A bit of a (very) late post but better late than never as they say…..
We took this trip two Decembers ago at the height of the worst drought in years. The heat was intense, the wildlife sightings were incredible and the Kalahari storms were amazing.
Hope you enjoy the read and if it helps you with some future trip planning, I’m happy. Failing that, a good old armchair safari is always welcome….
18 Dec – JHB – Khama Rhino Sanctuary
4am departure, easy drive to border, there by 9am. Bit of a messy queue on SA side, people pushing in, truckers phoning their “brothers” and giving them places in the queue. In the end, it took us an hour to get thru and more or less the same on Bots side, which was far better managed and minus the rude idiots from SA side.
Finally arrived at KRS around 2pm, campsite was lovely, 2 huge trees provided a good and much needed spread of shade in the centre with water on site and ablutions nearby.
After unloading table, chairs and a few odds & sods, we grabbed a cold drink and sat and chilled in camp until 4ish when we took a drive to the bird hide. Not much to see….a few terrapins sunning themselves on various rocks & logs. After that we drove to Malema Pan but it was incredibly hot, very little cloud cover and just a few Impala around. A few rhino could be seen off in the distance.
Back in camp the fire was lit, dinner was a precooked cottage pie we heated on the fire. After a shower (cute little squirrels asleep on the rafters in the ablution block and several dead members of the cast of Bugs Life in the shower cubicle) we then hit the sack, only to be kept awake by locals at the next campsite yelling and screaming, driving their bakkie up and down revving the engine. Even AJ yelling at them didn’t help. Not sure what time we eventually slept, but when I did, I was out like a light.
19 Dec – KRS
After tea & rusks for brekkie, we headed out to complain at reception about last night’s disturbance with promises from management that they would remove the culprits. We then went on to check out Malema Pan again, which was a good move as we ended up sitting there for about 2 hours watching some awesome interaction between a flock of about 20 vultures. Dipping each wing into the water and having a good old cool down and then moving onto the bank and spreading out their wings to dry off. Nearby, 2 male impala were rutting and eventually 3 rhino, including a baby, came down to drink and then flopped down in the sand to sleep. We also sat watching a male and female ostrich with their 4 very young babies, too cute.
Leaving them to it, we then took a long drive around the pan back to the bird hide. Had a great, but very brief sighting of a Diederich’s cuckoo in the sun out in the open but gone before I could get camera to eye. Various other birds including red faced mousebirds & southern pied babblers, neither of which I’ve seen before.
With the heat overcoming us, we headed back to camp and after a snack lunch, we parked off in our camp chairs in the shade. With no cloud and very little breeze, it was hot.
Hearing a noise, we looked up to see a full grown rhino grazing from the hedge at the edge of the campsite. Sneaky bigger must have tip toed in!!! We quietly moved to the side of the car and watched him as he ambled on his merry way through the bush (literally) to the next campsite, stopping only to mark his territory with the force of a firemans hose pipe. Great sighting and experience!
Back in my camp chair, I nodded off at some point. AJ woke me around 4pm so we could go for a late arvy drive. Opting for the bird hide due to the heat, we sat there for a while, nothing much happening. We returned to a much quieter camp as management had removed the noisy bunch from next door.
Another easy meal and an early night as tomorrow was early rise and off to Central.
20 Dec – KRS – CKGR (Kori 3)
Dreadful nights sleep, and super early wake up call courtesy of some loud birds in the branch next to my head. On the road by 7am, we made a pitstop in Lethlakane for fuel, wood and some extra provisions.
The ever changing landscape made for good photography….dense green bush giving way to flat open plains with low dry scrub which then slowly disappeared all together into white salt pans. Due to the dry conditions, cattle & donkey carcasses littered the roadside.
Filling the tank with a few more litres of diesel at Rakops, we turned off at the sign to Central, let down the tyres and drive the 40 odd kms to the gate. The entrance to the park was pretty jacked, good information given out by the guy on duty as well as a game sighting chart which showed plenty views of cheetah, wild dog and lion around the park. According to the guy, there had been no rain since 14 Dec, no thunderstorms and no water available at all, even at the gate, and it was hot!!!!
