Makgadikgadi, Kubu Island, Moremi, Chobeadmin
1st – 16th October 2016.
By: Gerald O’Brien
A firm favourite by all.
It all began at 05h00 on a cool October morning at the Petro Port on the N1 north just outside Pretoria.
Fifteen travellers in seven 4×4’s met each other, received 2 way radios and then set off via the Martins Drift border crossing on a 14 day Botswana adventure, we also met up with the last 4 members of the group in their two 4 wheel drive vehicles, making it 9 vehicles and nineteen people in total. We met at The Big Fig, an excellent meeting point and campsite just 2 kilometers before the border where breakfast, coffee, and clean ablutions are all available.
Over the course of the next fourteen days, everyone would be kept busy with an itinerary taking them to places such as, Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Magadigadi Pans, Kubu Island, Maun, Xakanaxa camp in Moremi, Savuti camp in Chobe and then finally The Big five Chobe Lodge in Kasane.
Day one had us camping over at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary just outside Serowe. Our meeting time of 05h00 may have been early, but when arriving at camp in the early afternoon with time for a game drive, it’s suddenly well worth it. Khama did not let us down, we saw Rhino, one of only two places that you will get to see them in Botswana, as well as numerous antelope and birds. The first night in the bush was cold and windy with the early morning temperatures well below what we had expected for this time of the year in Botswana. We must have been caught up in a cold spell because in the days to follow the heat was intense and the nights were warm.
The following days drive to Kubu Island was a short one but it still took us until around 15h00 to reach our campsite. Botswana at the time we were there was extremely dry and the effects of the drought were very evident in the dry and dusty landscape. Upon leaving the tarmac at Letlhakane the dust was quite deep in places and as fine as powder making is impossible to see the trailer behind my vehicle. For many this was a new and exciting experience and at the same time a sure welcome to Botswana in the dry season, correct following distances were vital. Driving across the pan with the vast open spaces and the flat salty surface was an instant crowd pleaser and a unique driving experience enjoyed by all. Two days of driving the pans, hard as rock in some places and soft powdery dust in others keeps the drivers concentration levels high at all times, never wanting to get stuck or deviate from the route.
Kubu Island too is something just so different from the norm but it is a fantastic place with so many wonderful photo opportunities of the island, surrounding areas and of course the famous red Kalahari sunsets. All of this whilst perched on a rock sipping on one’s finest choice of sundowner drink. It’s at times like these that people remember just why we live in Africa, it has such great places, and Kubu Island is certainly one of those that should be on any travellers bucket list.
The following morning was a long day’s drive to Maun and an early departure was called for. We had to cover a vast area over the pans, then the long sandy stretch between the edge of the pan and the main Nata, Maun tar road. Once reaching the tarmac we would still have a distance of 200 kilometers to cover to get to our campsite in Maun. Making good time in the early stages pays off in the case of a break down or somebody getting bogged down on the pan where hours of valuable travelling time can get lost very quickly. Fortunately neither happened to our group and we made our camp site in daylight hours. Pitching tents and opening up off-road trailers in the dark is always best avoided where ever possible. I always aim for a 3.00pm arrival at the camp site, giving everyone ample time to set up camp, light the fire and open a beer before it gets dark.
The following morning our first port of call was the airport. Everyone was booked on the hour’s scenic flight over the Okavango Delta. After the flight there would be time to resupply and stock up for the next six days in the reserves. Filling of tanks and Jerry cans for the next six days and 800 kilometers was the last thing to be done. That evening, on the banks of the Boteti River we had a pleasant surprise, one of our party had turned fifty that morning and we all gathered round for snacks and a few drinks together before retiring for the night, tomorrow after all was the big day, we would be headed into the wilds for the next six days.
The sun had hardly made its first appearance by the time we were once again in convoy, this time headed for South Gate in Moremi. After deflating tyres at South gate we made our way for our camp at Xakanaxa, only we would be taking the longer and more interesting route via 1st, 2nd and 3rd and 4th bridges. An interesting off-road drive together with the chances of game viewing along the way had all the makings of a great day in the bush, and so it was. We saw a fair amount of game along the way and once more the evidence of the prolonged drought never let up, the bush was dry, the grazing was sparse and the water holes were all but dried up. The delta itself though was not far below its normal level and which brought the game mostly closer to the delta area.
The following day we took a boat cruise into the delta for an hour or so where we were rewarded with good bird sightings and getting really close up to grazing elephant in deep water alongside our boat. Over the course of the next few days we undertook many rewarding game drives where we saw a wide variety of game but sadly the big cats remained elusive. We never saw them, but at night they let their presence be known to all, what a lovely African bush sound in the dead of the night.
Then it was off up to Chobe and the Savuti campsite, it was a long hard day’s drive again with soft sand and lots of dust en route but we were in camp by 15h00. At Second Bridge we came upon an exhausted group of foreigners in two hired vehicles. They had recovered one from the dry sand next to the bridge and were busy trying to get the second one out. They had a high-lift jack but things were clearly not going their way. We snatched them out in no time at all and found that their vehicle was still in 2 wheel drive and with rock hard tyres. It’s such a shame that these tourists arrive, hire a vehicle and head off into these area with absolutely no training or experience what so ever. Savuti was the driest that it has been in years, the channel has not flowed in a few years and the close by natural water holes had dried up. Fortunately the camp authorities were still pumping water into Pump Pan, a short drive from the campsite. Daytime temperatures were up into the low forties making for really harsh conditions, both for us and the animals. Fortunately we all had a good supply of drinking water on hand as we were all consuming a lot more than normal, keeping properly hydrated in these conditions took an extra bit of effort from each of us.
What we did notice is how the various animals were sharing the shady trees with each other and how for the first time we saw elephants and giraffe’s laying down in the shade of the trees. The heat and dry conditions were surely getting to everyone. Let’s pray and hope that La Nina brings some form of relief to these hard hit areas this summer. There were numerous Hyena in and around the camp at night and the usual precaution had to be taken when moving around. Elephant also roamed through the camp both at night and during the day but fortunately did not cause anyone any harm. As long as they were given their space, they left us alone and in peace. Driving through the dry Savuti Channel provided us with a few good sightings of both birds and animals. At one stage we had an Impala coming past the front of the vehicle at top speed followed by a few Wild dogs. It all happened so quickly and no chance of taking any pics as they disappeared over the top of the dry river bank and into the distance with no way of following them. A good sighting none the less. We saw Owl’s, Eagles and a juvenile Bateleur all perched in the trees along the river bed and not to mention many antelope of different species. Savuti is a hard camp, it gets hot, not much shade and very dusty but it’s still one of those special places to camp and experience.
From Savuti it was up to Kasane for a few nights. The 3 hour Chobe Sundowner cruise never let us down and due to the size of our party, we were given our own boat and guides for the cruise. No upstairs section on our boat but we still saw everything that was there to see and the knowledgeable guides were on hand at all times feeding us useful info and answering questions. The following morning two of the group went off on a day’s tour to the Vic Falls whilst a few others tried their luck at Tiger fishing. Other than a few bites, no luck with the Tigers but the Vic falls guys had a splendid day viewing the falls and touring the town in the time that they had.
After two nights at Kasane we were headed south, sadly this indicated the end of the trip and that we were now on our way home. Cresta Marang in Francistown is a welcome stop over point with clean ablutions, reasonable camp sites and a wonderful restaurant. The waiter’s service left quite a bit to be desired but none the less we all had an enjoyable last supper together.
To sum it up, all agreed that it was a great trip into the wilds of Africa with lots to see and do and departing with lasting memories.
For the 2017 itinerary, contact Gerald O’Brien. 0828746138