visit the desert areas of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park. We promised ourselves we would return to travel in those areas when there had been some rain and the temperatures would be more comfortable.

After we flew back into South Africa in early March it took us two busy weeks in Johannesburg to finalise all the changes we wanted to the fitout on our vehicle and to spend time with Paul’s mother, sister and other family members.

Because we had sold the trailer we needed to make numerous changes to the fitout of the Toyota so we had more fridge, fuel and water capacity and space to fit in all the things we would need to carry to make our lives comfortable and safe for the next two plus years, including of course all Paul’s camera and computer gear. We also wanted a new roof top tent which was more comfortable, easier to set up, and had more air and light as well as a new awning to provide better shelter. While we were out of the country Gary had completed lots of work re-fitting out the interior of the land cruiser. He had installed our new fridge where the back seat had been and made a great shelving system next to and in front of it so Paul could securely stow all his camera and computer gear and still be able to easily access it all. A new water tank and gas bottle carrier had been ordered and our new roof top tent and awning was due to be installed a couple of days after we arrived. The roof rack had been modified to allow them to fit and Jerry cans and our storage box for awnings and mats were in place. Other handy features Gary had designed and built were tables which could be clipped on to both sides of the rear of the truck or on top of the drawers at the back and a wash basin support which fitted on to a rear spare wheel.

We were very happy with all the high quality work he had completed and after living with it on the road for a month we are even happier with it all. Thank you Gary.

Paul would still need somewhere to set up his iMac to process his photos so we bought a ground tent we could set up when we were staying put for a little longer.

By the time we had had the roof top tent, awning, water tank and gas bottle carrier fitted, had the car serviced, found and bought a list of items we needed, stocked up our provisions, caught up with some people we had met on our last visit and installed the solar panels we were just about out of time and Paul struggled to find time to reorganize his photographic files and process a few to share while I juggled everything to make it all fit in the car.

It was time to get back into the bush and we headed west out of Johannesburg in the pouring rain two weeks after we landed in South Africa. By mid afternoon the next day the weather was hot and sunny and we were checking into our campsite at Twee Rivieren at the South African entrance to the Kgalagadi Park.

All together we spent six nights in the park, two at Twee Rivieren and two at Nossob in the South African section and one each at Polentswa and Swartpan in the Botswana section. We also had one night just north of the Kaa gate in Botswana. We took drives each morning and afternoon so we had a good chance to explore quite a lot of the area.

Beautiful Gemsbok, also called Oryx, were abundant showing why the South African section used to be called the Gemsbok National Park. Springbok were the other very abundant type of antelope and we also saw wildebeest, hartebeest, impala, and bush duikers.

Other animals we saw included zebra, black backed jackals, a bat eared fox and lots of ostriches. I finally saw some meerkats and loved watching them standing upright and peering all around before scurrying back to their holes. We also saw lots of social weaver nests, they are quite a feature of the park. We had a distant sighting of a cheetah but hardly enough to pick out its markings as it rested in the shade of a tree several hundred metres from the track.

Even though we didn’t see any of the lions which are one of the main draw cards of the Botswana section of the park we enjoyed the rugged bush scenery and and the general feeling of isolation.

When we left the park we drove just a short distance from the gate to the Kaa pan where herds of springbok, Oryx, Eland and Wildebeest grazed on the short grass covering most of the area. We decided it would be a good place to make a bush camp and have a good view of the full moon a well as a good chance of seeing more wild life in the morning. We selected a spot well clear of any trees or bushes so we had a good field of vision and settled down to enjoy the views.

About 2.00 am we woke to the cough of a lion. Instantly wide awake we peered out of the windows and, under the light of the full moon, we could make out a distant movement. As we watched we saw more movements and eventually we had a pride of at least seven lions, including two large males, circling our vehicle. The nearest was a curious female who approached within 50 metres. We felt quite safe in our hard topped roof top tent, well pretty safe anyway, but we certainly weren’t venturing out of it to get a camera to record the amazing experience.

The show continued for an hour or so but finally they lost interest in us and faded away into the night. In the morning there was no trace they had been there, with just a few springbok grazing as the mist lifted. The drive out to the main road continued for the next couple of hours through this buffer zone surrounding the park but eventually our sightings of springbok and other wild game gave way to sightings of cattle and goats, and, as we began passing people and villages the road turned to bitumen and this part of our Botswana adventure ended. Onward to the next!

Kgalagadi-8

Springbok grazing as the mist rises at Kaa Pan

Malawi

Beachfront at Kachere Kastle, Lake Malawi

Malawi is a relatively small country, roughly 900km long and between 80km and 150km wide, in comparison with the others we have visited so far. Almost one fifth of the country is covered by the inland sea, Lake Malawi is the focal point for most visitors and there are also highlands in the north and the south which we want to visit. As well as Zambia, the country also has borders with Tanzania and Mozambique. Its a friendly, inexpensive and easy country to travel in so we plan to stay about five or six weeks.

We cross into Malawi from Zambia in the far north west at the tiny border post of Chitipa. The road from Zambia was very rough and slow for the last part of our trip and it is dark by the time we have cleared the border so we’re happy to find a guest house and take a room for the night. It’s basic but clean and has an ensuite and secure parking, pretty good for 5,000 Malawi Kwacha which is about $9.00 Aussie dollars.

In the morning we have an easy drive down from the high country to the town of Karonga on the shores of Lake Malawi. It’s quite a big town and has a bustling and colourful market where we can stock up on wonderful fresh produce.

Alfred and his wife Elizabeth and their three sons and three daughters have built and run Thunduzi Camp on the shores of Lake Malawi in the tiny settlement of Chilumba. The camp is very quiet but the attached bar and restaurant do a good trade and Alfred has plans to make more improvements to the camping and to add additional accommodation. It’s a very pleasant spot and we need a break from travelling so we are soon set up and settled in for the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately I have a bit of a virus and need to spend a fair bit of the first week sleeping and then slowly recuperating but Paul easily fills in his time with his photos and also taking a walk with one of Alfred’s sons through the village to visit the local ‘brewery’ and to meet some of the local people and sample some street food.

