CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE: Trip Report April 2014




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    Default CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE: Trip Report April 2014

    LION'S TAILS AND OTHER STORIES:

    First some pics to pique your interest.


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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/04/30 at 06:04 PM.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

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    INTRODUCTION:


    Ever since our visit in 2011 Anne and I have been keen to revisit CKGR as it is one of our favourite wilderness destinations. We still have the most amazing memories from our last visit in April 2011. Our choice of campsites was governed by the very good advice we received on this forum. We basically wanted to do the normal circumnavigation of the north of the reserve, camping in 4 of the 5 “areas” of the park, but omitting the relatively more congested area around Deception Valley and nearby Kori Pan. We also had no interest in travelling the long, sandy road to Xade Gate in the south as the animal concentrations are reputedly low here.

    We booked almost a year in advance to secure the particular campsites we had earmarked. It must be emphasized that there are few if any bad camps in CKGR and I would not want to put anyone off visiting at short notice. It would be perfectly reasonable to accept whichever campsites are unoccupied at the time, with the proviso that you attempt to cover as much of the circuit as possible. I carefully questioned the office manager at Matswere Gate when we exited, on how they handle travelers who just arrive at the gate without a booking. It appears that they will definitely accept payment at the gate in this circumstance. As to the chances of vacant campsites being available, he bemoaned the fact that (like many other DWNP camps) although the sites on paper are often fully booked, many of them are actually not occupied. He explained this on the basis of no-shows but also conceded that cancellations often fail to filter through to the entrance gate office for some unknown reason. He explained that these sites cannot be allocated at the gate because of the possibility of arrivals a day or so late. For most of the year there will be vacancies available but he warned of the possibility of the reserve being full during SA school holidays, with April being the busiest month by far and the rest of the busier times being between the months of Nov to April. He suggested that one should rather check with one of the regional DWNP offices such as Maun or Letlhakane before driving all the way to the gate, especially over the peak periods. I also questioned him about the future role of Bigfoot safaris. He confirmed that their position as agents for the privatized camps was under review because of possible sub-par performances and that the wish from within DWNP seemed to be that management of these campsites revert back to the government departments. He was unable to confirm exactly when clarity will emerge, but that he expected an announcement fairly soon.

    I think it is important to cover both the “pan” and “valley” campsites for variety. Except for Piper Pan 01 (CKPIP01), we were going to stay in completely different campsites to those we used in 2011. Not everyone will want to dedicate 13 nights to the park as we did and it would be perfectly reasonable to visit CKGR as part of a trip to the Delta and Chobe. I would then enter at Matswere Gate, staying first in the Deception/Kori/Sunday areas before moving northwest to Passarge Valley and then out of the park via Motopi and Tau Gate and on to Maun, or vice versa.

    On entering the reserve they had no maps available as they had “run out”. Only when we exited did they have a very handy printout available. This is of concern to me as it is obvious that some visitors, for example the overseas visitors in hired 4x4’s, did not have a clue about the rules within the reserve. They were regularly seen going on night drives and were often found wandering around the reserve in their vehicles, seemingly a bit lost. It must be very difficult to find your way around the reserve without any map or GPS with T4A, although there is some signposting. They seem to regularly arrive at occupied campsites and seem to expect to just squat there without bookings. Parts of this reserve are very isolated and I am sure they regularly find themselves completely out of their depth.

    I think it would be opportune to summarize the contents of the handout we received on LEAVING Matswere Gate, as this very handy 5 page document contains valuable information that cleared up quite a few points of uncertainty for me. Some of these points are self-evident.

    The following items are considered essential:
    -4WD vehicle with extra fuel.
    -Minimum of 10l of water pppd.
    -Vehicle “fluids”, tools and emergency spares.
    -Spade and other vehicle recovery equipment.
    -First aid kit and torch.
    -Two spare tires or tire repair kit.

    REGULATIONS:
    *Drive only on designated tracks.
    *Speed limit 40km/hr.
    *Sitting on the roof of the vehicle prohibited whilst driving.
    *Camp only in designated campsites.
    *Removal or destruction of any plant or animal is prohibited.
    *No driving between 18H30 and 06H00 (April to Sept), 19H00 to 05H30 (Oct to March) and these are the gate hours.
    *Spotlighting and night drives prohibited.
    *Firearms, weapons and any kind of explosive prohibited.
    *Combustible litter may be burnt on the campfire and non-combustible litter should be taken back to the entry gate for disposal. Do not bury any litter as it will be dug up and scattered by hyenas.
    *Fires may only lit in campsites, ensure all fires are completely extinguished before leaving camp.
    *No collection of firewood in the game reserve.
    *If you do not want to use the established pit latrines, dig a hole at least 40cm deep and burn all toilet paper.
    *On the day of departure ensure you leave the reserve before 11H000, otherwise you may have to pay for an extra day. (In fact when I enquired directly they said they would seldom invoke the penalty before 14H00 especially if there was a reasonable explanation).
    *Each campsite is allocated a maximum of 6 persons and 2 vehicles.
    *You may leave your vehicle whilst out on a game drive, but venturing more than 100m from your vehicle could be dangerous and is discouraged.

    CAMPING TIPS:
    #Sleeping outside without a protective shelter is extremely dangerous.
    #Never keep food in your tent at night. All items including cooking equipment should be kept within your vehicle as hyena and lions may damage them.
    #Keep tent flaps closed at all times to prevent scorpions, snakes and other uninvited guests from entering.
    #Before leaving your camp for the last time, all ash and charcoal may be put into the pit latrine or buried in the rubbish pit you have dug and covered with the remaining soil.
    #Visitors are advised to stay in easy reach of their vehicles.

    On this handout they also provide GPS co-ords for each campsite.

    CAMP CODES FOR BOOKING: These have long been a source of confusion so it was good to obtain an official list.
    At present being administered by Bigfoot Safaris but currently their contract is under review.
    DECEPTION VALLEY. CKDEC 01 to 06
    SUNDAY PAN. CKKOR 01 To 04
    PASSARGE VALLEY. CKPAS 01 to 03
    MOTOPI. CKMOT 01 to 03
    PIPER PAN. CKPIP 01 and 02

    WILDERNESS CAMPS WITH NO FACILITIES AT ALL.
    Qwee Pan-CKWIL01
    Bape-CKWIL02
    Molape-CKWIL03
    Xaka-CKWIL04
    Xade-CKWIL05
    Letiahau-CKWIL06
    Lekhubu-CKWIL07
    Kukama-CKWIL08
    Matswere-CKWIL09

    DWNP administered
    Deception-CKMOB01 and CKBOG01, these are for private operators. I also notice that another private operator camp was in use in the Letiahau Valley, signposted CKMOB03.
    KORI PAN-CKKOR01 to 04
    LEOPARD PAN-CKSUN01
    TAU PAN-CKTAU01 (No longer operating closed after private lodge opened near Tau Pan, one can still visit this lovely pan)
    SAN PAN-CKTAU-02 (Spoke to people you stayed there, campsite very overgrown with long grass and appears seldom used)
    PHOKOJE PAN-CKTAU03

    As it turned out our bookings were all privatized camps under Bigfoot Safaris, these are more expensive than those still booked under the DWNP banner. There is no difference in the individual camp facilities and for those on a budget there is nothing wrong with the government administered camps.
    COSTS:
    Bigfoot. Here one pays P168 per person per night, exclusive of 12% VAT. To secure the booking they required a 30% non-refundable deposit.
    DWNP. Payable before departure, they no longer will accept payment at the gates unless unbooked. Costs are almost half that of Bigfoot.
    DWNP fees- Reserve fees, P120pppd. Vehicle fees, P50pvpd. These are payable in addition to the campsite fees, even if in Bigfoot sites.

    Originally the trip was planned around 3 vehicles, 2 other couples and some offspring perhaps. Only 6 people are allowed per campsite but there is really no supervision within the park and although we might have had to book more than 1 campsite per night to accommodate the possible 8 people, I am sure we would have improvised something. The other 2 couples, although extremely well-travelled within Africa, had as yet spent no significant period of time in this reserve. I was really looking forward to introducing them to this wonderfully unspoilt wilderness area, but this was not to be. Circumstances totally beyond their control forced them to withdraw some months before the departure date. Whilst having complete understanding of their individual circumstances, I am afraid that they will eat their hearts out when they discover what they might have experienced on this trip. Yes, CKGR certainly delivered plenty of excitement yet again. Such good friends will not mind if I intermittently allude to what they have missed out on. We definitely missed sharing this trip with our absent friends, with their experience and love for the African bush, they could only have enhanced our trip. However Anne and I have often travelled on these sort of trips on our own and the freedom of being able to make selfish personal choices on day to day plans has definite advantages. There is something special in a married couple sharing these experiences with each other alone. Anne and I are very comfortable with each other’s company.

    I do not really know with any conviction which is the best time of the year to visit CKGR and more frequent visitors than ourselves often disagree. I prefer the green months in the Kalahari, both here and in the Trans-frontier Park. CKGR is not a true desert and I do not find it as attractive dressed in dull grey and brown compared to the refreshing greens of the late rainy season. I believe that the freshly sprouted, nutritious grazing on the pans and along the valleys in March and April attracts the grazers into these open plains and the predators with them and that this enhances the game viewing experience. Most of the campsites are situated on the edge of these areas and so you literally live right in the thick of things. I do still want to visit a little earlier in the rains, Jan or Feb, but would then want to be with a group with lots of experience as vehicle recoveries become highly likely. Others prefer winter, they feel the absence of vegetation renders the animals more visible and that more animals are attracted to the waterholes in the dry.

    Thus once again as in 2011, it was Anne and I tackling this trip on our own. This time we were better equipped as we now have a satellite phone. Even the through roads of the circuit are seldom travelled out of the Deception, Kori and Sunday areas and it is no exaggeration to note that sometimes it will be 3 days before another vehicle traverses for instance, the full length of Passarge Valley. This has obvious implications in the event of a true, but unlikely emergency without a sat phone. By the nature of the facilities one has to be fully equipped for remote travel and one will be needing to carry enough water, 5 to 10L per person per day. Thus supplied and carrying sufficient food for such a trip, if marooned, one is quite easily able to sit it out for quite a number of days. The only other area I have visited quite so isolated as the outlying parts of CKGR is Liuwa Plains in southwestern Zambia. I am of the opinion that it is wise for any visitors or groups to carry a satellite phone in case of emergencies. It would also be appropriate to enter the phone numbers for the office at Matswere Gate into this phone. These are 00 (+) 267 653 0085 or 84. If in trouble you can phone the gate and they will dispatch the police on duty in a Landcruiser bakkie to your aid. Apparently they are fairly well equipped with recovery gear and callouts are a regular feature of the wet season.

    This trip, albeit short in comparison, would prove to be a good test for our plans to set out next year on a prolonged trip to explore the remoter regions of East and Central Africa. I had arranged further modifications to my vehicle, completed after some delay shortly before we set out. These mods were well tested on this trip and with a few minor refinements will certainly make our lives more comfortable and more convenient next year. The additions included removal of the rear seat and replacement with a customized packing/storage system which worked like a dream. We also now had a second small fridge/freezer between the front seats for cold beverages, rear air helper-springs, a solar panel mounted on top of a new hardtop clamshell roof top tent (thank goodness) and an air compressor mounted under the bonnet. I already had a rear bumper carrying 2 spare wheels which proved great for peace of mind. As it is one feels that you are already sailing a little close to the edge travelling alone, without carrying only one spare tire and then having to worry once you have had a puncture and now no further spare.

