BOTSWANA 4X4 TRIP - OCTOBER 2021 BY GERALD O’BRIEN
Well, we have been living with the Covid for a couple of years now and we are adjusting to the new norms and standards. For us it began with the border crossing. Rather than our customary in convoy departure from the Petro Port just north of Pretoria, we decided to stagger our times at crossing the border. It worked well and none experienced any problems other than the usual delay on the Botswana side at the window for paying your road taxes. The typical bottleneck and unnecessary delays probably took us in the region of an hour or so. From there it was plain sailing where we were all to meet for the first night of our 14-day trip at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Everyone soon settled in, went for a game drive and then the usual braai and eyeing out each other’s set ups.
Day two took us on a fantastic stretch of the trip across the Makgadikgadi Pans en route to Kubu Island. The Pans were dry and did not present any problems but were as usual, just such a privilege to drive across and experience the wide-open spaces and fascinating sights and scenes. The last fuel fill up was at Letlhakane which would carry us all the way to Maun the following day. Tyres were deflated at Mamuno, then it was head lights on as we made our way through the thick dust and the Mopane Forest before reaching the edge of the Pan. Here we stopped for a lunch break before heading to our next stop at Kubu Island. Here it was a case of setting up camp before strolling off with a sundowner and camera in hand to view the awesome sunset over the Pan. Not sure how many made the sunrise, which is equally as inspiring. Camping in the wide-open space and really in the middle of nowhere is one of the great African experiences that should not be missed.
The following morning it was an early departure for Maun. There is always just so much to see along the way that it can’t be rushed. Time is required to take it all in. We crossed the vet fences without any trouble and soon we were crossing the main stretches of the Makgadikgadi Pans with a few seriously dusty sections. It was not uncommon for the dust to overtake the vehicle and render our visibility absolutely zero until the wind took over. The two-way radios held in these “dust puddles” so that we did not drive into the back of each other. For some, they found that once the dust had cleared, that they had left the track before stopping and waiting for the dust to clear. All part of a wonderful experience of traversing the great Pans. Once we crossed the Pans, it was more forest driving with thick dust, and sharp winding tracks between the trees. With the many different tracks and thick dust, the convoy did incredibly well for all to remain on the track that I was following and no one getting lost. Getting lost in these conditions can happen so quickly and reconnecting with each other again is a testing exercise. Unfortunately, one of our van’s two hitches took time out to part company with the “A” frame. Ratchet Tie downs came out, a plan was made, and we were soon on our way again. The van was labelled, “Break a lot” from there on.
We arrived in Maun at Croc Camp, which was going to be home for two nights, just before dusk. We all went down and had dinner on the deck on the banks of the Thamalekane River. Service was slow but the food was good, and the two choices of red wine were acceptable. The choice of red wine was simple, it came in either a bottle or a glass. We were on an adventure remember, and this was all part of it.
The following morning, we were all up early and at the airport by 07h30 for the first scenic flight over the Delta for the day. It’s a 45-minute flight which gives everyone a good perspective of the Okavango Delta, it sizes and the many water ways and pools, not to mention the resident herds of game too. From the flight it was over to the opposite end of town for tea and biscuits at the Halfway Ngami dealership, and of course to do a bit of emergency welding on “Break a Lot”. The welding was very well done and held out even during an amazing and hectic stunt which the driver put the van through at a later stage in the trip. We were in Maun for two nights, so the rest of the day was at one’s own time, stocking up on supplies for the next six days in the reserves. Because customs are rather strict with what’s allowed across the border, this means stocking up in Maun is a very necessary part of the adventure. Other than for alcohol, prices are not too bad. We were also given a heads up whilst at Halfway as to where the best place is for good fresh meat at good prices. That night there was a consensus that we should braai at the camp site. The choice of wine would be better and if the service was slow, we could blame our partners.
