Tag: Sutherland

Zambia and Zimbabwe Sep 2019

In September 2019 I drove from Livingstone in Zambia, circumnavigated the Kariba Dam, went through Hwange National Park into Botswana, had two days in the Tuli Block, one day in Khutse National Park and then drove to Cape Town.

When I quote prices, I use the original currency. At the beginning of my trip the exchange rates to the GB pound were: Zambian Kwacha 16, Zimbabwe $ 440, Botswana Pula 13.40, South African Rand 18.20 and US$ 1.22.

I was travelling alone in my Toyota Fortuner without my trailer (more details at end of article). I had left my vehicle with Nick Selby at Foleys Africa in Livingstone in May, so the car was serviced and ready to go when I landed in Livingstone on 4th September.

Day One – Livingstone, Zambia to Siavonga

After spending a day stocking the vehicle, I drove 500km on Friday 6th September 2019 to Siavonga which is in Zambia at the Kariba Dam Wall. Unlike Zimbabwe, there are no national parks on the shores of Kariba in Zambia. In fact, there are few places where one can get to the dam. The quick route is on the T1 via Mazabuka which is a good tar road, but I did not go all the way. In 270km I was stopped at four police roadblocks where my driving licence was checked at one and otherwise was told to continue. Instead of continuing on that road I turned south towards the dam at Chisekesi on the D375 firstly on to a pot holed road and then on a gravel road which deteriorated until I reached Chitembo on the shores of the lake. I had not intended to go to Chitembo but had missed the turning. Except for a few fisherman Chitembo was quiet although I had a chat to an entrepreneur who was planning to install fish cages in the lake. I returned 33km to Fumbo, found the correct turning on to the D500 and joined a good tarmac road. At Changa I turned south on to a gravel road, that needed a high clearance vehicle, but was a pleasant road to drive all the way to Siavonga. I drove almost continually for 8.5 hours.

At every village there were bags of charcoal on the roadside, waiting for collection. Charcoal is made by heating hard wood in a controlled environment getting rid of water and other volatile constituents leaving carbon. This is lightweight, can be burned to high temperatures and a small amount can go a long way in communities where fire is the principal way of cooking. Locals make charcoal which is then collected by middlemen with trucks. This scene is the same as I saw in Angola Of course it is another source of deforestation.

Day Two – Siavonga

The small town of Siavonga probably owes its existence to the building of the Kariba Dam and the ongoing maintenance of the power station. There are a small number of hotels catering for tourists who holiday at the lake, but they all look past their renovation date. There is little reason to stop over at Siavonga except to look at the dam wall.

I visited the Kariba Dam Wall. I left my vehicle at the Zambian Border Post and walked the two kilometres down the hill to the dam wall. I got a lift back.

The Zambezi River flows 2,600km from its source in Angola to its mouth in the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. For 760km it forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and includes the full 280km length of the Kariba Dam, which is located half-way down the length of the river and with the dam wall 350km below the Victoria Falls. The Cahora Bassa Dam is located 500km further down the Zambezi River in Mozambique, was completed fourteen years after Kariba and has a capacity of about one third of that of Kariba.

The dam was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother in May 1960 and the dam finally filled entirely in August 1963. When full the reservoir is 32km at its widest point, covers 5,500sq km (twice the size of Luxembourg), contains 180 billion cubic metres of water and loses 8 billion cubic metres of water pa to evaporation. The mean annual inflow is 55 billion cubic metres which explains why it took over three years to fill.

It was the biggest dam wall in the world when it was completed. It has six flood gates (each 9m x 9m) and when the reservoir is at its maximum level the daily flow through the six flood gates is a total of 0.8 billion cubic metres.

Over fifty thousand people, mostly of the Batonga tribe, were displaced by the creation of the dam, who were generally opposed to the move. The name Kariba (Kariva – meaning trap) refers to a rock which thrust out of the swirling water at the entrance to the gorge close to the dam wall site, now buried more than a hundred feet below the water surface. In many legends, this rock was regarded as the home of the great River god Nyaminyami, who caused anyone who ventured near to be sucked down forever into the depths of the river. During construction, in both 1957 and 1958, the river flooded (a once in ten thousand years event), causing huge damage and delay to the construction works and demonstrating the displeasure of Nyaminyami.

As the dam began to fill, it became evident that thousands of animals were being stranded on islands. Operation Noah was launched which saved 7,000 animals including forty-four rhinos. It reflected the dominance of colonial rule in Salisbury, then in Southern Rhodesia, that most of the rescued animals were relocated to the Zimbabwean side and most of the people, to the Zambian side. That difference continues today whereby there are almost no tourist sites or national parks on the Zambian side but two major national parks and other tourist facilities on the Zimbabwean side.

Besides water retention the other objective of building the dam was the creation of hydroelectric power. Both Zambia and Zimbabwe have power stations on their respective sides of the dam wall and both power stations have been extended a few times by the addition of extra turbines, most recently, for both countries, by the Chinese. The Zambian power station has a capacity of 960 megawatts (40% of the total installed electricity generation capacity of Zambia) and the Zimbabwean power station has a capacity of 1,050 megawatts (47% of the total installed electricity generation capacity of Zimbabwe). The reservoir is currently about ten metres below the high-water mark which has dramatically reduced the water volume going through the turbines. If the level of the dam continues to fall the point will be reached in a few months when it will be below the intake level and the turbines will no longer run. This has resulted in Zambia in power not being available for eight hours a day, often during the day, for several months now with a similar, and possibly worse, situation in Zimbabwe. As I write this beside the dam, the heavens have opened with the first rains of the season which hopefully portends a wet summer in the catchment area.

On the way down to the dam wall I passed a notice board advising of a four-year project to reshape the plunge pool. On further enquiry I discovered that the plunge pool was not a leisure pool but rather the area beneath the wall where the overflow from the dam plunges into. Apparently after almost sixty years the force of the overflow is in danger of undermining the foundations of the dam wall.

On the way back to my hotel I came across a collection of fishing boats. These are flat metal boats with a large net suspended at the back and two lamps hanging above the net. Fishing is done at night when the net is dropped into the water. The fish are attracted by the light and get caught in the net. These boats cannot withstand bad weather and are as basic as one can imagine. They all emit diesel fumes as they putt-putt onto the lake. An onlooker explained the fishing process to me and then explained that fishing yields of Kapenta (also called Tanganyika sardine) were well down with most boats catching 60kg per night compared to historical yields of up to 140kg. In response to my question he explained that the problem was an excess of boats. When I asked him what his vocation was, he replied with pride that he was the boat builder! Just like the gold rushes in California and Johannesburg, the winners were not the gold miners but those who provided the provisions.

