Friday, 29 December 2017

Africa Revisited. Self Drive Safari. Etosha National Park

With a great sense of anticipation we set off after viewing the Hoba Meteorite on the road to Etosha National Park. Etosha is unique in Africa and is a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. "Etosha" means place of dry water and so it was dry and very dusty! We were heading to the south of Etosha  for the Von Lindequist Gate and our first campsite was the old German fort of Namutoni. Namoutoni was originally established as a control post during the mad cow epidemic of 1897 in Namibia and declared a national monument in 1950. It was a very picturesque place but we got the impression it was a bit run down. The campsite was dry, dusty but adequate. Toilet facilities OK but busy. We were pleased we had a booking.

The old fort. A bit run down now there were a few craft shops but not much else.

Our dash cam of our drive through Etosha. 14 minutes.

A long day but we had arrived at Etosha. We cooked our own food as we were not much impressed by the restaurant which was very busy with tour parties. 

We stayed in Etosha for two nights staying at two different campsites, Namoutoni & Halaili. Really not long enough and we think when we go back a minimum of four nights would be better. The infra structure is not as good as The Kruger and the roads are drier and mainly gravel. However, the game spotting opportunities are fabulous. We saw huge herds of various cattle, elephants, giraffes and the highlight of the trip a cheetah and her cubs. The waterholes are well set up for watching wildlife and get very busy with animals. The campsites also have lit waterholes with good viewing areas. 

Here is a selection of some of our game spotting activities.

Of course we cannot forget the beautiful cheetah who was giving her cubs lessons in how to catch a wilderbeest. We watched for ages as the wilderbeests ganged up on the cheetahs who eventually left them alone. 

We were not quite near enough to get pictures of the whole story but it was fascinating to watch. Finally on our way out of the park we spotted this jackal.

After two days we were sad to be leaving Etosha and knew we would have to go back!  We made our way to our next stop Etosha Safari Camp. A fabulous well run site just outside the park. A lovely swimming pool for lounging in and a great restaurant and bar.

The toilet facilities here were like those in a five star hotel and is is a site we will come back to. The final icing on the cake was the fact that as we slept giraffe and zebra tiptoed around the campsite. I woke up when I heard footsteps to see a giraffe eating the leaves from the tree above our tent. Sorry my camera was locked in the car! Shame we only had a one night stop here, tomorrow we were off to the desert.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Africa Revisited. Self Drive Safari. Namibia. Caprivi to Etosha

 Almost half-way through our holiday and Day 17 dawned. We were on our way across the border to Namibia via the Ngoma Bridge Crossing. We were feeling quite smug as we approached our third border crossing of the trip. First time into Namibia. We were not so concerned about money as we knew South African Rand was widely accepted in Namibia. The border control into Namibia was generally more relaxed and the queues slightly shorter. We paid our 277 Namibian $ and we were soon on our way.

Picturesque drive across the bridge, the bit in the middle is a "no mans land". The border police with their guns may seem rather intimidating but were actually quite friendly.  We drove through  the Chobe, Bwabwata and Mdumu National Parks but the game had gone elsewhere as we saw very little. The Caprivi area is very different to the rest of Namibia and quite populated. Most of the people seem to live in small self contained settlements. There are very few shops or towns. We saw lots of very young nursery aged children carrying their plastic chairs and later passed them all sitting under a large shady tree, their "school". Our children do not realise how lucky they are actually having a proper school building. Other school buildings looked like sheds within a dusty yard. The children all seemed very happy though.

We would have liked to have taken more photos of the small villages we passed but were reluctant to take too many pictures in case we offended anyone.

We were soon on our way to the next destination Zambezi River Lodge.

The Zambezi River is the fourth longest river in Africa and basically travels the width of Africa. Our camp was at the Protea Hotel near Katimia Mulilo where we stopped for food and fuel. We were also able to do a bit of gift shopping. The supermarket there was one of the better ones we encountered and we actually found food we could eat.We stocked up on some basic delicacies like ham and cheese.

