Lakes and Leopards (lots and lots of leopards)

Originally posted: 9 Oct 2017

We left the majority of our group behind on Zanzibar, only 7 of us were continuing on for the next leg of the trip.  We went back on the ferry to mainland Tanzania (super bumpy ride) and met back up with our driver John and cook Emmanuel who had stayed with the truck. Now that there were 7 of us we got two seats each on the bus and also two lockers, luxury wow!

Leaving beautiful Zanzibar

The next couple of days were just going to be travel days to get out of Tanzania, that first day when we left Zanzibar we didn’t get into camp until 8pm and didn’t end up cooking that night instead we went to the restaurant at the campground. It was nice not having to cook and do our dishes but the food was pretty average!

The following day was a shocker, the roads in Tanzania are painful. Speed limit is 50km/h half the time, very bumpy roads, constant road works, we were stopped by the police numerous times to check out the truck, weighbridges every hour or so. If you miss a weighbridge in Tanzania the fine is $2000USD! Despite all that the scenery was fantastic, for about an hour we were driving through baobab trees and we even saw 4 elephants along the way which was exciting.

Our campsite that night was a farm in middle of nowhere, they had a function on as well so we were restricted to our campsite so we wouldn’t disturb the other guests, hah!  We had an early night anyway because the following morning was going to be an early one!

Baobab tree – truck for scale

3:30am wake up, yikes! Earliest start yet! Breakfast was eventful, the tables were a bit wobbly and the table tipped and Kate was covered in hot drinks, luckily she wasn’t burnt. Then about 10 minutes later the same thing happened to me. Covered in coffee and my leg was scratched and bruised. Not fun at 4 in the morning! We left camp later than planned at 4:45. Tried to sleep but the roads were so damn bumpy I was being thrown all around my seat. We stopped a few times for bush toilets, at one of the stops I had an acacia thorn go through my thong and into my heel, I then tripped on a bush and scratched up my legs. Got back on the truck with scratches and blood all over me, oh dear haha.

We got to the border at 2pm, changed our money over before leaving Tanzania. Our Malawi visas took about half an hour to be sorted, when we got them back everyone rushed out to the truck, I stayed to check the stamp and lucky I did because they said we had entered on 30 August instead of 20 August! Meant we were in no mans land for 10 days! I called everyone back inside so our stamps could get fixed up.

You can see where he wrote over the 30 in pen to change it to 20… seems legit

We got back on the truck and continued on. The whole drive we had people on side of road running up to wave at us in the truck which was really nice. Shortly after arriving we were driving alongside Lake Malawi – the 9th largest lake in the world, huge! Couldn’t see the other side of it, apparently the lake almost runs the full length of the country.

We got into camp next to the beach, which was the lake. Weirdest thing. It was like we were at the ocean.. but we weren’t because it was a lake… with a beach… with waves…

While dinner was being prepped I went to the bar and chatted with the barman, about 10 minutes in to the conversation he asked me if he could come to Australia to live with me and while I worked he would look after the house. No thank you. I scurried off to dinner and went to bed shortly after that.

Got up early to watch the sunrise over the beach, beautiful! Went back to the campsite and before breakfast we went to the market just outside the gates. Really friendly people again! A lot of them had names like Mr Cheapy Cheap, Mr Worldwide etc. I thought they were joking but they were serious. A few of them were asking to trade shirts or batteries for their woodwork. I bought a couple of things and as we left they all thanked us for supporting their village.

Sunrise over Lake Malawi

We left the beach behind and drove up a bit into the mountains, we got into the main city and it was freezing!

Cold overcast weather as we drove up into the mountains

Cold overcast weather as we drove up into the mountains

I was in denial and kept my shorts on not wanting to put on pants, but I think my legs were blue! We went to the local market so Emmanuel could stock up on groceries, our guides friend Vin Diesel (yes that’s his name) showed us around while Emmanuel did the shopping.

We continued on, driving back down the mountain area to the camp by the beach, beautiful place! A few of us decided to upgrade to cottages for the stay. Sat at the bar chatting with the owners until sun down, went for dinner and then we came back to the bar for a drink. I was pretty tired and went to bed shortly afterwards.

