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Trip Report Affordable Botswana - trip report Aug-Sept 08

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I’ve seen many trip reports on the luxury lodges of Botswana so I thought some readers might be interested to hear about our ‘budget’ trip to Botswana. From our own (albeit limited) experience, and from what we’ve leaned on this forum, if you really want to see a lot of animals on your ‘must see’ list, and especially if you have limited time, then staying at a lodge with good guides is a great idea – they know where to find the game and can tell you a lot about the game and the environment. If you want a bit of adventure then try a ‘do-it-yourself’ trip. Don’t expect to see everything, though you may well be lucky, but enjoy the whole experience. It’s a great to way to get to know the people of the country too. Even something like getting a tyre repaired at a local garage puts you in touch with the locals and adds to the sense of adventure!

A bit of background (for Tom!): We started our love affair with Africa with a few self-drives round South Africa, practically all the way round the coast east and west, northern borders and Limpopo. Very impressed by SanParks and how they provide access to wildlife at a reasonable cost (Kgalagadi, Mapungubwe, Augrabies, Kruger and their fantastic Wilderness Walks). Then Namibia, self drive again, usually B&Bs or national parks. Looked with envy sometimes at the private lodges but we like the freedom of being able to follow our own timetable, as often discussed here. We’ve only ever stayed in one lodge, Mashatu Tented Camp, so we can’t compare our experience with the posh lodges, but we loved it, only two of us in a vehicle and lots of game pointed out to us by very enthusiastic guides (saw 7 leopards, 2 of which were collared – but don’t want to hijack Sniktawk’s thread!) . By now we’re hooked on the African wilderness as much as the wildlife, so last year returned to Namibia and rented a 4x4 with rooftop tent to experience the more inaccessible areas (Skeleton Coast, Damaraland). After that we felt we could tackle something a bit more ambitious – Botswana.

Objectives: Wilderness experience and as much wildlife as possible, from warthogs to lions, baboons to leopards. I enjoy photography, but always look at other’s efforts with envy. Just being out in the wonderful African bush with all the sounds and smells around is our idea of a safari! We’re not so young and we like comfort, but working to a budget we would prefer to spend a month in a tent rather than a few days in a luxury lodge.
On this 28-day trip we did about 50% camping and 50% comfortable beds, bathroom facilities, and laundry services. I have included some costings, (hope it’s not considered too vulgar!) to give credibility to my title ‘Affordable Botswana’

Here’s the itinerary, I have given an idea of accommodation prices (osts are for 2 people) in US dollars, I haven’t included food, sometimes we ate from the campfire (a necessity in Chobe/Moremi) and in restaurants when in hotels/guest houses. We booked everything ourselves, no problems with email these days! Thanks to all on forum who helped with our planning, and thanks to many others who just inspired us with their safari tales.

Flight London-Windhoek economy return £600pp. Lucky enough to get a free upgrade to business on way out, paid for upgrade (£150each) on way back, so we can say total cost £750 each business class return. Very comfortable flight.

Vehicle: Toyota double-cab rental with rooftop tent and all equipment, bedding, fridge. 28 days car rental including tent & camping gear (and insurance to limit excess to $600) = U$3,600. Petrol (approx 4000km) U$730.

1 Rivendell Guest House, Windhoek ( 50)
2 Thakadu camping, near Ghanzi (15)
3 Marina's, Maun( 75)
4 Planet Boabab, Bakalanga hut, Gweta (100)
5 Planet Boabab camp Nxai Xini Pan (overnight trip 300)
6 Planet Boabab camp Makgadikgadi (overnight,Ntwetwe Pan 300)
7 Planet Boabab Bakalanga hut (100)
8 Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane (113)
9 Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane (113)
10 Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane (113)
11 Ihaha campsite (park fees 25 + camp 9 = 34)
12 Ihaha campsite (park fees 25 + camp 9 = 34)
13 Savuti campsite (park fees 25 + camp 9 = 34)
14 North Gate campsite (park fees 25 + camp 9 = 34)
15 Xakanaxa campsite (park fees 25 + camp 9 = 34)
16 Xakanaxa campsite (park fees 25 + camp 9 = 34)
17 Kaziikini community campsite, outside South Gate (30)
18 Sedia Hotel, Maun (90)
19 Sedia Hotel, Maun (90)
20 Tsodilo camping, Botswana (0)
21 Tsodilo camping, Botswana (0)
22 Drotsky's camping, Botswana (25)
23 Ngepi tree house, Namibia, Okavango (90)
24 Ngepi tree house, Namibia, Okavango (90)
25 Ngepi tree house, Namibia, Okavango (90)
26 Rundu camping Kaisosi Lodge, Namibia (5)
27 Waterberg, camping Weaver’s Rock farm, Namibia (8)
28 Okonjima Main Camo & Africat, Namibia (440 incl activities and meals)
29 Rivendell Guest House, Windhoek (50)

Highlights: whole trip was a highlight and all wildlife sightings but in particular:
- many wildlife encounters outside our tent: buffalo, warthog, hyaena, hippo, elephant, baboon
- getting stuck in sand and taking 4 hours to dig ourselves out, yes it was a highlight because we actually did it!
- finding pride of 8 lions all to ourselves in Moremi, we watched them for hours
- Chobe river trip, Xakanaxa boat trip and Third Bridge mokoro ride – so peaceful on the water and you see things from a different perspective
- First time we’ve seen cheetah hunting, Moremi
- lots of elephants round Chobe and Khwai, large herds, some with young
- The meercats!
- Sleeping out under the stars on the pans
- flight over Okavango in small aircraft
- Tsodilio Hills bush camping and rock art
- And the Batswana, really lovely people

Lowlights: not that there were any, rather ‘lesser highlights’
- many wildlife encounters outside our tent at night: buffalo, hyaena, hippo, elephant ... especially when I needed to visit the ablutions!
- getting stuck in sand and taking 4 hours to dig ourselves out, getting attacked by a swarm of bees in the process (and getting stung)
- baboons at North Gate campsite, vicious and aggressive
- we didn’t see an aardvark, I’ve been trying to see one for years
- poor visibility and dull skies due to bush fires in Kalahari, Chobe and Moremi
- having to come home

If anyone’s interested I’ll post some details - a daunting prospect when following the likes of CarlaM, atravelynn, Lynnie, Treepol and many more.

Meanwhile here are some photos –I’ve stolen Treepol’s idea and divided wildlife from acco, for people with different interests. I was disappointed in the Chobe photos, as Skimmer said there was poor light and visibility caused by the bush fires.

http://www.kodakgallery.co.uk/I.jsp?c=1x5x7t93d.2cgd95m4p&x=0&y=tvcu2x&localeid=en_GB

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    Welcome back! I would love to read more, as much as you're willing to share, anything and everything from practical stuff to game viewing to driving times to interactions with locals to food experiences... anything!

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    I am afraid I am with Kavey on this one - I want details - please!

    You and I must have crossed paths in Botswana. My husband and I just returned from 6 weeks in Southern Africa and spent the last 12 days self-driving through Moremi and Chobe with a roof-top tent. We stayed at Third Bridge, North Gate (with those wretched baboons!), Savuti and Ihaha. We then did a 2-night boat cruise on the Chobe.

    In return for your details, I promise to post mine. I warn you though, I am insanely long-winded - details take on a whole new meaning with me. I am on page 28 of the trip report and that doesn't include the 4 weeks in SA and Namibia.

    Our stories are remarkably similar - we had visited Southern Africa twice previously, including a year-long sabbatical in CT in 2004 and 2005. We had done much self-driving through South Africa (we love Kgalagadi - also have been to Kruger, Addo, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi and others) and Namibia and had decided that it was time for something new - a little more adventuresome. Hence the self-drive trip through Botswana this past August and September, at the end of another 4 weeks in SA and Namibia.

    I hope to have my trip report done in the next couple of weeks. My husband is madly labelling photos.

    Happy writing! Robin

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    Robin
    We certainly seem to have the same idea of a good time. Can't wait to hear your experiences, our paths could well have crossed. 6 weeks ... I thought we'd done well with 4!
    Looking forward to more.

    I'd be grateful if all those experts out there can correct my wildlife photo labels, I have some ?'s

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    Tockoloshe,

    I don't what you didn't see from your must see list. It's all here and some of the must sees even had a mud bath at the spa! Some great roan shots, plus sable. I'm not sure what is nursing. I'd have to see the mother's head. Maybe a tsessebe? Whatever, that's an amazing photo.

    Don't let anything except carpal tunnel limit the # of pages in your report. You never know what details are important to other people. I bet you would have liked to find the kind of report you have written before you went.

    To think all of this was done on a budget trip. Way to go!

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    Would love as many details as you can provide -- glanced through your pics quickly and was amazed at how much you saw, including honey badger, wow. We are off to Kgalagadi in December and are thinking about another Africa trip for next August-Sept. & thinking about Namibia since we've never been there.

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    That's an ambitious and adventurous itinerary. I too want more details, especially regarding the driving and the camping. What was tiring, was was unexpectedly easy, etc.? Canadian Robin, it would be great if you chose to share your experience as well.

    Your photos are wonderful, especially those meerkats.

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    "I have included some costings, (hope it’s not considered too vulgar!)"

    Not for me :-) .

    Thanks, I wish more of us would report costs more often. Cost seems to be a secret not to be revealed. Yet, it is the primary limiting factor in all my safaris. Perhaps for many others of us also. But maybe not???

    And of course, thanks for your report and photos

    regards - tom
    ps - and thanks for the mention in your report - "A bit of background (for Tom!)"

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    Hello Tockoloshe,

    thanks for posting such an interesting and innovative itinerary with a good mix of camping and lodges. I enjoyed your succint (something that is rarely said of me :S-) report of high and lowlights and would very much like to hear more about your safari.

    You have some great photos, I particularly liked the first lion shot, the muddy honey badger and the meat-eating baboon. I've read about this in several books but never seen it for myself.

    Cheers,



    Pol

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    This looks very interesting, and certainly lives up to your title!


    I cannot view anything from the Kodak Gallery here in SA, so I will try tommorrow when I am in the UK.

    Pity about the smoke it was everywhere in the North we had it in Mapula but not in Tuli, very strange!

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    Tokoloshe,

    Here's one more vote for more info!

    We may have crossed paths; me & Skimmer were in Chobe, Savuti, Xakanaxa etc last month, with Masson safaris.

    I'm writing a trip report, and intend to compare lodge-trips and campsite-trips a bit. The aim is to dispell that myth that you just wrote down;

    "From what we’ve leaned on this forum, if you really want to see a lot of animals on your ‘must see’ list, and especially if you have limited time, then staying at a lodge with good guides is a great idea – they know where to find the game and can tell you a lot about the game and the environment. If you want a bit of adventure then try a ‘do-it-yourself’ trip. Don’t expect to see everything, though you may well be lucky, but enjoy the whole experience."

    From what I've learned on this last trip, and from what Skinner told me, I know now that the above statement is mostly not correct ;-)

    FWIW; my thread is here:

    http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35159110&start=50&dirtyBit=1

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    Pixelpower,

    Just to say I agree that this myth needs dispelling.
    Whilst it may be true that a few camps can give you a good gameviewing experience, most concentrate on food luxury and regimentation.
    Self drive and most particularly mobiles with experience operators will nearly always be better, from the game viewing perspective.

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    Thanks for the encouraging responses, I guess I’ll have to deliver now.

    Sniktawk and pixelpower
    About that ‘myth’ ... actually I was just trying to be diplomatic, as many trip reports here are about lodges and camps, and I didn’t want to do a ‘this is a better way of doing things’ report because we haven’t experienced those types of camps and can only go on what people report, and it always looks pretty impressive re game viewing. But we’re generally pretty satisfied with our self-drive encounters!

    To quote Christopher Ondaatje (just been to a talk by him on his lifelong fascination with leopards, drawn from his book 'Encounters with leopards'):
    "Leopard spotting is like sex, when it's good it's very good and when it's bad it's still pretty good"

    Treepol
    The meat-eating baboon was interesting also because he appeared to have stolen it from an eagle (we didn’t see the action unfortunately) and the eagle was hopping about furiously trying to get a bit back.

    So, more detail to come shortly.

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    pixelpower,
    Have just got through your stunning report, now I've come over all inadequate! Ah well, will have to return now to try and do better. Masson Safaris certainly looks to have delieverd. I think we really must have crossed paths, hope you didn't fall into the hole we left after digging ourselves out of the sand between Savuti and Ghoha Gate!

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    inadequate? Lol, I don't think so!

    You know, both our trips are actually fairly different; you guys spent some time in "non-wildlife" areas (well, I mean focus a bit on culture sometimes, instead of nature). While we spent 100% in the parks. Even our trips through the parks were different; self drive vs non-participating with guide. So comparing works only to a certain extent.

    Anyway, point is; I guess there's a bit to say about every mode of travel. They all have downsides and upsides. If your, mine and Skimmer's reports can make the people here understand that there ARE alternatives that, depending on what they're looking for, might be better than lodges, then I'd say... mission accomplished!

    Note that I don't want to look down on people opting for expensive lodges either. Ewan made a good point about that when we sitting around the campfire discussing this one evening. He said first of all we should understand WHO is staying at those camps. There is a reason why, for example, most are from US. In US, you only get 10 days off per year. Otherwise put; money is not necessarily an issue, but length of stay certainly is. So no need to stretch the budget as days are limited anyway. So why not opt for all the comfort of a lodge, and some (almost) guaranteed sightings, albeit lower number of sightings compared to what we experienced? Plus, a lot of visitors are in their 50s, 60s or even 70s (*). So a little comfort can do no harm.

    Ciao,

    J.

    * I understood that lodge guides often describe their clientele in a derogative way: "early wed or nearly dead"... Tssss...

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    Pictures and your report thus far are great. Not to harp on it but I as well, look forward to hearing more.

    I'm also anxious to compare notes on Planet Baobab - saw your comment on my report.
    What were the dates you were there? We were there August 8 - 11.