The drive to Kori 2, our first stop for 2 nights was about 90 mins from the gate on good sandy roads. The park was incredibly dry, a winter landscape with summertime temperatures. Our friends Xen & Adri were already in camp when we rolled in. The heat was intense but fortunately a good strong wind was blowing to occasionally cool us down. The spray water bottles we’d packed were a godsend. The resident ground squirrels and slender mongoose popped in to say hi as well as the bird life.
Later as the sun set, the drop in temperature was marked, and very welcome. The barking gecko’s came to life as the sun set and we hit the sack around 9.30.
21 Dec – Kori 3
Not a great night sleep, heard a spotted eagle owl nearby in the early hours and we were up with the birds. After tea and rusks, we headed out for a game drive before it got too hot. Locating the pan, we took a slow drive along the edge and before long we saw our first bat eared foxes with 2 youngsters. Unfortunately they were a tad skittish and the pups went to ground and the adults legged it. But we managed to get some good shots. Gemsbok snoozed in the shade.. Taking the lead from the gemsbok, we found a nice shady spot next to a small copse of trees and sat watching the bird life for a while, enjoying the stiff breeze blowing thru the car. Returning to camp, we found 3 jackal en route.
Back in camp, the heat was almost unbearable, water spray bottles were certainly earning their keep. Entertaining ourselves under the gazebo, we whiled the afternoon away playing Rummikub and moving as little as possible. As the afternoon wore on, the clouds began to steadily build up until eventually distant thunder could be heard.
Xen poured water into his shower tray and we caught some great shots of the birds, squirrels and mongoose all coming to drink. Earlier a sparrow landed on our table looking for water. I filled a bottle cap with water and this little sparrow hopped onto the rim and drank. How they survive with so little water is amazing.
By dinner time, around 8ish, there was not a breath of wind and so humid but there was plenty of lightning going on in the distance. Adri made a comment about there being so few scorpions in camp and at the same time flashed her ultraviolet light under the table. Well was there not a small scorpion casually sitting on AJ’s ankle!!!
While Adri & I flapped and panicked, AJ calmly told us to calm down and get a camera!! After pictures were taken, Xen then rather unceremoniously flicked it off with the braai tongs and it went to ground. Shortly after that, as we were getting ready for bed, Xen and Adri found a barking gheko out of its hole, managed to get a few pics of that was well.
What an action packed day in terms of first sightings…. Foxes, scorpions that were attached to ankles and a barking gheko. Eventually we retired with little hope of any rain.
Well did we experience our 1st Kalahari thunderstorm that night? I woke up at some point to the wind howling and the most incredible lightning going on all around us. At one point there was such a strong gust that it pulled the front tent flap off the pole and the pole went flying. With the flap now loose, and flapping rather loudly, AJ got up to retrieve the pole and fix the flap. I could even feel the dust blowing through the mesh. At last I could smell rain and down it came, not torrential but a good steady fall. I drifted in and out of sleep all night with the sound of the wind and thunder. Thankfully we’d packed away most of our stuff the night before so didn’t have to worry too much about stuff getting wet.
22 Dec – Kori 3 – Letiahau
It was still raining when we got up so it was a rather soggy pack up this morning after last nights storm. The drive to Letiahau made for great game viewing…. Plenty bat eared foxes, including a small group with a few pups, kori bustards around every corner, gemsbok, springboks and jackals everywhere. Deception Pan proved to be a rather interesting drive to get around, clearly there had been some good rain there overnight as the ground was thick cotton soil mud. With Xen in the lead, his trailer wheels became so clogged with mud they eventually stopped turning. Front wheels spinning to keep grip, trailer dragging along leaving a smooth track in its wake.
Two hours later, we arrived at Letiahau. A rough but very attractive campsite with no ablutions but good shade and fairly open. An attempt to have a snooze in the tent that afternoon proved fruitless, sweating buckets and no breeze, I gave up and relaxed under the gazebo instead. A quiet afternoon, not even a squirrel in sight, but at least it was marginally cooler than yesterday.
