The journey begins - Robin & Robert with "Ranulph"
Namibia, Botswana and Zambia
28th September to 11th November 2011
This report follows the journey of two Canadians, Robin and Robert, as we self-drive through the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park in Botswana, and then Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa and Kasanka National Parks in Zambia.
The report begins with a list of resources that we found helpful at the planning stage.
This is followed by our itinerary accompanied by a map on which our route is highlighted.
Then, there is a brief description of our overall thoughts about the trip.
The itinerary is followed by a list of highlights (there were many!), which are accompanied by some of our favourite photos. Note that the photos may be enlarged by clicking on them.
Following the highlights is a list of lowlights - there weren’t many!
After the lowlights, there is a day to day journal with more photos. The journal is not quite finished. This is a work in progress!
We are most grateful to Becx, Ollie, Sue, Duane, Clare, Carly, Meregan and Charles of Safari Drive for another trip of a lifetime. Thank you all!
Our campsite in the Khwai concession near Chobe National Park, Botswana - a last minute addition to the itinerary
After much reading and online research, we drew up an itinerary and then contacted Safari Drive http://www.safaridrive.com
, specialist African operators based in the UK, with whose able assistance we had completed self-drives through Botswana in 2008 and Kenya and Tanzania in 2009. Safari Drive once again shared their expertise, were generous with their advice, provided us with a fully equipped Land Rover, looked after our campsite and lodge bookings, arranged all land transfers and generally made the whole experience so much easier.
At the planning stage, we found the following very helpful:
The Safari Drive website http://www.safaridrive.com
The Bradt Guide to Zambia Fourth Edition 2008 (ISBN-13: 978-1-84162-226-2) by Chris McIntyre
The Bradt Guide to Botswana Third Edition 2010 (ISBN-13: 978-1-84162-308-5 by Chris McIntyre
Fodor’s Africa and the Middle East Forum http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/
We found our way with a Garmin 60CX GPS, onto which we loaded the Tracks4Africa Botswana and Zambia/Zimbabwe maps. We purchased the maps online: http://www.tracks4africa.co.za
. Our vehicle came equipped with a Garmin Nüvi, which was also loaded with the appropriate Tracks4Africa maps. We couldn’t have become lost if we tried.
We also found the following paper/hard copy maps helpful. Safari Drive provided some of the maps, and we purchased the remainder online from http://www.omnimap.com
Botswana (paper map) Tracks4Africa http://www.tracks4africa.com
The Shell Map of the Moremi Game Reserve 2008 Edition (Veronica Roodt) ISBN: 99912-0-156-4
The Shell Map of Chobe National Park 2008 Edition (Veronica Roodt) ISBN: 99912-0-157-2
Zambia InfoMap 2011 http://www.infomap.co.za
Zambia Map Pack – Zambia road map and Lusaka street map 5th Edition 2009 Directory Publishers of Zambia Ltd.
Namibia (paper map) Track4Africa http://www.tracks4africa.com
Our route is highlighted in red - our journey began in Windhoek, Namibia and ended in Lusaka, Zambia
28 September Fly from Cape Town to Windhoek
28-29 September: Olive Grove Guest House, Windhoek, Namibia http://www.olivegrove-namibia.com
30 September, 1 October: Edo’s Camp, near Ghanzi, Botswana http://www.edoscamp.com
2 October: Royal Tree Lodge, Maun, Botswana http://www.royaltreelodge.com
3-5 October Third Bridge Campsite, (Site #3), Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
6-7 October Khwai Community Campsite, Magotho 1, Khwai Development Trust, Botswana
8-9 October Savuti Campsite, Site #CV3, Chobe National Park, Botswana
10-12 October Ihaha Campsite, Site #CI1, Chobe National Park, Botswana
13-14 October Waterberry Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia http://www.waterberrylodge.com
15 October Sandy’s Lodge, Lusaka, Zambia http://www.sandyscreations.net
16-18 October Mvuu lodge, Elly Campsite, Lower Zambezi NP, Zambia http://www.mvuulodge.com
19-22 October Old Mondoro Bush Camp, Lower Zambezi NP, Zambia, http://www.oldmondoro.com
23 October Sandy’s Lodge, Lusaka, Zambia http://www.sandyscreations.net
24 October Pioneer Camp, Lusaka, Zambia http://www.pioneercampzambia.com
25 October Luangwa Bridge Camp, Zambia http://www.bridgecampzambia.com
26-27 October Track and Trail River Camp, South Luangwa NP http://www.trackandtrailrivercamp.com
28-30 October Kaingo Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia http://www.kaingo.com
31 October Cross Roads Lodge, Chipata, Zambia, http://www.crossroadslodges.com
1 November Pioneer Camp, Lusaka, Zambiawww.pioneercampzambia.com
2 November Fringilla Lodge campsite, near Lusaka, Zambia http://www.fringillalodge.com
3-9 November Kasanka National Park, Pontoon Campsite, Site #3, Zambia http://www.kasanka.com
10 November Pioneer Camp, Lusaka, Zambia http://www.pioneercampzambia.com
11 November Fly from Lusaka to Johannesburg to Cape Town
Cheetah near Third Bridge in the Moremi Game Reserve, Bostwana
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE TRIP
This was our second visit to the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, our first having been a self-drive in 2008. We love Botswana, and would happily return for a third visit. The game viewing is excellent, the distances traveled are short, the driving/navigating is easy and, with the exception of Ihaha campsite in Moremi (see “lowlights” on page 8 for details), we always feel perfectly safe and welcome. Flying into Windhoek and driving into Botswana from there worked very well. That route offered the cheapest and most direct flights from Cape Town, and gave us an excuse to stay at Edo’s Camp, which was wonderful. If we were to visit again, I would add a couple of nights at the Linyanti campsite in Chobe (for something new), and book us into both North Gate campsite and Khwai Development Trust campsite (providing that high water levels in the Okavango Delta do not require long detours to visit both, as they did this year). This was our first visit to the Khwai campsite, and it was a highlight of the trip. As these additions would result in more than two weeks of consecutive nights of camping, we would probably add a night or two at a tented camp along the way - possibly at Savute.
Lioness stalking buffalo from the Luangwa River, Zambia
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE TRIP
Other than a brief stop in Victoria Falls in 2008, this was our first visit to Zambia. The game viewing in Zambia was some of the best that we have experienced. The guiding was exceptional, and Old Mondoro Bush Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park and Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park were outstanding. Unfortunately, driving in Zambia was a nightmare, and we did not feel safe on the highways (see “lowlights” on page 8 for details). If we visit Zambia again, and I hope we are lucky enough to do so, we would likely fly into camps rather than self-driving. In fairness to the Zambian highways, our mistake may have been in putting our visit to Zambia after our drive through Namibia and Botswana, when we had already been on the road for more than two weeks. Had we traveled to Zambia first, when we were fresh, our impression of self-driving in the country may have been more favourable.
The elephant hide at Kaingo Camp, where we spent one of our most memorable nights in Africa ever
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TRIP
Our night in the elephant hide at Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National park - 20m up in the air on a (very sturdy!) wooden platform that was sandwiched between magnificent ebony and sausage trees, with a queen-size four-poster bed, wash basin, soap and towels, cooler full of drinks and lanterns, all safely cocooned in mosquito netting. Our guide dropped us off after dinner and picked us up the following morning in time for breakfast. Could there be a more romantic or exciting way to spend a night in the African bush? One of our most memorable nights in Africa ever!
Lioness and cub near Third Bridge in the Moremi Game Reserve
We came across a lioness and cub sitting next to a buffalo that the big cat had wounded. While it was disturbing to watch and hear the buffalo suffering, it was priceless to watch the interaction between the lioness and her young cub.
Bats in Kasanka National Park at dusk
In Kasanka National Park in Zambia at sunset - the sight of ~ 8 million straw-coloured fruit bats flying overhead as they left their day roosts to feed. The bats filled the sky for as far as we could see in every direction for over twenty minutes. We took lawn chairs and a bottle of wine and sat amongst the phragmites and papyrus and wondered at the spectacle. We have seen the wildebeest migration in the Mara/Serengeti, and the bat migration was equally spectacular. Well worth a visit to Kasanka!
The leopard watching the elephants that had surrounded the bush it was sleeping under
Arguably, our best sighting of the trip was an encounter between a leopard and a herd of elephants. It took place near Savute in Chobe National Park. We encountered the leopard as it was sheltering under a bush from the midday sun. While we sat admiring the leopard, a herd of elephants, with several young, wandered out of the bush to drink at a nearby channel. We watched with delight as the elephants stood in the water, drinking and throwing water over themselves. At first, we thought that the elephants were unaware of the leopard, which was only about 20m from where the elephants were drinking. However, eventually the herd of elephants left the water and headed straight to the bush where the leopard was sheltering. The elephants surrounded the bush and closed in on the leopard. One went so far as to push its way partly into the bush. We watched in amazement as the leopard cowered under the bush, watching the elephants with eyes like saucers. Eventually, the elephants moved off and the leopard settled back down to sleep. Such a memorable encounter!
Honey badger feasting on honeycomb
One of our favourite sightings of the trip occurred while we were camping in the Khwai Community campsite, which lies to the north of the Moremi Game Reserve and west of Chobe National Park in Botswana. Shortly after dawn, we came across a honey badger that had located a beehive in a termite mound. It had ripped a hole in the side of the termite mound and was feasting on the honeycomb. At times, the badger would reach into the termite mound with one of its front paws and pull out a large piece of the honeycomb and, at others, it would crawl head first into the hole and emerge with a large piece in its mouth. Despite enduring several stings to its face, the badger ignored the bees that were swarming frantically around it. We sat and ate breakfast while enjoying the spectacle. A great start to the day!
Leopard near Old Mondoro in Lower Zambezi National Park
On a game drive in Old Mondoro, we came across a large flock of marabou storks fishing in a pond. As we sat admiring the birds, a movement to my right caught my eye. It was a leopard, which passed very close to our vehicle on its way to drink at some nearby water. We followed the cat, which required our guide, Sebastian, to manoeuvre the safari vehicle over a patch of very rough black cotton soil. After a brief drink, the cat wandered to another pool of water, requiring Sebastian to tackle another challenging stretch of black cotton soil. The cat moved back and forth between the two pools several times, and Sebastian followed faithfully at a distance, each time tackling the black cotton soil with much more patience than most. Sebastian wondered if the cat was playing with us.
Lions in the Luangwa River in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
We watched with delight as ten lions waded across the Luangwa River directly past us, using our vehicle as a shield as they stalked two buffalo that were behind us. The lead lioness/hunter crossed the river without hesitation. However, the remaining lions seemed reluctant to get into the water, standing on the shore and staring forlornly across the expanse of water, delaying the inevitable for as long as possible.
Elephant shaking a winterthorn acacia tree
In Lower Zambezi National Park, we watched several elephants shaking seed pods from winterthorn acacia trees by carefully placing their tusks on either side of the tree and then whacking the tree with their foreheads. These were not small trees, and yet the trees would shudder and the seeds come raining down. It was an impressive show of strength, and reinforced how easily an elephant could overturn the Land Rover if provoked.
One hundred and fifty-nine species of birds, forty-six of which were additions to our life list. We especially enjoyed the plum coloured starlings, trumpeter hornbills, Lillian’s lovebirds, white-bellied sunbirds, greater honeyguides, Shelly’s turaco, scarlet-chested sunbirds, paradise flycatchers, African barred owlets, lilac-breasted rollers, palm swifts, collared sunbirds, carmine bee-eaters, bat hawks and southern ground hornbills.
Hippo in the Luangwa River
The hippo hide at Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park, which afforded such a wonderful close-up view of a pod of hippos in the Luangwa River.
Elephant in the Zambezi River warning us to keep our distance
The two-hour boat ride along the Zambezi River from Mvuu Lodge to Old Mondoro Bush Camp in Zambia - the breeze felt wonderful, as it was midday and very hot. After weeks of driving on rough and dusty roads through Namibia and Botswana, cruising down the mighty Zambezi was paradise.
Ten lions kill two buffalo near Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park
We watched ten lions kill two buffalo, a confrontation that lasted several hours. It was fascinating to watch the respective strategies of the buffalo and lions. The buffalo backed themselves into the river, presumably so that they didn’t have to worry about lions attacking from the rear. They worked as a team, each attacking any lion that pounced on the other. Surprisingly, the early advantage certainly seemed to go to the buffalo. They held the ten lions at bay quite successfully. The lions, frustrated with their efforts, seemed quite content to wait it out until dark, when they would have the advantage. They settled on the riverbank, waiting for the buffalo to make a move. The buffalo kept trying to escape to nearby bushes, but the lions would always force them back into the water. Occasionally, the lead hunter of the pride would become tired of the waiting game and attack one of the buffalo from the rear, but the buffalo were always able to fight off the lion. Eventually, during one skirmish, one of the buffalo became stuck in mud, and the lions took full advantage, descending on the poor beast. The second buffalo made a run for it, but the lions would have none of it. They abandoned the buffalo that was stuck in the mud and chased after the fleeing buffalo. Without the second buffalo to assist it, the fleeing buffalo didn’t stand a chance. It was quickly surrounded by ten lions and taken down. While the one buffalo remained stuck in the mud, the lions killed the buffalo that had tried to flee, a process that went on for a very disturbing forty-five minutes. When we eventually had to leave for dinner, the lions were gorging on one buffalo, while the second remained very much alive but firmly stuck in the mud. We suspected that it would provide breakfast for the lions.
Our tent at Old Mondoro - our favourite tented camp
Old Mondoro Bush Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park - our favourite tented camp of the trip. A stunning location overlooking the Zambezi River, an intimate atmosphere with only four tents/eight guests, luxurious and very comfortable tents, excellent food, delightful hosts in Jason and Michaela who made us feel immediately welcome, expert guiding by Levy, Sebastian and Morat, outstanding game viewing including 7 leopards on three night drives, a lioness and two cubs on a kudu kill, five honey badgers, several porcupines, so many civets and large spotted genets that we lost count, and many lovely birds - a very special camp.
The waterhole at Edo's Camp near Ghanzi, Botswana at sunset - the best waterhole of the trip
The waterhole at Edo's Camp in the northwest Kalahari of Botswana - the best waterhole of the trip. There was a steady stream of wildlife to the pan, including white rhino, kudu, giraffe, springbok, wildebeest, waterbuck, impala and eland. The waterhole, which is lit up at night, is a natural pan that fills each rainy season, and the camp pumps additional water into it during the drier, winter months. We sat next to the campfire under a lovely old leadwood tree and, from this idyllic spot, enjoyed a spectacular view of the waterhole and the wildlife that came to drink. The view from our tent, which was only 20m from the waterhole, was equally good, and we could lie on our beds during our midday siesta and watch the wildlife coming and going. An amazing waterhole!
Cheetah near Third Bridge campsite in the Moremi Game Reserve
One morning, shortly after leaving Third Bridge campsite at dawn, we came across two cheetah brothers that were just leaving a kill. We followed them until they eventually settled under a tree next to a termite mound. We sat in the Land Rover and enjoyed breakfast with the cheetahs. What a wonderful start to a day!
The elephant and the cobra (on the hood of the vehicle) at Third Bridge campsite - one of the best encounters of the trip
One day, on our campsite at Third Bridge, we were cooking our midday meal when we saw an enormous bull elephant approaching. There was nothing unusual about this, as elephants liked to feed on the sausage tree on the site. There was a steady stream of elephants to the site both day and night, and we enjoyed these close encounters. We would simply keep a wary eye on any elephant that approached and, if it came too close, we would retreat to the Land Rover.
On this occasion, the elephant fed quite happily on the far side of the sausage tree as we prepared our lunch some 20m away. Eventually, as the elephant moved around the tree, it started to get a little too close and, after hastily gathering up a few food items, we leapt into the front seat of the vehicle. To our surprise, rather than continuing to feed on the sausage tree, the elephant headed straight for the vehicle. Alarmed, we looked to see what was attracting its attention and, to our dismay, we noticed that we had left the bag of garbage hung on the front bumper of the Land Rover. We sat mesmerized as the massive elephant came up to the hood of the Land Rover, its tusks less than a metre from Robin, who was in the passenger seat. To our astonishment, it paid no heed to the garbage whatever, but instead wrapped its trunk around the rubber cobra that we had left on the hood of the vehicle. Our son, Graham, had given us the very realistic cobra to help frighten off the baboons and monkeys that can be such a nuisance on the campsites in Botswana. Robert and I sat paralyzed as the elephant carefully smelled the cobra, resting its trunk and enormous tusks on the hood of the Land Rover. Thankfully, the elephant eventually moved off, leaving the cobra and vehicle unscathed and the garbage untouched. It was a memorable encounter!
Elly Campsite at Mvuu Lodge
Elly campsite at Mvuu Lodge, just outside of Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. The site was on the banks of the Zambezi, with an unobstructed view of the river, Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe on the opposite bank, pods of hippos, elephants crossing the river, and many species of birds. Soothing music, in the form of hippos grunting and frogs ribbiting, played continually in the background. At night, we heard lions roaring, hyena calling, elephants trumpeting, baboons barking and drumming from across the river in Zimbabwe. We woke one morning to find a vervet monkey sitting on the roof of the Land Rover, next to our tent. Of the four campsites at Mvuu, Elly was furthest from the lodge, and very quiet and private. The campsite’s biggest asset, however, was the fact that elephants like to use Elly to access the river, so they were frequent visitors to the campsite.
Breakfast beside the Zambezi at Old Mondoro at sunrise - such a memorable way to start the day!
Despite the early hour (5:30am), breakfasts at Old Mondoro ensured that our days started out well. The first meal of the day was served around the campfire on the banks of the Zambezi River. We would sit and watch the sun rise over the Zambezi as we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, muesli, cereals, freshly baked muffins, toast expertly cooked over the fire by the guides, and the best porridge I have ever eaten - kept warm over the fire in a potjie. Delicious food in a spectacular setting with great company!
Elephant on Third Bridge in the Moremi Game reserve, Botswana
The elephants - we never tire of them. We encountered many on this trip, including this cheeky one that was blocking our route across Third Bridge in the Moremi Game Reserve.
Dominant male of the "Hollywood" pride in South Luangwa National Park
Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park is known for its lion sightings with good reason. In fact, one pride in the area has been filmed and photographed so many times that it is known as the “Hollywood Pride.” On one evening game drive, we came across the dominant male of the pride, a magnificent lion. We sat and enjoyed its company as the sun set behind it.
Sunrise over the Okavango Delta near Third Bridge campsite in the Moremi Game Reserve
The sunrises - always so beautiful that they make getting up so early so worthwhile. We never watch as many consecutive sunrises as we do when we are on safari.
Lion near Second Bridge in the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Shortly after arriving in the Moremi Game Reserve, we came across a lion and lioness lying under a tree. The male in particular was lovely, but at the same time laughable, with its hind legs dangling in the air and one of its front paws hanging limp over a branch of the tree. For such fearsome predators, lions often look quite ridiculous.
The Land Rover and the roof-top tent under a full moon at Ihaha campsite in Chobe National Park
The 2011 Land Rover Puma TDCI, which was named “Ranulph” after British adventurer Ranulph Fiennes. The vehicle had only 15,729km on it when we received it. It was our home for six weeks, and was fully equipped with everything we needed. It took us safely through Namibia, Botswana and Zambia, including along a route near Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia that was listed as “not recommended” on Tracks4Africa.
We loved the roof top tent, which was very comfortable and cosy, and protected us from torrential rains, gale force winds, and the many elephants, hippos and predators that wandered through our campsites during the night. It came with sheets, a duvet, four pillows and extra blankets - no roughing it here!
Leopard near Old Mondoro
The night drives at Old Mondoro Bush Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park with guides Levy and Sebastian - simply amazing. We had read that “Old Mondoro offers some of the most prolific leopard sightings to be had in Africa”, and that was certainly our experience. On our first evening, Levy found - (among many other things such as kudu, waterbuck, impala, elephants, storks, fish eagles, egrets, Sharp’s grysbok, hippos and zebra) - a lioness on a kudu kill with two young cubs that were out in the open playing, two leopards, eight large-spotted genets, four civets, two porcupines and a giant eagle owl. On our second night drive, this time with Sebastian, we found a lioness chasing a spotted hyena away from her cubs, a leopard which had an impala in a nearby tree, five honey badgers, two more leopards, one of which posed nicely for us on a termite mound, a four-toed elephant shrew, and several porcupines. On our last night, again with Sebastian, we found a leopard being challenged by a large, male baboon, a second leopard with two cubs, a lioness with two cubs which were lying out in the open next to the road, a white-tailed mongoose, two bushbabies, and so many genets and civets that we lost count. Some of the best game viewing we have ever experienced!
