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
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.
GETTING TO BINGA
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”
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.
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 skills. Above: Making tracks with VW’s cool California camper bus. Right: The mid deck houses, among other areas, a large lounge with comfy sofas where one can read, watch DVDs or catch 40 winks. leisurewheels.co.za
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. A typical sight on the dirt road just outside the quiet Stockpoort Border Post. We were done and dusted at this border crossing in a jiffy. Right: When in Kasane, the three-hour sunset cruise on the Chobe River is a must. Lots of animals can be observed at close range while sipping your favourite sundowner.