We’ve been offline for a short while as we crossed back from Botswana to Sth Africa last Saturday, then made our way across the north-east of SA to Kruger National Park and crossed into Mozambique via Pafuri Gate on Tuesday.
On our last night in Botswana, we wild-camped north of Serowe on a disused road we found when we were there in March. We used the Martin’s Drift/Groblersbrug border crossing from Bots to SA for the 4th time. Martin’s Drift on the Botswana side was, as usual, quick, easy and predictable. Groblersbrug was the usual confusion of not knowing where to go because the Immigration section had been moved again, although being Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t as busy as we’ve seen it. There was a huge line of trucks waiting to cross into Bots, though – at least 3kms long.
We stayed at the Big Fig Inn near Tom Burke, just a few kms from the border. Lovely campground with grassy sites. The first grass we’ve seen in quite a while. On Sunday we headed east towards Louis Trichardt. We’d driven along a really terrible stretch of road from Tom Burke to Alldays on our first trip here, so we wanted to avoid that this time. Google Maps offered an alternative, but neglected to mention that parts of it were dirt! Blrgh. Anyway, we reached our second campsite, Zvakanaka, just north of Louis Trichard and it was a lovely set-up too. We had a site with our own shelter, power, water, braai. Ablutions including a front-loading washing machine were nearby. Great views over the Soutpansberg mountain range.
On Monday we did some stuff in Louis Trichard – groceries, tyre & inner tubes, hardware, more groceries, then continued east to our third campsite, Nthakeni, at Nkotswi. On the way, we stopped and fuelled up at Masisi, the last fuel source for us in Sth Africa, and in the part of Moz we were heading to, fuel supplies are unreliable. On our first trip to Sth Africa, we were heading to Pafuri Gate and were stopped by a roadblock at Masisi – the bridge over the river had been washed away, so we had to head south to another gate.
Nthakeni Bush and River Camp was an absolute gem. Located on the Mutale River, it offers a range of accommodation and provides employment for local villagers. Our campsite had its own outdoor shower, (indoor) toilet and the best camp kitchen I’ve seen. Well-equipped, nicely laid out, it was excellent!
It would have been great to spend more time at any or all of the 3 South African campgrounds we visited, but …. places to go, borders to cross, a new country to explore …
(aka – We drove across the Kalahari Desert in 2WD and got another flat tyre)
We spent our last night in the CKGR at Deception Camp 1, then set out on Wednesday morning to drive out of the Reserve, get back on the sealed road at Rakops and head south towards Orapa. We got a mere 6kms down the track when Tyre Dog pressure monitoring system started letting us know that we had a puncture.
So we pull over to a clear flat spot off the single vehicle-width track, grab our 2 jacks and other tyre-fixing stuff and get on with it.
Just as Greg was getting the first jack underneath, 2 government Landcruiser utes stopped. I thanked them for stopping, explained that we had a flat tyre but we were okay and thought they would just keep on driving, but they pulled both vehicles off the track and all 6 passengers got out to assess the situation. Within seconds the 2 drivers were on the green mat-covered ground with Greg, sussing it all out. Someone got a jack from one of the utes, so we had 3 jacks, and they got to work.
The group works for a mobile health unit, based in Ghanzi. They had visited the 2 lodges within the Reserve and were on their way to a clinic in Rakops. There were 2 Health Care workers including Registered Nurse Onalethata Matsenkule who trained in Melbourne and lived in Australia for 9 years. He has even visited Adelaide! In addition to the 2 drivers, there was a mechanic and a female assistant mechanic.
We had an almost heart-stopping moment when one of the drivers moved out from under Clancy a split second before the jack collapsed in the soft sand, but otherwise it all went smoothly. I chatted with Onalethata while Greg and the men replaced the tyre. I showed off Clancy’s interior, the guys chatted about how fantastic 1H and 2H Toyota engines are, then Greg showed them the electrical features of the camper. We gave the group a 6-pack of Sahara Cider, thanked them all profusely and waved them off to get to their health clinic.
