Back to South Africa

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:01 pm
May 192011

Debengeni FallsAfter our morning game drive in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, we headed off back to South Africa. The border crossing was simple and we both wished that all the crossings to come could be that easy! The day was pretty uneventful until we got closer to our overnight stop of Mokopane. As it was election day, for some reason the South African government declared it a public holiday, so there were people around everywhere. On the outskirts of town there were large settlements, although they had decent, small houses with reasonable sized land. I made the comment that it looked like a version of Soweto, but with a larger number of decent houses. We felt safe, but were on higher alert. On the way to town the road was blocked and we could see a large crowd and lots of lights flashing. It turned out to be a road accident with police and ambulances in attendance and a significant crowd had gathered to watch as if it was their afternoon’s entertainment. I was initially on edge until we realised it was a road accident and police were directing traffic. We then arrived in Mokopane itself. I instantly got the feeling there was something not quite right about the place and I felt uneasy. Every time we stopped at traffic lights I was nervous. At the last set of lights we stopped at 2 young guys tried to open the rear passenger doors of our car. Luckily we drive with the doors locked, especially so if we feel uneasy or there are people about, so they were unsuccessful and we drove away. I had had enough by then and wanted to get out of the town instantly even though we had not yet found our overnight stop so we found the road out of town and left. It turned out that our overnight stop was about a kilometre down the road out of town so we pulled in to check it out. We stayed the night at the Mokopane Breeding Centre as we originally planned as it had security and high fences around the entire premises and we felt safe. After speaking to the people that run the place, it turns out that the traffic lights where they tried to get into our car is known for people trying to grab things off the seats of vehicles, so we were lucky our doors were locked. My initial instincts were absolute right! We had a brief look around the breeding centre, which breeds animals for Pretoria Zoo.

First stop this morning was the supermarket as we were low on supplies. In Pietersburg we managed to find the biggest and newest supermarket that we have seen since we first stocked up in Johannesburg. It was a luxury to have great meat and vegetables to choose from as well as anything else we could possibly need. I doubt we will encounter such luxury for quite some time!

Sunland BaobabWe decided this morning to head off to Kruger and see if we can get in a night earlier, which meant we needed to be at Phalaborwa Gate by 4pm at the latest to make the camp gate closing time. We still had time though to drive via the Magoebaskloof Pass and drop in at Sunland BaobabDebengeni Falls and the Sunland Baobab Tree. The falls are quite pretty and worth a quick detour if you are passing by. The Sunland Baobab is also worth a look. It is supposed to be 6000 years old and the biggest baobab tree. Actually inside the tree a small bar has been created which is pretty unique.

We made the gate by 3.45pm and managed to secure the last campsite at Letaba, although in true African style, the campsite probably had one third of its campsites vacant even though the computer system said they had none. Very frustrating if you can’t get in when you know there are vacant sites. We will spend the next 5 nights exploring Kruger.

Kruger National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 5:48 pm
May 232011

Tonight is out 5th night in Kruger and it has lived up to its reputation of abundant wildlife and a wide variety. We have seen the following animals whilst we have been here (at least these are the ones we can remember), as well as a heap of birds:

lion elephant rhino cheetah giraffe
kudu nyala grysbok impala buffalo
steenbok waterbuck tsessebe wildebeest civet
hippo crocodile hyena warthog spotted genet
baboon vervet monkey zebra ostrich toad
leopard tortoise squirrel springhare bush hare  


Waterbuck, Kruger National ParkSouthern Ground Hornbill, Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

The first night we had to pretty much drive without stopping in order to make Letaba camp before the gates closed at 5.30pm, but we did manage to see a couple of elephants on the way. We also saw what we think was a leopard. It walked on the road directly towards us for a couple of metres then darted off into the bush. It was definitely a cat and definitely had spots and the others that saw it thought it was a leopard as well. Not a bad start!

