DTours 2016 Lesedi - Maun
16 days, 80 adventurers.
4 Incredible Countries - South Africa
Day 1: The beginning. Lesedi (South Africa)
Finally the weary, jet-lagged travelers arrived at the colourful Lesedi Village, just outside Joburg.
First thing next morning, we organised each team's registration packs. These included an assortment of freebies - the DTours shirt, drink bottles, beanies, lanyards, the all-important DTours handbook and more!
Vehicles were assigned. Then came the exciting part! Learning how our home on wheels operated. We felt like modern day MacGyvers as we worked out where all the gadgets were hidden.
Time to hit the road and our chance to practice our navigational skills.
That evening we were fortunate enough to have the legendary Kingsley Holgate & Sheelagh Antrobus from Project Rhino talk to us.
Then followed a cultural performance from the local Zulu people.
One more night in a real bed before we headed out in the morning to our first camp. - Ingrid Allsop - Team "Imake A Difference"
Day 2: Lesedi to Marakele - (South Africa)
On the road to our first night of camping & Dancing Dave's 60th birthday!
Shopped up a trolley-full and loaded the car while starting to appreciate the mysteries of the many locks, storage nooks and cupboards in our Ford Ranger! Back on the road R511 heading towards Thabazimbi but it wasn't too long before we spotted a quirky roadhouse cafe which specialised in burgers and it was decided that a lunch stop was in order. We were concerned that it may be our last chance for a burger in a good while and apparently we weren't the only ones with that thought. Before long we were joined by the delightful Phinda crew - Matt, Charlie, Cilla & Eric.
Replete from our highway health food we hit the road to Thabazimbi again and from there on to Marakele National Park and the Bonte Rest Camp. We were ready for our first night camping - Dtours style. Several G & T's followed and photos and laughter, as fellow campers pulled up chairs and brought drinks to share with Dave, the Birthday Boy. It seemed the perfect place to have the group meeting, but not before Carla brought around a scrumptious birthday cake, a wonderful surprise in a magical location with 80 people singing "Happy Birthday" is a memory that Dave will always treasure.
- Belinda Kenyon - Team Dancing Dave
Day 3: Marakele to Khama Rhino Sanctuary (South Africa/Botswana)
There's always much to see in Africa and today's trip had plenty on offer. A group of cars set off early and rolled out of camp in convoy at 6:30am to drive the steep and somewhat treacherous single track road to the summit. Our hope - seeing the vultures take off as the sun rose and the thermal air mass warmed up. Our team had the good fortune to be joined that day by Shelly Hedges, with her incredible birding and general wildlife knowledge. After an hour and a half, the summit was reached and the soft morning light beautifully presented the dramatic African landscape below.
After studying our African Expedition Handbook, we were well prepared for our border crossing from South Africa into Botswana. Or so we thought... The South African border post was quite straightforward and the guard at the Quarantine Checkpoint wasn't too serious with his questioning, he seemed more interested in the variety of car door magnets on the passing parade.
The queues to enter Botswana were somewhat longer. Entertainment was found in the queue with an energetic conversation between Dancing Dave and an American representative of the World Bank about Botswana wrestling with Chinese investment.
Despite our best preparations, it appeared the Botswana Quarantine Post was having a "Seize the Citrus Day". Not all the citrus though. Some of the lemons, limes & cumquats were allowed through. Phew!! Thank goodness the evening's GnT's weren't going to be in jeopardy.
Many cars chose the option that day of driving straight to Khama from Marakele and had already had wonderful sightings of the magnificent Rhino. Plenty of chat and information sharing between the campers that evening allowed for plans to unfold for game drives and rhino sightings the following morning.
This camp had facilities but they were located at quite a distance from most of the vehicles. Strict protocols about moving around the camp at dark had to be followed which meant that most people identified a "wee tree" close by and made do with boiling the kettle and having a sponge bath! Not "Out of Africa" - All of us were in Africa proper!
- Belinda Kenyon - Team Dancing Dave
Days 4&5: Nxai Pan & Baines Baobab (Botswana)
Bumping, twisting and sliding through deep sand tracks in our 4WD utes, we set off to see the beauty of the Baine's Baobabs. What an adventure it was! This place was heaven for the male folk in our vehicles. They had a great time racing each other and drifting through the sand while the females held tightly to their seats. Then something magical popped out of nowhere.