With an almost full moon, there was little need for any form of lighting that evening. A scout around with the ultraviolet torch found us a scorpion in a hole in the ground. The stars were scant due to the bright moonlight and it was a relatively quiet evening.
23 Dec – Letiahau
Up super early this morning, before the sun, we threw the rooftop down, made a cup of tea for the road and headed off to find the lions. They’d been roaring all night and pretty close. The sun popped up over the horizon and the moody sky made for beautiful photographs. Lightning in the distance added to the scenery.
We drove the 7kms to the waterhole but found nothing there. The stagnant water was a bit niffy. Using the moody sky as a Kalahari backdrop, we took some group shots. A lion carcass lay nearby, possibly died from old age, or territorial fighting, it’s one remaining paw still had fur and was pretty big.
Picking up the lion roaring again back near camp, we headed back and in the thick scrub, we found a big male lion walking towards the waterhole. Reversing alongside him, he sadly disappeared into the bush and we lost him. Thunder and lightning all around, we continued past camp and drove about 3 kms further on, but besides a herd of springbok, a couple of jackals and Kori bustards, nothing else could be seen, so we turned around and headed back to camp.
The heavens opened and it poured for about 10 mins. Various tubs and buckets were put out to catch the rainwater for use in the shower later. We could still hear the lion roaring nearby.
Checking the camera trap we’d set up the night before, we found images of jackal, a great shot with a jackal and an owl on the ground in the background, scrub hare and an African wild cat.
The rest of the day was spent reading, sleeping and the odd game of Rummikub.
We opted for a late arvy game drive so Xen & Adri headed to the waterhole, we took a left turn and followed the road for about 10kms before turning round. Not much to be seen, the usual Kori’s, gemsbok and a big herd of springbok grazing in the low evening light.
Off to the east, huge thunder clouds were building with lightning flashing and faint thunder, a promise of more rain? Back at camp, the wind started and with the ominous storm approaching, we battened down the hatches. Taking shelter up against the car, we soon realised this was in fact a huge dust storm approaching so prepping of dinner was put on hold. It was like being on the beach….wind blasting the sand that it stung legs, ankles and filled eyes with grit. Gradually the wind died, a small smattering of rain fell and that was it! What an anti climax.
That night we heard the lion roar once and that was it. The wind came up again at some point, waking me up with flapping of the tent and a few drops of rain, other than that, an uneventful night.
24 Dec – Letiahau – Passarge 2
Another early morning wake up call so we could get on the road to Passarge Valley. Fortunately with us packing most of the camp the previous night, there wasn’t too much to do. On the road by 7am, we passed a few bat eared fox and unfortunately missed a few good shots of Kori’s in flight. Their wingspan is huge, possibly wider than a vulture.
“Lion” came Adri over the 2 way radio…… Putting foot we probably drove a good 2 kms before we caught up with them.
6 lions resting in the shade quite far off the road and typical lions, once they’d sussed us out, down went all the heads. Even us climbing out the vehicle and walking around warranted only one female feeling the urge to sit up.
Carrying on, we eventually took separate tracks. Xen & Adri carrying on the camp, we took a detour and went to check out Tau Pan. And was it worth it!! Beautiful….. A massive pan, green, vast and empty. Not a tree to be seen except a few dotted around the perimeter. With the heat of the day already at 36 degrees at 11am, all the wildlife had retreated to shade.
Stopping to take a 7 shot panorama to be stitched in Photoshop at a later stage, the heat shimmer from across the pan created an illusion of a lake in the. Centre.. Following the perimeter road around the pan, we came across a small tree under which a gemsbok and 5 jackal sheltered in the shade. So strange to see two vastly different animal types in such small confines, jackals almost under the gemsbok.
The road eventually took us round to a ridge on which was Tau Pan Lodge….. The only lodge in the whole of Central that offers 5 star accommodation and fly ins from Maun.
