Trip Report to Botswana
What a fantastic day to be heading off on holiday, the sky is crystal clear and the busy traffic of Johannesburg is slowly disappearing into the distance. We are heading on our annual wilderness tour and have hired a wonderful 4×4 off-road vehicle and caravan for the trip. Our first night will be at Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Botswana where there are wonderful camping facilities and as the name suggests several Rhino wandering around. It immediately becomes apparent after turning off the Tar road why we needed a 4-wheel drive for this trip. The thick sand around the reception area was difficult to walk on, let alone drive through. Khama Rhino sanctuary is a wonderful attempt at securing the future of these majestic animals involving the local community with the tourists so that the community realizes the benefit of tourism in these parts of Africa. All the campsites are secluded and have wonderful birdlife as well as squirrels and other small mammals. Each site also had a barbeque area and a water tap located on the site. We chose to abandon our caravan in the campsite and drive around the reserve, which was a wonderful experience in the late afternoon, and we saw lots of Zebra, Wildebeest and Kudu at the waterhole as well as comical Warthogs running across the road. Our 4×4 rental vehicle was called Ngulube which apparently means warthog in one of the local dialects.
Sad to leave Khama but eager to get on with the next leg of our cross Africa exploration we left Khama at 07:50 in the morning after a wonderful hot shower in the caravan. This was a first for me and it was very special watching the sun come up whilst showering. The caravan was very comfortable and we enjoyed a fantastic nights sleep listening to the noises of Africa (don’t ask me what they were) and having the gas cooker in the caravan allowed us to quickly make the tea and sandwiches for our journey. We were travelling to Maun today and would be travelling on the side of the Kalahari Desert. The road was good and although we had to slow down often for the hundreds of donkeys, cows and goats that line the roads we made good time. Botswana is a huge country with a small population and it was amazing to see some of the villages we drove through. It was also fascinating to see goats on minute and then a family of warthog running across the road the next minute. We passed over the Boteti river, which was in flood, apparently for the first time in many years and according to the locals was a good thing for the wildlife and would mean we could see lots of animals. This makes a change from the UK floods, which usually just bring us doom and gloom. We arrived in Maun much earlier than anticipated and what a wonderful little tourist town it is, full of the many safari vehicles and camping vehicles like ours. It has a wonderful little Spar grocery shop, which allows you to stock up on all the last minute things like fresh veggies and bread. A word of caution here is to leave somebody watching your vehicle and leave all valuables locked out of site. Our vehicle came with an inbuilt safe as well as a lockable drawer system so we were secure in the knowledge that our valuables were safe. Once we had finalized our last minute spending spree on all manner of carved animals and wonderful textiles as well as the necessities we then headed off to our pre-booked camp. Audi camp was wonderful and really got us into the mood, we met many families who were either just leaving the delta or going in for the first time like us.
After a wonderful evening and great night once again in the caravan we set off early to get to our first true wilderness campsite. All our travelling thus far had been on tar roads. This was sadly not the case any more, we drove the last 90 kms into our first true wilderness camp on one of the bumpiest, corrugated and dusty dirt roads I have ever seen. A journey that should have taken no more than 1.5 hours took more than 3.5 hours. We passed through a Vet Fence line and then we were truly in the bush, we started to see signs of animals and the occasional fleeting sight of an antelope’s bottom. One thing about having to drive slowly is that you truly do see more wildlife; we saw a wonderful family of giraffe as well as the first elephant of our trip. This was amazing and more than made up for the bumpy road we had travelled thus far. We would be staying at South Gate tonight and it was for three nights so we would really be able to see how comfortable the caravan is. The check in process was relatively simple and we had to show our reservations and payments receipts that the car rental company had thoughtfully filed in transparent files so that it was easy to find and the process was a doddle. Once we were through this process the camp manager showed us to our campsite for the next three nights. It was wonderful and surrounded by large trees so that we had ample shade as it was starting to get very warm. We maneuvered the caravan into position and unhitched her and no sooner did the we get the caravan off the vehicle the camp manager came along and said there were some wild dogs at the other side of the camp and he would take us to see them. WOW it was amazing, here we were in the middle of the Okavango Delta and we were walking to see some wildlife. The camp manager did not allow us to get very close but this was a stark reminder of how close to nature we truly were. He also very kindly advised us that there are Hyenas in camp every night and we were to use our torches and not wander away from our campsite at night.
