Note: South Africa is not Southern Africa.
South Africa is the country which lies most southern in Africa.
Southern Africa is the term used for all the countries in the southern part of Africa. (i.e.Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi etc.)
Our Journey of 45 000 km begins in Westville, South Africa.
We arrived in December and it didn't take us long to find a vehicle at the local Sunday auction in Durban.
An 1984 ex-military ADE Landrover with a powerful engine (that sounded like a tractor) for an very acceptable price caught our fancy.
It meant a lot of hard work and many cases of CASTLE Beer during which time Peter quickly mastered a lot of useful South African backstreet expressions, but we didn't have much choice because a higher price was not in our budget.
We soon had it rigged out (with water canisters, jerry cans, grids on the windows, spare parts like battery, springs, tires, and an assortment of bits and pieces) and converted into a mean-survival-machine complete with all the necessities (everything but the MINUS fridge) one needed for bundu-bashing and survival in the wilderness.
We could take 80 liters of water and 80 liters spare diesel plus another 90 liters diesel in the tank.
Peter spent the first weeks either under the Landrover covered in oil and grease, or on top wielding a welding machine, while I gathered all the secondary items like food, medicines and everything one needed for mosquito warfare. I also tried to make myself wiser in matters visas, import taxes for vehicles, health regulations and all sorts of unavoidable and annoying paper work etc.
Typical of the way we traveled we still had no concrete plan of where we were going. Every day we changed our route and plans.
We both finally got fed up with preparations, as there is no end to it, and left for the southern coast of South Africa, and headed off in direction of the Cape.
We passed through the green Transkei, the ex-south-african homeland and birthplace of Nelson Mandela,
we tackled the river's at their mouth's between the Great Kei and the Chalumna area to the Great Fish river,
we crossed the passes of Van Staaden, Tradouws, Montago and Outeniekwa, and explored the outback from Calizdorp to Barrydale always remaining on the dirt roads, off the beaten track.
We reached the most southern point of Africa and spent a starry night tucked away amongst the dunes.
In Cape Town in Rondebosch we spent a few days with a my friend "Jene" sightseeing and doing a bit of Landover maintenance.
Northwards was our way through the Namaqaland toward Namibia where the landscape gets continuously drier and opener, people less and vegetation sparser.
We crossed the Orange at Violsdriff into Namibia, and after the first 100 km inland the beauty of the land unfolded...
Namibia only has two main tar roads, north to south, east to west, the rest are dirt but well prepared.
It is a country of vast empty and untamed spaces, plenty of sunshine, wide horizons, apricot sand dunes, rugged rocky plains, animal wealth adapted to the desert and (depending on one’s point of view) great beauty and much, much more.
Travelling mainly in the outback away from the main roads, we often drove for hours on end without seeing people, so it was never a problem finding a spot to sleep undisturbed in the night. Most of the time we could see for miles, sparsely vegetated landscape with unbelievable vast endless valleys one more stunning than the next with colourful mountains or dunes far in the distance.
Someone once asked me why go there, there’s nothing? …this is a place where you learn to see.
We travelled north always finding our own camp somewhere in the nowhere. On our way to Lüderitz, we travelled through an incredible valley, one of the most unforgettable sights I’ve ever seen. An awe inspiring, vast, silver-yellow, windswept arid plain, surrounded by suncoloured jutting maintains, like a painting of 1000 color tones, home of the wild desert horses.
Our trusty Landie took us through sand storms, up and down steep passes, along sandy river beds, and through varied types of mindblowing landscapes. To the tourist attractions like Ais-Ais hot springs where sulphurous springs well up out of the ground, Fish River Canyon, said to be second in size to the Grand Canyon in U.S.A, Sesriem and the gracefully curved and enormous apricot Dunes of Soussusvlei,...
...the still and strange vast beauty of the Namib,...
and the barren rocky “moonlandscape” which reminds of a foreign planet.
The Namib Naukluft Park is the largest Natural Reserve in Namibia and consist’s of 5 areas: the Naukluft, the Namib, Sandvis, Sesriem and Sossusvlei.
