Botswana 2 ~ day 9

Today is my last day in Botswana. I fly out for Joburg at 13:10 this afternoon. A quick trip down to River Walk to check out the bookshop and to have one final coffee with Dad before I head unhappily back to Australia.

Plans are already being formulated for a trip in August. I have a contact at the local Harvey World Travel, whom I used on my last trip here. Chobe National Park, Kruger Park, Natani nature reserve, Madikwe nature reserve, the wines at Cape Town, diving in Mozambique and Victoria Falls are all on the cards, but probably not all of them.

New Years resolution number one: Spend a great deal less time thinking of work.

--- Update:
I have just arrived back in Perth from Joburg. Long-ish flight with a fair bit of clear air turbulence. Only a four hour wait in Perth before a four hour flight to Brisbane. The travel is almost over, but not happy to be out of Africa.

--- Update 2:
Flight to Perth has been delayed an hour..grrrrrr

--- Update 3:
Made up half an hour on the flight to Brisbane. The pilot took on extra fuel and flew lower... how nice of him.


Botswana 2 ~ day 8

Happy New Year 2010!

While I didn't take part, I heard the locals go nuts here in Phakalane, with lots of fireworks going off. Apart from the midnight shenanigans everything seems to be business as usual, even though it's a public holiday here today.

Today was essentially a day off. I've been going flat out since the day I arrived in Botswana and today was the last full day that I'm here. We went out to have a look at the Gaborone Dam which is part of the water supply for the city. We couldn't get to the Dam wall, and were advised against trying. Some time ago the Zimbabwean itinerant workers were moved out of a park in Phakalane and have since taken up residence around Gaborone Dam. They have been causing trouble with the patrons of the Yacht club and were called "Thieves" by the local boom-gate guards. The lake formed by the dam is quite nice in spite of the current inhabitants. Being a public holiday the yacht club was closed.

The Royal Palm hotel was the place for coffee and sandwhiches, Gaborones only 5 star hotel. I've eaten here before and the meals and wines are excellent. Coffee was traded for St. Louis Premium Export Lager.

Dinner tonight was going to be at the newly opened Mokolodi Game reserve restaurant, however, public holiday and all, it was closed. So it was to the local Apache Spur steak restaurant in River Walk instead. Steak was excellent, as was the beer.


Botswana 2 ~ day 7

Today (New Years eve) we left Maunatlala for Gaborone at around 11:30am. Just before our departure I was asked by one of the security guards (Alex) to take his picture with the "Big camera" which is how my DSLR is now referred to. I now have to figure out how to get him a print.

We were to drive through the village of Lerala which is nestled at the base of the Tswapong Hills but missed an unsigned right hand turn in one of the smaller surrounding villages. This spat us back out onto the main road again and we missed Lerala. Oh well, there's always next time.

It's nice to see the local villages are still, for the most part, very traditional with thatched rooves and mud brick walls. And while they may look rather primitive, a lot of the houses have power, water, satelite TV and I'd also wager, broadband internet. However, times change, and most new houses are being made of cement block or clay fired brick with corrugated iron rooves. Some homes are truly huge and luxurious, hinting at the hidden wealth of Botswana.

The drive back to Gabs was uneventful, aside from being passed while passing, and we stopped in Mahalapye for a bite of lunch before continuing down the A1. We arrived back in Phakalane around 5pm.

Dinner was at the Phakalane Golf Estate, one of the few 5 star restaurants in Botswana. The menu was set for New Years and fireworks could be seen over the lake. Botswana steak is still the best in the world in my opinion, after having an excellent fillet mignon with an outsanding Cab Sav from Groot Constantia. I'll be trying to bring back a couple of bottles of this drop with me.


Botswana 2 ~ day 6

Today, we went driving through the Tuli Block. This is a farming area of Botswana where most of the fruit and vegetables grown in Botswana are produced. Oranges seem to be the primary fruit. We didn't get right to the top of the Tuli Block where the large irrugated farms are located, perhaps this is a trip for another time. The "main road" we were following was gravel that deteriorated into a two wheel track at each creek crossing. This was the standard type of road up until fifteen or so years ago. It took most of the morning to reach the halfway point of the trip, at which point we decided to seek smoother roads and head home.

The countryside is typical of Botswana, flat with scrubby bush. Still, we drove through areas of game reserve where Impala had decided the road offered better grazing. There are Lion and King Cheetah around the Tuli Block reserves with several game parks in the area. This alone will ensure I get back there at some point.

We stopped at the Zanzibar border post which is on the Limpopo river. We were allowed to enter no-man's land between Botswana and South Africa without passports to have a look at the Limpopo river and the couple of weirs built into it to allow foot traffic. No crocs were seen, but they no doubt saw us.

We stopped at Bobonong on the way back to Maunatlala to pick up something to eat, not a lot to choose from at the moment. As oranges are produced in Bots. we picked up a bag. Must have been a poor season this year.

Big meal, early night, back to Gaborone tomorrow some time. No hurry to go back to the big smoke, Maunatlala is a nice quite place with friendly people.

Botswana 2 ~ day 5

Part of today was spent roving around the Dam site. The day was opressively hot for the most part but only if you stood in the sun. The Lotsane Dam has progressed quite a bit since I last saw it. Six months ago it was only a newly cleared space through the Mopani trees. Now there is some obvious signs of construction, with concrete batching plant, workshop and offices springing up around the place.

This afternoon we went to see Moremi Gorge, a local and international attraction just up the road a bit. Quite a spectacular place and well hidden from general view. The gorge is part of the Tswapong Hills which shaddow the Lotsane river. The landlady, Masego, along with a few others joined us on this afternoon trip. There are three waterfalls, but only the first small one is accessible without a scramble. I was not wearing appropriate footwear so decided against the climb to the next two falls. I'll go see them next time I'm in Botswana, and wearing appropriate shoes.
I received a few scratches from the acacia trees, the thorns being so sharp I didn't even notice until tonight. Shorts are not the ideal clothing for this environment, regardless of the heat.

Dinner was once again a huge meal, and the wine was a very sweet rose. The Batswana love their sugar, and Coke is doing a roaring trade here.

Tomorrow we go driving through the Tuli block farms.

