4x4Community Forum Articles - Zambia (via Bots and Nam) Trip Report, June/July 2008

  • Zambia (via Bots and Nam) Trip Report, June/July 2008

    ZAMBIA trip report: June 20 to July 20, 2008

    Route: Cape Town-Beaufort West-Mafikeng-Francistown-Kasane.
    Then Livingstone-Kalomo-Kafue National Park.
    Kafue: Nanzhila Plains-Itezhi Tezhi-Kaingu-McBrides-Mayukuyuku-Lufupa.
    Exited northern Kabanga Gate-Solwezi-Chimfunshi Chimp Sanctuary.
    Lusaka-Livingstone-Katima-Popa Falls-Waterberg-Solitaire-Grunau-CT
    Two adults, two kids aged nine (daughter) and 13 (son).
    Vehicle: Land Rover Defender 110, 1991 V8
    No trailer or caravan
    Distance covered: 9 007km
    Petrol used: 1 563 litres, R19 867.00
    Petrol Prices: SA and Namibia, R10/l, Bots R9.50/l, Zambia R20/l petrol, R19 diesel
    Consumption: 5.76km/l or 17.3 l/100km
    Oil used: 500ml (not bad for a 17 year-old Landy!)
    Punctures: None (new respect for Cooper Discoverer STTs)
    Mechanical problems: None (new respect for 17 year-old V8)
    Problems: Roof rack strut cracked, brilliantly welded at Channa’s Garage, Livingstone.
    General comments: Everything in Zambia is nearly double the price it is in SA, so stock up well before leaving. Never pass a town without checking for fuel as often towns marked as having fuel are dry for a day or two. We had absolutely no problems with police or any government officials, and no bribes were solicited from us. We found the Zambian people and officials to be very friendly and helpful.
    Security: There are petty theft problems in major towns like Livingstone, Lusaka etc, but we never felt in any way unsafe.
    Money: In Botswana, we paid for fuel with Mastercard in all the major centres. In Zambia, it was strictly cash for fuel, but Spars etc took Mastercard and Visa. At ATMs in Zambia, the only ones we found that took Standard Bank Autobank cards were the Stanbic banks NOT Standard Chartered. Stanbic are in most major centres, but we couldn’t find one in Livingstone. Barclays took Mastercard for changing Rand to Kwatcha, but the queues are long. Visa seemed to be accepted far more widely than Mastercard. In Namibia, fuel paid for with any Garage card at most places.
    Guide Books/Maps: The Bradt Guide to Zambia (Chris McIntyre) is the best and the new edition has just come out. Very detailed, GPS points, excellent route descriptions. The best map is the Ilone-Hupe-Verlag (“Hupe”) by Manfred Vachel. I found a copy through the German book shop in Cape Town (Burg Street). The Infomap, sold in many 4x4 shops, is terrible - many inaccuracies, lots of missing information, roads where there aren’t any, missing km distances etc. But use it if you can’t get any others. GPS with Tracks 4 Africa is very useful, if not essential, as the maps are often vague.
    SADC citizen fees for Kafue: $15 per adult, kids under 13 half. Vehicle $15. In the northern sector, there also seems to be a $5 (half kids) bed levy which some lodges apply. Most of the camp sites charge between $10 and $15 per person per night to camp, half for kids, some are $7.50. All provide firewood. If you want some luxury, ask at the camps about SADC rates for chalets - they are often very good.

    We drove up from Cape Town with overnight stops in Beaufort West and Mafikeng, and then camped at Woodlands (5km from the last street light in Francistown on the Maun/Kasane road) which has excellent facilities and camp sites. From there to Kasane and Kubu Lodge camp site, where we were told to watch our camp sites carefully as there has been a big increase in petty theft throughout the area because of economic refugees from Zimbabwe.

    Mario’s butchery near to Kubu was recommended to us as the best supplier of meat and you may want to stock up here, as the meat in Zambia is expensive and not always good.

    There are some repairs being done to the notorious Nata to Pandamatenga potholed stretch of road, but it is still very bad. The potholes start about 46km outside Nata, and end at about the 175km mark after which the road is brand new and excellent. The best thing to do here is tuck in behind a big truck and use them as your pathfinder!

