A Travellerspoint blog

Summary

Finally back home

I’ve come to the end of my seven months journey through Southern and Eastern Africa and arrived back home. It’s been a life long dream for me to do this once-in-a-lifetime trip and I’m very thankful and feel blessed that, despite several setbacks, I could have completed the trip and stayed safe and healthy throughout the trip.

The first month through Botswana was traumatic with multiple, severe structural breakdowns and being bogged down in deep sand for days. But I pulled through and with the help of Echo4x4, Epic4x4, Mario’s Garage in Kasane and OUTsurance my vehicles were repaired and again equipped for the Africa roads than laid ahead. The Echo caravan served me well on most of the trip but received its final fatal blow on the severe corrugations in the Serengeti, with its undercarriage badly cracked and it had to be recovered and repatriated back to South Africa by OUTsurance. OUTsurance proved that they are a reputable insurer by covering all repatriation and repair costs and the caravan was transported back to Echo4x4 on a flatbed truck to be repaired. I continued the trip with only the Land Cruiser and collected the repaired caravan in Pretoria early in December to complete my trip with it through South Africa, back to my home in Mossel Bay.

There were so many highlights of my trip that it would have made a very long list, but after a lot of consideration and eliminating the things I’ve done before, like the microlight flight over the Victoria Falls, the Chobe River Cruise, the game drives in Kruger National Park and the magnificent Drakensberg visit, the top ten in time order are:

1. The exhilarating Zambezi River white water rafting and two months later the equally exciting White Nile River white water rafting in Uganda.
2. The three relaxing and interesting Lake Tanganyika stays, including the scuba dive in Lake Tanganyika and the difficult, but rewarding hike to Kalombo Falls.
3. Amazingly clean, safe and organized Rwanda with its gorgeous tropical rain forests, unique primate wildlife, stunning volcanoes and relaxing Lake Kivu with the interesting sambaza fishing experience, fruit bats and swimming cows.
4. Gorilla, chimpanzee and other interesting primate tracking and hikes in the tropical rain forests of Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
5. The three Great Rift Valley lakes, Nakuru, Elmenteita and Naivasha in Kenya and climbing Mount Longonot.
6. The wildebeest mega herd migration and the three big cat (lion, leopard and cheetah) sightings in Maasai Mara in Kenya.
7. The tree climbing python and tree climbing lioness sightings in Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks in Tanzania.
8. The relaxing and interesting visits to the three “spice islands” Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia, the magnificent scuba dives I did on all three islands and the whale shark snorkeling on Mafia Island.
9. My three stays at Lake Malawi and the interesting cichlid scuba dives I did in the lake at Nkhata Bay and Cape Maclear.
10. The glorious, relaxing tropical stays on the Mozambique coast, the beach drives at Inhassoro, the ocean horse riding at Vilanculos as well as the multiple scuba dives in the Bazaruto archipelago, at Tofo and Santa Maria.

If I have to single out the top three highlights of the trip, it were undoubtedly firstly the two gorilla tracking experiences in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Biwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda. A close second top highlight was the magnificent wildebeest migration and big cat sightings in the Maasai Mara. Third place goes to the two exhilarating white water rafting experiences on the Zambezi and Nile rivers.

The worst parts of the trip also need mentioning in my summary and I list them here in time order:
1. Mechanical breakdowns in Botswana and the three day recovery efforts from being bogged down in the sandy tracks of Chobe National Park, Botswana.
2. The appalling state of the Zambian roads north of Lusaka.
3. The atrocious track to and back from Isanga Bay at Lake Tanganyika.
4. The destructive “road” from Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika towards the Tanzania-Rwanda border.
5. The frustrating, severe and destructive speed bumps in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
6. The mosquito swarms of Lake George in Uganda at night.
7. The atrocious and destructive Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Ruaha national park roads in Tanzania and the devastating end to the camping part of my trip with the caravan broken down for the second time in the Serengeti and had to be repatriated to South Africa.
8. The multiple, but unsuccessful attempts by Tanzanian traffic police to extort bribes from me.
9. The bad tar roads in most of Malawi, although they were good compared to the roads in Zambia and Mozambique.
10. The worst main, “tar” road ever experienced in my life in Mozambique; the EN1 south of the Zambezi to Pambarra close to Vilanculos.

