Moremi & Surrounds – A Botswana Adventure – April 2017

15 April – Jo’burg – Khama Rhino Sanctuary
Opted for Stockport border post on this trip due to Easter weekend madness, great idea as there were 2 cars there going into Bots, one of them was ours. Mandatory rude SA official was present leaving SA, mandatory friendly, chilled Bots staff greeted us on the other side of the Limpopo.
Easy drive through to Khama Rhino Sanctuary where we checked in and then found our allocated campsite. Number 1. With this being our 3rd stop at KRS, this was the most disappointing. Ablutions were miles away, and not very well sign posted, so me being rather geographically challenged, I got a tad lost initially….

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Moody storm clouds build over Khama Rhino Sanctuary
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A rhino grazes in his safe environment

Lots of rhino seen on the game drive and good birding. Best part, watching a storm far on the horizon, with amazing cloud formations that cast beautiful rays of sun in a wide arc. Nicely caught with the wide angle lens.

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Storm activity on the horizon

Back at camp, fire lit, burgers made while the lightning flashed in the distance thru the trees.

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The first of many evening fires

By 9pm I was exhausted, so we headed into the roof top tent to read before lights out.
I woke up at some point in the night to the sound of a rhino crashing noisily through the bushes and wandering past our tent.

16 April – KRS – Khumaga
Waking up at 8, we rearranged the car in a chilly, damp 16 degrees and were on the road by 9.30. Next stop Khumaga…..
Gradually the drizzle and cloud parted ways and by the time we stopped at the Spar in Lethlakane, the sun was shining.
Pulling up to the river at Khumaga, it was clear the river was not drivable so we drove the car on to the ferry, paid our P150 and chugged across to the other side. Driving up the river, the damage from the recent heavy rains was apparent, with a new track taking us up to the main entrance gate. Deep gully’s where the road had collapsed and washed away, sure signs they’d had extreme rainfall.
As we climbed out the car at reception, an anti-poaching unit rolled up in an army type vehicle with one of the men brandishing a fresh looking elephant tusk.
We checked in, signed the relevant paperwork and drove into a completely empty campsite to find our allocated spot, KK5.
Out of all the campsites, this was probably the worst, one small upright tree offering very little shade and completely blocked off on all sides by overgrown bushes.
We decided to go back to the main office to see if we could swap campsites seeing as the place was empty. The lady who had checked us in was sitting on the curb, cleaning the remains of the flesh still attached to the tusk, a small pile of red meat next to her.
She told me the elephant had died of natural causes and the tusk would be taken to their stock pile. As I knelt next to her to discuss the swapping of campsites, the smell of the meat wafted past, not pleasant!
She advised us that all campsites were actually booked for that night, bar two, so back at the camp we opted for KK9. Situated right at the back of the campsite, this offered two big trees with widespread branches, a view through the bush, and a close walk to the loo’s….. Much better.
After rigging up the gazebo, unloading chairs, gas and the table we made a quick lunch and then headed out for a drive to the river. The change in the landscape, a year since we were last here, was huge.

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Curious kudu

Dry, drought-stricken landscapes had been replaced by lush, green vegetation. Down by the river, we saw zebra, vultures and impala and off in the distance, two ellie’s were slowly making their way towards us. We followed the road until we caught up with them, and then trundled along slowly with them until they disappeared into the bush.

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The pretty riverine landscape that is Khumaga

Back at camp, I hit the shower, which after KRS’s dreadful ablutions, was heaven. Hot water and a decent water pressure makes all the difference.
Dinner was savoury mince & rice whipped up on the gas, under the stars while lightning flashed in the distance.

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Can’t beat Botswana sunsets

17 April  – Khumaga
Waking up relatively early, we packed up the tent, put any removables into the car so hopefully the invading monkey’s would move on to the next campsite while we were out and headed off for a drive. We opted to follow the river along the floodplain, watching rutting impala, a herd of zebra and plenty of bird life. At one point we crossed the river where the track disappeared underwater for a while. Eventually we ran out of track and found our way back up to the sand road, meandering along the river. Rounding a corner we found about 25 vultures scattered on the ground and a fallen tree.

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Just 2 of the vast flock we sat watching

With the sun behind us, we turned off the engine and sat and observed them for about 30 mins. Eventually they all shook themselves and took to the sky. The sound of the wind over their huge wingspan was amazing to hear and gradually they climbed the thermals and we carried on back to camp.
Rest of the arvy was spent snoozing and chilling under the gazebo.
The afternoon game drive produced a few ellie’s drinking in the river and a small herd of zebra.

18 April – Khumaga – South Gate
Exciting start to the day. AJ was up before the sunrise and saw a honey badger on his way to the loo. Checking the camera trap, we found the honey badger there too. After packing up, we took a slow drive along the river on our way out to Phuduhudu Gate, passing a small herd of ellie’s and a huge group of giraffe in the distance, 33 in total. The biggest we’ve ever seen!

