Botswana Dec 2008

Vehicles: 2006 colt clubcab with Outback Canopy, Technitop tent, Frontrunner roofrack, Ironman Suspension and 80l water tank, Quest GPS (thans F_D!!) and Kirisun handheld VHF radio (Again, thankyou to Eric for the loan. I will report on them asap), WAECO freezaer, Nat Luna Dual Battery.

2006 Pajero 3.2 D-id (my folks) stock standard except for Nat Luna Portable power pack and WAECO freezer, and an Afrispoor mongoose trailer.

Travellers : Me and the missus (Fiona) in the Colt, and mom and dad in the Paj and trailer. This was to be our first Overlander together, and the first for the Paj.

Day 1: 16 Dec 2008
Durban to Waterberg Wilderness Reserve, Mokopane (828kms, about 9 hours)
We set off extremely early from Durban (about 4am) to cover as much ground as possible early in the day. My folks had already gone to Klerksdorp to visit family, and the idea was to meet them in Palapye the following day. The roads were surprisingly quiet, and although we made good time, plenty of stops for food and toilet breaks meant we arrived at Waterberg Wilderness Reserve at around 13h30. The SHOCKING road between Amersfoort and Ermelo also held us up significantly. The reserve is just outside Mokopane (Potgietersrust) and well signposted from the tar, but we came across a locked gate about 4kms from the camp. After turning around to go back to another lodge on the road, we were told we could find the key under a rock near the gate. Would have been nice to know that before hand, but anyways off we went through another 2 locked gates (keys hdden under rocks near them) to the camp, which was amazing. Firewood supplied, beautiful showers, and the entire camp all to ourselves. Not much game to speak of, and we turned in early.

Day 2:
Waterberg to Palapye via Martins Drift (400kms about 6 hours)
We discovered weíd forgotten to pack the coffee , and so set off slightly later than we wanted to buy some in Mokopane en route to the border. After stopping at every petrol station shop in town, and finding out that Spar and Pick n Pay only open after 8am, we didnít find a grain of coffee to buy!!! Onwards to Martins Drift the roads were good and traffic again light. The border crossing was quick and painless.

Note: I took up the offer of KwaNokeng to process my Vehicle Permits before arrival, which I was to pay at the Caltex after crossing, in order to speed up the process. Maybe the border was particularly quiet this time, but I donít think I will make useof it again. Waited 25mins for somebody to bring the permit to us, and then found I was charged insurance when I specifically didnít request it. In all the time I waited I could have been through and long gone, P50 richer!!

The roads were very very good to Palapye, and we didnít even encounter much livestock on the roads (but that would change!!!). We set up camp at Itumela, which was beautiful. We had the place all to ourselves though, which I found strange. After swimming in the pool and enjoying a drink at the bar, my folks joined us, and we settled in for a lekker braai. Camping was also cheap at P35 per person, and an additional P20 for a power point.

Day 3:
Palapye to Elephant Sands campsite (410kms about 6 hours)
Set off early and made Francistown in good time, where we refuelled, and got the pleasant surprise that Diesel was now P5.84!!! Obviously dropped significantly just before we left as the last quoted price was P7.02. Onwards to Nata the road was still good, and we passed a few vet fences, but were waved through. Obviously the foot and mouth epidemic is under control again. We encountered a bad accident involving two trucks on the road, and one truck burst into flames as we approached. The exploding fuel tank rattled the cars windows even though we were about 750m form the truck. We couldnít see past the fire as to what was on the other side, so waited a short while until the fire died down. One of the trucks had spilled its load, and other truck drivers and locals were looting., carrying away everything they could. Eventually we sped past the burning truck, only to be stopped on the other side by a very rude policewoman. She insisted that we had taken photos of the accident (which we had, but there was no way she could have seen it) and that we hand over our cameras as it is illegal to take photos of traffic accidents in Botswana. I politely inquired if what she was really saying is that we had evidence of looting which she was ignoring. Needless to say she didnít appreciate it, and took our camera anyway. We were made to delete the photos before we could go.

We stopped outside Nata Lodge (whats left of it) to have a quick lunch before pressing on to Elephant sands. About 50kms north of Nata the road turned into a joke. Potholed is not the correct description. There was more pothole than tar. Thankfully Elephant Sands was on 10ikms on.