I have to confess that my decision to tow a caravan was not the right decision for Africa. Although it worked for me on my Australian Big Lap, the Chobe and Eastern African roads are not suitable for towing a caravan of any size. The Chobe deep sand and hidden gravel potholes proved too much for my caravan and the destructive speed bumps in Eastern Africa, plus the extreme corrugations in Kenya and Tanzania finally destroyed my caravan for the second time. If it didn’t happen in the Serengeti it would have happened later in Ngorongoro, Ruaha, Malawi, or definitely on the EN1 in Mozambique. A trip in Africa is best travelled with a roof top tent vehicle equipped with kitchen and a shower.

The trip was an epic experience in my home continent that will be cherished forever. I have a much deeper and respectful view and understanding of Africa than what I had before I started this trip. What stands out is the friendliness and unselfish helpfulness of the various African people (hosts, fellow travelers and the general public) during the trip. Never did I feel unsafe or threatened by local people that I encountered on this trip and I always felt welcome, respected and admired, even in areas that would be deemed as very unsafe if they were in South Africa. There were a few encounters with arrogant and corrupt police and border officials in Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania but with a mix of a resolute anti-bribery strategy, patience and selective forcefulness it turned out well for me and I did not pay a single bribe. All the other officials and police that were encountered were very friendly and helpful.

I was blessed to meet so many friendly and interesting people on the way and I’ve made friends in most of the counties I’ve visited and will keep contact with them.

As a wildlife and aquatic life enthusiast I immensely enjoyed the sightings of species I’ve never seen before. This included 13 new primate species, 14 new antelope species, 2 new giraffe species, 18 new bird species, 1 new reptile specie and many new fish species, particularly the cichlids of Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi. Sightings of species I’ve seen before were all just as exciting and I was never bored with the African bush and savanna, its wild inhabitants or with the underwater world of the Great Africa Lakes and the Indian Ocean.

The vast, unspoiled nature areas with vibrant wildlife still left in Africa impressed me, although it’s constantly being threatened by human expansion, poaching and exploitation. For example Rwanda and Uganda still have forest elephants left in some of their rainforest, compared to the Knysna Forest in South Africa where the forest elephant have become extinct. We should all actively encourage and support the protection and expansion of these nature and wildlife areas and the protection of their wild inhabitants for us and our descendants to enjoy in perpetuity.

Although I have travelled for a little more than seven months and covered 24,200 kilometers, I’ve explored only a relatively small part of the African continent, considering how big Africa is. I experienced Africa as a traveler and not as a tourist. A tourist wants to escape life, but a traveler wants to experience life. I stayed in more than a hundred places in 9 countries, visiting 42 national parks and nature reserves, scuba dived at 10 different places, but still I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what Africa can offer.

A special word of thanks to my dear friends that joined me on this trip. Fei Fei who joined me in Botswana and Zambia for almost a month, but had to return to China to support her sick mother. Corlette who joined me for two months in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, but had to return to South Africa to continue with her business. Without you it would have been a very lonely journey!

I also want to thank all 53 subscribers to my travel blog and especially those that made the effort to post comments, many of you on a regular basis. This was a huge encouragement and inspiration for me. A total of 383 comments were posted. Many friends and family members also supported with private messages of interest, support and encouragement throughout the trip. Thank you so much! Then there were the silent observers. My blog received 10,410 page views and that number keeps growing by the day.

I can’t help to compare my 12+ month Australia Big Lap in 2012/13 with this African Big Lap. Although the Australian experience was also rough, remote, diverse and extremely interesting, the African trip was much more tough, hard-core, primitive and intense, but also much closer to my heart. I can now confidently state that I’ve seen and experienced more of Australia and Africa than most Australians and Africans.

If I’m still blessed with good health I would like to do a few more Big Laps in other continents before my biological clock prevents me from doing it.

Ernest Hemingway’s words “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy” describe my trip in one sentence. Out on the savanna plains, high up in the volcanic mountains, in the deep rain forests, next to the African Great Lakes, on the tropical islands, on the beautiful, remote beaches or beneath the surface of the Great Lakes and Indian ocean, there was no suggestion of time. My mind was cleansed of care and absorbed in each magic moment. It was possible to patiently wait for a pride of lions to stir, for a mother elephant to shepherd her baby across a road or river, for a mega herd of wildebeest to cross the road, for a gorilla mother to nurse her baby, for a chimpanzee to show his face clearly, for a butterfly to settle on a flower, for a pair of clown fish to find a hiding place on their anemone or for a cichlid to turn for a better photo and not feel even an inkling of impatience. My human encounters taught me African patience as well. The Swahili words Hakuna Matata (no worries) and Pole Pole (take it slow) describe it well.

