Nata to Livingstone via the legendary Kazangula Ferry!

9 Nov

A quick trip to Nata for some supplies and fuel and then we are on our way north again. It is extremely hot at the moment and the fitting of the air conditioning to Landy is starting to feel like a very good decision. The road to Nata is straight and pretty good, passing through bush on either side of the road with occasional signs warning of elephants and this is a real possibility on this road. Elephants, kudu, zebra, impala, springbok and bushbuck appear out of the bush to cross the road and the wide verges are essential so that you can see them appear up ahead and slow down accordingly. This is a highway north for humans but an important area for animals migrating between Okavango, the pans and Chobe in Botswana and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It is also of course just as important to slow down for all the cows, goats and donkeys we pass. It is all in the average days drive in Botswana.

Big Foot in the Bush

bushbaby Botswana
Bushbaby – cute!

We decide not to drive too far today, it is hot and we have plenty of time so we look for somewhere to stop and just chill out for the afternoon, preferably with some shade out of this sun. We find a little place with some little chalets, but they have a spot where they are happy for us to camp too. There is also a nice little bar that has nice sofas and is lovely and cool. Sipping on a cold beer, we hear a small thud and look over to see that something has fallen from the ceiling onto a cushion strategically placed on the dining table. “Don’t worry” says the somewhat eccentric owner, “its just a baby bushbaby, I’ll just pop him back on the beam”. Apparently this mother bushbaby has built a nest in the eaves that is too small for all her babies and every now and again one falls out. Humans place them on a beam and then the mummy comes down to retrieve them. Its repeated several times a day but it is a wonderful opportunity to see one of these gorgeous little creatures up close; usually you see them in the dead of night leaping around the trees.

Keith happens to mention to the owner that we spotted some huge human footprints in the sand near to our camping spot. “Do you have a particularly tall guy working here?” This is clearly a sore point! “Bloody hell, he’s back!” Apparently this place has been robbed a couple of times and the huge footprints are familiar. Of course we are very close to the Zimbabwe border and its fairly straightforward for unsavoury characters to hop across, steal stuff and they back in Zim before any is the wiser. But our host is not taking it lying down. He is up and out of the door with a shotgun and his wife makes a call to the local police office. Within half an hour he is back and the police have arrived. They don’t seem to bothered about his outing with a firearm, and promise to patrol around the place a few times during the night. Its all very exciting but we take the alarm and pepper spray up into the tent tonight just in case.

Kasane

Next stop Kasane, the gateway into Chobe where we will be heading to in a few days with Dad and Chris. We decide to stay at Chobe Safari Lodge, which is a pretty up market place, but they do have a campsite. This is brilliant as you get to use all the facilities without having to pay for the rooms. We use the swimming pool and sun loungers and treat ourselves to some lovely cocktails. At the campsite we find another Landover with a UK number plate. This is a first for us; we have seen many European registered vehicles but none from home. This lovely vehicle is owned by an English couple,. Sandy and Kevin shipped their Landover to Cape Town too and are doing a six-month trip around southern Africa. So far it seems as if they have been following us, as we have been to pretty much the same places. They are heading to Zambia and Malawi next so we may bump into them again. One of the surprising things we have noticed is how often you come across fellow travellers on more than one occasion. Word certainly gets around about the best places to camp so I suppose its inevitable that paths will cross and with everyone sharing and connecting on social media it makes it relatively easy to keep in touch with like minded people that you meet in the bush.

Baby Warthogs in the campsite
Baby Warthogs in the campsite

After pampering ourselves for a day or two we head off to Kazangula Ferry, the crossing over the conflence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. If ever there was a place that needs a bridge, this is it, and apparently one is being started soon. In the meantime either side of the crossing means hours of tortuous red tape and hassle by “helpers”. The buildings on the Botswana side have no signs whatsoever and so before the car has even come to a stop we find ourselves surrounded by men all saying they can help us. Now, we have done many border crossings, and you always get a bit of hassle and it can be difficult to work out what you need and where to get it, but Kazangula (on both sides) takes bureaucracy queuing and chaos to a whole new level.  On the Zambian side different documentation needs to be produced, purchased or handed in, all in different places and all whilst being hassled by “fixers” to do it for you for a fee. So this time we tried a different approach and hired one of the “fixers.” And it actually paid off. We were whisked from building to building and told to wait while he spoke to officials and got us to the front of queues. It was money well spent and after a couple of hours we were on our way. (We have heard of it taking five or six so this is good.)

