Yearly Archives: 2016

Day 28 – The End

Cape Agulhas. Southernmost point of Africa. Indian ocean on the left, Atlantic on the right. As is my habit on reaching oceans, I dipped a toe in each. Sadly a little difficult to dip wheels in the water.

And it’s the end of the trip. A quick jaunt up the very scenic coastal route to Cape Town, and then a few days in the executive suite at the Westin, where it will be very nice to be clean and tidy instead of covered in dust.

7 countries, almost 8000 miles, and amazingly every target hit exactly according to the plan, and yet so much better than any expectation or imagination.

Cape Agulhas. The end of Africa, and the end of the trip. And that was an amazing trip. Not quite as good as riding a motorcycle across Mongolia and through Siberia, but close. Pretty damn close.

Day 27 – The Great Karoo

Last night at Sani Top Lodge was memorable, with a fantastic dinner of roast lamb with all the trimmings, including mint sauce. Just like home, and more difficult to believe given that we’re at the top of a rugged mountain pass in the kingdom of Lesotho.
Followed by a great sleep in the little round hut, just like the locals use, except with a shower and toilet and hot water and a decanter of sherry….

Coal fire burning through the night and glowing fiercely in time with the howling wind that increased all night but at least blew away the clouds at the top of the pass.

An early start, and down the pass. The top section is a series of very tight hairpins over rough rocky ground, and it drops away so steeply that as you turn in you can’t see where the track goes. A thrilling ride.

And then I drove nearly 1000 miles through the Great Karoo, also known as the valley of desolation.

Enormous expanses of land, edged with mountains. And then you crest a mountain pass and that landscape unfolds itself to reveal that it is ten times bigger on the other side.

So it’s big, then?

Oh yes.

How big exactly?

Ooh. Very.

A long day, but by pulling a double stint I’ve earned myself an extra day of r&r in Cape Town, before I have to fly home and go to work for the next 26 years to pay for this trip….

Day 26 – Sani Top, Lesotho

The Sani Pass. A 90 minute, first gear drive up to over 9000 feet on the roughest little track, with tight hairpins, steep climbs and big drops. Parts of the road are falling down the side of the mountain. The photos don’t do it justice because I could only stop on the wider flatter bits. Stop on the steep stuff and you won’t get moving again.

Near the top, the clouds reduce visibility to almost nothing. You hope nothing is coming the other way because there’s nowhere to pass without a reversing manoeuvre that would be simply terrifying. They had snow here a couple of days ago.

At the top, we’re above the clouds, and as well as tonight’s accommodation in a traditional rondavel (round thatched hut, nice little wood fire going and 50mph wind whistling through, and very oddly a crystal decanter of sherry – all very cosy), we have the highest pub in Africa, with the first reliable internet connection ive seen in days, and a beer that helps calm the nerves after that drive.

And apart from a photo call at Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost point, that’s all my targets hit. It feels like I’m celebrating the end of the trip, in this little pub at 2874 metres above sea level. Nice.

Except that I have to go down that road tomorrow before I can really count on finishing….

Day 25 – Zululand

Fugitives Drift monument

Quick drive to the border and then on into kwazulu-natal and the battlefield sites of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift.

The standard of driving has been predictably poor, but in Namibia and Botswana there’s so little traffic it doesn’t matter. In South Africa, people drive like they don’t have a brain.

Rorkes Drift is quite an interesting place, but perhaps the most interesting thing is why the hell any Dutch or English ever gave a toss about such a vast area of fairly uninteresting dusty brown land, just to protect the colonised south. When you stand on a sandstone ledge where once a Welsh rifleman jabbed downwards with bayonet as a Zulu warrior stabbed upwards with spear, you wonder how often that soldier had asked “what on earth have those bloody idiots sent us here for?”

Approaching tonight’s accommodation there seems to be a bush fire and there are flames lapping g at the side of The Beast as I follow the trail. I can hear the crackling and spitting of the fire as it creeps along through the scrubland. I wonder if I’ll reach Rorkes Drift Lodge only to find it burned to the ground, but it turns out the the burning, which is filling the entire valley with smoke and can be seen for miles around, is a deliberate act to clear the ground ready for the rains to trigger new growth.

When the sun sets, the distant hillside across the valley opposite the terrace of my lodge becomes a black silhouette decorated with ribbons and dots of orange light. More bushfires, this time unplanned. From this distance it looks like lava flowing down the side of a volcano. Meanwhile I devour my traditional local dinner of chicken potjie.

The Zulu leopard guards the Shields of the fallen at Rorkes Drift

Day 24 – Swaziland

More delays with road closures but then a swift border crossing into Swaziland with immediately distinctive scenery.

From the desert in Namibia, through the bushland of Botswana, and now into mountainous and pine-forested terrain of the kingdom.

An early arrival at the campsite inside the Mlilwane wildlife reserve means I have the chance to rent a mountain bike and ride around the wildlife (fortunately nothing too vicious except for the crocodiles) and up a mountain in 30 degree heat….

Lots more amusing/interesting signs today… Apparently in one of the local languages the word for crocodile is flatdog. Lol.