Botswana 2 ~ day 4

We got up early this morning and did a loop around the camp before breakfast. Normally this is the perfect time of day to be game spotting, but because of the abundance of water, the game had mostly gone off to the more remote areas of the park. There was Waterbuck in the river along with crocs and Maraboo storks, and further along lots of hippos were wallowing in the deeper water. Lots of Impala as usual and I'm getting rather tired of seeing them.

As well as the morning in the park, we also need to get back to Maunatlala in Botswana today so we checked out after breakfast at 8am. We headed south from Shingwedzi toward the Phalaborwa gate where we left the park. No lions this time, or Leopard. It's always dissapointing not seeing cats of some type, but trying to find them is more than half the fun. And after looking through the photos of what I did see, I'm more than happy with this short trip to Kruger.

Here is a list of animals we did see in the park. P = photographed, N = saw at night.

Elephant (P)
Waterbuck (P)
Nyala (P)
Impala (P)
Wildebeest (P)
Buffelo (P)
Kudu (P)
African Eagle (P)
Fish Eagle (P)
Marabou Stork (P)
White Stork (P)
Lilac breasted Roller
Baboons (P)
Vervet Monkeys (P)
Giraffe (P)
Zebra (P)
Hippos (P)
Crocodiles (P)
Leopard Tortoise (P)
Warthogs (P)
Kingfishers (P)
Hiyena (N)
Duiker (N)

We left the park at midday, it's always sad to leave it. After a bite of carrot cake and a coffee at the Phalaborwa gate we headed through Phalaborwa and the home of Amarula toward Polokwane the capital of Limpopo province. This area has some very interesting weathered granite formations, in the shape of large piles of marbles.

Once again we were driving through some very scenic country before getting close to Polokwane, where it started looking very much like Botswana.. flat and featureless for the most part.
Driving through Polokwane was like driving in Malaysia, but perhaps not quite that bad. Maps are all but useless and blind luck got us to the other side. Around Savanna was the first time I've seen white south africans walking around doing their shopping with side-arms.

After passing through the Martin's Drift boarder crossing we finally arived at Maunatlala around 8:30pm, to find a huge dinner waiting for us thanks to the landlady of the house we were staying in. She also bought a bottle of wine for my arrival, but it was just a bit too late so we arranged to have it tomorrow night.


Botswana 2 ~ day 3

Didn't get up too early this morning after the long day yesterday.

We headed off into the park around 8am after booking a night drive for this evening. Today is our only full day in the park and I'm hoping to see lions. The sighting board indicated they were just north of the camp.
We drove up to the north of Kruger to the Pafuri border crossing into Mozambique and to see "Crooks Corner" at the very top of the park where you can see the borders of Mozambique and Zimbabwe just across the river full of crocs. This part of the park is fantastic to drive through and has a very different terrain than the rest of Kruger. This is the area the Nyala like and we got to see a lot of them, which was in contrast to my last visit.

Again there were lots of Elephant, Zebra, Giraffe, Impala etc. We haven't seen a lot of Kudu or buffelo this time which is interesting.

We arrived back at camp right on closing time rather tired. Driving at 20-50kph is tiring.

The night drive was absolutely uneventful, with the exception of seeing Hiyeena and cubs. It was still nice to be driving around the african bush at night though. Once again, they made the mistake of giving the spotlights to kids!!! I know it's fun for them, but REALLY we're trying to find animals not look at the sides of the effing road.

Tomorrow there must be lions..surely.


Botswana 2 ~ day 2

Got up hellishly early for holidays, and headed to "God's Window" to try and catch the early light. The chain was up, but this didn't stop me the last time I was here (2002), but the security guard did. He was adamant that I couldn't get in until 7am when the place opened. It seems they are now charging for access when it used to be free. I thought about asking what the entry price was and offering it to the guard, but decided against this. Instead we drove 500m down the road and walked out to the edge of the escarpment and got the same view for FREE.

Back to the Summit Lodge for breakfast and then hit the road for Hazyview, where we grabbed a few eats in case we needed them in the park.

We entered Kruger National Park through the Kruger Gate and our intention was to scoot over to Skukuza, the main camp in the park, and see if there was any available accommodation there, and if so, switch one of our nights from Shingwedzi. There wasn't, nor was there any available in Satara. So we had a long drive from the south to the central north Shingwedzi camp.

For those who've never visited Kruger, this is a self-drive park with a number of camps in which you can over-night. The speed limit is restricted to 50kph but the best speed is around 20 or 30kph. This time of year the place is a very lush green which makes spotting game rather challenging, plus there is an abundance of water so the game don't need to rely on the man-made watering holes. All-in-all, not the best time of year to visit the park for game viewing. But, the South Africans seem to love spending Christmas here.

Today, we saw lots of Giraffe, Elephant, Zebra, Maraboo storks, Hippos etc etc. I'll make a list once we leave the park with what we saw.

Arrived at Shingwedzi within 15mins of the gate closing, the place hasn't changed much from when I was last here. They've added a pool.

A couple of beers, dinner and time to recharge the cameras for tomorrow.


Botswana 2 ~ day 1

Merry Christmas!

Up reasonably early today to leave Gabs at 7am-ish. The drive from Gabs into South Africa via Lobatse was scenic but uneventful. We did get a little lost through Lobatse for a short time. As usual the road signs are all but non-existent, unless you approach the town from a certain direction, then there are one or two. Most smaller regional towns have no street signs, and presumably the streets have no names. The locals know exactly where they're going so why would they need them?

The roads are immediately better the moment we got to the SA side of the boarder and away we go at 120 km/ph. Of course we don't travel at exactly that speed.. somewhat faster. The destination for today is Graskop which is about 750km away. This is a lovely place much like Montville in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, and is situated along the Drakensburg Range. "God's Window" is just down the road and I'll visit it tomorrow morning.

We got into Graskop just on dark after driving through some magnificient mountain scenery. We also got caught in a storm which had us pulled over on the side of the road for 5mins or so. Everyone else just kept on barreling along... crazy!! Travelling through the mountainous region around Hendriksdal was brilliant, and the roads are perfect for biking.

Being Christmas Day, not many restaurants were open this evening, we were recommended two and found a much nicer one which was fully booked. However, after settling on a Portugese/Mozambique place settled in with a few beers and wine. Food was excellent as usual, wine was exceptional.... as usual.

Heading for Kruger Park tomorrow, should get there around 10am-ish.