After an eventful but comfortable night we were ready to take our first game drive in this wonderful place, minus a pair of sandals which contrary to the advise I had received from the camps staff, I left outside of the caravan. The hyenas had thoughtfully tasted both of the sandals and decided that they were not worth eating so preceded to rip them to shreds!! This caused much mirth amongst our fellow campers. We cooked a wonderful fried breakfast on the stove in the caravan and with our stomachs full and the fridge in the car full of little snacks and drinks we decided to set off into the wilderness for our first real game drive. Again a big DOUBLE WOW!!!! We saw wonderful wildlife and what a truly special place this was, there were a couple of water crossings that we had to make and this is when you truly appreciate a 4 wheel drive vehicle as the water crossings proved deeper than first thought. However straight after our first water crossing we rounded a corner and there was a lion with 3 baby cubs. She was just lying in some short grass with her cubs suckling. The moment was magic and we ended up spending close on 1 hour just sitting and watching the cubs frolic with their mother. Sadly the lioness moved into deeper bush and we decided to carry on with our game drive. The list of wildlife was endless and we saw so many different types of animals that it is difficult to recount all of them but here goes: Kudu, Lechwe, Waterbuck, Impala, Duiker, Bushbuck, Giraffe, Elephant, Lion, Zebra. There were several others that we could not identify and would have to guess. All the little pools had wonderful bird life around and it was amazing to watch the elephants bathing in the pools.
We had 3 wonderful days in this part of the Okavango delta and saw many species of wildlife, however the hi-lite was seeing the lioness with cubs and the wild dog pack on the first day. Our caravan proved comfortable and practical as we had noticed that some camper vehicles had tents on top of their vehicle, these tents had to be erected and dismantled every time the travellers wanted to move anywhere with their vehicle and I am certainly glad that we chose the caravan option, however travelling with 2 children I would certainly recommend this. Added to this was that the caravan comes with a solar power fridge meaning all our drinks were chilled after every game drive and our food stayed very fresh.
Time to pack up the caravan and move on to our next campsite, Third Bridge. After a leisurely breakfast and repack of the caravan we were on our way. The going was very slow as the sand was in some places very deep and thank god the Car Hire Company had given us an introduction to the vehicles abilities and how every thing worked. They advised us before setting of on the trip that we had to let the tires down when driving through sand and their vehicle thoughtfully came equipped with a electric pump for pumping them up again when the going was good. We passed a couple of vehicles who were well and truly stuck and in one instance we decided to unhitch the caravan once we were on solid ground and go back to assist the bogged down travellers. They turned out to be a Dutch couple that was also doing this trip for the first time but it appeared that they had not been taught how to use the 4-wheel drive system properly and only managed to dig themselves down to the axles. However we used our towrope and pulled them out in no time at all. Back on the road we passed through several deep sand areas and they seemed to be getting more difficult as the day progressed. Someone mentioned to us that as the temperature raises the sand becomes less moist and therefore becomes a lot more difficult to drive through. We also crossed over several rickety wooden structures that apparently pass for bridges in this part of the world. One stream in particular did not have a bridge and we had to go through deep water to get to the other side. This was nerve racking, as there is no defined path apart from the entrance and rather wider exit. We made it though and it was just a short drive to our next base camp for 3 nights. Third bridge is a wonderful setting and we were at the campsite closest to the bridge next to a body of water and reeds. This unnerved me initially as I could image what sort of nasty’s that were lurking in the reeds. We decided that we needed to be careful and make sure the kids did not go wandering around. The setting is truly fabulous though and we arrived with enough time to spare and this allowed us to cross yet another rickety bridge and have an early evening game drive.