I sign off with a few special videos of this once-in-a-lifetime journey through parts of the most diverse, awe-inspiring, wild and primeval continent on earth.

Posted by Malan 04:55 Archived in South Africa Comments (4)

Chintsa

Wild Coast

rain 17 °C
View Africa Big Lap on Malan's travel map.

Chintsa is a small holiday village on the Wild Coast 36 kilometers north of East London, situated on both sides of the Chintsa River.

I have been here holidaying with my parents as a small boy, but the only memories I have of it is the black and white photos that I have kept for years.

I camped at Buccaneers in Chintsa West and campsites were large open spaces near the path that led to the beach. There were no other campers around and it was a peaceful two day stay.

Buccaneers campsite

Buccaneers campsite

The first day was the first nice day after all the rain more north and I used it to explore the lagoon and beach.

Buccaneers

Buccaneers

Chintsa East

Chintsa East

Chintsa lagoon

Chintsa lagoon

Chintsa beach

Chintsa beach

Chintsa beach

Chintsa beach

Chintsa River and lagoon

Chintsa River and lagoon

The second day it started to rain again and I decided to pack up and drive to Port Elizabeth which will be my last overnight stay before returning home in Mossel Bay.

Posted by Malan 15:20 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Mt Currie Nature Reserve

Kokstad

Mount Currie Nature Reserve is situated a few kilometers north of Kokstad and is the only protected area in East Griqualand.

The scenery was beautiful but the weather was very unpleasant when I arrived, with a very strong cold wind, with lots of rain right through the afternoon and night. I couldn’t open my kitchen to cook, but did get a few minutes when there was a gap in the rain to heat up some left over chops in the microwave.

Mt Currie Nature Reserve

Mt Currie Nature Reserve

Mt Currie campsite

Mt Currie campsite


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There are zebra and bontebok in the Reserve but I didn’t see any, maybe because of the rain and cold.

The weather forecast predicted rain for another day and I decided to move further south, hopefully to better weather. I will travel through the Transkei, heading for Chintsa on the coast, north of East London.

Posted by Malan 05:32 Comments (0)

Drakensberg

World Heritage Site

rain 14 °C
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The Drakensberg is South Africa’s top mountain destination and the most beautiful mountain scenery of this trip, even topping the Virunga Volcanoes in Rwanda.

It’s been a few decades since I last visited the Drakensberg and I was keen to explore these magnificent mountains again. I decided to divide my stay in two parts; first the northern part at Monk’s Cowl/Giant’s Castle and then move down to the southern part of the park at Garden Castle.

I collected my repaired caravan from Echo4x4 in Centurion and drove 6.5 hours to reach the Injisuthi Camp which is located between Monk’s Cowl and Giant’s Castle in the Northern Drakensberg. The last 20 kilometers from Loskop was a very potholed and narrow track but it presented spectacular views of the lush green mountains and valleys. The Drakensberg in summer is one of the most scenic places on Earth!

Northern Drakensberg

Northern Drakensberg

Northern Drakensberg

Northern Drakensberg

Road to Injisuthi

Road to Injisuthi

The Injisuthi Camp is nestled between the Injisuthi and Cowl Fork Rivers and is a hikers paradise. The camp had clean ablutions with warm showers at a rate of R140 per night.

Injisuthi Camp

Injisuthi Camp

Thunderstorm in the distance

Thunderstorm in the distance

large_594ED8D7-5201-4639-8A9D-570FC746E46E.jpegInjisuthi Rivers

Injisuthi Rivers

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It was surprisingly comfortable to sleep in my caravan again and to enjoy camping life again instead of staying in lodges or hotels. It’s been almost three months since I had to abandon my damaged caravan in the Serengeti and continue the trip without it. Echo4x4 did a marvelous job of not only replacing the complete undercarriage, suspension and tow hitch but also cleaning the inside and outside that would have taken me weeks to do, as it was in a very dirty state when I left it in the Serengeti. It felt like a new caravan to me.