Botswana 2 ~ day 0.75.5

I have arrived!

Actually I arrived at 9:30am this morning Botswana time and have hit the ground running. I managed to get a bit of sleep on the flight over so I've only felt like a zombie rather than comatose. I managed to get caught in the customs queue again. I had nothing to declair but it seems I look like an untrustworthy sort, they nabbed me and went through the bags. They're really just after currency, and after not finding huge wads of undeclared cash, threw me back.

However, I have just finished my first of many St. Louis' (local beer) and have managed to get a USB dongle working on my macbook which I hope will give me almost unrestricted access to the Internet for at least a little while.

While I wait for the newly purchased air-time to take effect I'm watching my first Botswana sunset in around six months.

...time for another beer!

Does this day have to end? I guess I should be thankful, I'm driving into South Africa tomorrow - Christmas Day - on my way to Kruger National Park. Which reminds me, I had to clear customs to pick up my bags having forgot to check them all the way to Gaborone. This meant having to get a visa for South Africa. I got one for ten days then promptly turned around and left the country. On my way through immigration again, the friendly passport control guy asks me as he picks up my passport "So how did you like your stay in South Afri...." it was at this point that he realises my visa and entry stamps are for today. An eye brow is raised before I respond with "just had to pick up my bags.. but I'll be back tomorrow". Thump, thump, a bit of a chuckle and a friendly Merry Christmas and I'm on my way again.


Botswana 2 ~ day 0.75

Day 0.75

I'm now sitting in the Johannesburg International Airport haveing a cup of 5 Roses tea looking out over the internationally flavoured planes that have docked.

It's just gone 6:00am in the morning, the sky through the large plate glass windows has that distinctive African dustiness to it and I feel like I'm home again.

I'm wearing the "I had Friends on that Death Star" t-shirt give to me by Ethan and Aleksia for Christmas, and it has raised countless smiles throughout my trip thus far. Just goes to show Star Wars transcends time and spa.. generations.

One flight to go to get to Gaborone and here's hoping everything doesn't fall into a heap at the final stage.


Botswana 2 ~ It starts ...again!

Day 0.5

Another adventure is beginning. Albeit a shorter one this time but overseas, nonetheless.
I'm sitting in Perth International airport, having just updated my facebook page courtesy of free Optus broadband kiosks, waiting for my 11:45pm connection to South Africa.
Unfortunately I've had to fly Qantas, which is taking me via Perth. I prefer the Singapore route, but my plans this time left me with little choice. I'll make do I'm sure.

Having flown domestic from Brisbane I forgot to check my bags all the way to Gaborone so I'll need to clear immigration and collect them in Jo'burg. I have a 3 hour transit window so this should be fine, and it also gets me away from that international joke of a transit desk at the Jo'burg airport.

I was really really hoping to be able to do all my checkin-ing online this time, but because of code-sharing between Qantas and SAA, it seems this isn't possible. Hopefully they and the world will catch up.

It's late, I'm tired, so I'm going to lie down over several seats and get some rest before the flight leaves.

Botswana ~ Day 20

I’m sitting in the Gaborone departure lounge. My flight has been delayed almost an hour, slightly longer I think. No reason has been given and the only explanation is “Not boarding yet”. The flight has disappeared from the monitor, but this all appears to be usual.

I left Nitani yesterday morning at around 9:30am. Callie and Lovemore seemed determined to delay my departure as long as possible. When there are no guests they have to do other tasks like fix the roads in the Nitani concession.

My average speed back to Gabs was about 160km/h. I wanted to get back in time to borrow the internet and printer at the SMEC office to check-in for my Singapore flights, thereby avoiding the transit counter at Jo’burg airport. I got back in time but the internet was out. I hate to think how long I’ll be standing in line to check-in now.

Flight has finally been called to board.

Typing this in Changi airport, Singapore.
I had to stand inline for over an hour in Jo’burg to check-in, and there were only about 30 people in front of me. All the time the check-in counter staff are merrily chatting and joking with one another. Everyone except the Africans are getting impatient, they know how it works and so they expect the delay. Nothing has changed in nearly 10 years.. except for getting worse.
My flight was boarding by the time I got through the transit area so souvenir shopping will have to wait till the next trip.

Three weeks have gone so fast and it feels like I’ve hardly done or seen anything. Botswana has been everything I’d hoped it would be and I really don’t want to be heading back to Australia.

My next trip has already been half arranged for February 2010 and will be for at least 4 weeks, hopefully 5.

Now comes the processing of all the photos. All digital this time. Go here to see them:

Botswana ~ Day 18

For the past two nights I’ve been staying at Nitani Lodge in the Tuli private game reserve. Strictly 5 star. Game drives each morning and evening and while you’re out the chalet’s are made up, beds are turned down, heaters turned on etc etc. All too posh for me but I guess I’ll get used to it.

The drive here was and adventure in itself. Head north along the A1 then turn onto the B152 20kms north of Palapye. Follow the B152 to Bobonong and onto Semolale. Find the Kgotla in Semolale and take the best looking dirt road 25kms out of town. Easy ...NOT.

Getting to Semolale was easy enough, just following good quality bitumen roads. Once in Semolale there are no street signs, so no indication of where the Kgotla is actually located. I spent 15mins driving around I just happened across it. Heading of down the best looking dirt road in the Yaris, it quickly deteriorated into a two wheel track. The road was graded and getting ready for road base. It takes me about 50 mins to travel 25kms and I get to a Nitani sign. I must almost be there. I was told the safari truck would be on the side of the road to meet me, and as I didn’t see a safari truck I headed down the two wheel track indicated by the sign.
I knew it wasn’t the right road when almost immediately the belly of the Yaris is scraping along the centre of the track. However, I persist for another 4kms, crossing rocky creek beds, dodging acacia thorns and generally 4 wheel driving in a YARIS!

I eventually get to a river (not running) but decide that the Yaris was going to get hung up if I tried the decent to the rocky river bed, plus I wouldn’t be able to get back out even if I made it down. I turn around and head back to the main track, mindful that if I destroy the car on a rock (many of them) it’s a long walk back to anywhere.

Uneventfully I reach the main dirt road again and continue down it hoping to find the safari truck. Less than 2kms down the road, there it is proud as punch just where it should have been all along. I’m not believed when I tell them just how far I managed to get down the Nitani road, heads move between me and the Yaris as if to say “yeah right, in that thing?”.

