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Overland trip report

Leaving Harare as the sun was rising was fortuitous. We missed the morning rush hour. The A4 route out of the city directs one through a busy market road where dodging potholes, pedestrians and taxis implies a hair-raising journey! With only the potholes to concern ourselves with we were safely on route for the South African border and our overnight stop at Makhado (was Louis Trichardt).

The longest part of the journey was through Africa savannah with the occasional mielie field, supporting subsistence farming. Little groups of up to 5 rondavals set in a circle with their neatly swept communal areas scatter the fields. The road was not in great condition. The occasional pothole coupled with temporary filled holes added up to a bumpy ride. Word from the local Zimbabweans is that this road is due to be resurfaced in the not too distant future. We did see evidence of significant road works on the Bulawayo to Harare stretch as part of a national road improvement campaign. Workers had use of all the modern day equipment with quality safety gear and seemed to be doing a great job. This Harare to Masvingo road is not going to survive if left much longer, let’s hope the rumours are true. As we neared Chatsworth the scenery changed as savannah fell away into a more wooded terrain, mainly being defined by the distinctive flat topped Msasa trees. Then the first rocky outcrop that defines Zimbabwe appeared on the horizon. The landscape started to become more interesting. There were several well stocked curio markets, offering wooden carvings, lining the road. We also noticed some prickly pears being offered for sale along the way. We arrived in Masvingo a bustling African town. This is a good place to make a toilet stop and fill up with petrol. The toilets were not in great condition. We recommend that you bring your own toilet roll and some disinfectant wipes to improve the experience. A short 40 km drive brings you to the huge 90 km square Lake Mutirikwe (previous name Lake Kyle). The very basic national parks accommodation is nothing to rave about. However the walks and views from the granite whaleback dwala’s are spectacular. In addition there is a surprising amount of game, rhino, zebra and variety of buck.

Lake Mutirikwe (Lake Kyle)

We were not far from Zimbabwe’s namesake, the impressive Great Zimbabwean Ruins. Be prepared to put aside at least half a day to explore this ancient site. There is a hard climb up to the main section of the ruins but the complexity of the architecture and the panoramic view makes the effort worthwhile. If climbing is not your thing there is plenty to see at ground level including the mysterious conical tower. Simple refreshments are served at the cafe onsite with its attached souvenir shop. On a low granite whaleback dwala there is an indigenous market where local musicians entertain. Here traditional pottery, jewellery and basketry are on offer.

Great Zimbabwe

The remainder of the journey, to the border, can be sectioned into equal thirds. These thirds are bounded by two rivers the Rhundi and the Bubi. It is the contrasting scenery which distinguishes each section. Between Masvingo and Rhundi the scenery is wooded and hilly. Once over the Rhundi this changes to large granite outcrops, windy roads and lovely views. We came across the old strip road from days gone by making me feel grateful for the road we were travelling on. In addition to the rondavals, seen further north, there are wooden kraals made from tree branches to keep in cattle and goats. Subsistence farming is very visible, milies, cattle, goats and even pigs. The driver has to have eyes in the back of his head. Cattle don’t seem to concern themselves of silly little things like cars to get to the lean pickings of grass on the other side. Over the Bubi River the granite hills fall away and the area becomes much drier with the presence of Mopani trees and monster Baobabs. Termite hills, burnt out vehicles and donkey draw carriages are the norm - almost as frequent as the police road blocks. This is where anything goes, being fined is par for the course and it significantly reduced our average speed down to crawling pace.

Beitbridge border has a less than complimentary reputation. However we had a good enough experience, possibly because it wasn’t busy. Sullen officials were to be expected but they didn’t frustrate us too much. We managed to pass through with minimum frustration clearing the border in a record forty minutes.

The town of Musina is filled to the brim with retail stores and Chinese markets. It was evident from the start that we had arrived back in South Africa. Our first indication was the lack of granite outcrops. The road conditions improved significantly, the telephone poles stood upright, signs were unbuttered, and fencing along the side of the road was obviously maintained. With relief the police blocks had vaporised. Once on the N1 it became a duel highway giving rise to a significantly easier ride. Baobab trees still lined the road and we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of game along the game fences on the side of the road.

Man's Face in the Soutpansberg

The Soutpansberg Mountain range greeted us in the distance with its distinctive reddish hue. The road meandered up, and then through a tunnel, of this breathtaking mountain range covered in its rich fauna. This was to be our stop over for the night. Being adventurous, or crazy, we chose an off the beat self-catering log cabin, in the middle of a reserve, with no electricity. We arrived just as the sun was lowering behind the mountain range. The owners of >Medike were extremely welcoming and the cabin very homely after our full day on the road. Before setting off for Johannesburg the next morning we went for a brief walk, which turned into a hike, to find one of the three baobabs on the property. We stumbled upon a lovely stone cottage incorporating a huge flat boulder as its interior wall. We saw numerous insect and butterflies and the spore of many animals. Leopards apparently live in the area. Most impressive is the twenty plus bushman drawings on the reserve. It is certainly a place that requires more time than we had for exploration.
Once out of Makhado it wasn’t long before we passed over the virtual line marking the Tropic of Capricorn. The N1 is a dream road and we don’t mind paying tolls when a road is maintained to such a superior standard. In comparison to Zimbabwe it makes you start to appreciate what South Africa has to offer the motorist. The 5 hour journey to Johannesburg was uneventful passing close to Tzaneen, Polokwane, Mokopane and Bela Bela. We could have stopped many times over to see what each of these places has to offer the inquisitive tourist. Unfortunately we had run out of holiday and with reluctance have to leave this exploring for sometime in the future.

There is a cash entry payment required for both the Lake Mutirikwe and the Great Zimbabwean Ruins. The rate is significantly cheaper if you are a Zimbabwean resident.


Just for laughs: how not to travel from Zimbabwe to South Africa

Airlines flying from Harare to Johannesburg


Air Botswana

Harare to Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB)

1-stop (3h50m)

Air Zimbabwe

Harare to Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB)

non-stop (1h45m)

British Airways

Harare to Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB)

non-stop (1h35m)

Kulula Airlines

Harare to Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB)

non-stop (1h35m)

South African Airways

Harare to Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB)

non-stop (1h40m)

Zambezi Airlines

Harare to Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB)


Bus trips from Harare to Johannesburg

Greyhound offers coaches from Harare to Johannesburg.


4 Apr 2012

British Airways was meant to add three HRE - JNB flights, scheduled to leave Harare at 07h00 & arrive in Joburg at 08h40 on Mondays, Thursdays & Fridays. However, on 3 April 2012 Comair said: "We have applied for the additional 3 frequencies to Harare (this is a bilaterally constrained route) and will be having our hearing before the licencing council quite soon. We hope to be in a position to add these flights to our schedule should we be successful in securing these rights."

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