During the second week, when I am mostly recovered, we take a drive back up into the high country to the old mission station and colonial town of Livingstonia. To reach it we have a short drive down the main road next to the lake then a steep climb up an unmaintained dirt track. The last ten kilometres takes an hour and we are very glad we didn’t bring the trailer. The town was built on the edge of the plateau west of the lake by Scottish missionaries in the 1890’s because too many people were dying of malaria at the original mission settlements at the lower altitudes beside Lake Malawi. Livingstonia is picturesque with solid stone buildings spread along tree-lined streets and wonderful mountain views in all directions. It is also much cooler up here and it is pleasant to spend a couple of nights tucked under a cosy doona at the Lukwe Permaculture Camp. Paul walks through the permaculture gardens to the nearby Manchewe Falls but I’m content to sit and enjoy the views and complete my recuperation. Or maybe I was just feeling lazy.

After another couple of nights back at Thunduzi its time to move on and we head toward the Nyika Plateau National Park. We stop overnight in Rumphi on our way and find a place to leave our trailer as we are in for another steep drive. While Livingstonia, at 1200m above sea level, is more than 900 metres above the lake, Nyika Plateau is over 2,500m above sea level. Nights are much cooler, with a light dusting of frost on the grass in the mornings, so we need to dig out our cold weather clothing and add a down sleeping bag on top of the doona. Its worth it though with wonderful views and plenty of chances to spot wildlife. At this altitude there are not a lot of native trees, just the remains of a failed pine plantation in one section, and the hills are covered in rolling grassland punctuated by rocky outcrops. There are zebras, reedbucks, eland and other antelope scattered around the hills and pretty bushbucks hang around the camp ground and the lake by the lodge. Leopard have been sighted recently not too far from the lodge but although we try hard we aren’t lucky enough to see them. There are also elephant and buffalo in the park but at this time of the year they head to lower altitudes in a corner of the park which isn’t accessible by car.

After two and a half days spent driving through the glorious country and two nights huddling around the fire while we gaze at the stars we head back to Rumphi for another night and then on to Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve. We are still well above the level of Lake Malawi and the temperatures are mild but the Wildlife Reserve is covered by woodland along with a large lake and river along one edge and a marsh and wetlands forming at the end of the river. The campground is set on the edge of the lake and although the water level is low there is still plenty left for hundreds, or probably thousands, of hippos. We had planned on camping but by some curious vagary in the pricing it is cheaper to stay in one of the pleasant huts which are managed by the local community than it is to camp, the pricing of which is set by the national parks body. We go for a short drive around the edge of the lake and along one of the bush tracks on our first day and plan to go for longer drives later but sitting on the verandah of our hut we gaze out at a passing parade of impala, kudu, puku and elephant as well as the hundreds of hippos at this end of the lake so we pass the next couple of days lazily. A couple of herds of elephant with lots of tiny babies come down to drink not far from the camp and one group walk right through the middle of it, wonderful to experience. As well as being almost submerged in water the hippos spend quite a lot of time out of the water during the day, probably because the temperatures are mild and they need to warm up a little. It gives us a great chance to see the numerous baby hippos and the adults lazing around the shores of the lake. They lie around for hours at a time and then suddenly, for no reason we can see, the whole herd ups and charges into the water. Soon afterwards they start straggling back out of the water. Very funny to watch.

Our next destination is Mzuzu, the largest town in northern Malawi. We found a great range of fresh fruit and vegetables in Karonga but we haven’t seen a supermarket since we left Lusaka in Zambia so supplies are getting low and we are looking forward to stocking up. We also need to extend our entry permit and we find the government offices right across the road from another colourful market, much more fun visiting the market than lining up in the immigration office. The last service of the car was in Cape Town so that is due as well and we find a very pleasant camp just out of town to spend a couple of nights while we do our chores. The owners of the Maconda Camp, Luca and Cecilia, are Italian and, as well as the small campground and some other accommodation, they run a well frequented restaurant. The food is delicious, especially the pasta and pizza, so we skip cooking and dine in style for the two nights we are here.

Luca recommends another camp further south along the lake and so we stop in at Kachere Kastle in Chincheche. Its an amazing place built over the past seven years by Russell and Kate, originally from England but now enjoying living in Malawi. They have paid enormous attention to detail and did all the plumbing and electrical work themselves to ensure quality control, an amazing effort. Paul starts taking photos and drone footage of the place and Russell and Kate are very impressed by the results so we end up trading a video and still photographs for our accommodation which included a very comfortable room plus dinner on the last of our 8 night stay.

We’ve been in Malawi for nearly a month by now and we’re still in the northern section so we need to hurry ourselves up as there are some spots in the south we don’t want to miss. On a recommendation from Luca in Mzuzu, Mua Mission in central Malawi is our next destination. This mission was built at the beginning of the 20th century and has some wonderful old buildings and a large church but our interest is in museum and cultural centre which houses a huge collection of Gule Wamkulu masks, drums and other accoutrements and a series of murals providing huge amounts of information about the daily life and the traditions of the three main cultural groups in the area. These masks are used in “the Great Dance of Malawi” which is now on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage register. The dance is mainly performed at funerals and memorial services but also at initiations and other celebrations. The masks worn by the dancers on such performances are believed to capture the soul or spirit of the deceased that brings renewed life. The purpose of the dance is said to be a way of communicating messages of the ancestors to the villagers and making possible continued harvests and continued life. Father Claude Boucher, originally from Montreal, has been in Malawi for more than 50 years and has collected hundreds of masks and documented the characters and their stories. Its late afternoon when we arrive so we spend the night in a chalet and plan to spend the morning visiting the cultural centre and gallery and be on our way before lunchtime. Father Boucher invites us to watch a performance which has been arranged for a group and it should commence mid-morning. The group are late arriving, we’ve already had our lunch and the elaborately costumed performers have also had to wait but we are extremely pleased to have this opportunity as we are enchanted by the performance. The costumes, the dancing, the singing, the drumming and particularly the masked characters combine to tell a story and to pass on a message to the audience.