A large, open space as far as the eye could see, of what looked like flat, white desert. Something quite different from the scenery we had seen on the trip so far. It was breathtaking! The surface looked dried and blistered like your skin when you spend too many hours out in the sun. In actuality it was an ancient lake-bed called Makgadikgadi, which had been reclaimed in 1970. The hard, sandy surface had a dried crust of salt that was left from the lake-bed. No vegetation can grow on the salt surface of this pan but the fringes are covered with grasslands and the famous cluster of millennia - old baobab trees. These were named Baine's Baobabs after Thomas Baine who discovered them in the 19th Century. Baobabs are magnificently beautiful trees that are so large and unique in shape that you can spot them from a mile away. Thomas was not only an explorer but an artist too and painted these baobabs all that time ago. Incredible to see that these trees remain essentially unchanged 150 years later
The baobab tree is known by a number of different names such as the cream of tartar tree, and the upside down tree, which is in reference to its striking silhouette at sunset, giving the appearance of the tree being uprooted and stood on end.
We found a hard-shelled brown fruit that had fallen from the tree and cracked it open to find a white powder under the kidney shape seeds. We all had a taste. It was a melt in your mouth substance that had a citrusy, sour, baking soda type taste. Not something I would eat everyday, that for sure.
To top this day off, we had the most surreal moment on our way back to camp- An elephant having a mud bath, sucking up the dirty water and spraying it all over his back. I could have sat there for hours watching him. Elephants are such amazing creatures. It was most definitely an honour to see them at such close quarters.
- Rachel Pickering - Team Imake A Difference.
Days 6-8: Dijara - Tshaa Camp (Botswana)
From the beginning of our trip to the end, I have never been more blown away by the sheer natural wonder of a campground than by those in the Khwai Community area. In every other campground there was very much the feeling that the animals knew that it was the human's space. Even though there were no fences in many of the other camps, it felt as if the animals knew to give that are a bit of a wide berth. This was certainly not the case in Khwai. In Khwai, you knew you were in the animal's space.
Khwai was definitely the highlight of Dtours 2016 for me, and I'm sure for many others on the trip as well. My personal highlight was waking up on our second morning and getting ready for the first of our Community Days. Everyone emerged from their tents bleary eyed and whipped together a quick cup of coffee and some muesli. It wasn't until we had all climbed into the safety of our vehicles that we saw three male lions eating a buffalo bull about 200m away from where we had been sleeping. We spent a few minutes watching the lions in awe before leaving for our fantastic first day with the community.
It was an amazing experience, held at the local Khwai School. Many people on the trip had done something similar on the first Dtours trip. For me it was a first and something that I really, really enjoyed. We set up and oversaw a Rhino Art Competition with the kids. When they had finished we took them out to the local football field for a fully organised tournament. Playing with the other kids who hadn't joined the tournament was a highlight.
- Blair Eastwood - Team Magic School Bus
Day 9: Savuti Camp (Botswana)
Today was spent four-wheel driving towards Savuti. There was a sense of anticipation as we gathered thoughts of where we had just been and where we would be going. Khwai was a phenomenal experience. Being in a place where the wildlife makes the rues and we as humans attempt to understand and follow them. We meandered our way into the Savuti Marsh with the hope of seeing the Savuti Marsh Lions. These lions are world famous for adapting to their dry environment. Unlike other lions they actively hunt elephants.
Driving through the marsh was a personal highlight for me as I was quietly listening to Eddie Vedder's Soundtrack from "Into The Wild". This is a must-see movie for anyone wanting to reflect on the significance of entering in such a wild place and anyone preparing themselves for the internal transformation that takes place on a journey like this.
We arrived at a camp to find that it was made up of areas of deep sand. There was an ablutions block that had fences better suited to Mt Eden Prison. We found out that this was to ensure elephants did not borrow the toilets to drink from when given a chance. The afternoon was made up of a game drive where some of us saw a leopard. This was a first for me and completed my quest to find "The Big Five".
All in all, another great day in the paradise of Botswana, Africa.
- Ben Eastwood - Team Magic School Bus
Days 10 -12: Kalizo Lodge (Namibia)
After woodland camps and three "serious" dry camps, the next stop was Kalizo Lodge, Namibia.
