A year ago we booked a trip to Botswana- I tell you what if it hadn’t been booked we wouldn’t be going tomorrow! What a week- we’ve closed down our London store and moved everything to Bath in 4 days!
We’re on our way to Botswana, having spent two nights in South Africa. The first night was a ‘dry run’ for us – we came a day early. I’m very glad we did as we needed a lot more equipment for the Land Rovers, such as blankets, as it’s really cold at night – a woolly hat would be welcome! Also, we needed jerry cans for water and fuel. The people we rented from didn’t understand how off the beaten path we’re going. Good thing John knows exactly what we need! Love driving the land rover. It feels very solid and secure.
Arrived at Jobedi last night. Went for a quick drive and saw Impala, Springboks, Steenboks, Wildebeast, Kudu and a Croc. The birdlife isn’t abundant but have seen Black-collared Barbets, Black Shouldered Kites, Oriole, Weaver Birds and the usual glossy-starlings. Cooked chicken stew on fire and need to keep an eye on it. More liquid, less time!
Day 2 – Khama Rhino Sanctuary (7 hrs)
Spent last night at the Khama rhino sanctuary. Went for a (self-guided) game walk first thing. Nothing around, so good to make everyone confident that they weren’t automatically going to get eaten or bitten by coming to Africa. Not too much time for a game drive, but as it was Denise and Thea’s first time to a game park they were delighted with the giraffes and springbok. Finally saw a white rhino and calf in the distance from one of the pan roads – everyone thrilled – and then saw a further 18 on the drive back!
Gorgeous young ones and HUGE males! Beautiful. Also saw a spotted eagle owl, hornbills, kori bustard (the largest flying bird), and the rare palm nut vulture. Had a massive re-organise of gear – hopefully won’t have 2 empty both Land Rovers at night. Good camp food – pasta cooked on the fire. Not burnt this time but too much – oh well that was breakfast sorted. The bread I made on the 1st day was still good! Will make more tonight. Off to Gweta now!
Day 3 – Gweta Lodge via Mkgadikgadi Pans (9 hrs)
Drove from Khama rhino sanctuary to Gweta across the salt pans. Difficult but fun driving conditions. The salt pans were great – hard packed but the rest was rather challenging deep sand! Fantastic fun but you needed to watch what/where your tires were. Some peeps had to be rescued as they broke the crust on the pan.
Unbelievably dusty drive… tried to take a pic of the dust cloud coming from John’s Land Rover. Had lunch under the baobab tree at Kubu Island. Headed off towards Gweta at 3 – arrived at 6. Longer drive than anticipated due to road conditions. Yummy G&T at Gweta lodge (and a hot shower)!
Day 4 – Kaziikini via Maun (7 hrs)
We unfortunately missed the Boteti turnoff to have a look at the gushing river, and arrived in Maun for a late lunch having stayed on the tar. I had to go to the LandRover garage (door strike plate screw was missing), get the Khwai Community paperwork for our stay at Magotho (glad I did this), see whether I needed to pre-book activities at Kaziikini (completely unnecessary), change money (best rate at the bank), and get my paperwork stamped by the DWNP as it had only been e-mailed to us (not sure this was necessary) while the others shopped for food (Spar not nearly as good as the one by Serowe, but great meat by Riley’s). Left Maun mid-afternoon for the 2 hr drive to Kaziikini, which is well signposted. The others had booked the reed cabins, so N & I camped by them. Everyone liked it here – each camp area is reasonably secluded, and atmospheric. There are hot showers in the afternoon and the ablution area is differently charming. They were just re-building the reception area when we were there, but I don’t think we would have felt like using the bar/restaurant area as the campsites were so nice.
Day 5 – Kaziikini.