At night it was 10°C, at 8:00 in the morning it was often 33°C and midday it reached 50°C in the shade. We drove in the midday heat so as to generate a breeze and drank plenty of our warmed up water to keep from dehydrating.
My enchanted birthday was spent in this strange desert drinking red wine under the half moon with Peter and a giant 1500 year old Welwitchia for company, while the myriad stars were sparkling like diamonds above us and the southern cross was climbing the sky dome.
The mysterious ancient plants lie strewn across the desert at odd intervals like weird and patiently waiting aliens.
We saw few people and nobody ever harassed us. Always north was our direction through the starkly beautiful (and what seemed for us) untouched Skeleton coast to the fascinating and wild rugged Kaokoland, which lies in the very northern part of Namibia and stretches to the Angolan border.
The Kaokoland is so inhospitable and remote that it is not advisable to enter alone without a back up vehicle, plenty of spare tires, as much fuel and water as one can carry and a least 1 week of food ration. We teamed up with an unforgettable and well travelled couple, ‘Horst and Anneliese’.
For me, this also counts to the most indescribable beautiful places I’ve seen. I once heard that if you ever enter the Koakoland you will never want to leave, and now I know that’s an understatement.
Dry river beds with soft traps of deep sand which can become raging torrents overnight, stony tracks enclosed by walls of boulders deteriorating into rocky ruts and corrugations that shook us to the bones and at times forced our speed to 10 km’s.
Beautiful valleys strewn with a carpet of broken boulders faded into others covered in hues of red sand. Incredible as it sounds amongst this inhospitable wilderness we came across animals such as orynx antelope, springbok, ostrich and elephants.
From Ruaccana there is a straight tar road that takes you east to Etosha Pan once believed to be a great lake, now a endless pan of silvery-white sand upon which dust devils play and mirages blur the horizon. It covers about a quarter of the Etosha National Park.
In Gobabis we were invited to stay a few days with the ‘Goldbecks’ and the ‘Becker’s', two very hospitable family’s which gave Peter a chance to check the Landrover through.
We visited Harnass wildlife Sanctuary, an orphanage and medical centre for injured and captured wild animals and then left for Botswana at Buitepos.
Our first impression of Botswana was a very short crossing through the Trans-Kalahari Corridor back to South Africa in order to make some modifications on our Landrover and equipment.
The Kalahari was green at the time and did not at all look like a desert, and the sandy roads were still moist from the rain. At times the going got very heavy but the Landrover ploughed through the deep ruts of red sand without a problem humming and rocking from side to side like a boat in a choppy sea.
On asking which was the way to Maseru, we were told “there are many ways to Maseru”. Wasn’t that obvious to see from the many donkeytrails and footpaths passing through the bush! (Maseru marked on the map was by the way a waterhole and a handful of cattle).
Since we found no camping places we spent one night beside the Trans-Kalahari Highway which was at the time already a superbly tarred road and watched with amazement as cattle and donkeys wandered seemingly unharmed across it, while huge trucks thundered past at odd intervals.
We spent some time driving through the bundu enjoying the remotness of it all. In Gobabis and Lobatse we were back amongst the crowds and after two nights we crossed into South Africa via Skilpadshek/Pioneer Gate. We decided to cross through Lesotho which lay more or less on our way back home to Westville.
The Sani Pass summit (3200m above sea level) is apparently the higheast road in Africa and third highest in the world. Up here the vegetation is green and herds of basuto ponys graze unconcerned. Nearby ist The highest point south of Kilimanjaro, the Thaba Nthlenyana at 3482m.
As it got darker we stopped for the night somewhere on this rooftop of Africa. During the night the temperature dropped to +6°C. The next morning were realised we were on the Sani Top and one of our tyres had given up it’s last breath after 12000 km of torture. (Which explained the uneven sleeping positon I thought I had dreamed of in the night).
At 08:00 am we crossed the Sani Pass border post and were allowed to witness the magnificent view through the clouds into South Africa below.
We made our way slowly down the tight serpentine donkey trail of a road taking in the unforgettable sight.
