Thursday, 28 June 2012

Our Journey through Limpopo Province, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe June 2012. Polokwane, South Africa to The Tuli Block, Botswana.


7th June 2012 to 11th June 2012.
Polokwane is set out like many South African cities, on a grid system. This makes it easy to find things like a Bank. First National Bank in this case where English Pounds were converted into South African Rand, at a far better rate then offered in the UK, and a Telecoms shop to purchase (yet another) dongle for the PC. 
Polokwane was a Host Town for the Football World Cup in 2010, so we went to have a look at the new sports grounds and stadium that were built for the occasion....very impressive.
Football Stadium, Polokwane.
 Then it was time to hit the R521 leaving Polokwane and heading North towards the town of Alldays. Then, on a further 60 KM to the Pont Drift Boarder crossing where we were scheduled to meet with the staff from Mashatu Game Lodge at 13.00. It was a distance of 206 Km and took almost 2 hours from Polokwane to Pont Drift.
Pont Drift Boarder Crossing. (I was not allowed to take photos from the South African side of the boarder looking towards Botswana.)
The Pont Drift Boarder Post is located on the Limpopo River, this is the border with South Africa and Botswana. It is open from 08.00 to 16.00. In order to use this crossing you need a 4x4 vehicle as there is no bridge or pontoon to use and even in a 4x4, you cannot cross if the river is in flood.
If the Limpopo this river is in flood you cannot cross in ANY vehicle, in this situation only foot passengers can cross useing the cable car, this will cost Pula 30 per passenger.

Point Drift Cable Car used to cross The Limpopo River.
If like today, the river is dry, then you can cross in a 4X4 vehicle. I was almost disappointed as we drove through the dry river bed and the Limpopo looked like a small muddy puddle as opposed to Rudyard Kiplings description in The Elephants Child. 'Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees'.

 


If you are hiring a Car and then want to cross a boarder out of South Africa, you will have to organise this with the hire car company BEFORE YOU TRY TO CROSS as you will have to show the customs officer the following;
  • A letter of confirmation from the hire car company, with your name on it, allowing you to cross boarders.  
  • The Certificate of Registration in respect of the vehicle you have hired, make sure you check that it is the certificate for the car you have hired and has the correct Registration number, engine number ect on it BEFORE you leave the car hire office! 
  •  A letter of Authority from the bank / financial services if the vehicle is still under finance.
For visitors from the UK, there are no Visa fees when you enter Botswana, if you are bringing a vehicle in this is a little different.
At the Botswana Border we had to pay;
  • RTP Road Permit, Pula 40.00 
  • Road Safety Levy, Pula 20.00 
  • Insurance, Pula 50.00 
We did not have any Pula, so paid in US $ at a very poor exchange rate!

Pont Drift Boarder Crossing, into Botswana.

We left the car at the Limpopo Valley Airstrip...its a real airport!
The arrangement with Mashatu was to meet at Point Drift and if the Limpopo was in flood, leave the car in a secure no man’s land and cross the river by cable car or if the river was dry, cross in the Mashatu Landover. Our Guides were at the boarder post waiting for us and on hearing that our next stop was Nata, and that we were in a 4x4, our guides advised us to follow them across the almost dry river bed and leave the car at the Tuli Block airstrip or Limpopo Valley Airfield. So this is what we did. The Northern Tuli Game Reserve or Tuli Block is located North of the Limpopo river, but West of Zimbabwe. It is in Botswana. The Tuli Block is generally referred to as ‘hardveld’, consisting of rocky outcrops and network of dry river beds. Much of the area is occupied by private game reserves and game farms. The Tuli Game Reserve is not open to self drivers, so to fully enjoy the area you have to book into one of the private game lodges, Mashatu, Botswana is one of these. Mashatu Game Reserve, bills its self as ‘Land of Giants’. It is an area at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers, its landscape changes from savannah, riverine forest, marshland, plains and sandstone outcrops. 
Mashatu Landscape, Botswana.
Mashatu takes its name from the locally revered Mashatu tree. It is the largest privately owned game reserve in Southern Africa at 33 000 ha. Elephant, Giraffe, Eland, Ostrich, Kudu, Impala as well as all the Cats are just some of the species found here.
The entrance to The Main Camp at Mashatu is built of local stones and the camp style is rustic, but don’t be fooled, it is luxury rustic. It is very comfortable. The rooms are extremely large, can accommodate 3 and have a day bed. An en suite bathroom with bath, a separate second toilet and a large walk in wardrobe.   
Room, Outside.
We had been greeted at the boarder by our guide, Kaiser. Upon arrival he showed us to our house and informed us that high tea was to be served at 15.00, following this we went out for our first game drive, meeting our tracker, Morgan.
The land was dry and dusty, it is the second year the summer rains have failed and the drought conditions are obvious. A strong wind was blowing causing thick dust storms.
Elephant and Dust.
Once back into camp at 19.00, we had a short time to wash the dust off and get ready for supper. Kaiser was our host during our stay and met us in the Gin Trap Bar prior to taking us into The Boma for a fine supper complete with South African wine.  This set the pattern for our three night stay at this high end, luxury lodge. The game viewing was spectacular and despite the dry conditions we saw many species. A family of six Cheetah, eating a scrub hair on day one. With a young Kudu and a Steenbok on day two. Then finally devouring fully grown impala male on day three!
Other highlights were tracking  Leopard through the bush in the safari vehicle. The skillfull driving of the Toyota Land Cruiser by Kaiser was like a live lesson in 4x4 driving and at times outstripped any Roller Coaster Ride you may go on, and Morgan’s tracking skills were outstanding, leading us each time to Cats hidden away in the bush. Such as a Lioness with an adult Kudu kill all to herself.
The best Guides and Hoast in Mashatu, Kaiser & Morgan.
At Mashatu you can also go on game walks, ride mountain bikes and horse riding through the reserve. All in all it is a perfect place to get away from it all and chill out. It is about a 5 ½ hour drive from Johannesburg airport make it all the more attractive.
With the exception of Lesotho and Swaziland. The countries that make up Southern Africa are large. At 600,373 km2, Botswana is a big place.
The roads of Southern Africa are generally good. this makes self driving in the region easy.  In South Africa the roads they are very good, be the roads tar, or graded dirt roads.  
The road from JoBurgh to Polokwane.
Cows on the road, Botswana.
In Botswana it varies from good tar roads to impassable sand tracks that require experienced 4x4 drivers, in a convoy to tackle them. The other problem with the Botswana roads are animals; both livestock and wild game roam onto the roads this is dangerous in the day, but good visibility gives you time to spot the offender and react appropriately, but at night, without street lights, cats eyes or road markings this is a different matter. Driving in Botswana at night is very dangerous and you are warned by all and sundry not to drive at night.
Road from Babanong to Nata. Botswana.
Road block in Botswana.
There is another issue with road signs, or rather lack of them as we found out when we left the Tuli Block and drove to the Salt Pans of the Makgadikgad, and that will be the subject of my next post.