Register | Log in

Pinzgauer Travels


Words by Willem de Lange Pictures by Willem & Elrike de Lange

A Pinzgauer is not the kind of vehicle that you can drop off at the local dealer for a thorough service. There’s no service network, the locals don’t know it and it’s almost 40 years old which makes it older than most mechanics. There is one big 
advantage though… The Pinz is mechanically simple to work on – if you thought a Cruiser was simple, you’ll appreciate the fact that a Pinzgauer can be serviced in the bush with its standard 13-piece toolkit. Plus, it’s built according to uncompromising standards which makes it a reliable vehicle. Add to that its formidable 
off-road ability and you have a winner for Africa.

Pinzgauer TravelsThis first-generation Pinzgauer was designed and built by the Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch (now Magna Steyr) in Graz (before the Geländewagen) during the early 70s and was intended to serve as a multipurpose platform mainly for military use. It was based on the legendary 
Steyr-Puch Haflinger, which means it has an air-cooled 2.5-litre Steyr-Puch petrol engine mated to ZF 5-speed manual gearbox. Its short external driveshaft propels a fully synchronised transfer case which drives the driveline. The driveline is fully sealed within a rigid centre tube, which also serves as the chassis, onto which the body is bolted. Add to that portal axles, three hydraulically-operated differential locks, full synchronisation of the drive line (which means full ‘shift-on-the-fly’ ability no matter the speed), a turning circle of nine metres, ground clearance of 335 mm, approach and departure angels of 50° – well, you get the picture. The British bought patents in ’85 which led to the development of the second-generation Pinzgauer which was built in Guildford, Surrey. If you’d like more information, I’d recommend you have a look at or simply have a look on Wikipedia. But back to the story. As a risk-averse type of guy, I needed the Pinz to prove itself to me before I would take it on such an extensive trip.

This was the perfect excuse to spend a significant amount of time and money on the vehicle over a period of two years to prepare for the big adventure. After several weekend trips and a warm-up trip through Moremi and Chobe, I was confident that the old lady would not let us down.Th inking back to it now, I’m convinced that spending so much time underneath her enabled me to know her inside out, which gave me a lot of confi dence to fi x her anytime and anywhere (parts permitting of course). During these trips a weakness presented itself: her drinking habit of 14.3 l/100 km. Her 70-litre tank limits range and with no option of fi tting a long-range tank, I was forced to use jerrycans – eight of them! Eight jerries in the back is quite a sight and necessitated two fi re extinguishers, but it gave us a range of 1 750 kilometres which was comforting, though a weighty expense at the pumps. I also discovered that she will drink 93 and 95 leaded and unleaded petrol without problems; we’ve even used 100 octane avgas once. My current 12 V dual battery system presented somewhat of a challenge – how do you mate a 12 V system to the Pinz’s 24 V system without too many complicated gizmos while still allowing it to be used in my Landy? Initially, I tried to convert the Pinz’s system to accept my current 12 V system that powers a National Luna Weekender. We took power from one of the main batteries via my current 12 V C-Tek charger to feed the two Deltec 102s.

That didn’t work because we couldn’t balance the load on the two main batteries without installing an expensive inverter. Consequently, the only option was to swap the main batteries around every 1 000 kilometres or so – not my idea of fun. Th en National Luna told me that their fridges will run quite happily on 24 V which means that I could run the fridge straight from the mains. So I ended up running it via a new 24 V C-Tek to the two Deltecs and connected my 135 W solar panel to the system via my 12 / 24 V Steca controller. We’ve tested the system and it worked quite well in the end. This combination kept the two Deltecs fully charged (I used high-cycle batteries). Even when we stood for four days at Croc Valley camp in South Luangwa, the batteries stayed fully charged without the need for much driving. In hindsight it makes sense. According to my limited knowledge about these kind of things, the amperage should almost be halved when you convert to a 24 V stream, which makes the fridge almost twice as economical. However, the storage capacity is halved with two 12 V batteries in series vs. parallel. Nonetheless I had a system that would keep the beer cold without the need to swap those main batteries…
We thought it’d be a good idea to transport the Pinz from Cape Town to Pretoria in a railway container (the Pinz cannot be locked!) to buy us four valuable days of travelling time for the four-week journey to Tanganyika. The logistics of such an exercise turned out to be interesting to say the least.
We loaded the Pinz at the Belcon container park (it cleared the container roof by five cm) two weeks prior to our departure flight to Johannesburg. Upon offloading, we found that the Pinz wasn’t in the middle of the container anymore but on the left-hand side. We discovered that two of the heavy-duty canvas straps had snapped during transit.

Luckily the Pinz isn’t made of plastic so there was no real harm done. I climbed in via the passenger door for the start-up; the old girl coughed to life immediately, seemingly pleased to get out into the sunlight after that claustrophobic two-week confinement. We spent the night with family in Pretoria and left early next morning – the long-planned adventure had begun. We drove via Botswana and entered Zambia via the Victoria Falls bridge. Contrary to popular opinion, the border crossing from Zim to Zambia went down rather efficiently and I’d recommend this border post over the busy Kazungula ferry. It was tar road to this point and we made good progress – the Pinz’s cruising speed is 90 km/h.

