Thursday, January 31, 2013

Southern Africa, Dec 2012 – Jan 2013

We arrived in Johannesburg on Christmas Day. Not bad to swap snowy Sweden for sunny South Africa! We visited the Mandela House in Soweto before meeting up with our Kilimanjaro friends for a long lunch.

Leaving Jo’burg, we drove our rented minibus through the Pilanesberg National Park, spotting a lot of wildlife (including rhino, elephant and hippo).

Nina’s parents live in Gaborone, Botswana. We spent New Year’s with them in their house, enjoying their lovely pool. Safari and braai in Mokolodi Game Reserve made us feel that we were really in Africa!

Leaving Gaborone, together with Kent & Ega, we drove to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Afternoon thunderstorms made the roads very wet, but our minibus managed well and we got very close to 11 rhino who did not mind our presence at all.  We stayed in a cottage in the bush. No electricity. Toilet and shower outside with a view of the Milky Way. Simple and wonderful.

We continued our long drive north. It was hot and we made a refreshing stopover at the Nata Lodge where we all enjoyed the refreshing pool. It is said that during an extreme drought some years ago, thirsty elephants burst through the fence and emptied the swimming pool!

Leaving Nata, we saw several elephant warning signs along the road. And they spoke the truth! I think we counted around 50 elephants along the road that day.

We arrived to Kasane, the gateway to Chobe National Park in northeastern Botswana. We stayed at the classic Chobe Safari Lodge, just next to the Chobe River.

We saw a lot of animals in the Chobe National Park. This is the rainy season and time for the animals to have babies. Everything is lush and green. It is so beautiful. And sometimes very wet!

Time to go to Zimbabwe. After a lot of bureaucracy and plenty of special fees we managed to get our rental car through customs as well.

Our first stop was Victoria Falls and we went straight to the majestic Victoria Falls Hotel which overlooks the Zambezi River, the old railway bridge to Zambia, and the spray from the falls. We had the mandatory gin tonic (said to be effective against malaria…) on the veranda and enjoyed the atmosphere and the view.

In the evening the kids had crocodile burgers for dinner and also participated in a traditional African dance show (Tinna is pictured below).

The next day we visited the Falls. 108 meters high. 1700 meters wide. An amazing sight today, and surely amazing when David Livingstone stumbled upon them 1855.

After some souvenir shopping (where the sellers outnumbered the tourists 100 to 1) and more fine dining (the Boma – Place of Eating, where we enjoyed buffalo, kudu, warthog, eland, impala and guinea fowl), we continued south to Hwange National Park. Along the road, baobab trees were showing off their fresh green leaves. But in 200 km we only met a handful of cars. Zimbabwe has lost its once blossoming tourist industry due to President Mugabe’s violent politics. Even the Hwange Safari Lodge, once so popular that it was always full and could charge a fortune for a room, was empty and we managed to get a very affordable room rate.

The Hwange Safari Lodge has its own water hole in front of the hotel, just beyond the swimming pool. It is a magic place. As we were in the pool, a herd of almost 100 buffalos came to the water hole to drink, pushing away the zebras, kudu, impala and wildebeest that were relaxing there.


Early morning we drove into the Hwange National Park. It is one of the biggest (15 000 sq km, or roughly the size of Belgium) and best national parks in Africa. And we counted in total 4 vehicles entering the park that morning. One vehicle encountered a leopard (but we were two minutes late) and another encountered a male lion (but we were a few minutes late for that as well). Instead we saw plenty of other animals, including elephants with “small” babies.

Our last stop with Kent & Ega was Matopos National Park, south of Bulawayo. Matopos is a favorite place of ours, with its rocky hills (the one below is called “three sisters”), views and wildlife. The park was practically empty, so we managed to rent the spectacularly located Fish Eagle Lodge, with a fantastic view. The kids climbed among the rocks, encountering rock hyrax and small lizards. The fillet of beef we had bought in a butchery in Bulawayo was perfect on the braai, accompanied by tomatoes, green peppers, onion and traditional sadza (mealie-meal, or cooked white maize meal).

We said goodbye to Kent & Ega on World’s View, the hilltop in Matopos where Cecil Rhodes was buried in 1902.

Kent & Ega went to Harare for a wedding, and we drove via Gaborone to Johannesburg to catch our flight back to Sweden. We picked up the nice tractor pictured below along the way. Africa, so lovely. We can’t wait to be back.