Challenger v Discovery – An Africa Rally Route Comparison

We do like to make things difficult for ourselves! No sooner than we had established The Africa Rally between South Africa and Kenya, people wanted more! More parties, more route options, and the ability to dip their adventurous feet in the Indian Ocean.  It made sense to us.  We therefore made the highly ridiculous decision […]

Feb 19, 2024

We do like to make things difficult for ourselves! No sooner than we had established The Africa Rally between South Africa and Kenya, people wanted more!

More parties, more route options, and the ability to dip their adventurous feet in the Indian Ocean.  It made sense to us.  We therefore made the highly ridiculous decision to hold two parallel routes, all across sub-Saharan Africa, at the same time.

Yes, that’s right, The Challenger Route and The Discovery Route were born!

There have been some rumours that because the route returning to South Africa is called The Discovery Route, it’s less of a challenge.

Well, it’s not.

The roads in Mozambique are on par with the worst anywhere on the Africa Rally, and in terms of mileage you are in for roughly the same.

The purpose of this article is therefore to educate, inspire, and hopefully ease your decision in which route to take!

The Challenger & Discovery Routes (First Half of The Africa Rally)

For the first half of The Africa Rally both the Challenger and Discovery Routes follow the same path, so for the purposes of this article we’re going to group them together simply for ease of not repeating ourselves. It also means that all Africa Rally teams, regardless of route, can get to know each other on the road prior to the half way party in a bigger group.

Let’s begin!

Both routes begin on the same day, at the same time, even at the same venue!

This is Sparrowhawk Lodge, near Hartbeespoort, South Africa.

Team The Mad Celts at the Start Line of The Africa Rally 2023.

From here teams depart at roughly 10am, and can expect a nice easy Day One of driving, crossing over the border into Botswana, and usually staying somewhere around Gaborone on the evening of Day One.

As Day Two dawns this is where teams start going their separate ways, do they head up towards Nata, or maybe swing by Maun?  Do they stop at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, or push on towards the Salt Pans?

A trio of White Rhino at Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Botswana.

It’s your trip, so the exact road is up to you, we are here merely to provide inspiration, guidance, and a few meeting points on the way which we can highly recommend.  One of these such meeting points is at the first of our “on-route” Hospitality Partners – Eselbe Camp near Nata.

A 1980 Ford Cortina stopping at Eselbe Camp, Nata, Botswana.

Situated on the banks of the Nata River, this spot offers camping, pre-built safari tents, and bamboo hut rooms at a very reasonable price.  Their bar terrace is also the perfect spot to watch the Bush Babies as the sun sets, and you’ll probably find yourself sitting and chatting around the campfire long into the night.

A 1976 VW Kombi under a tree at Eselbe Camp, Nata, Botswana.

Heading north you might want to stop for Breakfast / Lunch at Elephant Sands, which is the perfect spot to watch Elephants in their natural habitat, as they drink from the water hole, as you drink from the bar less than 10 metres away.  Just watch the signs on the way out as there’s a 4×4 route and a 2WD route back to the main road.

The next of our Hospitality Partners is located in Livingstone, Zambia, just across the new Kazungula Border Bridge and about an hour’s drive into the country.  Situated on the banks of the Zambezi River, just up stream from the infamous Victoria Falls Waterfall, is The Waterfront operated by Saf Par Excellence.

Offering camping, rebuilt safari tents, and luxury lodges, this venue has it all.  They also offer to arrange flights over Victoria Falls with their partner Batoka Sky, as well as white water rafting, sunset cruises, the Elephant Café lunch, and a host of other activities all at a discounted rate for Africa Rally teams!

The rescued elephants of Livingstone’s Elephant Cafe enjoy a spot of lunch, organised by The Waterfront Lodge.

Now the road up to this point has been pretty good, very few potholes, solid tarmac, and only crossing animals to really be aware of… it does deteriorate slightly from this point on.  Beware of the large road humps in and out of villages, and keep an eye out for potholes as you head east through Zambia.

Prior to crossing the border over into Malawi, you may want to stay in Chipata meaning you can hit the border early, and comfortably make it to Lilongwe before dark.  Here we recommend staying at Mama Rula’s Camp.

New friends & old, meeting in the Mama Rula’s bar area.

Both camping and rooms are available here, once again at a discounted rate for Africa Rally Teams.

Lake Malawi is one of our most favourite places, and therefore it seemed fitting to ensure the Half Way Party for The Africa Rally was set on the beach, this year located in Senga Bay just over two hours away from the capital, Lilongwe.  There will be food, drinks, music, and crazy Hawaiian shirts aplenty!

This is a great opportunity to regroup with everyone, tinker with your vehicles, pickup spare parts (if you’ve organised them ahead of time – our HQ Team will do what we can to help here), and party on into the night celebrating the fact you’re Half Way to completing the ultimate charity road trip – The Africa Rally.

An Africa Rally Route highlight – the sunset across Lake Malawi.

The Challenger Route (Second Half of The Africa Rally)

The Half Way party does mark the point at which the routes diverge though, so it’s your last opportunity to change your mind on route, and decide whether you are completing the Challenger or the Discovery Route.  For the Challenger Route, you’ll head north from Senga Bay towards the Songwe Border post with Tanzania, perhaps stopping for some post-party recuperation at Rafiki Safari Camp.  Here you’ll be in experienced hands as the lodge is owned by two seasoned overlanders from South Africa, who have previously driven from Cape Town to Cairo, in a Volvo Amazon.

“Moddy” the 1962 Volvo Amazon reaching Cairo, Egypt.

The same Volvo Amazon now ready to take on the Challenger Route of The Africa Rally 2024.