I suspected we were in for something special when we passed between the two tall wooden canoes at the main gates of Kalizo. I wasn't disappointed. Kalizo is nestled right of the banks of the mighty Zambezi. Every campsite had amazing views over the river. There was a cool bar, games area and a restaurant built around a courtyard and fireplace. There were several decks and viewing platforms dotted along the banks of the river.
Following the advice of one of our fellow travelers who had been on the first Dtours expedition, we had upgraded at Kalizo. Man, was this the right decision! We fluked an amazing "tent" with a proper bed, housekeeping, laundry service, and our own bathroom! Best of all we didn't have to prepare any meals as restaurant meals were included. Have to say a bit of guilt did kick in but it didn't last long. This is where I was going to relax and recharge my batteries and that's exactly what I did.
I slept in, read, went on a sunset river cruise on the aptly named Sir Osis of the River, went fishing (and caught nothing) and swam in the Zambezi (which meant briefly sitting in a cage purpose-built so that people could say they swam in the Zambezi ENTIRELY AT THEIR OWN RISK). I watched African dances, enjoyed the views over the river to the Zambia, enjoyed incredible sunsets, and drank and ate far too much.
On the hospitality front, Tony & Lara were the best hosts ever! They were always happy, nothing was too much trouble, they were always up for a chat; they made us feel like family and boy could Tony cook! One night Tony was excited(yes excited) to cook us our first fillet braai. Seriously one of the best steaks(or as Peter puts it "pieces of decaying dead flesh") I've ever had.
While at Kalizo a particular highlight for me (like at Khwai) was going to the local school (Isize School). Again the kids sang for us and welcomed us to their school. One thing that really stuck with me was how happy the kids were, despite not having that much. We then somehow managed to muck our way through painting a couple of classrooms. Wonder what the kids thought! I eventually gave up the paintbrush and instead drew (or attempted to draw) NZ related things on the blackboard. The kids seemed to enjoy that. I did. Felt like a big kid again. I was surprised at how much the kids already knew about NZ.
As with the rest of the expedition I really enjoyed our time at Kalizo. It's embedded in the memory and we'll be going back.
- Craig Dwerryhouse - Team Rammin Rhinos
Day13: Maramba Lodge & Waterfront (Zambia)
As the mighty Anzac's Ranger cruised towards the township of Livingstone, we caught our first glimpse of "The smoke that Thunders". Spray and mist from the world's largest waterfall rose to a height of 400 metres into the clear blue sky, Nothing had prepared us for the full spectacle of the Victoria Falls. The swiftly flowing Zambezi River swirled and roared over the massive chasm only 100 metres downstream from the gentle grassy slopes of the sublime Royal Livingstone Hotel.
Over welcome beers and burgers at the Waterfront Lodge, we decided we had to experience the Falls from all possible vantage points. An hour later, piloted by the quietly confident Cornelius, we were hovering in a helicopter above the crashing turbulence of the kilometre-wide curtain of water. The narrow slash of the gorge into which this cascade tumbles is 108 metres below.
We buzzed back and forth over the pounding white water and the surrounding riverbeds; over hippos and elephants and numerous birds. David Livingstone wrote "Most probably the angels are admiring the scenery while flying nearby". It's easy to imagine this.
Not content with just an aerial view, we fronted up the next morning to do an icy swim in the rock pools above the Falls. With mounting trepidation, we boarded the little boat that ferried us downstream in the increasingly swirling waters, to Livingstone Island, a tiny marsh dot of land at the edge of the Falls. Following the fantastic guides, we trudged over a muddy ath, stepping in last night's hippo prints. Our destination was a rustic wooden hut where we donned our rubber ponchos. Those of us doing the swim stripped to our bathers, but everyone was soon drenched by the cold blasts of water that regularly sprayed over us.
Those of us brave enough were held over the waterfall by our arms. Trusting the strong guides either side of us implicitly, we lent right out over the edge at a 45 degree angle and gazed into the churning bottom of the gorge. - Ten seconds etched into my memory forever.
Then one at a time we were guided out over the rocks into a small waist-deep pool right at the edge of the thundering falls until all six of us were all bobbing up and down together in the foaming water. For ten minutes we dunked and laughed in what was one of the most exhilarating experiences we've ever had.
