My wife and I accompanied by our adventurous friends (also hilux owners) decided to go on our 2nd trip to Botswana, this time spending time at Khwai, Moremi and Savute, Chobe.
On the 09 June we left JHB on our way to our overnight stop Planet Baobab. We departed at 3:45am so that we could be sure to arrive during the daylight hours. Planet Baobab is located 289km from Francistown on the way to Maun, on the A3 road. The accommodation and facilities are very basic and in our opinion overpriced, especially when compared with Nata Lodge which is cheaper.
The Groblers brug border crossing on the South African side is very chaotic, and took 40min with the various truck drivers and travellers all pushing and jostling at the counter windows. Once through the paperwork the police officer at the gate gave us further trouble, insisting that there should be a vin number visible somewhere on the chassis of the hilux in the front right wheel arch, which I could not locate due to rubber splash covers being installed. We were finally let through without any further explanation after about 10minutes.
On the Botswana side the process was a lot smoother, with the border control having a nice sized building, with a large area for you to fill in paperwork etc. Once cleared at immigration and customs were proceeded to get our road permit and other paper work required. Total cost of 110 Pula. (be sure to take Pula with you for this)
Once clear of this the gate pass stop resulted in us being relieved of all fruit and vegetables, which could apparently carry some kind of flies into Botswana? We knew about the condition of no meat being allowed in, so this was expected and we hadn't brought any with us, but the vegetables was new to us.
We then filled up our vehicles at the petrol station, which is far cheaper than on the South African side, (approximately R3 a litre cheaper for petrol). We then drove through to Francistown where we stopped for a late lunch and filled up again. (We have learnt from our last Botswana trip to fill up whenever there is fuel, because Kasane ran out for a week resulting in difficulties for us)
About 150km short of our stop over at Planet Baobab I noticed that the hiluxes temperature sensor was all over the place and then dropped to zero. I stopped and took a look to find the wire had broken off, so we drove on through to Planet Baobab where I did some running repairs with a gas powered soldering iron.
We arrived in the late afternoon and settled into the chalets. The meal was expensive and the steak tough, but after a long drive it was good enough.
The next morning we had to wait until 7am to leave because the office only opens at that time and we could only settle our supper bill then, so we opted to have breakfast. The vetkoek were a great way to start the day.
We then drove through to Maun where we refuelled again, bought our meat, vegetables, and paid for the park fees and camp fees. This took a considerable amount of time as we did not know where to find the Park centre nor the SKL offices (SKL now run the Savuti, khwai and linyati campsites). The best option is to ask around in the town.
After leaving Maun we bought some firewood on the way to South Gate before we left the tar road. This is a typical situation of when is the right guy to stop next to, because you think in your mind that you don't want to miss the last guy with firewood and then have to turn around and come back, but you also don’t want to stop at the first few guys as their prices are always slightly higher. Advice is that if you hit the dirt road without wood, you may not find any.
Once off the tar road the gravel is in a terrible condition. From the photos you may notice that my spotlights on the front bullbar were rattled off, one completely and the other loose by the time we got to South Gate. These were held on with 2 x spring washers and 12mm bolt and nut etc. The corrugations are very bad, and it is difficult to find a traveling speed which smooths the ride, although around 60 or 70km/h we found was best.
Once at South Gate (notice the spotlights being loose, I only found this out upon inspection on the camera to work out when they had come loose) we were onto the park roads, which were in a better condition than the transit road outside the park. We drove through to Khwai and set up camp around lunchtime. Be aware of dead trees above your vehicle and/or tent as while we were setting up a dead branch fell off and fortunately missed everyone and everything. It was probably about 30 Pula worth of wood for our fire :-) We then moved the tents to another location on the camp site to avoid said tree.
Off we went on our first drive, in the afternoon which resulted in the usual elephant sightings and various antelope etc. We found that the elephant and buffalo were particularly skittish and would become aggressive and disappear into the bush when we were still about a 100m away. This makes me think that there is likely some kind of hunting/poaching taking place in the area.
We spent two nights at Khwai without seeing any cats and mostly having to settle for long distance game viewing due to the skittish nature of the game. The evenings were very pleasant, quite cold though with temperatures around 4'C in the morning. No elephants came through our campsite at night and the hyenas were only present near the ablutions where we saw them running around at about 9pm. On one of the afternoon drives we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a pair of Roan antelope, although they disappeared into the Mopani forest almost immediately, too quickly to take a picture.