The rest of our drive out of the Reserve was uneventful, although the last part of the unsealed road back to the B300 sealed road near Rakops was the worst of the whole CKGR route.
We pulled off the road at the turn-off to Rakops and had a very late lunch. Just as we were finishing, a government car pulled up beside us ….. it was our friends the drivers and health workers! We were happy to see them and let them know that the rest of our drive out of the park was fine.
It was such a lovely experience, meeting this group of friendly, helpful locals. Shame about the tyre – we’re up to 5 punctures for this trip so far. Hopefully not on track to match Season 1’s tally of 10 punctures and 2 blow-outs.
Kubu Island is a site that I have wanted to visit for many years, ever since I watched Andrew St Pierre White’s videos about his visits. Kubu Island is a granite island that rises out of the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana. Kubu Island is covered with Boabab trees and is a complete contrast to the flat salt Makgadikgadi Pan surrounding it. The Makgadikgadi Pans are the largest salt pan complex in the world covering 16,000 square kilometres.
We stopped at Mmatshumo village on the way into Kubu Island to get our permit and pay our camping fees, totalling 480pula (about A$70). Its then a 50km drive along a variable road to Kubu Island. We camped at campsite No. 1 (since we were early). We retired during the heat of the afternoon (remember its winter in Botswana – 32C). Then around sunset we climbed up Kubu Island to watch the sunset from the top. You could see the shadow of the island stretching eastward over the pan.
Kubu Island is regarded as a monument, and sacred to the local people. There is archaeological evidence that people have been using the island for ceremonies for more than a thousand years.
It was a cool windy night, so we made use again of the diesel heater to heat the cabin.
The ‘it’s so hard to work out how to book at Botswana’s wildlife reserves’ theme continues with our current venture into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve CKGR.
The Reserve has 3 kinds of campsites:
– privately run ones which charge loads of money but provide everything. We drove into one near the DWNP Kori campsites by mistake and it had a game drive vehicle and nice-looking semi-permanent tents including a bathroom tent. We met a couple of the staff who were going for a walk. One of them asked us if we had any cigarettes, but as we don’t smoke we weren’t able to assist.
– sites run by the Department of Wildlife & National Parks DWNP which provide a concrete braai area, drop toilet, bucket shower, although the actual bucket seems to be missing about 50% of the time
– Bigfoot Tours sites which cost 12 times the price of the DWNP – 350 pula per person vs 30 pula per person for DWNP sites.In the case of the Bigfoot one we had a look at at Letiahou, it had absolutely nothing apart from an ashy braai area. Bigfoot also doesn’t bother to answer emails.
Everyone pays the same park and vehicle entry fees – 120 pula per person, 50 pula per vehicle under 3.5 tonnes.
In order to get into the CKGR, you have to have some accommodation booked.
We visited the DWNP office in Ghanzi on Friday afternoon, to see if we could get a booking somewhere, anywhere in the park. The nearest DWNP campsite to the north-western gate Tsau, is San Pan, which is about 90kms from the gate. We asked if we could book a night there, and then several nights at Deception Valley, which is about 40kms from the north eastern gate Matswere. A very helpful young DWNP ranger was able to get us the night at San Pan, but all 6 Deception campsites were booked out. On paper, or in some central computerised booking system, but not really. More on that later. So then we asked if we could get 4 nights at San Pan. 6 phone calls later ( !?!?! ) – success! We got our 4 nights in the CKGR, and figured we’d work out the details of where we would actually stay later. Apparently it is possible to pay by cash or credit card at the office, but the finance person wasn’t there, so we had to pay cash at Tsau Gate the next morning.
We wild camped just off the track to Tsau Gate, about 9kms west of it, so we could enter the reserve early. We weren’t sure how long it would take us to drive to San Pan.
