So it was that time of year again when 4 weeks of leave was needed to head north into Bots. A couple of mods to the imbongolo before leaving:
1. Snorkel - came in handy driving through the talcum dust near Gweta, also doing the river crossing near Kwhai
2. Long range fuel tank - meant I only needed one jerry for "just in case"
3. Vent on the canopy - definitely less dust in the back
4. Garmin Nuvi 500 - with T4A, helped alot, except crossing Ntwetwe pan
5. 85W solar panel - nothing like having a fridge at -5 deg and the panel actually increasing the voltage on the aux battery
Passports in hand, and enough chow and liquids for a couple of day and we headed to Gaborone. Me and the Nat wer'e driving this one solo, so we could take our time and bumble. Stopped in Gabs to buy meat (had no problems crossing the border at Ramotswa - not even a vehicle check !!)
We then headed up to Molepolole, and from there up the B112 to Serowe. Although 60 kliks longer than going up the A1, there is hardly any traffic and the road is in great nick, so I figured we saved about 1.5 hours off the trip. Spent the first night at Khama rhino Sanctuary
We kicked ourselves for not booking another night there - it was a magic campsite, clean ablutions. Anyhows, we moved on through Letlhakane towards Mmatshumo village, and the south end of the Salt pans. Dropped tyre pressure to 1.4 bar.
The tracks leading to the pans from Mmatshumo village can be confusing but keep to the most used track and keep pointing north and eventually you come out on the pans. Very dusty, dry mopane scrub to get to the pans.
Driving the pans when they are dry is lekka, and the whole sky is hazy with pan dust - its quite surreal.
We then saw these succulents in the flats next to the pans which were flowering - anybody now the name ??
Next stop was Khubu island, or Lekhubu, whichever you want to call it.
So we arrived at Khubu island, at the main baobab. This place is hot and dusty, and the flies are out of control . It could be from the longdrops, or maybe the time of year.
The sunsets and sunrises in this place are spectacular. We had a long chat to Nectar, the dude that runs the sites. He told us that the camping will be moved off the island at the end of the year, and the ablutions had already been built. We find that it's always worth chatting to the locals, especially at the camps. They enjoy a chat,and you get to find out interesting stuff that you wouldnt know had you not spoken to them.
There was not much shade around, but the campsites were nice. We only stayed for one night, and we felt that one night was enough.
The next day we were off to Gweta, Planet Baobab to be exact. Now theres two ways of doing this leg, either head north up the ridge past Tamaku village (boring mopane ), or head west after the vet fence across Ntwetwe pan !!!
We opted for the latter, although at one point I wondered if it wasnt maybe a bit irresponsible seeing as though we were solo. I noticed the tyre tracks were reasonably fresh, so we went for it. You MUST do this road !!
We saw some feral horses and a couple of ostrich belting across the pan, awesome
Once we got across the pans the going got tough. Deep talcum powder dust, and the track got quite narrow through the mopane scrub - hectic scratching of paintwork. It was about 30 kliks of this, and there are plenty confusing tracks. At one point the car icon on the GPS was way off the purple line !! , but I kept the bullbar pointing north and we eventually got spat out in Gweta.
The beer is always wetter in Gweta, and Planet Baobab has the funkiest bar/pool area in the world. It also claims to be the home of the Kalahari surf club !! the campsite has power points, and a little thatch afdakkie for shade. The ablutions are superb - this place is a must visit.
Here's some pics of the campsite at Planet Baobab..
The next day we headed off to Nxai pans, south camp. It was 36 kliks of ploughing, thats about the best description. Deep sand, interspersed with lumpy corrugations made for a bumpy 1.5 hour drive in which we saw nada.. but, alas, we made it to the pans themselves and checked in at the office. They dont sell firewood here, so please remember to take your own !! (unlike me, who then had to beg and borrow), and you are not allowed to pick up wood in any of the national parks anymore. Decent campsite, with reasonable shade and nice ablutions.
We parked and chilled before going on a drive later once it had cooled down. This is when Nxai pans started delivering the goods !!
Where does one get to see something like this ?
