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Namibia & Botswana self-drive planning!

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Finally, it's that time of the year again! The time when we start planning the 2011 African trip :D So I open this topic in order to ask all my questions here instead of hijacking other threads (and undoubtedly there are going to be lots of questions!)

So, I'm in the process of designing an itinerary and have been wondering this: Is the drive from Etosha (Namutoni) to Bagani doable in one day ? I know it is going to be tiring, but is it doable ? And if yes, how many hours will it be ? If I got my info right it's about 700 km... what's the condition of the road ?

Thanks!

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    I myself can't help here as I am not a self-driver safarista.

    There is a forum, mainly in German because many Germans post there, but certainly you will get quality advise there as those posters are mainly into self-drive in any of the Southern Africa destinations incl. Nam and Bot.
    Many drivers even have market all the routes with GPS data.

    Just give it a try

    http://www.namibia-forum.ch/forum/latest.html?lang=de

    Of course becoming a member is FOC.

    Happy planning!

    ((@))

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    Look here for the on-line Tracks4Africa Namibia and Botswana paper maps. There is a drop down menu to navigate to each map. Also, you can zoom in and out. You will find some of the answers you need to get started. There are T4A digital maps that load to you pc if you really want to have an excellent planning tool.

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    Thanks for the responses! So it looks like it's perfectly doable.

    I registered in that German forum and I will also post there!

    I already have the T4A digital maps; I have used them in 4 countries so far and they are great. I didn't know I can use them to calculate travel times!

    Next question: What do you think of the Caprivi Strip regarding wildlife ? Are there places/parks you would recommend if wildlife is the most important priority ? What about the Mahangu National Park ?

    Thanks!

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    We visited Mahangu in 2008 - this is what I said about it at the time:

    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.

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    Thanks tockoloshe, very informative and pretty much what I suspected. I noticed that you have camped in Botswana in the past, can you please tell me which company you used for car & equipment rental and whether you were satisfied with them ?


    Another question: I'm thinking about camping in the Chobe and Moremi for 8-9 days, but it would be nice if I could spend a night in a lodge in-between the two parks. Basic or medium will do. A plus would be if they could offer a game walk in a wildlife-dense area. Any suggestions ?

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    I don't know of any lodges between Chobe & Moremi which do walking trails. We tried to find something similar but failed. But if you stay in Kasane (Chobe Safari Lodge) you could either camp and use all the Lodge facilities (pool, bar, restaurant, boat trips etc) or stay in the hotel (not really a lodge in the Africa sense!), and drive into Chobe on a daily basis, not far at all.

    There's a bit more about the area and camping in Moremi in my trip report here:
    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/affordable-botswana---trip-report-aug-sept-08.cfm

    Check out Canadian robin’s report on self driving through Botswana – she writes in great detail and covers a couple areas we haven’t – boat trip on the Ichobezi Mukwae, Namibia, for example

    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/self-drive-nxai-pan-moremi-chobe---august-2008.cfm

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    Thanks tockoloshe! I've read all of Robin's trip reports aleady :)

    What do you think we should definitely not miss while in Namibia and Botswana ? Our primary interest is wildlife, so Etosha, Moremi and Chobe are indispensable. Now, here are some things I've been reading that "nobody should miss":

    - Sossusvlei, Deadvlei: the dunes
    - Seals at Cape Cross
    - Africat
    - Camping in Damaraland (where ?)
    - Kubu Island in Makgadikgadi Pans
    - Grassland Bushman Lodge (or other lodge) for visiting the Bushmen
    - Khama Rhino Sanctuary
    - Mokoro trip
    - Chobe river boat trip
    - Flight over Okavango
    - Victoria Falls

    Now, obviously we can't do all of the above unless we forget completely about the National Parks. But if we were to choose just a few of the above (or something else maybe), what would you suggest ?

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    It’s really hard to say what to miss out rather than what to put in.

    I’ll do my best, I’ll combine some of our trips into one perfect itinerary: (the extracts are from previous trip reports)

    Windhoek to Sossusvlei/Deadvlei: the dunes – worth heading that way for the scenery but short on wildlife, might depend on time restraints.