Cold front is here brrrr! Also, chest cold – boring! Took Tizzer, a local guide with us on an early game drive – not much game around but I did get more experience driving in deep sand. Saw a herd of elephants including one tiny one. They were shredding the trees. Can see why elephant population needs to be controlled. After lunch we went on a tour of the local village. It was amazing. They showed us traditional games like mancala (on a grand scale), how to hunt, how to pound maize & millet, where they sleep, even how they choose a bride/husband. Went for a night drive with Tizzer and we spotted a leopard hunting impala. Amazing! Also saw spring hare and hyena. Getting to grips with the potjie pot. Had chilli and rice followed by smores! Yum
Day 6 – Xakanaxa (4 hrs)
Safari day six: had a leisurely start 6:45 today- and drove to moremi park. At the entrance they tried to teach us how to pronounce the xakanaxa camp- a click at the beginning and end of the word. Arrived in time to set up lunch and have a v welcome nap. Cold is moving into chest- the dust isn’t helping! Went for a boat ride in the Delta instead of going on a game drive. It was beautiful. We were able to all sit on the roof which gave us an amazing view. Among other things we saw fish eagles, pygmy geese (beautiful), saddle billed stork, maribou stork and green pigeons! Still no hippos though- this is getting weird. John and I walked back from the boat through the camp site and saw a sitatunga – she was so still and stunning. A rare treat. And we had an elephant in the camp. All rather exciting. Hot shower and good food. We pitched our tent on the headland and looked out into the delta bliss!
Safari day seven: got up early for a game drive- amazing sunrise. Heard about a pair of mating lions so thought we’d head off to find them. Exciting driving today as we had to cross 3 rivers! John got across the 1st ‘bridge’ but I had to wait for another vehicle to cross which got well and truly stuck! An hour later and much toing & froing they got pulled out. But by this time they had made the bridge impassable so we had to go through the water instead. Very exciting- lots of water in the car but we got there. John walked back to do the river crossing for me. After he showed me how I was off! I love driving off road across the rough terrain. Not long after we had the lovely exper of repairing a rather large puncture. All good fun. Esp as there is no game here at all. An epic game drive really. We tried to stop off at 3rd bridge for a rest but there was a huge elephant there :o)
Day 8 – Savuti (8 hrs)
Moremi to Khwai gate across two rivers- one was quite deep. Fun! Once through the park gate we drove on the old, v bumpy road- apparently it is better than the new 3 year old road. Arrived in Savuti after safely negotiating the famous maghiweke sand ridge. What a long, hot, hot drive. Arrived at camp to find they had double booked us so we got bumped into the reserve site (a bit parking lotish). Elephant in the camp again- getting blase about them. Also honey badgers in the camp. Very cheeky hornbills in the morning – stealing precious bread out of my hand! Still no game but enjoyed a cold beer at sunset! And a HOT shower- lush.
Days 9-12 – Ihaha (5 hrs Savuti-Ihaha)
Had the most amazing days. Sat and watched animals do their thing! Herds of elephants crossed the river, played in the mud and had dust baths. saw the tiniest elephant that was still pink! Am so excited that john and I get to stay here for 4 nights. It is hard to describe the beauty of chobe and the huge numbers of animals: kudu; impala; giraffe; wart hogs; sable; roan; water buck; buffalo and thousands of elephants. Also birds- incl loads of fish eagles (saw one try to steal fish from pelican). Trisha et al heading off to livingstone after we all met for lunch.
Picked up The Abrahams and had lunch with the 2 groups. Tried to get fuel but the queue was too long (Kasane had run out of fuel for three days- good thing we insisted on the jerry cans!) Had yet another wonderful day in chobe- watching the elephants. Saw a leopard in a tree- a bit surrounded by photographers so we headed off. The sunset was magical – celebrated the start of the safari with bbq steak and potatotes.
