SAFARI DRIVE DIARY – BOTSWANA 2011
Day 1 – 3rd September 2011 – Waterfront Lodge, Livingston.
We flew into Livingston, Zambia at lunchtime and transferred to the Waterfront Lodge, and were given a room right next to a small estuary next to the river. A small 5 foot crocodile was outside our room resting on the grass to greet us. It was no more than 10 feet from our patio and a great start to our wildlife holiday…
We set of at 4.30 pm on a sunset cruise on the Lady Livingston. On boarding, we were greeted by 2 men playing the african xylophone, whose gentle sounds set the tone for the cruise. You couldn’t even hear the motors as it slowly cruised up the Zambezi.
We sat on the front of the boat and had several large Gin &Tonic’s on arrival as we motored silently up the mighty Zambezi, passing Elephants drinking in the water, Hippos surfacing flicking their ears, and the odd Nile Crocodile swimming across the river. Birdlife was abundant and we spotted Yellow Billed Kite, Carmine Bee Eaters and Herons. We motored passed Long Island to see the sun set in glorious shades of red, silhouetting palm trees, whilst enjoying some large sundowners, before heading back to the dock.
Day 2 – 4th September – White Water Rafting
We woke early about 4am but couldn’t get back to sleep till 6am. I think Geri was traumatized by the prospect of white water rafting. After a snatched hour we made the 8am briefing for the rafting. We donned life jacket, helmets and paddles and met our guide for the day, Melvin. After a safety briefing, we rode in the back of the truck to the Victoria Falls, before walking down 670 meters to our inflatable raft and the first rapid called the ‘Boiling Pot’. Our raft had a wooden platform on the back with 2 large wooden oars for Melvin. Geri was horrified to learn the platform was in fact a spine board stretcher to carry anyone who had a suspected broken back or neck up the valley to where they could be air lifted to hospital. We set of and had a great ride down falls 1 – 10, missing out rapid 9 as it was a grade 6 (the worst grade and uninsurable) looked horrific, and not good for business !! Several rafts flipped on some of the rapids and we saw several people float past us to be picked up by the safety kayakers. Looking at the video after, there was 1 quite dreadful flip that got a standing ovation. After a lunch stop at rapid 10, Melvin asked if we wanted to be flipped, Geri kept quiet but the other rafters, a bunch of adventurous Israelis said YES, so the spine board was duly taken of and we set off. At rapid 13, the video and photographer were waiting so it was time to get wet. After passing through a series of rapids called the 3 ugly sisters we hit the aptly name “the Mother’ at full pelt. I was front right and Geri behind. As I was smiling for the camera we started to flip, and my smile turned to horror as the raft tipped over, sending us flying into the Zambezi. After being submerged for a couple of seconds, I popped up next to Geri, who was even more horrified than me. But after the boat was flipped upright, we were pulled back on board. Geri had been really enjoying it to then, but was relieved to have done it and be captured on video flipping over. During one of the lesser rapids, we got out for a swim, but mainly just being swept down the frothing water, and it was only when getting back on board, that Geri pointed out the crocodiles basking on the bank a few meters away. Luckily they were 4 foot babies, but their mum was out there somewhere !! On rapid number 17 we were flipped again, and after this Geri had had enough, and hoped to stay dry for the rest of the trip! On the long gently stretch between rapids 18 – 19 we stopped by a local safety kayaker who lived in a near by village. They were a group of 4 local lads who had come down to the waters edge with 4 live chickens trussed up by their legs. We paddled towards them and stopped on the Zambian side of the river. The 4 chickens were passed on board our raft to Melvin, who put them in the bottom of the raft where they stayed, gently clucking their annoyance, as we then paddled them over to the Zimbabwean side of the river where another 2 youths met us, and the kayaker took the chickens and started to walk up to his village. Such a treat to be involved in a cross border chicken smuggling operation. After the final rapid number 25, we had travelled 27 Km’s down the Zambezi from the base of the Victoria falls.
That evening we decided to take a taxi into Livingston to celebrate still being alive, and found a very local bar called Limos. Limos was also a pool hall, swimming pool and barbers ! A fantastic local bar that only served Beer and Cider for less than a pound per bottle. We were the only white faces amongst everyone there, who were laughing and playing pool, whilst local girls waited to be picked up at the bar and African pop music played.
Day 3 – 5th September – Microlight flight and Land Rover collection
At 8am we took the short transfer to the airstrip next door. We then took turns on a 15 minute micro light flight. What a thrill flying almost unrestrained over the Victoria falls and the mighty Zambezi. We circled the falls several times and then flew low over the river above the falls and Long Island, seeing elephants, hippos and buffalo, as well as a fish eagle nest with a single egg in it. Take of and landing were thrilling, if not a bit scary as you feel so unprotected. We even flew over some of the rapids we had gone down the day before, and saw the rafts about to set off from rapid number 1.
Back at the Waterfront lodge, Geri went of with the camera and got chased by a vervet monkey, trying to scare her. She came back to me for help and we watched about 15 vervet’s playing around the lodge. We also watched as a Malachite Kingfisher dived for minnows in the river.
At lunch time we met Kate from Safari Drive who has bought us our home for the next 2 weeks. We were both excited to see the Land Rover Defender and after checking over the contents, put up the roof tent with surprising ease. It took about 5 minutes with Geri at the back and me at front. After concluding the briefing and saying goodbye to Kate, we drove into town for a late lunch at ZigZags, a local cafe, before heading back to the Waterfront lodge for a sundowner. We both had a restless sleep that night as we were both looking forward to starting our self drive adventure.
