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Central Kalahari and Makgadikgadi Pans

BotswanaPosted by Espen Tue, July 24, 2012 15:28:18

Hooking up with friends from home is always fun. We drove south from Maun and our friends rented a 4x4 in Jo’burg and drove north. We met in Rakops in Botswana about 40 kilometers from the north eastern gate of the Central Kalahari National Park, and early next morning we drove in. We had booked three nights in two different camp sites, and we had filled up the cars with food, beer and wine, and firewood. The receipt for successful camping! After finding our site we went out for the day to look for animals. First stop was a waterhole a couple of hours drive away.

Winter is a dry time of year. Not sure if it is good for wildlife watching, but the colors and light are beautiful as the sun gets lower in the afternoon.

On the way to the waterhole we saw loads of the bat-eared fox.

Later that evening, on our way back to camp, we also came across a small group of cheetahs. They were sneaking in on a herd of antelopes a few hundred meters away, and we positioned our vehicles for the hunt. However, it was the antelopes lucky day, and the cheetahs never went for it. We waited for about an hour, but had to leave to get back to camp before dark (you are not allowed to drive in the park after sunset).

Not really sneaking anywhere at this moment, but still very fascinating.

We saw them again two days later in the same area. This time it looked like they were considering a go at one of the younger giraffes, but nothing happened.

Our last morning in the park we decided to drive to another waterhole for sunrise, and then just hang out there and wait for the animals coming in to drink. Good plan, but only a few antelopes and a fox showed up for the photo session.

The famous “brown” lions in Kalahari were unfortunately nowhere to see. Next time.. We punched in new coordinates in the GPSs and drove for the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. The total areal is bigger than the Uyuni in South America, but the Uyuni is the biggest single salt pan, and it is also whiter and drier. We camped one night at Chukutsa Pan, and then drove further east the next day. Our goal was to find Kokunje Island on the large Sua Pan where there should be free camping under a huge baobab with views over the pan.

The road going across the salt pan to Kokunje Island. You can see the island in the distance about six kilometers out. And we found our baobab. It really was huge!

There are no cats on the island so it is relatively safe to walk around or to the top. We heard that there should be a hyena, and that we could try to leave some water in a bowl to see if it would come closer to camp at night or in the evening, but no luck. There are also a couple more campsites, but for two days we had the whole island to ourselves. It was a pretty amazing place to camp.

Next stop is Kruger National Park in South Africa!

Espen

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Jackpot in Chobe!

BotswanaPosted by Espen Mon, July 16, 2012 17:29:52

In Maun we met Andrea and Georg from www.toyotours.com again after seven months. First time we met was on Baja California in November 2010 and we traveled together for a while, went different ways, and met up again several times on our trip through Central and South America. Last time we met we drank champagne in Ushuaia celebrating we both made it all the way to the southern tip of South America. From there we had different destinations, and they shipped their Toyota to South Africa a month before we shipped the Patrol. In Maun we were able to meet up again. We had more or less travelled the same route in Southern Africa with some variations. They had visited more national parks than us and they entered Botswana and Kasane from the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. While up in the north eastern corner of Botswana they had two days in the Chobe National Park at the river front, and they said it was the best place they had been so far for wildlife watching.

Taking Andrea and Georg’s advice we spent two days at the Chobe river front. Since it is part of the Botswana National Park system we paid the normal 290 pula entrance fee for the two of us and the car for one day. Since campsites in Chobe are quite expensive we chose to camp outside in Kasane and do day trips into the park. In the park there is one large transit road and many small roads to drive explore. You are able to see the whole river front in one day and drive back out on the transit road before the gate closes.

Recently they have changed the system in the park so the river front closest to the entrance gate until Serondela picnic site allows only tour operators from 06-09 and from 15.30-18.30. When you enter and pay your fees you do not get a map or any information sheets. At the entrance gate there was only a small handwritten map on the wall that showed where you could drive and not, and inside the gate at the different junctions there was no information at all. Our first day in the park we entered the river front were we should not have been by mistake. We did not know the park well enough to know the name of the different places mentioned, and the hand written map on the wall did not really take the scale of the park into account. While in this area we did not meet many tour operators and neither did they say anything to us, so later we entered this part on purpose. It does not feel right when we pay the same entrance free as the others that you as a private visitor are only allowed to parts of the park a few hours a day. But on the bright side, after two days in the park we had our best animal sightseeings in another part of the park. So even if they start enforcing their new regulation in the park you will still be able to see a lot of animals, you just have to drive a longer distance from town than the tour operators.