After the second night we packed up our camp and headed north across the Khwai bridge and on towards the Mababe gate of the Chobe reserve. We met two sets of travellers who had just come down from the Savuti camp site and we asked about the road and river crossings etc. The one said that they had done three river crossings between mababe and Kwhai bridge, with the deepest being 700mm, while the other said there was only a small puddle to negotiate. So we set off looking for the puddle route which fortunately we found by following the road most travelled and the T4A maps.
This transit road is in fairly good condition when compared to any of the other transit roads, and we didn't take long to get to the turn off to Mababe gate, where the thick sand started (and didn't stop). 7.4km of thick sand and you arrive at the Chobe Mababe gate, and then after another 63km of sand you get to Savuti campsite. The sand is thick and the middle man is high, so be sure to have a lifted suspension with big tires, or else you will be ploughing sand a lot of the way.
We took the Marsh road from the Mababe gate and were quite disappointed with our only sighting in the 63km being of a large group of Giraffe, and a few warthog. We arrived at the Savuti gate in the afternoon. Gate is perhaps a misnomer because it is simply a paved section with a cover over the top. It is on the road into the campsite, but there are no fences anywhere.
Van and I savuti gate
We found our campsite CV 2 and put up our tents and gazebo etc. The campsite was great along the flowing savuti river underneath a big tree. After a nice lunch and some reading in the shade, we went for an afternoon drive. We decided to go along the roads on our side of the river staying close to the water.
We didn't see much game, a couple of impala, and the odd elephant was all. We stayed out as late as possible but were rather disappointed. We quizzed the rangers at the gate as to where the game was at the moment and they unfortunately did not have any good suggestions.
We had a good supper excepting for the tough steak which was probably best left for the hyenas as they would have the necessary jaw power and teeth to adequately masticate it. Just after supper we heard a huge commotion across the river about 75m away, where some elephant were trumpeting and raging around in the bush. This was somewhat disconcerting, and we wondered if our campsite lights were bothering them. We decided to turn off the gas lights and see what transpired. They did not let up well into the night according to our light sleeper friend. I had managed to pass out from the long day.
The following morning it was very cold again (5'C) but we got up early, before sunrise and decided to go on a drive on the other side of the river. There is a steel bridge just outside the camp in order to cross over. We went up to Harveys pan and pump pan. We saw the usual sprinkling of game, some warthog, some guineafowl, a few impala, the odd elephant and a few zebra. We spent the morning driving around looking for the cats and following some spoor on the roads. We were the first out, and the camp was not busy, so the spoor was still on the roads. We could see that there were definitely some cats around. What looked to be a leopard had been around the pans that night.
In the afternoon we went on a long drive out to the east of the campsite along the other side (northern) of the savuti river. We found a lovely spot with some elephants drinking in the setting sun. We then rounded a bend and went down a hill to the river side to find we had inadvertently come down a road to one of the bush campsites reserved for safari operators. We were greeted by a very hostile local hired hand from the tour operator who then instructed us to get out of their camp and to stop making dust which was going to infiltrate his campsite. He would not let us make a U-turn in there camp which had a parking area, instead he insisted we try and reverse back up the hill and out through the thick sand, which was clearly not going to happen because you needed momentum. After further hostilities we decided to ignore his gesticulations and make a U-turn in their parking area in order to leave. Unfortunately you find a##holes everywhere it would seem.
That night was much calmer and the elephants were not going raging across the river, so we sat around and enjoyed the evening. We saw an old buffalo bull come down to drink at the river on the other side. We also heard two leopards sawing away late into the night.
The next morning we had a nice sighting of Roan antelope near quarry hill and followed them for some time. The rest of the drive was uneventful.
That afternoon we went out to the pans again and decided it would be a good idea to have sun downers at the stretch point near the water hole. On route we spotted a tour operator (not the one who's campsite we had come across) who's vehicle had broken down, so we stopped a little way away and I walked over to ask if they needed assistance. The driver informed me that he had already radioed for another vehicle to collect them and tow them back to base camp, so we could be on our way. We reversed up and took another road which would lead back to the stretch point. About 70m away we spotted a young leopard sitting in the bush. It was a lovely sighting and we sat there until the leopard moved off. We could still hear the broken down vehicle cranking away futily nearby.
