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.

A mokoro trip into the Okavango Delta

We bid goodbye to Morris and Gill and they headed north into Chobe while Cheryl and I headed south back to Maun. We had quite a few things to sort out like our accommodation, our trip into the Okavango, and a new deep cycle battery (that powers our fridge and lights when the car is off.) We got the first two figured out rather easily but we did stop in at quite a few places before making the decision about who we’d go with on the Mokoro into the Delta (we went with Old Bridge Backpackers, the very place we got a quote from months before, shouldn’t have even shopped around!)

The battery turned out to be a bit more difficult. It started out easy. We went to THE place in town that everyone recommends for all things overlanding, Riley’s Garage, and purchased a battery. So far, so good. I even had a guy give me rough directions as to how it should be installed to avoid shocking myself. Easy stuff! Well, not so easy. It turns out the box we have to hold the battery is only 33cm wide. We bought a 34cm wide battery. And it is the only one they have. Of course I didn’t figure this out until I had everything out of the car and trying to fit in the new battery.

Since it was just after 4pm (and everything in Maun closes at 5pm, latest) we beat it around town to see if we could get a new battery that fits before taking the original one back. Supaquick had only the same as Riley’s. However, Midas proved to have the golden battery touch and had what we were looking for. We got back to Riley’s at 5:01pm and I squeezed through the front door as the guard was trying to lock it. The manager wasn’t happy to end the day with a high cost return but we were finally sorted. Well, except for installing the new one but that turned out to be fairly simple actually.

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I wasn’t a happy camper when I realized the new batter wasn’t the same size as the old one.

We spent the next full day in Maun doing odds and ends that needed doing. We washed our clothes, Cheryl did some work, I shopped for our food for in the Okavango etc. We had an early start the next day so decided to forgo the late night party and head to bed.

The mokoro trip into the Okavango was great in some ways and a disappointment in others. This types of trips are really made or broken solely because of the guide that you get. On this trip, we unfortunately got a guide that couldn’t communicate very well in English and we had some early miscommunications that set a strage tone for the trip. He was also altogether just a bit of an oddball which didn’t help things either. One of the biggest miscommunications is that we weren’t told that we were expected to provide him all of his food and since he couldn’t communicate with us very well it got a bit awkward. We had brought enough food to share dinners because it seemed like the best thing to do but hadn’t planned on sharing breakfast and lunches really.

Despite the difficulty in communication, we made the most of the trip and enjoyed the time we had in the Delta. We spent 3 days and 2 nights in there, spending the heat of the day in camp playing cards, reading, napping and all of those good things. We cooked over an open fire, boiled water from the Delta to cook with (and drink sometimes) – real bush living. As part of the trip we went for a couple of nice walks on some islands through the bush and had a sunset mokoro cruise. You really can’t go wrong. Even if the guide can’t explain what you are seeing when walking. It was great.

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Before we set off into the delta.

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The path for the mokoros was often very narrow. Had to watch out for spiders all in the reeds but we were assured they weren’t poisonous. That point we made sure we understood!

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Cheryl on one of our walks

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Riding in the Mokoro with our guide.


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Selfie on the sunset cruise

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The lilly-pad flowers were really interesting. We learned that they open up throughout the day and close again at night time. This one was in the process of closing as the sun was setting.

We decided to come back to Maun early on our last day (options were 9am or 4pm, the difference being another bush walk but given the communication issues we decided to come back to get last things done in town.) We did some food shopping and booked accommodation for the next couple of nights on our way into Namibia. (This wound up being for naught as we decided to drive further the first day and cancel the reservations anyway…)

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Time for a quick hair cut trim around the ears. The wine was necessary!

Next main stop: Etosha National Park – Namibia!

Dipping into Moremi Game Reserve

After our stop in Maun our next destination was Moremi. Moremi is in northern Botswana bordered to the east by the Okavango Delta and to the west by Chobe National Park. The surrounding areas are also all protected areas so game is renowned to be plentiful in this park. Throughout our travels we’d heard that it was extremely difficult to see game in Moremi because the vegetation was too thick and that all the cool animals were in Chobe given the strange weather patterns this year. We easily dismissed these with the knowledge that, even though it may have been a professional guide who told us this, we’ve each got eyes so certainly we’d be able to see more then them for sure.

