Six Countries Southern Africa trip – July 2015

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
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    Default Six Countries Southern Africa trip – July 2015

    At the beginning of 2015 we decided to embark on a much anticipated southern Africa camping trip. Having never camped for more than 5 nights, and that within the Western Cape, we were a bit unsure of where to begin. We were due to meet up with a family member working in Majete, Malawi and weren’t even sure whether to do the trip clockwise or anti-clockwise. Much internet searching just cast the net wider and wider with some input from friends – finally some much needed focus came from a 4x4community member, Kierie, who posted a detailed account of his Six Countries Comprehensive Trip Report. We made extensive use of his posts including printing out some information for when we finally headed off. We decided to follow his general route, opting rather for some very long days in the vehicle to allow us an extra night at a destination stop.
    So, having now returned from an amazing and very successful ‘copy-cat’ trip, we feel it’s ‘pass-it-on’ time. Below should be read as an update of Kierie’s journey, adding some hopefully valuable detail about times and costs, and particularly border post requirements.
    Along the way we had no admin, no mechanicals, no medicals, no major domestics, no bribes, no run-ins with officials; just good clean family fun, and one legitimate speeding fine! And one frightening but ‘ok-in-the-end’ elephant encounter.
    Toyota Hilux with double rooftop tents as hired fully equipped from Bushlore in Midrand. Had everything we needed and drove faultlessly. The very friendly and helpful Lucas who fetched us from Lanseria and explained the nuts and bolts of the vehicle more than made up for the gloomy unfriendly nameless (didn’t greet us on arrival) lady at reception who did the paperwork, and we’d definitely recommend the company for an easy, peace of mind hiring option.
    Before we left I scanned the equipment list and added the following items:

    • Flask (didn’t use much)
    • Peeler
    • Pegs
    • Extension cord
    • Double adapter (need one with square holes too for Zambia)
    • Empty ice cream containers for left overs
    • Water bottles for in the car (cycling bottles)
    • Grater
    • Toaster (simmer ring kind)
    • Extra dishcloths x2
    • Small 10 litre hardshell cooler box (bought at Game in Francistown for R100) for padkos and adding ice to drinks
    • Couple of small cardboard boxes for better grocery management and access
    • Netting groundsheet
    • Small fleece blankets x 2
    Things weshould have taken:

    • Hot water bottles
    • Skipping rope (for restless kids)
    Border crossings:
    SA – Botswana(Groblersbrug) – P150 Insurance (time to cross = 30 mins)
    Botswana – Zambia(Kazangula) – P200 Ferry; 261 ZM (Insurance), $20 (Road tax), 30 ZM (council levy), 150 ZM (TIP), 20 ZM (runner), 10 ZM (carguard) (time to cross = 2 hours)
    (notes: the runner attached himself to us at the start, crossed the ferry and remained Velcro-ed to us saying he represented the insurance company (!?) until we met an English couple who helped us get rid of him, but actually at the low price of 20 Kwacha he was helpful. The Zambian side is designed to totally confuse tourists and thereby create a need for runners. Each payment is in a different building, with no sign posting, and unhelpful officials more interested in Facebook messenger on their phones than in serving travellers. You must arrive with at least $100 or $30 + 450 Kwacha. The council (community) levy must be paid in USD. We only had USD. The ATM onlytakes Visa so that rendered our Mastercard useless – a problem we encountered often! We then exchanged USD at the small bank hidden around the back, for Kwacha. The rate was favourable ($1 = 7.4 Kwacha). )
    Zambia – Malawi(Mchinji) – 5000 Malawi Kwacha (TIP) and 10500 MK (insurance 30days), 1000 MK(runner) (time to cross = 1 hour)
    (notes: again the runner was almost unavoidable and at R25 he was helpful. We have heard of people getting ripped off on the insurance cost. Changing money was a problem. Money touts everywhere and we weren’t sure of exchange rates. On the Zambian side we changed $$ at the local bank (Visa ATM useless to us) into Zambian Kwacha (rate of 1-7.4) and then established the rate of exchange with the touts at 50-1 Malawi Kwacha to Zambian Kwacha. Alternative would be to make sure you get Malawi Kwacha (about 20 000) before leaving SA.)
    Malawi – Mozambique(Mwanza) - $20 (Insurance) (time to cross = 50 mins)
    (notes: there are a number of insurance companies you can buy the insurance from – while getting our passports stamped we thought we’d attracted another runner but it turned out to be a ‘velcro-style’ insurance salesman. We paid USD but could have used ZAR (220) or Meticais (660 Mt). No need to buy Meticais at all through Tete corridor – the toll fees can also be paid in USD or ZAR)
    Mozambique – Zimbabwe(Nyamapanda) - $30 (TIP), $15 (Carbon Tax), $10 (ZIMRA road access) (time to cross = 30 mins)
    (notes: virtually no runners, TIP and Carbon Tax from same building as passports, then need to walk through the boom (through customs check in fact) to ZIMRA building on left to buy that. Then walk back to car, drive through boom and park next to police tent on the right for ‘interpol’ clearance. We were expecting a run-around but armed with a secret weapon = a cheerful 17 yr old leggy daughter in shorts, you can disarm any bolshy customs official! – she also came in handy at the Malawi Moz border where she body-barged a prospective runner who left sheepishly!)
    Zimbabwe – SA(Beit Bridge) - $9 (Zim Bridge Toll fees) (time to cross = 50 mins)
    (notes: we’d read accounts of 50 min to 5 hour crossings.We’d overnighted at Lion and Elephant 75km from the border and planned to get there mid-morning to avoid the overnight busses which apparently start lining up from 3 or 4 am till after 6am. We arrived 9.30, got out of Zim quickly then queued at SA side for a while. No worries!)
    Our 12th border had been conquered! Not one incident with any officials; all in all we paid 2 runners nominal amounts and one carguard. Phew!
    At a few border crossings we had to undergo a health check (digital thermometer placed near the forehead). We were asked for our vaccination cards which we had, although we did not need yellow fever and other vaccinations were voluntary so we might not have had cards. The Cape Town Travel Clinic had given us a stamped letter from the Dept of Health confirming that yellow fever was not needed. One official was delighted with this confirmation!
    Road Blocks
    Lots and lots, from veterinary stops in Botswana to every 30-60km in Zim. At all we followed advice – remove sunglasses, smile and greet cheerfully. If you’ve learnt the local language greeting, all the better! The Zimbabweans, and some Malawians wanted to see our ‘breakdown equipment’ = fire extinguisher, two triangles, lights check and windscreen wiper check.
    I had double-checked that it was ok to move meat north and east in Botswana. One over-zealous female official asked to check the fridge which requires standing on the tail gate and emptying a whole lot of stuff before getting to red meat. In the process she spied the 4x Amstel! After allowing me to put my Pick n Pay lamb chops back into my fridge, she suggested I give her 2 Amstel. A queue of cars had gathered behind and she got jumpy when I told her ‘I don’t think so’. She waved us on in a hurry.
    In Tete city a policeman pulled us over for driving with our headlights on – a habit for safety reasons. He said in this country we don’t do that and suggested a 2000Mt spot fine (about R650). Again we said ‘I don’t think so’ and he replied ‘don’t do it again’. Off we drove.
    Toll roads
    Mozambique – the new toll plazas (x3) are almost ready to roll but it seemed they were still doing traffic counts. Will be able to pay in R, Mt or USD when they're open.
    We took the old bridge by mistake (as you enter Tete from Malawi there is a huge new traffic circle with no signage. We went straight onto the first of two old bridges ($1 toll fees). I think that is where you turn left to reach the new bridge downstream)
    Zimbabwe – we went through 5 x $2 toll ‘plazas’. Would help if they just used some of that money to paint lines on the roads but clearly it’s not for the roads!
    Watch the roadside speed limit signs! We had been so careful but in Zim entered an 80km/h zone which went on forever into open countryside. Just after overtaking a car (who was obviously adhering to the speed limit) we were pulled over for doing 106. We expected the worst but were fined $15!!Happy to pay we insisted on a receipt. As the cop was writing out the receipt we suggested that $10 would be a better price. He said ‘then I can’t give you a receipt’. We paid the $15 and took the receipt, happy to only be paying $15.