Vervet monkey, Kruger National ParkKruger National ParkBaboon, Kruger National Park

We have finally seen quite a few elephants whilst we have been here, including a few not so happy bulls in musth (this is when they are ready to mate and search out the females and they get a bit cantankerous). One of the bulls made us back up a bit to get away from him, then after we had got past him he forced 2 other cars back a few hundred metres. Where he was there was a family of elephants, including little ones, that we were watching – all the time keeping an eye out the back of the car for the cranky old bull. They were very cute to watch, especially the little ones.

 Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

Kruger National ParkOur second night we camped at Balule, which is a satellite camp. As such, it only had 15 sites and no electricity. The ablutions were lit with kerosene lamps and each site was on the camp fence which made it much more rustic and bush like than the larger campsites. Whilst we were there for lunch I heard a loud crack of a tree and knew an elephant was very close. Sure enough just a few metres away there he was. He was not particularly happy that Wayne and I were standing maybe 3 metres from him so trumpeted and swayed at us. Needless to say I backed up, but Wayne stayed there. Yes the camp has a fence around it, but if an elephant decided it wanted to push through I am sure it could without too much trouble. IKruger National Parkn the photo you can see how close he was to the fence!

Our third night was back at Letaba and we decided to do the night drive. We saw a few animals including a couple of new ones, but nothing terribly exciting. It is interesting to do the night drives though and our guide was extremely knowledgeable.

Our fourth night was at Shingwedzi camp. Again our campsite was right on the fence and we saw a spotted genet and a civet. The civet is a really beautiful animal about the size of a small dog, with a white and black coat covered in spots and stripes. It came right past the fence 4 times whilst we sat there. Very cool!

Kruger National ParkTawny Eagle, Kruger National ParkKudu, Kruger National Park

Tonight we are camping at Punda Maria. We are on the fence again tonight, so who knows what we might see. I doubt it will be much though as the wildlife seems to be more dispersed the further north you go, however we did manage to see Nyalas and Grysbok today which we have not seen before. They also have cheeky monkeys in the camp. We were sitting at lunch and heard this loud noise from inside the car. It was a damn vervet monkey who took off with yesterday’s loaf of bread. We should have known better as we knew they were around, but forgot to close the car doors. That is the second time now a monkey has managed to take something. The first was in Addo when a monkey came out of nowhere and took the bananas from the table.

Sharpes Grysbok, Kruger National ParkLeopard tortoise, Kruger National ParkNyala, Kruger National Park

Cheetah, Kruger National ParkThe highlight of our time here has to be our 2 cheetah sightings. The first time there were 4 of them. They sat on top of a hill in the grass for quiteCheetah, Kruger National Park some time and even though they were a reasonable distance away we could still see them and through the binoculars they were spectacular. We then saw a cheetah lying about 12 metres from the road. Now that was awesome. They are huge, almost as big as a lioness, and just beautiful creatures.

We have both enjoyed our time here and are thinking we may spend our last few days in Africa back here, especially down the south where the animals are meant to be even more plentiful.

Lion, Kruger National ParkKruger National ParkKruger National ParkHippos, Kruger National ParkBuffalo, Kruger National ParkTsessebe, Kruger National Park

To Zimbabwe via Beitbridge

 Posted by Elizabeth at 2:18 pm
May 252011

We had planned to visit the ruins of Thulamela in Kruger, but they were no longer running tours (but could not give an explanation as to why) and you cannot visit them on your own which was a bit disappointing. We left Kruger through the Pafuri gate after taking a leisurely game drive north to Crooks Corner which is where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique all meet. There were not a lot of animals to be seen along the way, although there was a large group of hippos at Crooks Corner and there was one section of road where as we turned the corner a whole heap of different animals appeared, including 2 elephants and a group of Nyalas that seemed to be walking in super slow motion – very odd.

