The Big Five Tour
Pretoria to Pretoria
via Namibia – Botswana – Zambia/Zimbabwe
(17 days, 16 overnights)
The Big Five
Etosha National Park
Mahangu National Park
Chobe National Park
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
Day 1, Arrive Pretoria
Pretoria - today also called Tshwane - was founded in 1855 and declared the capital of the South African Republic, which was the Boer republic in Transvaal. The president of the republic, Marthinus Pretorius, named it after his father, Andries Pretorius, who had become the national hero of the Voortrekkers after his victory over the Zulu kingdom in the famous battle at Blood River. The founding of Pretoria as the capital of the South African Republic marked the end of the Boers' settlement movements of the Groot Trek.
Day 2, Pretoria – Vryburg, ca. 300 km Tar
Vryburg lies in a rich cattle-farming area. The town has an interesting history. When the Republic of Stellaland was proclaimed in 1882, Vryburg was established as its capital. The Republic had its own postal service including a postage stamp series and a magnificent flag. Their freedom however, was short-lived. In the same year President Kruger annexed the state under the Transvaal government. This move in turn displeased the British and in 1885 the territory was annexed to Britain without any resistance. Vryburg hosts one of the largest cattle sales in the Southern hemisphere with an enormous turnover of more than 250 000 head of cattle per year. It is this, along with its perceived image of being a frontier town that has given it the nickname “Texas of South Africa”
Day 3, Vryburg – Kalahari Region, ca. 300km, 50% on dirt road
The Kalahari is one of Africa's last wildlife paradises. Animals that live in the region include brown hyenas, lions, meerkats, several species of antelope, and many types of birds and reptiles. Vegetation in the Kalahari consists of dry grassland and scrubby acacias. Grasses thrive in the Kalahari during the summer rainy season. African people known as the San (or Bushmen) were the first known human inhabitants of the Kalahari. Their survival skills and adaptation to the harsh Kalahari wilderness have become legendary. Today, only a small number of the San follow their traditional way of life in the Kalahari. Modern civilization is threatening the natural resources of the Kalahari. Mineral companies have discovered large coal, copper, and nickel deposits in the region. In addition, one of the largest diamond mines in the world is located at Orapa in the Makgadikgadi, a depression of the northeastern Kalahari. The Kalahari Desert is also one of the most treacherous deserts in the world. While it does not look like a desert, it behaves like one. During the short rainy season it transforms into a great paradise of lush vegetation and a colorful and lively fauna. However, the moment the rains are gone the Kalahari becomes dry and moody. It can rain very heavily in one day, rain that produces floods that sweep everything while the next day can be as dry as ever.
Above everything else, Kalahari is a place of mystery, with legends and tales that go far into the past when the great tribe of the Bushmen lived undisturbed and free. Kalahari is Bushmen's last place to survive in a world that constrained them to this last territory. The mystery of the Kalahari brings in another aspect of the beauty of this desert; spotted with giant Baobabs, acacia trees and tall grass. The desert is part of the huge sand basin that reaches from the Orange River up to Angola, in the west to Namibia and in the east to Zimbabwe. The sand masses were created by the erosion of soft stone formations. The wind shaped the longish sand ridges, which are so typical of the landscape of the Kalahari. Only in recent geological history, 10 to 20,000 years ago, were the dunes stabilized through vegetation, so the area should actually be called a dry savannah. Unlike the dunes of the Nimbi Desert, those of the Kalahari are not wandering. The dominant vegetation: grasses, thorny shrubs and Acacia trees, can survive long drought periods of more than ten months every year. The remarkable nests of the weaver bird are frequently seen in the camel thorn and other acacia trees. These inconspicuous little birds, which resemble sparrows, live in huge communal nests with a diameter of up to two meters. At any given time, hundreds of lively little birds are breeding and feeding their youngsters in such a nesting colony.
Day 4, Kalahari – Namibia – Gochas (Kalahari Desert), 280 km, all dirt road
The Kalahari desert is part of the huge sand basin that reaches from the Orange River up to Angola, in the west to Namibia and in the east to Zimbabwe. The sand masses were created by the erosion of soft stone formations. The wind shaped the sand ridges, which are so typical of the landscape in the Kalahari.
Only in recent geological history, 10 to 20,000 years ago, were the dunes stabilised through vegetation, so the area should actually be called a dry savannah. Unlike the dunes of the Namib Desert, those of the Kalahari are stable and not wandering.
The dominant vegetation: grasses, thorny shrubs and Acacia trees, can survive long drought periods of more than ten months every year.