Well, maybe not. After our first game drive in the park our spirits were high. We saw a bunch of game after all. All buck with the occasional buffalo but if the food was there, we were sure predators would be there as well.

No such luck. After 5 days of searching we had a very quick sighting of a lion cub but that was about it from the cats. I did get a good picture of it though. And of course we saw the massive herd of elephants that I already posted about.

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Lion cub. A bit far but he was definitely staring back at us.


We still enjoyed the game drives, even if we didn’t have many epic sightings.

Despite the few animals, we still thoroughly enjoyed our 5 nights in the park. We spent 3 at Southgate (you guessed it, in the south of the park) and 2 at Xakanaxa (said with a ‘click’ wherever there’s an x) in the northern part of the park. We were in a nice, relatively secluded campsite at Southgate while the campsite at Xakanaxa was on the main road to the lodge so we had safari vehicles driving past us for the better part of the day. Still a great spot next to a reed-filled river though. Most people don’t spend more then a night at Southgate since there is typically less game in that part of the park. For us, however, that’s where we saw the most game.

Camping in Southgate and Xakanaxa

As we drove into the park we noticed a bunch of vultures circling and a small road off to the side that looked like it led right to where they were casting their gaze. Perfect! As we drove down the road we noticed 100s more vultures. In trees. On rocks. On the ground. On a big rock, oh wait, no, that’s a dead elephant. No predator around but just a dead small elephant. It was fairly fresh as it hadn’t started to smell yet. (Unlike a couple of days later when we went back and made the mistake of having our windows down as we drove up. Multi-day-old dead elephant stench is disgusting it turns out…). We waited around for the predator to come back but it never did. Not sure how the elephant died but it was really neat to see so many vultures in one place.

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Vultures on a dead elephant

The real highlight of Moremi was that Morris and Gill taught Cheryl and I how to play Bridge. Although the card game is more popular with a certain generation we played multiple times and really enjoyed the game. I personally like that whoever is playing gets to play their partner’s hand as well and everyone gets to see it. Makes the game so much more strategic.

Perhaps the most memorable moment during game drives in Moremi was the water crossings. In Southgate we came across a few water crossings that we decided not to attempt since we were a lone vehicle and there were few trees around them to hook our winch to if something happened. In Xakanaxa that all changed. We watched a safari vehicle head through a water crossing and immediately decided to follow suit. Sure it was a bit higher then we were but we’ve got a snorkel. Boy am I glad we did too. Water came up as high as the hood of our Hilux but she made it through swimmingly.


This water crossing made us nervous. It was just child’s play compared to what we would be doing by the time we were out of the park. The issue with this one was the mud underneath, it went on past where we could see the end and there were no trees close enough to winch ourselves out if things got bad.

Here’s the link to a video of our bigger crossing. Stops before the big splash on the hood but you get the idea.

For our last night with Morris and Gill we are camping outside the park to the East. They drive north to Chobe the next day and Cheryl and I return to Maun where we prepare for a few days in the Okavango Delta, transported via Mokoro (dugout canoe). When we came across water today we went through it with much more confidence then when we first saw water on our path. Nothing can hold us back now!


This one we were (fairly) sure was safe to cross. It was!


The rive is called the Khwai river. This is literally the bridge over the river Khwai, just the Botswana version.


Posing with our Hilux in our last campsite.

Photo with Morris and Gill our last night together. This was the reason I was allowed to keep the tripod.


Practising our newly learned bridge skills our last night together.


Cheryl and her mom.


Cheryl and her dad.

Elephant Encounters

This post is about exhilarating elephant encounters. The first one happened in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and the second in Moremi. One is about a single bull, the other about a massive herd. Both are about being a little too close for staying in our normal comfort zone.