    Sossusvlei to Swakopmund/Walvis Bay: for the seals at Cape Cross and stunning wild scenery along the coast, I’m glad we saw it but would swap Etosha/Chobe for this if short on time, just from the wildlife angle.

    Swakopmund to Damaraland (via Twyfelfontein?): We liked Palmwag Camp and had our first experience of bush camping on the Palmwag concession. The wildlife is much more skittish than the parks, but that was also an attraction, to see a herd of zebra thundering past was quite a sight and the scenery was amazing. We passed a few elephants and giraffe wandering along the road too - and none of this is a national park.

    We didn’t explore much more of Damaraland – another trip perhaps!

    If you are passing and have time give yourself a couple hours break at Twyfelfontein to see the rock art, it’s not wildlife but it’s different.

    Damaraland to Etosha: I’m sure you’ve heard enough about Etosha, we found you need time to sit and enjoy the wildlife and not try to dash through.

    Looks like to have in mind Etosha to Bagani, is that because you have Ngepi in mind? We liked it for the cabins – a change from camping – but not for the ambience, the staff thought they were the stars of the show and not the guests. The mokoro trip there was enjoyable, but not as good as Moremi.

    (I can't do italics or anything here so an extract from a previous trip report is in brackets - if that makes sense)

    ( The Tree-houses are made 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!)

    Looks like you’re planning the Caprivi strip after that – that one’s still on our ‘to do’ list, but I know it’s pretty easy to get to Kasane for access to Chobe & Vic Falls. We have found opinions to be mixed, locals seem to think the wildlife is a waste of time (the owners of Grasslands said they have been several times and have always found it disappointing) but tourists seem to like it.

    Chobe: Chobe river boat trip – another definite ‘must do’, while the larger boats have been described as ‘noisy’ it’s still a great trip. We wanted to hire a small boat but they were all taken while we were there.

    (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)

    Victoria Falls: personally I don’t think you need more than a day trip from Chobe, and visiting Zimbabwe & the town & market was interesting in itself. Take a trip from a lodge, it’s not worth the hassle to take the car across the border.

    (Vic Falls Day trip (about 60U$ per person) to Zimbabwe side (in 2008). 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 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 him 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)

    Looks like you want to do the infamous drive from Chobe to Moremi – plenty of info on that on the 4x4 forum. But it seems to be very wet and forecast to stay that way, the roads are not easy, but it seems where there’s a will (and a tow rope) there’s a way.

    Moremi: we spent 9 night there last visit and could have stayed longer – if it’s wildlife you want it’ll come and find you. We were lucky to catch Moremi before all this privatisation business, you knew you could turn up at a campsite and they wouldn’t turn you away – just pay the guys there. Now if you don’t have a booking you don’t get in, and it seems strictly enforced.

    Mokoro trip – yes definitely must do if you are in Moremi

    (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. 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)

    also boat trip from Xaxacaxa.

    (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)(2008) 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.)

    Moremi to Maun: Flight over Okavango – an extravagance for us but also a highlight.

    (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 - overlaid the track onto Google Earth).

    Maun to Makgadikgadi Pans?
    Kubu Island in Makgadikgadi Pans – would love to have driven there but didn’t have time. I see there’s a post on the 4x4 forum where someone asks if it can be done in a day from Planet Boabab ... maybe get some info there. Planet Boabab is a good base for the area, and the sleepout on the pans and the visit to the meerkats was a definite highlight for us, but didn’t think much of the setup (but who cares if they deliver the goods).

    (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). 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.)

    Makgadikgadi Pans back to Windhoek via Grashland Bushman Lodge for visiting the Bushmen – Definitely Grasslands if you can do the Bushman walks- another highlight. We loved the campsite too (despite the encounter with the snake in the toilet) but we had it all to ourselves, maybe if other people were camping there it wouldn’t be the same experience.

