Chobe or not to be?

Blogged by David  

Although we were sad to say goodbye to Namibia after 4 wonderful weeks, we were excited about our next destination, Botswana. Before we arrived in Botswana we knew it was going to be a different prospect to Namibia. The Botswanan government made a decision many years ago to establish Botswana as a high-end tourist destination.  As a result, things are a bit more difficult than Namibia for the self-drive tourist, and quite a bit more expensive. Camping and self catering options within the main game reserves are very limited, expensive (USD50 per person per night for non Southern African campers) and tend to get booked up months in advance. Some of the game reserves have some reasonable options just outside the main gates, in particular around Kasane (for Chobe National Park) and Maun (for Moremi National Park), but the end result is that there are large parts of the game reserves that are effectively unreachable unless you book long in advance which we couldn’t do because of our need for flexibility.

Ground hornbill on the main road

Our first stop in Botswana was Kasane, a town close to Chobe National Park near the borders with Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We were hoping to be lucky and get last minute camping spots at two specific camps within Chobe called Ihaha and Savuti (two of the three tiny campsites in the entire Chobe / Linyati National Park), but unfortunately both were full. As a result we camped for 3 nights at Senyati (http://senyatisafaricampbotswana.com) a small lodge with camping and self catering options. The campsites are pricey compared to Namibia (around USD19 per person) but the campsite was well equipped, with a private bathroom and electricity. It’s a bit out of Kasane itself and is a 18km drive to the main gate into that section of the park, but has the advantage of having a great waterhole that you can view from the bar. Twice we saw a massive herd of buffalo (around 150), some elephants and lots of birds. There is a cool photographic hide sunk into the ground on the edge of the waterhole which gives you a unique ground level close-up view of whatever is at the waterhole.

Down into the Senyati hide
Ellies from the hide
Unwelcome surprise on the way back out
Beer and buffalo

Being based at Kasane meant that we were limited to the relatively small Flood Plain portion of Chobe between Ngoma and Sedudu gates, a 50km strip along the Chobe river. The best game viewing by far is along the river, and this is where we spent most of our time driving. Like all national parks in Botswana the roads are 4×4 only, with lots of thick sand and the occasional need for good ground clearance. Get there early to avoid the tour company vehicles and it sometimes feels like you have the park to yourself.

Driving in the Chobe

We also did an incredible afternoon boat cruise in the park, organized through Senyati, and guided by a fantastic guide named G. He was great at spotting things, made sure to get into a good position for photos and paid attention to what the people on the boat were interested in. It was the highlight of our time at Chobe, with some incredible close up encounters with elephant, buffalo, hippo, and crocodiles, plus a good sighting of some lions. For taking photos of birds and animals there are few better activities that we’ve done, and it’s highly recommended. Don’t forget to take your entry permit into Chobe, otherwise you may need to pay again.

Did someone say lion?

We’d love to come pack to Chobe and stay in the campsites within the park, but this will have to wait as the camps are already fully booked for the foreseeable future. We will also need to plan quite carefully for such a trip as you cannot buy fuel, drinking water or food anywhere within the National Park.

The lack of availability of camping in Chobe meant that we had to revise our planned route. Instead of heading west to Savuti and then south to Maun and the Okavango Delta, we headed south to Makgadikgadi, stopping over at a small camp called Touch of Africa (http://www.touchofafrica.tv/touchofafrica_english/) for the night. It was a really nice little place with some great food and comfortable rooms. It’s near a small unfenced game reserve called Kazuma Forest in which we did an afternoon drive. As it doesn’t get many visitors the tracks through the area are very overgrown, which made for a bit more adventurous experience. There wasn’t a huge amount of game, but we were really lucky to spot a pride of 8 lions lying next to the road while driving on Hunters Road, a cut line road  that runs along the Zimbabwean border that was a 18th century trading route.

Don’t think this road gets used much….
Lion stalking our car on Hunters road

The following day we drove to Planet Baobab (http://www.planetbaobab.co), our next camping spot near the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks. This area is famous for its massive, flat and usually dry pans and the large zebra migration that happens during the wet season. We were there during the much less popular dry season, so much of the game has moved to other areas, but we still saw a reasonable amount, especially in the Hippo Pools area in Makgadikgadi National Park. While at Planet Baobab we tried to spend an afternoon at Ntwetwe Pan, but failed miserably due to the complete lack of signs in the area and no reliable GPS maps of the area – 4×4’s do not fit comfortably on donkey cart tracks. More successful was our day trip to Nxai Pan the next day. As with Chobe, the park is 4×4 only, with many kilometers of tough, deep sand before you get anywhere near the main attractions. We had a lovely lunch on the edge of the pan at Baines Baobabs, a group of ancient baobabs on a small island which Thomas Baines used as the subject for one of his works. It’s a great place to stop, especially since we had it completely to ourselves. You can book to camp at the island, but don’t expect any facilities whatsoever.

Landy vs aardvark at Planet Baobab
Baines baobabs
Lunch
Landy vs baobab at Nxai pans

After a detour back to Nata to get diesel (the fuel station at Gweta near Planet Baobab hasn’t had diesel for 4 months!), the next two nights were spent at the only camp actually within Makgadikgadi National Park, Khumaga (http://www.sklcamps.com). There are only 8 campsites with good ablution blocks, and the area is completely unfenced, so you do get a few visitors coming through. You need to be very careful about leaving anything outside as the monkeys have learnt to open boxes and ammo crates, and know that anything in a plastic packet or card board box may be food – we were unfortunately subject to a small raid which claimed some paraffin firefighters, mosquito coils, ziplock bags and a tiny bit of food that wasn’t safely locked away. Lesson learnt! Although we loved the wildness of Khumaga, non-Southern Africans may want to consider Tiaans (http://www.tiaanscamp.com) just outside the entrance near Khumaga, as a much cheaper alternative. The game viewing at the nearby Hippo pools area was surprisingly good, especially as the zebras still in the area were starting to congregate at the permanent water as the dry season progressed. The large number of different storks around was also nice to see. However, there isn’t really enough variety in the drives during the dry season to justify more than a day in the park.

A giraffe visiting our camp

 

We couldn’t find some of these in our mammal book

 

Cumulative distance since leaving Johannesburg: 10 077km

Cumulative bird count: 236

New animals:

* Puku

* Waterbuck

* Lesser bushbaby

 

 

Next stop: The Okavango Delta!

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