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    Thanks yet again for the encouragement, here goes:

    My trip report will not be as detailed or well written as most on here, mainly because it takes me too long to type anything! But I’ll try to give the sort of information which I found useful myself. I’ve forgotten to mention a trip report which I found very inspiring and made me think ‘we can do that’ – and also has much more detail than I have the patience to write .’Wild Dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun’ - it originally appeared on the forum and can now be found at. http://wilddogsandenglishmen.wordpress.com/

    I’d like to start with impressions of Botswana, since I often see camp/lodge reviews but not country reviews so here goes ... Botswana is a beautiful country with lovely people, very smiley and friendly and not yet distrustful of visitors. A cheery ‘Dumela Mma/Rra followed by ‘How are you’s’’ will get you a huge smile and probably a giggle but all in good humour. The kids still wave at you without holding out their hands for money (sadly happening in Namibia now). Try to get into a town or village and local shops if possible, everyone speaks English. We never had a problem with people asking for money or hassling us in any way . Very few places in towns and villages – supermarkets etc had ‘security’ asking for money to look after the car either. We don’t usually mind giving a bit of money for this as seems to be the routine in South Africa, Namibia etc, we just always have to remind ourselves to have some small change handy. There is probably petty crime but we didn’t see it – took normal precautions of locking up the car when we stopped and locking valuables in the car when the acco didn’t have adequate security. Punishments are tough – apparently the last person to steal a cow got 14 years. (I know there is crime, don’t want to start a discussion about it, just to say we didn’t encounter it).

    A note about driving: Tar roads and gravel roads are good, some with potholes (Francistown to Kasane the worst one we encountered but they were working on it). Sand roads can be difficult. Be warned that if they advise only 4x4 they mean it, don’t underestimate how difficult the roads in Chobe and Moremi can be. We got stuck in the sand and so did many others with far more experience than us. Also be prepared with good maps and to navigate with GPS – programme in your routes and learn how to use the trackback feature in case you have to leave the main tracks to get round flooded areas/obstacles – it’s easy to lose your bearings once you go round looking for alternative tracks. (Khwai area was particularly difficult, the road kept disappearing under water – even a Wilderness Safaris vehicle got stuck and we helped tow him out). Not being experienced 4x4 drivers we did a 4x4 driving course a couple of years ago before we embarked on our first 4x4 trip and it really helped this time. Long-range fuel tanks (ours was 145 litres, approx 1300 km) are good so that you don’t have to worry about carrying extra fuel and cutting short your trip through Chobe and Moremi because you’re running short of fuel. And take heed of those warnings about animals on the road, you’ll find donkeys, goats, sheep, horses and cows everywhere, not just near villages, so don’t attempt to drive at night. We heard this story from one guide about the animals on the road ... the donkeys have paid (so they won’t shift for anyone/anything), the dogs have paid but haven’t got their change (so they run after the vehicles wanting their change) and the goats haven’t paid at all (so they run willy nilly around in a panic). We added another one ... the cows can’t remember if they’d paid or not (because they’d start moving off the road then stop, then move back, then change their minds again ...). Keep to the speed limits, there are police with radar guns on the main roads and I think the penalties can be quite severe.

    1: Arrival - Windhoek, Namibia

    Rivendell Guest House: Lovely place, very homely, clean rooms, some ensuite. Swimming pool and quiet patio area to sit out. Perfect place to start/end a trip. No dinner provided, but guests can use the kitchen to prepare their own food or phone out for takeaways. Alternatively they will book a restaurant for you and arrange taxi transport.

    When we arrived in Windhoek we picked up the car and stocked up on provisions in the large Pick’n’Pay and got the car sorted out and ready for the off the next day. Warning: don’t buy red meat, eggs or fresh milk if you’re travelling into Botswana, there are Vet gates along all the main roads and you’ll get your fresh produce confiscated (foot and mouth controls). I was a bit shocked about the waste of food so I asked if I could give our meat to one of the vendors or at least their dog at the checkpoint, the guy on duty seemed a bit stunned but agreed. You also have to walk all your shoes through disinfectant, we found it was a good idea to have all your shoes handy in a bag because we had to do it several times. If you are renting camping equipment you usually get everything you need, but we took extra torches, head torches (indispensable) and wind-up lamps, and bought Tupperware containers for food (dust gets everywhere). I bought hubby a leatherman for the trip and that was the star of the trip!

    Rivendell has contacts with the local orphanage so we took a few things and bought some more bits in Pick’n’Pay for them to give to the kids. They will also take anything you don’t want to take home with you – old tshirts etc (we left wind-up lamps and camping kit we didn’t need any more)

    Day 2: Early start to get to to Ghanzi and Thakadu Campsite (about 500km, easy drive). After crossing the border into Botswana (very fast and efficient passport control on both sides, staff very pleasant and chatty, wanted to know if we had a genuine English accent) the sky got very dull around Ghanzi, we were told it was the effect of the vast bush fires sweeping across the Kalahari.

    Thakadu: very pleasant campsite, with water and electricity on each site. Ablutions were not so good (run down and a bit dirty), but plenty of hot water. Fine for an overnight stop. Lovely to be woken up by those pesky francolins , how we’ve missed the sounds of Africa!

    Day 3: Thakadu to Maun about 250km, (3 hours without rushing) very good roads, flat bush landscape, not much wildlife apart from the usual goats, donkeys and cattle.

    Marina’s, Maun: recommended by a forumite, didn’t quite live up to expectations, but was only for one night. We like to try and stay in guest houses so we can find out more about the place we’re in and meet the locals, so were looking forward to this place, but there was a depressed air about the place, the staff were uncommunicative and we were the only people staying there. Pricey for what it was, simple hut with ensuite, but certainly adequate.

    Explored Maun, interesting to see the new (new buildings, ‘Nandos’, and everyone on mobile phones) and the traditional (donkeys, goats in the streets and the Herero ladies in their wonderful dresses) side by side. We felt very comfortable there, not one person hassled us for money or took much notice of us at all (unlike some places in South Africa, sorry South Africans, or indeed Victoria Falls, but that’s a different story). We investigated scenic flights (all booked, would have to do it on our way back through Maun) and went to the Parks office to confirm our bookings and try to get more dates – nothing doing but told to ask at the gates when we arrived. Ate out at the Sports Bar, excellent restaurant.

    Day 4: Next day on to Planet Boabab, about 200km, good roads again. Coming soon ...

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    Interesting report for self-drivers, and thanks for those tips, we're off to Bots shortly and didn't know about the foot and mouth controls.

    tockoloshe & cybor

    Keen to hear more about Planet Boabab since we're booked in there.

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    Day 4: Next day on to Planet Boabab, about 200km, good roads again.

    Acco: Bakalanga Hut ... it was fine, very simple. Very dark inside, we needed our camping lamp& torches to see anything inside after dark, but it all added to the atmosphere I guess! Had a bit of a problem on arrival, they showed us which hut we’d been allocated, number 11, then just as we drove round to move in they tried to give us an ‘upgrade’ into a family hut (I think it was no 4), which meant a hut in a dark corner which looked out onto the rear ends of 2 other huts, didn’t get any sun and without the view and lovely ‘patio’ area out front as illustrated in their publicity shots. We all know that hotels use their best rooms to publicise their acco and you rarely get what you expect, but we stood firm on this and (politely) insisted that we would rather have the one with more space outside and inside (a table and chairs, and not 2 extra beds) or we’d rather camp ... we eventually got what we wanted but it wasn’t a great start. Wouldn’t have really mattered for one night but we had 4 nights booked there and had some time to relax and chill out between activities so it was important to us. It was the first time on many a trip that we’d decided to have a couple days just relaxing by the pool for the odd half-day, since we had a month to play with. The staff were lovely but not very organised (no-one could tell us the timetable for our trips, we just had to keep turning up in reception and hope for the best). Things suddenly got better when the big boss of Unchartered Africa (Ralph Bousfield) dropped in, there was impromptu entertainment after dinner (the staff doing traditional dancing) and snappier service all round! Pity it was the last night. We stayed 4 nights and did 2 overnight trips and could leave our belongings in the same hut which was nice because we could freshen up/ have a nap when we got back early from the overnight trip (although even this wasn’t straightforward, we were initially told we could leave our stuff, then told we had to move out, so packed up, then just before we left on the trip we were told we could stay). Dinner was U$25 per person, no choice of menu, we weren’t keen on the fatty meat stew we had one night but we’re a bit fussy and were content with just the veg. Dinner out on the trips was much better, but then eating out in the open is always special.

    Day 5: Overnight to Nxai Xini: The overnight sleepout was great, in a group of 4 we were driven to a waterhole on community land where we set up camp and slept out with elephants tip-toeing past in the night. On the way the supply vehicle got stuck in sand so it was all hands on deck to get it out – missed the sundownders by then but we learned a few useful tips for later as it happened! It was our fault for not asking for more details beforehand but we thought the trip would leave earlier than 16.30 (and although we were told to be ready at 14.00, then told to come back at 16.00 there was no sign of the guide until 16.30 – “hurry up and wait”, cybor?) and we’d be going to see more of the Nxai Xini National Park, whereas we didn’t enter the park and the campsite was about 15km from Planet Boabab and a straight drive there with no game viewing. But wouldn’t have missed it, sleeping out round the camp fire under the stars (and lots of shooting stars) is magical. (And for those who like the practical details, ... and those who don’t, skip this ... it was a ‘bush toilet’ ie, just wander off nonchalantly to the tree in the distance – useful to have a few wet-wipes, they didn’t supply any washing water like they did on the next trip). Sightings: elephants, vultures, jackal, storks, steenbok, spring hares and heard hyaena nearby.

    Day 6: Overnight to Ntwetwe Pan & quadbikes: Left about 2.30 for approx 2+ hour drive in landrover to pans and about 1.5 hours on the quadbikes until almost dusk then drove into camp. Stunning scenery on the pans, but felt we weren’t given time to enjoy it, it seemed that the quadbiking experience had priority over the viewing (I couldn’t do both at the same time, the bikes were easy enough to drive but having never even been on a motorbike before I had to concentrate a bit). Could have done with a drinks stop between leaving PB and arriving in camp at sunset, so I’d suggest taking your own. Camp nicely set up, with camp toilet this time and water for hand-washing. Dinner very good. Not too cold at night, and sleeping bags are really snug. Up early next morning (5.30) so that we’d have more chance to see the meerkats. We biked a short distance to the truck (very cold, be warned and wrap up well) and drove to where the meerkats were warming up and getting ready for the day’s foraging. Spent quite a long time there, not sure how long because I was so captivated by their antics and could have stayed all day. Drive back to PB with a stop at Green’s Boabab , back about 10am for breakfast. Sightings: meerkats, yellow mongoose, zebra, eagles, kudu, ostrich, warthogs.

    Day 7: Relaxing at the pool, decided against the village trip (we generally feel a bit uncomfortable about ‘cultural visits’ though no doubt it’s income for the villagers), had a walk around the area and Bush walk: The guide seemed a bit bored, and his mobile phone kept ringing which spoiled things a bit! Walked (strolled very slowly) for about an hour then spent half an hour with sundowners at waterhole watching sunset. Nice way to spend some time but not particularly informative. I don’t think we’d have stayed the 4th night if we had realised the trips were not full days out, but as I said, it was our fault for not asking for more detail on booking, and in the end we felt well rested and up for the next stage!

    Overall, Planet Boabab delivered on the overnight trip to the pan and meerkats, but we felt the whole organisation could be sharper, and we expected better from the operators of Jacks Camp. Service was generally slow – doesn’t really matter when on holiday but it got to some guests and we heard people complaining. Final bill was wrong, charged us down for things we hadn’t had. And how can they not know what time the overnight trip leaves when there must be one nearly every day? All were small niggles, and not significant by themselves, but add them up and it detracts somewhat from your enjoyment of a place.

    None of the trips were misrepresented in writing, but I understand what cybor meant when he said about the bush walk: ‘We expected to go out into the desert but to our surprise we walked the perimeter of the property, always being careful of the electric fence and wandering donkeys from the close by farms. I laugh now when I think about the visions I had of a true Sans tribe person leading us around and telling us about of the folklore and herbal remedies of the people. Not quite.’ Not quite indeed. Similarly: “Drive across the vast baobab sentinels grasslands, past lonely to the edge of Ntwetwe saltpan. Along the way, your Guide will explain the incredible adaptations of the unique Kalahari species to the desert environment. Quad back to the edge of Ntwetwe Pan, then head off with your Guide to explore the surrounds in search of bat eared foxes, ground squirrels and other unique desert species and learn of their incredible struggle against the elements of Africa's harshest wilderness”. Not quite, more like: ‘drive straight to quad bikes, drive round on quad bikes, drive to camp, camp, next morning drive to meerkats, drive to baobab, drive back to camp’. Don’t be put off though, it was still a worthwhile trip and recommended, just being hyper critical. What organization doesn’t use flowery language to paint a picture, and we tend to create unrealistic expectations ourselves.

    Despite what read like negative comments and are intended more as observations, I would recommend Planet Boabab for the excursions. Wouldn’t have missed these overnight trips, you get to do something you can’t easily do on your own. A good stopover spot if you’re driving Maun-Nata-Kasane.

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    Hippo, no-one has responded to your provocation, and I have no intention of doing so.

    Not really sure if anyone's still interested, but since I had prepared this before I saw that comment I'll go ahead, but it's kind of discouraging.

    Day 8: Planet Boabab to Kasane, about 400km:

    Road from Nata is full of deep potholes, so need to pay attention. But look around too, we saw elephants browsing by the roadside. Vegetation suddenly got greener as we approached the Okavango River at Kasane.

    Chobe Safari Lodge: Much better than we expected for the price (compared with other hotels in Kasane). We usually prefer guest houses but had problems finding acco for those dates and in the end it was a good move because we could organise the trips we wanted to do from there (Vic Falls & River Cruise – we wanted to hire a private boat with driver but there was nothing available for the 2 days we had free to do that – so my advice would be to book it in advance if possible). Quite touristy, but fine if you’re just sleeping there and want to take advantage of activities. Very near (less 5 mins walk)to a supermarket, ATM and internet cafes.

    Day 9: Vic Falls Day trip (about 60U$ per person) to Zimbabwe side. Decided it was too difficult/expensive/time consuming to take the car across so booked a day trip with the hotel: Left hotel at 8am (group of 4), about 1.5 hours drive to the Falls. Driver dropped us off at falls and we could arrange a pick up for whatever time we wanted. Spent about 4 hours round the Falls and on/over the bridge (you can get permission to cross the border just to stay on the bridge – can step across into Zambia for a photo opportunity too!) We had a late lunch with the driver and our travel companions, looked round the town and markets, and left at 4. It was a very hot and humid day, so skies were not clear blue, but falls were impressive of course. I think the situation in Zimbabwe has been covered frequently on the forum so I won’t go into detail. People are desperate for your business but we never felt threatened, people are very nice and we just tried to buy a little something from as many as we could, but it’s impossible to give to everyone. We were impressed by how friendly, open and talkative everyone was. The vendors are good fun if you actually talk to them, and made us laugh with exchanges like (on looking at the first market stall)“we’ll have a look round first” ... “but if you look round you’ll get harassed by all the other vendors and then you’ll be in such a bad mood you’ll rush off and not stop at my stall again – that’s the disadvantage of having the first stall”. He was right, too!

