2017 A New Year…A New Journey 

“THE WORLD IS A BOOK – THOSE THAT DON’T TRAVEL READ ONLY ONE PAGE

14th January

We awoke to idyllic weather following a day of thunderstorms with everything fresh.  We’d slept at Springbok Pan Guest Farm in the Bateleur Campsite a few kilometers from McCathy’s Rest Border post.

Bateleur campsite

Green grass and beautiful yellow flowers everywhere. This whole region, normally an arid, dry part of the Kalahari, had been transformed. The rains had performed their magic!

Coffee stop in the Kalahari

A week before on Saturday 7th January we started our journey at last! Our first nights stay was in Plettenberg Bay to say farewell to my sister Carol and David. We’d not seen their new home yet and also had a “limited edition” calendar as a gift for them. Carol had arranged a wonderful send off for us by inviting family and friends over for the evening.
Despite roadsigns to the contrary, we were able to detour on the old road through beautiful Natures Valley and the Groot River pass, as well as the Blaaukrantz pass, with its huge trees covered with old man’s beard and “Tarzan ropes “, rejoining the N2 at Coldstream. Thus bypassing the Toll road!

Our first night of actual camping  was in Jeffery’s Bay, virtually right on the beach at one of our favourite places. We needed to check that we had made adequate preparations to our camping setup and vehicle. The caravan park was still charging holiday rates unfortunately. To add to our dissapointment, the weather was stormy too.

Our vehicle passed our final check and we left the next day for Camdeboo Game Reserve in Graaff Reinet at the Valley of Desolation.

Valley of Desolation

A lovely campsite in the bush but with very little game.

Black Shouldered Kite at Camdeboo GR

The main attraction, The Valley of Desolation, didn’t let us down. After seeing the dam level and being told that the Sunday’s river had not run for 4 years we forgave the heavy rains that dampened our stay there. It was summer and we expected lots more rain before the end of our travels. We were adequately prepared for all types of weather.

The roads became rivers!
Newly hatched butterflies after the rains
Solveig dancing with the butterflies

After  a nights stay in the town at the Urquhart campsite and a night in Kimberley at the Big Hole campsite, I must comment about some municipal camping facilities. Both campsites are run by their respective municitalities and in both instances, the electricity supply was faulty. NO EARTH !  Extremely dangerous to campers prepping their food in damp grass! To overcome the danger I took emergency steps!

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A wire clamped to the car is attached to a metal peg stuck in the ground

Before reaching Kimberley we  detoured to view the Solar Power Station at De Aar. Very impressive! From unconfirmed information we received it is said  to be the largest installation of this type in the Southern Hemisphere. We drove alongside it for about 4 kilometers!

De Aar Solar Power Station

After another night on the road in Kuruman we did some last minute shopping and our journey began for real!!

Part Two. Travelling at home in South Africa

South Africa is such a popular foreign tourist destination we are allocating time this year to find out what we’ve overlooked here at home.  We’re so often ready to explore destinations in other countrie before right here on our doorstep.

SAN Parks undoubtedly does the best job of running one of the most outstanding nature destinations in Africa. They offer such good value for money too. The rest of the country has such a diversity of everything a tourist wants. From its People, to its Mountainous areas, Arid regions, Sub tropical, Savannah and Mediterranean climatic zones. Not to mention it’s coastline of over 3000 kilometers flanked by two oceans. It’s literally a world in one country.

So let get started!

We re-entered South Africa at the Pont Drift border, through an absolutely dry, sandy Limpopo river and we headed for Louis Trichardt. Solveig walked across!
Sven and Anka crossed here before when they rode their bikes through Mashatu on a cycling safari. They used this cable car to cross the then flowing river.

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Cable car across the Limpopo
You can see that the river in the background is dry.

Our plan was to traverse the northern part of the country from west to east, in the Limpopo province, which is so far from home we seldom venture there.
We enjoyed the mountain scenery in contrast to the almost flat landscape in Botswama as we travelled along the beautiful Soutpansberg range to Louis Trichard. After stocking up with provisions we headed north once again through the stunning Wyllie’s Poort with its lush forests of huge indigenous trees. 

That night we camped at Tshipise. A hot spring resort we’d often heard about but never visited. A huge change from the wild camps that we are accustomed, but after all, we were exploring what was on offer in our country! The resort’s beautifully appointed with everything just perfect. The hot springs very relaxing too. The place wasn’t busy,  we were grateful it wasn’t the July holidays, their peak season, as there are more than 300 sites!