    The intention of this report back is not so much to act as a guide for those planning a first trip to CKGR, but more as an opportunity to share our experiences with like-minded people, showcase my newly found interest in photography (still a lot to learn) and generally to promote GKGR as a destination for the self-drive wilderness and wildlife enthusiast. For those planning a first trip, may I be so presumptious to suggest that you might find my report from CKGR in 2011 to be still relevant and complementary to this report back. Find it at http://www.4x4community.co.za/forum/showthread.php?t=83984

    CKGR is in my opinion not for those seeking instant gratification. It is no Kruger Park with animals around every corner. You have to work hard for your sightings but what you see is so thrilling because of the largely open terrain of the pans and valleys and the fact that in many areas of the park this will be an entirely undisturbed private viewing. To see a pride of lions or a cheetah strut their stuff across the open grasslands in full view of the gemsbok and springbok, is simply majestic! The parallel that springs to mind is seeing the desert elephants in the river beds of northern Namibia. In Chobe you see elephants around every corner. It is all a question of context and a sense of discovery. Then there is the splendid isolation. It is no exaggeration to state that at times you might be the only humans within 50-100km of pristine African bush. The largely open landscapes and the absence of other viewers make it a photographic paradise. There is not a huge variety of animals as is also the case elsewhere in the Kalahari. For instance there are no baboons, buffalo, elephant (usually) and very few spotted hyena and giraffe. For any who have camped on the Botswana side of Kgaligadi and Mabuasehube, the camp facilities will be familiar. The camps consist simply of a cleared area, a few shady trees, a concrete circle on the ground for braai fires and 2 wooden stockades for a bucket shower and a long drop. There is no water and that at the 4 waterholes is too salty to drink. The best campsites have a view. You feel as if you have become intimate friends with the birds and little animals cohabiting in the campsite with you. Then of course there is always the chance of more menacing visitors as the sites are completely unfenced. To my mind there is no better place to view the milky detail of our southern skies as there is a total absence of artificial extraneous light. A lesson we learnt from one of our erstwhile travelling companions, is a complete aversion to bright camping lights. Artificial light also attracts large numbers of insects, present in profusion after the rains.

    With cloudy skies being largely absent during our visit, the light from a waxing moon was sufficient in camp. Believe me you might need the improved night vision this provides. We only ever used our headlamps and then only whilst needing to see when carrying out tasks like cooking. With frequent lion sightings in the region of the camps and the regular roaring in the proximity of the camps, one needs no reminder of the proximity of lions. We were always on our toes and good night vision is a non-negotiable.

    VIEW FROM CAMP (Sunday 04).



    CAMP SETTING.







    A TYPICAL FIRE CONCRETE SLAB.


    THE ROAD FROM MATSWERE GATE.
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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/05/13 at 12:04 PM. Reason: Correction on Bigfoot fees.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

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    TRIP REPORT:

    Our previous visit had been at the same time of year but no 2 seasons are the same. Despite earlier reports of heavy rain and heavier roads, there had been virtually no rain in the park for about a week or 2 before we arrived. In certain areas the grass although long, was already beginning to brown off and we felt that there were less grazers on the grasslands than on our equivalent previous visit. I personally feel that our timing turned out to be about 2 weeks too late to witness the park at its absolute peak again. I had originally planned the trip to be over full moon but early on had to shift the time by a week or so to accommodate school holidays in context of our original group. Trooper’s recent trip report highlights in a photograph how magnificent a full moon is in this setting. The roads, including the areas of black cotton soil in the valleys and around the pans, had almost completely dried out. I feel that one had to be frankly foolish to get bogged down during the time of our visit. However there was clear evidence in many places of some recent titanic wrestling matches with the now-dried mud. The deep ruts were very impressive indeed. Furthermore the sand was still fairly compacted from the rains and the roads were far easier than I expected. I suspect that many soft-roaders would have coped in these conditions, but woe betide them if any decent downpour of rain suddenly occurred.


    ITINERARY 13 nights in CKGR
    MARCH
    28: East London to Lichtenberg- B+B.
    29: Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
    30 – APRIL 2 (4 nights): Sunday Pan camp 04.

    APRIL
    3 – 4 (2 nights): Passarge Valley 02.
    5-7 (3 nights): Piper 01.
    8-11 (4 nights): Letiahau.
    13: Khama.
    14: Lichtenberg.
    15: Home.

    The border crossing at Kopfontein/Tlokweng was painless and took only 20min. Costs for the record were: Road Permit P40, Third Party Insurance P50, Road Fund P50. We paid in the Pula we had but I gather you can also pay in Rand, although at a poor exchange rate. I saw others drawing Pula from a handily placed ATM. There were no signs regarding meat restrictions and also no sign of any of the recent restrictions (because of fruit fly problems) on fruit and certain veggies. We were not searched or asked about what we were carrying in the vehicle. This was to be the case at all the subsequent foot and mouth barriers, even when travelling from north to south or west to east on the way back, we were simply waved through. It seems as if the heat is off any restrictions for the moment in this area.

    If using Tlokweng there is a very important short cut worth knowing about. It cuts across the triangle to join up with the B1 national road and allows you to completely bypass Gaberone with its relative traffic problems. We had used this short cut before but it was now indicated as the route of choice on our GPS. Going north it is signposted Modipane and is the B135. Coming back home going south, the signpost on the B1 onto the B135 reads Oodi, there is no signage indicating Tlokweng and it is easily missed. It is situated 19km before Gaberone. This bypass is tarred all the way and saves considerable time.

    KHAMA RHINO SANCTUARY:
    For those that have not stayed here before this is a great place to stay en route. Most people camp here but there are fairly rudimentary but neat chalets also available. I would suggest you pre-book for these. We had not booked a campsite and I think it is necessary only during peak SA school holidays. On a previous visit we had paid via a bank transfer, the bank fees were ridiculous. I suspect you can now pay via a credit card form. The costs are relatively steep as you pay not only for camping, but also vehicle entry and park fees. These are; camping P85pppn, park entrance fee P65pppd, vehicle fee P80pvpd. The chalet costs vary according to the number of beds; 2 sleeper P520pd, 4 sleeper P605pd. Going on your own game drive is certainly worth it here, especially to see the highly visible rhino. There is plenty of the general game you would expect. This is one of a few places where you can see springbok and impala side by side. I would suggest you buy a map of the roads for P10 at the entrance shop. The ablutions are in reasonable nick with hot water from electric geysers, especially pleasant if you stay here on the way back after the restricted water in CKGR. On the way back there was no hot water coming out of the taps on the men’s side and Anne had to stand guard whilst I showered in the ladies side.

    Fortunately we made good time from Lichtenberg, arriving at 13H000 after 7 hours on the road. This enabled us to do a comprehensive game drive spending a short time at the bird hide. Here all we saw was some terrapins. Although the sanctuary is sign posted, the map proved handy in negotiating the various loops. In your drive be sure to concentrate on the loops around the open pans and particularly the Kukama route, where the best viewing for rhinos is to be found.

    BIRD HIDE WATERHOLE.




    THE FAMOUS KHAMA RHINOS.






    TWO RHINOS SPARRING.






    DOUBLE-BANDED COURSER.








    The rules of CKGR (which were only available when we exited at Matswere Gate on the way out of CKGR), clearly state that no wood may be gathered within CKGR. I would suggest you buy the mopani wood available at Khama gate, as although we were on the look-out, we saw no wood for sale on the roads along the way. I would stop and buy here even if not staying as the gate is right on the road. They charge P17 for a fairly generous amount of wood, neatly chopped into equal lengths and neatly packaged in plastic making it easy to transport. Apparently you can also buy wood in Serowe but this involves a bit of a diversion. When we entered Matswere Gate there were bundles of rough but good Mopani wood available for P20. When we left we noticed that they had run out of wood, so buy beforehand to be safe.

    We were in campsite 3 both there and back. It is a good site but 4 is a little closer to the ablutions. Camps 3 and 4 are perhaps a little close together for my liking.

    Supper was lamb knuckle stew with rice and veggies, delicious. Anne had precooked and frozen this. For us the meals you eat in the bush are an important component of the enjoyment and memories of the trip. Anyone can eat out of a tin or burn some meat on a fire. We try to think out of the box a little and try to plan our menus accordingly. The evenings signify the end of the day and can be long and boring. With surprisingly little trouble you can transform them into a highlight by concocting a treat each evening. It is such a pleasure sitting and relaxing in camp with cold sundowners and leisurely preparing a good supper. There is even time to appreciate the moon and stars and to enjoy all the night sounds around you.
    Anne has always previously had an unreasonable bias against roof top tents but she rapidly conceded that it was comfortable and convenient. With our “long-arm” reading disability, we found that sleeping head to tail made life much easier. By the end of the trip she is now totally sold on the RTT. Anne had stood up strongly again on this trip, despite her married surname of Weakley!
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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/04/30 at 06:10 PM.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

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    SUNDAY PAN CAMPSITE 04 (Code CKSUN04)-4 nights.

    RETURN TO OLD HAUNTS.

    We left Khama at a leisurely hour of 07H00 that morning as there was only a 7 hour drive ahead of us to our first campsite. Because of the unreliability of the fuel supply at Rakops we filled up with diesel (including 2x 20l jerry cans) at Letlhakane, please note that you do not need to divert right into the town as there are now 2 fuel stations right on the through road. We were also able to buy a fresh loaf of bread here. This is relevant as we had planned to top up with fuel at Rakops about 130km down the road and also buy fresh bread from the small bakery there. Having bought the bread already, I cruised past Rakops without remembering to top up with fuel. This was to become a source of quiet stress for me, as by the end of the circuit within CKGR our fuel gauge was on empty with some way to go before being able to refuel. I have a 185L long range fuel tank fitted so we were carrying 225L of diesel (40L in jerry cans) and we needed almost every liter as we did not hold back on distances covered on our game drives. Note that there are 2 easily located filling stations in the town before Rakops, Mopipi; this is where I would suggest topping up. Rakops has the reputation of not having fuel at times and for the first time for us, it had no fuel at a critical stage for us on our return journey. Diesel in Letlhakane was cheaper than in SA at P9.83 /L.

    With respect to water we were carrying 150L, a little less than the 10L pppd needed to shower every day. The 2 of us are able to shower with a shared 5L of water. The water was carried in a 57l water tank permanently installed in the back of the vehicle, 2x20L in metal jerry cans, 2X20L plastic jerry can like containers with taps and the rest in 5L bottled water containers. As things turned out through misadventure, we would be a bit short of water for the last day in camp. We had plenty of liquid refreshment though!
    The tarred B300 (A14) from Palapye to Rakops is in very good condition and was an easy drive, except for the accustomed domestic stock on the road. I stopped to take a photo of the strongly flowing Boteti River between Mopipi and Rakops, which feeds from the Okavango Delta.

    We reached the turnoff to CKGR, sign posted just after Rakops. It was interesting that my GPS suggested turning off onto various dirt roads before this, these must be short cuts along lesser roads. From Khama to the turnoff had taken us about 4 hours. From the turnoff to Matswere Gate of CKGR was 40km and took us just over an hour. This road is not all that good, sandy along the first bit but not too soft thanks to the rains. Further on there were very deep ruts indicating where others had experienced fairly recent drama with the mud. These mud holes were largely dried out but there were still spots where one could get bogged down if careless. These areas all had well used, short bypasses. We did not come across any members of the Matswere lion pride that we had spotted in the past. There were a fair amount of gemsbok and occasional springbok grazing on the way into the park. Sunday Pan campsite is 58km from Matswere Gate and we took this section slowly at game driving pace, it took us about 2hrs. Once again one could see how difficult and glutinous the black cotton-soil mud holes must have been, especially around Deception Valley. It was amazing to note how relatively quickly they were drying up only a week or 2 since the last rains. Closer to Sunday Pans the roads are predominantly sandy and would have been little of a problem during the wet time.

    We felt that the grass in Sunday Pan in particular, was longer and greener than during our visit at the same time 3 years previously. The grasslands in Deception valley were also dotted with numerous flowers and myriads of butterflies, as was the case throughout the reserve. Very pleasing to the eye. Strangely enough it was our initial impression that the numbers of animals on the plains in Deception Valley were significantly less than April 2011. This impression was confirmed over the next few days and it was obvious that some of the grazers in this locale were already starting to move off the plains. We came across some fairly fresh elephant dung in the road, fresh enough for the butterflies still to be sitting on them for moisture. I was so hoping to be lucky enough to see elephant for the first time within CKGR after recent reports of significant migrations south after the good rains.

