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25 Days in Africa: Expedition to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana

Omri Ginzburg | July 2015

September 18 of 2014, Nhamani Street in Tel Aviv, a birthday party at a friend’s place. I go out to the porch with a bottle of beer and join quite the lively conversation. The first sentence I could interpret was “Omri will definitely want to come”. The second was “are you coming to a 4X4 trip in Africa?”, and the rest was history. 

Quick links:

The Video

Preparation

I’ll start with a confession, never have I prioritized a trip to Africa, it hasn’t even been a fantasy of mine. In fact, I’ve never traveled on a 4X4 outside the all-too-close borders of Israel. I dreamt of New Zealand and Australia, but Africa always seemed too wild and dangerous, a trip that would require more than I can handle both in planning and in execution. 

The beginning was very hard, mostly because we couldn’t find enough information to get us focused. We gave the trip 3 weeks and decided it should be in May, the beginning of the winter and the dry season in the south of the continent. Piece by piece, we started understanding what we’re up against, and built the trip’s outlines. We leave Johannesburg, South Africa, and head west, through Namibia till we get to the Atlantic Ocean, and then we head north up the coastline till we get to the famous Etosha National Park, return east through the Caprivi Strip (north-east Namibia), and then go south through Botswana and the Okavango Delta back to Johannesburg.

About two weeks before the trip, I started up Google Maps, and got working on a GPS file with a detailed navigation axis of the whole route, which includes points of interest we got from tips (attached). Some of the days were planned easily, since most of the driving was done on marked un-paved roads, but the off-road days were a different story. I found myself sitting in the a.m., utilizing Google Earth’s zoom as far as it would go, looking for 4X4 track marks around the rivers and deserts of Namibia. 

Days 1-4: Hard landing (Rover)

The first 3 days were, for the most part, getting to the beginning of our trip to Namibia. On our way to Namibia, we planned to visit the Augrabies Falls, but the Defender begged to differ. Near the end of the first day, the transfer got a life of its own and started idling randomly every couple of minutes. After consulting the company mechanic over the satellite phone, we decided to get to the nearest town and find an auto shop. “Nearest” in African terms is 200 km. 

On the next day, the rescue team came on a new Defender. The rattling new Defender that just now finished an 8 hour drive was ready for 10 more hours on the dirt roads of southern Africa. We decided to skip Augrabies Falls to catch up with our original schedule, and went directly to Fish River Canyon, Africa’s Grand Canyon. A spectacular sunrise view over a river gushing through the huge canyon. 

Days 5-7: Getting to Know Namibia’s Beauty 

We woke up before dawn and went to the red dunes of Sossusvlei. The whole area offers amazing natural phenomena to witness such as tall dunes, plants, wildlife and of course the Deadvlei – the valley of dead trees. You cannot miss this amazing sunrise that can only be seen from the tops of these dunes, the bold shades of red and the stupefying play of light and shadow between the dunes themselves. 

We headed north form Sossusvlei, towards the town Swakopmund. These were some very quick 400 km on some neatly tightened dirt roads. Straight roads as long as 100 km, astonishing desert view and infinite spaces. The view doesn’t stop surprising us, especially as it changes about once an hour.

Deadvlei, Sossusvlei, See all Photos

At first the endless desert was a very bright shade of brown, and then immediately everything becomes a shade of red, and after there are black rocks and short, yellow flora. 

My relationship with the Defender was getting better, as its behavior on these roads was a pleasant surprise. The car accelerated quite well, the steering was precise and despite the equipment we had on the rooves, shifting the vehicle’s center of mass felt safer and smooth and controlled. 400 km of gentle drifting on the turns, and pressing the pedal to get a bit more speed when exiting the turns. The dirt roads are surprisingly well-maintained. The speed limit on most of these roads is 120 km/h, which is about 20 km/h more than what this big defender should be doing. 

The last part we did from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund was along the coast of the Atlantic, during sunset. This is also the place where the Skeleton Coast starts, and you can even see one of the sunk ships (if you don’t go north, like we have). 

Days 13-15: Etosha National Park

Namibia’s largest Safari. If you’re into animals and you don’t have too much time on your hands, this is your place. The concept is very simple – you take a map of the park waterholes, and you go form spot to spot.

when you’re near a water resource, you just turn off the motor, open up a bottle of Savanna and watch. Like in a documentary taken by National Geographic, the animals come to drink water. At first, there are just a couple of zebras, then the giraffes and the antelopes come out; a single elephant appears form the bushes, followed by 30 more, and you sit and check these creatures off your bucket list. 

