Zambia May/June 2018

3 weeks of pure African Adventure

The trip, focusing on touring national parks of Zambia, was made up of the following club members with the group of 9 vehicles representing a cross section of 4×4 brands, although surprisingly no Landrovers were present this time.

Viv & Mary le Sueur (trip organiser) – Toyota Land Cruiser
John & Lana Zulch – Toyota Land Cruiser
Simon & Michelle Walker- Toyota Hilux
Ken & Shona Sturgeon- Toyota Hilux
Tony & Charmaine Naidoo – Toyota Fortuna
James Little & Natasha – Volkswagen Amarok
Ian & Stephanie Smith – Mitsubushi Pajero
Len & Pat Cooper- Ford Ranger
Steve & Debbie Newbould – Ford Ranger

Saturday 19 May – meeting point Shametu River Lodge, Caprivi Strip, Namibia Everyone had made their own way to our meeting point in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip with the majority of the group having arrived in the afternoon and evening after at least a 2 600km journey from Cape Town, although James and Natasha had arrived after dark and Tony and Charmaine the previous day. Some had been on road for up to two weeks touring either Namibia or Botswana on the way, but most had taken 3 to 4 days to get to our meeting point. Our first camp together, Shametu River Lodge, set the bar high for the rest of the trip. It’s well appointed with lovely camping facilities and great attention to detail in the lodge. The owners were onsite and welcoming and we enjoyed a resident owl nestling in the thatched roof at reception. That evening around our first group fire, Viv and Mary welcomed everyone stating that we were making history as it was the first long distance club trip to have as many as 18 people participating.

Sunday 20 May – half the group chose to explore the nearby Mahango National Park while the rest of the group chilled and recovered from the long haul from Cape Town to the Caprivi Strip.

Monday 21 May – We were all packed up and ready to leave by 8am in our first convoy drive heading to the Zambian border post of Katima Mulilo. All the officials were very friendly although we did have to wait almost an hour for the road tax officer that was on an extended lunch. After a long wait for everyone to regroup after the border post we headed for the town of Shesheke and then Brenda’s Best Baobab campsite. Unfortunately Brenda’s had an attractive baobab but highly inadequate camping facilities, especially not big enough for a group of 9 vehicles. A quick decision was made to push onto Maramba Lodge in Livingston as we knew it to be a good camp from previous trips. The tar road quickly deteriated into a mass of deep potholes and we had to compete with trucks, busses and other locals coming from both directions
for the best routes around the holes. With the road conditions being so bad the group got split up and in the end the last 4 vehicles, with rather frazzled occupants, got to Livingston after 8:30 that evening, almost 2 hours after the first half of the group had arrived.

Tuesday 22 May – As we had made up time the previous day it was decided that we could leave at 10:00 am in the morning instead of the previously planned early start that gave those who hadn’t seen the magnificent Victoria Falls a chance to view it. En route to The Moorings Farm on the T1 road we stopped in Choma where some topped up with fuel whilst others looked for
more foreign exchange. After once again regrouping on the border of town we drove to the farm where we were to camp. Before setting up camp we drove deep into the bush behind the campsite to the Malambu Middle Basic School to donate gifts that we had brought with for them. The gratitude and excitement of the teachers and stand-in head was highlighted by some
beautiful singing of the young children. After the presentation we headed to the farm and set up camp.

Wednesday 23 May – We woke to fresh farm smells and before getting back onto the road to our first major stop, Mvuu Lodge, we had a visit from the headmaster of the school who came to thank us for our contributions to the school. He even offered us a live guinea fowl to show his appreciation, which we politely declined! After a drivers meeting to discuss extraction tactics if
we should encounter deep mud we headed off. The first half of the day we drove through a beautiful tarred mountain pass with lovely scenery and easy fast driving. This soon changed when we turned off onto the dirt road to the lodge that would be home for the next 3 nights. The dirt road was highly rutted but thankfully dry and one could see the dried mud pits that would have been difficult to transverse a short time before. We arrived late afternoon to set up camp. That night we made a massive fire on the swollen banks of the Zambezi River.

