Victoria Falls via Botswana
14 to 29 September 2006
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Day 1 - 14 September - Alberton to Nata Lodge, Botswana
We departed from Alberton at daybreak and entered Botswana at the Martin's Drift border post. After 12 hours on the road and after travelling just over 900 kilometers we reached or overnight stop at Nata Lodge.The reason for travelling 12 hours is because you have to reduce speed when travelling past villages and also where side roads join the main road so you can't travel at a constant speed. The main road is in good condition except for about 100 kilometers North of Nata where the road is badly potholed.
Nata Lodge is the ideal stopover point when travelling to Vic Falls. The chalets are clean and the food good.
Day 2 - 15 September - Nata Lodge to Lokuthula Lodge, Vic Falls, Zimbabwe
This leg of the journey was uneventful except for a badly potholed section North of Nata. When we reached Kazangula at the Botswana/Zambia border, and stopped to take photos of the ferry taking trucks, cars and people across the river. This is where four countries, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe meet. We didn't cross the border into Zambia but continued our journey to Vic Falls village and eventually to Lokuthula Lodge.
We quickly checked in and unpacked and then made use of the hourly shuttle service between Lokuthula Lodge and Vic Falls about 4 km away. As soon as we stepped off the shuttle we were surrounded by locals wanting to either exchange money, sell us curios or get us to book for an adventure activity. This was to be the pattern for the length of our stay.
The Wimpy in Vic Falls is centrally situated and used as a point of reference for all activities in and around the town. We went to the local Spar and bought an adapter to enable me to charge my camera batteries and use the laptop and also bread and some veggies.
Day 3 - 16 September
We decided to cross the border into neighbouring Zambia and visit Livingstone which is about 10 km beyond the border. We walked across the bridge that links Zimbabwe with Zambia and took a taxi to Livingstone at a cost of R150 for the return trip. Livingstone impressed us more than Vic falls, probably because we were not hounded by vendors. I was surprised to spot an eating place called Funky Munky which is identical to my website URL http://funkymunky.co.za. The people were all very friendly and indicated that they were serious about promoting tourism, and it showed.
On the way back we stopped hoping to view the falls from the Zambian side. However, the river was low and only small secondary falls could be seen, we are hoping for much better views from the Zim side.
Day 4 - 17 September
Over breakfast we studied the various tourist brochures in order to book some of the various activities available in Vic Falls. Activities include white water rafting, elephant back safari, lion encounter, helicopter flights, parasailing, adrenalin activities like gorge swinging and bungee jumping, ultralight flights as well as river safaris and sunset cruises. For US$170 you can get two activities and the sunset cruise for free. It is cheaper to book a package instead of individual activities.
We took the lodge shuttle into Vic Falls and booked for the elephant safari, the river safari and the night drive which includes a bush dinner. I also booked for the ultralight flight over the falls as I just had to try and get some good photos of the falls. The activities cost us US$205 per person and my ultralight flight cost me US$75.
We also visited the open air market where we bought some curios. We took along a whole lot of ballpoint pens, pencils, rulers and sharpeners which we handed out to the locals who were only too pleased for these most welcome gifts. We also brought about 100 packets of mixed sweet to hand out to the children.
We returned to the lodge where we spent a leisurely afternoon relaxing by the pool.
Day 5 - 18 September
We shuttled into Vic Falls again and visited the local casino but not even the 20 Nyami-nyami Zimbabwean River God lucky charms that I bought at the craft market could help me win anything! Before returning to the Lodge we bought some braai meat at a shop called Refriger8, apparently the best place to buy meat in Vic Falls. The closest they get here to boerewors is a sausage called Braai Bangers, a polonyish pink colour. They assured us that it contained only beef, but proof will be in the tasting. The street rate for Rand/Zim dollar was now 1:80 (official rate about 1:35) and we could get US$100 for R500. No petrol or diesel was available at the two service stations in Vic Falls but apparently could be bought on the black market. You would be able to fill up at Kazungula (Botswana - 70 km) or Livingstone (Zambia - 10 km)
Day 6 - 19 September
This morning we parked the car in the Falls car park and took the trail behind the car park leading to the steps that the people going on the rafts and jet boat take to get down into the gorge. Once at the bottom of the gorge you can walk under the bridge up to rapid #1 and also get some good action photos of the white water rafters shooting rapid #2. Walking down the plus minus 300 steps was bad, but going up was ten times worse and made me realise that I wasn't a spring chicken any more! Luckily one of the locals accompanying us carried the heavy camera bag up for me, otherwise I might not have made it up!
