Zambia is the new tourism frontier in southern Africa. With Botswana, Namibia and our other neighbouring countries done and dusted by most adventurous explorers, many are looking to Zambia for their next overland adventure. George van Deventer and Marlene Hurter, of Trans Africa Self Drive Adventures & Tours, did just that.
Border crossings in Africa can admittedly be a pain and in Zambia it is no different, but if you are well prepared and know what to expect you can mitigate the frustration to a certain extent. For our Zambia tour, we crossed the mighty Zambezi from Kasane via the Kazungula ferry. This border crossing can be rather overwhelming for newbies who are not used to the seeming chaos caused by runners and others wanting to help… at a cost, of course.
Making the experience even more nerve-wracking is the fact that you will find yourself in four countries simultaneously as you reach the spot where the borders to Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe meet. You’ll be forgiven if you forget which country you’re in!
Let the fun begin!
The south-western part of Zambia is a lesser-known tourist destination but holds numerous precious hidden gems. After crossing the border, we made our way to Mwandi. Despite its name – which means plenty of fish – it’s a poor area. Caught between old traditions and the contemporary world, most people live in widely scattered mud huts. One of the old traditions still in use today is the ringing of the big gong at 20:00 every day. In days gone by this was done to alert the villagers to go inside so that the old king could take a stroll. He was very sickly and did not want the villagers to see him in this state. The tradition was continued after his death.
The campsite is located on the lawn of a private residence across from the Royal Palace, with the mighty Zambezi River flowing by. We spent a day at this magical location, but there was more exploring to do. Since this was a recce trip, and we were scouting and looking for new places to visit and routes to tackle, our time was rather limited. We stopped in Sesheke to refuel and do some grocery shopping before heading north along the Zambezi.
The river was exceptionally high, and we ended up miss-calculating the route. To add insult to injury we ignored a sign warning us that the road was flooded. We ended up getting badly stuck, but that’s what makes a trip memorable. After a few hours of attempting a recovery and the lodge manager arriving to lend a hand we were back on the tar road… the suggested route.
We arrived at Kabula Lodge, another gem with lush green lawns and a view over the Zambezi in flood from the deck. It is situated in the Barotseland, the Lozi people’s mystical wetland region, where David Livingstone explored so many years ago. The fully grassed campsites, sheltered by huge indigenous trees, are without a doubt the best in the area. Each campsite has its own washing-up facility, but there is also a communal washing-up area with hot and cold water. Water is heated twice a day by wood-fired boilers. Some of the campsites have their own thatched lapas with tables and benches, ideal for use as kitchen or dining areas.
It was time to move on again though and we meandered further north, stopping at Ngonye Falls, which are also
known as Sioma Falls because of their proximity to the village with the same name. The sheer volume of water that cascades over the staggered, twenty-metre drop of the horseshoe shaped falls is truly impressive. The river flows underneath the rock on either side of the falls and one can actually hear and feel the underground flow. A magnificent view and a great experience.
Mongu & Kafue
Mongu is situated in the west of Zambia and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Barotseland. It is home to the Lozi people and, because it lies at the edge of the Zambezi River floodplains, it serves as the starting point for visits to Liuwa plains. This is also where the Kuomboka ceremony – an ancient ritual dating back some 300 years – is held at the end of the rainy season every year. It marks the flooding of the plains and the movement of the king to his palace on higher ground. This involved two huge canoes being paddled by 50 oarsmen. Unfortunately, we missed the spectacular ceremony by a week.
Tourism is not a priority in these parts and Mongu has no campsites. We stopped at a lodge and with a little persuasion they allowed us to camp in the parking area with one of the chalets as ablutions. There is always a first for everything in life and this was definitely a first for me!
Adventure called and we moved on again, making our way east towards Kafue National Park. Our next stop was at Roy’s Kafue Camp and Campsite, close to the Hook Bridge and on the banks of the Kafue River, in the Mumbwa
Game Management Area. Camping here is like being in the park, but without the expensive park fees. We had lions, elephants, crocodiles and hippos in our camp and it’s possible to do Big Five viewing from the comfort of your chair.
