How To Road Trip Across Zambia In An Alfa Romeo Sprint GT
Photography by Jethro Bronner
I left the peace and quiet of Zimbabwe and headed for Zambia over the Victoria Falls bridge with the spray of the falls landing on my car as I inched along the narrow, single-lane bridge.The border crossing into Zambia was much easier than crossing into Zimbabwe—I had learned at Beit Bridge to avoid the fixers and just wait in the lines for the officials, who were slow but helpful. Here, for the first time, I used my Carnet for the Alfa. A Carnet is like a car’s passport, which helps smooth over customs procedures in most African countries. So with Carnet, passport, and insurance sorted, I drove into the town of Livingstone, a small tourism centre on the Zambian side of the Zambezi River.
I spent a day exploring the town and the magnificent Victoria Falls, but I had arrived at a difficult time and Livingstone was experiencing a fuel shortage along with power failures. After trying five different fuel stations, I finally found a small place on the outskirts of town selling 92 octane unleaded fuel, which would have to do.
With my car’s thirst quenched, I headed north towards the Zambian capital, Lusaka, leaving Livingstone later than I should have—I found myself getting on the road as the light faded. The road out of Livingstone, which had been smooth and quiet to start, became increasingly chaotic as the night grew darker. Potholes and bumps in the surface became difficult to spot, and the lights and the dust kicked up by passing traffic made the visibility situation even worse. I eventually arrived in Lusaka late at night and battled to find a hotel. At traffic lights children would beat their fists against the windows of waiting cars. Not the best welcoming party. I had broken my rule about never arriving anywhere at night, and remembered quickly why I’d made that guideline in the first place.
By the light of day everything was changed for the better though. Under a blue sky Lusaka was a far friendlier place, and I spent a few days exploring and getting ready for the big push along the Great North Road towards the border of Tanzania. I struggled to get any information about the road heading north: my best data was by way of an innkeeper telling me that I needed to leave at 4am to beat the trucks heading between the capital and the mining towns in Zambia’s Copper Belt.
So having stocked up on fuel and supplies I left Lusaka well before dawn, heading north into the unknown. Between Lusaka and Kapiri Mposhi, the drive was tough, even with all the long haul truckers still sleeping. The route was full of badly worn surfaces, and the patches of much-needed construction work often diverted me onto dirt bypass “roads.” By the time the sun was up I had arrived in Kapiri Mposhi, where the Great North Road begins.
I was expecting another neglected piece of tarmac, but what I found was a perfectly smooth and quiet stretch of road extending 500 miles towards Tanzania. I happily buzzed along under a blue Zambian sky, listening to the Adam Carolla Show, and taking in the view. An Alfa in Africa with American radio was quite the cultural mesh. Driving along this way, I seldom passed other cars, or even towns—there were 275 miles between Kapiri Mposhi and Mpika, the next town with fuel.
Not far from Mpika I turned off of the smooth pavement of the Great North Road and headed down a dirt path into a dense forest. Quite the shift. The track went from bumpy gravel, to rutted dirt, to inches of soft red dust. Under the weight of all my luggage, the Alfa’s suspension felt like it was taking a pretty severe beating. I was genuinely worried that the steering box would crack or a shock absorber would punch through its mounting. After almost an hour of this, I came across Kapishya Hot Springs, a beautiful open-air lodge on the banks of the Mansha River.
I decided to spend a little time here; the owner of the lodge, Mark Harvey, was very welcoming and entertaining, and the hot springs were perhaps one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I spent almost a week at Kapishya, relaxing by the Mansha River and exploring the interior and grounds of Shiwa Ngandu, the Harvey family home built by Mark’s grandfather, an English aristocrat and explorer.
Shiwa Ngandu and Kapishya made my trip through Zambia more than worthwhile. It’s the sort of place you only ever read about, things beyond belief. It’s not surprising that the story of the estate and the family became a best selling book, The Africa House. After a week of rest I decided to head east towards the beach. I packed up my campsite and set my sights on Dar es Salaam. I had visions in my head of white sand beaches and coconut trees under a blue sky. And with that I left the peace and quiet of the Zambian mountains and headed back up the Great North Road towards Tanzania.