The ablutions at Nxai pans are surrounded by precast concrete blocks with rebar in them to prevent elephants from getting to the water tanks. Our second night we climbed into the tent and fell asleep, only to be woken by a helluva racket. At first I though a pack of hyenas had climbed into the French tourists stuff in the camp next to us, or a rugby team of honey badgers on steroids !! There was major noise, and we lay there wondering what was going on, too nervous to open the tent door to check
The next morning we awoke to find an ellie had tiptoed through the maze of blocks, and ripped the solar geysers and water pipes to shreds !! and then when he left he kicked the blocks around which made it impossible for a human to get to the bogs
This meant no water for the campsite, just as well we were leaving that morning anyway !!
Packed up and began ploughing our way out of the park to Maun. Hit the tar road and we were off...or so we thought..
100 kliks out of Maun the bakkie started making big noises from underneath.....oh sherbet, here we go...stopped, got out, checked the gearbox oil level, poked around underneath but couldnt find anything out of place. It was Sunday, and cars were non existent, only the odd bus whizzing past, and no cell reception...so we pushed on to Maun, what else could we do. We stayed at Mokoro lodge, which is like a motel where your car is right outside you room - excellent cos I needed to empty the thing out so I could take it into Ngami Toyota the next morning. What a nice bunch of guys working there. They took a drive with me, then put the bongi on the lift and diagnosed that the rear diff was poked. This kinda meant I was also poked...until Mac McKenzie came in to the dealership. It turns out that Delta 4x4 down the road are old toyota hilux collectors of sorts, and with a dash of good luck they have plenty of 2nd hand axles lying around
Long story short - 6000 Pula later and one day behind schedule we left Maun with a fixed imbongolo ...off to Moremi..
Left Maun and headed up through Shorobe, to the turn off to Moremi
We were supposed to stay at Kazikiini camp, but the delay meant we pushed through to 3rd bridge in a day, which was very doable.
Moremi is excellent, the roads are good and every now and then a tree has been pushed across the track. DWNP dont seem to be to bothered about moving them out the way so the track diverts around the trees.
The dry land was dry, but you could see where the flood was starting to fill the hollows and the grass was going green.
We arrived at 3rd bridge camp to find a herd of ellies walking through the campsite !! this happened everyday and they were quite calm around humans, although the german dude and his wife making lunch were maybe not as calm !!
This bull was about 15m away from us having a dust bath
That night we were treated to lions roaring, which got closer and closer..until the bloody tent shook when they roared. The next morning I found these tracks through the campsite, it turns out they were two big males just cruising around..
Heres our campsite..nice and shady, clean ablutions, very lekka !!
Spent three nights at 3rd bridge, saw plenty game, including cheetah. We then headed off towards north gate, over 3rd bridge
The flood had filled up alot of the little tracks, and being wary as we were solo, we didnt even try and go down some of them (perhaps next time when theres more than one vehicle !!)
We departed through North gate and over the Kwhai river bridge.
We stopped in Kwhai village to sort out a campsite at Magotho camp, a community run campsite on the northern banks of the khwai river. Paid our camping fees and nervously headed towards the river crossing...
Arrived at the river crossing and we were the only souls around (apart from a herd of elephant about 300m around the corner that we only saw once we crossed ). I had asked the locals about the best line, and everyone felt that full right was the best. To me it looked DARK.....so I started poking around with my stick and it seemed to get deeper and deeper. So, as the old Camel ad went.." light up, and sit it out.." which we did until a musadi in a open back landy came up. She does this crossing everyday I guess, so I figured I would follow her. "No problem" she said, as she started taking off her shoes and socks in the Landy !! off she went, roaring straight through the river, water over the bonnet and in the cab!!!
I said no ways, Nats was instructed to get all the kit as high up the back seat as possible whilst I chatted to the musadi on the other side of the crossing. She advised a line slightly right of hers and it was agreed she would wait for us to cross in case we needed some help... Low range, 2nd gear, and off we went. the hippo path caught me by surprise, and delivered water up to the vents on the bonnet, but we made it through. Nats had her eyes closed the whole way...so we thanked the musadi, and cracked out a cold beer, cos there were vehicles coming the other way....this could be fun to watch...