Driving along the deep sandy section I suddenly spotted a snake on the middel mannetjie which slithered into our track at the last minute. Fortunately AJ saw it slide into the shrubbery after he’d driven over it, so hopefully it survived!
Turning left out the gate we headed on to Maun. 120 kms later we hit the town, which had grown considerably since I was last there. AJ popped in to see a client while I caught up with a few phone calls.
Once done, we then found the local Spar to top up provisions and then pulled into the infamous Riley’s garage to fill up. Here the petrol attendant gave every window and mirror on the car a good spit & polish.
Onward we traveled, eventually hanging a left at the traffic circle toward Moremi & Kwai. Passing Thamalakane River Lodge where we stayed on our  very first Bots trip, the tar eventually petered out into dreadful correlations…. A good 70kms of it!

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Oh the agony of choice!

Gradually the road narrowed and became more sandy, thankfully. Small herds of ellie appeared as well as giraffe and zebra. Dense mopani forest made visibility any more than 5 meters into bush impossible. At one point we rounded a corner to find a small traffic jam of about 8 cars. Finding a gap thru the trees lining the road, we saw 2 ellie’s playing together in the middle of a big waterhole. Unfortunately we caught the tail end of the action as they moved off about 2 mins later, departing with a loud trumpet.

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Arrival at South Gate

Checking in at the main gate, which is the reception for South Gate, Xaxanaka and other camps, the staff informed us there had been a double booking on our allocated campsite so we were moved to site number 6.

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South Gate campsite

The campsite was similar to Nxai Pan’s South camp. Open and spacious with lots of tall trees offering good shade cover. Our spot was average, no privacy and right in the path to the ablutions for other campers. Note for future travel, if we come back again, get sites, 7,8,9 or 10. Hidden away in the bush, they were extremely private.
The bog standard DWNP ablutions were clean with decent showers.
After rigging the gazebo, table and chairs, we then headed out for a short drive, given it was already late in the afternoon.

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Lilac breasted roller scoffing a snack

With a choice of only 3 routes, we headed off towards Black Pools, but took a fork to the right instead, which took us past a rather green pool in which 2 hippo wallowed in the centre. A few Egyptian geese hung around the edge.
Carrying on, we passed a large herd of buffalo, just visible in the extremely high grass.

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Buffalo herd – Moremi

A few ellie’s dotted the landscape and tiny tree squirrels darted across the road. Eventually we made a U-turn and headed back to camp, finding a small family of dwarf mongoose playing in the road. Further on, a herd of ellie’s blocked our way for a while so we sat watching 2 very young babies. One was particularly amusing, charging around like a hyperactive toddler, waggling its little trunk uncontrollably and then throwing himself onto the ground to roll in the sand…… Too cute. Once they moved off from the edge of the road, we carried on.
Quick braai for dinner and a chill round the fire, listening to someone’s generator until they eventually switched it off around 8pm. A lone hyena could be heard whooping in the distance while the resident scops owl called from the nearby trees.

19 April – South Gate
Last night I woke up at some point to hear a hyena calling right next to the car. So close I could hear the sound echoing off into the distance, it gave me chills…… Images of gang leaders in Nigeria with huge hyena’s muzzled and on chains standing next to them came to mind.

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Photos courtesy of Pieter Hugo…. these images have always fascinated me….

With a final whoop, he went silent. Up at about 7, the camp site could well of been a crèche at the start of the day, noisy kids running around screaming their heads off. Just what you want to hear in the middle of a game reserve over your morning tea & rusks!
We opted for a day out, so left camp around 8am and headed off to Black Pools.

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Treading water en-route to Black Pools

The dense forest soon gave way to open savannah which in turn slowly became waterlogged with vast stretches of waterways and pools. The birdlife was prolific and so varied, an ornithologists heaven……

 

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That iconic bird we all know & love
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Woodpecker
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Dickinson’s kestrel – I think…..

Most of the tracks that were submerged had alternative tracks, so the going was fairly easy. After a good 2 hour drive, we reached Black Pools, found a spot of shade next to a tall clump of bush and chilled in front of the large pool for about an hour and a half. A large pod of hippo checked us out, water birds went about their daily life and across the water a herd of lechwe grazed. Only a single game viewing vehicle came by the entire time we were there. So peaceful & relaxing.

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Red Lechwe – Black Pools – Moremi

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Hippos – Black Pools – Moremi

Deciding to drive onward once the sun moved over, we followed the track round the pool but once the road opened up, the waterlogged track disappeared into the distance and as we were unsure how long it went on for, or how deep, we decided on the safer option, turned around and back tracked to camp. The sun was baking, to the point that I opted to sit backwards on my seat to try even out the arm tan.

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Ellie ambling alongside the waterlogged track

Passing a few ellie’s on route, we eventually came out at the fork in the road where the green pool was that we’d visited yesterday. Spying two ellie’s walking along, we turned back, parked the back of the car into the sun, turned off the engine and waited to see what they would do…..disappear into the bush or go for a swim.