    SEEN ON THE WAY IN.


    BOTETI RIVER








    GREEN,GREEN PANS.


    THE BARMY ARMY.




    DECEPTION VALLEY.




    ONE OF MANY P.C.Gs. BUT FIRST ONE SEEN.



    Sunday Pan had more game on it than appeared to be the case with Deception Valley and Kori Pan, with a number of substantial herds of springbok and gemsbok, enough to make the blood quicken in anticipation of the felines we all like to see. Passing travelers had mentioned that the large Sunday Pan lion pride had been spotted near the pan on the road towards Deception, earlier that day. This explained why we had no night time serenades from them for the first 2 nights. They also reported a female cheetah and her 2 near-adult cubs being regularly spotted on Leopard Pan. We had previously stayed at Sunday camp 02 in 2011 and it was with mixed emotions that we passed it after our rather dramatic experience with a pride of lions taking up station for 5 hours during an unforgettable night in 2011. I see that Louis Liebenberg, forum member, mentioned in his report that the lions were in and around the campsite when they camped there at the same time we were at camp04.

    We had chosen 04 camp because of the view it and 03 share of Sunday Pan, as recommended by forum members and as noted during a recce in 2011. We were not disappointed. The camp, together with 03, is set up on a fossilized dune overlooking the pan with a clear view over the grassy pan to the east, especially beautiful in the mornings and evenings. The only disadvantage is the fact that 03 and 04 are only a couple of hundred meters apart and although there were no occupants for the first 2 nights, one was later slightly aware of the camp-side noises when people moved in for the next two nights. A noisy larger group would be very intrusive. The camp at 02 remains a very attractive one to me, mainly because it’s relative isolation and privacy. It is situated about 2km from the waterhole which lies about 400m below 03 and 04. I must comment though that the waterholes were not the animal magnets one might expect, probably because of the recently wet conditions. However the local lion prides are prone to visit the various waterholes in the reserve after a night out hunting.

    SUNDAY 04 CAMPSITE.



    THE VIEW FROM CAMP.



    (CORRECTION) Purple Pod terminalia tree.




    THE THRONE.




    OUR FIRST NIGHT.




    With our new setup the camp was rapidly deployed and we soon had our feet up enjoying a few celebratory drinks, ice-cold from the fridge Tony! In fact throughout the trip we never had to suffer the indignity of a warm drink. Supper was Pasta Mafiosa, shell pasta in a creamy sauce with chopped and browned chicken livers, crisped bacon, mushrooms and herbs. Simply delicious; any fool can eat badly in the bush and we were consciously avoiding too many braais, although we both enjoy good meat on the fire. It was a quiet night with only the frequent screeching call of the resident barn owl, who was to be audible and at times visible throughout our stay here. We enjoy our camp-side companions as you will note. They keep you entertained during the quiet times in camp during the heat of the day and during the long nights in camp.

    We do not enjoy the pit toilets and always take our collapsible deck chair-like toilet seat, deployed use over a deepish hole dug in a shady spot just off the perimeter of the camp. The spade is kept nearby and after use the toilet paper is burnt and the spoils covered with a little sand. This arrangement is of course particularly convenient for Anne. Early the next morning Anne had to laugh when I made my traditional first morning mistake whilst sitting in deep contemplation of the view as I went through my routine morning ritual. I always forget that there is no toilet bowl and end up with a large wet area on the back of my sleep shorts, just because of not remembering to concentrate and direct things properly. Some things never change.

    On our game drive the next morning we bumped into Peet van der Vyver, also from East London and I suspect a forum member although I do not know his pseudonym. He certainly researches on this forum and had telephoned me some months earlier when planning his present trip. They appeared to be having a great time and it was good to meet him face to face. We headed first for the Leopard Pan loop a couple of km away hoping to spot the cheetah. There in fact was not a lot of game on this pan with only a few drips and drabs of springbok and occasional gemsbok herds. The grass was absolutely emerald green and lush, as was the case in most of the reserve. We saw our first group of lovely bat-eared foxes playing in the early morning light and I was able to test my new photographic equipment. There was also an unusually large group of 10 kori bustards and probably due to my lack of expertise, I missed out on a lovely shot of one of the males in display mode.

    BAT-EARED FOXES.











    GEMSBOK CALF trying to hide.




    FIRST RED HARTEBEEST.



    SPRINGBOK HERD.



    KORI BUSTARD.





    I use 2 camera bodies mounted with suitably different lenses for zoom or panoramic photos. With our new storage modification in the rear seat area, I had included 2 drawers situated behind the gap between the 2 front seats for camera and lens storage. This arrangement worked as well as I had hoped, with rapid access to and safe storage of my photographic equipment. I had also purchased a new beanbag from Orms, they had just begun importing them from the USA and it is specifically designed for wildlife photography from the window sill of a vehicle. This largish, heavy bean bag is U-shaped to drape over the sill as others are. The difference is that it had a metal plate which slides in under the material in a separate compartment on the upper surface of the bag. This plate has an attachment area for a camera head and provides a very stable platform for mounting the camera with heavier lenses. I used a Gimble head with a quick release mechanism for changing cameras. The inside of the U, the weight bearing area, has a very effective anti-slip material covering and one can very securely drive around in rough terrain with your camera mounting platform already deployed. Although probably reasonably safe, I did not like to drive around with the camera mounted, especially with heavier lenses. It is perfectly stable to drive shortish distances, for instance to obtain a fresh angle on a moving subject. I need all the help I can get in my recent foray into attempting serious wildlife photography. This beanbag is known as the Apex bean bag if anyone is interested in looking into it.

    We then did the loop around Sunday Pan and enjoyed the herds of 20-30 gemsbok and also a large herd of about 200 springbok, lots of protein! We spent some time observing the antics of the ground squirrels. There were no meerkats seen by us in the entire park on this visit. I am sure I was mistaken when I posted in an oldish thread that I had previously seen meerkat in CKGR. On the way back to camp we made a turn around the empty Sunday 03 campsite and felt that it is very equivalent to the next-door 04 site. It has a similar view with also the same lovely Purple Pod terminalia shade trees. I noticed that it had a bucket for the shower and was tempted to nick it for our site as ours was AWOL. However I knew that other forum members would be moving in there soon and my sense of community prevailed. We always carry a collapsible bucket shower and rope for just this instance. It is easily hoisted over the original gantry in the shower stockade and off you go with a beautiful shower. Whilst it was still hot in the middle of the day, we found it very refreshing to indulge in a shower.

    One of the attractions of the Sunday Pan area is the wide variety of game drive choices available. Once the heat of the day was starting to settle, we set off for Deception Valley on our afternoon drive, about an hour’s slow drive away. There were fair herds of gemsbok and springbok in Deception Valley. Other visitors regaled us with stories of plenty of lion activity in the Deception campsites, one bug-eyed youngster describing how a lion even chewed on the guy-ropes of his tent the previous night. Deception was relatively busy as expected. Somehow we felt that the Valley was already off peak for game viewing and that it surely must have been more impressive a couple of weeks earlier. We had a look at the Kori campsites for old time’s sake. I was able to confirm that only campsite 01 failed to impress us. It is set well back from Kori Pan and with its lack of substantial shade trees it looked a little barren and forlorn. Camp 02 has much nicer shade trees but no view. Camps 03 especially and also 04 are far more impressive, with 03 having the most impressive view onto the adjacent Kori Pan. Their only disadvantage is that the (not very busy) road passes on their front perimeter. Their other advantage is that all the Kori camps are considerably cheaper being administered by DWNP.

    For supper we had especially thickly cut, tender Karroo lamb loin chops from our butcher, braaied on the wonderful Mopani coals, Grabouw boerewors from Woolies and a fresh green and tomato/feta salad with vinaigrette. We had peaceful night interrupted only by the screeches of now 2 barn owls.

    On the 1 April we again started the morning with an early drive around Leopard Pan. We suddenly saw the 3 resident cheetah raise themselves from the long grass not 10m from the edge of the road. Whilst I was manoevering the vehicle for a photograph, they lowered themselves in the grass and disappeared from view not to be seen again. A nice but brief sighting, but a pity not to obtain any photos as they were so close. We drove west into Passarge Valley and stopped at the empty Passarge 01 campsite for brunch. This is a lovely shady campsite set up on a fossil dune. It was not very level and the view of the resplendently green Passarge Valley is restricted by the surrounding trees. There appeared to be a large variety of birds in and around the camp. I could quite happily stay here but would later realize that we prefer Passarge 02 site precisely because of its excellent view of the valley, however it is relatively short of shade but is nice and level. Later on returning to home base I began trying to photograph the birds in camp. This became my regular entertainment whilst in the camps during the middle of the day. There were white-browed sparrow weavers still nesting in camp with the fledged offspring still begging for food. The incessant chattering and burbling of these birds became the theme sound for this camp.

    BIRDS IN CAMP.
    Sparrow weavers






    Fork-tailed drongo on sparrow weavers nest


    Swallow-tailed bee-eaters.



    Shaft-tailed whydah (shaft missed in shot).




    Cape glossy starlings.



    Our game drive enabled us to observe bat-eared fox families in 2 locations. The harsh calls of the black korhaans on the grassy plains also became a theme sound in the background. They were almost as irritating and jarring as the Barmy Army used to be when England were still winning test matches. We would stop and watch the males on their display flight calling loudly whilst they helicoptered back to the ground. They are very tricky to photograph in flight and despite many attempts, I was not able to obtain a single presentable pic throughout our stay in the reserve.

    That night for the first time we had neighbours, an American couple, experienced self-drivers who store their vehicle in Namibia. This seems to be becoming an increasing trend and it is a good thing as these people are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and fun. That night the crescent of a waxing moon was brightly visible for the first time. Supper that night after sundowners was chicken korma curry, the paste was from a Woolies packet, with rice. We had frozen nan bread which we toasted on tin foil over the gas. Delicious!
    That night we experienced Sunday Pan as we like to recall it. Just before we retired we could hear lions roaring, down towards campsite 02. Throughout the night the roars became louder as the pride approached the area of the waterhole 400m from our camp. Just before dawn there were deafening volleys of roars even closer, between our camp and the waterhole. We later learnt that one of the lionesses was in oestrous and this was what all the fuss was about. The very strong Sunday pride is presently ruled by a 3 male lion coalition. Of course when it comes to propagation of your own genes and a bit of nookie, coalitions fly out the window. It was notable how my nocturnal beer consumption decreased in direct proportion to the proximity of lions to the camp. I could not afford too many visits to relieve a full bladder during these nights. Although I had hoped for an early start that morning, I must confess that we first waited for enough light to be able to see around the camp clearly and make out any unwanted visitors. Only once we felt safe could we alight from the sanctity of our rooftop haven. Even then we were on high alert as we had our early morning coffee, performed our morning ablutions and packed up for our game drive for the morning. Even with our caution we beat our American neighbours down to the waterhole by a good half an hour, I am not surprised.

    Some members of the lion pride were at the waterhole slaking their “na-dors” after a hectic night out. I was able to get some reasonable photos in the golden glow of the soft morning light. Present was one magnificent male with 4 lionesses in prime condition. Others later spotted a mating pair. Although Romeo was with 4 women, I suspect he had actually lost out to his coalition partner in the mating stakes. Later we were to see the third male lion lying entirely on his own further up the road. It seemed as if he had lost out completely. The 4 we were watching moved off together down the road. Later in reply to some nearby roaring off to the north, they replied with further volleys of impressive roaring. I suspect the copulating couple were off to the north. After the first group moved onto the pan we returned to the waterhole to find the romantic couple now present there. Although we never witnessed any mating before they too moved off to a separate area of the pan, the lioness was being especially attentive to the male and was outrageously flirtatious. Driving along the Sunday Pan loop road towards camp 02 we came across the third male mentioned, all grumpy on his own. He was lying in the shade for almost the whole day. It is true that the looser in a contest always feels the most exhausted afterwards.