Day Three – Siavonga to Mvuu Lodge

On Day Three I drove the 150km from Siavonga to Mvuu Lodge in the Lower Zambezi Game Management Area in 2.5 hours on good tar roads to Chirundu and then a gravel road where 50kph was the highest sensible speed. A game management area is not a formal game reserve but normally has no people living in it, and acts as a buffer between the game reserve and areas where people live. I pitched my tent overlooking the Zambezi and headed for the Lower Zambezi Game Reserve, half an hour away.

The Reserve appears to be badly managed. There are few signs to it, no signs in it and no maps available. There is a high level of erosion with many bands of erosion running towards the river. A reasonably good road (for a high clearance vehicle) runs about one kilometre from and parallel to the river. Tracks run from this road allowing one access between two bands of erosion and occasionally touching the river. There is a huge population of elephants who have devastated a lot of the vegetation. The reserve is caught between a range of mountains and the river. The man at the gate told me that the mountains were in the reserve but there was no access to them. After five hours in the reserve I decided that I had seen all I wanted to see and that there was no value in returning. I paid US$30 for myself and $15 for the vehicle for access for a day.

Day Four – Mvuu Lodge, Zambia to Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

The next day I returned ninety minutes to Chirundu, which is a thriving border town, and mentally prepared myself for the expected horror of getting through Zimbabwe border formalities. Chirundu is a major border crossing, particularly for trucks travelling between Lusaka and Harare.  Zambia and Zimbabwe have created a joint building where all formalities for both countries take place. I ignored the touts who offered to take me through the process. Leaving Zambia was a ten-minute process. I treated the entry into Zimbabwe as an academic exercise and have written a separate paper for those who wish to have guidance. Getting people though these border posts is relatively easy if you have a valid passport. The difficulty always relates to the vehicle and the fear of the host country that one will import the vehicle without paying import taxes. Normally a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) is issued which gives you authority to have the vehicle in the country for a set period. There are then a variety of other charges including third party insurance, road tax, carbon tax and even council tax. Any and all these documents can be inspected by the innumerable police road checks along the way. Because I had left my vehicle in Zambia for three months while I returned to the UK I was obliged to purchase a Carnet de Passage, which is issued by the Automobile Association of SA and which guarantees that if I do leave the vehicle in the foreign country they will pay the import taxes. I need to place a substantial deposit with the AA and pay a large fee. A big advantage of having a carnet is that the border officials see the holder as a low risk. In this case it also meant that I avoided queues of people waiting to have TIPs laboriously prepared and went straight to the more senior person who dealt with carnets. I subsequently spoke to other travellers who were delayed hours by officials demanding a ‘police clearance certificate’. Other countries may issue such a certificate, but the South African police will not, so a deadlock is reached. When I was asked for my police clearance, I proffered my carnet. I suspect, but do not know, if this official understood what he was looking at it, but he accepted it. To my surprise I was through the Zimbabwean border in an hour. Another 45km and I was at the Parks Zambezi Valley HQ at Marongora at the top of the Zambezi escarpment, 7km past the Mana Pools junction with the A1. One needs to get a permit at the HQ (no charge and no logical reason why the permit couldn’t be issued at the Mana gate or reception) which is then checked at every gate and reception office. There then followed 80km of some of the worst corrugated road I experienced on my trip to get me to the Nyamepi campsite at Mana Pools National Park.

Mana Pools is one of the golden parks in Africa. It is located directly across the Zambezi River from the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia and the animals can move between the parks when the river is low. (As I write this at my table outside my tent, I am looking over the Zambezi River and I can see an elephant on an island in the middle of the river. She must have originated from one of the parks.) I remember my father speaking with joy about Mana after visiting it in the late 1960s. It was recently the subject of a BBC documentary called ‘Dynasties’ which in one programme focused on the wild dog or ‘painted wolves’ packs in Mana. I suspect that the road and camp site infrastructure is the same as in my father’s time. Additional self-catering units and tented camps have been added and several private safari camps have been awarded concessions. All this accommodation is located along about fifteen kilometres of Zambezi River waterfront. Access is only for high clearance vehicles with most of the safari camp guests flying in.

I needed to change my bookings and obtain a further permit, so I spent some time with the 29-year-old manager of the reception office at the reserve, Masimba. On enquiry it transpired that he had both bachelor and master’s degrees and was working towards his doctorate on ‘Competitive Advantage’. He was about to move to the Harare HQ of the Wildlife Department to do marketing and had a long-term aim of being in academia. I wish him well.

Soon after setting up my tent I was approached by an eighteen year old named Reward (so named because after two older sisters his mother felt rewarded when a son was born!), who offered to protect my tent from marauding monkeys and baboons for the fee of US$10 per day which I beat down to $5. The next day when I returned to my campsite at midday, he was there catapult in hand. I got him to help me replace the broken bonnet hinge on my Fortuner (an event with a long back story) and I asked him questions. His father died when he was nine years old, and two months before his younger brother was born. The family, with two older sisters, could not afford to remain in Kariba Town so they moved to a rural village, He had passed his ‘O’ levels and had aspiration to be a businessman. Until he could afford the education, he needed he was sharing a room with a friend who worked for the reserve and doing whatever he could to earn money. I was embarrassed by my macho bargaining down of his fee and when I left, I paid him the best daily fee ever seen by a tent protector in Mana.

This area is very much a malaria area and I am conscientious about taking malaria tablets whenever I am in a designated area. Most of the beds had mosquito nets. It may have been that I was travelling before the rainy season, but I was only bothered by mosquitoes on two of the eighteen nights when I was in a malaria area.

Day Five and Six – Mana Pools

Mana Pools has a huge amount of buffalo, water buck, eland and too many elephants. The public part of the park is stretched along the Zambezi River giving one regular views of the river. One can traverse all the public roads in about five hours so two full days in the reserve is the right amount of time in my view. Some people were spending ten days and longer. I spent five hours each morning and three hours each afternoon exploring. There was a lion kill just before I arrived and another midway through which provided good photos of lions and vultures. I was intrigued by the fact that the female elephants were generally not in herds, as one would expect, but were often found alone with a calf. It was later explained by an expert that there was insufficient food for the number of elephants in the park and thus the herds were breaking up in a desperate attempt to each find food. 

