Nata to Livingstone via the legendary Kazangula Ferry!

9 Nov

A quick trip to Nata for some supplies and fuel and then we are on our way north again. It is extremely hot at the moment and the fitting of the air conditioning to Landy is starting to feel like a very good decision. The road to Nata is straight and pretty good, passing through bush on either side of the road with occasional signs warning of elephants and this is a real possibility on this road. Elephants, kudu, zebra, impala, springbok and bushbuck appear out of the bush to cross the road and the wide verges are essential so that you can see them appear up ahead and slow down accordingly. This is a highway north for humans but an important area for animals migrating between Okavango, the pans and Chobe in Botswana and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It is also of course just as important to slow down for all the cows, goats and donkeys we pass. It is all in the average days drive in Botswana.

Big Foot in the Bush

bushbaby Botswana
Bushbaby – cute!

We decide not to drive too far today, it is hot and we have plenty of time so we look for somewhere to stop and just chill out for the afternoon, preferably with some shade out of this sun. We find a little place with some little chalets, but they have a spot where they are happy for us to camp too. There is also a nice little bar that has nice sofas and is lovely and cool. Sipping on a cold beer, we hear a small thud and look over to see that something has fallen from the ceiling onto a cushion strategically placed on the dining table. “Don’t worry” says the somewhat eccentric owner, “its just a baby bushbaby, I’ll just pop him back on the beam”. Apparently this mother bushbaby has built a nest in the eaves that is too small for all her babies and every now and again one falls out. Humans place them on a beam and then the mummy comes down to retrieve them. Its repeated several times a day but it is a wonderful opportunity to see one of these gorgeous little creatures up close; usually you see them in the dead of night leaping around the trees.

Keith happens to mention to the owner that we spotted some huge human footprints in the sand near to our camping spot. “Do you have a particularly tall guy working here?” This is clearly a sore point! “Bloody hell, he’s back!” Apparently this place has been robbed a couple of times and the huge footprints are familiar. Of course we are very close to the Zimbabwe border and its fairly straightforward for unsavoury characters to hop across, steal stuff and they back in Zim before any is the wiser. But our host is not taking it lying down. He is up and out of the door with a shotgun and his wife makes a call to the local police office. Within half an hour he is back and the police have arrived. They don’t seem to bothered about his outing with a firearm, and promise to patrol around the place a few times during the night. Its all very exciting but we take the alarm and pepper spray up into the tent tonight just in case.

Kasane

Next stop Kasane, the gateway into Chobe where we will be heading to in a few days with Dad and Chris. We decide to stay at Chobe Safari Lodge, which is a pretty up market place, but they do have a campsite. This is brilliant as you get to use all the facilities without having to pay for the rooms. We use the swimming pool and sun loungers and treat ourselves to some lovely cocktails. At the campsite we find another Landover with a UK number plate. This is a first for us; we have seen many European registered vehicles but none from home. This lovely vehicle is owned by an English couple,. Sandy and Kevin shipped their Landover to Cape Town too and are doing a six-month trip around southern Africa. So far it seems as if they have been following us, as we have been to pretty much the same places. They are heading to Zambia and Malawi next so we may bump into them again. One of the surprising things we have noticed is how often you come across fellow travellers on more than one occasion. Word certainly gets around about the best places to camp so I suppose its inevitable that paths will cross and with everyone sharing and connecting on social media it makes it relatively easy to keep in touch with like minded people that you meet in the bush.

Baby Warthogs in the campsite
Baby Warthogs in the campsite

After pampering ourselves for a day or two we head off to Kazangula Ferry, the crossing over the conflence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. If ever there was a place that needs a bridge, this is it, and apparently one is being started soon. In the meantime either side of the crossing means hours of tortuous red tape and hassle by “helpers”. The buildings on the Botswana side have no signs whatsoever and so before the car has even come to a stop we find ourselves surrounded by men all saying they can help us. Now, we have done many border crossings, and you always get a bit of hassle and it can be difficult to work out what you need and where to get it, but Kazangula (on both sides) takes bureaucracy queuing and chaos to a whole new level.  On the Zambian side different documentation needs to be produced, purchased or handed in, all in different places and all whilst being hassled by “fixers” to do it for you for a fee. So this time we tried a different approach and hired one of the “fixers.” And it actually paid off. We were whisked from building to building and told to wait while he spoke to officials and got us to the front of queues. It was money well spent and after a couple of hours we were on our way. (We have heard of it taking five or six so this is good.)