    Overnight stops
    I’ve included km and total travel time. Some of this included quick shopping stops, toilet breaks and border crossings. Lunch was always made and eaten while travelling, having stopped to grab supplies out of the fridge. I do not believe we could’ve chopped much time off any of these days. We deliberately suffered long days to allow us more ‘long’ stopovers at key destinations.
    Big Fig Inn, TomBurke, 3km from Groblersbrug border.
    We knew we’d arrive after dark in new camper so opted for motel accommodation. R1030 for family room.
    550km = 8hrs travelling to...
    Elephant Sands, 60kmnorth of Nata
    Potential elephant problems – witnessed an elephant step over the elephant-proofing and drink water from the toilet cistern at the ablution block. $10 pppn
    200km = 2:30 hrs travelling to...
    Kwalapa, Kasane
    Good interim campsite, best hot shower of the trip. Cheapest! P85 pppn
    Thebe Safari Lodge,Kasane
    Arrived in Kasane at 11am to claim unbookable campsites at Thebe or Chobe Lodges but they were both full. Eventually opted for Kwalapa (on the non-river side of the road). It was more than adequate and our cheapest campsite on the trip. Early the next morning we went to Thebe and claimed campsite #4. Our favourite site of the trip – sunny and grassed with a shade gazebo. You can pre-book at Thebe if you have a large group (e.g. 3 families together) as their campsites are huge – designed for overlanders. P105 pppn
    103km = 4 hrs (includes 2hr border crossing) to...
    Zambezi Waterfront,Livingstone
    Very nice campsite with access to Lodge facilities – cheapest bar drinks! $12 pppn
    500km = 7:45 hrs (no road bypass in Lusaka) to...
    Pioneer Campsite,Lusaka
    About 15km outside Lusaka, just as the scenery turns rural.Very bad 6km road to the right leads to Pioneer. $10 pppn
    688km = 10:10 hrs to...
    Track and Trail,South Luangwa
    Follow the last turnoff to the right as you approach the Luangwa River bridge. $12.50 pppn.
    Take their instruction to keep your fruit and veg in the lodge’s fridge seriously. We were raided by elephants who came for the tomato we were cutting for burgers, then smelled the onion I had forgotten about in the car, and proceeded to eat our entire dry store, packaging and all, and do some minor damage to the vehicle. It could have been a lot worse! We spent the next 2 nights sleeping in the bird hide. The elephants came back at 8pm the next night and raided other campers, and returned at 11pm to raid them again. Pepper bullets (from a semi-automatic paintball gun) and burning logs were the only things that chased them off.
    They ate digestive biscuits, 2 boxes salticrax, ouma rusks, crunchies, ultramel custard, box milk, futurelife, muesli, flour, self-raising flour, breadmix, rice, mielie meal, pasta, bread, onion, garlic, cremora, 2 x long life cream, box beetroot, butter chicken mix, eggs, popcorn kernels, packet of pesto and matsos crackers. AND ALL PACKAGING!!
    500km = 10 hrs to...
    Chembe Eagle’s Nest,Cape Maclear
    One of only two campsites at CM (other is Fat Monkey’s), at the eastern end of the bay. I used Tripadvisor to guide my choice, and was happy with the outcome. Small campsite with two nice grassy sites close to the beach, the rest were on a scruffy raised granite mound which was perfectly adequate with a nice view. $10 pppn.
    340km = 7:20 hrs to...
    Majete Wildlife Reserve
    Fortunate to have a family member working there so were heavily discounted – otherwise this is an expensive stay as it is inside the Park so park fees of $20pppd are required. Campsite has a manned bar and communal area which I think you might have to pay to use.
    535km = 10 hrs to...
    Nyamakwere Lodge(Motel), Mutoko, Zimbabwe
    They will allow camping but don’t have a campsite – they offered to open up a chalet to use the bathroom. But camping was $20 pppn and the chalets were $45 each. No brainer – we took two chalets and had beds forthe first time in 17 days!
    707km = 10:45 hrs (includes over an hour detour to Great Zimbabwe) to...
    Lion and Elephant,75km before Beit Bridge, Zimbabwe
    Booking of campsite not necessary. $10 pppn.
    623km = 9:30 hrs (includes about an hour of admin in Polokwane) to...
    Marakele NationalPark, Thabazimbi
    A last minute decision as we ended up with an extra night in SA. Campsite was full so we took a Safari Tent at R1540 for 4. Good choice! Great game viewing and scenery too.

    Other stuff
    Communication: We messed up the unbarring of our phones and gave up on communication in any serious way. Lodge and campsite wifi is intermittent and often very slow, just leading to frustration. Don’t rely on comms too much, you will be disappointed.
    Hot showers are a pleasant surprise, not a given! I think we had 3 in 3 weeks. Best shower was at midday at Kwalapa, Kasane (but by evening water had cooled down)
    Forex – we tookP500 and lots of USD. If you can get hold of at least enough Zambian and/orMalawian Kwacha to cover border fees on entry it will save you hustling with the money touts. ATM machines are dominated by VISA which was a problem for us. When you do find a Mastercard ATM you are limited to the equivalent of about R1000 or less in daily withdrawal (irrespective of your SA-based limit).
    Diesel – we had ad ouble tank of 160 litres so finding fuel was not a problem. Prices were as follows:
    Botswana =P8.25/l
    Zambia =7.59 ZMW/l
    Malawi = 734MK/l
    Zim =$1.26/l (at Masvingo – getting higher as you move further north, like in SA)

