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TOPIC: The slow way down to Kubu Island

The slow way down to Kubu Island 11 months 3 weeks ago #260

The original idea was to just get a 'first glimpse' of Botswana. It was just the two of us in the Jimny - no 'rescue' vehicles if something would go wrong along the way. So we would go where the tourists go, see what the tourists see - trying to stay on main routes as far as possible. A road trip more than an 'overland' experience.

The rough plan was roughly to drive North on the western side of Botswana, detour to Maung for an overnight mokoro trip, then north along the Okavango panhandle and into Namibia to camp at Ngepi. From there with the trans-Caprivi highway to Katima Mulilo and back into Botswana to Kasane for a sunset boat cruise, and then possibly on to Victoria falls before returning to South Africa. The plans weren't too fixed: The overnight mokoro trip and accommodation at Ngepi and Kasane was pre-booked. The rest was flexible and we would plan it as we go.

We had a GPS and a a 'travel and field guide of Botswana', the sixth edition that was supposedly updated in 2010. With it came a map - also dated 2010 - so we weren't too worried that the GPS maps were never updated since I bought it in 2006. GPS coordinates don't change so we figured if we knew where we had to go, we would get there.

The first time that we realized that the descriptions in the book may be slightly outdated was when we went for a game drive in Chobe. We camped in Kasane and wanted to see sunrise from the 'Chobe river front' - a drive that the book described as a 'well maintained gravel road'. Not very far into the game drive I had to engage 4x4 ... and shortly there-after low range. The tires were road-pressure, but I wasn't going to get out of the car to deflate the tires in a park where we've already seen plenty of elephant- and wildebeest tracks. We both did a 4x4 course shortly after we got the Jimny - so while the theory was in place, the actual real-life experience was a bit lacking. So it was a most interesting morning floating and sliding on the well-maintained Chobe 'river front' route. No parts of the route matched either the GPS tracks, the maps, or the book's narratives, but we did find plenty of elephants, a lioness, wildebeest, hippos and cheetah tracks (at least the guide book was helpful to identify those). It was only when we got back to the campsite and I reread the description of the 'river front drive' to see how I got the description of the road conditions so wrong ... that I noticed the very cool campsite that would open by the beginning of 2006 ... this was June 2016 now ... so it seemed that not all parts of our guide book was updated in 2010.

Anyway - so we were in Kasane with a few days of leave left. The water levels on the Zambesi were still too high to allow us a full day white water rafting experience ... unwilling to take the Jimny across the border to Zimbabwe and deal with possible bribes just for half a day of rafting, we decided to skip Victoria falls and rather go check out what Lekhubu Island is about.

We read and reread the route description from Nata to Lekubu Island. The guide book promised unforgettable sights of pink granite and and dazzling white salt pans. There was also dire warnings about not travelling with only one vehicle, about people dying of exposure after getting stuck there, about having to be totally self-sufficient with enough vehicle spare parts and knowledge to use it. We didn't have access to google maps or 4x4 forums to check road conditions or road maps. But we had fuel, water, giant T bone steaks, our 2006 Garmin, the outdated guide book and map, and a few days of leave.

The South African couple at the Nata butchery where we bought the steaks said we must take the 'Lekhubu 72 km' turn-off, and not the 'Lekhubu 92 km' one. But the instructions in our book said from Nata you'll travel 26 km west on the Maung/Nata road and then turn south on the S20°10'029E25°38'550 coordinate. It matched the Garmin's suggested route, so we passed the 'Lekubu 72km' turnoff and the 'Lekhubu 92 km' turnoff. It's always good when your map and the narratives in the guide book corresponds. Even if both are 10 years old. So at the designated GPS point there was a dirt road in good condition, and we turned South and followed it.

From here we had only the 2006 GPS tracks and the landmarks described in the 2010-updated, but possibly 2006 or older route description. The road matched the GPS route for the first kilometer or so - then the road turned west and the GPS said keep going south on that cattle track over there. A shepherd stopped us to ask where we are going. Indicated that the road goes over there ... probably meaning the one next to the pan at the 'Kubu Island 76 km' sign ... but we turned around, found the GPS track again, and followed. A few more times we followed what looked like a well-maintained gravel road, only to realize a while later that the GPS indicated the cattle-track to the left as the actual route. We quickly learnt to follow the GPS tracks, however feint the cattle tracks were.