Back in South Africa, we spent the day driving through the Drakensberg Mountains enjoying the warm sunny feel of late summer and then made our way down to Westville amongst the green hills of Kwa Zulu Natatal. This was our base and a good place to connect back with civilisation.
After having rested, gone shopping and completed the necessary maintenance and modifications to our Landrover and equipment we were ready to hit the road again on the 7th of April 1998.
This time our route took us up along the north coast of South Africa to the Kruger National Park.
We crossed South Africas biggest park richly inhabited with animals. Entering from the south and leaving in the north we then entered Zimbabwe at Beitbridge.
The road from the South African border post at Beitbridge to Harare to Kariba is a very long straight tar road with not much to see especially this time of year. The vegetation is dry and animals are scarce.
"Andy",the previous owner of our Landrover had encouraged us to visit Zambia and to stay in his camp which he had built in Kafue National Park during his work as a ranger, to get there was one reason why we were crossing Zimbabwe.
A friend of Peter's ran an Adventure Tour company based in Harare and there we found out where the best and remotest places in Zimbabwe are, and what to avoid. Having done no research into Zimbabwe we where both surprised what beautiful regions there where to discover.
It was very cheap to travel in Zimbabwe at the time, even for South Africans. The people are very poor but where always friendly.
Along the sides of the roads one could buy and barter for artfully crafted stone and wooden skultures. Once in Kariba we crossed into Zambia.
Despite being asked, why go to Zambia of all countries, I believed there must be something worth of interest to discover.
The roads were a catastrophe at the time, and I dont know if that's changed.
We stayed at Chris's camp in a quite and peaceful part on the outskirts of Lusaka which I would never have imagined to exist in a city like Lusaka.
After a few days under Chris's guidence I started taking a liking to the place, life there was very different and very interesting.
Zambia though horrible expensive still has abundant remote and beautiful places, which are very often inaccessable, as well as a wealth of wildlife in it's vast Park's.
The roads must fall under the category of the most testing and punishing in Africa and in the wet season you can forget about going anywhere.
In the north there had been reports of heavy rains and flooding and since Chris's safaris had been cancelled due to the impossible river crossings we decided follow suit. Andy's camp was in the middle of the country so it was a safe guess that it wouldn't be too wet there.
We were both about to be tested to the limits of our patience. The only reason we made it was because we were in no hurry and had all the time we needed.
The main road was so badly pitted with potholes and the verges so eroded there was hardly any tar left.
In some of the holes you could have hidden an african cow or two!
Finally the tar disappeared completly and the dirt road changed into a rollercoaster ride, which wasn't actually a problem because that's what we had a 4 x 4 for.
Then came the tsetse flies! In the heat of the day we had to close all our windows but still the persistent little insects got inside and sucked our blood. Outside the Landrover was covered with the unmerciful fly's.
At the Kafue River we had to get out at the Pontoon crossing and put our Landie on the Ferrie which meant getting eaten alive. But, after a while I got used to the sharp little stings and it actually wasn't so bad anymore.
At the camp the workers had cut the long grass in which the insects live which relieved the situation.
We choose a hut with a sleeping platform which jutted out over the river and took foto's of the mist rising above the water at the morning dawn.
Across the river from us lived a group of noisy hippo's that burped and grunted all through the night.
This was the middle of the bush and even though I was totally enchanted by the remoteness and beauty, we were inexperienced and alone and after some days we soon got frustrated with our uneventful daily safari trips.
The grass was so long it nearly covered our Landie and if there had been any game we would have missed it anyway. Daily the radiator grill was clogged with grasshoppers, butterfly's and all the bush had to offer.
It seemed the totally wrong time of year to be here.
Some days later we ferried across the Kafue River again and headed back to Lusaka.
Peter made adjustments to springs and brakepads and plugged oileaks on the landrover and then we headed off to Malawi.
The stretch of road we where about to travel was reasonable populated, the bush was still very green and it was impossible to see what lay behind the next clump of trees. We decided it wasn't wise to freely camp. The alternative was only about 600 km's of pothole catastrophy to the Malawian Border (which we took in one piece) where the next campsite on our map lay.
