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Voetspore Diary: Are there any improvements?

7 November 2016

One of Johan Badenhorst’s favourite places to visit is Kaokoland in north-west Namibia. The vast, open spaces, the fascinating Himba people, the Kunene River and the Epupa Falls, the grass savannahs of the Marienfluss with its fairy circles, the impressive Hartman Mountains, the desert elephants, the well run community campsites…or not so well run?

Namibia became known over the years for its excellent community campsites. At Purros, Marble Camp, Van Zyl’s Pass… while travelling in one of Southern Africa’s last wilderness areas, one could camp in these well-run campsites. There are flush toilets, hot water showers and officials in uniform issuing invoices to overnight campers. But during a visit last year, I got a little concerned.

The shower facilities at Purros were mostly dilapidated. At Marble Camp, a couple of taps were broken and had been for more than a year. Although ‘fixed’ with a rubber tube, they still leaked. It looked awful. None of the officials were wearing their neat uniforms that I had seen a few years ago. When I insisted on an invoice it was a serious search for a booklet that had seen little use for months.

If this was happening to the flagship of community-based campsites in Southern Africa, what is happening to the rest of the subcontinent? Our most recent Voetspore journey took us from west to east across the continent. Overnight would be in campsites, with the occasional lodge accommodation along the way. Often we would stay in national parks, and then in community-based camps, too.

In Etosha, the facilities at Olifantsrus, the latest addition to this park’s accommodation, is excellent. This is by far the best Etosha has to offer. Beautiful, clean facilities with friendly, well-informed staff. We had the same experience at the Khaudum. The developments that took place at Khaudum Camp are impressive. Sikereti still needs an upgrade but we were told that it’s on its way.

In Botswana, we were amazed at the facilities in the Moremi. Botswana is known for making available only the bare necessities. You visit this country’s wildlife areas for that ‘wilderness feeling’. Now you can do it before taking a hot water shower in newly constructed ablutions. The same can be said of Zimbabwe. At Sinamatella, as well as Main Camp in Hwange, vast improvements have been made. Here, too, the staff in their well-pressed uniforms were friendly and well informed. Probably the biggest surprise was at the Matobo National Park. Brand new ablutions greeted us.

After a long day of driving, encountering numerous roadblocks between Hwange and Bulawayo, the hot water shower was fabulous where we camped between the massive granite boulders. Over the years, I have been concerned about the facilities at Mapungubwe in Limpopo Province. After the Information Centre was built, receiving international prizes for its design, it looked as though maintenance was going to be in issue. Some of the tiles on the ceiling were coming loose within the first year.

The Treetop Walk, a boardwalk among the trees on the banks of the Limpopo, is a wooden structure that needs constant maintenance. As with the boardwalks at the Shashe and Limpopo confluence. It was wonderful to see that not only were these structures well maintained, but even improved. Parque Nacional de Limpopo was yet another pleasant surprize. The Mozambique side of this Transfrontier park will always struggle to compete with its world-famous neighbour, the Kruger, as far as facilities are concerned. Yet, at Mapai, the northern entrance to the park, and at Massinger in the south, facilities were more than adequate.

Facilities in the wilderness areas of Southern Africa can always improve. Perhaps the erosion of the quality of the community campsites in Kaokoland is only temporary. In general, one can say that the improvement of facilities has been impressive, making these places accessible to so many more. It is true that there has also been an increase in tariffs at these campsites, but few people complain if they receive quality service.

The lack of proper ablutions has been the main reason for many visitors not enjoying the great outdoors. Now there are no more excuses.