Liwonde National Park on the Shire River is our next destination. It is in southern Malawi so we’ve left the lake behind us now. It’s late when we arrive at our campground, getting dark before we are even set up so we have a slow start in the morning then drive to the entrance of the national park. The fees are double the amount we were expecting and we are not sure that we will see much wildlife in the half a day we would be in the park so we decide to give it a miss and return to camp. The camp ground is hot, dry and dusty but the baobabs at sunset make our two nights here almost worthwhile.

Bushmans Baobabs, Liwonde NP, Malawi

We need to get out of the dust and the heat for a couple of days so we take a detour from our southerly course and drive up to the Zomba Plateau. The trout farm at the top of the small plateau has a grassy area for camping and it’s a lovely spot to sit for a couple of days. Large trees provide shade for the trailer and car but there are plenty of open patches so our solar panels can keep the batteries topped up. Water from the adjacent creek is channelled to the hatchery nearby and we scoop it out by the bucketful to drink and to fill our water tank. Its the clearest and best tasting water we have had for ages. Most has been bore water which is ok for drinking but contains minerals which coat the kettle and thermos, and the ‘treated’ water available in the towns contains chlorine and other chemicals to make it safe to drink. The climate on the plateau is perfect for berry and avocado growing and we feast on strawberries, raspberries and avocados which we buy from the side of the road on our way up. We aim to buy more on our way down. The only thing we are lacking on this trout farm is the trout to eat as they only have the very small fingerlings, maybe they will be bigger in a year.

We could easily linger longer at the trout farm as there are lots of walks and waterfalls in the area but we need to keep moving so we head to Blantyre, the largest city in the south of Malawi and the commercial and industrial capital of the country. We have a couple of places to visit out of Blantyre but it is the hub of the south so we find a secure camp to drop off the trailer and head straight on to Majete National Park. This is further down the Shire River and we stop in a private lodge and campground very near the entrance. Our site is fabulous, right next to a lovely swimming pool which is surrounded by a deck overlooking the river. We had planned to stay two nights but we arrived late so to allow ourselves a full day in the park and a day enjoying the camp we stay a third night. On the day we spend in the park we have a very early start and leave camp before breakfast so we can be at the gate when it opens at 6.00am. There are a network of tracks in the park and we easily fill in the whole day and stay until the late afternoon. The tracks take us along the picturesque Shire River and to two very popular waterholes. This park has probably the highest concentration of animals in Malawi and we see plenty; lots of elephants and hippos, a good variety of buck including a beautiful sable antelope, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra, but unfortunately no lions or leopards.

From Majete we return to Blantyre, replenish the small fridge in the car from the large fridge in the trailer, and drive out to Mt Mulanje. The mountain is a huge mass of granite rising 3,000m above the surrounding plain and it is a very popular destination for hikers. We’re not going to tackle any of the multi day hikes but plan to walk to one of the waterfalls. The first place inside the park we visit to find a place to stay has a group of fifty coming in later that day and all the chalets and rooms are booked so although we could camp we decide to continue looking and the next place is ideal. It is in the lower section of the park but still quite elevated and the temperature has dropped accordingly. We could camp but the lodge has delightful rooms at a very reasonable price so we stay warm and comfortable and enjoy a bit of luxury. Numerous locals offer to guide us to the falls so we agree on a price and set out in the morning. We are able to take the car a fair distance up the track so our walk is halved. Its not a difficult or overly steep walk but we have not done any walking for ages so it is good to stretch our legs and get a bit of exercise as we walk through the bush. It is the dry season so the falls are not roaring but they are still impressive and Paul clambers around the rocks to get different vantage points for his photos. We finish off our visit to Mulanje with a pizza in the town and head back to Blantyre.

As we are approaching Blantyre and the camp where we have left our trailer Paul starts feeling cold although I think it is still quite a mild day. By the time we are in the camping area he is feeling worse and starts shivering uncontrollably. Its an easy self diagnosis of malaria and we hurriedly consider the options. When we were in Mozambique we bought some malaria curative tablets which, if taken promptly, will greatly lessen the severity and length of an attack so Paul takes the first dose while I am checking out the internet for more information on malaria and for the location of doctors or hospitals nearby. As we are in a large city there are several options and I map out a route to a private hospital where I hope we can get quick attention. The curative tablets sure work fast as we are still on our way when Paul stops shaking and doesn’t feel as terrible. Now that we know the tablets are working and a doctor could do little else to help we change our plans and look for a guest house, Paul may be feeling a little better but camping is certainly not an option. I pick one from the guide book which looks easy to get to and drive there to check it out. The room looks ok so I help Paul inside and pile blankets on top of him and he basically sleeps for the next two days. His fever drops as he continues to take the tablets, we are certainly grateful to Barbara and James in Mozambique for their advice about carrying the malaria curative with us.

When I checked out the room I didn’t check the bed and unfortunately it is very hard so as soon as Paul is up and eating again we decide he is well enough for us to move on provided I do the driving and we stay in rooms for the next couple of nights. We finally collect the trailer, very appreciative of being able to leave it there safely and to have had the use of power to keep the fridge running and they don’t even want to charge us anything … Malawi is certainly a friendly and hospitable place. We leave a donation and make our way north to a little place called Dedza. Its on the tourist route because they have a very good pottery and a range of accommodation. We enjoy a very comfortable bed in a delightful room with dinner in the restaurant and a visit to the pottery in the morning. A bit of pampering is certainly a good idea right now.

It is time to leave Malawi so in the morning we take the shortest and easiest route to the border. It bypasses the capital of Lilongwe and we arrive at the border with Zambia by mid afternoon. Its been a delightful country to visit, (its a pity malaria is so prevalent,) the people are friendly and welcoming, accommodation and national park fees are cheaper the surrounding countries, and it has been far quieter and less crowded. The lake is very impressive and the highland areas provided a welcome change in both the geography and the climate, it is certainly a country we would recommend to other travellers.

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.

The Caprivi Strip, Namibia

Hippos in the Okavango River,
Nunda River Lodge,
Caprivi Strip, Namibia

The Caprivi Strip is a narrow band of land in the north east of Namibia stretching more than 400 km east from the north east corner of the main body of the country. At its western end it is only around 40km wide with the Okavango River and Angola as its northern border and the north west corner of Botswana as its southen border. From there it narrows to less than 30km wide and then expands in the centre to follow the course of the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers before tapering out where the Linyanti flows into the Zambezi River. As well as having these large rivers flowing along the edge of or through the Strip this area enjoys a higher rainfall than the rest of Namibia and the vegetation and country is markedly different to the predominantly dry country we have encountered everywhere else in Namibia.