The altitude dropped as we left the escarpement before reaching Pafuri in the Northern region of the Kruger Park where the air was thick and hot.
The Shingwedzi river was another big surprise. It wasn’t flowing either! The drought had left only patches of water here and there! On our previous visit here with Dukken and Rolf it was flooding its banks. Wherever water was to be found, it was crowded with animals quenching their thirst. The Kanniedood dam was empty too.

The harsh conditions were favourable to game viewing with the sparce vegetation a bonus for visitors, but unfortunate for the animals. Nevertheless it was wonderful to be back at Kruger and we enjoyed five nights at various camps. 

Before continuing our homeward journey we detoured via Gauteng for a week! Visiting Eli and Shirley, family we hadn’t seen for ages. Dear friends, Noleen who once worked with us, as well as Yvonne and Boet, who live in Denokeng on a game farm! A week caught up in the rush of the Big City once again, with its trendy markets and eateries also made for a wonderful break.

We still had time to kill while our home was being rented with nowhere to go. Back to Swaziland for a few days. On the way we stopped over in Chrisiesmeer for coffee and to find a place to camp for the night.There we met Andrew Rathbone, the owner of the shop, so friendly that we ended up parking around the back of his place for the night! We’ve met the nicest and friendliest people wherever we’ve  been. We’re so lucky,  absolutely everywhere!

Back to Botswana

Botswana is so special you can’t keep us away. After New Year in the Caprivi we returned to Botswana. This time to the Chobe area.
We could not believe that at the Ngoma Bridge border the Chobe was not flowing at all. About 18 months earlier we had difficulty getting to Chobe Lodge, where Max was working, due to flooding. He had to guide us to the lodge using a special route.

Our second shock came when we could not get a campsite at The Chobe Safari lodge. It was full! So were other campsitea we tried in Kasane.

Fortunately we’d been told of an amazing campsite near Kasangula on the Hunter’s road; The Senyati Safari Camp.

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Luck was once again on our side. We got a site with private ablutions and a covered stoep. The real bonus was to come that evening after sunset. Senyati’s floodlight waterhole.

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We had so looked forward to staying at the Chobe Safari Lodge campsite that we decided to return to Kasane and have another attempt.
Senyati is located almost on the Hunter’s Road, which runs along the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe. We choose this route to return to the Kasangula border post.

What a treat! We saw lots of game and we felt quite a rush too as we probably strayed over the border at times.

There was no problem getting a campsite this time. We got the one alongside where we’d stayed with Keith and Tickey.

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Chobe Sunset

Our journey continued a few days later southwards to Elephant Sands. We made an attempt to travel along the Hunter’s Road but gave up not wanting to risk it alone. There were patches of sticky cotton soil mud on the route and we might have got stuck if we’d continued. We had enjoyed being on our own but this was one of those occasions we needed someboby as backup.
For those of you that have never been to Elephant Sands you might have heard that it’s a bit like being in large zoo. The animals are so dependant on the waterhole that they just have to visit. But what makes it real is the fact that there are no fences and the animals walk right amongst the campers.

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Unfortunately it’s difficult to exclude the chalets from the photos.

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We were amazed at the inovation of some people…..using a mosquito net instead of a tent! So much more comfortable in the heat.

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But it’s not easy to take down afterwards.

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Sometimes the elephants came real close

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A really worthwhile stopover on our penultimate night in Botswana.

What lay ahead was a long drive to the Tuli Block. We’d been advised by other travellers that it was possible to cross the Limpopo this year because of the drought. The river was not flowing! This occurs sometimes during winter but seldom in summer. The so called rainy season!

We’d never been to the Tuli before due to its location in an out of the way corner of Botswana. It’s a fairly mountainous region which makes it very beautiful and different to the plains and pans we were familiar with. In fact, similar to the Motopos in Zimbabwe across the border.

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We came across this Elephant carcass in a dry river bed at the boundary of Motswari.

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Our campsite right next to the Limpopo under these huge Nyala Berry trees.

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Look carefully and you’ll see Solveig walking across the Limpopo River!

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After a very hot, dry and wonderful six weeks we were back in South Africa where our journey continues. …..

The Caprivi – Zambezi Valley

After we sadly left N’gepi we visited the real Pupa Falls, which are only 10kms away. At Pupa Falls the Kavango river breaks into a collection of streams, each with their own rapids. The river is so low that there isn’t much of a show.

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One of the bigger streams of rapids

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A family enjoying their day at the river

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The boardwalk leads to the chalets overlooking the falls

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We spent an enjoyable time visiting the falls as day trippers but don’t plan to sleep over. It’s very expensive and there are other more affordable places in the neighbourhood as well as N’gepi.

