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Botswana in Rainy Season Feb/March 2006

We had three weeks off in Feb/March 2006 and decided to use this time taking a tour through Botswana off road. Most people visit Botswana during the dry season (July-October), but we decided to see what the rainy season was like. Well, we certainly found out. In 2006 Botswana enjoyed exceptionally high rainfall (with flooding in many places), which lead to magnificent scenery and challenging conditions. One of the beauties of travelling through Africa is that you can’t control your environment, you have to change with it.

We set off from Johannesburg on Sunday 25 February 2006. My wife (Nicola) and I in a 2000 Landrover Defender TD5 90 with roof-top tent and my parents (Hylton and Maureen) in a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee towing a Conqueror off-road trailer. Our first port-of-call was Serowe, where we intended to spend our first night camping at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. We arrived at Serowe just after 3 pm and were greeted by the “mother of all storms”. The rain was so hard that we had just about zero visibility as we arrived in the town. Instead of trying to set up camp, we decided to spend the night at the Lentswe Lodge. The lodge was quite difficult to find and we were disappointed when we arrived. Perhaps they are not used to the rain, but the rooms that we were shown to were flooded. We decided to proceed with our original plan and spend the night at the Rhino Sanctuary (it couldn’t be wetter than the lodge). By the time we arrived at the Rhino Sanctuary, the storm had passed and we were greeted by a lovely evening. A chalet was available and we hired it for the night. The chalet was clean, well kept and comfortable. This was a great place to spend our first evening.

We woke up early the next morning and headed for Rakops, the town on the way to the first game park that we were to visit – the Central Kalahari. Although it is possible to fill up with water at Rakops (and we did), we only found out once we got there that the water in Rakops is brakish. Serowe has sweet water and it is a good idea to fill up with water at Serowe. The road from Serowe to Rakops is quite bad, with a lot of pot-holes. The further we got from Serowe, the worse the condition of the road became. The road however was quite easy to travel on and we just had to slow down on the bad patches. There were also a number of road-works along the way (and plenty of warnings about the bad condition of the road).

 

 

On arriving in Rakops, we filled up with water and fuel (it is quite an experience pumping your fuel by hand), and headed off into the Central Kalahari.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

As we drove off the main the road onto the dirt track to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, it became evident why this is such a good time of year to visit this area. The grass-lands were magnificent. We had to cross a pan to get to the reserve and although there was water on some of the tracks, the tracks were hard and we drove through without any difficulty.                                     

We had decided to camp at Sunday Pan, and as we got closer to our destination we were rewarded with another rain storm. We pressed on because it was starting to become evening and we wanted to reach the campsite before dark. As the rain stopped we drove around a bend in the track into a pride of lions. This was a most unexpected and wonderful welcome into the Central Kalahari. The lionesses moved off the track, but the male lion lay in the track for some time keeping us at bay and rolling onto his back to show us who was the boss. I was quite surprised that these lions were more aggressive/wary than the lions in South Africa, with a lot of switching of their tails.

 

           

 

After being waylaid by the lions, we arrived at Sunday Pan just as the sun was setting. We set up camp as soon as possible. As the sun went down and the tents went up, the lions started roaring. We knew they were close-by, but we did not realize just how close they were (we would find that out later). Rather than braai that night, we had sandwiches and, after being accosted by little black “stink-bugs” (they really stank), headed for the safety of our tents.

We woke up to a beautiful morning to take stock of our surroundings. We were at Campsite 1 at Sunday Pan. As we knew, the camp-site did not have any water. We were very happy to see that although rudimentary, the toilet facilities were well-kept and clean. The facilities consisted of two wooden enclosures - the one housing a ‘”long-drop” and the other a bucket-shower.

 

We spent four nights at the Sunday Pan campsite. A lot of time was spent relaxing under the trees reading, making food and snoozing. We also took a number of game drives. The pans at this time of year are lush grasslands dotted with Gemsbok, Springbok, the ubiquitous black-bellied Korhaan, and the odd Ostrich.

 

    

 

There are two other campsites on Sunday Pan, Campsites 2 and 3. Campsites 2 and 3 are on top of a relatively high hill and have spectacular views over the pan. Campsite 1 is on a lower hill and although it does not have as splendid a view as the other campsites, being lower you have the feeling of being in the pan. On our third evening, we heard the lions roaring as they did on the evening that we arrived. We thought they must be on the pan somewhere so we decided to take a drive to see if we would be lucky enough to see them. Imagine our surprise when we bumped into the pride as we drove out of our campsite, at the sign-post to the camp. We watched them for a while and noticed that they kept looking in the direction of the cluster of trees at our camp. We drove off a short way and saw movement at the base of the hill of our campsite - two lionesses were making their way from trees near our campsite to join the rest of the pride. They must have been there all day and it was quite scary to think that these lions must have decided that the hill-top on which we were camping was a good place for them to spend the day.