With the Yaris safely left in the hands of the local cattle post, Callie and Lovemore transfer me via safari truck (ex-military Land Rover Defender) to the Nitani River lodge.

I’m the only one here. There are only 5 chalets with a maximum of 10 guests. My chalet is the “Leopard” and is a long walk on the board walk to the lapa, along a raised boardwalk.
Game has deserted me but have seen lots of impala and giraffe.

I’m typing this up as I sit by my own private pool - too cold for swimming. The elephants like the chlorinated water... perhaps because it tastes salty.
The guides are excellent (Callie and Lovemore) as is the chef (Wayne, a Brit), whom I have all to myself. It’s a bit daunting being the only one eating and 3 people hovering around at your immediate beck and call. All very lovely people, chatty and easy to get along with. Thanks to Wayne, I’ve sampled Springbok, Ostrich, Crocodile and some excellent Botswana steak. The Amurula creme caramel is brilliant, I could eat a gallon of that stuff. Honestly though, there was far too much food and I had to ask for a 2 course instead of the usual 3 course meals.

Currently there are warthogs browsing around the camp and the day before I arrived there were 30 elephants walking through and around also - the resulting damage to the trees is very evident. I’ve heard the ele’s but yet to see them here. Also Lion, leopard and cheetah but also yet to see them.

No fences at the lodge and small gates are put up every night to stop the hiena getting onto the walkways.. not a lot you can do about the cats, they get up if they want to. Driving around this reserve is wonderful, even if the game have moved to other parts of the place. About 70,000 hectares in all.

One day left here before driving back to Gabs.

Botswana ~ Day 12

Today (Saturday) we drove to Madikwe game reserve in South Africa, about 30 mins or so from the South Africa / Botswana border. I can now say I’ve been to South Africa four times. I have a SA visa in my passport again so all is well with the world.

Madikwe River Lodge, which is were Dad and I are staying, is very opulent. It’s not what I’m used to and for a good part of this afternoon I was thinking this is not my sort of thing. Here, you have designated game drives. You can’t drive yourself around and between game drives you sit by the pool and have “high tea”, (the iced coffee has Amarula in it and is to die for). However, my opinion changed when getting back from this evenings game drive, we were met by a porter with a glass of sherry to warm us up. I can certainly get used to this.

Dinner was 5 star all the way. South African singers welcomed us to dinner with some traditional singing (excellent stuff) and the menu was amazingly described, as was the food. Of course, Dad and I took the opportunity to order a bottle of excellent South African Cabernet Sauvignon to go with dinner. On return from the game drive, someone had closed the shutters in the chalet, turned down the beds, turned on the heaters, put little thank-you notes on the pillows and generally made the environment very luxurious - not what I’m used to at all.

The game drive was brilliant. As sunset approached the driver pulled over in the middle of nowhere, lions probably watching our every move, laid out a table of snacks and offered us beer/wine/other. An ice cold Castle beer was the choice for me as the sun set, along with some Wildebeest biltong.

The highlight of this afternoons drive was a lion kill. Three lionesses brought down a Wildebeest and we got to the site within 15 mins of the takedown. We watched as 14 lion cubs and the lionesses gorged on the carcass. I wish I could have recorded the sound of the feast, thrilling stuff.

On the drive we were joined by two other Australians from Adelaide, who were amazed at South Africa, it being their first visit. As a seasoned traveller here I was more than happy to give them some advice on getting around, and recommended they give Botswana a visit too.

Our driver will give us a wake-up call at 6:00am tomorrow morning, at 6:30 we shall be plied with coffee and cake and then taken on another drive. We leave to head back to Gabs tomorrow after “Brunch”.

Right now I’m going to hit the sack and listen to the truly african sound of lions roaring in the night. I hope you have something just as wonderful to listen to wherever you happen to be :D

Update: The game drive this morning was every bit as good as the one last night. This time we got to see not only the lionesses and cubs, but also two of the males (brothers). They walked right passed the vehicles, and having been in the park their entire lives paid no attention to us. The drive back to Gabs was via the Deerdeport border crossing, much less hassle than the Tlokweng border out of Gabs. I have a rest day tomorrow. I’ll attempt to upload some more images and do some catchup on the emails. Sorry to anyone trying to ring me. I have purchased a local sim card so am un-contactable on my Australian number. I’ll be looking to pick up another coat, Winter has caught up to me.

Botswana ~ Day 11

You’ll never guess where I’m typing this entry, so I’ll tell you shortly.

Yesterday saw a full day driving to Gweta and my next stay for the following two nights. I was hoping to get a full day + lunch on the pans today but luck was against me. There was nothing going at the Gweta Lodge. To give the lady credit she had tried everything. So I finished yesterday at the bar with the owners of the lodge. I was the only guest in residence so I received special treatment.
I had a great chinwag with a Brit who is one of the investors in the lodge and the manager, a South African. They gave me some great tips on seeing the Makgadikgadi and also regaled me with tales of their travels. I will definitely consider hooking up with one of their treks around the place in the future. He also gave me some information on motorcycling through Botswana. These guys actually caught up with the Top Gear team when it came through!

Today started out OK. I booked a Gweta village tour with Planet Baobab (just down the road from the Gweta Lodge) which included a traditional lunch. I got to eat Mopane worms and all the other fare a normal rural Botswanian family would eat. Lovingly prepared by a local lady. It was absolutely fantastic and I was the only one doing it. Again I had an audience with everyone wishing to see the look on my face when I chowed down a worm. They’re excellent.. I ate the lot!

That took me to lunchtime which brings me to now. I managed to tag along on a tour of the pans this afternoon. This was excellent and I got my first live view of Meerkats, lots of photos ensued. The very best part is this tour includes a sleepover out in the Ntwetwe Pan. So I am now typing this up with a blaze of stars above me and the only lights still shining are the glow of my macbook screen and the campfire behind me, about 4 kms onto the Ntwetwe pan, not another thing in site.

A long drive back to Gabs tomorrow that will start late because of my delayed return from the Pans. Do I care.. hell no!

Update: The Yaris happily sits on 160km/ph for extended periods of time. I was actually passed by another Yaris as I was doing 160km, and it disappeared into the distance.