Thursday, Friday 24 & 25 May – Mvuu Lodge
Thursday morning we were awoken to the sounds of hippo’s grunting, one of which had been grazing the grass amongst the camped vehicles in the very early hours. Viv and Mary took a 45 minute drive to the Lower Zambezi National Park where they had lion sighting, whilst the rest of the group explored the Game Management Area in different groups. Back at camp, those that were there were visited by an elephant. Friday was for most a laid back back day catching up on the internet at the lodge and inn the afternoon most of us went on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi.

Sat, 26 May – Knowing that the road was going to be a long and potentially difficult one we all started early with a major stop in Lusaka to fill up both vehicles and our shopping baskets. Unfortunately Ken and Shona’s petrol driven Toyota was partially filled with diesel at the garage which resulted in their tank having to be removed. Although the staff were very friendly and
happy to help, Ken had to use all his own tools to remove the tank. As we were not sure of the conditions of the roads ahead, and we were already running late it was decided that Len & Pat as well as Ian and Stephanie would remain with Ken & Shona to help them and also until they were mobile again whilst the 6 other cars would continue to the next camp. The going was slow with
the roads being exceptionally dusty resulting sometimes in zero visibility on bad roads and the trip took over 5 hours before the lead car of Viv and Mary got to camp in the dark. The last stretch to the camp was through long grass and many wondered when the last vehicle had been here and wether we were indeed on the correct track. The entrance to camp was through thick undergrowth which seemingly swallowed up vehicles as they went through. The helpful staff guided us to our site by running ahead of the cars with a lantern. Ken, Len and Ian arrived about 2 hours later, to our relief as the combination of darkness, dust, rutted tracks and potholed roads
made for an adventurous but potentially dangerous drive. Everyone had simple, quick meals and a very tired crew headed off for an early night.

Sunday, Monday, 27 & 28 May – Next morning was the first time we got to appreciate the beautiful surroundings of the the much anticipated McBrides Camp deep in the colossal (22,440km²) Kafue National Park. Over the next two days we all got to meet the famous Christopher McBride (bwana), author of the book the White Lions of Timbavati (amongst others), and his industrious wife Charlotte (madame). Chris sat in an outside lounge overlooking the Kafue River with hippos and crocs adding to our company and entertained us with no end of bush stories and shared his intimate knowledge of the surrounds. Game drives, river trips and a swim in a hot water spring made this a very special place for all.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 29, 30, 31 May- Kaingu Lodge Campsite
5 vehicles left very early (the first leaving just after 5am) in order to avoid each others dust and to give themselves more time to do things at the small town of Mumbwa, with the last leaving at 7am. Charlotte McBride came down to the camp to wish us fairwell. We all refilled cars and regrouped at Mumbwa where we learnt that Len &n Pat, the earliest to leave that morning, had decided to split from the group and explore on their own. The last stretch to Kaingu Lodge was a beautiful windy ’twee spoor’ through the forests on which we made relatively good time and arrived just after lunch, almost 2 hours ahead of schedule. A mandatory stop of 5 minutes per car had to be made before entering Kaingu for the tsetse flies to climb off the vehicles, they seem to
train them well in Zambia as 99 % of them climbed of our 4×4’s! The Camp was right on the Kafue River, just meters away from rapids. After a leisurely evening we all went to bed early after the early rise that morning.

Wednesday was a lazy day around camp with most catching up on washing and repacking in the morning whilst watching vervet monkeys either swinging high in the trees or using the washing that was drying on temporary wash lines as a jungle gym. Late afternoon 12 of the group were taken out in two boats for a sunset game cruise on the stunningly beautiful and very wide Kafue

Not much exploring was done out of camp on Thursday as payment for every activity had an additional national park tariff added to it so activities were curtailed to hikes to the rapids, bird photography, drinks at the lodge and preparing for Liuwa Plain, our next highly anticipated park.

Friday 1 June – We left early Friday morning as the forest drive from Kaingu, although lovely, was slow. Once on the main road again we headed north and then transversed west right through the centre of Kafue National Park and on towards the town of Mongu. However before getting to the town we had to find a place to bush camp, the only night we spent in the bush without
facilities. Fortunately the first tun-off explored off the road was an inactive tree felling site which suited us well after flattening the long grass. This was also to be the only evening that we didn’t make a fire as we did not want to attract attention to ourselves or run the risk of causing a bush fire.

