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A short drive in the Southern Hemisphere

Africa Blog Archive

The African trip entries and photos transferred from the blog.

View Article  Cape Town - just arrived back in the Dark Continent
by ash on Thu 06 Nov 2008 18:35 GMT

We arrived in Cape Town yesterday after five years at sea.  So after the assurances that we would have Florence by late afternoon we then found out that it would the following day, so we escaped the docks to CenturyCity first and then took a short trip down to the Waterfront.

 The Land Rover was offloaded from the ship at 2100 last night and we have just cleared Customs this morning. So, between leaving her in the hands of the shippers and various others, somebody has bust a bonnet lock and scratched and dented one side and the roof.  True to form, everyone is tutting and shrugging and has no idea when or who, just that it wasn’t them.  Just as well we locked up the back otherwise we’d be looking at an empty shell no doubt…

 Still she’s driveable so we’re on our way again – this time Due North to Namibia.

 Still Smiling


Ash & Gill

Tuesday, December 9
View Article  West Coast National Park 7-8th November 2008
by ash on Tue 09 Dec 2008 15:23 GMT

These were our first days driving Flo on the open road, just a short trip up the coast to the WCNP and Abrahams Kraal Cottage.  We stayed in the cottage which is splendidly isolated from the rest of the world whilst we unpacked and ordered our kit before fixing it all back in or on the roof rack.  It took two days in all before we could move off again.

 The park is a very nice quiet park, an ideal place to stay and unwind…as long as you don’t mind snakes.  We must have seen at least 2000 puff adders during our stay.  In fact the fauna of the area consisted mainly of snakes, tortoises and ostriches.  When we went for a walk we armed ourselves with pepper spray, truncheons and cattle prods just in case!

View Article  Citrusdal Baths, Sunday 9th November 2008
by ash on Tue 09 Dec 2008 15:23 GMT

After the stress of “Puff Adder World” we needed to relax, and where better than “The Baths” in Citrusdal (Cedarberg).

 The campsite was a pleasant wooded glade with power and water to each pitch, the stream from the hot spring ran passed the back of Flo.  The hot springs are well used to fill two huge swimming pools, one kept at the natural spring temperature of 43 degrees C, the other allowed to cool down somewhat. But there are also five private bath houses all free to use and first come first served, absolutely brilliant for easing away the aches and pains of everyday life.  And all included for the price of ZAR112 per night.

 Unfortunately, we only stayed one night before moving on, everybody else seemed to be staying for five nights or more…

View Article  SMS from 881631666970@msg.iridium.com
by ash on Tue 11 Nov 2008 14:30 GMT

Unfortunately this fine premium beverage is now nearly 80p a pint in the pubs!

View Article  The Road North and the Richtersveldt National Park 12-15th November 2008
by ash on Tue 09 Dec 2008 15:23 GMT

The road north was easy going, if a little straight and uneventful, and after a shopping and overnight stop in Springbok at the Kokerboom Motel/Campsite, we carried on to Port Nolloth; an interesting little town on the Atlantic coast.  We stayed at the campsite, the waves were coming in about ten yards behind where we parked up, a great location but let down by the slightly dilapidated condition of the place, maybe it’ll be spruced up before the holiday season.

 Alexander Bay next; a diamond mining town, we had to get a permit to enter before going to the shops, so we thought we would do some sand driving and recovery drills on the beach.  The lesson started with driving in high range on road tyre pressures to see how far we could get.  About two seconds later we conducted the first recovery practice, and then we set the tyre pressures and low range and carried on.  A short delay was experienced whilst the air compressor electrical connector melted and blew a main fuse.  A “temporary repair” was made in double quick time whilst Gill pointedly did not look for any diamonds lying around on the beach – didn’t find any either!

 The Ai-Ais/Richtersveldt National Park was next and we arrived at the Sendelingsdrift gate in good time.  This newly opened Trans-Frontier Park is known for the stark and forbidding landscapes, the strange flora and not least for the condition of the “roads”.  It should not be considered without a 4x4 and plenty of time because some tracks, (when you find them) are rather rudimentary.  But we spent three days here and enjoyed every minute, driving the tracks in the morning/afternoons and relaxing around the braai or campfire in the evening. Richtersberg campsite is particularly idyllic, camping right on the banks of the Orange (!Gariep) river.