The next morning, we reluctantly left Roy’s Camp to enter Kafue National Park on our way to Itezhi Tezhi. We took the Spinal Road, which connects the southern and northern sectors of Kafue and runs along the west bank of the Kafue River. It’s a good gravel road but for some reason it was badly overgrown, with branches obstructing the way and the
grass as high as our vehicle’s bonnet in some spots. Five hours later we found out why: the bridge was gone… not just broken… washed away completely. We could go no further, and we realised that we had two options. We could either turn around and head back or we could forge a new road across the river… (watch this space to find out what happens!)
Top tips for travelling to Zambia
Border crossing 101
Border posts can be daunting, confusing and frustrating, but by being prepared and knowing what to expect, half the battle will be won. Keep all your documents, passport and vehicle papers together. Have these within easy reach so they can be produced quickly and without scrambling when border officials request you to do so. Also, take your own pen as these are usually in short supply at most border posts. This will ensure that paperwork can be completed quickly, without having to wait for something to write with.
Always be patient and keep a smile on your dial. Greet officials in a friendly manner and, if possible, in their language.
This will break the ice and you might even get a smile back! Even if you don’t, never annoy or upset the person who has the power to grant or deny you access to the country you are attempting to enter. Remain calm and courteous, no matter how frustrated you get. A positive attitude goes a long way towards ensuring a positive experience.
It’s a good idea to ask for more days on your visa than what you need for your trip. You might get stuck in the middle of nowhere with vehicle problems and not be able leave the country on the day you planned. Whatever you do, don’t
overstay your visa. This will cause serious problems at the border when you try to leave, and you could be arrested. You
could even be declared persona non grata, meaning you will no longer be welcome in that country.
At the border post
The Kazungula border post is easy enough to do without a runner if you know where to go and what to do. Below is a step by step guideline to get you through the border in no time.
1) First of all you need to complete and comply on the Botswana side where you will be required to acquire a temporary export permit for your vehicle. The counters for this are clearly marked.
2) Following this, proceed to the Zambian immigration counter to check your passport into Zambia.
3) Obtain a TIP (Temporary Import Permit)
4) Leave the building to go to Interpol and have your vehicle (and police clearance form) checked. Take the signed form back to the counter you were to complete your TIP.
5) Obtain your Road Access Fee Certificate for $20.
6) Pay carbon pollution tax according to your engine capacity.
7) Pay the bridge toll.
8) Pay the counsel levy (K50).
*Remember, you also need third party insurance for both your vehicle and trailer should you have one. This can be done online at https://www.phoenixassurancegroup.com/zambia/ (you will still be required to collect your disc in either Sesheke or Livingstone).
1) 2 x Red warning triangles, preferably metal.
2) White reflective tape in front and red reflective tape at the back.
3) Red and white T-sign (if towing a trailer).
4) Fire extinguisher (if carrying extra fuel).Keep all documents received at the border close. This will be asked for at police check points.
You will need a police clearance to take your vehicle into Zambia. This must be organised well in advance and can be
obtained from any SAPD vehicle theft branch. It confirms ownership, VIN number, that the vehicle is not stolen and that it is not wanted in connection with any crimes.
Also ensure that you have the original registration papers of your vehicle and trailer with you, although certified copies are also acceptable. If your vehicle is financed, the licence papers must be accompanied by a letter from the relevant finance institution, in which authorisation is given for you to take the vehicle across the border. Copies are acceptable but must be certified by a Commissioner of Oaths. If the vehicle is not registered in your name, you also need a certified affidavit from the owner giving you authorisation to take it into Zambia. Lastly, a letter from your vehicle insurance provider is also required.
*Keep all documents received at the border close – these will be required at police check points.
*Owned and operated by George van Deventer and Marlene Hurter, who have themselves sought out adventure on dirt, gravel and 4×4 trails throughout southern Africa, the company prides itself on giving the best value for money possible. Check out their website to book one of their 2023 trips: http://www.tasda.co.za