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Playtime

And swim it was….the first ellie walked hastily into the water and launched itself underwater, like a toddler in a heatwave, followed by the second ellie. We sat and watched them playing together until a third joined in. Their antics continued for about 10 mins, whereafter they left the water and disappeared into the bush, tossing sand from their trunks. A real special sighting and a classic right time, right place scenario.
Back at camp around 3.30 we decided to stay put so out came the gas and poitjie and I threw lamb knuckles in to cook for a few hours. Realising I’d left all the stock cubes at home, I improvised with some herbs and spices.
A troop of baboons suddenly made an appearance through the tree tops, barking loudly. As the afternoon turned into evening, it was apparent they were planning on staying the night, right above our tent!
Eating around 7pm, the lamb poitjie was delicious to say the least…..who needs stock cubes!!
Retiring to bed, we read for a while,  while the baboons grunted and babbled amongst themselves in the trees above..
During the night they woke us up several times barking and as the sky began to lighten, toilet hour began. Lying in the tent listening to them crapping everywhere was just lovely. Fortunately they missed the car and the tent every time.

20 April – South Camp – Magotho (Kwai Development Trust)

Emerging from the tent the next morning we found an ellie in the grass next to our campsite. He hung around while we packed up and eventually it and all the baboons disappeared.
Quick shower before we left as our next stop at Magotho had no ablutions. We then hit the road at 8.30. Due to us traveling solo, the guy at the gate advised us not to try going through Kwai as the water levels were very high, so back to the tar road it was, along that hideous corrugated road….
At the fork, we then turned left and again traversed more corregations, and then we hit the water. The first two crossings were fine. The third however was extremely hairy with the water coming over the bonnet, and for a heart stopping moment, i thought we were going to grind to a halt. But the Pajero plowed on and we reached the other side. At the fourth crossing however, we were defeated…. Water stretched endlessly ahead, no chance we were going to attempt that without a back up vehicle.

(Pics & video shot on cellphone during the hairy crossings should be inserted here, but due to phone upgrade, I’ve lost the whole lot!!! Devastated!!)

So we had no option but to turn back and go through all 3 water crossings again. The hairy one was even worse this time, with AJ taking what he thought would be a better line and us ending up churning away in sand and grass. Once again the Pajero proved itself and we eventually came on to higher ground and cleared the water. My nerves were shot!!
A game vehicle suddenly came out of a side road followed by a Defender. Stopping the vehicles we questioned the route to Mogotho and they advised us to use the track that they had just come from which would take us around the massive expanse of water. The twisty road took us past a dilapidated,, abandoned tented camp, which was sad to see as it was a beautiful location next to the river. Pulling over to let eight 4×4’s past us, we eventually got back on track. While chatting to the people in the Defender, they told us they’d just come from Mogotho, but Dizhana, our next stop was apparently deserted. They had camped wild for 2 nights at a place called Tshaa campsite.
Leaving Moremi behind, we continued on to Mogotho. A bit of a tricky find this place, but after coming across a family who had stopped at the side of the track, they pointed us in the right direction….. sloshing through yet more water, we eventually pulled into the campsite. Stopping to chat to a large group camped right on the river, they told us to find any empty campsite. Armed with paperwork, and a confirmed booking we found our campsite occupied by another tour operator. Not remotely interested in moving their setup, we moved off and found a potential spot, but with 2 ellie’s snoozing in the shade.

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Magotho campsite

So while we sat in the car waiting for them to move off, we pondered our predicament. Nowhere to go from here if Dizhana really was deserted and the recommended Tshaa campsite wasn’t coming up on T4A and proving impossible to locate. (If any readers know of this place and can share GPS co-ords for future reference, I’d be extremely grateful)
Eventually the ellie’s decided to vacate, so as a courtesy, I asked the neighbours if they minded us setting up camp next to them. They advised us that the staff are very strict with sticking to camp numbers so back to number 2 we went to have it out with the occupiers. The tour guide was out with his guests on a game drive while their staff were setting up camp and despite me showing our confirmed booking in writing, this chap was not remotely interested in moving and tried his luck in telling me that the camp numbers had been swapped. Yeah right!!! So off we trundled to find another empty spot in the meantime. Opting for an open campsite quite far away from the busyness near the river, and set under 2 big trees, we unloaded and set up camp to await the arrival of the staff at 7pm to hand over our voucher and do battle regarding the campsite numbers.

21 April – Mogotho (Kwai Development Trust)
So no staff showed up last night and we ended having a lovely relaxed evening with a beautiful sunset and a roaring fire with just enough lights on at the back of our campsite to keep the shadows at bay.

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Our stunning campsite away from the masses at Magotho

A spring hare showed face, catching his eyes in the torchlight, a first for me. Small, almost kangaroo like, it hopped along on back legs with a very long tail and extremely short front legs. Scops owls called to each other from the surrounding trees and the impala could be heard snorting and growling as they cavorted around.
Waking up this morning and checking the camera trap, we picked up a hyena.

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Not the best image, but you get the gist of it…..

After 2 cups of tea, and being driven mad by the flies, we opted for a drive down to the river to escape their insistent buzzing. With the vegetation extremely dense and most of the roads blocked by water and not much game around we headed back to camp.

