4X4 MOLOPO RIVER TRAIL- MAY 2021
The Molopo River now almost gone and forgotten, which is such a shame as the Molopo was at one time one of SA’s great rivers.
With the source somewhere near Lichtenberg, the river course runs in a South Westerly direction and close to Mafikeng on its 945 km journey to its mouth or confluence with the Orange River, just a few kilometers downstream of the Augrabies Falls on the border between The Augrabies and Riemvasmaak reserves. As the Molopo makes its way South West it shares the border Between Botswana and SA for many kilometers with the border fence running down the middle of the dry riverbed.
The Molopo River, with an average drop of 740 mm per Kilometer has a catchment area of 367 201sq kilometers and Namibia, Botswana and South Africa sharing roughly a third each of its catchment basin. The Molopo last flowed around 100 years back and seldom carries any water these days.
The trip which we have just completed started off by spending the first night camping at the Molopo Game Reserve, just a little north west of Vryburg. The reserve was re stocked with game a few years back and testament to this is still there for us to see, there is lot of game around, and after the recent heavy rains in the area, grazing is the best it has been for many years. The usually dry and sandy Kalahari has evolved into a carpet of long grass and Sama Melons with shady trees and bush.
A well timed last minute call from Nandre at Loch Maree, one of our stop over points, advising us to bring seed nets for the 4x4’s saved as many potential problem on the trip. We experienced two effects from the tall grass, one there was very little dust to worry about, making driving in convoy a lot more enjoyable for everyone in the six vehicle convoy. On the down side, the tall overhanging grass made it at times difficult to see the Meerkat and Ground Squirrels borrows, at one time I did hit one really hard and honestly thought that my Trailvan was going to go over. Fortunately, vehicle and Trailvan are tough and well- designed pieces of off-road equipment and both survived to see another day.
The object of the trip was to follow the course of the Molopo River for as much as we could from the Molopo reserve all the way to its mouth. Following the river course takes the convoy through so many different and seldom seen areas of the Kalahari, it’s a fantastic trip out in the vastness of the Kalahari with all its different colors and shapes. Usually May can get quite cold at night, but other than the first night, the rest were very pleasant and of course the evening fires kept us warm, the camaraderie going and the bottle of Captain’s flowing.
It was from the reserve to Van Zylsrus on the first day. We exited the river bed at the McCarthy’s rest border post and took the most direct road to our campsite from there. Magda, the owner of the Van Zylsrus camp site had organized sundowners a little way from the camp site up on one of the dunes with a fantastic sight of the desert, and way off in the distance, as the sun sank below the horizon, the glimmering lights of the Middelputs border post.
Middelputs was where we would be joining the river in the morning again for the second leg of our journey. Seeing the pic of Magda on a Jet Ski in front of the campsite made one realise just how much this desert area experienced a few months back ran. How a Jet Ski make such a sudden appearance in these parts we’ll never know, but as the saying goes, “A Boer Maak a Plan”.
After an 8 kilometer of bone shaking cobble stone type route, with the long grass we drove back down into the driver bed and were destined to stay in the river bed all the way from the Middelputs border to the Bokpits border where we would exit the river once more. This was a long, and slow drive of about 200 kilometers with tall grass, no grass, and lots of holes to try and avoid. Driving the in the river bed soon gives one the perspective of just how big the river once was. At times the river banks must have been 300 meters apart and we were well below the top level of the river banks. We were driving well below what the original level of the water would have been. At Bokpits we exited the Molopo and just a few short kilometers away we pulled in to the Kgalagadi lodge for something cold and a quick bit to eat, we still had 30 kilometers to go before reaching Loch Maree, our final destination for the next two nights. The campsite at Loch Maree has a wonderful setting up in the dunes with a good view, good ablutions and at the same time a bit of protection from the Kalahari wind. Nandre brought us warm and freshly baked farm bread, and this was a real treat with dinner.