Kruger National ParkNyala, Kruger National ParkHippos and crocs, Kruger National Park

Our plan was to head into Zimbabwe the next day so we needed to stock up on food, gas and diesel and Messina was the only place to do it. Ideally we would have liked to camp there as it was very close to the border, but we had to backtrack 40km to Tshipise as the only campground in town was no longer functioning and the police advised us we would be safer in Tshipise. The campground in Tshipise was grey nomad central. Apparently a lot of the older South Africans head here for a few months as it is warmer. They have some serious setups with annexes that are basically 3 annexes all joined together and are huge. There were satellite dishes, microwaves and TVs everywhere. It was quite amusing and I wonder what they thought of poor old us with just a 4wd and a roof tent! The campground did have free wi-fi though which was a bonus.

We had heard bad things about the Beitbridge border crossing and the road between there and Masvingo so it was with some apprehension we headed to the Zimbabwe border. (We had checked with the police in Messina, and they advised that the road was fine, but that we should not stop unless directed by a police officer as there have been reports of people pointing to your vehicle and indicating that you have a flat tyre or a fire. When you stop to investigate they rob you. They also said there have been incidents of people slashing tyres whilst you are stopped at traffic lights and if that happened to drive to a police station or a petrol station before changing it).

From entering the South African border gate to driving out the Zimbabwean gate it took about 2 hours, 90 minutes of that was at the Zimbabwean side. Whilst it was slow, we had no problems whatsoever and no one attempted to solicit bribes from us. Everyone was pleasant and gave us no grief. Yes you will get hassled on both sides by people wanting to “help” you through the border but they are not at all necessary. Just tell them to go away and they will eventually leave you alone. We asked at each counter where to go next and also asked a westerner who looked like they were pretty familiar with the whole process what to put on some of the forms and where to go. For others who might be travelling, the process is pretty much this:

  • Enter South African side and receive a gate pass (it was chaos central with people, cars and construction everywhere).
  • Park your car and go to the customs tent where if you are lucky someone will lift their head from the card game they are all playing and stamp your gate pass without uttering a word.
  • Go to the immigration tent, get your passport and gate pass stamped (make sure you hand your passport to them on the correct side of their computer monitor or you will be tutted at and have fingers drummed on the table at you).
  • Maximum 10 minutes later, get in your car and drive to the exit where you will be told that you need to drive through the inspection lane (even though it doesn’t say you have to).
  • Reverse the car 100m, drive through the inspection lane, be waved through by someone too lazy to get up from their seat and return to the exit gate and hand your stamped gate pass over.
  • Enter the Zimbabwean side and get a gate pass and be directed to park by a civilian who will try to get you to pay them to look after your car.
  • Pay a 70R ($10) bridge toll at the first counter. Make sure you keep the receipt and slip.
  • Line up at immigration and be given a form.
  • Fill in the form at the rear counter, therefore having to line up again.
  • Wait an eternity for the immigration officer to fill in the visa, the paperwork and the receipt in perfect handwriting. (We did interrupt him reading the newspaper after all).
  • Be taken to another counter to process the visa, but then that person was too busy, so go back to the first counter and the original officer completes the process and then needs to find you some change (total cost of the pleasure $US90).
  • A tout will hand you the form for your Temporary Import Permit (TIP) and Customs. Take it but tell them you don’t need their help. (They will hang around but ignore them and eventually they will go away).
  • Fill in the forms, the TIP you need to write twice because of course there is no carbon paper. (Make sure you put on the TIP everything of value that you are taking in and out of Zimbabwe in case you are questioned on the way out). Do not declare anything on the customs form.
  • Wait at the Visitors counter (not the chaotic returning residents one). Here you will hand over the forms, your rego papers, letter of clearance from the hire company and pay a Road Access Fee 70R, Carbon Tax 200R, Insurance 200R.
  • Go outside the building, cross the road and enter the rear (ignore the front counter) of a derelict looking building where you hand all the paperwork to a police officer (who is reading the paper and is dressed in civilian clothes) who will stamp your gate pass. (We had no problem, but the guy in front of us was hassled about his copy of his rego papers not being certified – neither are ours and we handed them the ones that were expired anyway. The guy managed to talk his way out of it though).
  • Finally move your car and park it under cover in front of the buildings in the Green zone. Wait at the caged counter until the customs officer finally appears 10 minutes later. Give him the papers, smile nicely and hope he is not going to give you a hard time. (Again we had no issue at all and he stamped our gate pass, however others were asked to go back inside and pay duty on items. I am not sure whether it is because we are not South African and therefore unlikely to be bringing goods in or whether it was just our lucky day, but 2 people in front of us and the person after us were either searched or had to pay duty).
  • Thank your lucky stars and drive to the first gate 100m away where someone will take half of your gate pass.
  • Drive another 50m and someone else will take the rest of your gate pass (goodness knows why).
  • Breathe a big sigh of relief, know your wallet is somewhat lighter, although not through bribes, and that you have spent a “pleasant” 90 minutes in the chaos that is Beitbridge.
  • Welcome to Zimbabwe!