The road through the Caprivi passes by mixed usage tribal areas where wildlife lives alongside rural family villages and livestock.

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Everybody knows of the Big Five. Do you know what the Little Five are? With names and characteristics derived from their bigger counterparts they are:
The Elephant shrew, the Buffalo Weaver, the Leopard tortoise, the ant-lion, and the Rhino beetle.
Thank you to Roy Rudnick and Michelle Weisz from their book “World by Land” for the above piece of interesting trivia.

Katimo Mulilo, a border town in the Zambezi Valley. The commercial and administrative centre of the area.  We’ve stopped there on numerous travels north and south, and is our prefered border into Zambia and Central Africa. We usually stay over at a lovely campsite at the Protea Hotel, with a view of Zambia across the Zambezi river, and hippos!
We know our way around town and have our favourite places to shop and enjoy a coffee or bite to eat. It’s a town where even the supermarkets become a tourist attraction!  But, it can become somewhat repetative and not portray the true experience of the Caprivi. 

Solveig maintains that by being a smoker she always meets the most interesting people while having a quick puff outside. Well it happened again!  Fellow smoker Bruce,  MD of Island View Lodge about 25kms downriver told her of their facility.

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This sounded like just what we were wanting as a change from the norm in Katimo Mulilo :- Nature,  River frontage, Electricity, Pub area deck, Free WiFi, Shaded sites, Swimming pool and clean ablutions. If you’re not Wild Camping and you’re paying for it you expect the lot! We booked in until after the New Year madness!
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Not one of the Small Five, but a closer look at nature.
Here’s another….
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Pieter, the birdlife was incredible!

Namibia (N’gepi revisited)

The Namibian border was only a short drive from where we’d been staying at Shakawe. We were soon at N’gepi.
Mark’s offer overwhelmed us  when we’d enquired about accomodation over the Christmas weekend. Since finding the campsites rapidly filling as Christmas approached we thought we’d better make enquiries before simply pitching up.

Mark invited us to stay in a reed and thatch Tree Hut, usually reserved for special guests and honeymooners! We were speachless! We never expected such generosity. What an amazing Christmas present for both of us and fantastic birthday present for Solveig. I could never have matched that!  We had such a good feeling about being back at N’gepi again, almost as if we were home.

There are numerous signs dotted about the property. Mostly humerous, but there is a serious side too….

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N’gepi is a fully sustainable property on the banks of the Kavango River – change of name in Namibia. By fully sustainable I refer to the various projects successfully embraced, such as all electrical power is from solar energy as well as hot water and water purification of water for drinking. Refrigeration in their kitchen is from a water and charcoal evaporation construction. Many of the vegetables and salads are grown on the property and there is an interesting sustainable tree project practiced by the many staff required to run a place of this nature and the locals.

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The facilities like showers and toilets are so creatively constructed they’ve just got to be seen to be believed!

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Late Christmas afternoon nature delivered the best present ever…much needed rain!

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The heavens opened up and an almighty storm ensued as witnessed from our bed where we sheltered.

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My dad’s Bass Saxophone finds a new home alongside my Autoharp and other instruments, hanging from the ceiling in a riverside lounge.

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The sign says it all!

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Our campsite

We stayed on for a further two enjoyable nights of camping after our complimentary Tree Hut  stay. Thank you so much to all of those that made this such a memorable occasion for the two of us.

The Okavango

Our route to the Caprivi took us up the panhandle on the western side of the Okavango Swamps. We weren’t in a hurry and wanted to make a few stops on the way.

For our first night we had chosen the Ngoma Island Lodge and Campsite . The description in the T4A book on Botswana and Veronica Roodt’s wonderful travel guides looked inviting. After 12 kms of sandy track with detours around washed away bridges we arrived at the camp.

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A beautifully shaded camp on the edge of the swamp. The lodge was a number of en-suite tented huts on raised decks with a communal kitchen.

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We were accomodated in a shaded campsite.

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At 140 Pula per person it was the most expensive place we’d stayed at. No electricity, nor Internet.  But we enjoyed the setting so much, and we were on our own again, so peaceful…

We were sidetracked on our way to the Tsodilo Hills, a world heritage site, that has 4500 rock paintings in a 10sq.Km area created between AD 850 and AD1100. There are also numerous archaeological finds such as metal spearheads, pottery, glass beads, stone tools. The cliff faces  consist of 4 hills. Ledgend has it that they make up a family. Male, female, child and grandchild. Too good to miss! We’ll have to go there tomorrow!

