A boat and a Kombi

Since his re­tire­ment, found­ing edi­tor Jan­nie Herbst has cer­tainly not spent most of his time read­ing, sit­ting on a rock­ing chair on the front porch, or watch­ing the World Bowls Cham­pi­onship on tele­vi­sion. In­stead, he’s been tick­ing off some bucket list tr

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text and pho­to­graphs: Jan­nie Herbst

Vis­it­ing Lake Kariba

I Fpar­adise is shar­ing your first cuppa of the day with fish ea­gles and their rau­cous cries and the happy snort­ing of hip­pos as the sun rises over Lake Kariba, then a trip on the house­boat Lady Jacque­line is right up your al­ley.

The mis­sus, our two grown sons, and some friends went on-board the 65-foot Lady Jacque­line, near the town of Binga on the shores of Kariba, af­ter a four-hour drive from Vic­to­ria Falls. We were im­me­di­ately im­pressed with the house­boat. Not only was it larger than it ap­peared on their web­site, but the fin­ish­ings and fur­nish­ings were far bet­ter than our col­lec­tive ex­pec­ta­tions.

On the lower deck were two spa­cious and mod­ern air­con­di­tioned en-suite bed­rooms and two more cab­ins with six bunk beds. The crew of three had their own quar­ters and ablu­tions in the prow of the boat, and the over­all im­pres­sion was one of cozy and un­der­stated lux­ury.

A spa­cious sun­bathing area on the up­per deck fea­tured a bar and two fridges stocked with a va­ri­ety of wine, beers and cooldrinks that were pre­ordered. We took along our own spir­its but the boat rental fee in­cludes 10 drinks per per­son per day.

A bot­tle of wine is the equiv­a­lent of six drinks while sparkling or still water, beer or cold drinks count as one. An ice ma­chine en­sures drinks are al­ways cool which is a ne­ces­sity on Kariba.

The mid-deck area houses captain and helms­man Steve’s quar­ters, the chef ’s kitchen and a large lounge. The lounge is fur­nished with comfy so­fas and chairs, there is a large se­lec­tion of read­ing ma­te­rial (nov­els, an­i­mal/fish books and Kariba his­tory), a va­ri­ety of board games and a DVD player with a se­lec­tion of movies and mu­sic.

Also on this deck is a break­fast nook and Jacuzzi, en­sur­ing that all home com­forts are taken care of. The chef ’s kitchen and break­fast nook fall un­der the do­main of a jovial char­ac­ter named Takesure who,

“Africa is blessed with an abun­dance of in­cred­i­ble places to visit... this is one of them”

when we sat down to din­ner on the up­per deck, po­litely en­quired: “How would you like your fil­let steak, Mr Jan­nie?”

It was a nice touch, the fil­let was per­fectly done and com­ple­mented by crispy baked pota­toes, pump­kin, green beans and a fresh salad. Dessert was ap­ple tart and cream and, while on the sub­ject of food, our group was might­ily im­pressed with Takesure’s culi­nary skills.

De­spite a cramped kitchen, Takesure pro­duced meals that were fill­ing and ap­petis­ing and served with flair at a ta­ble set­ting with cloth servi­ettes no­gal. Break­fasts were a va­ri­ety of ce­re­als, yo­gurt, fruit, ba­con or sausage and eggs, toast, muffins, mush­rooms and savoury mince. Pasta, cold meats and salad, or fish and chips was usu­ally the fare for lunch.

Our sec­ond din­ner was an ex­cel­lent chicken dish and on our last night on-board, Takesure de­creed a change of venue. This turned out to be a tra­di­tional braai on shore served with sadza, the Zim­babwe ver­sion of stywe pap.