Botswana ~ Day 9

I was up with a yellow-billed hornbill fart this morning and watched the sky change colour as the sun rose. I got the main gate early to book my nature drive this afternoon. Hopefully two hours of African animal goodness.

I was running out of Pula and had to make a few phone calls (there is no mobile reception here by any network and yes, you can tell the difference) so I ducked into Serowe. I checked in with Amina (Harvey World Travel) and all seems well with my further travels. I am running the risk of not getting a tour into the pans on Wednesday but these are the risks you take when “winging” it. The lady at Gweta Lodge is working hard for me.

The only bank that accepts foreign MasterCards is Standbic Bank. There is no branch in Serowe, I did a bit of asking around, so I had to make the 40km drive to Phalapye. Not unpleasant but I’d rather have been sitting on the porch of the chalet. I have to leave here by around 8 am tomorrow morning if I’m to make it to Gweta before dark.

I’m the only one eating at the restaurant at the moment, so I have all the staff to myself...which hasn’t made much difference actually.

Update 1:

I have just returned from a rather excellent game drive around Khama Rhino Sanctuary. I was the only one in the truck, aside from the driver and her assistant. Animals seen and mostly photographed include Ostrich, Gemsbok, Impala, Zebra, Rhino, Steenbok, Springbok, Warthogs, Wildebeast, Red Harts beast, Crimson breasted shrike, and Grey Laurie (go-away bird). As I type this up I can hear a Rhino walking around outside my chalet. I can’t see it or photograph it because I don’t have a torch or an outside light, yes I have considered just walking around in the pitch black with my hands outstretched until I run into it... most frustrating.

The game drive finished with us watching the sun set over a waterhole, while a couple of Rhino were drinking. I finished watching the sky turn from deep red, to deep purple, to black, back at the restaurant with a glass of Botswana’s finest beer... St. Louis.

Once again the sky is full of stars.

Botswana ~ Day 8

Today saw the start of my self-drive Botswana road trip. I left Gabs around 9am and headed toward Mahalapye along the main highway going North. The guidebook says there is an archeological site along the road north of Rasesa so I stopped in for a look. The half-a-kilometre road to the site was all sand. I’m thinking it’s Kalahari type sand. The Yaris handled it quite well, though there was in instance or two that I thought I might be walking back to the main highway looking for a snig out of the soft stuff. The archeological site is a set of footprints in the rock, some human some animal. The legend around this goes something like this. Matsieng (Botswana’s Adam) emerged from a water hole at this site (water hole still very much alive and well) With him came all the animals of the animal kingdom, as can bee seen by lion tracks among others in the rock. The ages of the rock the footprints are caste in is around 450 million years old. There is also some thought that the San people carved the human footprints into the rock around the water hole to make it look like the normal mud type holes where animals come to drink. The choice is up to the viewer as to which they want to believe. Maria, the guide, was full of interesting information and was worth the 20 minute side trip.

My destination for today was the Khama Rhino Sanctuary just north of Serowe. I took a circuitous route to Serowe passing through some very nice hill country. It’s marked on the map as a worthwhile tourist drive. I dawdled a bit on the way to Serowe which caused me to rush toward the end of the day. This rushing caused me to miss the turn off to Peja twice and added an extra hour to my trip. Roads are not well signed in Botswana (if at all) and then sometimes only signed in one direction. You need to continually check your rear vision mirror at every intersection to ensure you’ve not missed your turn. Which I did... twice! Anyhow, I made it.

I was under the impression I could drive the Yaris around the Rhino Sanctuary but alas this is not the case. One look at the sandy two wheel tracks told me it would not be a good idea. I am booked into a chalet 2.5 kms from the Restaurant and main gate into the bush - for two nights. There are two other chalet’s further in and I’m glad I’m not in one of those. The thorny acacias were getting extremely close to the paintwork on the Yaris and only get worse the further in you go. However, this was all worthwhile when I saw Rhino footprints in the sand surrounding the chalet. No fences inside the park, you share the space with the animals. I stopped at the restaurant briefly on the way in and there was a Rhino casually munching about 50 metres from the building. These are all wild animals which makes it all the more exciting. Alas, no lions in this park. You can also camp here, but the thought of a rhino walking through your tent in the middle of the night should be enough to put anyone off.

Have also seen Waterbuck wandering around the place.

The sandy tracks to and from my chalet are being handled quite well by the Yaris. I’m glad I haven’t yet had to pull off to the side to let another vehicle pass, hopefully they’ll have pity on me and give me right of way. I’m becoming more appreciative of the Yaris the more I drive it. As an appliance to get from A to B it is very good. I wouldn’t want to own one though.

The sky is absolutely full of stars as I type this up on the back patio of the chalet in complete darkness. The milky way is a blaze across the heavens and black has never looked so!

Note so self: duck back to Serowe tomorrow to find an adapter so I can charge the macbook!


Botswana ~ Day 7


I couldn’t be bothered subscribing to one of the local internet providers. The internet is free at most coffee establishments. A reasonably local portuguese coffee shop has free internet and great coffee so I’ve been there a few times to check the mail and update the facebook. By “local” I mean on the other side of the city.

I have a hire car. A Toyota Yaris, 1.3l 4 cylinder horror. Toyota make some great vehicles, this Yaris is not one of them. Still it’s wheels and it allows me to get around.

I’ve been to the local Mokolodi Game reserve which was quite good. Four rhino’s walked right up to the safari truck. There was also elephant, zebra, giraffe, impala, water-buck, Ibex, ostriches and kudu... oh and cheetahs. I managed to photograph most of these with differing success. There were only two of us on the excursion. Myself and an American who worked for the US defense department.

I’ve also been out to “site”. Site is Maunatlala, a village where a water storage project is occuring to provide potable water to about 20 villages around it. The first “sod” has been turned, by which a buldozer has cleared the mopane scrub to allow one to see the line of the proposed dam wall. I got to wander all through the botswana scrub looking at bore-holes. Might sound rather boring, but in actual fact it was fantastic. Who else would get to do such a thing??? In amongst all the mopani trees (no mopani worms for me to eat) we came across a small corral. All lined with umbrella thorn to keep the “wild beasts” away from the heard boy and the cattle. Neither of which had been there in a while.