    Day 10: Next day we had a drive into Chobe before our afternoon river cruise. Exceeded expectations. Certainly didn’t see the volume of vehicles we’d been warned about, either we were on a different route or it is just large enough to get lost in. In first hour we’d seen sable, roan, elephant, giraffe, lioness, kudu, buffalo, wild boar, baboons, vervet monkeys. Hubby thoroughly enjoyed himself testing out the 4x4 in the sand, his comments of ‘it’s not so difficult’ and ‘don’t know what the fuss is about’ would come back to haunt him! Certainly needed a 4x4, so if you have a sedan then do a game drive - the hotels/guest houses all seemed to offer game drives into Chobe.

    River cruise: Definitely. Yes there are other boats on the river but they avoid each other and for the most part it’s a peaceful trip and the wildlife is amazing. It was still quite hazy so not good for photos or sunset but we did see: crocs, hippos (including a large pod of about 50), monitor lizard, red lechwe, herds of buffalo, zebra, eles, many birds (sorry I’m not a bird person, can’t name them all)

    From Kasane we were heading off for the ‘wild’ bit of the trip, so I would say that anyone who didn’t want to hire a 4x4 or didn’t want to camp could easily divert off into the Caprivi strip and Namibia, by all accounts the lodges and game viewing are excellent, we met many people who had taken that route and were delighted with their trip (maybe next time ...!)

    Day 11: So we said goodbye to our comfy bed and stocked up on supplies, lots of water , fuel, and food! Next stop Ihaha campsite.

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    Hi Tockoloshe!
    Please don't be offput by the negative comments. I, for one, am enjoying your post and, judging from the response above, so are the majority of the readers. I cringe when members of this forum resort to mean-spirited comments such as "yawn" as it discourages people, especially new members, from posting. People should certainly be able to express their opinion, but constructive criticism is always more helpful. If they're bored, they are under no obligation to keep reading and should simply move on! Please continue with your post - I look forward to more. Robin

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    Thanks for that, Robin. I must admit I was about to give up. I hadn't realised until I did this, my first trip report, how encouraging it is to get a comment - I read many a report before I signed on to ask a question myself, but never said anything in response to a report because I felt I had nothing useful or constructive to add to the story - now I realise it's good to know you're not just talking to cyberspace!

    Still looking forward to hearing about your trip. I 'recognise' you now from a GPS post, another thing we have in common. We bought a GPS at the same time as you so I 'stole' those useful hints from that thread - certainly found the pre-planning on the GPS useful, and the GPS iteself invaluable.

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    Sorry, sorry, sorry, I'm DEFINITELY still interested but haven't had as much time over last few days so had been mentally putting your report aside for when I had a little longer.

    Do ignore trolls such as the one above. Notice he/she/it only registered to post on this thread, no doubt another alias for one or other of our existing posters but still a troll and the rule is, DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS!

    I'm finding your report very interesting as it's not the kind of trip I've done.

    I've done what are termed luxury lodges and am neither early wed nor nearly dead, I assure you!

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    I too am interested in your report...especially the upcoming self drive through Botswana. Keep it coming!

    And I've met Kavey twice before and assure you she's not nearly dead!

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    Similar to advice while canoeing, avoid the hippos.

    Warts and all, I might consider PB for another pans experience if the price were right. But reports like yours and Cybors help with expectations.

    Your Chobe report is more evidence of how worthwhile that river cruise is. Everybody loves it.

    Please continue.

    You know hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa. We don't want them killing this thread.

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    I too "save" good, detailed reports for when I can pay full attention. I've been keeping up with yours, so please continue and know that people now do--and in the future will--find this very helpful as well as entertaining.

    I only wish that someday I have the confidence, the funds and the accumulated time off from work to do something like this.

    Thanks again!

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    Ditto... this is very interesting. I haven't commented because I've only has time to scan it. It is definitely in my "read properly later when I've finished processing my photos" list... Thanks for posting.

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    tock,
    I'm just back in town and thoroughly enjoying your report.

    As for my report, I promise I'll finish my PB part soon so that we can further compare notes.
    The thing with PB was that each thing in and of it's self wasn't so bad.

    It's when you start mounting up PIA details and continually get told the wrong information or are sent to the wrong place etc., you just start to feel annoyed.

    I simply want to be told the truth and not want to be nickel and dimed.

    If the likes of hippo don't understand that - tough cookies.

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    Wow, what a trip! So interesting to read about another way to see Botswana. Have not had the guts to do a selfdrive yet, but reports like this really makes me wonder if it wouldn´t be worth a try.

    Really looking forward to the rest of your trip report.

    Thanks,
    Tom

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    I am also really enjoying this report and admire you for undertaking such a trip. It is encouraging for those of us who can't afford the typical Botswana experience. I won't give up hope of going one day.

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    Thanks for comments, I'll prattle on a bit more ...

    Why did I say wild boar before? I meant to say warthogs! Many many warthogs.

    Day 11: Kasane to Ihaha campsite.
    Paid our fees at the gate by credit card (had to pay separately for Chobe and pay Moremi when we got there). A note about the national parks ...

    Had a lot of advice about how to get campsites, (partic thanks to luangwablondes) this is our experience of getting reservations. Agents in either UK or Botswana didn’t want to know unless you booked something else with them (ie expensive lodges), they admitted there was simply no money in it for them – OK, understandable. So better to phone (don’t email) Botswana National Parks offices and take whatever they offer, and keep trying because people don’t always confirm their provisional bookings. They are very helpful. We took what reservations they had and worked the rest of our holiday around that. You only have to pay the approx 9 dollars per night camping fee in advance. We initially reserved 2 nights at Ihaha and one night Savuti at the first attempt 3 months before we left, then a further 2 nights at South Gate 1 month before departure. When we got to our first entrance gate in Moremi (North Gate) we had no problems swapping our reservations at South Gate for different camps - one night at North Gate, one at Xakanaxa and then we even asked to stay an additional night at Xakanaxa and it was no problem. I think it was an advantage to have reservations of some kind, it seemed to be a ‘passport’, maybe it would be more of a problem if you didn’t have a reservation at all.
    Chat to the staff at the park gates, they were all very friendly once you initiated a conversation, and they can tell you the condition of the roads, which diversions to use and recent game sightings in the area. Once again they wanted to know if we spoke ‘English’ English (!) and many wanted to talk football (soccer) and are very knowledgeable about the English football league. Another thing about the parks in Moremi – they are all getting a makeover, shiny new ablution blocks and entrance gates, it’s all going to look very nice (but hope it doesn’t mean increased park fees like Namibia). We did see the report of bush fires spreading near to the new buildings at South Gate, hope it’s under control.

    Back to the trip - not far to Ihaha from Kasane, (40 km) so it was a leisurely game drive round all the loops to get there. Stunning game viewing again, lots of elephants and more of what we’d seen the first day (except for lion, there would be no more lion sightings until the last day in the park, and that was definitely worth waiting for !)

    Ihaha: A lovely spot to camp, looking out across the Okavango, one of our favourite campsites. Had hardly set up camp when an inquisitive warthog came to visit. Came right up and looked at us expectantly – he must have been fed by campers at some point – but trotted off calmly when he didn’t get anything. We were just getting into bed when 3 buffalo came along and decided to sleep under the tree next to us, which made night-time trips to the ablutions a bit difficult. They were still there next morning, but as daylight broke they had a good scratch on the stone table and wandered off. The Namibian fishermen in mokoros were in the river opposite early evening and at night which was an evocative sight, and we saw a few camp fires across the water. We’d been told to lock all car doors at night because there had been thefts at that campsite, you can see how easy it would be to get to the campsite by boat. Very very windy during the night, we thought the tent would blow away, and we didn’t get much sleep.

    Day 12: Game drive around the area, roads still not too bad, got sandier the nearer to Ngoma Gate we drove, but manageable. For some reason after the feast of the days before it was famine on the game front - maybe because it was still windy and they’d had a bad night like us! Strange how we literally couldn’t move for elephants the previous day and could hardly find one the day after. In some ways, when you can’t see any of the ‘big’ animals it forces you to look at everything else around you, we spent a while watching the zebras, interesting watching the interaction - lots of bickering going on there. If you park up and stay a while in one place what seems like empty bush comes to life – we took more notice of the birds, a mongoose family popped up, a monitor lizard moved off just a few feet from us and we’d never spotted him when he wasn’t moving, even watching baboons (not my favourite animal) was interesting. We came across a baboon eating a guinea-fowl which he appeared to have stolen from an eagle - we didn’t see the action unfortunately but the eagle was hopping mad and kept trying to pinch a bit back. We were rewarded in the end by finding some baby ellies having a mud bath. The wind calmed down at night so a more peaceful night’s sleep.

    Next morning we packed up and put our rubbish in the cage provided, locked it with an iron bolt, bound it up with wire and turned it opening-down to deter the baboons. No chance, one sauntered over, rolled the cage over until it found the opening, opened the bolt, undid the wire and got his reward, these things are seriously intelligent when it comes to getting food, but this one was not at all aggressive, not like the famous Third Bridge baboons which we’d meet later.

    Some pics of Ihaha and our campsite visitors on the acco photos.

    Coming next: Ihaha to Savuti.

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    Day 13: Ihaha to Savuti.

    Tracks4Africa estimated a 6 and half hour drive to cover 140 km so we set off early so that we wouldn’t have to rush game sightings along the way.

    When you come out of Ngoma Gate you hit a gravel track through the Chobe Forest Reserve with a few villages along the way, there’s not much to see through the Forest Reserve and we made good time to Kachikau Village. The track then gets sandier and trickier and we followed advice from the ranger on the gate to take the road signposted Linyanti and cut back to Ghoha Gate (it will make sense if you look at a map and it’s the route also advised in the Bradt Guide). It really is worth asking people you meet along the way what the track is like and what to avoid, you can save yourself a lot of trouble, and we found that 4x4-ers like nothing better than talking road conditions (as well as tyre pressures, dif locks and the like! Amateurs – arm yourself with the appropriate vocabulary if you want to join in the conversation!!)
    At Ghoha Gate they asked us if we’d passed any bush fires (we hadn’t), the sun was almost obscured by a smoky haze from bush fires, but they didn’t know exactly where the smoke was coming from.

    It was only another 30 km from Ghoha Gate to Savuti camp site so we congratulated ourselves on making good time and were looking forward to an afternoon’s game viewing round Savuti. Mistake! About half way there a slight error on the part of the driver (the one who said ‘it’s not so difficult’ and ‘don’t know what the fuss is about’) meant we got stuck in a particularly deep bit of sand. Easily done, as we found out later that many people got stuck here. We set about the task of getting out with good humour, each saying that it had to happen at some point and we were confident we knew what to do, had all the tools, had even got the tools out from under all the luggage ready for such an eventuality! One wheel in particular was in a deep hole so we jacked it up, handy hint - make sure your kitchen kit had a sturdy chopping board for such occasions to rest the jack on so it doesn't just sink into the sand, then put sticks down, freed the sand from under the chassis then had a go at getting out – big mistake, we just dug the other wheels deeper in. Well we learned the hard way that it’s worth jacking up all 4 wheels and doing it properly the first time. 3 hours later things were not so jolly, we were hot and dirty with sand where you can’t mention and more familiar with the underside of a Toyota than I ever want to be again. We’d given up all pretence of keeping a look out for wild beasts and got attacked instead by a swarm of bees – what was that about, attracted by the sweat? Hubby got stung a couple of times and I’m ashamed to say that the ‘doom’ had to come out because it got a bit frightening when they were buzzing round your head, quite silly when you think of all the things with teeth we’re told to be afraid of! I’ve never been stung by a bee or a wasp in my life so it wasn’t the time to find out if I had an allergic reaction. It was getting quite late and we’d convinced each other that it wouldn’t really matter if we were stuck there all night, after all we had the tent, food and water, and we could try again first thing next morning .... but then we noticed that the sky was strangely overcast and we did get a whiff of burning vegetation and it struck us that if the bush fires came our way we might be in trouble. By the way, we hadn't seen another vehicle in at least 5 hours so it’s a good lesson that you have to be able to take control of the situation yourselves. We did get out at the next try so then just kept going until we reached Savuti camp site, by which time we’d (almost) forgotten the bad bits and were quite proud of our first real 4x4 escapade. I’m sure you hardened 4x4ers are shaking your heads in disbelief and thinking ‘what a couple of idiots’ but you’ve got to learn by experience! Hubby spent the rest of the evening trying out his story; ’.... 3 hours and then I was attacked by a lio.. an ele... a BEE!’ Hmm, that story needs a bit of work.

    Savuti camp was a slight disappointment. The sand is deep and black and on this occasion the skies were dull, we didn’t even get a sunset so the place had a sad air. Our camp site wasn’t great, we were sort of stuck in the middle next to the ablution block. After our exertions we were ready for a good shower - there was plenty of warm water in the showers - and an early night so it didn’t really matter. I’d heard lots of stories about elephants and hyaenas wandering into this camp and was hoping for some action but we didn’t hear or see a thing all night.

    No game viewing that day apart from elephants round the Savuti waterhole when we arrived.

    Next: Savuti to North Gate along Khwai river

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    Great report. I've been of doing something like this as I don't want to spend the money at the private lodges, but still want to see Botswana. Now to sign up for that 4x4 course....:)

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    Sorry for delay in posting next episode, been away and then spending a bit of time revisiting my photos and I’ve put them in more of chronological order of sightings so that if you follow the trip report you can associate the sightings with the report. Now let’s get this straight, I know they are in the 99% mediocre category, I don’t need the experts to tell me that, yes there is the mandatory lion’s head (don’t you detractors remember the excitement of seeing a magnificent male lion for the first time, never mind get close enough to get a photo?) I don’t want OOHs and AHHHs thank you very much, and I have no idea how my monitor is calibrated (!) but I do think it’s nice for someone who is interested in the trip to see what you can see along the way, and even a mediocre photographer can get a couple of reasonable shots. I’ve done a bit of fiddling with a photo editing package, I personally like printing some of the elephant pics in b&w, and the lions in sepia. I should add that I used a Canon 450D and 75-300mm zoom lens.

    http://www.kodakgallery.co.uk/I.jsp?c=1x5x7t93d.1jdxhny49&x=0&y=uk2zca&localeid=en_GB

    Can anyone confirm the antelope in no. 58? It looks like a roan but is more light coloured compared to the no. 57. And the eagle in no. 33?