All along the the road the bush was smouldering with fires's.
The locals burn the trees to coal which they sell in large sacks beside roadsside.
Every now and then we would be stopped by police who wanted to see our "papers". It mostly turned out they were either bored, wanted to chat, nosey or hinting for bribes, but never seriously interested in our papers.
The last outpost before we reached the border of Malawi was Chipata, delightfully colourful and noisy and vibrant as an african town could be.
Once in Malawi, which is set amongst rolling hills in tropical vegetation, we headed for the sparkling lake, which is obsiously the highlight of Malawi.
Malawi formerly known as Nyasaland, means 'the land of the lake', the lake covering a fith of the country. It is part of the Great African Rift Valley and it is supposed to have way over 600 different species of fish, most of which are only found there.
Although we saw none, there are supposed to be crocodiles here as well and we were advised not to swim after dark because next to our campsite a local African had recently been taken by one.
We found a very popular campsite on the beach, which was the place where backpackers and overlanders meet. Here we spent quite a few days lounging around on the idyllic beach, swimming, snorkeling and swopping info and stories with fellow travellers.
I was amazed to discover what a lot of traffic there is travelling through Africa. There is a well organised flow of Overlander Trucks or Buses which cover most of the southern african countries, some that even go all the way through to London. Ideally for young people it is an affordable way of getting around Africa. However, all have to pitch in sharing the work together, putting up tents, cooking, washing up and getting on or not getting on together.
From time to time we would meet up with these travellers with whom we could change currency, gather info on campsites and very importantly the weather, since our travels where based on the weather.
We drove up north along the lake heading towards the Tanzanian border where it got more hot and clammy by the day. Peter was showing the first telltale signs of which could be Malaria, the springs of our Landrover where more than overbent, and everything that rattled and could possible come loose did. Our Landrover was a truly extraordinary and amazing vehicle, never having let us down once so far.
We received news from travellers coming our way that up north there had been nothing but heavy downpours for weeks, as a result bad flooding and cholera epidemics. The border officials had gone to every effort to not want to enter their country, one of the stipulations, a quick yellow fever jab in their rusty old container. "Not a problem" for a "special price" was not our idea of fun, especially since there was still a lot more to be discovered in the beautiful sunny south.
Peter was able to spend some days recovering on the beach and then we slowly headed back south to Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe via Lusaka.
We returned from Zambia and Malawi to the tranquil water's of the 5000 km2 Lake Kariba on the north eastern side of Zimbabwe. Here we met a wonderful family which invited us on their house boat on the lake for a few days.
Kariba is a magical place where wild animals roam around freely between the resident's gardes, the african villages and through the hotel properties and campsites. It is quite dangerous to drive or walk anywhere after dark because dark shadows of elephants and buffalo regularly roam along the main road.
Here We lost track of time and days, and after passing through Matussadona and Chisarira National Parks we eventually found ourselves in Victoria Falls.
Although an absolute tourist trap, we had the luck to be in the right place at the right time because the falls were at their best now in the rainy season. Totally impressive with a permanent rainbow, the mighty Zambezi, the fouth biggest river in Africa thunderes into the gorge here causing such a huge spray that we got totally soaked even though we had rainponchos on.
Which is why The falls are named "Mosi-o-Tunya" or "smoke that thunders" by the locals. They are said to be 1700m wide and plunge 108m below.
We also took this opportunity to do some well needed maintenance on our Landrovers springs and to change the tyres since the wire threads were already showing where the rubber had been stripped.
Our next stop was the awesome Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe's largest and most varied game park +/- 14,600 km².
The waterholes and dams were filled to the brim at this time of year and the animals were abundant. Wherever we drove there where huge herds of elephants sometimes up to 20 to 30 at a time.
Wherever they wandered they totally destroyed large tracts of their sorroundings. Trees had been stripped bare, large branches torn off and the smaller trees and vegetaion totally trampled and destroyed.