 So, after completing our off-road work-up, we crossed the mighty Orange River on the Sendelingsdrift Pontoon into Namibia for the Northern (Ai-Ais) side of the TFP prior to returning back to South Africa and the Kokerboom Motel for a transit stop en-route to the Augrabies Falls.

 N.B. We had been fooled into believing that RSA was in fact bristling with Wi-Fi hotspots, this is certainly not the case in the remote areas that our travels have taken us to so far.

View Article  Augrabies and Upington 16-17th November
by ash on Tue 09 Dec 2008 15:23 GMT

A quick dash East and an overnight at the Augrabies Falls NP, a nice place but the water was a little low, camped in the Dasssies’ play area and somehow disturbed a caracal from its afternoon slumbers.  And then onto Upington to restock and buy repair materials and shortages.  After Upington we were venturing into the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) TFP for eight days in the wilderness, so anything we didn’t obtain in Upington we would have to do without…First stop was the bottle store, second stop the Butcher’s and then wood and charcoal, what more do you need?  

 We were actually very impressed with the town, it seemed to have everything we required – the first time this has happened since Cape Town. 

 We stayed overnight at Die Eiland Caravan Site, very well maintained and nice location but quite empty even though very cheap (ZAR60).

 On the morning of the 18th we left town and drove North in trepidation of the notoriously corrugated road to the gate.  Our mood darkened slightly when we saw the sign “Next fuel in 130Kms on the right”…But just in time for our arrival, the authorities had opened a new tar road leading nearly all of the way to the Twee Riverien entrance gate, just 9Kms short.

18-25 November - Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
by ash on Thu 11 Dec 2008 04:52 GMT

We spent a whole week in the Kgalagadi, most of which was spent in the wilderness of the Mabuasehube area of Botswana. 

Just the four of us, the two vehicles and the supplies that we took with us.  A very enjoyable week driving rough sandy tracks and looking out for game.


View Article  From the 25 of November
by ash on Thu 11 Dec 2008 04:52 GMT

Internet access has been very scarce, in fact lot of things have been very scarce!

 After leaving the Kgalagadi we crossed Namibia East to West via the Fish River Canyon to Luderitz. 

Then we headed North to Henties Bay via Sesriem/Sosusvlei and Swakopmund/Walvis Bay. 

After three days R&R in HB, we drove up the Skeleton Coast and cut back inland to the Etosha Pan.

We then carried on East to traverse the Caprivi Strip to meet up with the Zambezi before starting the journey South again.

Friday, November 28
View Article  Back on the West Coast
by ash on Fri 28 Nov 2008 12:39 GMT

A lot has happened since the last update...

We are now in Luderitz on the Namibian Coast, we have just arrived after a week in the Kalahari Desert and an enroute stop at a brilliant roadhouse down by the Fish River Canyon.

Next we're heading North again to the Namib Desert and more sand.

We will write a full update when we get a reasonable internet connection, I'm off for a Windhoek Draught!

Cheers A&G

Wednesday, December 3
View Article  SMS from 881631666970@msg.iridium.com
by ash on Wed 03 Dec 2008 14:43 GMT
Thursday, December 11
View Article  9-11 December - Katima Mullilo
by ash on Thu 11 Dec 2008 04:52 GMT

We’re just spending a couple of days relaxing by the Zambezi in a luxury lodge before heading South again.

The water came direct from the Zambezi (unfiltered).

On the 11th we will strike out for Botswana and hope to make it to Savute Camp in Chobe.