We’re planning on spending the last two weeks of our time in Namibia on the banks of these permanent rivers in the Caprivi Strip but first we have to make a detour. While we were in Etosha our trailer fridge/freezer stopped working. Luckily the freezer was nearly empty and our fruit and vegetables were also low so we managed to keep our food in the far smaller fridge in the Landcruiser but it needs fixing before we leave Namibia. The nearest authorised repair place is in Otjiwarongo which is on the road south from Etosha toward Windhoek. Jared and Jen have a bigger detour to make as they need to travel all the way to Windhoek to get some warranty repairs made to their trailer. We both have time to fill before our appointments so we set out from Etosha at a leisurely pace planning to find a place to stay near Otjiwarongo either tonight or tomorrow.

By mid afternoon we have visited Tsumeb and reached Otavi without finding a suitable camp for the night and we call into the supermarket to buy a few supplies. As we are leaving, Boet, who drove with us up to Marienfluss, greets us. He and his wife Martie live just a few minutes away and he invites us to visit which we do. Afrikaans people are extremely hospitable and before we know it we are camping on their front lawn for the night and Martie is cooking a delicious dinner for us all. We swap stories about our travels since we last saw them and about other travels they have done in southern Africa and have a very enjoyable evening followed by a delicious cooked breakfast, and lots of cups of coffee, in the morning.

Thoroughly fortified we continue south to Otjiwarongo. There’s a camp site in town but it is far from appealing so we decide to try Weavers Rock camp about 30km south of town. Its set up on a hillside with great views, has a pool and a bar and restaurant, good WiFi, and very friendly staff so its easy to decide to stop here. We plan to stay two nights as the repairs are to be completed tomorrow (which is also Paul’s birthday) and Jared and Jen will stay a third night.

Weavers Rock,
Namibia

In town the next day the repairs are quickly carried out (turns out it was a broken pipe which released all the gas) so we stock up at the supermarket and butchers, and we find two good cafes for our breakfast and lunch. Back at camp we prepare a birthday dinner; Jen makes a delicious eggplant dip for starters and a large pork belly is spiced and slowly cooked on the braai to be accompanied by roast vegetables and our last bottle of good Franschoek wine from the Cape Winelands.

We’ve enjoyed this camp so much that even before dinner Paul and I have decided to extend our stay for an extra couple of nights. Jared and Jen still need to leave as planned so we farewell them and arrange to meet later. After Windhoek they are heading for Khaudum National Park and will be travelling through it on their way to the Caprivi Strip. We have decided not to visit it partly because it is very sandy and we don’t want to tow the trailer through the park and also because we want some rest and relaxation time before we leave Namibia. Paul has loads of photos he wants to work on and I’m way behind on my writing. It’s wise to travel through Khaudum with at least two vehicles so Jared and Jen are meeting up and travelling with Roger and Jenny, the couple we met on our last night in Etosha.

After our four nights at Weavers Rock we start our journey north toward Caprivi. We travel back through Otjiwarongo and Otavi and stop in Tsumeb to have new tyres fitted and then pass through Grootfontein. It’s late afternoon by now but we have a long way to go before we reach the area we want to stay in and we would like to make it there tomorrow so we drive until after dark and stop at a roadside rest area before making an early start and continuing in the morning.

Our early start pays off as, even with a stop in Rundu, we reach the Okavango River and find a lovely camp near the tiny settlement of Divundu. The Nunda River Lodge offers chalets, safari tents and camp sites as well as a great deck over the river, bar and restaurant, swimming pool and ablution blocks which offer extremely hot water supplied by a donkey which is lit each morning and late afternoon and boast a small, well-tended garden in the centre between the toilets and showers. There are only nine camp sites and we aren’t lucky enough to get one right on the river for our first night but they juggle the bookings and we get a fabulous and large river-side site for the remaining nights.

We end up staying a week and a half and enjoy the luxury of a well run camp ground combined with our location right at the end of the camp sites so we can sit on the edge of the river and feel like we are out in the bush on our own. Numerous hippos spend their days nearby and while they move to feed at night they don’t go too far as we can hear them at random times throughout the night as well as all through the day. There are crocs in the river as well but the only ones we see are a couple of youngsters, less than two metres long on the far bank. One day we watch in delight as a herd of elephants stir up the dust as they wander along the river bank opposite our camp. We haven’t crossed the Okavango here so technically we’re on the western bank but the river winds so much we are facing west and can enjoy fabulous sunsets over the water.

As well as the animal life we love the birds around us. Majestic African Fish Eagles call from the tops of nearby trees. Their call seems to symbolise the sound of Africa to me. Pied Kingfishers hover above the river and dive into the water to find their catch. Tiny bee-eaters sit on the branches watching and their dive is for insects flying below them. A White-browed Robin-Chat becomes so accustomed to our presence that as I am peeling apples for stewing it briefly lands in the handle of the pot before the pot tilts and he flies off. Other birds hover and hop around with starlings flashing bright blue.

We drive into Divundu a couple of times. It boasts two supermarkets as well as smaller shops and businesses and of course several shebeens. Fresh produce is scarce but we are fairly well stocked and enjoy what we find to supplement our diet. Another outing is down river to the Mahango National Park. We set out before breakfast and take a slow drive along the river road to a picnic spot. There’s nothing in particular here except a shady clearing above the water and we happily sit here for several hours having breakfast and coffee then reading and relaxing as we listen to the sound of hippos and birds. It’s not a big park and game doesn’t seem abundant but when we think about what we’ve seen it amounts to an impressive tally. The animals include Kudu, Impala, Zebra, Lechwe, Elephant, Buffalo, Warthog, Hippo, Vervet monkeys, Baboons, Ostrich and Sable Antelope. Birds are also plentiful including the pretty Blue Waxbill, Lilac Breasted Roller and Little Bee Eater, the brilliant Crimson Breasted Shrike, the unusual Violet Wood Hoopoe, the ugly Maribou Stork, and the regal Saddle-billed Stork. Paul returns the next day to visit the waterhole in the late afternoon and gets some close up views of elephants and an ostrich drinking, which is quite unusual.

