We’re on our way home. Currently sitting in our favourite airport, Changi
We’ve discarded stuff, cleaned up, packed up and left Clancy locked up in storage until we go back to Joburg in 5 or 6 months. We’ll be sure to bring keys with us next time.
Compared with the 90-ish kgs of stuff we took over with us, we are bringing a mere 10kgs home, plus our laptops. No checked bags, just one very light 5kg travel pack each.
We were very lucky that on this trip, our problems were minimal. 5 punctures compared with 12 on our last trip, and we had none for the last 4 weeks. Last time, we got our final puncture 2 kms from our final destination! A minor radiator problem that a bottle of Bars Leaks fixed. Inevitable wear and tear on our dear Clancy, but that’s always going to be a feature of overland travel.
Here are a few random stats –
Nights we have spent in Clancy since Greg finished building him – 100, over our 2 African trips and the 2 trial runs we did at home.
Kms driven since we left Cape Town in mid-February – 13,800
Number of punctures in 14 weeks of travelling in Southern Africa – 17
Kgs of bread flour used to make our (almost) daily bread on this trip – 10
Number of butane gas cartridges used on this trip – 8. We were able to use our electric hotplate a lot more than we thought we would.
Thanks for travelling with us, it’s been a really great trip. See you next time!
Leon at African Bush Backpackers told us about Manyeleti and recommended it as a good place to spent a couple of days. It’s just west of Kruger’s Orpen Gate, but can also be accessed from the south via the R40 and some side roads. Our host at Hippo Waterfront Lodge recommended that we avoid the R538 between White River and Hazyview as it’s busy, may have a lot of livestock wandering across the road and can take long time to drive a short distance . We’ve learnt to listen to advice from locals!
After we left Marloth Park, we spent a night at Panorama Rest Camp, a lovely campground near Graskop. It had a horizon pool overlooking the kloof gorge, good facilities including coin-operated washing machines and dryers (which we made very good use of) AND beautiful azalea hedges that were in flower when we visited. Some were 3+ metres high! We were planning on driving north to Blyde River Canyon, then to Manyeleti, but when we got up the next morning it was so foggy we could barely see a car length in front of us. So going sightseeing seemed a bit pointless, and we’ll add Blyde River to our ‘to do’ list.
We crawled down the R533 and heaved a quiet sigh of relief when we were low enough to be able to see a decent distance in front. Headed north on the R40 to Acornhoek where we stopped at a shopping mall and stretched our legs and met a very dapper Car Guard … bow tie, shiny shoes and a lovely man. When we got back to Clancy, he was standing close by, talking to a young Austrian woman. She took a photo of us with the guard, his son and his son’s friend.
Then along the R531 to Orpin Gate. The entrance to Manyeleti is on the right, just before the gate. We paid the day fee of R55 per person, got a map of the reserve and drove south to Main Camp. Manyeleti Gate is about 4kms south of Main Camp.
There are several private lodges/tented camps/other accommodation in the Reserve in addition to Main Camp, which offers cabins, rondevals, campsites and Senate, a tented camp area. We parked Clancy on one of the campsites, which is a large area with a cold water sink, braai and paved area. Ablutions nearby were okay and people staying at Senate share those. We paid R250 per campsite per night – they charge per campsite, not per person. We only paid the day fee for our first day there.
The day we arrived, we went on an afternoon game drive, being very mindful that the camp’s gate closes at 6pm. Saw a huge herd of cape buffalo and wildebeest, antelopes, a couple of elephants. Next day we went out earlier in the afternoon and found a big group of elephants in some scrub. Largest group we’ve seen! There were 4 or 5 babies including one very tiny one, and I guess the rest of the females are pregnant. They weren’t too bothered by us, or rather, by Clancy, and we sat and watched them for ages.
Poor Clancy has had a bit of radiator trouble, a small leak, nothing too serious, but we’ll be bringing a replacement radiator to add to the spare parts collection. Greg bought a bottle of Bars Leaks when we were in Malalane, just out of Marloth Park, so he added the contents to the radiator …. problem solved. Magic stuff.