11-14 December, from the Zambezi to the Okavango via the bridge over the river Khwai. part one.
by ash on Tue 30 Dec 2008 11:44 GMT

Little did we know what awaited us when we drove South from the Zambezi, we left the comfort of the Caprivi River Lodge and crossed the border into Botswana.  Incidentally, the border crossing was an absolute pleasure with efficiency, good humour and smiles all around.  We then took the fast tar road into Kasane to resupply, as we were not able to import meat or dairy products or more than 1 litre of beer! :o(

 After shopping at the Spar, we took the Chobe river road back to Ngoma Bridge and the road to Savute.  The river was absolutely awash with large herds of elephants, buffalo and hippo; we spent a very enjoyable few hours meandering along the way. 


After Ngoma the road separates from the river and heads Southwest through the forest reserve and Goha Hills.  This road was a sand track except for the corrugated gravel sections we lowered our tyre pressures and proceeded at approx. 45kph


 We spent two days at Savute camp taking leisurely game drives, partaking of braais and beers and dodging the rain that fell with miserable persistence.  Luckily nobody got eaten by the lions we heard when walking to the ablutions after dark, we had the camp site furthest away from the centre of the UNFENCED camp…

 On leaving this quiet retreat, we headed South along the Sandridge to meet up with the river Kwai, which we followed to the North gate of Moremi National Park.  This road was spectacular, beautiful lush flora along the floodplain, hippos and crocodiles and many other animals and birds. 

But as we drove, the weather got wetter, the puddles got deeper and the tracks got fainter.  Whilst we were negotiating one particularly deep crater Flo leaned rather alarmingly and decided to tip toe through on just two wheels.  Mik must have then hit a rock or submerged off road trailer in another one of the puddles because he cracked a rim and lost his tyre – we had to replace it under the curious gaze of a huge group of hippo. 


But finally with great relief we arrived at North Gate, we thought the worst was over and the road would now be much better, how little we knew...

 To be continued---

Tuesday, December 30
View Article  11-14 December, from the Zambezi to the Okavango via the bridge over the river Khwai. part two.
by ash on Tue 30 Dec 2008 11:48 GMT

Continued from the last instalment---

 …but finally with great relief we arrived at North Gate, we thought the worst was over and the road would now be much better, how little we knew...

 So, to enter the Moremi National Park you have to cross the river Kwai, now I know you’ve all seen the film and the bridge built by the British POWs is an engineering marvel but this is a different river Kwai and definitely a different bridge.  They are currently building a new bridge above the water level but for now the original bridge is just floating above the water level, except for the bits that are under water of course.

 Having negotiated the bridge, very slowly, we pulled up on the other side only to be begged for assistance by a chap who had managed to get his Land Cruiser stuck in a bog behind a concrete drain.  So, although short of time, we had a go and promptly got stuck ourselves.  After a fraught few minutes (about 60) in the pouring rain, we extricated ourselves, resurveyed the land around the Cruiser and left after advising the driver to get his friends to help him instead of watching us!

 And so off we set on a 30 km “road” that is as smooth the surface of the moon and as dry as New Orleans after the floods.  Every twenty metres or so we would hit another “puddle” that would send us down a hole and the water over the bonnet.  Luckily we could gauge our speed just right so that the intermittent wipe on the windscreen wipers would operate just as we pulled out of the holes, it was that constant.  The 30 km took about 2 hours to complete and the two vehicles had been transformed from white into soggy brown mobile mud machines.  This is when we decided to turn left for Audi Camp (Maun) instead of right for Xakanaxa and 43 km more of the roller coaster ride – did I mention the rain!

 After getting to Maun after approximately 200 km and eleven hours almost constant driving, we started to clean and empty the vehicles.  Everything was either soaking, wet or just very damp, the colour of most things had changed to take on a brown hue.  I think that we’ll be finding Chobe mud and Kalahari sand for years to come.

We decided to fly over the Okavango Delta, really the only way to see it.

View Article  15-16 December, Maun - Gateway to the Okavango
by ash on Fri 02 Jan 2009 05:45 GMT

We had heard that Maun was the frontier town for the Okavango Delta and were expecting a right rough old place but to our pleasant surprise it was actually quite a regular and well ordered town, no fights or gun battles at all.

 So we took the opportunity to chill out (and more importantly dry out) before continuing on our journey East and South.  Of course, Mik and Tina were leaving on the 16th so we all had to get our tall stories straight before they went back to the UK via Cape Town.