The Nyametsi Wilderness area is part of the reserve but only two cars a day are given a permit to enter. I organised a permit and drove 21km through the attractive wilderness area but saw few animals and had to drive with closed windows because the tsetse flies were numerous and biting.

Unlike most national parks, Mana Pools has apparently always had a policy that visitors are free to walk in the Park and do not need to carry a rifle or use a guide. Professional guides make a business of running regular walking trips in the Park. I was surprised by how many people were walking without guides or rifles.

As I was leaving Lower Zambezi area, I met Bernd and Conny Kebbel from Windhoek. They arrived in Mana a day after me and were kind enough to invite me to have a campfire dinner with them on the two nights we were all in camp. They ran an off-road centre in Windhoek for many years and were very interesting to talk to. They were out earlier than me one morning and witnessed the lions killing the buffalo which they managed to film. This was very exciting as it was the first kill, they had witnessed in their lives. I am still waiting.

Day Seven – Mana Pools to Kariba

On leaving Mana I, asked for and, was given a permit to exit on the ‘River Road’ which runs parallel to the river and apparently ends near the Chirundu Border Post. I travelled for 80km over three hours and must have taken a wrong turning at some point because I reached the main road 23km from Chirundu. The manager at Mana HQ who gave me the permit could not answer my route questions because he had not travelled the route. I met three people along the route who told me to travel straight but that proved difficult to achieve when I came across many Y junctions where it was not clear which route to take. I disturbed staff at the Ruckomechi Wilderness Safaris Camp when I arrived there, but they pointed out the correct route, only for me to arrive a few kilometres later at the mouth of the (dry) Ruckomechi River. There was no obvious track on the other side of the two-hundred-metre-wide riverbed and a lot of soft sand. I then spied some tracks heading upriver so I engaged low range and tried to fly over the sand. A kilometre later I came across staff of a hunting lodge collecting sand, near a more substantial track. They told me this track, heading away from the river was the right track to Chirundu. At some point I must have chosen the wrong route because for the last thirty minutes of my journey I travelled due south, rather than the expected westerly direction.

The road that I had reached was the main Lusaka to Harare road which I had travelled on a few days earlier. It ascended about 800 metres over about 50km to Makuti, where I turned off to Kariba, and descended the 800 metres again over about 50km of attractive road to Kariba.

I realised that I had used far more diesel in Mana than I had anticipated, and with a national fuel shortage, I was now very fearful of having enough to cross the country. The three filling stations that I came across all had no fuel, but I was directed to the boat marina at Marineland in Kariba where I could buy diesel for US$1.25 per litre. I filled up 77 litres with relief.

At Marineland I saw a hundred empty house boats berthed. I was later told that the houseboat business is principally a domestic holiday business with few foreigners renting them. Apparently house boats have upwards of four guest cabins and with a crew cruise along the lake side. Activities are mainly game viewing from the water and fishing. The only time the boats are busy are over school holidays.

Kariba, like Siavonga in Zambia, is a disappointing town with little cause to visit it. I, however, checked into the Hornbill Lodge, an oasis of delight in Kariba. Family run by Sunera, with only five customer bungalows, it is a joy. I was told that the only other booking that night was a UK couple. They arrived, off the overnight flight from London, via Johannesburg to Lusaka and from there by a car transfer through the border. I listened in horror as they told me that they were booked to kayak down the Zambezi and camp, with two guides, on the riverbank, for five nights followed by three nights in a safari camp at Mana Pools. They had been assured by the holiday company that kayaking and camping on the Zambezi riverbank was safe. I later heard stories of people dipping their hand into the water from a kayak and also of people standing at the back and poling their canoe, and of chefs peeling potatoes on the rear boarding platform of houseboats, and all being pulled into the water by crocodiles and never being seen again.

Late in the afternoon our peace was disturbed by four noisy men who were seeking a room for the night. My heart sank as I feared that the evening would be spoilt by this overbearing group. They were loud, but also interested in us, and were fascinating. The men, aged between forty and fifty, had collected a friend’s Land Cruiser from Arusha in Tanzania, had travelled in Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi, Zambia and were now heading for Cape Town via Mozambique. Two members of the party were Chris Marais, born in Cape Town, and his Moroccan born husband, Samir Kabbaj, both now living in Long Island, USA. Chris explained that houses in Morocco tend to be very similar with white interior walls. A resident of Casablanca asked Chris to arrange the internal decoration of their house. He showed me photos of the result and it was magnificent and, must have been, extraordinarily expensive. He was then asked by others to do the same and the business grew to the point where he was now working on twelve projects, some of which are new builds where he had designed the structure of the house. Later that night Chris and Samir, worked on fine tuning a design. See more at http://www.brucemarais.com/. A third member of the party was, Alex Van Nes, a South African, of Dutch parents, who trained in hospitality in Switzerland and had founded and run the Cape Town restaurant, The Five Flies, loosely based on the restaurant of the same name in Amsterdam. He had sold the restaurant and was now doing a lot of travelling. The fourth member is a quieter American, David, whose story did not emerge because the others claimed so much attention. The communal dinner and afterwards proved to be fascinating. They also gave me the names of must visit places in Malawi.

Day Eight, Nine and Ten – Matusadona National Park

The next morning, I travelled by motorboat from Kariba Marineland to Rhino Safari Camp in Matusadona National Park. There was a haze over the lake which, I was told, arose from the charcoal burning in Zambia and which meant that in mid lake the lake edges were not visible. As we crossed the lake, I was told that the dropping water level was causing islands to appear as well as forests of bare hardwood trees that had been submerged when the lake was formed. The combination of the haze and the emerging islands caused the boat driver to lose his way, so the eighty-minute trip took twenty minutes longer. This three-night visit to Rhino Safari Camp was the luxury of my trip as it was more expensive than I would normally pay. The camp is a typical safari camp with seven open sided rooms on stilts looking down to the lake and a communal area including a shaded dining area and bar.

My fellow passenger, Gareth from Harare, and I, were greeted by Peter Tetlow, the resident guide. Peter, 62, born in Zambia and a lifelong guide, was one of the best wildlife guides I have ever had. His knowledge of game, birds, flora, animal behaviour and environment and his observation skills were extraordinary. A family of four adults from Cape Town were in camp for our first two days and two parties of six persons in total arrived the day before we left. Two of those who arrived were Ralph Stutchbury and his wife Barbara who were very interesting. Ralph is a professional wildlife filmmaker and photographer.