    SUNDAY PAN LION PRIDE:

    Moving down the road from waterhole






    Some roaring from north.



    Male and 4 lionesses.




    The lucky man



    Roars from the south.




    The honeymoon couple.




    The rest of the pride.



    The third male---looser!




    We were headed to Deception Valley and Pan to see if we could find the 2 sets of cheetahs with cubs reported in these areas. No such luck. Instead in the Deception Pan area we came upon a lion paying urgent attention to a lioness. I was proud of her, she repelled his unwanted attentions aggressively, just as I had taught my daughters to repel any unwelcome advances!

    On the way back from Deception we popped into Sunday 02 campsite to say hello to forum member Louis Liebenberg and another couple, he had posted that he would be our near neighbor. We had a good chat and I gave them an indication of where to find the pride. Their aunties were rather wide-eyed as they realized that the commotion from the lions was coming from close to our camp. I see from Louis trip report that the lions put on quite a show for them in and around this camp that night. I would have loved to have been a spider on the wall watching the ladies’ reactions.

    Later when back in camp, Danie Fourie came driving into camp to say hello. He is DanieF on this forum and I had realized that all 3 Sunday camps would be occupied by forum members on that day, April the 2nd. It was great to meet these forum members and their wives. Speaking of wives I can see why some forum members are keen to arrange and attend get-togethers, looking at the eye candy provided by the some of the company. I better stop right here before I offend anyone, perhaps because their partner is attractive, or even worse, perhaps because their wives are not the ones I am referring to.
    Our afternoon drive was around Leopard Pan again, the pan remained completely devoid of springbok and I am convinced that the cheetah had been forced to move on. We paid a short visit to the Leopard Pan campsite, CKSUN01. Although splendidly isolated I did not find it particularly appealing. It is situated in scrubby bush in an area relatively poor in game. Once again I would far rather stay here than not visit the reserve at all. To me its biggest positive is that it is administered by DWNP and costs about half as the 3 under Bigfoot on Sunday Pan. On the far side of Sunday Pan we came upon the solitary male lion again. He really seemed to be keeping his distance from the pride and a low profile. We speculated as to whether he had very recently been ousted by the other two. Supper was the chateaubriand section of a beef fillet, done more on the rare side than medium, on mopani coals and served with a freshly made green pepper sauce. The veggies were a mélange of coarsely chopped potato, onion, butternut and sweet potato cooked in a small potje over the coals, until partially caramelized and also the last of our green salad. Our trusty Engel freezer was functioning well with plenty of juice in the auxiliary lead crystal battery from all our driving around and also thanks to our newly fitted 150 watt solar panel on the roof of our hardtop RTT. This system was to function highly efficiently for the entire trip. As expected the extra charge from the solar panel enables us to run the freezer freely including packing it with drinks to chill. I unfortunately cannot say the same for our newly fitted 17L Snomaster freezer between the front seats. It would run well in the cool of the morning and evening, but then would run ineffectively in the daytime heat. I suspect that it has an overheating problem because of our built-in rear storage module. There are 2 bins just behind the back seats for our camp chairs, which impinge on its vents on either side. I suspect the problem will be rapidly rectified once the bins are removed and the freezer is ventilated properly.

    We had a good night although we could hear the lions snarling and growling in the distance, reminiscent of a pride feeding at a kill. We never discovered a kill, but earlier during the night we heard full-throated roaring from the area of 02 camp and my thoughts went out to the Liebenberg group in this camp.

    LIONS AT DECEPTION.



    Man with a mission.

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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/04/30 at 06:02 PM. Reason: Duplication, redo photos.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  6. #5
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    PASSARGE VALLEY CAMPSITE 02 (Code CKPAS02) 2 nights.

    HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.

    Thursday the 3rd of April was the day we moved on to the camp at Passarge 02. We were ready for a change of scenery as 4 days at Sunday, although wonderful, were enough.

    We were immediately very impressed with Passarge Valley (as also with Letiahau Valley). It has a different feel to it compared to the pans. Passarge is a long valley of at about 70km length but only about 500 to 600m in width. These valleys represent old fossilized river beds, which have not flowed for many centuries. To give you some sort of idea, they have some sort of simirlarity and scale to the Nossob and Aoub river beds in the Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park. However they are far greener during the rains but carry the same sort of game densities and are real lion country. They run roughly from east to west so that you can do game drives in either direction depending if it is morning or afternoon, with the sun at your back, great for photography. The grass was very long on the many open plain sections and was blindingly green with plenty of wild flowers and swarms of butterflies.

    This transformed grazing attracts large herds of springbok and gemsbok mainly, but also scattered little groups of red hartebeest and wildebeest. This of course has a pull on the meanies that like to eat them. Passarge has 3 camps, about 20km apart and the advice given to us was that 02 was the better because of its lovely view across one of the open plains. On arrival at the camp I immediately realized that this was manifestly true with a herd of Gemsbok grazing in full view not a stone’s throw away. I have already discussed the 01 campsite, it is a very good site but is too close to the relatively more crowded Sunday and Deception areas for my taste. Driving to the 02 camp we passed a vehicle driving in the opposite direction. They had just decamped from 02 and mentioned that we were the first vehicle they had seen in 3 days.

    This camp is nice and level making camping easy. The shade trees in camp are slightly scraggly acacias but the shade is adequate. It has the same ablution facilities as the other camps. Later we were to visit 03 camp and found it to be the least attractive of the three. It is situated in a bushy area with not a lot of game. Its only advantage is that it is closer to the Passarge waterhole at the western end of the valley on the turnoff to Tau Gate and Motopi camps. I cannot comment on this waterhole as events intervened and we never got as far as visiting it.

    The 45km drive between camps took us only 2 hours at a very slow game viewing pace with plenty of stops for game viewing and photos. Having dried out, the road was in good condition, but there were clear patches of deeply rutted black cotton soil. It was difficult to imagine that only a month or so previously, this road had to be closed for a spell because of the number of vehicles becoming trapped in the mud.

    ROAD NOW DRY.



    Our 6th lion sighting in 8 days was a pair of lionesses lying in the shade at the side of the road near the unsignposted turnoff to Passarge 01 camp. There were a wide variety of birds in and around the 02 campsite with resident sparrow weavers nesting.

    TWO LIONESSES IN PASSARGE VALLEY:







    CAMP BIRDS:

    Ashy tit.


    Southern masked weaver.



    We had a lovely evening game drive, west in the direction of the waterhole. We saw our second cheetah lying under a bush in the shade not 500m from camp. This was not a high quality sighting as it merely popped it head up at the sound of the vehicle, but at least we knew that there was a cheetah in the valley.



    About 15km down the road first 1 lioness and then 2 others came walking down the road towards us. The one in particular kept stopping and gazing in the direction from which they had come. The reason became obvious when a grand male lion emerged. Her interest in his company was soon revealed, as they were mating. She was shamelessly swinging her hips in the pursuit of his attentions and they copulated about 4 times within close view. I was able to take some satisfying photographs with the good light of the late afternoon sun. We spent almost an hour with them, during which time the male’s energies became completely spent, he was exhausted, but there was no letup from Madame. The most fantastic element of this all is that we had this encounter all to ourselves, there was none of the irritating jostling for viewing positions experienced at many other destinations.

    A SELECTION OF THE MANY PICS OF THE TOUR DE FORCE.

    The hot lady.




    Renewed vigour.



    "Hey there're people watching us".



    Bang - shangalang!



    Round number two.



    Same old, same old.





    Rounnned number three, seconds out!


    There appeared to be more animals in this valley than we had encountered on the pans of Deception and Sunday further east. There were regular substantial herds of springbok of up to about 100 individuals and many herds of 20 to 30 gemsbok. All these animals were sleek, fat and in prime condition after the rains and excellent grazing.

    Supper that night was Jambalaya with Kassler pork cubes and Chorizo sausage, we omitted the prawns. Delicious!

    During the late afternoon we were surrounded by banks of purplish clouds. During the night the patter of a steady drizzle briefly woke us. This was the only rain we experienced in the reserve and it appeared that the rains might have stopped a little earlier than was the case on our last visit. It was then that we noticed that there was a steady, small leak in our new roof top tent. Further examination revealed that there was a small area of damage to the inner shell of our hardtop tent near the hinge section of the clamshell. It appeared that the tent had been forced closed on a hard object, perhaps the ladder and this caused the defect. This should be easy to repair and would also require the assistance of R and D Offroad when we next return to the Cape in October. Once again I was left to rue the fact that there had been no inspection of the finished product or decent handover, given that our vehicle was delivered to us at 6am on Thurs 20 March, just before the long weekend and leaving us only a few days to drive back to East London and prepare for this trip. Our vehicle had been at R and D for a full 3 weeks and 2 days and was way overdue for delivery. The delay was blamed on the slow delivery of certain items to be fitted. What was impressive was that their staff worked right through the night to finish our vehicle before the long weekend. One cannot imagine that there was time to thoroughly check the finished product. I suppose it is not unusual that there should be some shortcomings revealed during the trip, but after the kind of money I spent I am trusting they will effectively rectify the few defects at no charge. All told we felt that they had designed modifications that were practical and effective and we felt ready to embark on our African expedition next year. Relevant is the fact that we were rushed for time and this affected my normal pre-trip preparation routine. All there was time for was an oil change.

    HIGH AND DRY IN PASSARGE VALLEY.

    We set off early the next morning on our game drive, planning to drive west along the valley to view Passarge waterhole as we had never visited it before. A steady drizzle was falling but this settled during the course of the morning. A couple of kms further on we again briefly saw a cheetah, probably the same specimen. Other than the normal animals, some jackals and also later some bat-eared foxes entertained us close to the road. We were stopping quite frequently for me to try and hone my bird photography skills. I must mention that Anne always exhibits exemplary patience with my photographic fiddling about, what with “please hold this” or pass this or that.

    Red-backed shrike on takeoff.




    Ant-eating chat.



    Lark, but which one ?




    Lesser grey shrike.



    Sergeant major- Crowned lapwing.



    We were very excited when we came upon regular piles of extremely fresh elephant dung in the road that had not been present the evening before. This must have been a substantial herd with droppings every 100m for a few kms. From the tracks it was apparent that they were heading in the opposite direction, east, probably towards Sunday Pan water hole. It remains one of my unfulfilled ambitions to stumble upon elephants traversing CKGR. I wonder if this herd was seen by anyone at all?

    Now, in the interests of the popular cliché of “transparency”, I am compelled to relate an inconvenient and frankly embarrassing “tail”. There’s always a sting in the tail is there not? Driving along I noticed a different sound from the tyres. Stopping I discovered that my rear, driver- side tire had deflated almost completely. No puncture was visible and I hoped to merely inflate the tire, locate and plug the puncture and then be on our way. This unfortunately had occurred in a rather awkward situation. The 2 track road was fairly sandy here with a very high middle mannetjie. Anyway out with the compressor and pump up the tire, but to no effect. Test the compressor, yes it appears to be working well. Inspect the tire again but no puncture visible, however the inside area of the tyre in contact with the ground was not accessable to inspection because of the sand and middle mannetjie. Nothing for it but to jack the vehicle up. Problems inserting the bottle jack under the chassis due to the high middle mannetjie. No problem, just dig out the middle mannetjie, but although sandy most of it was bound down by the tree roots and could not be cleared manually. Spade? Uh-oh this had been left in camp in our haste to pack up in the drizzle, so I had to grovel with my hands. First mistake and totally contrary to my policy of never leaving camp without a spade, just in case of it being needed for a recovery situation.