    Lynn (atravelynn)...an apology to you, since you are the only one to mention the ‘baby antelope nursing’ photo in the original set, it was my feeble attempt at a joke following on from your brilliant puquin photo, I thought it might provoke a few suggestions but the joke fell rather flat! It was actually a red deer from our local park, I do hope you’ll forgive me, I appreciate that you made the effort to actually look!

    Now, where were we …?

    Day 14: Savuti to North Gate along Khwai river

    Next day we were in a bit of a quandary, we had a booking at South Gate, (Savuti to South Gate 160km, estimated time 7.5 hours) and at this point we were not sure how flexible the parks office would be in letting us stay in an alternative camp. Also we had a notorious stretch of road to drive, the subject of much discussion and research; whether to drive the Marsh Road or the Sand Ridge Road to reach North Gate. As this was billed as THE most difficult bit of road in the reserve, and we’d had enough trouble on the previous bit, we reluctantly decided we should tackle this sooner rather than later even though it meant not spending as much time round Savuti and the Savuti marsh as we had hoped. The sky was quite dull again, and some other campers said that the game had been disappointing round there. (I’ve since read pixelpower’s report on the same area at approx the same time and they didn’t see much with a guide either, so that makes me feel a bit better about our decision)
    We got through the Sand Ridge Road without incident, (and got our confidence back!), it was difficult in parts but you just have to keep your foot down and keep going through the sandy bits. Not good conditions for game viewing because you do have to concentrate on the road. Very narrow in some of the sandiest parts, I’m not sure what would have happened if we’d met another vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Quite flat landscape, mostly mopane trees and grassland. One far-off sight of leopard legs dangling from tree but couldn’t get close, very frustrating.
    Once out of Mahabe South gate we were on the north side of the Khwai River, and this is where it got interesting. It’s a beautiful drive, the water levels were still quite high and the track was very near the water sometimes, and disappeared into it at others. The first few times we had to cross the water it looked shallow enough not to cause a problem and we could see that others had gone before so we just went for it. Then we got to what looked like a very deep bit and didn’t think we’d get across it, and I wasn’t about to wade in to see how deep it was, so we followed some other tracks trying to find an alternative route, but they always ended up facing the water. This is where the trackback on the GPS came in useful, because the river or river inlets/ponds/overflows didn’t follow a straight line, so we were sometimes practically going round in circles and the trees were quite thick so you could easily get disoriented. To be honest you probably wouldn’t get lost for long but it’s a confidence-booster. After about half an hour of this we tracked back to where we started and found a Wilderness Safaris vehicle seriously stuck in the crossing we’d avoided –water up to the top of the wheels, so it CAN happen to the experts too! We tried to help and used our tow-rope, which broke at the first attempt, but then a heavier supply vehicle came along and pulled them out without much trouble. They also showed us another place to cross, which we’d dismissed at first look, and although it was quite deep it was solid under the wheels so we got thorough OK. We met 2 other drivers who’d got stuck in this bit, so we were lucky here. The only advice I would give any novices here would be to hang around for a bit, if you have time, and at least do the crossing with 2 vehicles so you can help each other if necessary – there’s not always going to be another vehicle around but in my opinion it would be worth waiting a while and at least enjoy the scenery! The locals also said that the water levels change dramatically from day to day, so what is impassable one day might not be the next, and vice versa – so again, it’s worth asking around if anyone has done that route before you drive it.
    No long before we got to Khwai village we found the track difficult to follow again, this time because we reached an open area where the ground was hard, dry and flat and had been well-driven so it was difficult to find the ‘main’ track. After a few dead ends we drove over a marshy area without incident (but expecting to fall into a watery channel at any time) and luckily discovered the track on the other side.
    Game viewing around the Khwai River was fantastic. Honey badger having a mud bath, tsessebe, roan (I think, it’s the photo on the slideshow after ‘roan (?)’ if that was indeed a roan then is the next photo roan too? - it seems very light coloured/blonde compared to others we’d seen), hippo, large herd of buffalo, giraffe, hyaenas sleeping under a tree, and lots of elephants, we stayed quite a while by the river to watch them – I always love the sight of a herd speeding up as they approach the river for that first drink.
    When we got to North Gate we paid the fees for the Moremi section, had to pay cash here, so be prepared, although they take U$ dollars, rand and Sterling at a fair exchange rate. We asked if we could stay there instead of driving to South Gate and it was no problem. We crossed the famous rickety log bridge over the River Khwai into Moremi – the campsite was just by the bridge but we still had plenty of time for a drive so drove to Hippo Pool, where you can get out of the car and into a hide over the lagoon – plenty of hippos and birdlife- nice to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet outside after bumping along in the car for a while.
    Back at camp we found the baboons a real problem. We had the tailgate of the car down while we prepared the fire at dusk – a huge baboon jumped on the back and tried to steal a 10kilo bag of potatoes – could he read the writing on the bag, because it wasn’t open?! A few potatoes dropped out and he ran off with them. Judging from yells and shouts coming from elsewhere in the camp as he rampaged through we decided then to wait until after dark to start preparing food. I had picked up a potato which had rolled under the car and put it on the table while we sat and had a drink. Suddenly a snarling hairy shape landed on the metal table between us, and we were sitting only 3 feet apart, you can imagine how much noise it made, sending glasses and plates flying. I was head height with the teeth of this creature as it snarled and then ran off with his prize potato, completely fearless of humans. I was really quite shaken. I missed the slingshot tip before we went, just read about it on our return (apparently just the sight of one will send them off in fright) and tried the toy snake ploy instead, which the baboon promptly sat on.
    We had many visitors in the night, which was interesting. The hippos had made their presence known early on with loud grunting, and then came out for a night-time graze right next to us. A couple of elephants wandered right past the car/tent, I only heard them because of the breaking branches as they munched, and peeked out to see a wall of grey. I was just about to pop out for a night-time stroll (!!) when a HUGE hyaena walked past and investigated the campfire, strange how the urge can disappear after that (the huge hyaena turned out to be a baby when the rather shaky and off-centre photo was developed, but it was a ‘point and shoot in the dark’ shot)! The baboons woke us up next morning bouncing about on the car, so we didn’t even bother with breakfast, too much aggravation.
    Next day - North Gate to Xakanaxa, our favourite campsite

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    Great pictures!

    I think the antelope in #58 is a subadult roan, looks like the one in this link http://www.ultimateungulate.com/Images/Hippotragus_equinus/H_equinus2.html

    Can't help much with the eagle on #33, though I would guess it's a tawny eagle

    the one in #21 definitely looks like a marabou stork

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    Loved your photos. They really are excellent. Would imagine you will enlarge and frame some. (I did that after our trip last year.) Thanks for posting them. I never get tired of admiring such great work! www.pbase.com/pattyroth

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    pattyroth
    You have a great range of locations and colourful photos there. I do choose my own favourites and print a calendar every year so that I'm reminded of special sightings/locations.

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    Finally caught up. So no luck in Savuti either eh? Well, in our case Moremi/Khwai made up for that. I hope for you too. Can't wait for the Xakanaxa part.

    By the way #57 and 58 are definitely roan, and 33 is a tawny I think.

    Also; I think we passed the campsite that you described. It was very near to the gate right? We could see straight away that the baboons were going to be a problem. Another thing we noticed is that the shower building was quite far away. Walking to and from that building seemed quite a risk to us, certainly when done not in full daylight...

    Ciao,

    J.


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    I am really enjoying your post - so many of the same experiences that we enjoyed about the same time. Your photos are great - makes me want to go back. We too found Savuti dissapointing and left a day early. Keep it coming! Robin

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    Looks like a roan to me, as well.
    I know this because I did lots of research because I mistakenly thought my roan were something else.

    You'll see my 3 roan 1/4 thru my botswana/zimbabwe pics.

    Mine were also seen while in Selinda but in the northern reaches.

    There wasn't much there or around Savuti - too much water.

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    Hi Lisa! Just thought I'd let you know that I have started posting my report under the thread "Self-drive: Nxai Pan, Moremi and Chobe - August 2008"

    I am so enjoying your post - it is so interesting to read your perspective of the trip we took. Robin

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    Thanks for all the roan clarifications!

    Looks like Savuti hasn't got many votes in this period ... anyone had better experiences? I went to a talk on African wildlife by the photographer Andy Rouse last night (some beautiful photos, but I don't want to get drawn into a subject which seems to court controversy on this forum) and he recommended the Khwai river area as one of the top photography spots in Botswana - I have to say again that we thought it was much better than Savuti, though I appreciate that sightings can change day to day.

    I think I said before that we made sure we had some time in Maun to go to the parks offices a) to try and add more bookings and b) because we hadn't received a paper copy of our reservations confirmations before we left home - well we got our letter of confirmation today for August, in a envelope boldly stating 'On Botswana Government Service' - we did think it might be a speeding fine!

    Xakanaxa and Moremi next up - leopards, lions & cheetah

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    We found the Khwai River valley to be very beautiful - it was one of our favourite areas - and we certainly did very well there in terms of sightings.

    I might have thought your envelope was a speeding ticket too except that I remember reading on this forum about someone who received the same envelope from the parks people - their postman was so impressed that he rang the doorbell and handed it to the Fodorite in person - said he thought it looked too important to leave in the mailbox!

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    I've just arrived at Savuti.

    How funny I'd be the one to pick up on your photographic response to the puquin.

    So you spent the night in the vehicle after the car broke down and you were attacked by bees. The skies darken and brush fires are looming. It must have been a night of fitful sleep!

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    Your trip from Savuti to North Gate sounds so different from ours. You clearly encountered a lot more water than we did. We only had to make one water crossing on our whole trip between Maun and Kasane, and that was between North Gate and Xakanaxa - none between North Gate and Savuti.

    At the crossing between North Gate and Xakanaxa, the water came up to the top of our tires. We had no difficulty crossing thanks to some excellent advice from a fellow camper at Nxai Pan, who had just come from Moremi - he drew us a little (but very detailed) map of the crossing, telling us exactly where to approach and leave the water. Later in the day, we came across a German couple standing beside their vehicle. Crossing at the same spot, but not knowing how to approach it, the water had come over the hood of their 4x4. In their panic, they had taken the crossing too quickly and damaged the cooling system. Only then did we fully appeciate the value of the information we had been given.

    It is hard to believe that it had dried up so much by the time we traveled between North Gate and Savuti. Clearly the locals are correct - the water levels can change dramatically from day to day.

    Your baboon sounds like a charming fellow - not sure the slingshot would have worked with him.

    Weren't the hippos at North Gate great? - such a lovely way to fall asleep - listening to the hippos. The hyena visited us as well. Robin

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    Robin
    Strange indeed how the tracks must change day by day, also because of how much they get churned up by bigger vehicles - we found it very hard to follow directly on sandy tracks left by wider vehicles than ours, for example. Shows how important it is to get advice from anyone who's just travelled the same route.

    Hippos were the soundtrack to much of our stay this time, it's something I wish we could have recorded. We later stayed in a tree house on stilts in what they call the panhandle in Namibia (Ngepi)and the hippos browsed under us all night there too, chomping and grunting away.

    On with the report - slow going when real life and work interferes with my reminiscences! I daren’t look at the forum some days because I get too involved in the trip reports and I’m transported to Africa ....

    Day 15 North Gate - Xakanaxa (40km, about 1.5 hours)

    Short and fairly easy drive to Xakanaxa, some water to cross but by now we were old hands and got through no problem! Got there early and asked if we could stay there instead of South Gate, no problem, they even offered us 2 nights which we took willingly. We thought this was the best campsite, sites were well spaced out, next to the river with views over the grassy plain. Although there were 3 permanent camps not far away we didn’t see much traffic from there, and certainly no traffic jams around game – the area is huge enough with different habitats and tracks to be able to get away from other vehicles.

    In fact I was surprised to read this in Torrem’s report on Camp Moremi in August:

    “Then towards the end of the drive we saw a leopard. It was a big old male, we followed it as it was walking around marking its territory. The only problem is there were 12 other vehicles also following. This is one of the downsides of this area: Moremi Game Reserve is accessible by road from Maun, so there are many private cars in addition to the ones from the 3 camps here. Right after seeing the leopard we found a big group of lions. Mod said this is a pride of more than 20 including cubs, and it is the only pride they normally have around this area. We saw 11 of them, including 4 small cubs that were suckling, and the 2 big males. There were 8 other cars at this sighting”.

    Maybe it’s because we were there a bit later in Sept, but we didn’t see even one other vehicle at any of our ‘big’ sightings (in my mind meaning leopard, lion & cheetah) and didn’t see a group of cars around anything. Maybe we saw the same leopard, especially if it had that territory – it was a funny experience because we’d been sitting a while bemoaning the fact that we hadn’t see much thus far, and I saw a movement in the rear view mirror and there was a leopard stalking towards us. I only got one good (photographic) shot at it as I leapt into action facing backwards sending binoculars and drinks flying!

    I was saddened to hear this incident from Torrem too:

    “A funny thing happened on the way back to camp: an elephant was browsing in the middle of the main road, blocking it, which created a traffic jam of 8-10 vehicles that were trying to get to the camps before dark. After waiting for a few minutes without the animal moving at all, one of the other Camp Moremi vehicles asked everyone to stand back and then charged!! it was comical to see the elephant running up the road trumpeting with the car chasing behind. After a few seconds, the ellie decided to clear the road and we could all pass”.

    We saw some extremely calm and unthreatening elephants round camp, and they wandered up really close so we got some great close-up photos (no 45-50) and I would hate to think they’d been the target of this maniac. They also came right up to the campsite to browse and were wandering around the camp throughout the night.

