Botswana Series (4)

The Long Way Home

We thought it would be useful to close off our Botswana series with some options for the return leg of the trip from Kasane in the north of Botswana.

In order to limit time wasted on border crossings, it makes sense to keep them to the minimum, especially when they can be a bit eventful sometimes! 

So this time we opted for the quickest way back to South Africa, which is to take the A33 from Kasane to Nata. The road is a good tar road, just watch out for the elephants and other game crossing the road; we don’t recommend driving this road after dark.  

A nice stop over is Elephant Sands, about 245km south of Kasane. All the accommodation, as well as the restaurant/bar area, are arranged around a water hole, a veritable oasis in the dry surroundings; we enjoyed watching a herd of twenty elephants at close proximity quenching their thirst.  

Elephants at Elephant Sands

Another 50km later you arrive at Nata where you join the A3. This is the main road that horizontally traverses central Botswana from Ghanzi in the west to Francistown in the east. At Nata head to Francistown, 190km away, where you will find a great place to overnight at Woodlands Lodge, just north of town.  

From Francistown it’s south on the A1 for 170km to Palapye, where the travellers headed for Gauteng have the option of heading east to Martin’s Drift, or continuing south for another 270km to Gaborone. From there you can exit via Tlokweng, Lobatse, or Ramatlabama.

A word of advice; there are a number of check-points along this route (at least three), to ensure you carry no meat or dairy products. It is illegal to transport these goods from north to south and west to east (goodness knows why!).  

On our original trip in 1991, we returned via Zimbabwe. 

If time is on your side, we recommend a slight detour via Zambia, as we did this year.  

Firstly, the border crossing at Kazungula is an adventure all in itself! 

Things are relatively organised when exiting on the Botswana side, and even the ferry crossing is not all that bad, but it turns to pure mayhem when the rickety vessel deposits you on the Zambian side. The harassment by the so-called “runners” begins even before you get onto the ferry; at first it’s a casual hello, which soon turns into a life-long friendship!

The first time you attempt the crossing, it makes sense to hire a runner, because they are an inexpensive way to guide you through the chaos.  Be specific about the fee you are prepared to pay for their service from the very start. In 2019 it amounted to about ZAR150 (payable in any currency you have) but google the latest “tariffs” before your trip.  You need to pass through 6 stations on the Zambian side, and despite what you may read online, you should take all the required documentation (registration papers, insurance policies, police clearance certificate, and whatever else they decide to dream up between mid-2019 and when you read this article). The Interpol station wanted to send us back to Botswana because we didn’t have our police clearance certificate.  All up, you need to budget just north of ZAR1000, which includes insurance and road tax, and the mission will take you between 2 to 3 hours.  

However, in order to experience this “adventure” you need to do it soon because the bridge being built is nearing completion; our best guess is sometime in mid-to-late 2020. 

Once clear of formalities, head east on the tarred M10 towards Livingston. There are a number of lodges located along this 60km stretch, and we highly recommend Camp Nkwazi, situated halfway between Kazungula and Livingston, right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi.  

Every site is private and well grassed; in fact the entire place exudes a tropical lushness that’s welcome indeed after an extended stint in the dry parts of Botswana. Two sites share an ablution block, so essentially you have your own private facilities. Hot water is via a “donkey”, but don’t worry, it is stoked in time for your morning shower (and again in the evenings).  

Campsite at Camp Nkwasi

The staff at Camp Nkwazi are seriously client focused and the communal area, with its deck extending onto the Zambezi, is simply amazing. The river is 500m wide at this point, and they offer a great value-for-money sunset cruise. The fishing trips are on the expensive side, but you stand a good chance of catching a Nembwe or Tiger, which is more than can be said for Kasane (unfortunately that appears to have been fished out). Considering you are only about 30mins drive from Livingstone, Camp Nkwazi is a great base to spend a couple of days to explore this gem of a place (see our previous article for what’s on offer in Livingstone and Victoria Falls).

Before deciding on Zimbabwe as a viable return route, you need to research the prevailing conditions in terms of police roadblocks, availability of fuel, and any other destabilising factors that can arise in Africa at any given point in time. In stark contrast to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, we would be hesitant to travel alone through Zimbabwe, rather attempt it with a couple of other vehicles in your party.  

From Victoria Falls you can travel south-east through Zimbabwe on the A8. In 1991 we visited Hwange National Park and stayed at Sinamatella Camp; the memories are vague, but we do remember it being beautiful with impressive mahogany forests.  Sinamatella is where I saw my first Crested Barbet, weird things we remember! From there we headed to Great Zimbabwe, via Bulawayo, known for its wide tree-lined roads, originally designed for a team of sixteen oxen to make a full turn.  Great Zimbabwe is 300km east of Bulawayo, near the town of Masvingo, and certainly worth a visit. Built over a 300-year period between the 11th and 15th centuries, the remaining ruins testify to a building skill that will leave you astonished.  From here it is a 340km dash south to Beitbridge, the only border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In 2011, when we did Botswana with our 4 teenage kids, we decided to return from Kasane via Namibia, which is a great option, especially if you hail from Cape Town. 

The best place to exit Botswana is at Ngoma Bridge, about 60km west of Kasane, where after you take the A8 towards Katima Mulilo, 70km away. Have a bite at an interesting eatery in Katima, and then make your way to Mudumu National Park, one of the best-kept secrets in Namibia. 

Owing to its remoteness, it is not much visited, which adds to the appeal. There are only 3 campsites, but each is massive and can accommodate many set-ups. All the sites are located along the Kwando River and the place is truly untamed. You should spend at least two nights here and just enjoy being in the middle of nowhere. 

Next head west on the B8, but beware the 250km tar road through the Kaprivi stip to the Popa Falls area is rather uneventful. Also note, Popa Falls is not the same as Epupa Falls on the Kunene River. Popa Falls, essentially a set of rapids, can be found on the Kavango River on route to the Okavango Delta. We stayed at the Rainbow River Lodge, which has a fantastic deck right on the river, perfect for sun downers. 

The trip through Namibia has too many options to mention in a single article, so we will briefly mention only a couple; if you haven’t visited Etosha National Park, well that’s one wildlife destination that should be on everybody’s bucket list.

A bit further south, we really enjoyed Waterberg Plateau National Park for its lush vegetation and unique table-top mountain setting, where wildlife is quite literally trapped without fences.  Finally, a quick stop over at Hobas to marvel at the Fish River Canyon, the second largest of it’s kind after the Grand Canyon in Arizona, is a sight to behold and rounds off an epic adventure perfectly.

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