Feb 2012 – A wet & green trip across RSA & Botswana

A different trip for us – with good friends – which turned out rather differently than planned.

Armed with my new Camera Canon SX40 on its 2nd outing I decided to stray from the safe path of automatic with some interesting results. I don’t pretend that they are fantastic but I am learning as I am shooting. The x35 Optical & digital zoom of some stunning 24-840mm has opened up all sorts of possibilities and many of the photos shown here were taken at full zoom. Patience is required and the ability to stand very still. Results when attached to a tripod and using delayed shoot give the best results. Unfortunately as we all know wildlife does not stand still very often.

Hans & Jooske Aarden (LCCSA forum members) arrived in Cape Town from Holland and picked up their Toyota Hilux rental and off we went on my 60th birthday across from Cape Town to Baviaanskloof. It was good to get away in order to stop thinking about age  and we made good time to Willowmore before entering the Kloof and staying at an old favourite of ours, Matjiesfontein, near the cave – where we had the entire farmhouse to ourselves. Lin had prepared food, which was frozen, for most of the trip, so catering was a breeze. We love this place and as usual it lived up to our expectations.

Baviaans Wildlife

Leaving the next day we tackled the rest of the Kloof which it has to be said has been spoilt by cementing parts of the track, so really, an ordinary car could traverse this with little difficulty – that said it is still a beautiful drive but instead of going all the way to Patensie we took off up towards Steytlerville and Antoniesberg pass. We have done this route before and knew what to expect. Hans & Jooske, whilst old African “organised tour” hands, had never done a 4×4 route before – this I didn’t know – we pulled off at the Groot River crossing to make a bush camp for the night whereupon Hans informed me of this fact 🙂 Well all I can say is that he coped really well and given that the weather was not great and the route rather heavy going in places he certainly earned his wings. The bush-camp proved to be fine if somewhat wet but we made the best of it.

Bush Camp

The Pass

Morning brought more inclement weather and we beat a route up the other side and out to Steytlerville where we descended upon the hotel for a well-earned F.E.B.

The weather was definitely getting worse and we arrived at our B&B in Aberdeen in pouring rain. The B&B proved to be less than satisfactory as the owner has permanent guests – at a cheaper rate – whom she turfs out when others want to stay – we arrived to find other peoples personal belongings in the rooms – yawellnofine – we won’t be going back there.

It rained and rained all night and in the morning we made our way to Beaufort West where we were supposed to stay in the lovely Karoo National Park Campsite – given the state of the weather it was a no brainer and we upgraded to chalet accommodation. I have never seen Beaufort West look more like Scotland – it was unbelievable. Rather cold and damp to say the least.

A Scottish Scene – Beaufort West

Karoo National Park

Karoo National Park

Bad news reached us at this stage in that Jooske’s Grand-Father in Holland had died and it was felt necessary that they should return at once to the family. This was a major blow to all our plans but could not be helped so in the morning Hans & Jooske headed back to Cape Town down the N1 where our daughter was able to assist them with un-packing and for them to get to the airport for the night flight to Holland. It was quite a shock for us all.

The weather, if possible, was worse when we headed off on our own across country as planned to Loxton and towards Verneukpan. The roads were not good. At Loxton the rain was so fierce we simply had to pull off and wait for it to pass. Crossing the Western Cape Border the road turns into an un-maintained track. The deep mud thereon and water filled dongas caused my ABS sensors to become covered and so my warning lights all came on – having had this before I knew not to panic and as soon as we could, we found a garage who charged me the princely sum of R 50 to clean off my rear wheels, with a high pressure hose, to solve the problem – not slow to charge these country people 🙁

We phoned ahead to Verneukpan to Louis who advised against staying there so we pressed on and eventually out ran the weather at Keimos where we stayed at the Keimos Die Werf which was a welcome, if somewhat hot, relief. Here I was able to clean off the underside of the Cruiser properly.

Moving on the next day saw us at Augrabies which Hans & Jooske had particularly wanted to visit. It was probably better that they did not get there as this is a real disgrace – two full years after the floods and damage and they have done absolutely nothing – when questioned about it they said that the builders had been un-able to start due to rain – I made the point that they build houses in England – as expected this went way over the heads. It has to be said that it really is a total disgrace – SANParks should hang their heads in shame to let this jewel to slip so far down.

The weather looked like closing in again as we made our way through Upington to stock up and thence to Molopo Lodge where I am happy to report that one Reichard is still the Manager and things have gone from strength to strength – we were welcomed back like old friends and attention was paid to the detail. It was here that we met up with our Jhb friends Claire & Roger Scott (LCCSA forum members) with their 4500 EFI, Brutus Maximus !

It was good to be with them again and much camera knowledge was supplied by Claire; an avid birder & photographer.