Day 5 was a big day for all of us, we were headed for Xakanaxa Camp in Moremi via South Gate. Our normal route to Xakanaxa was via 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th bridges. This bridge was unfortunately washed down the river in the recent heavy rains and subsequent flooding, so we did not have much of a choice either than taking the direct route which meant getting to camp early. This gave us time to set up camp and head out for a sunset game drive. The following day we would take a game drive out across 4th bridge and visit 3rd bridge from the other side. It was a good game drive with lots to see and do along the way. Although the game drive seemed to be less than normal in their numbers, we all had some good sightings during our three days stay in Moremi. This included a herd of Wild Dogs close to camp and a large herd of Buffalo’s, probably numbering in the low hundreds. Our drive out to Dead Tree Island was interesting and with a water crossing which had the water going over the edges of our 4x4’s bonnets. Paradise Pools was I think a favorite with everyone. It is a stunning place with many pools of water and a forest of trees, many large dead trees as well as the live ones. It’s also a favorite hangout for the lechwe which are only found in the wet areas around the delta. We were fortunate to see a big herd of these antelope at close quarters.
From Moremi we were headed via North Gate, across the Khwai River to Savuti Camp in the Chobe National Park.
This was to be a long day’s drive, but as with most drives in Botswana, an interesting one with lots to see along the way. We entered Chobe at Zimbabwe gate and only a few kilometers from there on the Marsh route, we saw lions right next to the road, then we saw a herd of an estimated 3000 buffalo on the horizon, also with many elephants, giraffe and zebra. From where we were looking, they all seemed to be headed in a southerly direction, perhaps towards water or expected rainfalls. It could also be that the grazing is particularly good where they were. In the past I have seen herds of zebra covering the horizon in the same area.
We were at Savuti Camp for three nights, and on the first evening, some were still busy setting up their camp when the storm hit us. It came in fast and furious. The strong winds were incredible and soon have every available body hanging from an awning or tent pole to keep things down. Once we were all thoroughly soaked and the camp looking like a tornado had worked its way through, the storm abated and had everyone carrying out repairs reassembling their camps. Dry bedding was passed on to those who no longer owned dry bedding. Savuti was a bit of a let down from a game viewing perspective. Other than, what we saw on our way in on day one, there was very little else in the area. I guess that’s what game viewing is all about and we shouldn’t take things for granted. Following migratory routes, and following the rain and grazing is part of their survival instinct that has worked so well over hundreds of years in all conditions. We are guests in their domain, and we should be happy with what we get.
We left Savuti for Kasane in the north and had an early start as we had a time schedule for the sundowner cruise on the Chobe River at 14h30. After the rains, the soft and sandy conditions were now damp and firm sand conditions giving us the opportunity to make good times for the River Cruise later. After exiting the reserve, we had a long and straight stretch until we would hit the tarmac. It was along this long stretch that “Break a lot” gave everyone following behind, reason to sit up and take note. The consensus was that “Break a lot” had just met its final resting place. We were travelling at a comfortable, but not dangerous speed, when because of an on -coming vehicle, they needed to move out from the tracks on the right over to the tracks on the left, which was behind me. This maneuver was taken at a speed not safe for doing this sort of thing. The towing Fortuner made it safely into the left track but “Break a lot” chose to put on a show. The van when it hit the side of the existing tracks got airborne and glided across to the left tracks and then came down quite heavily in the left track with the left wheel, but this was at a roughly 45-degree angle, and still at speed. Because it happened at speed and the driver had his eyes on the road ahead, he missed the whole show. Those behind saw this and the resultant thud when the van came down that they do not know how the van did not proceed into a barrel roll. The force of the van coming down took the tyre off the rim and bent the steel rim way beyond the best panel beater’s chance of getting it straight again. “Break a lot” was going to live to break another day. Lucky escape for a few people too. Many hands make light work, and we were soon on our way again.
One couple left us for a few days at Linyante and were not going to join us at Kasane. We did however meet them the following morning when we arrived at the Chobe River Lodge for a bit of tiger fishing. They got stuck in the soft sand and after spending some time getting themselves unstuck decided to turn around and head back to Kasane.
We spent two nights at Kubu Lodge, which included taking time out to get a PCR test done for the crossing back into SA.
From Kubu it was down to Marang in Francistown for the last night with dinner at the restaurant. The following morning, we had an early start for the SA border where the convoy split up and made our own way off to our own destinations.
It was a good trip where we saw a lot, did many things, and had a good time together. Roll in 2022!