We got ourselves a good campsite, and spent some time in the boma near the bar. Ben the owner apologised for the group of orphans he was hosting over the holidays, but they were not an annoyance, except in the showers. I was interrupted in the shower by a girl who just knocked the door down, and Fiona was walked in on whilst on the toilet! The campsite filled up later in the afternoon, and it was great to see so many people relaxing around their fires. It was at Elepahnt Sands that we encountered what we would see much of at lodges and campsites Ė building and renovations. It was great to see that almost everywhere we stayed, upgrading/renovations/additions were being done. Its good news for these lodge operators!

Elephant Sands to Kasane, via the Hunters Road from Pandamatenga (257kms, 10 hours)
We set off around 6.30am. The road to Pandamatenga was horrific, but you can see they are working on it and should soon be good. I planned to take the Hunters road from the Pandamatenga border post to Kazangula, stopping for brunch on Kazuma Pan. The plan was to take it easy, and if there was too much water to turn around. The track was good for 10kms from the border, but we then started to encounter deep puddles. I made the cardinal sin of NOT walking an escape route, and fell into a VERY deep hole. My front got through, but my gat was in water right up to the canopy door, and the car was hung up on the suspension, so ZERO traction. Luckily the Paj could get round, and after unhitching the trailer, I was snatched out easily. On to Kazuma ( I walked EVERY water obstacle and escape route after that), we we had lunch. The Pan had a lot of water, and the birdlife was INCREDIBLE. Even the puddles in the tracks had all manner of waterbirds in them, even jacanas! We decided there would probably be too much water ahead, and that we would push on another 4kms and follow a cut line back to the tar. About 2kms on, we encountered a stretch of water in the tracks that stretched further than we could see. The ďridgeĒ formed by the grader on the left of the track was firm though, and I set out on it. About 2kms in, I sank deep, very very deep in the black mud. No amount of digging and jacking was helping, and after two hours in the blazing sun, I was finished. Even the airjack from the Paj wasnít helping ( we actually popped the thing), and it was time for a rethink. I was not keen on bringing the Paj in for a recovery, as I didnít want both vehicles bogged in. I was persuaded otherwise, and after much effort unhitching the trailer and doing 40 point turns, I was snatched out by the pajero. We decided to turn round and go back to the border post, as we at least knew what lay ahead of us there.

After the detour and delays we arrived in Kasane (Kubu Lodge) at around 5pm, where despite having made a booking, we were told we couldnít camp as the campsite was full. We went down the road to Toro, and Iím glad we did! Although the sites donít have river frontage, the campsite is pretty and each site has itís own ablutions and washing up area. The cost was reasonable at P60pp, and we could make use of the lodge facilities. Again, there was building being undertaken. Security must be an issue at times here, as the place is patrolled all night by some serious looking guards. I was grateful for the hot shower to wash the mud off me ( I am still getting it out form under my nails!!)

Day 5: Kasane, stock up and refuel.
The day was planned as a buffer before entering Chobe, to fill all water tanks, fule tanks, jerry cans and ammo boxes. I was under the impression we would have problems with meat in Bots, so brought nothing from home, and bough at marioís in Kasane, The meat was good, and priced reasonably. The Spar was a bit grotty though. The afternoon was set aside for a sunset cruise from Chobe Safari Lodge, and although I did enjoy it, it was not all I expected it would be. There were too may people on the boat, and many many boats out on the river. We saw some good game though, and the sunset was spectacular.

Day 6: Kasane to Ihaha
The day was pretty much spent as a game drive on the way to camp, but even so we got there by lunch. It was obvious that the area has had a lot of rain recently, and the bush was very thick and green. The track along the river proved to be good though, and we encountered many elephants and Fish Eagles. The birdlife on the whole was very good. We arrived at Ihaha and had lunch while waiting for the heat of the day to pass. The ablution facilities have recently been upgraded and were very good, In fact, it seems that every camp in Bots Parks has recently received funding from the EU for entrance gates and ablutions, and there were brand spanking new at every camp we stayed at. This was a surprise, and good news for my mom, who I had prepped for bush toilets and long drops! Spent a lazy afternoon around camp and a quick drive before sunset.