A short dash cam of our drive from Senyati to Zambezi River Lodge. 5 minutes.

 The hotel seemed quite posh for Namibia and had a lovely bar and restaurant overlooking the water. We had a great grass pitch on the edge of the river with a very clean and good shower block, good for hair washing. The restaurant was pleasant, unimaginative food but very good value. The only downside to this place was the hotel pool, which looked like it needed a good scrub, shame really as we would have enjoyed a dip here. Other than that, it was a very convenient place to stop for one night and was very quiet. The river was beautiful and busy with boats and wildlife. There were some very noisy hippos splashing about, an ideal place to come ashore to nibble the well kept grass. We hoped we wouldn't bump into any later. 

Travelling through the Caprivi strip was very entertaining, it runs parallel with the Angolan border, a long straight road. Until fairly recently only armed escorted convoys could travel on what was a very bad road. With the end of the war with Angola and the advent of tarred roads, all is now peaceful, our trip was a very pleasant drive and we felt safe. 

Our next destination Mahangu Safari Lodge. Mahangu Safri Lodge is 22 k south of Divundu on the western bank of the Okavango River. The road was a rather bumpy corrugated road and we were glad of the 4 wheel drive although we didn't have to engage it. We were keen to arrive fairly early as we had a river cruise booked here. Luckily, we made good time as we were also able to book a table for the evening meal and orders had to be in by 1.00 pm. The campsite was well laid out with large pitches by the river, they also all had shady covers which we needed, it was hot!

 Another short web cam. 6 minutes.

A beautiful decking area where you could sit for sun downers and a river viewing spot. We had a lovely meal here and enjoyed the evening sunset cruise.

A view of our rooftop nest from the river.

All aboard!

Beady little eyes peering up from the river.

It's been a long day! 

Bath time for the locals. No running water for many families so an evening dip in The Zambezi.

Always time for a bit of fun.

Lots of ellies enjoying the evening air. We stopped and watched them for ages. The river cruise was very personal as there were only two couples and the "guide", on the boat! We did see quite a lot of wildlife and our guide was very knowledgeable. Perhaps we saw less game than at Chobe, the last time we were in Africa but very much less "touristy" and  the place seemed to be more of the natural Africa.

Local people in this part of Africa are generally very poor, this guy makes bricks and drys them in the sun. We saw loads of houses made from mud in the corrals and thatched with local reeds.

The end of a perfect day on the river.

The next morning we were off again on the road to Grootfontein. 

A webcam of our trip to Roy's Camp.

We made a slight detour to Rundu where we stopped at yet another Toyota dealer to get the wipers fixed. In two minutes he had diagnosed the problem. "You need a new windscreen wiper motor!" No comment!! Bobo later phoned us and arranged for a new motor to be fitted at a longer stop after we had been to Etosha National Park.

On to Roy's Camp. A very quirky place to say the least. The lodge was very artfully decorated with rusty cars and equipment.

The campsite had a lovely bush kitchen and imaginative toilet block. We had a great 3 course meal in the restaurant and would like to come back! The next morning we were delayed because it had rained heavily in the night and we were worried about driving without wipers. Fortunately the sun came out and we set of to explore the largest known meteorite to man. The Hoba Meteorite was en route to Etosha National Park about an hours drive away.

Another quiet, peaceful drive on sand and gravel. We were surprised when we got to the meteorite there were actually other people there, it was the middle of nowhere! Thanks to Madam Satnag and Tracks4Africa we arrived safely. To be fair, the journey was probably better than the destination.

A bit of an anti climax really! A chunk of granite but it had spun through the heavens for a long way to get here. We would have taken more photos but there were HUGE red ants everywhere! We were glad we saw it. The largest naturally occurring mass of iron on the planet. Really!