The folks all took the line I took, on my advice, as although there was a deep section it was very short. The hiluxes, as would be expected, made it through no worries the Nissan Navara was not so lucky. He hit the brakes when the vehicle dropped into the hippo path, and that was him....."stucked" as they say. A quick tow back out, open the doors to let the fish and lilies out the cab, and he went again, this time successfully
Once all the cars had got across we moved our way down towards Magotho campsite. This is rough so be prepared. No water, no electric, no nothing......lekka the campsites are spaced miles apart, and theres a little drive down to the river. We found the flies to be a nuisance, again I think its cos peoples are not diggin deep enough holes or their daily constitutions.
We broke camp nice and early the next day, and headed down the transit road to the Mababe gate. We had a quick brekkie at the gate and then headed into the Savuti part of the Chobe reserve.
We opted for the lower, marsh road, as it was dry. We went on for about 21 kliks, and then turned off up to the Magwikhwe sand ridge road to Savuti. The ridge road became a bit of a ploughing session, but not as bad as the Nxai pans road. The savuti channel was full of water for the first time in around 30 years, it was spectacular, and there was plenty of game around.
We were assigned a campsite the furthest away from the channel which made me unhappy, but as we were pouring our third sundowner an impala came hurtling right past our campsite. Nats then shouted "brown hyena", at which point I turned around and saw three wild dogs chasing this impala !! no-one on the channel campsites would have seen this !
We left Savuti with sad hearts as we could have stayed there for another year, but it was time to move on. We exited at Goha gate, and then took the cutline due west towards Linyanti, and after about 10 kliks we turned north east on the cutline. This was remote, and beautiful.
It was a long haul to Kachikau, around 40 kliks, but slow going through thick sand which was warming up quickly. I nearly kissed the tar in Kachikau, as it was the first tar in 6 days, the last being the tar in Maun !!
We hit the tar here...
and headed to Ngoma gate, to take us along the river track to Ihaha campsite. The scenery is great, especially looking over the Linyanti floodplains on the way
We then entered the park and headed down to the Chobe river front
This place is like the garden of Eden, theres stuff everywhere..ellies, buffalo, birds, you name it, you pretty much see it. Crazy thing is Namibia is just across the river, so you have these enterprising, if not mad, fishermen bobbing along in their mokoros with hippo's and ellies everywhere. Life cant be easy for them.
We arrived at Ihaha camp, what an awesome campsite. Right on the river, with our own hippo playing around. Couple of cold ones, and then off on a game drive.
Chobe has the highest density of ellies anywhere in the world, so spotting them is easier than feeding strawberry's to swine. Theres also lots of buffalo, and a herd upset some ellies on an island which resulted in big trumpeting and unhappy ellies.
And the sunsets were breathtaking...
Theres lots of predators around..
and as such lots of things die, regularly, so these vultures were finishing off an impala ram carcass. All three species together, lappet faced, white backed and cape vultures. Its good to see such a healthy population which isnt getting poisoned.
From Ihaha we moved into the Garden river lodge in Kasane for some spoiling and comfort. If you are in this area you HAVE to do a boat trip in the afternoon. It costs US$ 50-60, but it is worth every cent. The guides are very clued up on their birds and try and get the small skiff type boats, cos those guys can get you right in close to anything on the bank.
If your'e not into birds, this place will make you want to start birding. Our guide managed to find us some African skimmers, these birds are very rare and mostly hang out up on the Chobe river.
Whilst we were parked off watching some ellies, we looked back towards the river bank and saw a couple of lion stalking some buffalo. Our guide quickly got us up to within around 200m. The buffalo had moved through water, so the action was about to end, until two sable antelope appeared. The stalk was on, and some 5 mins later there was a chase, which ended in the lions favour, after bringing the sable down about 150m from us !! I didnt have my camera ready cos it happened so quickly, but a German dude on the skiff with us has promised to mail me the pics (lets hope he comes through for me )
Bumbling along the river road we find these okes, up to their axles in black cotton mud, way off the designated road. Apparently they are researchers studying mongoose. I reckon theyre too clever to be studying if they though they could drive to the river. I got as close as possible and the dude gave me the thumbs up, help was on its way, so we carried on driving.