Had to move to a new campsite (closer to the river) which turned out to be lovely! We were worried about the baboons as they roost in the tree in our site but- altho they were v noisy at night they were otherwise fine. Watched a huge herd of elephants cross the river- wonderful. Had lunch under a tree in one of the stretch areas (u can get out of the car). Among other things we watched the giraffe coming in for a drink and Giant kingfisher catching & killing a fish. After re-fuelling (both diesel and food) in kasane we came across some impalas alarming and saw a leopard! Highlight has to be the carmine bee eaters gathering on the tree. So gorgeous- it is one of our fav birds! We didn’t expect to see them as they are a summer visitor. They came back 4 us!
Day 13 Ihaha to Linyanti– via no mans land (the area btwn bots and namibia (yes we did have to turn around and go back to find the right track). The guy at the ‘border’ was v nice saying w a smile- ‘you r lost do not use the gps!’. Got a signal in Kachikau where Roo & Kirst got their results- both awesome! Less game in Linyanti than chobe but the campsite was lovely- right on the river. Saw hippos, elephants and kudu. Tried to go on a game drive but the river track was flooded. Had a sundowner in the camp instead. Ate game sausage pasta and made bread.
Day 14 – Khwai Magotho camp (6 hrs)
Drove the old rd to savuti- first deep sand driving for the Abrahams. Also went back down the sand ridge – easier coming down it this time. Arrived in Khaui mid afternoon and located the perfect campsite by chance. After a rest a wmn in a passing car told us that there was a lion walking our way. She was so jolly about it we didn’t really believe her. Went for a game drive and about 1km away there was a pair of mating lions! We sat and watched them for awhile- they mated every 8-12 mins and will continue to do so for 72hrs! Amazing! Drove a bit further & stopped near a river. Got out, had a sundowner and watched the elephants cross towards us. Fab!!! On the way back to camp we used the night lights and spotted a genet. Also saw the lions who had moved away from our camp and not towards.
Day 15 – Magotho camp
2nd day in Khwai. Lazy start and bacon & eggs 4 breakfast. Did some washing- not sure why as everything gets dusty so quickly. Mid pm went for a game drive and found two lions (male and female) at a kill. They had taken down a giraffe probably the day before. It was pretty smelly! The vultures were circling but the lions weren’t sharing. Went further along and saw a herd of about 50 elephant playing in the distance. Something was troubling them though as there was lots of trumpeting. Had a sundowner with hippos, ate early and went out for a night drive. Went back to the lions & kill. Amazing as after the female ate she settled down and roared. Her loud call was answered by the male- who must have been v close to the lrover. The sound was incredible. Shivers down our spines.
Day 16 – Dqae Qare (Ghanzi) (9 hrs) (John writing now)
We returned to the transit road towards Mababe village and crossed over the Khwai on the shiny new bridge – very easy. From here it was fairly quick to Maun though we did stop on the way for a leopard sighting when it ambled along beside the road. One thing I had neglected to take into account when planning the trip was that today was a Sunday, so we were unable to restock booze, refill the gas cylinders or have a slow puncture repaired in Maun, though we wasted a lot of time trying to sort things out and everyone got a bit tetchy in the (relatively) hassly environment. We headed out of town for a late lunch and then sat on tarmac for the next 3 hrs down to Dqae Qare. I had hoped that we would catch the last day of the annual Kuru San dance festival, but it had all wound down the previous day. Fortunately, a tour group was there who had pre-booked some Bushmen dancing and they kindly let us join them. Not something I’m usually a fan of, but it was very atmospheric under the full moon listening and watching the dancers really get into it. I liked this place more than I expected – when we arrived, reception told us that the camping area had been trashed during the dance festival (glad we weren’t there for that), and let us camp by the huts with plenty of hot water and wood. Very friendly and welcoming.
