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Trip Report Botswana delivers in spades in the Green Season

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I have just returned from a short Botswana Green season safari- we were at three camps for 8 days, Kwara/Little Kwara and Duba Plains. My party of three were mainly interested in photography. We had hired a private vehicle throughout and at Kwara paid for a specific guide I had wanted- Hobbs.
The safari was amazing- we loved Botswana. The weather gods smiled on us- it never rained for more than a few minutes while we were in the vehicle on game drive; all the rain was at night and on the last day post game drive when we were leaving. The sun was harsh but the temperatures in the shade pleasant. Pure luck but great!
I will attempt to do a trip report later but will just put down some summary points below:
Best decisions: The Private Vehicles and paying for Hobbs- he was exceptional.
Game drives: We averaged 13 hours a day on game drives mostly in one shot (5.30 am to 7 pm) except one day broken into a morning and afternoon/night drive. The PV gave us complete flexibility and was an absolute must have. I would not do a safari without it. Both camp vehicles were great (3 rows with one for each of us) but the Kwara one was better, newer and slightly larger. Critical factor was the roof on both vehicles not just for rain as I had expected, but to protect against the harsh sun all day and for branches that would enter the vehicle above us while speeding through rough terrain. It was tough enough watching for thorns/branches from the sides rather than the top as well.
Concessions: Kwara was fantastic as expected, with a tremendous diversity of game viewing habitat. Duba Plains was also as expected but wetter than Kwara with a lot more inaccessible areas and much smaller. A max of 4 nights here in my view unless buffaloes are present.
Guides: Hobbs was exceptional- single best guide I have ever had, with amazing intuition, professionalism and a no-nonsense, yet friendly attitude. He was also very photographer oriented and understood light, framing and vehicle positioning intuitively. Our guide at Duba Plains was also very good, he along with every guide I met at DP knew Hobbs- many of them had worked at Kwando in the past. Kwando’s tracker, was also a plus, as four eyes are better than one. DP has no tracker
Game viewing: Fantastic, but we worked hard staying out long hours, were very patient and worked with the guides.
Highlights:
• Start to finish Cheetah kill where a mother cheetah took down a red lechwe with a 1 km start time. Hobbs was amazing in figuring out what was going to happen, interrupting our lunch while we all watched the Cheetahs (mother plus three sub-adult cubs) and racing the vehicle towards the kill, all the time careful to not influence in any way predator to victims.
• Start to finish Lion kill at DP with the legendary Ma-di-ta (from the Last Lions movie) after four hours with the pride (best sundowner of my life with lions all around), the kill in pitch black at 8 pm viewed by spotlight, also a red lechwe.
• 5 male lions (of the magnificent seven at Kwara) right outside camp- spent three hours plus and alerted camp staff who came out to see them in a vehicle with the manager of LK. We were literally 3 to 25m from them for the three hours. Also, experienced my first live full blown lion roar.
• 6 bachelor Elephants playing in a pool with one diving to the bottom with the soles of his feet visible and the trunk out like a snorkel (Kwara).
• A full afternoon with three 6 month old lion cubs (Ma-di-tau’s latest litter) witnessing their behavior together for 4 hours at DP. This was an exceptional afternoon with the cubs playing and posing on a beautiful dead tree branch that had diorect views of the open plains of Duba Plains and looked often in one direction that appeared to signify where their mother had last headed.
• A full day spent at the Tsum-Tsum plains in Kwara with exceptional tracking leading to the famous 3 cheetah brothers who were on a mound beginning a hunt (the hunt failed). Spent two hours at a distance of 10m from them, very relaxed with vehicles. Saw a huge male leopard but he was shy and we could spend about 15 minutes with him. Saw a male lion resting (No.6 of the magnificent 7). Never saw the 7th whom Hobbs thinks is dead as no one has seen him for months.
• A sundowner after two hours of tracking a male lion at Kwara with Hobbs saying its unlikely we will find him, then hearing a loud roar close by. We drove 200m into a thicket and could hear their breathing- had a tire puncture in pitch black. Hobbes changed the tire in record time with the tracker and the rest of us frantically shinning lights all around and seeing at least one pair of lion eyes. Within 25m we found a male lion polishing off a zebra and three females. Spent an hour and radioed other 2 LK vehicles who joined us but respectfully gave us the best position literally a few meters from this huge male lion.
• A huge crocodile jumping clear out of the vehicle right behind our vehicle as it was moving backwards trying to climb out of a hole in deep water. Several sightings of very large monitor lizards.
• Boat and mekero at Kwara- the boat trip with Hobbs as captain led us to see a Sitatunga deer that I understand is very rare. An unexpected and exceptional boat ride at Duba Plains with a boat guide who had spent a decade at Xigera and has now been brought to expand DPs activities. We called it body surfing with Hippos!
• Lots more- large schools of Red Lechwes ( several hundred at DP), journeys of Giraffe, Zebras and impalas by the hundreds (Kwara, none at DP) etc, etc, well over a 50 bird species including a dozen different raptors. Only two things we missed- at Kwara Wild Dogs, and at Duba Plains buffaloes. The latter is a complicated story but the buffalo lion interaction is now much rarer at DP, mainly because the buffalo are often in an inaccessible spot on paradise island for weeks or even month+ at a time. DP is careful not to advertise this but my sense is it’s now hit or miss (with emphasis on the latter) for buffalo at DP. I say this as another person I know was at DP for several days in December and the buffaloes were in paradise island for 3 weeks then and have been away again for almost a month.

Soft Product:
Kwara met our (low) expectations. The bed was comfortable, the shower had hot water, the bathroom was subpar . The tents are definitely tired and the bathrooms desperately need an upgrade. Food was OK. No charging in tent, confusion recovering chargers etc, have to self wash “smalls”; but we barely spent time in camp except at night so it was fine.
Little Kwara is a definite upgrade from Kwara but for the one night we were there (Kwara was full that night when we had originally booked and they moved us to LK), we had no hot water and the water supply was muddy. The service, tents and food were a definite uptick from Kwara.
Duba Plains was in a different league and exceeded expectations. The manager Lizzy runs a tight ship. Everything was perfect and the look and feel of the place is definitely high end. The tents had plenty of electricity with a charging station, indoor and outdoor showers, much better rooms, fans, mossie nets etc, etc. Moreover, the common and dining area ambiance was top notch, the crystal and tableware high end, bottles of brut and rose champagne beautifully displayed on ice with pewter flutes served to guests each evening, etc etc. The chef Jack was very good and the food was great. Every time we entered camp the managers plus staff would we waiting with cold towels post game drive. Both breakfast snacks and lunch were packed everyday and we were told no problem if we came back for lunch they would serve us hot food.
As an added bonus, both the Jouberts were at Duba Plains along with an American TV crew for the famous 60 minutes program that is doing a segment on the Jouberts. We did not get to see them as they have their own home near camp, but when we were out with the Lion cubs we received a radio call to our vehicle saying Dereck was asking where the cubs were !!
I now firmly believe Botswana, or at least the delta, in the Green Season is the best kept secret and the way to go. More than anything, the lush landscape greatly added to the overall safari ambiance and I would not trade in the gently swaying tall grasses in the balmy breeze for better game viewing in short grass with dust and cold in the winter season. The downsides of more difficult game viewing conditions and rain are an acceptable trade.
Overall a fantastic trip.

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