This afternoon we went on the river safari, a cruise on the Zambezi from about 16h00 to after sunset. Our guide and boat pilot, Christopher, was friendly and knowledgeable contributing to a memorable trip. We identified 17 bird species and also spotted elephant, hippo and some crocks. Just before sunset we stopped on an island in the river for snacks and the opportunity to take sunset photos, a very special occasion.
Day 7 - 20 September
This morning we shuttled into Vic Falls again where we browsed in the Elephant's Walk shopping village. At the Olive Drew shop we enjoyed tea and reasonably priced cheesecake and lemon meringue. Once again, bread was unobtainable in Vic falls., so we had "pap-en-sous" with our bbq. The Zimbabwean beef sausages were quite nice and our rump steak was as good as anything we could get back home.
This afternoon was probably the highlight of the vacation for me when I took an ultralight flight over the falls. The cost of US$70 is worth every cent as you see the falls as very few people are able to see it. To take photos, this mode of transport is the best. However, the river was very low as it is the dry season and the falls were only about half the width they are during and just after the rainy season. The pilot said that April was the best time to view the falls at full strength. That time of year it also starts to cool down after the summer heat, something to take into account if you plan to visit the falls. The ultralight differs from a microlight in that it has a fixed wing where a microlight resembles a hang glider.
Day 8 - 21 September
We were picked up at 06:30 sharp for our elephant safari. None of us had ridden on elephants before and we were looking forward to the experience with some excitement. After a cup of coffee, we boarded our beasts and headed off into the bush. We soon got used to the walking rhythm of the elephants and started to enjoy the scenery as the great beasts lumbered through the bush. The handlers were very knowledgeable and eager to impart their knowledge. Time flies when you're having fun and all too soon we were back at the starting point. We were now given the opportunity to interact with the elephants and could feed them tidbits, touch them and be photographed with them for a real up close and personal experience! While we were on safari the crew was busy preparing a bush breakfast and we were soon tucking into a large plate of sausages, eggs, toast and more coffee. Once again, a fantastic experience that I heartily recommend.
Day 9 - 22 September
A leisurely day, about midday we took the shuttle into town and had lunch at the Olive Drew at Elephant's Walk. We handed out the last of the pens, rulers and pencils at the open air craft market. We had many requests for any clothing, especially caps, socks and shoes. I bought some nice wooden lampshades.
Day 10 - 23 September
This morning we shuttled into town again and stocked up on breadrolls at the local Spar. Coke is bought in bottles and we took our empties back for our deposits and to get refills. Lokuthula Lodge is a self catering resort and Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is the adjacent hotel. They boast a waterhole with a hide but when we enquired they stated that it would cost us US$20 (R140) per person to visit the hide. C'mon, Zimbabweans, you are taking the "ag shame, Zimbabwe" thing a bit too far, you really don't have to charge for everything. Zimbabwe needs tourists, but musn't chase them away with unnecessary and exorbitant charges.
We were picked up at 16h30 for our night game drive. Four other South African tourists joined us on the drive so we had pleasant company. The drive lasted nearly four hours and our sightings included buffalo, waterbuck, elephants, bushbuck, giraffe, rhino, lion, cerval and wildcat. After the drive we were treated to a bush dinner, braaivleis under the African night sky. All in all a very special experience.
Day 11 - 24 September
The day was spent at leisure and in anticipation of our dinner at the Boma restaurant at our resort. The cost per person of R160 was well spent as it was much more than a dinner, it was a cultural experience. Food was served buffet style on an eat as much as you can basis. The variety of meat included warthog, crocodile, impala, oxtail, chicken, ostrich, pork spare ribs and for the brave, mopane worms. There was also lamb on the spit. Entertainment consisted of cultural singing and dancing and, the highlight for me, African drumming with the audience participating. truly a memorable experience and highly recommended.
Day 12 - 25 September
The main reason for visiting Zimbabwe was to see Victoria falls and we left this to the last. Entrance to Victoria Falls National Park is US$15 for South African passport holders. The article on Vic falls in the August edition of go! magazine proved to be invaluable and we used it as a guideline for our falls visit. As the river was low the spray was minimal and we got good views of the falls. We started at the Livingstone statue and ended at Danger Point and then did the route backwards as by then the light had changed and therefore our photos differed from the first time around. The advantage of the Zambezi being low is that there is less spray and the falls are more visible.
