Mgkadigkadi and Nxai Pans, Botswana

On our own again on the way to Mgkadigkadi.

It was really sad to leave everyone in Mashatu this morning; we have made lots of friends in the last two months and we are going to miss them. But we are pleased to be on the road again and we have ten days to explore northern Botswana and the Mgkadigkadi Pans before we head to Livingstone to meet my Dad and his partner, Chris for a two week holiday. We are very excited, it has been seven months since we have seen any friends or family.

On the way out of Mashatu we have to cross the river bed and its very deep sand here. A little car is stranded in the middle and so we come past him and stop to give him a hand. The poor couple have been here for five hours and its 4o degrees now! Apparently several people have come through but no-one has stopped. Landy makes light work of towing them out and they are so grateful for the assistance and the drinks of water we gave them. It never ceases to amaze me though how chilled out people are when in this sort of situation. At home, being stuck in this heat with no water or food and miles from anywhere would be so stressful, especially as undoubtedly it would make you late for something as we are always rushing about. I think I like Africa time.

Land Rover towing deep sand Botswana
Good deed for the day

Francistown to Kubu Island

We have several hours to drive today to get to Francistown where we need to stock up on food before we head to Mgkadigkadi Pans. It will be very remote and we plan to spend several days in areas where there is very little so we need to be self sufficient. Francistown is bonkers as we arrive when everyone is leaving work and there appear to be lots of roadworks which results in frustrating delays when all we really want to do is get to a campsite and chill out. We eventually find a supermarket and its like Christmas, loading up the trolley with lots of goodies that we haven’t seen for a while. We head out of town slightly to a place called the Woodlands which is popular with overlanders apparently and we can see why. Its clean and has a pool, what more do you want after months in the heat and dust? It is great to cook our own food again too.

We leave the campsite early this morning as we have some way to go to our  destination of Kubu Island on Sua Pan, which is part of the Mkgadikgadi Pans. Tracks 4 Africa is telling us that the road out to what is basically a group of trees in a massive flat expanse of nothing is potentially bad. But it is not the rainy season so we are hopeful that we will not have too much difficulty. We haven’t booked a campsite for  Mkgadikgadi National Park with the Parks office so we head first to Letlhakane as there is an office there we are in luck; manage to get some campsites booked. (I think we have said before – Botswana National Parks system is a bit complicated.)

The road is a surprise though. The tar section has been extended and so only the last part is deep soft sand and then its onto the pan itself which is pretty solid and great fun to drive on with the horizon stretching out in front of you, seemingly never-ending.

Land Rover, Mgkadigkadi Pans, Camping, Botswana
Mgkadigkadi Pans on the way to Kubu Island

We arrive at Kubu Island campsite and find a nice place to pitch. There’s plenty of space here and although there are a few other cars it is very quiet and peaceful. We put our new found knowledge to the test by strolling around and naming all the trees (well, most of them) and we are camping under a star chestnut tree. Our instructors at Eco Training would be proud!

Camping Africa Land Rover Botswana, Mgkakigkadi Pans
Camp Site at Kubu Island, Mgkadigkadi Pans, Botswana

But its the baobabs lining the island that steal the show. They just feel so ancient, as if this landscape is timeless. Its hard to believe that this used to be a vast lake and edge of this island is an ancient beach. What must this place have looked like then?

Land rover camping Africa Botswana Mgkadigkadi
Kubu Island, Mgkadigkadi Pans

We meet a lovely German couple as we are taking a walk in the evening and then join them for a drink or two.  They are driving a Land Rover too and are doing pretty much the same route as us but the other way around, so we are able to swap ideas for places to visit and stay. These lucky guys however are shipping their Land Rover to South America after Africa to do the same there – very nice.

The wind really picks up and I should imagine that when it gets really strong here then it would be pretty grim. The sand is blown around constantly and as it exfoliates your skin it is pretty painful and annoying. But at least it is cooler and tonight, after watching the sunset over the pan, we at last get a good nights sleep with the temperature perfect.

Kubu Island Mkgadikgadi pans botswana
Sunset at Kubu Island

Across the pan to Mkgadikgadi National Park.

It is always surprising that places like this have such beautiful wildlife. Once again we are in the territory of the experts of desert living, springbok and oryx. But on the edges of the pan we may also get to see giraffe, zebra and even predators. So we decide to get out of bed early to watch the sunrise and have another walk around the island and a little wander out onto the pan where we find a lone rock to sit on where and gaze at the shimmering haze over the pan. This is a place well worth a visit.

The drive across the pan in a north-easterly direction takes us to a little town called Gweta and the drive is easy enough and the deep sand sections are not too bouncy. Well before we get to the town though, we come to a vet fence which is manned by a few guys and its a very lonely looking place to live. They don’t even get that many tourists driving through even though they also have a pretty good campsite, worth remembering for next time. We stop for a chat and discover they don’t get provisions very often and have run out of a few basics.  We find some sugar and oil to hopefully see them through to their next shopping day or the visit from a tourist.