After another wonderful but entertaining evening we headed out on an early morning game drive. Primarily to look for our dustbin, which had been stolen by a hyena during the evening, meal and we were not brave enough to look for it during the night. Hyenas were one of the real entertainers of this trip and whilst they are extremely dangerous, we were always within the confines of our camp watching with our spotlight. Again this would turn out to be a fabulous day of game viewing and we very soon came across a pack of wild dogs with pups. We counted a total of 30 dogs in this pack and they were very inquisitive and we felt quite secure in the knowledge that we were in the car and they were outside. All too soon the dogs jumped up and the adults headed off in unison. The pups continued to play and took a dislike to a vulture in a tree nearby and decided that even though the tree was probably 10m tall they would jump to try and get the vulture. Needless to say the vulture just eyed them with disdain. We decided to move on and see what else this wonderful environment offered. Luckily we had a GPS supplied by the car rental company that had maps of all the routes that you could use so we never got lost.
After and eventful previous day we did not think that there was much that could surpass what we had see, but boy how wrong we were. As we were cleaning up our campsite after another nocturnal night of the hyenas we were shocked to see a group of impala running straight towards our campsite and in some haste. Remembering what we had been told about the dangers of running we stood still and let the impalas run through the camp. It is amazing that they are so agile and this was to be seen when one jumped completely over the dinner table and chairs. The reason for the impala’s distress was immediately evident when a lone wild dog came racing into the campsite. He slammed on his brakes and after a clear look of annoyance that we had ruined his breakfast, barked one and skulked off. This again was another stark reminder that we were camping in their environment and not ours. And another reminder that there are predators out there that would not have stopped. We made a mental note to selves that we move in a pack ourselves and do no wander from the caravan in the evenings. We set off on another leisurely game drive, which were now becoming a feature of our days and explored the areas around our campsite. We saw many species of animals but the real highlight of the day was the herd of buffalo we encountered. We had not seen buffalo on the trip so far so to see this herd, which must have been at least 1,000 strong, was just unbelievable. They took at least 30 minutes to cross the road we were using and were going at such a leisurely pace it was clear that we were no threat to them.
After the sites and sounds of the previous days we decided to have a restful day in camp today and we lazed around reading books, playing board games and viewing the occasional elephant or giraffe that decided to come down to drink at the stream. A word of warning, to people reading this blog. There are big crocodiles in the water so do not swim or enter the water. We saw one very big crocodile whilst we were sitting near the bank and we decided to move further away.
Today we set off to Savute camp and as it was a long drive we decided to have a light breakfast and have a lunch somewhere on the road. The drive was tricky in places with several areas of deep sand as well as several small river crossings. We did not have any problems though it was clear that some people had in the past. We left the park through North gate and the campsite and environment around the site was stunning, we will definitely stay here on our next African odyssey. The wildlife was wonderful and there was lots of elephant around the camp. Very thoughtfully the National Parks guide at the gate warned us that the 2nd water crossing after the bridge was very deep and needed to be particularly careful when crossing otherwise we risked getting stuck in the middle. He advised us to cross to an island on the right of the crossing and then back to the mainland instead of going straight through. This was sound advice as even when crossing to the island the water came over our bonnet and was very deep. The car and caravan made it through easily though and we were growing to love our trusty steed for the holiday. We arrived at Savute camp late that afternoon and watched with awe whilst two old bull elephants decide they needed to rest in the shade of the tree that was our designated campsite. That night was special though as we were sitting outside our caravan having a last hot chocolate, a leopard decided to walk right through the camp no more than 10m away from us. Having suppressed the urge to run and managing to stop our hands from shaking we managed to train the torch on the magnificent animal. He was not in the slightest bit interested in us and proceeded to scent mark the tree next to the caravan. And yes they are just like domestic cats, but smell 10 times worse.