Encounter 1:

Soon after we got to see 3 elephants playing in the river and mud a separate group of 4 came quickly down the hill next to us and plunged immediately into the water. Instead of playing and crossing the river the way the first group had, a large bull left the group and started walking toward us. From 30 or so meters he walked out of the water and got to 20, 15, 10 meters away. We were stuck. He was looking straight at us. If we turned on the cars he would get angry and most likely charge. That would require us reversing (uphill) faster than a charging elephant (up to 40 kph). Not likely to turn out so well for us. We stayed put.

He kept getting closer and closer. 5 meters away he started angling to the side. Constantly staring at us he came around up the hill slightly so that he was now towards the driver side of our car. I was positioned between an intense elephant on one side and my in-laws on the other side. I motioned that if he charges I am driving forward. Fast. Morris and Gill frantically waved “NO!!!” thinking that I was motioning to turn on the car and drive now. I wasn’t that naive.

I had one hand on the ignition, turned one notch short of starting the car. It was in gear and ready to go. If there was charge I was going as fast as possible straight ahead (trying to avoid driving straight into the river in the meantime). I stole a quick glance at Cheryl knowing that she is quite nervous around elephants (and for good reason.) Her head was buried in her arms. This was probably best.

As the elephant continued ever so slowly around the vehicle he suddenly got annoyed.. His trunk went up, his ears went out. He wasn’t happy. My heart was pounding. My jaw clenched. My stomach knotted.

“This is it!” I thought.

Still no charge.

We stayed still.

For 10 agonizing minutes (+ or – a few) the elephant slowly made its way past our vehicles. For some of the time I could only see him in the side mirrors. At one point he disappeared completely into the blind spot directly behind me since our rear-view is blocked. My heart never stopped pounding. My hand never left the ignition.

Eventually he made his way to the river on the other side and continued as if nothing happened. We could breathe at last. Phew. The only sad part is I have no photos to commemorate the occasion. Silly me for not thinking of that in the moment.

Encounter 2

On a rather slow morning game drive through Moremi we were exploring one final area when we came across a massive herd of elephants. On the way past the elephants were all well away from the road and we drove slowly past with taking the requisite number of photos. As we drove we saw the herd kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Overall we estimated over 150 elephant. Amazing! There was no where for us to get above them to take a picture of just how many there were though so we continued on our way.

After leaving the herd the road we were on ended in a pond. The GPS told us there was a road there but with all the rain that this part of the world has received this year, the road had turned into a pond. Being a single vehicle we decided not to cross, opting to turn around and head home for breakfast.

We were on the lookout for elephants knowing that the herd was close by but they were soon closer then we anticipated. As we turned a corner there was a nice bull right in front of us on the road. Time to reverse. Oh wait, now there’s an elephant behind us. Go forward again. Nope! I guess we stay still. Wait, there’s an elephant just to our left. And now one’s approaching on the right. We had to stay put. Sitting in the middle of a massive herd of elephant will make you feel small and powerless in a way that doesn’t happen too often. Really cool to see them group together.

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Can’t go forward…

Unlike the encounter before, this time the car was never off. Most of the time the elephants didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by us (except once when I tried to inch forward a bit too quickly.) They were moving at their own pace (read: slowly) but eventually a large enough gap opened up in the herd that we could slip through without bothering anyone.

Back through Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans

We left the CKGR with Cheryl and I once again deciding to take the long route through the park from Motopi in the NW and out the Matswere gate on the NE side by Rakops instead of the much shorter route in the park and along the tar road around to the north. We did this under the auspices of being able to bring the remaining meat from South to North but Morris and Gill not being able to bring meet from North to South due to the presence of a vet fence. These vet fences are throughout Botswana and Namibia and are in place to inhibit the spread of foot and mouth disease which crops up from time to time in the north but not in the south. Morris and Gill went via the north (Tsau gate) and through Maun where the filled up on diesel and other provisions before we met up again at Tiaans camp just to the east of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.