Mgkadigkadi National Park is on the southern side of the main road and and we are heading here for some remote camping. We see some gemsbok and zebra as we drive along the deep sand tracks and also some northern black korhaan which are beautiful birds and plentiful here.

Zebra Crossing in Mgkadigkadi National Park
Zebra Crossing in Mgkadigkadi National Park
Mgkadigkadi botswana korhaan
Northern black korhaan in Mgkadigkadi National Park.

The camping is what it is all about here. We set up under a tree,grab a beer and go for a little wander at sunset. Not too far away, you never know what is out there. It is so perfectly quiet; just the sounds of the bush for company that night.

Camping Africa Land Rover Botswana Mgkadigkadi
Campsite in Mkgadikgadi National Park

Nxai Pan and Baines Baobabs

Today we are off to Nxai Pan National Park and  the drive takes us the best part of the day, bumping along in deep sand but on the way to the main road we see plenty of elephants, zebra, kudu, wildebeest and giraffe, along the river bank on the western side of the park. At the main road we travel a few miles before turning into the National Park on the northern side of the road, Nxai Pan. We have been here before, a few years ago and we are really looking forward to it. We camping at South Camp, direct with the company running it at the gate which is a much less stressful way of doing it than in Maun. But of course we are lucky they have space I suppose. The drive through this park is seriously deep soft sand and the its pretty tiring. As we approach the camp we drive right past a large pride of lions, we count about twelve, although they were sleeping in the shade and so it was tricky to see them all. They seem pretty laid back here so we are able to sit and watch for some time. When we arrive at the site it is to find lovely big pitches and clean shower blocks – luxury! The shower blocks are surrounded by concrete with metal spikes in as a deterrent to the elephants which, during the dry season, will investigate sources of water at every opportunity. Just imagine sitting on the loo when a trunk appears over the top of the wall!

Lions Mkgadikgadi Camping Africa
Lion pride at Mkgadikgadi Pan near South Camp

After a quick sort out we head of to the water hole to see what is about and we are very lucky. The sun is setting and there is a large herd of elephants coming down for a last drink, its picture perfect and we could sit and watch for hours but we need to be back at camp before dark. As we sit around our fire eating dinner we are hear the soft trampling and rumbling of elephants and unbelievably they walk right behind the Landy on their way to the shower block where they find an overflow in the ground to stick their trunk down. They stay around all evening and when we walk to the shower block it is with some trepidation and frantic torchlight searching. All night we hear them, so close to the tent we can hear them breathing and one even takes a sniff of the tent. A quick glimpse through the window confirms how close they are – we are eye to eye! Eventually nod off but its an unusual night.

Sunset Africa Camping Botswana Mkgkadigkadi
Watching the sunset at Mkgadikgadi National Park

This morning the elephants are gone, leaving only their footprints all around the camp and the car – so close! We head to Baines Baobabs where Landy is dwarfed by their huge width and height. They are in flower and these beautiful blooms are only out for one day before dropping off and then the fruit begins to form, supposedly very tasty and slightly citrus flavour.

Landy at Baines Baobabs
Landy at Baines Baobabs

At this time of the year there is a track across the pan which is great fun, (for Top Gear fans – you would recognise this!).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OETj9aTYO2Q Although the bit about cars never having driven across it is clearly inaccurate – we did and we followed the track! All the driving through this park is great, the scenery is amazing and you never know what you are going to see. It’s not like some of the more famous parks, it just feels more wild and there are few fences. The wildlife in Botswana is truly wild; you are as likely to see an elephant on the road as you are in the park.

There are a couple of places near here which are worth a mention for a stop over. The first is Planet Baobab which is a funky little place with a pool and a great bar area. Its a handy stop between Mkgadikgadi and Nata.

However a really special place is Elephant Sands where we decide to take a chalet and spoil ourselves. The chalet overlooks their waterhole which is supplied by the owners and water is brought in by tankers when it runs dry. For many elephants migrating from Botswana over the border to Zimbabwe this place has the only water for miles and they do a great job in helping them. One male was caught in a trap several years ago and came up to the bar area and stood whilst the owner helped him. That elephant now comes back regularly and seeks the owner out. It is a very special story and a very special place – check it out here http://www.elephantsands.com

Camping Africa Elephant sands Botswana
Elephant Sands

We have a drink in the bar watching the elephants and then, in our lovely chalet, we watch as herd after herd comes down for water. It is a continuous procession and there is always something interesting to watch.

Elephant Sands, Botswana,
Elephants at Elephant Sands

We are heading north now to the border crossing into Zambia where we will meet up with Julie’s dad, Roger and his partner, Chris. After so long away from home it is very exciting to have family out to join us for a couple of weeks. Next stop Kazangula Ferry – we have been here before and its a bloody nightmare! We are bracing ourselves and Keith has taken a chill pill! See you on the other side.