This is it – the route we plan to take for our African Adventure. After many many months of preparation, I think we’re just about ready for whatever Mother Africa intends to throw at us.
Wish us Luck!
20th July –
We said our Goodbyes and headed for somewhere to stay near the RSA / Zimbabwe border post, Biet Bridge. Elephant Inn, just a few kms away from the border did the trick, cheap and cheerful.
21st to 23st July
After all the anxiety, drummed up by numerous reports of torturous delays, corruption, touts, antipathy and red tape we sailed through the Zim border within 30 mins! Border and Immigration were all helpful, cooperative and polite, one of the easiest border crossing I’ve had in Africa.
We arrived same day at Antelope Park for a two night stay. This place breeds Lions (lots of them) under the guise of an initiative called ALERT. Given the demise of Lions in Africa (now under 30,000) the aim is to stock Africa with Lions to ensure their longevity. They have Lion breeding and re-introduction programs and also have Elephants. So, for a fee you can ride and walk with Elephants, cuddle Lion cubs, walk with Lions etc. The whole place seemed to be geared to make as much as possible from the activities. After asking “how” and “where” Lions have / will be re-introduced (with not very convincing answers) I remain suspicious of the motives and feasibility of the initiative.
Anyway, that’s a long discussion!………back to the trip. It was freezing cold at Antelope Park, dew drops on the nose kind of stuff! On opening our brand new camping stretcher beds, we find the two rods used to construct the beds are missing on one the beds………..only in Africa! I’ve now asked Carlo to buy us another one in Jo’burg and bring it with him!
We stocked up the following day and made tracks for Mana Pools.
We had now covered around 1600kms to arrive at Makuti Lodge for the night. Our last stop before Mana Pools. Like many places in Zim, in a poor state of repair with electricity and water often unavailable. However it is positioned at the top of the Zambezi escarpment with stunning view, the staff were very pleasant, dinner was edible and nowhere near as cold as Antelope park!
We made our way to Marongora to check in and fill out the paperwork.
First nights stop – Chitake Springs. This place is legendary and supposedly you need “nerves of steel” to consider staying here. It’s pretty wild, no facilities i.e. no water, power, ablutions, just your camp site! It’s quite special as there are natural Springs that form a little rivulet; and with the water being so fresh, attracts plenty of game. It’s notorious for its herds of Elephants, Buffaloes and well stocked with Lion. After making camp I went for a short walk (100m) to the edge of the bank to see what game was around. On my way back I saw something just ahead and to the right of me, sauntering along. It was a Lioness with her back to me). I was 20m away from her and 50m from camp. And I was out in the open. It’s funny what grips you in situations like these. The first thing that came to mind was the crunching of dry leaves underfoot, the second was “are there more behind her coming towards me?” and then “am I upwind or downwind?”. I just froze and watched her blend away into the bush as she walked on oblivious. I’ve now had to promise, no more walking alone in the bush!
That was the only cat we saw at Chitake, although we did find very fresh Cheetah spoor and heard Lion and Leopard calling all night. The Elephants kicked up a storm that night, trumpeting and screeching into the early hours.
We found a beautiful spot, a hill dotted with characterful Baobabs, overlooking the mountains. We went back there for sundowners and to take lots of pics in the reds, oranges and yellows of an African sunset.
25th / 26th July
A very corrugated dirt road all the way to Mana! I nearly lost a bed en route. A kindly guide from one of the lodges stopped us to show us it hanging off the edge of the roof rack. It was only held on by strap through the handle. Sleeping on the ground for the next few months would have been fun! Strange though, there were 3 vehicles we passed us shortly before. They must have seen it?!
Mana Pools is a Game Reserve on the banks of the Mighty Zambezi River. On getting to Mana, we were allocated a pitch at Nyemepi, away from the river and close to the ablutions. After enquiring about changing we were told every spot on the river was fully booked but they managed to find us a lovely pitch away from the madding crowd, right on the edge of the Zambezi. We’ve had lots of visitors, Monkeys, Baboons (I’ve never seen so many Baboons anywhere!) and a friendly Elephant reaching high into the branches of the Acacias to get to the pods. The scenery is beautiful, huge trees, interesting groves and waterways, big blue skies and you can almost reach out and touch the heavenly bodies at night.
Last night the Hippos were sounding off like the Thames on New Year’s Eve, wow they can create a racket!
I got to try out my new flexible solar panels today and they work a treat! They will keep the fridge and freezer going all day and night, so plenty of cool beers!