The next day we had a free day at the beach, there were a few activities like village walk, horse riding etc. but I decided I just wanted to sit by the bar and chill out for the day… maybe watch some Game of Thrones! Got to skype home which was nice to catch up with the family. The day went quickly despite my lack of activity and after dinner I went almost straight to bed.

Kande Beach… it’s a lake!

Woke up at 5:15am and the power was out, got ready in the dark, couldn’t shower because no water was coming out, oh well! Put our gear back on the truck and had breakfast. Set off at 6:30am. Uneventful drive to the border, got there at 1pm. The Malawi side was packed, people everywhere trying to get into Malawi, we crossed over to Zambia side and it was empty. Half an hour and $50USD later our visas were sorted, back on the truck!  We stopped in a city to get money out and buy snacks. My jaw dropped when we walked into the supermarket, first fully stocked supermarket I had seen this whole trip! I was overwhelmed with the options available, I suddenly decided I needed to eat hummus. Searched the store but no luck, no hummus! I’ll have to keep looking!

We drove another 2 hours to get to our campsite, Croc Valley. Just as we pulled in we saw a herd of elephants next to the campsite. Got the usual safety briefing, another wild camp where animals can and will wander around camp so look and listen before leaving the tent! The campsite was overrun with monkeys, so we had to be careful to keep food hidden away and always keen the tent locked up.

Jumped in the shower and I died of happiness, it was the best shower we had had in weeks! Big showerhead, good pressure and it was hot! I legit think I was in there for half an hour, it was just so great, I felt so clean! We checked out rest of the campsite, bar, restaurant and a pool! I would definitely be hitting that up the next day.  Next to the pool was a sign that said swim at night at your own risk because of hippos and crocodiles. Don’t need to tell me twice!

Definitely won’t be swimming at night

Had dinner at 8pm that night, fell asleep to the sound of hippos grunting in the water!

Got up early and had a light breakfast before heading off at 6am for our safari. It was an open safari (no roof no doors, nothing). We had been told to wear proper footwear in case we needed to suddenly evacuate the jeep, animals had jumped into vehicle in the past – yikes!

Poked my head out the tent because I could hear this guy wandering around

Drove to the entrance of the park, did the usual paperwork. Set off and saw lots of animals! Elephant, giraffe, zebra, puku, impala, gazelle, mongoose, ground squirrel, hippos, crocodiles, warthogs etc. The park is known for lions and leopards so we were on the lookout!

 I was losing hope on seeing a big cat but then 2 hours in we saw a leopard in a tree eating its kill – a monkey! I was super excited, a few weeks earlier I had said to someone in my tour group that I wanted to see a leopard in a tree eating its kill and they told me I was dreaming. Well take that! We were so close to it! We sat right under the tree it was in, and for company we had two hyenas waiting around for scraps to fall for them to eat. While we were watching this leopard another one jumped out of the tree next to it and slunk off into the bush! Two leopards!

We left the leopard behind all feeling very happy about our luck. We drove a further 10 minutes away, our driver spoke to another driver on the road and we turned around and headed back the way we came. Pulled up to a huge bush, we were trying to figure out where we were going. Went around the bush and another leopard!! Just snoozing in the grass, I have no idea how the first driver had seen the leopard! Three leopards in the morning! Our driver said he normally sees at least 1 leopard a day but never 3, so we were all pretty chuffed!

Leopard number 3!

We pulled over at about 9:30 and had tea and biscuits while overlooking the water, hippos bobbing in and out of the water.

We headed back to the campsite, and just outside our campsite were 14 giraffe! We sat and watched them for a while before heading into the camp.

Just outside the camp

Fun fact: a group of giraffe is called a tower, and a group of giraffe walking is called a journey.

When we got back to camp we had brunch waiting for us, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, fried potato, pancakes, fruit. Huge spread and once again I ate way too much!

Saw this fella chewing down on a frog right next to my tent. Frog was fighting back!

Got into my swimmers and spent the next couple of hours laying in the sun next to the pool. Temperature was close to 40 degrees and the pool was about 10 degrees I reckon. Hopped in every now and then to cool down. Ended up falling asleep in the sun, woke up because I could feel something near my feet, looked up a damn monkey was poking around my bag! Scared him off and decided it was time to shower. Had another excessively long shower, chilled by the bar until our evening game drive.