Cheryl and I had driven through this smaller park on our way to the CKGR because our original route to the west was flooded and not passable so we already had a good idea of where we wanted to explore. We had a bit of a relaxed morning then took the ferry across the river and into the park. We had a leisurely drive up the river until we found a nice shady spot with a great view where we had seen some elephants come down to drink when we last came through.

After sitting for a few minutes our spot did not disappoint as a trio of elephants came down the hill 30 meters or so from us to drink and play in the water. It was really special to see them swimming, rolling in the mud, spraying dust on themselves to protect their skin from the mud and generally having a jolly good time. As they got out on the far bank of the river another male elephant came down from that side and they clearly greeted each other by lifting their trunks and lightly touching them together. After doing this with the first two elephants, that new elephant then galloped (do elephants gallop?) to the third and smallest one in the group and was clearly playing with him. We later read in Morris and Gill’s guide book that old bull elephants often have good relationships with groups of younger males and acts almost as a mentor while they provide him with additional strength for protection. We think this is what we were witnessing. Amazing to see.

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Elephants drinking

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Swimming with a natural snorkel

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Nothing beats a mud bath on a hot afternoon after a refreshing dip

Shortly after this another group of 4 elephant came down to the river the same way the first group had. We thought we were in for another show at a reasonable distance but a large bull had another idea in mind for us. (You’ve got to read the other post titled “Elephant Encounters” to read about this heart-pounding moment as well as our drive through a massive herd of >150 elephants.)

After our encounter Cheryl and I continued along the river while Morris and Gill went back to get their trailer. We had plans to meet in Nxai Pan for the evening but on the road out of Makgadikgadi we noticed that the sand was getting extremely deep so we did a u-turn to find Morris and Gill and make sure they could get through. They have a lower clearance then us, especially with their trailer, so it seemed like a good idea to make sure they’d make it. After finding them we left in convoy and sure enough, right before the place Cheryl and I decided to turn around the Fortuner started slowing down in the thick sand and got stuck. Weighed down by a trailer the spare wheel decided to dig itself in. How rude.

Unfortunately we hadn’t thought through our rescue mission entirely and we were behind them on a single track road so pulling them out wasn’t immediately possible. Down on our knees and digging in the sand we tried in vain for multiple attempts to get them out. Morris and Gill got in on the digging fun too but still no success. We were able to get the vehicle forward a few meters though, just enough space for me to put Fiona in low-gear and drive up and around on a sand dune to get in front of them. Being well prepared, I whipped out my snatch-strap (only 50% sure that was the right one to use) and proceeded to hook it up to both vehicles with great bravado. A quick acceleration and a big jolt when the strap got taught and they came right out of there. Thank goodness for second-hand recovery kit I purchased before heading out on the trip.


Digging out of the sand

After that we had no incidents on our way through to Nxai Pan National Park. Nxai Pan is essentially the same park as the Makgradikgadi Pans National Park, just across the main road, so you don’t need to pay for entry again. Well, not in monetary terms. Your payment is a lovely 30km drive along corrugated sand roads that make using a jack hammer sound like it might be a pleasurable experience. We only got into the park quite late (thanks in part to our earlier fun in the sand) so all we had time to do was set up camp and light the braai before the sun went down.

Despite the aggressive road, the most remarkable part about Nxai Pan was that it was rather unremarkable really. Their waterhole was unfortunately not full of water so we even opted to sleep in rather than embark on a game drive in the morning.

Before leaving the park, we decided to check out Baines Baobabs, an island of baobab trees famous because the view was painted by some guy named Baine over 150 years ago and they still look the same today except one lost a branch at some point along the way. A mere 18km detour (each way) and we were there. We snapped off a couple of pictures and moved along. It was on this drive that we developed the potentially soon-to-be patented “Hendrickson Model for Travel Decision Making” which will be discussed in another post. Stay tuned.

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The famous Baines Baobabs

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Baines Baobabs – Been there, done that, took the selfie

A night in Maun allowed us to stock up on provisions and I uploaded a few blog posts. We were off to Moremi the following day.