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Sharing is caring

Fuel needed to be conserved as well at this point as what was in the tank, plus the 3 jerry cans had to get us to Kasane. The route involved backtracking 30kms to our next stop, and then the long, sandy slog through Savuti to Muchenji before we hit Kasane.
Returning to camp proved to be a good decision as we had a steady flow of ellie’s passing camp all day, as well as zebra and impala and the usual bird life.

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Some fine art ellie images

A storm brewed in the distance and we listened to the rumbles of thunder as we watched it move slowly around us, with just a gentle smattering of rain and a few strong gusts of wind.
After a few games of Rummikub, we retired to the tent to read for a while and double check our route for tomorrow. Hearing a thud from the gazebo, we looked out the tent windows to see a vervet monkey opening the tupperware games box and discarding it once he realised there was no food inside. Then they were on the bonnet of the car so we decided time to emerge and chase them off. Picking up all the cigarettes they’d trailed around and the lighter, we got the braai going and settled down to watch the nearby impala pronking away and ellie’s ambling past.

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Not another human to be seen!

No sunset this evening due to heavy cloud cover and as we finished braaing the wind got up and a gentle rain began to fall. A few flashes of lightning could be seen in the distance, followed by distant thunder and eventually we retired to the RTT.

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Extremely pretty moth I found on the inside of the car

In hindsight, having another group hogging our campsite worked out for the better as we may not have had a river view, but we were away from the masses and the steady stream of wildlife through our campsite certainly won this as campsite of the trip so far!

22nd April – Dizhana (or wherever we can find a spot….)
Up just after the sun this morning we packed up to head off to our next stop, the apparently closed  Dizhana campsite. With a change in weather, the sky was overcast and it was marginally cooler.
Deciding to stop past Djara, our original choice of campsite before it was also closed, we turned right at the signpost and about 100m in, I suddenly screeched at AJ to stop the car and reverse. There crossing the road was the biggest bright green chameleon I’ve ever seen. This to me was the equivalent of seeing a leopard! I love these little creatures!!

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My absolute favourite

After taking a few shots once he was safely across the road, we continued until we came across a beautiful setting on the Kwai river. Such a waste to see such a potential tourist destination lying empty and overgrown. Small enclosed ablutions contained a toilet and a sink and right on the river was a wooden deck with a built in bar. On the way out we saw a large raptor fly out of the long grass with a snake in his beak. Leaving there feeling quite sad, we turned right towards Mababe village and stopped to ask for water at one of the houses. The friendly locals were very accommodating and we passed them a 6 pack of juices as a thank you.
Back tracking along the loop to avoid those dreadful water crossing, we rejoined the sand road and eventually came to the signpost for Dizhana.. Following the track, we past a vehicle heading out. Stopping to chat they told us they were also camping there, but the locals apparently were not too happy about all the people rolling in. Further along another group walking on foot also told us the locals had asked them to leave and go to Mankwe but the visitors had argued their point and the locals decided to let everyone stay put. Feeling a bit more optimistic, we drove in to the “reception area” where an old, sullen looking guy emerged and after greeting him and him just standing there staring at us, we told him we were here to camp for 3 nights. Grumpily he told us he would have to tell his boss, but then pointed us to the track that would take us to the campsites. With a total of 6 campsite quite spread apart, we were pleasantly surprised at how established the place was. Each campsite had 2 thatched huts, one containing a shower and sink, the other a toilet. Sadly with no-one operating the place yet, there was no water but we’d enough water for showering tonight and with a running tap down at reception, we could fill the water can for the next 2 days for a shower each day. So we were sorted.
Opting for campsite 4, right at the end and next to the river, we unloaded and set up camp. Fish eagles called from the trees nearby. It was a beautiful setting. A small herd of lechwe could be seen through the bushes and a lone ellie passed our campsite, sloshed through the river and disappeared into the bushes beyond.
A rather strong wind was blowing at this point so AJ pulled a McGyver move and rigged up a windbreak and we settled down to lunch and an uninterrupted view of the river while a soft rain fell.

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The start of an extremely cold dreary 3 day cold front – Dizhana – Kwai River

As the afternoon wore on the cloud cover got heavier and the wind got stronger and with no sunlight to warm up the solar showers, a shower was clearly out of the question.
By dark, it was raining well which also ruled out braaing, so we heated up a tin of mushroom soup on the gas. During the gaps in the rain, we found spiders, mice and tiny little frogs all moving in under the gazebo, clearly to get out the rain.
By now it was pouring with a good ol’ African thunderstorm thrown into the mix, it was rather wild. Realising this seemed pretty much set in for the night we decided to gap it to bed with a few strategic moves such as swapping tackies for flip flops, getting them off before putting feet into tent and trying to keep feet relatively sand free and dry. Thank god for my designer toe socks, created especially for flip flops.
The rain poured all night and with the strong gusts of wind sending extra showers from the tree above, it was hardly peaceful bush sounds that we fell asleep to, although in the odd lull in the wind and rain we could still hear the chorus of frogs from the river and the hippo’s grunting nearby.

