14 Nov. First stop this morning is Hemingways in Livingstone to pick up Dad and Chris’ car. We have used this company before and found them to be efficient with good cars. In fact the car we collect is one we have actually driven before. After going over everything to make sure they are happy with how everything works Dad and Chris set off with us to their first African border crossing – Kazangula again – we brace ourselves.
But, after employing a helper again, it actually isn’t too bad. However Dad is absolutely gobsmacked at how disorganised it all is. It is certainly a shock welcome to your first African holiday, but we assure him that it should be a little more relaxed from here on in. Back in Kasane we have a lovely lunch at Chobe Safari Lodge and get some shopping for the next few days as the next place we will get chance to buy food is probably going to be Maun.
Our campsite for the first night is Senyati and this is our first time here. It has a lovely bar which is up high and overlooking a waterhole. Interestingly the owners have built an underground tunnel which leads to a view point of the water hole which is at ground level. This means that you are only a few feet away from elephant feet and it is quite a disconcerting, if unique, view. This was dads first elephant sighting so it was fantastic to see one so close and it is great to experience these first sightings through someone else’s eye.
During the night we hear hyena which keeps us awake and then the storm starts, with torrential rain hammering on the tent. It seems we are destined not to sleep at the moment. We had planned to set off at 5am but as the rain was still heavy we stay in bed to see if it will stop. It seems not. We finally have to get up, rain or not, and we all get thoroughly soaked in the process of packing up, but at least it is cooler.
Driving through this park is always special and we are excited to wonder what we will see here. The deep sand tracks are a little firmer due to the rain and there are plenty of deep puddles to drive through; a taste of things to come in Moremi perhaps. Driving slowly along the tracks, each of us scanning the bush to find game, we decide that no matter how many times we go on a game drive it is always a very special experience. With the windows down we can smell the air and damp ground and the sounds of the bush are all around, even with the sound of the car engine. There is a fair amount of game but it is evident that this rain is much needed as there is very little grass and leaves around for animals to eat. Hopefully this much needed water will kick start the growth and make life a little easier. A lot of animals have their young at this time of the year so we should see some cute babies. As we bounce through the deep sand we spot plenty of animals, including a small group of elephants where several of them were lying down, something we don’t recall seeing before and it is something we will have to find out about. Other sightings included a couple of lionesses, some kudu, waterbuck, lechwe and even a sable antelope which was particularly beautiful.
Bird life here is prolific too and we clocked up 58 species including the very pretty southern carmine bee-eater which is probably my favourite bird in southern Africa.
Altogether a productive day.
We have booked a campsite just outside Chobe on the western side of the park which overlooks the river flats. It is functional but a bit tired looking, but we just need somewhere to cook some supper and set up the tents for the night.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
1 Aug. After a long day driving to the Xade gate of the Central Kalahari, we arrive at 2pm at the office to find no-one there. We look around for a while, but not a soul to be seen, so we sign out and head on to the small town of Ghanzi. This road consists of 160 kms of deep sand (what else?) and so it takes several hours to get to the tar road and civilisation. The lodge / campsite we decide to stay in has good facilities and so we stay a couple of days to clean everything and use the shop in town to stock up ready for another few days in the bush. (Also a nice lunch in the town’s only hotel for my birthday.) We are heading to to the Kgalagadi park which is a frontier park on the border of Botswana and South Africa.
It takes a couple of days long driving to get to Kgalagadi, and we pass through very traditional Kalahari villages, one of which, thankfully has a petrol station where we can fill up all the jerry cans and the car to bribing to make sure we have enough to get us to the gate on the South African side. The last part of the journey to the gate at Mabuasehube is through yet more deep sand but there are places where it is gravel and so we make it a shorter time than we were expecting.
We are staying at Monamodi Camp for the first two nights and after checking in at the gate we begin our adventure in the Kgalagadi Trans Frontier Park. This park is a wild and harsh environment with a few waterholes drawn by bore holes in dry riverbeds which attract animals in the dry season. It is a true African landscape of shifting red and white sands, stands of thorn trees, big skies with stunning stars and it is home to a surmising amount of wildlife. The sunsets are stunning to watch whilst sitting around a camp fire.
The Kagalagadi is perfect for self driving and camping but you do need to be self sufficient and confident in your driving ability. We have heard a few stories about breakdowns and burnt out cars here so we are glad that we now feel confident and ready for any adventure that comes our way.
We are extremely excited to be heading back to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, a beautiful, remote place that we visited a few years ago with friends when we drove from bottom to top of this huge National Park. This time though we are hoping to spend a few days in the northern section to find some lovely remote campsites and hopefully some wildlife.
First though we decide to head to a much less famous part of the Okavango Delta, the panhandle, where huge lagoons and papyrus reeds form lots of channels and and make it a brilliant place for bird watching. There are a couple of campsites en-route and we also head out to Tsodilo Hills for a day. This turns out to be quite an experience. The gate is locked when we arrive and a coach load of school children turns up soon after us, also wondering how to get in, they have even pre-booked. We all decide to try another gate further down and soon we are on our way to the hills, hurrying as much as possible so that we can walk around without all the kids!
Tsodilo Hills are beautiful but it is the ancient rock art and the feeling of being in a place of such history and importance to the people of this area that makes it a very special site. Despite a spectacularly unenthusiastic guide (compulsory) we enjoy the serene atmosphere and our guide books provide all the information that our guide seems unwilling to part with. This area is famous for the San people and their unique way of life. Read The Lost World of the Kalahari if you can before visiting this area, and the Bradt Guide to Botswana also has a good history section which will give you a good feel for this special place.
The villages along the Okavango Panhandle are all named Etsha, followed by a number. This bizarre naming stems from 1969 when refugees from the Caprivi during the war in Angola were received in Shakawe. They were due to be rehoused in a new village, Etsha, but they naturally split into 13 groups and wanted to do so when they were moved to Etsha, hence the 13 separate villages, unimaginatively named. We turn off at Etsha 13 and drive the sometimes very wet and always very deep sand track to Guma Lagoon Camp. The way in has lots of different routes depending on water levels and at certain times of the year it is virtually impassable. But, for us, now, it is just good fun.
The drive is worth it too. You couldn’t find a more perfect setting, beautiful spacious pitches with private bathroom are complimented by a stunning bar, restaurant and decking over the lagoon. http://www.guma-lagoon.com. The bird life is fantastic and we go for lovely walks to add to our ever growing list of sightings. We watch a bird of prey being mobbed by egrets and other water birds and also spend ages just watching kingfishers dive into the water and bee-eaters swooping to catch insects.
There are hippos here and they are often in camp at night so extreme care needs to be taken when walking back from the bar at night. On our second night we spot a hippo in the beam of our torch and so back up quietly to take a different path, only to hear him rushing through the bush towards us from the left. We run! Zig zagging as much as we can we arrive at Landy and rush up the ladder pretty damn quick. Well that makes the heart beat a bit quicker!
The fishing is great here, Keith catches several little ones and, of course, a big one just gets away. The owners of Guma are very knowledgeable and helpful. They run a few different trips from here (including helicopter rides over the delta) and we decide to do the night boat ride and our guide catches a baby crocodile for us to see! Equally impressive are the tiny malachite kingfishers sitting on the papyrus leaves.