I still wasn’t quite convinced that we’d get into the reserve without any hassles. The DWNP is a bit notorious for double-booking sites, or having no confirmation of bookings and various other obstacles, and all we had was the code of the camp written on a piece of paper. It did all go smoothly though. We found our booking details written on a piece of paper on the staff noticeboard in the tented office just near the main office building which is ‘under renovation’, we had the correct money to pay (entry gates to reserves here are notorious for not having any change), we got an official hand-written receipt stamped with the official DWNP stamp and we were good to go. Total cost for 4 nights camping for 2 people, 5 days of entry into the reserve for 2 people and vehicle entry for 5 days was 1690 pula, around AUD$240.
We spent 2 nights at San Pan, a large single campsite that has a fireplace, drop toilet AND a bucket. We used our own shower set-up in the shower space as it had a good concrete floor. On the day we were at San, we had 2 lots of visitors – a French couple who were running low on diesel and came to ask if we had any spare that they could buy. We had about 1/2 a tank and 3 full jerrycans, so Greg tipped a jerrycan into theirs, and they drove off to one of the Bigfoot campsites near Passarge Pan.
Then later in the afternoon, a Scottish/German couple drove up, having booked the campsite a day or so earlier … see what I mean about double-booking?! We were happy to share with them, but they decided to go a bit further south to Phokoje campsite as they were leaving via the south gate.
Yesterday(Monday) morning, after 2 nights and a full day at San, we headed east, intending to stay at one of the 6 Deception camps or one of the 4 Kori camps nearby. When we visited the Kori camps in the middle of the afternoon, 2 were empty, one had one vehicle and one had about 6 permanent-looking tents and no people or vehicles. Later in the day we checked out the Deception camps. 3 were occupied, 3 were not, so we took Campsite 1, which looked like it had been vacant for a while.
It seems that people or tour operators book the campsites as soon as the season opens, and then because they have no ‘skin in the game’, ie haven’t paid any money, they don’t bother cancelling the bookings if their plans change. The sites appear to be booked in DWNP’s database, but many go empty and other people miss out. Meanwhile, DWNP is missing out on a lot of entry and camping fees because the sites are not actually occupied.
We’ve seen a lot more wildife that we expected to. Conditions in Bots are pretty dry this year and we didn’t see much in and around the Trans-Frontier Park, but have since heard that there’s a lion whose territory includes the Mabua Entry Gate campground.
There are several permanent, artificially fed waterholes in the northern CKGR area and they keep herds of gemsbok and springbok from straying too far. Which also helps keep lions & other predators and black-backed jackals & other scavengers close. We haven’t seen a lion or any other predators, but the French couple told us they had seen one at Letiahau the night before we met them. The second couple saw some bat-eared foxes at Kori campsites. We saw a lone giraffe just a few kms from San Pan and when we were near Tsau Gate outside the Reserve we saw elephant dung but no elephants. We haven’t seen any evidence of any within the Reserve. Last night a honey badger tipped our washing up trough over, to get to the water in it, and Greg saw a rabbit during the night.
We seem to be turning into bird-watchers. My favourite bird is the crimson-breasted shrike, which has a bright red front, black back and a long white stripe down each wing. I first saw one when we camped at the quarry south of Mabuasehube Gate, have seen them occasionally since then and we were visited by 2 this morning. We have also seen a couple of yellow-billed hornbills today and many other smaller birds that we don’t know the names of. A bird book is on the next list of what we need to acquire or bring for our next trip. I’ll try and find one locally.
We’re reading a great book, Cry of the Kalahari, which was written by ecologists Mark and Delia Owens, about the 7 years they spent studying lions, brown hyenas and other wildife in Deception Valley in the CKGR, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. They lived in a tent the whole time they were here, but back then, there were no DWNP or Bigfoot campsites, and very few, if any, roads or tracks. They drove an ancient Land Rover, then a slightly younger Land Cruiser, used a compass to mark locations and get directions because GPS hadn’t been invented, dealt with bushfires, at least one major flood and one very long, very devastating drought, re-supplied at Maun when it was just a village and learnt a lot about the wildlife they studied. They went on to write 2 more books about their lives in Africa, and last year Delia wrote and published her first novel ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’. My bff Sally sent me a copy of ‘Crawdads’, which is a really great read, and when I finished it, I found out about Delia’s other, earlier books and her amazing life in Southern Africa.