For the next three days we did two boat trips and three game drives. We descended from the game drive vehicle several times to do game walks, once following the spoor of a leopard, once because we had a flat tyre a kilometre from the camp, but generally to get closer to the bush. One sees less animals when walking but Peter kept us entranced as he explained every aspect of the bush to us. We saw lots of elephants, hippo and impala and an obscured view of a leopard up a tree. The real gem, however, was listening to Peter.

Rhino Safari Camp is a concession which has a long lease from Zimbabwe Wildlife to operate a camp in the Matusadona National Park. The camp is in the Park on the shore of Lake Kariba without any fences. Animals are free to roam through the camp and on the second night we had to delay the return to our chalets because a whole herd of elephant were moving around the chalets. South African National Parks historically has operated with all accommodation in fenced off camps and a prohibition on getting out of your vehicle except at designated picnic spots. That is still the general rule, but they have introduced short walks, multi day hikes and 4×4 multi day trails in many of their parks where one is on foot in game areas. Normally such activities include a guide with a rifle. They have also introduced a limited number of cottages in game areas where there are big signs warning that lions are about and not to wander from the cottage. Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe follow a more relaxed approach with a lot of chalets and camp sites in game areas. In Mana Pools we continually had elephant in the main camp site. Some of these elephants are clearly very habituated to humans, which may be safer for the humans but is generally not a good thing with wild animals. At both lion kills at Mana people told me of seeing walking groups within a few hundred metres of the kills. Most private safari camps do not have fences to encourage the feeling of being in the wild. I have had lions in amongst my tents twice in 2018 in Botswana. I mentioned earlier the UK couple who were kayaking and camping in hippo and crocodile infested water. People quickly get used to being in areas with game which also leads to them being too relaxed. Peter Tetlow told many stories of both guides and clients not taking proper care and being injured or killed by wild animals. He warned particularly against allowing young children to be in unfenced areas because he said they were particularly vulnerable to predators. The lodges of course, try and give minimum publicity to such events.

I asked Peter what he thought about the Mountain Gorilla experiences in Rwanda and Uganda. This is where a small group of about ten people spend about an hour within metres of gorillas. The gorillas are exposed to humans once a day for an hour. There are strict rules about proximity and acceptable actions in the presence of the gorillas. I have not been a supporter of these experiences because I compare them to zoos where the animals become very habituated to humans. Peter’s response was that it was unfortunate that 100 gorillas had become habituated to humans, but these actions had saved the other 900 mountain gorillas left in the world. It is his view that because it is very expensive to view them and many people now make a living from the process, that the gorillas are now valued and protected and have, therefore, survived.

There is no doubt that Matusadona National Park has been mismanaged. Peter Tetlow, remembers the days in the 1970s when two wheel drive cars would drive into the park. Today the road is so bad it takes five hours of 4×4 driving to do the 60km from the main gravel road to the Park HQ on Kariba Lake. The park has suffered decades of under investment, bad management and poaching by staff.

Africa Parks has been negotiating to take over the management of the Park. ‘African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. They currently manage 15 national parks and protected areas in nine countries covering 10.5 million hectares: Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Zambia.

The organisation was founded in 2000 in response to the dramatic decline of protected areas due to poor management and lack of funding. African Parks utilises a clear business approach to conserving Africa’s wildlife and remaining wild areas, securing vast landscapes and carrying out the necessary activities needed to protect the parks and their wildlife. African Parks maintains a strong focus on economic development and poverty alleviation of surrounding communities to ensure that each park is ecologically, socially, and financially sustainable in the long-term.’

After my trip on 1st November 2019 it was announced that Africa Parks had been awarded a twenty year contract to manage the park. That is great news.

Day Eleven – Back to Kariba

On returning to Kariba Town I returned to the lovely Hornbill Lodge to use their Wi-Fi before returning to being off the grid.

Day Twelve – Kariba to Chizarira

On Day Twelve, 12th September, I set off on a journey that I knew was going to be difficult. I first travelled 150km on good tar roads to Karoi, which is on the main A1 road from Lusaka via Chirundu to Harare. Seventy percent of the vehicles on the road are heavy trucks. I had been directed to the ‘GoWest’ filling station in Karoi where I filled up with diesel at US$1.20 per litre. I then backtracked eight kilometres to the turn off to the road that followed the length of the Kariba Lake. Over the next two days I spent almost eight hours travelling 438km to the Cross Roads junction on the Victoria Falls to Bulawayo A8 road. This was 150km of reasonably good tar with the rest being bad gravel roads with huge numbers of pedestrians and animals. This is the shortest route to get to Hwange National Park, but it is a hard way to go.

En route I stopped overnight at Chizarira National Park. I knew that it had been badly poached but that a charity had taken over the running of the park and that the outlook was good. Unfortunately, my experience was bad as the reception had no map of the park and the man on duty was new and knew nothing about the park. I drove 15km down a road with almost no animals and then backtracked to find my campsite. The park is situated on the edge of the escarpment so there is quite a climb to get to it. My campsite overlooked valleys below which was very beautiful. I departed the park first thing in the morning.

Day Thirteen – Chizarira to Hwange

47km further down the road I came to the junction to Binga. I travelled the 10km into Binga which is the only town of significance on the south side of Kariba Lake except for Kariba Town. There is no need to visit Binga unless you need fuel, accommodation or want to visit the crocodile farm.

A further 25km down the road I came to the junction to Maabwe Bay, so I turned off and travelled the 23km to Maabwe Bay which is run by Richard and Margot Donaldson. They have divided their long leasehold from the government into thirteen plots which they are selling. Until they are all sold, they let out two chalets and several camp sites to fishermen and birders. They are active on social media and had been helpful in the planning of my trip. I met Richard, saw the accommodation and bought 23 litres of diesel at $1.40 per litre. (Richard apparently does a 160km round trip to buy 200 litres at a time from a secure source). Another 100km on reasonably good tar roads brought me to the Cross Roads junction and shortly thereafter arrived in the vicinity of the Main Camp gate into Hwange National Park. I have prepared a separate section by section description of the 438km trip.

I checked into the declining Hwange Safari Lodge, just outside the gate, showered in a bath that was so marked that it looked forty years old, had poor quality food and received my laundry back ironed but wet. I did have lovely crisp sheets.

