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.

Mana Pools

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:21 pm
Sep 032011

After stocking up and spending the night at Pioneer Camp in Lusaka we headed for the Zimbabwe border. Neither of us were particularly looking forward to the border crossing at Chirundu as we had heard it was busy and were likely to get hassled. What a pleasant surprise we had! Chirundu is a one stop border post so you do everything to exit Zambia and enter Zimbabwe all in the one building rather than 2 separate borders and numerous buildings to find. The one stop building is actually on the Zimbabwe side and the Zambian buildings are still there, just not in use. There were heaps of trucks parked but when we entered the building there was not a soul there – could we be that lucky? There were also clearly marked counters and even a sign telling you what order to do things in – both of us were stunned! We quickly completed everything with no hassles whatsoever, not even a problem with Interpol which we had heard horror stories about and were out of there quite quickly. If only other borders could be so simple. When we got back to our car the damn baboons had got on the roof of our car, undone an ocky strap, unclipped the lid of our washing bucket and taken it off and then went through everything in the bucket. Nothing was missing but they are a nuisance.

So the border crossing sorted it was on to Mana Pools. We arrived at the gate to be told we needed a permit however the office was only a few kilometres away so it was no problem. This permit is a free one, is handwritten and we are not quite sure what its purpose is but anyway it seemed to make everyone happy and we entered the park headed for Nyamepi Camp.

Elephant in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsThe road in is not the best as it is badly corrugated and there is not much to see on the way in but it was more than worth it. Nyamepi Camp is situated along the banks of the Zambezi River with shaded campsites, hot water showers and flush loos. The camp was fantastic. Just about every animal we saw whilst driving walked right past us whilst we were in camp, most of them just a few metres from us. We had buffalo that in the end became quite annoying as they would frequently walk within metres of us making us get up and move until they had meandered past. The hyenas would also walk past us several times each night, but on one particular night after we had had a barbecue they were coming to our camp every few minutes and this time not walking past but heading straight towards us and the barbecue until we shone the torch at them and they diverted away. Elephants visited every day walking within metres of us as did warthog, kudu, baboons, impala and once even an eland came within a couple of metres of us which was very surprising seeing as they are near impossible to get a photo of as they run away. We had a hippo that came and ate very noisily right next to our tent every night. During the night we heard lions, hyenas, hippos and elephants. After 4 nights though we were both somewhat sleep deprived as we never got a sound night’s sleep!

Buffalo, Mana PoolsWarthog, Mana PoolsEland, Mana PoolsWarthog in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsEland, Mana PoolsBuffalo in Nyamepi Camp, Mana Pools

Whilst there aren’t a great deal of roads to drive on around the camp you barely need to as most of the game walks right past you in camp. The highlight would have to be finding a pack of Wild Dogs for the first time on our whole trip. They were very lazy though and just laid in the shade. We have only seen Wild Dog one other time in Botswana last year so it was pretty cool. Our game sightings included: impala, baboon, kudu, buffalo, zebra, warthog, elephant, waterbuck, hyena, vervet monkey, hippo, eland, crocodile and wild dog.

Wild dog, Mana PoolsWild dog, Mana Pools

Mana Pools is definitely worth a visit. It is not expensive as your park entry ($70 total including the car) lasts 7 days so the longer you stay the cheaper it gets. The campsites are $100 on the river or $20 per person back from the river. We had campsite 19 which is back from the river yet we had a clear view of the river in both directions and were probably only 50 metres from the riverbank. It was a perfect place to relax for a few days and watch the world go by.

Elephant in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsElephant in Nyamepi Camp, Mana PoolsWaterbuck, Mana Pools

Lake Kariba

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:57 pm
Sep 052011

Ferry trip Lake KaribaWith some trepidation we turned up at 8am as instructed. If we did get on we had visions of crammed, smelly bodies; horrible toilets; what would the food be like; how would everyone sleep. As it turned out it was perfect! There were only 3 cars making a total of 6 passengers with 10 crew to look after us. It was like having our own private yacht to cruise down the lake. We spent a very pleasant day chatting to the other passengers, reading, playing games and spotting wildlife when we came close to some islands. The food was simple but excellent and plentiful. We had morning and a

We needed to get from Mana Pools in the north of Zimbabwe to Hwange National Park in the south and there were 4 options.

1. Go back to Zambia, drive south and enter ZImbabwe at Vic Falls. This way I think was the shortest but it meant we would need visas again for both Zam and Zim and at $50 each we decided against it.

2. Drive to Harare, then to Bulawayo and then up to Hwange. This was the way the locals advised as it was easy tar road but was quite some distance. Naturally we didn’t like this option.

3. Drive down the eastern side of Lake Kariba through Zimbabwe. This was a viable option and would take us 2 long days (hopefully) over some roads of unknown status but it would be more interesting than sticking to the tar.

4. Take the ferry down the lake from Kariba to Milipizi which would then leave us a short drive to Hwange. This was expensive ($420 for 2 people and the car), dependent upon when the ferry left and also whether it had a space for a car over 2m as it has only 3 such spaces but was also a viable option.

We arrived in Kariba on a Sunday and tried to find out about the ferry. After asking at one of the camps without success we decided to find the ferry terminal. The terminal was down a back street and there was just a guard at the gate. He informed us the ferry would leave the following day and gave us a phone number to try. The guy we rang was fairly certain it would have space for our car and told us to turn up at 8am the next morning. So we decided what the heck, we will spend the money and have a relaxing 24 hours on the boat leaving us just a short drive to Hwange. If there was no space we would travel the eastern side of the lake.fternoon tea, snacks before dinner Ferry trip Lake Karibaas well as breakfast, lunch and dinner so we definitely did not go hungry. The boat even had showers and clean loos. To sleep you had a choice of a thick mattress on the floor or a fold out chair bed. We had planned to sleep out on deck but they had to leave the navigation lights on and it was just too bright so we slept inside. We opted for the mattresses which were quite comfortable but the engine noise made it a little difficult to sleep. All in all it was quite a pleasant way to travel the distance although it would not be so good with more than 15-20 people even though the boat is reasonably large.

Kariba was much smaller than either of us expected and was more like a ghost town. Whilst there we tried to find some food to stock up with before we hit Hwange. There are 2 small supermarkets, neither of which had a great deal in them, the veges were not particularly good and there was no way I was buying any of the meat. We found the local market which was much better quality although there was not a lot of variety – tomatoes, potatoes, onions, spinach, avocados and bananas were pretty much it. I wanted some pumpkin and some lettuce. One lady sent a boy home who then brought back a huge pumpkin, cutting a chunk for us for $1. Another man said he had some cos lettuce on his farm and if he gave me an hour he would get it for me. I asked him how far away it was and seeing as it was only 3km, offered to take him there (I couldn’t ask him to walk there and back for a lettuce that cost a whole $1!). So he rode on the side steps of the car and directed us to his farm which he proudly showed us around when we arrived. He cut us a huge lettuce as well as a few small leeks before we took him back to the market. Just like shopping at home!

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