It was that time of year again – the end of June and the beginning of the winter school holidays. It was also time for the Snyman and De Graaff brigade (a nine vehicle and 36 member group) to embark on their third safari with Explore Africa Adventures under the Leisure Wheels 4×4 Safaris umbrella. This time they were in for a real adventure – something that few people had done before.
Text: Andre van Vuuren
Photography: Andre van Vuuren and friends
In 2009, I took a rather large group of adventure-loving families on an extremely successful three-week safari to the Serengeti in Tanzania. Two years later, the same group explored Namibia with us. This trip included a stretch of the Namib from Solitaire to Walvis Bay, also known as The Faces of the Namib.
It was on the first day of this leg that two of the vehicles burned out completely and the families lost everything. Leisure Wheels reported on this devastating incident in Issue XXX of 2012. Awful though it was, it is a fact of life that hardship and a crisis can be the catalyst that binds a relationship and makes a touring group stick together.
It was no surprise, then, that the two group leaders, Hein Snyman and Gerrit de Graaff, met me in late 2013 to discuss their next adventure. The group of 36 people, including families with toddlers, teenagers and university students, wanted to do something really special in 2014 – something that few people had done before. The outcome was a three-week safari through Zambia, taking in the South Luangwa National Park, Kapishya Hot Springs, Lake Tanganyika and the waterfalls of northern Zambia.
The route was of such a nature that off-road trailers were a “no go”. The planning and packing of the nine vehicles was complicated. It is not the easiest thing to fit mom and dad, “three and a half teenagers” and all their camping equipment and provisions for three weeks into a Prado. But it can be done, as one family proved.
Finally, everything was ready and the group met on the evening of 27 June at KwaNokeng Lodge on the banks of the Limpopo River at the Maartinsdrift border post with Botswana. We had dinner on the deck under the huge mashatu tree. I gave my usual briefing on plans for the following day, and what to expect on the rest of the safari.
We wanted to spend as much time as possible in northern Zambia, so the aim was to get there as soon as we could. We travelled a hefty 800km on the first day to Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane. Tired and happy, we enjoyed a memorable sunset and evening round the campfire on the Chobe River.
The next day started with an early — and extremely smooth — ferry crossing of the Zambezi at Kazangula. My experience and the help of contacts at the border got the whole group into Zambia in less than two hours.
After a quick stop in Livingstone, where we changed our US dollars into Zambian kwachas, the convoy proceeded to Eureka Farm, just south of Lusaka, where we pitched camp for the night.
We faced the peak-hour traffic of Lusaka on our way to the Great East Road leading to Chipata on the border with Malawi. All went well, and we stopped for lunch at Bridge Camp on the Luangwa River, near the confluence with the Zambezi. This is where Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique share borders.
After crossing the Luangwa by the impressive suspension bridge, we headed farther north-east towards Chipata, where we spent the night at the MamaRulas guesthouse just outside the town. MamaRulas is owned by Wynand and Andrea Breytenbach – old friends who also own the Spar in Chipata.
Next morning we stocked up with supplies before heading for the South Luangwa National Park. By now we had three long days of tough driving behind us, and everybody was glad to be approaching the park. There had been no problems with the vehicles, and the kids seemed to be having a ball.
The co-ordinates for Mvuwe were entered into our GPSs and we were on our way. We stopped at Tribal Textiles, an interesting factory just outside Mvuwe, where we watched workers as they painted designs on locally produced cotton. Of course, no one could resist making a few purchases before we continued to the park.
South Luangwa is about 250km north-east of Lusaka. Bordered by the Muchinga escarpment to the west and the mighty Luangwa River to the east, this premier park offers exceptional scenery and an immense variety of wildlife. Elephant and other game, such as leopard, buffalo and lion, gather on the river banks. The animals have to be careful – the river is home to some of the largest concentrations of Nile crocodile on the continent. Cookson’s wildebeest and Thornicroft’s giraffe are indigenous to the park, and there are more than 400 species of bird.
We spent two nights at the Wildlife Camp on the river bank. After the hot and dusty trip, we were delighted with the view and the general environment.
The campsites of South Luangwa are actually outside the park, in the game management area (GMA). Wildlife Camp is really in the wilderness but offers good ablution facilities, a lovely pub and a pool overlooking the river.
The river is low at this time of the year and the hippos congregate in large groups, constantly snorting, with just their nostrils and ears above water.
We spent the next day game viewing, driving along the river, beside oxbow lagoons and through mopani woodlands. The bright green of the sausage trees stood out in the dry surrounding
There were many sightings of wildlife including puku, giraffe and zebra. Seeing predators is always a highlight, and we were fortunate to encounter lion and hyena. (On a previous trip, we had a leopard in the campsite.)
Most vehicles in the park are ranger’s vehicles, and on our visit there were only a few private ones driving around. This was fabulous, as we could get close to the animals for good photographs.
The group went for an evening game drive with guide Billy and spotter Isaac. Their knowledge was impressive, and they couldn’t have been friendlier. We had a sunset drink alongside the river before setting off on a night drive. The highlight was seeing a leopard, and we also saw a civet and a large spotted genet.
The birdlife along the rivers and lagoons was awesome. There were large groups of yellow-billed storks, pelicans, crowned cranes, carmine bee-eaters and Lillian’s lovebirds.
All too soon it was time for the adventurers to leave the network of all-weather roads in the Mfuwe area, and head into the true wilderness. The challenge started at a small sign just north of the Big Baobab and Mfuwe Lodge, indicating “05 Route”.
This road, which is seldom used, takes you right across the heart of the park, skirting the western side of Zebra Pans. I knew of only a handful of people who had done the 05 Route between Mfuwe and Mpika, so we were in for a real adventure.