We set off for the park at Twee Riverien, did all the customs & passport stuff, and our first night was spent at Rooiputs. The park was not very full. February is a time of year that can be both very hot & wet, not to everyone’s liking. For ourselves we don’t mind and it was stunning to see the park so green and with so much grazing. The animals all looked in superb condition.

The next day saw us taking a slow drive up towards Nossob where we were lucky enough to spot (thanks Claire) Cheetahs up on the hill side – photo at full zoom – as well as the usual lazy lions. Having stopped for a shower at Nossob we continued up to Polentswa, a great favourite of ours where we spent 2 days driving around and visiting Unions End. Again all the flowers made the place look like a country garden.

Road from Rooiputs Patience Pays off – at Full Zoom

Road to Nossob

Road to Polentswa

Polentswa

A Lions gotta do…………

We always enjoy both Rooiputs & Polentswa, Botswana parks booking hassles notwithstanding and from Polentswa we made a little whoops and took the Polentswa 4×4 wilderness route up to Kaa gate by mistake – I was under the impression that Claire had booked this and she thought she had too but on closer examination of the documents at Sesatswe Pan I realised that we were not doing this whole route but merely going to Kaa Gate. I must say that this is a stunning route and we will definitely go back and do the whole drive next time. As luck would have it we encountered no one en route so there were no hassles about it.

Tweeling Pan

Crossing Dinpho Pan

Road to Kaa Gate

Another one bites the dust – no oil leak though 🙂

We are Sailing, we are sailing – Sesatswe pan

Stopping for lunch at Sesatswe Pan we had a nice relaxing wander around – it was only upon leaving the pan that we discovered (Thanks, Lin does it again) that there were two Lions not 50 metres away ! It was a sad picture, an older mature male seemingly looking after an ancient old male who looked blind and was having breathing difficulties – he certainly did not look in good shape and I wonder how much longer he will live – I also wonder if this is usual or if they were both forced out of a pride.

Road to Kaa Gate

We were supposed to stay the night at Sizatswe Pan down from Kaa and I think that this is what led to the confusion about which route to take but as it was getting on we asked at the gate if we could stay at Lins famous lion meeting place of the small camp at Kaa gate. Needless to say this time we saw no lions but the night had other plans for us – a storm of monumental proportions appeared on the horizon and all hell broke loose before we could escape into our tents – not only did the contents of the RTT get soaking wet (because “someone” didn’t close up properly – mention no names…) but we and everything around the place almost drowned too. What a night. Lin hates thunder & lighting and the wind was ferocious. It went on all night – what joy sleeping on wet bedding. In the morning it was like nothing had happened so out came the mattress et al for a quick drying session.

The Storm

We then moved on down to Sizatswe pan but decided not to stay there but to go on a bit to Thupapedi Pan which is raised up above the pan with a lovely view – we shared the site with a swarm of bees nesting in the ground but we left each other alone and all was well. In the morning moving off we discovered lion prints next to the track.

Thupapedi Pan

We now made our way back to the Gate at Kaa and left the park making for Masetleng Pan remembering to fill up with some fresh water at the staff camp in exchange for some fruit. We travelled the same road that caused the bubbles to develop on my BFG Muds last year. I am glad to report that this time, same pressures, same load, but on Maxxi Bighorns from Cris Ingram I had no type issues at all, at any stage, on this trip. To be fair they are brand new tyres and the BFG’s that I had the problem with had been new when we went to Soya on the Congo Border in Angola, on those terrible roads, two years ago and the BFG’s gave me no issues on that trip either. So time will tell how the Maxxis work out, but my initial impression is that they are nice tyres albeit a bit noisy on the tar. Not an issue for me.

Road to Masetleng Pan

Someone put up a question a while back about Phoshwane pan which is about 5kms off to the left off the main track to Masetleng and having gone to Masetleng and seeing that there were other campers in residence we went down to Phoshwane. What a pleasant surprise that turned out to be. In fact we stayed here for two nights and it is to be highly recommended. During our stay an official visited us to take photos of the facilities – boma/kraal, loo & bucket shower and high lookout tower in bad shape; and told us that he was visiting all the places as they are going to upgrade and charge accordingly for them in the future. He reminded us that we had to pay the chief at Ngwatle Village a fact we knew and when we went through the village two days later there was a reception party waiting for us – bush telegraph ! We paid 50 pula per person per day plus vehicle also 50 p.day.

Phoshwane Pan

Masetleng Pan

We were making our way to Hukuntsi as Roger needed petrol for Brutus Maximus but we also stocked up with some beers and fruit too before continuing on our way south to Mabuasehube Gate. The sand route to the gate was quite thick and deep and I managed to go off route into the deep stuff and had to be pulled out by Roger (luckily no photos and in any event we had dug around and I think I would got out anyway) and thus we duly arrived at the Gate where we found everything had changed since our last visit. All was fine but we had to do some fancy footwork as Roger & Claire were going to return to Jhb from here in two days whereas we were doing the Mabuasehube Wilderness Trail which we had booked to do with Hans & Jooske as they require a minimum of two Vehicles – with Hans & Jooske having to return prematurely to Holland this could have presented a problem but given that the park was so empty and we saw little in the way of officialdom we simply just took the risk and did it on our own. After all we had a satellite phone and I’m driving a cruiser ! Right ! Prior to this we spent a lovely two days travelling around the Mabuasehube Pan areas with lots of good bird sightings.