A man by the name of Progress took me on a tour of Maunatlala and a few of the surrounding villages and we had a great chat about the changing face of Botswana, political and social. I haven’t checked the photos yet but I’m hoping I grabbed a few of the traditional style of house here.. rondaavel. There has been so much progress in Botswana that finding traditional style anything is becoming very difficult. Progress wished he could put the brakes on his namesake for a little while longer. I met a few other very interesting people, including an environmentalist from Lesotho and one of a number of Chinese engineers.

I spent the better part of half a day at Harvey World Travel on Old Lobatse road in Gabs sorting out my travel and accommodation details on my up and coming self-drive tour. Amina was fantastic and figure of patience as she sorted out my wild roamings into something she would work with. I am now booked into two nights at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary and two nights at Gweta rest camp. Mkgadikgadi here I come. This will take up most of my second week in Botswana. The coming weekend I’m arranging to go to South Africa and visit the Madikwe game reserve just across the boarder. It will be nice to have a South African visa stamp in my passport again.

The last week of my time here will be spent at Nitani game reserve in the Tuli block. This is billed as a 5 star resort type thing. Getting to it will not be 5 star. As I’m driving myself in a YARIS! I’ll need to leave the car at a village police station, ring the resort and someone will come to collect me. This is if all goes well. If it doesn’t all go well, then I guess I’ll be in Africa for a very long time... no issues there. At the end of all this I will have seen only two of the five main areas of interest in Botswana. Next years trip is already in the planning stages.

Food, my God the Food! There is everything anyone could ever want in food here in Gabs... and not a McDonalds or KFC in site!

Botswana ~ Day 1

I’m standing on the balcony watching my first sunrise in Botswana with a cup of 5 Roses tea (SA brand). I’m back in Africa, Southern Africa... home.

I’m taking today to get over the flights here. About 24 hrs of travel including transits (Singapore and Jo’burg). The final flight into Johannesburg didn’t feel the 10+ hours that it was. Probably because I slept most of it. Sleeping during flight is not something I usually do, but thanks to my new status as a “Krisflyer” member, I can get priority seating within my class (economy). I flaunted my new found power with requesting isle seats in front of the wings. Makes a huge different in the amount of engine noise you have to put up with.

Singapore Changi airport with it’s new Terminal 3 is now absolutely huge. There is good reason they provide trains to get around it.
Johannesburg airport is also going through renovations and is more than double it’s size the last time I passed through. The Transit desk is still the worst in the world (some things never change). There is no organised chaos here, just pure and uncorrupted chaos.

First impressions of Botswana: More than I was expecting. Infrastructure of all types is quite advanced. I can’t count the number of internet cafe’s and my macbook is picking up no less than 6 wireless networks, three of which are public internet subscription services. Had a coffee at one of the shopping centres (very much like Sunshine Plaza at Maroochydore) and came to realize that the Africa I remember from 9 years ago is slowly disappearing to be replaced by a more western society. Makes for less of a culture shock for the new visitor but still a big shame. Dinner last night was at the “Bull and Bush” a local steak house. Food was excellent, as I expected.

Plans for the day included hiring a car for the next 20 days (most likely Avis), getting a local sim card for the mobile, going for a walk to the local shopping centre to flush myself with Pula’s (Botswana currency), un-boxing some of the furniture in the flat, and studying the Gaborone city map.

If I can be bothered, I may enquire about subscribing to one of the local internet service providers...perhaps.

Do I speak with an accent?

I had a bizarre encounter today. I went to see the travel agent to start the preliminary work for my next trip, this time the destination is Botswana.

The young lady travel agent I usually speak to (I can’t believe I have a usual travel agent) wasn’t available but by the name tag, the lady I did speak to, is her mother. Nice lady.

We started the conversation with the usual exchange of pleasantries and then she asked how she could help. All rather normal so far. After giving her a rundown on what I was after she asked “Where was Gaborone?”.

This is usual for me, I’ve visited some strange places so I’m used to travel agents not knowing where they’re sending me, and me having to explain how I wish to get where I’m going. I get a small thrill (very small) knowing I’m going somewhere off the beaten path. Taking the road less travelled is the way I try to live my life...but I digress.

After explaining that Gaborone (the G is pronounced as an H) is the capital of Botswana and that I’ll need a South African Air flight from Johannesburg after arriving via Singapore she said “Do you come from there?”.

This threw me for a moment but I gathered my wits, where they had fallen to the floor like a scattered deck of cards, and asked her what she meant? She had assumed I had come from somewhere on the African continent because of the twang in my voice. Now that stunned me to silence for about fifteen-seconds (the floor bestrewn with cards again) and I sat there blinking like a mouse in flour bag, which embarrassed her a little I think.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I pick up an accent extremely easily - embarrassingly so at times - but outside of any foreign influence, I didn’t think I had any accent other than an Australian one.

So I throw this open to the people I speak to everyday, or at least regularly... Do I speak with an accent of any kind?

It seems a perfect stranger thinks I do. How odd.


Trip to Longreach ~ Day 9

I left Goondiwindi at around 8:00am hoping against hope for some interesting scenery and some darned Emus. The sky was perfectly clear and rather cool compared to what I have been used to. I stopped a few kilometers out of town to put on a flannelette shirt under my jacket to keep out the cold, didn’t work too well but I grinned and bared it. Just out of town is the Border Rivers tourist route that bring you out at Yelarbon. I took that tourist route but still no Emus .

About 20kms out of Inglewood is Lake Coolmunda. I stopped off here for a break and a Mango weis bar. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of water in the lake but there were a few pelicans, black swans and other aquatic birds. Just up the road is secondary road to Stanthorpe. I had time so this is the road I took. I like Stanthorpe, I was born there.

I stopped in Warwick for a coffee and muffin. The first of both since Gayndah 8 days ago. I spent about 40 mins in the town centre wandering around stretching my legs. Warwick is a nice place, I could see myself working there.

From Warwick I took the Cunningham highway to Brisbane. Those who’ve travelled this way will know it takes you through the Cunningham Gap. A rather nice ride in either direction, but I nearly came to grief with two slow moving trucks. I temporarily forgot that this ride has chewed through my rear tyre, my memory was refreshed. I’ll be hunting for a new tyre over the next few weeks.