Elly campsite at Mvuu Lodge, just outside of Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia, had a resident grey-headed kingfisher that liked to perch on a branch on our site. Each time it flew off, we enjoyed a flash of royal blue and chestnut.
Elephants wallowing in mud below Elly Campsite at Mvuu Lodge
We love to watch elephants enjoying a good wallow in mud, which they did frequently and with great exuberance in a mud hole just below our campsite at Mvuu Lodge near Lower Zambezi National Park.
Lunch at Kaingo Camp
Lunch at Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park - brought to the deck of our chalet/tent. From this relaxing vantage point overlooking the Luangwa River, we enjoyed delicious midday meals while watching puku coming down to the river to drink, hippos and crocodiles basking in the sun, kingfishers diving, storks fishing and elephants crossing the river. Such a memorable way to enjoy our midday meal!
Our campsite at Ihaha in Chobe National Park with the two resident fish eagles overhead
The two African fish eagles at Ihaha campsite in Chobe National Park that liked to sit and call from a tree above our tent. The ringing, far-reaching cry of the fish eagle is known as the “sound of Africa” and the classic call from above our tent at dawn and dusk was magical.
Elephant at our tent at Old Mondoro
The cheeky elephant at Old Mondoro Bush Camp, which liked to eat the winterthorn acacia seed pods off the thatch roof that covered our tent. We would sit quietly in the tent and watch as the elephant rested it tusks and trunk on the roof while retrieving the seed pods. The roof would groan and creak precariously, and we wondered if the elephant was going to bring the roof crashing down on our heads. The elephant seemed quite unperturbed by our presence, although it would stop feeding occasionally to peer at us from just a couple of metres away. We looked forward to these encounters with the elephant!
The two rhino that we tracked on foot at Edo's Camp near Ghanzi, Botswana
Tracking white rhinos on foot at Edo’s Camp near Ghanzi, Botswana - an amazing experience. We were accompanied by camp manager Stephen Lewis, a fourth generation Motswana who, needless to say, has an extensive knowledge of the area, guide Ronald and tracker Black. We began shortly after dawn, driving out from camp until we found fresh rhino spoor. At this point, we left the vehicle and followed the tracks through the bush on foot. After 45 minutes, Stephen and Black located a female rhino and her calf, and we crept to within 30m of them. The female was enormous, and Stephen indicated a nearby tree that we should take shelter behind, should the rhino take exception to our being there. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as a morning walk through the African bush!
Elephants crossing the Chobe River
From our campsite at Ihaha in Chobe National Park, we could sit with a glass of wine in the evening and watch large herds of elephants cross the Chobe River into Namibia, where, to the chagrin of the farmers, the elephants like to graze.
The carmine bee-eaters - such beautiful birds. We had not seen them prior to this trip, but we saw dozens of them near the river in Chobe National Park.
The view from Ihaha - a fisherman on the Chobe River and Namibia in the background
The view from Ihaha campsite in Chobe National Park - the campsites are strung out along the shore of the Chobe River and overlook Namibia. You can’t beat the view! We were assigned to site #1, which is on one end, nicely isolated from the rest and with plenty of shade at midday.
Elephants in the Zambezi River
On our boat trip down the Zambezi River with Andrew from Old Mondoro, we stopped to watch a group of elephants cross the river. When they reached the riverbank, they had great difficulty climbing out of the water. It was very muddy, and the elephants kept slipping and getting stuck in the mud. Watching the largest elephant scramble out was painful, as it tried to shift its enormous bulk up onto solid ground.
Our tent at Old Mondoro - so memorable!
Our tent - one of only four - at Old Mondoro Bush Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park. Just 15 metres from the Zambezi, it had a wonderful view of the river and the hippos and elephants that liked to cross to the islands. The front of the canvas and reed tent was open during the day, allowing us to appreciate the view, but canvas flaps allowed it to be closed up securely at night. The tent had a very comfortable king-sized, mosquito-draped bed, which was strategically placed so that we would not miss any of the action on the river during our midday siesta. There was a shaded deck with a very comfortable day bed, which also proved an excellent vantage point from which to view the river and the white-fronted bee-eaters that like to perch on a branch over the water. The tent had an en-suite wash basin and flush loo. Adjoining the tent and accessed through a side door, was an outdoor shower and a wonderful, large stone tub - a great place, we soon discovered, to cool off during the heat of the day. The tent had 24-hour hot and cold water and electricity, and thoughtful touches such as a kikoi to dampen and snooze under during the heat of the day, and a clothesline with pegs for drying “smalls”. No creature comforts missing in these tents!
One of the easier stretches of Leopard's Hill Road - a good test of Robert's 4x4 skills
The stretch of road dropping off the escarpment and into the Lower Zambezi valley was a good test of our (well, Robert’s actually!) 4x4 skills and the Land Rover. The road was so poor that we stopped at one point to debate whether we could possibly be on the correct road and where we thought we were. We began to doubt the GPS - both of them! Picture a narrow, dirt track with loose gravel, large rocks and wide, deep trenches from run-off during the wet season. In one particularly challenging section, envision that same track tipped down at an alarming angle, then crossing a narrow riverbed before climbing up immediately at the same steep angle on the opposite bank. It took us several tries to get up the steep hill on the far side of the riverbed. I was beginning to envision us spending the night in the riverbed - it actually would have been quite a pretty camping spot. The most memorable drive of the trip!
Levy bidding us farewell as we leave Old Mondoro - the guides at Old Mondoro are outstanding
The guides at Old Mondoro Bush Camp in Lower Zambezi National Park - Levy, Sebastian and Morat - personable, easy-going, knowledgeable, experienced, and highly skilled - the best we have experienced in all of our visits to Africa. We had read in the Bradt Guide that Zambia boasts some of the best guides in Africa and, after having the pleasure of being guided by these three talented Old Mondoro guides, we are inclined to believe the author. They are such a great team!
Young lion on the Chobe River floodplain
One morning, in Chobe National Park, we went in search of the lion that had been roaring nearby for much of the night. We found this sleepy, young male in the Chobe riverbed, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine.
Leopard near Old Mondoro
On three night drives at Old Mondoro in Lower Zambezi National Park, we saw seven leopards. Such a beautiful cats!
Third Bridge in the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Crossing the bridges in the Moremi Game Reserve always added a little excitement to our day. The word “bridge” is perhaps a wee bit of an overstatement. The bridges are simple structures made of wooden poles strung loosely together in a somewhat haphazard fashion. They have alarming gaps and holes that, at times, threatened to swallow up our vehicle. The bridges rattled and shook alarmingly as we made our way gingerly across. Due to high water levels in the Okavango Delta, large sections of each bridge were underwater, making it impossible to see/avoid the hazardous sections that would occasionally cause the Land Rover to lurch alarmingly. Great fun!
We loved to watch pied kingfishers hovering over water before they dove down vertically, bill-first, to capture fish. These charming little black-and-white birds, with their long black bills, were such a treat to watch as they hunted from the air.
Sunset over the Chobe River
The African sunsets - always such stunning colours!
Lioness watching a herd of buffalo near Kaingo Camp
On a game drive with Kennedy, a guide from Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, we came across two lionesses that were lying in the shade of a bush. Both lions had grotesquely engorged stomachs and were panting heavily. It was clear that they had just eaten. As we sat admiring them, we noticed a huge herd of 100+ buffalo approaching. The buffalo, a favourite food of lions, were on their way to the river, and the lions lay in their path. The buffalo were very skittish. The cats were in the open, and the buffalo were clearly aware that the lions were there. Some buffalo even stopped and stared intently at the lions before moving on. Despite the danger, the buffalo continued on their way, passing within 15m of the lions. In the time it took for the long line of buffalo to pass, the two lionesses never took their eyes off the herd. We held our breath, wondering if the lions would attack but, although one cat crouched several times, the two lions never made a move.
Bathing at Old Mondoro at midday was often done in the company of elephants
Cooling off at midday in our lovely stone bath at Old Mondoro was always a highlight of the day. Firstly, given that it was stinking hot, the cool water was most refreshing. More noteworthy, however, was the entertainment provided by the elephants. They would feed on the winterthorn acacia trees, often wandering quite close to the tent while we bathed. The elephants only chased us out of the tub once.
Part of the bathroom at Elly campsite
The outdoor bathroom on Elly campsite at Mvuu Lodge - surrounded by a 1.5m high rock wall, but open to the stars, featuring a flush toilet and a sink and shower with a very efficient on-demand hot water system. The bathroom came with five, very cute, resident frogs, which we had to be careful not to step on after dark. On our last night, a mischievous elephant tried to take out the rock wall, sending the mirror over the sink crashing to the cement floor. Luckily, this frightened off the elephant before it could do more than put a rather large crack in the wall of the bathroom.
Waterberry Lodge near Livingstone, Zambia - our favourite lodge
Waterberry Lodge near Livingstone, Zambia - a small and intimate lodge (only seven rooms) with a lovely, peaceful setting on the banks of the Zambezi River, beautiful rooms in very pretty thatched cottages, stunning views of the river and park beyond, excellent meals taken on a lovely terrace overlooking the gardens and river, friendly staff, great birding, resident hippos, free laundry (they accepted our ten days worth of camping laundry and the linen from the roof-top tent without batting an eye!), and a wonderful hostess in Gail, who was so welcoming and helpful. We were assigned to the beautifully decorated and very comfortable River House, which has a private deck overlooking the river. Our favourite lodge of the trip! We wished we had stayed longer!
The homes and rural villages of Zambia were impeccable
Driving through the smaller villages of rural Zambia was a real pleasure. The villages were lovely - little groups of impeccably thatched and well-maintained rondavels, neatly arranged in an area that was incredibly tidy, well-kept and spotless, without a speck of garbage in sight. The children would run out to greet us, while the adults would wave and smile. Some villages had the name of the village and the families living there neatly written on a small sign that was posted beside the road - a lovely touch! The villages were in sharp contrast to the towns and cities in Zambia, which were most often strewn with garbage and depressing to drive through.
The hippo hide, just prior to the mud slinging incident - Robert on the right, guide Mayem from Kaingo Camp on the left
On one visit to the hippo hide at Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park, the hippos were joined by three elephants which, after enjoying a good drink, came to investigate the hide. As the elephants came right up to the opening of the hide, Mayem, our guide, whispered to us not to move. A lengthy staring contest between our group of five and the elephants ensued. The standoff ended when, without warning, the largest elephant flung a well-aimed trunk full of mud into the hide, causing those of us in the hide to scatter for cover. Robert and I managed to avoid the mud, but the British couple at the other end of the hide were not so fortunate. I may well have imagined it, but I could have sworn that the elephant looked quite pleased with herself as she wandered away from the hide. For those of us not splattered in mud, the incident was quite amusing!
Site #3 Third Bridge Campsite with the sausage tree - still our favourite campsite in Botswana
Site #3 at Third Bridge campsite in the Moremi Game Reserve. It has a particularly fine sausage tree, which attracts a steady stream of elephants to the site at all hours of the day and night - perfect, as long as you don’t mind some very close encounters with elephants. Still our favourite campsite in Botswana!
The lilac-breasted rollers - such gorgeous birds! We have fond memories of sitting beside them waiting for them to fly, so that we could enjoy the spectacular flash of azure/blue.
The prettiest scenery of the trip was in the Zambezi River valley
The scenery in the Zambezi River valley was lovely, with the river meandering through it, albizia woodlands scattered throughout, the escarpment as a backdrop, and clear blue sky overhead.
Pontoon campsite, Kasanka National Park
Pontoon campsite in Kasanka National Park - wonderfully isolated, with a spectacular view over the Kasanka River, regular visits from sitatunga and puku, background music provided by nearby hippos and numerous species of birds, a thatched kitchen shelter, and an outdoor bucket shower with hot water provided by the rangers. One of the most memorable campsites of the trip!
The sounds at night
The sounds at night that lulled us to sleep while we lay in the safety of our roof-top tent - lions, hyenas, hippos, bats, zebras, leopards, crickets, jackals, owls, frogs, geese, baboons, bushbabies and elephants.
We always felt welcome in Zambia
The opportunity to interact with the friendly people in the rural villages of Zambia. One advantage of self-driving is that it forces you to be independent and interact with the local people and not to rely on your guide. We were warmly received wherever we went and always felt perfectly safe, even in the most remote locations, where we looked rather out of place and as though we had been beamed down from another planet.
White rhino enjoying lucerne at Edo's Camp in Botswana
There are roughly 150 white rhinos remaining in Botswana, and Edo’s Camp near Ghanzi shelters thirteen of them. The reserve has a particularly successful breeding program, in part due to the protein-rich lucerne (alfalfa) that is fed to the rhino daily. The guides spread lucerne around the camp’s waterhole every evening, and the rhino have come to expect this daily feast. It was very entertaining watching the rhinos chase after the truck carrying the lucerne, and somewhat alarming watching the guides trying to scatter it about before the rhinos came too close.
An elephant checking us out during our walk with Levy at Old Mondoro - the walk was a highlight
Our walk in Lower Zambezi National Park with Levy, Old Mondoro’s head guide, and Eric, a ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) wildlife officer/tracker, which began just after dawn. We were taken down the Zambezi River by boat, and then we walked back to camp at a leisurely pace, which took us about 3.5 hours. During our walk, we learned so much from Levy. We encountered many elephants, buffalo, impala, waterbuck, bushbuck and a spotted hyena, which caused a troop of baboons to scatter in panic. Despite a close encounter with an elephant and startling a hippo, we always felt perfectly safe. A highlight of the walk was watching several elephants head butt large winterthorn acacia trees to shake free the seed pods that they like to eat. We saw many wonderful birds, including an old favourite, the goliath heron. The walk was a highlight of our stay at Old Mondoro!
Lion cubs near Old Mondoro
On a night drive, not far from Old Mondoro, we came across a lioness with two young cubs on a kudu kill. After dark, Old Mondoro uses red filters on their spotlights, and the benefits were immediately apparent. Despite being bathed in the red light, the lions carried on as if the light wasn’t there. The cubs were very cute, playing together as the lioness rested nearby. Photos such as these are easily changed to black and white.
Track and Trail campsite, where hippos were frequent guests - another great campsite
We camped at Track and Trail River Camp just outside South Luangwa National Park for two nights. The campsite was on a grassy site, and each campsite had a braai, a kitchen island with a sink and running water, an electric light, and a power point. Nearby, was a well kept ablution block, with plenty of very hot water. We were fortunate to have the campsite to ourselves on both nights. Perhaps because it was so quiet, several hippos took the opportunity to graze on the campsite after nightfall. On the first night, we didn’t even hear the hippos approach. For such big beasts, they are remarkably light on their feet. The night watchman appeared hurriedly from the darkness with a floodlight and warned us to be careful, lighting up one of the huge beasts which was grazing a mere 15m away. The watchman patrolled the area all evening, hovering nearby until we were safely in our tent. We fell asleep to the delightful sound of hippos munching all around the Land Rover. In retrospect, we should have recognized the closely cropped grass of the campsite as a “hippo lawn.”
Our cabin at Kaingo Camp - our final night was especially memorable, as was the last wake-up call
Our third and final night at Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park was the last night that the camp was open until next year. We were the only guests in camp on that final night. To the camp’s credit, had we not been told, we would never have known that the camp was closing. There was no packing going on around us, and we certainly were not of the impression that the chef was trying to use up what was left in the camp kitchen. In fact, the staff prepared a special candlelit meal for us, which they served to us on a floating platform in the Luangwa River. It was magical! Such a memorable meal to end our stay at such a memorable camp!
As is the case at many camps in Africa, we woke each morning at Kaingo Camp to the sound of drumming. So much better than an alarm clock! On our final morning in the camp, which was also the last morning that the camp would operate until it re-opened in 2012, we were treated to a special performance. All of the staff who had provided the wake-up call at some point during the year came together for a final, year-end performance. The drumming went on for quite some time, and it was apparent that Kaingo Camp boasts some talented drummers amongst its staff.
The Magotha 1 campsite in the Khwai Community concession was lovely
The Magotha 1 campsite in the Khwai community concession, which lies to the north of the Moremi Game Reserve and west of Chobe National Park in Botswana, was a last minute addition to our itinerary. It was a wonderful campsite - very remote, and with a lovely view over the Khwai River. The campsites are strung out along the river and spaced well apart. There was only one other group at the campsite on the two nights we stayed. Although flooded roads restricted the game viewing area, there was plenty of wildlife, and lions serenaded us at night from across the river.
Royal Tree Lodge, Maun, Botswana
Our dinner on the patio at Royal Tree Lodge in Maun, Botswana with Janice and Weston, a lovely South African couple from Johannesburg. We were the only guests at the lodge, and the four of us enjoyed a most memorable candlelit dinner in a beautiful setting, with excellent food, great wine and good company. A most memorable evening!
The bathtub at Old Mondoro
The outdoor bathtub next to our tent at Old Mondoro Bush Camp, where we cooled off daily at midday while enjoying a stunning view of the Zambezi River, numerous hippo pods, elephants crossing the river, and white-fronted bee-eaters that liked to perch on a bush in front of our tent.
The staff at Elly campsite at Mvuu Lodge were so helpful - I drew the line at allowing them to wash our dishes!
The staff at Mvuu Lodge near Lower Zambezi National Park, who treat their camping guests like royalty - they provided us with filtered drinking water, brought us firewood, lit our campfire in the morning and evening, cleaned out the fire pit and raked the campsite daily, provided a table and tablecloth for the campsite, hauled away our garbage, provided us with ice for our coolers, and brought us lanterns to light up the campsite at night. I drew the line at allowing them to wash our dishes!
Giraffe in the Chobe River floodplain - one of 47 mammals that we saw on the trip
Forty-seven species of mammals, of which the sitatunga, four-toed elephant shrew, yellow baboon, black wildebeest, and white-tailed mongoose were new to us.
The meals at Old Mondoro were excellent - candlelight dinners were served next to the river
Dinners at Old Mondoro in Lower Zambezi National Park were memorable is so many ways. The food was delicious - so good, in fact, that Michaela, the camp’s charming hostess, has received so many requests for their recipes that she has begun to put them in the camp’s newsletters. Then, there is the setting. It is a good thing that the chefs at the camp are so talented. Otherwise, the food would be completely overlooked in favour of the setting, which is stunning. Guests gather around a large, candlelit table, which is set up under the stars next to the Zambezi River. Elephants have been known to join the guests for dinner. The communal table allowed us to chat with our fellow guests, which were an interesting, multinational group. The guides joined us for dinner, which I took as a sign of the respect that they quite rightly receive from the camp’s owners. Wines were carefully selected by Michaela, and she and her husband Jason were delightful hosts. We have very fond memories of our evenings at Old Mondoro!
The markets in Zambia are wonderful
There were some wonderful markets along the Zambian highways, with vendors selling very fresh tomatoes, oranges, cabbages, bananas, mangoes, sugar cane, loquats, peppers, watermelons, potatoes, onions and butternuts. Ground nuts (peanuts) were also for sale, and were spread in small batches in the sun on the paved shoulders of the highway to dry. We passed many women who were holding up live chickens for our inspection. We saw a cow being butchered by the highway, parts of which presumably would eventually be for sale. We could have purchased a goat. Huge bags of charcoal, wood, containers of kerosene, what we think were large, wooden mortars and pestles, chicken coops, clay pots, brooms, wooden stools, and thatch were among non-food items available for purchase along the highways.
A hardware store in Choma, Zambia
Driving through small towns in Zambia was always entertaining, if for no other reason because of the intriguing names that owners give their shops.