    By now there were many piles of loose sand and the place was a mess. Nothing for it but to take down the Hi-lift jack from its mounting and use it to raise the vehicle. Now I am familiar with using a Hi-lift jack but have great respect for it and its dangers. Observe all precautions, place it on the baseplate and pump the handle to raise the vehicle after chocking the wheels. Why are decent sized rocks so difficult to find when you really need them? By now the sun has burnt away the clouds and I am beginning to sweat in the heat. Not very pleasant. The base plate shifts in the soft sand and the jack has to be lowered and its angle adjusted and the baseplate stabilized further before the vehicle can be raised sufficiently to free the tire. I could now inspect the tire and to my dismay I find that there is a very large gash in the inner aspect of the sidewall that had not been visible in the sand. No problem, I have 2 spare wheels of the Goodrich all-terrain tires. The spare is removed and now we strike the real snag. I cannot shift any of the wheelnuts on the punctured tire at all. Spray with Q20 and try my other wheelspanner, the multi-size cross member type. Soon realize that a better fulcrum is available with the original standard Toyota spanner. Apply it and ask my wife to help to no avail. Get out the rubber tent peg hammer and beat the …. out of the wheel spanner handle. Jump on the handle when applied to the nut. In frustration I wrench the handle and almost tear my biceps muscle completely off at the elbow. A painful injury that made any application of force using my right arm very painful thereafter. Uh-oh I think we are stranded. At least the drizzle had stopped.

    Realizing that we are going to spend some time here and perhaps even sleep in the RTT, I appreciate that I needed to lower the Hi-lift yet again. This is the operation that I most respect as I have seen the injuries that a flailing jack handle can cause. Now another problem, the meshing of the jack will not release due to sand jamming it. I try to blow out the sand with the compressor and clear it out by hand to no avail. I loosen all the attachment bolts and drive the vehicle off the jack successfully. But the jack is jammed in the jacking point and is embedded deep into the sand. Nothing for it but to dig out the base of the jack manually and eventually free it. By now my patient wife has made me a cup of tea and I am able to step back, relax and allow my frustration level to subside. I was in a filthy state with sand and debri all over the place and dirt embedded deep under my fingernails, as if it would be there forever.









    It is now obvious to me that we are probably going to have to spend the night there as late afternoon is approaching and vehicles are unlikely to pass down this little used road at this time. No problem as we are carrying all our provisions and have plenty of water and ice-cold drinks. We contemplate using our satellite phone to contact the gate but decide to give it until midday the next day as we do not want to be a nuisance and I was frankly embarrassed to be stranded because of such a trivial problem. I am left to contemplate my folly in not going through my usual pre-trip routine of having my wheels balanced and aligned and having the tires rotated. I had last done this in Aug prior to our Namaqualand trip but we had a rushed schedule prior to this departure. I also had plenty of time to contemplate that if I had been travelling with the friends as originally planned, their MacIverish talents and added strength would soon have had us out of this pickle. To be totally honest this was the first time that we truly missed them, but they were in my thoughts now I can promise! Having settled down, I then had an uncharacteristic flash of near-brilliance. I am always reluctant to lubricate this jack with grease in sandy conditions because I fear that the mixture of grit and grease would only make the jamming worse. I always carry one of those puffer bottles of powdered graphite that locksmiths use, in case of a jammed padlock. I applied liberal amounts of this to the working parts of the jack and voila the jack was now working as smoothly as a Toyota diesel engine. We had not packed any chairs and this did not help matters as we sat around waiting for help. To pass the time I walked up and down the track bird watching. Later I took out my macro lens and took some photos of the many small wild flowers in the surrounding bush which I will include for your edification. This particular area was relatively poor in animals and I felt pathetically grateful when 2 red hartebeest had the courtesy to keep us company. It was now dusk and now all we had to do was to have a good night’s sleep and await someone’s arrival in the morning. As solace to a troubled soul I even boiled some water and gave myself a close shave which temporarily was a morale booster. I remained convinced that two-man power would be all that was needed to loosen the cursed wheelnuts.














    Gemsbok cucumber.




    Tsamma melon.



    Very creepy armoured cricket. It was really disgusting to see thousands of them devouring the crushed carcasses of their kin in the tire tracks from Matswere Gate. Only to be crushed themselves!



    Our morale was a little low and all we wanted for supper was some heated, bottled Woolies bacon and lentil soup, a new range and delicious I can tell you. I then realized that we had a further problem, we had also left the ladder to the RTT in camp. To allow room for the gas bottle and 4 jerry cans on the front of the roof rack, the RTT was set back a little, with a bit of an overhang at the back to negotiate now in order to clamber into the tent. One look at this obstacle and the normally imperturbable Anne declared that she was sleeping inside the car. This was the last thing I wanted as I really did not want her dozing through the night in the car seat, whilst I was snoring away in the comfort of my bed. That would not be good for marital relations. Now Anne is now nearly 60 and is obviously no longer the most nimble of people. You should have seen our children’s faces when I described to them how she first had to clamber onto the rear bumper of the vehicle with the rear doors open, then onto the cooler box strategically placed before scrambling onto the door mounted spare wheel. The overhang of the tent base made the next move difficult, with me pushing hard upon the most prominent part of her anatomy, propelling her into the luxury of the RTT. I am not sure which of us was the more short of breath after this.





    Have you ever seen anything lonelier? Actually we were absolutely fine.





    Even able to appreciate the sunset.



    The next morning was a new day with new hopes, but by 11H00 we had been there for 24hrs and Anne persuaded me to phone Matswere Gate for help via the sat. phone. Here I reached Punny who was most helpful once she had got over her incredulity of us being marooned because of over-tight wheel nuts and immediately arranged that the police on duty for emergencies, dispatch their Land Cruiser bakkie and willing hands to rescue us. Well at least it was not a Land Rover! As fate would have it within 30min of us phoning we heard a vehicle approaching. This was a hired Land Cruiser (once again I was grateful) with a charming Austrian couple (what else can I say?). They immediately offered to help. Up with the Hi-lift jack now working as smoothly as melted butter. Our newly found best friend, Robert Stiener stood well clear as he had heard reports of a fellow Austrian being air-evacuated from Moremi with a smashed jaw a short while previously. With the power of 2 men and despite my very painful right elbow we were able to loosen the nuts with some initial difficulty and within 2 ticks we were mobile again. How embarrassing!

    OUR RECUERS.


    I must say that for the rest of the trip I was incredibly grateful for having 2 spare tyres. The fear of another puncture without a spare would have been very inhibiting as we still had to travel to the more isolated outer reaches of CKGR. Some lessons learnt: never travel without your spade; graphite powder is the best lubricant for a Hi-lift jack; check your wheel nuts before a trip; CKGR is not a good place to tackle on your own and avoid placing your wheels outside the tracks as much as possible. In retrospect the tear in the sidewall must have occurred from a piece of wood, in maneuvering the vehicle with 2 tires off the tracks, whilst photographing the mating lions. Finally, never take your friends’ names in vain!

    We were hardly on the road when we remembered that helpers were on the way. I stopped and contacted Punny only to find that to my chagrin, they had left some 45min earlier and had no coms with them. We were due to make the longish drive to Piper Pan that day and rushed back to pack up camp at Passarge, hoping that we would meet our rescuers on the way. As things turned out they had taken the shorter cutline or Western Bypass route and we only met them later on the way to Piper, near Passarge waterhole. There were 5 of them, 3 on the back and they had just seen the site of our travail and were headed to confirm that all was fine. I was still very embarrassed at inconveniencing them for something so trivial, but they were absolutely charming. The officer stated that they enjoyed the drive, rather than sitting around in camp and mentioned some of the game sightings they had seen. They had been having a quiet time compared to the preceding weeks when they were being called out more than once a day in the muddy conditions. I must say that their vehicle seemed to have most of the required recovery equipment, so future travelers don’t sweat. Anne and I had discussed it and I had pocketed a good few hundred Pula and I wanted to offer them some monetary reward for this unnecessary call-out. I rather awkwardly stated that I would like to give them some money so that they could perhaps buy a little something for their wives or children. The officer flatly refused this offer saying that they were only doing their duty and that in any case, receiving money for services rendered was not allowed. My admiration for them increased further if possible, what a pleasant encounter. Where I come from the cupped hands would have been out in a flash!

    It was now after 14H00 and we still had some long and rough roads to travel before reaching Pipers Pan 01 campsite, so once again we were unable to locate and visit Passarge waterhole. What is it like? We felt that in retrospect we could easily have spent 3 nights in Passarge 02 and could have had 1 night less at Sunday.

    FOUND WHILST PACKING UP AT PASSARGE CAMPSITE. Notice the grimy fingernails from groveling.



    Before the water hole we came upon a group of 3 vehicles who pulled off the road, so we stopped for a chat. It was Roland, forum member “RDG”, who had posted that we should pass each other on this day as we were effectively swopping camps. We had a lovely chat swopping notes. He mentioned that they had found the Piper area slightly disappointing compared to previous visits, as there was much less game on the pans than he had previously witnessed. He was unfortunately completely correct. He also warned us to beware of the loop road around the 3rd pan at Piper as this still had deep mud at its far section. We were aware of this area from our last visit. He mentioned that there was a large herd of giraffe around that vicinity, but although we later looked for them, they appeared to have moved on. This made RDG the 4th, but not the last forum member we would cross paths with on this trip.

    The drive was most enjoyable, the area around Phokoje Pan looking in particularly at its very best. There was plenty of game on these very green pans. We saw 2 unusual things here, first a group of 7 tawny eagles roosting together in 1 tree and then a few large flocks of migrating white storks feeding on the pan. Christa (Lekhubu of the forum) had asked me to have a look at Phokoje Pan campsite for her as she was contemplating including this camp for their trip planned for about the same time in 2015. Unfortunately Lekhubu, the camp was occupied at the time of us passing and I did not want to be intrusive. From the road I could see that there was only 1 stockade for the ablutions, so that I presume the pit toilet and the shower still share the same space, which honestly is not a problem at all. I am absolutely confident that the chewed up toilet seat would have been replaced by now, 3 years after we last were at Phokoje. It is a wonderfully located isolated camp, go for it. Incidentally your other consideration, San Pan appears not be a great site as related to me and reported earlier.

    FOUR OF THE ORIGINAL 7 TAWNY EAGLES.




    Demonstrates the different colour morphs well.





    MIGRATING WHITE STORKS.



    There were some rain clouds about and there must have been a considerable downpour earlier that day as at the Letiahau/Piper T-junction, as we suddenly came upon a fairly long section of low-lying road that was under almost a meter of water for about 300 meters. I engaged low range and powered through but fortunately it was no problem as the underlying surface was firm. We arrived at Piper Pan camp 01 at 17H30. The 138km trip had taken us nearly 4 hours. It was immediately obvious that RDG was 100% correct. The long grass of the pans at Piper had already started browning off and the amount of game on the pans appeared appreciably less than we expected. We were probably a couple of weeks or so too late to see Piper at her very best. On the way around the pan we spotted 2 red-necked falcons, an Abdim’s stork and a black harrier. We set up camp rapidly in this, one of our all-time favourite campsites.

    Supper was marinated chicken kebabs cooked on the coals and the very last of our fresh greens for a Greek salad, which were remarkably well preserved in the cooler box. We rotate frozen bottles of water and also our frozen meat for that day, through the cooler box. Just after supper a few lions began roaring from the north towards the main pan, but after an hour or so they quietened. During the night a single lion, presumably a male, roared his way towards and then past us as he presumably moved up the road to the waterhole 1km away. This was quite impressive as the road and some of the roaring was only 50m away from us.
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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/04/29 at 04:37 PM.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Location
    East London
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    63
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    PIPER PAN CAMPSITE 01:(Code CKPIP01) 3 nights.



    RETURN THE COMPLIMENT.


