Nyika National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 5:17 pm
Jun 162011

We left Vwaza Marsh and headed for Nyika, taking the “smoother” road through the villages with all the friendly locals. The road to the park and the road within the park to camp are both rough and slow going. For a lot of the time the road within the park is below the surrounding landscape, totally preventing you from seeing anything but the road in front of you. I don’t think we missed out on too much game, but we could hardly see the scenery either.

Once you get closer to camp the road opens up and you are in hilly, grassed plains which is quite scenic. The wildlife is limited, but we did see lots of Roan Antelope and Bushbuck. We also saw the zebras which are unique to the area as well as a couple of Eland and some Kilpspringers. The wildlife seem to be based close to camp and near the dams.

Bushbuck, Nyika National ParkCrayshaws Zebra, Nyika National ParkRoan Antelope, Nyika National Park

The camp is quite nice with 3 sites each having a large thatch shelter and picnic table to use. (There are more sites just not with shelters). There were a few bushbuck that kept coming and going in the camp and you had a good view across an open plain to sit and see what came past. The camp attendants supplied piles of firewood and lit the fire for us both in the evening and before we rose in the morning. It was much appreciated as it was REALLY cold up there! I slept in thermals, long pjs, my down sleeping bag and another down sleeping bag over me (but I was warm). The showers were thankfully really hot, although actually undressing to get in them was a bit chilly!

We cooked our dinner over the fire and spent some time chatting to a couple we first met in Senga Bay drinking Amarula – all very pleasant. The camp attendants insisted they wash up all our dishes for us, which was really nice, but made us feel a little guilty. If we had all the time in the world we probably would have stayed a few more days to relax, but we decided we would rather have some extra days where there is more wildlife to be seen.


 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:03 pm
Jun 172011

We retraced our steps along the rough road to Rumphi, where we then took the dirt road to Livingstonia rather than taking the tar road back to the coast. The road wasn’t too bad for most of the way, but the last 20 km or so was pretty much a rough dirt track and slow going as it wound its way through the mountains. The scenery was reminiscent of Asia with terraced gardens hugging the sides of the hills and lush greenery. Even though the road was a bit slow, it seems that it was faster than taking the tar as some people that left nearly 2 hours before us and took the tar road arrived at the same time as we did, and they only stopped for an hour or so.

The view from the restarant and bar area, Lukwe Lodge, LivingstoniaWe stayed at Lukwe lodge which is situated right on the edge of the escarpment. The restaurant and bar area as well as the chalets are perched right on the edge with fantastic views down the valley to Lake Malawi. The showers are hot and clean, but a little interesting as the doors are so short they offer no privacy for someone my height! There are only 2 showers which are unisex and Wayne had to stop another guy from coming up whilst I was showering. The toilets are different too. They are composting toilets built on the hillside meaning you have to climb up to them. The doors are only about as high as the seat, but you get a nice view whilst sitting on the loo!

Shower, Lukwe Lodge, LivingstoniaBasins, Lukwe Lodge, LivingstoniaToilet, Lukwe Lodge, Livingstonia

We walked to the falls through the bush from camp. They are pretty impressive being Mangechwe Falls, Livingstonia200 odd metres high and there was plenty of water going over them when we were there. Some young kids escorted us back half the way to camp through the bush although I’m not exactly sure why!

At Livingstonia itself we visited the museum which is housed in the old stonehouse that was used by Dr Laws when he lived there as a missionary. The house is a lovely old building that is now used for basic accommodation. The church has a lovely stained glass window depicting Livingstone. At the church we were warmly greeted by one of the locals who were having band practice. He chatted to us for a bit then asked if he could take a photo with my camera. I let him and showed him how to use it and he seemed so pleased when he saw the photo he took. Funny how such simple things can give pleasure to someone. Livingstonia is quite a pretty village with a large hospital, university and nice houses right on top of the escarpment and pleasantly cool.