    When we arrived we booked a boat trip from Xakanaxa boat station for the afternoon ($US30 an hour, we had a boat for 12 for just 2, which was more expensive but all they had available) Was great sitting up on the ‘roof’. I think you would have to stay at Xakanaxa, North Gate or at a push Third Bridge to be able to do the boat trip, but it’s definitely worth doing. You forget how much noise you make rattling round in the car until you get onto the peaceful river. Good views of the channels and islands around the lagoon, a chance to see how the other half live as you pass the lodges with rooms looking out onto the lagoon – Camp Moremi, Xakanaxa Lodge and Camp Okuti. We spent some time at what I think is called the heronry, clear and close-up views of yellow-billed storks, marabu storks, white egrets, and cormorants, and also sightings of elephant, hippo, and red lechwe.

    Hippos were out at night again, elephants plodding past and hyaena activity round camp, apparently they stole a heavy metal tool box from a campsite in the night. The people at the boat station knew where to find the hyaena den and recovered the booty, saying that the hyaenas were just a bit naughty! I have this vision of the hyaenas sitting in their den round everything they’ve stolen giggling away:
    “What’ya got?”
    “A shoe – tee hee”
    “A shoe? We got tons of shoes – look what I got”
    “What is it?”
    “Don’t know, but I bet there’ll be trouble when they find it gone hee hee ha ha”


    Next up, more Xakanaxa and Third Bridge

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    Interesting that Xakanaxa was your favourite campsite, as I remember WildDogs saying the same thing.

    Xakanaxa was full when we were there in August and we could not get in - we tried (with the rangers), hoping to give up one of our 3 nights at North Gate in exchange for a night at Xakanaxa, but no luck.

    After talking to the rangers, we stopped in to see the campsite. It looked incredibly crowded with more than one group on several sites. I have read one blog from a camper who was there in August who was surprised when a group showed up to their site and announced that they had been assigned to the same site. We also noticed that there was considerable garbage strewn about and there was water from a toilet streaming out of the ladies' ablution block. We weren't quite so disppointed that we hadn't been able to get in. However, it did mean that we couldn't go on the boat trip and that was a disappointment.

    We too experienced several cars at a couple of sightings - 9 cars at a lion pride in the Khwai River Valley, for example. Thankfully, this was the exception, not the norm. Most of the time, we would see few other vehicles.

    The hyaenas are sly creatures - we had one come into our site at Third Bridge and creep within a couple of metres of us before we saw it - gave us quite a start!
    Robin

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    Robin,
    About Xakanaxa campsite ...
    Maybe just a few days between August and Sept make a big difference to how busy it is. We honestly had about 100m between us and the next people, and couldn’t hear anything from their campsites so we almost felt like we were bush camping (could even use our portable shower and no-one could see us). We were up at the end near the boat station. I did notice that people were more crammed together under the trees nearer the ablutions, I wouldn’t have liked those spots at all. And we did notice that they didn’t remove any garbage from the bins for the 3 days we were there – luckily they weren’t overflowing but I can imagine that at busier times or if something goes rummaging into the bins then it could be messy. The ablution blocks were obviously being allowed to run down because the new ones were nearly ready. I can quite see how the number of people there would impact on your enjoyment of the place. But to lie in our tent and see the ellies feeding on the grass in front of us was stunning.

    Will try and finish off the Botswana part of this trip ...

    Day 16: Xakanaxa-Third Bridge-Mokoro boat station-Xakanaxa 27km 2.0 hours (total 54km)

    Headed off to beyond Third Bridge for a mokoro trip, no way of booking it in advance, just hoped that someone would be there. Quite difficult tracks again, very bumpy in places, ruts and some deep sand. We got stuck in the sand AGAIN but before we had time to assess the situation another vehicle came along and they seemed very keen to get their tow rope out so we were out in a jiffy. From Third Bridge to the boat station (16km) there were large areas of open grassland which was very high and so difficult to see what might be lurking there. Saw a lion disappear into the grass from the roadside so that was frustrating. Someone was there at the boat station so we had a relaxing hour-long mokoro trip ($US25) – worth doing, it’s a different perspective from so low in the water. Didn’t see much wildlife, small crocs and birds, but it was good to chat to the ‘driver’ and just relax. Saw one of the mobile campsites, could well have been one of Masson’s, between Fourth Bridge and Third Bridge – actually found it by mistake when we took a wrong turning – in a lovely spot under some trees overlooking a waterhole. We’d have loved a spot like that! Slow drive back to camp – reluctant for our last evening in Moremi to come to an end. Rewarded with another leopard sighting by the side of the road, wouldn’t have noticed him at all if he hadn’t looked up to see who was making all that racket, then he melted away into the bush.

    Day 17: Xakanaxa to South gate and exit (43 km), South gate to Kazikiini (28km)

    (for tracks4africa map planners – the interactive map makes it look like the road to South Gate is a minor one when in fact it’s a good gravel road)

    The road was much better than we anticipated so got to South Gate quickly and easily, didn’t see a creature all the way so decided we couldn’t leave under those circumstances! Decided on a last detour up in the direction of Third Bridge from South Gate, thought we’d go as far as the lagoon on the map. Road was quite difficult, very sandy in places and we wondered about the wisdom of the detour. Saw a lot of the usual suspects – zebra, impala, warthogs, etc until we bumped along and round a corner came face to face with a pride of lions lying right next to the track. We were literally speechless, I couldn’t even take a photo I was so stunned – it was what we’d been waiting to see in all the years we’ve been in Africa! (seen lone males/females before but never a pride). There was a beautiful male with 3 females and 4 cubs of varying ages. We parked up alongside them and they didn’t seem to mind so we stayed for hours watching them – not one other vehicle came along. When you get so near a scene like that you can forget about taking photos and just enjoy the moment – at least I did (I got a good few … hundred … but it was amazing just to watch them). Everyone also says that they just sleep and do nothing else, well it wasn’t exactly an action packed scene, we didn’t see them make a kill or anything, but there was always some little scene playing out: One of the youngsters wanted to nurse but Mum was having none of it, she pushed the little thing away from her roughly and with quite a snarl. One of the females must have been about to come into heat because when she moved the male followed her every move – she wandered off to the waterhole for a drink and he lumbered after her, then lumbered back and dropped under the tree again to recover from the wasted effort. One of the cubs got bored and went round bothering all the others who just wanted to sleep – so he kept getting a slap from his older brothers/cousins(?).

    We didn’t want to leave at all but decided we’d better make our way out. The ranger on the gate must have thought I was demented – I was bursting to tell someone about our lions and hoped they’d pass the info on to the next people at the gate.

    If we had known that we might have been able to stay longer than our original bookings allowed we’d have planned to have more food & water and would have stayed longer, but without knowing the situation we’d planned for a certain number of days (plus a bit extra) and didn’t have enough supplies to stay – fuel was also running low so we had little choice.

    Since we left the park later than planned we thought we’d try and stay somewhere between Moremi and Maun. I’d read about the Community campsite at Kazikiini and had been told it wasn’t really worth a stop, but I’d also read (from their own website) that they had wild dogs in the area so we thought we’d give it a try – still reluctant to leave the area altogether!

    South Gate to Kazikiini approx 28 km.

    Once out of South Gate it’s an easy wide gravel road to where the road changes to a tar road nearer Maun. In fact I would say that if you’re still a bit unsure about whether you could manage a trip like this, (and don’t let our experiences put you off!), then I would say that the drive from Maun to South Gate is very easy, South Gate to Xakanaxa relatively easy, with a bit of deep sand just on the approach to the campsite, and most tracks around the area are easy if a bit bumpy and uneven at times, but nothing too difficult. So maybe give that a try!

    We arrived in time to do a game drive with one of their guides in our own vehicle (40 pula).
    Apparently you have to use a guide on their concession in case you accidently cross over onto the hunting part of the concession (!) Could debate I suppose on whether to boycott or not hunting concessions. This community has land bordering on Moremi, on one side of road is hunting area, one side is for photographic safaris. The community can’t survive on either one alone. Hunting brings in a large income which helps the community - this is what they told us anyway. I’m clearly against hunting, and our guide didn’t like to see trophy hunting either, but accepted that it’s a necessity.

    The guide took us right back nearly to South Gate and into their concession which is effectively an extension of Moremi. He didn’t have any information about wild dogs, and seemed reluctant to talk about them, even though we’d seen that there was a wild dog research facility in the area. We drove to the river, passing Santawani Lodge, and he found us what we hadn’t seen up to now – 3 cheetahs hunting. What a finale for our stay in the park, a private audience with lions AND cheetah. We watched the cheetah as they woke up and started looking around for a meal – there was a female with 2 adolescent cubs who were more of a hindrance than a help. We did some pretty rough driving since we could go off-road in the concession, at one point getting stuck in quite deep muddy water – our guide didn’t panic though and guided us out without much ado.

    Because we spent so much time with the cheetahs the drive back was in the dark – a novelty for us, and we saw hyaena, elephant and porcupines on the way back. The whole drive was a bit longer than we expected, (80km) and we were a bit worried about the fuel level, but it was OK in the end and worth it.

    We decided to use their simple rondavel instead of setting up the tent in the dark when we got back – a good move because we had to rush into dinner (good, simple fish’n’chips, we were at the end of our own supplies) so it was nice to fall into a proper bed after we’d eaten. We fell out of bed when we were disturbed by loud rustlings outside, and caught a honey badger rummaging through the bin – now that was a perfect end to the day.

    Next morning had an ‘incident’ in the shower, hubby went into one of the showers and backed out at speed as a furry creature leapt out and used his leg as a springboard, giving him quite a scratch. “What was that? A civet? A serval? A mongoose?” I hated to disappoint him: “Er, no it was a squirrel ...” He was most disappointed again not to have an ‘African’ story to tell, first the bees and now the squirrel, not exactly like his charging elephant story!!!

    It was very quiet there, I think we were the only people in the rondavels plus one other couple in the camping area. The staff were delightful, couldn’t do enough to help, and were obviously keen to make a go of the place. There are clean open-air showers and toilets, and plenty of hot water. A good stop if you leave the park just too late to get back to Maun. (The lodge, on the same concession, Santawani, is up near South Gate , and is nearer the ‘action’ if you want to pay lodge prices – could be an alternative if you can’t get in at South Gate. Although having said that, it would seem easier to drive up the good road from Kazikiini to South Gate for 28 km than it would be to do the 20 km South Gate to Santawani Lodge on a bumpy sandy track.

    Day 18: Made our way back to Maun next day (60km) and decided to try out Sedia Hotel – rooms were fine if a little tired, but they did have a bath – much needed after a few days camping! And a nice terrace & swimming pool area for relaxing, planning our next moves and eating out. Did our scenic flight in the early evening ($270) -worth doing if you don’t get to take a flight over the delta to get to a camp. Visibility wasn’t great, bush fires again, but saw lots of game and large buffalo herds. Very interesting to see the land from above. We used the GPS to track our flight path (with permission from the pilot) so when we got home we could see exactly where we'd flown.

    We were tempted to re-supply and head back to Moremi but in the end stuck to our provisional plan to go to Tsodilo Hills so that we could do a bit of walking after being in the car for a few days. We usually like to do a walking safari but couldn’t find anything suitable this time. Also were hoping for more game viewing along the Okavango Panhandle and into Namibia.

    Will report on Tsodilo Hills(fascinating, and beautiful spot to camp), Drotsky's, Mahongo National Park & the Namibia part of the trip if anyone's interested, otherwise will get on with planning the next holiday!

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    Wow! What great sightings you had in Moremi - we saw lions, but no cheetahs or leopards. Thankfully, we saw both in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

    What a difference a month must make - we really were completely put off by Xakanaxa. Our favourite site was Third Bridge, although you can't beat that view from Ihaha.

    I'll look forward to reading about the rest of your trip - please do continue. Robin

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    please keep it coming! our kids are just back from south africa, and the more i read about all the areas.. the more i want to go SOON.

    your trip report is fascinating. no yawns here!

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    Reading about your and CanadianRobins self drive trips has been wonderful.
    I think you guys should lead a bunch of us fodorites on a self drive convoy! You have the experience and can help the rest of us novices.
    We might not see as much, but we'd sure have fun!

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    More coming soon, I came to the forum to write something about the next bit of the trip then got caught up in Robin's photo report. Luckily she's more of a details person - anyone planning a trip like this should definitely read her report!

    Maybe not a good idea to follow us, Lillipets, (even with our newly-learned GPS skills!) we're just enthusiastic amateurs, we muddle through somehow, but if we can do it anyone can.

    Also yearning for that tent again, Robin.

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    OK will try not to get distracted by the goings on here, and finish my report!

    Day 20-21 Maun to Tsodilo 385 km

    We were attracted to the Panhandle area by 2 things, the chance to see the Tsodilo rock paintings at Botswana's first world heritage site, and the description of the area in the Bradt travel guide:
    “If much of the Okavango Delta is the preserve of the privileged few who can afford to fly-in to exclusive safari camps, then the Panhandle presents more egalitarian options. Here you'll find the raw edge of Botswana's safari industry, camps on the edge of the Delta run by idiosyncratic owners or local communities – without marketing aids or slick glossy brochures. This is the Okavango's safari scene as it was 20 years ago!”

    I’m not sure this is still the case, I think it has developed rapidly since this was written, and the slick operators have moved in, but it’s still true that it offers a Delta experience at a more affordable rate.

    Easy drive (385 km all on tar roads), more vet gates but only checking incoming vehicles not vehicles heading north. We stopped at a few little villages, surprised at how the traditional villages co-exist with the newer developments, seems to be a lot of investment in the area, supermarkets springing up in the larger villages.

    On the way we spotted a broken-down jeep so stopped to see if we could help, it was 4 army guys and they seemed surprised we’d stopped to offer help but we offered our tool kit and they set about trying to fix the problem – nothing was quite right so out came the leatherman, which did actually have the right tool for the job, so they all hunkered round the engine while I gathered firewood for our next camp. In the end they couldn’t fix it, and they said they’d already sent for help so we left them a few litres of water (they’d been there for hours and had resorted to drinking the river water - always travel with water, folks!) They thanked us and said maybe they’d see us in Windhoek for a beer sometime ... we were very pleased to be thought of as locals (Windhoek number plates on car) – I told hubby he should get some of those short tight shorts beloved of the Southern Africans to which he could attach his leatherman – that would really complete the picture (no offence meant!)