We spent our second-last night at Elangeni Holiday Resort, just off the N4 west of Nelspruit, then drove the 250ish kms back to Joburg to the place where we store Clancy and camp when we’re here.
I’m sure that we will both remember our day with Lilli and Christa as one of the highlights of this trip.
Christa lives in Marloth Park and Lilli has been staying with her for the last week or so, having a break from camping, enjoying some home comforts and making a lifelong friend. We visited them at Christa’s on Thursday morning and spent several hours swapping stories and getting to know more about each other.
Christa’s place is a beautiful bush haven and she has so much wildife on her doorstep, it’s incredible. At this time of the year, before the rains start, getting enough to eat is very hard for herbivores, so she feeds them pellets which are approved by wildlife experts. They smell like grass, and probably have added extra goodies in them too. Many of the animals come right up to Christa’s back verandah and she hand-feeds some of them. The smaller antelopes are shy and hang back, but some of the larger varieties can become very friendly when there’s food involved!
Christa invited us back later in the afternoon to have ‘sundowners’ overlooking Crocodile River and Kruger, then back to her place for a braai. Fantastic, we’d love to! The previous day, they had seen some lions across the river, so we were hopeful that we might see some too. Christa belongs to a local Whatsapp wildlife spotting group that shares information about what is where. No messages that afternoon and we didn’t get to see any lions, but it was lovely to sit with our drinks and snacks and watch the sun go down. On our way back to Christa’s, we saw giraffes, and then so many different animals visited the back verandah, I’m sure I won’t remember them all. At one stage there were 4 different types of antelope there all at once. I even hand-fed a young Nyala buck! He’s the only one in Marloth Park and likes to hang out with the Impala girls. We saw tiny bushbabies, zebras, a genet (small nocturnal cat that we had never seen before), and warthogs which Christa chases away as they are already fat and don’t need extra feeding. She makes a noise like a leopard and the warthogs run away!
We shared a lovely braai, more stories and left feeling like we now have 2 more like-minded friends. Lucky us!
I left a bag there and we had to go back and collect it the next morning. As we were leaving, Christa had a message from her Whatsapp group, letting people know that there had been a lion kill near the lookout. We had been there the day before, so headed back there to find a large crowd looking across the river at a group of 5 lions lying on some sand in the shade. Earlier in the morning, the lions had killed a kudu right on the fenceline separating Kruger from Marloth Park. The electric fence was wrecked and the dead kudu was lying just on the Kruger side. Because of the cars and people, the lions had gone back across the river, but would return to the kudu later. And then the scavengers would come when the lions had finished.
I am beginning to think that Greg and I are the opposite of lion whisperers – we just don’t have much luck seeing lions. The day after our sundowners with Lilli and Christa, they saw 7 lions!
After our first night back in South Africa at the Hippo Waterfront Lodge, we needed to figure out how to spend our final week here. We had this great idea that we’d just go into Kruger National Park for a few days, so we rolled up yesterday afternoon and discovered that all the campgrounds within driving distance were full … most of them up until the 15th! We later discovered that South Africans can visit Kruger for free this week, so our timing was particularly lousy. And yeah, our forward planning skills could be better too, but this is how we roll. (later edit: It turns out that this week it is free for South Africans to stay in Kruger, thus no campsites)
We did think that maybe we could go back to Bots and catch up with Anna and Henry if they were somewhere in southern Bots, but they’re heading to CKGR, so we nixed that idea.
Next thought was to visit Marloth Park, which adjoins Kruger and has a campground, other accommodation and lots of private residences in it. It’s kind of like a private, gated game reserve. We knew our friend Lilli had been, or possibly still is, here somewhere so thought it might be an interesting place to visit, and also maybe meet up with her if she’s still here. We have followed her overlanding travels for a while and nearly got to meet up with her in Namibia on our last trip, but we weren’t close enough to each other for that to happen.