Livingstone

12 Nov. It is ridiculously hot today. We park the car at Livingstone Airport and our feet sink into the melting tarmac as we walk over to the air conditioned terminal building to wait for Dad and Chris to arrive from Johannesburg.  Oh my word, it is so strange and lovely to see them! It seems surreal, almost as if our travelling is like another life and it is hard to imagine everything and everyone at home. It is going to be a great two weeks catching up and sharing this wonderful African experience with them.

First of all though, a bit more luxury. We check in for one night at the Zambezi Sun and enjoy gin and tonics around the pool whilst we chat about anything and everything. Dad confessed that when he stepped off the plane and felt the heat he did think “I won’t be able to cope with this” but we assured him that we will be out of the heat in the middle of the day, his truck will have air con, and hopefully it will rain a bit. It is surprising how we have got used to heat over the last six months. We take a walk down to the falls later but there is no water at all on the Zambia side so tomorrow we walk over to Zimbabwe to see what its like over that side.

13 Nov. After the most amazing breakfast we set off through the private access to the Victoria Falls, circumvent the pressurised sales techniques of the curio sellers and head to the border crossing on the bridge. We pass the bungee jumping adrenaline junkies and Keith has a few pointed words with some particularly annoying curio sellers. As much as we like to support people as much as we can you cant buy a souvenir from everyone and the problem is that if you do make a purchase the rest of sellers see you as an easy target and home in like bees round a honey pot. Border formalities on both sides are quick and painless but the sun is relentless and we arrive at the falls hot and sweaty and in need of refreshment. Is it too early for a beer?

The walk along the viewing area though proves to be cooler, the vegetation is tropical due to the fairly constant “rain” from the falls and there is a cooling breeze and fine mist which helps us recover. The falls on the Zim side are better and although it is nowhere near as impressive as it is after the rains it is still beautiful and definitely worth the walk.

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Dad and Chris spend one more night in the hotel and we head back to a campsite where the partying carried on until 3am. Not the best nights sleep, but we are excited to be on our way back to Botswana and our itinery for the next two weeks is going to be busy but hopefully fun and rewarding. I just hope that Dad and Chris love it as much as we do.

Camping in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The Kgalagadi on the Botswana side

1 Aug. After a long day driving to the Xade gate of the Central Kalahari, we arrive at 2pm at the office to find no-one there. We look around for a while, but not a soul to be seen, so we sign out and head on to the small town of Ghanzi. This road consists of  160 kms of deep sand (what else?) and so it takes several hours to get to the tar road and civilisation. The lodge / campsite we decide to stay in has good facilities and so we stay a couple of days to clean everything and use the shop in town to stock up ready for another few days in the bush. (Also a nice lunch in the town’s only hotel for my birthday.) We are heading to to the Kgalagadi park which is a frontier park on the border of Botswana and South Africa.

It takes a couple of days long driving to get to Kgalagadi, and we pass through very traditional Kalahari villages, one of which, thankfully has a petrol station where we can fill up all the jerry cans and the car to bribing to make sure we have enough to get us to the gate on the South African side. The last part of the journey to the gate at Mabuasehube is through yet more deep sand but there are places where it is gravel and so we make it a shorter time than we were expecting.

We are staying at Monamodi Camp for the first two nights and after checking in at the gate we begin our adventure in the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park. This park is a wild and harsh environment with a few waterholes drawn by bore holes in dry riverbeds which attract animals in the dry season. It is a true African landscape of shifting red and white sands, stands of thorn trees, big skies with stunning stars and it is home to a surmising amount of wildlife. The sunsets are stunning to watch whilst sitting around a camp fire.

Sunset at Monamodi camp
Sunset at Monamodi camp

The Kagalagadi is perfect for self driving and camping but you do need to be self sufficient and confident in your driving ability. We have heard a few stories about breakdowns and burnt out cars here so we are glad that we now feel confident and ready for any adventure that comes our way.

