Sunday, August 21, 2022

BOTSWANA'S CHOBE RIVER & OKAVANGO DELTA

 

Border crossing from Zimbabwe to Botswana is pretty seamless. Drive through and put our feet into some sort of agricultural dip, show our Covid Vac certificates, get our free visas stamped in, pay insurance & road tax of $50US, and get our carnet stamped. Welcome to Botswana. First stop is the petrol station because our tank is empty (It is cheaper here so of course John put in the bare minimum to get out of Zim.)

And then food, as that too is much cheaper and our fridge is nearly empty. Then it is off to Kasane and the famous Chobe River. We park our truck behind James & Heleen and spread out on the lovely spot beside the river. We end up staying for 3 nights relaxing, chatting and wildlife watching. On the second day we take a late afternoon boat trip and see heaps of elephants, buffalo, antelopes, crocs and bird life. We finish the evening at the restaurant, but unfortunately John eats something that doesn’t agree with him so he is definitely not himself for a few days. Even takes daytime naps!

Once he feels up to driving, we farewell our new friends and head a massive 30km to the Senyati Safari Lodge. We don’t see wildlife, but meet a lovely Dutch family travelling with 2 vehicles with roof tents. They invite us for dinner, and while we are at their chalet a family of elephants wander past. Finally, time to actually hit the road in Botswana. And a long straight flat road it is for miles and miles. We see group of elephants grazing as they wander along. Then over a cattle grid and through miles of crops – sunflowers, sorghum etc. It is too early to stop where planned at Elephants Rest so we carry on. Maybe we will head through the salt pans towards Kudu Island, but when our track is surrounded by low scratchy bushes and GR2’s sides are continually scratched we change our plan. Instead, we continue west on the main road and pull over on the edge of the Ntwetwe Pan for the night.   A perfectly flat and quiet spot in the middle of a massive white wilderness.

Our next stop is now Nxai Pan National Park. We arrive early and check the inflated prices and decide not to camp in there, just go in for the day. The tracks have sections of thick sand but we plough through. Finally at a waterhole we see herds of antelopes and zebra. More tracks prove too scratchy (the bushes actually brush off 2 of Johns prized number plates!) so we stick to the wider track. When we return to the waterhole there are a group of feisty elephants drinking.  Watch for ages before heading out of the park. I make the call not to take a side track to the huge baobab tree as I’m still feeling a tad queasy from my turn at an upset stomach.  Back on the main road, we see more elephants than in the park. One naughty group have broken open a water pipe to drink. But it is getting late so we head to the Boteti River down a side track and find a spot near the village for the night.

The next day we drive in to the sprawling touristy town of Maun. We need to get the tyres changed around as they are pretty worn. Finally, we no longer look like a tyre shop. We also stop at Kalahari Kanvas to get new wood bags made. Ours again have bitten the dust.  At the National Park office, we check re road conditions and entry fees to the famous Moremi National Park. We reluctantly decide we won’t be going. As well as the bad tracks, the cost for our truck is $100 per day plus our entry fees and camping fees are on top of that. Finally, we head to the Audi Campground for the night.

More chores in the morning because our bags won’t be ready for a few more hours. To fill in more time we head to the shops. When we spy a travel agency, we pop in to explore other options to see the delta. We end up booked on a last-minute deal to fly in and stay on the delta for 2 nights.  We have a few days to fill in, so after collecting our amazing new and totally free bags – Thank You so much Kalahari Kanvas, we head off to the western side of the delta. We overnight tucked behind bushes near the nearly dry Lake Ngami and in the morning head north. This road goes all the way to Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. It is a long slow drive with sections of road terribly potholed. We end the day at the Swamp Camp right on the Okavango River.

We enjoy relaxing beside the river, but before long it is time to head out. Our destination is the granite Tsodillo Hills (Actually the highest mountain in Botswana) It is pretty hot by the time we arrive so our guide (they are compulsory) takes us on a tour of the amazing-coloured Female Hill to see lots of San Rock Art rather than up the hill. He is very informative, but the paintings are a tad under whelming. Lots of different animals daubed in red paint.  Back at the truck we decide not to camp here but head back to the river. We find a different spot on the river at Drotsky’s Cabins. It’s a pretty bend in the river and we toy with the idea of staying 2 nights, but in the end pack up and head off after one night. Again, drive all day and arrive back in Maun late in the day so we decide to return to the Audi Camp and tackle the road north to Khwai, on the eastern side of the delta, tomorrow.

It proves to be a good decision as the corrugated road takes hours. As we reach the Chobe National Park, we start seeing wildlife again. Elephants, giraffes and zebra. Then we head in to the Khwai Community Land and take one of the tracks to the river. We are not booked so we hope to wing a campsite, and are blessed when we meet Christine & Ian, local from Botswana in their big MAN camper and they help organise a riverfront site for us. At sunset we join them on a drive (both of us in our trucks!) to see the crocs hacking into a dead elephant. During our drive here a rear shock absorber has come lose and is now hanging down, and as Ian already has a welder coming to do a few repairs to his truck we join them for the day so our bracket can get welded on. Annoyingly we miss the leopard that walked past them, but plenty of vehicles stopped for a glimpse.

The next morning is our last here so we head off really early and stop to watch a pride of lions sunning themselves across the river. We climb onto the roof to watch, but they are too far away for my lens to get any good shots. Then we follow back tracks to the Khwai village and right to the edge of Moremi Game Reserve. We are stopped by a wooden bridge with a weight limit! After saying our goodbyes to our new friends, we drive the long slow road back to Maun. Tomorrow is our flight.

We park GR2 in the free airport carpark and head in for our flight. Wow what a tiny plane, (Only 5 seats.), and such a magical flight low over the stunning delta. We have to make a stop to collect another couple from another lodge so we get an even longer flight. Awesome. We touch down late morning and get collected and taken to our lodge. Before we know it, we are into the lodge schedule. Wakeup call 6am, breakfast 6.30am, 7am morning activity, 11.30am lunch followed by free time, 3.30 high tea, 4pm an activity (either game drive, mokoro/wooden canoe, boat drive or guided walk), 8pm dinner and finally we are escorted back to our tented chalet as animals roam free here. On our second night a big elephant is enjoying a snack outside our tent and it takes ages for it to be shooed away. The highlights for us are the amazing scenic flights in and out (on our way out our pilot spies a boat sending out flares for help so we fly back to camp to raise the alarm, making it a longer flight!), watching the numerous elephants and hippos and seeing the adorable baby leopard waiting in the tree for her Mumma. What a way to spend my birthday.

Back at Maun airport GR2 is waiting for us safe and sound in the carpark. We head back to The Audi Camp yet again as it is Sunday and we have chores to do before we leave on Monday.  Washing, food, fuel, pulas(money), camp site bookings for the Kalahari and lastly our bags that went back for some alterations. Time to hit the road again for the Kalahari.

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