Have you ever wanted to visit the countries north of South Africa, but for some reason or another not done so yet? My advice is just do it!
After retiring and settling into our new home last year, my wife Vivienne and I decided that this was to be the year for us to go.
We were away for almost seven weeks, travelling 11 760 km and visiting four countries. Not bad for a couple in their 70s.
We have a Nissan NP 300 4×4 diesel, and last year became the proud owners of a Sherpa Tiny Rough Roader. We spent all but one night of our seven week tour in the Sherpa, which has a fold-out cooker hatch as well as a kitchen hatch. As the weather was warm, we didn’t even put up the awnings and spent the whole time living, cooking and eating outdoors – what a relaxing holiday!
The Nissan was amazingly comfortable on rough roads and had enough power to easily handle the Sherpa, which also took rough roads in its stride.
Out journey started in our home town of Barrydale, from where we headed for the N7, which would take us towards Namibia. Heading north we camped at Van Rynsdorp and then Port Nolloth. We drove around Alexander Bay and were amazed at the bright green of the golf course set in the desert, and then travelled through the Richtersveld before crossing the border on the pont at Sendelingsdrif.
Ai Ais was next and then we drove up on good gravel roads to Windhoek and then on to Swakopmund which is such a lovely town and worth spending a few days at. We saw the White Lady and the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein before going on to Etosha and then to Caprivi.
The quirky Ngepi Lodge is a novel experience, and our campsite there was right on the bank of the Kavango River. The Mahanga Game Reserve is just a few kilometres away from Ngepi and, during a visit one afternoon, we saw lots of animals as well as extensive birdlife.
The gravel roads in Namibia are generally in excellent condition, so travelling is easy. On tar I tried to keep to about 100 km/h and naturally drove more slowly where the road was bad. Fuel consumption while towing averaged about 8 km/l.
The only place we booked for was at Etosha, and that only about two or three days before we arrived. We tried not to do more than 400 kms a day. Because we had not booked anywhere, we were not tied to any deadlines and were able to take our time, stop when we felt like it or spend extra time if we liked a place.
We took a fully equipped tool box with us as well as twenty litres of diesel and twenty litres of water. Although fuel is available at nearly every little town along the way, we took the trouble to fill up whenever we could. Although we didn’t use the diesel I had brought along, I would not try the trip without it. Cards are accepted at most, but not all places, so a supply of cash is essential. Once north of Etosha, we bought our drinking water and only used the local water for cooking and washing up.
While in Etosha we noticed a Golf arriving at Halali with luggage strapped on the roof. We eventually met the owners again at Roy’s Camp near Grootfontein, and found that they were a retired couple from Durban. They had left Durban, driven all the way down the east coast to Cape Town and then up the west coast and into Namibia. They had a fridge in the boot, and surplus luggage was carried on the roof rack.
The great day came when we crossed into Zambia at Katima Mulilo and it was then on to the Victoria Falls, and seeing the enormous volume of water flowing over them was quite spectacular. After viewing the falls from both sides of the Zambezi, and doing some browsing at the colourful curio shops, as well as stocking up with essential supplies in Livingstone, we set off up the Great North Road.
We spent a couple of days travelling north until we got to the T2. We stopped at Kapishya and from there drove to Shiwa Ngandu, the remarkable manor house built by Stuart Gore-Brown out in the wilds. We continued as far north as Lake Tanganyika where we camped right next to the lake and were warmly received by the local villagers.
Looking back, when I think of Zambia, my first thought is of how friendly the people are… and after that come the big trucks and the potholes. Although we travelled most of the way on the Great North Road, there are places where the potholes are really bad, such as in some stretches south of Lusaka, and one has to be careful. The big truck drivers are responsible and considerate, though the drivers of the passenger busses are reckless and take chances. We came across police roadblocks about every fifty or hundred kilometres, but they were never a problem, and we were mostly told to proceed without experiencing any delay.
Camping is relatively expensive in our neighbouring states for what they offer, and the facilities are seldom as good as in our National Parks. However our attitude was that the reason we were visiting these countries was to experience their customs and way of life, so it was all part of the experience.
We did tend to judge the various caravan parks by their ablutions, and it is strange how word is passed on by other travellers if there was a bad experience. As we were travelling alone, we always made the time to talk to other tourists to find out about what to expect up ahead, and this was a great help for our adventure.
All along the roads we travelled, the local people have little stalls selling produce such as potatoes, tomatoes, cassava, groundnuts and honey. In the towns in Zambia, they line the main streets and sell everything from clothing to chitengas (the colourful cloths the women wear around their waists), to the ubiquitous tomatoes, potatoes and cassava as well as live fowl and fish. It is worth stopping to see what they have to offer, but you have to be prepared to bargain if you want to buy something! At the tourist destinations there are typically curios for sale.
On our way back we spent a night at Chishimba Falls and then a couple of nights at the Mutinondo Wilderness area. South of Lusaka we turned off and went down the escarpment to Lake Kariba through some magnificent scenery, but I did not enjoy the sight of the mighty Zambezi dammed up by a man-made structure.
Chobe was our next destination, and here we drove ourselves around the reserve for a day. At Kasane there are supermarkets, all sorts of shops and garages, and since we were last there about twelve years ago, it was clear that it has grown enormously. Chobe seemed like the start of the end of our journey as we made our way south through Botswana.
Although our vehicle is a 4×4, any car or bakkie that is not too low would be suitable for the trip we undertook. We only used 4×4 on one occasion, in thick sand in Chobe, but there you can rather pay to do a game drive they offered if you don’t have 4×4.
The scenery in all countries was amazing but for us the highlight was definitely our stay at Lake Tanganyika, and being part of the life of the village next to which we stayed. Our trip was not just to visit game parks, but to see the different countries, enjoy the changing landscape and get to know the people.
The border posts were much as we expected them to be, but they were worst on the Zambian side. However, if you shake off the touts and are polite and courteous to the officials, and have lots of time, there should not be a problem. The Kazangula border post with its pont was the worst because the touts were so persistent. My wife counted fifty-seven big trucks (horse and trailers only) lined up on the Zambian side waiting to cross, but cars or bakkies are given preference. Nonetheless patience is essential.
In all our travelling, the only place I had to pay a bribe was in Botswana where a traffic policeman claimed I had exceeded the speed limit. He invited me to come and sit next to him and “chat”, and then took 200 pula saying that he would not write a ticket.
If you are keen to travel, or to see our neighbouring states, just do it. You don’t need a fancy vehicle but you do need time and quite a lot of money for fuel, food and accommodation. Happy travels!
By Clive Cawood. Pictures by Vivienne Cawood