Twenty people on 15 motorcycles take off on a 3000 km African adventure to experience one of the world’s seven natural wonders and a look at an amazing culture
Story by Glenn Roberts
Photos by Glenn Roberts and Leigh Peterson
Our first day of riding on this two-week Wildlife and Waterfalls tour embraced us with clear skies and sunshine. This early-August adventure took us into three African countries – Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe – and the riding temperatures were perfect, given we were just entering springtime in Africa. The day started out at just 15 C when the 14 BMWs of various sizes and a single KTM left the Klein Windhoek Guest House in Windhoek, Namibia, but within an hour or so the temperature had risen to 28. My wife, Gwen, and I along with our crew of adventurers headed due east toward the vast Kalahari Desert. Rene Cormier, owner of Renedian Adventures, would lead our group, South African Du Toit van Niekerk would ride at the back of the pack on his KTM 990 Adventure, while Henk van Niekerk from Zulu Overland would follow in the chase vehicle with our luggage, spare bike, parts and tires.
Our day’s ride ended just east of the Namibian town of Gobabis at the Zelda Guest Farm. This Renedian Adventures tour comprised 99 percent pavement; Zelda’s 2.5 km gravel and sand driveway represented a portion of the remaining one percent. Zelda’s resident warthog was there to greet us as we pulled up to the main entrance. He isn’t friendly enough to pet, but he does sleep under the reception desk.
While at Zelda, our group of 18 adventurers piled into a modified Bedford truck-turned-safari-vehicle for a trip into the savannah to visit a tribal village of the Nharo bushmen. We were met by a multi-generational family who then walked us into the savannah and proceeded to explain their culture and daily life, as well as how to live off the land. They also showed us what to watch for in the desert, including plants that will kill you if you’re not careful.
The Kalahari is a semi-arid desert that covers about 900,000 sq. km in parts of Namibia and South Africa, and consumes about 70 percent of Botswana. With limited rainfall, the Kalahari is able to support livestock and wildlife, and we were forewarned of this crossing into Botswana.
Immediately evident was the lack of fences at the side of the 125 km/h highway – and there is plenty of free-range livestock. The verge at the side of the road, however, is cleared back about 25 metres, so spotting animals in the distance is not a problem. Experience will teach you though that it is the young, skittish ones to watch out for, while the older ones might simply lift their heads to watch you pass as they stand on the centreline, or in the middle of your lane.
This is the second Renedian Adventures tour Gwen and I have been on, and was quite different from the Spectacular South West Africa tour we participated in last year, which was 40 percent gravel. The roads on this journey were flatter and many of them were arrow-straight. But with paved roads comes potholes, and some on Botswana highways were large enough to almost swallow a motorcycle.
Ditch the Bikes for a Plane
One of the many highlights of this trip was a 45-minute chartered flight over the Okavango Delta to our next night’s accommodation at a tented camp in the Moremi Game Reserve. The 18 of us boarded four small aircraft and flew at 500 feet. We were treated to sights straight out of a National Geographic film as we flew over herds of elephant, water buffalo, giraffe, hippo and countless antelope before touching down on a small gravel landing strip in the middle of the delta.
Before settling into the bush camp for the night, we enjoyed a game drive where we encountered a variety of wildlife, including elephants that were so close you could distinguish each wrinkle around their eyes, and hippos near enough to count their teeth when they yawned. It was a photographer’s dream. Just before reaching the bush camp, we were fortunate to see an astounding sunset on the savannah. Having been in Africa twice now, I can honestly say the African sunsets are unlike anywhere else – words and photos cannot do them justice.
We arrived at the camp to find the tents and tables (complete with place settings) set up by Swampland Tented Safaris. The food was plentiful and simple, yet outstanding in so many ways – rugged elegance on the African savannah. During the evening we were warned not to venture far from camp. It’s a life-and-death struggle for most animals and there could be predators lurking in the shadows; wandering too far might mean life-and-death for a human as well.
Sleeping on cots didn’t allow for rolling over, but it did provide an entertaining symphony of snoring. We were told in the morning the noises that weren’t humans snoring were hyenas, lions, elephants, and hippos that were only 500 metres away at the river.
Owing to a vehicle breakdown, we had been split into two groups for the morning’s game drive. While we were out, the others had the opportunity to witness six elephants meander through the camp, one of them taking out the men’s outhouse; luckily no one was in it. Upon returning, I roughly measured one of the footprints in the sand and it was about 40 x 60 cm – unbelievable. Two weeks prior, Henk was preparing lunch when a pride of lions walked through the camp.
Instead of flying out of the delta, we drove back to Maun in safari vehicles, and after a single-lane detour for several kilometres through the bush in deep, talcum powder-like sand because of a washed-out bridge, we made it back to our bikes and our accommodations for the night. Interestingly, the sides of the road on the way back looked as if a twister had gone through and uprooted trees, when in fact it was elephants that had knocked them over.
Veterinary checkpoints are common on all major highways in Botswana to help curb foot and mouth disease. In the last couple of days, we’d experienced these checkpoints from the extreme to the bizarre. At one, we had to ride our bikes through a bath of disinfecting fluid and step on wet towels doused with the same fluid to disinfect the soles of our boots. Oddly, we had stopped at a checkpoint in the safari vehicle just a day before, and although we had to step on the wet towels, the attendant, armed with only a hand wand, sprayed only the top half of the vehicle’s tires, with no concern for the bottom half.
More than Just Cows and Donkeys
On the way to our well-appointed, spacious chalets at the Nata Lodge, we passed an elephant on the side of the road, as well as giraffes and kudus – I could never get bored of seeing these majestic animals in their natural habitat. We also had our first introduction to grass fires and the amazing baobab tree.
Grass fires are purposely set by farmers to clear the dead groundcover so new growth can begin. The grass burns so fast that there is no threat to trees or buildings, but it can spread quickly and burn many acres in no time. The fire we rode past was on both sides of the road. The baobab trees are unique in that they look as if they’re growing upside down – the branches look like roots – and the massive trunks hold enough water to still produce fruit during a drought.
From the Nata Lodge, our destination was through the Chobe National Park to the town of Kasane, near the Zimbabwe border. (Canadians need a visa to enter Zimbabwe, so before leaving for Africa, Gwen and I had to send our passports along with $100 each to the Zimbabwe Embassy in Ottawa.) The paperwork our group would need to get our bikes into Zimbabwe and out the next day promised to be too much of a hassle, so everyone left their bikes at the Water Lily Lodge in Kasane and boarded vans to take us into Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls.
While on the outskirts of Kasane, we had to stop to allow a herd of elephants to cross the road. Once underway again, we noticed a…