Moremi & Chobe – September 2017

This trip was planned a year in advance with excellent assistance from Tara at Botswana Footprints. On this trip I was joined by 4 mates – 2 of us were travelling from Joburg and the other 3 would be joining us from Bloemfontein. For me it will be my first overland trip in my new 110 Defender having sadly sold my much loved 90. The guys from Bloem would be travelling in a new Toyota Fortuner and as expected the Land Rover / Toyota rivalry formed the basis for much of the banter on the trip!

Our trip would take us across the Makgadigadi Pans through Moremi and to the Chobe River via Savuti and Linyanti.

Botswana 2017 route

Botswana 2017 route

15 September 2017 – Khama Rhino Sanctuary

We were up early to do the final packing and we set off for the Stockpoort border post just after 5am with a short stop in Lephale for what has become a traditional Wimpy breakfast en-route.

We arrived at our first overnight stop, Kharma Rhino Sanctuary at around 2pm and after a quick check-in we made our way to campsite no. 11. By 4pm our fellow travellers from Bloem hadn’t arrived yet so we decided to go on a short game drive down to the pans. At Serwe Pan we found a family of four rhinos.

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Baby rhino at Serwe Pan

Back at camp we found the Bloem contingent had arrived. After a few introductory St Louis we decided to take advantage of the restaurant facilities on offer at Khama. This seemed to annoy our waitress intensely as it appeared that she would much prefer that everyone cooked for themselves! I went with the T-Bone which in hindsight was a big mistake – those who ordered the fillet were much more complimentary of meat.

16 September 2017 – Kubu Island

It was a relaxed start to the day as we knew we didn’t have a long drive ahead of us. We loaded up the roof racks with some excellent wood from the shop at Khama and then set off for the pans.

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The new 110 at the edge of the Makgadigadi pans

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Quick break on the pans to toss a rugby ball around

At this time of year the pans were bone dry so it was an uneventful drive straight to the campsite at Kubu Island where the attendant informed us we could have our pick of the campsites.

Later in the afternoon we climbed to the trig beacon at the top of Kubu to take in the spectacular views and to enjoy few sundowners.

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View from the top of Kubu Island

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Deep conversations about the meaning of life

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Campsite at Kubu Island

17 September 2017 – Island Safari Lodge

I woke up at the crack of dawn with hope of getting some spectacular photos of the sunrise, but disappointingly nature didn’t oblige and the sunrise was a complete non-event. With the co-ordinates for Island Safari Lodge in Maun typed into the sat nav we set out for what we knew would be a long day of driving.

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Which way to Maun?

Unfortunately I didn’t notice (until it was too late) that the sat-nav had selected the route that takes you closer to Nata as opposed to the more direct route to Gweta. So it was many, many frustrating hours later that we finally arrived at our lunch time stop of Planet Baobab. After a quick lunch of toasted sarmies and ice cold soft drinks we were back on the road.

The A3 highway in Bots takes you directly past Makgadigadi Pans National Park and it wasn’t long before we spotted elephants on the side of the road. A while later I spotted what I assumed was a dog crossing the road, except it didn’t walk like a dog, it walked like a very big cat! Sure enough the “dog” turned out to be a lioness casually walking through the bush next to a major road in Botswana. So far we’d already spotted 3 of the big 5 and we hadn’t even entered a reserve yet, the omens were looking good!

On arrival in Maun we filled up all the tanks and jerry cans with fuel as this would be our last opportunity to re-fuel until we got to Kasane in 11 days time. Our accommodation for the night was at Island Safari Lodge and this turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. I had never stayed there before but I will definitely be back. It has a great setting on the waters edge, comfortable chalets and a decent restaurant with waiters who made sure we were kept well hydrated during our stay.

18 September 2017 – Third Bridge Moremi

We were all up early to take a scenic flight over the Delta. We used Mack Air and after some nervous moments where our pilot couldn’t get the plane started we were off.

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If you haven’t done it before, a flight over the Delta is really well worth it. Seeing the massive herds of elephant and buffalo from the sky really gives you a sense for the vast size of the area. We were also lucky enough to spot 4 rhinos from the air – a first for me as I have never seen rhinos in Moremi during any of my previous trips.

Straight after the flight we set off for Third Bridge campsite. The road from Maun to the entrance gate at South Camp is appalling corrugated and at some point during the drive no fewer than 3 of the brackets holding my roof rack in place had come off. Unfortunately I didn’t have any spares so for the rest of the trip I would have to keep a careful eye on the 5 remaining brackets and hope I didn’t lose any more!