Day 4 – 6th September – Ihaha Campsite
Leaving the Waterfront lodge after breakfast, we drove 60 Km to the Zambia / Botswana border at Kazungula. There we had to get a ferry across between border posts. We had been warned that the Zambian side of the border was chaotic, and Kate was right about that ! We drove between rows of parked up lorries and pulled up outside the gate. We were immediately surrounded by about 10 young men,trying to get us to exchange currency for the “best rates in Zambia” or to buy carved wooden hippos, or to take us through the customs procedure. Leaving Geri in the land rover for safe keeping, I went to the custom and immigration building, first immigration to get the Passports stamped , then customs to get the Carnet stamped, and then to the Police office to pay the council tax of 20,000 K ( £3) Last was the ferry man to pay $30 to cross over to Botswana. We then drove onto the Kazungula ferry, a very small boat, which could take 1 truck and our Land Rover on a 100 meter trip across the river to Botswana !
A much less harassing entry through immigration, and we were in Botswana ! We stopped at the local Spar in Kasane to fill up with petrol, buy 8 days worth of food at the local Spar, firewood, and of course, 8 days worth of sundowners !
The drive to Ihaha campsite in Chobe was like a scene from the Lion King !
Everywhere you looked there were vast herds of Elephant, Buffalo, Impala, Kudu and Giraffe. We tended to stay on the river road which is a sand track, stopping as groups of Elephants, often with young calf, crossed the road in front of us. Inland was scrub land and vast herds of Buffalo with small groups of Elephants were seen along with Hornbills, brightly coloured Lilac Breasted Rollers, and the occasional Fish Eagle. On the last few kilometers to the camp site, we saw an Elephant calf trying to make her way towards a vast herd across the river. She was limping badly, and it appeared her rear right leg was broken ! She had been abandoned by the herd. It was sad knowing the calf was too young to survive on its own, abandoned by its mother, but was trying to catch up with the herd in vain, and would surely day within a few days, or be taken Lions !
When we arrived at the campsite, it was stunning ! Our plot CL03 was right on the river bank with 100 meters of grass between our pitch and the river. We stopped the Land Rover and filmed ourselves putting up the roof tent and canopy (about 5 mins first time) and then sitting down to a large Gin &Tonic!
A bright red sunset over the river was stunning, and we were surrounded by Baboons, Buffalo and Vervet monkeys in camp.I lit the fire pit and put a loaf of garlic bread wrapped in foil by the side, ready to warm up when the meal was ready. A Big Mistake as I eyed a Vervet monkey looking at the bread from about 10 meters away! It looked at me, than at the foil wrapped bread, and we both ran for it together. Of course it won and after a short chase, the Vervet disappeared into the shrub victorious, clutching the loaf almost as big as itself. I did smile at the thought of the troop of Vervet’s unwrapping the foil and tucking into their tasty treat. My only consolation was that they would have garlic breath that night ! We cooked steak dinner on the fire that night, washed down with a bottle of Pinotage for me and a bottle of sparkling wine for Geri, both kindly provided by Safari Drive. This was followed by a restless nights sleep, being excited to hear the noises of the bush.
Day 5 – 7th September – Ihaha Campsite
A full day at Ihaha, as we drove along the river banks, looking unsuccessfully for some Lions, seen by other campers the previous day. All the Elephants and Giraffes appeared to be hiding in the bush, but around lunch time, as it started to get hot, we parked under a large sausage tree for shade, looking at herds of Impala and Zebra, The Elephants then started coming down from the bush to the river, in small family units of between 3 and 10, often with very small calves. At the river bank, one of the smaller calves started chasing a Warthog, flapping its ears and trunk. It was such a comical sight ! Geri then spotted 2 Hippos running in the distance. We drove over and saw they were engaged in a fight. The larger and more dominant male, had chased anther across the grasslands to the side of a small pool near the track. We pulled up and listened to the grunting of the larger Hippo, fully opening its vast mouth showing its large tusks, and the submissive chattering of the other male, who had obviously been thrown out of the river.
After about half hour, the winner having inserted his dominance, he then proceeded to defecate and send it flying with his spinning tail, before heading back to the river, whilst the looser sank into the mud of a small pool looking very depressed ! We went back to our shaded tree for a nap, and after an hour of watching more Elephants come down the hill behind us, cross the road and head for the river, Geri noticed the Matriarch of a small herd of about 15, including 2 very small calves, standing 10 yards behind our vehicle. She was swinging her front foot repeatably into the dirt, kicking up dust, and fanning her ears. She was not happy ! We had parked on her regular route down to the river, on a path running underneath the sweet smelling sausage tree. After the herd had changed their route, and crossed the road about 20 yards in front of us, the matriarch came down in front of us last, turned towards us, her ears splayed, and walked towards our Land Rover, looking like she would charge us. Geri closed her window and became very scared, worse than white water rafting she said, as eventually the matriarch turned away about 5 yards away from our vehicle to join her herd. We both let out a large sigh of relief !
Back into camp, we cooked a one pot Thai chicken curry on the fire and after a few glasses of wine, talking excitedly about the elephants, we climbed into the tent. At midnight Geri woke to go to the loo, and whilst she was in front of the Land Rover, I could see large shapes of Hippos feeding on the grassland in the moonlight, just 50 meters from where Geri was standing. I could see at least 50 of them, grazing in a line, with herds of grazing Impala in front of them.
