Today we are heading to the nearest border at Pont Drift. The border crosses the Limpopo River, but there is no bridge, so is only usable when the water level is low. It is a tiny border and the only people there are staff. In no time at all our passports are stamped out of South Africa, but they have no customs to stamp our carnet. With a bit of coaxing the police stamp our carnet and we fill in the gaps. Time to cross that river. Apart from going down the wrong track to start with, which amuses the border control, it is a simple drive over a gravel causeway.
Welcome back to Botswana. We fill in the book and discover we are the third vehicle this year (and its now Sept) to cross the border in this direction! Paperwork sorted we hit the road or rather the gravel track.
What we didn’t realise was that this whole area or Tuli Block as it is known, is a private game reserve. There are signs up to stay on the main track. It is so dry and arid that we don’t really expect to see anything, but are pleasantly surprised when we see some giraffes and then elephants drinking at a water hole. But then I spy some shapes under a tree and yell “Stop, stop, go back!!!”, and to our surprise there are cheetahs sitting under a tree only 4 metres from the road. SIX OF THEM WOW!!! We stop and watch for ages. It is a hot day and they just want to snooze, only looking up when John revs the engine. Eventually they get up one at a time and jog across the road in front of us. Only one vehicle went by while we were there. A local guide who told us the cheetahs live in this area and they have been looking for them for the last 6 weeks! Our first best kept secret!
We move on and continue through miles of dry desert like area with some interesting rock formations, until we finally reach the scruffy town of Bobonong where we can finally fill up with diesel. Much later we are pleased to finally see tarseal just before the huge town of Selebi-Phikwe. It is nearly dusk so we head straight to the Phokoje Bush Lodge to camp for the night. We will get groceries tomorrow. Fortunately, they have an awesome restaurant here or our meal would be been pretty basic!
Back to town and the supermarket, where we discover that there has been an outbreak of foot and mouth in the area, so no cattle are being killed, resulting in no meat in the shops. Much later we head west to Serule and then north to Francistown. Not much to see in town, but our guide book mentions a tiny museum so we head there after driving along the main drag. We find the Supa-Ngwao Museum inside a lovely old house (very much like an old Queenslander) and the new curator insists on showing us around. His enthusiasm is contagious, and we find we enjoy the rather ho-hum exhibits. But the day is rushing by, so we hit the long flat road towards the huge salt pans we want to camp on. We pull over for the night at Moriti Wa Selemo and have to navigate past lots of nasty scratchy trees to find the camping area. In the morning the camp owner tells us about Kukonje Island on the Ntwetwe Pan where we can camp, so we decide to go and see it for ourselves.
His instructions aren’t too difficult to follow, we only turn around once, before we reach the Vet Fence that we have to follow. The Vet Post at the entrance is long abandoned so we head on in, across the huge flat saltpan and over to Kukonje Island. The camp ground is falling apart so we head up to the lookout for views across the pan, then slowly explore the camp spots and pick a spot for the night. Not a soul in sight! Awesome. Our second best kept secret!
After a long walk on the pan, we head back out and onto the main road. Time to head out to Lekhubu Island. A long drive down unmarked tracks with not another vehicle in sight. We are relieved when the scratchy bushes finish and we head onto the salt pan and out to the Island. No other campers in sight, but they start to arrive and before we know it our campspot is surrounded. Definitely not a best kept secret. Travellers in a 4x4 have got stuck out on the pan and ask for help – but they are well off the track and we can’t risk being bogged (who will pull us out!), so another 4x4 goes out. John walks out to check they are OK and finds both vehicles bogged. Fortunately, his expertise manages to get them both out!
In the morning we explore the island, admire the huge gleaming white pan and the crazy baobab trees dotted all over the rocky island. Time now to retrace our steps and then miles and miles of tarseal road, most of which we have driven before when heading to Joberg for our new springs. Our funny moment today is when an ambulance passes us and pulls us over. “Something fell off your roof!” We go back and find our air-cond cover in a crumpled heap beside the road. No use to us any more so we leave it there in the hope that it will become part of someone’s sign at their farm entry. They tie up an assortment of junk instead of a sign! Much later we stop for the night at Rock City Camping. They are closed because they have no water or electricity, but will let us stay at a reduced price.
Then it is the long drive to Gaborone which proves to be our third best kept secret. We head down the main road, loop around quite a few side streets and are surprised by the number of innovative new buildings. That diamond money is on display here! We find a brand-new shopping centre to fill up with food and before we leave the city we fill up with fuel. Then a long drive to Kanye where we head to the recommended campsite. We are too tall to get into their camping area, but we can use the carpark, but as their fees have doubled recently, we decide to go next door to Wena Campground. A bit run down, but half the price. The pool is more suited for kids but great to cool down in as it has been stinking hot today at 36deg.
Lots more flat driving (Botswana is really really flat) to Secoma and then Jwaneng where we spy hills. But they are not hills, they are massive slag heaps. We discover that this is the richest diamond mine in the world. It is midday by the time we see signs to Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. We decide to drive in this way, but all we can see is miles of red sand track. As the sand gets deeper, we stop to re-evaluate. It is really hot and there is over 100km of this thick sand to go. We decide to give this track a miss and head further south to Tsabong. Perhaps the second entry will look better! We overnight at the Camel Refuge Camp and try our luck on the second track in the morning.
We head along the second track, finding it much better. The first 80km is gravel, then some rather deep potholes before the track becomes thick sand. But we manage to arrive at the Kgalagadi Gate. Now our next obstacle. We have no reservation, so a bit of grovelling, they ring the office, and find us a spot in one of the less desirable camps. It will do! We are in. At least there are not too many scratchy bushes. We find our camp site and set up before heading off to explore. Not much to report except that it is much greener than expected due to heavier than usual rains earlier this year. But again, not much in the way of wildlife. On our second days drive we meet 2 South African couples who invite us to stay on their much-desired campsite on the Mpayathutlwa Pan. We have a lovely time chatting and after dark hear lions roaring incredibly close. When they get really close, we leave our campfire and head to our vehicles for the night. In the morning we all head out to track the lion. And we are successful! We find him at the waterhole and he is massive. John thought it was a wildebeest at first, he was so big. We watch, then follow him as he walks down our track, roaring as he goes. Awesome. Our first big Kalahari Lion. The Kgalagadi has become our 4th best kept secret.
We say our goodbyes and head back to our booked campsite to collect our table and chairs only to discover that a hyena has chewed up our bucket and the top of one of our chairs! Then it is the long drive out to Tsabong where we fill up with diesel. Finally, we head to the border of South Africa. Goodbye Botswana, we have really enjoyed our visit.