Heading away from the pan, we spotted a journey of 8 or 9 giraffe. I took over the driving from there through to Passarge 2, our next stop for 2 nights. Crossing a dune road made for some fun driving but the wildlife was scarce, tucked away in the shade to escape the heat. Apart from near misses when steenbok shot out in front of the car from the bushes they were resting in next to the road, there was nothing.
Passing only one other car en-route, we entered Passarge Valley. Not really a valley by English standards, more like a long basin, apparently 40kms in length, it was very open and incredibly green. After we’d passed Passarge 3, we pulled into Passarge 2, a good 20kms further along. It was beautiful. A little lacking in shade, but the view certainly made up for it!!
A working bucket shower and stinky long drop were nearby. Grabbing the last shade spot, AJ then set about rigging up additional shade so that once done, we would have blended fabulously into a Bedouin camp in the Sahara.. The rest of the day was spent chilling in camp, under the gazebo with a stiff breeze and spritzer bottles to keep us cool.
As the sun dropped, the colours changed on the pan to a golden light. The gemsbok and springbok unearthed themselves from the copse of trees in the middle of the pan and spread out grazing in the cooler conditions. The moonlight that night was surreal, casting shadows as strong as day. Lion roaring far off in the distance could be heard. As we prepared dinner, Adri discovered a mouse up on the table helping itself to our food.
At some point in the night, Xen’s car alarm woke us up and a couple of birds screeching loudly nearby.
Dec 25 – Passarge 2
Xmas Day. Up early as the sun was beaming straight into the tent by 6am. As Adri was busying herself at the back of the Cruiser, she suddenly shrieked….the mouse from last night had clearly made its way back into the car and had a feast overnight. Rusk boxes and biscuit packaging chewed, he wouldn’t be hungry for a while! Spotting him trying to squeeze himself through from the back of the drawer system, he eventually found a gap and bolted back into the depths of the car again.
Not moving from camp for the entire day, we sat and read, played Rummikub and just chilled. Once again the heat was intense and we were more than happy to feel the temperature drop around 4pm.
Xmas dinner was lovely,. The full moon lit up our surroundings, table done up by Adri and AJ cooked a rump fillet on the fire, served with salad and garlic bread. I spent most of the evening playing around with the camera, taking advantage of the full moon and cloud formations. A lone jackal paid us a visit during the course of the evening, probably smelling the fillet cooking.
26 Dec – Passarge 2 – Sunday 2
Out of camp at around 7 we left Adri & Xen to have a shower and drove along the rest of the valley floor spotting 3 bat eared fox not far along the track. The usual Kori’s, springbok, gemsbok & jackal dotted the landscape. Leaving Deception Valley behind the landscape changed and we entered an incredibly lush green area that really looked out of place. Not many animals featured surprisingly. The wildlife here definately seems to prefer to be out on the open pans. Rounding a corner, in the road, a meter long puff adder, a first for me! It slithered into the undergrowth and while taking shots, my card filled up. Typical!!
Two hours later we got to the Sunday waterhole. Man-made and pumped from a borehole, it was, according to X & A actually at a very low water level. Stagnant in places it was rather smelly. No animals, but a small flock of guinea fowl, a lone crimson breasted shrike and a white babbler.
Using a long length of hose, AJ walked along the ledge of the waterhole, stuffed the hose into the hole where the borehole water came out and we refilled all our water tanks as we’d run out of shower water. Enough to get us through our last 2 nights.
Onward to camp. Sunday was really nice. Open and spacious, but very little shade. Trees with not much spread, very upright, and not many of them either.
Putting out snacks we chilled for the rest of the arvy. A mild thunderstorm passed nearby bringing a welcome cooling shower.
AJ and I opted for a game drive at 4pm. Following the edge of Sunday Pan, we then headed off for the waterhole. Big thunderclouds loomed all around with some solid bolts of lightning flashing occasionally. Taking some awesome landscape shots of the approaching weather with the wide angle lens, we then headed back to camp.