It didn't seem possible to top this, but a warm foot massage back at the hut, followed by a splendid brekkie of eggs benedict and a fresh coffee almost did. All in all, Victoria Falls was a lifer!
- Anne Rose - Team Anzacs
Day 14-15: Senyati Lodge (Botswana)
Livingstone to Senyati represented the shortest ever drive in Dtours history but it wasn't without difficulties, with the spectre of the infamous Kazungula Border Crossing hanging over the group. Advice as to how best approach this obstacle abounded, with much being somewhat conflicting and vague.
Even seasoned border veterans seemed to respect its curliness, best summed up as 'an African experience'. The prospect was such that a few Dtourists decided to delay their departure by a day and hunker down in the Royal Livingstone Hotel; more comfortable than confrontational.
The road from Livingstone west, although a modern delight ended abruptly in the laidback chaos of Kazungula. A long immobile queue of trucks led to a ramshackle collection of buildings and a multitude of aimlessly parked vehicles and men with no obvious tasks at hand. Our approach was to engage the one with the biggest smile to lead us through what would have otherwise been a bewildering series of requirements.
In the end all I had to do was guess my licence plate number and make up a chassis number. The ferry itself, more functional than anything, was a pleasant enough short journey. Even the armed guard seemed to be in a good mood.
Senyati Camp was something special with a raised bar overlooking a piped waterhole which included a rather marvellous underground hide. It was also notable for its ruinous exchange rate.
The first night included the vegetarian potje cook-off; a hotly contested event, which, if the descriptions of the judges were anything to go by, was of a ridiculously high standard. The No Response Team excelled, whereas the best that could be said of my pathetic spaghetti dish was that I ate it.
Many of the group took up the opportunity of a game drive in Chobe the next morning, and the highlight was getting up close to a small group of adult lions dozing near a half-eaten baby elephant carcass. The Chobe River is a draw for much of the wildlife in the park, and we were able to get close by taking a river cruise that afternoon. Hippos were in abundance, a large herd of buffalo was present as were numerous birds, including good sightings of the famed African Skimmer. Another striking African sunset across the water was the perfect conclusion.
That night marked the last day the entire group was to be together, and it was the occasion of a catered dinner back at Senyati. Before the feast, there was much hilarity with the outstanding fines handed out by Stew & Carla. (Fines are a drink that needs to consumed to make up for any faux pas). Then the assembled company had their chance to point out why other Dtourists needed to drink a shot. In the background a small herd of elephants wound their way to the nearby watering hole, a sight largely unnoticed by the group. It seems we were all now quite at home in Africa.
- Mark Simmonds - Team Mutleys
Day16: Maun (Botswana)
Our last night in Maun. 16 June 2016, the official last day of Dtours. We all traveled to Maun Lodge from Senyati. A lot of us stopped off at Planet Baobab for a late lunch. This was a really neat, kitted-out lodge with a collection of art, photos and other memorabilia lining the walls beneath a chandelier made of Amstel bottles.
On the way our team saw a stunning eagle, perched on a tree. Like something out of a movie... But that was the special thing about Dtours. There were so many perfect moments like that where you saw a sight so unique, so special that to describe it to anyone who wasn't there was just not worth it. You couldn't really understand the beauty unless you were there. Yet we were lucky enough to experience so many of these incredible and not easily forgotten moments.
We arrived at Maun Lodge after a long drive and were greeted with a welcome cold beverage. What a luxurious place! Some of us even enjoyed the company of the friendly cat who lived there. It made a change to interact with an animal that wasn't going to bite your arm off!
After a drink or two we all met upstairs in a private area for Dtours, overlooking the courtyard. We enjoyed what can only be called a banquet that night, with all sorts of delicious food prepared by the friendly staff.
We reflected together as Carla shared a summary of all the places we had visited in the last 16 days. We sang together, "Leave us a place, leave us a place to stand".
There was a certain sadness in the air, like a cool breeze, as dinner ended and we all said our goodbyes. It was the end of Dtours for now. But none of us will forget the experiences we had, the unforgettable sights we saw and the life-long friendships made. Bye for now Africa, hope to see you again soon.
- Roseanne De Bruin - Team Ubijenis