The weather was hot, but the days were clear - a midday siesta at Elly campsite during the heat of the day
The weather in Botswana and Zambia in October and November was as expected - lovely, clear blue skies but stinking hot, with the occasional wild thunderstorm thrown in. On most days, the temperature rose to over 40°C, and we kept cool by wetting our shirts and hats. Whenever we felt like complaining about the heat, we reminded ourselves that, if we were back in Canada, we would be headed into winter, where temperatures may drop below -30°C. Nights generally cooled nicely to the 20s - very comfortable for sleeping - although we experienced a few very hot nights, where we felt as though we were suffocating because it was so hot in the tent. On those nights, we climbed into the tent with wet washcloths, which we used to cool ourselves down before going to sleep. On two nights, once in Lusaka and again in Kasanka, our tent kept us dry despite torrential rain and gale force winds, which were accompanied by brilliant lightning and deafening claps of thunder. It had been a long time since we had experienced such impressive storms.
Our walk with guide Mayem and Zawa tracker Charles at Kaingo Camp
Our walk with Mayem, one of our guides at Kaingo Camp in South Luangwa National Park, and Charles, a ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority) tracker. We left camp shortly after 5:30am, and walked for 3.5 hours, spending much time in a nearby seasonal riverbed. Mayem was such a pleasure as a guide - incredibly knowledgeable, easy going, and personable. At one point, we walked towards the sound of baboons barking - the alarm call baboons use when they have spotted a leopard. We found an old hippo that had been booted out of its pod sheltering under a bush. We learned so much from Mayem. It was a warm morning, and we were grateful that Mayem had carried enough lime cordial that, midway through the walk, the group could sit on a log and enjoy a cool drink and some delicious biscuits. Charles was incredibly watchful, constantly scanning to ensure our safety. It was one of the most memorable mornings of our trip.
The Savuti Channel as seen from the Savuti campsite
Knowing the history of the Savuti channel, we felt very privileged to see the Savuti Marsh in flood. When we visited in 2008, the marsh was completely dry, and had been since the channel that feeds it with water from the Linyanti Swamps dried up in the early 1980s. We were amazed by what we found this year. The channel was full, and the marsh was hardly recognizable as the same place that we visited three years earlier. The roads were muddy and flooded in places, and the marsh was green, with vast expanses of open water. There were large numbers of wildebeests, giraffes, ostriches, pelicans, storks and impalas, and huge herds of elephants. In 2008, there was so little wildlife in the area that we left a day early. We spent two wonderful days at Savuti, marvelling at the abundance of wildlife and the sight of the marsh in flood.
Our walk with Webbie (blue T-shirt) at Waterberry Lodge in Liviingstone, Zambia
Our walk with Webbie (Webster Sitwala) at Waterberry Lodge in Livingstone, Zambia at dawn. We had read on Trip Advisor that Webbie’s bird walks are fabulous, so we booked a walk as soon as we arrived at the lodge. We were up at 5:45am and underway at 6:15am. We enjoyed juice, coffee and rusks before leaving the lodge. It was a beautiful clear, warm morning, perfect for a stroll through the bush. We wandered in the vicinity of the lodge for the next two and a half hours and, in that time we saw 52 species of birds, more than half of which were new to us. Webbie was incredibly enthusiastic, knowledgeable and patient. The beautiful plum coloured starlings were my favourite, while Robert liked the green-backed bleating warbler - more for its name than appearance, I suspect. Just before returning to the lodge, we stalked Webbie’s favourite bird, the elusive red-throated twinspot - a gorgeous little waxbill, with a bright red breast and black vent with conspicuous white spots. Our bird walk with Webbie was another highlight of our trip.
Site # 1 at Ihaha campsite in Chobe National Park - troubled by bandits
Ihaha campsite in Chobe National Park has a problem with bandits, who cross the river from Namibia at night. The rangers confirmed that there had been five incidents in the three months prior to our arrival in October. The campsites are strung out along the southern bank of the Chobe River, and bandits target the campsites on either end - numbers one and ten. The bandits come onto a campsite after the campers have gone to bed, shout at the campers to stay in their tents, and threaten to shoot them if they don’t. The bandits then break into the vehicle on the campsite and take all of the valuables, as well as food and clothing. As luck would have it, we were assigned to site #1, which was at the eastern end and rather isolated from the rest of the campsites - ideal normally, but not under present circumstances. The rangers assured us that we would be safe. Police are now regularly patrolling the campsite, and we did hear their vehicle on two of the three nights that we were camped at Ihaha. Despite the police presence, we slept rather fitfully, and took the precaution of carrying all of our valuables up into the roof-top tent at night.
We did not feel safe on the highways in Zambia - the burnt out remains of a truck, one of dozens that we saw
We discovered that many highways in Zambia are a nightmare, and the distances between many of the national parks, or between the parks and the major cities, require much time spent on these highways. The highways are often narrow, with no shoulders, hilly, winding, and dotted with lethal potholes, which would do serious damage if you were to hit them with any speed. More notably, the highways are very busy, and the transport trucks that make up the majority of the traffic are poorly maintained, often wider than the lane they are supposed to be occupying, and grossly overloaded. We saw many burnt out shells of trucks, most often lying in the ditch at the bottom of hills or on sharp corners. It was disturbing to realize that most of the drivers of these truck remnants would not have survived the accidents. We cringed whenever we met an on-coming, overloaded truck on a hill or corner. We did not feel safe on the highways and, given that our attitude and the reason we like to self-drive is that we believe that the journey is such an important part of the trip, the stress of traveling on the highways put a damper on the Zambian experience as a whole. We would love to return to Zambia, but we would have to think seriously about whether we would be willing to self-drive.
The woodland areas of South Luangwa National Park had many tsetses
The tsetse flies in the Mfuwe area of South Luangwa National Park were tiresome to say the least. At one point, we were so desperate that we actually “doomed” the inside of the Land Rover. Delightful! Thankfully, as we drove north in South Luangwa, the number of tsetses dropped, and there were no flies by the time we reached Kaingo Camp in the Nsefu area. There were also tsetses in sections of Kasanka National Park, but thankfully not near Pontoon Campsite where we camped, nor in the Mushitu swamp forest, where visitors go to view the bats. Lower Zambezi National Park and the adjacent Chiawa Game Management Area had very few tsetses.
Flooded roads near Khwai in Chobe National Park meant long detours
High water levels in the Okavango Delta and the resulting flooded roads in the Moremi Game Reserve meant long detours to travel between the Third Bridge, North Gate and Khwai community campsites. These detours would not have been a problem, (although not as scenic), had we taken them into account when first told about them by Safari Drive in Windhoek. We should have immediately calculated how much diesel we would require to travel between Maun and Kasane, taking into account the extra mileage caused by the detours. It would have become immediately apparent that the long-range fuel tanks and one jerry can (20 litres) would not be enough. We could either have traveled with more jerry cans, or planned a trip into Maun to refuel (and shopped accordingly). As it was, we had to make an unscheduled trip into Maun. This was a challenge because it involved crossing the vet fence, where the officials tried to confiscate most of our remaining seven-day-supply of fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products (meat and dairy products because of hoof and mouth disease, and fruits and vegetables because of a fly outbreak). Luckily, a kindly official offered a solution. We left our cool box packed with the banned food tucked in the shade of a bush, where the official kept an eye on it while we raced into Maun. Unfortunately, we lost quite a bit of food to the +40°C heat in the roughly two hours it took us to travel to and from Maun. On the up side, the Okavango Delta, and the Savute channel and marsh in particular, looked spectacular in flood, and very different from when we visited in 2008.
Day 1: Wednesday 28th September
Cape Town, South Africa to Windhoek, Namibia
Our trip from Cape Town to Windhoek gets off to a shaky start when, as we are about to leave for the airport, the entire city of Cape Town is left without power. We wonder if this will delay our 3:45pm South African Airways flight to Namibia. Our shuttle service arrives at the house on time, but the driver, perhaps feeling superstitious as a result of the blackout, rants about the devil and witches for the entire trip to the airport. Robert and I smile politely and nod frequently, but offer few comments, hoping not to provoke him. At the Cape Town airport, our Coleman cooler puts us 20kg overweight, which costs us R551 - not cheap! Despite the blackout, we depart on time.
The flight itself is uneventful, although the descent into Windhoek is so rough that one passenger screams and the pilot actually apologizes as we taxi to the terminal. Not a keen flyer at the best of times, I manage to resist the urge to kiss the tarmac.
We are met by Duane Redshaw, Safari Drive’s representative in Windhoek, who is driving “Ranulph”, the 2011 Land Rover Puma TDCI that will be our home for the next six weeks. It is named after British adventurer Ranulph Fiennes, who has been described as “the world’s greatest living explorer.” I take this to be a good omen for our upcoming adventure. The Land Rover, which has traveled only 15,729km, looks very shiny and new, and I silently hope that we will return it in such pristine condition in six weeks time. I cannot wait to spend a night in the roof-top tent.
Olive Grove Guesthouse, Windhoek - room 3
On our drive to the Olive Grove Guesthouse, where we are to spend the night, I pepper poor Wayne with questions. This despite the fact that we are to meet with him in the morning for the official vehicle handover! I am so excited to finally be undertaking the journey that Robert and I have been planning for over a year that I simply cannot stop babbling.
At the Olive Grove, we are met by a very friendly and efficient staff and shown to room three, one of three standard rooms that are off the patio where meals are served. We have read reviews which indicate that these rooms lack privacy and are rather noisy, but we are quite happy with the room.
We could host a dinner party in the bathroom...
We could host a dinner party in the bathroom, it is so large. Dinner that evening is excellent - a delicious tomato soup, followed by Greek salad and a choice of a chicken curry or gemsbok in a red wine sauce, both served with roast vegetables and basmati rice. The pièce de résistance, however, is dessert - a rooibos crème brûlée that is delectable.
Duane and Robert with the checklist
Day 2: Thursday 29th September
Duane picks us up promptly at 9:30am and drives us to the Safari Drive base where, for the next two hours, we review the vehicle and everything in it. Duane, we soon discover, is incredibly organized and efficient. With checklist in hand, he reviews the vehicle and its contents. Were it not for the fact that we have made two trips previously with similarly equipped Safari Drive vehicles, I might be feeling a bit panicky at this point, wondering if we will remember all of the crucial information that Duane is imparting.
High water levels in the Okavango Delta result in changes to our itinerary
When Duane is confident that Robert and I are well familiar with the vehicle and everything in it, he makes us a cup of coffee and we sit down and review our itinerary, park permits and campsite reservations. We learn that high water levels in the Okavango Delta will necessitate some detouring in order to reach two of the campsites in Botswana. Duane patiently answers the questions that we have prepared ahead of time, including such minute details as the combination for the gate at Royal Tree Lodge. We call Duane’s cell phone using the Land Rover’s satellite phone to ensure that we know how to use it. We do not want a repeat of the 2008 glitch, when we discovered half way through our journey, when we tried to lend our sat phone to two stranded German self-drivers, that it was useless because we did not have the pin code to unlock it.
Almost four hours after the briefing began, Duane hands us the keys and wishes us a safe journey. The moment that we have been looking forward to for the past year has arrived. Our adventure is underway!
The Land Rover is very well equipped and organized
We commence our adventure rather anticlimactically in the Pick ‘n Pay at Wernhill Mall. It is a zoo, even at midday on a Thursday. We purchase all of the non-perishable food items that we will need for eleven nights of camping in the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, having been warned that the shopping in Maun, from where we will begin our safari, is rather limited. We fight our way up and down the aisles with two carts, one full of nothing but bottles of drinking water. We have prepared a menu in advance, and have a detailed and carefully organized grocery list, so the shopping actually does not take that long. We also stop in at the Woolworths, an up-market South African grocery store chain, where we purchase a few favourites such as muesli rusks, butternut soup, Ceres juices, Grapetiser, and Mrs. Ball’s chutney. We pay for the groceries with our MasterCard.
Back at Olive Grove, to the amusement of several of our fellow guests who are enjoying a pre-dinner drink on the patio, we spend the next two hours in the parking lot, organizing the vehicle contents and our food. We spread everything out on the pavement and arrange it in some semblance of order before carefully stowing it in the vehicle.
The back of the Land Rover has a most ingenious set up, with a large, 20cm-deep drawer that extends the length and width of the cab. It holds all of our non-perishable food items very nicely. The drawer is divided into sections and we take a bit of time to organize our groceries into some semblance of order. The drawer already contains an amazing food starter kit provided by Safari Drive, which includes everything from salt and pepper, coffee and tea, mayonnaise and peanut butter, to rice, pasta, cereal, tinned vegetables and tuna. A list of the contents of the starter kit had been provided in advance, so we knew what we did not need to purchase.
There is a 40-litre Engen refrigerator, which runs off a second vehicle battery that is tucked under the front passenger seat. We put our perishables into the fridge. We will soon discover that the fridge is very efficient and works very well, even in temperatures over 40°C. We use the Coleman cool box provided and the second one that we have brought with us to contain our juice, long-life milk and water. We know from past experience that the drinking water bottles in particular often break, and that juice and milk boxes like to give out at the seams.
There is a large table, folding chairs and a box of dishes that included a tablecloth and wine glasses. There is a box of pots and pans, cutlery, cooking utensils and a large canvas bag that contains every possible piece of equipment that we will need for a braai. There are dish pans, tea towels, dishcloths, detergent, paper towel, garbage bags, and matches. The kitchen seems better equipped than mine at home. There is a first aid kit which, for the duration of the trip, we will thankfully never need to open. On the roof, there is a gas bottle containing propane which, along with the burner provided, we will use when we do not wish to braai. There is also a large box of emergency supplies that holds everything from spare belts, fuses and wheel nuts to spare oil, a tow rope and a tire pressure gauge. We optimistically put that box out of reach at the back of the cab.
Robert setting up the tent
The tent is remarkably easy to set up and put down, a process that can be completed in a matter of minutes. After the cover is removed, the tent flips open much like a book, and a ladder swings down from underneath and attaches to the front bumper. The linen and pillows remain in the tent when it is closed, and simply need to be straightened out a little once the tent is up. Robert would stand on the roof and open the tent and I, as the height-challenged member of the family, would remain on the ground ready to catch the ladder. Putting the tent away takes just a little longer, because you must tuck the canvas in as you fold up the tent.
The inside of the roof-top tent - very comfy for two!
The bed is slightly narrower than a double bed and long enough that it easily accommodates Robert’s 6'1” frame - plenty of room to fit two people comfortably. The tent comes equipped with sheets, two duvets, four pillows and extra blankets - no lack of comfort here!
Olive Grove patio where meals are served
(photo from their website)
By the time dinner is served at 7:00pm, we are packed, organized and ready to go. The Land Rover is very full!
At dinner, we order wine and toast our upcoming Namibian/Botswana/Zambian adventure. The dinner of roast pork with prune and madeira sauce, roast vegetables, scalloped potatoes, and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream is delicious. After emailing the number of the vehicle’s satellite phone to family in Canada, we fall into bed, eagerly anticipating our departure the following morning.
The B6 highway out of Windhoek
Day 3: Friday 30th September
Windhoek, Namibia to Edo’s Camp near Ghanzi, Botswana
After a delicious breakfast at Olive Grove, we are finally on our way. It is shortly after 8:00am.Today’s destination is Edo’s Camp, which lies 480km northeast of Windhoek, and 30km from the town of Ghanzi in Botswana. Past experience has taught us that the drive will take about 7 hours, allowing an hour for Namibia/Botswana border formalities and taking into account that, traveling east, we will lose an hour at the border.
We head northeast from Windhoek along the B6 Trans-Kalahari highway.
A warthog - not without some endearing qualities!
Before we even reach the Hosea Kutako International airport, which is located about 40km from the city, the first suicidal warthog runs out in front of our vehicle. Warthogs are often described as being rather grotesque, but they run with their thin tails erect, which gives them a certain endearing quality.
The warning comes a little late....
Thirty kilometres later we pass the first of many signs warning us to watch for warthogs. We are to see many warthogs along the highway this day. We follow the lead of the locals and drive down the centre of the highway, giving us a little more time to avoid them. Within the first hour, we encounter two police checkpoints, but we are waved through both.
Homes along the highway
It is a warm morning, with the temperature rising to 32°C by 9:00am. The highway out of Windhoek is busy, but quietens after the airport. It is good tar, but there are no shoulders or centre line. In Gobabis, we are in cattle country. Thankfully, most of the cattle, sheep and goats are kept safely off the highway behind fences.
Donkeys on the highway - these ones thankfully not hobbled!
There are a few donkeys on the loose and wandering across the highway. Most are hobbled, with their front legs tied together to prevent them from wandering too far. It is a disturbing sight. Around Vitvlei, what trees there had been disappear and the vegetation consists mostly of scrubby bushes and long grass. It is incredibly dry and dusty.
Leaving Namibia at Buitepos
We arrive at Buitepos, the Namibian border post, at noon. The formalities here are quick - we are in and out in about 20 minutes. We fill out a form at immigration confirming that we are leaving the country, our passports are stamped, Robert signs the driver’s registry, and we reluctantly hand over the cross-border permit that came with the vehicle documents. Duane warned us to try to keep this permit, as it will cost us N$220 to replace it, but the official insists on taking it.
A sign at the Botswana border - five years out of date (since 1966)
In contrast to the Namibian border, which was very efficient, the Botswana border at Mamuno is frustratingly slow. We start at immigration, where we fill out entry forms, have our passports stamped, sign the vehicle registry, and have our names duly entered into their computer. We are issued a piece of paper that indicates to those at the departure gate that we have not skipped this step. We move next to customs, which is in chaos, with long lines of truckers with great handfuls of paperwork trying to acquire entry permits. We each join a line, and it takes us an hour to work our way to the front where, for R240, we acquire a short-term entry permit for two people and pay a road safety levy. We are on our way again at 1:15pm, and a sign just beyond the border indicates it is further 205km to Ghanzi. We are pleased to discover that Namibia has changed to daylight savings, so we don’t lose an hour at the border afterall.
Sharing the highway with cows, donkeys, sheep, ostriches and goats
In Botswana, we continue east along the Trans-Kalahari Highway, although it is now known as the A2 rather than the B6. The highway beyond the border has been redone since we traveled this route in 2008, and is in good shape. However, a total lack of fences means that we are now sharing the highway with cows, sheep, goats, ostriches and donkeys.
We rejected this picnic site!
We stop at several picnic sites for lunch but reject them all when we discover that they are covered in huge quantities of poop. Clearly, the donkeys, goats and cows agreed that these picturesque sites are a good place to stop and eat. Finally, rather hungry, we simply pull off along the highway and eat our lunch in haste.
A popular mode of transport
We pass many rural villages and see our first donkey cart, a popular mode of transport in this part of the country.
Village along the highway
The villages consist of small groupings of traditional African homes or rondavels. These round huts are small and have no amenities. Most have mud walls, although some are constructed of stone. All have cone-shaped, thatched roofs.
There is most often a large kraal nearby, which are roughly circular and constructed of upright sticks that are bound together with wire. Most are empty which, given the number of animals on the highway, is perhaps not surprising.
Rural home in Botswana
Small groups of women are often sitting outside the homes, and they give us a friendly wave as we pass. Chickens wander freely amongst the homes, mingling with the young children who are playing outside.
Shops in Ghanzi
We reach Ghanzi shortly after 4:00pm. A bustling town, it looks remarkably prosperous given its location in the middle of the nowhere and surrounded as it is by the inhospitable Kalahari. However, it is a convenient overnight stop for travelers driving between Windhoek and Maun, the launch site of most Botswana safaris.
Edo's entrance off the Trans-Kalahari Highway
We telephone Edo’s Camp using our satellite phone. Someone from the camp is to meet us at the highway turn-off and guide us to the camp. We have a little difficulty getting thorough, but eventually we reach Stephen Lewis, the manager of the camp. While we travel the last 30km along the highway from Ghanzi to the turn-off to the camp, Stephen sends Joseph, an employee of the children’s home that the camp runs, out to meet us.
The road to Edo's Camp
After turning off the highway, we travel along a sandy track for about 2km, with Joseph riding on our bumper. We pass through a series of four gates, the last of which is very big and imposing. Joseph opens and closes each gate for us. At the fourth gate, we tip him generously, realizing that he now has to walk all the way back to the children’s home in the blazing sun. It is 41°C.
The waterhole at Edo's Camp
We continue down the dirt track towards camp for a further 7km, at one point finding rhino tracks on the road. The reason we have come to Edo’s Camp is the opportunity to track white rhino on foot. When we reach the camp, our eyes are immediately drawn to the waterhole, where there are seven rhinos and many impalas, wildebeests and bushbucks.