    The Kazungulu ferry crossing into Zambia is an exercise in chaos. The truck queue stretches for several kilometres, and truckers told us they had been waiting for five days to cross because very few of them were daring to go through Zimbabwe. But because the ferry takes just one truck and four light vehicles at a time, you simply drive to the front of the queue. It took us just over two hours to get through, mainly because we used two young guys as “agents” - Rasta Brian and his friend Benny cell number +260-97-820-0293. Saves an enormous amount of pain and trouble. The way it works is that they will meet you at the ferry on the Botswana side, take all your details, and organise all your main permits - council tax, ferry fee, insurance etc. You will have to do carbon tax and immigration/customs. They pay all the fees in kwatcha (you don’t give them any money until the whole transaction is completed) and you pay them in dollars or rands at the official bank rate - they make their money by converting it at the black market rate. For a family of four and a 3.5litre engine in the Landy, we forked out just under R1 500 in border and ferry fees! By comparison, Botswana was P90 insurance, and Namibia R160 insurance.

    Kazungulu to Livingstone, the road is excellent, but watch out for several ZAWA (Wildlife Authority) road blocks. We camped for three nights at the superb Peregrine Bush Camp at the Taita Falcon Lodge, which is about 14km east of the Falls overlooking the 17th rapid on the Batoka Gorge. Faan and Anmarie Fourie have built a wonderful site here. Please note that they do not like very large groups of campers, as this disturbs the bush atmosphere, and that campers can ONLY use the lodge facilities (pub, pool, deck etc) by arrangement with them and if there are no guests in the lodge. They are strict about this, as they have had big problems in the past with very aggressive big groups coming through and demanding to use the lodge facilities.

    Did all the usual Vic Falls stuff - walked the paths, got soaked, and did a very good boat drive with Victoria Falls River Safaris. Much better than the big booze cruise boats, as they use small, powerful boats that can go into the shallows and visit the islands and cruise through the smaller channels and rapids. Their guides were knowledgable and eagle eyed.
    There is a newish shopping centre on the left as you head to the Falls that has a big Spar that is very well stocked, although the veggies aren’t great. Also here is a chemist, Steers, Debonairs etc if you’re into that kind of thing.

    Fill up with fuel in Livingstone, even if you have filled all your tanks in Botswana/Namibia. There is no fuel at Kalomo, which is the turn off to the southern Kafue National Park, and it is 302km from Livingstone to Nanzhila, quite a bit of it low range driving if the sand is badly churned up. The only fuel on this route is at Itezhi Tezhi. The 70km between Livingstone and Zimba is one of the worst roads in southern Africa - very badly potholed, big trucks swaying all over the place - allow at least two hours to do the 70km.

    Kalomo to Dumdumwenze gate into Kafue: The Bradt guide has good directions for getting out of town - once you are on the road to Dumdum, stick to the main track all the way. The first 10km is very badly rutted dirt, then the track improves but is still an axle-twister all the way to the gate, and if you are towing, you will have to take it dead slow. Allow seven to eight hours from Livingstone to Nanzhila. Once in the park, the Cordon road (western route) is good sand track, with some very deep slow sections. We saw sable, warthog, bushpig, serval, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest etc along the way, and were the first vehicle through in four days. We never saw any other vehicles in the southern section of the park in four days (and this was during SA school holidays!)

    The eastern route which follows the Nanzhila River was still too wet when we were there, but we met three other vehicles who came through a few days later, when ZAWA had opened the route, and they made it through but had to do several snatch strap extractions (they were all towing trailers). Check at the gate on the latest info. The south is almost totally inaccessible in the rainy season, and is only viable from around late May to the end of November.

    Whichever way you go in, you will hit tsetse fly infestations as soon as you get into the thicker miombo and brachystegia woodlands - a feature of the entire park.

    Nanzhila Plains Safari Camp is in a beautiful location on a big permanently wet dambo which fills up completely in the rainy season. There are two shady camp sites on the edge of the dambo and a bigger site for groups at the back. All have long drop toilets and bucket showers plus firewood. Andre and Lara who run the lodge are very helpful, it's worth checking with Andre for game drive info and routes, as some of the tracks are indistinct. Steve Smith, the owner, may be there as well (he lives in Francistown) and he is very knowledgeable about the area. We saw plenty of game on various drives - elephant, De Fassa waterbuck, oribi, zebra, wildebeest etc, but missed the black cheeked lovebirds which are a special in the area. A dambo walk with their guide, Aaron Sikabakani, is a must - he knows his birds well.