One evening while camping near a huge dam I experience one of the most unforgettable sights of my life. While there where no animals in sight before, at around dusk on the huge plain across which we could see to the horizon, family's of elephants started appearing in single files.
From every which direction they came, causing smokey dust clouds to rise in the dirt around them as they trudged to the water. More and more appeared and they still kept coming until the whole shoreline of the huge dam was completely sorrounded.
We had counted 350 elephants when it got too dark to see properly but still they seemed to be coming as other family's left. The gigantic echo's of their movements in the water could be heard until late into the night.
Some days later we passed into Botswana for a second time, this time at the Border Post of Pantamatenga.
We passed through the Savuti, the heart of the Chobe National Park famous for it's elephant's and said to have one of southern Africa's highest concentrations of game.
There are only 2 types of roads in Botswana, tarred main roads and sandroad's with very often deep sand which is why a 4 x 4 is fairly essential.
In the Savuti we met up with a French couple "Didier & Laurence" together with whom we stopped overnight and build a fire to keep any straying animals at bay.
We took a magnificent plane ride at 100m above the ground across the Okovango Delta, a labyrith of islands, rivers and lagoons where we could get a good view of the herds of animals that where already awaiting the oncoming waters from the north, which have their source in the Angolan highlands, and can take up to 6 months to reach the marsh.
We could see the water from the Okovango fanning out and spreading like thin snakes across the 20 000 km² wilderness, a patchwork carpet dotted with islands and laced with a maze of papyrus and reed lined channels, disappering as the thirsty sand drank it up before it reached the south.
The following days we travelled to the remote Drosky's Caves and the small but totally fascinating Tsodillo Hills reaching 400m above the flatness of the Kalahari, on which could be seen many San and Bantu Paintings. Said to be among the oldest historical sites in the world with more than 4500 drawings.
I traded clothing and water canisters with some local bushman ladies for bows and arrows, while Peter did an amazing Magyver job on the alternator pulley that had packed up.
At last Peter found his Kalahari! In winter the short and scrubby grass allows you to get a good view over the great, flat vastness of the country.
As I entered our daily adventures into my diary I discovered it was already June, and so we slowly thought about heading back home, ...wherever home was.
On our way south we came across the great Makgadigadi Saltpans, a vast shimmering area of appox. 16 000 km² all that's left of one of the world's largest lakes said to have covered much of northern Botswana.
Our new goal was a small fleck of land somewhere within called "Kubu Island".
Our speedometer had given up the ghost, our tourist map was no good and our fixed AIRGUIDE compass was no longer reliable (because of months of shaking and battering) so we had no idea were we were, and since it was almost dark we decided to stop in the beautiful vast nothingness and listen to the sounds of silence while we watched the glowing african sunset.
When the new day had arrived we followed some of the many tracks that crisscrossed in front of us over the pan, and we did eventually find the little "island" along the southwestern edge of Sowa Pan and it seemed like we had arrived on a strange and mysterious planet.
With large rounded boulders which where painted a shade of pink-grey in the late afternoon light and all around stood huge stubby baobab trees like silent giant guardians.
We climbed to the highest point and from there I looked out into the pan and could see the great still nothingness stretched out like a sea that it had once been in front of me. It was the most extraordinary experiece that topped everything I'd experienced before.
There were trees some with a circumference of 15m! Some, I read up later they could reach to be as old as 4000 years!
The island is also a historic site where artifacts have been found and evidence of ancient walling can still be seen.
I could have stayed an eternal time under the Baobabs, with no one to disturb the silent peace.
It was time to return to South Africa.
Some days later we found ourselves in Klerksdorp of all places and when our thermometer reached -2.5 Degrees in the night we realized it was no longer summer.
Back in Westville we sold our Landrover but before we had to leave for Germany we had time for one more trip to the Northern Cape of South Africa.
Here lies the incredible Gemsbok National Park, one of the largest protected areas in Southern Africa is sandwiched in a corner of Namibia and South Africa and trans-frontiers into Botswana. It consists mainly of Dunes and Desert Landscape...
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