    We moved into Piper on Sat. 5/4/2014 and left on Tues the 8th. Normally I would consider this a day too short as I love Piper, but as it turned out this was enough time because of the unexpected relatively dry conditions.

    CAMPSITE BY EVENING.




    After the roaring close by during the night, I waited until it was reasonably light and had a good look around the camp before alighting from the RTT and making coffee. We were off on our game drive just after 6H00. We very slowly drove around the main pan and then the other 2 pans to the south. As expected the furthest part of the loop around the 3rd pan was still deep mud. We did not venture into this morass. If stuck here you would have to sit for a number of days as it is about 2km off the main through route and even people staying at the 2 Piper campsites may not drive this route. I made sure the spade was in its bracket on the vehicle! Although there were reasonable herds of gemsbok on the pans and also some herds of springbok, game numbers were definitely down on expectations. There was only 1 herd of wildebeest and very few red hartebeest. I would estimate that animal numbers were down to about a third to what we experienced in April 2011.

    SOME GENERAL SIGHTINGS AROUND PIPER.

    Juvenile pale chanting goshawk ??








    Markedly less wildebeest.






    Glowing.




    Early morning.




    View over pan.




    Shadows.




    A bit bent then?



    Greater kestrel.




    We did not find the noisy lions from the night and likewise could not locate the female cheetah with her 2 near adult cubs reputed to still be present. However I felt she was most likely lying low in the long grass, being especially cautions after the obvious lion presence the previous night. We again came upon the 2 red-necked falcons, the one appeared to be the other’s offspring as she was feeding it from a small bird she had captured. They were a little distant for quality photos but I tried my best. We saw 2 Abdim storks and the black harrier again. There were red-billed teal and black-winged stilts at the waterhole but no animals. I suspect that the waterholes in CKGR come into the own during the dry months. Most of the animals are drought adapted and only drink infrequently.

    BIRDS AT THE PIPER PAN WATERHOLE.

    Cattle egret.


    Red-billed teal.


    Black-winged stilts.



    We visited the second campsite-02, on the road beyond the waterhole. This is a nice camp with lovely shade trees and set on a hillock, albeit with no view because of the surrounding trees. It is also about 2km from the main pan. I would not hesitate to stay here although 01 is the preference.

    I spent the middle of the day in camp photographing the birds. A pair of grey-headed sparrows were feeding chicks in a hole in the trunk of one of the shade trees in the center of camp and kept us amused with their busy comings and goings. They were our constant companions in the camp, I think they are always there as I recall them from 2011. Look out for them. There is also a crimson-breasted shrike resident here, but he is devilishly difficult to capture on camera. Other birds passing through the camp area included a shaft-tailed whydah, Marico flycatcher, black-breasted apalis, Kalahari scrub robin and rufous-vented titbabbler.

    BIRDS IN CAMP AT PIPER.

    Grey-headed sparrow.



    Nesting in tree hole in camp


    Feeding chicks.


    Red-eyed bulbul.


    Green-winged pytilia (Melba finch).



    Ant-eating chat.


    Marico flycatcher.



    A passing vehicle is an unusual event and I went to the road to chat. Present were 3 young Austrian guys in a hired Toyota Hilux double cab. They appeared totally naïve to the African bush and their vehicle did not appear to be well equipped at all. They were looking for the second campsite and were sleeping in 3 small pup tents. I was a little worried about them and warned them about the lions in the vicinity. I also remembered to warn them about the dangers of the mud at the far end of the secondary pans. Later that afternoon a Land Rover passed us also apparently heading for the second camp, which was strange. We went on another drive that afternoon along the same route as the morning, it seemed as if the giraffe had definitely moved away from pan 3. On the way back to camp that evening, 2 young kudu bulls and a cow emerged from the thicket to feed on the pan adjacent to the campsite. We also noted exactly this in 2011. It is quite a treat to see kudu in CKGR as they are very reclusive and seldom spotted.





    Having sundowners in camp another companion emerged to be seen each evening and some mornings. This was a scrub hare who seemed to spend the day sleeping in the scrub on the edge of the camp, emerging in the evenings to go onto the pan. The amazing thing is that although they are usually very timid, this chap did not appear to be intimidated by our presence, he hopped straight past me, not an arm’s length away. Either he has become habituated to human presence or he is simply totally naïve to the dangers of humans and does not recognize us as a potential threat. A short while later a spotted eagle owl began hooting from the tree above our heads and he was also constantly present during the nights.

    Camp scrub hare.


    After a solid night’s sleep we were awakened at about 04H00 by a group of lions roaring from the east. We decided that they were roaring from the waterhole or from one of the secondary pans and set off to look for them. We found 2 male lions and a single female moving about next to the road to the furthest pan. The one male was limping badly and could hardly weight-bear on one of his front feet. Although they were not obviously mating I suspect that the female was in oestrous as she was keeping close to the uninjured male. I would guess that the injury arose from a fight between the 2 males for the favours of the lioness.

    Aging hippy.



    Blowing in the wind.




    Going to the chapel.




    Lady of the moment.




    The injured male.




    After spending about 30min with them we drove on about 200m only to find the young lads from Austria and their double cab stuck in the mud I had warned about. Boy were they glad to see us. It emerged that they had been stuck since 19H00 the previous night, although why they were doing riding about in the dark I do not know. I blame the gate personnel for this as it appeared that visitors were receiving minimal information on entering the reserve. These guys were not even certain that they were in 4 wheel drive and knew nothing about diff locks or low range. For this I blame the vehicle hire companies, the guys confirmed that the company knew they had CKGR on their intended route. First I gave them my spade so that they could dig themselves out and when this failed we tried to push them out. So slippery was the mud that all 4 wheels would turn with absolutely no grip and no progress. Out came my recovery gear and soon I had snatched them to safety. The only liquid they had with them was a now nearly empty bottle of whisky. The iced drinks Anne passed on to them barely touched sides. They had heard some lions roaring that night and abandoned their plans to walk back to camp, although they had no idea in which direction it was. At that stage the Land Rover from the previous afternoon arrived on the scene with a British man and his wife. It turned out that they had joined the young guys in camp, I am not sure which of them were the squatters. They were just on a routine game drive when they happened upon us. I was incredulous when I discovered that yes, they had seen their campsite companions go out on a late game drive and yes, noticed that they did not return that night to their pitched tents and that they were still not back the following morning. No they had not considered going out looking for them or sounding the alarm in any manner. What I said to them when I let them know what I thought of this attitude, is best not recorded in print. What an incredible attitude! Who do they think would have come to their help if they got into trouble?












    I then mentioned to the Austrian lads that the lions were just around the corner, about 2-300m away. On enquiry it emerged that they had been moved frequently in and out of their vehicle throughout the night. Casting about I then showed them the sets of fresh lion prints passing right next to their vehicle. Their eyes nearly popped out when we drove just around the corner and they could see how incredibly lucky they had been. The cell phone cameras were out to take pictures of the lions and one wonders what stories will be told when they return back to Austria. How they were not taken out by the lions I don’t know. If they had walked back to camp it seemed that they would have wandered straight into these 3 lions. As it is they were somewhat unsure of the direction of their 3km distant campsite in the dark. The old rule of never leaving your vehicle when stranded had proven itself yet again!

    On our drive that afternoon, still scanning the pan for the cheetahs, a little cat’s head popped out of the grass briefly before disappearing again. Both Anne and I were convinced that we had just seen a small cheetah cub’s head. We spent some time scanning the area to no avail in the long grass. We had continued to notice groups of vultures descending to various areas in the center of the main pan over the days we spent at Piper. I think these represented relatively small kills such as would be made by a cheetah, as the bulk of the vultures would hardly land before departing. There were also always a few jackals showing an interest in the proceedings. Our theory is that this cheetah has borne another set of cubs and with them being so small, she had gone into hiding to avoid the attention of the dangerous and ever present lions. This is the same cheetah discussed on the forum as being such a successful mother, seemingly raising a set of 2 cubs nearly every year. I would be very interested in any feedback from subsequent visitors seeing anything relating to these cheetahs. We also took the turnoff to the lions, the lioness and one male were there. I would guess that this was not the injured male. Unfortunately things may not turn out well for him with such an injury.

    Our supper was cooked in a flat-bottomed pot on the coals and consisted of 2 lamb shanks as a casserole with potatoes, onions, carrots and celery. Served with gem squash steamed in the same pot and served on rice.

    Lamb shanks you very much.






    "Herero" fire.



    Hey what's cooking man?




    I'm gonna get me some of that!




    The next morning in the predawn light we were awakened by the herd of wildebeest stampeding past in the road next to our camp and snorting with fear. Once again a scan for feline visitors was in order before we climbed down from our RTT.
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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/04/29 at 06:14 PM.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  8. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stan Weakley View Post
    LION'S TAILS AND OTHER STORIES:

    First some photos to pique your interest.


    Stan
    This best picture I have ever seen of a Bat Eared Fox, stunning well done.
    Land Rover Puma 110 '2009'
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  9. #8
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    LETIAHAU CAMPSITE (Code CKWIL06) 4 nights

    THE VALLEYS HAVE IT OVER THE PANS.

    During our stay at Piper I had been watching the fuel situation with some unease. We were down to less than a quarter of a tank and still had some way to go in the park and quite a few more days in the reserve including game drives. Fortunately I had 40l of diesel in jerry cans and although I had never tested my fuel reserve into the stage of the fuel warning light showing, I was of the opinion that even on empty I still had a significant amount of fuel in the tank, but this was not a good place to test it. I never shared these concerns with Anne and certainly drove with a very light foot, but without stinting on game drives. I did leave out one trip I had planned. This was to have been a fairly long day trip to Tau Pan from Piper. I had been keen to visit this, the loveliest pan in CKGR. After the delay in leaving Passarge camp due to the breakdown, we had also not had time to divert from the route to Piper to pay a quick visit. I would strongly suggest a visit to Tau Pan if you are in this area of the reserve. I would have to decant from the jerry cans whilst at Letiahau, but wanted to try and run the tank as empty as possible to try and assess how the gauge behaved. It appears to be fairly inaccurate with the long range tank, especially at the 2 extremes of full and empty.

    We took about 2 hrs to cover the 50km in our move to Letiahau camp. The road had about 3 short sections with deeply rutted drying mud. As a precaution I engaged low range and easily powered through. Letiahau Valley was reasonably green and lush but not quite to the extent of Passarge. Game numbers were reasonable on the open plains, very comparable with Passarge and certainly better than the Deception and Piper areas. Later in the valley we would see larger herds of springbok up to about 200 and also many substantial herds of gemsbok of about 20 to 30. Notable was that red hartebeest were more common and there were even some small groups. Only the occasional wildebeest was present. Bat-eared foxes were regularly sighted in the early mornings and evenings, as were jackals. The very attractive Letiahau waterhole is the main attraction here and the reason for selecting Letiahau camp (instead of Lekhubu camp further east in the valley) is the fact that it is only 6,5km from the waterhole. As it turned out we saw remarkably little at the waterhole itself, but lions do need to drink and perhaps it is more of an animal attraction in drier times. As it was the waterhole was included in our daily drives and it was a pleasant spot to park off in the shade for a while and watch the birds coming to drink. In the mornings flocks of sand grouse come in to drink and throughout the day large flocks of quelea arrive. It turns out that Letiahau’s setting is in more attractive terrain than nearby Lekhubu camp, which is in an unattractive, scrubby area rather than near the open plain sections. Neither camp has much of a view and both have adequate shade trees. Letiahau is situated on a bit of a hillock and is on the periphery of a nice grove of acacias. These attracted many birds, probably the most of any of the camps.