Day 7: Ihaha
The baboons kept us awake half the night, as something in the area was obviously making them nervous. We spent most of the day exploring the tracks around camp, and the road and tracks to Kasane. Again, the game and birdlife was plentiful, and we often drove around a corner to bump into huge herds of elephant. Fellow travellers in the camp warned us of conditions on the way to Savuti and in Moremi and it seemed we were in for some mud! Incredibly enough we had cellphone reception in the entire area. Spent the afternoon and early evening watching the park officials sink the Namibian fishermens nets!

Day 8: Ihaha to Linyanti via the chobe forest reserve and the Cutline leading north West from Gcoha gate. (140kms 11 hours)
I knew the day would be a long one, so we set off VERY early. The official at the gate at Ihaha laughed when we told him where we were headed. ďWatch for the water!Ē he said. The roads were fine, although thick sand, all the way to Gcoha gate. We passed many people coming from Savuti, who warned us of mud and water, but everything was passable. At Gcoha the official told us that there was no staff at Linyanti, and no running water, but we could help ourselves to water from the reservoir at the gate. He insisted the road was fine, and we should continue as planned. He did also say to us that there was a newly graded road south of Savuti to the west of the sand ridge road, and we should take that when going to Khwai.

We set off to Linyanti along the wide recently graded cutline. After a few kms, it was evident that this was going to be slow going though. The puddles filled the road from side to side, and were often 500m long, some even more. I did a lot of walking through the water on this day, some of it next to enormous lion prints. There were a few that were too deep and too long, and we were forced to crash through the bush around them, creating detours for others to follow. About 10kms from Linyanti while ďbundubashingĒ like this, I came across a really good track about 15 metres to the right of the main track. I guessed it was the old track, and being higher than the flooded tracks, we drove it all the way to Linyanti gate without a problem. The 40 odd kms form Gcoha gate to Linyanti had taken us 4 hours. There were no staff at the gate, or the site, and the camp was really overgrown. There was not another soul in sight and it seemed as if no one had stayed there in a while. We pitched camp and settled in looking over the swamps and with the hippos making one hell of a noise. They were very close to us, so we had an early diner and went to bed.

At around 3am were woken by lions roaring IN our camp. They carried on for about half an hour before moving off. It was so loud the poles of the RTT were shaking! What an experience. Needless to say, we waited for full light the next morning before we ventured out!

Day 9: Linyanti to savuti (40kms , approx 3 hours)
The track to Savuti was plain sailing. Thick sand at parts, and the track was very narrow and overgrown, but we had no issues. We passed some people headed out to Linyanti, who had been booked to stay there the past two nights, but had been told by officials the camp had been closed due to flooded roads. They were understandably miffed as the tracks were fine! Savuti is a really nice camp, and our site (6) was furthest from the ablutions and reserve sites, which were full for all the 3 nights we were at Savuti. However, our site was nearest what must be a new lodge (Orient Express I think?), and the loud music from the lodge was continual, from 9am till midnight every day. They also had very loud generators which were run from 4am till midnight every day. The road leading to the lodge passed near our site, and the game drive vehicles sped past with MUSIC playing regularly. I know Iím ranting about it, but it really spoiled my experience at Savuti. I donít think the other sites had it as bad as we did, but I refuse to accept that these lodges in their concession are not subject to the same rules and regulations as ordinary visitors.

That night we were woken by a snarling near the tent. Two leopards were slinking through our camp, and they kept coming though the site most of the night. They upset the baboons in the area who made a hell of a racket.

Day 10 and 11: Savuti
The music was especially bad on Chrsitmas day and I tried to complain at the gate, but being christmas there wasnít an official to be found. Spent the days driving the tracks around Savuti. Again the antelope and elephants were plentiful, and the birds really something to see. There was a lot of water in the roads and tracks, and the going was slow, so we didnít venture too far. We had elephant in our site a few times, and spent a brilliant afternoon at Kwando pan.