Day Fourteen – Southern Hwange

On 19th September, I drove 6km to the Hwange National Park, paid $15 for me (SADC rates) and $10 for my vehicle for a day pass at Main Camp. I was then faced with unattractive choices. If I was not going to backtrack but wanted to return to my hotel that night, I had a choice of two long loop drives – one 150km long and the second 75km long. I started on the long loop at 07h00 and it took me seven hours to complete. The roads were once easily accessed by normal two-wheel drive sedan cars have not been maintained, have not been graded for years and are very sandy or very corrugated for most of the time. The bush was extremely dry with almost no animals between water holes. At many of the water holes water was being pumped by solar pumps from boreholes. These waterholes are life saving for the animals. I spent thirty minutes watching a herd of eighteen elephants at one waterhole. There were plenty of impala, zebra and baboons. There were less giraffe and buffalo. There were single specimens of the rare sable and the even more rare roan. Late in the drive I came across a waterhole with very little water and eighty elephants trying to quench their thirst resulting in some elephant temper tantrums.

I took up the offer of the booking clerk at Main Camp for 25 litres of diesel at $1.40 per litre. After a horrible toasted cheese sandwich at Main Camp I then spent three hours doing the shorter loop which was not enough time and had me rushing to get back before the gate closed. I did not see much game, but the highlight of the afternoon was a martial eagle with its prey of a guinea fowl, half eaten, on a branch two metres from the ground, next to the road. He was reluctant to fly off for fear that his guinea fowl prey would fall apart so instead just glowered at me. Beautiful! At the last waterhole, between Main Camp and the park boundary, I came across two hundred elephant having sundowner drinks.

I saw very few private vehicles during the day but many safari camp game drive vehicles. The authorities have found that a way that they can earn good revenues without doing much, is to lease concessions of land, within the reserve, to private operators who set up camps and fly their clients in.

Day Fifteen – Northern Hwange

The next day I crossed the park doing 150kms to Robins Camp. I saw the same selection of animals from some useful viewing platforms at different water holes.

Later in the afternoon, following a tip that lions had been seen at Little Tom waterhole in the morning, I spent an hour there. I saw no mammals but did see two small wader birds dive bombing a fish eagle who had landed on the bank, presumably, close to their nest. Even when the fish eagle took to the air, they kept bothering it until it left the area.

Robins Camp was a delight. It was a long-standing Parks Board camp but was leased to a private operator, who runs three safari camps in this part of the reserve. The original chalets have been rethatched and renovated inside, the bar has been given a face lift, an attractive outdoor dining area has been created and a chef provides great meals. Wi-Fi access can be bought. This part of the reserve has lots of loop roads and unlike the flat area around Main Camp, has more hills. This is the place to stay in Hwange.

After the trip I came across a guide and map for Wankie Game Reserve (now Hwange) which my father received when he visited the reserve in 1952. The map is surprisingly similar to a current map with just a few additional roads added in the last 65 years. The prices are however very different!

Day Sixteen – Robins Camp, Zimbabwe to Tuli Block, Botswana

I travelled 50km on a relatively bad track to the Pandamatenga Border Post with Botswana. Only four vehicles passed through the border the day before. I exited Zimbabwe in five minutes and took ten minutes to enter Botswana. What a delight. I was met by a complete contrast to Zimbabwe with a good quality tar road leading from the border and as much diesel as I wanted a few kilometres away. I turned on my library of podcasts in my iPad, turned south on excellent tar roads and covered seven hundred kilometres in nine hours, with an hour for lunch in Francistown and arrived as the sunset at Serolo Safari Camp in the Tuli Block in the eastern corner of Botswana.

Day Seventeen- Tuli Block

The Tuli Block is a game area on the Limpopo River with Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa across the river. It is not a national game reserve but is rather a collection of game farms on long leases from the Botswana Government. Serolo Safari Camp has arranged traversing rights with the two adjacent farms which means that they do not allow one to self-drive and their game drives are limited as to where they can go and keep retracing their route. Having said that their guide, Jerry, knows the area incredibly well and on our three game drives we saw lions with cubs, hyenas with cubs, African wild cat and a good selection of other animals. The bush was extremely dry and there was one pool in the Limpopo River but no flowing water. There were four people from the UK and Belgium in on the first day and the owner’s brother and partner on the second day, who were all good company.

Day Eighteen – Tuli Block to Gabarone

I travelled 500km on good tar roads to Gabarone. I stopped at a vehicle body shop in Mahalapye for two hours where they replaced my right bonnet hinge (again) and welded some parts under my bonnet to hold the bonnet more firmly in place. (I believe that I overloaded the vehicle with a heavy, purpose-built roof box a few years ago which I suspect caused either the bonnet or the surrounding frame to bend slightly. The strain on the hinges on bad roads is too much and they break. Since then I must replace a few bonnet hinges on every trip. Several Toyota service managers have told me that they have never seen a bonnet hinge break. I now carry several spare hinges with me.) I overnighted at Cresta Lodge in Gabarone and used the Wi-Fi to catch up on my life and the chaos happening in UK politics.

Day Nineteen – Gabarone to Khutse

The next day I travelled 210km to the gate of Khutse Game Reserve and then a further 62km to Moreswe Pan where I camped. I paid entrance fees of Pula 120 per day for myself and Pula 50 per day for the vehicle so a total of Pula 340 (£25) for the two days. Khutse Game Reserve is a little pimple of a reserve on the southern border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This was a trip down memory lane for me as I had travelled to Khutse with my father in about 1973. The roads to the reserve were far worse, there was no sat nav and one hired a guide at the gate. Once in the park there have been almost no changes in 45 years except for the establishment of pit toilets and bucket showers. The bush was extremely dry, and the only water had been pumped by solar boreholes. I saw five elephants at both Molose waterhole and Moreswe Pan and a small selection of other animals. While distances are long there are very few roads in the park, so game drives normally mean having to return on the same road. I had planned to stay two nights but felt after one that an extra day would yield little. I met only two other parties in the reserve. To my amazement they were staying eight and nine days respectively in the park. I had taken a wrong turning on the way to the park and had travelled on very sandy tracks for the last 100km. I was delighted, on leaving, to find a wide good quality gravel road for 100km to the tar.

Day Twenty – Khutse, Botswana to Mafikeng, South Africa

On good tar roads I avoided Gabarone and arrived at about 14h00 at the Ramatlabama border post with South Africa. I cleared the Botswana side in five minutes and did the same on the South African side, but I then asked SA Customs to sign the declaration on my Carnet de Passage that the car was back in South Africa. I need that declaration to recover my deposit from the AA of SA. The manager of the department was called, and three customs officials took 40 minutes to complete the task which included writing a full report about what they were doing!

