Land Rover Series III treks to Malawi. And back!
When Bradley and Carrin Glossop go on a camping trip, they do it properly. Like in five weeks and 7 000km properly. This is the story of their epic trek in a Series III Landy, as told to Gerhard Horn
Our first taste of adventure was the Put Foot Rally in 2012. We completed that African adventure in an old Leyland Mini and it was brilliant. For this adventure, we wanted to do something similar, but more off-road biased. So it was that two years ago, we purchased an old 1973 Land Rover Series III short-wheelbase, and replaced almost all of it – some by choice and some out of necessity. Our mission was simple. We had five weeks and we wanted to travel from South Africa, through Botswana and on to Zambia. From there we wanted to go straight across to Malawi, after which we’d work our way down Lake Malawi and back home via the same route.
The first leg
The route to the Botswana border and to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary was fairly uneventful, except for the GPS insisting that we drive on a road parallel to the highway, rather than on it. Looking back, it was actually a good idea, as a mighty headwind reduced our average speed to less than 80km/h. This headwind caused us some stress, seeing as it was only day one and we were already behind schedule. At the rate we were going, we would have needed five months…
We only realised the wind was a factor after turning a few times. It makes sense, as one of these Land Rovers is as aerodynamic as a brick. Our rooftop tent made matters even worse. Once the wind changed, turning from a headwind into a tailwind, our progress sped up significantly. It was like having a turbo under the bonnet! After spending a night at the rhino sanctuary, which is a stunning community-based project, we left for Kubu Island, where we spent two nights. Kubu deserves two days worth of attention. It’s desolate and beautiful at the same time.
From there we found our way to Makgadikgadi National Park, which was completely unplanned. The initial idea was to head back south and around the pans, but the GPS said we could go across and between them on a gravel road. Naturally, we went for the interesting option, because we believe in using the vehicle for what it was intended. This road turned out to witness the first time we needed to engage the Landy’s low range. The sand was so deep and soft we simply had no other choice. In its defence, it powered through like a champ and we made it to our overnight stop on the outskirts of the park.
From there, it was easy driving on tar to Maun for some much-needed supplies, and on to a rest camp on the border between Moremi and Chobe. These camps were some of the best we’ve ever experienced. Not just in terms of wildlife viewings, but also wildlife experiences. We ended up staying for three nights. On the second night, we heard some rustling in the bushes near our makeshift camp. At first it sounded like a game vehicle driving past somewhere in the distance, but when the sound didn’t go away, we realised it was something else. The rustling was constant and eventually we turned around and pointed our torch towards the bushes. The sight that greeted us was amazing. It was just a sea of green eyes. They were everywhere.
The next morning we found a ranger, who told us that it was a massive herd of 2 000 buffalo moving just past the campsite. It’s impossible to accurately explain the sound of 2 000 buffalo trampling, grazing and just generally making noise right next to your tent. As we were packing up the Landy to head out for a drive, an impala came bolting past the car. When that happens you’re not concerned about taking a picture. You’re more concerned about what it’s running away from. The next thing, a little wild dog came trotting past the car. His pace was sorely lacking compared to the impala, but in the distance we could see another wild dog picking up the chase. It was amazing. We were right there in the mix, part of whatever was going on around us.
On the last morning, we drove next to the Khwai River, which turned out to be the best game drive of our lives. You’re not just seeing animals, you’re seeing events. We saw ground hornbill’s hunting. They were literally digging holes and you could hear the noises of a tiny mouse squeaking as he was being consumed. Other sights included fish eagles hunting and elephant washing themselves. At some point we had to leave that spectacular place, so we made our way to Chobe, past Savuti. That was where we had our first sort of hesitation with the Landy.
We had heard that there was a road that bypasses Savuti and Linyati that you need to avoid because of the deep sand. But there are so many tracks in Chobe that you usually have no idea which is the right one or which one to avoid. Then we made the mistake of asking the locals for directions. People on foot have a different concept of time and difficulty, so their advice did more harm than good. Oh well, they had good intentions. Alas, we ended up on the very road we were supposed to avoid. Seven kilometres of it. At first the car did beautifully, but then an unexpected problem reared its head.
The sand was extremely hot and deep, which meant the Landy’s fuel tank was scraping along the ground, raising the fuel temperature. This meant the fuel was evaporating before it found its way to the carburettor. We had to pull over and let things cool off a bit, but at least the surroundings were beautiful. We spent one more night in Botswana before finding our way to the border early the next morning.
As anyone who has ever travelled into Africa will tell you, border crossings are tedious and frustrating. The Botswana/Zambia crossing was the worst. We had prepared by reading all the available information and online forums warning against the so-called runners, so we knew exactly how to react as soon as one approached the car. We told him we didn’t need help, but he followed us all the way across the river on the ferry. On the other side we soon realised that we would need his help after all. There was no indication of where we needed to start and there were buildings all over the place. The lack of signs and helpful officials meant that we were completely lost, but with the help of the runner, we soon found our way. We had to navigate five buildings in no particular order, but the runner helped out a lot.
That brought the time spent at the border crossing down to three hours, as opposed to the six hours it would have taken had we not had his help. After such a long day, we camped at Livingstone, but left early the next morning. We pointed the car down the road to Lusaka, which turned out to be a tar road. It has to be said, the roads in Africa are spectacular. The plan was to stay at the same place we stayed at years ago during the Put Foot Rally, but Lusaka had changed so much that we were unable to find it. After driving around for hours, we gave up and were willing to settle for whatever accommodation was cheapest. The locals pointed us in the direction of the dingiest lodge we’ve ever encountered, but at least it was only for a few hours.
