Desert Sojourn through Africa
​Dateline: June 2016
Ron and Viv hit the sand roads through Botswana and Namibia in their latest African 4WD Adventure. 
The herd was agitated. Ears flapping, heads raised and swinging one way and then the other, dust swirling around stomping feet ... we pulled the Hilux to a halt on the narrow track. I had seen what an angry elephant could do to a Hilux a few years previously in Kruger National Park and you need to treat them with a huge degree of respect and keeping one's distance is part of that. More trumpeting and dust flying. Rob my mate who was driving, slipped the Hilux into reverse, ready for a hasty retreat.
 
Slowly the herd began to move away from the water point, their thirst satiated, but they were in no hurry to clear the track. The matriarch still watched us intently, ears wide, trunk uplifted, while ensuring here brood was safe and happy and working their way into the safer sanctuary of the thick Mopani scrub.
 
We edged along the track, ready at any moment to beat a hasty retreat or to rush the Hilux through, whichever we thought was best at the time. Luckily for us, most of the herd had vanished into the thick bush and only a couple of older animals watched us drive by. Hearts and blood pressure slowly came back to normal as we continued on the sandy, chopped up road.
    
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Large Elephant herds abound in Tarangire NP, Tanzania.
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A fantastic sighting of a Black Rhino in Etosha NP, Namibia.
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Victoria Falls - a place not to miss.

A friendly local.

We were on a sidetrack around a flooded section of the sand road south of the Mababe Gate of the Chobe National Park, in tribal lands heading to the tourist outpost and gateway to the famed Okavango Delta, of Maun. The annual flood of the Okavango Delta was occurring and pushing tendrils of water through the parched land and across the main track, hence the lengthy diversion. With the water came life to the surrounding forest and mobs of wild animals followed the water looking for fresh feed or easy prey; this was life and death in the African bush as it had always been.  

Our trip - a family sabbatical that our son had organised - had started two weeks earlier when we had stayed at the luxury Swala Camp (run by Sanctuary Retreats) in a remote section of the elephant loaded Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania.
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The sand road demanded lower tyre pressures.
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Our elephant confrontation.
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Police gates and vet gate checks are common through Botswana.
We did the tourist thing for the next week as we took in the incredible variety and extravaganza of wildlife in the Ngorongoro Crater and the delight of Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, before flying south to Victoria Falls and the Sussi & Chuma camp on the banks of the Zambezi River. Here our hire vehicles - a V6 petrol Hilux and a 76 Series Cruiser, with the 1HZ engine, were waiting for the rest of our adventure. We crossed into Botswana at the hectic border of Kazungula and took the short ferry ride across the Zambezi. A few fantastic days at Sanctuary's Chobe Chilwero Camp followed before we set off on our drive south through the desert country and our meeting with the elephants.

We stopped here, not far from our desert elephant confrontation in this isolated area for a couple of days at the Mogotlho Safari Lodge where few travellers pull-up for more than a rest or an overnight stop. Still we had more encounters with elephants, hippo's and more and no other tourists to crowd us, with the girls spending an hour with a young leopard, just metres from their car. We had earlier split into a boys and girls vehicle for a day and told them not to follow us; they were elated and told us endlessly about this magnificent elusive beast which we had missed completely - so are the vagaries of wildlife watching. We'll never be allowed to forget it! 
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The Okavango from the air shows a mosaic of waters and islands.
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A watery road in the Okavango.
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Moonie enjoys a croc free pool in the middle of the Okavango at the luxury Stanley Camp.
Access into the Okavango when the flood is pushing deep into the desert is by plane and boat, with road and track access extremely limited, although once you are on an island in the delta, like we were after a 20 minute flight, movement was in specially modified Cruisers which were running tall 9x16 inch tyres on split rims. At times we ploughed through water for kilometres and it is no wonder that the service schedule on these hard working rigs, that at times were more like boats than trucks, is excessive, with oil changes and greasing of wheel bearings happening every couple of weeks; every year when the tourist season ends, the running gear is completely rebuilt.

We stayed at the luxurious Baines Camp (named after Thomas Baines, the artist who also painted in Australia when he was a member of the 1855 A.C Gregory Expedition across the top of Australia) and the little less extravagant Stanley Camp (which was our favourite though), savouring this watery wonderland that is often referred to as 'Africa's Last Eden'. It is an incredible experience and while the wildlife is plentiful, we've found after four trips to the delta (not all as luxurious as this one!) that the wildlife isn't as easy to find or see, as say in Chobe - which is still, after a half a dozen visits, one of our most favourite parks in all of Africa.

Back at Maun after our delta adventure we said goodbye to half our group who were heading for Johannesburg and a flight home, while four of us slipped into the Hilux for a three-week journey through Namibia. This was to be a low-key affair with a mix of accommodation and camping in places as diverse as national parks, local hotels, game farms, private reserves and guesthouses. Why such an eclectic collection of accommodation? When we were running tag-along trips in Africa back a few years ago we found our fellow travellers loved the variety and the chance of meeting not only other travellers but also local farmers and workers, all of whom gave a different insight into life in Africa. It is something we try and do on every trip we have on that fabulous continent.
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The girls leopard.
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We all managed to see this magnificent leopard in Chobe NP, Botswana.
After a couple of days travelling we were in Etosha National Park, one of the great parks of Africa set in desert country in the north of the country. A vast pan - similar to Lake Eyre although a bit smaller - takes up the heart of the reserve, but around it ebbs and flows an incredible amount of wildlife that take succour from the nutrient rich dry grass and hardy scrubs while wandering from one waterhole to another. Small mobs of elephants, many groups of giraffe, sprightly herds of antelope and gazelle (there are more than 10 different species), along with zebra, warthogs and if you are lucky, black and white rhinos. Of course the predators are there too, from the cheeky jackals that show no fear of lions and delightful bat-eared foxes and snappy mongooses, to fast moving timid cheetahs and surprisingly common but evasive leopards. 

