CKGR Trip Report December 2014
Friday 12th December – JHB to Khama
So we were finally ready, all bookings done and ready the to hit the road. However this would be a trip with a difference, due to work commitments and a flurry of bookings, I would be heading off into the Central Kalahari minus my wife and for the first time with the 2 children on my own. Both are experienced campers having undergone 2 or 3 long trips per year since birth but at the ages of 8 and 5 would still be a bit of a handful.
However all was done and we were ready to go with the requisite dvd’s, games and electronic gadgetry required for long journeys into the bush, with children.
We set off at the right time (another first) at 06:00 on Friday morning to avoid the traffic en route to our first night in Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
Our route took us through Ellisras and was supposed to go through StockPoort border. However at the last minute I decided to turn right after Ellisras and head up to Martins Drift. I chose to do this due to the little traffic we had encountered on the road and assumed that Martins Drift would be fairly quiet.
We were through the SA side in a matter of minutes and into Botswana, first hurdle completed, however the Botswana side was a different story, there were a number of trucks and a couple of passenger vehicles. Immigration cleared and Customs cleared we now had a wait for the Road Tax and Insurance. Due to the queue this took an unbelievable 2 hours!
Any way finally cleared and through, the anticipated usual shake down by the fruit and veg brigade did not occur and we were just waved through after checking the papers.
We arrived at Khama a little after 2 and checked in for the night, purchasing firewood for the entire trip as they had some great wood available.
Shortly after unpacking we headed off on a little game drive to the water hole to try and get some good photos of the Rhino’s
Saturday 13th December Khama to Sunday Pan (CSUN02)
After some heavy rain during the night, we left Khama at 04:00. The road was quiet but we still had to exercise caution due to animals resting on the road so we settled at 80Km/h until it got light enough to see and then we increased to 100Km/h which is a comfortable speed when pulling a fully loaded caravan.
I decided to fill up with Diesel at every opportunity, even though I have 160 litres of fuel on the vehicle and a 160 litre fuel tank in the Landcruiser. Pulling the caravan even sedately consumes a lot of fuel, averaging 19L/100Km on this stretch.
We arrived at Rakops a little after 08:00 in the morning and unfortunately Rakops had no fuel, luckily having refueled regularly we had allowed for this eventuality.
Once we reached the CKGR turning we were ready to begin our experience. Child seats were removed and put into the Caravan, tire pressures were checked and we decided that due to the visible amount of rain, the road would be compacted and the slightly higher ground clearance (probably negligible) would be good as we were towing a load Van.
The road was uneventful and what struck me immediately is how many cattle there are in Botswana, this petered out the closer we got to the park and the 40Km’s from Rakops to the Matswere gate was achieved in a little over 1 hour. There had been significant rains as was evident by the number of large puddles on the road.
On checking in to Matswere there was no visible Parks Staff available to check us in and some rather loud music coming from the staff compound. It took us about 30 minutes to get some attention and the booking in procedures completed. The staff member gave us a rather nice pamphlet with an introduction to the CKGR which I am sure I can post if required.
The drive from Matswere to Sunday Pan was stunning and a true indication of the type of environment we were to expect, what immediately struck us was the amount of Raptors we were to experience, almost every tree had Raptors from Yellow Billed Kites to Tawny Eagles and the small Sparrow Hawks.
We saw little game on this leg but had a nice Kudu sighting and a rather large water monitor (in a desert!!) but as we neared Deception we started seeing Oryx and Springbok. Deception was dry but there was further evidence that rain had fallen recently.
The leg from Matswere to Sunday Pan took us a little over 3 hours and we arrived at camp around 14:00 ready to set up. The camp is in a beautiful setting and has a nice view of the pan which due to the rains was a little obscured as the bush is quite thick at this time of the year. The shower and toilet were clean and apart from a little bit of rubbish left in the campfire every thing was perfect.
Setting up took longer than anticipated due to me being alone, and having never set up the caravan with 1 person before. The children were energetic in assisting but this was short lived and they had more fun in hammering in all the pegs on our lopsided ground sheet.
There were signs that lions had been in the camp recently due to the large pug marks around so I made sure that the children were within the safety zone around the caravan and that the car was located within a few metres whilst setting up with the doors open in case we needed to make a hasty retreat.