Falling back asleep, Geri was woken at 5am by the sound of a herd of Zebra running, and what she said sounded like a Zebra being throttled. The Baboons in the trees around us started to shriek with excitement and warning calls. We knew something had happened, and very close, but didn’t know what. The Baboons continued to shriek for at least 20 minutes, before eventually everything went quiet.
At daybreak, a few hours later, we were up. I spotted Lion tracks just below our Land Rover, and followed them for 20 yards before seeing a severed Zebra foals head, and a severed leg in the middle of the track. The campsite staff confirmed that it was a Lion kill but were surprised that one had taken place so close to camp. As I was standing over the Zebras head, I realised that the body must has been dragged into one of the nearby bushes for them to feed on. Thinking that the Lions were still so close, I decided to quickly walk back to the safety of our Land Rover, and look for them from the safety of our vehicle.
Day 5 – 8th September – Savuti campsite
After the excitement of the kill this morning, we packed up and left for Savuti camp. A long drive through deep sand, till we entered into Savuti through Ghoha gate. We passed an American couple in their 4×4 who said they had just seen Leopard and Lion that morning. Excitedly we found our camp about 1pm, and after checking in and finding a beautiful spot under a tree next to the river, noticed a huge bull elephant in the pitch next to us. We later learnt the Bull had hung around all day, causing chaos to the camp staff till it left.
After seeking directions to the previous Leopard and Lion sightings from a passing safari guide, we spotted a young Leopard lying on the branch of a large Acacia tree, just before an area called Twin Hills. It was some distance away, about 100 meters, and so hard to spot if we hadn’t been told it was there. It was resting on the lower limb, its legs draped over the branch and its head resting on its front paw. It was a young female, about 2 years old (from our armchair expertise of watching endless hours of National geographic ) We left her sleeping and occasionally scanning the horizon, and headed off looking for Lions. About 3km further on, past a hill called Leopard Rock, we found 4 Lionesses and a cub about 6 months old, sleeping under the shade of an old acacia tree, just off the track. we stayed for a while, but it was too hot for the Lions to do anything other than sleep, so we went exploring. We found Elephants playing in mud baths, Buffalo and numerous game, and birdlife including the ever present Hornbills, and some beautiful Lilac Breasted Rollers. On the way back to camp we stopped again at the Leopard tree. She was still there, but now was sitting up. A few lodge safari trucks started to pull up and before we knew it, about 5 other safari vehicles were with us. The Leopard rose, stretched, its silhouette dark in front of the setting sun, and gracefully climbed down the tree and began to walk towards the track in front of us. The chaos that next ensued was like a scene from Wacky Races. Vehicles overtook each other vying for the best position to see the Leopard cross the path, and eventually she did, between 2 vehicles in front of us. She crossed the track and went into the bush, the vehicles now racing to a track in front of her, their drivers vying for good positions to get bigger tips off their paying guests. We felt so lucky to be there ourselves, finding our own leopard, and slightly disappointed that so many other trucks had broken our solitude with the Leopard, but it was a beautiful moment nether the less.
Back in camp we celebrated with a savana cider, a large Gin &Tonic and a lovely home made Spaghetti Bolognese over the fire pit, followed by a peaceful nights sleep as no baboons or Vervet’s came to this campsite.
Day 6 – 9th September – Savuti Campsite
After closing the roof tent, washing up last nights dishes, washing and sweeping the fire pit, we were off at 7am searching for lions ! We found them, the same small pride as yesterday lying under a large bush in the shade about 70 meters from the road. Their ears gave them away, fawn silhouettes against the green bush. Binoculars are essential for scanning the bush and make finding the predators that much easier. After half an hour we moved on and spotted a Leopard at the base of a large acacia tree. Looking through the bins, I saw it was the same leopard as yesterday and couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Twice in 2 days, a very rare leopard siting. We watched till she stood up and stalked something nearby in the bushes. A few guinea fowl startled and flew away as she pounced, and then with a determined walk, ears back in hunting mode, she approached 2 Impala on the other side of the bush. As they saw her, they snorted their alarm call and both turned to watch her. Knowing she had lost the eliminate of surprise, she continued walking into the bush. We stayed with her for 10 mins hoping she would climb a tree near the track, but after a few hundred yards, she just blended in and disappeared into the long dry grass. Nearing noon we parked under the shade of a large tree and shortly after, a small herd of elephant walked past our vehicle heading for some water in the track opposite. We watched happily as we had our lunch as they drank and sprayed muddy water over their hot backs. Days don’t get much better than this.
In the afternoon we went to bushmans rock to see the rock paintings by the San bushmen. I parked up and leaving Geri in the car, walked up to the rocks for about 50 meters to see red painted elephant, kudu and antelope on the rock wall. These may have been there for 1000 years and we still see the same game today.
Day 7 – 10th September – North Gate Campsite
We woke and left by 7.15 to go looking for lions past Marabou pan one last time before leaving to south gate. Although staying at North Gate camp, the road from Savuti to North Gate was flooded, so we had to take a long detour via South Gate. We were driving slowly behind a lodge safari vehicle when they stopped and started to look left. We followed their gaze and saw a male lion a long way off walking in front of some bushes. Its silhouette picked out against the early morning skyline. It was walking towards our track and we watched as it came towards us, uncaring of the vehicle, and walked behind us continuing on its journey to where ever it was determinedly going. He was a young male about 2 years old and looked stunning in the early morning light. We watched it disappear from sight and then drove to South Gate. We spotted fresh lion tracks on the sand road and tracked them until they disappeared.