 On the 16th we chartered a very small single engined puddle jumper (how appropriate!) to overfly the delta for 90 minutes. It was a spectacular flight seeing the Delta from the air, flying low over all the animals and looking down on elephants, for a change.  It is the only way to see the Okavango, don’t believe the people who tell you to take a mokoro (hollowed out tree canoe) for the ultimate experience you’ll end up wet, uncomfortable and bitten by hippos.

 Maun was the last internet access until 30th December.


View Article  17-18 December, Nxai Pan and Baines Baobabs
by ash on Fri 02 Jan 2009 05:45 GMT

After leaving Maun we decided to use up our two extra days in the Nxai Pan.

 After pulling off the tar, we drove up to the main entrance gate on a road that must be used to test off-road driving instructors, deep sand; rutted mud; corrugations; rocks; the only thing it didn’t have was snow and ice.  But when we got there, the open savannah and great herds of zebra made it all worth while.  

And were we pleasantly surprised by the stunning new large ablutions blocks? All freshly painted and with new state of the art anti-elephant barriers.  So new and well maintained they still looked unused, in fact, they were still unused and locked and would remain that way until long after we left.  They couldn’t be unlocked until after the formal handover in 20--.   And until then the whole campsite had to share two scabby shower/toilet units that were infested with mosquitoes day and night, we elected to break the seal on Flo’s toilet yet again and very happy we were to have it too.

 We took a drive down to Baine’s Baobabs, a famous island of seven huge Baobabs in a vast salt pan, another fabulous African landscape. 

When Ash sneezed rather unexpectedly shoved his head out of the window of the Land Rover and came face to face with three very surprised adolescent lions and their Mum.  Who was more scared and surprised? I don’t know…but the photos of the lions will be posted, I’m sure you don’t want to see Ash though.  

Flo with a giant aardvark.

View Article  20th December 2008 - Makgadikgadi Pan, Place of Fear...
by ash on Fri 02 Jan 2009 05:45 GMT

It hadn’t rained for a few days, the surface of the notorious Makgadikgadi Salt Pan might be firm enough to drive across in a fast light vehicle as long as the rains held off until we got to the other side. But wait a minute we’re driving a slow 3 ½ ton truck and there is a perfectly sound tar road around the pan, so no surprises which route we took then.

 We managed to get to the pan from Gweta along what is described as a “braided” road – in reality it is about a hundred sand tracks which go all directions but eventually end up all together again (or most of them).  We stopped on the cusp and looked down at the endless flat shimmering expanse before us.  We thought it looked dry and hard and we could always turn back if the going got tough, so we put Flo into gear and accelerated onto the surface aiming for the tracks that cut across the infinite white landscape.

 Actually, it seemed like we were gliding along, almost flying, the surface was so smooth and frictionless.  What a good decision to go this route instead of the longer and rougher tar road, we were making good time and enjoying the view, and then we tried to change direction… that’s when we found out just how little traction there was and how thin the crust was, so we made a nice wide sliding turn which took us into the area marked on the “Shell Map of Botswana” as TREACHEROUS MUD.

 We kept going, we kept sinking but we kept going, we turned whiter and gripped anything we could reach, but we kept going.  The oil pressure light came on, we kept going, the transmission hot light came on, we kept going, all the lights came on, the mud flew in the air vents and over the windscreen but we kept on going.  They say you should never stop on a salt pan because if you do you will start to break through the crust and sink in the mud forever. 

 So, with the dashboard looking like a Christmas tree we looked for a “firm” area to stop, found one and leapt out to check everything was okay and clear the mud off the screen.  Ash ran around the vehicle like a man possessed, getting oil and rags, Gill monitored the sink rate to ensure we could get going again.  About twenty seconds later, after topping up the oil, cleaning the mud off the windows and checking that all the major components were intact, we were off again. 

 Shall we turn back?

What and go through that again!

Can it get any worse?   

Who can tell!

 We pressed on regardless and breathed again only when we reached the other side and set foot on terra firma again, yes, and we did get out and stamp our feet on the ground to make sure.