Livingstone

12 Nov. It is ridiculously hot today. We park the car at Livingstone Airport and our feet sink into the melting tarmac as we walk over to the air conditioned terminal building to wait for Dad and Chris to arrive from Johannesburg.  Oh my word, it is so strange and lovely to see them! It seems surreal, almost as if our travelling is like another life and it is hard to imagine everything and everyone at home. It is going to be a great two weeks catching up and sharing this wonderful African experience with them.

First of all though, a bit more luxury. We check in for one night at the Zambezi Sun and enjoy gin and tonics around the pool whilst we chat about anything and everything. Dad confessed that when he stepped off the plane and felt the heat he did think “I won’t be able to cope with this” but we assured him that we will be out of the heat in the middle of the day, his truck will have air con, and hopefully it will rain a bit. It is surprising how we have got used to heat over the last six months. We take a walk down to the falls later but there is no water at all on the Zambia side so tomorrow we walk over to Zimbabwe to see what its like over that side.

13 Nov. After the most amazing breakfast we set off through the private access to the Victoria Falls, circumvent the pressurised sales techniques of the curio sellers and head to the border crossing on the bridge. We pass the bungee jumping adrenaline junkies and Keith has a few pointed words with some particularly annoying curio sellers. As much as we like to support people as much as we can you cant buy a souvenir from everyone and the problem is that if you do make a purchase the rest of sellers see you as an easy target and home in like bees round a honey pot. Border formalities on both sides are quick and painless but the sun is relentless and we arrive at the falls hot and sweaty and in need of refreshment. Is it too early for a beer?

The walk along the viewing area though proves to be cooler, the vegetation is tropical due to the fairly constant “rain” from the falls and there is a cooling breeze and fine mist which helps us recover. The falls on the Zim side are better and although it is nowhere near as impressive as it is after the rains it is still beautiful and definitely worth the walk.

fullsizeoutput_1a6d

fullsizeoutput_19d4

Dad and Chris spend one more night in the hotel and we head back to a campsite where the partying carried on until 3am. Not the best nights sleep, but we are excited to be on our way back to Botswana and our itinery for the next two weeks is going to be busy but hopefully fun and rewarding. I just hope that Dad and Chris love it as much as we do.

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.

Learning to be Field Guides in South Africa

Welcome to Eco Training, Selati

7 Sept. As part of our travelling experience we decided, whilst planning our trip, that we would enrol in a two month training course with Eco Training on their Field Guide Level One course.

Now is the time. The idea is that the knowledge and experience we gain whilst living in the bush and receiving training from experienced Field Guides will help us to appreciate and understand all that we see in the coming months. It is also a really good and cost effective way of living out in the bush, surrounded by animals and having the opportunity to walk in areas where there is game. We are very excited!

We arrive at the gate of the Selati Game Reserve in South Africa and meet our instructors Graham and Norman and our fellow students. We are, as expected, the oldest in the group and most of them are doing the 1 year Professional Field Guide Course where they go on to do tracking and advanced Birding, followed by a 6 months placement. Our Instructors and the other students are all friendly and great fun and we both feel that we will have a fantastic time here.

Our Bush Home

The Eco Training Camp is set in a large private Game Reserve and consists of a dozen two man tents, a communal area for lectures and meals, basic showers and loos, a kitchen with fantastic cooks, and an area for a campfire each night. It is not fenced and the animals are free to pass through if they wish. The Nyala are pretty much here all the time, as are the cheeky monkeys, and there is evidence of occasional elephants passing through too.

Our home for the next month
Our home for the next month

We start as we mean to go on and are straight out on a night game drive after settling into our tents. The vehicle we use is a Land Rover and the plan is to take it in turns to “conduct” a game drive as if we are Guides and the other students our customers. Immediately it becomes apparent that we are going to be working hard. Graham points out trees and birds constantly and we have to learn these. In addition we have to identify bird calls, uses for the various trees, know about the geology and ecolog of the area, interesting information about animals, insects and plants and loads more. It’s going to be tough.

Camping Africa
The friendly Nyala in camp

The next morning we are up at 5am and we will be taking it in turns to get up at 4.30am to prepare tea, coffee and rusks for everyone else before setting off at 5.30am on a morning game drive. But it is worth it. We are living in the bush and connecting with nature, something we wanted to do and this is going to be an amazing way to learn about African wildlife.

Our fellow students on the Eco Training Course Land Rover
Our fellow students on the Eco Training Course Land Rover

In the afternoon we all have to learn how to change a wheel and take it turns. Keith is number one student at this point!

Land Rover Camping Africa
First lesson – changing a tyre.

Learning how to be a Field Guide

As well as the game drives there is plenty of classroom time too but Eco Training have lots of books as well as the four set books we had to buy and bring with us. We can recommend one of these in particular for a good overall field guide, “Game Ranger in your Backpack” by Megan Emmett and Sean Pattrick. It is a lot to take in as we will be learning about ecology, geology, the night sky, environmental issues, climate, biomes as well as all the animals, birds and insects.