 

  

 

 

After spending four interesting and exciting days in the Central Kalahari, we drove back to Rakops and up to the Makgadigadi Pans Game Reserve. We entered at Kumaga and drove down to Njuka hills. The entrance sign was quite intriguing, with the statement “It is cool to be”. Perhaps this is the answer to Hamlet’s famous question?

 

 

We hardly saw any animals in this park, but the open grass-lands were spectacular. Njuca hills is a very rudimentary campsite (with only a long-drop in a reed enclosure), but the feeling of remoteness and the spectacular sunsets make this camp site at which we spent two nights well worth it.

 

    

From Njuca Hills we headed North to Nxai Pan. The campsite was very disappointing. Apparently elephants had dug up the water pipes, so the ablution facilities were not working and they had reverted to a dilapidated long-drop. Notwithstanding the problems with elephants, it is not cheap to enter and camp in this park and something should be done to improve the facilities. Despite the initial disappointment, we were very impressed with the park itself. It does not take long to drive around Nxai Pan, but the Baobab trees, and large herds of Zebra, Springbok and Giraffe were superb. It was also interesting to see Impala in this area. Apparently this is one of the only places where Springbok and Impala can be seen in the same area.

 

      

 

Baine’s Baobabs

We spent two nights at Nxai Pan and headed out early the next morning with the intention of doing a detour past Baine’s Baobabs on the way out. On our way to Baine’s Baobabs we came across two young male lions at the side of the road. There are two routes to get to Baine’s Baobabs. Because of the season we decided to head in on the top drier route and back on the lower route that can be difficult in the rainy season. As we arrived at Baine’s Baobabs we were faced with a flooded pan. A walk across the pan showed the road to be hard and the water shallow (10 cm). We crossed the pan with ease and it was interesting to note that while other vehicles had tried to go around water on the track (and evidently got stuck in the process), the best way to get across water in this area is to keep on the track. When we arrived at the Baobab trees I was astounded by what I saw. I had been there ten years ago in the dry season and the pans around the baobabs were dry rocky beds. They looked like a lunar surface. Now the pans were full of water and the islands extending out of the pans were lush with vegetation. The metamorphosis from desert to Eden was incredible! It was also quite evident that we would not be able to drive back along the lower route because it was completely submerged. Although it is quite possible that the submerged tracks could be driven on, we had no idea where they were and headed back on the upper dry track.

 

          

 

 

From Baine’s Baobabs we drove back to the main road where we said good-bye to my parents. They were going back home and we were heading up North to the top of Botswana. What a wonderful time we had together! I will forever cherish being able to spend this time with my parents in the wilderness, where there is time and nothing else to do but experience nature and one-another’s company.

Okavango Delta

Nicola and I drove to Maun with the intention of spending a few days in the Moremi, and then driving up to the Savute and then into the Chobe. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Maun we found that the rain had continued to fall in this area and the Moremi was flooded and the Reserve closed. The road up to Savuti was also under water. As we were only one vehicle, and discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to head on back to Nata and then up to Kasane. Although a far distance, the roads are good and we did the trip in seven hours. After coming from Maun which is a small town without much appeal, we were very surprised to see what a beautiful place Kasane is, on the banks of the Chobe river. We decided to spoil ourselves and booked into the Chobe Safari Lodge for one night. The night cost 500 Pula (about 700 Rand) for the two of us and must be the best value for money we have ever had at a lodge or hotel. The lodge and rooms are superb and we can thoroughly recommend the Chobe Safari Lodge.

From Kasane we traveled 30km, following the Chobe River, to Ihaha camp site in the Chobe Forest Reserve. The drive is lovely, with great views of the Chobe River, and a lot of animals, including herds of Elephant, Buffalo, Impala, Lechwe and we even saw a Sable Antelope.

 

    

 

Ihaha Campsite is situated on the banks of the Chobe River and has a lovely view across the river to the Caprivi Strip. The river in front of our campsite had a resident hippo. Elephants also like this area and one evening a herd came down to the river, splashed and drank from the river in front of us and then slowly moved through the campsite, grazing along the way. One elephant grazed from the tree under which we were camped and we could hear his tummy rumbling as he moved by. Although the campsite is nice, we were again disappointed with the ablution facilities. The facilities were built with the help of the EU and must have been good when they were built. The facilities were cleaned by staff who stay at the camp, but are in a terrible state of disrepair and need to be fixed up.