Shortly after 16:00 we embarked on our first drive around the Sunday Pan loop and got some great sightings of Bat Eared Foxes, Jackals, Oryx, Springbok, Steenbok, Tawny Eagles, Secretary Birds.
After a slow drive and spending 45 minutes at the waterhole we headed back to camp. Half way across the pan we could see a lone lion entering the pan from our campsite road! As we drove slowly up we saw another 5 lions wandering down our road including a very impressive black maned male. They were clearly hunting buy the way they spread out but there was very little game on the pan of interest as I doubted they would spend the effort on the few springbok, but would rather concentrate on the Oryx.
They settled down about 50 metres into the pan and continued to watch the Game from a distance. There were a couple of Bat Eared Foxes that made an appearance and immediately this caught the attention of the lead female who started stalking the Fox, this spooked the Foxes and whilst some of them ducked into a hole, one of them decided to bolt across the road into the thicker bush, this obviously prompted the lioness to start moving quicker but we could not see the action as they had gone into the thick bush. The large Male promptly followed after a few minutes so we assumed that something must have happened.
As it was getting dark we returned to camp, which was less than 500m away to start the fire and prepare the evening meal, mindful of the fact we had the lions on our doorstep.
An eventful and special day ending with the sounds of the bush and the lions roaring a few hundred metres away.
Sunday 14th December Sunday Pan (CSUN02)
We woke up bright and breezy and ready for a good hearty breakfast. Everything had gone well in the evening and all signs from the previous day were good. After breakfast the children went into the caravan to get ready and I was busy emptying the bathing bucket a few metres away from the caravan when out of the corner of my eye I caught a sight of a very tawny lioness strolling towards me. I shouted to the children to stay in the caravan and moved at pace back to the van. My heart rate must have escalated rapidly as I think I covered the distance between the tree and the van without touching the ground. The lioness was a beautiful specimen and again I appreciated the fact that we are so lucky to have the opportunity to spend time in their environment.
She settled down between the trees in the center of the site and the ablutions which were on the edge of the site, for about 1 hour.
When she decided to move off she was calling so we assume that there must be a den nearby in which she had some cubs.
After this excitement we went on a drive to Leopard Pan to have a picnic with the Children. Again there was lots of Foxes, Jackals and Birldlife on the pan.
Returning to the camp after lunch, to embark on one of the great pleasures of camping in the bush. An afternoon snooze. Due to the lions we had seen I decided not to erect the hammock, but to rather get some shut eye in the van. The Children watched DVD’s with and I read The Hunter by Tony Parks. We awoke at about 16:00 to the sounds of the Lions roaring nearby and decided after a cup of tea and some rusks that we would go on a short loop around the pan.
Again we saw the lions stalking an Oryx but it was too far to get any decent photos and as it was getting dark we retired to the campsite in the knowledge that the lions were at the very far edge of the pan and would not be home any time soon.
Monday 15th December Sunday Pan (CSUN02)
After another wonderful nigh sleep and a spectacular Kalahari Thunderstorm we woke to a beautiful and fresh morning with the air clear from the previous nights rain and a nice cool breeze. Breakfast was cooked and consumed with vigor and as we were packing up our old friend the lioness decided to make an appearance behind the ablutions, followed by her teammates and the big maned lion we had seen on day 1. They decided to rest by the ablutions chewing an old toilet seat that had been left in the grass. This was obviously not enough to entertain them for long and the 2 younger females decided that they would come and see what mischief they could cause around our caravan. This lasted approximately 3 hours and left my daughter distraught as they decided to attack her scooter which we had hung in the tree as it would not be used around the campsite. Eventually they bored of the mischief and wandered off into the thickets with our scooter and a bucket we had used.
We saw our opportunity and decided to follow in the car in the hope that they would not like the taste of the scooter and drop it as they walked down the access road to the pan. Luck was on our side and our daughter has a wonderful story to relive when she goes back to school.
We followed the lions for about 1 hour and then headed back to camp.