Great Zimbabwe Ruins

 Posted by Elizabeth at 7:24 pm
May 262011

After making it through the Beitbridge border without too much trouble, we then faced the road to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins near Masvingo. We had already decided that we were not stopping for anything until we made the ruins, so 4 hours or so later, having had banana sandwiches made on the run, we arrived safely at the ruins. There were a couple of police road blocks, but they just asked for our Temporary Import Permit and where we were headed and waved us through. We turned off the main road and took a minor road for the last 30 or so kilometres. It was a single lane tar track with dirt either side, that looked like it had had one strip laid for each wheel and then filled in at the middle. The edges were crumbling away and it took some driving skill to stay on the track as it was only just wide enough for the Land Cruiser.

The Great Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe RuinsWe were warmly greeted and paid our $5 each to camp and $15 each for the ruins. The camp is just a grassed area with some ablutions that were probably built around 1930 and haven’t seen a lot Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe Ruinsdone to them since then. They did though have piping hot water and decent water pressure which is always a luxury. There is a security guard from 6pm to 6am.

8am this morning we paid $3 each for a guide, which is well worth the money. His name was James and he was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He took us around the ruins for about 2.5 hours and explained everything to us. They are pretty impressive, especially considering they were built around 1200AD and the walls have no mortar in them. Some walls have been restored, but the vast majority have not been touched.

     Hill Complex, Great Zimbabwe RuinsGreat Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe RuinsGreat Enclosure, Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Mid morning we left the ruins via the scenic road over the dam, and headed for Mutare which is at the Mozambique border. The people were really friendly along the way and seemed generally pleased to see us as we passed them, a much nicer experience than when they put their hands out as you pass. The scenic drive is worth the effort as it passes over the dam through some scenic countryside and villages. The road is narrow and quite windy, but most of the way it is good tar. The last third is a dirt track, which is a bit rough, and you need to know which road to take as there are no signs. We passed numerous police road blocks, the vast majority of which we were waved through without stopping and those few that we were stopped at just wanted to know where we were headed.

Tony's Coffee House, VumbaOur original plan was to camp at the Mutare Municipal Camp, but on inspection neither of us felt we would be safe there. It is not fenced, very close to town and we would be the only ones there. Instead we headed for Vumba where we would find a cheap hotel. Vumba is a mountain village right next to Mutare. It is very scenic and a lot cooler than the city and I am sure it is a great weekend retreat. We stopped at Tony’s Coffee House as we had heard excellent things about it. It is a beautiful building in equally beautiful surroundings and was a bit of luxury Tony's Coffee House, Vumbafor us. They serve excellent coffee and about 100 different teas as well as scrumptious cake. Wayne had a Chocolate Whiskey Cake and I had a Macadamia Cheesecake. Everything was served as if we were the Queen of England on beautiful china, silver teapots and damask napkins, it was all very posh and quite a treat from our usual dining experiences! It is not cheap though, $35 for a coffee, tea (both of which are bottomless) and cake each (neither of us could quite finish our cake as the servings are very generous). The staff are really friendly and Tony came and had a chat to us for a while. All in all it was a lovely treat for us.