Church, LivingstoniaThe Old Stonehouse, Livingstonia

To Tanzania

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:41 pm
Jun 192011

After looking around Livingstonia we took the dirt road back down the escarpment to the lake. The 11km took us nearly an hour as the road is made of big stones and gravel, is quite narrow in parts, has lots of hairpin bends in it and is quite steep. The view to the lake is lovely all the way down.

Chitimba Camp was our overnight stop and we were easily there by lunchtime, which was just as well as we needed to do the laundry and catch up on things. Our car was so dirty by now that I am sure it was increasing our fuel consumption with the extra mud and dirt we were carrying, so we asked the owner if he could organise someone to wash the car for us. It would cost us a grand total of 250 Kwatcha ($1.65). The guy must have spent 3 hours washing it, and even then it wasn’t entirely clean, but the dust was gone which was the main thing.

This morning we headed for the Tanzania border. Exiting Malawi was simple and took just a few minutes. Entering Tanzania was also pretty straightforward although took a little longer and cost a lot more! Tanzania required a visa each ($US50), a Foreign Vehicle Permit ($US20), a road levy ($US5), and we decided to finally buy a COMESA ($US120) which is insurance that covers most of our remaining countries and will save us money in the end. The only tricky bit was the COMESA as you don’t actually buy that until you are out of the border post and you need to purchase it in a tiny shack that is amongst plenty of other shacks and chaos, naturally though there is a local to show you his shop.

As soon as we crossed the border to Tanzania you could tell that the country and its people were better off. The houses were still rectangular and made of brick, but very few were made of homemade mud bricks and they were now held together with cement. Most also had tin rooves instead of thatch, with real windows and were larger. The people were dressed better and everyone wore shoes which was unusual in Malawi. The use of land had also changed. Now there were tea and banana plantations everywhere and the land was being used rather than remaining idle. A variety of fruit and vegetables were now being sold by the side of the road, rather than just the bananas and tomatoes of Malawi. There was also more cars and trucks and less people (although still a lot of people) on the road.

We drove through the mountain scenery and headed for Mbeya hoping to be able to find a supermarket as we had no meat or vegetables, nor eggs, cereal or bread for breakfast and very little drinking water, in fact we had pretty much exhausted everything except our emergency tin supplies. I am sure there is a supermarket there but we were unable to find it, so we made the decision to drive on to the Kisolanza Farm about 50km out of Iringa as we knew we could camp there and eat in their restaurant and that the food was good having been there previously. After fuelling up with diesel that was thankfully a reasonable price again and becoming millionaires by withdrawing 1.2 million shillings, we were on our way.

We arrived at Kisolanza Farm about 6pm (we lost an hour in a timezone change at the border, but the sun comes up and goes down now at a reasonable hour!). By 7pm we had setup camp, had a super hot shower that even needed cold water mixed with it (a super luxury these days), and bought a kilo of baby potatoes, a bunch of baby carrots, a huge bag of snow peas and a lettuce for 6000 Tsh ($3.95). Dinner in the restaurant was a delicious three course meal with tea and coffee for $US15 each. We were both starving as all we had managed to eat all day was some bananas for lunch and the meal went down extremely well.

The people on the farm are really helpful. The chef kindly made us a loaf, sort of like a date loaf but without the dates, for our breakfast the next morning. You can not only buy vegetables from the farm, but meat as well, so we stocked up on meat for a ridiculous cheap price, and the meat has been lovely. The owner also told us where to shop in Iringa and tips for our route. All in all an excellent stop over spot.

(Sorry no photos as I’ve been getting a bit complacent with the scenery around us).

Iringa & Ruaha National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 7:09 pm
Jun 212011

Before leaving Iringa for the National Park we desperately needed to stock up on things. Following the directions given to us at Kisolanza Farm, we found the Iringa Service Station just before the turn off to Iringa, which sells things from the dairy and the bakery. We bought a fresh loaf of bread for the first time in ages, and I visited the dairy just behind the service station (although you can buy things in the service station) and bought FRESH milk and yoghurt. We have not had fresh milk for weeks and weeks, and if you know me you would know that I love my milk. The milk is absolutely delicious!