At Mababe, just a few Km’s past the exit gate, the local village bottle shop caught our eye with the words ‘Cold Beer’. We stopped and chatted with owner, bought 2 Windhoek lagers to drink then, cold and refreshing and a 6 pack to take with us as we were running out of beer ! Once we arrived at NorthGate campsite, it looked a little drab compared to the previous 2 idyllic camps. But having found it, we drove of to hippo pools for our own afternoon game drive. On the way, I noticed the fawn ears of a lion lying under a bush on Geri’s side. The lion now sat up and we could see he was an old male, and after looking at us for a few moments, slumped back down to sleep. We watched him for a while, then drove on to the Hippo pool where a lovely viewing platform had been built, but sadly no hippos that day. We drove back to camp, stopping again at our lion, no other cars were about and it great to sit by him alone for a while, even if he was sleeping. Sadly we departed as we had to get back to the campsite to raise the tent, and on the way, we saw 5 Wild Dogs sleeping just at the side of the track. 3 were huddled together in the afternoon sun dozing whilst 2 elephants fed on the tree foliage just behind them. The dogs would occasional raise their heads to make sure the elephants didn’t get too close. Wild dogs are one of the most endangered predators in Africa and Botswana is one of the few places where they can still be seen in the wild. Such a privilege to see them !
Back at the campsite, Geri made corned beef hash whilst a large family of Baboons eyed for any opportunity to steal something. They were comical to watch. Very small babies playing in the branches, the alpha male standing guard,and the juveniles sat at the outskirts of our pitch, pretending to be interested in some gravel on the floor, but we knew they were watching us, waiting for an opportunity for some free food. As we were finishing the meal, now after sunset, and in the dark light of dusk, I saw movement at the edge of the pitch. I shone my touch on it, to find out it was a spotted Hyena which walked all around our site before heading of into the bush. The corn beef hash had stuck to the bottom of the pan, and after doing the dishes by touch light, we filled it with water and left it on the fire pit side to soak. After going to bed, we were woken a few hours later by the sound of the pan being dragged off the concrete fire pit. Geri and I looked out and the saw the hyena running off, luckily not carrying the pot. I went out and rescued the pot, now nearly licked clean and stored it in the back of the Land Rover. Later that night, I was awoken again by the sound of footsteps outside the tent, and on shining the touch through the mesh side, we saw a very large Spotted Hyena. He looked huge just 5 feet away from us and as he heard us, he looked up at us as if staring at us through the tent, before casually walking on. Fantastic !
Day 8 – 11th September – Xakanaxa Campsite
We got up early, unpacked, dusted, cleaned and repacked the Land Rover as the long gravel road trip to South Gate, had filled the cab with dust. We drove to Xakanaxa arriving around 1pm, and on passing the local boat station, booked a sunset boat trip on the Delta for the following day. We heard that most of the game had moved on from Xakanaxa due to the flooding, the worst in 40 years apparently, so we headed for an area called 3rd Bridge. We were told to take the dry route as the old track was flooded. The route took us through some very deep sand, as it was a newly made track, and even in low drive, it took a lot of concentration to get through. First we came across 4th bridge, a rickety wooden bridge, 4 logs wide on either side and a massive gap in the middle, except for some more logs as support struts. A quaint wooden lodge, over marshland, unless you had to cross it in a heavily laden Land Rover ! Taking my heart in my mouth, I crossed. It was actually very easy, as long as you steer straight ! Then onto 3rd Bridge. This was a fantastic wooden bridge, two deep muddy pools either side of a running stream, with a submerged log bridge running through the stream. It looked extremely picturesque and Geri made me drive over it several times whilst she took photos and video. Parking up, we then walked it and bathed our feet in the crystal clear running water, which was refreshingly cool. We booked a makora trip here for Wednesday afternoon before heading back.
Back in camp we sat by the fire, enjoying a glass of wine, as we watched fireflies and shooting stars in the clear night sky, and set tree cam to try and capture the Hyena in camp that night.
Day 9 – 12th September – Xakanaxa Campsite
On waking, from the best sleep yet, thinking not much had gone on overnight, we spoke to the couple on the next pitch to us. The woman had climbed down from her roof tent in the middle of the night, to be confronted by a large bull elephant, staring right at her. She didn’t know who was most startled ! Apparently the elephant around camp is used to people and not at all aggressive.
I checked the tree cam, to see a spotted hyena in front of our Land Rover, and the shape of the large bull elephant later. Tonight we will put the tree cam on video mode.
We went out on a game drive this morning and visited the airstrip and the paradise pools, but apart from some Red Lechwe and a Marshall Eagle feeding on frogs, nothing much was to be seen. Everyone we met said all the game had moved to 3rd Bridge due to the floods. We came back to camp and had lunch in a refreshing breeze under the shade of an old tree next to the river. It was so nice we dozed on the chairs for a while before Geri went to the boatyard on foot, about 300 meters away, to confirm tonights sunset boat trip. She came back shortly after, saying that a bull Elephant was blocking the way to the boat station. We went back together and watched the old bull swim across the main channel to feed on the lush grasses on the other side. That evening, at about half 5, we walked along the path to the boat yard to start our trip on the Delta, and saw the large bull elephant walking towards us, casually eating foliage along the way.