And not a minute too late. Ten minutes after arriving, the wind got up and it was batten down the hatches time. Standing next to the Pajero, a huge bolt of lightning flashed and thunder cracked simultaneously, so close my finger tips instantly fizzed with pins and needles. How close I came to being hit I’ll never know, but a pretty damn close shave I think! The wind was so strong we ended up taking down the gazebo and hanging on to X & A canopy for dear life. Then a huge gust of wind collapsed their roof top tent, so after salvaging that, we quickly rolled up the canopy on the Cruiser and ran for the cars to sit the weather out. As we whiled the time away in the car, a jackal appeared in camp and scouted around for scraps, looking rather scraggly & wet.
Eventually the rain let up enough for us to retrieve items in the aftermath of the wind. With more stormy weather approaching, we opted for a simple Cup a Soup for dinner and hit the tents around 8.30 just as it started to rain again. Lions roaring in the distance woke me up a couple of times, otherwise a fairly good nights sleep. Nice to have an early night for a change.
27 Dec – Sunday 2
Waking up to jackals squabbling nearby and lions roaring further in the distance, we were up and out of camp by 6am. Eight giraffe seen on the pan, silhouetted against the low sun.
Deciding to try and find the lions, we turned around and soon found the jackals feasting on the remains of a fresh springbok kill. Possibly brought down by a cheetah…. Too small for a pride of lion and out in the open.
With X & A further ahead, they soon came over the radio….. They’d found the lions. Unfortunately quite far off the road, but at least vaguely active for lions, there were 2 females and 5 youngsters. Big daddy was soon spotted heading towards them, a gorgeous full maned male.
We climbed onto the roof of the car and sat watching them for a while. One of the cubs could be seen walking around with what looked like a plate in his mouth. After they got up and moved off, we climbed back into the car and went back to camp for a much needed mug of tea and a shower seeing as last nights weather interfered with the routine.
The rest of the day was the usual chill, read, snooze, eat & drink affair. A group of foreigners pulled into our campsite for lunch, in a fully rigged Ford Ranger that slept 4 people. Impressive setup with full electrics, built in shower & kitchen. Apparently a group of dancers, from France, Cuba, Columbia and Switzerland. They’d been travelling Southern Africa for about 4 weeks and had not seen one lion. They were a bit put out when I mentioned we’d had 3 sightings in a week!
Later that arvy, we went out for another drive. The lions had moved off and nowhere to be found. Not seeing much else we headed back to camp.
28 Dec. – Sunday 2 – Khumaga
Up early again to an easy pack up we were on the road to Khumaga by 6am. Deception Valley had clearly had good rain over night as there were serious puddles along the way. Stopping twice due to the diff light flashing on the dash, we let X & A pass us and carry on.
Driving past the wilderness camp, AJ suddenly stopped. Looking into the sun, we saw 2 silhouettes – more lion. But as they swung into action and the light changed, we realised they were in fact 2 cheetah running across the pan. A brief but very cool sighting.
At the gate, we bought more wood, added our pins to the sightings board and set off for Rakops. The change in the vegetation during the week from a few spells of rain was very noticeable as we headed for the tar road. Passing a dead cow lying at the side of the road surrounded by vultures, the woodland soon thinned out to sparse scrub, and soon just a dry flat white wasteland. Bleached bones dotted everywhere.
Now driving on fumes, we turned right onto the tar road, pulled over to pump up tyres and then straight to the fuel station to fill up with diesel. Just a note for future reference…… Rakops – Rakops – 555kms – 8 nights camping.
Stopping at the various general stores to find bottled water, ice & cigarettes (P50 per box, absolute rip off) and a final stop at the bakery for 2 loaves of freshly baked bread.
The drive to Khumaga was quick, and soon we were at the Boteti river. We last visited here in 2011 and to see how much the river had receded was sad but not surprising given the current drought situation.