At 4pm we hopped into the jeep, when Kate was getting in she hit her shin on the metal corner and her leg cut open. So much blood! Victor ran to get the first aid kit and patched her up, had to clean all the blood off the jeep. While this was happening on my other side Suzy was overheating and was suddenly laying down on the seat. I was in the middle of them trying to fan Suzy while pat Kate on the shoulder, worst person to be in that situation!

Everything calmed down and we finally set off in the jeep! Got to the park and saw all the same animals as this morning, we drove past an old hangar with two planes there. They used to be used for anti-poaching but fortunately poaching was under control in the park and they were rarely taken out.

Anti-poaching planes

About an hour in we stumbled across 4 lions! A male and 3 lioness all laying around in the grass, they were right next to our jeep! Panting in the heat, not bothered by us at all! Hung around them for a while then kept going.  Just around the corner we saw another male, which was apparently the brother of the male we just saw. He was a funny light colour which our driver said was due to a problem with the gene pool.

We pulled over just before sunset by the water, enjoyed a drink and popcorn as we waited for the sun to go down so we could start our night drive.

Beautiful red African sunset!

I was chatting to our driver about the park.  Apparently elephant population used to be 5000 but since poaching had stopped numbers are up to 25,000 and there are so many elephants now it causes problems for villages. Last night elephants crushed down 5 houses because they could smell the wheat in the house and trampled the house to get it. People were sleeping inside at the time it happened and it was lucky no one was hurt. They used to solve the problem by killing 1 elephant in that herd, as an elephant never forgets the herd would not return to that village.  However now that there are so many herds of elephants they can’t keep killing elephants because a new herd will come along and do the same thing, they’d be continually killing elephants. They are trying to think of a solution to the problem but don’t know what to do.

The last black rhino was killed in 1980 by poachers and there used to be 3000 I think he said, they are about to reintroduce black rhino from South Africa. In the park there are 375 lions and they aren’t sure of leopard numbers but its more than lions. We asked about hunting and he said it was legal but controlled outside of the national park.  Lots of American trophy hunters come to shoot animals, apparently each year the government based on animal numbers says how many of each species is allowed to be killed, disgusting. The bridge that we crossed to enter the park marks the boundaries, so on the other side of that people can kill whatever, so the elephants, giraffes etc we had seen can easily and legally be killed.  He said in the past hunters would kill a buffalo on the outside of the park to lure a male lion across the bridge so that they could shoot it. Sick people.

It was finally getting dark so we headed off to start our night drive.  Our guide told us we were looking for the nocturnal animals, servals, anteater, hedgehog, caracals etc. he said we’d see other animals but wouldn’t stop for them because we’d seen them during the day.

This is what we could see!

Soon after heading off a hyena came trotting down the road towards us, awesome seeing them at night! In the front seat we had a spotter, he was holding a big torch, completely different experience seeing animals at night. Everywhere we shown the torch there would be a pair of eyes! Bit further up we saw about 6 hyena hanging around, heaps of impala everywhere, shortly after a huge herd of buffalo. Saw elephants, giraffe and a couple of hippos. It was pitch black all around and silent, but when the light  passed over them, bam they were there!

About half an hour in we saw a leopard!!! Then 5 minutes later, another leopard! AND THEN 5 MINUTES LATER ANOTHER ONE!! We saw 6 damn leopards today! Mental! Our driver was gobsmacked, said he never saw so many leopards in a day!  The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful, didn’t see any of the nocturnal animals unfortunately, but honestly I was on such a high after seeing bulk leopards I did not care!

We headed back to the campsite at around 8, when I got out of the jeep, my legs peeled off the seat and I realised I was 100% burnt all over my back and legs. Oopsies, guess I shouldn’t have fallen asleep next to the pool!

Was so happy going to sleep that night, we had been so lucky seeing 6 leopards! Our luck with wildlife had continued, I was excited for what was to come.

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Hey, I'm Shannon!
I've been travelling since I was 6 years old and have been lucky enough to visit 70 countries! From overlanding through Africa and road-tripping in Samoa to Salsa-ing in Cuba and visiting wineries in India. I love new adventures and can't wait to share them with you in this blog!
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