The final leg of my trip through Brisbane was uneventful. I did notice there is a severe lack of indicator use from car drivers in Brisbane. Everywhere I’ve been over the past 8 days, I’ve seen everyone using their indicators. Not so in Brisbane.
From BNE is was a gunshot up the highway and home, ending a thoroughly enjoyable trip.

I have a map of South East Qld that I use a highlighter on to mark my travels in that area. On it are still some rather large areas of unexplored territory. My next trip is already in the planning!

Trip to Longreach ~ Day 8

I left Roma at 6am this morning heading for Surat. It was pleasantly cool, but clouds were gathering. I am hoping to see Emu’s somewhere along the track today. I’ve seen very little actual wildlife so far this trip, aside from some Brolgas.

The road to Surat was flat and featureless and I could see rain to the West. I stopped in Surat for a quick break but it ended up longer than expected. A bloke by the name of Peter Ryan saw my bike and walked over for a chat. He’s also a bike rider and comes from Toowoomba. We had a good chin-wag and he’s put me onto a few necessities for the bike. 1. a new seat, and 2. cruise control. I’ll do some “Googling” when I get back home and see if I can track them down. I remember an ad in the Australian Road Rider mag that was selling bike seats that prevent the “Bum-burn”. I don’t suffer too badly from it, I stand up every now and then to stretch my legs. This act get’s people looking. Traveling at 100+ kms with the rider standing up is close to flying.

My longer than anticipated stay in Surat meant the rain caught me up. Just out of the town I had to stop again and put on the wet weather gear.

Just out of St. George is Beardmore Dam. My Dad was one of the engineers who worked on the Dam so I stopped in to have a look and take a few photos. The rain had eased slightly but came back by the time I got to St. George. The rain continued all the way to Goondiwindi. I gave up on the photo taking and just tried to make the best of it.

I got into Goondiwindi at around 3:30pm with the rain coming down. I decided to stop here rather than try and push through to Warwick. Warwick is another 200kms down the road and in the rain didn’t sound to enticing. Certainly not as enticing as a dry Motel room. Before finding a place to stay I rode around the town. I got looks from everyone. Who was this mad person riding around in the rain? I’ve driven through Goondiwindi a number of times on my way to other places but this time I took the time to look around. It seems like a nice place, I could see myself working out this way. Mind you, I thought this as I went through Emerald, Longreach, Charleville, Roma and St. George also.

Anyway, I’m now dry and happy to see the panniers don’t leak. I’ll head to Warwick and home tomorrow.

Trip to Longreach ~ Day 4

I left Longreach at 7:30am. The day started out warm but it seemed to get cooler the closer I got to Charleville. Charleville is my next stop.
I headed back to Ilfracombe as it was suggested to me not to take the original route I was going to take, which included a section of unsealed road. They’ve had rain out here recently and general consensus was to go back to Ilfracombe. So back I went. It was only 27kms back down the road so no harm done.
The wind picked up early and I was riding into a cross-head-wind. Once I turned south it became a tail wind of sorts so the ride smoothed out considerably.

From Ilfracombe I headed to Isisford. I was intending to fill-up there and there was a moment of concern when I couldn’t find the servo. It’s on a back street for future reference. There is an ad on TV that talks about the Barcoo bridge at Isisford so I had to go see what all the hoo-haa was about.

The next leg of the journey heads out to Blackall. This is a tourist route and I was rather early, so I waited in Isisford for 40mins or so to make sure there were at least a couple of Caravans to take the same road. It’s a long lonely road if something goes wrong. Having ascertained my backup, I took off. The country is flat, flatter than flat. I was hoping to see some Emus but the only animals I could see were cows, horses, sheep and goats. I did see a few Brolgas but there were too far away to get a photo...again.

I grabbed a bite to eat in Blackall and headed toward Tambo, a much nicer place if you ask me. I filled up at Tambo and spent a good half an hour by the man-made lake near the BP. Lovely cool breeze coming off the water, which I needed as I helped a lady put air in her tyres. Damned pressure hose wasn’t working properly so I had to send her off to Blackall with only 28psi in one of the front tyres. She was happy enough.

The road from Tambo to Augathela was very nice. The road was lined with purple, blue, white and yellow wild flowers all the way. I took to standing up on the bike doing 100kms, a good way to see the country and you can almost believe you’re flying.

All in all the country is very flat and featureless. So much space, I love it!
I took barely a handful of photos today, I’m getting rather picky about what I get the camera out for.
I stopped in Augathela for a Mango Weis bar. I’m not sure why I suddenly had a craving for one of these, but the last time I was through here I remember the BP having them... so, I grabbled one. Also a good excuse to get off the bike for a bit. On the way into town I decided to go down one of the dirt tracks that lead off the main road. I followed this for a couple of KM’s before turning around. Bike handled it fairly well, but I should have let some of the air out of the tyres.
The road from Augathela to Charleville was more of the same featureless landscape. I did the Cylon scanning thing just in case there was something interesting to take a photo of. There wasn’t.

Tonight I decided to check out the local Charleville Chinese. Very nice, I was the only one in the restaurant so I was a captured audience. Chop-sticks are a novelty out here, they had to go find some when I asked, eyebrows raised and everything.

Very short distance to Roma tomorrow, but there should be lots of side-tracks to follow. I plan on stopping in to have a look at the artesian spa at Mitchell. I only gave the one as Ilfracombe a cursory glance.

I should also say that riding a bike through these places is rather cool. Kids wave and people come up and ask where I’m heading and where I’ve come from, I’m certainly a hit with the “grey nomads”. You don’t get that with a car.

Note to self: wash the bug-guts off the bike, it’s attracting flies.

Trip to Longreach ~ Day 3

Day three. Day of rest. Today I’m doing a little riding as possible. It’s a good thing both the QANTAS Founders Museum and the Stockman’s hall of fame are within walking distance.

The QANTAS Founders Museum is rather excellent. I went for the package thing, minus the wing-walk. I’ve flown in enough 747’s to know what the wing looks like. This particular 747 is a 747-200, or also known as the 747 “Classic”. What differentiates this one from the 747-400’s that are flying the sky at the moment is this one still uses wire cables to control all the “stuff”. This Boeing came out of service in 2002, and I remember watching the news reports about the challenges of landing it at Longreach. Runway too short and too narrow. There is an excellent video you can watch that talks all about it, and what is also nice is the very little of John Travolta... they kept it real.
An intersting note about this plane, is one of the three engines is still flight ready. The plane was almost sold to India, in which case it would still be flying. This plane did the mercy flights to Bali after the bombings there. It also did routes to Africa and it’s very possible I, or my Dad, has flown in this very plane.