Tigers and lions are a different story, though. Some say you have to put in some sort of effort, but in my opinion, it’s purely a matter of luck. No matter how much we tried to see lions, we could only see cheetahs and tigers, not that I’m complaining – the latter are very rare, but I can say that this is the point when our expedition started obsessing over lions (more to come). 

Sunset, Etosha National ParkSee all Photos

Days 16-19: They are all in the Bush

We headed towards the Caprivi Strip in north-east Namibia. After Etosha, we had a serious voltage drop. We had enough of the elephants and giraffes and wanted to see some lions. Wherever we went, we kept asking about their last whereabouts. The thing about lions (well, mostly lionesses, really) is that they’re very hot, so the odds to see one are highest in the early morning, 6 a.m. – 9 a.m., a fact that made us wake up at 5 a.m. every day till the end of the trip (did I mention the obsession?).  The Caprivi Strip was crossed quickly, and we were in Botswana. We hired a guide, grabbed a boat and went to a boat safari along the Chobe River. After an hour and a half of cruising, a couple of crocodiles and a hippo, we were back on track. 

The next day we slept in Senyati, a camping site that has a unique second floor bar (yes, the kind that serves beer), overviewing a waterhole; you can go downstairs, to a watching spot in a bunker underground 3 meters away from the waterhole. I don’t think I could be closer to a trunk if I was an elephant myself. 

We kept waking up at sunrise and even hired a local guide who could help us locate the lions. After searching for three hours, spotting an infinite amount of paw-prints, all we got was “They’re all in the bush”, which roughly translates to “NO lions for you”. 

Moremi Game Reserve, See all Photos

Days 20-22: Wild Botswana

We said our farewells to the Chobe River, and started going south towards Moremi Game Reserve. The view Botswana offered differed greatly from Namibia’s deserts. We went from a sandy desert to heavy greenery, Huge Baobab trees that seem to reach the sky and a sandy terrain that tries to challenge our Defenders. When have you last done 200 km in a single-track dune? It’s impossible to describe the feeling of satisfaction and driving that turns to a tremendous sense of exhaustion at the end of the day. 70-80 km of wars to stay in fourth gear, every word about the Defender’s function is unnecessary.  

Botswana’s sleeping locations are absolutely wild. For the most part, they are comprised of a small central building with an office, and next to it a joint toilet and showers. The place itself is basically a tree with a stone fire pit next to it, sometimes with a point of tap water. The bizarreness of it all hits you when you realize that the camping site is exactly the place where one should look for lions. 

Day 22 was the last day of our quest for lions. Guess what… We haven’t seen any. As a consultation prize, we got to wake up a tiger that was asleep 10 meters from us, and then take photos of a rare pack of African wild dogs. 

Days 22-24: Okavango Delta 

We did the land trip, we did the boat safari, and now it was time to fly. The scenic flight above the Delta is quite expensive (100$ for 45 minutes), but it lets you get a perspective of its size. It was a good ending for a trip we spent at a human’s height around the wildlife of Africa. 

In Conclusion

The 7,000 km we’ve seen are but a drop in the vast sea of sights that is Africa. I’ve never watched the way wild animals live at such proximity, much less in the wilderness. The beauty of this trip is that you can do it either in your 30s (like our group did) or in your 60s and later (like most of the groups we’ve met). You can choose to sleep in a Spartan camping spot in the middle of nothing but nature, or get reservations at comfortable lodge in the middle of the desert. The availability is quite surprising, most of the dirt roads between the sightseeing spots are good for driving for normal cars. We’ve completed most of the things we planned to do, but in retrospect I can say that 23 days is just not enough. There aren’t enough days to take the time and enjoy the sites and the reservations you visit. Most of the trip (especially the part before Etosha) was a race against time.

For people who have 25 days, like we did, I’d suggest making the routes shorter. People who have 35+ days, I think they should leave it as is and enjoy all the amazing places you get to visit along the way.

I have no doubt that this trip is the first page of my romance with the continent of Africa.

I must address my love-hate relationship with the Defender. Those who have seen my 4x4 know I’m very strict about it, and despite its small size, I’m excited every morning just knowing it’s waiting for me in the driveway.

Every time I had to crawl under the Defender and see areas that were wet with oil or heard crackling sounds while driving, I told myself it just wasn’t my kind of vehicle. After 25 days with the machine, despite the wetness and the noise, I am in love. I’m certain that one day, a Defender will join my collection, even if all I do is look at it at while waiting for my cab to arrive. 

I’d be glad to help out with every question about planning a similar trip, and If you insist – I can also join your trip and guide you around. Lots of hours have been invested in planning this trip to the smallest details, so enjoy, share and tell the world how amazing Africa is.

 
 

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