Tuesday 16th December Sunday Pan (CSUN02) to Passarge (CPAS03)
After packing up we left Sunday with some great memories and head to Passarge Valley for 2 nights in Passarge 3 and 1 night in Passarge 2. The drive was long and uneventful from a game perspective but we did see signs of elephant and saw a couple of Giraffe on the edge of the pan. We also saw a few Kudu in the thickets. We arrived at Passarge 3 in the early afternoon and set up camp. The journey took us a little over 7 hours.
We found a stranded rental vehicle with 2 rather frustrated occupants who has got deeply stuck after deciding to circumnavigate the muddy section of the road and find another route around the sticky mess. Unfortunately this was a bad idea as they were axle deep in cotton soil. I unhitched the caravan on the road and proceeded to try and winch them out of their excavation. I had to be careful as I was also in danger of getting stuck so the winching and digging took approximately 2 hours. During this time my children decided it was hot and they disrobed and spent a wonderful couple of hours frolicking in the mud. Eventually the stranded vehicle was released from its sticky mess and we carried on our journey to camp.
Passarge 3 was little messy with the previous occupants failing to tidy up after they left and a lot of litter being discarded around the campsite, we spent a while tidying up and setting up the van and then decided to head over to the Passarge Pan waterhole and see what game we could spot. The first waterhole had no standing water but was surrounded by Oryx, Springbok, Giraffe and a lone Wildebeest. There was obviously water pumping slowly as the giraffe were drinking directly from the outlet, we then headed over to the second water hole on the Motopi road which was full but strangely had no animals whatsoever? I can only assume that there may have been some predators in the thickets but the water also had a sulphur smell so could have put off the thirsty animals.
Back to the first water hole at the junction and we had a great sighting of a African Wildcat and her kittens.
Back to camp for a wonderful meal and well earned G&T, once at camp I walked over to the ablutions to see what I could see over the pan, the view is not great but I had a good long distance sighting of what I am convinced was a Wild Dog trotting at the far edge of the pan. It was definitely too small to be a Jackal and had the dark coloring of the wild dog. Unfortunately I was only equipped at that moment with a toilet roll and that proved useless. I quickly hotfooted it back to the Van to grab my binoculars but sadly the dog had moved into the thickets.
Wednesday 17th December Passarge (CPAS03)
Another great night in the wilderness and after breakfast we headed across in the direction of the Passarge Pans to see what animals were around the Pans.
Enroute to Passarge 2 we experienced another fantastic downpour and it was great to see the damp and dejected Bat eared foxes getting warm again in the sun.
After driving for a couple of hours we started a slow return to camp and found a cheetah sheltering in the shade of a tree island between Passarge 2 and Passarge 3. The sighting was not great due to the distance, but it was a nice place to disembark from the vehicle and snack on some chips and softies.
Heading back to camp we saw little else but the cheetah made our day. We did bump into a Game viewing vehicle from Tau Pans camp and they confirmed they had also seen wild dog the previous day so I was a little happier that my eyes had not deceived me.
We found an area just off the road that had in excess of 30 scorpions darting in and out of holes catching insects and a rather fetching snake which I believe is a mole snake but would like some of the experts on the forum to identify please.
Thursday 18th December Passarge (CPAS03) to Passarge (CPAS02)
Packed up nice and early we left camp at around 08:00 for the short journey to Passarge 2. En route we found 3 lionesses resting on the same tree island that we had seen the Cheetah under the previous day. Again not a great sighting due to distance but it was still a reminder that we were in a true wilderness.
We watched them for about an hour and then continued our journey to Passarge 2.
Camp Setup was easy as we were only staying the 1 night and had a long journey the next day to Letiahau.
We decided to rest in the camp for the remainder of the day as it has great views over the pan and we will definitely stay longer in this camp on our next trip.
Friday 19th December Passarge (CPAS02) to Letiahau (CWIL06)
We left early for Letiahau as this would be a long journey and we were using the western road via Phukwe and Phokoje Pan. We carried on down to Phukwe Pan and then decided to visit Tau Pan to have a look at the area and maybe get lucky with a few sightings. Whilst driving around Tau Pan we saw a beautiful Lodge on a hill overlooking Tau Pan and decided to pop in and have a look at their facilities. The lodge was fantastic and the staffs were very pleasant and did not seem to mind that we had arrived unannounced. They showed us around the lodge and even offered drinks, as they had no clients that day. I will definitely visit as a paying customer in the near future.