It is just as well we have such a large site as the camp is almost full when Jared and Jen and Roger and Jenny arrive after their Khaudum trip but they are all able to join us on our waterside site. They loved Khaudum with its huge herds of elephants and very remote bushland. They tell us that the trip out of the park was very sandy, and they had to dig themselves out on two occasions. We would certainly have struggled with our trailer and while we may have missed a great park we have really enjoyed our time here beside the Okavango River. Roger and Jenny stay two nights then head south into Botswana. After Botswana they are planning to travel into Zambia so we may cross paths again there. We stay an extra couple of nights so we’ve had a good week and a half of relaxation to ready us for more adventures. Jared and Jen are going to spend another two days on maintenance and paperwork before they also head south into Botswana. We’ve been travelling with them most of the time since we met in Luderitz which was more than two months ago. Our plans for the rest of this year differ but hopefully we’ll catch up somewhere in East Africa next year. They have been great company.

We drive further east through the Caprivi Strip until we cross the next major river, the Kwando. About 30km south along the river we find another wonderful camp along the river bank at Malyo Wilderness Camp. This camp is far less structured but has a different charm. There are a few safari tents but most of the area is grassed with scattered trees providing plenty of shade but also good spots to set up our solar panels. There is no power or potable water here but we are self sufficient and happy with the simple camp. There are very few other campers and we quickly decide we will spend three nights here. Tall reeds cover the opposite bank and birds hop in and out of its shelter. Pied kingfishers are plentiful as are the beeeaters. Both are lovely to watch as they hunt for their food … diving for fish in the water or snatching insects out of the air.

There are two small sections of national park near here and we spend one of our days exploring. We drive through Mudumu Game Reserve and are not hopeful of seeing much game but grazing along the side of the road are Zebras, Warthogs and Impala. A little later Paul spots an elephant approaching the road. He’s very shy and as soon as he sees us stop the car he retreats into the bush. We reverse to give him room and after a pause to gain his courage he approaches the road. Once again as soon as he spots us he turns back into the bushes so we reverse even further to give him more room and finally we are far enough away for him to feel confident he has enough space. He completes his crossing and disappears into the bush on the other side.

Further south we take a side road toward Nkasa Lupala Nature Reserve. This is the bottom section of the Caprivi Strip and the Linyanti Swamp can be very muddy and difficult to travel in during the wet season. It has dried out enough now to allow us to travel through part of the park but there are still large sections which are impassable. We spend several hours driving slowly along rough, ‘two spoor’ tracks but apart from about twenty or thirty vultures circling or perching in trees not far from the road we see very little game. Apart from warthogs that is, they are so numerous we rechristen the park Warthog Park. Finally we are rewarded with some elephants, hippos and an African Fish Eagle perched in a tree just above the track. We may not have seen lots of game but it has been a lovely day and we return to camp ready to move on the next day.

Our final camp is just outside Katima Mulilo on the banks of Zambezi River. This camp is far more manicured than the last two with paved campsites and well maintained lawns and gardens. Once again we are able to set up right on the bank of the river and it is a very pleasant place to spend our last two nights in Namibia. It is three months since we arrived in this wonderful country and we have enjoyed every bit of it. It is a country with great variety; in its geology, climate, vegetation and people. We have met so many friendly people, both locals and fellow travellers, and seen plenty of wonderful animals and birds. From here we head across the border to Zambia and no doubt more great adventures.

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Elephant, Halali, Etosha NP

Etosha is one of Namibia’s major tourist destinations and a great place to see lots of wildlife. The park is more than 20,000 square kilometres with the huge Etosha salt pan as its heart. Bushveld, waterholes and open plains surround it. The opportunity to see Black rhinos is a major draw card but there are lots of other animals to see here as well. It’s a busy place and it is best to pre-book accommodation but by the time we work out when we were likely to arrive it is too late to book, so we’ll just have to take our chances. We reach the western gate late in the afternoon after travelling down from the Kunene River and spend the night in a camp across the road from the entrance.

We make a very early start in the morning and it is just as well as the first two camping areas we reach have no vacancies and, allowing time for stopping at waterholes, it is late afternoon by the time we reach Halali Rest Camp. All of the rest camps have a variety of accommodation as well as camping, all have a waterhole you can visit from inside the rest camp allowing you to view wildlife at any time of day or night. The main three rest camps also have swimming pools, restaurants and a shop. We would like to have had a couple of nights at Oaukeujo Camp as its waterhole is the best place to see the rhino and lots of other animals frequent it as well but it is also the most popular camp and it is fully booked.

Halali has a huge camping area and we have no problems getting a site here and we happily stay for four nights. The waterhole here is just a short walk from our camp and makes a great spot to sit with an early morning cup of tea or coffee, a late afternoon drink and nibbles, and an evening viewing when the floodlights illuminate the animals venturing in for a drink. In between we drive along the network of tracks through the bush land and along the edge of the pan and visit the waterholes either for a short period, if it is dry or there are no animals around, or for longer if there is lots of activity.

Zebra are numerous as are black faced Impala and Springbok. It’s mating season for the Impala and males spar to claim their right to be the alpha male and to chase the females, generally unsuccessfully as far as we can see. Other antelope we see include Kudu, Hartebeest, Oryx and Wildebeest. Giraffe appear behind the trees or cross the open land in their swaying gait. There are lots of elephants in the park and we see a good sized herd on our way in and also at Halali waterhole. Ostriches appear to float above the mirage on the salt pan and bob through the grassland. A couple of lionesses snooze in the long grass near a waterhole and make all the other animals nervous. We see rhino at a couple of waterholes including Halali, they look especially solid under the night light but when a family of elephants are there first they make the rhino look much smaller and he circles around warily with a couple of the female elephants watching him carefully until they allow him in to drink. Warthogs scamper through the grass with tails held high looking ridiculous as usual, and somehow appealing at the same time. If they are around there will be leopard but we’re not lucky enough to see them, they are very shy and hard to spot.