Briefly pondering the possibility of just driving across, we paid the P150 and loaded the car on to the ferry. This time we didn’t drop the ferry onto the river bed, proof it was still relatively deep in the middle and crossed with no problems. Xen however with his loaded Cruiser and the trailer were too heavy and that was it, that ferry wasn’t going anywhere. After digging out the recovery gear to give the ferry a tow and pushing and pulling from the ferryman, eventually it was free and trundled across, powered by one outboard motor. While Xen was crossing on the ferry, two Discoveries pulled up waiting to cross. Having seen the river was at hip height at its deepest, they took the plunge and drove across the narrowest section no problem.
Pulling into the campsite was quite a shock after the green paradise it had been on our previous vist. Dead, dry, trees destroyed by drought and ellie’s, it was indeed a depressing sight. Fortunately there were a few remaining big trees providing a good spread of shade, so at least we had some respite from the heat. But we had ablutions, hot running water, a tap on our site and flushing toilets.
Lunch was doorstop size wedges of fresh bread with lashings of butter and Marmite.
After a cool off under the shower, we jumped into the cars and drove down to the river, stopping along the way for a sundowner. Across the somewhat meagre river, three open top game viewing vehicles from the lodge sat parked next to a cow of all things! Let’s pay top dollar & go view real live cows!!
After the sundowner, Adri suggested going back to camp. But with it still relatively early, we all decided to carry on rather. Rounding a corner, a dead zebra lay next to the road, still in one piece surprisingly which we assumed meant it had died of natural causes. The only predators in sight were the carrion eaters, literally sticking their heads up the carcasses backside….. Pretty grim…. But I love vultures so I found it all quite fascinating to watch……
Spotting one of the game viewing vehicles stationery on the track ahead, we soon spotted a male and female lion lying down not far off. With perfect light, we then spent close to 2 hours with these lions.
It was incredible, a full mating ritual unfolded before us, all caught on stills and video. All the vehicles moved off after they seemed to have exhausted themselves but AJ and I opted to stay put. Good decision as shortly after everyone had buggered off, the lioness got up and headed straight for our car with the male 2 cms from the end of her tail.
They passed right by our car and up the ridge. We slowly followed them, stopping half way up the slope as we now had one lion on each side of the road. More mating and snarling, purring, growling and flirting and by now all the other vehicles had returned.
Xen suddenly radioed that the rest of the pride was heading our way and we drove back down to the riverbed to get beautiful photo’s of the rest of the pride drinking before they crossed and disappeared into the bush. A truly spectacular sighting, certainly our best lion sighting ever!!
Only arriving back in camp at close to 7pm, Adri threw a curried beef poitjie together and after clearing up most of the crap, we hit the sack.
29 Dec – Khumaga – Nxai Pans
Up before the sun, we were packed and out by 7.30. X & A opted for the tar to Nxai Pan concerned about the sand and the trailer. We took the sand road and managed to find the male and female lions. Spotting a large herd of zebra, and a detour down to the river, we arrived at Phuduhudu Gate in an hour. Right onto the main road for 11kms and then left into Nxai Pans entrance. After checking in, we drove to the main office through some extremely thick sand, but the Pajero chugged through it all no problem. Showing our vouchers at the office, we drove on to South Camp, our home for the next 2 nights.
The campsite was very pretty with the most shade we’d seen during our entire trip. Nestled in a small forest of trees, of which the name is unknown to me, there were 6 campsites, well spread out with good shade bar one, fortunately not ours. All that was missing was a view of the pan. Two ablution blocks as per Khumaga featured, except these were surrounded by small concrete blocks with a metal spike cemented into each one and an electric fence. Clearly the Ellie’s had been very destructive at one point!
Bird calls in the trees above belonged to Crimson breasted shrike, blue wax bills, starlings and a hoopoe. It was very humid so out came the spritzer bottles and with the help of the slight breeze, we chilled for the rest of the day as per the usual routine.
4pm, we hopped in the cars for a game drive but with the car thermometer sitting on 39 deg at 4.45pm, it was insanely hot and near unbearable for whoever happened to be sitting on the west side of the car while at a sighting. Initially there was absolutely nothing to be seen, just a dry, dusty, barren landscape. The only break in the total flatness were the white termite mounds, giving an almost lunar appearance.
