Bush Trip – Thousands of kilometres through Africa for a Leopard

The personal impressions of a more than 6000 kilometers measuring journey through the African bush, searching for photographically special moments with the wild animals of southern Africa, and finally I have my leopard photo.

Sand stuck, after a hundred metres…

Crap… Once again my vehicle got stuck on a small hill of soft sand. Again it’s time to take the shovel and set the Nissan NP200 free. And crap will help me; dried elephant dung, to be precise. It’s a perfect help to get the car rolling when being put under the wheels. But that doesn’t change my jeep, rented by Britz Maui, being a total misconception. Wheelbase as well as engine power and equipment are a joke. But one after the other.

The journey with this car will take me almost 6,300 kilometres through southern Africa. Starting point is, as usual, Johannesburg. Then I continue to Marakele National Park, which is half way to the Botswana border. Then through Groblersbrug, a small and quiet border post, to visit Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Khama is near Serowe, a city behind Palapye, when coming from the South.

I like the Khama and was there already in 2015. The campsites under Baobab trees are great, not expensive and Khama has high chances to see rhinos. Not a bit of it… Only few Elands and other antelopes, rushing across the Serwe salt pan, could be spotted. So the journey continues as planned, to the north, to Okavango Delta. I drive along the big Makgadikgadi Pans. My car ride gets framed by dozens of dust and sand devils moving into the CGKR.

Along the way I take the decision to revisit Nxai Pan, where I’ve been in 2015 as well. Hence I drive north along Boteti River and get stuck in soft sand. Even the lowest tyre pressure of just a bit over 1 bar is not enough to get this Nissan toy safely through the sand. Well, it’s time again to dig ou the car and search for elephant dung in blazing heat.

It gets dryer and drier

Boteti River seems quite dry, but first elephants as well as zebras spend their day at it. In Nxai Pan only one waterhole provides urgently needed water. Signs that the current dry season is a lot harder than usual are unmistakeable. Sightings in Nxai Pan are ok but not spectacular, hence I carry on to the Delta after revisiting Baines Baobabs.

Having arrived Maun, I spend the night at Old Bridge Backpackers and get robbed there in the first night. Actually I like this place. The Backpackers has a good kitchen, good bar and the quality of the ablutions is fine. But now all my cash of almost 500 Euro is gone. Only the Lord knows how the thief could get into my room… Super annoying, as for entering Zimbabwe one needs US Dollar, and cash only. Temporary import permit for the car plus visas and a little bribe money, to make things going faster, need approx. 200 of those green Yankee banknotes.

Now I have to reorganise everything. The Unimoni branch at Choppies in Maun provides great help at very good conversion rates. At the same time I organise my trip to the Okavango Delta myself. Yes, myself, because I want the right people profiting from my money. Lazy peoples pay their trip at the hotel. Then quickly 70 US$ per day and person are charged. I, on the other hand, pay only 20 US$ for two persons at the Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust. One has to organise one’s own supplies, transport and water either way. All you get in the end is a boat and a poler; what’s the same thing like booking through a hotel.

Self-organised into the Okavango Delta

The turn-off to reach the Delta is in Matsaudi, on the road to Moremi. From now on it’s a 4×4 drive. I hammer through the bush as otherwise the bloody jeep will die or get stuck again. Like others before my ride produces a nasty dust plume covering the whole vegetation to appear being powdered white. From Matsaudi to the Poler Station it’s another 20 kilometres ride lasting about an hour.

The Polers have fixed routes and terrains for day trips. It’s very hard to get something really individual. On the obligatory game walk it becomes quickly apparent, that there is a lot of water missing in the south of the Delta. I can spot young papyrus shoots already peeping out of the burnt ground. Normally they would stand in water by now. Also the Mokoro rides makes me shake my head. Although I see a few wild animals, this southern part of the Delta pretty much belongs to cattle. And cattle mean land seizure by the human. But that’s something I already noticed back in 2015.