Day12: Savuti to Third Bridge. (we didnít make it Ė only to South Gate) 150kms, 11 hours.
The going was very slow the whole day. South of Savuti, on the sand ridge road, the track forked suddenly. The new track was not on my T4A, and I took it to be the newly graded road I had been told about. We took it, and good thing we did. Apparently the mudworks further south on the sand ridge road were virtually impassable. The track was good all the way to the Mababe gate, although there were many puddles and the max speed was around 15km/h. We hardly saw a thing on that road. At Mababe we were told that the tracks were fine if we stayed on the main tracks. The road was very wet, but so beautiful. We stopped for many photo opps! People passing us coming from Khwai and Moremi told us that the road from North Gate to 3rd Bridge was closed, and we would have to detour via South Gate. We were already running late, and there was no way we would make this. At North Gate we were greeted by the most unfriendly people we encountered on our whole trip. The woman behind the desk at the gate confirmed that the road was closed and we would have to go via south gate. She insisted we would make it in 3 hours. When I enquired if we could stay at North gate camp, she refused, and told me they were full. She said that South gate was also full. I could see though, that there was not a soul in the camp at North gate. We crossed the bridge (which is new by the way) and stopped for a toilet break in the (empty) camp. I left Fiona in the car, with our windows open while I went to the toilet. As I was walking back, I noticed an enormous male baboon run towards the car, and jump in through my open window. I screamed for Fiona to get out the car, which she did. The baboon followed her out and started attacking her! He chased her a good 2o meters before I caught up and gave him a solid kick. He turned round and thought about attacking me, but decided against it and ran off. Fiona was badly shaken, and had scratches on her arm from where he tried to bite her. Iím not sure if the baboon attacked because he got a fright when he saw her in the car, or if his intention was to attack her in the hope of her dropping what she was carrying (an empty Tupperware). The staff at north Gate confirmed that this particular baboon was in the habit of attacking females in the camp. We left quickly for South Gate. The going was slow again due to puddles, but we made South gate by 5pm. The official was more than happy to let us stay in the Makwee camp, which was really nice. There were already a few hyeana in the camp, and after the long day weíd had we crawled into bed very early. A german couple, who despite being warned by the campers, stayed up very late and were constantly harassed by the hyaenas. They even left food out while going to the bathroom! Needless to say it was gone in a flash, but I donít understand why they stayed up after all that. Once again the new gate and ablutions stood out, although the gates donít seem to be functional yet.

Day 13: South gate to 3rd Bridge.
It rained quite a bit in the early hours, and the day was overcast and cool. The going to 3rd Bridge was slow, but steady. We didnít see much, until about 30kms in, when we cam across two lionesses and an adolescent male lion right in the road. We watched them for about 45 mins, as they first lazed around, then moved off following the road for about 3kms. The rain started coming down heavily then, and we pushed on to 3rd Bridge. We didnít see much after that, and arrived in 3rd Bridge feeling quite cold and wet! Thankfully the rain stopped so we could set up camp, but started again soon after! Spent most of the afternoon under the awning reading and relaxing.

Day 14: 3rd Bridge
The day started well with excellent lion sightings not far from camp. It was a hot day, and we decided on a drive to Xaxanaka. Iíd initially wanted to stay there, but after seeing it in the wet, am glad I chose 3rd Bridge instead. The roads to and from the campsite were like a lake. The forest we drove through to get there was beautiful, and was crawling with game and birdlife. When we got back to 3rd Bridge I decided to try the Mboma loop, which was a challenging drive. About 6kms in, we noticed about 100 vultures sitting in two trees, and more coming in. We drove a little off the track, and found a young male lion, in some distress. He smelt like a carcass, and when we rolled over we noticed an enormous gash in his thigh which had gone gangrenous. We were able to watch him until sunset, and it was quite sad to see a young animal, in his prime, suffering like he was. The hyaenas were starting to move in, and I didnít think he would last the night. That night, we heard lions roaring very near our camp. We were also greeted by a whole group of youngsters who were playing loud music in the site next to us. Other campers came to us to ask if we had a problem with it, and we all went over to ask them to turn it off. There were incredibly rude, the woman in the group in particular, and my blood boiled. They eventually quietened down, and the rest of the night was peaceful.

