Back to Botswana: Chobe National Park

We had to make the decision about going into Chobe with our truck bed sitting directly on the chassis or to skip the park entirely and sit around in Katima Mulilo twiddling our thumbs for a few days until our new springs and bushes arrived. It wasn’t even a legitimate decision. Of course we were going to Chobe. We were told that nothing worse could really happen to the rear suspension, just that the ride would be a lot more bumpy (and boy did it hit hard sometimes…) We hadn’t thought through all the potential secondary effects though and now we definitely have a few more rattles and squeaks that weren’t there before. Since there were no springs to help dampen the big bumps the impact was taken directly in everything else. Now our chairs squeak, the gas bottles on the roof thump around, there’s a squeak in the airbag compartment somewhere. But that’s all that really happened. Fiona otherwise made it out without a hitch and we saw some awesome things in Chobe.

Overall we spent 6 nights/days in the park. Our first two nights were spent just outside the park at Muchenje Campsites along the Chobe river in the Chobe Forest Reserve. We drove into the park for some game drives and enjoyed the beautiful sunsets from our site. On the full day that we had there we decided to forego the afternoon game drive in favor of an afternoon river cruise. Great decision. We drove down to Kasane where we boarded a boat with one other couple and a captain and we cruised around the river looking at hippo, elephant, crocodile, buffalo and all the other creatures that come out to enjoy the late afternoon drop in temperature after the heat of the mid day sun. We brought a cooler full of drinks which we happily sipped along the way. Highly recommended for a relaxing afternoon.

Our next two nights were spent in Savuti which is an area of Chobe around 100kms from where we were the first couple of days. Sticking to our mantra we originally planned on driving the long way through the park to get to Savuti using the drive to see game along the way. We got up early, packed up and hit the tar road. Within a kilometer after we turned onto the first sand road I hit the breaks. The going was just too slow. With the massive bumps and no rear suspension we were both nervous that we might just not make it over the 170km that we planned to drive. Not if it was all like that at least.

A quick change of plans had us driving along the Chobe river front again where we came across three lionesses on a hunt. What a spectacular sight to see them in their element like that. They were casually walking along when they suddenly froze. Stone still. The one in front crouched and stared intently ahead. Around 100m away stood a lone male impala. The stalk begins.

Every time the impala put its head down to eat the three lionesses would creep forward. Then stop. The impala’s head just came up. Did it see them? Will it run away? Nope. Back to eating. Back to creeping forward. The stalk continues.

As the lionesses got closer two stayed back, stone still. One continued forward and circled around to the right. She came up right near where we were sitting and inched forward. Head up; she stops. Head down again; she continues. This went on until she was behind the impala. She looked so close! Surely she would leap out and take him at any moment.

What was that? Something spooked him. He is at full alert now. Staring directly at the two lionesses that stayed behind. He still doesn’t see the third. Will she pounce?

Suddenly, to our dismay, he calls out an alert and bounds off and away from the danger.

The lioness sat there until her two friends caught up to here and they continued walking on. The hunt continues…

It would have been amazing to see a successful hunt but these lionesses really showed why they are considered ‘opportunistic hunters.’ They really didn’t have much chance against an athletic male impala who was keenly alert. Still they had to try their luck. Even though the one lioness seemed close enough to make the final pounce, she made no effort as he bounded away. The opportunity was there so they went for it but they weren’t about to expend the extra energy if they didn’t need to.

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The three lionesses on a hunt…

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She was so close!  That is the lioness on the right and the impala on the left.  Just after this he got spooked and ran off.

After that awesome sighting we finally made the drive to Savuti along the tar road for part of the way and then onto the main sand track. The road was still rough but nothing like what we had attempted earlier in the day. We checked in to our campsite and quickly headed out again for a late afternoon game drive to get a lay of the land. Savuti is a very sandy place but nothing of issue, even for an injured Fiona. Our second morning we heard some female lions calling to each other from within a thicket but we got too anxious about what we might be missing at the water holes 1km away (nothing, it turns out) that by the time we left and got back there we missed them coming out. Still, while we were in Savuti we saw some cheetah lying around under a tree and had a couple of close-up encounters with two other individual female lions. We really enjoyed our time in the area and it ended all too quickly.

Sightings from around Savuti.

Our next stop was Ihaha Rest Camp for 2 nights. This is back in the Chobe River Front area but it is in the middle of the park rather than staying just outside the gate like we had the first two nights. Overall, this was our favorite camp in Chobe. We had a lovely unfenced spot right along the river. There are 10 campsites in total and we found ourselves at the last one on the far end. Too far to walk to the bathrooms at night (especially when we heard hippo and buffalo around) but that was perfect for us. We took the car when we needed to shower. We were relatively secluded from the other campers and had great fires overlooking the river, drinking wine well into the night. Although we had two nights, we essentially only had one day in the area by the time we got there from Savuti. We also had to leave at 6am when the park opened (still in the dark) on our last day in order to get to the boarder post by 7am (more on that in another post.)

Despite only having one day, Ihaha presented us with another great leopard sighting. It was very early morning as we were driving along the river I noticed a small head dip under a tree. It’s a lion. No, wait. It’s a leopard! After a minute or two alone with the big cat two safari vehicles came up and flushed it out to run off. It tracked above the road for a while as we followed it. After a couple of kilometers it disappeared suddenly and just when we were about to give up it emerged ~50m away to head back to the water for a drink. Everyone kept their distance to enjoy the sighting of this ever skittish animal. After it’d had enough it quickly headed off into the bush again. Gone.

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Leopard coming back from drinking in the river. It quickly disappeared after this photo.

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