    We then drove to park HQ at Ngoma via the Kalenje scout camp. Good track, but very deep sand later in the dry season, impassable in the wet (cotton soil). Some of the intersections on this route are confusing, so it is worth checking directions on your GPS. Had to have a meeting with Zawa at Ngoma, so only made it to New Kalala camp on Lake Itezhi Tezhi just outside the park that night. Beautiful setting, good ablutions, cold beer at the restaurant.

    There is pretty reliable fuel at Itezhi Tezhi town. You have to drive up the hill (first major left after crossing the dam wall after passing the fuel pumps on your right) to the Zesco offices and pay there - you have to estimate how much you want and pay cash: there are no refunds. Then go back down to the pumps and fill up. They close for lunch (12.30 to 2pm).

    Kaingu Lodge was our next stop and is an absolute must - the most beautiful setting in the entire area, and we spent four nights there. It is outside the park in the Game Management Area so no park fees are payable which is a big bonus. The two Rapids camp sites (camp site 2 is the best) are stunning and the ablutions that Tom Heineken has built are of five star lodge standard. There is a bigger bush camp away from the river for bigger groups that is also excellent. It's worth doing a morning game and birding walk with Besa Kaoma, who is their guide. There is plenty of game in the area - lions, leopards, elephant, puku etc etc. Besa can also take you to the ancient iron smelter that they are busy recreating.
    A river trip with Tom or one of the guides is a must. The river there is fascinating - full of chanels and islands, rapids, hippo pods, and great birding. The fishing is excellent. Again, as with all the lodges, campers can only use the lodge facilities and restaurant by arrangement with Tom and Viviane, and if they have guests, they may say no.

    The main road between Itezhi Tezhi (ITT) and the Mumbwa-Mongu road is a shocker. Very bad potholed dirt (it used to be worse - potholed tar - but has been graded) so take it slowly. It is 63km from ITT to the Kaingu/Puku Pans turnoff, and another 44km of good track through tsetse-thick miombo and mosaic woodland to Kaingu. Stop at the entrance signposted “Tsetse Control” and spray your vehicle for tsetses (they supply the Doom, but carry your own as well).

    We found fuel at Mumbwa, but it is not always reliable. We next headed to McBrides - the first 35km out of Mumbwa is badly eroded and a chassis twister, after that its good gravel and sand track - where we spent three nights with Chris and Charlotte McBride (of White Lions of Timbavati fame) tracking lions etc on foot, and doing boat drives where we saw a huge male leopard on the bank - the area is famous for its leopards. On night drives we saw civet, large spotted genets, porcupine, and scores of hippos. The McBrides camped on the site of their camp for several months before building their chalets so that they didn’t interfere with any of the game paths. So the elephant, hippo, puku, bush buck etc wander freely through the camp, we had lion in camp on two nights, and there is a resident elephant shrew.

    A few weeks before we got there, their kitchen boma and one chalet burnt down, but they are coping fine. They have a camp site about 500m from the camp, with ablutions, which is a very pleasant bush camp not far from the river, but we stayed in the main camp at their invitation, which was very kind of them. The chalets are wonderful - very organic and basic, but full of character. Meals are in the main boma, and if you are staying in the main camp, you must bring all your own drinks, as they don’t run a bar service.

    We had a truly memorable stay here, with Chris McBride taking us on long sunrise walks through the bush, Charlotte leading us on birding walks, night drives and river boat drives, and both of them teaching us and our kids an enormous amount. They are a slightly eccentric, but wonderfully interesting and knowledgeable couple and a stay here is highly recommended for bush connoisseurs. There was a Dutch couple staying there who were on their fifth visit in two years and they stay for two weeks at a time.

    We reluctantly left McBrides, and after refuelling at Mumbwa, headed for the northern sector of the park. We decided to overnight at Mayukuyuku, just off the main tar road 114km from Mumbwa (turn right - north - after the second set of speed bumps inside the park). Its a newish camp, in a beautiful setting on the rapids where the Kafue and Mayukuyuku Rivers meet. There are three riverside camp sites with brilliant views, and several others set back in the bush. They also have a restaurant, pub, and safari tents for self-catering or full board. The ablutions were very good.