Day 23 – En route to Swaziland

Just when you get ahead of schedule you get a 2 hour road closure to bring you back to reality.
Not much of interest today. Saw more interesting signs than sights. Including the ones that say “High crime risk – Do not stop your vehicle”

Hmmm. And being back in Zuid Africa I thought would be lower risk. I suppose it’s more about population density than poverty. There’s certainly more population. Makes it feel a bit too normal, but then you get place names like the Limpopo river, which evoke some sense of adventure.

Took a meandering route to my lakeside campsite, seeking better views. Though it’s more hilly than Botswana it’s still not very attractive. No matter, all I’m doing is heading to Swaziland, where I will be tomorrow, subject to road closures and other acts of the gods…

Day 22 – Back in SA

Overlanding in Africa involves a lot of parking under trees, a baobab in this case.

There’s a tree in Botswana that the locals call the rain tree. If you stand under it, you might think it’s starting to rain.

It isn’t.

There is a certain type of insect that lives in the rain tree, feasting on the leaves and then, um, let’s say excreting.

The locals do not stand under the rain tree…

Strong progress today on surprisingly good roads, some of them seemingly brand new smooth tarmac. With Botswana’s flat landscape offering little reason to stop, I find myself already back in SA and almost a day ahead of schedule.

Overlanding frequently leads to the stick or twist game. When you haven’t prebooked somewhere desirable because you’re just in transit to the next point of interest, then you probably have some possible overnight accommodation options planned. If you pass them all much earlier than expected, you can decide to stick, knowing that there is a place to stay but that you will be killing time in an unexciting place, or you twist. 

Keep on moving, get ahead of the plan, gain some flexibility for the next day, but at the risk of not finding any campsite or motel with space available before it gets dark, and all of them unknown and unresearched.

Sometimes, twisting fails and you end up sleeping on a pile of gravel at the side of the road still wearing your motorcycle helmet like a mini tent just for your head (Black Sea, Turkey, 2009).

Sometimes, like today, you win, and after a remarkably brief passage through the border back into SA, then past a 2 mile queue of trucks waiting for their turn to head north into Botswana, you happen upon what you think will be a campsite but turns out to be a very cosy little chalet with a fridge, air-con, and satellite TV, for little more than £20.

After the overlanders favourite dinner of pasta slop, cooked on the gas burner on the tailgate of The Beast, all I have to do now is study the map and replan tomorrow’s drive looking for a more scenic route to the campsite in Swaziland that is booked for the day after.

Day 21 – Moremi Game Reserve


At 6am my new Botswanian (Botswanese?) friend Sadie and I climbed into our safari car, worryingly a Land Rover instead of the more reliable Landcruiser, and began the 3 hour drive to Moremi on a very badly corrugated and rutted sand road.

At first Moremi doesn’t compare well to Etosha. There’s the usual scattering of Eland, Springbok, and Impala, a handful of Zebra and Giraffe, and a few Elephants with a calf so young it can barely walk.


There certainly isn’t the density of wildlife that you see so easily in Etosha. On the other hand, it’s much more wild. The roads in Etosha offer easy driving and easy viewing, but there are always several other vehicles in sight. At Moremi, for most of the day you feel like you could be the only humans there, and unlike the well-made gravel roads of Etosha, the rough trails in Moremi look like they’ve had just a handful of vehicles along. Instead of driving down the road looking at the African wilderness you’re actually in it. Really in it, surrounded by it on all sides, part of it, not just next to it looking in.

And then two male Lions under a tree, sleeping off the Hippo they’ve recently eaten according to the guide’s assessment of the bones we found elsewhere.


Just a short distance away, 7 lionesses and 5 cubs all resting under another tree.



Later, a picnic lunch under a big baobab tree.

Also saw a load of Hippos slurping through the mud, and a troop of Baboons picking ticks off each other. And eating them.

During the drive back, I was really glad someone else was driving and it wasn’t my vehicle being pounded on those roads. More importantly, I doubt I would have found those Lions or the superb picnic spot. Our guide did a great job, and Sadie was so happy and bubbly that even the tiring parts of the day were great fun.

Now on towards Swaziland, which is a few days driving away from here. Thanks Botswana, you pulled it off nicely at the end!




Day 20 – Okavango Delta




Took a very bumpy flight over the delta in a little Cessna. The delta is unusually dry like everywhere else in this region, but still an impressive sight.

Huge herds of elephants and buffalo, many scattered smaller groups of giraffe and zebra.

With the bumpiness of the ride it was very difficult to take photos, especially on zoom. Resorted to no zoom and even then it was still hard.

Spent most of the return flight feeling rather queasy…

Failed to capture any photos that convey the sheer scale of the place or the impressive density of wildlife.

The people I booked the Moremi game reserve campsite have indeed shafted me, so instead of driving in myself I had to arrange a guided game drive. Which then got cancelled, so I had to run around again trying to find another option.

In theory, I’ve finally got one set up for tomorrow. If it does happen, it will be interesting to see what it’s like letting someone else do the driving.