Other mem­o­rable dishes were a tasty ba­nana/caramel cheese­cake and home­made crum­pets with syrup. From early morn­ing, fresh coffee and tea were al­ways avail­able with cook­ies and rusks. The view of the sur­round­ing lake made meal times an idyl­lic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Captain Steve and his crew could not have been more help­ful or ac­com­mo­dat­ing de­spite be­ing con­stantly busy with a va­ri­ety of chores. Servi­ettes were washed and hung out to dry ev­ery morn­ing and when Moore, the deck­hand, spot­ted us mak­ing our bed he in­dig­nantly protested and chased us away.

Any­one who has not been to Kariba is miss­ing out on one of the won­ders of the world. Built along the Zam­bezi River, the man-made lake is a huge fresh water sea and was filled be­tween 1958 and 1963.

Kariba mea­sures 280 kilo­me­tres in length and 40 kilo­me­tres across at its widest point, and be­cause the val­ley was not cleared prior to flood­ing, forests of pet­ri­fied trees jut from the water. I know all this be­cause one of the books in the lounge was about the his­tory of the lake and Op­er­a­tion Noah which, a huge wildlife res­cue op­er­a­tion that lasted from 1958 un­til 1964.

Need­less to say, a pair of lo­cal of­fi­cials ap­peared just be­fore we left shore on the first day of our trip to col­lect the com­pul­sory con­ser­va­tion and park fees and fish­ing per­mits. The con­ser­va­tion and parks fees are $20 per per­son, and fish­ing per­mits $5 per per­son per day.

Two 16-foot ten­der boats are towed be­hind the Lady Jacque­line for game view­ing and fish­ing, with an­glers lust­ing over an op­por­tu­nity to land one of Kariba’s leg­endary tiger­fish. The Herbst off­spring are no dif­fer­ent in this re­spect, but per­se­ver­ance never paid off and the two sons never had so much as the hint of a bite.

Sight­ings of game were also a tad dis­ap­point­ing. Good rain­fall in the area meant plenty of wa­ter­ing holes in the bush and there was no need for an­i­mals like ele­phant, gi­raffe and an­te­lope to come to the water’s edge to drink.

We did see an abun­dance of croc­o­dile and hippo while the birdlife was stun­ning, but what can be bet­ter than shar­ing qual­ity time with fam­ily and close friends on a house­boat on Lake Kariba? Fish­ing and game view­ing were never pri­or­i­ties, and a great time was had by sim­ply laz­ing around with good con­ver­sa­tion, en­joy­ing a gin and tonic in the Jacuzzi and look­ing for­ward to an­other of Takesure’s culi­nary sur­prises.

Our four-day cruise took us to Nyem­bra Is­land, the mouth of the Ruze River and back to Nyem­bra for the last night be­fore re­turn­ing

to the moor­ing in Binga.

The bare branches of the fa­mous drowned trees sil­hou­et­ted against leg­endary big sky sun­sets with the calm water turn­ing golden in the dusk linger for­ever in the mem­ory.

Any­one with­out a trip on a Lake Kariba house­boat on their bucket list should rem­edy the over­sight im­me­di­ately. Africa is blessed with an abun­dance of in­cred­i­ble places to visit... this is one of them.


The quick­est route to Binga would have been to en­ter Zim­babwe at the Plumtree Bor­der Post just north of Fran­cis­town in Botswana.

We de­cided, how­ever, to go via Kasane and sam­ple the pop­u­lar sunset boat cruise on the Chobe River, with a visit to Vic­to­ria Falls thrown in be­fore we kept our date with The Lady Jacque­line.

Af­ter pick­ing up Jaco and Bar­bara in Pre­to­ria at around 8am, we set sail for our overnight stop at the Ele­phant Sands in Botswana where we were hop­ing to en­joy a sun­downer in the com­pany of the ele­phants who like to drink from the wa­ter­hole in the cen­tre of the camp. It was a dis­ap­point­ment when the ele­phants failed to ar­rive but we were in high spir­its at the prospects of what lay ahead.