Almost as soon as we’d driven through the gate, an antelopey-thing zapped across the road in front of us. There is no shortage of wildlife here. We tried to get a campsite but the campground was full. Being mindful that it was getting late in the afternoon and we try very hard not to drive at night, we asked the receptionist if there was anywhere else in the park we could try. She suggested the carpark behind the service station which we looked at and decided against. Then we consulted our beloved iOverlander and found African Bush Backpackers just a few kms away. The person who had added it mentioned that they allowed her to park in their carpark and camp there, so we thought we’d give it a try. Success! Lovely, friendly, helpful owners, Leon and Sarah, who were happy for us to park Clancy, run a power cord from the office and use their facilities. And, for lots of extra bonus points, they know Lilli and she’s still here, staying with a friend not far from here.
Thus ensued many messages via Instagram, organising a time and place to meet up. 11am this morning, can’t wait!
The wildlife just wanders past the Backpackers – so far we’ve seen zebras, a warthog, a bushbaby (much tinier than I imagined) and a couple of different types of antelopey-things. Leon puts hay out at this time of the year as there’s not much to graze on. There were a mama and tiny baby zebra, only 1 or 2 weeks old. The rest of the females are pregnant, they usually deliver their babies in January, so this new little one was a bit of a surprise.
After 3 nights at Areia Branca Lodge, we started heading south towards Maputo. On our last afternoon, we had a long visit from the Lodge owners’ 7 year old son Eric. He had a lovely time playing with the remote controls for the LED lights in our living area, changing the lights’ colours and making them flash, and arranging all the stuff on our carpet-lined walls. He told us that he’d had malaria and so had his mum, dad and brothers. The next morning he showed me his fish tank which had 2 newly-caught prawns, 4 puffer fish, a sand fish and some other fish.
We spent another night at our favourite Moz ‘resort’, Sunset Beach and yes, I had another crayfish dinner. Then last night we stayed at Esperanca do Mar, a coastal ‘resort’ about 30kms north of Maputo. Our GPS took us down a very sandy track to the back entrance of the place – we missed the sign pointing us down a much better, more direct road but we used it this morning to leave. We were shown to a campsite with a private bathroom, but Clancy couldn’t get past a low-hanging branch, and a longer, alternate route was completely blocked by thorny branches. I told the caretaker that we really just wanted a place to park for the night, cos we’re completely self-sufficient. She agree to let us camp outside a 2-bedroom cabin and use its bathroom for R200 AUD$20, which was a vast improvement on the R520 AUD$52 that she wanted to charge us for the campsite with the private bathroom. That’s a ridiculous price for a campsite! We wouldn’t have paid it, would have gone elsewhere. I’d misinterpreted the pricing, thinking she was quoting in Moz metacais, and there are 4 MZN to the Rand. I should have realised that the pricing in MZN was too cheap, but it just confuses me when prices aren’t quoted in local currency.
We drove through the outskirts of Maputo this morning and headed west to the Moz/SA border at Ressano Garcia/Lebombo. There’s a well-known scam on the Ring Road just out of Maputo – the road isn’t finished yet and there’s a bit of a detour through a few side streets. Local teenage boys try to earn money by ‘showing you the way’, and we had several offers including one on my side who tried to hang on to Clancy for a while. With 2 GPS and a few vehicles in front of us, we didn’t need any help.
The border crossing was fairly smooth, although there was some confusion about the stamp in my entry visa. I think the Immigration officer thought it should have been embossed rather than just stamped, but as we’d come in through a very small border post with no fancy stuff at all, he finally accepted that the stamp was legit and I hadn’t just done it myself. Ha! As if!
Just outside Immigration and Customs on the Moz side, a table was set up with 2 workers offering free malaria testing. We’ll do that, thanks very much. Drop of blood on a slide, mixed with 3 drops of solution, wait a few minutes, read the results. Both negative, thankfully, but we do have antimalarial treatment medication if we need it.
The South African side was fine until we tried to get a TIP Temporary Import Permit for Clancy. We’d read that it can be a bit like extracting teeth, getting one at Lebombo, so we were prepared for a degree of difficulty.
