Text: Alan Exton
Photography: Alan Exton and friends
The border crossing between Namibia and Zambia was expensive.
Hassle-free, mind you, but expensive.
To get our little two-vehicle convoy (my Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series bakkie and a 2002 Hilux KZ-TE double cab, each with two occupants) into the country cost us around R2000 in carbon taxes, district taxes, insurance and various other duties and taxes.
A steep entry fee, but worth it if you consider the wondrous experience that Zambia offers adventure seekers.
In Zambia we headed straight for Livingstone, a picturesque little town that acts as a popular tourism centre for sightseers visiting the Victoria Falls. Predictably, you’ll have to share the town with quite a large number of tourists, but it acts as an excellent base for exploring the Falls and offers superb accommodation options (camps, lodges and hotels).
After spending a day exploring and photographing the ever-impressive sights of the waterfall, we ventured off the popular tourist path and headed into the bush.
With our sights set on Kalomo, we followed a road that was at first nicely tarred but soon transformed into a horrendously pock-marked and dusty construction road.
Once at Kalomo, we turned onto the D344 — a “road” that can best be described as a meandering bush track.
But the D344 did eventually lead us to the southern gate of the Kafue Reserve. Unfortunately we arrived at 19h00 – too late to enter the park, so we had to spend the night outside the gate.
The next morning we entered the park and headed for Itezhi-Tezhi. We had hoped to see quite a bit of game along the way, but no real viewing opportunity presented itself. I’ve been told, though, that game is far more plentiful towards the northern region of the park.
While the lack of game was disappointing, the campsite at Itezhi-Tezhi turned out to be brilliant. It is located right next the massive Kafue dam and offers an immensely rewarding camping experience. The sight of the sun disappearing slowly over the dam is a spectacular scene that reminds one why African sunsets are revered the world over.
From Itezhi-Tezhi our plan was to get onto the M9, a road that would eventually lead us to Lusaka. What stood between us and the M9, however, was the most horrific stretch of road that I have ever been forced to negotiate. The road – about 110km in length – was built in the 1970s when construction on the Kafue Gorge Dam was taking place but hasn’t been maintained since, and has subsequently fallen into complete disrepair.
This is a terrible road. If ever there is an award for “The Worst Road in the World” this little track will surely be a serious contender. Unless you have no other choice, avoid it.
Thankfully, after a few panic-inducing hours on this road, we made it onto the M9 and into Lusaka. Here we spent the night at Fringilla Farm and Campsite, a lovely farm that – in addition to accommodation – offers travellers a chance to buy fresh meat and produce.
Refreshed and restocked after the previous day’s trials and tribulations, we left Fringilla, hopped onto the T2 and headed for Kasanka National Park.
The park, while relatively small, turned out to be a delight. The landscape was gorgeous; the Kasanka staff where we stayed (Pontoon Campsite) were very friendly and sightings of herds of antelope like lechwe, puku and sitatunga, were plentiful. Visitors to the park can also look forward to spotting shoebills – especially around the aptly named Shoebill Island – and swarms of large fruit bats.
But be warned, visiting Kasanka can also be hazardous and annoying. Set foot in the park and you will probably be tormented by the most relentless Tsetse flies known to man. These flies are incredibly tough and very hard to dispatch, so come prepared.
From Kasanka we proceeded to Mpika where we encountered a particularly infuriating roadblock. Every bureaucratic obstacle at the officials’ disposal was placed in our path. Documents, insurance forms, tape reflectors, fire extinguishers and triangles all had to be taken out and displayed.
The ordeal reached its heated climax when, on my way out of the roadblock, I accidentally flattened a traffic cone that had been placed in front of my vehicle. The officials were livid. They threatened to charge me – presumably with negligent destruction of a cone. I chose to ignore this threat and simply drove away.
Finally clear of this annoyance, we headed north towards Shiwa Ng’andu. This estate was once the property of an eccentric British aristocrat with an elongated title: Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Stewart Gore-Browne. The estate offers visitors a luxurious and surreal colonial oasis in the middle of Africa. The property has been lovingly restored by Charlie Harvey (the lieutenant-colonel Sir’s grandson) and looks much like it did when it was built just after the First World War. It offers excellent accommodation and plenty of activities.
Shiwa Ng’andu was also the turn-around point of our northern trek.
From this elegant estate we turned south-east towards the North Luanga reserve. We travelled through the reserve to Pontoon Camp where we crossed the Luanga River on a hand-drawn pont. Once over the river, we travelled towards Zokwe on a track that wasn’t on our GPS but nevertheless got us where we wanted to go.
From Zokwe we took the road to Mfuwe. This isn’t a road that I would recommend. During the wet season it is completely drenched, and therefore unusable. But even during the dry season, when it can be traversed, it demands very cautious driving.
After hours of carefully dodging potholes, we finally arrived at Mfuwe and pitched our tents at Croc Camp — a simple but pleasant site on the banks of the Luanga River.
The river was flowing strongly and attracted large numbers of water birds – especially large flocks of yellow-billed stork – to its sandbanks.
Of course, the abundance of water also attracted lots of other animals, which is why we were asked to hand in all our fruit for safekeeping. Apparently hippos and elephants regularly roam through this camp, and the tempting smell of fruit can result in some very unpleasant encounters. I can vouch for this as I have a friend whose Toyota Fortuner was destroyed at this very campsite in 2008 by an elephant that discovered the presence of fruit in his vehicle. So if you ever visit Camp Croc, make sure you hand over anything that might pique the interest of a gluttonous herbivore.
From here we returned to Lusaka via Chipata and Petauke, stopping for one night at Luanga Bridge camp. From Lusaka, we took the T2 to Chirundu. We then headed north and crossed the Kafue River at the Gwabi Ferry crossing. From there we moved on to Eagles Rest, a beautiful resort on the shores of Lake Kariba.
With Lake Kariba in our rear-view mirror, our trip through Zambia was quickly approaching its end. We passed through Mazabuka, Pemba, Choma and Kaloma and stopped in Livingstone, where we spent our final night in this country.
Eager to experience the splendour of the Victoria Falls one final time, my wife Sybil and I each took a trip over this natural wonder in the passenger seat of a microlight aircraft. The view was truly breathtaking. After seeing and experiencing countless wonderful things in Zambia, this flight provided a perfect ending to it all.
Back on the ground we boarded the Kazangulu Ferry, which took us into Botswana. This ferry border crossing can be tedious and difficult, but we were fortunate. It only took us 90 minutes to set foot in Botswana.
From the crossing we went to Kasane where we camped for two nights. Leaving Kasane, we spent a day in the northern part of Chobe where we saw an incredible amount of game.
We then passed through Nata, Francistown, Selebi Pikwe, the Tuli Block, and arrived at Pontdrift border post where we crossed the Limpopo into South Africa. Back in SA we headed to Mapungubwe, a new reserve run by Sanparks.
The park offers a reasonable amount of game, as well as a nice selection of large indigenous trees such as Nyala, Baobab, Fever and Shepherds trees.
Leaving Mapungubwe, we returned to our home in Johannesburg via Alldays and Thabazimbi. Our trip had lasted six weeks and we had travelled more than 8000km.
Sure, the abundance of roadblocks and horrific state of the roads had been irritating at times, but they hadn’t ruined the trip by any means. The rewards far outweighed these minor annoyances. After all, to reach the greatest destinations you often have to take the most difficult roads.
* Get the full story in the July issue of Leisure Wheels. On sale now!