    Pushed through to Lufupa Lodge the next day. This is now owned by Wilderness Safaris, and is a big, busy place with a huge deck, restaurant and pub hanging over a lovely stretch of river. The camp site has been moved to where the old staff quarters were, away from the river, as the riverside site is now a tented camp. Bas van Soest, the manager of the camp, explained to us that the camp site had the best shade they could find, and it has, but it’s all very new at the moment, and very dusty. A good rainy season will see the grass re-establish itself.

    We only had one night there as we had to head north, but Bas told us that in June on their game drives, they had 23 days on which they saw leopard, 19 days lion, 9 days cheetah and four days of wild dog. We saw plenty of fresh lion spoor on our way out, several elephant, scores of hippo and lots of other game. Unfortunately, it was still too wet to get into the Busanga Plains, so we had to give that a miss.

    The north of Kafue has more game than the south, but we found the southern section, and the area around Kaingu, to be more interesting because of the remoteness of the south, and the nature of the river around Kaingu. There are a lot more tourists and vehicles in the north, although that is relative - there were only two other groups of campers in Lufupa when we were there, although the lodge was quite full.

    We were next headed to the Chimfunshi Chimp Sanctuary on the Congo border near Chingola, so headed north through the Kabanga Gate exit from the park, across the excellent newish bridge across the Lufupa River, which eliminates what evidently used to be a tricky river crossing. The track to Kabanga is very good, then there’s about 14km of rough bush track to the main road to Kasempa/Moshi. The first 50 to 60km of road to Kasempa is currently appalling, very pot holed, chassis twisting, lots of thick powder dust. We then hit extensive roadworks, and it looks as though the entire stretch of road is being upgraded and resurfaced.
    This road goes through stretches of absolutely magnificent gallery sand forest, and is worth doing just for that! There is no fuel in Kasempa, although the police did tell us that we could buy “very expensive” black market fuel from the “boys” near the old fuel station at the entrance to the town.

    From Kasempa to Solwezi is excellent tarred road. There’s a Stanbic and other banks in Solwezi, so you can draw cash from the ATMs. There are three fuel stations, two Total, one BP. The one Total had no fuel on the day we arrived the other two had unleaded and diesel, but no lead replacement. The next day they had run out of diesel, but had got in LRP. We decided to splash out and have some relative luxury for one night, and booked into the Zimbabwean built and owned Royal Solwezi Hotel, on the left as you leave town on the Lusaka road. Its a Holiday Inn-styled hotel with tight security, and it cost us US$169 for a double room with four beds, hot shower, breakfast, DSTV, Wifi etc. The restaurant is reasonable - good flat chicken and chips. They washed the Land Rover for free the next morning - essential after the powder dust of the day before.

    The road to Chimfunshi was good tar, with occasional potholes. Chimfunshi is fascinating, with 124 rescued chimpanzees in a combination of orphanage cages for the more unmanageable chimps, through to huge enclosures (2x250ha, 1x125ha and one 75ha) where they are rehabilitated into the wild. The fees have gone up quite steeply recently as the board of trustees is trying to get the sanctuary onto a more viable financial footing. The camp site is on a beautiful stretch of the Kafue overlooking the flood plains, and has hot showers (donkey boiler), long drops and firewood. They close the camp gates at night to keep Billy, the orphaned hippo (now adult) from wandering in - be very careful of Billy, particularly if you have kids. He is still a wild hippo, despite being completely habituated.

    We spent three days at Chimfunshi before hitting the very long road home. One night at Fringilla’s camp, about 60km west of Lusaka, a night in a chalet at the stunningly beautiful Maramba Lodge in Livingstone (they have closed the camp site), then Popa Falls in Namibia, the Waterberg Plateau National Park, Agama River Camp between Solitaire and Sesriem in the Namib (brilliant spot and at R280 for the family much cheaper than Sesriem) and the Grunau Country Lodge just short of the Noordoewer border.

    Note that it took us less that 30 minutes to clear both Zambian and Namibian customs at Katima Mulilo, making this a much more attractive border crossing than Kazungulu if you are travelling from the Cape.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Zambia (via Bots and Nam) Trip Report, June/July 2008 started by Tony Weaver View original post