When about 20 meters from him, we decided to turn left out of his way and go behind the shower block. The elephant then looked at us and waving its ears and trunk, he crashed through the shrubs he was eating, charging towards us. Geri ran behind a tree, leaving me to his mercy. I couldn’t remember whether to run or stand still, but managed to get a quick photo off fired from the hip, before running backwards keeping my eye on the charging elephant who fortunately had made a mock charge and stopped about 5 meters from me. With his ears beating, his trunk waving, still chewing on his foliage, he then continued on his way. I’m sure he was laughing as he went, having frightened the life out of us !
We then went onto the boat yard and met our guide. We got onto an aluminum hulled boat with a roof canopy you could stand on. We set of into the main channel of the delta very slowly and passed 3 luxury lodges before entering the secluded flooded delta, the water still as reeds and the setting sun reflected onto it, as water boatmen skimmed across the surface. There were birds nesting in the taller marshes and our guide stopped the boat right next to a colony of nesting Marabou Storks, White Egrets, and Purple Herons. After watching for a while, we motored of to another colony of Yellow Billed Storks and pulled up along side. The storks were nesting and we climbed onto the roof of the boat, and looked down on several nests with 3 eggs in. We must have watched them for 15 minutes, balancing on their dainty long legs, using their wings to balance precariously on reeds no thicker than their legs. They looked ungainly and comical as they attempted to land on their nests. Eventually we had to head back after a magical hour on the delta.
Once back we walked back to the Land Rover, Geri looking out for the bull elephant who she was sure was going to stalk us, but luckily he had moved on.
After sunset, we lit the fire, and watched as fireflies displayed on the edge of the marsh, providing us with a twinkling display of christmas lights. We went to bed and Geri had a restless night keeping watch for the bull elephant without a sighting.
Day 10 – 13th September – Xakanaxa Campsite
On waking, I checked the tree cam to find we had been visited by a spotted Hyena overnight, who had passed in front of the Land Rover, and also a Civet, a small cat like creature who is nocturnal.
We packed up and went on a game drive, heading across 4th and 3rd Bridge, much more confidently this time and commenced our game drive.
We drove over 2nd and 1st Bridges, each smaller and more rickety that the last, and almost undistinguishable as bridges, with poles either side marking our path through the water, to some plains with a herd of Zebra, with 2 young foals, and 4 giraffe. We watched for a while whilst having a morning coffee, and later parked for shade under a flowering sausage tree and watched as a Meyers Parrot picked at the large sausage shaped fruit, causing them to fall to the floor. They are solid foot long fruit which would cause quite a bang to the head. We decided not to sit under any of the fruit any more……
At 4pm we went to the gatehouse, and met Ken, our Makora guide. We went to a small wooden jetty on the delta. We climbed into the canoe and Ken pushed off. It was like punting at Oxford, except for being in the beautiful channels of the Okavanga Delta. Luckily for over an hour, we didn’t come across any Elephant or Hippo, and only saw waterbirds, a Kingfisher and some more Red Lechwe in the distance.
After a tranquil hour in the Makora, hearing only the gentle splash of the pole entering the water, and bird song, we landed and said farewell to 3rd Bridge, and drove back to Xakanaxa camp. After 4th Bridge we were stopped in our tracks by a herd of about 20 Elephants, eating lazily on both sides of the track, submerged under water, which we had to cross. We watched silently for 1/2 hour till they moved on, and we continued on our way. It was now going to be dark when we got back, and as we pulled onto our pitch saw it had been double booked with 5 South African trucks corralled into a ring on it. We decided to pitch our Land Rover, between 2 other pitches, so we had a bit more privacy, but no fire pit. I lit a fire in the dark, after making a fire surround with stones, which soon raised our spirits as we sat with a glass of wine, and watched a praying mantis land close to the flames, looking for insects. The fireflies were out again, twinkling on the Marsh, as we climbed the ladder to the tent, with Geri still looking out for the resident Bull Elephant, which had frightened her so much. I set the tree cam to video and followed Geri into the tent. At about 1am Geri woke me up, saying the elephant was coming. I looked through the side netting and saw it in the distance walking towards our Land Rover. Geri was by now petrified of this elephant, and hid in the far corner, whilst I went to the front and looked out. The Bull elephant who yesterday had charged us, walked up to our tent and passed in front of the roof tent, no more that 2 feet away. The whole of the side and front of the mesh was filled with a large pair of tusks. It was huge so close, and our tent entrance was at tusk height !
It stopped briefly and smelled the floor where we had cooked our meal earlier, before moving on and slowly continuing on its way. Geri let out a huge sigh of relief and felt her heart racing. That had just made its way into her top 5 most frightening moments.
Day 11 – 14th September – Maun Thamalakane Lodge
During the night I awoke several times, to see Geri staring out through the side mesh of the tent, in search of elephants. We awoke from that sleepless nights sleep, full of excitement for such a fantastic experience and both agreed that even though scary, it was truly fantastic to see. We packed up and drove via South Gate to Maun, seeing a family of Dwarf Mongoose staring at us out of a hollow tree trunk on the ground, as we passed.I stopped and they ran for cover, appearing a few minutes later from the hollow to groom and watch us, as we watched them. So small and furry, barely bigger than hamsters, it reminded me that you don’t have to be the size of an elephant to be engrossing.
At Maun we filled up with Fuel, as by now we were nearly on empty after 8 days, and went to Hilary’s cafe near the airport for brunch and real coffee. It was the first meal in 8 days we hadn’t cooked for ourselves on the fire, and it tasted like heaven. After that, we headed for Thamalakane Lodge and were given a beautiful room overlooking the river, wading birds and dragonflies surrounded us, and fish gently surfaced in search of flies. Such serenity with a sparkling bottle on wine waiting in the wine bucket on our arrival. A long luxurious shower awaited us…..