    Exchange rates –at the time they were about: (depending on who you were buying from)
    $ = R12.53(taking into account bank commissions on the USD we purchased in SA)
    $= P10
    $ = 7.4 –7.66 ZMW
    $ = 466 MK
    R = P0.62 –P0.79
    R = 0.62 ZMW
    R = 38 – 40MK

    Shopping – easy! Shoprites and Spars in most towns. Spar in Kasane had amazing red meat. At both ends of Lusaka there are at least 2 enormous SA brand shopping centres with Shoprites, Games, Pick n Pay etc (but we didn’t need anything there), New Shoprite in Lilongwe on entering the city at the new large traffic circle. Went to an oldish Shoprite in Blantyre – could well be something better. We did virtually no roadside shopping except to buy delicious breadrolls on leaving Track andTrail, South Luangwa and an expensive pineapple in Cape Maclear. We bought 5 litre water bottles at all shopping stops and only drank the water at Majete. No tummy bugs along the way!
    Park Fees
    Can’t find my notes for Chobe but I think it cost about R675 for 2 adults, 2 teenagers
    Victoria Falls (Zambian side) $75 for 3adults ($20 ea), 1 U15 ($10) and the car ($5
    South Luangwa $30 each! And $15 for the car = $135
    Lake Malawi Nat Park $10 each = $40
    Majete Wildlife Park $20 pppd + $4 for the car (kids under 12 $10)

    Road condition
    Pleasantly surprised most of the time with lots and lots of patched potholes but still slow compared to most travelling in SA. Average speed of 80km/h is attainable although 70km/h is more likely - each leg of the trip took longer than expected. On the whole signposting is poor or non-existent.
    Worst road – Luangwa Bridge to Chipata. This road will be awful for at least another 2 years, maybe longer. There are new sections, broken sections, gravel/dust sections with vicious speed humps every 100m and oncoming and overtaking suicidal busses and trucks. As well as hundreds of cyclists, pedestrians and the obligatory goats.
    2nd worst road – Masvingo to Beit Bridge. Lots of trucks, ‘abnormal load’ traffic, cattle, donkeys and potholes and alarming roller-coaster dips and humps. And just as you get a rhythm going you have to stop for a roadblock!
    3rd worst road – through town of Kafue, Zambia where rumble strips have taken on a new meaning, and size. Enough to dislodge your teeth and endless!
    The windy road from Dedza to the Lake is beautiful and in reasonable condition. Lost count of the hairpin bends.
    A new road is being built from near Majete to Mwanza but it looks abandoned.

    We used the Map Studio East and Southern Africa book provided by the vehicle hire company. No GPS. And winged the rest, making 16 u-turns (the kids counted) and a few traffic circles where we completed more than a full circle while making a direction decision. Signage is not good in general, particularly in the Parks. Most people we asked for help from on the side of the road were helpful! In spite of paying top $$ for entry fees Chobe and South Luangwa had no maps for purchase and little signage in the park. Tip– at the entrance take a pic of the display map with your phone and use it as a guide. Majete had a photocopied A4 map and excellent signage.
    Favourite camp site = No.4 at Thebe River Lodge, Kasane
    Best hot shower = Kwalapa, Kasane
    Best shop =new Shoprite, Lilongwe
    Best meat =Spar, Kasane
    Best activity = sunset swim at Otter’s Point, Lake Malawi National Park
    Best gamesighting = 2 leopard and 9 lion in one place at one time at South Luangwa
    Last edited by Warrick Leslie; 2015/08/25 at 01:42 PM.

  2. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Warrick Leslie For This Useful Post:

  3. #2
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Umdloti, KZN
    Thanked: 3


    Wow Warrick, what a useful post! So much information. Thanks for taking the time. Sounded like a great trip.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Thanked: 112


    Very informative. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    Thanked: 57


    Thanks Warrick, truly an amazing trip! Will definitely use this information for future panned trips!
    Andreas Naudι
    Current Vehicle

    Good Year Wrangler Adventurers 205/75 R15
    Neotrek Little Swift roof rack

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Thanked: 868


    I would love to take a trip like this! Please post some pics

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