 

    

 

 

 

Savute

From Ihaha, we traveled South down to the Savute. The road from the Chobe Forest reserve, to Kachikau is partly tarred and partly dirt. The dirt part is very corrugated, but apart from being uncomfortable to drive on is no problem. From Kachikau to Savute one must pass through an area of sandy tracks in the Goha hills. Even though there had been a lot of rain in the area, the sandy tracks (apart from being very sandy) were no problem. I think that the rain may have made the tracks a little harder and thus easier to drive on than had they been dry. On entering the Savute, we were faced with several areas where the track was under quite deep water (about 1m). It turns out that the tracks were quite hard and the best way forward was to keep to the track (rather than trying to drive around where you would be more likely to hit soft mud and get stuck). On arriving at the Savute Campsite, we found that we were the only people in the camp. Lions had also killed a giraffe a few days before about 500m from the camp. Although we did not see the lions, we could smell the kill and certainly heard the lions that night. Savute camp is well looked after and the ablution facilities are fine, but we did not find a comfortable campsite to stay at. The next day we took a drive down to Savute marsh and were a bit disappointed at how few animals were about. There were lots of birds, but apart from a lone bull elephant and a lone wildebeest and a pair of jackals, we saw nothing. We were hoping to catch the annual migration of Zebra through this area, but it was not to be.

 

    

 

 

After our game drive we went to chat to the ranger about the animals and he confirmed that game was very sparse at that time. He asked if we had seen the lions, as people from the local lodges had found the pride in the campsite? We hadn’t, and considering the fact that we were the only people in the camp, this may have been a good thing. By this time we were a bit more uncomfortable and, with the poor game viewing, we decided to cut our losses and leave the Savute and drive back to Kasane.

It is unfortunate that our plans to visit the Moremi and Savute did not work out, but we will be back to explore these areas in the dry season.

 

 

Chobe River and Zamabia

At Kasane we stayed at the campsite at the Chobe River Lodge which was also excellent and good value for money. We took an evening cruise along the Chobe River, which was one of the highlights of the trip. We had a great sighting of three Elephant bulls swimming across the Chobe River. They were totally unconcerned with the presence of the boat and swam and walked across while playing boisterously with each other. The sunset from the boat was also a sight to see.

 

    

    

From Kasane, we traveled on the Kazungula ferry into Zambia. The requirements for traveling by car to the SADEC states of Botswana and Mozambique have been made far less onerous, and I assumed Zambia was the same. Well, I was wrong. After getting across to Zambia I found out that I needed a copy of the car’s registration certificate and because my car is a “company” car, a letter from my firm saying that the car is allowed to travel into Zambia. Luckily, I was able to cross back to the Botswana side and find a shop (at the border post) and have these documents faxed to me. You also need proof that the vehicle is insured in Zambia (this I had); buy third party insurance (100 000 Kwacha – from one of many “insurance companies” set up at the border post), and also pay a local Government fee of 5000 Kwacha (I fail to understand what this fee is for). Although the Zambian border officials are quite friendly, the border post is a bit of a shambles. We eventually got through the border post and made our way to Livingstone. We spent two nights there and spent the days viewing the Victoria Falls, and also took a trip to Livingstone Island (an island in the middle of the falls from which Dr David Livingstone first viewed the Victoria Falls). The water flowing over the Victoria Falls was at its peak and magnificent to see. We were there at the time of a full moon and took a trip to the falls one night to view a rainbow made by rays of light from the moon in the spray from the falls called a “lunar rainbow”.

 

 

   

 

From Livingstone, we drove back to the Kazungula ferry. On our way we were stopped by a policeman who asked us where we were going and if we had paid 5000 Kwacha for leaving the area. We paid it and received a receipt. On going back through the border post the border officials asked to see the receipt. Clearly it is necessary to make this payment but I am even more confused as to why another payment must be made on leaving the area? Well, we got back across to Botswana and started our trip back home. We drove down to Nata, spent the night in Francistown, and then traveled back to Johannesburg.

Getting back home is a bitter-sweet moment of getting back to your creature comforts, but leaving behind your unhurried, nomadic life that you lived while touring the wilderness. After enduring countless remarks about our “Landy” and whether she would make it through the trip without breaking down, we can say to all the critics – “She was superb”. We never had a moment of trouble and it is great to be able to travel through the wilderness with confidence in a vehicle that you know can handle anything that challenges it. The legend of the Landy lives on!

Dave Cochrane 2006

 

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