Miombo Therapy

Miombo Therapy

For some reason, the weeks leading up to departure dates always seem to be filled with crazy dash-and-scrambles no matter how much planning you put in for months. The start of our 2023 adventure through East Africa was no different. Did you get those extra fuel filters? Are the malaria test kits re-stocked? Did you sew the fridge cover back after last year’s elephant incident? These are important questions. Then there is the latest news: Malawi has just washed away, most roads in western Rwanda are no more and Tanzania has a new exotic bat virus outbreak (and we all know what happened to the last bat virus). So much for route planning in advance then. A bout of Covid-19 a week before departure did not assist in calming our nerves either. But, as many a seasoned overlander will tell you, just get going – you will never be fully prepared. And so we did, albeit a bit anxiously.

We drove up straight through our beloved Botswana via the quiet Stockpoort border post. You know a border post is relaxed when the immigrations office has a resident jack russell. After overnighting on the banks of the Chobe river and reaffirming our support of the Botswanan beef trade (R40 for an inch-thick rump steak!), we felt ready for the Kazungula crossing into Zambia. Using the new Zambezi bridge, we completed the border post shuffle in 3 hours flat (refer to the tips section for handy travel details). Bravely fending off only two offers from fixers and one meagre attempt at ‘a little something’, we were now officially in Zambia!

Livingstone was the first logical stop to re-supply and orientate ourselves. Livingstone with its neat colonial-era town planning, countless out-of-order ATMs, zebras in the main street, and tourists. The Waterfront Hotel campsite provided a good respite among shady trees just upstream of the mighty Vic Falls. Here we had a fantastic wood-fired pizza and Mosi, were visited by a night-time grazing hippo, and met Nicky, travelling solo through Africa in her converted Mercedes Sprinter – complete with a microwave.

Our first goal was to visit Kafue National Park, Zambia’s largest and oldest protected wilderness. As often happens in Africa, the simplest road up from Livingstone turned out to be, well, not the simplest. Due to a washed away section, we had to detour via Namwala. This involved taking our very first pontoon across the Kafue river. After loading Baloo, another vehicle, eight motorcycles, half the local village population, and a goat, we set of. It proved painless and much better than our previous river crossing, where there are probably still drying baitfish somewhere in the engine bay.   

After a good stopover with a grand view of Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, we finally entered Kafue first thing in the morning. Well not first thing, as here we found out that Zambian park gate opening times serve only as suggestions to reception personnel. What is great about Zambian national park admin though, is that a day’s park fee is valid until 09h00 the next morning – so if you sleep one night it will only be one day’s fees.

Entering Kafue and slowly cruising right on the lake’s edge, a profound sense of serenity settled upon Baloo and his occupants. It had been a month or two since we last visited a game reserve, and it just felt right. All the pre-departure stress was forgotten. All the doubts and question marks seemed to fade into insignificance as the vast wonder of nature instantly confirmed to us that yes, it is all worth it. Puku antelope with their fluffy red-brown coats waded in the shallow waters and stared at us. One male treated us to its unique nasal warning whistle, sounding more like a bird than a mammal. Hippos lazed around close to the road. An osprey scouted for breakfast from a dry perch. We also found a group of Gargeneys, a palearctic migrant duck species.

Travelling up through the park along the spinal road, one traverses typical Zambian Miombo woodland, something that is fascinatingly new to us who are accustomed to Southern African bushveld. Tall trees form a continuous dappled canopy over comparatively short grass cover, giving a forest-like effect. Almost like a less dense version of Mopane veld, this stretches for miles at end and contains relatively low densities of game, interspersed only by grassy marsh-like glades called dambos. Traveling large distances through Miombo might seem dull, but the fresh landscape entranced us. It was indeed a therapeutic welcome back into the wonderful world of the wild.