Up until now we have used a Carnet, sort of like a passport for the car, but it expires in November and we have to return it to the AAA Australian Automobile Association. We want to leave Clancy in SA until early next year, so need to switch to using TIPs instead, which allows us to bring Clancy into South Africa for up to 6 months at a time. The first Customs officer wasn’t sure about any of it, so she called her colleague, who informed us that we must use the Carnet, and then go to Pretoria to get it sorted out. Um, no, we’re not doing that. First woman called her supervisor, who was incredibly helpful and understood exactly what we wanted after it was (again) explained. He also took the time to explain it all to the first Customs officer, so hopefully she is now better informed about the process. From then, it was easy, we got our TIP and were on our way.
And hey, we got through a whole country with no flat tyres. Hurrah!
We called into a shopping centre in Nelspruit and went grocery shopping at Checkers. Wow, there was so much choice and so many things and stuff we hadn’t seen in a while. We’re staying just out of Nelspruit tonight at the Hippo Waterfront Lodge. We’ve heard hippos but haven’t seen any.
So, a few thoughts about our time in Moz. When we first arrived, I asked Greg what he wanted to do while we were there. He wanted to spend time at the beach. I wanted to eat seafood and spend time at the beach. I’d say we achieved what we set out to do. Even though Moz is a much poorer country than Angola, we saw far fewer beggars. Having noted that though, both countries have a large percentage of their populations living at subsistence level.
As we were driving south from Pafuri, I really couldn’t work out what the locals ate apart from beef and goat – they weren’t growing any crops. When we got to the coast, we saw a lot of agriculture, mostly small plots being grown for the household’s consumption. Lots of cassava, which we also saw in parts of Angola. Here’s an interesting article about how to prepare it safely to avoid cyanide poisoning. I saw it for sale at the market I visited in Inhambane with Johnny, but didn’t buy any.
There’s a general election next month and the ruling party, Frelimo, has plastered the country with posters, flags and banners. I predict that after the election, the majority of those flags and banners will become shawls, skirts, sarongs and home furnishings. We’ve already seen one woman wearing one as a skirt and another using one as a shawl. You read it here first, folks.
One of my abiding memories of Moz will be the red and white colours of a lot of the shops in towns and villages. 3 brands have used bars, food shops, restaurants, cafes and mobile phone shops to advertise their products. Vodacom, Mac Mahon beer and Coca Cola have all plastered their advertising over buildings everywhere. We drank 2M ‘dos m’ beers a few times and enjoyed them.
We are now staying at our 4th ‘resort’ in Moz. This one, Areia Branca Lodge, is at Praia da Barra, north east of Inhambane. We got here yesterday and will stay until tomorrow or maybe Sunday. Very nice campsites with individual thatched shelter, outdoor sink with large concrete bench, braai (of course!) and indoor bathroom. Again, we are the only people here, but Sth African school holidays are in a couple of weeks so it will fill up then.
It’s overcast and raining off and on today … first rainy day we’ve had since we arrived in Joburg 6 weeks ago! We’re now as far north in Moz as we’ll travel on this trip – we’ll head south from here and cross back into Sth Africa next week.
Prior to arriving here yesterday, we spent a couple of nights at Paidane Beach Resort south of Inhambane and were the only ones there. They were having trouble with their water pump, which didn’t really worry us as we travel with plenty of drinking water and other water. They gave us water for flushing the toilet. Very, very sandy campsites, with lots of warnings about lowering tyre pressures. We had a site that overlooked the beach and Greg got some sunrise photos as he was awake early one morning. There are a couple of different ways to get to Paidane – a shorter, more direct route and a longer but much easier route. You can guess which one we took, but we wouldn’t recommend it … low-hanging branches on trees that had Greg getting out his 20V reciprocating saw, soft sandy track. We lost the track at one point and the locals kept on pointing ‘over there’. One helpful young man actually walked for a km or so to show us how to get to the right track.