Days 13 to 15 - 26 to 28 September
Spent mainly at leisure taking walks and doing some birdwatching, notching up more then 20 new sightings, including the Collared Palm Thrush mainly found in this area.
Day 16 - 29 September
Today we started on the first leg of our journey home, crossing into Botswana and instead of overnighting at Nata Lodge we decided to rather head for home where we arrived at just after 10 pm.
We will visit Vic Falls again one day, but during March/April when the Zambezi is in full flow and hopefully Zimbabwe would have sorted out all it's problems.
Traveller's Update - Johannesburg to Vic Falls via Botswana (numbers valid as at September 2006)
Documentation required: Driver's licence, passports, original of vehicles (and trailers) registration papers or letters of permission fom bank/owner, proof of insurance of all vehicles (Insurance policy, they seem to be quite happy with Outsurance which covers you in neighbouring territories. We paid a small additional premium which would provide a loan car if ours happened to break down). You won't need to buy 3rd party insurance when entering Zim if you have proof of insurance.
We split our money into Rand and US Dollars with enough Pula for petrol in Botswana. (The Rand and Dollars in small denominations)
We took the following route from Alberton: Pretoria, N1, take the Bela-Bela offramp, then on to Modimolle, Vaalwater and on to Groblersbrug border post. Once in Botswana we headed to Palapye, then via Francistown to our overnight stop at Nata Lodge at Nata. The following day we crossed the border into Zimbabwe at the Kazungula border post. Our destination, Victoria Falls was 70 km futher.
Martin’s Drift border post, Botswana side
Road tax, payable in either Rand or Pula –
P220 return (further payment on return trip not required.)
All purchases in Botswana at shops and café’s must be in Pula
Petrol in Botswana – Pula or Master or Visa credit cards (no petrocards)
Kazungulu/Zimbabwe border, Zimbabwe side
Road tax - R160 or US$22 (Can pay in Rand or US$)
3rd Party insurance, US$30 per car and US$30 (R210) per trailer (Can pay in Rand or US$). No insurance necessary if you can show proof of insurance (we showed our Outsurance documentation which was recognised and accepted. Outsurance covers you in neighbouring countries).
All border crossings went smoothly and quickly and officials were courteous and efficient. The car was superficially searched at the Botswana/Zim border. No dairy products or meat allowed. The Renault Scenic has under floor/seat hiding places, ideal for keeping money and biltong hidden. We packed cartons of long-life fat free milk and all our groceries as our timeshare accommodation was self catering. If you are self catering take all your groceries with, food is expensive, we paid R6.50 for a 150ml tub of yoghurt at the local Spar. On occasion bread and sugar was unobtainable in Vic Falls.
Strictly adhere to speed limits and be sure to stop at railway crossings.
Make sure you have Zim dollars for casual purchases like cold drinks, groceries, etc. Only exchange your money for Zim dollars at banks an Bureau de Change. The current rate seems to be R1 = Z$35 (they recently dropped off the last 3 zero's. We got Z$60 for a Rand (even Z$100 once) at a curio shop that had a Beareau de Change sign. The transaction was done in a small "office" at the back of the shop.
Very important if you have digital cameras, cellphones or laptops, Zim has flatpoint three pin electrical sockets so make sure you bring an adapter if you want to use your toys.
For the period of two weeks that we were in Vic Falls no fuel was available but apparently could be obtained on the black market.
We were advised by the driver of our lodge shuttle bus to negotiate the price of curios in the craft markets to 25 to 50% of the marked price. Curios can be paid for with either Rand or US Dollars ( have small denomination notes available).
Vic Falls has a casino and tokens can only be bought with Zim dollars. As the Rand/Zim dollar rate at the casino is only about 1:33, exchange your money for Zim dollars at the Bureau de Change at much more favourable rate of at least 1:60
We booked all our activities through Shearwater Adventures ( www.shearwateradventures.com and email@example.com )and I have no hesitation in recommending them. What is nice is that they pick you up where you are staying and drop you off afterwards. If you are travelling by car you need not use your car for the duration of your stay. Their staff are friendly and knowledgeable and a pleasure to be with.