    The Bradt guide gives clear instructions which track to take to Tsodilo, which has recently been upgraded to a gravel road (instead of sand) and is not at all difficult. There is a roadsign at the tarmac for Tsodilo Hills. You enter a small village at the foothills of the Male Hill and there is a gate on the right – watch out for it because the track is unclear and we drove right past it, but got a good view back to the hills from a couple of km further on! Didn't use the GPS because we thought 'we can't miss it'. They said that the gate is usually closed to keep cattle out, but you can push it open – if you don’t know this it might be a bit off-putting if you arrive to find the gate closed and no-one there. It’s another 3.5 to 4 km to the office depending on which route you take – we found the track signposted ‘trucks’ was easiest – keep going even if it looks like you’re getting no-where, we thought we’d got lost yet again until we suddenly came across a clearing where the office and museum is located. Report to the office and sign in, there’s nothing to pay but they’ll explain how to hire a guide (more about that later). They are not very good at explaining where the campsites are so make sure you have a good map (Tracks4Africa again). You have to camp at designated campsites and there are about 5 sites. A couple are close to the museum/office and close to the ablutions. Unless you really want to be close to the ablutions then the others are much more attractive. The more remote sites, Sedibeng and Malatso, can only be reached by a 4x4 due to deep soft sand – Malatso is a great site and about 5km from the office. Of course we chose this one and almost regretted it, it was getting dark and we had to plough through some deep sand and long grass and the 5km seemed very long indeed. When we found it we were so pleased we’d made the effort, it’s a tiny site, surrounded by trees on 3 sides and the rock face on the other, so I’m not sure what sharing would be like, but we had it to ourselves.
    It was quite strange camping beneath the rock face, so different from the open spaces in Moremi and Chobe.

    I had read the Laurens van der Post book 'The Lost World of the Kalahari' again before we left and was thrilled to have made it to this mystical place, 'home of very old and very great spirits’ In The Lost World of the Kalahari you can read how the group ignored the advice of their guide, and disturbed the spirits of the hills, by hunting on their way. Once at the hills, cameras kept jamming, tape recorders stopped working, and bees repeatedly attacked the group – and the problems only stopped when they made a written apology to the spirits.

    The Bradt Guide gives a word of warning:
    “However, after several visits over the years, I am left remembering the captivating feeling of spirituality in the hills far more than simply the images of the paintings, however remarkable. I've known this to disturb some visitors profoundly; they were uneasy to the point of wanting to flee the hills, and couldn't wait to get away – whilst others find the hills entrancing and completely magical. So if you come here, then do so with respect and take some time to stay here – don't just come to tick it off your itinerary and leave”

    So mindful not to offend the spirits, we set up camp and a made a huge fire, it somehow seemed more important than usual, maybe because we were so far away from anyone else! We had a lovely peaceful evening, the night was very still and quiet, didn’t even hear any animal rustlings, which actually got a bit eerie!

    Next morning we were looking forward to having a San guide who could explain more about legends and stories associated with the hills, but the experience was a bit sad and disappointing.

    You can go to the office and they'll assign a guide for you - you pay the guide dirctly. A 2-hour guided tour of the Rhino Trail, with about 13 panels on view, was 40 pula, excellent value, but the guides clearly resented visitors going walking round on their own, and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t pay the 40 pula (U$6) for a guided tour. We started badly when at the first painting a rather loud visitor shouted to our guide “Where’s the Van der Post panel?” (a particularly famous piece of this rock art) This seemed abrupt even to our ears after the gentle greetings ritual we’d got used to. Our guide shrugged his shoulders and moved on – and this clearly put him in a bad mood and he marched off at a pace to the next painting. He eventually explained that they are worried that the visitors will destroy the paintings and hate to see people wandering around unaccompanied. Yes it’s marvellous to have unrestricted access to a place like this, but you don’t find it in places like Twyfelfontein, in Namibia, and as access gets easier they are going to get more visitors. So our guide was quite taciturn all the way round, and also went very quickly – it was hot and the trail climbed up some steep paths but he wouldn’t slow down! We did think ‘no wonder no-one goes round with a guide!’ So we got no legends and stories from him! He got crosser and crosser every time we passed people without a guide (not that it was busy, we passed 2 other couples and a group of 4). It was, however, very interesting to see the drawings – there are even drawings of penguins and whales, and excavations indicate that people were using coloured pigments here more than 19,000 years ago. When we got to the plateau of the hill after a particularly steep climb we found elephant droppings – the guide said they had been there just a few days previously – why they would climb up there is a mystery (we did find elephants at the top of a high koppie when we did a walk in the Kruger, so we knew they don’t mind a climb). We got back to the office very hot and bothered, we’d have liked to have done the walk a lot slower and stayed longer.

    After a break and a walk round the excellent little museum we did a walk of our own around the Cliff trail which was near our campsite, and didn’t see another soul there, and although we felt bad about not hiring a guide we enjoyed it a lot more! We tried to compensate a little by buying (yet more) crafts from their small gift shop when we left.

    That evening we enjoyed another peaceful braai, and it was deadly quiet until we heard a cough above us – yikes – we’d never heard a leopard cough ‘live’ before but we’d seen enough wildlife programmes to recognize it! It was probably much further away than it sounded but …. Luckily we’d finished eating so decided to make it an early night, and convinced each other it was because we’d had an energetic day! It was the first time I really didn’t want to leave the tent at night when nature called! Well before first light a strong wind blew up and kept us awake for hours, the tent was flapping around all over the place, so we didn’t get up very early next day, and had a late and leisurely breakfast – enjoyed having the space and privacy.

    So all in all, we certainly enjoyed the walk and the exercise after being cooped up in the car, and the rock paintings were worth seeing if you are interested in that kind of thing, but we were a bit disappointed not to learn more from the locals than we could find out for ourselves in a book, and the area is clearly gearing up to mass tourism (overland trucks etc), which is good for the community but some of the ‘magic’ has been lost, I fear. In fact apparently the San believe that their spirits have now abandoned the Hills because of these intrusions (intrusions like us, I suppose), which is very sad.

    Day 22 Tsodilo to Drotsky’s Campsite 60km

    The drive from Tsodilo to Drotsky’s Campsite was only about 60km, so we took our time and arrived in the afternoon. There are some nice-looking cabins at Drotsky’s, with a lovely restaurant deck on the Okavango. The owners were very welcoming. We stayed in the well-organsied campsite , nice private pitches right on the river (so we got the hippo chorus again – soundtrack to our stay in Botswana) with the best ablutions we’d found so far, more like private bathrooms. We’d intended to do a river trip but the site was so nice we just settled down to an afternoon doing chores like washing clothes, baking bread (I was getting good at my beer bread by now) and watching the abundant birdlife. There was an eagle’s nest above us with a chick in it and we watched the 2 adults bringing back a steady flow of food all afternoon. A great place to stay if you’re heading up to Namibia. They also have a lodge which is reached by boat further downriver – friends of ours stayed there and said it was excellent.

    After a comfortable and uneventful night we set off for the Namibian border.

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    tockoloshe

    Thanks for the info on the road conditions from older reports it sounded like a long hard slog.We will now try to make time to visit on our next turn through Northern Namibia.

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    sniktawk
    The Bradt guide book has clear directions and GPS co-ordinates, but it's the middle of the 3 possible tracks which has been upgraded, and is clearly signposted. I think quite a few 'old hands' are disappointed because it's easy now for the overland trucks and apparantly they speed up and down that track like maniacs, then destroy the peace and quiet once found there. No wonder the spirits have fled.

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    I too have read "The "Lost World of the Kalahari" - I kept waiting for you to say that you had been descended upon by bees! Pity the guide ruined the experience for you - the guides are not helping their own cause. Perhaps their reputation is putting visitors off.

    Your campsite sounds fantastic. I have only heard a leopard cough once - in Bitterpan Camp in Kgalagadi (South Africa). It's an unmistakable sound and one you don't forget. How exciting!

    I'd be interested in the beer bread recipe if you are willing to part with it. Robin

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    No problem to part with beer bread recipe, couldn’t be easier, got the recipe from ‘The 4x4 cookbook’
    1 x 500g packet self-raising flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    Quarter cup oil
    Can/bottle beer (340 ml)

    Mix flour and salt, add oil & beer and mix well. Knead until smooth and put dough into a potjie (cast iron casserole pot with lid) Bake over hot coals for about an hour. I put the dough onto tin foil in the potjie so it was easier to lift out. Try not to look in to see how it’s going! And don’t leave the lid on after it’s cooked, I did that once because we went off to do something and condensation formed in the pot and made the bread soggy. I was stunned to see that it worked so well, to be honest. I sometimes got a burnt bottom but still edible!

    http://www.kodakgallery.co.uk/I.jsp?c=1x5x7t93d.37md83nmh&x=0&y=-gwtv8f&localeid=en_GB

    (I can just see some folks shaking their heads in disbelief and muttering darkly about recipes having no place in the forum!!)

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    Well it's been a while but the Xmas cards are written now and all things Xmassy seem to be in hand so we'll travel from this cold winter back to the land of sunshine!

    Day 23 Drotsky’s to Ngepi Camp - approx 50km

    Day 23-25 Ngepi Camp

    (I guess this should technically go under the Namibia section but I started it with just the intention to write about Botswana).

    Drotsky’s to Namibian border only about 26 km, nipped into Shakawe on the way – another place which seems to be developing at a pace, new supermarket (Choppies I think) just opened on the main road and the village itself was bustling. Crossed the Mohembo border with no problem, very quick and helpful staff on both sides of the border.

    After the border crossing you are immediately in Mahango NP, if you are driving straight through you don’t have to pay, otherwise there’s a small fee. Mahango is a small national park, cut in 2 by the road. We had plenty of time so called at the office to pay and get a map and some advice from the ranger where to go and where not to go. She suggested a loop on the eastern side, which passes beside the river and floodplain and is said to be the better one for game (about 20km long). You can do this loop in a sedan car. As soon as we turned off the road we met a small herd of elephants – they were very relaxed and browsed all around us. I can’t get enough of elephants, so it was a bonus to see some, we thought we’d said goodbye to them in Moremi. There are extensive floodplain areas, where we spotted many antelope including the usual suspects – sable, waterbuck, impala as well as red lechwe and possibly sitatunga (not confirmed – no photographic evidence!) There are a couple of lovely places for a picnic, one beside a large baobab and next to the river, where we saw buffalo, crocs and hippos – one hippo was out of the water in the sun and we realized he was badly scratched with open bloody wounds all over his body – but was still alive . We think the wounds were caused by another hippo because we’d seen similar healed marks on other hippos, and we couldn’t imagine that another predator would leave it’s prey alone. Excellent bird life – they say (again only hearsay because we’re not bird experts) that more species can be found here than in any other park in Namibia, and we did see many we couldn’t identify. It’s a perfect spot to set up your chairs and enjoy the scenery and birdlife. They say that there are all the big cats in the area so keep a lookout, but we didn’t see any. The road loops round to meet the main road after about 20km, we turned back and did the same loop back instead of using the ‘main’ road, about 40km total. The ranger advised against the western loop, which is only suitable for 4x4s, saying it’s mainly mopane woodland and difficult to see game, but instead suggested a straight return drive to a waterhole on the western side (20km there & back) . We saw little game on that side, just a few wildebeest, and ostriches. Actually the ostriches were interesting because the male and female had chicks, so when they saw us the male shepherded off the chicks and the female did her ‘oh dear, look at me I’m injured’ routine, limping, flapping and trailing her wing , so that we’d follow her and not the chicks. I said before that to us it’s often just as interesting to see something like that as the ‘big’ game. As for Mahango I wouldn’t say that it’s a destination in itself, especially if you are used to the bigger reserves in Botswana, but certainly a nice place to stop on the way between Botswana and Namibia. I have to add that we did a game drive there another evening (as opposed to midday when we did the first one) and we saw nothing apart from a couple of antelope - it seemed deserted – and that’s supposed to be the better time of day for game-viewing! But we did enjoy a sundowner in splendid isolation overlooking the river with lots of birds to try and identify.

    Ngepi camp is a short drive from the park, we’d been looking forward to staying in a tree house and we weren’t disappointed when we saw it. But we’d also been a bit apprehensive about Ngepi because we’d heard varying accounts of this place, some people said it was party-central for overlanders, and others said it was laid-back and peaceful. The Tree-houses are constructed from reed walls and thatch roof and are built on raised wooden platforms around a tree and overlooking the river – and the sunrise. There are reed ‘roller-blind’ type walls you can pull down if you do want to close the bed off, but why would you want to spoil the view over the Okavango??? Tree-houses have mosquito nets over the bed and their own toilet and shower, but because it’s all open to the river beware of having a shower when the river trip is passing! There is electricity too. Because it was totally open we kept most of our things locked in the car, which we could park nearby, not necessarily because of human interference but we didn’t know if there were any marauding monkeys/baboons around (turns out there weren’t).

    After we’d got settled (and taken turns in the hammock!) we went to reception to book a mokoro trip for one day and a sunset cruise for another. We found the staff very laid-back and a bit vague about everything – we could go along with that, afterall we were in laid-back mode by now, but several of the other guests found it irritating. We came to the conclusion that the staff were just in love with themselves and the idea of working in what had been named ‘Getaway Camp of the year’ and felt that no added effort was needed. We did our own braai the first night and ate in the camp ‘restaurant’ the other 2. I say ‘restaurant’ but it was more like being served school dinners (at least the school dinners we used to get in the UK!) You had to book for dinner by 5pm, anyone unfortunate enough not to do so got no dinner. 2 elderly ladies went to book at 5.30 and were told it was too late, they could make them a sandwich but not dinner. They said it was due purely to a ‘no-waste’ policy they followed, but it came across badly as a ‘no-care’ policy. There was no menu, you got what you were given – you stand in line with your plate while the potatoes are counted out onto it (not joking, I got one snatched back because we were allowed 5 pieces each!) The food itself was good, and was followed by a hearty pudding (hot sponge pudding & custard both nights), but the general opinion was that portions were small. One man who asked for more and offered to pay for it (Oliver Twist I think his name was) was again lectured about the no-waste policy and told firmly no, there wasn’t any more. I can understand this if they were in the middle of the Okavango, but there was a supermarket 15 mins up the road! But if you take it as it is and not expect too much then Ngepi certainly gets top marks for accommodation. And the camp sites looked nice too, though didn’t have a river view. I think their problem is that they can’t decide if they want to be a lodge or a camp, they cater for guests who want to do lodge-type activities like game drives and river cruises, and also for overlanders who want to drink in the bar all night. For us the tree-house was so lovely it was worth the slight negatives. And we had the bonus of the usual hippos, this time under the tree-house platform at night, very noisy eaters!

