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“Gentlemen, we have company,” I announce as calmly as anyone sat six feet away from a hyena can.

 I’m here drinking with my two travel buddies around a campfire in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, when I spot the pair of silver eyes staring at me from across the campfire. Before we can scarper to our roof tent, our unwelcome dinner guest is chased away by a laughing six-year-old boy. The boy’s father is in quick pursuit – not in fear for his son’s safety, but to egg him on. It turns out that the hyenas have become so used to campers at this site – and vice versa – they visit regularly to scavenge for scraps.

We don’t take any chances and lock ourselves in the car for the night.We’re in the middle of an 11-week road trip along the east coast of Africa which, somewhat unconventionally, we begin in Windhoek, Namibia. We choose this western starting point so we can hire wheels from Foley Specialist Vehicles, who service Land Rover Defenders specifically for driving across the continent.

And, conveniently for three guys with no gear (and not much of an idea), they provide us with everything from camping equipment to tools and spares, as well as insurance and vehicle carnets (a requisite document for border crossings). All we’re left to worry about now is driving the entire length of Africa…

Dunes to deltas 

We’re told that Swakopmund, Namibia, is a favourite holiday destination for South Africans and Germans (it only gained independence from the former in 1990 and was a colony of the latter until the end of World War I). But when we arrive it’s all but empty. Not that this bothers us – we’d planned to spend just one night in this surreal seaside town en route to Dune 45 in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

At 170 metres high, Dune 45 is more mountain than dune, and when we finally arrive its grandeur is accentuated by the strong winds that whip across the surface. It’s as if the dune is on fire – an image that leaves an indelible mark in my memory. 

The border crossing from Namibia to South Africa is relatively hassle-free, and much as we’d have liked to spend some time in the country’s wine region, stocking up on Chablis, we’re working to a strict time frame, and speed onwards towards Botswana.

First stop: Okavango Delta, a haven of wildlife and big game, which we plan to see first-hand by means of a DIY safari. By DIY, I mean cobbling together the entrance fee for the Moremi National Park and driving through its dense undergrowth and swampland in the hope of seeing an elephant or two … what could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot, actually, but it helps that there’s a convoy of Land Rovers just ahead of us, which we follow through some of the Delta’s deeper water traps. Driving unassisted through this sort of terrain is, in itself, an amazing experience. We pass a handful of giraffes, minding their own business as they graze on buds and shrubs, as well as a few romping zebras, but none of the ‘Big Five’. 

A little disappointed, we agree to head back to camp, when our attention is caught as the undergrowth up ahead begins to fizz with movement. After a minute or so, an enormous bull elephant emerges, followed by his herd – a hulking collage of elephants of all sizes. We sit in silence as the endless parade ambles across our path. We’d waited all day to see an elephant, and are now dumbstruck, watching the hundreds that make up the plodding grey convoy for the best part of an hour.

Do it: Dune 45 in Namibia is five hours’ drive from Swakopmund, along the C14/B2 highways. Entrance to Moremi Park starts at £80pp.  

Market time 

After a month or so of driving and intermittent safari, we’re craving some respite from the car, and make a beeline to Zanzibar, Tanzania. We take a two-hour ferry ride across the choppy waters between Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar island before stumbling into Stone Town, just as the sun begins to set. It may be the end of the day, but the bustling night market has just kick-started into action.

Still laden with our rucksacks, we stumble through the hubbub of activity, mesmerised by the sights, the shouts of hawkers selling their wares, and the smell of barbecued fish and meat. It’s so atmospheric, I could have wandered the narrow, winding streets of this old part of the city for weeks.

Do it: Azam Marine, Tanzania, operates a ferry service from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar, tickets from £23pp.  


East Africa overland: Wild animal encounters, majestic monasteries and one hell of a ride
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