The dis­tance from our Rand­burg home base was 1 263km but we were in the ul­tra-com­fort­able VW Cal­i­for­nia camper van that in­cludes a pop-up roof tent and two fold down seat mat­tresses that sleep two. We never needed to sam­ple th­ese but the diesel-pow­ered bus ex­udes style, per­fectly matched by qual­ity en­gi­neer­ing, com­fort and per­for­mance.

The sec­ond day was a short 255km stretch to Kasane, but we were hugely dis­ap­pointed to find so many pot­holes on what is a rel­a­tively new road. Four years ago we mar­velled at this Chi­nese con­struc­tion but they some­how got it wrong.

We de­stroyed one tyre af­ter hit­ting the mother of all pot­holes and were lucky there was no fur­ther dam­age. The prob­lem is that the road is ex­cel­lent in parts and then, with­out warn­ing, pot­holes ap­pear.

Cal­i­for­nia Beach – a house on wheels?

VW’s first camper van was launched late in the ’50s. Based on the first-gen­er­a­tion T1 bus, Ger­man com­pany West­falia retro­fit­ted the bus with camp­ing ac­ces­sories and a pop-up roof. The camper bus was nick­named Westy, and quite a lot were sold. Some mod­els were named Cal­i­for­nia. In the ’70s, lo­cal com­pany Jur­gens cre­ated the Au­tovilla, the erst­while VW mo­torhome that was based on the VW T2 bus. Back in the day, the Au­tovilla was so slow, it was a mo­bile chi­cane on the na­tional roads. But it also proved pop­u­lar. Nowa­days, the Au­tovilla is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a bit of a re­vival… they are in de­mand, and are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pricey. So what’s with this mod­ern ‘Cal­i­for­nia’ busi­ness then? Af­ter West­falia was sold to Daim­lerChrysler in 2001, VW Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles de­cided to cre­ate its own line of camper vans. The first model, de­signed and built in-house and with the high­end mod­els fea­tur­ing a pop-up alu­minium roof, made its de­but in 2003. The Cal­i­for­nia Beach used for this trip is the mod­ern in­car­na­tion of that bus. Based on the lat­est T5 plat­form, the seven-seater Cal­i­for­nia is equipped with the well­proven two-litre tur­bod­iesel en­gine that de­liv­ers 103kW and 340Nm of torque, and is mated to a six-speed man­ual gear­box. It also has Volk­swa­gen’s 4Mo­tion sys­tem, the pop-up alu­minium roof with sleep­ing space for two peo­ple (with a 150kg total weight limit), and all the in­te­rior com­forts to make a long-dis­tance trip a daw­dle. This in­clude cruise con­trol, cli­mate con­trol, seats that can swivel through 180 de­grees and a ‘Com­po­si­tion me­dia’ ra­dio with touch­screen. On the safety front, there is elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol (ESC), ABS brakes, au­to­matic post-col­li­sion brak­ing sys­tem (MCB), anti-slip reg­u­la­tion (ASR), elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial lock (EDL), trac­tion con­trol sys­tem (TCS), hill start and hill des­cent con­trol and, as a cherry on top, a me­chan­i­cal rear dif­fer­en­tial lock when the off-road go­ing gets tough. Not that you’d want to drive this stan­dard bus off-road much. Ground clear­ance is a claimed 193mm, but the front and rear over­hangs are not ex­actly donga friendly. On the open road the cool-look­ing VW Cal­i­for­nia Beach proved supremely com­fort­able. The VW’s heavy duty sus­pen­sion coped well with the heavy load and the bad road con­di­tions. As an added bonus, the bus drank just over 10 litres of diesel per 100km. Is the Cal­i­for­nia a cool over­land camper? No doubt about that. It’s about as cool as it gets. Is it ready to tackle wild Africa? Well, it’s splen­did if you plan to stick to tar. If you’re plan­ning to tackle some lesser-trav­elled roads and sand, then we’d sug­gest some mi­nor up­grades. This will in­clude more ro­bust tyres and prefer­ably a sus­pen­sion lift (from a VW-ap­proved outfit). Also, keep in mind that 150kg weight limit for the ‘bed­room’. The new VW Cal­i­for­nia Beach re­tails for R833 700. This in­cludes a fiveyear/60 000km main­te­nance plan.