Sand tracks, cattle tracks. Beautiful beautiful country, scenery ... just no humans, and no sign that any vehicles were on these tracks for a very long time. Encouraged when we saw landmarks described in the book - a group of Boababs, a pump house with a domed roof. Still no sign of any other vehicles in the last few months. Passing a cattle outpost. Finally reaching a dirt road again, still no sign that any vehicles came this way in many weeks, but it was a proper road for a change and it matched the GPS tracks exactly.

Finally we reached what the book described as 'Thabatshukudu village', and shortly after that a sign to Khubu Island, 27 km. The Jimny has never been this dirty. It took about 7 hours to drive the last 80 kms. 

<to be continued>
The size of the car has nothing to do with the size of the adventure
Last Edit: 11 months 3 weeks ago by cat-i. Reason: Picture link was broken
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The slow way down to Kubu Island 11 months 3 weeks ago #261

If the next 27 km was of the same speed as the previous 80, it would take us another 2 hours.

When we got to the veterinary fence there was not a soul to be seen. We saw some signs form an 'adventure camp', which was just to the right of the gate. for 10 pula you could swim there. But the pool was empty. When we got back to the gate, the campsite's caregiver appeared. He couldn't tell us where the gatekeeper is, but he wanted to know whether we had some cooking oil. Relieved to not have our fridge inspected, we gladly obliged, then went through the gate and followed the upper 'dry' route, as our guide book urged us to do. It was dry. But it wasn't pleasant driving - sharp rocks and very slow going, with mud-marks where vehicles got stuck during the previous rain.

The one big advantage of taking this less-travelled and slow way down to Lekhubu was that we never got any idea whatsoever of what the pans looks like before we got there. We could see the island rising from the flats and the baobabs on it before we got an idea of what the pans actually look like - and how wide the expanse are.

We were very surprised to see anyone else on the island - and so many other single vehicles! We didn't think that many people would want to endure an arduous very slow-going 'overland' 4x4 journey .... That night, when the camp janitor came to collect the camping fees, entry fees and bed levy, we asked her about the routes getting there. Oh, it's very easy, was the reply - you just follow the road over the pan and then there's a good dirt road to Mmatshumo.

It was only when we left 2 days later and drove the suggested road, that we realized just how unnecessarily difficult our journey there was - and why there were indeed quite a few single vehicles camping. I guess in the rain season it would be a very dangerous journey, but the pans were dry and driving on it sheer pleasure. Closer to Mmatshumo there was a few patches of sand, but by now we wee confident of the Jimny's abilities ... and too soon we were on tar again.
The size of the car has nothing to do with the size of the adventure
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The slow way down to Kubu Island 11 months 3 weeks ago #262


In hindsight, had we known we wanted to go there beforehand, and after researching a bit about route and road conditions between Kasane and Lekhubu island - would we have done it again?

The road from Nata next to the pan (the Kubu 76 km sign that we skipped because our guide book and mapped had us chasing specific GPS coordinates) may have given us a much better view of the pan while driving there. It might have been quicker and almost certainly safer - if something happened, there might have been a car in the next week or so. If something happened with our car on our chosen route, it might have been weeks before another vehicle (or human) might have been that way. The furthest that we might have had to walk to get water and possible an outpost could have been close to 30 kms.

Voetspore arriving - also coming from the North

The route that we drove from Nata to Lekhubu was most certainly one of the most scenic I've driven with the Jimny. Not sure how many places in South Africa there is where you could drive so many hours on such beautiful terrain. Would I drive that route again? Yes definitely - but maybe with a proper first aid kit, another spare tire, and another vehicle. Would also love to see what the new 'real' route between Nata and Lekhubu looks like. And certainly hope that in my lifetime I will get to visit the pans again.
The size of the car has nothing to do with the size of the adventure
Last Edit: 11 months 3 weeks ago by cat-i. Reason: Picture link was broken
The administrator has disabled public write access.
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