Our tent at Edo's Camp
We are greeted by Stephen, who shows us to our tent. It is very comfortable, with twin beds dressed in eye-catching zebra linen, a wardrobe, and an en-suite bathroom with a flush toilet, massive tub, a separate rain shower and plenty of hot water that is heated in a boiler behind the tent.
Sitting at the waterhole at Edo's Camp
We drop everything and rush out to the seating area overlooking the waterhole. We meet our fellow (7) guests, all Germans, including three men who, they explain grinning widely, have left their wives at home, having convinced them that the trip is too dangerous for the women to make. Robert and I sit and enjoy a cold drink while admiring the animals at the waterhole.
Rhino chasing after the truck
Not long after we sit, a truck approaches the waterhole bearing Stephen and two guides. The rhinos immediately begin to chase after the truck, and we learn from our fellow guests that the camp spreads lucerne (alfalfa) at the waterhole each evening. The rhino in particular have come to expect this treat.
Spreading the lucerne
We watch with a mixture of alarm and amusement as Stephen and the guides spread lucerne at various points around the waterhole, all the while keeping a wary eye on the exuberant rhinos. For such big beasts, rhinos are able to move with remarkable speed.
Kudu at the waterhole
An employee arrives to light a fire in the pit. This seems like madness to me given that, even though it is after 6:00pm, the temperature is still over 40°C. Another arrives with appetizers, which are very good. We enjoy a steady stream of animals to the waterhole - waterbuck, wildebeests, springboks, rhinos, impalas, geese, plovers and cattle egrets. There are also several species of smaller birds flitting about - violet-eared waxbills, ground scraper thrushes, melba finches and pied babblers. We conclude that Edo’s waterhole is one of the best that we have ever experienced.
The dining area at Edo's Camp
Dinner that evening is served around a large table in the open, thatched dining room. The roast lamb and gravy, potatoes, mixed vegetables, pumpkin puffs and strawberry snow are very good. The waterhole is floodlit in the evening, so we watch the rhinos and wildebeests that are cleaning up the last bits of lucerne. There are also a few brave waterbuck wandering amongst the bigger beasts. Stephen, who is a 4th generation Motswana, is a delightful host, with an extensive knowledge of the area and its history. He is also a great storyteller. We arrange to join him in the morning to track rhino on foot, and fall asleep to the sound of jackals howling. We are woken at 3:00am by some impressive lightning and thunder, but they are accompanied by just a very brief rain shower.
Guide Ronald on the left and tracker Black on the right
Day 4: Saturday 1st October
Edo’s Camp near Ghanzi, Botswana
The following morning, the effect of the light rain in the night is immediately apparent. It smells wonderful, the rain having made the desert come alive. There are dozens of guinea fowl chasing each other around the waterhole, but otherwise there is little activity.
After a hot breakfast, we set off in an open safari vehicle with Stephen, guide Ronald and tracker Black.
Stephen and Black checking for tracks
While Stephen and Black leap in and out of the vehicle checking for fresh rhino tracks, Robert and I chat with Ronald. We learn that Ronald’s father has worked with Stephen, and that Stephen is now giving Ronald the experience he needs to become a guide. Ronald is young and shy, but good company. Once fresh tracks are found, we follow them for as long as possible in the vehicle.
Tracking the rhino on foot - Stephen and Ronald
Eventually, when the tracks veer away from the road, we get out and begin to follow them on foot. Robert and I are instructed to stay behind Stephen and keep our voices low. Black and Stephen walk 20 to 30 metres apart, each scanning for fresh tracks. They catch each other’s attention with brief whistles and then communicate with hand signals.
Our first glimpse of the rhinos
After thirty minutes or so, Stephen indicates that the rhino are nearby, and that we should stay close and refrain from talking. We walk quietly through the bush, scanning in every direction. Stephen points out the tracks that we are following. After another fifteen minutes, we spy a mother and her calf, and move to within 30m of them.
The mother seems enormous
The mother, who we saw at the waterhole last evening, suddenly seems enormous. Rhinos have poor eyesight, Stephen assures us, and we are upwind of them, so the pair are not aware that we are nearby. We enjoy their company for a while and then walk back to the vehicle. I conclude that there is nothing quite as exhilarating as a walk in the African bush at dawn, especially when you are aware that there are rhino lurking nearby. Tracking the rhino on foot was a memorable experience, and would remain a highlight of the trip.
Back at the vehicle, I discover several rivulets of blood trickling down one shin, the result of a run-in with a wait-a-while bush. The bush is so named because it has nasty hooked thorns that grab anything - skin, clothing, fur - that brushes past it. Once hooked by the bush, it takes a while to escape its grasp, as I discovered to my detriment.
We take a circuitous route back to camp, encountering giraffes, zebras, gemsboks, springboks, waterbucks and steenboks. We are back to camp by 11:00am, thankful for the shade of the trees around our tent. It is already 34°C and despite sunscreen, hats and lots of water, we are feeling parched.
San village near Edo's Camp
In the afternoon, we join two new German guests, Cord and his mother Agnes, on a visit to a nearby San village. We have brought toys for the children, and Stephen has maize for the villagers. We are under no circumstances to give money to the villagers, Stephen instructs us. If we do, one of the villagers will ride (a horse) to the nearest town and buy liquor.
A couple of kilometres from the village, we stop and pick up two very young girls that Stephen recognizes from the village. They have been visiting a nearby village and are walking home. It seems scandalous to me that these two young girls are walking unaccompanied through the bush. The youngsters join us in the safari vehicle and offer us huge smiles. They speak no English. They are both incredibly cute with large, dark eyes, but very thin and wearing thread-bare clothing. Robert and I give them both colourful silly bandz (elastic bracelets) that are in the shape of African animals. We show them how the animal shape is lost when they put the bandz on their wrists, but how the shape is restored when the bandz are removed and held in the palm of their hands. Their excitement at receiving this small gift is heart-warming but at the same time rather sad.
Not far from the village, Stephen stops and picks up a group of ten adults who, rather than joining us in the sitting area, elect to cram themselves into the cargo area under the seats. There is much laughter as they scramble to fit themselves into the small space. We gesture at them to join us up above, but they seem reluctant, perhaps too shy.
We arrive in the village to find a celebration underway. Like most of the country, the villagers are celebrating the 45th anniversary of Botswana’s independence from Britain. I am dismayed to note that most of the women are obviously under the influence of alcohol, dancing/staggering about to music that is blaring from a radio. Most of the men are sprawled on the ground, listening to the music and gazing off into the distance. There are several liquor bottles being passed between them.
The children dancing
The youngest children in the village are looking rather neglected, most being attended to by older siblings who are just youngsters themselves. Stephen introduces us to the village elders, who seem ancient. Some of the children dance for us when they think we are watching. I find the whole scene very depressing. When I ask, Stephen tells me that the children go to a local government school. They are bussed there and back, and fed while at school. This makes me feel somewhat better. The village, which consists of several stick and mud huts with thatch roofs arranged around a central open area, is strewn with garbage.
Pictures of Canada
We bring out our Canadian snow pictures - photos of cars and trees covered in snow, Robin shoveling the driveway, and our children building a snowman, tobogganing and skating. As always, the villagers are fascinated. We also produce a world map, and show them where we live and how we traveled from Canada to Africa.
The children catching the propeller toys
We hand out silly bandz to the children and then, as we are leaving, shoot propeller toys off the back of the safari vehicle. The adults join the children in scrambling about trying to catch the toys. There are shrieks of laughter, and it is at least a happy scene in the village as we depart. When we leave Edo’s Camp the following morning, we entrust Stephen with a donation for the village.
Home along the highway to Maun
Day 5: Sunday 2nd October
Edo’s Camp near Ghanzi to Maun, Botswana
Today we are headed to Maun, where we will purchase supplies for our 10-night stay in the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. Past experience has shown that it will take us about 3.5 hours to travel the ~270km from Ghanzi to Maun. Given that it is a (Botswana independence) holiday weekend, Stephen warns us to be wary of drunk drivers and police with radar guns. As always, we will share the highway with cows, horses, goats, donkeys and pedestrians.
We are on our way shortly after 8:00am, after a hearty breakfast with Stephen, Cord and Agnes. Somehow, on the way out of Edo’s Camp, we pass through only two gates.
Cows on the A2 highway to Maun
The drive to Maun is uneventful. We encounter one radar gun near Tokeng, but it would be lunacy to speed on this highway, given that the cows in this part of the country seem particularly stupid, and simply refuse to move off the highway. The goats are not much wiser. We weave our way down the highway, seeing termite mounds but not much else. It is dry, rocky and the land on either side of the highway is barren from overgrazing.
Phone shop along the main street of Maun
We arrive in Maun just after noon. Maun exists largely because it is the launch site or finishing point for people heading in or out of the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. The Botswana government follows a low-volume, high-value/cost tourism policy, so safaris in Botswana are not cheap. The majority of visitors fly into Maun from Johannesburg, change planes and travel by small aircraft from one luxurious safari camp to the next. The cost of this privilege in peak season is about US$800 per person per night, not including the air transfers between camps.
Self-drivers like us rent a 4x4 vehicle and utilize the scarce public campsites. Even self-driving is not cheap, and mostly out of reach of all but international visitors. We like the independence of self-drive, where we are able to set our own pace. While tourists on fly-in safaris see not much more than the Maun airport, self-drivers stay in Maun long enough to stock up on supplies. This is what we will be doing in the morning.
Laundry hung on a fence to dry
Just as we remember, the long main street of Maun is chaotic, littered with cars, trucks, safari vehicles, taxis, men in impeccable business attire, mothers with babies on their backs, teens with cell phones glued to their ears, policemen and security guards armed with rather alarming weapons, women carrying all manner of things on their heads, children in school uniforms, workers in blue coveralls, donkeys and goats. We watch as two goats bring traffic to a halt. We have forgotten that goats have the right of way in Maun. It is incredibly hectic and noisy.
Church on the main street of Maun
On either side of the narrow street is an eclectic mix of thatched rondavels, big banks, ramshackle huts, modern office buildings, small sheds advertising everything from haircuts to investment advice, grocery stores and informal stands selling sweets and other small items. The traffic is crawling, providing us with the opportunity to take it all in. There is much shouting, whistling and honking, which reminds me of Main Road in Cape Town. As we make our way through town, I rather enjoy watching the frenzied activity around us.
Home in Maun
We make a brief stop at the famous and insanely busy Riley’s Garage to top up the tank. We manoeuvre with some difficulty around the numerous trucks, cars and safari vehicles that are jockeying for position to reach a free pump. When it is finally our turn, we remember Safari Drive’s advice and ensure that the gas pump is set to zero before the attendant begins to fill our tank. We are pleased to discover that the garage is now accepting credit cards. The price of diesel is 7.87 pula/ litre.
Although we are not aware of it yet, the fuel that we purchase at Riley’s is to cause us much grief in the days ahead.
A pretty drive to the lodge
From Maun, we drive 12km to Royal Tree Lodge, where we are to spend the night. All proceeds from Royal Tree Lodge are invested back into the community of Maun through the non-profit work of Love Botswana Outreach Mission, so we are happy to be returning to the lodge
Royal Tree Lodge
It is a very pretty drive though woodland forest to the lodge, early on taking us through a large village of rondavels and kraals. There are few people about, but those we do see gave us a friendly wave. Most of the kraals are empty, which perhaps explains why there are donkeys, cows, goats and chickens all over the road. The road consists of a sandy track - several sandy tracks actually, which might explain why guests sometimes have difficulty finding the lodge.
We are assigned to tent #2, which is as lovely as we remember.
A great bathroom
I immediately take advantage of the large, claw-foot bathtub, although the outdoor shower is tempting as well. It is over 30°C, and the cool bath revives me considerably.
Our tent at Royal Tree Lodge
We enjoy dinner that evening in the company of Janice and Weston, a lovely South African couple from Johannesburg, who are the only other guests. They have just returned from Moremi, where they have been on a fly-in safari. Listening to them talk about their adventures makes us look forward to our own visit, which is to commence in the morning. The dinner of tomato soup, roast chicken with gravy, carrots, zucchini and rice, followed by a rich and creamy chocolate mousse, is excellent. Since it is such a warm evening, the candlelight dinner is served under the stars on the patio, which is delightful.
Our alarm clock - a guinea fowl!
Day 6: Monday 3rd October
Royal Tree Lodge, Maun to Third Bridge Campsite in the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
The dawn chorus of francolins and guinea fowl ensure that we don’t sleep through our alarm, which is set for 6:30am.
The dining room at Royal tree Lodge, where we enjoy a delicious breakfast
After a delicious breakfast of fruit salad, granola, yogurt, scrambled eggs and pancakes, we collect the boxed lunches that we ordered last night and drive into Maun. We visit both the Shoprite and Spar, which fortunately are within walking distance of each other, because the traffic in Maun is insane. We have difficulty finding a spot to park the Land Rover, even at 8:00am.
Women washing clothes in the river in Maun
The selection and quality of fruit and vegetables at both stores is poor, and a note in Spar explains that a fruit fly outbreak is responsible. The baked goods are better at Shoprite, but the meat at Spar is superior. With a bit of running around, we are able to purchase most of what we want, including a SIM card and air time for our cell phone. Before leaving Maun, we stop at Hilary’s Coffee Shop near the airport for a refreshing glass of lemonade and to pick up some bran muffins and two loaves of their famous wholewheat bread.
Vet fence north of Shorobe
Forty kilometres north of Maun, we stop at the craft shop in Shorobe and purchase two lovely baskets for a paltry sum of 80 rand - roughly CDN$10 each. It would seem that the recommendation in the Bradt Guide to Botswana is well founded. The shop has some good baskets and wooden carvings at very competitive prices. The shop is easy to find - it is at the northern edge of the village on the east side of the road, and the bright green exterior is quite unmistakable.
Twenty kilometres north of Shorobe, we arrive at the veterinary fence. These fences, which are also known as buffalo fences, were constructed in the 1960s to protect cattle from hoof and mouth disease, which is carried by wild buffalo. They also prevent the encroachment of cattle into wildlife areas.
The vet fence south of the Moremi Game Reserve
Since we are traveling out of cattle country and into a wildlife area, the inspector waves us through.
The fork in the road at the green cement marker
From the vet fence, it slightly more than 1km to where there is a green cement marker and the road forks. The left fork leads to South Gate of the Moremi Game Reserve (32km), while the right fork leads to the village of Mababe (54km) and onward to Chobe National Park via Mababe Gate, or the Khwai concession.
South Gate entrance to the Moremi Game Reserve
We arrive at the South Gate entrance to the Moremi Game Reserve just before 2:00pm. While Robert takes care of formalities, I take photos of the impressive thatched-roof entrance gate and the various skulls that are on display, including several massive elephant skulls.
Second Bridge - we detour around it
The park received heavy rain yesterday and again last night, the helpful ranger at the gate tells us, and we will encounter big puddles and a lot of mud. While First and Third Bridges are safe to cross, we will have to detour around Second Bridge, which is completely underwater. The detour isn’t marked, he tells us, but is about 200m before the bridge.
These pole bridges, which span deep, often fast-flowing, croc and hippo infested water, are a test of any faith. They are constructed of log frames, on which mopani poles of varying sizes seem to have been haphazardly laid, sometimes with alarming gaps between. The poles rattle and spin, and the bridges bounce and groan under the weight of the vehicles crossing them. Water flows over the bridges in places, and at times it seems as though there is more water than bridge.
Part of the Mboma loop is also underwater, the ranger adds, and we will not be able to drive the entire loop. The road from Xakanaxa to North Gate is closed, and we will have to detour back to South Gate in order to reach North Gate campsite, where we are to camp after three nights at Third Bridge. Access to the Khwai Community campsite involves a detour to the village of Mababe, as the roads north of the bridge at North Gate are flooded.
With our permission, the ranger marks all of these closures and detours on our Moremi map for us.
We set off from the gate around 2:15pm with some trepidation, as we are to spend our first night at Third Bridge campsite. The campsite derives its rather uninspired name from the fact that it lies next to the third bridge that visitors cross when following the main route from South Gate. It is a lovely, shady campsite with seven sites, which lie spread out along the crystal clear water of the Sekiri River. It sounds as though getting there may be a bit of a slow go. We must occupy our campsite by 5:30pm and, in the dry season of 2008, the 52km drive from South Gate to Third Bridge took us three hours. We are less than 100m from the gate when we encounter our first mud. The road is slick and we must slow constantly to traverse large puddles. Poor Ranulph is no longer white!
The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world, covering some 16,000 square kilometres. It is fed by the Okavango River, Africa’s third longest river. Because of its huge surface area and shallow depths and the surrounding high daytime temperatures, the river dries up out in the Kalahari Desert of northwestern Botswana, never reaching the ocean. The water in the delta reaches its peak during Botswana’s dry winter months (May to August). The reason for this abundance of water in the delta, in what is usually the dry season, is summer rainfall in the Angola highlands to the north, which takes six months to travel over 250km of Kalahari sand and flood the delta. Surrounded by the parched desert, this lush wetland is an oasis for vast numbers of wildlife.
Impala - our first sighting
The Moremi Game Reserve was established in 1963 to prevent the depletion of the area’s game from uncontrolled hunting by Europeans and the local Batswana, and to stop the encroachment of cattle. The reserve has been expanded several times and now covers approximately one third of the delta, and includes some of the richest and most diverse habitats in Africa. There are rivers, floodplains, lagoons, islands and two main landmasses, Chief’s Island and Mopane Tongue. The reserve is the only protected area within the delta, so huge herds of elephants and cape buffalos roam freely, along with many species of antelopes, over 400 species of birds, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, hyenas, most of the cats and, of course, hippos and crocodiles. It is no wonder that it is one of Africa’s top wildlife destinations.
Heading into Moremi, we make a wager as to what animal species we will see first. Robert wins with impala.
Our first road block is not a flooded bridge or mud, but a curious giraffe that is not inclined to move off the road.
Lazy lions - our first predators
We come across three parked vehicles - a sure sign of a predator sighting. Sure enough, there is a lion and lioness sprawled under a tree beside the road. As always, the cats seem oblivious to the activity around them.
Just as we reach First Bridge, we catch up to a safari vehicle that is pulling a trailer and carrying a rather large load. We are quite happy to have it cross the bridge in front of us, so that we will know what to expect. However, we hope that the heavy vehicle doesn’t cause the rather flimsy structure to collapse. The truck creeps across safely, so we venture onto the bridge. The crossing is rough and wet, but we arrive at the other side without incident.
Scenery near Third Bridge
When our GPS indicates that we are approaching Second Bridge, we begin to look for the detour. Although not marked, it has clearly been well used, because the track is well worn and easy to spot. It is a long detour and we have a bit of difficulty finding the road to Third Bridge. The detour has taken us into a new area, and we are somewhat disoriented. Eventually, with the assistance of the GPS, we find our way to the campsite. On the drive to Third Bridge, we see kudus, steenboks, zebras, giraffes, lions, elephants and impalas. Birds include red-billed hornbills, Burchell’s glossy starling, Africa hoopoe, red-billed francolins, lilac-breasted rollers, a grey heron and jicana.
Third Bridge in 2008
We arrive at Third Bridge to find a completely different campsite to what was there is 2008. On our previous visit, we arrived to find no staff and one small ranger’s hut that had clearly not been occupied for some time. There was no one there to greet us or to miss us if we did not show up. The whole set-up was very informal, with campers simply choosing any available site that appealed to them. Some sites were numbered and others not. There was no ranger there to ensure that you had a reservation, or to offer assistance should you need it. There was a tiny ablution block with hot water, assuming that someone staying at the campsite was willing to build a fire under the boiler. Baboons seemed to have free reign in the campsite and were a real problem.
Third Bridge in 2011
Since that first visit, an elaborate entrance gate to the campsite has been built that is, when we arrive, being manned by three rangers. There are three large staff houses behind the gate, and there is a woman hanging laundry beside one of the houses. Compared to our previous visit, the entrance is a beehive of activity.
We produce our reservation confirmation, and are assigned to site #3. There is a large, new ablution block with solar panels for lighting and hot water. The sites are clearly marked, and each has a new fire pit and a water tap. We will not see a baboon at the campsite for the duration of our stay.