Anyone familiar with Kafue will mention its annoying Tsetse flies. These devilish critters seem to be attracted to anything hot that moves and latched onto Baloo in their hundreds. So, unless you want to perform the haka whilst driving, Kafue is unfortunately best enjoyed with shut windows. Strangely enough, spraying your vehicle with Doom when arriving at a campsite seem to deter them sufficiently to leave the camp in respectful peace.

We stayed at Kasabushi, a lovely camp situated right on the banks of the Kafue river where its new managers are just as excited about it as guests arriving for the first time. Here we were treated to Böhm’s bee-eater displays, the most amazing outdoor shower, lions calling in the distance and even the haunting call of Pel’s fishing owl booming over the water. Traveling north we encountered our first Lichtenstein’s hartebeests with their dirty brown shoulder patches caused by continuous cleaning of their faces and horns. We were also lucky enough to find a lion cub in the road one morning – not a common sighting in the southern part of the park.

Kafue sometimes gets a bad reputation for its low game densities, poaching issues and Tsetse flies. However, considering the massive size of its undeveloped wilderness sections and its high biodiversity of species, this is the kind of place where you can see nothing for hours and then suddenly find a pack of wild dogs or pride of lions in the road. Kafue’s future looks bright, with the famously successful African Parks recently getting involved. Its beautiful woodlands, mighty river, sheer size and low tourist densities are further tick marks in our books. We definitely plan to be back later in the dry season to explore the game-rich Busanga plains of the north, sample the river’s fly-fishing opportunities, and get ourselves more Miombo therapy.

Some helpful trip tips:

  • Kazungula border post crossing into Zambia:
    1. Ask the road tax official to write and stamp ‘all roads’ on your road tax certificate. The default is only a single route and will attract reason for unhappiness at check points.
    2. Get both the private vehicle verification and checking slip stolen status police clearance forms for your vehicle in South Africa if you do not have a Carnet. It is worth all the trouble and gives the officials less fault to find.
    3. It is worth getting Zambian third-party insurance online beforehand – we got ours through Phoenix Insurance and added Comesa insurance for all East African countries at their office in Livingstone.
  • Best Zambian data network: Airtel (10 GB = 100 Kwacha)
  • Kafue NP camping we enjoyed:
    1. Chibila Lodge (outside park on Lake Itezhi-Tezhi) – no park fees: https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/bed-and-breakfast/Chibila-Camp-110111727231751/ 
    2. Kasabushi (inside park): https://kasabushi.wordpress.com/
    3. Roy’s camp (outside park at Hook Bridge) – no park fees: https://www.facebook.com/royskafuecamps/

A desert dessert

A desert dessert

After two whole months, our Namibian overlanding adventure was nearing its end. But just as a glorious five-course meal is not complete without a sweet dessert, our expedition still had a last hurrah to look forward to: the Namib desert and its immediate surrounds! We explored it from north to south and put together our own recipe to make the perfect trip dessert from this wonderful desert.

1. Start with eggs

The birdlife of the Namib and its coastline is superb. Greater and lesser flamingos congregate in their thousands in the pans and estuaries near Walvis Bay throughout the year. Along with the Sandwich Harbour lagoon, this area forms the most important coastal wetland in southern Africa. Hundreds of resident, intra-African and Palaearctic migrant species congregate here. Some species depend vitally on it, such as the chestnut-banded plover of which 95% of the world’s population lives here. Moving down through the desert towards Aus is equally rewarding, with many fascinating (and difficult to identify) larks becoming the chief target. We loved exploring the areas with our binos and cameras, and added many wonderful species to our life list. Some of the many highlights included black-necked grebe, Eurasian whimbrel, Gray’s lark, Barlow’s lark, Herero chat, crowned cormorant and various plovers and terns.