 And then we had to cross two more stretches, one of which according to Shell had TREACHEROUS MUD as well.

Flo at Kubu island after the Makgadikgadi dash.

 While it is still painful to think about, we did manage to get across in one piece (together with a load of grey clay) and spent an enjoyable night at the Karma Rhino Sanctuary before crossing the Limpopo and going back into South Africa.

Thursday, December 25
View Article  SMS from 881631666970@msg.iridium.com
by ash on Thu 25 Dec 2008 15:11 GMT
23rd to 31st December 2008 - Kruger National Park
by ash on Fri 02 Jan 2009 05:44 GMT

After crossing the very small border crossing at Platjaan we stopped overnight at Mapungubwe before entering the Kruger at Pafuri Gate.  We are due to spend two weeks here in all travelling down North to South.  The KNP is the game park with the most developed infrastructure in Africa, good roads; communications; and fenced restcamps.

 Yes, the KNP was really a relaxing break with plenty of time just to kick back and do whatever chores needed doing together with some nice easy game viewing whilst enjoying the hot and dry weather.  We arrived on an overcast but dry day at Punda Maria.

 24th – rain

25th – rain Happy Christmas – Bah Humbug!

26th – rain

27th – rain

28th – rain

29th – rain

30th – rain

31st – rain Happy New Year – Bah Humbug!


View Article  Technical Update - 31st December 2008 - COIL SPRINGS
by ash on Fri 02 Jan 2009 05:44 GMT

We have just returned from an all day trip from Satara Camp to 4x4 Megaworld in Nelspruit to replace the front coil springs on Flo.

 The offside front spring expired after a gentle days driving in the Kruger National Park and so after a couple of telephone calls a pair of coils were located in JNB courtesy of  4x4 megaworld and couriered overnight for delivery and free fitting on New Years Eve.

 We limped very cautiously with the bumpstop rubber resting on the axle for the 300 Km (to the nearest outlet).

 But with the new springs in place the return journey was much more restful if slightly rushed to get back in camp before curfew.

 Still, Flo’s happy, she’s two inches taller now…

Friday, January 2
View Article  SMS from 881631666970@msg.iridium.com
by ash on Fri 02 Jan 2009 17:30 GMT
View Article  Technical Update - 1st January 2009 - Blow Out and Cracked Wheel Rim
by ash on Fri 02 Jan 2009 05:49 GMT

Zooming along at 20 kph we barely noticed the change in CofG let alone the uncontrollable swerve and skid.  But the flump, flump couldn’t be ignored.  So we stopped, checked for dangerous animals, and got out to see a trashed rear offside tyre and the wheel rim resting on the gravel.  No problem, we’ll jack it up and change it then.

 So unleashing the super “extreme” hi-lift jack, Flo was raised right up until the jack started bending like a banana, unfortunately before the wheel was raised enough to change, so we had to resort to the trusty old £10 bottle jack to get the job done.

 On removal of the wheel a huge crack was discovered running around the wheel inner rim for approximately 10 inches.

 So, a simple puncture turns into a requirement for: a new wheel, new tyre, new hi-lift jack (or more manly alternative).

 Happy New Year to Everybody!

Love Ash & Gill

 PS.  It’s finally stopped raining!!

Happy New Year - Rain and other Pain
by ash on Sun 18 Jan 2009 14:00 GMT

So after a very wet Christmas, we stayed in the Kruger National Park until the 5th of January.  The weather did brighten a little, well it erred on the dry side a little more anyway.

 On the 5th we decided to delay our original plan by 24 hours and take some time out in Nelspruit (nearest “big town”) to get some chores done and lavish a little TLC on an increasingly dejected Flo.

 We started with full spa treatment, full wash and wax, engine steam clean and underbody/chassis jet wash/steam clean.  You should have seen the mud come off!  We’d never been at a car wash like it, or for as long either, it must have been 2 hours for ZAR130.  

After this we had a full service including replacing the g/box and diff water with oil, new rear brake pads and A frame bush (drag spigot) - which cured a particularly noisy clunk on taking up drive.