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The beautiful trans-frontier park on the Botswana side

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Deep sand and Elephants in Khaudom NP

Waterberg Plateau, a very surprising National Park.

7 July. On our way to Khaudom National Park in the north east corner of Namibia, we decide to take a short detour to a National Park that is small by southern Africa standards but which is pretty unique. Waterberg Plateau rises up ahead up us out of the bush, a huge outcrop with sheer walls and a flat top. It is certainly impressive.

Waterburg, Namibia, camping land rover
Waterberg Plateau

The park campsite is fine. Not as secluded as some we have stayed in but perfectly clean and everything you would expect. We soon set off for a hike up the plateau. In this heat it is hard work but  when we finally haul ourselves up the last few metres we decide that it is definitely worth the climb. What a view!

Namibia Waterberg, Land Rover
Stunning view from top of Waterberg Plateau

The next day we decide to do the evening game drive as you are not allowed to do self drives here and it seems a shame to come here and not go to the top and see what wildlife is up there. As the vehicle makes its way along the road to the main entrance we can see signs of wildlife already and we are not even in the park yet. The vehicle steadily climbs up to the top and we can see now how this flat area, with sheer sides for most of the way around it, is a naturally enclosed nature reserve. The animals can’t get out unless the one gate is open and this means that many of the species found here are unique and some, like the buffalo, are completely disease free.

Unbelievably the terrain is deep sand; we expected rock, but it is surprising how similar the land is up here to the land all around the plateau. And the wildlife is just the same too. We take a stroll along a little path, to a hide overlooking a waterhole, and after a short wait we see buffalo and giraffes come in for a drink.

Back in the car and bumping along the sandy tracks we also see klipspringers and sable antelope. All in all a very worthwhile and enjoyable drive.

Buffalo on the Waterberg Plateau.
Buffalo on the Waterberg Plateau.

Khaudom National Park, deep sand and elephants.

Next on our itinerary is Khaudom National Park but all the guidebooks, and the website for Namibias National Parks, all say that you can’t get in with only one vehicle. The sand is deep and it is very remote. In fact you have to be completely self sufficient and stocked up with plenty of jerry cans of fuel. Our only option is to head to a good campsite near Grootfontein, Roys Camp, where we can spend a few days and see if we can find someone else to tag along with. http://www.roysrestcamp.com

Roys Camp is a well run, quirky kind of a place and there are a few little walks around here, as well as a good bar and restaurant and a pool. Not a bad place to hang around for a while. We pass the time reading, bird watching and chilling out, and on day three we finally find two families that have been considering tackling Khaudom but are undecided.

We convince them. We set off in the morning in convoy through the area inhabited by the San tribes. We don’t have time to linger here but it is definitely an area we would like to come back to, it is a timeless landscape with ancient ways of life still in evidence.  It is a long drive on a gravel road to Khaudom but  there is a village, Tsumkwe, the main centre for the San, on the way where we hope to find fuel.  Apparently the supply is  a bit erratic but we are in luck and we top up again to hopefully see through the park, and all the way to the town of Divundu.

Khaudom, Namibia Landrover
Following our new friends into Khaudom National Park

We really enjoy the drive and it is so lovely and remote here. We deflate the tyres before going into the park and it soon becomes clear why it’s recommend to have a minimum of two vehicles. It is deep sand and if you did get stuck it could be a while before anyone else comes along. We find the campsite, but head to a nearby waterhole first to see if we can find any of the elephants for which this park is famous. There is a great lookout structure here where we sit and wait. We don’t have to wait long – dozens of elephants come charging down to the water, with plenty of rough and tumble in their eagerness to get a drink. There are clearly several groups here as as one herd uses the waterhole there are others coming in all the time and some noisy and boisterous behaviour ensues as they sort out the pecking order. As the sun sets it creates the most wonderful colours as the dust is kicked up by the elephants. We are all totally in love with this place already.

