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Bats & Beests

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VIEWS

As travel journalists we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to adventure, but every once in a while, a trip comes up that really excites the senses; something so special you know for sure that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The 15-day African Migrations Expedition was just that; plus I was in for a few surprises.

The adventure heads deep into the open Savannah grasslands of Africa, chasing two of the world’s most spectacular migrations from one end of Zambia to the other. My journey, like most others, kind of snuck up on me, in that it had been planned months before. But all of a sudden, reality hit when Desiree Steadman gestured to the back seat of their Land Cruiser and said, “This will be your home for the next two weeks”.

Desiree and husband Simon, the team behind Ultimate Adventures, have been travelling together for seven years; Simon has been at it much longer than that. He started running his own tours after doing a few with local clubs and realising that they could have been so much better. Now, Ultimate Adventures specialises in offering tours that are difficult without a guide, or which go further afield to seek unusual destinations. This was their third Migrations Expedition, and I had cracked the nod…

Changing scenes from Bots to Zambia

We have our first taste of adventure at Elephant Sands on day one of our expedition. It’s here at this stunning bush lodge in north-eastern Botswana that we meet the convoy, discuss the upcoming few days and ogle each other’s rigs.

As the name suggests, Elephant Sands hosts up to 30 elephants every night in the natural watering hole. These giants jostle for the clean side of the mud puddle, pushing the less nimble onto sharp rocks from where their displeasure is made plain by agonised trumpeting. No fences means that the beasts run in freely after foraging all day, with the youngest bounding over their trunks in excitement.

The vehicles on the tour are as intriguing as the owners, ranging from a G63 AMG G-Wagen to a massive five-ton 4×4 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter bus that had been completed just a couple of days before. We also had the usual assortment of campers, trailers and standard vehicles, and with everyone raring to go, the road beckoned as the sun rose.

The crew from this Ultimate Adventures expedition.

The rushing Zambezi

Our first stopover in Zambia, and one of my favourites throughout the trip, is Ngonye camp. Our three nights here on the sandy banks of the Zambezi are absolute paradise, especially for the twitchers in the group who begin ticking off new bird species. A couple of us decide to go Tiger fishing and rent a small speedboat. Of course, all I caught was a nasty sunburn and my neighbour’s fishing line, but I put that all down to experience. From the banks, locals wave at us, and we see crocs lurking a few inches below the surface, waiting for the next, goat, fish or child to come too close.

Ngonye Falls dumps the Zambezi from the Kalahari sand floodplain onto a basalt dyke 20m below.

Liuwa Plains

Flooded, and inaccessible for the period of December to March or April most years, the waters of the Liuwa Plains recede sufficiently in the intervening months to offer a perfect setting for a wide range of birds, herbivores and their predators. Liuwa is one of Zambia’s more encouraging conservation success stories, with populations of all animals on the plains increasing year by year. Not many people, for example, know about Liuwa’s wildebeest migration, so that despite not offering the 1.5 million animals of the Serengeti, it is truly spectacular in an untouched, unexplored way – just like so many of Zambia’s hidden gems.

Wildebeest roam on the vast Liuwa Plains.

Ten million bats

From west to east, our journey takes two full days of driving, and although the camps on both nights are spectacular in their own way, we’re driving to Kasanka for one principal reason – the bats. Each year, between October and December, up to ten million straw-coloured fruit bats descend on Kasanka National Park from the Congo basin. The hungry mammals are prompted by the first rains of the season, which in turn means ripening fruit around the Kasanka area.

Bats against the sun in Kasanka National Park.

TOUR INFORMATION

The 2018 tour is scheduled for 4-17 November and costs R15 000 per person.

Tours include hearty meals every night, camping fees, park fees and guide fees.

Tours exclude border fees, breakfast and lunch, drinks and fuel.

The Ultimate Adventures Migrations Expedition is a trip for those with adventure in mind, and who don’t mind driving long distances to get to spectacular destinations. It’s recommended that you have 1000km of range in your vehicle, so make sure you have an extra tank or carry Jerry cans. All-terrain tyres, with at least one spare, are recommended, and your vehicle must be able to fit through narrow forest tracks. You don’t need a hardcore 4×4 as this is an adventure trip and not a 4×4 challenge, but having 4×4 capability is vital. Also useful is a fridge and dual-battery system.

For the full story, grab a copy of the march edition of SA4x4. For more information on the tour, fill out the enquiry form below.
By Andrew Middleton

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