Shortly thereafter I arrived in Mafikeng to find two hotels had been besieged and were full, so settled on a room in the Mmabatho Palms Casino Hotel. To my amazement the casino was packed full that night. Where do all these people come from on a Wednesday night?

Day 21 – Mafikeng to Mokala National Park

On 26th September, I turned on my podcasts and travelled fast the 365km to Kimberley. I stopped off for half an hour at a tyre shop to swap my rear right tyre with an unnatural bump in it with one of my spare tyres. I visited the Big Hole in Kimberley.

The Big Hole is an open-pit and underground mine in Kimberley. The first diamonds here were found on the farm Vooruitzigt belonging to the De Beers brothers, in 1871. The ensuing scramble for claims led to the place being called New Rush, later renamed Kimberley in 1873. From mid-July 1871 to 1914 up to 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels, yielding 2,720 kilograms (13,600,000 carats) of diamonds. The Big Hole has a surface of 17 hectares and is 463 metres wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 metres but then partially infilled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 metres Since then it has accumulated about 40 metres of water, leaving 175 metres of the hole visible.

As digging progressed, many men met their deaths in mining accidents. The unsanitary conditions, scarcity of water and fresh vegetables as well as the intense heat in the summer, also took their toll. In March 1888 the leaders of the various mines decided to amalgamate the separate diggings into one big mine and one big company known as De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited, with life governors including Cecil John Rhodes, Alfred Beit, and Barney Barnato. I viewed some of the exhibits and viewed the hole from a viewing platform.

I then headed 90km south to Mokala. I arrived at the Lilydale entrance to Mokala National Park at 16h00 and spent the next two hours driving through the park. This one of SANPs Arid Parks which are parks in arid areas of South Africa, and which all have springbok in them. This park has a strapline of ‘The place of endangered species’ as they have rhino, roan and sable as well as 150 buffalo. I saw none of them and had to be satisfied with springbuck, giraffe and red hartebeest. Others I spoke to stayed longer than me and saw much more. After a 90-minute drive in the morning I headed south again.

Day 22 – Mokala to Loxton in the Karoo

Soon after I turned on to the A12 I saw a building of the African San Taxidermy Studio. I do not support hunting but have used a taxidermist to clean and mount horns which I have obtained from game farms where the animals have died of natural causes. At Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge I have previously admired a table mounted stuffed genet, which is a small animal. The owner explained to me that he had found it dead on the road and had frozen it until he got it to a taxidermist. With this in mind I turned into my newly found taxidermist, Fritz, to enquire if he had a stuffed genet. He had a genet but it was waiting to go out to a client and so he tried to persuade me to buy something else taking me through his warehouse. What a collection! He had a few hundred stuffed animals and those in process for clients. He had also purchased a collection of about fifty stuffed shoulder mounts from a deceased estate which he was sending to China to auction. I declined to buy a porcupine, jackal and a steenbok and fought temptation to buy a pair of buffalo horns and a zebra skin mat. I was not persuaded that I should buy zebra skin mats from him to sell at a higher price in Cape Town. I left my details for the day a genet comes in.

I had sought recommendations from the Tracks4Africa forum as what to do in the Karoo. The principal advice was to get on to gravel roads and head for Loxton. At Hopetown I turned on to the gravel road to De Aar and found myself travelling a relatively uninteresting straight road beside the railway line. The trip brightened when the Blue Train came by. From De Aar I drove to Carnarvon and then on to Loxton. As I drove through these towns, I wondered what kept them going. They all, except for Loxton, seemed to be run down.  I was told that the area was suffering from the worst drought in one hundred years. Reliable sources indicate that because of the drought 60,000 farm workers have been laid off in the Northern Cape who have 250,000 dependants. Large sheep farms have sold or lost most of their sheep and over 100 farmers have committed suicide. Water related Facebook sites that I follow have been appealing for funds, food and food for livestock for these areas although I suspect that most of the aid is going to farmers rather than their workers. Every time I stopped to look at my map, I found someone knocking on my window begging.

I followed the advice I had received and on arriving in Loxton I filled up diesel at the Kooperasie, had a milkshake at Die Rooi Granaat, photographed the impressive (aren’t they always) NGK church and wandered through the collection of old trucks at the Truck Museum.

I presented myself at the Art Gallery where I settled down with coffee with the owners, Annelise Vorster Meyer and Alewyn Vorster. He had been in special forces of the South African Army for thirty years and afterwards had worked in Nigeria for three years and the UAE for ten years as a security advisor. They had now returned to the place of their childhood, Loxton, where he was setting up a campsite and she was displaying her art in her gallery. We talked about his ancestor who had ridden with the Boers from Loxton to fight the British in the Boer War, Zimbabwe and the dire straits that Karoo farmers are finding themselves in because of the drought. I spent R440 (£24) on a painting of a windmill, house and washing on the line to add to my large collection of windmill paintings.

I overnighted just south of Loxton at Jackhalsdans Farm where I had the run of a whole farmhouse.

Allow me to give some background. South Africa has a long history of rural living and exploration as people trekked northwards to avoid the taxing British. They became expert at preserving food including bottled and dried fruit, rusks and biltong. Biltong is dried meat which is salted and in recent years has been flavoured with herbs and peri peri. Sliced biltong is often presented as a snack in modern homes.

South Africa has a deserved reputation for game viewing in huge national parks and hundreds of game farms. There are also many hunting and game biltong farms. All these game farms need to find a balance in their game numbers and so there is a vibrant trade in game, where game of one sort is captured on a farm and then sold and transferred to another farm. The process of capturing and transporting game is done by experts who may include vets on their team. If a farm wishes to sell e.g. wildebeest the game capture team will set up a large funnel of canvas or similar material leading to a stockade. The wildebeest are then found by a small helicopter and driven by the helicopter to the funnel. I noticed at Jackhalsdans Farm that there was a small two-person helicopter, covered and strapped to a trailer. The owners are game capture experts who transport their helicopter to the capture farm before it takes to the air.

Linda, my host, explained that the family had spent a week camping on land that they own near Kimberley and had arrived back just before I arrived. She then told me that the principal reason for going to their Kimberley property was that they needed a new supply of biltong and so her sons (both appearing to be aged under seven) had hunted antelope that could be converted to biltong! I recoiled and then realised what a staid city dweller I am. This family lives a life that is completely foreign to me.