Khaudom Namibia Land Rover camping
Sunset at the waterhole Khaudum

We head back to the campsite before it gets too dark and begin our dinner preparations. We are so lucky that we have met these guys. They are on a three week trip from South Africa, taking in Namibia and Botswana but they are on a tighter schedule than us so when we leave the park they will go on ahead a bit quicker. We  have a lovely evening sharing travel stories and enjoying a glass of wine or two. It is great to have some company and I think we will be catching up with them again later on in our trip, perhaps back in South Africa.

The next day we rise really early as we want to see if we can see anything at another of the waterholes. On the way we see elephants and some roan antelopes as well as little duikers and lots of birds. As we approach the water we see a cheetah dashing off into the distance, just a bit too late to get a good look, but exciting all the same. It is our first wedding anniversary today. What a great way to celebrate it, in the middle of nowhere, watching wildlife. On our way back to camp for breakfast we see some lions looking very beautiful in the early morning misty sunshine.

Lioness in the early morning mist in Khaudom
Lioness in the early morning mist in Khaudom

Today we are driving all the way through the park. It’s a long way but there is plenty of beautiful scenery and some waterholes to check out on the way. Even so the bouncing along in deep sand is tiring and it is hot too so we are pleased to find that the campsite at the northern end of the park is lovely, if a little pricey compared with other Namibian campsites. We manage to negotiate a deal and enjoy the facilities of a lovely private pitch with its own ablutions. Another lovely dinner and fun evening tonight. We really are going to miss these guys!

The next day is a very long, tiring drive of 60kms through deep sand to the main road. This has been an amazing few days in this remote National Park. If you get the chance to go, take it. You won’t regret it and although we didn’t have any problems we can see why it would be sensible not to go it alone here.

Namibia Khaudom Land Rover Camping
The road out of Khaudom, deep, deep sand

At the main road we say goodbye to our new friends. Its been fantastic and we will definitely stay in touch. But for us it is time to head to the Caprivi Strip and another adventure.

 

 

Overheating and Freezing in Namibia

Driving into Namibia through Ai Ais National Park

27 May. As we board the little pontoon to cross the Orange River into Namibia we wonder what to expect of the roads on this side of the Transfrontier Park. The drive this morning, back over the tricky passes to the border post at Sellendesdrift, was tiring and dusty and we have a long way to go to reach the campsite at Ai Ais Hot Springs.

After disembarking we set off on what appears to be a fairly decent dirt road and we soon arrive at the tiny and unbelievably remote immigration, customs and Police post. The formalities are quickly dealt with and we are on our way. It is a hilly and rocky terrain and after an hour or so Landy’s temperature gauge begins to rise. This is a first for her and, even though it is hot, it is nothing compared to what lies ahead of us. It’s winter for goodness sake! So, a little worried, we stop every now and again to allow her to cool down. During one of these breaks a friendly South African couple (annoyingly in a Toyota) offer to follow us to the campsite to make sure we arrive safely. We gladly accept and take our time for the rest of the journey feeling a little happier.

The landscape surrounding us is flat and rocky with very little in the way of vegetation. During our frequent stops we step out and gaze around us, glad that we brought lots of water, fuel and food because if you do have car problems here you could wait a long time for assistance.

In Ai Ais National Park, Nambia, a cooling down stop.
In Ai Ais National Park, a cooling down stop.

A busy campsite

We arrive, relieved, to find the kind of resort we don’t usually stay in but today we are pleased to have shade, showers, a bar, shop and swimming pool. There are also plenty of fellow campers and travellers to swap information and stories with. Particularly interesting to talk to are the fit (and slightly bonkers) people who have done the four or five day hike along the canyon, carrying all their own equipment, including drinking water. We decide to give this a miss; maybe another time?

If you feel inspired go to:  http://www.nwrnamibia.com/ai-ais.htm

Keith adopts the common, bonnet up, position for Landy and soon finds the problem. A small water leak is causing the overheating and he soon has it fixed.  We can now relax and take advantage of the facilities here. A short walk to stretch our legs (with a too close for comfort snake encounter) and then we head to the swimming pool for a lovely warm dip. The hot springs, however, are not for dipping your toes in; they are are a constant 65 degrees. (Ai Ais means burning water in the local language.)

Ai Ais Namibia Campsite
Snake on the path in the campsite at Ai AIs Hot Springs

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