First morning after entering the park just a few kilometers down the road we saw a hyena walking along a side road. We followed it for a little while, and it took us to a group of other hyenas and a small cub. Very cute, but it was hard to get a good photo of them as they were hiding among the trees. Next stop was the river front where we watched hippos as we were eating breakfast inside the car. An amazing way to start a day. Quite unusual for us Norwegians to watch hippos floating by our “breakfast table”. It was an amazing day watching all the animals along the river front and we had to agree with Toyotours that this must be the best place for animal watching this time of year in this part of Africa. At lunch we had 94 elephants on a plain in front of us together with crocs, lizards, warthogs, antelopes, giraffes, and buffalos. Later in the day as we stopped the car and watched buffaloes coming down to the water out from the bushes we suddenly found ourselves among a herd of maybe 300 buffaloes.

A perfect day in the park had a perfect ending at the river front. Probably where we should not have been at that time of day, but we stopped there because then it was just a short drive back to the gate after sunset. It was just incredible to watch the elephants walking along the river as the sun were setting.

Early next morning we were ready again. Just a couple of kilometers away from where we saw the hyena the previous day, we saw a group of four wild dogs eating on an antelope.

They had blood far down their necks after digging into their meal. We realized we had not just had a lucky day the day before as it was just lots and lots of animals along the river front on our second day too, and along the river there were no bushes so you always had a good view of the animals. At 12, and closing in on lunch time, we were again in the area where we had lunch the previous day when we suddenly had six lions in front of us eating on a young buffalo that they must have killed recently. You always hear that your best chances to spot lions is early in the morning or late afternoon, but here, six lions were eating in the middle of the day. Espen is going to use this as an excuse for not having to get up early early in the morning ever again. I cannot really find other words to describe the scene in front of us than, INCREDIBLE, and it was unbelievable to sit there and watch six lions eat. And we were the only ones there to watch it.

The lions were moving back and forth between eating, drinking and going up to the bushes and trees to lay down in the shade. After watching for a while we realized that it was seven lions, and then, when they moved around again, we saw that it was eight of them.

If you look really closely at this photo you will see that one lion is laying under a bush up in the right corner of the photo and behind it you will be able to distinguish two more.

While the lions were eating, the vultures where gathering around, but at a safe distance. Most of the buffalo had been eaten up and it was only one lion left, and when it turned its back to the carcass the vultures closed in. The lion turned around and chased the vultures away, but as the lion finally left it was their turn to eat.

This is all that was left of the buffalo 3-4 hours after it was killed.

After we had been watching the lions for over an hour one tour operator vehicle showed up and then it was three lions eating. That vehicle called up its friend on the radio and a few minutes later the second car showed up. Now it was only one lion eating. Like us they were all really fascinated to finally see a lion and were shooting loose with their cameras. What they did not know was that just behind their backs was another seven lions hiding in the bushes. Luckily for us all lions don’t seem interested in people and cars, not even the open ones where it is so easy for a lion to reach in and grab a person from the back, especially when all the people is distracted by the lion in front of them.

In Chobe we did not see any leopards, but we could see the evidence that there was some in the area.

We were going to meet up with our friends east of Central Kalahari in a few days’ time, and we were heading back to Maun to stock up on food. To get from Chobe river front to Maun we wanted to drive through the Savuti part of the Chobe National Park. Between these two parts of Chobe National Park is Chobe Forest Reserve and some villages, and we drove into this Reserve and bush camped there before entering Savuti the next day.

Driving through Savuti.

After the river front we were a little disappointed with Savuti, it was so dry and most water holes had no water in them. We saw a lot of animal poop, but we hardly saw any animals. I guess that if they were there they were hiding well in the bushes.