It’s worth noting that there can be fuel shortages in northern Malawi, and you’ll experience points where the tarmac stops, and the road is simply gravel.  It’s therefore worth ensuring your tank (and possibly a Gerry can) is full, and you’ve allowed yourself plenty of time for this stretch of the journey.

Once into Tanzania it’s decision time again.

Do you take the B8 via Mpanda and visit Lake Tanganyika, or do you head up towards Dodoma in the centre of the country?

The B8 is the more challenging road in terms of it’s condition, so if you are in a 2WD vehicle we’ll probably expect most teams to take the A104 to Dodoma… but we’re not here to tell you what to do!  If you fancy a challenge and you are driving west, perhaps stop at Lake Shore Lodge.  Beautifully situated on the banks of Lake Tanganyika, it’s not to be missed for those brave souls that go west.

An aerial view of Lake Shore Lodge, on the banks of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania.

Whichever sub-route you decide, remember it’s the time of the Great Migration, so it’s worth planning in an extra day to your driving schedule to head into the Serengeti and witness one of nature’s truly unique moments.  Over 2 million animals, including wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle, all moving through the savanna in search of greener pastures.

To drive through this area you’ll need to ensure you’ve purchased the correct National Park tickets from the office in Arusha, and although the road is not tarmac, both 2WD and 4WD vehicles can make it so long as you drive carefully.

Keen for an extra special experience?  We partner with Serengeti Balloon Safaris who can offer a unique opportunity to see the migration from the aerial view offered only by a hot air balloon.  They do get very busy at this time of year though, so even if it’s booked from the road a day or two beforehand, we do recommend prior booking versus trying to get a seat on the balloon on arrival.

The Challenger Route provides the opportunity to see The Great Migration across the Serengeti in a variety of different ways.

Onto the home straight!

From the Isibania border with Kenya you’re just a day’s drive to the Finish Line at Victoria Sands Lodge, near Mbita.  Just as with the Start Line Party, there will be signs out on the road to guide you down the last 7kms of dirt track to a fantastic, truly special venue, where the team will be there to meet you.

this way

One of our moderately helpful “This Way!” signs, guiding teams into Victoria Sands Lodge.

Oh, and not forgetting to award you with your Africa Rally Finishers Medal!

A unique Satin Gold Africa Rally Finishers Medal. Awarded to anyone who crosses the Finish Line with (or without) their vehicle.

The Discovery Route (Second Half of The Africa Rally)

Following the shenanigans of the Half Way Party, for the Discovery Route teams will head south from Senga Bay, hugging the Lake, before turning west and crossing into Mozambique at the Zobue border post.  Note sometimes this is referred to as the Mwanza border post, but as there’s a town with the same name in Tanzania (that teams on the Challenger Route pass through), we’re calling it Zobue to avoid confusion.

The border can either be quick and easy, or take hours, depending on the mood of the staff on the day and how busy is it with people in transit.  Be patient, but be sure to factor in a roughly 2hours 30minute drive on the other side to Tete, where we’d recommend staying for the night.

The reason for this, is because the stretch of road between Tete, Chimoio, and Save (on the N1), is the worst in terms of tarmac quality on any Africa Rally route.  Realistically you can expect to average 50kms per hour here.  Take it slow, and potentially aim for The Buffalo Camp which is situated about an hour’s north of Save.

You’ll be sitting around the campfire sharing stories of a particularly difficult day on the Mozambique roads at The Buffalo Camp.

With every mile of road you’ll see an improvement from here on in, and once you hit the coast line there’s no shortage of amazing diving resorts, and beachfront lodges to stay in – one of the first particularly good spots for diving will be at Vilankulos.  Well worth spending a day here.

The majority of teams will now hug the coastline, enjoying the warmth of the Indian Ocean right back until they reach the South African border at Komatipoort, however we have been aware of a couple of teams planning to head in land and cross between Mozambique and South Africa into the Kruger National Park.  For teams with days to spare, or fancying a bit of luxury in the Kruger, prior to the Finish Line, then this isn’t a bad option – the border is also likely to be much quieter than that on the N4 back into South Africa.

Either way though, you should head for Malelane, as the Discovery Route Finish Line will be every bit the party of the Challenge Route Finish Line.  Actually, it will likely be bigger, as we fully intend to invite a number of the classic car clubs of South Africa down to wave everyone home and join us for the Finish Line Party!

Congratulations! You made it!

So, what will it be?  The Challenger Route, or The Discovery Route?

Both will allow you to see amazing wildlife, both will challenge you and your vehicles, and both will leave you with that sense of adventure which might just mean you’re back next year to do the other route – who knows!

For more information on the next Africa Rally, or for anything we haven’t covered regarding potential routes in this article, do not hesitate to get in touch with our HQ Team on info@africarally.com – we look forward to seeing you all at the Start Line this year.

Sign up for The Africa Rally 2024 here!

(Please note, all information is correct at the time of writing – 20th February 2024 – and we will do our best to update this article as any new Hospitality Partners are added, or if road conditions are to change.  This article is created to provide a guideline on what to expect on both routes, in order to assist in the decision of which to take, it is not intended as an itinerary to strictly follow.  Be spontaneous, be awesome, and say yes more to embrace your adventure!)    

About the Author

British adventurer, explorer, and Africa Rally organiser, Paul Clayton, has been lost, stuck, and usually found himself in highly unsuitable ridiculous vehicles on all continents, but Africa is by far his favourite. Since first taking part in a charity rally between the UK and Mongolia as a university student, he has both led and participated in further events, such as the Plymouth - Dakar Rally, the Peru Monkey Run, and is now also the owner of the world's first flying monkey bike. He writes from personal experience, and is never afraid to dive in head first, often without fully knowing what he is doing, but safe in the knowledge that he'll find his way. Do get in touch with Africa Rally HQ, if you've a mad idea for an expedition, and want him to get involved.

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