Overlanding: Johannesburg to Victoria Falls

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This is a summary of a brilliant 10 day over-landing and camping adventure run by Intrepid tour company which they call ‘Okavango Experience‘.

Intrepid began in 1988 and as well as offering a huge range of adventure trips they are also dedicated to responsible travel for example by strongly discouraging the use of plastic bags (we were each given a cotton shopping bag when we arrived), discouraging plastic bottles (we had to bring our own re-fillable water bottle) and by not participating in animal activities such as elephant riding. And Chris, Annabelle (my step-daughter) and I had a wonderful Intrepid Central American adventure in 2016… This time however I shared my African adventure with my daughter Zoe 🙂

Day 1: Johannesburg

Following our hop on/hop off bus sightseeing tour we met the other 20 Intrepid guests at the 6 pm welcome meeting at the Holiday Inn Rosebank, Johannesburg. We were to be looked after by Jay (the tour leader), Raynard (the chef) and Ernest (the driver).

There was a wide range of solo and couples of fellow travellers with ages ranging from 18 to around 70 and from the UK, Canada, Australia and the US. And Sebastian from Austria. They seemed a great group of people and everyone was in high spirits even when Jay informed us our over-landing truck would be leaving by 5 am the following morning!

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Intrepid overlanding truck

 

Day 2: Kharma Rhino Sanctuary

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We travelled for approximately 9 hours which included the border crossing between South Africa and Botswana. We had to wait for about 45 minutes while the necessary paperwork was completed but we were soon on our way to Botswana’s Kharma Rhino Sanctuary.

How lucky were we that the truck was only 3 weeks old! Being purpose built it had plenty of storage underneath, USB and UK plug charging points and a couple of large fridges (one for us Intrepid guests and one for Raynard to store our trip food).

We stopped en-route at a shopping centre and Zoe and I hurriedly purchased a coat each (for about £7). From discussion at the welcome meeting we hadn’t anticipated that it might get cold in Africa! (And slap on the wrist for not reading the trip notes carefully…)

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We were staying within a campsite in the sanctuary and upon arrival, Jay showed everyone how to put the two person tents up. Fortunately this didn’t seem too difficult… As well as the tents, Intrepid provided a thick mattress for everyone… well, these were thicker than the camping mattresses Chris and I have for our UK camping trips… As soon as the tents were up, two land rover type vehicles arrived to take us on our first game drive…

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Wow! The drive lasted for a couple of hours and it was incredible to see rhino’s and giraffes at such close range! We also saw ostriches and smaller animals such as gazelles.

It was dark when we arrived back at the camp where Raynard had prepared our first camp dinner of pasta bolognaise! With 7 vegetarians and one gluten free on the trip he expertly catered for everyone. We sat around the camp fire to eat our dinner and, feeling quite exhaused, most of us had an early night back to our tents.

 

Day 3: Maun

So… camping last night was cold! Complete with several layers including a fleece and newly acquired coat, Michelin woman like, I had squeezed myself into my sleeping bag and managed to get some sleep… Being on the edge of the Kalahari desert as one might expect, deserts are hot in the day and cold at night…

Raynard had prepared breakfast which consisted of cereals, yogurts, bread, buttermilk rusks (surprisingly tasty) and coffee/tea/hot chocolate. We sat in our camp circle in the early hours of the morning before setting off at 7 am.

We had another long journey of about 8-9 hours in the truck to Maun (pronounced ‘M-ow-n’) today. Before arriving at the campsite we stopped at a small shopping centre to have lunch, buy a few supplies and exchange currency.

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To our delight, the campsite was part of the Sedia Riverside Hotel! Unlike the previous campsite which had limited facilities there was a restaurant, swimming pool and bar 🙂

There was also a small shop, a 5 minute walk from the hotel where we could stock up on any alcohol we wanted to take to the Delta. There was a surprisingly good range of beers, lagers, wines and spirits.

Following a civilised cocktail at the poolside bar we had another of Raynard’s delicious camp dinner’s tonight! I think this may have been the evening we tried Pap! Pap is a maize based dish with a mashed potato like consistency and is one of Southern Africa’s staples. This was washed down with a refreshingly cold lemon and vodka based (Bacardi Breezer type) drink as purchased earlier from the shop (and kept cool in the handy fridge on the truck).

 

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Mokoro on the Okavango Delta

Days 4 – 6: Okavango Delta

A 3 day adventure into the wilderness and with a separate up-and-coming Okavango Delta blog post!

 

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Camping in Maun

Upon arrival back at the Sedia Riverside Hotel in Maun, Zoe and I had opted for an optional activity which was a scenic sightseeing flight over the Okavango Delta! After setting up our tents followed by a much welcomed shower we were driven the short distance to Maun airport where, after going through airport security procedures we boarded our small 5 seater plane (with the 6th seat being the pilot).

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Intrepid group L to R: Tori, Erin, Dyllan, Zoe, Laura
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Taking off over Maun

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Spot the giraffe!

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The flight lasted for 45 minutes and the pilot flew at an altitude of about 100 – 150 metres. I was amazed by the number of elephants, giraffes, hippos etc we could actually see from the air. Taking photos however was difficult… as soon as we saw an animal and the camera focussed on it, we had flown past… but what a brilliant and life long memorable experience!