One their advice we did not rejoin our original route to Phokoje Pan but rather headed down the cutline back to Deception and then south to Letiahau. Apparently the road was quite bad with deep sand and also very slow going.
Heading along the cutline was nice through the rolling dunes but did not offer us much game until we reached deception and here we saw a couple of Ostrich with 35 Chicks running along the pan. Further down deception we saw a flock of Yellow Billed Kites, which seemed to be resting in the sand allowing ants to crawl over them presumably to clean themselves?
The drive to Letiahau was nice and the road was good most of the time, though there were some very deep ruts which proved challenging whilst towing a caravan.
Letiahau is a great site in a tree island on the edge of a pan and there are a number of places to actually camp. We chose the eastern side to avoid the afternoon sun.
The camp has no facilities at all so we set up the caravan shower and I headed off to dig the ablutions.
That night we did not see or hear any lions but we did have a great storm overhead so we spent most of the evening in the caravan as our fire had been doused by the rain. I did have chance to boil the kettle and we feasted on 2-minute noodles, which definitely warmed the stomachs.
After the rain had finished we came out to do a bit of scorpion hunting and found a snake, which I could not identify.
Saturday 20th December Letiahau (CWIL06)
After checking both water holes near Letiahau and finding no game at all we decided to head out to Piper Pan and see what that area was like. The drive was quite long and took approximately 2 hours. The pan was beautiful and had good pockets of game around. We spaent approximately 2 hours at the waterhole and watch 2 wildebeest fighting which was quite entertaining and they were oblivious to our presence. A few Oryx and Springbok came to drink and as it was getting to the hottest part of the day we decided to get into our air-conditioning and head back to Letiahau.
On our way our of the pan we came across a magnificent male lion just dozing under a tree and we spent a 20 minutes just watching him. Even when the Oryx came within 100m of him he did not seem to be interested in waking up so we left him and headed back to camp.
We decided on our journey back from Piper that this would be our last night in the bush as the children were getting homesick for their mother and we were running out of water, which is not wise in the Kalahari, although there were plenty of puddles in an emergency.
We spent the evening in camp watching the scorpions and mice run around our caravan which proved quite entertaining as each time a scorpion came close the children jumped up and stood on their chairs.
Once the children were in bed, I packed up the caravan and car so that we could get an early start in the morning.
Sunday 21st December Letiahau to JHB
I was up at 04:00 to pack the remainder of the caravan and put the children in the car so we could set off at first light to head back to JHB. The journey back to deception surprisingly did not reveal any predators, which we hoped we would see in the half light of the morning and the Deception Pan was flooded and very muddy due to the rain that had fallen the previous night. On exiting deception onto the Matswere road we had to navigate some very flooded areas for about 200m but they proved no problem even though they were quite deep.
Once we had navigated this we had the pleasure of seeing one final lion, to add cream to what had been a wonderful trip.
The young male was walking down the road and drinking out of the puddles. He looked in great condition although he kept glancing behind (not at us) I assume he was a lone male that was kicked out of the pride and was probably worried that he was in the territory of the resident deception pride. Due to his condition, I did not think he was in charge of a pride as he had no visible battle scars on his body or face to indicate that he had taken over a pride so was probably just passing through.
Further up the road we tracked a Leopard who had been walking up the road for a couple of Kilometers but unfortunately we did not see him at all, this definitely means we will have to come back next year as it would be really special to see a leopard in this environment.
We arrived at Matswere at around 08:00 and again there were no staff present and the music was still playing loudly in the compound. I actually wonder whether they ever turned it off?
45 Minutes later we were on the last leg of the dirt road towards Rakops and civilization.
We reached Rakops at about 10:30 and then it was a quick shuffle to get the child seats in place and some cool drinks for the road. This was met with much protest from the children as they hoped the could do the entire journey without child seats. Chocolate persuaded them otherwise.
Having enough fuel to reach Serowe we headed on at a steady 100km/h and decided that as it was early we would not stay at Khama but push on to JHB.
Crossing the border at Martins Drift was easy and we were soon on our way via Ellisras and Modimole.
We eventually reached JHB at 20:00 at the children were ecstatic to see their mother and I believe that Mum was ecstatic to see her children after our first solo trip to the bush and all the Lion activity.