Next stop was the fruit and vegetable market next to the police station. I have never been so excited by vegetable shopping in my life! The market was FULL of wonderful fresh vegetables, and when you have not been able to buy much at all for weeks it was heaven! The locals were all very friendly and did not hassle you at all, and on top of it they were not trying to pull “white person” prices. For the grand total of $5.20 I bought: a kilo of potatoes, a kilo of rice, an avocado, 2 capsicums, 2 garlic bulbs, 1/2 kilo of tomatoes, 1/2 kilo of onions, a huge handful of chillies, 1/2 kilo of fresh shelled peas, and a large head of broccoli (and the broccoli was $2 of the $5.20). A definite bargain if you ask me!

After a quick trip to a supermarket, where I could finally buy some cheese (another thing I have been trying to buy for weeks), we headed out to Ruaha National Park. The road is OK but not terrific, passing through numerous villages. We saw our first Masai men along the way. When you get closer to the park you will get to a junction where both ways go to the park. We took the left fork, but the road got worse. (On the way back we took the right road, and apart from an initial part which is badly corrugated, the road is much smoother dirt, does not go through any villages and you will not see another person or car the whole way).

Ruaha National ParkArriving at the park gate we went to pay our fees. A simple exercise you would think. First option I tried was to pay in Tanzania Shillings – how stupid of me to assume they would take their own currency?? Next we tried US dollars as that is what they quote their prices in. No they couldn’t possibly accept cash, we must pay with a credit card. As I did not want to use our credit card I told them we didn’t have one and after much discussion he agreed to accept cash if I signed in blood and wrote a letter saying I did not know I had to pay by credit card and I wouldn’t do it again. (Oh and whilst they wouldn’t take payment in shillings, if I paid in $US then the change would be in shillings – only in Africa!)

Finally we made it inside the park. The animals at the moment tend to congregate around the river which is about an hour or so from the gate. We saw heaps of elephants in the river in the afternoon, along with the usual hippos. This morning we saw 5 lions just walking along, which we followed for some time and then another lion lazing in the sun. There was also a giraffe that had been killed the day before (we met some people who saw it and said there were 28 lions feeding on it) that was covered in vultures. Our animal sightings also included giraffes, warthog, kudu, impalas, baboons, zebra, a dik-dik, and a black-backed jackal. The park is quite scenic and there were lots of animals.

Ruaha National ParkRuaha National ParkRuaha National ParkBaboons, Ruaha National ParkVultures on a giraffe kill, Ruaha National ParkRuaha National Park

Our original plan was to stay at Chogela Camp outside of the park, but as it was 25 minutes to the gate and then another hour or so to the river, we decided it was better to spend the $US60 and stay in the park itself rather than going out and coming back in again this morning (park entry is a 24 hour period). The camp is in a great spot, literally on the riverbank, but the facilities are typically basic with cold showers and flush toilets that are cleaner than usual but were still in need of attention. During the night I was woken up by a splashing in the river and when we looked outside there was a hippo eating and sloshing in the mud very close to our tent which was pretty cool.

Ruaha National ParkVultures on a giraffe kill, Ruaha National ParkRuaha National ParkRuaha National ParkImpala, Ruaha National Park

Our campfire cooking skills have definitely improved and we had a most delicious dinner of barbecued sirloin steak with roasted baby potatoes and onions with garlic and rosemary and fresh peas. Excellent!

Mikumi National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 7:03 pm
Jun 232011

We left Ruaha and headed back to Iringa, where we stayed at the Riverside Camp. A number of other travellers also turned up and we spent a nice night gathering information for our onward travels and sharing what we knew. I managed to sleep in until 8am, we had fried eggs on toast for breakfast which made a welcome change to cereal and finally we left about 11am, the latest we have ever started the day.

