Thursday, September 1, 2022

BOTSWANA'S KALAHARI & BROKEN SPRINGS

 

From the huge watery wilderness of the Delta, we are heading south to the one of the driest regions in Botswana, the Kalahari Desert. Our first night out of Maun we stop at Khumaga on the Boteti River. We have been reliably informed that huge groups of animals venture down to the river to drink, thus saving us the cost (and damage to GR2 from the scratchy bushes) to enter the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Sadly, none come to drink tonight, but there is a big family of hippos snorting in the river.

We head on to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We have booked some camping for 2 nights at an agency, and will pay our park fees on arrival. John is hoping to negotiate these a bit! Crazily, vehicles under 3500KG cost 75pula per day whereas our truck costs 1,000 pula per day (over $100). Success after a lot of grovelling and we go in for the local price of 500 pula per day – plus 190 each person per day. Camping for 2 nights means 3 days! We camp overnight free just inside the gate so that we can make the most of our days. Of course, expectations are high because of the cost, and the first day we are a tad disappointed. There are lots of those scratchy bushes, except on the actual dry pans. The park is massive and we only explore a small area to avoid the scratchiest tracks, and stick to the easier sandy tracks. Love the huge wild openness, massive skies and very few other travellers.  One afternoon on our way back to our camp we see massive footprints. It can only be an elephant. We follow the prints for over 10km before we find him heading to the waterhole. And on both mornings, we see fresh lion prints on the sandy track, but sadly don’t actually see any.

On our final day after leaving the park and just before we reach the main road, we stop so John can blow up the tyres. That is when he sees that we have broken our main front spring. He’s glad we didn’t notice it inside the park. All plans for this area come to a grinding halt. We need a workshop. The biggest town is Gaborone, but John would much rather head straight to Joburg where there is a big Spring Workshop. He wants all our springs fixed or replaced. They have had years of hard work and quite a few springs have been repaired over the years.

So, all weekend we stick to the smooth tarseal and head south stopping just before the closed diamond town of Orapa for the night. We pass another massive open cast diamond mine as we continue south, finally reaching Martins Drift border crossing right on the Limpopo River the next day at 4pm.  It is an incredibly easy crossing, only taking a total of 40 minutes, with no cost at all!  Welcome to South Africa. We stop at the Baobab Padstal, a lovely little store with motel units, and they let us camp overnight in their secure yard. Sunday, we pass countless massive open cast mines: platinum, nickel, copper, diamond, gold, coal and iron ore. We finally reach Joburg and head to WeDoStorage at Kempton Park (near the airport) where we can camp. This is also where we will store GR2 when we come home in October.

Monday morning, we head along the huge motorway network to the Spring Centre in Germiston. That day they pull out the rear springs, refurbish them and reinstall them. We overnight inside their yard. Tuesday it is time for brand new front springs. John is a very happy boy and I am getting loads of paperwork done. We are relieved to be finished by 4pm as tomorrow is a general strike and if the job wasn’t finished, we may well have been stuck in their yard another day and night.

The next morning, we head to a workshop for more maintenance (fortunately he isn’t on strike!) and we spend the day there getting lots of little jobs done. We have another place to visit on the south city of the city and by the time we finish it is nearly dusk, and as we don’t fancy driving through Joberg in the dark we find Klipdraai Karavan camp south of the city for the night.

Our original plan was to return to Botswana and finish our travels there, but as we are so close to Kruger National Park, we will head there now. I have organised a Wild Card that allows entry to all of South Africa’s National Parks for a year, and have tried (most unsuccessfully I might add) to book camping areas.  We will have to wing it. So, with our new plan in place, we head in a general northeast direction. We pass huge flat areas of farming, all looking pretty dry as the harvest is well over, that are interspersed with more open cast mines, many long since finished but left as huge slag heaps. And of course, lots of towns with huge “settlements” of cheaper housing. We stop at Trichardtsfontein Dam camping near Secunda. A lovely spot beside the water. It is almost tempting to stay but we move on to another Dam at Lake Vvgeboom for the next night.

By now the flat pastureland have given way to mountains and huge areas of forestry, making for some very scenic driving. We stop at the old gold mining town of Barberton to explore the streets, then onto the sprawling modern city of Nelspruit before we follow the motorway to Malelane, a gateway into Kruger. Here we manage to book the next 4 nights at various camps inside the park. We head in immediately, very excited to see what Kruger is like now. It is over 20 years ago that we were here with Travis & Stacey.

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