I’m grinning from ear to ear! Today was a super day of driving in Africa (at least the first half). We drove Leopard Hill, a gravel road connecting the Zambezi to the Great East Road in Zambia.
We spent last night camping at Kiambi Lodge. The staff there were very helpful with information about the condition of the road, and said it was passable with 4×4 and good ground clearance. Brodie having both, we set off to explore.
The road turns northwards a few kilometres from the lodge. Initially it meanders its way past some huge agricultural fields on nice firm gravel. I think the crop is wheat, an almost surreal contrast of bright green that stretches as far as the eye can see. The gravel is not wide, but there is plenty of space for Brodie. The next few kilometres are really nice driving: gently undulating along on firm gravel. Most of the time nothing more than a jeep two-spoor, beautifully framed by tall grass and trees. Occasionally we pass an area that has seen fire, changing the path to two beige tracks framed by black charred remains. The road gently climbs and slowly heads towards the escarpment.
The distance we need to cover is about 55km on this road. Not too much, but could still be a long day. Tracks4Africa shows it as a gravel road – with two big warning signs saying “serious 4×4 needed”. It also says for the road “Not recommended”. We are very interested to see what it is all about, and if our perception of what to “recommend” is the same as on Tracks4Africa… The guy at the lodge indicated he had covered the distance to the Great East Road in about 2.5 to 3 hours.
Then we arrive at the first warning sign. We are coming up a gentle, rocky incline where a rut was created in the last rainy season. When turning the corner we understand why it said serious 4×4 needed. It is steep. It is rutted. And it was shaped like an “S”. I quickly dispatch African GirlChild as official photographer up the hill. Then I have a quick scout myself to see what it looks like all the way to the top. An idea of a line to take forms in my head, and then I set off. And Brodie eats the Leopard for breakfast! He eases his way up, not missing a single step, not spinning, not slipping, not stalling. He makes it feel so easy.
This hill is just the beginning of the middle section of the road. The next 20 or so kilometres are rocky, uneven, rutted, and at times very steep. I love every minute of it. And I think African GirlChild is quite thrilled as well over in the passenger seat. Brodie behaves perfectly all the way, almost floating along over the unevenness. As we approach the second warning sign we can see there too why it is there. It is steep, it has a rut on the one side, and it has a tree hanging over the road.
Trees are easy to deal with: I take the garden saw (thanks B&Q) and trim the tree back to make Brodie fit under. Then I scout the route and decide on a line, then drive. Smooth. Same as with the previous warning sign. And the grin on my face keeps growing, especially when Brodie decides to climb the hill partially on three wheels.
As we reach the top and crest the hill the track changes again. It goes back to the smoother gravel of the first 20km and now winds its way between villages and fields of what looks to be corn and cotton. This is the essence of subsistence farming. There are no facilities here, no electricity, no real shops. So far it has taken us about 2.5 hrs, and we still have about 60km to go to reach the tar. The rest of the road to the tar becomes more and more well travelled, and the villages we pass become bigger and bigger.
Just before we hit the tar we find a small stall where a woman sells the Zambian deep-fried breads we know from 2010. She is all smiles – I think her smile reflects mine – and the breads taste fantastic. Next stop is the Luangwa Bridge Camp.