    Both these camps lack even the rudimentary ablutions of the other camps but this did not affect us as we were set up for this with our own toilet and shower. The showers we had were by using our plastic canvas collapsible bucket-type shower hoisted up over a branch using a rope and adjusted to a convenient height. We use the rubber floor mats from the vehicle to keep our feet out of the sand. We could both shower with 5l of water with half a kettle of boiling water added. These alfresco showers were great, but a shower cubicle could be effectively deployed if privacy was an issue. The toilet seat was placed over a deep hole which was easy to dig in the soft sand. There is a choice of 2 adjacent clearings and campsites at this camp. We chose the one set a little lower down, but there was little difference. I had read complaints of these being untidy sites with lots of ash and rubbish around but this was not the case when we were there.

    Burchell's sandgrouse pair at waterhole early morning










    Sandgrouse flying in to Letiahau waterhole.







    WILD DOGS.

    Our first late afternoon game drive to the east on the only road along the valley, really produced the goods. I can recall only one report of wild dogs being seen in CKGR, although packs are well known to be present. A few km beyond the waterhole we struck this jackpot. Three wild dogs were moving along the valley on full alert and were obviously hunting. We noticed that all 3 were collared. After about 10min they moved into some thicker brush and disappeared. This was far from the last time we would see them over the next 4 days. A bit further down the road we stopped to chat to a guide driving an open game viewing vehicle. He and his guests had set up a mobile safari camp at the nearby site CKMOB03. He was able to give me the full story on these wild dogs. They were 2 males and a female and they had been captured on a farm near Gaberone. They were collared and had been relocated to the area around Letiahau waterhole only a week previously. He said that initially they were looking rather “skraal’ but their condition had improved rapidly since and they appeared to be settling down nicely. They were being monitored by “the research guys from Maun.” He also said that a larger group had been captured in the communal farmlands and had been introduced into the Deception Valley area. I really found this to be “feel good” news and perhaps future visitors will find that wild dogs may become regular sightings in CKGR. He warned us that the Letiahau lion pride were a bold bunch and had a well-earned reputation for visiting campsites as he had experienced in the past. I obtained some good pics of a bat-eared fox lying near the road with its ears flat, seemingly content that he could not be seen.

    What a wonderful surprise!





    Lots of springbok nearby.



    My favourite bat-eared fox shots.


    Mr. invisible.


    OK then take your bl...y photo.


    We had a quiet night and I only woke early in the morning when something substantial bumped the RTT ladder. I could not make out any tracks but suspect that it may have been something like a honey badger. The mornings and evenings had become noticeably cooler and we regularly had to wear our fleece tops. We set out early the next morning to see if the wild dogs were about again. We first took the little loop around the waterhole and observed some red hartebeest, a large herd of springbok and the usual herds of gemsbok. We found the 3 wild dogs 200m from the road in the same general area as before, where they were finishing off a gemsbok calf that they must have killed less than 30min earlier. Why did we tarry along the way? It was rather sad to see the gemsbok mother hanging around the near vicinity of the kill, just 20m from the dogs, as if she knew that she was too large for them to tackle. After about 30min she slowly and sadly made her way from the carcass. It’s tough out there!









    Further down the road we bumped into another forum member that had posted to the effect that our paths may cross. This was the fifth forum contact we would meet in the reserve. It was great to meet up with Japie and Hilda (Stofvreter) and their son Riaan with his wife and little son. They were travelling on to Piper Pan and we were pleased to be able to direct them to the wild dogs. We dove on to have a look at Lekhubu camp and on the way back were able to join them with the dogs that had now finished feeding and crossed the road just in front of us. We had a long chat at the waterhole with our newfound friends where we found we have lots in common.

    We returned to camp to find that a group with 3 vehicles had moved into the adjacent site, contrary to the booking regulations. They were very quiet and we decided to let things be. They left early the next morning. When exiting we queried this, but could not really obtain a decent explanation. The staff assured us that there had been nobody else booked at Letiahau for that night. Our bird watching and photography in camp and a game drive occupied the rest of the day. For supper we braaied delicious lamb chops and boerewors with jacket potatoes and onions in foil. We decided that we were not braaing enough.

    We drove west for the first part of our morning game drive and were rewarded with the sighting of another pair of red-necked falcons and a secretary bird still on his overnight roost. We then turned east towards the waterhole and here we had our 9th separate lion sighting. She proved to be a highly photogenic lady and caused us some excitement when she began stalking a group of red hartebeest and a solitary wildebeest with them. However the hartebeest were too wide awake for her and we were able to watch her come down to the waterhole for a drink. We speculated as to why a lioness would move around on her own.















    The hartebeest fully aware of the danger.


    Keeping a sharp lookout.


    Tension getting to them.


    Checking both ways.




    Might as well drink if I cannot eat.


    Who do you think you are looking at?


    Back in camp we had the excitement of seeing an unsuccessful attack by a gabar goshawk on a group of quelea. Other than the birds, our companions in this camp were the ground squirrels of which there were plenty. I had put out some water for the birds and the quelea were constantly coming to drink. Other birds spotted in and around camp were a fork-tailed drongo, red-eyed bulbuls, chestnut-vented tit babbler, pirit batis, scaly feathered finches, and a shaft-tailed whydah that proved elusive to photograph.

    Namaqua dove




    Violet-eared waxbill.



    Pirit batis.



    Shaft-tailed whydah, allways moving, difficult to photograph.


    Another fork-tailed drongo, very confiding.



    Cluster of red-billed quelea.


    I'm guessing a black-chested apalis nest.



    Ground squirrel also after the water.


    I emptied the 2 X 20l jerry cans of diesel into the vehicle as the gauge was now on empty. Afterwards it only read about an eighth of a tank, oh boy!

    That afternoon after a relatively quiet game drive east to the waterhole we decided to continue west for a short distance after the turnoff to camp. At 1,3km from the camp we came upon a pride of 5 lionesses on high alert, hiding in the long grass and following every movement of a nearby herd of gemsbok. However it was not our time to see a kill as the gemsbok slowly drifted away, intelligently grazing into the wind. It was starting to get a little dark and we hurried back to camp so that we could get supper out of the way before too late, because of the lions in the immediate vicinity. Our supper was ostrich fillet Strogonoff and rice. Although it is one of Anne’s favourite meals she says she hardly tasted it as we rapidly scoffed it down. It was initially a fairly cloudy evening and our night vision was not too good in camp. We had not quite finished our meal when we heard a vehicle and saw its lights very unusual at this time of day. It drew into camp and in it were 2 rangers. I went over to speak to them and they asked if we were aware of the lions which were only 600m away and moving in our direction. We quickly washed the dishes, brushed our teeth, final P and stowed all the consumables in the vehicle before we made ourselves snug and safe in our RTT by 19H30. One of the boons of modern technology in the bush is a Kindle and I really enjoyed my reading at night in the RTT. Anne always goes to sleep before me.

    One of the five.


    Another one.


    DEJA VU

    I was still reading at 21H00, a time when we would often still be up and about in camp, when I clearly heard something brushing firmly against the front grill of the vehicle. Lions in camp again? Some of you will recall my report of being terrorized by a pride of lions in camp for 5 hours at Sunday 02 campsite in 2011. Was this going to happen again? At least we were now in a roof top tent and I felt far less vulnerable than I had in a ground tent. Even then, the thought of lions in your camp is enough to set your heart racing and here we were all alone in camp again!

    I was peering out when a lioness appeared next to the vehicle. She moved around in the camp as if she owned it and did not seem worried at all by all the scent of humans she must have been picking up. Lions really are masters of the night. She immediately moved across to where our chairs and table setup were. The clouds had vanished and we could see clearly in the moonlight. She then began investigating our camp furniture. My heart sank when she moved to the periphery of the camp and picked up our toilet in her jaws and holding it aloft like a puppy retrieving a ball, headed 20m into the surrounding bush and dropped it with a clatter. The scary thing was the absolute silence with which this big cat moved about. If we were still up and about, the first time we would have been aware of her presence was when we saw her right next to us. From her confident behavior I am certain that she would have waltzed into camp whether we were up and about or not. What would then have transpired I really cannot state with any certainty. Can any of us predict our reaction if we looked up to suddenly find a lion next to us? I think any sudden moves or noise would evoke aggression from the lion. I find it absolutely amazing to think that with the confident sort of camp invasion I was witnessing, more people are not taken out by lions.

    Our visitor was far from finished and was really behaving as if she was completely familiar with wandering about a campsite. Next she moved to our metal camp table and it fell over with a loud crash as she clambered onto it with her front paws. On it was our gas bottle and cooker head and a sturdy 20l plastic jerry can type water container, the type with a tap. She could obviously smell the water and with a sinking hearts we could hear the loud sounds of her biting repeatedly into it. Then followed sounds of her lapping up the water as it leaked from the holes she had easily bitten through its thick wall. The sounds of her very rough tongue as she licked the plastic surface were as loud as if someone was applying a rasp to its surface. This was all happening not 10m from us. I must say that I felt absolutely safe lying in the RTT observing her actions. I had taken Anne’s point and shoot camera up into the tent precisely for this sort of photographic opportunity. I had even set it onto the correct modes with the flash activated. By this time I had completely unzipped the gauze of the front entrance of the tent to Anne’s hissed displeasure and in low tones was trying to persuade her to hold the beam of the torch onto the lioness so that I could get the camera to focus, this help was not forthcoming! Despite all my endeavors I could not seem to get the flash to fire and all my shots were blank grey screens. By now Anne was absolutely furious with me as I was kneeling upright at the open front entrance of the RTT. All I kept remembering was that when I posted a description of the previous lion intrusion into our camp in 2011, someone had asked why I had taken no photographs and I now was determined to obtain a photographic record.

    The lioness was really getting fully into her stride and seemed to be having fun as she grasped the 20l water container in her jaws and triumphantly bore it aloft a short distance into the bush from where we could hear the loud sounds of her biting further holes into it. She swaggered back into camp and we could hear the metallic sound as we saw her even trying to gnaw on the gas cylinder. I lost it when she moved in on my folded camp chair just below us and we could hear the tearing sounds as she began ripping at the material. I let her have it with a number of abusive shouts telling her exactly where I felt she should go off to. I have no doubt that other animals such as elephants or hyenas would have got the message and moved off, but not this lady of the night! By this time Anne was thumping me none too gently on my back but I could not just let the lioness go ahead with her wanton destruction of my camping gear.

    In the normal course of events much of our gear would have been securely packed away but in our haste because the pride was closing in rapidly, our routine had been disrupted. Believe you me, if I had been in the ground tent setup we had always previously used, my behavior would not have been anything like this. Perhaps I had a feeling of false security perched high on the top of the vehicle. The ladder was still in position, but in any case in retrospect, it would have taken her only 2 bounds and she could have been into the tent if this was what she wanted. We have all seen lions and have been impressed by their size, but I think you never really realize exactly how large they are until they move into your private space. It seemed as if she felt that this was her domain. We were the intruders and she was asserting her authority in no uncertain terms.
    Having now completely flattened our camping setup, she grasped our ground sheet in her jaws and dragged it about 30m into the bush. Finding nothing further to amuse herself, the lioness began making the soft cooing sounds lions use to call one another and after a while moved down towards the plain where presumably the rest of the pride was engaged in their legitimate pursuit of hunting for prey and where she should have been in the first place. What prompted her to deviate from this escapes me. Thinking about it now, I am still absolutely astounded at her confident, mischievous and frankly destructive behavior in our camp. What prompts this and what has happened to the inbuilt aversion that lions are supposed to have for human contact? It would seem that she was asserting her territorial authority. I have no doubt that if we had been in a ground tent she might very quickly have destroyed it in that type of mood. Once the walls of the tent had been breached tragedy could have been seconds away. She spent 45 eventful minutes in our camp and I am most annoyed that the only photos I have are of the destruction she wreaked. Incidentally the “illegal” firecrackers I carry for such emergencies were down in the cubbyhole of the vehicle. I have decided to keep them there as I only really envisaged employing them if a pride of lions move into camp, taking up station there and preventing us from leaving our vehicle. Even if I had them with me in the RTT I do not think I would have used them.

    Missed the lioness in the photo


    Table now down and stuff missing.