Epic sightings in the CKGR!

Now it’s off to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). This is a massive reserve right in the center of Botswana. If you look at a map of the country you can’t miss it. It’s about the same size as Portugal in total. Yet, in that whole area there are only around 50 campsites and they are all tucked away on their own away from other people. There is no running water or electricity at any of the campsites but they do set up a long-drop toilet (read: hole in the ground with a toilet over it, kind of gross) and a place to hook up a bucket for a shower if you bring enough water. It forms a major part of the larger Kalahari region and is mostly sandy ground. It is an arid landscape but is covered with grasses, bushes and small trees so the bush itself is quite thick. The antelope in this park are all varieties that don’t need much water and we’ve seen thousands of oryx and springbok. But those aren’t why we came. We came because of its reputation for big cats. Lots of big cats.

We set off for the CKGR nice and early after filling up our drinking water and lashing some wood to the top of the Hilux for our braais and fires while we are in the reserve. With 5 days of remote camping we need ~8-10 liters of water per day for Cheryl and I but that’s if we don’t want to shower. We brought 100 liters. Way more then enough. We plan to take a showers or two.

We were less then 20 kms off the tar road when we stopped for the first time. Morris and Gill’s trailer lost a diesel jerry can. Got it back on and tied it down and we were off again. 10 kms later and we stop to check to make sure it’s all good. Now the spare tire is missing. After a scouting mission we got the spare back and we were on our way again. Luckily the trailer had all of its dirt road wobbles in the first 30 kms. It’s been working great since.

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Morris and Gill driving in front of us to make sure nothing else falls off

Once in the park the first night’s game drive was already spectacular. 2 cheetah and a male/female lion pair. It was quite dark at this point already so the photos didn’t turn out very well but not to worry. The next morning Cheryl and I got out early as the sun rose and found the cheetahs again. It turns out there were three. This time they hung out right in the road with us and we had them all to ourselves for over 45 minutes. Phenomenal. We even came across another pair of cheetahs later that morning. The CKGR is living up to its reputation for big cats already and we’re only 24 hours in.

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A bit dark but a great time with this lion

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The mom cheetah stayed on watch as the two (almost fully grown) cubs played and lay around

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The two cubs just plopped down in the road in front of us

The next day the four of us (Cheryl, Me, Morris and Gill) piled into Fiona (our Hilux is named Fiona) and decided to take a longer drive down to some further away water holes because there are only a few in the entire park. The water holes themselves are a bit pathetic but that was all right with us given what we saw on the way there. Two more cheetah. A lioness literally lying on top of her kill. Two leopards crossing the road right in front of us. And many other interesting things. For all of the big cats we were the only people there to see them. We stopped back at the lioness later in the day on our way back from the waterhole and she was still just laying there, obviously very full. What a day.

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Cheryl’s eagle eyes spotted these leopards. They got up and decided to cross the road right in front of us.

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She literally fell asleep on her kill. Not interested in us in the slightest.

With that great of a morning we decided to relax in the afternoon and make another poitjie stew. We toasted in celebration over a nice fire and went to bed early because we had a long drive the next day.

Cheryl and I scooted out early because we decided to take the 145km route to our next campsite, Motopi 2, in the Northwest corner of the park. The mantra for our trip has quickly developed into: if there is an option with something interesting that is a bit longer, we’ll probably take it. (More on deciding if a detour is worth it in another post.) Morris and Gill were going a bit straighter of a route that would only take ~100kms. We came across another set of Cheetah (I have hundreds of cheetah photos at this point) but didn’t see much else the rest of the day.

I write this post our last night in the park. We get up before the crack of dawn tomorrow for a long drive out of the park and back to the Makgadikgadi pans. Right now Cheryl and her mom are locked in an epic battle of the wits where they make up funny words and put them on a board with wooden letters all while huffing and puffing and cursing the gods for giving them such bad letters. I think they call it scrabble. Morris is packing.


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Girls playing scrabble. Morris was packing in the background.