The food at Thamalakane was fantastic, with huge fillet steaks a speciality and after eating our fill, climbed into the large double bed, and instantly fell asleep to the gentle croaking of bullfrogs. For all the luxury, I missed the tent and the sleeping in the bush.
Day 12 – 15th September – Nxai Pan Campsite
That morning we drove into Maun to shop for the next 3 days. We drove past a prison chain gang digging ditches in the hot sun and then drove about 150 Km’s on a tar road until we entered Nxai Pan Game reserve. After checking in, we drove to Baines Baobabs, 6 trees in the salt pan whose massive trunks in the midday sun shone red. After a short picture stop, we drove another 30 Km’s of sand to the camp entrance.The landscape was totally different, hot arid savannah, with the odd shrub, no big trees or shady acacias, and large plains sparsely populated with small game. Once at the camp site, we heard Lions were near the only water hole for miles around. We drove there and found the only other occupants of the campsite, a couple from South Africa who said they had seen Lions and herds of Springbok at the water hole that morning. We drove around and came across 2 Lions sleeping under a bush not far from the road. After a game drive for a few hours to familiarize ourselves with the area, we parked up at the water hole at about 5pm. For an hour we watched as Elephants came and drank, Black-backed Jackal approached and drank in pairs and the sun slowly set. At 6, we saw movement behind us coming out of the shrubland towards us and the water hole. Along a well trod Elephant path, a Lioness appeared, then a cub, then another and finally a third, all about 3 months old. Three more Lionesses and a male and female about a year old also appeared. A pride of nine and they walked directly passed our Land Rover to the edge of the waterhole.
We watched them play and chase each other in the cooling setting sun for an hour. When sunset approached, the Elephants started to come to the water hole. First one, then a second approached and after a short stand off with a bigger Lioness, they took possession of the water hole. The Lions moved away from the waters edge, and came to the side of the track, right next to us. As the evening sunset turned from red to purple, a small herd of 4 Elephants could be seen running towards the water from half a mile away. As they approached, we could see the dust being kicked up by their fast pace as they ran into the water and started drinking and splashing themselves. As we had to leave as darkness fell, another few Elephant arrived and we saw about ten elephant crowded into the small water hole, looking deliriously happy, trunks spraying water against a dark purple back drop, after the sun had dipped beneath the horizon. The Lions continued to frolic on the sand beside us as we had to drag ourselves away to get back to camp. Such a fantastic evening and donning our head torches, put our roof tent up the dark before lighting the fire and reminiscing over a glass of wine beneath a galaxy full of stars on the starriest night we had seen.
Day 13 – 16th September – Nxai Pan Campsite
We got up early, exited by the nearby Lions and were at the water hole by 6am. Totally alone when we arrived, we saw an elephant at the water and on looking closer saw that the pride of Lions were there to. As the sun rose we watched them play and watched as their characters unfolded. The adolescent male and female played together, jumping up at each other from stalking positions, playing with sticks and a blue plastic bottle they found became a prized possession. The young cubs chased each other learning to stalk and fight and occasionally taking on big brother or sister who snarled and paw slapped them into submission. It was clear they loved their bigger siblings and they would lie next to the young male at every opportunity.
At sunrise one of the larger Lionesses started to roar. An answering roar was heard in the distance. Another of the Lionesses with the cubs also started to roar and the cubs tried to join in, but instead of a roar, it sounded like a high pitched grizzle. We stayed by the water hole for 5 hours that morning, constantly watching the comings and goings, herds of Elephant, Springbok, Impala, 20 Ostrich juveniles arrived and drank, Black-backed Jackals, Kori Bustards and Guinea Fowl all came and went. The Lions went off occasionally on their own stalking Springbok without success. There must have been herds 200 large, and as the sun rose with the temperature, the Lions forages became less and less until they rested again under a nearby bush. As one of the Lionesses drank from the water hole an elephant approached and cautiously started to drink at the other end of the pool. The Lion lay down and watched as the elephant grew more brave and gave some great photo shots of the Lion and the Elephant watching each other as Springbok grazed in the back ground.
Eventually at about 11am, as the midday heat approached, we left this majestic scene to return to the shade of the Land Rover canopy at camp and a cold beer to reflect on the glorious mornings events.
After an afternoon nap, and a meal, we returned to the water hole where we saw the lionesses and cubs under the same bush. They didn’t move much until sunset apart from their ears pricking if an elephant passed nearby. They ignored the game that came to drink and were still there when we left at sunset.
Back at camp we raised the tent, lit a fire and watched as a small Black-backed Jackal skirted around the camp before leaving.
Day 14 – 17th September – Nxai Pan Campsite
Waking at 5.30 we stowed the roof tent and were at the waterhole by 6. Finding it empty, we drove for an hour in search of Cheetah in the vast open savannah before returning as the sun started to rise at 7. As we approached the waterhole, we saw a dark shape leaving the waters edge. Approaching nearer, we saw it was a male Lion with a black mane and looking in the prime of life ! He sniffed around and left his scent markings near the water hole and appeared to be searching for his pride. We watched as he walked across our path into the thick shrub where his pride were undoubtably waiting. He looked so majestic in the early morning light and such a treat to see.