We’re just happy chilling and looking forward to the Gang arriving tomorrow. There will be 12 of us at a private camp called Nkupe, again right on the banks of the Zambezi.
27th – 28th July
Packed up camp, picked up some wood and set up Camp at Nkupi. This is a private camp that Carlo booked for us all. On the flood plains of the Zambezi, amazing views and sunsets to die for!
We found 9 Lions in the morning, just chilling and went back later in the afternoon to see if there was any action – again, they were just dozing.
Fun night with friends around the camp fire, fine dining, one too many and to bed.
The start of a great “Craic” with the gang. It was good to have company again…..especially for Emma! Nkupe is a beautiful spot on the Zambezi with plenty of space for us all. Carlo took care of the fires and general admin and Pete the Cordon Bleu Chef kept pulling out all sorts of gastro delights out of his hat. The Lions were still around. Whilst I was watching them, a local old boy Guide turned up with a client, got out of his car and walked towards the Lions. I couldn’t resist it and followed. We got to within 5m of the Lions (where the Lion pic was taken). This is unheard of anywhere else in Africa and testimony to the unique behaviour of Africa’s wildest animals at Mana Pools. They certainly are a different breed (see Elephant experience later!).
29th July – 30th July
Muchichuri – Encounters of the Elephant Kind!
We left Nkupi and set off for Muchichri Lodge, about 6 kms downstream from Nkupi. It was good to spend a night under a roof. The Lodge is very basic but adequate and was right down on the banks of the Zambezi, right under huge Mahogany pod bearing trees (that Elephants love). Sat round for much of the day, just enjoying the scenery, birdlife and Elephants swimming across the river.
There was a regular procession of Elephants of all sizes that came right up to us, hovering up the pods from the trees. On the second afternoon, we were all sitting around the patio when a very large and confident Elephant Bull walked right up to us, looking for pods on the patio! Pete had a major sphincter test moment when the Bull squared up to him. It wasn’t aggressive, I think the Elephant had got too close (within 4 foot) and Pete’s movement unnerved him. Going by the ashen faces around the patio, everyone was quite relieved when the Elephant moved on.
On the second afternoon, four of us went for a canoe trip on the Zambezi. It was tough going, 1 1/2 hours upstream and 30 mins downstream. We came across a herd of Buffalo, a few Hippos we tried hard to avoid and one or two crocs.
That night, or very early evening, we were all awakened by the most deafening roar from an Elephant, right outside the lodge. I’ve often heard Elephants screaming at night but never as loud and as close as this. It was unearthly, and a sign of serious stress. When it was light, the cause became evident. There was Lion spoor all around the lodge. I suspect the Lions were resting right outside the lodge when the Elephant came across them. I’m sure they made a hasty getaway…………so who’s the king of the jungle?
Everyone decided to stay on one extra night. This was our last night before saying goodbye to our friends, they heading back home and we on to Zambia. We managed to find Hippo Lodge available and snapped it up. Another wonderful spot on a confluence surrounding game rich islands.
The road to Chirundu (Border Post)
I should have mentioned the horrendous state of the corrugations on the 70km of roads between the main road and Mana Pools river front. Probably the worst I’ve experienced in Africa. They took their toll! On the way out the ABS and TC lights showed a problem with the braking system. It wasn’t until we got to Chirundu that we realised we had a serious problem. The wheel brake pad cover was broken and gear oil splattered all over the place. We needed to get through the border post and try and get help. The border was impossible to negotiate without a helper. I think we need about 5 different types of taxes to pay before getting through, not to mention Visa etc. We found a very dapper helper, Nicholas who helped us through the border gauntlet and also led us to a “garage”, just over the border. To put things in perspective, Chirundu is a tiny, dust covered African outpost with nothing but shacks and more dust! Nicholas took us to the garage shack. I started getting worried when they needed my tools to take off the wheel …………..and they hadn’t seen locked wheel nuts before! I couldn’t have been more wrong. The mechanic found the problem, the drive shaft oil seal was stuffed. I thought “oh shit, how long will it take to get that part to us here?”. Then, the guy walked into the back of his shack, pulled out a replacement part which fitted perfectly. They put it all together, welded the broken brake cover together (exceptionally well) and everything was hunky dory. We were back on the road within 3 hours and paid a fair price for the job i.e. it wasn’t a rip off.