Next stop Etosha National Park. We were excited.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Africa Revisited. Returning to Beautiful Botswana & Victoria Falls

We were quite sad to be leaving The Kruger after three lovely nights and loads of game spotting. Out through the Pafura Gate and ever onwards to our last South African destination, before entering Botswana. Tshipse Forever Resort in the Limpopo Province. "Tshipse" means "something warm" and due to circumstances beyond our control we stayed longer than we were expecting. The route to Tshipse was very picturesque and the site nestled under the koppie tower amongst the trees. Three fabulous swimming pools two of them from the naturally hot springs.

One of the beautifully warm pools. We actually went swimming while we were there. Very odd experience swimming in this warm naturally heated pool, when the temperature outside was in the high 30's. It should have been unbearable, but was infact very refreshing. The natural hot mineral spring water comes out of the ground at 65 C and is cooled down for swimming. There is also a Spa on site. The site is very popular in the summer and there were some day visitors when we arrived on the Sunday but by Monday morning, we were almost on our own. Nice restaurant serving a buffet or A La Carte Menu and a comfortable bar. Lots of monkeys on site which could be naughty but never caused us any problems.

This was one of the cuter ones!

The koppie towered over the campsite. There was a cross on the top of the hill, not quite sure how it got there.

Early next morning we set off for the next site across the border into Botswana. Unfortunately, we ended back at Tshipse that same evening. The never ending saga of the wipers continued. We pressed on to Mussina 39k away, to get them fixed yet again and spent the whole day there in the Toyota Dealers showroom.Only, 40 C + at this point. We were glad the showroom had air con. Numerous phone calls later to Bobo and after a long, long day in the showroom, we were heading back again to Tshipse, too late for our next campsite. We put the tent up, had another meal in the restaurant, a few drinks in the bar and sat by the fire, before climbing into our nest for a good nights sleep.. At least the wiper motor had been fixed........we thought! Never mind, tomorrow we were off to Botswana and our first independent border crossing, should be interesting.

Another day, another journey! Excited and anticipating a long day, we set off early. It was a long drive as we went on a massive detour. We had met some campers at Tshipse  who had warned us not to use the advised route to the border at Martin's Drift ( otherwise known as Grobblers Brug) as the roads were very poor. It had taken them over 4 hours to cover a less than 2 hour journey and they had to finish the drive on dirt roads in the dark. Not to be recommended. We decided on the safest option and went on a massive though interesting detour through Polkawane, experiencing a 4 lane highway through a very busy town. Madam SatNag performed well! Much longer, but tar all the way and some great scenery. We eventually arrived at the border and organised chaos ensued.

 We were OK for fuel but needed some Botswana Pula. We did try to buy some in Mussina but it all proved too difficult! There was a "Bureau du Change" at the border, well a shed and sign! With some apprehension, Den went off to get some Rand changed to Pula. As it turned out it was relatively easy and he got a good rate. Appearances can be deceptive, the shed was equipped with a computer, a security guard and a young lady who knew exactly what she was doing. Mission accomplished. Next, immigration, we queued for an hour or so with all our paperwork and before long, after parting with 160 of our Pula, we were through South Africa and out into Botswana. The drive through the border post was quite entertaining dodging all the enormous lorries as you have to drive across The Limpopo River on Groblersbrug ( Grobler's Bridge) to Martin's Drift, which is the Botswana side. The officials looked a bit scary with their guns but were actually quite friendly.

A short dash cam of the border crossing.

The next site Kwa Nokeng Lodge was literally at the border, so we were soon settled in on a half empty ( except for the donkeys) campsite.

Note the donkeys grazing around our bakkie.

Tent up, we made our way to the bar. Lovely spot overlooking the valley. We had a great meal out on the decking by the river bed. New adventures tomorrow, we had made it to Botswana.

Reception at Kwa Nokeng. A nice little campsite although there is a bit of road noise from the nearby border control.

The swimming pool. Too tired to try this one out.

Shaded by the huge Nyala Berry Tree, we sipped a sun downer. The decking overlooked the Limpopo River, shame there was so little water in it, so no animals about. Still waiting for the first big summer rains.