Wouldn’t that be a great title for one of Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club Series books? Perhaps he could do a cross-over, where Isabel Dalhousie visits Mma Precious Ramotswe in Gaborone, Botswana, and they go off on a safari together; then Precious visits Isabel in the UK and is constantly amazed at the grey skies and how much it rains there.
Anyway …. when we were fitting out Clancy the Camper, we decided that marine carpet would be good for most of the vertical and horizontal surfaces as it would decrease the amount of condensation in our living space. It’s worked really well. We do still get some condensation on the ceiling, but in the current climate with humidity around 10% most of the time, it evaporates very quickly.
Something we hadn’t thought about when deciding on marine carpet is how fantastic it is for holding velcro and thus the seemingly endless number of remotes, chargers, sensors, switches and other assorted paraphenalia we have managed to accumulate and stick to the carpet-covered walls. We’ve stuck strips of velcro to the back of the battery charger, fire blanket, at least 4 remote controls for lights, a thermometer, a USB charger or two (and many of the charging cables come with their own thin double-sided velcro as well), the carbon monoxide sensor, 2 small banana boxes full of miscellanea and probably a couple more things I can’t see at the moment and have forgotten about. We also have a fridge temperature monitoring system, but it came with magnets on the back, so we also have a couple of strips of metal glued to the carpet. Otherwise, the sensor would have got the velcro treatment too.
We also use long strips of velcro to hold the bluetooth speaker to the dashboard. We’re currently listening to Jo Nesbo’s latest Harry Hole book, Knife, but only when we’re on sealed roads. Too bouncy when we’re on unsealed roads and tracks.
There are 2 large storage spaces in Clancy’s living space – a short, wide area at the front and a taller, wide area at the back. By some minor miracle, I found some fabric-sided storage boxes at Ikea which are the perfect dimensions to fit in the front storage area. We each have one for our clothes and there’s a bit of space left over for our carry-on travel packs and other assorted stuff. We use the taller area at the back for our bedding, mattresses, TV & printer (both stored in their boxes) and various other items. Holding everything in was a bit of a challenge and Greg came up with a couple of timber bars that slot into brackets. We put a rolled-up deflated mattress behind each bar to hold it all back and that works well on sealed roads, but on bumpy tracks the timber would dislodge and a lot of it would fall out. Last time we tried elastic bands which did sort of work most of the time, but this time we’ve got it figured out. Greg bought metres and metres of thin double-sided velcro on Ebay and we wind short pieces of it around the timber bars at each end, with a very long piece wound in a figure-8 pattern in the middle. Nothing has moved, nothing has fallen down so that seems to be a success.
There’s also a strip of the same thin double-sided velcro holding the fire extinguisher in our living area in place. The extinguisher sits in a holder which is screwed to the wall, and the velcro is just to make sure it doesn’t jump out of its holding bracket.
We’ve spent the last 5 nights camping in and around the Kgalagardi Trans-Frontier Park and the adjoining Wildlife Management Areas.