23 April – Dizhana
Don’t know what time I woke up but it was still pouring and pitch dark. Dozing on an off I heard the nearby campers packing up as the sky gradually lightened. Eventually I crawled out of bed around 8 to an extremely overcast sky, cool temps but no rain.
The entire day was spent relaxing under the gazebo dressed in tracksuit, tackies and hoodie, it was cold!! The cloud hung around all day, parting only twice to let some weak sunshine through. Certainly not enough to warm up the solar showers, so once again the shower was forgone. Out came the macro lens and we hunted around for the small things… Amazing what you notice when you actually open your eyes to look beyond the obvious…. A great way to fill a somewhat dreary, cold day….

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When the weather doesn’t co-operate, out comes the macro lens.

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Even the caterpillar posed beautifully for me

Tiny flowers, no bigger than my thumbnail, catapillars and butterflies filled my lens. My macro lens is one of my favourite toys…..  The owls could be heard replying to each other, hippo’s grunted throughout the day while fish eagles called relentlessly, a sound I can never get tired of.
A herd of waterbuck appeared from the thick bush and suddenly all ran through the river and disappeared beyond. Two ellie’s also made an appearance and crossed to the other side. Clearly there was a major game trail running through the bush on the empty side of our campsite as all the game we had seen had crossed the river at the same point.
Deciding on an early braai in case the rain decided to return, we were finished eating before dark and sat hugging the remaining fire in the chilly wind.
Once darkness fell, our resident mouse appeared, running around under the table and at one point we heard the pitter patter of his tiny feet on the roof of the gazebo. A hyena called in the distance, a firefly flashed his way along the waters edge and further down towards the next campsite a hippo wallowed through the water, munching noisily as he went. At one point we had hippo grunting from four different directions.

23 April – Dizhana
A rather restless night as every time I woke up I seemed to be listening to the mouse running around the top of the tent. Several times we bashed the sides of the tent to chase him off, aware of how much they love to chew.
Dawn broke, bringing with it yet more leaden skies and chilly temps. Deciding today was shower day, come rain or shine we headed off to the “reception” area to get water from the locals, the one and only running tap in the whole place.
Rigging up the solar showers in the bathroom after topping them up with boiling water from the kettle, I had my first shower in three days. And after AJ had his, it was like a switch had been flicked. The clouds parted and out came the sun, glorious hot ray’s that made my skin tingle and burn. What a pleasure after 2 days of cold, miserable grey stuff!!

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The stunning view from the shower, and the weather had cleared!!
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This place really is so special, will most definitely go back

Even the bush came to life, lilies opened on the water, petals pointing upward lapping up the warmth, lizards appeared for the first time since we’d arrived and a hippo wallowed through the tall grass in the river, disappearing sporadically when deep enough. Sitting on my chair with my eyes closed, I suddenly heard an alarmed snort. Looking to my left, not 15m away, a small herd of waterbuck stood staring at us, frozen to the spot. A beautiful male with long curved horns, two females and tiny little one. Unsure what to do, one of the females took charge and leapt into the water, bounding over the high grass and with a final snort, they disappeared into the bush beyond.
AJ spied an eagle of sorts in a tall tree at the back of the camp. Looking through the bino’s, I made it out to be a martial eagle. Later we saw it fly into a closer tree carrying twigs and sticks and shortly after that another one joined. A mating pair building a nest, sadly just too far away to get any decent shots.
That evening, after an early braai, we got lucky with a totally clear sky so got the camera and tripod out for some sunset & star photography. While we were busy, a hippo came out the water to graze, walking close by us.

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Gorgeous cloudless dusk, after the cold front moved off
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Practising my sun flares
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Africa…. that is all….
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And when there’s no cloud, what else but some astral photography… even a shooting star appeared here.
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Meanwhile behind us, a hippo ambled past not remotely bothered by us.

Packing up for bed, AJ spotted a baby mouse emerge from the tree, and while unhooking the solar panel from the car battery, discovered the mother scratching around in the engine!! Closing the bonnet we hoped for the best as we couldn’t chase her out.
Retiring to bed we were lulled to sleep to the sound of hippo’s in the water and hyena’s calling in the distance.

25th April – Muchenji
Up very early this morning as we had a long trek through Savuti to Muchenji, we crawled out the tent to a very misty morning.

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Misty morning

By 8am we were on the road, back tracking almost to Mogotho, and then following the sign to Savuti. Along the way we saw zebra, giraffe, warthog, ellie’s and a few raptors. The road became sandier and wet, with big muddy puddles. As we passed the entrance to Savuti, we suddenly disturbed a pack of wild dog sleeping in the extremely long grass next to the road.

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One of the wild dog we disturbed in the long grass just outside the Savuti campsite

Near Kachikau, I picked up signal for the first time in days and gave Maxine, my daughter, a call, having a good catch up in the shade of a tree.

After a long chat, we carried onward, opting for an alternate route that T4A was offering. This proved to be a beautiful drive, up hills, through dense bush and relatively thick sand. It was extremely picturesque. We drove past this lodge that exhibited this sign on the verge outside, next to a baobab tree…. kudo’s to the owners!!