Despite the terrible road we made good time and so after the formalities of checking in at the gate were completed we took a detour to Xini Lagoon. We were not disappointed and the area around the lagoon was teeming with large herds of elephant and buffalo and lots of other plains game including zebra, wildebeest, impala and tsessebe.

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Xini Lagoon

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Elephants at Xini Lagoon

After a very pleasant drive we arrived at Third Bridge at around 4pm. We were allocated campsite 5 which is big and shady. On the downside it is the camp closest to the entrance where staff now run a generator until about 8pm. It is also quite far from the nearest ablution blocks. Nevertheless we got a good nights sleep to the sound of lions roaring and were blissfully unaware of the hyaena that visited during the night.

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Nocturnal visitor at Third Bridge

19 September 2017 – Third Bridge Moremi

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Morning visitors

In the morning we awoke to sound of elephants in the camp. Part of what I love about overlanding in areas with no fences is the privilege of being able to lie quietly in your tent and watch the wildlife pass you by.

That morning we took a drive around Mbombu Island hoping to spot the cheetah that had been seen there recently. Although the cheetah eluded us there was lots of game in the area.

The rest of the day was spent chilling in camp before we set out on our afternoon drive. The camp staff suggested we head out towards Xakanaxa as the lions we had heard last night has been spotted in that area. A leopard had also been sighted lying on the branch of a large sausage tree. Only a few kilometres from camp we found the two male lions chilling in the shade. As they didn’t seem likely to move for the next few hours we decided to leave them and to return to them on our way back. On our return we found them exactly were we had left them  – still fast asleep. With the sun rapidly setting we headed back to camp.

That night while sitting around the fire the roaring started up again – and this time they were CLOSE! Torches were immediately out and there they were! The two male lions were cruising past the entrance gate only a few metres away. For the newbie campers amongst us the reality of wild camping in Botswana certainly hit home!

20 September 2017 – Xakanaxa Moremi

This morning we decided on a short loop down the Xhoro Road with the intention of returning via Lechwe Flats. Unfortunately we were using a map that was now a few years old and unbeknownst to us the road to Lechwe flats had been closed for some time. We were now faced with a choice – go back the way we came or go on a much longer driver around the Bodamantu Loop. We decided on the longer drive and were rewarded with a spectacular elephant siting. The herd must have numbered 100+. At times they completed blocked the road but we were happy to sit and wait whilst they grazed all around us.

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Lunch at Bodamantu Loop – it was hot!

Just outside Xakanaxa we came across a small bachelor herd of buffalo. One of the dagga bulls decided to spend the night with us in our campsite which made for another uneasy nights sleep for the newbies!

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Dagga bull at sunset

21 September 2017 – Dizhana

We were up early for the relatively long drive to Dizhana. On our approach to the office we noticed a number of vehicles parked outside. Two large male lions had decided they were going to take advantage of the shade and spend the day there. Needless to say the office remained closed that day!

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Waiting patiently for service outside the DWNP office at Xakanaxa

After an uneventful drive up to North Gate we arrived at the Khwai river crossing. This had been the topic of much conversation before the trip as the Fortuner did not have a snorkel but given the relatively short distance of the crossing I had assured them that they would not need one.

On assessing the situation the most direct route also looked the longest and the deepest. So we went down one of the detour roads which also presented 3 options, left, middle and right. While we were debating our options a local vehicle crossed using the left option. While it appeared bonnet deep he made it through with no drama so we followed in his path and we too made it through without incident. However while we were crossing another vehicle took the right hand route (closest to a tree) and this seemed to be by far the shallowest option.

At the time we visited Dizhana seemed to be slowly getting back up to speed having only recently reopened. There was no-one in the office when we arrived but after a short wait a lady arrived apologising profusely for the delay. She explained that she was the only person there and was also responsible for doing all the cleaning of the ablutions. Everything at Dizhana was functional and clean. We did find (and rescue) an exhausted tree squirrel that had gotten itself stuck in the bowl of our toilet. Our site (number 4) did not have the best view but we took a short drive for sundowners and we were rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunsets of our trip.