    The chaos


    The one chair.


    The toilet dragged into the bushes.


    Ground sheet 30m away.


    The destroyed water container.


    The torn second chair


    The most annoying part of this whole experience is that in scrambling around on my knees to obtain photos, I had inadvertently knelt upon my Kindle and destroyed the screen and now had no reading material for the rest of the trip. I am afraid to say that I received no sympathy from Anne and she was still very annoyed with me for what she terms irresponsible behavior. This proved to be yet another unforgettable bush experience! I wish our absent friends and their families had been with us to experience this. Even such hardened African travelers would have found this a truly memorable experience. It was entirely fortuitous that we had spotted the pride close to camp and had been warned by the patrolling officials who in fact are very seldom seen within the reserve. What might the outcome had been if we had been caught unawares? Finally, what is it about us that attracts lions into our camp?

    We eventually drifted off to sleep. I was awakened at about 03H00 by volleys of roars, the nearest being about 300m away. This was later followed by snarls further away and what I interpreted as the typical sounds of lions feeding on a kill. I am sure that I do not need to explain why we only climbed down from our RTT once there was sufficient daylight to first check out the campsite thoroughly. Muttering away I rescued our various articles of camping gear from the surrounding grove of acacias. I first took some photos of them where found. Furthest away was the ground sheet which was dragged all of 40m away. It was undamaged but I had to chuckle as the drag marks cut a wide swath over the sandy campsite. I could only imagine those people taking over the campsite the following day being impressed with the care we had taken to leave behind a neat site, it would seem to them that we had gone to the trouble to sweep over our footprints in the sand. I trust that they appreciated it! Next was the plastic jerry can water container. It was wrecked beyond belief as it is made of very thick tough plastic and was absolutely riddled with deep fang marks. To my relief the toilet seat was undamaged as losing our shower water for the last 2 days of our stay was bad enough. The material on the backrest of my camping chair was ripped in multiple places but still largely intact and usable. 0f course this chair will still be used on future trips and should provide an interesting talking point. We were still wary in camp as we thought that the lions were still perhaps in the vicinity. After coffee we were ready to leave camp at about 6H45.

    We decided to drive east as perhaps the lion pride might be heading in the direction of the waterhole. We also hoped to chance upon their kill which we felt had occurred during the early hours of the morning if the sound effects were anything to go by. Another surprise for us! We had been driving for only 30m when right on the camp approach road who should we find, but the 3 wild dogs. They had covered over 10km since we had last seen them 36hrs previously. It is interesting to speculate what might have evolved had we left even slightly later as they were headed into the camp. I cannot envisage anything dangerous could have developed, but it would have been just too much to believe to experience a second camp invasion in such a short space of time. The 3 wild dogs turned from the road and made their way across some open grassland before disappearing into some thick scrub. It was good to see all 3 dogs moving freely and it seemed that the dog that had been limping had recovered completely. The dogs were travelling as if with a purpose and were headed southwest. Perhaps some lucky campers have already encountered them near Phokojee or Piper Pans. I do hope they settle down and den successfully.

    Unfortunately we did not find the lion pride, not even at the waterhole. I suspect that they were on a kill that they had dragged into the bushes as is their habit. There were some lion tracks on the road for the first few hundred meters. Pity as I had some opinions to share with them. We also had no luck with our afternoon drive but at least I could predict a peaceful night with some degree of confidence. Our supper was spaghetti Bolognaise. This was the last of our 13 nights in the park before we began our 3 day journey home and we slept like logs. There was still considerable uncertainty on my part as to whether I actually had enough fuel to make Rakops. Oh well, nothing like living slightly on the edge.
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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/04/29 at 10:17 PM.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  10. #9
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    THE JOURNEY HOME (3 nights)

    We had to make it to Rakops (if they had fuel) with limited fuel as my gauge was reading only one eighth of a tank and we had a total of just 130km to go. At least we were not as heavily loaded as when we entered the reserve. I tensely drove along very carefully with a light foot, mainly in fourth gear and we were in fact rewarded with further good sightings. Not 6km down the road towards Deception, near the water hole, we were finally rewarded with our best cheetah sighting of the trip. I simply knew that there must be cheetah in Letiahau Valley with its suitable open habitat and plenty of springbok. This was a female and her near-adult cub seen as they moved from the scrub onto the plain. She was carefully scanning for prey in all directions and keeping a low profile. I had hoped they would cross the road in front of us. After about 15min and seeing nothing to hunt, they disappeared into the scrub as they stealthily moved west. Unfortunately we could not tarry.









    There were fair numbers of general game about and it was no surprise when we came across 2 male lions near Deception Pan, sitting regally in some shade not 5m from the road. This was our 11th separate lion sighting.





    Then a final treat near the gate. An imposing honey badger waddled up the road ahead of us. This was the only ratel sighting of this trip.





    At Matswere Gate we were able to thank Punny for helping us when stuck. I had a long chat to her and the office manager and obtained the information I have shared earlier. My fuel gauge was now sitting on empty but no fuel low warning light had appeared yet. The gate unfortunately did not carry any spare fuel for emergencies. They warned me that, of late, as had occurred in the past, the Rakops fuel station was regularly running out of fuel. These were not comforting words. To my disgust they indeed had no fuel at all at Rakops and we now had to drive on to Mopipi, but at least we were now on a busy road and help was at hand if we ran out of diesel. Mopipi was 52km further on and cruising slowly we reached there safely to fill up. In fact my 185L fuel tank was less than empty despite the gauge reading so. After filling up I calculated that we still had about 25L in the tank, handy information for the future.

    Because of our slow driving we arrived at Khama fairly late in the afternoon so that a game drive was not really possible. Instead we had a most welcome first shower in 3 days having surrendered the last of our shower water to the lioness. Supper that night was a Thai chicken curry from paste in a Woolies packet, on Chinese noodles. Very quick and very tasty. We were once again in campsite no 3.

    I need to mention here that because of the general warnings of malaria outbreaks, even towards the south of Botswana, we had decided to take prophylaxis in the form of Doxycycline which neither of us had utilized before. We wanted to try this as we were looking for a cheaper alternative to Malanil which is usually our first choice these days. It is our plan to take prophylaxis throughout our long Africa trip next year and we were trying to see if we could tolerate the cheaper alternative. Unfortunately both Anne and I developed very itchy skin rashes in the sun exposed skin and after a week decided to stop as it had become intolerable. Fortunately there is now a generic Malarone available in Europe which will hopefully become available here some time. Mefliam causes vivid dreams in both of us but remains an alternative.

    We reached our overnight stop at Lichtenberg and the next afternoon reached East London after 2 uneventful days on the road.

    CONCLUSION:

    FUEL. I have done an accurate estimate of the distance we covered purely within the reserve, from and back to Matswere Gate, and the fuel utilized. DISTANCE- 1300km: FUEL-200L. So not only do you have to take plenty of water but also fuel for about a 1000km or more depending on your length of stay and the distances you are likely to cover during game drives. The typical northern circuit route, covering Piper Pan as well, is about 380km to 420km depending on the exact routes taken. We thus covered about 900km on game drives and we spent a generous amount of time travelling about game viewing. On calculation this was about 75km per day on average for the game drives. We were nearly caught short. It is as well to remember that you may have to travel about 110km from Matswere Gate to Mopipi to refuel and allow for this too. We covered a total distance of 4,900km on this trip.

    FORUM MEMBERS. The fortuitous but not unexpected encounters between us and 5 other forum groups were great. The guys, including myself, were looking a little worse for the wear with stubble and sunburnt faces, but the ladies seemed to appear freshly groomed and spic and span. It is just as well that we have them with us to maintain standards.

    SUMMARY. So how would I summarize this trip? Highly satisfying with some very exciting moments. We saw something like 25 individual lions and 11 separate sightings of lions. These included 9 magnificent males, including an impressive mating display. As I had noted previously we would hear lions roaring, often close by, on more than half the nights in camp. The slightly disappointing thing is that we never saw any on a kill or saw any cubs. We saw cheetah on 4 occasions, but 3 of these were very brief. There were many encounters with the most entertaining bat-eared foxes and jackals, but no Cape foxes. A single honey badger was encountered, but no hyenas, spotted or brown. Seeing the 3 wild dogs on 4 occasions was exceptional, and on a kill. The general herds of game on the pans and valleys were very satisfying and their good condition was apparent. We saw only fresh signs of elephant but onlike recent reports, encountered no giraffe, leopard, aardwolf or meercats, although the ground squirrels always entertain. We thoroughly enjoyed the birds and other creatures in the wild and isolated campsites.

    We enjoyed all 4 campsites but on this trip my favourite of the moment was Passarge 02. We gained a lot of pleasure from all 4 areas in which we stayed, but the 2 valleys outshone the 2 pan areas. I will never leave Letiahau and Passarge out of any future trips we do. I was able to amuse myself and gain experience with the new additions to my photographic equipment. We were also able to put our newer vehicle mods to the test and were very satisfied. From now onwards it is only going to be a RTT for us.
    Then there was the excitement of the experience of being marooned, recovering others, the visit from the lioness and the fuel situation. Though not always pleasurable at the time these experiences all add to the memories.

    Next time? If in a group, perhaps earlier in the year during the rains. Also a visit during the dry months will be a consideration, perhaps Sept, once it has warmed up a little. I think it would be good to tag on a visit to the Makgadikgadi game reserve and perhaps Nxai Pan and the Boteti area, depending on the time of year. I hope this report impacts favourably on its targeted audience, especially on those that might have been with us given different circumstances!
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    Last edited by Stan Weakley; 2014/04/29 at 08:19 PM.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    TransAfrica 2015/2016 blog www.slowdonkey.com

  11. #10
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    Stan there is an issue with the links that are not opening.
    Land Rover Puma 110 '2009'
    Terrafirma suspension
    African Outback add on's

  12. #11
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    Wowiee, your photos are stunning Stan, well done!


    www.botswanafootprints.com
    http://www.facebook.com/Botswanafootprints
    Camping / National Parks / Lodging / Activities / Safari bookings

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    Stan please do not keep us in suspense fix the links.
    I am leaving on the 10/05 and cant wait to read the rest of a super report

  14. #13
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    Subscribed!

    Links are not working.
    Last edited by Paul Dold; 2014/04/24 at 02:49 PM.
    Paul

  15. #14
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    Great Stan! Nice pics and a very entertaining story......

    can't wait for the rest of the story and pictures......

    Rik

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    Also can't access links & pics

    Great read though... shall be saving this for future reference, Thanks Stan.
    Mitsubishi Pajero LWB GLS 2005 - fully rigged to take us anywhere and everywhere.

  17. #16
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    Subscribed.
    Willem Louw
    Toyota Hilux D/C 3.0 D-4D 4x4, Full OME suspension, African Outback Alu-Top, Dual Battery, DIY Drawer System, National Luna 50L
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  18. #17
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    Great report Stan, I am cursing that we had to drop out of the trip because of the change in my daughter's school holidays. Next time...
    Tony Weaver

    1991 Land Rover 110 Hi-Line S/W 3.5l V8 carburettor
    Cooper Discoverer STT tyres, four sleeper Echo rooftop tent
    2012 Mitsubishi Outlander.

    Previously Land Rover 1968 SII, 1969 SIIA, 1973 SIII, 1983 Toyota HiLux 2litre, 2006 Land Rover Freelander TD4 HSE.

  19. #18
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    Superb Stan, as per your previous report(2011) this one has some hilarious, frighting, exhilarating and as always very informative parts to it. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Your first group of images are fantastic with great image quality, however the embedded ones in the report are not visible. Look forward to viewing them.

  20. #19
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    Default ckgr

    thank you stan. very nice

  21. #20
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    Stan , stunning pictures, What lenses do you use ?

    I am looking forward to our trip, we are leaving for Kubu tommorrow and then 3 nights in Leopard pan and 3 nights in Kori 2, blue lancruiser

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