The Drive

Philip Smethurst was born and raised in South Africa. Smethurst, 40, has traveled extensively throughout Africa and the world. He’s made the trip Zambia and South Africa about 20 times. He is well acquainted with the highs and lows the trip can offer.

Smethurst now splits his time between the United States and Zambia. He was happy to share tips on how to make the drive both safe and enjoyable.

Q & A with Philip Smethurst

Q. When was the first time you made the trip?

A. “The first time I went I was 20-years old. I went from South Africa up through Zimbabwe and then further north to Livingstone, Zambia.”

Q. What things should travelers bear in mind when traveling the road south?

A. “The bad drivers. There are often people driving with vehicles and tires that aren’t maintained well. Then could even be driving with no brakes.” Vehicles with no lights driving on an unlit road at night and wildlife crossing the road.”

“And honestly you could get in a situation where you simply cannot find any fuel to buy. Some cities could just not have fuel.”

Q. Has anything dangerous happened to you while you were making the drive?

A. “Not really. I’ve never gotten into an accident in my car. But there was the time when I was in the Army that an elephant was hit struck by an Army vehicle on the road between Maun and the Etosha Pan. It completely squashed the truck and the elephant got up and walked away unhurt.”

Q. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about making the trip from Zambia to South Africa?

A.“I think the biggest misconception is that people think they can treat the road like it is a U.S. highway. I think people must observe speed limits. By our African rules, we try not to go over 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour).”

Q. What are your top three places stay along the way?

A. Elephant Sands in Botswana. It has all different kinds of accommodations. It’s very rugged. And Palapye is a small-size town in Botswana where I like to visit. And of course Chobe National Park. It's best when you can spend at least a few days there.

Q. What is your favorite thing to see along the way?

A. “When you cross the Tropic of Capricorn in South Africa.”

kazungula ferry
Travelers take the Kazungula ferry to cross the Zambezi River.

“Also, I really like the river ferry crossing at Kazungula. It unites two worlds – old school and new school. I think about how 100 years ago people crossed the river just like that. Maybe 100 years from now people will cross with bridges and the ferry won’t be there anymore.”


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Picture: The ferry from Botswana to Zambia at Kazungula by dornfeld.