While positive expectation surrounds Zimbabwe as a tourist destination, and the country’s authorities are being quoted far and wide with messages of reassurance, the ground transport sector is not jumping in just yet.

Fanie van Zyl of SA Coach Charters and Bus Rentals says coach travel in Zimbabwe has been plagued by roadblocks and authorities seeking bribes. Until such time that there is confirmation that such problems have been eradicated, uncertainty will prevail. “Therefore, we remain reluctant to travel into Zimbabwe and prefer to make use of Botswana or Zimbabwe operators doing day trips from Kasane, Botswana,” he says referring to the popular tourism location on the border of both countries where Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls butt shoulders.

Snappy Coach Hire’s Evelyn Patrick echoes these sentiments.  “We usually avoid Zimbabwe due to the large incidence of bribes and fraud at the border post. I will be awaiting news from others in the industry on how they are finding the situation, before I open up to that border post.”

Zimbabwe’s potential as a coaching destination, however, is in little doubt.  “We believe that Zimbabwe is the perfect place for overland safari tours,” says Christiaan Steyn of Drifters Adventours. “We have a 16-day Zimbabwe tour that explores the country extensively and it really has a lot to offer. The tour has been running for the last four years now and we look forward to the next couple of years to grow this tour.”

Namibia is perhaps the prime coaching destination of the Southern African region, with long distances to cover. The country has done much to improve road infrastructure and, although problems remain, it has taken cognisance of the importance of driving to its tourism plant.

“Namibia has a multitude of roads that we like using,” says Steyn, listing the road from the Kgalagadi to Keetmanshoop, the road along the Orange River via Rosh Pinah to Aus, and travelling along the Skeleton Coast up north from Swakopmund as highlights.

Van Zyl expands on the routes he feels deserve special mention: “Namibia is divided into two major route sections – south and north,” he says. “The south section will cover Ai Ais via Fish River Canyon to Lüderitz and up north to Sossusvlei/Sesriem and Walvis Bay/Swakopmund. The north section will run up via Khorixas, Outjo, Tsumeb to Etosha. This section may extend to Rundu and Katima Mulilo for tours travelling to Botswana and Zimbabwe. Tours may start and end in Windhoek, but there are still a number starting in Cape Town or Johannesburg.”

He says the ageing of coaches in Namibia and demand for quality and reliable vehicles are challenges for tours that start and end in the capital, Windhoek. There is a better availability of quality vehicles if travelling from South Africa on itineraries that include part-tours in South Africa.

Travellers, he points out too, must be made to understand the long-haul nature of Namibian travel, involving long days in the seat and dusty experiences.

Border posts

Negotiating border posts is another factor coach travel must contend with, with standards between the countries varying.

Comments Steyn: “When it comes to crossing borders with groups on our tours, the guides explain to guests what they need to know before each border – small things like removing a hat or sunglasses, or the polite way of greeting someone.

“In general, crossing the border is easy for guests as long as they have the required visas for each destination. It is important to keep a flexible attitude as some borders can be very time consuming and can take a couple of hours to cross. In peak holiday seasons this can happen often.”

Van Zyl says the timing of crossings is of the essence at all border posts and, in particular, when entering Botswana and Namibia.  When two border posts are crossed in one day, delays are standard procedure.

He cautions, too, about the unabridged birth certificate requirement in force for under-18 travellers to South Africa and Botswana.

According to Patrick, staff manning Botswanan border posts are friendly but can take time to process entry. Entering Mozambique always takes a while as border posts are busy. “Swaziland is always a pleasure to go through. They are efficient, friendly and ensure that guests get processed quickly with little delay. The ablutions are in good condition too. Lesotho also has friendly and efficient processing and good ablution facilities, but it is best to get to the border early as once inside Lesotho you are only allowed to drive at 50kph and there are several speedbumps,” she advises.