A great sign - read to the bottom!
Once we drive to our site and move away from the entrance gate, we are relieved to find that the charm of Third Bridge campsite is intact. It will remain our favourite campsite in Botswana. The sign that lists the rules of the reserve and which concludes with the delightful, “Thank you, we love you, and come again” thankfully remains posted in the campsite.
The sausage tree on site #3 at Third Bridge - an elephant magnet!
We are delighted to discover that site #3 is the clearing with the large sausage tree that we camped on during our previous visit. In 2008, the tree was an elephant magnet, attracting a steady stream of elephants at all hours of the day and night. We hope that this will be the case again this year.
We toast the return of the elephants
We set up the tent positioned so that we will have a good view of the tree in the night. After enjoying a lovely sunset over the delta, we sit and have dinner next to the Land Rover. The first elephants arrive while we are eating, and we toast their return. The elephants appear to be feeding on the large, trumpet-shaped, reddish-purple flowers that have fallen from the tree.
Elephants visit during dinner
They pay us little heed as they feed about 20m from us, but we keep a wary eye on them and the doors of the vehicle next to us open, in case a hasty retreat is required. Robert is amused that I find sitting next to groups of several-ton elephants not terrifying, while I found crossing First Bridge was. Water crossing have never been my favourite!
It is a restless night. We have barely closed the zipper of the tent when a large herd of elephants arrive, the first of many that will visit the site this night. There is much trumpeting, and some shoving and pushing amongst the elephants, and we hope that none will back into the Land Rover during one of these skirmishes. A spotted hyena passes next to the Land Rover and, to our surprise, is challenged and kicked at by one of the elephants. We lie on our stomachs and savour the activity from the safety of our tent. Eventually we sleep, but we are woken several times in the night to the sounds of lions roaring, hyena howling, fruit bats squabbling and hippos grunting. What a memorable beginning to our visit to Moremi!
Dinner at midday
Day 7: Tuesday 4th October
Third Bridge Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve
The routine that we establish at Third Bridge becomes the routine that we will follow for most of the trip. Rising before dawn, we leave camp when the gates open just before sunrise. We spend the morning driving around the park looking for game. We forgo breakfast first thing in the morning, when it is dark and more difficult to move around the campsite. Instead, we drive for an hour or two before stopping to enjoy breakfast with wildlife or at some scenic spot. On this trip, we will enjoy many wonderful breakfasts - breakfast with the cheetahs, breakfast with the hippos, breakfast with the honey badger, breakfast with the lions….What a great way to start the day!
Around noon, during the hottest part of the day, when animals tend to become inactive, we return to camp for a few hours. We have a braai and eat our main meal of the day. We shower and Robert downloads our photos. Around 4:00pm, we go on another game drive, returning to camp after enjoying sunset. Our evening meal is light and easy, most often including leftovers from the midday braai. We do not bother building a fire in the evening, as we do not need it to keep warm or for cooking. Also, we have read in the Bradt Guide that fires provide no protection from predators such as lion or hyena, which will ignore them with “stupefying nonchalance”. We are usually in bed shortly after 9:00pm. This routine of having our main meal at midday seems to suit us well when we are camping.
Cheetahs near Third Bridge
The highlight of our first day in Moremi comes early when, between First and Second Bridge, we spot two cheetahs on a grassy plain that appear to be leaving a kill. To our immense good fortune, they head directly for us and eventually settle under a tree not 15m from the road. The cheetahs are amusing to look at, as their stomachs are so engorged that they bulge into the air when the cats lie down.
The brothers are very affectionate, and spend a considerable amount of time licking the blood of each other’s faces. We pull out yogurt, cereal, muffins and juice from the cool box on the back seat and enjoy breakfast with the cheetahs. Other vehicles come and go, but we are quite content to stay. Breakfast with the cheetahs - the first of many memorable breakfasts that we will enjoy on this trip!
On the Mboma Island loop
Eventually, when we learn from a passing motorist that there is a lioness and cub with a wounded buffalo on the Mboma Island loop, we move on. Unfortunately, we are directed to the western side of the loop and miss the lions.
African barred owlet
However, the scenery of the loop is beautiful, and we have a great sighting of an African barred owlet, which is perched on a branch beside the road. We also encounter several giraffes, and are startled on more than one occasion by elephants that come crashing out of dense bush.
We are thrilled to spot our first carmine bee-eaters - stunning birds, with pink throats and breasts, turquoise crowns and blue rumps.
The bee-eaters and lilac-breasted rollers, which we also see, must be two of the most beautiful birds in the delta.
Lunch at Third Bridge - always prepared to retreat to the vehicle
We return to Third Bridge campsite at noon to cook our main meal of the day. We start a fire in the pit and Robert cooks hamburgers while I put together a tossed salad. Several elephants visit while we are making lunch but, thankfully, none show any interest in our food. At first, we wonder if the smell of meat on the braai is attracting the elephants, but they appear interested only in the sausage tree. Twice, when the elephants come too close, we have to retreat to the vehicle, grabbing what food we can before leaping into the Land Rover. In both instances, the meat on the grill is left behind but remains untouched by the elephants. Eventually, the elephants move on and we are able to sit and enjoy our meal.
Muddy lioness and cub
At 4:00pm, we head out on an afternoon game drive. We find many elephants, giraffes and impalas. We drive to the eastern half of the Mboma Island loop and have no difficulty locating the lioness and her cub. They are lying beside the road, next to a marshy area. They are incredibly muddy and not exactly at their most attractive best.
At first, we don’t see the wounded buffalo, but eventually it staggers out of the reeds. It is a dreadful sight, with a significant part of one hind leg missing. It is trying to walk on the stump that remains. Occasionally, the lioness leaps on the back of the buffalo, but it always seems to involve a half-hearted effort. She seems content to let the beast stagger about, perhaps comprehending that, in it’s sorry state, the buffalo cannot go far and will not last long.
Later, when we drive away, we find bloody drag marks across the road, and realize that this game of cat and mouse has gone on for quite some time. We cannot fathom how a lone cat was able to inflict such a wound without being gored by the buffalo. We wonder if perhaps the injury is the result of the buffalo being caught in a snare, and the lioness is simply taking advantage of the buffalo’s misfortune. After capturing a few photos of the lioness and cub we leave, having no desire to watch and listen to the suffering of the buffalo. It seems a cruel fate.
Most dinner guests arrive with wine - this one brought a stick!
After an easy dinner of leftover salad and meatloaf sandwiches made from surplus midday hamburgers, we retire early in anticipation of another night of interrupted sleep. Lions roar and hippos grunt nearby for much of the night, and elephants visit our site, but we manage to get enough sleep that we will rise in the morning feeling rested.
The eastern side of the Mboma Island loop
Day 8: Wednesday 5th October
Third Bridge Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve
We set the alarm for 4:40am and are on our way out of camp by 5:20am. The gates open at 5:00am but, it is still so dark at that hour that we leave a little late. This morning, as will remain the case on most mornings while we are in Moremi and Chobe, we are first out of camp. At 5:30am, it is 14°C.
We drive to the eastern side of the Mboma Island loop to see if the lioness and cub are still with the buffalo. We find the lions basking in the sun, but there is no sign of the buffalo. It is nearby however, because every once in a while it gives a distressing cry.
Eventually, other vehicles arrive, so we decide to move on and see if we can drive the entire Mboma Island loop. If, as the ranger at South Gate thought, this involves a deep water crossing at the north end, we will have to turn back.
Baobabs on the Mboma Island loop
We discover some beautiful scenery and our first baobab trees.
Lechwe on the Mboma loop
There are lechwe in the marsh and many elephants. At the north end of the loop, we discover a lovely waterhole with a resident croc and many birds. We enjoy breakfast with the birds - carmine bee-eaters, hamerkops, three-banded plovers, black kites, Meyer’s parrots, common sandpipers, white-backed vultures, and lilac-breasted rollers.
Elephant resting at Third Bridge campsite
Back at our campsite for our midday meal, we discover an enormous bull elephant between our site and the next. It is 33°C at 11:00am, and the elephant appears to be enjoying a patch of shade. We keep a wary eye on it, hoping that it will stay put while we prepare lunch. Eventually, to our surprise, it lies down and remains resting in the shade for about half an hour. When it rises, the elephant swings its trunk and legs in the air, using the momentum to get its enormous bulk off the ground. We are surprised by how easily it manages to stand up.
The elephant heading to the Land Rover - we wonder what has caught its attention
The elephant slowly makes its way to our campsite, where it feeds quite happily on the far side of the sausage tree, some 20m away. Eventually, as the elephant moves around the tree, it starts to get a little too close and, after hastily gathering up a few food items, we seek refuge in the front seat of our vehicle. Our chicken stir-fry remains simmering over the fire, and we hope that the elephant will not decide that it is more appetizing than the flowers of the sausage tree.
To our surprise, rather than continuing to feed on the sausage tree, the elephant heads straight for the vehicle. It by-passes the braai without giving the stir-fry so much as a sniff. This elephant does not appear to appreciate Thai green curry. Alarmed, we looked to see what is attracting its attention and, to our dismay, we notice that we have left the bag of garbage hung on the front bumper of the Land Rover.
The rubber cobra on the hood of the vehicle
We sit mesmerized as the massive elephant comes up to the hood of the Land Rover, its giant tusks less than a metre from me in the passenger seat. To our astonishment, it completely ignores the garbage, and instead wraps its trunk around the rubber cobra that we have left on the hood of the vehicle. Our son, Graham, gave us the very realistic cobra to help frighten off the baboons and monkeys that can be such a nuisance on the campsites in Botswana. Robert and I sit paralyzed as the elephant carefully smells the cobra, resting its enormous tusks on the hood of the Land Rover while, with surprising agility and gentleness, wrapping its trunk around the snake.
The elephant moving away - the cobra still on the hood
The elephant eventually moves off, leaving the cobra intact, garbage untouched, vehicle unscathed, and Robert and me with a few more grey hairs. It will remain one of our most memorable encounters of the trip!
Later, while I am in the ablution block showering, the elephant returns, trapping Robert in the vehicle. This elephant, we conclude, is taking an inexplicable and unfortunate liking to the Land Rover. We put the snake away, and ensure that, from then on, our garbage is always stowed in the Land Rover.
The Gochathebe Loop near Third Bridge
In the afternoon, we decide to explore the northern part of the Gochathebe loop, an area which we have regrettably neglected up until now.
Crossing Third Bridge
Reaching it requires crossing Third Bridge for the first time, an alarming but entertaining experience which, we soon discover, involves more water than bridge.
Elephant damage near Third Bridge
Once safely across, we find a lovely open area with several waterholes but not much in the way of wildlife. There is much elephant damage.
Elephant roadblock on Third Bridge
As darkness falls and we head back to the campsite, we discover an elephant feeding from the middle of Third Bridge. Our path to the campsite is blocked, but we are quite content to sit and enjoy the scene. We hope that the rangers will consider the road block a sufficient reason if we are late returning. Eventually, a safari vehicle arrives and pulls around us, ploughing across the bridge straight at the elephant and chasing it off into the bushes next to the bridge. Clearly, unlike us, the guide is not prepared to wait for the elephant to move. We are not impressed!
Elephants on our campsite at sunset
It is a windy night, and the tent flaps in the breeze. Two herds of elephants appear on our site shortly after we are in bed, and there is a noisy confrontation between them. We lie on our stomachs and enjoy the spectacle. There is much trumpeting and shoving, and again we hope that we have parked our vehicle far enough away from the sausage tree that we will not find ourselves amidst the fracas. To add to the excitement, a spotted hyena joins the mêlée. Between trumpets, we hear bats, crickets, hyenas, hippos, an owl and lions. We pass another rather sleepless but thoroughly memorable night at Third Bridge.
Sunrise over the Okavango Delta near Third Bridge campsite
Day 9: Thursday 6th October
Third Bridge Campsite to the Khwai Community Campsite
This morning, we are up early enough that we are able to capture sunrise pictures over the open water of the delta a couple of kilometres from camp. The colours are stunning, and we stand next to the Land Rover and enjoy the magic light of dawn.
Magotho 1 sign
Today we are headed to the Magotho 1 campsite in the Khwai community concession, which lies to the north of the Moremi Game Reserve and west of Chobe National Park.
High water levels are evident in the Thamalakane River in Maun
Our itinerary has us staying at North Gate campsite in Moremi but, due to high water levels in the Okavango Delta, reaching that campsite will require a 60km out and back from South Gate.
Khwai Community campsite
We decide to give North Gate campsite a miss, and spend two nights at Khwai instead. Although we have not stayed at Khwai previously, we have read glowing reports from campers who have raved about the remoteness and beauty of the campsite.
The Khwai River valley
The Khwai campsite lies 18km northeast of the village of Khwai, and on the north side of the Khwai River, in the beautiful Khwai River valley. Normally, the campsite is easily accessed from Moremi by crossing the bridge at North Gate, heading north past the village of Khwai, and then following a good sandy track along the north side of the river from there. However, Duane has warned us, and the ranger at South Gate has confirmed that high water levels at North Gate have made that route impassable. We will have to detour around the water.
From Third Bridge, we will first return to South Gate, where we entered Moremi - a three-hour/52km drive. Then, we will travel 32km southeast to the green cement marker at the Moremi/Mababe junction. From there, we will head north for 54km along a gravel road to the village of Mababe. In Mababe, we will cross to the north side of the Khwai River. After crossing the bridge at Mababe, we will drive 32km though Chobe National Park and then the Khwai concession to the campsite. It sounds long and complicated, but really is not! The route is well marked on our Tracks4Africa paper map of Botswana, and we are confident that we will find our way without difficulty.
Pied kingfisher in the Xini Lagoon
On our way to South Gate, we stop at the Xini Lagoon for breakfast and discover a birder’s paradise. We enjoy breakfast with two pied kingfishers that are fishing from a branch not far from our vehicle. At 8:30am, the temperature is already 29.5°C.
Leopard near South Gate
At South Gate, we sign out of the park and then continue south towards Maun. Not far from the gate, we spot a leopard sitting beside the road. It is wearing a rather cumbersome radio collar. It soon disappears off into the bush and we carry on.
As we travel south towards the Moremi/Mababe junction, we debate whether it is worth going into Maun to top up the tanks. We do not, in the days ahead, wish to have to restrict the length or number of our game drives in order to conserve diesel, especially around Savute where the marsh is in flood and teeming with elephants. Traveling north, the next available fuel is in Kasane, at the far end of Chobe National Park.
We stupidly forget about the food restrictions at the vet fence
We decide that the 120km-return detour to Maun is worth it. Unfortunately, we forget that we are carrying meat and dairy products that cannot be taken south across the veterinary fence and into the cattle area around Maun. When we reach the fence, we learn that the ban is more extensive than we realize. The officials indicate that they must confiscate most of our remaining seven-day-supply of fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products - the meat and dairy products because of hoof and mouth disease, and the fruits and vegetables because of the fly outbreak.
Our cooler box, covered by a tarp and tucked in what little shade was available
We debate having me sit at the fence with the banned foods while Robert races into town, but I do not relish the thought of sitting in the blazing sun for two hours in temperatures that are just shy of 40°C. Luckily, a helpful official offers a solution. We leave our cool box packed with the restricted foods tucked in the shade of a bush, where the official keeps an eye on it while we race into Maun. Unfortunately, we will lose quite a bit of food to the heat in the roughly two hours that it will take us to make the return trip.
Donkey cart on the road out of Maun
We are in and out of Maun with remarkable speed. We make a stop at Riley’s for diesel and then a quick trip into Spar for meat, a few vegetables, grapes and ice-cream bars. We wolf the latter down before they melt into puddles in our laps. Ice-cream never tasted so good!
We are back at the vet fence in just over two hours. We retrieve our groceries and give the official who has watched them for us a cold drink and some edible treats that we have purchased for him in Maun. We are on our way to Mababe, which is 55km north of the vet fence, by 1:00pm. It is stinking hot!
The road north towards Mababe
The road north to Mababe is dreadful - corrugated, potholed and incredibly dusty. The Land Rover GPS tries repeatedly to send us west off the gravel road down little-used dirt tracks and, although we are anxious to get off the dreadful road, we fear that these tracks may require deep water crossings. The area south of Mababe is rather barren and not particularly attractive, but we see zebras, impalas, kudus, giraffes, steenboks and elephants.
Bar in Mababe, where our GPS tell us not to take the advice of the villagers
We continue north until we reach Mababe where, to our amusement, the vehicle GPS indicates that we should not take the advice of the villagers. We travel through the village, bearing left and following what looks to be the main track through town, once again ignoring the GPS which is telling us to bear right.
Homes in Mababe
We come to a bridge that crosses what we assume to be the Khwai River. We again ignore the GPS which keeps insisting that we do a u-turn. It warns us that the bridge is unsafe, but it appears brand new, very sturdy and perfectly safe, so we venture across.
Road west from Mababe
Beyond the bridge, we find ourselves on a surprisingly substantial gravel road, but there is no signage to indicate if we are headed in the correct direction, and our GPS has long since abandoned us.
Junction on the road west from Mababe
After 14.6km, we encounter a road off to the right, with a sign indicating that it leads to Mababe Gate (7.4km) and Chobe National Park (73.4km). We assume that if we continue straight ahead, we will eventually reach Khwai. A little further along, a second sign indicates that we are entering Chobe National Park. There is no gate, no rangers to collect fees, and no other vehicles. We feel as though we have the park all to ourselves.
The Khwai River valley
We stop for a quick lunch beside the road, and then continue down the gravel road. Slightly less than 12km after the right turn to Mababe Gate and Chobe National Park, there is a sign indicating that the sandy track to the left/south leads to Magotho 1 campsite. We follow the track for 5km. It leads us first to the Khwai River and then, after turning right/west at a T-junction, along the river to the campsite. We had forgotten just how beautiful the Khwai River valley is. The scenery is lovely. The track along the river is very pretty, and we encounter impalas, elephants and baboons.
Magotho 1 - very pretty and remote!
Magotho 1 is a lovely campsite - very remote, with a lovely view over the Khwai River just 30m away. We can hear hippos in the river and lions roaring beyond the opposite bank. The ten or so campsites are strung out along the river and spaced well apart. We choose a grassy site with a lovely old tree and a 360° view.
Robin enjoying the view from Magotho1
We sit and enjoy a cold drink before showering to rid ourselves of much dust. There are no facilities whatever at this campsite, so we bale water over our heads using empty water bottles and water from the Land Rover’s water tank.
Impala near our campsite
We enjoy the company of a large herd of impala that are grazing nearby.
Sunset at Khwai campsite
Tired after our long and rushed day, we enjoy an easy dinner of leftovers. By 8:00pm, it has cooled down nicely to 28°C, and we sit and admire the stunning blanket of stars overhead. We wave as the space station passes overhead.
Only one other campsite is occupied, and it appears to be a small group of adults on a guided safari. We are able to see their flashlights scanning the bush, but they are far enough away that we are unable to hear their voices. However, later that evening as we are about to head to bed, the guide fires off a rifle or bear-banger, presumably to scare off the hyenas that are prowling in the area. We are startled and shocked, and hope that the idiot realizes that he has likely just frightened off not only the hyenas, but also every other animal and bird within a 10km radius of the campsite. Disgusted, we head to bed. No sooner are we in bed, than the hippos put on a lovely performance. The only other sound we hear in the night are the lions, which continue to roar from across the river.
Sunrise at Khwai
Day 10: Friday 7th October
Khwai Community Campsite
We wake just after 5:00am to the sounds of lions roaring, fish eagles calling, and hippos grunting. It is a lovely clear morning, but chilly at 17.5°C. We decide to head east to see if we can locate the lions.
Fish eagle - we woke to the sound of their calls
We explore all of the tracks next to the river, and find waterbucks, impalas, zebras, giraffe, hammerkops, spur-winged geese, several species of kingfishers and herons, fish eagles, and a lovely pod of inquisitive hippos. We sit and enjoy breakfast with the hippos.
Flooded road near Khwai
Although flooded roads restrict the game viewing area around Khwai, and we keep running into dead-ends, there is plenty to see.
