Jean van der Meulen hooked up once again with Explore Africa Adventures for her annual holiday – a self-drive safari that took them to, and through, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. She took her camera along
It was another “experience of a lifetime” and this expedition with André van Vuuren’s Explore Africa Adventures has left me with a head full of wonderful memories and experiences – enough at least to see me through to next year.
The pleasant Kwanokeng campsite on the Botswana side of the Groblersbrug border post served as the rendezvous point for the Explore Africa Adventurers.
After a pleasant evening and a refreshing early morning shower we set off across the length of Botswana for Chobe Safari Lodge. Our journey took us through the beautifully natural Botswana countryside to a lunch stop at Nata Lodge and then on via the badly potholed road north to Chobe where we arrived just in time for sunset.
“Kampkommandant Mariana”, my astonishingly capable friend and wife of André, quickly organised the first of many fabulous meals. André did the day’s debriefing and handed the Tokolosh (a story for another day) over to its first recipient. Having wined and dined like royalty, it was off to bed for a seemingly well deserved rest.
A short drive from camp and we were in Chobe Game Reserve. The game viewing was good, with my particular highlight being a lioness with a radio collar and her cubs. Last year in Chobe we were also fortunate to come across a lioness with a collar, and André explained that due to an outbreak of anthrax about two years ago there were very few lions left in this part of the park.
At midday we stopped for a sumptuous picnic at a picnic spot in the bush (I just love Botswana’s refreshing approach to such things). Fat and well fed, we proceeded to Chobe River Lodge for a G&T break before returning to camp in time to catch the Chobe River sunset cruise – arguably the best game viewing and photographic experience on the planet.
Fish eagles, crocs, kudus, elephants, pied kingfishers, jacanas and hippos all posed for the cameras at close range before the sun finally set on an extraordinary day. Not yet done, we enjoyed the lodge buffet on our return.
The border crossing at Kazangulu was a lot less stressful than last year, taking just two rather than three hours. On arrival at Zambezi Waterfront, Mariana once again rustled up a delicious lunch before André led an expedition to the Victoria Falls. A sunset cruise on the Zambezi and a festive evening in the lovely camp followed. Not a bad day’s work!
After a brief stop in Livingstone to change money and buy a few reflective stickers for the vehicles, we took the road to Lusaka. This was my introduction to the notorious Zambian potholes and, after nearly having my teeth knocked out a few times, they earned my undying respect!
The road improved, and after the now standard five-star roadside lunch we wended our way to Eureka farm, arriving around sunset. André organised a lovely grassed campsite next to the dorm accommodation where some of the party stayed the night. We enjoyed the first of several awesome “pre-cooked” meals before retiring to bed and escaping the wintry nip in the air.
A brief stop in Lusaka to top up the tanks (you don’t want to know the price) and provisions and we were on the road to Chipata and Mama Rula. This was a lovely drive through scenic, unspoiled countryside and included a sightseeing stop at the Luangwa Bridge. There is not much traffic in Zambia and I found the local drivers polite and friendly.
We arrived at Mama Rula at sunset and after setting up camp, adjourned to the friendly campsite pub where management served a delicious lasagna and salad.
Sunrise revealed the true beauty of the campsite – indeed a haven for weary travellers.
Among our fellow campers was an elderly German who had travelled across Asia and South America on his motorbike and was now travelling across Africa. He had been on the road for 22 months.
The road to South Luangwa has the reputation of being one of the worst in Africa but we were fortunate in that a substantial part of it had recently been graded, making for a quick sojourn through the magnificent countryside to South Luangwa Wildlife Camp. This campsite is located on the banks of the Luangwa River, which is the start of the Great Rift Valley. With stunning, unobstructed views of the river, a pub and refreshing pool, the campsite is heaven on earth.
The morning wake-up call takes the form of hippos splashing loudly in the river. After a hot shower, we were on our way to the main gate of South Luangwa National Park. It was time to get hot and dusty, so off came the roof of the Wrangler, the advantage being that I had an unobstructed view of the sapphire blue sky and Omo-white clouds.
Game viewing was good and included two very well-fed male lions. Lunch was served at the Big Baobab just around the corner from the “Egyptian Cabbage hippos”. Then came more, great game viewing and a sundowner stop. On the way back to camp we came across the same two lions that by now had rested sufficiently to resume their prowl.
Malawi was the next destination, and at the border we endured another exercise in extortion and patience. Eventually we were all “processed” and could proceed to Lilongwe.
Another first for me was the sight of the “iron horse” – the mass of bicycles that epitomises Malawi. On both sides of the road the bicycle procession is unbroken. One needs to be vigilant as often the bicycles are carrying more than their allotted complement of passengers, and weave alarmingly.