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Power naps at Dizhana

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Sunset over the Khwai River

22 September 2017 – Savuti Chobe

We took the Marsh road up to Savuti and game viewing along the road was relatively quiet all the way to Savuti. Despite booking a year in advance SKL had messed up our booking and had allocated us two different camp sites for the two nights we were staying there. RSV3 on the first night and CSV4 on the second. CSV4 is a much nicer (although very sandy) site which upon arrival was still unoccupied. So taking a chance we decided not to unpack on RSV3 but to wait to see if anyone arrived at CSV4.

While we waited we took a short trip up to Harvey’s Pan and were enjoying a few sundowners whilst watching a herd of elephant. A number of the guided safari vehicles had allowed their guests to get out of their vehicles so we did the same, although we stayed very close by. Suddenly the peace and quiet was shattered by a loud roar and everyone leapt back into their vehicles. Less than a minute later two male lions emerged from the bush. In the bush you can never tell whats going to happen next!

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Lion at Harvey’s Pan Savuti

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Only a few minutes earlier everyone had been outside the vehicle enjoying sundowners

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Roan nervously watch the lion

When we got back to camp the sun was setting and still no-one had arrived on CSV4. So we unpacked there and fortunately got to spend both nights in the same camp after all!

23 September 2017 – Savuti Chobe

After exploring the rock paintings close to Savuti before it got too hot, we then decided to drive down to Marabou pan, hoping to see the pride of lion that had been spotted there earlier that morning. I suspect the real motivation for the long drive was so that we could remain in our air conditioned vehicles as by 9:30am the temperature was already over 35 degrees!

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View from the koppie with the rock painting

Unfortunately the lion had long since left Marabou pan and instead a large herd of elephant had taken up residence and we spent a good few hours there reading and watching the elephants.

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Trying to cool down at Marabou pan

24 September 2017 – Linyanti Chobe

We were up early to avoid driving in the heat of the day as we had heard that the road to Linyanti was particularly sandy. Unfortunately / fortunately we were delayed by a fantastic sighting of a male and female lion. There were clearly on the hunt and we managed to follow them for nearly two hours before we eventually decided to leave them to head for Linyanti.

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Hunting partners just outside Savuti

Aside from particularly bad 3km stretch the road to Linyanti wasn’t too bad. At least nothing the Defender couldn’t handle! The Fortuner also, miraculously, didn’t get stuck. The bush was quite thick on either side of the road which limited game viewing, but we did almost get taken out by a herd of eland that jumped across the road just in front of us and we also saw a herd of buffalo at one of the waterholes along the way.

On arrival at Linyanti there was no-one at reception so we went straight to our campsite (CL2) which had a spectacular view over the Linyanti River.

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Linyanti – couldn’t ask for a better view!

That afternoon we took a short drive and on the way stopped to chat to two very nervous  German girls. They said there were simply TOO many elephant and they didn’t feel safe at all. They were not wrong about the abundance of elephant and given the limited network of roads and thick bush it was easy to get stuck for a while between two groups. But were weren’t in a hurry and were happy to sit and wait it out.

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Linyanti elephant blocking the road

When we got back to camp our neighbour from CL1 popped over to ask if we had been warned about the mosquitos and the rogue bull elephant. Well as there was no-one at reception when we arrived we had been warned about neither. Sure enough as the sun set the mozzies came out in full force. A long sleeved shirt and layers of Tabard meant I didn’t get badly bitten but having to constantly swat at mosquitos did put a bit of a dampener on the evening so we escaped to the safety of our tents relatively early.

At around 1am I heard bang as something in the camp got knocked over. A quick shine of the torch revealed a large bull elephant in camp and on the search for food.  I felt relatively safe in the roof-top tent but I was seriously concerned about the 3 guys in the ground tent. However, not wanting to antagonise him we kept quiet and turned our torches off.  In the dark it sounded like he was trashing our camp in his search for food but after what seemed like an eternity he moved off. We switched our torches back on to reveal that the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as it had sounded like. We are pretty good about packing all food away in the vehicles at night so he hadn’t managed to get any of that. However we had forgotten to pack away a 5 litre bottle of home brewed gin and the elephant had flattened all of it! Seems the citrus infused gin was irresistible to an ellie. I can only hope he had a massive hangover the next morning!

25 September 2017 – Linyanti Chobe

Given the interrupted nights sleep we had a fairly late start to the morning. We drove along the river until we reached the cutline and then drove down the cutline to awaterhole. On the river road we spotted a sitatunga which was a first for me.