We headed into the campsite and found in the fading light a massive elephant near the ablution block. It looked as if he was trying very hard to push a tree over onto a landrover parked beneath it on the opposite side. After being unable to push the tree over, he started shaking it and we realised that what he wanted was the seed pods which came raining down. He proceeded to walk around calmly eating these.
Elephant and Landy
On the last night after the final tough steaks we went to bed only to be woken up by lions roaring very nearby to the campsite. In the morning we heard from the camp staff that the resident male lion pair had walked through the campsite, but on the other side of the ablutions so we would not have seen them.
After a quick pack up of the campsite we set off on the long journey home. We opted for the sandridge road instead of the marsh road thinking it would be quicker. Instead we found this to be very corrugated in some areas and some of the road full of huge holes and ditches in the black cotton soil, from the rainy season. It's debatable which took longer to travel along. Unfortunately just after leaving we became stuck behind an open air tour operator which looked to be moving equipment. This vehicle was towing a trailer along the roads however it was clear that neither of these belonged to the driver for she was driving like the possessed, until she managed to go through a section of large bumps which dislodged the trailer from the landrover. We went to take a look and there was no damage and she had a number of other people with her so the trailer was reattached. We chatted for a bit and informed her it may be wise to slow down a bit, and that we would like to go ahead at the next passable area. She obliged and we went around her at a thick sandy spot.
At the gate we signed out and re-inflated our tyres. After a quick cooldrink we hit the transit road to Maun. Well if we thought getting into the park had crazy roads this next 150km was out of this world. It is so corrugated and full of holes and ditches that I think any vehicle other than a hilux/land cruiser would come to a damaged halt. Fortunately however we were both in the hiluxes and we made it through. The remaining cokes in the fridge picked up numerous dents from each other while being airborn probably 20% of the time. Count on at least 2.5 hours for this section, maybe more. We were traveling at around 60km/h or less, but any slower we found the corrugation unbearable, and any faster than 70km/h the vehicles were on the edge of being uncontrollable. The few vehicles we did encounter on the road were all land cruiser pickups and military unimog style trucks which did not seem to have our concern for safety and where tearing along at 90km/h easily.
At the tar we stopped, disengaged H4, unlocked the wheels and had a celebratory cooldrink and some snacks while reflecting on the absolute ridiculous condition of the track we had just driven. I checked under the vehicle and found that I had a small amount of grease fluid leakage from the left front knuckle joint, but I think its because the grease became so hot that its viscosity became low enough that it could come out the seals?
The rest of the journey home was uneventful, we had a great stay at Nata lodge and a long day on the road back the next day to Jhb.
I will make another post in the mechanical section about the vehicles repairs/modifications which may be required post the trip. Some examples of these are as follows:
Oil filter was impacted by the stabiliser bar and has been dented. I epoxied a Teflon spacer onto the chassis for the bump stopper before the trip, but this didn't last long. Any advice on this is welcomed.
Small amount of leakage from front left knuckle after +/-200km on corrugated roads with 4H driving. I assume only a grease top up is required, but I await some suggestions from the experts here.
Dual Battery controller solenoid engages but does not contact. It clicks after the timer expires but does not charge due to the contacts probably being worn away with the rattling
Battery holder rattled quite loose, and resulted in aircon pipe getting rubbed almost through by the battery.
If anyone wants more details of the conditions or has questions contact me on the forum
Planet Baobab: R1300 per chalet (sleeps 2) per night (this stands to be corrected as we did not pay for this one, but that's what I remember)
Botswana Wildlife Conservation Permits
Park Fees: Non-Resident Pula 120 per person per night (for our trip this was Pula 2400)
Vehicle Fees: Non-Resident Pula 50 per vehicle per night (for our trip this was Pula 500)
SKL Camp Fees:
Adults SADC Citizens R250 per person per night
Children (8-17yrs) SADC Citizens R125 per person per night
Nata Lodge: Pula 804 per chalet per night (sleeps two adults)
Border post Botswana side Pula 110 for road permit and insurance.