On our travels we are often sidetracked.  We go where our fancy takes us…. We’d  seen signs every now and again advertising  Sepopa Swamp Stop Rest Camp. The final straw was getting a pamphlet handed to us at a Vetenarian check point.

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We were hot and thirsty and and decided to  look in.

Next we’d found a shady riverside site and booked in for the night. It wasn’t even lunchtime!

We met up with Ziggie and Catrin again who we’d first seen in the CKGR at Piper Pan and again in Maun. We just spent the day chilling in the campsite and pool.

George approved of our choice. While travelling he has to lie on the seat in the back and doesn’t get to see much.

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It’s amazing the difference water makes to nature.

Early the next morning we did visit Tsodilo Hills, but never stayed over.

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The colours of the rocks were such a contrast to what we’d been used to seeing.

A storm was brewing on the way. We hoped it would develop and some rain would fall.

It’s so hot and dry everywhere.

At last the heavens opened and there was a short but heavy shower. The poor domestic animals, so desparate for water just stood in the middle of the road and drank from the puddles and wouldn’t move out of the way.

There are numerous placed to stay along the Okavango River part of the panhandle near the Namibian border . The well known Drotsky Cabins offer camping too, but we stayed at the Shakawe Lodge which has 10 campsites on the banks of the river in paradise.

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The campsites were fully booked but we went to have a look anyway as we were there.  Imagine our surprise when we found Ziggie and Catrin there too. The campsites were large and they suggested we share theirs.

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We made many new friends along the way. Always discussing where we’d been and what we’d seen, but we seldom discussed details of our future route as none of us really knew. Most, like us, had a vague plan only. This is one of the best things about the way we travel.

Having said that, we knew definitely where we were going for Christmas Eve and Christmas day, Solveig’s birthday….

We’d been invited to stay at N’gepi by the owner, Mark Adcock. We’d become good friends since meeting him on our Cape Town to Oslo atempt in 2014. More about that later….

Maun and surroundings

After the CKGR we headed for Rakops. The road out was sandy but not nearly as long or difficult as our entrance route. In Rakops we refuelled and inflated the tyres and then we headed for Planet Baobab for hot showers, flushing loos, a pub and a swimming pool.
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We’d stayed there before with Keith and Ticks so we knew what to expect. We needed a few days of relaxation and reflection..
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These two creations on the highway draw you in to find what Planet Baobab is all about. It’s not just another campsite in the bush. The owners have gone out of their way to be whacky, different and to make your stay memorable.

I worked out my fuel consumption for the past 8 days of mostly deep sand driving in 4×4 high range and I’m impressed. I used 17.57 l/100 km (or did 5.69 km per litre). I didn’t know what to expect not having driven such a distance in these conditions before. The vehicle is a pleasure to live in. Very cool and breezy in our sleeping area. Its also very quick and easy to setup and breakdown camp. With Solveig and I both setting up we’re all done in under 5 minutes. Including the awning !

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The pub is a very welcoming venue to chill and connect to the Internet.

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Here I am cooling off in the huge pool.

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All in all, a great place to come down to earth again.

We passed the entrance to Nxai Pan Game Reserve and the Baines Baobabs on our way to Maun. We’d decided to give it a miss for now as advanced booking is a requirement. Maybe later in our wanderings??

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The view from our campsite at Maun Restcamp alongside the Thamalakane river.

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Juvenile Kurricane Thrush

No wild animals but plenty of birds, cows and goats, but then all animals need to drink.

We visited one of our suppliers of African fabrics who lives here in Maun, Birgit. She and her husband, Ryno, make frequent trips into Africa to make purchases. We get mainly Mali cloth from her. They have a lovely home under giant Leadwood trees. Both of them have created magic using their talents and skills. Furniture from their travels into the depths of Africa, huge leather Taureg cushions, coloured bottles set into walls in such a way as to illuminate the interior. Imaginative light fittings all creating a comfortable living space anybody would be happy living in.

After stocking up the following day with mainly liquids and ice, we headed for the Okavango pan handle on the western side of the swamp. This was only after a lengthy coffee stop at a curio shop, The Red Monkey. We met the owner Mel Oake, an ex Zimbabwean. Other locals, from the Wilmot family, were also there having coffee and cakes. We chatted and they filled us in with so much of the area’s history and background.
Mel was making and marketing a Kigelia product, made out of an extract from the tree of the same name, commonly known as the sausage tree.

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Kigelia has number of uses, all relating to skin ailments and treatments.