Malin



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Moremi in two wheel drive

BotswanaPosted by Malin Mon, June 25, 2012 19:37:51

As we are here in Botswana we wanted to have a look at the Okavango Delta. After considering different options we decided to drive out to the eastern part of the delta and the Moremi Game Reserve, that is a part of the national park system in Botswana. Since it is a national park you need a permit, and in all the national parks in Botswana a day permit costs the same: 120 Botswana Pula per person and 50 Pula for the vehicle, so total cost for us for one day is 290 Pula, about 36 USD. We also wanted to camp in the park at Third Bridge campsite, and we made a reservation for a campsite that cost 476 Pula, 60 USD, per night for the two of us. Quite expensive, in other words.

From Maun where we bought the permits it is about two hours drive to get to the South Gate of the park. We wanted to make the most out of our time in the park and drove up towards the park and bush camped a few km from the gate. Compared to Addo and Etosha National Park that we had visited earlier, the Moremi is not fenced off. Coming closer to the gate we saw more and more animals like springboks and giraffes. A two-track took off from the main road and that was where we found a place to bush camp. We cooked dinner as the sun was setting and we were ready to pop the rooftop tent when we heard a loud lion’s roar. We thought we could also hear them between the roars, so they could not be too far away. This was our first “encounter” with a lion while camping (we didn’t see it though..) and I did not feel too confident about sleeping in a tent with big cats around. I convinced Espen that we could sleep inside our car, meaning in the driver and passengers seats. We had talked about the option before on the trip, that if we ever got to a place we did not feel safe we could sleep inside, but so far we had never done it. To pass some time from sunset to sunrise we had a movie night. We place the computer in between the two front seats and hook it up to the car stereo for the proper sound. It was not our most comfortable night’s sleep on the trip, but on the bright side we were at the entrance gate at 06.15. A sign said the park opened at 06.00, but after using the toilets and waiting around without seeing any rangers we entered the park at 06.35 without anyone checking our permits.

Not far from the gate we saw the first animals and a large group of elephants. After watching them for a while we continued on to the first water hole and ate our breakfast. The drive continued along more waterholes and then we saw a male and a female lion laying in front of us on a small road that took off from ours.

They did not really care about us so we stopped the car and watched them for t least an hour. They moved a bit away from the road and lay down behind some trees.

Are you able to see them? You can still see both of them in this photo. If it was not for seeing them on the road for a while we would have driven right past them and not seen any lions in Moremi at all.

At lunch we stopped at the Third Bridge campsite and as we were eating, elephants were eating their lunch around us.

Third Bridge campsite is an open campsite, no fences around it, and the animals could move freely into camp if they wanted to. The rangers told us to not leave any food or things that smelled of food outside as there were problems with baboons and hyenas coming by looking for food. After lunch we took a drive out on the Mboma loop and as far out on this loop and about as far into the delta you can get in Moremi, we lost our four wheel drive. We came around a curve with quite a lot of sand and since we did not have that much speed we dug in. We removed some sand in front of the tires, and as we tried to drive on we realized that the four wheel drive would not engage. But we were able to get out of the sand. Now it was 45 min to sunset and out in the bush with animals with perfect camouflage it was not the time and place to try to figure out what was wrong. So we just had to keep some speed in the sandy sections and around the curves, and count on the 37s to get us through. Around one curve we saw one elephant coming towards us and he did not seem too happy to see us on his road. We ended up backing as he was just continuing to approach us, and as we moved further away from him he finally walked off the road and into the bush. Some minutes after sunset we were back at Third Bridge campsite and that was not one minute to early as we had to set up camp and get some dinner.

Elephants eat between 140-270 kilos of food a day and the average sleep time is about two plus hours. So while we were in our tent sleeping we could hear the elephants eating outside our tent.

In the morning we saw that they had been 1 ½ meter from our front bumper that night. Beside their footsteps in the sand that looks like someone walking around in giant moonboots (the kind that was in fashion some years ago) they had also left some other evidence, poop. Driving past elephant poop on the road I always wondered the weight of one elephant poop and now was the right opportunity to lift one. I estimated that one weighted about 5 kg.