2nd – 3rd August
Eureka Lodge, Lusaka
A long and dusty drive to Lusaka. We set up camp, had dinner and a very early night. The following day we met a couple who had driven down from Uganda that had a problem with their Land Cruiser. I drove the guy to find help and the friendly Zambian attitude had them fixed up within the hour. Everyone has been so warm, helpful and friendly here. I’ve now got a SIM for our time in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania. The number is +260 973 227 440. We cleaned the car, had washing done and stocked up provisions. I found and bought Emma a bunch of her favourite flowers (Sunflowers). Found a good Indian for a “Ruby Murray” last night. Today, we head out for South Luangwa. It will take 2 days to get there.
A lovely overnight spot on the Luangwa River, perfect break for the long 7 hour journey to South Luangwa tomorrow.
Wildlife Camp – South Luangwa
A very long drive through some stunning scenery in Zambia. The roads were fine, just a few pot holes here and there. The road from Chipata to South Luangwa is largely tarred and an easy drive into the park.
We found a spot on one of the bows of the meandering Luangwa River at Wildlife Camp. We expect to stay here for 3/4 nights. There was a warm welcome from the people but the Baboons and Monkeys are already becoming a major pest. They are constantly in camp looking for any morsel or opportunity to get their grubby mits on your stuff!
We heard footsteps approaching our thatched site around 5.30pm last night. It turned out to be an Elephant! These Elephants are not like the ones at Mana Pools and known to be aggressive at times, this one was fine, just munching the trees around us.
Spent the following day in lazy fashion – soaking up the rays, enjoying the views and warding off the other Primates around camp! Although Wildlife camp is a beautiful spot, it’s far from being serene, tranquil and anything but quiet. They cater for Overlanders, and at 20 people per time x 6 over 3 days, that’s a lot of traffic. we also had 3 lovely Dutch families with their 10 boisterous kids next door that even managed to drown out the Hippos!
South Luangwa Park is stunning. Set against the banks of the Luangwa River amongst towering Natal Mahogany, Leadwoods and other giants and interspersed with plains areas, we saw a myriad of wildlife. We got lucky the first morning when we had a great sighting of a herd of Elephants crossing the river in the first morning light. That was followed by a great sighting of a Leopard in a riverine. We then watched a family of Giraffe and witnessed Mummy and Daddy mating ( a first for both of us). It was as awkward and entertaining as it gets, think of a Giraffe balancing on one leg while trying to hit the bulls eye!
Just as we were leaving the Park, we had another problem with the Landy. The Engine lamp on the dash illuminated and we came to a halt. I could start the vehicle but when I applied pressure to the accelerator – nothing! We managed to limp outside the park and I got a lift into Mfuwe village from one of the lodge drivers. There I found George. He had worked on Land Rovers for one of the lodges and managed to find the fault and fix it. It was a fuel leak; no doubt caused by the Mana Polls corrugations. We’ve got lucky twice now with Vehicle fixes and it’s a quite worrying to say the least. What else is in store for us?
Mfuwe is the local village; we spent time there, going around the local textiles factory, where everything is done by hand. They employ about 100 people and make some lovely stuff, wall hangings, bed throws, cushions etc.
We returned to the Park the next day and took a different route. So much game around – Herds of Elephant, Zebra, Giraffes, warthogs, Puku ( a rare Golden brown Antelope), huge herds of Buffalo and of course, Impala. Just before leaving, we managed to see another leopard climb up a tree with his prey – an Impala. So far, no Lions.
9th to 13th August
Zikomo Lodge – Nsefu Sector, South Luangwa
The Nsefu Sector is another area of the South Luangwa Nat. Park to the north. We found Zikomo which is a fabulous place, again located on the banks of the river. It’s very secluded, tucked away in a very remote and beautiful area of the Park. We have the whole camp to ourselves. The staff are so friendly and attentive and make us very welcome. There’s a swimming pool here, although we haven’t tried it yet! And hot water – something that was lacking at Wildlife Camp. Oh, and the Baboons and Monkeys stay well away from us, just doing their natural thing on the alluvial plains in front of us.
Nsefu sector is much quieter than the main Park area, you rarely come across another vehicle on drives and the area away from the river is mainly plains filled with Antelope and large herds of Buffalo and Elephant. There are some huge lagoons with Hippos, Elephant, Storks (all kinds), Spoonbills, Ibis (all kinds), Cranes….. you name it.
We have seen massive flocks of Lillian’s Love Birds around Nsefu. They are bright green with Rosy Red faces, very exotic.
We have a battle royale with the Tse-Tse flies, now they can really bite! However, I will give them one thing – they are indiscriminate i.e. they bite Emma just as much as they bite me. Halelujah……unlike mosquitoes that drain me of my last drop and leave her completely alone. Go fathom!