After that we didn’t see him or the pride again, but watched as Zebra, a large herd of Wildebeest, hundreds of Springbok, a dozen Ostriches and a small herd of female Kudu all attended and drank. Solitary Elephants came and went, drinking alone, not letting any game join them until they were finished. We occasionally drove to go in search of Cheetah and saw Oryx and a Marshall Eagle perched on top of the tree, watching intently a group of Guinea Fowl trying to hide under nearby bushes. Those guinea fowl were so comical, swalking excitedly, making distress calls, until the eagle flew off.
Later that evening we returned and watched our last sunset over the waterhole at Nxai Pan, as two elephant drank in front of the setting red sun. We returned to raise the roof tent for the last time, for our last night of our self drive adventure and huddled around the dying embers of our last self lit camp fire with a glass of wine reminiscing on such a fantastic trip.
Day 15 – 18th September – Maun Thamalakane lodge
On waking and packing up the Land Rover, we went on our very last self drive game drive up to the water hole to see a Spotted Hyena in the distance running across the plains. We cut across its track a few Km’s away, but it stopped on seeing us and darted into the thicket. We left about 8am, leaving the park via 30 km’s of sandy track seeing several small herds of Oryx along the way, until we left the gate and joined the tar road to Maun. Initially we saw Giraffe and Ostrich along the road side, but these wild animals changed to herds of Goat, Cattle and Donkey, grazing unmanned at the side of the road as we neared Maun. They just crossed the road whenever they felt like it and traffic stopped for them. Such a different way of life to that that we are used to.
We arrived at Thamalakane lodge in the afternoon, but decided to drive into Maun. We came across a lively road side bar full of locals drinking beer and a few back packers. We stopped for a very cheap cold beer before moving on. We didn’t want our Land Rover adventure to end…That night, sleeping in the relative luxury of a double bed, we both wished we had a few more days in our lovely roof tent, being scared by elephants.
Day 16 – 19th September – Duba Plains
After breakfast, we checked out of Thamalakane and drove to Maun, and met Annalise to hand back our Land Rover. We would miss our home of the last 2 weeks, and with a tinge of sadness, I handed the keys over at the airport car park, and checked into Wilderness Air to head to Duba Plains.
We boarded a Cesna Caravan 12 seater plane, and stopping off at a few other camps to let passengers off, flying low over the Delta, before stopping at Duba.
We were met there by Reuben, who threw our small bag into the back of a Land Rover safari vehicle, and drove the 5 minutes into camp. We were greeted by John and Liz, the camp managers, with damp flannels to freshen up, and a welcoming glass of fresh juice.
We were then shown to Tent *1, nearest the Lodge, with a balcony overlooking the Delta and Elephant tracks right next to it. We were under a Jackalberry tree which housed Baboons and Vervet monkeys as their fruit was very sweet and delicious to them.There were 6 tented rooms, all beautifully decorated in traditional safari style, with both an indoor and outdoor shower, and a bottle of sparkling wine resting in ice for our arrival, which of course we opened straight away. This was heavenly luxury and it was great knowing we were going to be pampered for a few days.
After a late lunch of Ostrich burger, we set off with Reuben for our first Duba Plains game drive.
We crossed the old rickety wooden bridge, just squeezing through the posts, mentioned by the Jouberts in their documentary, Big Cat Odyssey, and saw the lodge where they stayed and filmed Relentless Enemies, the National Geographic documentary that was the reason we found out about Duba Plains. We drove through deeps pools of water to find a Lioness and 4 cubs sleeping in the shade. After stopping for a while, we drove on and found the Tsaro pride male and 3 Lionesses, sleeping. They awoke from their slumbers, and the male was huge with a magnificent black mane. He walked towards our vehicle and walked right under the corner where I was sitting. He was so close, I could have reached down and stroked his mane. He looked up as he walked past, looking into my eyes, and I held my breadth in a moment of fear and awe, knowing that he could just rise up and kill me if he wanted, but fortunately they do not show any interest in us humans if in a vehicle, even an open sided one !
We watched till nearly sunset, and then drove to a clearing with Elephants in the background, to enjoy a sundowner whilst the sun set. We drove for an hour back to camp in the dark, using a red light to try and spot the nocturnal creatures, and it seemed a different world, driving in the dark, back over the rickety bridge, scaring a pair of Elephants feeding on our left, causing them to trumpet as we drove past.
Back at camp we enjoyed a fantastic meal in the open air dining area, before noticing 3 Elephants walk around the fire pit platform, a female with a very young calf, and an older daughter. We watched by firelight as they walked past, the calf’s feet getting stuck in the muddy marsh edge, transfixed by how beautiful it was here. We then enjoyed a last glass of wine by the fire, before heading off to our luxury tent.
That night we were woken by another Elephant feeding outside the balcony, as we quietly opened the door and crept out to watch her feed in the starlight, a few feet away, and hearing feet splashing in the Marsh edge, as she fed on reeds and looked for fallen Jackalberry fruit.
We watched transfixed for half an hour till she moved off, and then tried to get some sleep. Geri woke me shortly after hearing another Elephant feeding outside our tent, and she was convinced that the tent moved, as the elephant brushed past. After making us swap sides, so I was nearest the elephant, we eventually settled back to sleep
Day 17 – 20th September – Duba Plains
We were woken at 5.30am by Rueben calling us and after a quick shower, coffee and breakfast we headed of at 6.30 in search of the famous Buffalo. There had been a kill the day before our arrival and the Buffalo had moved off across the channel towards another Lion prides territory. Rueben tracked them and saw where they had crossed. We saw a lone Lioness had also crossed in the distance but we could not follow her across the deep channel. We found more Lions, the male and 3 or 4 females sleeping under a bush and we saw a Lioness, blind in her right eye, leading to her name, silver eye, sitting some distance away as she was not liked by the Male which Rueben explained maybe because he knew she had killed his cubs previously.