Oom Faan welcomed us at Taita Falcon Lodge; here we had a spectacular view over the Zambezi and could try to spot the elusive Taita Falcon (Falco fasciinucha). We camped at one of their rustic campsites. An early start gave us some time to visit the falls and to stock up for the next three days. We camped that night at the Moorings Campsite, one of the few stopovers between Vic Falls and Lusaka. We pushed on via the pothole-infested main road between Lusaka and Chirundu, then on to the poorly-signposted gravel via the pontoon to Mvuu Lodge which lies on the banks of the Zambezi just before the gates of the Lower Zambezi National Park. Th is is a delightful campsite with friendly staff and is well worth another visit.

We entered the park early the next morning; our plan was to drive through and exit via the highlands and then onto the Great East road to stay over at Bridge Camp. Th e Lower Zambezi National Park is one of the less visited parks which makes it more aff ordable than the likes of Kafue and South Luangwa. It off ers off -road driving with several deep dongas to negotiate; vehicles with long overhangs will struggle. Th e road to the escarpment was slow-going, but worthwhile since the views are spectacular.

Lesson of the day: T4A has its uses but should not be relied on for to-the-metre accuracy as most tracks change during the rainy season. A rigid interpretation of their mapset will get you lost; it’s more sensible to use it as a guide in conjunction with a good map – I can recommend the Hupe 1:1 500 000 map of Zambia. Driving times over bad roads can vary signifi cantly which means it’s easy to fall behind your itinerary which can put unnecessary pressure on your holiday. Rather be fl exible, improvise and take things slowly – that’s the way of our continent. While on this road we also discovered that tsetse fl ies fi nd the Pinz very attractive indeed.

We exited the park in a rather unceremonious fashion via a small track connecting to the Great East road, a dead giveaway that not many travellers enter the park from this side. It was already late aft ernoon and we made Bridge Camp just before sundown. Th is rundown camp has potential to be a great stop-over between Lusaka and Chipata. An early start saw us off to Chipata to refuel. Th e road to Mfuwe is one of the worst I’ve ever driven; there aren’t many potholes but it’s littered with fi st-size stones approximately a metre apart – diffi cult to navigate at any speed.

We spent four nights at Croc Valley Camp (Flat Dogs was closed for camping) on the banks of the Luangwa River. It’s a delightful place and the ideal jump-off point for day trips to the park, or you can just relax in your camp chair and allow the game to come to you. We saw plenty of Th ornicroft ’s giraff e, Lichtenstein hartebeest and roan antelope, and were especially fortunate to see a leopard quenching its thirst in broad daylight. Apart from some electricity issues which caught out some of the campers, Croc Valley is highly recommended thanks to their location, competitive prices and friendly, helpful staff. South Luangwa has become rather expensive at US$30 pppd and US$15 for your vehicle, and these prices surely will increase further in future.
After the welcome rest at Croc Valley we took the ‘zero-five’ road that runs straight through the park. The plan was to exit and connect to the Great North road via the escarpment. During this drive we negotiated the Mupamadzi, a broad, deep and fast-flowing tributary of the Luangwa. Second gear low-range with all three lockers engaged and tyre pressure at 1.5 bar saw us through without problems. An armed game ranger caught a lift with us up the escarpment to the local scout camp. I didn’t have the heart to pass the fellow in the blazing sun – one should remember that it’s these people who patrol the general management area corridors around the parks against poachers; their work allows us to appreciate the wildlife. This road was probably one of the highlights of the trip; from a scenery perspective it was absolutely breathtaking.

Back on the Great North road we headed for Kapishya Hot Springs, a gem of a place where we camped right on the riverbank and logged our fi rst sighting of a Palmnut vulture. I repaired a slow puncture and discovered that one of the battery clamps had broken which caused a short and consequently drained one of the batteries quite badly. Aft er swapping the two batteries around I connected my solar panel to the battery to charge for the rest of the day. I tried her just before sunset, and she started aft er some hesitation. Lesson for the day: check all your vehicle’s vitals on a daily basis no matter how tired you are. We ended the day with a swim in the hot springs with a cold Mosi in hand – lovely! Our next stop was Kasama where we stayed in town at Th orntree Safaris. Th e owners farm and roast their own coff ee and we bought a small supply which lasted for several months aft er the trip. It also made the ideal gift for friends back home. We left early next morning for Ndole Bay at Lake Tanganyika. “Die pad is baie sleg en gaan julle die hele dag neem,” warned a Gauteng tourist coming the opposite way, and he was right. Th e 380 km stretch was tougher on man than on machine, but the drive was well worth it.