Overall we’ve stayed at 3 different campsites in CKGR. For those interested they were Sunday 2, Kori 4 and Motopi 2. The set-ups are all the same. Braai pit, bucket shower, long-drop toilet. Not much to speak in terms of amenities but we didn’t come here to collect little bars of soap and tiny bottles of shampoo. We came for the isolation. And it is glorious.

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Quiet campsite in the CKGR

The road to the Central Kalahari

We really enjoyed our time in Zimbabwe where we really felt like we were on our own in the wild. We bid goodbye as we drove out of Hwange. I really wanted a photo with the entrance sign since I forgot to take one on the way in. As we got to the gate I remembered that I hadn’t forgot. The sign was blank. Nicely painted. But blank. So we took a picture overlooking the bush and called it good. Onto Botswana.

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The entrance to Hwange National Park.

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Saying goodbye to Zimbabwe.

The boarder was a breeze and we drove south through Nata and onto Gweta where we stayed at Planet Baobab just north of the Makgadikgadi pans. The first thing we noticed after filling up with diesel was how well the shops were stocked. Even the little shop at the gas station had more food then the markets in Zim. And it was half the cost.

We next noticed just how many tourists were around. Every other car seemed to be a kitted out camping vehicle with the logo of a rental company boldly emblazoned on the hood and both sides. We realized just how off the beaten path we were in Zim. Not so in Botswana, at least on the main roads. Though there are elephants on the main roads. Lots of them. They even put up elephant crossing signs to let you know. We were going 120kph when elephants decided to cross in front of us. Luckily we saw them in plenty of time.


We were warned about elephant crossing despite the 120kph speed limit


The signs weren’t joking

After a big shop and a stop for fast food in Nata (needed after 18 days in the bush) we continued onto Planet Baobab. Just like in Zim we had to push on the breaks. A “drive slow” sign was posted on the side of the road, followed by “be careful.” Not sure what that means. Around a corner (on a main tar road with a 120kph speed limit) the road disappeared. In front of us was just mud and water. Now it makes sense why we hadn’t seen any other cars coming the other way in a while.

After looking at it for a while we noticed a tow truck sitting nearby so I went up and chatted to the driver. “It’s too deep and muddy, you could get stuck” he said. “I’ll put you on the flatbed and drive you across though…”. (For a hefty fee, he implied. We later learned somebody paid an extremely high price for this service)

I got back in the Hilux and said to Cheryl “They said they could tow us across. But if they can drive across then we can too. We’ve got a snorkel and 4-wheel drive.” Let’s do this.

Just before taking off a big truck rumbled down the road. They were going to do it too. We let them go first.

“Their tires are so big, is it OK for us?” Cheryl asked.

“No problem” I calmly responded. I had no clue.

We took off in 4-low through the mud but quickly hit solid road. Well, solid below tire-deep water. We didn’t even need our snorkel. This was easy. Though we were happy to have the truck in front of us as the water went on and on. If you went off the road that would have been bad. Then it would get real. Staying on the solid ground was fine for us. This time. It took some time but soon enough we were out the other side and waving goodbye to the truck that guided us.


Is it safe to cross?


Following behind the truck.


We were “well warned” thanks to the signs…

Planet Baobab is a lovely backpackers with campsites and chalets tucked amongst, you guessed it, baobabs. The individual camp sites have a thatched shaded area and electricity to charge our electronics. After another hot shower we were feeling great. It was there that the internet let me down and I couldn’t upload the blog posts I had been hoping to but we cut our losses, found the only “butcher” in town and drove on. We were meeting Morris and Gill (Cheryl’s parents) that night in Rakops, an hour outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

As per our mantra, we decided to go the long way and turned off the tarred road to drive through the Makgadikgadi Pans national park. A lazy winding river brought us passed plenty of game and out the other side. A simple ferry crossing later (this water was just too deep) and we were back on tar driving 120kph towards our reunion.

We arrived at Rakops River Lodge to hugs, kisses and beers and we spent the night chatting through all of our stories.

Into CKGR tomorrow!