From Etosha our route took us through the dry desert country of the Himba people, traditional cattle herders who at present are having a hard time because of the drought gripping the country. In the towns a mix of cultures and people gather, the most obvious being not only the semi-naked Himba but the well dressed and groomed Herero people, the woman especially standing out in their finery of full length dresses and wide cow-shaped horn headgear.

We slipped through the tourist enclave off Swakopmund - a coastal town, rich in German heritage that is cooled by the cold Benguela Current, the town offering not only some fine restaurants and other beachside delights, but also a reprieve from the hot desert air that dominates much of Namibia.

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Giraffes are surprisingly common in Etosha.
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Campgrounds at Etosha are well set up.
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A dust bath for an elephant mother and her calf in Etosha.
From here we headed south through drier and drier desert country, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn and passing through a touch of green where a rare recent rainstorm had splashed water and brought with it life. The country began to improve with short wiry grass covering the rolling plain and we started to see gemsbuck, springbuck and zebra, even though we were well away from any reserve or protected area. We stopped at the small village of Solitaire, more just a scattering of buildings that is the roadhouse and that now, since our last visit a few years ago, also boasts a bakery; don't expect to much of a choice though, but the coffee wasn't half bad!

Next morning we entered the vast Namib-Naukluft National Park, which covers more than 50,000sqkm and is more famously known for the Sossusvlei Dunes, some of which are amongst the tallest dunes in the world, towering over 300 metres above the sand plain that surrounds them. It was early morning, the sun just coming up behind us and white cloud hung amongst these red giants; it was a spectacular and somewhat eerie sight and one we had not seen before. Feeling a little over energetic Rob and I climbed Dune 45, a baby of just 85 metres, but still the climb up the ridge left us hot and panting in the cool mist-laden air. The view from the sharp-edged crest though was magnificent.

The road continues deeper into the dune field to end at a small car park, more crowded than we had ever seen it (it was school holidays in both Namibia and adjoining South Africa, so there were a lot of people travelling around). From the car park most people take the short walk to Sossusvlei itself (a small pan or dry salt lake surrounded by big dunes), or a strenuous climb to the top of 'Big Daddy', at 325 metres one of the biggest dunes in the area ... but not the biggest. That accolade goes to Dune 7, which at 388 metres above the plain makes our Big Red on the edge of the Simpson Desert look pretty small. 
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Heading south through the desert mountains of Namibia.
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At the Tropic of Capricorn.
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Heading west across Namibia.
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From the crest of Dune 45 in the Sossusvlei Dunes.
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About to climb to the crest of Dune 45 in the Sossusvlei Dunes.
Over the next two days we headed west, stopping at the great little pub in Maltahohe for one night before meeting with the blacktop for the run east to more civilised places. Turning south on the main highway we again pulled up for the night at Whitehouse guesthouse and camp just north of Grunau, which is a top spot to stay at - in fact we'll stay for longer next time!

We crossed the border into South Africa and at Upington which is a major town in this part of South Africa we turned north, stopping overnight at the Molopo Safari Lodge before taking in the delights of the Kgalagardi Transfrontier Park which straddles the border of Botswana and South Africa. We've been here before and while this park is well known for its cheetahs, luck evaded us this trip and while we saw plenty of desert animals and lions, the fast moving spotted cat eluded us. Still it was a fitting end to our wanderings and we headed for Johannesburg and a long plane flight.

Still after a dozen long trips to Africa, including a 10-month overland journey from the southern most tip to the northern extremity of this great continent, we knew we'd be back ... we can't stay away. You'll probably end up the same - but whatever you do, go to Africa at least once!
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Desert farmhouse offers camping and accommodation in Namibia.
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These cute ground squirrels were a delight to watch.
Travel Planner
Self-Drive
Southern Africa is an easy and enjoyable destination for four-wheel drivers to enjoy on a self-drive holiday. There is not only South Africa to explore but also Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland to enjoy.

If you are going for less than three months its more economical to hire a fully set up 4WD vehicle from one of the many hire car companies. We always use AfriTrax 4x4 Offroad rentals (www.afritrax.co.za). They can supply not only vehicles but also a full complement of camping gear, and even suggested itineraries and a driver if required.

Longer trips and those further afield to East Africa you should think of taking your own vehicle. See our website - www.guidebooks.com.au - for info on taking your own vehicle to Africa.

Start your trip in Johannesburg by staying at the Farm Inn (www.farminn.co.za)- just on the outskirts of Pretoria where you'll get a taste of Africa. It's also close to Afritrax headquarters, which will deliver vehicles there for you.

For exclusive luxury stays in a number of Africa's best wildlife destinations, check out Sanctuary Retreats (www.sanctuaryretreats.com) - their small intimate camps are fantastic!

For info on Giraffe Manor, Kenya see: www.thesafaricollection.com/properties/giraffe-manor/

To start your Botswana adventure check out: www.botswanatourism.co.bw.

For Mogotlho Safari Lodge, Botswana, visit: www.mogotlhosafarilodge.co.za

For info on Namibia visit: www.namibiatourism.com.na.

The White House Guesthouse located on a farm amongst pleasant rocky hills has camping and accommodation, see:  www.withuis.iway.na

For camping and info on Kruger NP (don't miss it) and all the parks in South Africa visit, www.sanparks.org.

Our road trip was during the South African school holidays and many places were booked out. Take heed and plan your trip accordingly.

Still, there's one big trouble with going to Africa on a safari though - you'll never go just once!
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​Copyright Ron & Viv Moon