Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

The ultimate Tanzania Expedition-an overlander’s Valhalla Pt. 1

Ever since I guided my first tour to the Serengeti in 2012, Tanzania has captured my heart as my favourite overlanding destination, and my love for this beautiful country in East Africa has grown over the past decade. Maybe it’s because it is a real expedition to get there, with plenty of arduous border crossings and red tape to work through, or the fact that there is a vast array of wildlife destinations scattered across the country. Whatever the reason, nothing ignites my passion for travel more than the mention of places like The Great Rift Valley, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti.

This is why I wanted to create an ultimate overlanding experience in this garden of Eden that would tick off a great many items on an overlander’s bucket list. Thus, the Ultimate Tanzania Expedition was born and after many hours of planning and map scrutinising, the final itinerary was completed. It did not surprise me too much when the tour was fully booked in record time, as our previous Serengeti tours had always been hugely popular. So, with the group finalised and all the planning complete, it was time to hit the road.

Our group of intrepid explorers assembled at Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane as entering Botswana is a fairly painless process, likewise the drive up the A33 to Kasane. The border crossing that faced us the next day, however, was a different kettle of fish! The Kazungula border post has struck fear into the hearts of novice overlanders and overseas visitors for years as it is one of the most taxing border crossings you can tackle if you are on your own and unsure of the process to follow.

The hordes of “officials” with their reflective vests and lanyards often lure unsuspecting travellers with promises of quick fixes and shortcuts, which often just result in the victims being relieved of a few extra dollars with no benefits or shortcuts to show for it. Over the years of crossing this border post, I have made very good connections with reliable people that assist our groups in making the crossing as easy and painless as possible, directing them to the correct window or wendy house should we be busy with another part of the puzzle. It has worked well for many years and the knowledge that they are in good hands definitely eases the stress on everyone. After a relatively hassle-free two-and-a-half hours, our convoy was through the border and making its way to our campsite just south of Lusaka.

Zambia is another great country to travel in as the people are as friendly and welcoming to tourists as you are likely to find on the continent. The vibrant colours and hustle and bustle in each little town and village you drive through really gives you that indescribable great feeling that only overlanding in Africa can give. It’s hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it but once you do, you’re hooked for life.

The worst part about travelling through Zambia is Lusaka. The traffic here at any time of day makes William Nicol Drive in peak hour look like a quiet country lane in comparison and raises even the calmest person’s stress levels to the max. For this reason, we stopped our convoy at a shopping centre just outside of town to stock up on all the luxury items that wouldn’t be readily available as we travelled further north. After a good restock and refuel, we used the bypass road, which is a stress-free option and can also save you up to two hours of travelling. The next two days and 750km were spent making our way north to the oasis of Kapishya Hot Springs. Here we would spend two days unwinding and relaxing after spending the best part of four or five days in our vehicles, getting some strenuous kilometres under the belt.

Relax and recharge

Kapishya Hot Springs Lodge is situated on the banks of the Mansha River and is a little piece of paradise. Especially after a few hard days of driving. The natural hot springs are sulphur free and fed by three cold-water springs which permeate down six kilometres to be super-heated and then forced back to the surface, dropping 10 degrees Celsius with every kilometre, ending up on the surface at a luxurious 41 degrees Celsius all year round. The drive in to Kapishya Hot Springs is one of my favourite drives in Africa. It feels like you have entered a time capsule and gone back in time 100 years or so as you drive through the grounds of Shiwa Ng’andu (also known as Africa House) and the working farm lined with tall oak trees, meandering streams and quaint farmhouses. You can actually feel your soul rejuvenating as you make your way to Kapishya and when you get there, you realise that the long days of driving were all worth it.

For the next two days, our group spent their time relaxing in the hot springs, reading next to the river, enjoying massages in the day spa and birdwatching in the forest. One of the species that excites birding lovers the most is the Ross’s Turaco as it is a very rare sighting with a very small distribution. Definitely a lifer for most of our guests and what makes it even better is the environment you find yourself in. Sitting in the natural hot springs while watching the turacos fly overhead makes you pinch yourself to make sure that you haven’t drifted off to sleep while waiting at the border or in Lusaka traffic. There really is no better place to unwind after a long journey and to prepare the mind for what lies ahead the next day. The Tunduma border post!

If you think the Kazungula border post is a stressor, then the Tunduma border post between Zambia and Tanzania will leave you huddled in a corner, sucking your thumb in a cold sweat. It always amazes me how these border posts manage to make a simple task so arduous and time consuming, with endless forms and registers to fill in. The first time I crossed this border in 2012, I had a group of eight vehicles with me and we all thought we would be ahead of the game by obtaining Carnet de Passage documents from our local AA branches before we departed. This was supposed to give us an express pass through all border posts and make our lives so much easier.

We had also solicited the help of a local runner who had come with good recommendations and was meant to make this nightmare of a border crossing a walk in the park. Well, in theory this should have been the case. However, we quickly learned that Tanzanian border posts are a completely different beast to anything we had encountered before …

Even with all our preparations and some “assistance” from our runner friend, this border crossing still took us a total of five hours, causing us to reach our lodge way after dark that evening. This compounded everyone’s stress levels, making it a day we all wanted to forget. After that experience, the next few trips across this border led me to meeting my “Tunduma Guardian Angel”, Emmanuel. Over the years, I estimate that Emmanuel has saved us over 24 hours of border time with his efficiency and professionalism. So, when I gave my briefing the night before this border crossing, I was able to ensure everyone that it would not be nearly as painful as anything they may have read online and on various Facebook groups. With Emmanuel preparing everything for us beforehand, the whole process, from exiting Zambia to driving through into Tanzania, takes around an hour-and-a-half. You still need plenty of patience during this time, but not nearly as much as you would need if we didn’t have the contacts we have to make life easier.

The beauty of overlanding is that you always have something to look forward to and I always tell our groups that the stress of the border crossing will be quickly forgotten once we hit the first main highlight of the tour, Ruaha National Park. But before we get there, we have to mention our stop-over at another little hidden gem, Utengule Coffee Lodge in Mbeya. This is our overnight stop after the Tunduma border crossing and is situated on the slopes of the mighty Mbeya mountain range, with spectacular views across the East African Rift Valley. The lodge is nestled in terraced gardens on an estate well know for its gourmet coffee, which we all stock up on before leaving.

While enjoying dinner on the terrace that evening, our group relived the toils of the day and by this time, the stress of the border crossing was already starting to dissipate as the excitement grew for what lay ahead. The worst of the driving and border crossings were now behind us and what awaited in Ruaha National Park, Selous Game Reserve, Ngorongoro Crater and the Great Migration in Serengeti National Park filled our dreams as we lay our heads down on the super comfy pillows at Utengule Coffee Lodge that night. Now the real adventure could begin!

*Simon and Des will share this ultimate adventure over the next few editions – watch this space for some incredible adventures. – Ed.

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