Tan-Swiss Camp in Mikumi was our stop for the next 2 nights. It is just outside the national park, so is very conveniently located. We spent the afternoon relaxing and ate in their restaurant both nights we were there which is a bit of a treat these days.

The road is now the main road from Dar Es Salaam and it has become crazy. There aren’t nearly as many people on the road, but there are loads of suicidal buses and trucks. The number of trucks that have crashed off the road into the ditch or rolled is incredible. There must be so many drivers killed. We try to stay away from them as much as possible and always assume they are not going to do the most logical thing that you’d think they would. Apparently the road has become the main road for goods into Zambia as the railway is no longer running, as well as a major route into Malawi and across to the Congo.

The main road transits through Mikumi National Park, so you can see wildlife along the side of the road. We saw giraffe, impala and baboons just on the side of the road. When we were in Etosha we thought there were a lot of giraffes, but it was nothing compared to how many we saw in Mikumi. There were groups of 30 odd all moving along together, which was an awesome sight. We saw a group of 4 lions lazing in the morning and then we saw, we think, the same group again in the afternoon except there were actually 5 of them and we parked about 3 metres from them and watched them for a while hoping they would get up and move. As we were driving along one of the roads in the thick bush out popped a Serval, then a couple of hundred metres further on another one appeared and then I think a third one crossed the road a short time later. That is the first time we have seen them, and given they are nocturnal and this was at lunchtime we were pretty impressed! Our wildlife sightings also included a huge herd of buffalo, warthogs, impala, an eland, loads of zebra, baboons, jackals, elephants, a bushbuck and hippos.

Mikumi National ParkImpala, Mikumi National ParkWildebeest, Mikumi National Park

Whilst in the park we took some of the less travelled roads. One of them though was a bit of a disaster. Firstly the road started to fall away at the sides due to erosion until there was no longer physically enough room for our tyres to fit so we had to reverse out of there and bypass it. Then the road  started to become more overgrown when I told Wayne there was a huge hole on the left, to which he replied ”is it a wheel rut”.”Yes but it is huge” was my reply, next second our wheels were in it, the car was on a huge sideways tilt with the right wheels barely touching the ground and we were stuck! I had to climb out the driver’s door as I could not open mine, the track was only as wide as the car and there was thick grass taller than the car on either side. By now I was having a slight panic attack as being stuck in a national park, in thick grass when you know there are lions and elephants around is not the most enjoyable experience. We both looked at the car and thought we were going to be there for ages. I tried standing on the right side of the car to get traction on the wheels, but that was no good. We swapped and I got in the driver’s seat and Wayne went to the passenger’s side and using the roof rack (which was below his shoulder height now) he pushed the car over and the wheels got enough traction to get us out – thank goodness! It probably only took us 5 minutes and we were both VERY relieved to be out. We continued on a bit further but the road got worse and then there was a river crossing that had just crumbled and we decided to turn around. Wayne got out and guided me backwards for some distance until I could finally do a 500 million point turn and get the car facing in the right direction and we eventually made it back onto the main drag.

Mikumi National ParkLion, Mikumi National ParkBuffalo, Mikumi National Park

Our last night at Tan-Swiss there was one other person camping, a single guy on a motorbike. He was lighting a fire and was using petrol to do so. The jerry can was standing beside the fire and next thing a spark landed on the still open jerry can, which then exploded. The guy tried to move the jerry can and in doing so got quite a nasty burn on his hand. The fire was now all along the ground heading for some outdoor furniture so he came and grabbed our fire extinguisher to put it out (Wayne was on the roof of the car undoing the tent so had to tell him where to find it). I missed it all though as I was in the loo, I just heard the commotion outside. We got talking to him after dinner and he told us that the police had come through earlier and told him not to worry, they were just going to fire some bullets into the bush as there was a thief in there! He was a very interesting guy as he was a documentary maker who had been up in the Sudan, Ethiopia region for some time filming the wars going on. Some of the stories he told were fascinating yet horrendous. No wonder he had had enough and was heading back to South Africa and getting away from the war.

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