Getting our feet wet

Text: Kerrith Fraser
Photography: Kerrith Fraser and friends

My friend Michael Barton and I were in the mood for an adventure.

So, on our first overland adventure outside South Africa’s borders, we (along with our friends, Laura and Stuart McDermid) decided to really challenge ourselves. It was the beginning of March and we were venturing into Moremi Game Reserve during the Okavango Delta’s flooded period.

We expected the area to be very wet and muddy, and we were right. What we found was a game reserve that had truly been flooded. In fact, the entire Okavango had been submerged by tons of water. From the first moment it was obvious that navigating through this morass would not be easy.

On arrival at Moremi after stocking up on essential supplies in the bustling metropolis of Maun, we were told that two-thirds of the park would be inaccessible because of the seasonal flooding. We were frustrated by the news, but remained upbeat. After all, Moremi is considered to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa. There was no way that the trip could be a disappointment.

From Moremi’s South Gate we set off towards Third Bridge. Before we had ventured very far, however, the condition of the “drivable” roads in the park became clear to us. These tracks, while technically still negotiable in a 4×4, were completely flooded by murky brown water.

And judging the depth of the water, or the condition of the “road” underneath, was practically impossible. All we could do was push carefully through and hope for the best. Needless to say, we were very careful.

After we had negotiated about a dozen of these massive flooded sections, we encountered a game drive vehicle. The driver suggested that we turn back and attempt to approach Third Bridge via Xakanaxa. Apparently the road up ahead would be impossible for us to traverse.

So we turned around and headed back towards South Gate. Once at the gate, we turned onto the Xakanaxa road.

This road was almost as bad as the previous one. While we did manage to reach Xakanaxa campsite (our first intended stopover), it required hours of cautious driving to navigate the drenched track.

Along the way a group of German tourists in a rented Toyota Hilux joined our two-vehicle convoy. Caught completely off-guard by the wet conditions, the Germans found the roads almost impossible to get through.

They were very relieved to join us and followed cautiously in our tracks through the flooded sections.

However, although they did their best to follow our lines, it was not long before they were stuck. So we donned our Wellies and – with the aid of Laura and Stuart’s three-litre V6 Mitsubishi Colt – pulled them free.

For a while we made slow but steady progress. Late that day, however, with the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, calamity struck.

A horrible sound emanated from our Ford Ranger. We jumped out and inspected the vehicle. The origin of the hair-raising screech was clear: the back right main spring blade had snapped in half, causing the axle to slip and the tyre to rotate against the wheel arch.

Something had to be done quickly. Thankfully, Michael – always resourceful in a crisis – devised a temporary solution. By strapping the rear axle onto the chassis with a tow rope, and using a piece of dry wood to prevent the rear shackle hanger from sliding backwards, it could be kept in place.

We would now hopefully be able to limp to the campsite.

We headed on, carefully listening for any sign that our makeshift contraption was about to implode. After a while we heard the piece of wood drop out, but the strap held fast and we kept going.

It was dark when we arrived at the campsite, where we pitched our tents and prepared dinner. The day’s ordeal was officially behind us.

While we were having dinner, a hyena approached our site and positioned himself no more than three metres from our chairs. This made our German guests very uncomfortable, but also ignited an interesting debate about the behaviour of these scavenging creatures.

We went to bed a few hours later with the hyena searching noisily for scraps outside our tents and a lion roaring in the distance. We were truly in the middle of the African wilderness!

The next morning we had to devise a permanent solution to the Ranger’s problem. It quickly became clear that our only real option was to return to Maun and buy a new spring blade. Of course, this meant going back along the gruelling track we had completed the previous day.

So, with our tourist friends waiting for us at camp, we climbed into the Colt and headed for Maun.

Thankfully, the deluge had subsided slightly during the previous night. While still challenging, the road was now easier to negotiate and we managed to reach the city in about four and a half hours. We bought a new spring blade and headed back to camp. The return trip was luckily fairly uneventful – though we did assist a French family to rescue their vehicle from the mud – and we arrived at our tents just as the sun was setting.

After replacing the spring blade and having dinner, we crawled into our tents. We were exhausted, but also very glad that the Ranger was back in working order.

We awoke a few hours later, however, to an immense thunderstorm. With our tent flapping wildly in the wind and our tent poles bending at awkward angles, Michael braved the storm in order to tie the tent’s straps to the Ranger’s tow bar.

* Read Kerrith’s full account in the September issue of Leisure Wheels. On sale now!