 So we stayed in Nelspruit for the night before heading South for the mountain kingdom of Lesotho

Lesotho - Mountain Kingdom

by ash on Sun 18 Jan 2009 14:29 GMT

After a peaceful night in Nelspruit, next to the highway and railway tracks…we drove South to the Drakensberg and the Sani Pass.

 After a good few miles on tar, Ash decided to check the rear shock mounting only to find the nut had shed the bush and washers (fitted in Nelspruit) and pulled through the axle mount again.  A short stop in Ladysmith Hi-Q and a few heavy duty bushes sourced from a mystery truck and we were back on the road with all corners functioning properly again.  We also took the opportunity of ditching the cracked rim, they were very surprised to be keeping the wheel but giving us back the tyre…

 A little further South we stayed in the delightful town of Howick and Ash drank Pickled Pig beer all night in readiness for the Sani Pass the following day.

 The classic entry point to Lesotho is over the Sani Pass, a very steep and rocky track that climbs 3000m to the “highest pub in Africa”.  So what other route could we possibly take?

We were just a little concerned that Flo wouldn’t have the power to climb to the top bearing in mind she is fully loaded at 3 ½ tons but we shouldn’t have worried.  She took it slow but steady, using low range early on in the climb but steadily climbing with no fuss and only needed to reverse on two of the hairpins.

 The pass done, we cleared Lesotho customs and immigration and headed to the pub for lunch and a much needed Maluti beer.

 After a luxurious night at the Sani Top Chalet we took a “short cut” across Lesotho to Clarens in the Free State.  Something like 250kms took about eleven hours on gravel, rocks and potholes; all the time going up and down mountains normally above 3000m and never going below 2500m.

 At the end of the day we had pizza and beer before crashing out on the campsite we shared with half a dozen horses. 

Back in South Africa.

9th - 12th January; The Road to Cape Town and the lucky UJ.

by ash on Sun 18 Jan 2009 14:51 GMT

The plan was a steady drive to Cape Town via the Gariep Dam, Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route.

 All was going according to plan until as we pulled in to the Tsitsikamma National Park and drove down to the Storms River Campsite right on the edge of the sea.

As we drove down the rather steep drive, we were suddenly aware of a new sound coming from Flo.  It sounded something like sound you would hear if you put a handful of nuts and bolts into a plastic paint can and stirred. What’s worse, is that it went very quiet when the clutch was depressed or the gearbox put in neutral.

 So, we carried on freewheeling down the cliff in neutral and pulled up on our allotted, almost level pitch with brakes squealing and nerves frayed.

 After a short walk to the river’s mouth and a pause on the rope suspension bridge, we wandered back to have a look underneath and assess the damage.  It didn’t take long to spot the first problem!  The fwd propshaft rear universal joint had broken up and was about to separate.

 It was now beginning to get dark, so Gill cooked the dinner as Ash hunted for the spare UJ that he thought that we might have somewhere…and we did!

 The following morning before breakfast the propshaft was off and the UJ was being replaced (made more difficult by the damaged nuts and bolts chewed up by the wayward UJ spider). 

After breakfast the propshaft was refitted in good time by Ash and Nick (holidaying from Cape Town in his Range Rover Classic), before we continued on our journey.

 We arrived in Simon’s Town on the 12th January.  

View Article  Cape Town - 12th to 19th January 2009
by ash on Sun 18 Jan 2009 17:02 GMT

We arrived in Simon’s Town on the 12th and checked into the Oatlands Holiday Village in readiness to unload Flo, deep clean her and the contents and then repack.  After completing all of the required jobs we loaded Flo into a 40’ hi-cube container on Friday 16th January.  Flo will not fit into a normal height container, hence the hi-cube (12” taller) and although she will fit in a 20’ container the shipping lines tend not to have any 20’ hi-cubes…It just means that we pay for 20’ of air to be shipped to Oz as well!

After loading Flo, we just relaxed and took a trip out to Hermanus in a rental car before settling into Century City for our last night in Africa before flying out on the evening of Monday 19th.