2. Add a pinch of salt

Salt works is a major industry on the Namibian desert coastline, the largest of which is near Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. We camped at the very luxurious and manicured Alte Brűcke campsite for a few days to catch up on work (wi-fi is not a thing in the proper desert), restock and explore the wonderful town of Swakopmund. One very rarely hears negative things of Swakop, and we could see why – spotlessly clean streets, friendly people, a seaside promenade where you can walk safely at night (what?) and some of the best food we have ever tasted. Even though we usually try to minimise time in towns in favour of the wilderness, we wished we spent more time here. The butter-soft calamari from Jetty 1905, the top-notch flat white coffees from Slowtown, the beautiful historic streets and the relaxed seaside atmosphere are only some of the reasons why we will be back.

3. Mix the active ingredients

Let’s go for a hike in the desert. Said no one ever. Although the Namib-proper will kill anyone foolish enough to cross it on foot without enough water, there are some fantastic hiking trails in wild areas on the desert edge. One of these is the Namib-Naukluft Mountain Zebra National Park, a less-visited gem. We found camping here to be very peaceful, except in the mornings when raiding baboons created mayhem second to none. Namibia’s longest and toughest multi-day trail (no, it’s not the Fish River) runs through the valleys in this park. Various day-hikes are also on offer, such as the 12 km Olive Trail we opted for. Traversing beautiful mountains and then descending and following a narrow valley flanked by cliff faces, the trail is certainly not an easy one. However, our efforts were rewarded with spectacular views, unique geological features, and a sense of solitude that can only be found in Namibia’s wild places.

4. Bake until golden

The surrealistic golden landscapes of Sossusvlei attract tourists and photographers from around the globe. It is busy, but for good reason – where else can you walk through a forest that had died during the same time as Europe’s plague in the 1300’s? From Dune 45 and Big Daddy (some of the world’s highest sand dunes) to the dramatic Deadvlei, this is a place where you cannot but wonder. The desert is also alive with creatures of all sizes. We marvelled at a shy brown hyena, pronking springbok and small wonders such as the Namib desert beetle – a small creature that collects water from early morning fog through the bumps on its back. In the NamibRand Nature Reserve we were lucky enough to have many beautiful desert creatures visit our campsite. A hunting Cape fox, curious oryxes, hundreds of drinking Namaqua sandgrouse and shy bat-eared foxes all came to the party.

 5. Serve hot and enjoy!

The desert hides many secrets – from the many forgotten tales of those who perished there in search of diamonds to creatures that researchers are yet to discover. During the day heat waves simmer quietly as the red dunes hide many-horned adders and Namib-sand geckos. At night the coldness settles like a blanket while a million stars watch over your campfire. The Namib desert is indeed a place of dramatic contrasts and of intense beauty, and we cannot wait to be back for a second helping.

Some helpful trip information:

Swakopmund camping with wi-fi: https://altebrucke.com/ 

Coffee for the win: http://slowtowncoffee.com/ 

Calamari to die for: https://lighthousegroup.com.na/jetty-1905/ 

Naukluft Zebra Park campsite and hiking trails: -24.2640, 16.2387

A camping gem near Sossusvlei: https://www.littlesossus.net/ 

NamibRand Nature Reserve remote campsites: http://www.nrfhideout.com/

A Place of Prosperity

A Place of Prosperity

Khotso, Pula, Nala. The official motto of Lesotho wishes Peace, Rain and Prosperity upon this tiny mountainous country. We had come here in search of adventure, solitude, wild fish (of course) and to find out how fitting their slogan really is. A beautiful pair of Gurney’s Sugarbirds had waved us out of our homeland while we trudged steadily along the treacherous Sani pass, dodging the not-so-4x4s rattling and squeaking downhill. After stamping through the world’s calmest customs, an eery lunar landscape greeted us, complete with chilly wind gusts and gasping high-altitude air. A foamy cappuccino hit the right spot at the very touristy Afri-ski lodge before we continued to set up camp at Oxbow Lodge, nestled snuggly between the rugged mountains next to the upper Malibamatso river.  