Along side the 747 is a new 707, the original jet purchased by QANTAS...the actual original, verified by part numbers. It was donated back from the Saudi’s and has been fitted out as a luxury airliner. The Queen flew in this very same plane back in 1959. The Saudi’s fitted it out with wood panel and pure gold trimmings. Some of which can still be seen, along with some crystal light fittings. Even now, it looks very luxurious with beds, showers, lounge chairs etc. Sorry no photos of the 707, it was not permitted as the plane is still owned by the Saudi’s and is actually still registered for flight.

The QANTAS museum attached is excellent and has lots of interesting stuff about the airline in the early years. As much as I like QANTAS and proud that it’s Australian, I’ll still fly Singapore or Malaysian Airlines.

Right across the road is the Stockman’s Hall of Fame. A collection of what made country Australia. Slim Dusty and Smokey Dawson are there, along with a swag of other stuff that centres around Australia’s early stockmen and how they lived.

Both of these venues took almost the whole day to see, but with a little time left this afternoon I rode out to the Iningai Nature park, just out of town toward Windorah.

At first the nature park just looked like a paddock, and I had to walk 300m out into the paddock to get to the information board. Not an unpleasant walk. I decided to do the 3.5km walk around the park. The shortest of the three or four walks. It was a nice walk, but there was nothing to see. No animals at least. I was hoping to see a couple of Brolgas but alas.
About 40mins into the walk I found out why... joggers! People use the park as a jogging track and to walk their dogs, so animals are going to steer clear. Oh well, it was a nice walk.

Here endeth Day 3. I’m heading to Charleville via Isisford and Augathella. A total of about 550kms.

Trip to Longreach ~ Day 2

I left Emerald this morning around 10am. I waited for the motorbike shops to open so I could try and get my visor mounting plate repaired or replaced.

I pulled into a Honda dealership and while they didn’t stock my helmet brand, the helpful bloke behind the counter took to my helmet with super-glue in an attempt to help me out.
While I was waiting, a local mechanic on his way to Roma to fix a truck, saw my bike out the front and pulled in. He’d been thinking about getting a V-Strom to replace or add to his GS1400. He hit me with a hundred questions and when I finished answering them, he left with the intention of buying one. I’m not sure how the bloke in the Honda dealership felt. I just sold a Suzuki to a potential customer while in his Honda shop.

Anyway, thanks to that bloke with the super-glue. I taped the visor up as I had a feeling the glue wasn’t going to hold for long. On the way out of town I stopped at another bike shop and they happened to stock my helmet. $20 and some deft work with a screwdriver later, I had two new visor mounting plates. Thanks to Adrian and Julie from Central Bike Centre, you’ve made my second day of riding much more comfortable.

I ducked down to Fairbairn Dam which is easily reached just to the west of Emerald. It is full and Lake Maraboon is quite a site. My Dad worked as an engineer on the Selma Channel, which is an irrigation channel fed by the Dam. This little detour cost me an hour so I really didn’t get away from Emerald till 11am.

On the way to Barcaldine I stopped briefly at Sapphire to see how the other half live. The town is almost entirely made up of corrugated iron... at least that’s how it looked. It was almost deserted so I’m guessing everyone was underground digging for gems.

I stopped off at Alpha for a bottle of water and a couple of apples. Alpha is a quaint little town and the information centre is full of good information on places to see. It also doubles as the rider-reviver offering a cuppa.

I’ve taken to stopping every 45mins or so, so the next stop was Barcaldine. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I thought it would be bigger. After a brief stop it was off to Ilfracombe and its “Mile of machinery”. This is an interesting feature of the town. There is a line of old farming machinery a mile long, as long as the town, that runs along the highway. It’s worth a stop and look. The country between Barcaldine and Ilfracombe is rather uninspiring.

The country from Ilfracombe to Longreach was better to look at. Dotted with some Emu and a few red-headed stork/cranes that I’m yet to identify, all too far away for photo opportunities.

I arrived in Longreach at 4:45pm, passing both the QANTAS museum and the Stockman’s Hall of fame on the way in. These I will visit tomorrow on my day off.

Trip to Longreach ~ Day 1

Oh my knees, by back, my a**. Just kidding, but I would happily kill for a beer.

Today I completed the first stage of my trip to Longreach. Arriving in Emerald at 6:10pm. This is a motorcycle trip that will take eight or so days return, and cover about 3000kms. This is my first motorcycle trip longer than a day. Today is the longest day of the trip with 850kms in total to get to Emerald. Each successive day from this point onward won’t exceed 400kms. This should give me enough time to take some photos. Which reminds me, I think I’ve left my CF card reader at home! Doh!

I left home at 7:00am this morning and dawdled my way to Gayndah. I stopped in Gayndah for a coffee and it was at that time that I realised I was running about an hour behind schedule. Unfortunately that type of difference is hard to make up. I also only managed to take about 5 photos.

The main objective of today, aside from getting to Emerald, was to visit Moonford. Moonford is a little locality about 12kms on the North side of Monto. It consists now of a couple of houses and a Parks and Wildlife office. The reason I wanted to visit Moonford is because the Parks and Wildlife office used to be the Moonford school.
Which is where I started my academic career some twenty-nine years ago, in grade one. My Dad was working at Cania Gorge at the time and I think my Mum used to drive the school bus for the area. The school house is almost unchanged from my memory of it. A few louvres have been replaced with sliding windows but that’s about it. The little verandah that housed the port racks still exists.

The entire run has been smooth. The bike is riding like a cloud thanks to the extra weight on the back wheel. Less is definitely more when doing a bike trip, and I have come to realise that much less is much more. However, I do have the capacity to take a lot more stuff in my panniers than I at first thought. I resisted the urge to fill them.

The only hiccup so far was my visor breaking about 2kms east of Rolleston. This time it wasn’t the visor, but the hookup that it attaches to. That particular little gadget has broken away from the helmet. I’ll see if I can track down some glue tomorrow on the way to Longreach and re-attach it. Thankfully I have some duct-tape and currently the visor is taped open.

Photos to come when I get access to them.