    (Grasslands – it’s worth going for the Bushman experience alone, and of course it generates income for them. Neeltjie took us to see them on 2 occasions – once to their small temporary settlement to see them playing traditional games and dancing, and a second afternoon to follow them around whilst they gathered food and explained – through Neeltjie – how they use certain plants, then made a fire and cooked various items of bush food for us. We were extremely lucky to have what seemed like the whole community with us, the kids were not at school and joined in enthusiastically. They were gathering some food ‘for real’, not just for show, in fact it got quite late but we couldn’t make for home until they’d found a particular plant they wanted that day!
    I am VERY wary of so-called ‘cultural experiences’, and usually find even the idea of them excruciatingly embarrassing. This was something totally natural and you didn’t feel that you were intruding, on the contrary they were so happy to be able to show guests their traditional ways, and got terribly offended if we didn’t take photos. We were the only guests with Neeltjie (as translator) on this activity, so it was truly personal and intimate. It was also good to hear that it’s a good day’s entertainment for them too, they did it with such good humour and obvious enjoyment . We agreed that it was the highlight of this trip.)

    Africat : difficult to fit on this itinerary unless you miss out Sossusvlei, Swakopmund & Damaraland and head straight up to Etosha. We love it, visited 4 times, if you want to see leopard this is the place. Found the last visit a little bit of a letdown they’ve ‘gone commercial’ and everything is slick and organised, we preferred it when it was homely and disorganised! We were also lucky to visit the first time before it got so publicised and the bush camp was the same price as the main camp – now the bush camp is way out of our price bracket and the main camp has no atmosphere. However I repeat that the game spotting is excellent .

    (Then we went on to a favourite destination of ours, Africat 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 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).

    Khama Rhino Sanctuary – don’t know it but people speak highly of it, but it seems a bit out of your way unless you do decide to drive back to SA. Hopefully you’ll have ‘done’ rhino in Etosha, there were always a few in the waterhole at Okaukuejo when we visited.

    I think the danger is trying to do too much, we've done that before, but I perfectly understand that you also want to do as much as possible. Solution? Plan 2 (or more) trips!!!

    Hope this helps
    Happy planning

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    We really wanted to go on the Zambezi Queen but they were having what appeared to be shake down problems earlier this year and the boat never left its dock for the entire time we were in Chobe. And by then the Ichobezi Safari Boat was booked. I was really disappointed.

    Gemma at Discover Namibia (she answered a question above) suggested staying at the Garden Lodge in Kasane, which we did for 3 days. In the end we were so much happier that we did. Staying on land gave us the best of both worlds - Garden Lodge is on the river so you can (and do) easily tour by boat plus they have vehicles for land based touring. Mainly we really enjoyed the staff and management at Garden Lodge and it's a lot less expensive than the Zambezi Queen.

    http://www.thegardenlodge.com/

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    From my maps and based on driving in the area, I would guess closer to 30 minutes for the drive to South Gate.

    We loved the Ichobezi - see middle of page 29 of my trip report (link below) for my description of our trip down the Chobe on the Ichobezi Mukwae in 2009 - there are many photos. I have no experience with the Zambezi Queen other than we saw it moored in the Chobe River while on our trip - it appeared to be out of service. The Queen is a much bigger boat, so that may also influence your decision. Robin

    http://bert-and-bin.smugmug.com/Travel/Botswana-2008/6570901_ZUKvn

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    Yes, I have searched the forum for "Ichobezi" :)

    Robin, you said you have used the Veronica Roodt maps, among others. I see there are several of them for Botswana (eg, look at this page: http://www.omnimap.com/catalog/int/botswana.htm) Did you use the ones for the specific parks as well, and if yes, did you find them useful ?

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    In addition to the Roodt Botswana map (2007 edition is the latest, I believe), we had the Chobe and Moremi maps. The Botswana map was useful given that we drove in from Namibia, and the Chobe and Moremi maps were helpful when we were in the parks themselves. Even though we had a GPS and the Tracks4Africa map, with our routes and waypoints all entered ahead of time, the paper maps were especially useful when we were deciding where we wanted to head on a game drive. We tended to use the paper maps to find our way around, and the GPS to confirm that we were where we thought we were. Robin

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