The next day was a leisurely departure time for what was going to be a day of adventure as we spent the day on a 4x4 trail into the wilderness of the Kalahari. One of our team had been having problems with his tyres and he was going to try and sort out the problems, we still had a way to go and things needed to be right. Unfortunately the tyre fix did not work as well as expected and a trip to Upington the next day was now on their cards. The trail was great fun, we had a few rather soft and tricky dunes to cross along the way and all of us had an opportunity to brush up on our reversing skills, some more than others. We also had a good winching exercise on top of one of the dunes. A valuable lesson was to be learnt here. Don’t follow too closely in the convoy in case the vehicle in front of you gets stuck and you now have no- where to go. What I learnt, is, don’t stop on the top of a dune for a photo opportunity in-case the others are following too closely. It was a good winching exercise though, always is when no vehicle is parked on firm terrain, and after an hour or so we were moving again.
The following morning it was pack up and head for your last destination, Kameeldoring Kamp for 3 nights on the Orange River and just outside from the Augrabies reserve. The convoy was now down to 5 vehicles for the day, Chris and Joey were taking the route via Upington. Little did they know at this stage, that their problems were going to escalate before they got any better? Peter and Jenny also took a turn later on and decided their vehicle should see a workshop. They found a workshop and the prognosis was that a timing sensor was messing around with the Jeep’s timing. Basically speaking, the inlet valves weren’t always too sure what the outlet valves were up to. A subsequent lose in power but good to carry on.
For Chris and Joey, not long after parting ways with us, they had a wheel overtake them as they were on the way to Upington. Unfortunately for them, it was their caravan’s wheel. It’s amazing how things work out and just how good our farming community are. A farmer stopped and took the brake drum off to Upington with him, had the broken wheel studs replaces and 5 and a half hours later helped put the wheel back in the caravan. Lesson learnt, periodically check the wheel nuts, especially on an off-road trip.
Our route took as through some amazing sights and scenes as the Molopo made its way through the Kalahari towards Riemvasmaak. We pulled up in Noenieput for those that needed fuel and we also received some good advice form the Lady running the Co-Op shop and till. When we hit the Locusts slow down. We soon drove through massive swarms of the Locusts, it was like driving through a hail stroma r these insects battered the windscreen and the vehicle. Now we saw why going slowly was such good advice, if you hit the Locusts at speed they will squash against the glass windscreen and soon block out visibility completely. Our seed nets worked well in keeping the radiators free of the mess. The slower speed also prevented the insects from going through the seed net, they simply hit the net and fell off, much the same as the windscreen.
After a short stop in Kakamas we reached our destination for the next three nights, each camp site with its own ablutions and donkey boiler. Grape vine wood, which burns well was provided for the donkey. And it took around 20 minutes for really hot water.
The following day we had two things planned. One to visit the Hot Springs at Riemvasmaak and then to the Mouth of the Molopo, we had to bring a closure to our journey. Driving through Riemvasmaak is simply amazing, the country side is similar to parts of the Richtersveld, it’s a harsh inhospitable and rugged mountainous area where very little survives. There are photo opportunities around every corner and over every mountain.
The day after we paid a visit to the Augrabies Falls, they are always spectacular when standing on those viewing decks and one can only imagine how it must have been to stand there when they were in flood a few months back. From the viewpoints were going to take on the Augrabies 4x4 route. There is the 97km route or the shorter 50km route and it’s basically time allowed that decided which route could be driven. We took the shorter of the two, but that due to a later wake up time and a good look at all the view points earlier. The 4x4 route is a winner, it’s challenging in places and just such an intriguing drive through the rugged and rocky desert landscape. We got to see the desert Giraffe which on its own is quite a site, we are used to seen Giraffes in fairly and bush areas with lots of trees, nothing like that here.
Sadly all good things come to an end and the next day we split up as we went off in different directions. Some went to the Richtersveld, others to the Kgalagadi, and others like myself, Home.
This is a fantastic trip and I will be back again next year.