The remarkable nests of the weaver birds in the camelthorn trees and in other acacias are a frequent sight in the Kalahari. These inconspicuous little birds, which resemble sparrows, live in huge communal nests with a diametre of up to two metres. At any given time, hundreds of lively little birds are breeding and feeding their youngsters in such a nesting colony.
Day 5, Gochas – Windhoek, 450 km, dirt and tar road
With 15 000 inhabitants, Namibia's capital of Windhoek is the biggest city in the country. The attractive town lies at an altitude of 1650 metres in a beautiful valley bordered by the Eros Mountains in the north and the Auas mountains in the south. Towards the west, stretches the Khomas Highland to the Namib and the coast. Windhoek combines the modern city architectural style with that of the German colonial era. The city is - for an African town - still very clean and a bit provincial, although the atmosphere does have cosmopolitan flare as well. The influence of the German language and culture is, in many ways, still present. There are German restaurants where one can have traditional German dishes, bread and beer, and even celebrate the German carnival. Although English is the official language, one can use German just about anywhere.
Day 6, Windhoek – near Etosha NP , 450 km, all tar
A visit to the Etosha National Park is one of the highlights of travelling Namibia. Etosha, which was declared a game reserve by the German kolonial administration back in 1907, covers an area of more than 22 000 sqkms. In its centre lies a vast saltpan surrounded by grass and thorn savannah, Mopane bushland in the west and dry forest in the north-east. About two million years ago, this area was an enormous lake, fed by the Kunene river. However the lake slowly dried up because over time, the river changed its course. The pan is just about always dry. However, in the southern parts there are have water-holes scattered throughout this area and form the basis of life for countless game. Be it a lion or an elephant, a giraffe or a zebra; almost all African animal species are represented in the huge nature reserve, approx. 22 000 square kilometres in size. There is an estimated number of 250 lions in the park, 300 rhinos, 2 500 giraffes, 6 000 zebras and more than 2 000 elephants. The dainty springbok are especially numerous; at least 20 000 of them roam the reserve. Often, they can be observed in enormous herds of several hundred animals.
Day 7, Etosha NP, Game Drive, no riding
The Etosha National Park consists of three restcamps. The biggest one, Okaukuejo, lies about 120 kilometres north of Outjo - on the south-western border of the Etosha saltpan. This is also the main entrance to the Etosha Park with its administration offices. In a former fort of the Schutztruppe, lies camp Namutoni which is also the eastern access to the park. Inbetween, lies the smaller camp Halali (no access), approx. 70 kilometres from both the other camps. One should leave at least a day or two for each of these restcamps to visit the surrounding waterholes. Each restcamp has a petrol station, supermarket, kiosk, restaurant, picnic spot, swimming pool and a waterhole, which is floodlighted after dark.
Day 8, Etosha – Botswana – Nguma, Okavango Delta, 420 km, 90% dirt
The Okavango is a labyrinth of lagoons, lakes and hidden channels covering an area of over 17,000 square km and the largest inland delta in the world. Trapped in the parched Kalahari sands it is a magnet for the wildlife who depend on the permanent waters of this unique feature. Sometimes called a 'swamp', the Okavango is anything but. Moving, mysterious, placid, gentle and beautiful, from a wide and winding channel it spreads through tiny, almost unnoticeable channels that creep away behind a wall of papyrus reed, into an ever expanding network of increasingly smaller passages. These link a succession of lagoons, islands and islets of various sizes, open grasslands and flooded plains in a mosaic of land and water. Palms and towering trees abound, throwing their shade over crystal pools, forest glades and grassy knolls. The Okavango's water is remarkably clean and pure and this is almost certainly due to the fact that it passes through very sparsely populated areas on its journey from Angola. Despite this, a staggering 660 000 tons of sediment a year are delivered to its great alluvial fan. The overall length of the Delta from the border to the Thamalakane River is a little under 300kms and so the core of the Delta is approximately 200km from end to end.
Day 9, Okavango Delta, Rest Day.
Optional: Mokoro Boat Drive to the Hippo Pools (approx. 4 hours)
Day 10, Nguma – Mahangu National Park - Namibia – Kongola (near Mudumo NP), km 250, 50% dirt road
Situated in the Caprivi Strip the Mahangu National Park is rich in fauna and flora. In the park you will see plenty of game, such as sable and roan antelopes, elephants, hippos, buffalos, and many other antelopes. For bird watchers the Mahangu National Park offers more than 420 different bird species.