We see lots of birds as well. The Lilac Breasted Roller displays its beautiful colours perched on a branch looking for insects but when it flies a whole new set of colours is on show. Tall Secretary Birds stalk through the grass along with Bustards and Korhaans. Kingfishers and Bee-Eaters swoop and birds of prey soar above us.

After our four nights at Halali it’s time to head out the eastern gate. There’s another rest camp here, Namutomi, but we’ve been told it’s full. We call into the reception there on the off chance and talk our way into a site for the night. It’s a lot smaller and the grass and trees are very welcome. There is an old German Fort here and it’s worth a look even though it isn’t being well used at present and the accommodation, restaurant and bar which used to be in the fort are closed and dilapidated. It seems you can no longer sleep in the old soldiers quarters as you used to be able to do. The waterhole is being revamped and the only ‘cat’ we see here is the mechanical kind which is enlarging the hole. Instead of spending sunset at the waterhole we return to our pleasant campsite. Neighbouring campers, Roger and Jenny, join us and our last night in the park is spent sitting around our campfire chatting. This has certainly been a great place to visit.

Surprise Safari

Kruger National Park

Two weeks after we arrive in South Africa we are delighted to participate in a surprise celebration for the 90th birthday of Paul’s Mum, Eileen. Her actual birthday was a couple of months ago but her granddaughters Kate and Gemma who are organising the event delayed the date until Paul could be here. Nobody has let slip anything about the party to Eileen and there are a more surprises in store for her. Paul’s son Sean, daughter Caitlin and her husband Kevin have flown over from Australia and she has no idea they are coming. Kate has come up from Cape Town and Eileen’s daughter Sarah and grandsons Dylan and Keegan have travelled from Durban, again all without Eileen’s knowledge. Other family and friends from around Johannesburg are also assembling for the event. As a final surprise, two days after the party we are taking her on a six day trip to Kruger National Park and Sean, Caitlin and Kevin are coming along as well.

Late Saturday morning all the guests are assembled at the venue, a pool-side “lapa” (thatched shelter without walls) belonging to the daughter of Eileen’s best friend Jean. Eileen thinks she is coming to collect Jean to go out for lunch. Kate and Gemma have done a fabulous job preparing the area and decorating the lapa with roses and balloons. Tables have been laid with white tablecloths, there are plenty of chairs and shade to relax in, and all the food has been organised so we all enjoy the glorious day as we wait for the guest of honour. When she arrives Eileen is quite overcome by surprise and delighted by the gathering. All in all it is a wonderful afternoon with lots of conversations and laughter, good food and drink, short speeches and the obligatory photos.

6.00 am Monday morning we arrive to collect Eileen for the long drive to Kruger. By the time we have loaded the meat out of the freezer, fitted all the last minute bits and pieces in and double checked the driving directions it is after 6.30 and the peak hour traffic is well underway. We hit a couple of slow patches of heavy traffic and even though we are travelling on freeways and against the majority of the traffic for most of the time it is still a couple of hours before we have managed to escape from the greater Johannesburg area.

We would prefer to avoid freeways and stick to quieter country roads (and avoid the tolls) but with [such] a long way to go we need to use them for a good part of the trip. Caitlin, Kevin and Sean trail our much slower Landcruiser in their rental car. They could cut quite a bit of time off the trip if they didn’t have to slow down as we trudge up hills and we never approach the speed limit of 120 kph. By late morning we have a good part of the distance covered and it is finally time to leave the freeway. Paul has planned a route to take advantage of the views available as we descend from the highveld, the central plateau covering much of South Africa, to the middleveld and then down to the lowveld. The passes are all named and he has chosen the picturesque Long Tom pass for our descent to the middleveld. We stop at the top to admire the views, try to decipher the history on the plaques (it is written in Afrikaans), buy souvenirs and have picnic lunch. The British used a Long Tom cannon, possibly more than one, to control the pass during the last Boer War and this was the last site it was used. Continuing our journey to the lowveld we pass through towns and villages, all much bigger than the last time Paul visited this area and finally we arrive at Orpen Gate at around 4pm, our point of entry into Kruger.

Kruger National Park is in the north east corner of South Africa with the Lebombo Ranges in Mozambique running north south along the eastern border and reaching Zimbabwe and the Gonarezhou National Park in the far north. It covers 20,000 sq km and stretches 444 km from Malalene Gate in the south through to Parfuri Gate in the north. There are seven other entry points within South Africa and two from Mozambique. The southern section has the most visitors and we are avoiding it this trip with our accomodation booked in the central area of the park.

Our first night is at Tamboti Tented Camp, only a few kilometres from Orpen. Here we stay in safari tents with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The tents all have two beds, power, a fridge, a secure food storage locker, a braai (barbecue), and a verandah. By the time we have unloaded everything from the eskys and got ourselves organised on Eileen’s verandah we are just in time to watch the sunset over the dry river bed in front of us while we enjoy a gin and tonic (or beer or wine as preferred). Baboons call from a large tree opposite and we wonder what other wildlife is nearby. The camp is surrounded by an electric fence which runs in front of us alongside the river bed but as we are elevated it protects us without interrupting our view. After a delicious braai and a relaxed evening chatting under the starry sky we head for bed, weary after the long drive and looking forward to the days ahead.

During the night people in our group hear lions roar, hyenas cackle and baboons chatter nearby and other campers report hearing a leopard growl but I managed to sleep through it all. The baboons provide plenty of interest as we share breakfast on the verandah. The tree opposite is home to a large troop and after seeing just a few on outer branches initially we see more and more appear and descend to the river bed. Eventually there are about 30 to 40 on the ground. Youngsters play and others enjoy the sunshine before they all slowly make their way along the sand and out of our sight to spend their day before they will no doubt return to this tree for the night.

Finally we are also ready to start our day’s journey and leave Tamboti to head toward Shimuwini where we will be staying for the next four nights. The speed limit in the park is 50 on bitumen roads and 40 on dirt roads but we often travel slower as we search for game and when we spot any we stop to watch them. We’ve seen zebras, giraffes, elephants and warthogs and quite a few different antelope and birds when a passing motorist tells us of seeing a pride of lions further along the road. Hoping they are settled for the day we continue our slow pace enjoying our sightings as we go.