Friday – quarry just south of the Wildlife Management Area next to the KTFP, south of Mabuasehube Gate Saturday – camping area just inside Mabuasehube Gate. We tried to get a campsite at Khiding, further inside the park, but there were no vacancies. Allegedly. We’ve mentioned/complained about the crazy, fragmented booking systems for National Parks and Wildlife Reserves in Bots before, and it’s no better. The people at the entry gates to the parks have no idea if or where there are vacancies, but if you don’t have accommodation booked inside the park, you can’t get in. There are 3 campsites at Mabuasehube Gate, and we apparently got the last vacant site, but one of the 3 sites was unoccupied the whole time we were there. I’m sure it would be a similar story at all the campgrounds inside the park as well. People book, don’t need to pay until they are at the entrance gate, don’t show up and someone else misses out. Sunday and Monday – Jacks Pan, north of the KTFP north-east corner. We met a South African couple, Quentin and Natasha, here and had a lovely time swapping stories. They love Botswana as much as we do and spend as much of their spare time here as they can. The night before we arrived at Jack’s Pan, they had a horrible night with a group of loud, rude campers who got drunk, played loud music almost all night and were nasty when Natasha asked them to quieten down. I can imagine how they must have felt when they heard and saw Clancy approaching their little haven. When we first met them, we assured them that we are quiet, don’t play music, don’t drink much and keep ‘campers hours’ – in bed early, sleep at least 12 hours. And we kept a reasonable distance between our campsite and theirs. On Sunday night, we heard a lion roar several times quite close to our campsite. The next morning, we chatted with Quentin and Natasha and they had seen the lion amble past their campsite just after sunset and head towards the pan. They lost sight of him then, but tracked his footprints in the morning and realised that he had been lying on the vehicle track at the edge on the pan, and that’s when he started roaring. Apparently there are 2 lions who live in the area – this big one and his smaller brother. We stayed here on Monday night and didn’t see or hear him again, unfortunately. We spent about an hour sitting in the car just after sunset, in case he walked the same way as he’d done on Sunday. Tuesday – Peach Pan, north of the KTFP
We’re on our way to Hukuntsi now, and plan to get to Ghanzi tomorrow.
The Barking Gheckos at dusk at Jacks Pan (turn on the sound)
It seems hard to believe now, that the first time we visited this beautiful country the only thing I wanted to do was go to Gaborone. It’s not far from the SA/Bots border and I’d read so much about it in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. I just wanted to see it for myself, and maybe catch a glimpse of the Tiny White Van.
We’re now visiting Bots for the 4th time and each time we fall a bit more in love with the place, the people, the incredible scenery and the overall ‘vibe’. And we keep on finding more places to see and more reasons to visit.
We crossed the border at McCarthy’s Rest/Tsabong yesterday and almost as soon as we’d arrived in Bots, we relaxed and heaved a sigh of something close to relief that were back here. Our last full day in Sth Africa had been a bit of a trial – the last big town before the border, Kuruman, is a rough place and we were glad to get out of there. Then the first place we tried for a campsite didn’t offer camping any more, despite multiple signs on the road advertising same. And then when we got to the next place, OppiKnoppi, we got our first flat tyre. At least we were able to spend the night there, in a nice cabin that cost us R150pp – around $30 total.
Last night we stayed at the Tsabong Eco-Tourism Camel Park, which is about 10kms out of Tsabong, and 30kms from the border. We have a powered campsite, which has a braai (of course!), huge stack of firewood, outdoor sink and we also have our own bathroom area with toilet, shower and fancy washbasin. And plenty of hot water! We got here early enough yesterday afternoon that we were able to do a load of washing, Greg got some stuff done and I had an afternoon nap. A couple of groups of camels wandered past our campsite, but otherwise we had our space to ourselves. Lovely place, I’d recommend it to everyone visiting this area
We’re heading ‘bush’ and will be off the air for about a week. Going to the eastern part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at Mabuasehube, then west to Kaa, leaving the park and heading to Hukunsti, where we’ll have internet access again hopefully, Kang and then north to Ghanzi. Sadly we’ll miss the Heavy Metal Festival in Ghanzi, but we’ve read about it and it looked like a hoot! Then to the CKGR – Central Kalahari Game Reserve. That’s the plan.
See you in a week!
We’re back in one of our favourite countries in the world – our favourite African country (so far!) – Botswana.
We wild-camped last night and now we’re in Maun (rhymes with town), having just organised to camp at 3rd Bridge in Moremi National Park, part of the Okavango Delta. It’s costing us USD $100 per night for a campsite. Yes, you read that correctly. A hundred bucks. US. Per night.
We’ll be offline for a few days, see you next week!