Day 18 – Swart Pan (7 hrs the long way)
Having completed the final 20 km to the gate we enter (slowly) and headed towards our campsite at Swart Pan. For some reason, I had it in my mind that this was only 45km, but it turned out to be 70km – very glad we didn’t try to make it the previous evening. The first vehicle were fortunate to see a male cheetah on the route, but there was little apart from this. We chose to take the longer (120km) route via the southern pans and their campsites – Sizatswe (not worth it), Thupapedi (pleasant and probably the best option), Gnu Gnus (nice camp but uninteresting pan) and finally Swart Pan (best pan, water tap, but a LONG way). Nothing here compared with the area south of Zutshwa, so my one regret of the trip was spending a day getting here. Even the remoteness was somewhat marred by having the Bots Army roaring up the roads. Having said that, we had a lovely sundowner, watching bat-eared foxes, meerkats and antelopes on the pan.
Day 19 – Polentswa (7 hrs)
We retraced our drive to the main Kaa-Nossob track and headed south along a pleasant 3rd/4th gear soft sand track towards the Nossob valley. Not much wildlife, but the miles ticked over as we trundled along at 30-40 kph. I was horrified when we reached the Nossob track as we were on a wide, heavily corrugated track [Rant coming] The road was a disgrace and SanParks should sort it out. They try to shift the responsibility to drivers by asking them to reduce tyre pressure, but I don’t consider it to be drivers’ responsibility to increase their risk of puncture, instability and damage to their vehicles. Furthermore, we saw Parks’ vehicles and visitors trailer rigs hammering along well over the speed limit – these are the guys who do the damage. [Rant over]. Polentswa pan is heavily vegetated, so we went down to the nearby waterhole in the late afternoon, but little was around. The camp itself was fine, without being great. There’s no water available, but the long drops are fine. Our site, number 1, has a bat roost in the A-frame shelter. Not sure what they were, but there very fast and about the size of pygmy falcons. We could hear them from the tent coming back to roost in the pre-dawn.
Day 20 – Two Rivers (8 hrs)
The plan had been to re-fuel at Nossob and drive over to Motopi and the Mpayathutlwa in Mabuasehube. Unfortunately, this was scuppered almost immediately when there was no fuel at Nossob, the nearest fuel being Twee Rivieren which is 3.5 hrs south. The camp staff kindly turned a blind eye to us having a shower at Nossob, and offered to send someone to TR for fuel but as he wouldn’t have returned until 5pm, we chose to drive south ourselves. Fortunately, we crossed westwards into the Auob valley which IMHO is much more attractive than Nossob. We were rewarded almost immediately with a brief sighting of a cheetah chasing springbok (unsuccessfully). The mother then settled down with 2 adult cubs to drink in the valley – fantastic. Further down the valley, a pride of 7 lions were lolling in the sun having gorged themselves on something with sizeable thigh bones! Lovely to be seeing decent numbers of animals again. SanParks had offered to book us the campsite at TR for 1700 rand (USD 250) for the night, but as we thought this excessive we talked to the Botswanan staff who let us stay at the Two Rivers campsite for free. Helpful, understanding and friendly – a great advert for Botswana. The camp had running water, and though I would have preferred to go to Rooiputs, it ended up being a really good outcome.
Day 21 – Mafikeng (10 hrs)
Not much to report as this was a slog, relocation day. As were missing out on Mabua, I decided we could get a final day’s game viewing at Pilanesberg. We took the corrugated dirt road past Van Zylsrust to Vryburg and then went up to Mafikeng. At sunset we found a place about 30km north of town where the karaoke and traffic noise kept us all awake. T4A had suggested camping at the Mafikeng Game Reserve, but this doesn’t appear to exist any more (?).
Day 22 – Manyane Camp, Pilanesberg (3 hrs)
What a (fortuitously) great place for a final day. Cheap (180 SAR for the campsite), great facilities and good game viewing. No problem finding white rhino, and we ended the day seeing 5 lions on a dead elephant, and the tiniest giraffe I have ever seen, its umbilical cord still intact. Fantastic finish to a superb trip. A short drive back to JHB to return the vehicles, and all we had to do was take 33 hrs to get home to Bath.