Following the river course here provides endless opportunity for an off-the-beaten-track mission.  Hiking and fishing up the valley, we did not encounter a soul during the whole day. The deafening silence of the mountains was punctuated only by the ubiquitous sound of Lesotho – that of goats and their cowbells high up along the rocky ridges. We raised a few obliging wild rainbows from the chilled river. We swam in the crystal pools, enjoying the sun-basking afterwards almost as much as the water. While lunching on cold braai leftovers we looked upon a pastoral scene of endless mountaintops, tumbling streams and swaying grasses. In that moment, the world seemed content with itself. Khotso.

Lesotho trip
Semonkong / Lesotho
Lesotho trip

Despite a few normal African challenges, such as tedious petrol-searching detours, wet firewood by the metric tonne, and navigation with questionable confidence, we arrived on the outskirts of Maloraneng village the next day. The plan was to spend the afternoon fishing the nearby Khubelu river. As with all good plans, it all got swept away with one of the Mountain Kingdom’s famous afternoon showers. Donning a transparent camo-yellow poncho, Simoné did however manage to land her very first river trout that day. Happy days!

A Lesotho trip simply needs to include a visit to the Katse Dam. We made our way there through a series of semi-off-road trails that made the trip all the more memorable. Marvelling at the imposing landscapes, waiting forever for stubborn road-donkeys, and taking roadside breaks to drink scalding coffee laced with sweet condensed milk were only some of the highlights. Following another rained-out fishing stop, we set up camp overlooking the mighty impoundment in all its glory. The setting was truly remarkable, as was the potjie that night, and what was probably our only dry campfire of the whole trip. 

Meandering through the countless mountain passes (i.e. all roads) burns enough fuel to quickly come to terms with an important truth of African travel: Fill up wherever you can. Such a truth becomes ever the more profound when one discovers it is embarrassingly tricky to remove one’s own fuel cap. Teething issues of spoilt travellers… Another detour brought us to a hilltop overlooking the Mohale Dam further South. Yet another sudden thunderstorm engulfed us here, with the confines of the Jeep being very welcome amidst the lighting, wild gusts and sweeping sheets of rain. The storm’s aftermath left us a beautifully clear and fresh late afternoon to tease the yellowfish in the Senqunyane valley, with all things cleansed and dripping wet. Pula.

Lesotho mountains

The Maletsunyane river and waterfall formed the last part of our journey. We camped at the tranquil Semonkong lodge and explored the river nearby. It was here that we awoke to profuse mayfly hatches, had sundowners with the local Bald Ibis colony, and tangled with feisty brown trout of above-average proportions and fierce nocturnal hunting habits. We DIYed our own way down to the bottom of the falls – not something for the faint-hearted. Casting a sinking line into the deep mysterious pool surrounded by a thunderous and misty spray, hoping to glimpse one of the fabled monsters that live here, is an experience second to none. With feet dangling in the icy water, we enjoyed a most extravagant streamside lunch of thick marbled steaks and feta-filled butternut. We napped it off with a visiting Piet-my-vrou providing a lullaby from the nearby shrubbery, before braving the climb out. 

It is not only the rugged mountain landscapes, remote watercourses and sense of wildness that makes Lesotho special. Its people are warm and friendly, particularly in the rural areas. They work very hard, but will always smile and wave at passing visitors, seemingly content and pleased with the humble piece of land they tend despite the obvious hardships. We also became acquainted with some of the ever-present animals wherever we went. Choppies the bell-ringing sheep, Vlooitjie the pap-eating dog, Dourette the nuisance chicken and Hansie the ganster gansie – we salute you all!

Lesotho is the kind of place that challenges you and keeps its secrets well hidden. Despite its economic challenges, it is richly blessed with the most majestic mountains, a welcoming people, lush green valleys, unspoilt waters, and wild-spawned trophy fish. Prosperity is sometimes all around us if we just take the time to look. Nala.

Lesotho trip
Lesotho trip
Lesotho trip
Lesotho trip
Rainbow trout / Lesotho
Lesotho trip
Lesotho trip