Sure enough the lions are still there, in fact they hardly move during the half hour or so that we are in the area. Two young males lie under a tree and a little further on a large male with a magnificent mane shelters in a bushy thicket. Unfortunately the branches and leaves mean photographs are very difficult but he is certainly a great beast. Several females, a cub and another young male form another group not far away but once again movement is minimal and photography obscured. They have obviously fed quite recently as herds of antelope, mainly Impala and Kudu, graze without fear nearby. Something spooks them and they scatter then move up a hill and out of site. On the other side of the road the land is lower and the creek bed here has pools of water. Elephants and Impala are scattered along the water. Its no wonder that at times there are up to ten vehicles with people keen to appreciate the life around them.

Its almost midday when we reach Satara Rest Camp, a whole 50 km east of Tamboti. We’d like to head further before lunch but when we leave here we have a similar distance until we reach the next place we will be allowed to get out of the vehicles so we eat before we continue. We travel north now and the fascinating viewing continues. The country is very dry and many of the rivers and creeks are dry so when we see a waterhole we invariably see wildlife around it. Elephants and buck are the most numerous but giraffes and zebras are also around. A larger waterhole has a sizeable herd of elephants enjoying the mud. A turtle perches on top of a hippo watching the activities. Nearby two young males play fight, until a big male enters the area.

We have entered a part of the park where the dominant vegetation is the Mopane bush. These are covered in yellow and orange leaves and provide quite beautiful displays. The Olifants River is still flowing with more water than we have seen elsewhere but the width of the river bed shows that we are seeing only a small fraction of the flow which would occur after heavy rain on the Lebombo Mountains.

Olifants River

Olifants River

Olifants Rest Camp is not far up stream and we would like to take a look there but time is moving on and we reluctantly decide we do not have time today. Paul and I will definitely revisit this area. We make a brief stop at Letaba Rest Camp before leaving the bitumen and heading west along some dirt roads to save a longer trip on bitumen. The cruiser handles the dirt well but the passengers in the rear vehicle feel every corrugation and are happy to return to the bitumen 30 km later. We cross the Letaba River and we’re very pleased to see a reasonable amount of water in it as we’ll be staying in a camp beside it further downstream from here.

Soon we reach the turn into Shimuwini Bush Camp. The dirt road in is about 9km long although there is a slightly longer route along the river as an alternative. Shimuwini is much smaller than the large rest camps which have shops, restaurants, day picnic areas, and often swimming pools as well as a variety of accommodation levels ranging from camping to basic cottages and up to more luxurious options. At Shimuwini Bush camp there are a about a dozen self contained cottages with slightly different lay outs and the only supplies available are ice and firewood. Gates to the compound are locked between 6.00 pm and 6.00 am. We have two booked but first we have to reach there.

Just after we leave the main road we reach a dry river with a raised concrete bridge. A herd of elephants have dug a waterhole in the sand just next to the bridge and aren’t to keen on us being too close to them. Luckily they aren’t any good at jumping or climbing as a belligerent female has a staring contest with me and spreads her ears in a manner which leaves me in no doubt as to what she thinks of me being in her space.

Not happy!

Not happy!

We take the river loop and although the afternoon is steadily advancing we detour to several viewing points to observe the abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery. This is going to be a splendid place to stay!

We’ve given up on the detours and we’re approaching the gate when a large male elephant steps on to the road not far ahead of us. We see another male off to one side and we quickly stop and get ready to reverse if they become aggressive. Luckily they decide we aren’t a threat and they wander slightly off the road to graze on the trees. We wait for a while hoping they will move further away but they seem settled so we slowly move past as far away from them as possible and soon we are safely inside the gate.

Right of way

Right of way

We have travelled about 170 km in the day but it has taken us the whole day and now we have to hurry to get everything inside so we can relax while we enjoy the light of the setting sun. We are all relieved to know that we don’t have to do any more packing and unpacking for the next four days and we are delighted with the accommodation. A large glassed in area allows us to enjoy the views without dealing with the wind or insects but the doors can be opened wide during the day to allow plenty of fresh air. The bathroom facilities are clean and spacious, the beds comfortable and the kitchen is right next to the sitting area so the cooks aren’t excluded from the conversations.

A grassed area in front of us has plenty of mature trees which are well populated with birds. Small ground squirrels run around the grass and race up tree trunks and we also spot the occasional dwarf mongoose. That’s all on our side of the fence which runs along the bottom of the grassed area and separates us from the Letaba River just below it and the open country beyond. A bird hide is positioned in a corner with the side fence and there you definitely feel you are in the domain of the animals, especially when two large elephants, probably the ones we saw on the road, push through the bush adjacent to the side fence on their way to the river. Caitlin and Kevin head over to the hide to see them better and they get to smell them as well.

The next few days pass easily and quickly. It is always interesting to stroll along the river bank, inside the fence, watching the life in and along the river; hippos, elephants, crocodiles, turtles, kudu, impala, waterbuck, buffalo, herons, egrets and storks. A Goliath Heron (it is huge, about 1.4 metre tall) and an African Openbill Stork pose near each other as they dry their wings and a female waterbuck turns her back on them unimpressed by their display. A pair of African Fish Eagles who nest in a baobab tree just up river from the camp call in their distinctive voice and are seen diving for fish nearby. Inside the fence yellow-billed hornbills search for food on the ground and a bearded woodpecker pecks in the tree above me. Numerous small birds delight us with their song and their colours, I have still so much to learn about the birds here. The squirrels always raise a smile and it is easy to spend lots of time just watching them scamper around.

If we’re a little more energetic we can find lots more to see just driving a few kilometres along the river loop and picking a spot to watch the wildlife and the changing colours. In addition to drives during the daytime Paul is out almost every morning shortly after the gate is opened and again in the late afternoon to capture photos in the light he likes so much. He is usually accompanied by one or more of us but the passengers change. A couple of times a longer drive is taken, once up to Mopani the next rest camp north of us and once a short distance south along the main road trying to spot a leopard which had been sighted earlier in the morning. We had no luck with the leopard spotting but our drives provide other sighting including Wildebeest, Nyala, Steenbok, Bushbuck, Reedbuck and Duiker to add to our collection. Driving into Mopani Rest Camp I was delighted to see a zebra crossing, well several of them actually.