At first we travelled on a lovely sandy track winding through the bush, and eventually we reached the Mutinondo River. One vehicle got stuck there, but the group of experienced 4×4 drivers completed the recovery in no time.
The next river crossing was through the Mupamadzi. This is the border of the park and about 73km from the Great North Road.
Crossing the Mupamadzi is tricky and should only be attempted when the river is low. It is normally a deep and wide crossing, but fortunately the Zambia Wildlife Authority had just completed packing the surface with sandbags and we were able to cross without major incident, although we had great fun and there some interesting “Kodak moments”.
As we approached the escarpment, Botter Hattingh’s voice came over the radio: “The automatic transmission of my Prado can’t select drive,” he said. “All I can get is reverse.” Dawie and Lizette Warmenhoven quickly came to the rescue and towed the Prado to a level area, where I called a lunch break.
Luckily Botter is a mechanical engineer and owner of a service station in Centurion, and probably one of the best technicians around. He spent his lunch break underneath the car with a No 13 socket, a screw driver and a hammer, and by the time the rest of us had completed our lunch, the Prado’s transmission was repaired and Botter was ready to go.
Then came the serious climb up the escarpment. The “road” resembled a mix between Sani Pass, the pass up to Livingstonia Mission in Malawi and Baboons Pass in Lesotho. We climbed from 700m to 1500m above sea level. All the drivers were quite experienced and because of the research I had done before the trip, the vehicles were well prepared.
We passed Nthunta Scout Camp about 40km south of Mpika, and reached the top of the escarpment at Chifungwe Gate without any further incident.
After refuelling in Mpika, the convoy drove north via Shiwa Ngandu to Kapishya Hot Springs. We arrived at sunset and pitched camp for the next two nights.
Kapishya is a quiet, secluded lodge just off the Great North Road. It is situated on the estate of Shiwa Ngandu(The Africa House) on the banks of the Mansha River.
The hot springs are an idyllic spot where you can relax in the natural, sulphur-free water. Everybody in the group made full use of the opportunity.
The natural springs are fed by three cold water springs that permeate six or seven kilometres into the earth to be super-heated before the water is forced back to the surface. The temperature drops about 10C with every kilometre, ending up on the surface at a luxurious 41C.
Soon it was time to venture further north to Lake Tanganyika and the waterfalls of northern Zambia. Zambia is one of the most water-rich countries in Africa and its many rivers cascade into fabulous displays as they wind their way through the undulating landscape.
The most spectacular waterfall, of course, is the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, shared with Zimbabwe, but there are another 17 beautiful falls dotted around the country.
The northern provinces of Zambia are very remote and not commercialised. A self-drive circuit over two or three weeks is the only practical way to explore these faraway places. Visiting the northern waterfalls is like finding a treasure chest on a secret map. Many of them have no established roads leading to them, so it is quite an adventure finding them. Villagers are always helpful and will tell you what they know about the traditional lore behind each waterfall, all of which are regarded as sacred places.
From Kapishya, we joined the tar road between Mpika and Kasama and drove through an area that used to be a stronghold of German General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck during the First World War.
When war broke out in 1914, General Von Lettow-Vorbeck was placed in command of a ridiculously small infantry unit in German East Africa (present day Tanzania). He immediately started preparing for a fight against the British colonial army in southern Africa, pretty much all by himself. He ignored an order not to mobilise for war, organised a cadre of 250 German officers to command 2500 African tribal warriors known as Askari, and began training them for a guerrilla war against impossible odds.
Von Lettow-Vorbeck disrupted the British war effort in Africa and forced Britain to send troops and supplies to Africa that would otherwise have been deployed on the battlefields of Europe. He continued to fight throughout the war, was constantly outnumbered and generally made life miserable for the British Empire in Africa, despite never having more than 11 000 men in his army. He was never defeated in battle, and surrendered only when he heard about the Armistice in November, 1918.
Kasama is the capital of the Northern Province of Zambia. It is quite a big town and the ladies in the group had the chance to stock up with supplies at a Shoprite store while the cars were refuelled for the long trip to Lake Tanganyika.
We pitched camp in a small campsite at Chishimba Falls on the Luombe River, 33km from Kasama. The falls are actually a combination of three successive waterfalls incorporating Mutumena Falls, Kaela Rapids and Chishimba itself. The impressive main part of the falls is about 20m high.
The Bemba people regard the Chishimba Falls as one of their most sacred places. They believe the Nature Spirit, Chishimba, lives in a cave below the falls, which is a place of prayer and honour. No insults, curses, words of vengeance or hatred may be uttered in the vicinity of the cave. You can walk behind the falls into this cave.
There is a hydro-electric diversion canal at the falls which helps provide power to Kasama and neighbouring villages.
Mutumena is above the Chishimba Falls and it is believed the spirit of Mutumena resides here. The high priest of Mutumena is Chitemenwe, who makes regular offerings there. Because of the sacred nature of the falls, no sexual intercourse, arrogance and quarrels are allowed in the vicinity of the falls.
After breakfast the next morning, we travelled on to Mporokoso, about 160km farther north. The road is bad, with construction work going on, and a lot of detours. And after Mporokoso, the road gets even worse still, and one has to drive very slowly and carefully. There are collapsed culverts along the way, and drivers have to watch out for vertical branches stuck in the road, warning of deep holes.
We drove via the Zambia Wildlife Authority checkpoint at Kampela, with Lake Mweru Wantipa in the distance, to Ndole Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. At this point we had driven more than 3000km until we “ran out of Zambia”.
Craig and Elize received us with great hospitality at Ndole Bay Lodge. One could feel the excitement in the group and, upon arrival in the camp, everybody ran for the lake to wet their feet and pose for a group photograph. That evening, we had an unforgettable beach braai on the shore of Lake Tanganyika.