The 13 million-year-old Lake Tanganyika forms part of a series of lakes in the east Africa rift valley and at 1 470 metres is the second deepest lake in the world. The water hovers between 24 – 28° C and supports a great diversity of finsh species. We went snorkelling to experience this fi rst-hand – swimming the turquoise blue water with its millions of fi sh was a great privilege. We stayed for two nights at Ndole Bay before we left . We departed with heavy hearts as this was our turn-around point. From here we’d be heading south again. We continued via Mporokoso to the Lumangwe Falls, a national heritage site (several waterfalls in the north of the country are heritage sites). Th e falls are smaller than Victoria Falls but no less spectacular. The campsites are right on the cliffs; that night we slept 15 metres from edge, it was spectacular. Th ousands of bats fi lled the air soon aft er dark and I was amazed by the agility of these animals in fl ight as they preyed on early evening insects. We were hoping to see some more bats at Kasanka National Park but we were too early for the bat migration which takes place in November (Ed: See our account of this phenomenon and the surrounding parks in the February 2012 issue). Instead we went on to Shoebill Island to ‘hunt’ for the rarely seen Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) in the Bangwelu swamps. It was my wife’s birthday the next day and a Shoebill sighting would have been the ideal birthday present. Th is huge bird is one of the most sought-aft er species for birders; it stands an enourmous 1.4 metres tall and is closely related to pelicans, although in a family of its own. Aft er some hard work and many hours in the swamps, we managed to spot one some distance away. We watched the Shoebill for a couple of minutes before it took off rather gracefully by merely spreading its wings, face to the wind, pitch and lift its gigantic body from the branch, dive to gain some momentum and then start climbing – then it was gone. Once back at Wasa (Kasanka) we decided to stay another night to try and spot the widespread but elusive sitatunga before heading for Kafue. Th at evening the cook at Wasa camp brought Elrike a small birthday cake, complete with icing and a candle! It’s little touches like this that will see us return for another visit. We climbed the 15-metre-high Fibwe tree hide and waited for more than an hour before a young male presented itself not 50 metres away from the hide. We departed the next day for Kafue with a stop-over at Frangilla Lodge 50 km outside Lusaka, a great stop-over if you don’t want to stay in the city itself. Th e downside is that you will hit Lusaka rush-hour traffi c if you’re on your way to Kafue (we didn’t take the alternative M20 gravel road since we needed to resupply in Lusaka). Although the Pinz is an imposing sight which demands respect from the suicidal taxi drivers, it took us more than an hour to get through Lusaka – so avoid this exercise if possible.

Soon enough we reached the Kafue gate and after a visit at Mukambi to push our luck for a campsite (they were fully booked) we managed to get a spot at Muykuyuku, which was just as nice with our campsite on the Kafue River – great ablution facilities and enough firewood to braai an ox. Early next morning we broke camp and took a game drive through the park which yielded a few lion, roan antelope and lots of ellies. Our destination for the day was Kaingu Lodge where we had a booking for the night. This small lodge is highly recommended and although it lies outside the park and you need to negotiate a long and twisty sand track to get there – it’s right next to the Kafue River. The camping facilities include private ablutions, and there’s lush green grass and huge trees which provide lots of shade during the day. Their service was outstanding and we will definitely revisit this camp in future. We went on a sundowner cruise on the river which was truly amazing – this part of the Kafue is hallmarked by giant boulders in the river with lots of small islands in between – you can get lost quite easily.

Our next stop in Kafue was Nanzhila Plains camp in the south. We took the scenic route from Kaingu to Nanzhila, hugging the river until we reached Itezhi-Tezi were we needed to sign in and pay the park fees – a lengthy affair and I could not help but note the difference in service between Kafue and South Luangwa. We continued along the main ‘road’ towards Nanzhila. This is a delightful, small camp in the middle of nowhere. It’s the only public campsite in the south of Kafue, and although the absence of a river does affect the charm of the place, the service makes up for this. Service is probably the only competitive advantage a company or organisation has in these areas. Talking about service, Kafue’s gate personnel could do with some training in this regard – the apparent ‘power game’ is quite annoying and does nothing to help local communities. We did learn very quickly however that it is far better to keep your cool otherwise things get exponentially slower. Africa demands lots of patience and friendliness – a smile will go a long way! Our next stop was again Taita Falcon Lodge, where we camped on the same spot. That night we started reflecting on the trip, logging lessons learned along the way with the thundering of the falls in the background. Our last night was again spent at Woodlands before heading back to Pretoria where we put the Pinz on the train again for its journey back home. We flew out the next day and I’ll always remember the alien feeling I had upon entering the airport building with so many people in their neat clothing clutching their cellphones for dear life busy rushing to who knows where without so much as greeting their fellow man.

I felt lost in this plastic world. I missed my ellies and hippos wandering through the camp at night, a hyena scampering off with a shoe, that odd trot of a honey badger, the birds, the dust and the quietness. This trip changed us in a peculiar way. The brutal simplicity of the African rural way of life certainly appeals – perhaps it’s time to take a leap of faith and try living a life where simpler is indeed better and where less is more. The burning question is: how?