Harare to Mapungubwe
And so it was time to head south on our journey home. We’d booked 3 nights at the Mazhou campsite in Mapungubwe and had originally planned to go via Bulawayo and then through the Plumtree border post into Botswana and then cross into South Africa at the Zanzibar border post. It would have meant 2 long days on the road though and I was worried about delays on the Harare/Bulawayo stretch due to extensive road works. In the end we decided to bite the bullet and go via Beit Bridge with an over night stop at the Lion and Elephant Motel.
The road from Harare is not in a good state and that, combined with heavy traffic and especially buses and large trucks, meant a fairly stressful day’s driving. It was a good decision to take that route though. We both loved the views of the granite kopjes which dot the landscape.
The Lion and Elephant is still a great place to stop. Very basic but comfortable rooms, good food and friendly staff. We thoroughly enjoyed our night there which brought back very pleasant memories, for both of us, of previous visits at different times in our lives.
We left the Lion and Elephant at about 8:00 in the morning for Beit Bridge, both of us worried about what we would encounter at the border. Our experience there last year was terrible and it took us well over 3 hours to get through then. This year was a different story though and we were through both sides within an hour.
We did have a bit of drama on the bridge crossing the Limpopo River between the 2 border posts though. At the end of the bridge there’s an intersection with a feeder road for traffic travelling to Zimbabwe.There were a few cars waiting at the police gate so I stopped before the intersection to let a waiting truck and trailer cross onto the bridge. The driver tried to cut the corner too closely and didn’t leave enough turning room for the trailer. He was within inches of us before he finally realised that he’d cut it too fine and wouldn’t be able to make the turn without crunching our car. I’d tried to pull in closer to the kerb to get away from him but there still wasn’t enough room. A scary moment!
Well…traffic going both ways came to a grinding halt. A policemen from the gate came over to try and sort things out. He asked me to reverse but that wasn’t an option. My reversing skills with a trailer in those days were hopeless at the best of times. Being sandwiched between the trailer and kerb certainly didn’t inspire me with the confidence to try. The driver of the truck was obviously as unskilled as me because he wasn’t going to try and reverse either. Stalemate! It eventually ended up with the policeman guiding me up onto the kerb (within inches of the barrier on that side) so that I could move forward and finally out of the jam. A close call.
We got to Mazhou campsite in the early afternoon after stopping off in Musina to pick up provisions needed for our 3 nights there. There was a detour through some farmlands to get to Mapungubwe main gate because of flood damage to a bridge on the main road. We both enjoyed the detour and the views of the working farm.
The road to the Mazhou turn-off near Pont Drif is a mess, full of potholes, but we had plenty of time so we could afford to take it easy.
We spent the afternoon setting up camp and settling in. We had a brief moment of embarrassment when we unhitched the trailer. I hadn’t tightened the jockey wheel coupling properly and as soon as Pippa moved the car forward the front of the trailer dropped. Oops! I didn’t have enough leverage sitting in my chair to lift the front of the trailer so that we could get the jockey wheel back in place and Pippa didn’t have the strength either. There was another camper sitting outside his tent a little distance away he but didn’t make any move to offer to help. I guess we were providing a bit of entertainment to break his boredom or maybe he was just interested to see how we’d cope? So, after applying my rattled brain for a while, it finally dawned on me that we could use the Land Rover jack to lift the trailer and position the jockey wheel properly! I was very proud of my problem solving ability and gave our neighbour a big smile once the job was successfully completed. A celebratory beer was definitely deserved!
We’d both been looking forward to visiting Mapungubwe again. The Mazhou campsite is really nice and with the added bonus for me of having an accessible ablution block. We were both quite happy to spend some time relaxing at the campsite and watching various birds and animals moving about close by.
We did spend some time over the 2 full days that we were in the park driving around and visiting various sights and enjoying the scenery. Unfortunately there had been a lot of flood damage earlier in the year so the Maloutswa Hide was all but washed away and totally inaccessible, which was a pity.
We also took a drive through to the tree walk on the Limpopo. Most of it is still intact but the final viewing point was damaged and closed to the public. Once again very little game to be seen but still an enjoyable drive through the park.
Our 3 nights at Mapungubwe were soon over and it was time to head back home. We both enjoyed our time there. Sad to see all the damage from the floods though.
Finally…the long road home via Johannesburg and Karoo National Park
Our first stop after Mapungubwe was an overnight stay with Pippa’s brother Neil in Johannesburg. It was great seeing Neil and Liz again. We travelled with them through Chobe and Zimbabwe and to Mapungubwe on our first trip the previous year so I think they were quite interested to hear about our Mana Pools trip.
Jo’burg isn’t a place that I’ve driven in much and I was a bit unsure about the roads and traffic getting onto the N1 and heading south when we left Neil. I was pleasantly surprised though. Even at 8:00 in the morning the traffic moved quickly and freely and the roads were well sign-posted so we had no problem finding our way out.
We hadn’t planned or booked a stop-over between Jo’burg and Cape Town and planned to keep going until we got tired. We made good time (in spite of all the trucks) and only had one brief scare. About an hour out of Bloemfontein I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed that our Oz tent was missing from the top of the trailer. My first thought was ….oh hell there goes R 8 000! My second thought was that I hoped it hadn’t caused any damage to whoever was behind us when it fell off. No doubt my thoughts should have been the other way around!! Anyway, while I was pulling off the road Pippa looked behind from her side of the car and saw that the tent had slipped down the side of the trailer but was still being held by the straps. Phew! We stopped and strapped it tightly back in place and checked on it regularly for the rest of the trip home. We’ve since learned to tie the ratchet straps correctly!
We eventually stopped for the night at the Karoo National Park outside Beaufort West. Good going and it meant an easy last day home to Cape Town.
It was our first visit there and we were both impressed with the facilities and the park. The Karoo really is a special place. I do feel that their prices are a bit steep though. We’d like to go back and spend more time there sometime but maybe when the weather is warmer and we can camp?
We left Karoo National Park fairly early the next morning for an easy and uneventful drive back home. We’d been away a day short of 4 weeks and had driven about 6 500kms. Nice to be back in the comfort of one’s own home but we didn’t enjoy the change in temperature from the warmer weather up north!
It was a fantastic holiday and Mana Pools is truly an amazing place and well worth visiting. We were determined to go back sometime in the future…and did just that in 2016. Watch out for our trip report to be posted sometime in the next few weeks!
Accommodation summary here.