What a wonderful nights sleep we had, we had no disturbances at all from Hyenas and we all woke up with a spring in our step. Our daughter was first up and she was making toast and sharing the crumbs with the audience of Hornbills and other birds that decided to join her for breakfast. At on stage we must have had fifty different birds around our breakfast table. The Savute channel was running so we decided to head out and see what we could see on the plains, it was wonderful to see the herds of elephant drinking from the channel and then further out in the floodplain was another enormous herd of buffalo. Savute is known for its predators and one can see why. There are just so many animals around. We drove to the airstrip where the tourists who are not doing the self drive adventures can fly in and stay at a 5 star lodge, however I don’t envy the price tag that they would have to pay and more seriously I think we probably see more as it is at our own pace and not someone else’s timetable. We drive for several hours and see multitudes of game but no predators, which leaves us a little disappointed, however on the way back we find a young female leopard lounging in the branches of a big tree next to the road. This is a fantastic sighting and we spend almost an hour there just taking pictures whilst she looks like the pink panther on her tea break.
We leave the campsite early this morning having heard lions roaring during the night to see if we can find where they are. After a couple of hours we finally managed to find them but they were in a thicket and this made it very difficult to see. We counted three females but could not see any sign of a large male as we had hoped. They had clearly eaten well the previous evening and we hoped we would see the vultures circling the kill and hopefully see the male there. Sadly this did not happen but again we were blown away by the amount of wildlife we were seeing. If Noah was building another Ark, I am sure he would build it on this wonderful continent.
We pack up and head for our final campsite of the tour; it’s in a place called Linyanti on the border of Namibia and is in the far northwest of Botswana. The camp staff advised us to travel a different route than we had planned due to the amount of vehicles that were getting stuck in the sand. I dread to have seen the other road if I am honest as the road we took was extremely difficult and the hire car was in low range 4×4 on several occasions, at one stage we had to winch ourselves out and it was extremely hot and sticky work. Although we did not specify it our vehicle came with a winch and we were grateful of this. Linyanti is a completely different camp to what we had experienced over the past week. It is set on the side of a large flowing river and had a wonderful view of the sunset. There are elephants and Kudu in camp and the setting is truly magnificent. We are given the furthest camp from reception and the camp manager comes down to talk with us whilst we are setting up camp. We asked him when the last time they had seen lions, as we were really desperate to tick the Male Lion of our bucket list. He just laughs and says don’t worry with the warmest smile we have ever seen. A truly memorable sunset whilst we are sipping Gin & Tonics and the last rays of sun are peaking above the horizon and then we hear it, the most guttural sound you have ever heard, it sounded like it was right behind us. We swallowed our drinks, ice cubes and all and scarpered into the caravan believing we were about to become the main course. A truly amazing sound, which one cannot describe. Needless to say we did not venture out of our caravan the whole night.
The next day we sneaked out of our caravan and jumped in the car heading off in hot pursuit of where we had last heard the lions before falling asleep, we finally come across a beautiful male lion and a lioness that were sitting just beside the road. The male had obviously been protecting his female, as there were a few painful looking scratches on his face, we soon found out why as another male wandered into the tree line. They were clearly not on the best of terms as the big male promptly chased him away. It was a breeding couple and now we had our pictures we decided to leave them to it. Later that afternoon the trio of lions walked right through the campsite and caused everybody to climb trees, jump in cars, or the ablution block and reminded us once again that this is wild Africa and it is truly a wilderness.
Sadly our last day in the true wilderness and we grudgingly packed up our belongings to head to Kasane where we would camp one more night before heading back to Johannesburg to hand the Car Hire Vehicle and Caravan back. It was wonderful and will forever provide us with heartening memories of our own little African adventure, we grew to love the 4×4 Car they had named Ngulube and truly respected the abilities of the vehicle. However our memories of the African bush will stay with us and we cannot describe what it means to us. A long drive to Kasane and through some more treacherous sand that we got stuck in time after time, however the car is equipped with the winch and after a few minutes we are back on the road. Once we hit the tar road we pump our tires back up to their normal pressure and head of to the border town of Kasane. We will be back, Africa is calling us.