    The mokoro trip was on the wide Kavango river, not in narrow inlets like in the Okavango Delta. We had to wear life-vests which was a little uncomfortable but no real hardship. The river was very shallow and looked very clean and clear. We followed the bank some way and saw bee-eaters and much more bird-life (next time I’ll study the birds better!) and got quite near a pod of hippos, which were always in the vicinity of the camp. We didn’t see much other wildlife, but we saw villagers using the river for bathing and washing, and watched a fisherman in a real wooden mokoro (as opposed to the environmentally friendly versions we were in). Our mokoro ‘driver’ was interesting to talk to about how quickly things had changed over recent years – he seemed to think for the better.
    The sunset river trip followed much the same route, we didn’t see anything different but it was a very pleasant way to spend 2 hours.
    We had to go into the nearest village (Divundu 15km) to repair a slow tyre puncture so stopped off at Popa Falls – we thought it was a good place to camp or stop for a picnic or camp overnight, but not to make a special trip. There are some nice looking lodges along this part of the river, would be worth a stop on the way to/from Namibia/Botswana.

    Day 26 Ngepi to Rundu (215km)

    From Ngepi we intended to do a good day’s driving to the Waterberg Plateau, but I didn’t feel too good (can’t blame the food at Ngepi because we ate identical meals and my husband wasn’t affected – might have been the tap water, since it came out of the tap I forgot it wasn’t drinkable and brushed my teeth in it ...), so we decided to stop in Rundu instead. We had no idea where to stay but just followed a sign to Kaisosi Lodge and found a nice little place on the river – we’d been reluctant to leave the river (and sunsets) so were glad we’d changed plans. The lodge has a campsite and rooms, we decided to camp – each site has it’s own bathroom. The sites are a bit close together, but since there was only one other group camping there it was very pleasant. The lodge itself is more like a travel lodge/hotel than a typical traditional lodge. We spent a couple hours by the swimming pool relaxing and watching a little mokoro ferry operating between Angola and Namibia – apparently it cost 1 Namibian dollar per trip when the river was low and 2 dollars when the river is high. We then joined a couple on yet another sunset cruise with the manager of the lodge. It was a surprisingly pleasant experience, there was no wildlife in that part of the river but our host was a mine of information about the area, about Angola and all about how the Kavango and Okavango river is affected by the rains and flooding. He explained that Rundu is somewhat of a boom town, 2 new supermarkets were opening that week, and with a new bridge planned to cross over into Angola they are expecting even more expansion. I wouldn’t recommend Kaisosi Lodge as a destination in itself, but it was a good place to overnight.

    Day 27 Rundu to Waterberg (550km)

    This was another ‘unplanned’ day, we drove to the Waterberg Plateau area and on impulse turned off to a campsite signposted Weaver’s Rock farm. The road wound up to the top of a hill where we found Weaver’s Rock farm which offered camping and individual bungalows, all with fantastic views. The campsite had a communal kitchen and bathroom block in an old farmhouse building, and there was a swimming pool and restaurant and a bar in the lapa next to the owners house. It would be our last night camping so we had a good clear out and clean-up and used up the last bits of food. Another great find – would definitely stay there again especially since acco is difficult to find in that area.

    Last part of trip to come: Cheetah Consevation Fund and Africat.

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    Hi Tockoloshe!
    Good to see your post continuing. I had to pull out my Namibian atlas so that I could follow your trail - we have not undertaken that drive between Botswana and Namibia, so I am not very familiar with the area. I have always wanted to combine a Skeleton Coast trip with a Botswana trip, so I am making notes about your stopovers. I think we would include a side trip to the Tsodilo Hills. Isn't it great when you discover gems in what are supposed to be convenient stopovers? The birds and hippos, to say nothing of the scenery, made Mahango sound like one of those memorable stopovers.

    I am looking forward to learning what you thought of Okonjima. We took our cat-loving daughter there in 2005, on our way back to Cape Town from Etosha, and we had a most enjoyable 2-night stay. We were upgraded to the Bush Camp, and we loved those tents.

    I look forward to reading more. I plan to get to my SA and Namibian trip report after the holidays.

    We have just finalized our August 2009 Kenya/Tanzania self-drive and your report has me looking forward to that adventure. Go well in 2009! Robin

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    Thanks all for continued support, and Happy New Year. Last bit coming, thought I’d have plenty of time over Xmas but got distracted by Christmassy goings-on and by plans for the next trip!

    Robin, thanks for your comments, I tend to ‘post and run’ so I didn’t see your post until now. Certainly the Skeleton Coast is worth a detour, very wild but very beautiful, although we know a couple of people who found it disturbing and couldn’t wait to get away. Would like to see your Namibia report, I found your comments about Eagle’s Nest while I was researching old Namibia trip reports and filed that away for future reference! Best of luck with your Kenya/Tanzania trip, we won’t be able to follow in your footsteps this year but hope to do something similar in future, and will look forward to a trip report on your return.

    Last bit of trip report .....

    Day 28 Waterberg to Africat (via Cheetah Conservation fund)

    This was a day to visit a couple of projects we support – the CCF (Cheetah Conservation Fund www.cheetah.org/ ) is about 40 kilometers from Otjiwarongo. From their website:
    ‘CCF's focus is on research, conservation and education. An extensive modern Visitor and Education Centre encourages visitors to learn about cheetahs, their habitat and issues of conservation, with an opportunity to see resident non-releasable cheetahs, acting as 'cheetah ambassadors' for the species. A stop over at CCF makes a very worthwhile, enjoyable and informative visit for the tourist.’

    The staff are very knowledgeable and the visitor centre is slickly run. We discovered that many activities are only available if you pre-book so check out their website if you’re making a special trip there – it could be quite a long diversion.

    Then we went on to a favourite destination of ours, Africat (www.africat.org )and Okonjima, conveniently placed between Windhoek and Etosha/Caprivi. On our first visit we stayed in the Bush Camp which is really lovely, the luxury thatched chalets are well-spaced so you don’t see next-door, and the front canvas panelling can be rolled up so you can look out over the veld and feed the birds at a little bird table. It is a bit on the expensive side for budget travellers. On subsequent visits we’ve stayed in Main Camp, also because it’s been an overnight stop and you can’t really get the full benefit from the Bush Camp if you participate in the afternoon and morning activities, i.e. you’re out until nightfall and out before daybreak, and when you get back you have to check out of your room so you haven’t got that much time to enjoy it. If you stay 2 or more nights you get the benefits more. Even so, a couple of night s there would just about equal the acco costs for all the rest of our trip on this occasion. Main camp has had a makeover recently and it seems more commercial, the new buildings are not very attractive, modern and blocky in style, but they do have a bush view. Here too the operation is a lot slicker than it used to be, it felt more like visiting someone’s home before, now it’s probably better run but doesn’t feel as intimate, but I have to say that the activities are still excellent. One thing which has changed is the viewing from the hide at night, you used to be taken by vehicle to a hide which was regularly visited by porcupines, caracal, honey badgers and even leopard, but now they have obviously decided it’s easier to have an area just next to the main building (walking distance) where they put out scraps from the kitchen – as it’s fairly new we didn’t see anything and also it used to be where they had a lion enclosure so they admitted that the lion smell will keep most things away for a while. A lot of guests didn’t even bother going to the night viewing so I guess they find it easier this way, but we used to like seeing the night creatures.

    Africat is based on a 55000 acre conservancy - it’s a huge area, you can’t see fences on game drives, their land stretches as far as the eye can see and beyond. They are currently fencing off even more land to house the wild dogs they’ve brought up from puppy-hood and which need a huge enclosure to be able to learn to live in wild for possible release. There are game drives morning and afternoon, cheetah, leopard and hyaena tracking. Visiting the ‘welfare’ cheetahs which can’t be released is a good opportunity to get up close to cheetahs to appreciate what gorgeous creatures they are (and to get some great photos). The guides are very good, just remember that the emphasis is on cat rehabilitation and it’s not going to be like a game drive in the Okavango. The staff were very kind to us because we’d been a few times before and made sure that we did activities we hadn’t done before, as well as visiting our adopted leopard and letting us watch the work the vets were doing in the clinic (giving a cheetah root-canal treatment). A few people have written about Okonjima so I won’t go into more detail, but if you have any questions feel free to ask.

    On a previous occasion when we left Okonjima we stopped half-way down the track to the main road so I could double-check I had my cameras in the back of the car – only when we got back into the car did we see a leopard sitting watching us a few feet away by the side of the road – I’m sure my rump sticking out of the car must have looked quite tasty but he wasn’t interested! It was as much a highlight of the trip as the visit to Africat. Apparently the ‘wild’ leopards often come to check out what’s going on at Africat.

    Day 29 Okonjima to Windhoek

    After the morning activity of hyaena tracking on foot (getting up close to an 90 pound hyaena on foot is quite something, and examining it’s recent dinner of oryx even better!) and a stunning brunch we had to head back to Windhoek, which we delayed as long as possible. That’s one nice thing about Okonjima, they don’t chuck you out, so long as you leave your room they are quite happy for you to use the facilities if you want to stay a while.

    Back to Windhoek and Rivendell Guest House again. The car hire company picked up the car and all was in order, always a slight worry, as I’m sure there were a few extra scratches! A very good meal at ‘Luigi and the Fish’ in the evening. A bit of souvenir shopping next day at the Craft Centre and excellent lunch in the cafe there. Very sad to be going home, but very very happy memories!!

    So that was our ‘Affordable Botswana’ trip – do ask if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them.

    On this trip we don’t feel we could have improved much, everything went well, the only thing we could have asked for is more time to see even more. If anything, we’d have liked to spend more time in Chobe and Moremi, but without the advance campsite bookings it was difficult to plan. Now we know the lie of the land we know we could spend more time in the Khwai river area in the community campsite if we couldn’t get park bookings. And it looks like it’ll be more difficult to turn up and get park bookings from the beginning of this year.

    To go back to the title ‘Affordable Botswana’ we estimate we spent about $7,000 (US dollars) or about £3,500 (at summer 08 rates) on the trip plus flights. Would we do it again? Try and stop us!

    Happy Travels to all in 2009 and beyond!

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    Hi Tockoloshe!
    What did your friends find so disturbing about the Skeleton Coast? I don't think I have ever read of that reaction before.

    When we visited Okonjima, we were lucky to be updraded to the Bush Camp - we never could have afforded the two nights we spent there. We loved those tents - they remain a favourite. I don't recall tracking hyena being an option when we were there - we tracked leopards and cheetah and were successful at finding both. We also visited the "welfare cheetahs" and had six cheetah surround our vehicle. One impudent female even came and sat on the hood of the vehicle.

    Pity about the hide - we had wonderful porcupine and honey badger sightings there. I would also miss listening to the lions at night. When we went to view the lions one morning, one of the females mock charged Robert. Although my husband was safely behind the fence, it was a frightening moment. I will never forget the look in her eyes!

    I have so enjoyed your post. I was pleased to see that you posted a question about the park bookings in Botswana in the last couple of days. Hopefully, this means you are planning another trip and a report will follow in the future. I will look forward to it. Robin

    PS. I am working on the SA/Namibia post!

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    Hi Robin - Will try for that upgrade next time we visit Okonjima! When we first went about 5 years ago there was very little difference between the price for Bush Camp and Main Camp, but I think they realized they has something special and increased the Bush Camp tariff the next year to reflect its superior status more. I think hyena tracking started this year when they managed to get collars on 3 hyenas in preparation for releasing them into a 10,000 acre rehabilitation area. The lions are housed near the family home at Okonjima, apparently they tried to move them away but they complained so much because they missed the family they had to move them nearer again, they like being near their human family.

    I don’t understand the problem with the Skeleton Coast either, but 2 people I met both had this weird reaction of being quite threatened by all the open space and desolation. One girl didn’t want to get out of the car and felt really spooked – made her companion drive all the way to Swakop rather than camp. We loved it though.

    Hands up, we have been thinking about holidays again. We loved the idea of your Safari Drive trip, but it’ll work out a bit too expensive this time. We thought we’d break this obsession with Africa and so we’re going to Australia for a month in August … but it’s not that easy, as all the Africa addicts here know. So when a points sale (airmiles) came up and we found we had enough to get to Windhoek we just had to go for it! So we’ve got 15 days in May to play with … it’ll have to be a budget trip, mainly camping again, but we don’t mind if it means we get to see Africa again! I think we’ll go north rather than to South Africa, would like to see the Zambia/Zimbabwe National Parks sometime, but might be too ambitious this time, maybe need longer to do it justice. We may get up to Maun again, hence the query about the parks booking system – we did love it so much but also want to see some different places – what a quandary! But we know we can’t go wrong - have tent will travel.

    Look forward to getting inspiration from your SA/Namibia report.

    And looking for ideas from anyone out there! (Namibia/Botswana area)Would ideally like to find a few days walking safari which doesn’t cost the earth, or somewhere where we can camp AND participate in guided activities, like the overnight sleepouts at Planet Boabab. Many of the lodges offer interesting activities but are linked to staying in their accommodation, which makes it too expensive for this trip. We’d prefer to spend the money on guides and activities that we couldn’t do alone rather than accommodation. But maybe I'd better start a new thread to ask for help from all the Fodors experts! Meanwhile, back to the research, a nice way to spend these cold winter days.

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    Oh dear - May - I'll never get my report finished in time to be of much help to you. I am on page 6 and we are just driving from Cape Town through the Karoo!

    Don't get me started on Australia - we spent our 2004-2005 sabbatical in Cape Town, but our previous sabbatical, six years earlier, in Brisbane. We would love to go back to Australia some time.

    What an odd reaction to the open spaces of the Skeleton Coast. I thought perhaps the skeletons were freaking them out. I am a wide open spaces person, so it is difficult for me to relate!

    Interesting that they had to move the lions back - hopefully you can still hear them from the tents.

    For SA/Namibia - you have been to the dunes, I assume? If not, that is a must! You could combine it nicely with a visit Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in SA (www.sanparks.org) - one of our favourites. You can camp at both spots! Another option would be to fly to Joburg from Windhoek and drive to Kruger and camp - there are some reasonably priced options in that park.