Yesterday when we were in Inhambane we met Johnny, a young electrical engineering student. I was walking to a local grocery shop and said ‘hello’ to Johnny and a younger boy Manuel. Greg stayed with Clancy and when I got back, he had a group of 5 or 6 boys and young men around him. Johnny offered to take me to the local market to buy some fruit and vegetables and he told me about his studies, his favourite food (Matapa – cassava flowers or leaves boiled with peanuts, coconut milk, seafood), where to find stuff at the market and general chat. He had been very interested in how Greg built Clancy and we told him that once he had his engineering degree, he could get work in Australia.
After our long, involved border crossing into Angola earlier this year, we weren’t sure what to expect when we got to the SA/Moz border at Pafuri. Greg organised our vehicle insurance online, thankfully, as it would not have been possible to do on the spot. We deliberately chose places to stay close to the border on each side, in case it took us a long time, but it all went very smoothly.
To get to the Pafuri border, one has to drive through the very northern part of Kruger National Park, so we had to pay the entry fee of R774 AUD$77. We were in the park for about an hour, but we did get to see part of the park we hadn’t seen before and some wildlife – a couple of elephants, a couple of water buffalo, a couple of blue wildebeest, some warthogs and some monkeys.
We’d been assured that we didn’t need a ‘fixer’ to ‘help’ us get through Immigration and Customs on the Moz side, and in fact there was no one around apart from officials and only a few people entering and leaving Moz. A very quiet border post. We knew we had to pay for a visa and had brought enough USD with us. At first the Immigration official would only accept Rand, but we didn’t have enough. So he said he’d accept Rand for one visa and USD for the other. Still not enough, so he finally agreed to accept USD for both visas, but only notes that had been printed after 2009 …. <eyeroll> He ended up making USD 10 out of us because we couldn’t come up with a hundred bucks in post-2009 notes. Whatever. We’d thought the visas cost USD $80 each, so we felt like we were ahead.
Then on to getting the Temporary Import Permit TIP for the car, which was a very straightforward (and free!) process. I like asking people where their family home is, and they like to tell us, and I think that helps us make a connection and ease us through the bureaucratic stuff. And then to Customs, whose ‘office’ was a desk and 2 chairs under a large shelter. They wrote us up in their big book, checked our paperwork and had a look at Clancy. They were mainly interested in whether we had brought any alcohol with us, not because we weren’t allowed to, but to see what they could get out of us. We’d hidden our booze because last time we entered Kruger we weren’t allowed to bring any in with us. This time no one checked. When we were in Louis Trichardt, Greg had bought the supermarket’s entire stock of 2L Pepsi Max bottles and before we crossed the border, I said to him ‘I bet we end up bringing n – 1 bottles into Moz with us. And that’s exactly what happened. The customs guy asked us what we had brought for them, Greg offered them a bottle of Pepsi Max (locally known as a refresco, small bribe. In Angola it was a gasosa) and we were good to go.
We planned to stay at the Dumela campground about 7kms from the border. They had posters up at the Kruger entrance office and at the Moz immigration office, but finding the actual campground was not easy. Partly due to poor signage, but also because iOverlander has the wrong coordinates entered in its information section. Or rather, it has the location of the reception/office rather than the actual campground. The office is at the top of a very steep, windy, 4WD only dirt track that makes Greg’s driveway at Willunga look like a straight, level piece of road (hint: it’s neither of those things!). So we got to the reception and the receptionist told us we were in the wrong place and that the campsite was down the hill. She didn’t mention anything about paying camping fees and at that stage we just thought we were in the wrong place. We flailed about in the bush for a while, trying to find the campsite and ended up back on the main track (definitely not a ‘road’) and finally found a sign to the campground with instructions to go and pay at Reception first. Um, nope, not going back up that track again, we’ll pay at the campsite. It was okay and we were the only ones there.
Next day, Wednesday, we were up, packed and on the road before 7am. Incredible. Our final destination was Praia Xai Xai, almost 500kms away. We knew it would take us a couple of days, but didn’t know much about the condition of the road, and as the first part was nothing more than a single dirt track, we wanted as much daylight as possible to drive in as we were only averaging around 25 – 30kms/hr. The road did improve when we got to Mapai, and for a while it was a really good sealed road, but parts of it were terrible – just a very thin layer of tar painted over sand. Other parts were very potholed and some bits were rutted sand/dirt. We found a quarry about 300kms south and camped there on Wednesday night.