We rolled into Lilongwe Golf Club campsite at dusk. The atmosphere was festive and the Amarula flowed freely.
Next day, with shopping and re-fuelling out of the way, the convoy rolled out of Lilongwe en route to Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi. The road was good – not too many bicycles – and we progressed swiftly, stopping only for roadside shopping at several “furniture factories”.
Turning south at Serula, we followed a road bounded on the west by mountains and on the east by the lake itself. Dodging children and bicycles, we made for our lunch spot, Mua Mission – a fascinating and beautiful place in the majestic mountains.
Father Serge introduced himself and took us to the gazebo in the garden for our picnic lunch. The next Big Five to Big Blue itinerary will probably include an overnight stop at this magical, educational spot.
With lunch settling, it was time to hit the road again for the last haul to Monkey Bay. The sun slipped below the horizon as we scrambled to set up camp on the beachfront at Fat Monkeys, our home for the next two nights. No need to cook for it is pizza night, care of the Fat Monkeys restaurant.
At 09h30 the following day we boarded our boat for the Domwe Island Camp for a day in paradise – snorkelling, kayaking and generally lazing about. The scenery was spectacular and the day became a highlight in a trip full of highlights.
There was an early start next day for the long trip to Ugezi Tiger Lodge at Cahorra Bassa, but it was partially negated by a shopping stop at the Malawi wood carvers and the fascinating and talented artists at “Toys ‘R Us”, who carve three-dimensional scale models of all manner of vehicles.
We climbed away from the lake via a spectacular, winding pass that led us to the border post and on into Mozambique. Northern Mozambique has beautiful countryside, sparsely populated, with rolling hills, blueblue sky and suicidal birds.
Two hours of driving in the dark were well rewarded at the haven of Ugezi, where we dined in style on fresh bream and slept in luxury chalets.
We were up early again – this time for tiger fishing with our guide, Binga. We discovered that he represents Mozambique’s tiger fishing team. Several “tigers” were caught, photographed and returned to the water.
After a fond adieu to Ugezi Tiger Lodge, we drove up a winding road to view the impressive dam wall before tackling the daylong drive to Chomoi.
The road, through baobab country, follows the Cahorra Bassa power lines. It takes a while to figure out that the downed baobabs by the roadside are the result of a new cutline for expansion. With a head-wind, the Cruisers were thirstier than usual, resulting in an impromptu overnight camp at what was probably, in its day, a rather fabulous motel just outside Chomoi.
After an oogoopskieter mug of coffee to get the blood flowing, and an early start/stop at the garage for fuel, it was time for the shortish hop to Vilanculos.
The calamari/G&T lunch by the sea was good, and then it was on to Vilanculos to investigate the boat-hiring options before navigating our way to Blue Water Bay campsite. Set right on the sea, it offers a “to-diefor view”. Unfortunately, after the hammering the campsite took in a recent hurricane, the owners seem to have lost interest. Undeterred, we pitched camp and enjoyed another festive evening.
There are three well-know islands off Vilanculos – Bazaruto, Benguera and Margaruque. Our skipper “opened the taps” of Spanish Fly and we crossed the gap between the mainland and Bazaruto in the blink of an eye. The colours were amazing – a sapphire sky, golden beach and aquamarine sea.
After a walk on the beach or climb to the top of the dune it was back to Spanish Fly for the short trip to Two-Mile reef. The water was warm and crystal clear, and snorkelling was like swimming in a screensaver with all manner of colourful fish for company. The adventure continued as we headed back to Bazaruto for a picnic lunch. It was hot, the wine cold and the view unforgettable.
Spanish Fly was champing at the bit, so it was all aboard and, with two rooster tails flowing out behind, back to Vilanculos for a final evening of merriment before the last run for home.
Dawn broke to see the convoy reduced to four as work commitments demanded that some take the faster road home. A Cruiser, two Prados and a Wrangler were all that remained to tackle the Mapai road and the Limpopo crossing.
After a brief stint on tar we swung west onto the road to Mapai. Initially gravel, it metamorphoses into a stunning sand track running through beautiful mopani forests. The only thing that detracts is the complete absence of game – sad legacy of a pointless war.
Lunch was served on the road and then it was on to our beautiful bushcamp in the middle of nowhere. Only too aware that this was our last night together, we wined and dined with great enthusiasm.
We hit the road after a few sunrise pictures, making for the Limpopo/Pafuri border post and home. We would all meet again at the reunion in Pretoria where, no doubt, we will plan our next southern African safari with Explore Africa Adventures.
Explore Africa Adventures
Central Reservations: 012 663-5319
Mariana van Vuuren: 082 504-1351
André van Vuuren: 082 935-7405
Corné van Vuuren: 073 463-1403
email: [email protected];