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Waterhole on the Linyanti cutline road

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Leaping kuda in the Linyanti swamp

Back at camp I headed for an early shower. On my way back from the shower I heard a commotion coming from the camp – it would seem our rogue elephant had returned! He was back in camp tossing chairs around and generally being destructive. SKL staff heard the noise and arrived in their Landy which they revved loudly and managed to move him off a short distance. However it wasn’t until the army showed up and used flashbangs that he finally ran off. A short while later other members of the army arrived to investigate the “shots” they had heard. At this point I should mention that we saw lots of army activity at Linyanti. An army helicopter flew up and down the Linyanti river on a number of occasions and during the night I saw an army patrol go past a few times. Not sure if this is usual for the area, but it was very noticeable.

After all the excitement the two German girls we had met the day before asked if we minded if they shared our camp as they felt nervous staying on their own. Being the gentlemen that we are – how could we refuse? So we spent a very pleasant evening around the fire and that night passed without further incident.

Overall I don’t think I will return to Linyanti. Although the river setting of the campsite is beautiful, the camp is a bit of a mission to get to and when you are there you are severely limited in your game driving options. Also the new ablution block that they have constructed is extremely cramped and hot. I can almost guarantee that if you go there to cool off in the shower you will be as hot and sweaty as you started once you have gotten dressed!

26 September 2017 – Ihaha Chobe

Next morning it was off to Ihaha. We drove in convey with the Germans down the sandy road to Goha Gate. We also managed to sandy section just before Katchikau without incident despite the derogatory signs about Land Rover’s one of the local lodges had put up.

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After a quick stop at the Katchikau bottle store to replenish our stolen gin supply we were greeted by the incredible sight of the Chobe floodplain with hundreds of wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye can see. Of course the experience is only slightly diminished when you get the binoculars out and realise that some of those “wildebeest” are actually cattle from the Namibian side.

We were allocated site number 5 at Ihaha and although it was right on the banks of the river it offered absolutely no shade at all!

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Ihaha campsite

So we once again retreated to the air-conditioned comfort of the vehicles for a slow afternoon drive along the river.

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Sunset on the Chobe floodplain

27 September 2017 – Ihaha Chobe

On our morning drive we spotted a lone male lion lying far in the distance so we left him after a short time and pushed on to the Serondela picnic site which was overrun with game viewing vehicles.

One of the things I don’t like about Ihaha that you never really feel like you are truly in the bush due to the combination of the many professional game viewing vehicles, cell phone signal, domestic cattle and the close proximity of “civilisation”. So while I can’t deny its spectacular location, I’m not sure that Ihaha will be on the itinerary for my next trip.

28 September 2017 – Chobe Safari Lodge

After two weeks of camping it was not trouble getting everyone up early to break up camp as our next stop would be the relative luxury of Chobe Safari Lodge. However I did manage to convince everyone to take the river road as opposed to heading straight up to the tar road to Kasane. For that we were rewarded with another lioness sighting and a herd of rare sable antelope.

My Landy was now running on the smell of am oil rag so I was relieved when we pulled into the Shell garage in Kasane to refuel. However there was a problem – systems offline meant we would have to find fuel somewhere else. There was no luck at the Puma garage just down the road either so we would have to look for fuel at Kazangula, another 10km away! On the way the Landy started to show the tell-tale signs of running out of fuel and went into “reduced power mode”. The Fortuner hovered like vulture behind us waiting to offer the assistance of a tow rope. At that moment my co-driver and I decided that we would rather walk the remaining distance to Kazangula with a jerry can as opposed to suffering the indignity of being towed by a Toyota! Fortunately it didn’t come to that as we both made to Kazangula to refuel.

When we got to Chobe Safari Lodge we were disappointed to discover that we weren’t actually staying at Chobe Safari Lodge but at their sister hotel across the road, Chobe Bush Lodge. However as both hotels were part of the same group we were welcome to use the facilities of Chobe Safari Lodge and we spent most of our time there. We hit the bar for a few drinks before our cruise in the afternoon. As always the cruise was fantastic and highly recommended.

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Chobe River cruises

30 September to 1 October 2017 – Journey Home

The rest of our trip was spent relaxing by the pool before we embarked on the long drive home, this time via Martin’s Drift border post. We spent the night at Kwa-Nokeng Lodge which was a convenient but slightly noisy option. The lodge is situated right next to the border and the noise of trucks arriving and departing can he heard throughout the night.

The following morning we went through the border with no incident and enjoyed an easy drive back to Joburg.

Video

If you’ve got this far into the report you might also enjoy a short video I put together of our trip:

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