Then it was off to Zim, with one last night on the river.....
Through Kasane towards Kazangula border post. Took some time on the Zim side, and of course the boom guys wants something. The country is beautiful but the people aren't. I dont blame them though, times look hard in Zim.
We camped in Victoria at the Victoria rest camp, clean ablutions and nice grassy campsites with power. Hogs running around the lawns..
The falls are just down the road, so we walked to see them
The water levels were low enough to get to Devils pool from the Zambian side - it still looks a bit hairy to me, but the okes were having a good ol swim on the edge of the falls
After two nights in Zim we came back into Bots at Kazangula, and then headed south on the A33 to Senyati safari camp. Louw runs a smart campsite here, and there are also chalets. There is a lekka deck built over looking a waterhole, which was full of ellies whilst we were there. It was so nice we decided to stay for another night.
We were sad to leave this place, as it really was worth the visit. We headed south down the A33 to Elephant Sands
The ellies have ripped the trees in the campsite to hell, which makes for no shade at all. It was hot, very hot, so we booked into a chalet. They have a nice pool near the pub under thatch, and the ellies have a water trough a mere 30m away, which makes for some good viewing
We spent one night here before moving down towards Francistown. We planned to pop in at the Woodlands stopover, and on arrival, and after paying we were shown to a tiny campsite right next to the pool.When I asked if they had something else I was told "No, cos theres 16 people in this site, and all the other sites are booked".
This scared me so we got our money back, and headed into F'town. We found the Cresta Marang Hotel campsite. Super safe, and you have access to all the facilities the hotel guests have - it was definitely better than Woodlands. Clean ablutions, shady grassy sites, and there is power at a cost of P30 if you want to plug in.
From here we drove through Selebi Phikwe, to Zanzibar border post, where we turned left before crossing the mighty Limpopo. This road is the worst road I have ever driven. The corrugations are industrial, and the number of rattles that arise in the bakkie is proportional to the distance travelled. We had to do 30 kliks to get to the Limpopo River Lodge campsite. The drive was worth it.
You have your own little ablution thingy, with a toilet and shower. No power in these sites, so bring your solar panel along. This place is exactly where you should end your holiday
Because it joins into the Tuli block,there are the big 5 wandering around here, so be vigilant with kids. The whole trip I had been eager to see a leopard, and after leaving Kazangula I thought my hopes were dashed. The morning we left this place to come home, we saw a leopard not 600m from the campsite on the side of the jeep track, a real spectacle, who shot of before we could snap him.
Here's the lion kill pics as promised....
If I had to change anything of this trip:
1. Extra nights at Khama Rhino and Ihaha, and a night at Xkakanaxa and north gate
2. Go in a cooler month - it was HOT !! (need aircon and window tint !!) and I reckon it would look much greener.
3. Never, I repeat, never run out of beer. i.e: know when the Bots public holidays are before you go...
Other than that, I could pack up tomorrow and do it all again.....any takers?
Ah, one more thing, there has been a lot of questions surrounding the border crossings and vet fences in terms of what can, and cant be carried where.
This was our experience:
Going North no-one checks anything - we werent even checked going across the border into Bots at Ramotswa
Coming back from Zim into Bots we were searched and my one and only fuit/veg, a soft old avo, was confiscated because of "fruit fly infection" (the poor bloke in front of me lost a whole shop to the official )
Coming south, we were stopped outside of Nata, and searched for meat products (raw meat, excluding chicken, and fish is okay) and fruit and veg - again for "fruit fly". The Dutch couple in front of us lost three tomatoes. We were okay with bacon, salami sausages and eggs/milk/yogurt etc..
The manager of the SPAR in Francistown said the fruit fly story is a load of bollocks, and that the blokes are just taking chances. The fruit fly was an incident last year that occurred in the Limpopo area, and they were checking F&V coming into Bots.
Leaving Bots at Platjan, and coming back to RSA we were not checked by either side.... (so managed to get some lekka cheap, tasty rib eye back home )