Pretty scenery along the Khwai River
We explore inland and come across Magotho 2 campsite. We did not realize that there was a second campsite. There is a surprising number of people camped here, and we wonder why they have chosen to camp away from the river. Although Magotho 2 is set in a lovely grove of trees, Magotho 1, with its view of the river, is so much prettier, and the sites are much further apart.
Returning to the tracks along the river, we encounter an Orient Express vehicle from Khwai River Lodge. The guide is looking for the lions that we did not find earlier. He agrees that it sounds as though the lions are across the river.
Smoke rising to the northwest of Khwai campsite
When we return to our site for lunch, we cannot help but notice thick smoke rising to the northeast of us. It is clear that there is a large fire burning nearby. It is quite windy, and we are downwind of the fire, so we keep an eye on the smoke while we enjoy a lazy afternoon on the campsite.
One of the few times we use the canopy
The temperature rises steadily in the afternoon, and peaks at 38°C. For the first time, we take the time to put up the canopy. We need the shade. Our laundry dries almost before we can get it hung.
It is Friday, and vehicles are arriving for the weekend. The campsite may be full tonight, and we are grateful that the sites are so far apart. Thankfully, the group next door with the shot gun/bear banger has left.
Enjoying the company of hippos
We decide not to go for an afternoon game drive, electing instead to enjoy the company of the hippos in the river and the fish eagles overhead. Throughout the afternoon, we admire kudus, elephants, waterbuck, and zebras that come down to the opposite riverbank to drink.
We make a list of birds that we have seen so far, and discover that we are up to 61 species.
Sunset at Khwai
When darkness falls, we are able to see flames rising to the northeast. The wind appears to be sending the fire in our direction. It is difficult to judge how far away the fire is, but it appears alarmingly close.
In the evening, two rangers from the Khwai community arrive. Their truck is rather muddy, and they tell us that they have crossed much deep water and mud to reach the campsite. We are thankful that we took the detour through Mababe. We show them our campsite reservation and pay them 140 pula/pp for our extra night. They issue us a very official looking receipt.
They tell us that the fire is a large one and just a kilometre away. They are hoping that the upper gravel road will act as a fire break, and stop the fire before it reaches the campsite. If not, we may have to leave. I ask if they will come and warn us if we need to leave, but they are headed back to Khwai. We hope that, if it becomes necessary to vacate the campsite in the night, the sound of other campers’ vehicles will alert us. Thanks to the encroaching flames and noisy lions, we pass a rather restless night.
Sunrise at Khwai Community Campsite
Day 11: Saturday 8th October
Khwai Community Campsite to Savuti Campsite in Chobe National Park
At 5:30am, it is only 13°C and we have to dig our fleeces out of the bottoms of our duffels. We decide to spend a bit of time exploring the tracks along the river before heading to Savuti campsite in Chobe National Park - a trip of ~95km that will take roughly four hours.
The Khwai River shortly after sunrise
The roughly 11,000 sq km Chobe National Park, which is perhaps best known for its elephants, lies on the south side of the Chobe River in northeast Botswana. We will be camping in two very different habitats in the park - the marshy Savuti area in the southwest and the riverfront area in the north.
For the second morning in a row, we head west to see if we are able to locate the lions. We see many impala, giraffes and a pair of woolly-necked storks.
Honey badger near Khwai campsite
As is often the case, the highlight of the day comes shortly after dawn. We spot a honey badger that has found a beehive in a termite mound. It has ripped a large hole in the side of the termite mound and is feasting on the honeycomb. At times, the badger reaches into the termite mound with one of its front paws and pulls out a large piece of the honeycomb.
At others, it crawls head first into the hole and emerges with a large piece in its mouth. The badger ignores the bees that are swarming frantically around it. It is clearly enjoying the feast. We sit and have breakfast while watching the spectacle. Breakfast with a honey badger - another great start to a day!
The road north to Mababe Gate from Khwai
We leave Khwai at 8:30am, thankful that we spent two nights at the campsite. It is a beautiful spot, and the glowing reviews it receives are well deserved.
Five kilometres from camp, when we reach the gravel road, we discover that the fire is still burning, but is now to the west of the campsite. The road does appear to have stopped the fire from reaching Magotho. We travel east for just shy of 12km along the gravel road to the turn-off to Mababe Gate, where we turn north/left and travel 7.4km to the gate.
We are at the south entrance of Chobe National Park by 9:15am. We produce our reservation confirmation for Savuti campsite, and then continue 67km to the campsite.
The road north from Mababe gate
It is a long 67km! We travel through the Mababe Depression, a huge, flat area that was once part of an ancient lakebed. Twenty kilometres north of the gate, the road splits and we bear left and follow the 37km sand-ridge road. There are long sections of deep sand, and every time the track climbs onto the Magwikwe Sand Ridge, the driving becomes more difficult.
Deep sand on the way to Savuti from Mababe Gate
It takes us almost 3 hours to reach Savuti from Mababe Gate. We pass a large truck that has sunk up to its axle but, as we slow to help, he waves us on, shouting that help is on the way. Luckily, we are able to get past him without getting stuck ourselves. It is 45°C, and we are hot and tired by the time we reach Savuti at 12:15pm.
The entrance gate at Savuti
At Savuti campsite there are ten pitches, and we are assigned to site #3, which is not a particularly good site. It is sandwiched between sites 2 and 4, next to the dusty road, and has no view of the Savuti channel, which is full.
Campsite at Savuti
There is little shade, and when we get out of the vehicle, we sink up over our ankles in soot-like sand that will soon be everywhere. We are immediately filthy from the knees down. To make matters worse, it is very windy, so we are being sandblasted. We tuck the Land Rover into some bushes next to the road to try to get out of the wind and to take advantage of what little shade they offer. Even in the shade, it is 38°C.
The water taps at Savuti
We strip down to as few clothes as is socially acceptable in public, and wet our hair at the tap on the site. The water taps on each site are carefully protected from elephants, something that was crucial when water in the area was scarce. The first time we encountered these protected taps was on our previous visit and, at the time, it took us a minute to figure out how to turn on the taps. The spouts of the taps protrude from cement blocks that are about a metre square. On one side, about 10cm above the ground, there is a hole that is just big enough to accommodate your arm. Reaching in about 20cm, you find the tap. Whoever designed these protective devices clearly did not worry about the risk of putting your hand where you cannot see it.
Our site is not far from the ablution block, which is surrounded by a 3m tall, circular cement wall, designed to keep even the most determined elephants out. I have seen it suggested that when the apocalypse comes, the world may be repopulated by the small group of people who happen to be in the Savuti ablution block at the time. It is an impressive structure.
We collapse into our chairs to enjoy a cold drink. The site has a lovely cooking area with a braai, but it is out in the full sun, so we prepare our lunch next to the Land Rover.
The Savuti channel
Later in the afternoon, when it has cooled down a little, we head out on a game drive. We are anxious to see the Savuti Marsh in flood. When we visited in 2008, the marsh was completely dry, and had been since the channel that feeds it with water from the Linyanti Swamps dried up in the early 1980s.
The Savuti marsh
We are amazed by what we find. The marsh is hardly recognizable as the same place that we visited three years ago. The roads are muddy and flooded in places, and the marsh is green with vast expanses of open water.
Elephants in the marsh
There are large numbers of wildebeests, giraffes, ostriches, pelicans, storks and impalas, and huge herds of elephants.
Leopard that we almost overlooked
We are so entranced by the sight of the marsh that we almost overlook a leopard lying in the shade of a bush. We stay in the marsh for as long as we are able, and then rush back to camp in time for the gate closure.
Sunset at Savuti
Later, from the comfort of our roof-top tent, we listen to hyena calling and elephants splashing in the channel. It is a cold night, with the temperature falling to 11° C. We are thankful for the duvets, which have seen little use up until now.
Sunrise at Savuti campsite
Day 12: Sunday 9th October
Savuti in Chobe National Park
We leave camp as soon as the gates open at 5:30am and head straight for the marsh. We stop long enough to admire some dust-bathing wildebeests and ostriches.
We pass a group of eleven giraffes, and a tiny newborn elephant. Mom is still trailing part of the placenta. The baby is very cute, and we watch as Mom gently guides its first steps.
Elephants in the Savuti Marsh
A passing guide points out a leopard in a tree, but the cat is a long way from the road and difficult to see. We spend the remainder of the morning in the marsh, admiring the huge herds of elephants.
Lunch at Savuti on a vacant site
We return to the campsite for lunch, and cook our midday meal on a vacant site that has plenty of shade, rather than our site, which offers no shade at midday. We concoct a sloppy joe mixture of boerwors sausage meat, ground beef, fresh tomatoes, canned corn and mushrooms, and tomato paste. It is 37° C, so cooking the hot meal over the fire is a wee bit of a challenge. We wet our hair and shirts frequently - well, in the latter case, I do. Robert isn’t wearing one!
Bradfield hornbill - a real nuisance, but at least a new species
Two Bradfield’s hornbills are a real nuisance as we prepare lunch but, as they are a new species to us, they are forgiven. They swoop in constantly, trying to steal bits of our lunch. We have to be extremely vigilant. We also have a black kite sitting on a branch overhead, which seems to be eyeing our lunch. Later, as we sit enjoying our meal, the kite passes overhead carrying a snake.
We chat with the couple on the neighbouring site, and learn that there are now two leopards in the area where, yesterday, we spotted the leopard sheltering next to the bush. We decide to head there later in the afternoon, when it has hopefully cooled down. Little do we know that one of these leopards will provide what will arguably be the best sighting of the trip.
We head into the marsh later that afternoon and, after a bit of a search, find one of the leopards sheltering under a bush. It is well camouflaged and, if it were not for the many vehicle turn-around marks on the road, we might never have spotted it. While a leopard is always an exciting find, this one is a tad boring, sleeping under the bush. Given that the temperature is still 37°C, we do not anticipate that the leopard will be going anywhere soon.
Elephants in the Savuti Marsh
As we debate moving on, we are delighted to have a small herd of elephants with a couple of young babies come to drink and bath at a small channel about 20m from us. We decide to stay put, as we have a good view of both the elephants and leopard.
Elephants in the Savuti Marsh
We watch with delight as the elephants wade into the water, drinking, splashing and throwing water over themselves. It is so stiflingly hot in our vehicle, that I am envious and desperate to join them.
Robert takes many photos of the two-tone, partially wet, partially dry, elephants.
Young elephant with a short trunk
We are saddened to see that one young elephant must drink by dipping its face in the water. It is missing the lower part of its trunk, we assume the result of a run-in with a snare.
Initially, the matriarch of the group is a bit wary of us, and flaps her ears and throws us a steely look, but she never makes a move towards the Land Rover.
One of the elephants smelling the leopard
At first, we are of the mistaken impression that the elephants are unaware of the leopard. However, eventually the herd of elephants leave the water and, led by one of the young males, head straight to the bush where the leopard is sheltering.
The leopard watching the elephants
The elephants surround the bush and close in on the leopard. One young male elephant goes so far as to push its way partially into the bush.
We watch in amazement as the leopard cowers under the bush, watching the elephants with wide-eyed fear and craning its neck to look up at the towering elephants.
The leopard watching the elephant leave
This confrontation lasts for several minutes, until the elephants move off and the leopard settles back down to sleep. Such a memorable sighting to end our stay in Savute!
Moon over our campsite in Savuti
After an early dinner, we fall asleep to the wonderful sound of hyenas whooping.
Deep sand between Savuti and Ghoha Gate
Day 13: Monday 10th October
Savuti Campsite to Ihaha Campsite in Chobe National Park
Happy 90th birthday Margaret, I am thinking as I get up this morning, even though it will not be her birthday in Canada for several more hours.
Today, we are heading from Savuti to Ihaha campsite at the Chobe riverfront. The drive will take roughly six hours, so we leave Savuti at 6:00am, after briefly checking a few of the tracks and the waterhole north of the camp. The first 30km to Ghoha Gate is thick sand, and we travel this section almost entirely in second gear. There is little to distract us, although we see a few elephants and impalas and several steenboks.
It is not particularly scenic until we near the gate, when we travel through the very pretty Ghoha Hills, which are covered in baobab trees. It takes us a little over 1.5 hours to reach the gate, where there is a thatched building with a rangers’ station and an ablution block.
Cutline road - a two-lane highway!
At Ghoha Gate, the ranger confirms that we should detour around the deep sand and poor road just north of the gate. We are to follow the cutline road to the left/west immediately after exiting the gate. This cutline is the access road for the Linyanti area. After following the cutline for 7km, we are to turn north/right towards Kachikau and the Chobe riverfront. We wonder just how bad the road north can be, compared to the one we just traveled from Savuti, but we are grateful for the advice.
At the gate, we are leaving Chobe National Park and heading into the Chobe Forest Reserve. The road through the reserve is very pretty, and the vegetation predominantly mopani. The cutline road is a treat. Although sandy, Robert describes it as a two-lane highway, and we are actually able to travel in 4th gear. The sand is a lovely colour, reminding us of the dunes at Sossusvlei in Namibia.
The road north towards Kachikau
We turn north off the cutline at 8:00am, and the road towards the riverfront consists of sometimes two and sometimes four sandy tracks. We hop from one to the other, seeking the firmest ground, but the driving is easy. We continue in 4th gear, traveling up and down numerous hills. At times, the track stretches out before us to the horizon, and the pinkish tracks weaving through the mopane in the distance looks very pretty.
Elephant crossing the road north to Kachikau
We see elephants, kudus and steenboks, but no other vehicles. It is a wonderful, relaxing drive.
Breakfast with the elephants
We stop for breakfast beside the road, and are delighted when a herd of elephants join us. It is very quiet except for the sound of our poor Engen refrigerator, which is working hard in the stifling heat.
Just before Kachikau, the road narrows to a single lane, and we have to detour around two oncoming vehicles that are stopped in the middle of the road. The drivers are letting air out of their tires. We assure them that the road ahead is good, and that they should not have any difficulty reaching Ghoha Gate. Beyond that - well, have fun!
Craft Centre in Kachikau
In Kachikau, we stop at the Chobe Craft Centre where, on our previous visit, we had found an impressive array of baskets that were woven in many intricate patterns. After much debate, we purchase a basket for 110 pula. Next to the craft shop, there is a tiny shop selling very cold soft drinks, which are very welcome in the midday heat. It is another very hot day.
Homes in Kachikau
At Kachikau, we are in for a delightful surprise. The 37km stretch of road north to the Ngoma border post/Ngoma Gate of Chobe National Park junction is newly paved, and the corrugated, potholed and perfectly dreadful road of the past is just a distant, unhappy memory.
We spot our first sable along this stretch of highway, and catch our first glimpses of the Chobe River. The flame trees are in flower, and there are some lovely specimens along this section of the highway.
Home protected by a thatch and barbed wire fence
We continue north through the villages of Kavimba and Mabele, where the homes are mostly small, rectangular huts constructed of cement blocks and capped with thatch or corrugated metal. The homes are carefully and often ingeniously protected from predators and elephants. The fences are constructed of a combination of materials, such as corrugated metal, thatch, barbed wire, sheets of plywood and tree branches that were woven tightly together.
Home in Mabele
Since the national parks in Botswana are not fenced and game, including predators, wanders freely throughout the country, safety is clearly a priority, especially in communities such as these that lie adjacent to a national park.
The scenery is lovely, with the road winding its way through flat-topped umbrella acacias and towering baobabs. We pass the two spectacular baobabs that the road used to travel between, but the trees are now off to the left and a picnic site has been built beneath them.
Home in Mabele with the Chobe River floodplain behind
The floodplain and the Chobe River are visible to the west. Just before the turn to Ngoma Gate and the Chobe Riverfront, there is a checkpoint. Since we have a reservation at Ihaha campsite and are able to produce the permit to prove it, we are waved through and allowed to proceed to the gate. If we were immediately carrying on to Kasane, then we would have had to sign the register.
Ngoma Gate, Chobe National Park
We reach Ngoma Gate at 12:45pm, almost 7 hours after leaving Savuti. It has been a long drive, although it has included quick stops for lunch and the craft shop in Kachikau. It is 38°C, and the wind feels like a blast from a furnace. The impressive, thatched entrance gate to the park is much like the others, with an office for the rangers and an ablution block. As usual, there is an impressive collection of skulls on display.
Rules posted at Ngoma Gate
There are three rangers on duty. We produce our reservation confirmation, which indicates that we have been assigned to site #3 for the next three nights. However, we learn from the ranger who assists us that site #3 has been double booked, so we have been moved to site# 1. We are pleased with the new assignment, as the ten campsites at Ihaha are strung out along the river, and site #1 is on the eastern end and nicely isolated from the rest.
Site #1, Ihaha campsite, Chobe National Park
As we are signing paperwork, we cannot help but overhear the conversation next to us between a German couple and another ranger. They have been assigned to site #10 which, like our site, is on the end. They are trying to change sites, but the campsite is full. They do not wish to be on the end they explain.
We learn that the reason for their concern involves an ongoing problem with bandits, who cross the river to the campsite from Namibia at night. When challenged by the Germans, the rangers reluctantly confirm that there have been five incidents in the three months prior to our arrival. The campsites are strung out along the southern bank of the Chobe River, and bandits are targeting the campsites on either end - numbers one and ten. The bandits come onto a campsite after the campers have gone to bed, shout at the campers to stay in their tents, and threaten to shoot them if they don’t. The bandits then break into the vehicle on the campsite and take all of the valuables, as well as food and clothing.
Suddenly, site #1 is not looking so good - ideal normally, but not under present circumstances. The rangers assure us that we will be safe, as police are now regularly patrolling the campsite. We agree to remain on site #1. The German couple is not convinced, and insist on camping in the centre of the campground, where they will be closer to the other campers and not so isolated. The couple head off with a ranger to find a clearing where they may camp. When we see them later that evening, the couple are camped near the ablution block, with their vehicle hidden amongst some bushes.
Elephants, a giraffe and zebras on the floodplain
Formalities taken care of, we head along the main track into the park towards the campsite, which lies some 23km to the east of the gate, along the Chobe River. The sand is a lovely dark red and quite deep, so Robert eases up on the steering wheel and lets the Land Rover do the work. We have traveled just a couple of kilometres when Robert brings the vehicle to a stop. Ahead and slightly below, lies the Chobe River, and there are thousands of animals - zebra, impala, elephants, buffalos, sable, kudu, giraffe - feeding on the short, green grass of the floodplain. It is a spectacular sight!
Sable and zebra on the floodplain
Looking carefully, we see zebra and cattle grazing side by side on the Namibian side, where it is not a reserve. At times, we are able to hear the cowbells on the cows, and the sound reminds us of the Masai cattle in Tanzania.
The scenery on the upper road that runs parallel to the river
We continue along the sandy track that follows the river, through an elephant wasteland of mopani, umbrella acacias and baobab trees.
An elephant wasteland
Although we have seen it before, the devastation is shocking. The area is barren and carpeted in elephant dung.
A track down to the floodplain
As soon as we find a track that drops down to the river we follow it, finding ourselves on the floodplain. We follow the track along the river, looping back up occasionally to the upper track on the riverbank. The sights around us are so spectacular that our progress is very slow.
Fires across the Chobe River in Namibia
Smoke hangs in the air. We see two large fires across the river on the Namibian side, and tall columns of smoke are drifting towards us.
The view from Ihaha campsite
Reaching Ihaha campsite, we head to site #1. Like all of the sites at Ihaha, it has a sweeping view of the river, floodplain and Namibia beyond. We cannot help but notice that the site next to us is not visible through the bushes, and that we are well isolated.
Site #1 at Ihaha campsite - plenty of shade at midday
We are relieved to find that the site has several beautiful trees, which offer plenty of shade at midday. We wonder how many of the trees are baboon trees. We will know at sunset, when the baboons will arrive and seek refuge from predators for the night by climbing high into the canopy of the trees. We have unhappy memories from our previous stay at this campsite of having to get up in the middle of the night and move our vehicle, because a troop of baboons was peeing on the roof-top tent.
Impala on our campsite
There are two impeccably clean ablution blocks, with flush toilets, several sinks and showers. Solar panels provide hot water. There is an unprotected water tap near our site. The river provides year-round water for the elephants, so there is no need for them to destroy the taps. I head to the showers, where I have to scrub my feet to rid them of the black stains from the sand on the Savuti campsite.