Just vefore we decided to finish for the day, we drove through our first police checkpoint in Moz. A policeman checked Greg’s drivers licence and Clancy’s paperwork while a soldier checked our passports. I had to get the passports out of the places we hide them in our living area and while I was doing that, the soldier came around and said ‘Oh, this is your little house!’ Maybe he thought it was a delivery truck or something. Apparently all our paperwork was in order as we were waved off. We’ve driven through a few more checkpoints but haven’t been stopped at any more yet. In contrast, by the time we’d been in Angola for a few days, we’d been stopped at quite a few already.
Now we’re at the beach just south-east of Xai Xai, spending a couple of days at the Montego Resort. We’d really like to spend up to a week somewhere, but the beach here isn’t all that good for swimming, so we’ll head further up the coast tomorrow to see what we can find. Weather’s great, it’s off-season so we shouldn’t have any problems finding somewhere to stay.
We’ve been offline for a short while as we crossed back from Botswana to Sth Africa last Saturday, then made our way across the north-east of SA to Kruger National Park and crossed into Mozambique via Pafuri Gate on Tuesday.
On our last night in Botswana, we wild-camped north of Serowe on a disused road we found when we were there in March. We used the Martin’s Drift/Groblersbrug border crossing from Bots to SA for the 4th time. Martin’s Drift on the Botswana side was, as usual, quick, easy and predictable. Groblersbrug was the usual confusion of not knowing where to go because the Immigration section had been moved again, although being Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t as busy as we’ve seen it. There was a huge line of trucks waiting to cross into Bots, though – at least 3kms long.
We stayed at the Big Fig Inn near Tom Burke, just a few kms from the border. Lovely campground with grassy sites. The first grass we’ve seen in quite a while. On Sunday we headed east towards Louis Trichardt. We’d driven along a really terrible stretch of road from Tom Burke to Alldays on our first trip here, so we wanted to avoid that this time. Google Maps offered an alternative, but neglected to mention that parts of it were dirt! Blrgh. Anyway, we reached our second campsite, Zvakanaka, just north of Louis Trichard and it was a lovely set-up too. We had a site with our own shelter, power, water, braai. Ablutions including a front-loading washing machine were nearby. Great views over the Soutpansberg mountain range.
On Monday we did some stuff in Louis Trichard – groceries, tyre & inner tubes, hardware, more groceries, then continued east to our third campsite, Nthakeni, at Nkotswi. On the way, we stopped and fuelled up at Masisi, the last fuel source for us in Sth Africa, and in the part of Moz we were heading to, fuel supplies are unreliable. On our first trip to Sth Africa, we were heading to Pafuri Gate and were stopped by a roadblock at Masisi – the bridge over the river had been washed away, so we had to head south to another gate.
Nthakeni Bush and River Camp was an absolute gem. Located on the Mutale River, it offers a range of accommodation and provides employment for local villagers. Our campsite had its own outdoor shower, (indoor) toilet and the best camp kitchen I’ve seen. Well-equipped, nicely laid out, it was excellent!
It would have been great to spend more time at any or all of the 3 South African campgrounds we visited, but …. places to go, borders to cross, a new country to explore …
(aka – We drove across the Kalahari Desert in 2WD and got another flat tyre)
We spent our last night in the CKGR at Deception Camp 1, then set out on Wednesday morning to drive out of the Reserve, get back on the sealed road at Rakops and head south towards Orapa. We got a mere 6kms down the track when Tyre Dog pressure monitoring system started letting us know that we had a puncture.
So we pull over to a clear flat spot off the single vehicle-width track, grab our 2 jacks and other tyre-fixing stuff and get on with it.
Just as Greg was getting the first jack underneath, 2 government Landcruiser utes stopped. I thanked them for stopping, explained that we had a flat tyre but we were okay and thought they would just keep on driving, but they pulled both vehicles off the track and all 6 passengers got out to assess the situation. Within seconds the 2 drivers were on the green mat-covered ground with Greg, sussing it all out. Someone got a jack from one of the utes, so we had 3 jacks, and they got to work.