On the evening game drive, Rueben crossed the air strip to find the Buffalo and we found them scattered about happily grazing in a vast herd of 1000 + including many with Egrets hitching rides on their backs, eating insects disturbed by their walking and Oxpeckers sitting on their heads and ears eating parasites. There were no Lion tracks near the buffalo and their grazing was very relaxed.
We stopped for fireflies on the way home. That night was quiet around camp, no Elephants, but we found Fruit Bats hanging from from the Lodge roof. We enjoyed a late glass of wine around the fire pit under a starry night, listening to catfish splash in the marsh and reed frogs whistle, whilst we swapped stories with other guests.
Day 18 – 21st September – Duba Plains
On our last full day at Duba, we again crossed the runway to find the buffalo, and found them in a vast herd, moving through water and watched then for a while before crossing the channel over the bridge in search of Lions. We found a Lioness who had 3 young cubs asleep under a bush, but no sign of the cubs. We decided to come back later as the cubs were no doubt sleeping in the middle of a thicket somewhere.
That morning on our return to camp for lunch, we were taken to a different location next to the marsh where the staff had prepared an outside dining area, including a bar and a bush toilet, much to Geri’s amusement.
We returned to the Lioness on the evening drive, and found the 3 cubs in a playful mood, whilst mum slept, and watched them playing with sticks and palm leaves. We found a beautiful sundowner spot, and watched as the sun set behind a family of 3 Elephants feeding nearby. As the light began to fade they walked towards us, the middle calf no more that 10 meters from us. It was as if they had come to say goodbye on our last night in the bush.
That night we ate dinner on the outside platform near the pool, under the stars, whilst a Hippo grazed nearby at the jetty. We were woken at 3am in our tent by the sound of Hippo’s munching outside our tent, and looked out from our balcony by torchlight, to see a mother and calf feeding 10 feet away, and watched as they grazed around our tent before moving off back into the marsh.
Day 19 – 22nd September – Last Day
This morning Reuben said the Buffalo would be by the airstrip and he was right. Following their tracks, we also saw recent Lion tracks following them.
At the end of the runway we saw 4 Lionesses lying in the grass, who got up and walked towards the buffalo we could see in the distance, a few hundred meters away. As the lions started to cross a channel, we managed to get ahead of them, and watched in the morning sun, as they walked in Indian file, through the water, waist high, and waded towards us. it was a magical moment, and the Lionesses looked spectacular. It was definitely a sighting to cross off the wish list, and one Geri had wished to see at Duba.
We followed as the Lionesses split up and got close to the gently grazing Buffalo. Suddenly one of them must have charged through the long grass. We couldn’t see her, but saw the reaction of the Buffalo, as a group of bulls pushed back, snorting with alarm and the herd grew tense and gathered tightly together, before crossing to an Island and forming up with big bulls to the front and rear, whilst we watched the lions stalk them from behind bushes. We saw that the pride had gathered together, and the 4 older cubs were there with 7 lionesses. It was fantastic to see them all together. The lioness with the 3 young cubs was also part of this pride, but the cubs were too young to join a hunt. This was half of the Tsaro pride, which had split from the other half, possibly due to silver eye and the cub killings. The male had been with the other half yesterday, and was presumably still with them.
We continued to watch, as the Lions herded the Buffalo in the direction they wanted, back towards the channel crossing at the bridge, and back into the heart of Tsaro pride country.
Sadly for us, the lions were still too well fed to need to make another kill, their bellies still bulging, but it was fascinating to watch how they herded the buffalo in the direction they wanted. Sadly we were not going to see a hunt today, and as we left to return to camp for the last time, we saw the Buffalo, relaxed again, grazing contentedly outside the Joubert Lodge, as the lions had left them and drifted off to sleep in the heat of the day.
As we arrived back at camp, an elephant was by the Fire pit area, and the staff were showing signs of slight panic, as it had just pushed down the wooden pathway to our tent to get at the Jackalberry fruit, and was now having a mudbath outside the Lodge, throwing mud over its back and dollops of it landing on the walkway. I followed as it grazed by the pool, before heading off towards the kitchens to cause panic. Such a great last morning at Duba Plains.
After a farewell brunch, we said goodbye to the staff and Reuben took us to the runway, where we said our sad farewell, and boarded the small plane again, and flew low at 500 feet all the way to Maun, stopping off at 2 small airstrips to let other passengers off. Geri had a tear in her eye as we flew out of the Okavanga Delta, looking down at water filled pools, crossed with animal tracks making channels through the water, and an occasional Elephant could be seen feeding below.
We transferred to Thamalakane for a last night, and after checking in, Geri sat in the restaurant and watched as the staff were sent into panic by a slim brown snake, about 3 feet long that slithered across the luckily empty restaurant, before swimming across the fish pond to some shrubs nearby, where it disappeared. They were saying cobra, and Mamba and on checking the wildlife guide, saw it was in fact a black Mamba, the most deadly of all snakes in Africa…..
The next morning we transferred to Maun airport and departed for home, having loved every second of our great adventure in Botswana, and already starting to wonder when we could return….