Day 15: 3rd Bridge to Maun (128kms about 6 hours)
The drive back to South Gate was fairly uneventful, although about 3kms from South gate we came across two women very stuck in a Nissan Murano. They had been there some time, and were very freaked out. I pulled them out and sent them on their way. The road from South Gate to Shorobe was very corrugated, but we made good time. About three kms from Shorobe, we were flagged down by some guys whose cruiser had broken down. The cruiser was branded as being from the Kwai Development Trust, and they were apparently taking women and children to the Clinic in Maun. The problem appeared to be a dead battery, but it would not start using jumper leads. I think the problem was with the immobiliser. I offered to tow the car into Shorobe or Maun, and they accepted. They asked if the passengers could still come. I asked how many, and was told that they had 19 people in the bak!!!!! I sad no ways would my strap handle that, so they agreed that the women and children would get on and the men would walk. I towed the cruiser into Shorobe, where the driver drove over my strap and it broke. Luckily it was outside a mechanic of sorts, and we left them there.

Maun was a shock to the system after the bush, but it was nice to be able to buy more beer and food! Also used the opportunity to restock and refuel. We stayed at Island Safari lodge, which was brilliant. Shaded campsites, power, and a HUGE swimming pool. P30pp was also very reasonable, and there was ice at the bar and clean ablutions.

Day 16: Maun to Nxai Pan (190kms about 5 hours)
The road to Nxai Pan was good, and we saw plenty game along the way. We let our tryes down again at the turn off, and the sandy dusty track to the office (40kms) proved to be a breeze. It was very very hot and we spent the day exploring the pans and relaxing in camp. The campsite was shaded by huge trees, and was very pleasant. Not as much game as I thought.

Day 17: Nxai Pans and Baines Baobabs.
We had a huge fryup breakfast which is not something we often do in the bush, and spent the heat of the day driving to Baines Baobabs and exploring Kaudikam Pan. The baobabs were aweinspiring, and we had lunch there. The pans were looked dry, but under the crust were very sticky and wet. New years eve was spent round a huge fire, with hyaeans nearby and lions roaring in the distance, Captain Morgan in hand!

Day 18: Nxai Pans to Limpopo River lodge ( 675 kms, 13 hours)
This was by far the longest day we spent on the road. We reinflated tyres at the tar, and fuses blew in both the compressors. We came across a young bat eared fox, who looked like heíd been run over, but there were no trye marks. And then we saw the lion prints, all around him. Heíd obviously been killed by them, and as he was still warm and bleeding a little, I guessed we must have scared them off as we approached. The tar road was in good condition, and we stopped for the obligatory photos at Planet Baobabs concrete aardvark. We drove through 8 police roadblocks on this day, all of which we had to stop at, get out, and be given a lecture and some pamphlets on safe road use. This slowed us down a bit, and the continual livestock and crossing the road between nata and Francistown didnít help either! We eventually arrived at Limpopo River Lodge, although the last 35kms of corrugated dirt road really worked on our frayed nerves!! The campsite is so beautiful, I can only recommend it to absolutely everyone. Each site has itís own ablutions, and the guy running the campsite stokes the donkey as you arrive, and helps you pitch camp. It is literally on the Limpopo, and was a greatplace to end our stay in Botswana. Slightly expensive at P110pp, but well worth it.

Day 19: Limpopo River lodge to Durban, via Platjan Border post( 1012kms, 12 hours)
The road home was quiet and the drive long, but it was worth it to get back home with a whole weekend left to clean up and prepare for work on Monday. We took the toll road through Joburg to avoid the roadworks on the N11, but it cost us R220 more!!!

In general: The vehicles were outstanding, and we didnít have a single puncture or mechanical problem. The only issues were the airjack and the mounting point for the gaslift on the canopy door which broke with two days to go. The trailer also impressed on its first real bushtrip. The roads were very wet in the parks, but everything was passable with some common sense. The going was slow though, and the bush incredibly thick. I think this limited our game sightings, as well as the fact that water was so abundant, most game wasnít moving much. We drove through countless vet fences, but werenít stopped at ONE. On the whole, the tar roads we encountered were in very good condition. I echo others sentiments that maybe this is opening up the parks and bush destinations to a new breed of traveller, who doesnít always appreciate the effort others go to to escape the noise of a city. As mentioned before, Botswana seems to be building and developing rapidly. While Iím glad for its economy and people, I am unsure what this will bring for us travellers who look for seclusion and isolation.

Fuel consumption and usage: Iíll attach a spreadsheet calculating my fuel usage. I thought it was excellent.