Day 23 – Loxton to Prince Albert

After leaving the farm I headed south on the gravel road towards Beaufort West passing over the attractive Molteno pass.

My afternoon activities can be summarised by looking at the texts that I sent to Johan at the B&B that I was staying in that night in the small town of Prince Albert:

12h15 Just arrived in Beaufort West. With you between 14h00 and 15h00.

14h06 Sorry I am running late. I am 66km from Prince Albert and making slow going on a farm road. My arrival time is now likely to be close to 16h00. Apologies.

15h41 This is getting worse and worse. I was on a public road that somewhere became a private track. I am heading across farmland and can see the N1 ahead on my satnav. I will let you know when I reach a public road and can get a distance and time to you. Sorry.

16h15 I have hit the N1 73km from Prince Albert. I should be with you by 17h15.

17h00 Arrived.

I had left Beaufort West on the A12 tar road in the direction of Oudtshoorn seeking a farm road that would take me towards Prince Albert. My satnav told me that the road to Jagerskraal was such a road. I was delighted to find such an interesting road. About an hour down that road after opening and closing eight farm gates I came to the gate to the Wilgerbos Farm with a notice that said that access was limited to emergency services, police and those chasing livestock thieves. In addition, the gate was locked (with phone numbers to get the code) and was also secured by a coil of wire that would have needed me to use pliers to undo. I got no answers from the two telephone numbers (even though I had network connection). I suspect that the farmer has illegally blocked a public road. I reluctantly turned to a nearby gate and followed tracks that merged and separated from others, sometimes backtracking and eventually (after opening and closing four more gates) arrived at the unoccupied farmhouse of the farm Uitkyk belonging to the Keith Kroon Trust, which was close to the N1 road. I was very pleased to arrive in Prince Albert forty-five minutes later.

Day 24 – Prince Albert, to Hell and back and then to The Retreat at Groenfontein

I woke on Sunday 29th September hearing rain and my weather report predicted heavy rain from midday. I headed slowly up the gravel Swartberg Pass stopping to take photos of the scenery and flowers.

The Swartberg Pass is 24km long, connecting Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn, has an overall height gain of 840 metres, was the last pass built by Thomas Bain in the Cape and was completed in 1886. The drizzle stopped, the clouds cleared, the sky was blue and at 10h00 when I was 3km from the summit I arrived at the junction with the road to The Hell. The formal name of The Hell is Gamkaskloof which is a narrow-isolated valley 32km long with a maximum width of 180 metres surrounded by the Swartberg mountain range. At around the time of the Great Trek, in the 1830s, a few families climbed the mountains to settle in the valley, away from the Colonial British. In 1962 a road was built from the existing Swartberg Pass to the valley. This road is a dead end as one must return the same way. As the weather had cleared (the forecast was clearly wrong!) this was the road that I now took. The 37km road from the junction to the valley floor has 200 bends, curves and corners, climbing a total of 1,050 metres and descending a total of 1,850 metres. The final descent to the valley floor is via the Elands Pass which drops 580 metres over 5km. The attraction for many people of this pass is the magnificent views, multiple hairpins, narrow width and steep, unguarded drop-offs. I have travelled this road twice before. I took my time, stopping often to take photos noticing the small streams that were running, probably because of the earlier rain.

I started to worry that the clouds were gathering again and after ninety minutes, as I reached the peak of Elands Pass it started to drizzle. I met up with a group of mad cyclists who had cycled down the day before but were wisely not planning to ride the route back in the rain and loaded their cycles on to a trailer behind their support van. I was fearful that the road and the going would deteriorate in the rain, especially if it was heavy.

Having achieved my objective of reaching the valley floor, I turned my car round and got the hell out of there. The intensity of the rain increased, the road back was very wet and very muddy. I turned back on to the Swartberg Pass and climbed to the summit in the mist. As I summited the wind and rain increased and I descended the pass with poor visibility at a very careful speed. I was pleased to reach the valley floor and took the road to The Retreat at Groenfontein.

During the trip the daytime temperatures had been in the range of 28⁰C to 34⁰C with night-time temperatures dropping to 15⁰C to 20⁰C. The only rainfall that I experienced was in the night in Siavonga and again on this day. Otherwise I had day after day of blue weather. September is an ideal time to travel in this part of Africa.

Day 25 – Near Calitzdorp to Sutherland

I was on the road by 08h30 on Monday 30th September first visiting Peter Bayly Wines. Peter had not returned from a weekend in Cape Town, but I recalled from a previous trip that he told me that he had to surround his half hectare vineyard with a high electrified fence to keep the baboons from eating his grapes. At times he has one hundred baboons on the cliff beyond the vineyard. His speciality is wonderful port.

I took a slow road through the beautiful Seweweeks Poort, then a good gravel road towards Laingsburg which became a good tar road and good tar then all the way to Sutherland.

Arrived after four hours and immediately experienced the coldest day of my trip.  I did a tour of the NGK church which is quite magnificent. It was built in 1900 to accommodate 1,100 and has probably never been full. Current attendance is an average of 35 each Sunday. Jenny Kruger, the very good guide, told me that the consecration of the church was delayed because of the Boer War when British soldiers were billeted in the church for eight months. She told me that having the South African Astronomical Observatory had saved the town which as a result, now has forty guesthouses.

The South African Astronomical Observatory chose to be located just outside Sutherland in the Karoo on an arid plateau, 370km inland and 1,800 metres above sea level with minimal light and air pollution, low humidity and 300 good weather viewing nights per year. Sutherland is consistently the coldest town in South Africa and has snow in the winter. The site has fifteen major telescopes some of which have been completely funded by international institutions. An example is Birmingham University in the UK which has a dedicated telescope on site which is operated from Birmingham.

The largest telescope on the site is SALT (imaginatively called South African Large Telescope) which has an eleven-metre span comprising 91 mirrors or segments. It commenced operations in November 2011. It is the fifth largest telescope in the world and the largest in the southern hemisphere. A permanent team of astronomers follow a work pattern set by a committee focusing on specific areas of the night sky for an agreed number of hours each night. All their results are recorded on computers and as a result can be studied multiple times. I did a public tour where we were shown how different gases give off different shades of the light spectrum. Observing these shades of the spectrum astronomers can therefore deduce what gas a very distant astronomical body is principally comprised of. We viewed three of the telescopes including SALT. The maintenance arrangements for SALT are interesting including the removal of two mirrors each week for cleaning and recoating. The temperature inside the SALT building is reduced before nightfall to the same as the external night temperature (8⁰C later that night) to reduce condensation on the mirrors. The roof opening and the SALT telescope are mechanically moved to align with the part of the sky to be studied that night. I also learnt that one light year is almost 10 trillion kilometres. This was a fascinating insight into a world I know very little about.