Whilst at Tony’s one of the staff, Ken, asked us if we needed somewhere to camp. He told us his wife worked at Ndunda Lodge, which had burnt down a couple of years ago, but about a week ago they had opened again for Ndundu Lodge, Vumbacamping. So of course we headed for Ndunda as camping is a much cheaper option than a motel. Mavis met us at the gate and showed us where we could camp. They are still in the process or sorting things out, but we had a nice grassed area sheltered from the road with large trees, a table and a bbq that we used to have a fire as it was quite cold at night. We were their first customers since they reopened, and so the first to use the amenities. They have repainted and put new fittings in, but there was no electricity so they left candles for us. They heated the water with a donkey, but unfortunately whilst the water was hot, only a minute trickle came out of the showerhead, so it was a bit tricky trying to shower! That said though, it is a fine place to stay if you need somewhere near the border and I am sure they will sort out the shower issue. Camping was $8 per person

Another Day, Another Border

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:09 pm
May 272011

We left Vumba and headed the short distance to the Mozambique border, picking up Ken from Tony’s Coffee House and giving him a lift on the roof (as you do in Africa) to work.

The border was, as usual, chaos. There were heaps of semi trailers lined up both on the Zimbabwe and Mozambique side. Again we had no issues and took about an hour to do both sides. For those travelling, here are the details:

  • Enter the Zimbabwe gate where you get a gate pass.
  • Drive through utter chaos with vehicles coming at you and construction and people everywhere. (Just drive past all the trucks until you see some buildings).
  • Be directed by what I think was a tout to park.
  • Go to immigration and wait for the official to finish reading his newspaper article and get your passport and gate pass stamped.
  • Go to the next counter and hand over your Temporary Import Permit. No questions were asked, nothing was checked (too easy).
  • 5 mins later drive to the exit gate (chain across the road). One guy tells you to park, another guy asks what we have, to which we reply “camping gear” and he accepts our gate pass and allows us to leave.
  • Wait for the chain guy to lower the chain, then for the car behind you to move and leave Zimbabwe.
  • Enter the Mozambique gate where there are 2 police officers sitting at the side but too lazy to move. A tout will go and get your gate pass and tell you to park.
  • Get out of the car and get your gate pass off the tout and tell them you do not need their help and will organise insurance yourself. (They did follow us nearly the whole time we were there, but didn’t keep hassling us).
  • Go to Immigration where there will be no forms and you will have to ask to get one.
  • Fill in the form, line up and then be given the Visa form.
  • Fill in the Visa form. The Visas now cost $78 + $2 for the form (go figure?). A very large unexpected cost! The official was at least helpful and pleasant when we asked him for information such as the border names and address details for Gorongosa.
  • Line up again. Wait for the official to gather all the paperwork then disappear into another room to sort the visas.
  • 5 mins later be called into another room where they take your photo and left and right index fingerprints which are then printed on your visa. (No wonder the visas now cost so much!)
  • Go back to the counter and wait for him to fill in more paperwork and stamp your passport and gate pass.
  • Go to the next counter and pay $2 for a Temporary Import Permit. Read the sign that lists all the things you must have in order to get a TIP, none of which we were asked for (and I don’t think we had them all either), and be thankful.
  • Go outside and purchase Insurance for $23. We went to the first place as there was another westerner there who had done the crossing before and we were told the insurance is the same price everywhere anyway.
  • Drive to the exit gate and wait  5 mins before anyone shows up. In the meantime a semi trailer decides to drive past all the other semi trailers and completely blocks the road. Thankfully the official made him move.
  • Arrive in Mozambique where 10 money changers will wave Mozambique Meticas at you assuring you they have the best price. Keep driving and find an ATM.
  • Welcome to Mozambique.
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