Saturday 2 June we were up very early again as we had to not only restock at Mongu but also take a ferry across a river. We got to Mongu so early that most shops had still not opened so used the extra time to explore Mongu which is the capital of the Western Province of Zambia. The road from Mongu to Kalabo, the village close to the entrance to Liuwa Plain, is a stunning new
road linked together by multiple bridges over the rustic and very scenic 50 km wide Zambezi flood plains. Our next adventure was to cross the river between Kalabo and the park on the badly maintained ferries. Crossing the river proved to be very precarious with Viv being left on the opposite bank for almost 2 hours whilst waiting for the rest of us to cross – more about the ferries later as the return trip proved to be even more precarious. Once we all eventually got across we deflated tyres as the tracks in the park are either sand or mud with four fairly deep water crossings to the camp. The pathway is not very distinct, often with multiple choices of where to go as new pathways have been formed in order to avoid the muddy conditions.

Unfortunately Viv, in the lead, took a wrong path and hit a deep mud hole which instantly sucked his Land Cruiser into it. Unable to get out under his own power meant John’s Land Cruiser, with a winch, was called up to pull him out. However Viv’s ‘Cruiser didn’t budge. Next after Viv with a spade and Tony with his bare hands dug out mud from around the wheels, a snatch rope was tried, still to no avail, and then a conventional tow rope with a double sling also had no joy. By now John’s Landcruiser, even with its powerful V8 diesel engine, was taking strain and the clutch was starting to burn out as well as starting to dig itself into the ground.

In the meantime Ken went in search of a tractor, which miraculously he finds, and they agreed to come help, only they didn’t have a starter motor in the tractor so Ken had to tow start the tractor with his Hilux, yet another first for both Ken and the 4×4 club.  Whilst waiting for Ken and the tractor Ian with his Pajero and Steve with his Ranger, the only two vehicles with auto gear boxes (and therefore wouldn’t burn out clutches), decide to try do a tandem pull to get the cruiser out. Still no success with the Ranger then having to be pulled out twice as it starting digging itself into the soft ground. Eventually the tractor arrived with 4 very helpful Zambian park rangers who immediately set to work to further dig out the ‘Cruiser before attaching the tractor. Alarmingly the tractor, with its low gearing and large rear wheels spinning, even after multiple tries, made no impression on pulling the heavily laiden Land Cruiser out. Now getting seriously concerned members of the group go off in search of a 5 ton 4×4 Magirus-Deutz Truck which we had seen come over on the
ferry earlier in the day. As it was getting late it was decided that most of the group should go find the Kwale camp before it got dark, leaving the two Land Cruisers to wait for the Magirus-Deutz truck. The group of six 4×4’s manage to get to the Kwale Community camp just before the stars start appearing and the main concern then was whether or not Viv, Mary, John and Lana would be joining us or sleeping out on the flood plain. Just over 2 hours after our arrival at the camp, with much relief, we heard the distant growl of the the two big engines of our previously stranded fellow travellers. The combined pulling power of both the Magirus-Deutz and the tractor and with use of hydraulic jacks dug under the back of the ‘Cruiser finally got Viv and Mary’s vehicle out. Much praise to the unselfish help given by the locals, with no reward asked for or expected but given gladly.

Sunday, Monday 3 & 4 June
We had the Kwale camp to ourselves, being only the second group in after the park had been closed for 3 months due to inaccessibility caused by the rains. The camp itself had very basic facilities, like only cold water which had to be foot pumped by our friendly camp supervisor, but lovely big treed sites. Most of us went game viewing in ’teams’ in case of getting stuck in mud or water crossings. All had great sitings on the wide open plains with its sea of grass and islands of forests. Kings Pool proved to be an absolute paradise with hundreds of birds, wildebeest, and multiple buck species gathered around beautiful pools. On Sunday evening two groups got stuck out after dark whilst trying to find their way back to camp through overgrown pathways that had
not been used in months and having to pluck up the courage to cross large stretches of slip-slidy muddy waters. The driving in these conditions truly lived up to the 4×4 adventure club’s name. On Monday half the group went out again whilst the others (possibly too timid to face the treacherous conditions again) spent much of the time cleaning out mud, grass seeds and dust from their trusty steeds. In the one camp, with no local bakery being an option and time on hand, as many as three loaves of bread were baked on the fire. That night at our campfire briefing session it was decided to once again to make an early start to get to the ferry when it opened for business at 8 am.