Day 26 – Sutherland to Cape Town

I had forgotten my laptop, iPad and phone at the breakfast table at The Retreat at Groenfontein so I had to return there on my final day of travel, before taking the easy tarmac road drive to Cape Town thus ending my 7,000 km twenty-six-day trip. The highlights were Mana Pools, Matusadona, Hwange, Serolo Safari Camp in the Tuli Block, the Swartberg Pass and the road to The Hell and the South African Astronomical Observatory at Sutherland.

Descriptions of Accommodation 

I was travelling alone so in some cases have paid a single supplement. Hotels recognise that if a bed has not been sold it is better to get something at the last minute rather than nothing. Some of my last-minute rates were substantial discounts to rack rates.

Green Tree Lodge – Livingstone, Zambia. US$65 (£53) per night per room including breakfast. Host is Andrew. Simple, efficient, comfortable with good food. Good Wi-Fi in dining room.

Lake Safari Lodge – Siavonga, Zambia. US$85 (£70) per night per room including breakfast. Been in decline since its heyday forty years ago. Wi-Fi only in communal area.

Mvuu Lodge Campsite – Game Management Area of Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia. US$28 per night (£23). Great location overlooking the river, but absent owner means facilities running down and staff busy on their phones. No Wi-Fi.

Nyamepi Campsite – Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe. US$70 per night (£57). Great location on banks of Zambezi. Elephants in camp. Ablution blocks not been renovated in fifty years. No Wi-Fi.

Hornbill Lodge – Kariba Town, Zimbabwe. US$115 (£94) per night including dinner and breakfast. Host is Sunny (Sunera). A very special gem with five unique chalets, great service and great food. Good Wi-Fi in communal area.

Rhino Safari Camp – Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe. US$250 (£205) per night (US$200 for third night) including all meals, drinks and two game drives a day. Perfect location. Comfortable chalet. Great food. World beating guide. Hosts are Karl and Jenny. Paid extra US$15 for very limited satellite Wi-Fi.

Mucheni View Campsite – Chizarira National Park, Zimbabwe. US$50 (£41) Great view, no water or facilities. No Wi-Fi.

Hwange Safari Lodge – Zimbabwe. $144 (£118) per night including breakfast (last minute rate). Lovely crisp sheets but showered in a bath that was so marked that it looked forty years old, had poor quality food and received my laundry back ironed but wet. Good Wi-Fi.

Chalet at Robins Camp – Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. US$119 (£97) including full board. Wonderful improvement to this privatised camp. Very comfortable. Expensive Wi-Fi in dining area at US$10 for 500mb.

Serolo Safari Camp – Tuli Block, Botswana. R1,495 (£82) per night including four meals and two game drives per day (last minute rate). A lovely experience and the best deal of my trip. Host is Julie. No Wi-Fi.

Cresta Lodge – Gabarone, Botswana. Pula 1,500 (£112) per night including breakfast. Slightly worn but secure parking. Good Wi-Fi.

Moreswe Pan Campsite – Khutse National Park, Botswana. Pula 250 (£19) per night. Magnificent location with basic shower and pit toilet. No Wi-Fi.

Mmabatho Palms Casino Hotel – Mafikeng, South Africa. R1,550 (£85) including breakfast (last minute rate). Very worn with poor service and even worse restaurant, packed with gamblers. Good Wi-Fi.

Self-catering chalet at Mosu Lodge Camp – Mokala National Park, near Kimberley, South Africa. R1,161 self-catering (£64). Functional. No Wi-Fi.

Self-catering house at Jackhalsdans Farm – Near Loxton, South Africa. R1,200 (£66) per night (last minute rate for whole house). Farm style comfortable. Host is Linda. No Wi-Fi.

61 on Church (previously Mias Guesthouse) – Prince Albert, South Africa. R850 (£47) per night including breakfast. Host is Johan. Great host and comfortable but a lack of communal space. Good Wi-Fi.

The Retreat at Groenfontein – 25km from Calitzdorp, South Africa. R950 (£52) per night including dinner and breakfast.  Hosts are Marie and Grant. A favourite of mine. Comfortable rooms, communal dinner table and great hosts. Wi-Fi in lounge.

Skitterland Guesthouse – Sutherland, South Africa. R750 (£41) per night including breakfast, Host is Anelia. Very welcoming. Unfortunately, a bath and no shower. Wi-Fi.

I spent £2,200 for accommodation for the two nights before the trip in Livingstone and the 25 nights on the trip. I travelled 7,148km, consuming 980 litres at a cost of R14,869 (£817) and an average consumption of 7.3 kms per litre. So, I spent £3,000 in total for accommodation and diesel. Other costs were country and park entry fees, meals not included with accommodation, vehicle servicing and the cost of my Carnet de Passage.

Description of my vehicle and equipment

I drive a three litre, diesel 2010 Toyota Fortuner which I bought in 2014 with 76,000 km on the clock. It has now done 165,000 km. I have added the following: ARB front bull bars, Fortuner bash plate, Safari snorkel, enhanced coils, springs and shock absorbers, secondary battery system, 72 litre built in extra diesel tank, Rockshockerz purpose built rear bumper and carriers for two spare wheels, Front Runner roof rack, a pull out awning fixed to the roof rack, Front Runner stainless steel/aluminium camp table, two diesel jerry cans and a 60 litre Engel Combi fridge/freezer.

For when I get stuck, I carry a box of towing and snatch ropes, a high lift jack, two other jacks, an ARB portable compressor, two Desert escape sand tracks, a 9000-winch fixed to the front bumper, a spade and an Iridium 9575 Satellite Phone. I also have a C-Track tracker on the vehicle with the ability to send a mayday message.

Whenever I can I stay in hotels or self-catering units but if these are not available I am ready to camp in relative luxury with an Oztent RV5 tent, camp bed, one sleeping bag for temperatures down to 7⁰C and another for temperatures below that, Oztent Goanna chairs, gas cookers, a selection of pots, pans and cutlery, braai grid and a sixty litre tank of fresh water.