My planned hikes didn’t happen because low clouds moved in a dit started to rain. When the weather didn’t improve I packed up and decided to travel south to the Garden Castle part of the Southern Drakensberg.

The whole way it was raining and approaching Underberg the road was covered with low clouds. The weather forecast showed that the rainy conditions will continue for a few more days, which would make a visit in the mountains unpleasant. I therefore decided to drive to Kokstad to camp at Mt Currie Nature Reserve for a couple of nights.

Posted by Malan 12:33 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Kruger National Park

South Africa’s top safari destination

sunny 32 °C
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Kruger National Park is South Africa’s top wildlife park and covers and area of 19,623 square kilometers. Kruger is my favorite safari park and I’ve visited Kruger uncountable times in my life, but since 2015 I’ve visited it once or twice every year.

I’ve always been very lucky with big cat sightings in Kruger and was keen to see if my luck was still intact and to freshly assess how Kruger compares with the many safari national parks I visited on this Africa Big Lap trip.

I crossed the border at the infamous Lebombo Border that was in the news recently for massive blockades and torching of cars. The dispute was luckily settled and the border worked efficiently and I crossed both sides within an hour, with the Mozambique side the most efficient.

I must admit it was nice to drive back into South Africa after almost seven months absence. I appreciated the relatively good roads and the well stocked supermarket with food that I missed like “beskuit” (rusks), quality meat and my favorite, biltong. It was the first time I had biltong since Botswana, six months ago!

I visited the doctor and he confirmed it’s a viral infection and not malaria and gave me additional medication that sorted me out very quickly.

This time I didn’t stay in the national park but in a place called Elephant Walk Retreat, just outside the Crocodile Bridge Gate, with nice views of elephants, buffaloes, hippos and other wildlife on both sides of the Crocodile River.

View from Elephant Walk Retreat

View from Elephant Walk Retreat


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I did four game drives, two early morning and two late afternoon drives, each time entering the park through Crocodile Bridge Gate.

The first morning I saw a female cheetah that was busy enjoying her kill, constantly looking around for other predators that will steal her food. She eventually finished and walked past, creating a nice photo opportunity. After that great sighting I saw 5 lion sightings in different locations. Later I saw a hyena walking along the tar road and in followed her to take a video. I also saw a buffalo and several elephants sightings. The beautiful green scenery of the Kruger bush reminded me why I love this place so much.

The next day was not that lucky but I had a good sighting of two female lions, who were interested in a passing warthog, but wise enough not to spend their energy chasing after this agile little creature. On the afternoon drive I also had a sighting of three very lazy lions, the 7th lion sighting for this Kruger visit. The final big sighting was a large herd of buffalo between 200 and 300 animals crossing the road.

Cheetah

Cheetah


large_95CE3FA9-6740-4DF9-9CD9-98A7FE6E5473.jpeglarge_646A1456-F86D-4F05-9F07-9AF7406A5D6C.jpegFemale lion

Female lion

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Watching the warthog

Watching the warthog

large_906F9663-61E0-4C23-8E1B-D99B30556024.jpegElephant herd

Elephant herd

Juvenile Bateleur

Juvenile Bateleur

Lesser-spotted Eagle

Lesser-spotted Eagle

Marabou stork, one of the ugly five

Marabou stork, one of the ugly five

Mud bath heaven

Mud bath heaven


Large herd of Cape Buffalo crossing the road

Large herd of Cape Buffalo crossing the road

My rating of Kruger National Park compared to the 25 safari wildlife parks I’ve visited on this trip is that only Maasai Mara is worthy of a higher rating. I would rate the top 10 safari wildlife national parks on my trip as follows:

  1. Maasai Mara (Kenya)
  2. Kruger (South Africa)
  3. Tsavo East (Kenya)
  4. Chobe (Botswana)
  5. Murchison Falls (Uganda)
  6. Lower Zambezi (Zambia)
  7. Queen Elizabeth (Uganda)
  8. Tarangire (Tanzania)
  9. Serengeti (Tanzania)
  10. Lake Nakuru (Kenya)

From here I will travel to Pretoria where I will stay with Willie, an old friend of mine and pick up my caravan which was repaired by Echo4x4 to continue to the Drakensberg for 5-6 days before heading back home.

Posted by Malan 06:18 Archived in South Africa Comments (5)

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