There are huge herds of buffalo
During lunch, two fish eagles, which are sitting in the trees above our heads, begin to call. It is a magical sound. There are several lovely carmine bee-eaters hunting nearby. Elephants and a huge herd of buffalos come down to the river to drink.
The buffalo are kicking up much dust. We move our chairs so that we are better positioned to watch all of the activity on the floodplain.
We are thrilled to spot an African paradise-flycatcher that is flitting in and out of a tree on our site.
Warthog on our campsite
A rather bold warthog arrives to investigate our site, and settles nearby.
A herd of over fifty impala walks by, some practicing their pronging as they pass. With so much activity at the campsite, we wonder if we should bother going on an afternoon game drive or just stay put.
Sunset over the Chobe River
We opt for a brief drive, and encounter many elephants, zebras, impalas and buffalos. Back at the campsite, we enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Chobe River.
Baboons in one of the trees
At dusk, to our dismay, a large troop of baboons arrives and occupies all four trees on our campsite.
The tent set up well away from the baboon trees
We set up our roof-top tent well out of harm’s reach. We fall asleep to the sounds of zebra alarm calls, hyenas howling and lions roaring.
Impala on the Chobe Riverfront
Day 14: Tuesday 11 October
Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National park
It is dark when we get up at 4:45am and, when we scan the site with our floodlight before emerging from the safety of our tent, we find the eyes of dozens of impala shining back at us.
There are elephants leaving the river next to our site, and there is a massive herd of buffalos nearby. We stick close to the vehicle as we pack up. We are careful not to leave anything unattended. We have disturbed the baboons, and they are climbing down from the trees.
Chobe at dawn
It is a beautiful morning, and the riverfront area is beautiful in the early morning light. Not far from the campsite, we find massive lion prints on the road and follow them.
Sleepy lion on the floodplain
They lead us to a young male lion, which is lying in the open on the floodplain basking in the early morning sunshine. It looks very sleepy, fighting to keep its eyes open.
Eventually, the lion begins to take notice of a large herd of buffalo that are across the river, some 300m away.
Lion contemplating the buffalo
It strolls casually to a spot overlooking the river, where it settles and watches the buffalo more closely. To our surprise, the buffalo pay the lion no heed and continue grazing.
Clearly, they are of the impression that the river is a safe barrier. We wonder if they are correct, or if the young lion will cross the river.
Lion watching the buffalo on the opposite riverbank
Eventually, the lion disappears down into the riverbed and out of sight. We sit for a while longer hoping that, if there is a chase, it might come our way, but no such luck. When we are returning to camp a couple of hours later, the lion is running off into the bush, having being startled by a safari vehicle.
Elephant wading across the Chobe River
We are lucky to come across a small herd of elephants just as they start crossing the river from the Namibian side. The water in this part of the Chobe River is clearly not very deep, as the elephants are able to wade the entire way across.
They leave the river just 20m from us, and we cannot help but laugh at their two-tone colouration. They pause long enough to throw sand on themselves.
We come across a huge herd of impala, and are surprised by the number of carmine bee-eaters we are seeing. There are literally dozens of them.
Breakfast with the bee-eaters!
We sit and have breakfast while watching one group of bee-eaters that are perched together in a tree, hunting and enjoying the warmth of the sunshine. At times, there are up to twenty bee-eaters. Such a wonderful way to start the day!
Lionesses sheltering under a bush
Continuing east along the river, we come across two parked vehicles, and learn from the occupants of one that there are two lionesses sheltering under a bush. We do not blame the lions for seeking shade. It is not yet 10:00am, but the temperature is already 33°C. Not far away, we find marabou storks and lappet-faced vultures on a kill.
Elephant strolling past our campsite
At lunch, while we prepare our midday meal, we watch Namibian fishermen in the river emptying their nets. There is a steady stream of animals either coming down to the river or walking past our site. The heat is making us lethargic, so we take a long midday break.
On an afternoon drive, we find a small herd of roan.
Nearby, we also find a small herd of sable.
A family of mongooses
As I prepare a light meal and Robert takes photos of the sunset, I am suddenly aware of soft twittering noises around me. I am surprised to discover that I am surrounded by over a dozen banded mongooses. They seem as surprised to find me as I am to discover them. They sit just a metre from me, looking at me with quizzical expressions. Not wishing to frighten them off, I freeze, so we find ourselves at a bit of a stand-off.
The log is home to a family of mongooses we discover
Eventually, the mongooses must conclude that the vehicle and I are not going anywhere, because they go around us, taking a circuitous route around the bush next to the vehicle. I watch as they crawl into a fallen log, which is lying behind the Land Rover. It becomes clear that, in our effort to avoid being under the baboon trees, we have parked our vehicle next to the mongooses' home. For the next hour or so, we can hear the soft twittering noises coming from the log, and then it is quiet.
Sunset over the Chobe River
We enjoy another spectacular sunset over the Chobe River.
Later in the evening, as we walk to the ablution block, we are almost trampled by a stampeding herd of buffalo. It is terrifying to hear the animals thundering towards us from the bush, but not be able to see them in the darkness. We chastise ourselves for our stupidity and decide that, from now on, we will only walk to the ablution block during daylight hours.
Buffalo on the floodplain at sunrise
Day 15: Wednesday 12th October
Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National Park
We are up at 4:45am and leave the campsite at 5:30am. The baboons are climbing down from the trees, so we are careful to leave the doors of the Land Rover closed. We are able to see the eye shine and dark outlines of buffalo nearby, and wonder if it is the group that we narrowly escaped last evening. We are very careful to stay near the Land Rover as we pack up. The moon over the Chobe River is a spectacular.
Not far from camp, we see our first black-backed jackal of the trip. It is enjoying the warmth of the sunshine. We come across several roan and sable, and sit and watch as they drink from the river.
We encounter a troop of baboons, which include some very young ones. If it were me driving, we would give them a miss. Since Robert is driving, we stop
Cute, but still wretched creatures!
Baboons are not my favourite animals. In addition to the incident of the baboons peeing on our tent during our 2008 visit to Ihaha, I have unhappy memories from De Hoop Nature Reserve in South Africa, where a troop of baboons broke into our rental cabin and, before ransacking the place, ate our ten-day supply of food. Wretched creatures!
We spy a black heron in the water that is throwing its wings forward to form an “umbrella” over its head to shade the water and facilitate fishing.
It is comical to watch, particularly as we are familiar with the BBC Wild One’s “day-time/night-time” spoof of this bird’s unique feeding action.
Elephants crossing the Chobe River
We see many elephants, either crossing the road in front of us or crossing the river. The river is shallow enough that, most often, the elephants are able to wade across.
Elephants climbing out of the river on the Namibian side
It is fascinating to watch them emerge from the water, using their knees and crawling out of the river.
Giant eagle owl
On an afternoon drive, we spot a giant eagle owl, with it pink eyelids clearly visible, sitting under a bush.
Twice we pass the BDF (Botswana Defence Force), who seem to be patrolling the border. As we are returning to camp, a spotted hyena crosses the road in front of us.
Zebra on the Chobe floodplain at sunset
It is a restless night. The police patrol, driving slowly past our campsite, wakes us up just after midnight. Shortly thereafter, we hear two gunshots, and we have no idea of the source or the reason for them. It takes us a while to get back to sleep.
Around 3:00am, a herd of elephants arrives and begins to snap sizeable branches off the small trees on the periphery of our site. We watch the mayhem from the safety of our roof-top tent. About an hour before dawn, a herd of over a hundred buffalo splashes their way noisily out of the river and thunders across our site. When we peer out of the tent, we see a stream of black passing through the campsite. We are thankful that the tent is tucked safely off to one side of the campsite.
Our final sunrise at Ihaha campsite
Day 16: Thursday 13th October
Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National Park to Livingstone, Zambia
Although we both wake tired, we agree that it has been a memorable final night at Ihaha.
Today will be an interesting day. We are to cross the border from Botswana into Zambia and, although we have decided to forgo the Kazungula ferry crossing and enter Zambia via the bridge at Sesheke, getting into Zambia will likely still be a wee bit of a challenge. Our biggest challenge will be that we will arrive at the Zambian border with no Zambian kwacha, as the currency is not available outside the country. However, we have read and been told that the third party insurance and carbon tax that we will have to purchase at the border must be paid in kwacha. So, we will have to use moneychangers at the border to obtain the kwacha we need. We are not looking forward to this, although I feel a tad more confident since reading up on how to deal with these touts. You cannot fault me for my thoroughness on preparing for this trip! Rule # 1 is that you should insist on dealing with the moneychanger on a one to one basis. Tell him that if he doesn’t send all of his counterparts away, you will not deal with him. The rules go on from there.
The "tree snappers" from last night?
By 6:00am, we are driving west along the riverfront from the Ihaha campsite towards Ngoma Gate, game viewing as we go. We come across a large herd of elephants, and wonder if they are “tree snappers” which entertained us in the night.
Pelicans and one lone open-bill with an identity problem?
We find a large flock of pelicans and marabou storks in the river. With them, is one lone open-billed stork.
Beautiful scenery as we leave the Chobe Riverfront
There are huge dazzles of zebras and dozens of impala grazing on the floodplain.
Breakfast with the kudu
We come across two lovely kudu and decide to have breakfast with the kudu. There are two Namibian fishermen in the river and they, along with the kudu, keep us well entertained during breakfast.
Not far from Ngoma Gate, we come across a very muddy hyena that is snoozing in the sun. Eventually, it wanders past us and off into the bush.
Entering the Caprivi strip
We reach Ngoma Gate at 8:30am and sign out of Chobe National Park. We take the A33 west for a couple of kilometres to the Ngoma border post. We fill out a departures form, have our passports stamped and, with that, we have officially left Botswana. We are sad to leave. As was the case in 2008, the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park have provided many unforgettable moments, and we leave with many fond memories.
We cross the Chobe River and then, at the Namibian border at Ngoma, we fill out entry forms and have our passports stamped. At the gate, we are stopped by the police and Robert, as the driver, signs the vehicle registry, recording the Land Rover’s license plate and his passport number. We are officially in Namibia.
Namibian village in the Caprivi Strip
By 9:00am, we are on our way across the Caprivi Strip of Namibia towards Zambia.
Namibian homes on the Caprivi Strip
Not far from the border, we discover that I was incorrect earlier this morning in thinking that our biggest challenge of the day would be our lack of kwacha.
Namibian village on the Caprivi Strip
Not far from the border, the Land Rover suddenly loses power, and we are unable to travel more than 60km/hr, despite a hefty tail wind and good highway. Thankfully, it is only 68km across the Caprivi Strip to the Namibian border town of Katima Mulilo, so we will not have to travel far at this pace.
We call Duane of Safari Drive in Windhoek using the satellite phone and ask his advice. He promises to call us right back.
One of many lovely, neat and tidy villages along the Caprivi Strip
While Duane scrambles to find us help ahead, we putter along, enjoying the Namibian villages next to the highway, which are very neat and tidy.
Wood for sale along the Caprivi Strip
Duane is back to us remarkably promptly, and suggests that we stop at Dick Sharp Engineering in Katima Mulilo. He suspects that the fuel we purchased at Riley’s Garage in Maun is contaminated, and that we need a new fuel filter.
"Ranulph" being attended to in Katima Mulilo
At Sharp Engineering, the two mechanics look very young. They do not have a fuel filter for our vehicle, but they offer to clean ours. We become concerned when they are not able to locate the fuel filter in the vehicle although, in fairness, it is a new model of Land Rover. Nonetheless, while Robert keeps an eye on the mechanics, I talk to Ollie of Safari Drive in the UK and ask if he is certain that Safari Drive wishes these two young and apparently inexperienced mechanics working on their brand new Land Rover. In the end, Ollie talks to the owner, Dick Sharp, who in turn calls the mechanics and guides them through the procedure over the phone. There was water in the fuel filter we learn. After the filter has been cleaned and put back in, Robert and the lead mechanic take the vehicle for a test drive.
To escape the blazing sun, I go next door to a conveniently located café and order us lunch - a Greek salad wrap for N$40, a fresh mini baguette with brie and tomato for N$45, and two ice-cold Grapetisers. The waitress laughs when she sees me applying one of the cold cans to the back of my neck. She admits that even she is finding it hot. The café also has a small gift shop, and I purchase a lovely basket with an intricate and unique pattern for N$60.
Robert arrives and tells me that all is well with the Land Rover, and we are good to go. We enjoy the delicious sandwiches and then, after stopping to top up the tank, we are on our way to the Namibian border post of Wenela at Katima Mulilo.
At the Namibian border, we fill out departures forms, have our passports stamped, have the carnet (basically a passport for the vehicle) stamped and then head to the gate. We are sent back to the border post because we do not have a road permit - the form that Duane had advised us to try to keep when we left Namibia the first time at Buitepos. The official had insisted on keeping it, so we now need to purchase a new one. Unfortunately, we learn that the woman who sells the permits is at lunch, so we sit in the parking lot in the blazing sun and wait until she returns some forty-five minutes later. Since we are driving a UK registered vehicle, the permit costs us N$220. We will learn later that we could have returned to Katima Mulilo and purchased a permit there. Drat! We finally leave Namibia just after 1:15pm, and cross the bridge into Zambia.
Zambian village east of the Zambian border at Shesheke
The Zambian border at Sesheke is so low key and far enough off the highway to our left that we almost drive past it. A strategically placed official flags us down and directs us to a building and parking lot that are surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence. Before we are even out of the vehicle, we are surrounded by moneychangers, who are carrying great fistfuls of Zambian kwacha. We wave them off and they disappear. The building is not marked in any way but, upon entering, we discover that it is customs and immigration.
At immigration, we fill out entry forms, have our passports stamped, Robert records the Land Rover’s license plate, engine, and chassis numbers into the vehicle registry, and we purchase visas for US$50pp.
The M10 highway east towards Livingstone from Sesheke
At customs, we have the vehicle carnet stamped and Robert shows them his passport. We are then directed to a room to pay the carbon tax. A sign over the door indicates that it is the “cash office.” When we announce to the official in the cash office that we have no kwacha to pay the 150,000 carbon tax, he offers to call in a dreaded moneychanger. We are about to agree, when Robert thinks to ask if he will accept any other currency. To our surprise, the official indicates that, while he is not able to take US$, he is able to accept South African rand or Namibian dollars. Luckily, we have rand, so we pay R250 in lieu of 150,000 kwacha and are issued a receipt.
Shops along the M10 highway from Shesheke to Livingstone
When we emerge from customs and immigration, we are accosted by a scruffy looking man who insists that we owe him money. We wave him off, but he persists, and follows us around as we carry on to the next step. The border is noisy and chaotic, with people racing frantically about from one unmarked building to the next. Most are clutching papers, and we have no idea if they, like us, are trying to clear the border, or whether they work at the border in some capacity. Uniforms or even name tags seem to be a foreign concept at this border post, except for the numerous police, who are wandering around with impressive weapons.
From customs, we head next door to the “Roads and Transport Building” which, to our surprise, actually has a sign indicating its identity - the only building that does. Here, based on the fact that we are driving a foreign registered vehicle and have no trailer, we pay a US$20 road tax. A sign indicates that no other currency is accepted. We pay in US dollars and are issued a receipt.
Shop along the M10 highway towards Livingstone
After paying the road tax, we go in search of the insurance office to purchase the mandatory third party insurance. The persistent man that we picked up at customs and immigration is still trailing behind us. Not able to find the insurance office, we return to customs and immigration and ask the officials which building it is in. The officials laugh and point to the man behind us. It seems that the man who has been shadowing us since customs and immigration is the insurance broker. We apologize profusely to the broker, who graciously waves off our apology.
He leads us to his “office” - an ancient, dilapidated, beat-up, aluminum house trailer, which no longer has a door, windows or floor. Most of the roof is missing as well. A makeshift floor of mismatched planks makes entering the trailer a bit of a hazard, and I watch amused as Robert tries to spread his weight over several boards to prevent himself from falling through. Thankfully, the broker will also accept rand, and we pay R450 for three months insurance. We are issued a very official looking insurance document, similar to what we would receive in Canada
An intriguing name for a Zambian shop along the M10
As we are paying for the insurance, another poorly dressed man shows up and demands 30,000 kwacha. He has no uniform, and nothing to indicate who he represents. This time, having learned from our mistake with the insurance broker, we do not dismiss him so quickly. We learn that he is collecting the council tax. When we tell him we do not have any kwacha, he indicates that we are able to pay the tax in rand or Namibian dollars. We pay 50 rand and, to my surprise, he pulls a scruffy book from his pocket and issues us a receipt.
Clutching our fistful of receipts and the insurance policy, we return to the solitude of the Land Rover. The money changers surround the vehicle again, and we wave them off a second time. We sit and look through my notes and the receipts and documents to see whether or not we have completed all the necessary steps, have all the necessary documents, and have paid all the necessary fees. When we are certain we have, we leave the border post and head east along the M10 towards Livingstone. The Zambian border formalities at Sesheke have taken just 45 minutes, and were far less complicated or challenging than we had feared.
Police officer on the M10 highway near Kazungula
To our surprise, there is no official stopping vehicles as they leave the border post to see if people entering Zambia have all the necessary documents or paid all the requisite fees. However, a couple of kilometres down the highway, we are stopped at a police checkpoint. Only after producing our third party insurance document, are we are allowed to proceed. As for the receipts for the various taxes, we are never asked to produce them for the duration of our stay in Zambia, nor when we leave the country.
Zambian village west of Livingstone
Our first impression of Zambia is of neat and tidy villages comprised of mud and thatch huts surrounded by lovely thatch fences. The highway is littered with bicycles and there are huge bags of charcoal for sale on both sides of the highway.
Home decorated with painted flowers
After 122km, we pass the turn-off for the Kazungula ferry, where we had originally intended to enter Zambia. With Sesheke having been so easy, we are thankful that we followed Duane’s advice. The ferry crossing has a bit of a reputation for being very slow and chaotic.
A beautiful setting on the Zambezi River for Waterberry Lodge
Forty kilometres beyond the Kazungla turn-off, and roughly 20km before Livingstone, we turn right and follow a dirt road through mopani woodland for 6km to the banks of the Zambezi River. In this beautiful setting and secluded location, we find Waterberry Lodge.
The main lodge at Waterberry
We are warmly greeted by Gail, the lodge manager, and Webbie, who we know from the lodge’s website is the resident bird expert, who takes guests on fabulous walks at dawn. We stroll with them to the main lodge, crossing a sweeping lawn that is surrounded by an immaculate garden. Scattered throughout the garden are several very pretty thatched cottages.
The main lodge is an attractive two-storey thatch and timber building, with a dining room and deck/terrace on the main floor, and a bar and lounge upstairs. The latter has reference and other books for guests to enjoy. The lodge is open to the elements, and from wherever we are in the lodge, we have a magnificent view of the lawn, garden and river beyond.
We settle into some comfortable chairs on the terrace with Gail, who is charming. We feel instantly welcome and at home. We are offered cool washcloths and cold lime and sodas, both of which are very welcome after the long, hot drive. Gail outlines the activities available at the lodge, and we sign up for a bird walk with Webbie (Webster Sitwala) at 6:30am tomorrow morning, and a sunset cruise on the Zambezi tomorrow evening.
The River House
Our cottage is the River House which, as the name implies, is perched on the banks of the Zambezi, not ten metres from the river.
Our cottage is as close to the Zambezi as it can be, without being in it
It is bright and cheerful, with white-washed walls, large windows, a soaring thatch ceiling, and a private deck overlooking the Zambezi.
Our cottage, with the welcome message on the bed
There is large, comfy bed with a mosquito net, an en-suite bathroom with an enormous shower, and - thank goodness - a fan. The bed is adorned with flower petals and seeds in the shape of a heart, and the word “welcome” is spelt out in bits of reed. Thanks to the thatch roof and thick walls, the cottage is surprisingly cool. We collapse onto the bed and relax, enjoying a spectacular view of the Zambezi. It is delightfully peaceful.
Robert's message to the staff at Waterberry
Before heading to dinner, Robert writes “Natotela sana” with the bits of reeds that welcomed us, which means “thank you” in Bembe, one of the local languages - this for the staff who will come to turn down our bed and lower the mosquito netting. We have put two weeks worth of camping laundry and the linen from the rooftop tent into our laundry basket, so we will owe the staff a debt of thanks. Waterberry offers a free laundry service, for which we are most grateful.