Gradually we moved into an area where the game was more abundant. A lone Ellie, grey from the dust shuffled listlessly away from the waterhole. Lambing season for the springbok had been very recent, or was still on the go as extremely young spindly legged babies were in abundance, making their cute little grunting noises as they walked past the car.
A young zebra stood next to its mother who lay motionless in the grass, not even a flicker of an ear, out in the full sun. After watching this for about 10 mins, we were convinced she was dead, but suddenly she lifted her head…. we all breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.
Thankfully the temperature eventually began to drop. A giraffe taking refuge from the sun had practically climbed into a tree and the clouds that had built up earlier had almost disappeared. Pity, some refreshing rain would have gone down well.
Back at camp, I made a Thai chicken curry in the cast iron pot. While I was cooking, our neighbour across the way called over to alert us of a marauding honey badger. Not in the least bit worried about us, he eventually wandered over to our campsite, mooching around while we followed at a safe distance with torch and camera’s. Not great shots as it was dark, and he was a rather manky looking specimen, but great experience non the less.
Off for a shower before we hit the sack, we retired to the sound of jackals and an owl calling nearby.
Dec 30th – Nxai Pan
With no rush this morning we had a leisurely start before heading off for a drive. Straight out of camp into a small herd of zebra, we sat and watched 2 of them playing together, rearing up & biting each other. A lone jackal passed us, a strange brown colour, not sure which sort he was, too dusty to see.
The wind was pumping, blasting clouds of grey dust across the pan, obliterating the trees in the distance.
Further down the road, AJ stopped to check out something that had caught his eye, as he panned to the right, I checked out the left side and suddenly a swish of a tail caught my eye. About 150m off the road lay 3 cheetah in the shade. Calling X & A over the radio, with no answer, we earmarked the spot on the GPS and carried on.
X & A came over the radio shortly afterwards saying they were en route to the cheetahs. Someone had spotted them and gone back to camp to tell everyone so we headed back as well and soon there were 4 vehicles lined up waiting for action. We must have sat there for 45 mins, patience pays off cos eventually one of them got up, moved out into the sun and photo’s were taken. It flopped back down in the shade next to the other 2 and that was it. Our cue to head back to camp for brunch and a shower.
The rest of the day was the usual chill in the shade. A lone Ellie paid us a visit, sucking water from the drainage hole outside the ablutions and quenching his thirst. Inserting his trunk into the deep concrete hole, he then sprayed himself with a foul smelling liquid gunk that could only have been sewage, delightful…… He then ambled closer and took refuge in the shade next to our campsite for about 30 mins before disappearing.
Leaving the game drive to much later, we only left camp at 5.30, but the temp was still mid 30’s even at that time of the evening. Spotting 2 of the 3 cheetahs again, but way off, we kept them in view until we had to return to camp by 7pm.
The Ellie returned that night with a friend, low rumblings could be heard from the drainage area again. During the course of the night, I woke up to a bird of sorts screeching loudly in the tree next to us.
31 Dec – Nxai Pan – Baines Baobabs
Not in any rush this morning, we had a leisurely pack up before heading to Baines. A good strong breeze kept the building temperature at bay but it was already in the high 20’s when we left around 8am.
Back down the sand track to the office, we then branched off to the left, following the two track through some very green dense vegetation. Hard to believe that somewhere ahead, around 30kms, lay a salt pan. Gradually the landscape changed, becoming drier and more sparce. Seen were a lone warthog at a waterhole, a few giraffe, 2 secretary birds, Ellie’s, a European bee-eater, ostrich and gemsbok.
Soon, the salt pans began to appear, small areas within the grassy islands, gradually becoming bigger, and then baobabs appeared, shimmering in the distance through the heat haze.
Approaching the baobabs from the back, we drove over a ridge , down onto the salt pan and stopped in the shade. Baines Baobabs, painted by Thomas Baines in 1860, probably parked where we were with his ox wagon and an easel. A cluster of around 7 baobabs and one that had fallen over. In front, the pan stretched away to the island opposite which was our campsite for the night.