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Anyone stayed here? Would love to meet these owners, love their thinking…..
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Hard at work dung beetle

 

Eventually we hooked up with the main sandy track and suddenly, we were back on tar, a shock to the system. To our left, the floodplain overlooking Namibia stretched for miles, full of water, a pretty impressive sight.
50kms down the road we turned into Muchenji campsite which turned out to be nothing like what I was expecting! Extremely close to the road, I felt I’d been picked up and flung into a different dimension. So much civilisation to contend with after roughing it in the bush for a week. But to be fair the campsites were lovely and shady, the ablutions were fabulous and the deck overlooking the floodplain was just perfect for sundowners.
After a quick unpack, we hit the showers. So I’ll give them full marks in this department. The water was piping hot, the shower head was decent and so was the water pressure. Absolute heaven!!

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Muchenje deck, perfect for sunsets and sundowners
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Pano shot stitched together, think this was about 5 images
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Overlooking the flood plain to Namibia

After a good scrub, we went down to the deck to catch the sunset, which was incredible. The best yet on this trip. Eventually we headed back to camp after a good chat with other campers for some ribs on the braai.
During the night we could hear hyena whooping, over and above the village residents shouting to each other down the road. Take me back to my remote campsite, now!!

26th April – Senyati campsite
A leisurely start to the day, we packed up and headed off to Kasane, a short 30kms away with the route taking us down the transit road that runs through Chobe National Park.

Exiting the other side we drove on to Kasane and decided to stop off at Chobe Safari Lodge to book a river cruise for tomorrow morning. Kasane had changed somewhat since my last visit, but was still not in the league of Maun. Several new hotels had popped up as well as additional shops and fuel stations. CSL however was as I remembered it, set on the banks of the Chobe river in all its thatched glory.
Checking on options at the activities office, we opted for a river cruise at 9.30 (earliest slot available), followed by a self drive into the park afterwards. This involved us driving back to the park entrance gate to buy our permit for tomorrow, then going back to the lodge to pay for everything. Thankfully it was a short drive.
Stopping off at Spar for a few items and a KFC meal at the local takeaway, we then headed further down the road, dodging warthog ambling along the road and verges. Stopping at a little coffee shop that promised free wifi with a meal, we scoffed down chocolate brownies and cream with a latte. Just what one needs straight after a KFC!!
Onward to Senyati, our stop for the next 2 nights.

Pleasantly surprised upon our arrival, the campsite had improved hugely in the 5 years since we were last here. The trees were taller and shadier. The reception area now had a pretty garden in front of it and a little shop inside. And the bar had been completely transformed with an upper and lower deck and an underground hide in front of the waterhole.

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Looking along the corridor into the underground hide at Senyati
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The daybed under the bar that overlooks the waterhole at Senyati

Finding a wrought iron day bed on the lower deck, we whiled the afternoon away reading and gaming until 5pm when the wifi became available. Quick catch up with the kids and some social media, we then headed back to our campsite for dinner and a shower.
The hyenas started early and continued through the night, along with the jackals and scops owls.

27th April – Senyati campsite
Up with the birds this morning, and slight overcast skies, we sank 2 cups of tea before heading off to Kasane for our boat cruise. Driving past the long line of trucks waiting to cross the border, which clearly hadn’t moved at all overnight, we came across four southern ground hornbills at the side of the road.

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The endangered southern ground hornbill

Arriving slightly early at the lodge we sat on the terrace drinking lattes to pass the time. The boat cruise was good, but didn’t deliver as much as the previous time. With the river extremely full, there were no ellie’s, lechwe or hippo’s to be seen on the grassy islands. But we cruised past plenty pods of hippo in the water which we managed to get real close to.

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Look at that smile of complete bliss
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Getting up close on the Chobe river

Several fish eagle were perched high in the trees dotted along the river bank, and BK, our friendly guide told us how to differentiate between the male and female….. More high pitched call from the male, females were bigger and they also bore a larger apron (as she should be in the kitchen as BK put it, lol).

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That iconic bird again

Herds of impala and small groups of waterbuck & kudu could also be seen along the bank, as well as a glimpse of the back of a buffalo. Pied kingfishers and a couple of water monitors were also seen. Carmine bee-eaters darted among the lilies and a heron wallowed nearby.

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Nile monitor lizard blending into tree roots on the bank of the Chobe river

 

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Male waterbuck

Swallows ducked and dived around the oil drums under the boat as we motored along or flew alongside us, darting here and there, so quick it was impossible to catch them on camera.

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The little swallow who came to sit right in front of me on the pontoon as we motored slowly down the Chobe

At one point, as I sat on the floor of the boat, a swallow flew down and perched in front of me, riding the pontoon as the water splashed around him while he chirped his head off. Very sweet.
Two hours later, we pulled into the lodge and found our table while AJ popped to the loo. Checking my phone I saw several missed calls from family. Phoning Andrew back, he dropped the bombshell that our dear sweet persian kitten, Rosie, had been killed by our neighbours dogs. Totally numb with shock, I broke the news to AJ. Devastation reigned for the rest of the day, not helped by my heartbroken 13 yr old son sobbing down the phone.
Eventually we headed back to the car, heavy hearted and so, so sad.
Thankfully we still had the rest of the day in the park as a much needed distraction, and we entered Sedudu Gate and headed down to the river bank. During the course of the afternoon, we surprisingly had some amazing sightings.