    Of course, like you, I wouldn't hesitate to return to Botswana, which would combine nicely with Zambia. I'll keep thinking! Robin

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    Thanks for suggestions, we have been to the dunes in Namibia and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - wouldn't hesitate to go again though. We are actually flying to Windhoek via JNB - the airmiles were the same for both so thought we'd get as much out of them as we could, so could change to JNB if it suited our plans more. I don't think we'd do Kruger again this time, it's a good cheap option but we've been a few times. We quite fancy Damaraland and along Caprivi if time allows, but still considering options!

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    One last thing - I forgot to mention the success of my camera ‘bean bag’ alternative – I’ll add it here because it’s only really of use to self drivers. I talked about the idea once before in a thread about beanbags – not my idea, picked up from a travel magazine – and it really worked well. Take one of those long tubular swimming floats and cut it to window length, then put a slit in it lengthways so that you can slot it over the open car window and adjust the window to whatever height you need to rest the camera on. It weighs nothing to put in your suitcase and you can leave it behind when you return! The only minor problem was finding one which wasn’t too bright coloured!

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    Definitely sounds like it's time to head in to Zambia and/or Zimbabwe. They would certainly combine well with a return trip to Botswana. Have fun planning - I look forward to reading what you decide. Trip report is progressing - I am writng up Kgalagadi at the moment. Robin

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    Hello Tockoloshe,

    thanks again for a wonderful trip report, I've enjoyed reading about your Bots adventure. How exciting that you are planning a return safari.

    I would recommend Hobatere Lodge on the western border of Etosha for a 2 night stay http://www.resafrica.net/hobatere-lodge/ Steve and Louise run a friendly and relaxed lodge, and dinner under the stars was a special treat. Check out my last report at http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=4&tid=35156025 for the 1st and 2nd August.

    Now I have some other destinations on my list for 2010. Luderitz with accommodation at the Nest Hotel, http://www.nesthotel.com/
    Maybe into Kgalagadi via Bagatelle Game Ranch http://www.bagatelle-kalahari-gameranch.com/home.htm
    Then up to Swakop (accommodation at the Stiltz) before heading to Cape Cross, a day trip to Terrace Bay (don't know if this is doable, or if I should make it an overnight) then a couple of nights at Etendeka http://www.natron.net/tour/etendeka/ before maybe Kavita Lion Lodge http://www.kavitalion.com/
    or probably a return to Hobatere before Etosha. I'm hoping to include a 2 night stop at Okonjima as I enjoyed it so much in 2005.

    I met a couple who had booked through Safari Drive and they were very keen on Etendeka and they also enjoyed Purros. At the moment I have Purros as a definite maybe.

    We are planning on a mobile safari in Bots, however, I have discovered Xaro Lodge http://www.afrizim.com/Places/Botswana/Pan-Handle/Xaro.asp in the Okavango and think this would be an ideal spot for at least 3 nights of safari downtime to enjoy some birding from boats.

    I shall be travelling with a newbie and DF who will be on her second trip to Africa. I'm aiming for an itinerary that includes the top spots that I have already visited and that first timers shouldn't miss as well as some new places for all of us.

    Happy planning,

    Pol

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    Hi. I’ve followed the forum for a while without participating but now would just like to ask tokoloshe (and anyone else who could answer) a couple of questions:

    About the self-drive aspect of the trip - we’ve hired vehicles in SA before but never to use in ‘extreme’ conditions – when you read the small print on the hire contracts they seem to say you can’t drive even 4x4 vehicles off main roads, you are responsible for damage by water, liable for damage to the chassis etc etc even if you opt for zero excess insurance – the exclusions go on and on - so did you get any extra form of insurance for the type of driving you were doing? If we undertook your kind of trip we’d like to be sure we wouldn’t be liable for a huge bill if we did get stuck in some swamp.

    Most people seem to recommend the Brand guide book – does anyone know of a guide book which lists all accommodation from lodges to guest houses to campsites in a table with all the obvious info like address and phone number as well as ratings for each place such as ‘privacy’, ‘ambience’, ‘views’ etc? When we were in Namibia last year we met a couple with this guide book, about magazine size, which listed accommodation in Southern Africa – I’m so mad with myself for not taking note of the title, it was an excellent book for the independent traveller. I’ve looked in many bookstores and searched the internet but can’t find a trace of anything similar. Can anyone help?

    Thanks again, have very much enjoyed your report, you’ve given us the courage to try something more adventurous!

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    The easiest thing to do is decide on where you want to go in advance. With the tough decisions out of the way, then get yourself the Tracks4Africa map download to open on your pc http://tinyurl.com/a788ov (approx. $11) and see what is enroute or in the area you want to go to. This will cover nearly all the campsites and alot of inexpensive chalet accomodations. You can frequently google many of these places for their webpage or information on them. A few of the upmarket places, but not a lot are in T4A.

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    Concerning the rentals of vehicles, ask them to email their contract for review and insurance options. The cheapest deal is not always the best deal.

    You need to look for coverage that suits you.

    IMO,following the Bradt guide (if you are a self drive) is like following the blind. We have more experienced/knowledgeable off road drivers on this forum then the authors.

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    Thank you, we will get the downloaded maps, but what we liked about the book was that if you are driving around and haven't pre-booked you can look up the details of the accommodation in that area and decide if it's suitable as well as having contact numbers. We don't always decide where we are staying in advance.

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    Thanks again for kind comments, it's been a pleasure to relive the experience!

    Pol,
    Thanks for the input, appreciate the suggestions, I had already seen your report but good to give it a re-read to get ideas . We also have Purros as a ‘definite maybe’, we got as far as Sesfontein on a previous trip, (after staying on the Palmwag concession, which is worth doing for the incredible scenery and black rhinos) so if we are in the Purros area we could try and get to Hobatere. We’re a little unsure about the terrain to Purros, the warnings are to travel with at least 2 vehicles, but can it be any worse than Chobe and Moremi?

    We are also very tempted by the Caprivi area, … but we’re tempted by everything we investigate and read about at the moment! We haven’t got so long this time, so we’ll need to plan a bit more carefully.

    How long will your 2010 trip be? I don’t think you can be disappointed by visiting the places you’ve seen before, and adding new places is an adventure. Xaro lodge was recommended by friends of ours who stayed there, and we liked the panhandle area of Botswana, certainly great for birding. Happy planning to you too!

    Mongoose,
    I can’t help with the second question, but would like to hear if you find this book, sounds good. Luangablondes is usually the person in the know regarding self-driving, or another self-driver with vast experience of Southern Africa is Canadian Robin, have you seen a guide like this Robin?? Maybe if you ask the question under its own thread you’ll find some residents of SA who can help.

    About the car, it’s always a slight worry that we’ll trash the car, to be honest! We didn’t get extra insurance, I doubt anyone issues it, and just hoped for the best. We used a recommended hire firm, which we’d used before, and felt that they would be fair with us, but you never know. I would be honest with the car hire people and tell them where you are going and double-check the small print and see that you are covered as much as possible. Friends of ours had an elephant rest it’s trunk on their car in the Kruger and caused some serious damage, luckily a passing car took a photo and gave them a copy which they gave to the car hire company and they didn’t even have to pay excess on the damage (Avis)! Maybe it’s another general question for the forum, if anyone has ever done serious damage to a car in off-road conditions and what the consequences were.

    Robin, get a move on!!! I’m sure I’ll end up adding Kgalagadi to the ‘definite maybe’ list if I read your next report, you always make places sound so attractive! Oh for more time to go everywhere.

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    I guess I was thinking of avoiding the insurance question. There are some issues here for renters.

    When getting quotes on rates, find out what is included(and excluded). I suggest you get Super cover with no excess or low excess.

    Be sure to go over the contract... and the fine print.

    Standard cover options will not usually include towing, tyre or windscreen damages but the excess advised by the rental company should. Ask about that.

    The choice of insurance can also depend what cover they get from their credit card or travel insurance, sometimes they have excess cover and then it may be best to go with standard insurance.

    People often save money by going with standard, being careful with the vehicle and making sure all docs are signed and cleared of damage before departing.

    Taking pictures when the keys are handed to you, and going over closely with the rep for damage, including the undercarriage.

    No insurance covers vehicle replacement on 4x4 rentals or specialised vehicles if in collisions and can't continue, client pays for new vehicle if he chooses to continue. Some have an issue with this but picture if you owned the vehicle and had an accident, you can't phone the dealer and order another to arrive, to continue you have to rent another. There are some hire companies that occasionally assist a client where accident was not their fault but this is out of goodwill and not contractual obligation.

    There are some rental companies who go to town after receiving the rental vehicle back- I've heard tales especially about some Namibia companies and from a rental company who did a couple subhires- and you get completely ripped off by the rental company. The credit card regulations however favour the card holder and they will invariably reverse any damages not completely agreed so client is often more protected than rental company.

    Now as far as taking a rental all over the place, often it is about taking your time or being judicious about where you are going and treating it like your own car.

    If you are adventurous and want to get off the beaten path (and damn few tourists)- depending on the length of time too, Zimbabwe and Zambia has a lot to offer in what you are looking for.

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    The only book I have seen that sounds remotely like it, but is only South Africa not Southern Africa is:

    "The Travel Guide to South African Craft Sites" I have the 2004 edition - there is a more recent edition. www.duesouthcraftroute.co.za.

    I happened upon it in a CT bookstore while on sabbatical.

    It is an excellent book, organized by province and includes maps, places to stay, places to see and of course, craft sites from all over SA. It is a much more extensive book than the name implies - much more than just craft sites. The maps are excellent and the book gives all the necessary contact info.

    I would highly recommend the book to anyone driving in South Africa.

    You can get the book online from Due South (it takes a while!) or at the new Due South store on the main street of Franschhoek in the Winelands. The store is worth a visit!

    Sorry Tockoloshe - busy time at work so my trip report on SA and Namibia has slowed down. Perhaps I will start posting as I go rather than waiting until it is finished. Robin

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    Tockoloshe,

    I'm planning for around 8 weeks in 2010. Still in the very preliminary stages of planning and watching the AU$ drop with a sickening feeling.

    Yesterday I had a moment of inspiration that I am going to run past my fellow travellers. We want to miss most of the winter at home so would like to travel in Africa in July and August 2010. Only problem is the World Cup could put a squeeze on accommodation in JNB where we have to overnight. One alternative I thought of was to fly Perth-Mauritius and then into Nairobi to do an itinerary that we cancelled last year due to 'the troubles'. Although the prices will be in US$, there is a wide range of accommodation in Kenya and there will be 3 of us to split the vehicle/guide costs.

    I also think that Aberdares, Nakuru, Naivasha and Tsavo with possibly Samburu and Shaba on the front will give my newbie friend more of a traditional safari than say Kgalagadi. I sponsor a boy at St Judes School and this would allow me to visit him and have a trip to West Kilimanjaro NP before meeting up with the others in NBO and heading to Nanyuki.

    I so enjoying spinning the cube to see what safari combinations are possible. This itinerary could be timed to put us in JNB when most of the WC people have left and the pressure is off accommodation and flights.

    I'm away to find Kimburu's Tsavo report.

    Cheers,


    Pol

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    Mongoose, I forgot to mention that we also have an insurance policy to cover the excess on a car hire policy, you refuse the car hire company excess cover and are covered instead by your own policy. It covers tyres and windscreens which many zero excess policies don't. Only problem is that they will insure a 4x4 but not if you have any cooking equioment on board, so not appicable if you hire all the camping equipment. I'm not sure if I can say the name here but if you google 'excess insurance' you should find it ...
    "xxx insurance covers you not only for the total amount of Excess for which you are liable if the car is damaged or stolen, but also for damage to the roof and undercarriage of the car, and windows and tyres."
    I don't know where you are based, might only be avialable in UK.

    A pity we can't track down your guidebook, I know there's a good bookshop in JNB airport, will have a look there next time we pass through.

    Pol, the exchange rate is a worry - Sterling ain't doing too well either! Doesn't bode well for our trip to Oz later in year, which is why we have to keep to a tighter budget on this year's Africa trip. Your ideas for 2010 Kenya trip look great, would like to do something like that, and Canadian Robin's 2009 trip looks good too, ... as well as Zambia (always championed by luangwablondes!) We hope to go to all these places in the near future, but all need a bigger budget and more planning, at least we know our way around Namibia & Bots and are comfortable winging it a bit this time.

    Robin, only joking about your report of course, real life does sometimes intrude on our Africa time! That arts & crafts book sounds good, would be worth a return visit to SA just to follow their suggestions!

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    Not to worry - I just have to get a map of our route together and then I will start posting the trip report in stages! This morning, I made up my list of highlights and there are many - always the sign of a successful trip! Robin

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    Thanks for your replies and advice.

    luangwablondes - I did see that book and in fact thought it was the one I wanted, and bought it online without seeing it first. It was a disappointment, glossy pages but short on detail. Appreciate you taking time to look though. I'm still looking!

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    luangwablondes,
    The information on campsites is useful for me - sorry I saw you posted a while ago but didn't see it before now. Interesting to see comments about safety & security, not something you usually find in a guide book. Thanks.

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    hi luangwablondes
    just checking back to this report to check out some info and saw your link to bookshop, thanks for that, will have a look and see if I can find my elusive book for next trip.

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    mongoose
    Is this it? "Roadside Geology of Namibia" describes what you see as you are driving the roads and trails of Namibia written by Gabi Schneider. She was head of the Namib Geological Survey.It covers most of Namibia and has pen drawings of what you see as you are driving.


    ISBN 3-443-15080-2/ISSN 0343-737 X
    2004 by Gerbruder Borntraeger, Berlin-Stuttgart
    http://www.borntraeger-cramer.de

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    luangwablondes
    You're a brilliant researcher, thanks for trying but that's not it either, what I saw was much more of a tourist guide. I'm travelling through JNB in July so will look in the bookshop there, I remember they have a good selection of travel books, and I'll certainly let you know if I find it.

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    Hi mongoose
    If you're still looking I found this excellent guide book which sounds like what you are looking for, but it only covers Namibia, not southern Africa:

    'Journey by car through Namibia'

    http://www.az.com.na/tourismus/reisetipp/you-just-want-to-hit-the-road-when-you-page-this-guide.19976.php

    (I googled the title and this is the only reference to it I found, not on Amazon or other bookstores, I got my copy in Windhoek)

    The article explains it well, but I particularly liked the section listing all campsites with facilities and a 'privacy and noise level' rating - I tested it out on the campsites I've been to and it seems pretty accurate. The edition I bought was 2006 so it might be a bit out of date now but still a good tool to have if you're touring.

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