In Maun I quickly book two more camps. Moremi National Park is the next destination (Xakanaxa Camp) and then Chobe (Ihaha Camp). Heading for Xakanaxa I take the detailed route to see everything. Basically I want to do a power boat trip up there, but the hour costs 60 US dollars. A trip should be at least 2 hours to see Xakanaxa lagoon fully. Fortunately I met two nice Berliners to share the boat fare. A first sighting is the very rare long-crested eagle. But then the magic moment happened when I finally got my leopard photo. Big cat, landscape, morning sun. Everything’s spot-on! Just like back in 2015, in the Kalahari, when I was allowed to shoot my cheetah photo.

A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved

The road to Savuti is meeeegaaaaaa sandy… Every few meters I have to fight as the jeep wants to get stuck. That’s super exhausting! I quickly realise that I won’t make it to Ihana, not even close. I reorganise everything. Savuti Rest Camp is fully booked, but two South Africans don’t hesitate to share their campsite with me. At night elephants and lions have a severe brawl at the near waterhole. Their fight makes air and soil vibrate, as if their clash happens only 500 centimetres away rather than 500 metres.

I continue to Kasane, to Chobe River and the same-named national park, a place I visited four years ago as well. This time I didn’t get charged by elephants but got to see a big breeding herd of buffalos with their calves. The sheer highlight were elephants and their babies crossing Chobe River as they wanted to graze on the river islands. However, an incredible number of boats were on the river. At least 30 vessels fought about the best place to watch the elephants. It’s rather frightening how tourist industry has developed here in the meantime.

Now it’s time for Zimbabwe. Final destination is Mozambique, as I want to meet with good friends from South Africa. Of course I make a stop at the Victoria Falls, which I also visited in 2015, but today everything is different. Mugabe is gone and old problems are back. Supply with fuel as well as cash is a big issue and also inflation rate has a few zeros more again. What inflation has too much, is Zambezi river missing, that is water. Even for a dry season the falls are far from being spectacular. The whole rock face of the Rainbow Falls is free of H2O.

With 200 litres of fuel through Zimbabwe

Because of supply problems (1 litre Diesel costs up to 7 US$) I refuel in Botswana everything what is able to become refuelled. Also I bought two canisters. With this moving tank I start the nearly 1,600 kilometres long journey to Mozambique. On the way to Mutare I spend a night in Masvingo. Zimbabwe’s campsites are gross…, as they seem to have received something like a maintenance or cleaning last time in the 1960’s.

In the morning I had to fight local monkeys about my breakfast. Later on, I had to “fight” again with corrupt Zimbabwean border guards. Fun fact: everyone had its birthday, on the same day, and wanted a present, of course… On the Mozambican side that fun continues. The life of Mozambican policemen usually happens between roadside and the local beer bar. Meaning to have a hell of small money with you. So why giving money if they are into beer? Hence I changed bribing from cash to local 2M beer and made fun out of being ripped off ;-)

Having arrived Inhasorro, Alan & Michelle already look around the corner. We spend several days at Cashew Bay Lodge. We take the boat out to the islands, but also notice quickly that weather is about to change to the worse. My South Africans probably dragged their boat 1,400 kilometres through southern Africa for nothing. Together we drive south, through the bad weather front, first to Coconut Bay, then to Maputo. Latter one is the capital of Mozambique and is hot spot. You can literally see that there is a lot of money in this city. Now the skyline is even topped by recently opened largest suspension bridge in the southern hemisphere.

Grande Finale in Pilanesberg

I go back to South Africa. One last time Mozambique pulls money out of my pocket as I cross the border. Through completely booked Kruger National Park I visit Three Rondavels and Nelspruit again. From there I get on my last stage, that is Pilanesberg National Park. I always wanted to explore Pilanesberg National Park myself, because of their African wild dogs. Unfortunately it wasn’t wild dog time at all, but other encounters were dazzling as I could see white and the much rarer black rhino. Other sightings were lions, red hartebeest, giraffes and of course elephants. This small but fine, and above all scenically very beautiful park in the northwest of Johannesburg, has a lot to offer and is anything but expensive. That’s why I’ll come back and to finally take my wild dog photo on my sixth trip to Africa.

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