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The beauty of the river drive in Chobe national park
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No Mans Land – Namibia opposite
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Such a handsome bird!

Ellie’s swimming across the river and back, small and large ellie herds both inland and at the waters edge with loads of little ones at foot. Millions of impala, a few zebra, plenty crocs and more water monitors. The drive was pretty as well as the bush was extremely lush and green. Finding our old spot where we had parked and taken a photo 5 years ago, we did the same but not before AJ spotted a barn owl way up in the tree, nestled amongst the leaves and so well hidden. Very well spotted!! But impossible to photograph.


By 4pm we decided to head back to the gate, stopping to watch more herds of ellie grazing close to the road with their little one’s. Turning off away from the river we rounded a corner and on the right, out in the open was a magnificent sable. Pitch black with beautiful sweeping horns, he was stunning!
Filling up en-route to camp, we then passed the now familiar long queue of trucks waiting for the border, which again looked like it hadn’t moved at all the entire day. What a crap job those guys have……
Back at camp, we headed to the bar for some wifi and a catch up with the kids, somber and sad as it was. Across the waterhole, a line of about 7 giraffe ambled across the plain in the low evening light.
Bedtime brought the chorusing hyenas again and sad thoughts for me of our sweet little Rosie and the fact that my daughter was leaving for England tomorrow for a year!!

28th – Nata Lodge
Quick pack up this morning and on the road to Nata Lodge. Uneventful drive and we arrived at the lodge around 12ish……

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Nate Lodge – always a favourite stop over en

Too early to check in, we sat on the terrace drinking coffee and catching up on social media. It transpired we had 2 tents booked for some reason, so at least we a credit of about P800 to cover dinner, drinks and the few items we bought from the curio shop.
We decided to take a drive to the Bird Sanctuary as we’d never been there. 10kms down the main road on the right, we turned in, paid P145 entrance fee and set off. The track was very wet and muddy in places and some careful navigation was required around some of the bigger pools of water. Stopping to take a few photographs, we saw a few wildebeest lying out in the open and 3 storks, still to be ID’d.

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En-route to Nata birdhide
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Me getting creative

The grass eventually thinned out, replaced by water filled pans. Spotting the viewing pan in the distance and three vehicles parked next to it, we trudged onward, by now wallowing through some seriously thick mud. Rounding the last bend in the track, full of water and thick black mud AJ decided driving up the grassy verge was the better line to take, and without the car in low range, we hit a big mound of grass and ground to a halt. I sat in the car wondering how long someone from the viewing deck would be along to see if we needed help while AJ attempted to dig the thick soil and mud away from the back wheels. Soon enough, a Landcruiser appeared and with a quick tug with the snatch strap we were out. Joining their group at the viewing deck, which was a rickety wooden platform built on stilts, the view was incredible.

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View from the viewing deck, a thin strip of dry land the only access
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This 6 image stack pano shot just does not do justice to this expanse of water unfortunately

The Sua Pan stretched away to infinity, full of water. Even the camera battled to find a focus point at the furtherest distance. After sinking a Savannah and a bit of a chat, we all climbed back in our cars and headed back to the gate, with no further mishaps. With the sun dropping, I took a few more shots, deciding I would come back here again one day to do a proper sunset drive.

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En-route back to the lodge

Back at the lodge, we picked up our key and headed off to our tented chalet in time for a quick shower before phoning Max for final goodbyes before she boarded her plane.

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Will highly recommend these tented chalets, preferred over the brick variety they have.

Heading down for dinner, we ordered wine and sat under the trees while I chatted to Max. Wishing her well and surprisingly not crying, we then ordered dinner, cream of onion soup which was delicious and AJ had a cheesy garlic roll for starters, main was bream but both feeling rather full from starters, we couldn’t finish. A final WhatsApp from Max had me in tears, so much for my bravery!
Retiring to our room for a cup of tea., we took our mugs out on to the deck, and as I opened the door and stepped outside I caught a bushbaby jumping off the railing, onto the roof of the car and into the trees. Rigging up the cameratrap we went to bed in the hope we’d catch him during the night.

29 April – Limpopo River Lodge
Checking the camera trap this morning, we got 1 pic of the bushbaby, albeit not a very good one. Breakfast on the terrace was omelette for me and fried eggs for AJ. After settling the bill and dumping the last jerry can in the tank, we hit the road with clear blue skies to Limpopo River Lodge before home.
By the time we reached Francistown, through all the donga’s in the road, it had completely clouded over, with a cool 20 deg showing on the car thermometer.
Stopping to refuel in Selebi Pikwe, we travelled onward, eventually reaching LRL at around 3ish.
Booked at our favourite, site number 6, we rolled in and were dismayed to see campers on the other side of the bank in SA. This has always been rough bush opposite so to see it cleared and housing campers was a bit of a shock and a total bummer as this campsite 6 was always our favourite due to it’s total privacy. Even the makeshift ablution shower set up had been redone to hide anyone showering while admiring the view of the river. Such a massive shame…..