Bumping into the silver Landcruiser couple that had cropped up here and there through our trip, we had a brief chat before driving across the pan to set up camp. Luckily the pan was bone dry, so no problem with soggy mulchy surfaces.
The campsite was a bit of a disappointment. Great view of Baines & the pan, but that was it. One baobab provided the only shade and with the temperature up in the 40’s, out came the gazebo. Two yellow billed kites sat in the baobab above us, calling and flying low to the ground. At one point, one of them flew down onto the pan, in full sun, and stood with its wings out, cooling off.
Too hot to move we chilled in the shade until 5.30 when we then climbed in the cars and took a drive to the other campsites. Campsite 3 was definately a better option with 2 baobabs at either side of the site, although at that time of the evening the whole site was in full sun. Stopping to watch a small herd of Ellie’s, it was still a scorching 38 degrees. On the way back to camp, we stopped in the middle of the salt pan and took a group photo.
Back in camp I threw a lamb poitjie together, Adri cracked the champagne and camera’s were prepped for sunset and star photography. A lone jackal could be seen heading across the pan in the setting sun, a smattering of cloud provided some detail to what ended up being great sunset shots.
Gradually the stars appeared and by 9pm, we’d counted 11 satellites moving across the sky. With not a cloud to be seen, we were truly blessed with fantastic photography opportunities. Walking out onto the middle of the pan, we took more shots looking back at camp, backlighting the baobab with a lantern. Finally the Milky Way before hitting the sack at around 11pm so total utter silence. Not even a cricket could be heard.
1st Jan – Baines Baobabs – Limpopo River Lodge
Up mega early, before the sun, we packed up and said a sad farewell to X & A who were heading back to Khumga for another 2 nights before heading home. Pondering my stupid decision of booking Nata for our last night, we debated on heading closer to home for the last night, lessening the drive home the next day. Finally we settled on Limpopo River Lodge, a good 560 kms further. Quick stops in Nata and Francistown and we arrived at LRL at 4pm. With far more water in the river than I expected, the setting was lovely as always.
As AJ fixed the roof rack bracket that had snapped while driving the corrugated dirt road, I photographed 2 hamerkops collecting twigs for their nest and 2 coucals playing together out in the open. Woodland kingfishers called while the pied kingfisher hovered looking for his last meal of the day. Even the Scops owl could be heard.
It was an incredibly hot evening, without doubt the warmest on the trip. Lightning flashed in the distance and the wind got up temporarily bringing the smell of rain, but nothing fell. Unfortunate as according to the camp manager, they’ve not had a drop there for 3 months!
Jan 2nd – Limpopo River Lodge – home
Sleeping way later than we’d done on the whole trip, the sun was already up when we surfaced. A fish eagle perched on a dead tree trunk opposite while down on the bank a small bush Buck grazed next to a few vervet monkeys. A slow pack up as its always so hard to leave this place. The setting is beautiful and there’s always so much to see. But eventually we drove out of the campsite homeward bound. Our last sighting was a small herd of Ellie’s close to the road, trunk raised to have a good smell of us, flapping ears and trumpeting to warn us off. At the waterhole at the gate, 2 female kudu and a warthog.
5 mins down the corrugated road, the roof rack bolt snapped off again so that was that. Another quick temporary fix at the roadside before the border. A whole 10 min process to get thru both sides, a far cry from the mess that was Martins Drift.
And so another bundu adventure to add to the books.
Central Kalahari was amazing…… The harsh barrenness, the landscapes and the hardy wildlife. And those storms…. will most definately be heading back there.
Khumaga with its lion sighting and pretty river drives, could have done another night there easily.
Nxai Pan will definately see us again, but in a proper rainy season, not a drought.
Baines has now been done, and will be done again because when we got home and I checked the night photography shots, clearly the champagne had taken control of the situation, so every single one of the pics was binned….. so bummed!!
And Limpopo never fails to deliver with its gorgeous river setting and abundant bird life.
Hope you enjoyed this trip report as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
A few more to come in the next few days as I slowly get this blog up to date…