Tuesday 5 June
We all left early and got to the ferry crossing before it started operating. On the way, whilst going through deep water Viv, Simon and Steve lost numbers plates through the force of the water and angle of entry into it. Neither of the ferries were operating on time so we spent much of the morning mingling with locals as they squeezed themselves, bicycles, bales of dried fish and wood into mocoros and canoes to cross the river. Eventually a ferry made its way to us from the far bank only to be highjacked first by a late arriving parks vehicle that shared a ferry with Viv’s Land Cruiser. They battled to get the ferry ramps off the river banks as the ramps were not able to lift properly and the one inadequate outboard motor struggled against the current. Eventually they got the ferry away only to be mortally damaged when offloading on the opposite
bank as it bent one of its carrying arms. With the second ferry not in operation we were all getting both sunburnt and concerned on how were going to cross the river. Eventually the second, smaller, very minmamilistic ferry appears. This ferry was powered by an aluminium boat tied precariously to the side of it and also had loading ramps that were not lifting properly meaning that all of us have to drive into the river to get onto the ferry with little margin for error. With loading and unloading of the cars being a precarious affair the law of averages dictated that the likelihood of something going wrong was going to be – and so it was with Ian’s Pajero being guided incorrectly off the ferry and falling off to the side of a ramp and left suspended in the river. At this stage most of the team were still on the opposite bank, but fortunately Ian is an
ingenious person and filled bags with sand and bravely dived under his Pagero, propped it up with the filled sand bags, and got his car off without much damage. After this event the rest of us used one of our own team to help guide each others vehicles on and off the ferry without further incidents. Once the last car was across we went off to town to fuel up, shop and for those that
needed, to get new number plates made. In late afternoon after a beautiful scenic drive along the magnificent Zambezi we decided on changing the next nights camp as the originally planned stop would have reguired another unwanted ferry crossing. It turned out to be a great camp overlooking the Zambezi River and even supplied hot coffee and rusks on arrival.

Wed 6 June
Not far from camp we crossed the border from Zambia back into Namibia with no problems and drive along the Caprivi Strip to the Bwabwanta National Park (previously known as the Caprivi Game Park). At the entrance we paid our park fees, let down our tires again and head for Nambwa Campsite along a soft sandy track through scenic Kalahari woodland. After setting up at our river camp most headed off for a late afternoon game drive in the Horse Shoe Lagoon area of the Kwando River. As the sun started to set we were rewarded with almost 50 elephants silently emerging from the dense bush to come drink at the water. This was complimented by sightings of large herds of impala, red lechwe and and abundant birdlife adorning colourful lilly filled
lakes. That evening around the campfire Viv thanked everyone for the great comradeship and we all swopped stories of the highlights of the trip as although it was the second last night Tony and Charmaine were leaving a day earlier than the rest of the group.

Thursday 7 June
This being our last day together as a group before the long drive back to Cape Town (for some more, depending on the route chosen) we had a slow restful start to the day with most going out for one last game drive. Whilst Steve and Debbie were out on a self game drive an Elephant come into camp and walked right through the site they were camped on, a fitting last day experience.
That night we all gathered around our last camp fire and enjoyed out last night together, most were reluctant to go to bed as the group had bonded well after 3 eventful weeks in each others company. All agreed that it had been yet another great African adventure and thanked Viv and Mary for the work put in organising and leading the group.

Friday 8 June
We left camp inn two groups in the morning, although most travelled back individually once on the main roads as everyone had different time restraints, routes and stops planned. Some covered the long distance with just 2 night stops and others took up to a week exploring further on the way home.

Great company, old friendships renewed, new friends made, wonderful weather, exciting 4×4 adventures, fabulous parks, wildlife and another African country and culture explored – what more can one ask for.

Steve Newbould