Lions! On our first drive together, we spotted two male Lions and a Lioness on the banks of the river. After that we made our way to the Hot Springs that are the home of large numbers of Crowned Crane and other water fowl. We were just concentrating on getting to the Springs and managed to overlook seven lions in the bush next right to the road…………..shame on us and just as well somebody stopped us and pointed them out! It was mid morning, the light wasn’t great so we paid them another visit later in the afternoon. There were five young males amongst them – quite a sight. Zambia has now banned all forms of hunting from this year and according to people in the know, it’s unlikely we’d have been able to see such a sight as a number of these Lions would have been shot. Findings from investigations into hunting practices pointed towards widescale corruption. The challenge now is for South Luangwa Lodge Operators to make up the shortfall in revenue from hunting and prove they can provide sustainable conservation tourism that benefits the local communities. Take note South Africa!!
We will leave you with Love from Africa…………spelt out in Sausage Tree flowers from our spot on the banks of the Luangwa River. Sorry about the dust on the Landy but it makes it real!
The drive from South Luangwa to Chipata turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. The problem with the Landy returned – Big Time! The car kept stalling all the way to Chipata (150kms) and I needed to constantly stop and re-start it to get it going again. Carlo has been getting expert advice from Jo’burg on the nature of the problem and I am also in contact with Land Rover in Blantyre. Malawi (as that is the nearest LR centre with diagnosis capabilities! – 580kms away!). It looks like we will have a major detour to go south to Blantyre (our plan was to go north once over the Malawian border) as we can’t continue the journey with the car this sick.
We stopped the night in Mama Rula’s in Chipata, stocked up on provisions and tried some very dodgy car workshops to see if they could manage the repair – definitely not an option! So, Blantyre it is and hopefully we’ll make it……..a 4 day in total detour. What a bummer!
The morning drive to the Malawian border was quite a hoot! Emma unknowingly had been standing on an ants nest before we left Mama’s. About 10 mins of driving she started jumping and yelping as the ants began to bite. There was nowhere to stop; I don’t think I’ve ever seen her move so fast as one piece of clothing after another was removed to get the ants out of her pants! It really wasn’t funny (not half!).
We arrived at the border. Malawi Customs was a breeze, we just sailed through. At the border we met an Afrikaans guy who also had a Landy. I told him about our problem and he had also experienced the same thing. He advised me to disconnect the batteries and then re-start as he believed the Computer logic may be the cause. Nothing to lose, I did so. After that the problem completely disappeared! We decided to continue with our original plan and give Blantyre a miss.
In the meantime, the diagnosis from Blantyre was bad Diesel. As I’d refuelled at Chipata and possibly diluted any bad fuel remaining in the tank, we will never know whether it was the Computer or bad fuel. If I was a betting man, I’d go for bad Diesel.
Into Malawi. Trying to draw money turned out to be a major effort. I’m still trying to find out whether one ATM robbed me of $100 or not. It counted the money gave me my card back, opened its mouth and gave me SFA!! T.I.A. – This Is Africa.
On to our next port of call – Bua River Lodge. Looked spectacular on the website. When we arrived. we paid $30 for Park fees, got to the lodge and thought OMG; not what we were expecting and prices on a par with the Ritz, time to find something else. Light was fading, we went into Nhkhotakhota only to find two lodges as equally appealing. Eventually, we managed to find a great place called Fish Eagle Lodge.
14th to 19th August
Fish Eagle Lodge
Found a plum spot, under a Tamarind Tree, right on the beach with all amenities. Again, Malawian hospitality so warm and friendly. I haven’t been in Malawi for around 30 years but the smiles on the faces of the kids are still as big as ever and the laughter as loud as ever.
Lazy days spent on the Lake, making a wonderful respite from all the driving. The Landy hasn’t moved now in 4 days. A young Dutch family (Paul & Esther plus the two kids) joined us for a few days. We found a lovely pottery at Nhkhotakhota where I got them to make me a Land Rover, stuck in mud, being pushed by a gang of people (sound familiar?). They even pained it my colours and with a CHARLIE license plate!
We’ve been adopted by lodge dogs ever since leaving South Africa. Here, Bonnie & Clyde (two King Charles Spaniels) have followed us everywhere, they sleep outside our tent and eat us in the morning when we awake. We’ve really grown quite attached to them and it’ll be hard to say goodbye but tomorrow (19th Aug.) we have to make tracks for Nhkarta Bay.