Eco Training Africa Camping
Hard at work. Daily theory lessons

8 Sept. Its our second day here and we are now getting to know our fellow students. We are a varied bunch, four South Africans (including Keith), two English (including Julie), two Germans, and one American and the age range is 19 to 50. It is interesting to get to know people’s characters and sense of humour and to observe the group dynamics. We finish off the day with a game of volleyball in the dry river bed and it is surreal to notice the tracks of lions and elephants as we play barefoot in the same sand.

Eco Training Selati
Time out playing volleyball in the dry river bed

I think our evening game drives are one of the highlights so far on this course. Driving at night in a park or reserve is something you only get to do if you book a guided drive. To have the experience of driving, using a spot light and learning about nocturnal animals, is amazing. It is peaceful and wild here. The night skies are stunning and climbing to the top of a Kopjie to watch the sunset with a beer and good company is something we will never forget.

Eco Training Selati
Sundowners on the hill in Selati

During our time with Eco Training in Selati we see some amazing animals. One particular night we set off on a night drive and Keith spots some movement in the bush and sure enough, after a short wait, a beautiful black rhino comes into view and stands close to the car watching us. He eventually decides we are no threat and turns and trundles back into the bush. The same night, just after nightfall, one of the students at the front of the car shouts “Aardvark!” We all leap up (the shouting and leaping up is definitely not in the Field Guide Handbook) and fortunately all of us catch a glimpse of this elusive nocturnal animal before it disappears into the night. Amazing sighting.

Camping africa land rover
Rhino sighting

Another highlight for us is the the night we pack up sleeping bags and food and head off into the bush to sleep out under the stars. After preparing food and chatting around the camp fire we take it in turns to sit up and keep lookout for any unwanted visitors. Although we hear a leopard nothing interrupts the peace and quiet and we all get some sleep despite lying on the hard ground with just a thin mat and a sleeping bag.

Camping Africa Selati Eco Training
Camping under the stars in Selati

Walking in the Bush

There are some lovely animals here and we get to see many of them whilst on foot as several times we go out on a bush walk instead of driving the Land Rover. This is the time when you feel most connected to nature, walking the same ground as the elephants, lions, leopards and all sorts of game. We have another instructor join us for the last week or so here and he, Graham and Norman are all so knowledgeable and keen to share their experience with us. Walking in the bush is where this experience is essential and at no time do we feel in danger, but it is a humbling experience and walking in the bush is something that can only done with someone who knows what they are doing (and has a rifle.) We are so lucky to have had the opportunity.

Selati Eco training
Lovely place for a sundowner

 

Eco Training Selati
Nice view

By now we are taking it in turns to conduct the game drives and sometimes we just don’t see anything much in the way of animals. We don’t see lions or elephants every day and some days you might only see an impala. This is where the training and instruction we receive from the Eco Training guides comes into its own. We have to find, and talk about, the smaller things. We become adept at spotting tracks and identifying which animal they belong to. We can talk about the insects that we see, the birds we can hear and interesting facts about trees and plants. We can identify stars in the sky, different rock types and we can talk about erosion, land management and animal behaviour.

Camping Land Rover Africa
Beautiful Lion sighting on the Eco Training course

It is amazing how much we have learnt in a month and we still have one more month to experience  in a very different environment. We are heading across the Limpopo to Botswana where we will spend four weeks living in the bush in the legendary Mashatu in the Tuli Block.

http://www.ecotraining.co.za

 

More National Parks in South Africa


A Quick Tour of National Parks in South Africa

8 Aug. We have only a few weeks until we begin our two month long course with Eco Training and we need to spend a few days in Johannesburg with our friends Marius and Ena so that Keith can give the Land Rover a service in readiness for next few months on the road.

So we decide to spend this time in the north of the country going around a few National Parks and Game Reserves as well as enjoying some of the pretty scenery these regions have to offer. First stop is Augrabies Falls and on the way we pass through the Kalahari region where we are surprised to find mile after mile of red sand dunes and flat, arid land with little vegetation.

Camping Africa Land Rover
The red sand dunes of the Kalahari in South Africa
The long straight road to Upington
The long straight road to Upington

We also pass a few pans and take a detour to a couple of them, one of which is used for mining salt. Its a like being back in Namibia or Botswana. There is such diverse habitats and eco systems in South Africa that it seems all of the continent is represented here in this one country.

Land Rover Camping Africa
Driving to a pan near Upington

Continue reading “More National Parks in South Africa”