Caprivi, sometimes called the Caprivi Strip and formally known as Itenge, is a narrow protrusion of Namibia eastwards about 450km (280 miles), between Botswana on the south, Angola and Zambia to the north, and Kavango Region. Caprivi is bordered by the Cuando, Linyanti, Chobe and Zambezi rivers. Its largest settlement is the town of Katima Mulilo. The Mudumu National Park was proclaimed in 1990 and is a vast 1 010-km2 expanse of dense savannah and mopane woodlands, with the Kwando River as its western border. South of Lianshulu the river breaks up into a labyrinth of channels to form the Linyanti Swamp. Proclaimed in 1990, the park is home to small populations of sitatunga and red lechwe, while spotted-necked otter, hippo and crocodile inhabit the waterways. During a game drive, animals likely to be encountered are elephant, buffalo, roan antelope, kudu, impala and Burchell's zebra.
Day 11, Kongola – Botswana – Chobe National Park - Kasane, 200 km, all tar
The National Park has been open since1960 and comprises an area of 11000 sqkm south of the Chobe river. It can only be visited in the dry season, from April to October. The northern part along the Chobe River forms a floodplain and is hardly accessible during the rainy season. This also applies to the Savuti Swamps in the western part of the park. The southern parts are drier with savannah being the dominant landscape. Many parts of the Chobe can only be travelled in a 4x4. The variety and numbers of wildlife in the Chobe Park is enormous and in fact, is rivalled by no other nature reserve in southern Africa. The 50 000 elephants that live in the park pose a threat to the ecological balance of the ecosystem, which can actually only support half the number of these giants. The elephant herds cause tremendous damage to the flora and a solution is urgently needed. Because the other parks in southern Africa also suffer the effects of an uncontrolled elephant population, there is nowhere to transport the "excess" Chobe elephants, so unfortunately they will have to be culled. Elephants can only be transferred or shot in a herd, otherwise the remaining animals would become vicious and aggressive towards humans for a long time.
Day 12, Kasane, Drive to Victoria Falls (Support vehicle)
The Victoria Falls were only discovered in 1855 by the explorer David Livingstone, who named them after the British monarch. With the mighty Zambesi River roaring over a two kilometres' width to eventually plunge 120 metres down, Victoria Falls are the biggest waterfalls in Africa. The town of Victoria Falls offers all types of hotels and lodges of all price range as well as a couple of camping grounds. A scenic flight across the waterfalls is definitely recommended.
Day 13, Kasane – Nata, km 320, all tar
Geographically, Nata sits near the famous Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. These pans are one of the worlds largest breeding grounds for the greater and lesser flamingo. After the rains begin, up to one million flamingos return to the pans to breed. Nata is located 200km northwest of Francistown and 300km east of Maun and 300km south of Kasane. About 75% of the residents of Nata are from the Basarwa tribe. This tribe is also known as the bushmen or the san. The Basarwa speak the Sesarwa language while the national languages of Botswana are English and Setswana. Most residents live from farming maize, beans, sorghum and melons along with raising goats and cattle. Nearlly 80% of the homes do not have water and the villagers must walk to community stand pipes to collect water.
Day 14, Nata, Ride the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, 200 km, all dirt
The Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana were once an ancient great lake in central Botswana. Now a dried up lunar expanse, the Makgadikgadi Pans fill with water just once a year when the rains fall, attracting a plethora of game and birdlife to this region of Botswana. The annual rains bring life to wild grasses, which attract the last surviving migration of Zebra and Wildebeest in southern Africa. This is a spectacle not to be missed! When dry, the barren landscape of the Makgadikgadi is in stark contrast to the game-rich Okavango Delta and therefore makes a wonderful combination. The Makgadikgadi is the home of the San Bushman and one of the last places where you can interact with these unique people and experience such natural beauty.
Day 15, Nata – South Africa - Limpopo Province, ca. 350 km , all tar
The north-east of South Africa used to be called Transvaal and is nowadays divided into several provinces. The metropolitan area of Johannesburg and the South African capital of Pretoria form the Province of Gauteng. The area is small, but it is the economic powercentre of the country. The province east of Gauteng is called Mpumalanga. It stretches to the border with Swaziland and Mozambique, and the southern part of the Kruger Park is part of this province. In the north the Limpopo Province reaches up to the borders with Botswana and Zimbabwe which are marked by the Limpopo river. The northern half of the Kruger Park belongs to Limpopo.
Day 16, Limpopo Province – Pretoria, ca. 350 km all tar.
Today is our last riding day, we will arrive in Pretoria early afternoon and return the bikes. In the evening we meet for our farewell dinner.
Day 17, Depart Pretoria
After breakfast transport to International Airport.
Final routing depending on availability of accommodation at time of booking and might change slightly