Finally it is time to pack up camp and make the long journey back to Joburg. We are on the road shortly after 6.00 but the first 40 km to the Phalaborwa Gate is slow and not just because of the park speed limit. First we crawl along the area the leopard had been seen as they often use one spot for several days but again we have no success. Next we spot a hyena just next to the road. It’s the first hyena I have seen and it is quite different to what I expected. The snout is broader and it doesn’t look as fierce as I would have thought but I’m sure it would be a different story if I wasn’t safely in the car taking my photos. Along the road I am delighted with a group of giraffe under some tall trees with the colourful Mopane bushes surrounding them. A final sighting before we leave the park is a solitary old buffalo bull, one of Africa’s most dangerous species. Luckily he shows no inclination to charge the car and we make it to the gate in time for breakfast.

Caitlin, Kevin and Eileen take the lead in their faster vehicle and make it back home by mid afternoon and Paul, Sean and myself arrive an hour later, weary but very pleased with our safari. Paul and I will definitely be returning to Kruger with more time available so we can see the other parts of the park at a pace which suits us.

Marakele National Park

Our first camp in our new setup

Our first camp in our new setup

After our first two weeks in Africa we’re exhausted but happy. Several months ago we paid a deposit on an ex-rental Toyota Landcruiser fitted out with a roof top tent, awning, kitchen, 40 litre fridge, table and chairs, water tank, long range fuel tank, second spare and the basics in recovery gear. When we arrive at the company premises on Monday morning we are delighted to find the people at Bushlore to be friendly and extremely helpful and the vehicle is just as specified. The potentially difficult red tape of dealing with the purchase is handled very efficiently including an introduction to the African way of doing business when the TRN, the ‘Traffic Register Number’ which is necessary for all foreigners to obtain before purchasing a vehicle, is obtained in just 24 hours. The procedures can take weeks with no guarantee of success but Bushlore knows the right guy who knows the right guy so after accompanying him to the carpark of the vehicle registration office we hand over a bundle of cash, a couple of passport photos and hey presto the job is done. By Thursday all the paper work is finished, the vehicle is prepared, the rest of the money has been transferred and the vehicle is ours.

The more time consuming task is to find and purchase the seemingly millions of extra items we need before we are ready to hit the road for a long trip. Every day we head out to shopping centres and specialty stores to learn what the local market has and buy things ranging from wineglasses to bedding, a tyre pressure gauge to tea towels, all the basics for the kitchen and things to store them in, extra utensils and laundry products, a much thicker and more comfortable mattress for the roof top tent, and on and on and on. By mid way through the second week we have still not finalised some of the important purchases like solar panels, additional batteries and regulators or extra lighting for the car but we are shopped out and in need of a bush break.

Time is limited but we figure we can swing a trip away for two nights and after considering the options we decide to head north into the Limpopo Province to the Marakele National Park. Google tells us we’ll be there in less than three hours but that is far too optimistic and its closer to five hours by the time we arrive at the Bontle camp site in the National Park.

I’m really impressed by the camp ground. The camping area is divided into three loops with large campsites spread around loop each plus a few permanent safari tents. Boundary posts indicate the limit of where we are allowed to camp and walk but there is no barrier between the posts so the animals grazing just nearby are free to roam into the camp. There are no large predators in this section of the park so it is quite safe, unless you trip over a wart hog in the middle of the night. There is a dam nearby and a large open grassed area between it and the camp so while we eat a delayed lunch we are treated to the sight of Impala, Zebras, Gemsbok, Wart Hogs, Ostriches and Kudu happily eating their lunch as well. Its very warm and the birds are quiet but a few Yellow Billed Hornbills forage around our camp site and cute Ground Squirrels scamper up the trees. Ostriches and Wart Hogs happily wander through the camping area but the Zebras and various antelope come close to the boundary posts but remain beyond it.

In addition to the great viewing the camp site impresses me with its facilities. Spotless showers and toilet blocks are located in each loop with a couple of washing up sinks as well. Each site has a tap, rubbish bin and power point as well as a braai where we can light a wood fire for a barbecue.

We are not allowed to drive in the park before 6.00 am and we have to be back by 6.00 pm but this looks a great place for photos anyway so that won’t be a hardship here. After lunch we decide we have time for a drive around part of the park before we need to return to camp for our first attempt at setting up the roof top tent. We head for the bird hide and I get my first giraffe sighting along the way, amazing animals. We also spot a cute Ververt monkey and more Kudu.

We manage to miss the turn to the bird hide and reach the tunnel and gate which separate the two sections of the park. The larger animals are confined to the other side so we head in hoping to see some of them. There are lots of trees and thickets of bushes along the road so there are lots of places for animals to be out of sight and we don’t even spot any Impala which were numerous in the other section but the scenery is very impressive. Usually you can drive to the top of a rocky mountain near where a large flock of Cape Vultures nest but the Parks Board are resurfacing the road at present so unfortunately it is not open. Instead we drive around and between other hills enjoying the scenery and getting a feel for the place.

Back at camp we manage the set up of our roof top tent, it probably took longer than it needed to but we’ll certainly get faster with more practice and familiarity. We watch the sun set and the sky change colours with a glass of wine and cheese and biscuits, then cook our meal and clean up and still have time to enjoy the balmy evening before bed.

On the next day we go for a longer drive in the morning and aim to spend the afternoon back at our camp watching the animals from there. Once again there are very few animals in the other section of the park, apart from a pair of Klipspringers, that is until we are approaching the exit gate and are confronted by a large elephant walking along the bitumen road towards us. We immediately stop and it continues its steady pace toward us. This can be potentially dangerous so Paul has the car in reverse and he is ready to take off if the elephant appears to be aggressive. It comes close but remains calm. Right next to us it takes a good sniff, obviously decides we are harmless and wanders off into the bush. What a great experience!

Very close!

Very close!

The afternoon and night are very windy with lots of dust blowing around and the animals nearby are not as abundant. We agree however that its still a great place to be and we have had a great start to our time in the African bush.