After servicing the front axle (changed all seals and bearings) on the Patrol about a month ago at Nissan in Knysna, South Africa, because the left side of the axle had been leaking, the right side of the axle had now started leaking oil. Leaving the garage the mechanic that did the service told Espen that it might leak a little bit of oil after changing the seals, so the first week or two we did not really think about it when a few drops of oil came out. But then it started to leak more. A lot more. We wrote Nissan an email before leaving for Moremi to ask them about it. We thought it was kind of suspicious that the four wheel drive did not engage. Since we were far into Moremi Espen did not feel like opening the hub to see if he could figure out what was wrong with our four wheel drive in case something was broken and he could not put it together again. A trailer to tow us out would have cost 8000 Pula, 1000 USD, we later learned from someone that had to be towed out. Espen topped up the diff with oil, using the chef’s suggestion, a well known trick from the kitchen. We filled oil into a Ziploc bag and cut of one corner of the bag. Espen squeezed 7 dl of oil into the diff.

After consulting the rangers regarding the conditions on the roads we took another road out than the one we came in. One of the rangers would also drive out the same road a couple of hours after us and that is always good to know. With Espen in the driver’s seat we counted on our big tires would help us out through the sand in two wheel drive.

The plan had been to continue from Moremi north to Chobe, but not with only two wheel drive. After getting through the sand in Moremi we headed south back to Maun. Back in the campground and with the town with garages within reach, Espen had a look at the hubs and saw that the right one was full of oil from the leaking axel and the other one had no grease in it at all. But the problem was that the mechanic after servicing the Patrol had used too much of the gasket sealant when he put the hubs back in place. Pieces of this was getting into the hub and when we tried to connect the four wheel drive this pieces got in between and it could not lock. With our four wheel drive now fixed and working we wanted to give Chobe and northern Botswana another go. New seals for the axel was ordered from Norway (we have friends coming to visit in a few days’ time) as it is difficult (read: time consuming) to gets parts for the Patrol here in Southern Africa. And we also hope that Nissan in South Africa will take a look and hopefully fix what they didn’t get right in the first place….

Malin

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Meteorite, sinkhole and cave

BotswanaPosted by Malin Tue, June 19, 2012 07:43:49

I just wanted to short mention a few nice places we saw on our way from Etosha, Namibia to Maun (Okavango Delta), Botswana.

South East of Etosha we stopped by the Hoba Meteorite to have a close look at the largest (single piece) meteorite in the world. The main mass is estimated to be around 60 tons and its composition is 84% iron. It was a pretty impressive piece of metal and a few places on it where people have helped them self to a souvenir you could see the metal. Glad we were not around this area 80,000 years ago when it is believed it fell on earth.

From Grootfontain we headed pretty much straight east to Tsumkwe through the dry bushman land. This is the area in Nimibia where the San people live. Just south of Tsumkwe we saw the Naye Naye Pans marked off on the map. I thought it was salt pans (since we had just seen the Etosha salt pan) until the receptionist at Tsumkwe Country Lodge where we camped told us it was water pans. We drove down to have a look. For 17 km we drove through really dry landscape and we thought the receptionist must have been wrong. But then after 18, 5 km we reached the first Pan and we saw a shallow lake with plenty of ducks and flamingos in it.

On the grass land next to the lake the springboks was grassing and it was a really nice and relaxing place. Would have been great for a couple of days relaxed camping, but we wanted to cross the border into Botswana the same day.

We spent our last Namibian Dollars on diesel, extra fuel is always nice to have when you drive in remote areas. At the Dobe border station the border formalities was easy on both sides and we were through within half an hour.

This is a photo of the Dobe border station on Botswana side.

In one of our maps the Aha Hills sinkholes is marked off and in Tracks 4 Africa, the GPS map we use, a campsite is marked of at the same place. When we got there it was just a clearing in the forest. But it was a sign there that told us this was the Aha Dancing Spot, a site where the San people gathers for special occasions for ritual dances. And just north and south of this site there should be sinkholes. We went looking for the sinkholes, but we did not find any. The only thing we found was remains after San huts and a circle where the dancing must have taken place.

Next stop on our road east was the Drotsky’s (Gcwihaba) cave. The cave has a northern and southern entrance and you can walk the 500 meters from one end to the other underground. We did not walk through, but walked a bit into the cave from both entrances.

As it normally gets quite cold in caves we had dressed up a bit, but in this cave it just got warmer the deeper into it you got. In one spot we could see many bats having their rest, they were really small bats.

We were pleased about our chosen route from Etosha to Maun and especially the first 200 km in Botswana was really nice.

Malin

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