The group works for a mobile health unit, based in Ghanzi. They had visited the 2 lodges within the Reserve and were on their way to a clinic in Rakops. There were 2 Health Care workers including Registered Nurse Onalethata Matsenkule who trained in Melbourne and lived in Australia for 9 years. He has even visited Adelaide! In addition to the 2 drivers, there was a mechanic and a female assistant mechanic.
We had an almost heart-stopping moment when one of the drivers moved out from under Clancy a split second before the jack collapsed in the soft sand, but otherwise it all went smoothly. I chatted with Onalethata while Greg and the men replaced the tyre. I showed off Clancy’s interior, the guys chatted about how fantastic 1H and 2H Toyota engines are, then Greg showed them the electrical features of the camper. We gave the group a 6-pack of Sahara Cider, thanked them all profusely and waved them off to get to their health clinic.
The rest of our drive out of the Reserve was uneventful, although the last part of the unsealed road back to the B300 sealed road near Rakops was the worst of the whole CKGR route.
We pulled off the road at the turn-off to Rakops and had a very late lunch. Just as we were finishing, a government car pulled up beside us ….. it was our friends the drivers and health workers! We were happy to see them and let them know that the rest of our drive out of the park was fine.
It was such a lovely experience, meeting this group of friendly, helpful locals. Shame about the tyre – we’re up to 5 punctures for this trip so far. Hopefully not on track to match Season 1’s tally of 10 punctures and 2 blow-outs.
The ‘it’s so hard to work out how to book at Botswana’s wildlife reserves’ theme continues with our current venture into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve CKGR.
The Reserve has 3 kinds of campsites:
– privately run ones which charge loads of money but provide everything. We drove into one near the DWNP Kori campsites by mistake and it had a game drive vehicle and nice-looking semi-permanent tents including a bathroom tent. We met a couple of the staff who were going for a walk. One of them asked us if we had any cigarettes, but as we don’t smoke we weren’t able to assist.
– sites run by the Department of Wildlife & National Parks DWNP which provide a concrete braai area, drop toilet, bucket shower, although the actual bucket seems to be missing about 50% of the time
– Bigfoot Tours sites which cost 12 times the price of the DWNP – 350 pula per person vs 30 pula per person for DWNP sites.In the case of the Bigfoot one we had a look at at Letiahou, it had absolutely nothing apart from an ashy braai area. Bigfoot also doesn’t bother to answer emails.
Everyone pays the same park and vehicle entry fees – 120 pula per person, 50 pula per vehicle under 3.5 tonnes.
In order to get into the CKGR, you have to have some accommodation booked.
We visited the DWNP office in Ghanzi on Friday afternoon, to see if we could get a booking somewhere, anywhere in the park. The nearest DWNP campsite to the north-western gate Tsau, is San Pan, which is about 90kms from the gate. We asked if we could book a night there, and then several nights at Deception Valley, which is about 40kms from the north eastern gate Matswere. A very helpful young DWNP ranger was able to get us the night at San Pan, but all 6 Deception campsites were booked out. On paper, or in some central computerised booking system, but not really. More on that later. So then we asked if we could get 4 nights at San Pan. 6 phone calls later ( !?!?! ) – success! We got our 4 nights in the CKGR, and figured we’d work out the details of where we would actually stay later. Apparently it is possible to pay by cash or credit card at the office, but the finance person wasn’t there, so we had to pay cash at Tsau Gate the next morning.
We wild camped just off the track to Tsau Gate, about 9kms west of it, so we could enter the reserve early. We weren’t sure how long it would take us to drive to San Pan.