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Our old favourite and always a starting or ending point on our trips.

Setting up camp, we chilled for the afternoon, until the sun dropped and then the bush came alive. A lone hippo popped his head up from the surface not far from our campsite and a croc floated nearby. Suddenly I saw a large bird fly into the tree next to us, coming to rest on a low branch. Checking through the bino’s in the fading light, it looked to be a Verreaux’s eagle owl. It sat for a while, calling repeatedly with its rusty squawk. Eventually it flew away, silently, down river. A great sighting. Nearby we could hear pearl spotted owlets and scops owls calling. The Ellie’s could also be heard, screaming angrily at something not too far away.

And that was another epic bush trip put to bed. Next up, Limpopo River Lodge and Mapungubwe in December… a short trip, but I know it will be necessary by then to clear the cobwebs and rejuvinate the soul…. as only the African bush can do for me….

Trip Highlights:
Khama – the rhino sightings and the beautiful storm cloud formation over the waterhole
Khumaga – the vulture sighting and the herd of 33 giraffe
South Gate – the 2 hours we chilled at Black Pools and the hyena that called right next our car on our first night
Mogotho – the total wilderness and the ellie’s that ambled past our campsite all day
Dizhana – the thunderstorm and rain on the 1st night, the hippo’s grunting from all directions, fish eagles and the hippo that walked past us as we were busy photographing the stars
Muchenji – the fabulous showers and the sunset from the deck
Senyati – the endless calling of hyena’s on our first night, the day bed under the bar and our afternoon in the park
Nata – the bushbaby on our deck and the view of the salt pan
LRL – the owl that sat in the tree next to us on the 1st night

Overall – the different terrains we’ve traversed on this trip was quite amazing & the amount of different species of owls we’ve seen…. overlanding never disappoints! 🙂

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Sowa Pan – Nata – remote & desolate, just the way I love it

 

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Central Kalahari Game Reserve

 

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.

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Khama Rhino Sanctuary campsite

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.

 

 

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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.

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Dinner on the go…. Kharma Rhino Sanctuary

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.

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Baby rhino having a little play… bouncing on the spot trying to intimidate the adult…..
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Vultures sensibly cooling off while we sat in the car watching their antics.

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.

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Red-faced mouse bird
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Rhino’s feeling the heat

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!!!!

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Heading into CKGR from the tar road
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The entrance gate into CKGR

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.

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The vast openness that is CKGR

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.

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Kori 3 campsite

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.

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My 1st sighting ever of a bat eared fox, and it wasn’t the last!
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Gemsbok in the best spot during the heat of the day
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Bat eared fox family, just before they all ducked into their burrows
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Yellow-billed kite… I think….
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Herd of springbok
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And out of the dry barren landscape, a splash of colour

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.

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Left over shower water put to good use
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Slender mongoose
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I think it’s a male…..

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!!!

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The scorpion 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.

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Barking gecko’s

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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.

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The sludge we had to drive through en-route to our next campsite
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Beautiful early morning stormy skies
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One of the most handsome buck that Africa has to offer
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After the rain, a jackal on a mission….

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.

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Letiahau campsite… this was one of my favourites, despite no ablutions whatsoever

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.

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The early bird catches the worm… or the lion in our case
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Gorgeous God rays…. what a way to kickstart the day

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.

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The remains of a lion

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.

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Following the sounds of the lion eventually paid off

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.

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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.

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Lion pride seen way off the road

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.

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It is impossible to portray the size of this pan in a photo, it was massive!

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.

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When shade is scarce, you share it, regardless of where you fit in the food chain.

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.

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A journey of giraffe
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Love how these kudu are framed by the V of the branches

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!!

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Passarge 2 – a very picturesque campsite

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.

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Beautiful autumn colours…. except it was the height of summer!

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.

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Long exposure shot taken on Xmas Eve

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.

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So hot even the shade under two kettles was good enough!

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.

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Another long exposure…. this was taken around 11pm on Xmas night

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!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunday 2 campsite

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.

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To give you an idea, that storm was miles away, but moving fast and it was huge!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A very sad departure from CKGR…. will most definately be back

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.

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Rakops, where we found cigarettes at P50 a box and the most delicious home baked bread
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Dogs taking refuge in the puddles from the heat.

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.

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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!!

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Sundowners next to the Boteti river

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……

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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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!

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Nxai Pan – south campsite and ablutions with the spikey “you will not walk here” concrete thingys…

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.

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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.

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Legs like a supermodel

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.

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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.

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The wind was pumping, blasting clouds of grey dust across the pan, obliterating the trees in the distance.

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Would love to see this place when a full on drought is not on the go…..

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.

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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.

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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.

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Secretary birds in flight
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Another unlikely splash of colour

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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.

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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.

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Just love the vast openness that is Africa, so flippen lucky to have this on our doorstep!

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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.

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Yellow billed kite on the branch of the one and only Baobab tree in our campsite

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.

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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.

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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.

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Our most favourite final stop en-route to SA, camping at Limpopo River Lodge

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.

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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…