Our next stop was Kasanka National Park, situated more or less in the middle of Zambia. It was a beautiful park. The terrain, environment and vegetation are quite unlike any of the parks we have in South Africa. It’s all sand roads that meander through forests. The drive down to the camp was stunning, but our mood was soon spoilt by clouds of insects that decided we were their breakfast, lunch and dinner. They bit us relentlessly. Turns out they were tsetse flies, so we were a bit worried about diseases. The guard at the gate assured us that he had been working there for years and that he is still very much disease-free, so we gave it a chance. Luckily, the flies had dissipated by the time we reached our campsite.
It’s not a well-travelled park, but the rangers give you a photocopy of a map with all the routes marked. The route we chose resulted in us ending up in a massive dry lake covered in reeds. We were driving around on an old elevated causeway between the reeds, until we arrived at an old bridge made of sticks. There was no way this pathetic little bridge would be able to support the weight of a Series III, which meant we had to reverse down the embankment and into the reeds, hoping the Landy had enough power to get back up. It did.
This park would be even more interesting if you visit at the right time. It has a hide high up in the trees and apparently, the world’s largest mammal migration takes place there during October and November. It’s not buffalo or elephant, but rather fruit bats that come there to hang out for a month or two. With Kasanka ticked off, we aimed the car in the direction of the Bangweulu Wetlands. Our mission was to spot a shoe-bill stork and see how the locals live. It’s a relaxed way of life, with the only real economy being fish-based. All the locals fish; not for profit, but to feed the family.
Spotting the shoebill was a little trickier. You have to pay for a guide, who then rides with you in the car and tells you where to go. These guides rely heavily on information received from fishermen, which means it can be a tedious process. It paid off eventually, as we managed to spot one. A word of advice, however. It’s worth compensating both the guide and the fisherman, because another Zambian man later told us that the villagers would kill any shoebill out of spite if a tourist doesn’t pay them. We have no idea whether this is true or not, but we wouldn’t risk it.
Our next stop was another unplanned adventure. The original route turned out to be horrific. In one eight-hour stretch we managed to only cover 112km, so an alternative road had to be found. It turned out to be a massive blessing in disguise, because our new route took us directly to Kapishya Hot Springs. We ended up staying there for two nights because it was a paradise. In addition to loads of historic value and friendly locals, you get the hot spring, which is magnificent for weary bodies. The owner of the lodge suggested a nicer route through the Luangwa National Park to a small border post, but, like most people, we completely forgot about our own advice not to listen to the route suggestions from the locals.
The route was beautiful, but the cost to travel through the park and private lodges was massive. We were also told that we could make it in a day, but due to Zambian roads and a wonky headlight, we had to camp in the middle of the road. It seemed like a good idea, since we hadn’t seen another car for hours. As soon as we settled in, a set of headlights appeared in the distance. It turned out to be a truck and the driver and his passengers kindly asked whether we’d like to follow them. We declined their kind offer, as we were too tired to carry on. A short while later, an old man on a bicycle came along. He too offered to guide us to Malawi…
The next day we finally arrived at the border post, but there was a problem. We were stamped out in a town the day before, but the Malawi official who should have been manning the post was missing. We were told that he had gone to town and that he’d only be back next week.
There was a lady, who phoned one of the officials. As it turned out, he was the official in charge of the TIP paperwork, so at least the Landy was sorted. The kind lady then phoned the actual immigration officer and we spoke to him over the phone. “Where are you going?” he asked. “Nyika,” we responded. “Oh, that’s fine,” was the response we got. He then gave us his name and telephone number and we were on our way. We still felt uncomfortable travelling through a country unofficially, so we tried finding an immigration office in a town called Rumphi. Not finding it, we turned to the police who informed us that the nearest immigration office was in the next town, Mzuzu.
We made our way there, only to find that the immigration office was closed. Luckily we spotted a few people playing soccer nearby and the players turned out to be the immigration officers, playing a game of soccer against the officers from another part of Malawi. They went above and beyond to help us, even driving with us all the way to the manager’s house to collect the office keys to get to the stamp. Finally, we could enjoy Malawi legally. Tired of driving and ready for an actual holiday, we made our way to Makuzi Beach. It was a bit windy, but the water was crystal clear and the beach felt isolated from the rest of the world. We spent some time there and only left once the novelty of stunning isolation wore off.
We had run out of Malawian kwachas and only had dollars left, so we begged the owners of the lodge we were staying at for some local currency. They gave us just enough for petrol to get us to the next village, where we encountered the same problem. We ended up driving from petrol station to petrol station, until we eventually found a working ATM. After a few hours of doing this, we ended up in Cape Maclear, where we decided that another holiday was in order. We spent a few days between the fishing villages, enjoying the hospitality of the locals. The water was much warmer and there wasn’t as much wind either. The holiday had to end at some point, and after Cape Maclear, we returned home along the same route. We wanted to re-enact the Put Foot Rally, but we ended up doing something way more spectacular.
The Landy A Special One
Gauteng’s Bradley and Carrin bought the classic Land Rover in good faith from a seller in Durban, flew there and drove the old Landy back home. On that trip, the first problem arose: the engine overheated. The 2.25-litre petrol engine also had a severe lack of power, so cruising at even 80km/h was a pipedream. It was so slow, in fact, the couple had to stay over in Villiersdorp.
Clearly, this was not a good set-up if they were to travel overland. So Bradley had a rebuilt and reworked four-cylinder engine fitted: enlarged to 2.6 litres. With everything new or reconditioned, the Landy could reach 120km/h on a bit of a downhill. All other critical parts were updated and changed. So the reworked Landy Series III was mostly in very good shape – and just the ticket for an epic overland trek.
“Fuel consumption is not the Landy’s best attribute… it averages about 15 litres for every 100km so it’s not easy on the pocket. But at least it’s much more reliable now, and it can cruise at 100km/h,” says Bradley.