At Mabuasehube Pan

So Roger and Claire pushed off home and we set off for the short trip to Mosomane Pan. We knew that there had been a problem there not so long ago with lions so we did a quick tour of the pan to gather some old wood to add to what we already had so that we could have a good night fire and the night duly passed without incident.

The next day we continued to complete the route out and back to Nossob where we enjoyed the good ablutions. However it has to be said that having spent so long away from other people it was a bit of a shock to the system to encounter other vehicles and people.

At Nossob

We had booked to travel the Bitterpan Route and to stay at the Reed cottages so off we went in the morning. They don’t allow trailers on this route but I really can’t see why the route is not at all difficult in any way. In fact we didn’t think much of it at all and saw very little. Arriving at the Reed camp we were a bit put out by the fact that there are four huts all joined by a common walkway with loos opposite and a communal kitchen. (Four women in the same kitchen – I don’t think so !) This would be fine if there are eight of you in 4 cars travelling to-gether but it could be less than satisfactory if you got unlucky with your fellow campers. As it turned out a German family with children arrived but as there were no night drives or pool (!) they pushed on to Mata Mata so we had the entire place to ourselves which was a welcome relief. The weather collapsed again that night with a spectacular light and rain show. This made for easy going in the morning with firm sand and in no time we were back on the road up to the Kalahari Tented Camp at Mata Mata.

Bitterpan Route

Bitterpan

After a night of rain

We had originally booked Mata Mata as with Hans & Jooske we were going to cross into Namibia and come back via the Richtersveld. Given that we would have had to go back down to Twee Riverien first to be stamped out of Botswana and then travel back up to Mata Mata it was decided that now we didn’t have Hans & Jooske with us that we would cancel this part of the trip and return via the Tankwa Karoo. So having spent an enjoyable time at Mata Mata where we also noticed that they have built some new cottages down on the river bed – worth some investigation I think – we set off again back towards Twee Riverien and out of the park back to Molopo Lodge. I bought more fire wood here – they have really lekker large bags at R50 a bag which I duly strapped to the box on top.

Near Mata Mata

Water Hole at Mata Mata

Near Mata Mata

What I fat tummy I’ve got !

Look wot I got

Our next night was supposed to be Verneukpan but again the weather was against us and Louis phoned to say that it would not be a good idea to go there – understatement – the heavens opened in force and again we drove through torrential rain with a light & thunder show going on around us plus huge winds all the way down the R27 from Upington to just before the turn off to Middlepos where normal vision was resumed. The braai wood was a little wet 🙂

Middlepos, what can one say – it’s such a pity, this could be such a nice place as a stopover prior to going into the Tankwa Karoo. Helene is most welcoming at the hotel and the food is very good but everything is run down and there’s so much cleaning up that needs to take place. I can’t help feeling that if a few self-catering cottages were build and the hotel upgraded they could turn this place into something. I know water is always a problem here but the hotel water system is really poor and everything is so run down.

Having been in the Tankwa at Xmas it was like coming home. We travelled down the beautiful Gannaga Pass once more and booked in at SANparks reception and were delighted to find that Vaarschfontein Farm house was available. We did some driving around, going up to the Elandsberg Cottages, which I know many people like – but the little plunge pools are infested with bees and everything is a bit twee I think – also some of the cottages are actually over-looked by the others. The best ones are down the far end from the road. We went up the 4×4 route – as much of it as was open – and took photos of the spectacular scenery from the top of Elandsberg.

Elandsberg View

The Vaarschfontein Farm house is lovely, it can accommodate up to 9 people in three rooms, well fitted out and in a really lovely position with its own windmill and dam right out the back door. There is a small water hole nearby and the animal & bird life is quite prolific. It was wonderful to spend a quiet night here and to leave the park via the small exit through the private farm back onto the R355 and thus home to Cape Town arriving mid-afternoon before the traffic gets going.

Vaarschfontein Farm House Area

So we did in all about 5500Kms – no punctures or any hassles, my already cracked windscreen cracked some more from the roads so now it really needs replacing. It was a pity that Hans & Jooske couldn’t share this. After they left I tried to get some friends to join us but no one could make a spur of the moment commitment. In the end it didn’t matter as in a way we were with them for a week, Roger and Claire for 10 days and on our own for a week so a good dose of variety all round.

We love the Kgalagadi more & more and to see it at this time of the year looking so green and then coming home through the Tankwa which was its usual dusty self was quite a mind shift ! Happy Days.

More trip photos at:- Google+: Trip Photo Albums