I still wasn’t quite convinced that we’d get into the reserve without any hassles. The DWNP is a bit notorious for double-booking sites, or having no confirmation of bookings and various other obstacles, and all we had was the code of the camp written on a piece of paper. It did all go smoothly though. We found our booking details written on a piece of paper on the staff noticeboard in the tented office just near the main office building which is ‘under renovation’, we had the correct money to pay (entry gates to reserves here are notorious for not having any change), we got an official hand-written receipt stamped with the official DWNP stamp and we were good to go. Total cost for 4 nights camping for 2 people, 5 days of entry into the reserve for 2 people and vehicle entry for 5 days was 1690 pula, around AUD$240.
We spent 2 nights at San Pan, a large single campsite that has a fireplace, drop toilet AND a bucket. We used our own shower set-up in the shower space as it had a good concrete floor. On the day we were at San, we had 2 lots of visitors – a French couple who were running low on diesel and came to ask if we had any spare that they could buy. We had about 1/2 a tank and 3 full jerrycans, so Greg tipped a jerrycan into theirs, and they drove off to one of the Bigfoot campsites near Passarge Pan.
Then later in the afternoon, a Scottish/German couple drove up, having booked the campsite a day or so earlier … see what I mean about double-booking?! We were happy to share with them, but they decided to go a bit further south to Phokoje campsite as they were leaving via the south gate.
Yesterday(Monday) morning, after 2 nights and a full day at San, we headed east, intending to stay at one of the 6 Deception camps or one of the 4 Kori camps nearby. When we visited the Kori camps in the middle of the afternoon, 2 were empty, one had one vehicle and one had about 6 permanent-looking tents and no people or vehicles. Later in the day we checked out the Deception camps. 3 were occupied, 3 were not, so we took Campsite 1, which looked like it had been vacant for a while.
It seems that people or tour operators book the campsites as soon as the season opens, and then because they have no ‘skin in the game’, ie haven’t paid any money, they don’t bother cancelling the bookings if their plans change. The sites appear to be booked in DWNP’s database, but many go empty and other people miss out. Meanwhile, DWNP is missing out on a lot of entry and camping fees because the sites are not actually occupied.
We’ve seen a lot more wildife that we expected to. Conditions in Bots are pretty dry this year and we didn’t see much in and around the Trans-Frontier Park, but have since heard that there’s a lion whose territory includes the Mabua Entry Gate campground.
There are several permanent, artificially fed waterholes in the northern CKGR area and they keep herds of gemsbok and springbok from straying too far. Which also helps keep lions & other predators and black-backed jackals & other scavengers close. We haven’t seen a lion or any other predators, but the French couple told us they had seen one at Letiahau the night before we met them. The second couple saw some bat-eared foxes at Kori campsites. We saw a lone giraffe just a few kms from San Pan and when we were near Tsau Gate outside the Reserve we saw elephant dung but no elephants. We haven’t seen any evidence of any within the Reserve. Last night a honey badger tipped our washing up trough over, to get to the water in it, and Greg saw a rabbit during the night.
We seem to be turning into bird-watchers. My favourite bird is the crimson-breasted shrike, which has a bright red front, black back and a long white stripe down each wing. I first saw one when we camped at the quarry south of Mabuasehube Gate, have seen them occasionally since then and we were visited by 2 this morning. We have also seen a couple of yellow-billed hornbills today and many other smaller birds that we don’t know the names of. A bird book is on the next list of what we need to acquire or bring for our next trip. I’ll try and find one locally.
We’re reading a great book, Cry of the Kalahari, which was written by ecologists Mark and Delia Owens, about the 7 years they spent studying lions, brown hyenas and other wildife in Deception Valley in the CKGR, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. They lived in a tent the whole time they were here, but back then, there were no DWNP or Bigfoot campsites, and very few, if any, roads or tracks. They drove an ancient Land Rover, then a slightly younger Land Cruiser, used a compass to mark locations and get directions because GPS hadn’t been invented, dealt with bushfires, at least one major flood and one very long, very devastating drought, re-supplied at Maun when it was just a village and learnt a lot about the wildlife they studied. They went on to write 2 more books about their lives in Africa, and last year Delia wrote and published her first novel ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’. My bff Sally sent me a copy of ‘Crawdads’, which is a really great read, and when I finished it, I found out about Delia’s other, earlier books and her amazing life in Southern Africa.