We were greeted in Kasane by ele­phant and the many warthog that roam the town. It is not strange to see ele­phant in the mid­dle of the town, and on a pre­vi­ous trip, we watched in silent awe as a herd de­stroyed a pal­isade fence sur­round­ing a pri­vate res­i­dence.

The three-hour sunset cruise along the river is never a dis­ap­point­ment, and stay­ing at the Chobe Sa­fari Lodge is al­ways a treat. The wildlife along the river, and the view into Zam­bia across the mass of water that is the Chobe, is awe­some and the food at the lodge, out­stand­ing.

It is a short hop of 80km from the lodge to the town of Vic­to­ria Falls via the Kazun­gula Bor­der Post into Zim­babwe where we checked in at the Vic­to­ria Falls Rest Camp and Lodges. Ex­plor­ing lo­cal land­marks is al­ways in­ter­est­ing and the stun­ning Vic­to­ria Falls Ho­tel, dat­ing back to colo­nial time, still has an aura and at­mos­phere about it.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing we vis­ited the mighty Vic­to­ria Falls be­fore tack­ling the 310km haul to Binga where the high­light of our trip was wait­ing. There is not much one can say about the Vic­to­ria Falls: it is a spec­ta­cle that has to be seen to be be­lieved. You leave with a feel­ing of awe at what won­ders nature pro­duces.

It took more than four hours to travel the 310km to Binga as once we turned off the A8 at Cross­roads, we were in hilly and scenic coun­try with lots of stilted Tonga vil­lages along the way. Sadly, the road is in ter­ri­ble shape and at times we were re­duced to a crawl.

Much to our relief, the tour­ing com­pany in­struc­tions where to find The Lady Jacque­line were spot on and she was ready to lift an­chor.

It was much to our relief that we found the bus un­harmed un­der the same tree at the small lodge where we had left it four days be­fore.

We braced our­selves for the trip back and were re­lieved when we reached the A8 from where it was plain sail­ing to Fran­cis­town. We headed south to the Plumtree Bor­der Post via Bu­l­awayo and 620km later, reached Fran­cis­town just be­fore dark.

Our lodge was close to a mod­ern shop­ping mall and we were sur­prised to find a great many eater­ies from which to choose. We even­tu­ally set­tled for an Ocean Bas­ket where the ser­vice was friendly and the food per­fectly ac­cept­able.

The last stretch of our ad­ven­ture was a 770km haul back to Rand­burg and when we tot­ted-up the total dis­tance cov­ered, it came to 2 830km. The VW bus used fuel at the rate of 10.31 litres per 100 kilo­me­tres which was im­pres­sive given the va­ri­ety of road sur­faces and ter­rain.

“Any­one who has not been to Kariba is miss­ing out on one of the won­ders of the world”

From top: The dock­ing area just out­side Binga where we boarded the boat. The VW bus was safely stored be­neath a tree next to a small lodge while we were on the water. The Zam­bezi River was in full flow re­sult­ing in a spec­tac­u­lar show at Vic­to­ria Falls....

Top left: Beau­ti­ful fish ea­gles are in abun­dance around the shores of the lake and their rau­cous cries can be heard all day long. Left: Meal times were high­lights dur­ing the cruise. The chef pleas­antly sur­prised us at ev­ery sit­ting with his culi­nary...

This page: Sun­down­ers around the fire. On our last night on board The Lady Jacque­line, the chef de­creed a change of venue. This turned out to be a tra­di­tional braai on shore served with sadza, the Zim ver­sion of stywe pap.

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