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Overland Adventure: Nairobi to South Africa

How far would you travel to be a spectator at the FIFA World Cup? Florian Keller writes about his overland adventure from Nairobi to South Africa.

6 min
Overland Adventure: Nairobi to South Africa
Author: Florian Keller

It’s perhaps the biggest test of football fervor. Florian Keller, COO and Co-Founder of Enchanting Travels, is no stranger to long-distance adventure travel and enjoys an overland expedition: Nairobi to South Africa, to the largest international football competition. 

For the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Florian embarked on an epic overland Kenya to South Africa tour for 10 weeks, starting from Nairobi to South Africa and shares his highlights with us.

Flags flying: Setting off for South Africa

The Africa travel journey started in Nairobi on a clear morning in mid May and, with several Germany flags flying out of the Landcruiser’s windows, we cruised towards the Tanzanian border and enjoyed beautiful views of Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru.

Nairobi to South Africa
Kilimanjaro in the distance

We stopped in the scenic Usambara Mountains in northern Tanzania, the dramatic Uluguru Mountains in central Tanzania, and at the beautiful Southern Highlands where we enjoyed horse riding through the green carpeted tea plantations and in the bustling town of Mbeya in South Western Tanzania.

We drove to the northern end of Lake Malawi and spent a night in a quaint guesthouse on a secluded sandy beach in breathtaking surroundings, with mountains plunging right into the blue waters of Lake Malawi. Pristine beauty comes at a price: every meal was dry fish and rice!

Warm hearts

We crossed the border to Malawi, where we found the “warm heart of Africa”.

When we told locals we were on our way to the soccer world cup they would often ask to join us on our trip to South Africa!

Our journey along the stunning Lake Malawi was a pleasant one, with stops at Chintheche on the central lakeshore where we explored picturesque islands and crystal clear waters by boat, kayak and a traditional dhow.

We then passed through Liwonde National Park, the premier game park in Malawi, where we experienced interesting game drives, bush walks and particularly enjoyed a boat safari on the Shire River, passing hippos, crocodiles, elephants and various species of antelopes at the edge of the river.

Liwonde - Nairobi to South Africa
Liwonde National Park

Freezing Zambezi

Crossing the border to Zambezi, we went from enjoying a pleasantly warm afternoon sun on a Zambezi River boat cruise to excruciatingly cold evening temperatures due a strong current.

Quietly freezing, dressed only in T-shirts and shorts, we searched for the lights of our safari lodge with each bend in the river. Our dinner under the stars had to wait until after a hot shower.

A canoe excursion the next morning as we silently glided along the riverbanks encountering hippos, elephants and buffalo at very close distances made up for the cold day before.

We then enjoyed a natural power shower at the mighty Victoria Falls, and fully appreciated this world wonder with a helicopter ride over the falls, enjoying fantastic views of the Zambezi River, the falls and the dramatically winding gorge below.

Landscape and bridge at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

We could not resist the temptation of a short detour to Botswana and to Chobe National Park where we stayed at the Zambezi Queen, a stylishly designed floating hotel on the Chobe River.

Here, we experienced one of the highlights of our journey – a sunset boat cruise on the Chobe.

Getting up close to kudu, giraffe, hippo and crocodiles and watching hundreds of elephants drinking, playing and cavorting at the water’s edge as the evening sun painted the scenery in a golden light made this one of my most memorable safari experiences ever.

Speeding through Zimbabwe

We spent two nights experiencing game drives and even more spectacular walking safaris in Hwange National Park, discovering that Zimbabwe has the best safari guides in Africa. But time was running out as we had to be in Durban for the first football match so we sped on, with only a quick overnight stop in the scenic Matopos National Park where giants appear to have piled up huge boulders into bizarre rock formations.

Safari ride at Davison’s Camp in Hwange, Zimbabwe
Hwange National Park
Matopos National Park

We reached South Africa on June 11, the day the Soccer World Cup started. All the South African immigration and customs officers were dressed in the shirts of Bafana Bafana, the South African soccer team, and in Messina, the South African border town. The sides of the road were lined with people, all equally dressed in Bafana Bafana outfits and competing in making the loudest possible noise with their Vuvuzelas.

Durban greeted us with its magnificent sea front which had been turned into a party zone for soccer supporters from around the world and locals alike.

Cape Town
Cape Town

The excitement about the World Cup finally having come to Africa was very touching and remembering these moments, arriving in South Africa on the day the Soccer World Cup kicked off, still creates a subtle shudder down my spine.

Traveling home from South Africa

Over the course of the next four weeks, I traveled two full circles through South Africa following the German team during the World Cup and experiencing the beautiful Garden Route, the stunning Blyde River Canyon, the vast and striking Karoo and its smaller sister, the Little Karoo, bustling Cape Town, the endless deserted beaches in Kwa Zulu Natal and the spectacular mountains of Lesotho.

Here, I went on a beautiful pony trek in serene mountain country and couldn’t resist the temptation to ski at “Afriski”, the only ski resort in Southern Africa that has snow-making facilities.

Nairobi to South Africa

We then started our long 6,000 kilometer journey back to Kenya, largely along the Indian Ocean coast. The most intriguing places on this journey were the strikingly beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago in Southern Mozambique, the not yet rediscovered Gorongosa National Park in Central Mozambique.

In Ilha de Mozambique we felt like embarking on a journey back in time through the history of Eastern Africa and Arabia, to the fantastic and undiscovered beaches and reefs at Memba Bay, the only place on the East African Coast where snorkeling and diving is possible right from the beach, and the tiny islands surrounded by pristine coral reefs and turquoise water in the remote Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique.

Quirimbas in Mozambique
Quirimbas in Mozambique

One of our most memorable moments on the entire journey was the Friday night disco on quaint Ibo Island in the Quirimbas – dancing with the locals under the stars and next to a mango tree right next to the beach was almost surreal.

No man’s land

There were times on our journey when we were in absolute No Man’s Land.

There were times when we didn’t see a soul. Times when we didn’t know how to reach our next destination because nobody who we asked could tell us. Times when we had to turn our car into a makeshift ferry to cross the mighty Rovuma River over to Tanzania. Times when we could see nothing except pitch black darkness as the moon hadn’t risen yet.

Enchanting Travels Tanzania Tours Serengeti in the evening

Beyond the places visited, I met many interesting people and countless moments will stay with me – many evenings under the stars that triggered philosophical or just obscure thoughts and questions, such as the question of how many stars there are and how many sandcorns there are on earth. During one evening under the stars, we made an earnest attempt to quantify the latter – the figure we calculated is 50,000 quadrillion sandcorns on earth.

Be inspired to travel in Florian’s footsteps!

Our very own football fanatic captured his travel experiences during this Africa travel journey through Southern and Eastern Africa in a couple of sample itinerary ideas, most of which are off-the-beaten-path and can be customized further.

Liwonde - Nairobi to South Africa

Highlights of Malawi

12 Days: $ 8,090 / person
On this tour of Malawi, go off the beaten path to see hidden gems untouched by mass tourism. Apart from thrilling safaris in Majete Wildlife Sanctuary and Liwonde, discover the verdant, scenic hills at the Shire Highlands, walk, hike and cycle in the verdant woodlands of the Zomba plateau, and enjoy the clear waters, unspoiled […]
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Posted In:  Africa Africa Bazaruto Archipelago FIFA Gorongosa National Park Ilha de Mozambique Quirimbas Archipelago South Africa self-drive