The viewing point at Kwa Nokeng Lodge.

Next day we were off to Nata Lodge just the other side of Francistown. We were really pleased we had opted for a 4 wheel drive as part of the campsite at Nata could only be used by 4 X 4, as it was so sandy. 

The drive to Nata was pretty uneventful although the roads were not as good as the ones in South Africa. We pitched under the mokopane trees and enjoyed the shade. I think Nata had to be one of my favourites. Very relaxing and a lovely pool and restaurant. I think we could have easily spent another day here.

One of the lodges at Nata. A combination of wooden lodges and safari tents, with every luxury of course.

The pool and bar were very relaxing places to be with lots of lounging places. 

We made the most of the facilities and also had a very nice meal in the restaurant.

Camping at Nata Lodge. Good clean tidy ablutions and excellent security. 

Dash cam of our drive the border to Nata Lodge and a day visit to Victoria Falls. 11 minutes.

Day 14 found us on a rather long and boring drive from Nata to the next camp just outside Kasane in the Chobe National Park, no animals spotted en route. Had we really been in Africa for two weeks? We were off to a site called Senyati. We had heard good things about this place from our friends Nic and Cara, who we had met at Monateng, they had spent their honeymoon here. Firstly, we had to find a few more Pula! We had set out for Senyati but then decided we would go to Kasane first, to change money, find fuel and do a bit of shopping. 

Kasane was bustling, a real frontier type place. Courtesy of Madam SatNag we quickly found a bank and had soon topped up our supply of Pula. We also filled up with fuel as Botswana is really cheap for diesel. We tracked down the local Choppies and stocked up on food and wine as we knew that Senyati did not have a restaurant so it would be back to the braai! We were soon back on the road and heading back towards Senyati on the north side of Kasane.

We found the campsite easily and were so pleased we had a 4 x 4 or it would have meant a massive detour! The camp road was deep soft sand. We had fun getting to the campsite but we made it easily.

We were pleased to discover we had our own bathroom and kitchen at Senyati. Basic but functional! A great swimming pool on site and we needed it as it was a really hot day.

The hot water was heated by a donkey which was powered by wood. Workers came around in the morning and lit the donkey.  Den had to try and get it going himself.

Yes, Den has been fully trained on braai duties and can now actually cook! He is also getting a bit obsessional about wood, type, size and burning qualities. The back of the bakkie is full of splinters from wood he has insisted we need to carry. I suppose I ought to be grateful he's not actually chopping it down as well.

We bought an enormous piece of filet steak from the camp shop which I attacked with a bread knife.It felt like half a cow. Tasted really good though!

Great bar overlooking the water hole, which was lit at night. We saw some fabulous game. The elephants were a delight to watch. There was a hide where you could climb down and get up close to the animals. Den tried it out.

While we were at Senyati we had arranged a day trip to Victoria Falls. We were hoping to see more water this time as the last time we went it was very dry. The trip to Zimbabwe is an experience not to be missed. A mad drive down the sandy track in an open bus followed by around an hour in the coach to the border. Another hour to get through the border if your lucky and another queue for the visa! $55 each to enter Zimbabwe for a day trip ( you do get a very posh visa stamp in your passport.) For international visitors, $30 each to enter Vic Falls and more queuing. You always feel you have been ripped off as an international visitor as you have to entrance fees depending on where you come from. I wonder if things will change?

The craft stores at the entrance to Vic Falls. There is usually a troop of dancers who burst into traditional song and dance as you get down out of the coach.

The traditional view of The Victoria Falls, the noise is tremendous and it does take your breathe away when you first see them.

The spray was actually quite refreshing in the heat.

There was a lot more water this time and we had a good wander about and then lunch in The Rainfall Cafe. We hoped our dollars did something to help the locals who were very friendly. Back to Senyati for our last night in Botswana, then off to Namibia tomorrow and the next adventure. I have a feeling we will be back to Botswana, definitely unfinished business there and lots more to see.

Bye bye Botswana, 'till next time.