Waterberry Lodge in the evening
Dinner that evening is enjoyed on the deck under the Zambian sky. The food is delicious and the service impeccable. Hippos serenade us from the river. We begin with homemade rolls, which are warm and delicious. The butter is served in a little ceramic dish that is in the shape of a mokoro. There is no end to the delightful little touches at Waterberry. Spinach soup is followed by chicken and roast vegetables, and the meal ends with a rich and delicious chocolate tart.
We fall into bed shortly after 9:30pm, listening to the sounds of the katydids and hippos. Otherwise, it is remarkably quiet.
The Zambezi at dawn
Day 17: Friday 14th October
Waterberry Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia
We are up at 5:45am for our bird walk with Webbie. We enjoy juice, coffee and rusks before leaving the lodge around 6:15am. It is a perfect morning for a stroll through the bush - warm and clear.
Bird walk with Webbie (in the blue T-shirt)
We wander in the vicinity of the lodge for the next two and a half hours and, in that time, we see 52 species of birds, more than half of which are new to us. Our favourite are the plum-coloured starlings - gorgeous, violet-coloured birds that are stunning in the sunlight. Just before returning to the lodge, we stalk Webbie’s favourite bird, the red-throated twinspot - a beautiful little waxbill.
Robert enjoying breakfast and the view at Waterberry Lodge
Back at the lodge, breakfast is waiting. On the deck overlooking the Zambezi, we enjoy a breathtaking view with fresh fruit cocktail and omelettes made to order. After breakfast, Sue Brooks, Safari Drive’s representative in Livingstone, joins us for coffee, so that she may review our Zambian itinerary with us. Like Duane in Windhoek, Sue is highly organized, and arrives with a binder of notes and maps. We learn that the ferry over the Kafue River on the way to Lower Zambezi National Park is closed, necessitating some changes to our itinerary. On our way to the park from Livingstone, we will no longer overnight at Moorings Campsite in Monze and head to LZNP via Chirundu from there. Instead, we must drive into Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, where we will overnight at Eureka Campsite. From Lusaka, we will by-pass the ferry by taking Leopards Hill Road to Lower Zambezi National Park. Sounds simply enough, we think, but we have no idea what a challenge Leopards Hill Road will present. When Sue describes the road as a bit “tricky” we will find it a masterpiece of understatement. There is one other minor change later in the itinerary, involving a switch in camping venue, but that is it.
Wheelbarrow being well used along the highway to Livingstone
Feeling confident about the upcoming leg of our journey to Lower Zambezi National Park and South Luangwa National Park, we bid Sue farewell and head into Livingstone to have the Land Rover checked and restock our groceries... at least, that is the plan.
Shop on the outskirts of Livingstone
In the Waterberry parking lot, we are surprised to discover that the Land Rover will not start. Gail kindly gathers up her staff, and they attempt to give us a push start, but even that does not work.
Community water tap on the road to Livingstone
Plans are quickly rearranged by the ever efficient Sue, who arranges for Safari Drive’s mechanic to come to the lodge to look at the vehicle, while she drives us into Livingstone.
Colourful shop near Livingstone
In Livingstone, we stop first to purchase an Airtell SIM card and air time for our cell phone. A test call to Sue’s phone shows that our cell is working like a charm. Given our vehicle difficulties, the ability to communicate with Safari Drive may become important. After running a few more errands, Sue suggests that we stop at the Kilimanjaro Café near the Shoprite in Livingstone, which has amazing ice coffees she tells us. We decide to have lunch at the café, and my roast vegetable salad and Robert’s chicken salad are very good, as are the iced coffees.
Two million Zambian kwacha (~400USD) would not fit in our wallets!
We withdraw two million kwacha from a nearby ATM machine, which we will use to pay for diesel (7566 kwacha/litre), food, a couple of meals, and our campsite in Kasanka National Park (705,600 kwacha for two people for 7 nights).
The large bills do not come close to fitting in our wallets, so we temporarily stuff some in various pockets.
12,780 kwacha - the cost of a pineapple!
During lunch, Sue warns us that we may have to spend an extra night in Livingstone while the mechanic determines what is wrong with the Land Rover and repairs it. No worries, we assure her, we will be quite happy to spend another night at Waterberry, which is such a lovely lodge. We will lose a night at Mvuu Lodge near Lower Zambezi National Park, which will be disappointing but, we have a total of seven nights booked in Lower Zambezi National Park, so we can afford to lose one.
The ShopRite in Livingstone is a delightful surprise. On the outside it looks small and a bit on the far side of prime but, once inside, we discover a fantastic store, much larger than it appears on the outside. It has a great bakery, with lovely bread and rolls, a good selection of meat, great produce including grapes, pineapples, kiwis and strawberries and, in terms of dry goods and camping supplies, everything we need. We stock up on all of our non-perishables, leaving the perishables in case our departure from Livingstone is delayed by repairs to the Land Rover.
The Zimbabwe shore of the Zambezi River
In the evening, we take advantage of our free daily activity at Waterberry and go for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi. We are joined by a British couple and two visitors from Australia, who are all good company.
From the lodge, we cross the river and cruise downstream along the Zimbabwe riverbank.
We spot many birds, including a lovely green-backed heron, hippos, and crocodiles.
Sunset over the Zambezi River
There is a cooler of drinks and appetizers, and we sit in the boat and watch a spectacular sunset over the Zambezi River before returning to the lodge.
Dinner is a delicious curry soup, followed by tilapia with roast potatoes, zucchini and carrots, and the best lemon meringue pie we have ever eaten. I wonder if the chef will part with his or her recipe.
At dinner, we are happy to learn from Gail, who has received a message from Sue, that the Land Rover has been repaired and we are good to go in the morning. We ask Gail if it is too late to order lunch packs for tomorrow and, with a smile, she tells us that she has already arranged for them. We are impressed by her efficiency and touched by her thoughtfulness. She is a remarkable hostess.
We return to our cottage and find tidy piles of folded laundry covering our bed. We fall asleep to the magical sound of hippos grunting in the river.
Zambian bakkie loaded with people and cargo
Day 18: Saturday 15th October
Waterberry Lodge, Livingstone to Sandy’s Lodge, Lusaka
After bidding a fond farewell to Gail, who has been so helpful and concerned about our vehicle difficulties, we head into Livingstone to purchase our perishables at the ShopRite. Driving through rural Zambia is giving us a fascinating insight into the lives of the local people.
Vendors beside the highway to Lusaka
By 10:30am, we are headed northeast on the T1 towards Lusaka. The highway out of Livingstone is a newly paved, good highway. However, there are many pedestrians, bicycles, goats, cows and vendors selling all manner of things - charcoal, oranges, clay pots, stools and loquats - along the highway, so we drive with care.
Mom, Dad and the baby!
Most bicycles have two or three passengers. Often the bicycle is carrying a family of three, with mom cradling a youngster.
An impressive balancing act (bags of coal)!
Some bicycles are being driven with impossibly large loads. We imagine that it is a challenging balancing act, so we give the bicyclists a wide berth in case they swerve into our path.
Bags of charcoal on a bicycle
Other bicycles are being pushed. They are piled high with heavy loads, and the seats are being used to balance the cargo. Large bags of charcoal seem to be the most common freight.
Chickens for sale!
Squawking chickens are held up for our perusal, most often by women or children, but occasionally by men.
One of many police checkpoints we encounter in Zambia
Beyond Choma, the new asphalt surface ends, but it is still good highway. We encounter two police checkpoints before Mazabuka, but we are waved through both.
Truck carrying charcoal and wood
Beyond Mazabuka, the highway deteriorates, and becomes narrower and much busier. We begin to encounter many more oncoming large and dangerously overloaded trucks, which are too wide to fit in their lane so they encroach on ours.
We pass the burnt out remains of many trucks. It seems that any hill or sharp corner is a truck graveyard.
Two truck skeletons on this corner
We cringe when we meet an oncoming truck on a corner or hill. We cannot wait to get off the highway.
A common sight on Zambian highways
We lose track of how many truck remains we pass. They are a sobering sight, and we feel far from safe.
The majority of trucks are poorly maintained
We creep up the hills of Munali Pass, trapped behind poorly maintained trucks that are struggling to make it up the hills.
A frighteningly common sight
Sue has warned us to be very careful in the pass because there are many accidents, and we pass three trucks that have dumped their loads. Three accidents in the half hour that we are in the pass - rather alarming statistics!
The remains of a bus
We encounter many overcrowded and seemingly poorly maintained inter-city buses, all traveling at break-neck speeds. We are saddened to pass a recent casualty, knowing that lives were likely lost.
Market along the highway south of Lusaka
After Mazabuka, we enter a farming area, with huge fields of maize and sugar cane. North of Kafue and some 40km south of Lusaka, the highway is lined with vendors selling tomatoes, watermelons, butternuts, potatoes, mangoes, onions, and bags of wood and coal. The produce looks lovely - as good as any in Canada. There are also chickens in beautifully crafted wooden coops for sale.
Entering Lusaka, we find garbage strewn everywhere
The area to the south of Lusaka is an eyesore, with garbage strewn everywhere. This is in complete contrast to the part of the country near Livingstone, where tidy, well-kept villages lined the highway. There are countless men sitting around with apparently nothing to do, and we find the scene as we enter the city rather depressing.
Our cabin at Sandy's Lodge in Lusaka
We have no difficulty finding Eureka Campsite, as it is on the south side of Lusaka next to the highway as we enter the city. Unfortunately, we arrive to discover three large overland safari vehicles, each with roughly twenty young adults, already occupying the campsite. There are beer bottles strewn about, music is blaring and the party is clearly underway. It will be a noisy night. After our rather harried drive, we are in need of a good sleep, so we drive in and we drive out.
We go across the highway to Sandy’s Creations, where there is a new lodge called, not surprisingly, Sandy’s Lodge. Thankfully, despite hosting a wedding, the lodge has a room available. We call Sue to let her know where we are, and she asks us to give her a call in the morning. There is a chance that the pontoon to Lower Zambezi National Park may be functional tomorrow. We have dinner in our room, and take advantage of the wireless, sending family and friends a long email. Shortly after midnight, when we are sound asleep, three children come into the room. We have not noticed a second patio door concealed behind curtains, and it must have been unlocked. We shout and they run before they manage to grab anything.
While the lodge and parking lot are surrounded by a tall, razor-wire-topped fence, and there appear to be security guards on patrol 24 hours a day, three well-secured bags of charcoal disappear from the roof of the Land Rover in the night. We are thankful that we emptied the vehicle of all valuables. We report the theft and our night-time visitors to reception before we leave.
Heading north into Lusaka on the Kafue Road
Day 19: Sunday 16th October
Sandy’s Lodge, Lusaka to Elly Campsite at Mvuu Lodge near Lower Zambezi National Park
After breakfast, we learn from Sue that the pontoon over the Kafue River may reopen around noon. However, this is Africa, and it may well not. She advises us to take Leopards Hill Road as planned. We are on our way shortly after 8:00am.
North into Lusaka
Reaching Leopard Hill Road from the lodge requires us to drive north into Lusaka along the Kafue Road, and we catch our first real glimpse of the city.
Lusaka at 8:00am - the traffic is a little chaotic
There are pedestrians jaywalking everywhere, bicyclists are weaving amongst the vehicles, and the traffic is chaotic, but we have no difficulty finding our way to Independence Avenue, where we head east.
Approaching the Haile Selassie roundabout
We successfully manoeuvre the busy double roundabout at Haile Selassie, our year on the streets of Brisbane, the roundabout capital of Australia, serving us well.
Slate for sale along the road in Lusaka
As we leave Lusaka, the highway is lined with great slabs of slate that are for sale.
Cemetery on the outskirt of Lusaka
On the outskirts of Lusaka, we pass a massive cemetery, that stretches to the north for as far as the eye can see. Near the highway, one cannot help but notice that there are many fresh graves. Simple signs mark many of the graves, and it is saddening to note how many of the graves are those of children or young adults.
Leopard's Hill Road
We follow Leopards Hill Road east out of town, and the tarred surface ends on the outskirts of the city. The washboard surface of the gravel road that follows is very rough in places
Village along Leopard's Hill Road
We travel though a large farming area, with fields of maize and banana plantations. The tidy villages return, and we pass many people either bicycling or on foot.
Young girl waving to us as we pass
As always, the villagers give us a friendly wave as we pass. The further we travel from Lusaka, the narrower the road becomes.
School on Leopard's Hill Road
The directions to Mvuu Lodge using Leopards Hill Road that have been provided to Sue by Mvuu Lodge are a bit vague to say the least. There are no distances given on the roughly sketched map that Sue has drawn for us. All we know is that, once we leave Lusaka, we are to pass a state lodge on the left and then, at a school, turn right/south. We locate the state lodge with no difficulty. However, the problem we then encounter is that there are several schools, and we have no idea how far the correct school is from the state lodge.
School along Leopard's Hill Road
We continue along Leopards Hill Road passing three schools, but none of them has a road next to them that looks significant enough to be the road towards Lower Zambezi National Park. Eventually, when the road begins to swing to the west, we are convinced that we have missed the turn.
We backtrack to the middle of the three schools, Katoba Basic School. While we sit debating if this is where we are to turn, we notice a tiny sign that indicates that the road to the left is Chirundu Road. Towards Chirundu, the border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is the direction we wish to go, so we turn south.
Lovely scenery along the road south from Leopard's Hill Road towards Lower Zambezi National Park
The single lane dirt road south is narrow but in good shape, and we travel up and down long, steep hills through some very pretty country. We pass many tiny villages, and the children run out to greet us while their mothers wave. We feel very out of place but welcome. The villages are lovely - neat and tidy, with lovely thatch and mud homes.
Climbing out of the riverbed - attempt #1!
The further we travel along the road, the narrower and less traveled it becomes. However, all is well with the world until we reach a dry riverbed that lies at the base of a steep gulley.
Climbing out of the riverbed - attempt #2!
We creep down the steep hill towards the riverbed, avoiding large rocks and cavernous trenches left by runoff during the wet season. Unfortunately, when we attempt to drive up the steep hill on the opposite side, we only make it about two thirds of the way to the top.
Backing down to the riverbed for attempt #3
Robert patiently backs down to the riverbed, where we get out of the Land Rover and study the road to determine the best route to the top. The road is covered in loose gravel, has a rough, corrugated surface, is filled with deep trenches and potholes, scattered with large rocks, and not easy to navigate. It takes us two more attempts before we finally make it up the hill. I had begun to envision us camped in the riverbed for the night.
The villages have long since disappeared
At the top of the hill, we stop to debate if we might possibly be on the incorrect road. Perhaps we turned at the wrong school? The GPS is of little help, only indicating that the route we are on is “not recommended.” Oh good! The villages have long since disappeared, and we have not seen a soul for several kilometres. We are not certain if the road will deteriorate further from here. If so, we cannot imagine that Safari Drive would wish their new vehicle on this dreadful road. We are acutely aware that we are driving someone else’s vehicle, and do not wish to do it harm.
The power line - the only hint that we are on the correct road
It is 42°C, and the sweat is pouring off us. After a cold drink in some shade beside the road, we conclude, although doubtful, that we must be on the correct track, as we are occasionally catching sight of a power line. Although not written on the map, I vaguely recall Sue at some point during our briefing referring to the track as the “power line road.”
One of many rough patches
We try to reach Sue on the satellite phone to confer with her, but we have no signal. We decide that the road ahead cannot possibly be any worse than the one behind us, so we carry on. There are several more rough patches, but nothing that rivals climbing out of the riverbed.
Coming down off the escarpment
The section of road off the escarpment is a challenge, with many deep trenches, large rocks and sharp corners, but with due care we successfully switchback our way down the steep hills.
The view of the Zambezi River valley from the escarpment
Our eyes are glued to the road but, when we remember to look up, the view from the escarpment over the Zambezi Valley below is quite lovely.
A lovely home with the escarpment in the background
Once off the escarpment, the road improves dramatically, and we pass through several villages.
Home in the Zambezi River valley
The homes are quite lovely - very neat and tidy and well cared for.
Village with the Zambezi escarpment in the background
The Zambezi escarpment, which provided a wee bit of a challenge earlier this morning, is clearly visible in the distance, and provides a lovely backdrop to the villages that we pass.
In the middle of nowhere, we pass a lovely thatched shelter, and wonder if it is the Zambian equivalent of a Canadian community centre.
To our relief, this banana plantation is marked on our map
Once off the escarpment, the road improves dramatically, and we pass through several villages. To our relief, several kilometres after dropping off the escarpment, we arrive at a T-junction, where there is banana plantation. These are marked on the map that Sue has sketched for us.
The outskirts of Chiawa
We turn left onto a very rough gravel road and pass through the village of Chiawa. From Chiawa, finding our way to Mvuu Lodge is easy. It is simply a matter of following the river.
Mvuu Lodge entrance
We are to spend the next two nights camped at Mvuu Lodge’s Elly campsite, just outside Lower Zambezi National Park. As the name suggests, the area around the lodge is known for its abundance of hippos.
Elly campsite as seen from the Zambezi River
The campsite is on the banks of the Zambezi River, with an unobstructed view of the river, Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe on the opposite bank, pods of hippos, elephants crossing the river, and many species of birds.
The view from Elly
Of the four campsites at Mvuu, Elly is furthest from the lodge, and very quiet and private.
It is large enough to accommodate several tents, and set amongst trees that provide plenty of shade.
The kitchen on Elly campsite
Each of the four sites has a kitchen area with a sink, running water and a braai. There is also a large table with a tablecloth on each site. We are given a large Coleman thermos with filtered water for drinking, which the staff tops up for us whenever necessary.
We loved the bathroom
Each campsite has it own spectacular outdoor bathroom. They are surrounded by 1.5m high rock walls, but are open to the stars. There is nothing like showering under a blanket of Zambian stars.
Our private bathroom on Elly campsite
The bathrooms have a flush toilet, and a sink and shower with very efficient on-demand hot water systems - not that we will need hot water, given the +40°C temperatures that will last for the duration of our stay.
One of the resident frogs
Our bathroom, we soon learn, comes with five, very cute, resident frogs, which we have to be careful not to step on after dark. They seem particularly keen on joining us in the shower, although one favours the wash basin.
The view of our campsite (Elly) at Mvuu Lodge from the riverbank
The staff at Mvuu Lodge is very attentive. Apart from bringing us drinking water whenever we need it, they provide us with firewood, light our campfire in the morning and evening, clean out the braai, rake the campsite, haul away our garbage, and bring us oil lanterns to light up the campsite at night. If we are not quick enough, they will even wash our dishes. I do not think I have ever been treated so well in a campground.
Robin enjoying the view from Elly campsite
We arrive at Mvuu shortly after 4:00pm, and collapse into our chairs on Elly with a cold drink, and enjoy the breeze that is coming off the river. It is stinking hot! We are not willing to even contemplate cooking the boewors on the braai until it cools down.
The first elephants arrive at Elly campsite shortly after we do
We soon discover that this campsite, like the one at Third Bridge, is favoured by elephants. Our campsite is called "Elly" with good reason.
Elephant drinking from the Zambezi below our campsite
The elephants like to use Elly to access the river. They walk down our road and then cut down to the river through our campsite.
Mom and young elephant near our campsite
In the three days that we stay at Mvuu Lodge, we enjoy many elephant visits, including several from a mom and young baby.
A popular mudhole below Elly campsite
There is a particularly fine mudhole just below our site, which is hugely popular with the local pachyderms.
Elephant wallowing in the mud below Elly campsite
Nothing it seems, not even a couple of campers with a vehicle and a roof-top tent will interrupt a good wallow in the mud.
The view of the Zambezi River and Zimbabwe beyond from Elly campsite
During our two-night stay at Elly, elephants will visit the campsite at all hours of the day and night. The view of the river is spectacular. It is a wonderful campsite, which quickly becomes another favourite.
Elly campsite at night
We retire early that night. Soothing music, in the form of hippos grunting, frogs ribbiting and drumming from across the river in Zimbabwe, quickly lull us to sleep. However, we are woken in the night by lions roaring, hyena calling, elephants trumpeting and baboons barking.