Giving Raynard a night off, the hotel provided a buffet dinner tonight and our party of 22 had a long table beside the swimming pool. We were able to order drinks etc from the bar and then retire back to our tents in the adjacent campsite.

 

Day 7: Nata

The drive to Nata took around 6 hours. We arrived at lunchtime at the Nata Lodge hotel and campsite. Our campsites seemed to get better and better… this had hot and powerful showers, a pool, bar, restaurant, gift shop and even a small nature reserve of its own.

Lunch was included on this day and the younger contingent i.e. Zoe and her two friends Amy and Mara helped to prepare rolls with cheese, ham, salad, fresh fruit etc. (Everyone was expected to assist from time to time with food preparation and washing up although throughout the trip, this was far less than I had been anticipating…)

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Lilac breasted roller

We had time in the afternoon for some relaxation before being collected for our trip to the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Just inside the entrance we were lucky to spot a beautifully coloured lilac breasted roller (above) which posed long enough for me to take a photo!

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We drove through the Makgadikgadi salt flats which are some of the largest in the World (and reminded me of the excellent 2016 trip to the Bolivian salt flats…)

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On this trip we saw wildebeest (above) and flamingos (below).

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The trip ended with a fabulous sunset over the flooded part of the salt pans. This water stretches for many km’s and is only about 1 metre deep. August is usually the dry season but the salt pans have remained flooded for the past couple of years.

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Intrepid group (photo thanks to Tori)

We were provided with an iced cooler box of alcohol (beer/cider/smirnoff/soft drinks) and some popcorn as we watched the sunset…

The Makgadikgadi salt pans is a remote, desolate yet incredible place.

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Packing up after breakfast

 

Day 8: Chobe National Park

The 6-7 hour drive from Nata to Chobe was jam packed with wildlife! Compared with UK roads, the road was quiet with just a small number of passing vehicles. However on this trip by the roadside we saw elephants, impalas, jackals, warthogs, baboons, black sabels (rare and expensive apparently), eagles, a circling vulture, ostriches and a giraffe!

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During the afternoon we had an included river cruise which took us through the Chobe National Park.

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This was the one excursion where we saw the largest abundance of animals! We saw elephants, giraffes, hippos, allegators, monkeys, wildebeeste and gazelle like animals while sailing down the river!

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Elephants crossing the river

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Relaxing on the sunset cruise
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The river boat

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Day 9: Victoria Falls

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Today we crossed over into Zimbabwe and onto Victoria Falls and our final campsite! On this occasion Zoe and I upgraded to a chalet and more information will shortly be available in a separate Victoria Falls post.

Raynard had a night off from his wonderful cooking and the group had our final farewell dinner together in the ‘In-Da-Belly’ restaurant on the campsite. Above is a display of African music and dancing.

 

Day 10: Victoria Falls (and little foray into Zambia)

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View of the gorge from the Vic Falls Bridge

So… last day and a morning to kill… Zambia is next door and we had heard about the spectacular views from the bridge (as well as the opportunity to pop into Zambia)… what could go wrong?

Together with 3 Intrepid mates, Zoe and I set off at 7:30 am to walk to Zambia… We cheerfully walked towards the border (just before the bridge) and happened to catch up with a local woman on her way to work (at the Victoria Falls cafe)… “Watch out” she said… fresh elephant dung on the path means wild elephant in the vicinity… err… noted!

The immigration from Zimbabwe to Zambia was quick and easy (we had purchased the joint visa yesterday). On with crossing the bridge…

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Terry, Ruby, Mary, Zoe, Laura on the Vic Falls Bridge

The centre of the bridge was the official border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and offered spectacular views of the Zambezi River and gorge.

Entry into Zambia was also quick and easy… a short stroll past 150 or so Zambian baboons who were quietly minding their own business… quick visit to a shop to buy some biscuits…

Jeez…. as we walked back past the baboons a huge, sinister and mean looking baboon glared at us and before we knew it had run at Mary to snatch her biscuits! What a scary moment! He could have scratched or bitten Mary, snatched our bags with our passports and caused us all kinds of problems! And what if the rest of them had joined in? Thankfully they didn’t and we calmly walked on our way. But a huge lesson learned about not carrying food in front of such creatures… (And I was highly impressed with Mary’s quick thinking as she realised immediately and threw the biscuits towards him…)

The trip walking back into Zimbabwe was uneventful with no more matata… (matata is a Swahili phase that means ‘problem’). From the Zambian side of the Vic Falls you can walk underneath them but unfortunately we didn’t have time so this is something for a possible future visit…

Sadly the end of our African adventure… Zoe and I said our goodbyes and set off for our 3 x flights (Vic Falls to Jo’burg, then Jo’burg to Dubai and Dubai to London) for our 24 hour journey home…

 

Summary

Another awesome Intrepid trip! I can’t wait to book up more… I have India, Nepal, Colombia, Ecuador, Namibia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burma in mind…

Unlike my 2016 Intrepid Central American Journey this trip provided the majority of meals and excursions which meant very little spending money was needed. It was different as it was camping rather than staying in budget hotels but both trips have been fantastic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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