Category Archives: Namibia

Planning a 4×4 Trip in Botswana

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Earlier this year, we were made an offer we could not refuse when we were asked if wanted to join a 4×4 trip to Botswana and Namibia.

We had been to Botswana before and knew how incredibly difficult and expensive it can be, particularly if you don’t have the right equipment. If you don’t own your own 4×4 the best (and sometimes only) way to see the country is to join an organised trip. These seem to be run for people with lots of spare dollars or pounds and not for your average traveller! So… this opportunity – to jump in a ready-owned 4×4 and join a planned trip into unexplored Africa – was a definite yes for us!

For any of you wanting to do the same, here are some tips we picked up along the way:

1. Go in a 4×4
If you want the freedom of going anywhere then you will need a 4×4. If you don’t have one you can still see some spectacular parts of the country but be aware that you will be limited. There are 2 main tarred roads in Botswana – one to Maun and one to Chobe. When we first went to Botswana in 2009 we took my Ford Focus and easily made it to both these places. However, once we were there we had to rely on tours to explore the delta and the parks. With your own 4×4 you can seek out new spots and park yourself in a campsite in the middle of a game reserve for as long as you want.

The look on Chris' face says a lot about how he feels about this

2. Take plenty of spare parts and repair kits
Even the hardiest of 4x4s will take a beating on those roads and you do not want to be left stranded in the middle of nowhere trying to get help. We found having a someone with a keen knowledge of fixing cars also helped!

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3. Always have lots and lots of water
Be aware (particularly if you are wanting to stay at campsites within the reserves) that you run a high risk of ending up somewhere with no running water. The best thing to do is to have plenty of water with you at all times. Our trailer had a 50 liter water tank and we also took about 25 liters of bottled water in the car. What you need obviously depends on where you are going and how often you move.

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4. Find out where all the vetinerary check points are

Famously, Botswana is very strict on what you are allowed to take into the country – no meat, no oranges etc etc. However, once you are in the country, you can’t relax as you will be stopped at vetinary checkpoints along your route fairly frequently. These stops are desgined to stop the spread of foot and mouth so you can expect to drive/walk through a pool of some type of solution and to hand over all your meat (and sometimes fruit and veg). In order to avoid having all your supplies confiscated, find out where these are in advance. This will save you a lot of time and money.

Another tip, although raw meat can’t be taken through a checkpoint, they have no problem with you stopping on the side of the road and cooking it before proceeding. We had a very cheerful roadside braai on our way to the Okavango Panhandle.

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A checkpoint between Maun and the Okavango Panhandle

5. Invest in a rooftop tent
This is not an essential but for any of you who have a little bit of a fear of being trampled by elephant in your sleep or dragged out by hungry lions (disclaimer: I have no clue how likely either of these are) then the feeling of safety,  sleeping up above the animals is priceless! We spent many nights lying in bed listening to the hippos chomping and the elephants growling (yes, they do growl!) right next to our tent, able to enjoy it only because we knew we were not underfoot.

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6. Check whether or not you will have to pay park fees to transit through a game reserve.

Reserves are everywhere and sometimes your sat nav will suggest you drive through them en route to your next destination. We drove through one assuming we would not need to pay if we were just transiting – mistake. We ended up on a slow and dusty route through a reserve (with not an animal in sight) only to be hit with pretty steep park fees upon exit and then an extravagant ferry fee to get back onto the main road. If we had just stopped and asked we would have been told about the fees and could have taken the much faster tarred route around the edge of the park.

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Watching the unavoidable ferry between the reserve and the main road

7. Check the rules of each game reserve before you start exploring
Some of the reserves are much stricter than others. So, while you may be able to sit on roof racks and drive off road in the Caprivi, if you try that in Chobe you ill find yourself quickly removed from the Park.

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8. Book ahead!
Some game reserves (Suvuti, Moremi) require proof of booking before they let you into the park. These campsite are small and far between so don’t delay and make the booking with plenty of time to spare. Remember to carry printouts of all your bookings – internet access and cell phone reception are luxuies you won’t find in the African bush.

A map of the campsite - we were 'upgraded' to CK4 and were quite happy with it.

A map of the only campsite in Savuti

9. Be prepared to see lots of animals
These are wild animals but with a certain amount of luck and lots of respect you can have incredible encounters with a variety of animals. We had elephant walking though our campsite, hornbills landing on our laps, hyena visiting our campfire and hippo joining us at our dinner table.

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10. Be on the lookout for animals at all times
Sometimes the best times to spot wild animals – especially elephant – is while you are driving on the freeway. So keep an eye out even while you are doing 120km/hr.

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Namibia – exploring the Caprivi Strip (Part 2 – The East)

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Namibia – exploring the Caprivi Strip (Part 2 – The East)

Looking back on our holiday, we all agreed that our favourite place that we stayed was Dan’s place – or, as officially named, Mavunje campsite run by a cheerful Englishman called (you guessed it) Dan.

Dan is contagiously enthusiastic about the region and spent many hours sharing stories with us over a glass of wine or dinner.  His campsite is run as a part of what is otherwise a business focused on expert tours of the Kwando / Mashi river system (Mashi River Safaris). Although his focus may be on the river safaris but this does not mean that any corners have been cut in building his campsites. The sites have been set up with a lot of care and consideration. The end result is that they are private and about as comfortable as you can get while still being in the wild. There are 2 campsites, each with their own view of the waterways. They have a fully equipped kitchen; private shower, toilet and basin (with paraffin lamps!) and a little covered dining room complete with table and tablecloth – a real delight for someone like me who loves soft furnishings!

The campsite was so separate from anything else that it felt like we were completely isolated from civilization. This was made more real when we discovered the hippo path next to our campsite and learnt that we were right next to an elephant corridor.  So, we had two nights of hippo grunting symphonies to lull us to sleep and one night of nervously listening to grumbling elephant passing by our camp.

Relaxing and chatting to Dan by the water

Relaxing and chatting to Dan by the water

Part of Campsite 1 - our dining room on the left and our kitchen on the right

Part of Campsite 1 – our dining room on the left and our kitchen on the right

Inside the dining room which looks out onto the water

Inside the dining room which looks out onto the water

Every campsite should have a hammock

Every campsite should have a hammock

Mudumu National Park by car

The campsite is only 20 minutes from the entrance of Mudumu National Park. Although we had already booked a boat ride with Dan for the afternoon, we couldn’t resist popping into the park to have a look. Dan had made it sound even more appealing by letting us know that this would probably be one of the most rule-free parks we would visit. Unlike Chobe in Botswana or Kruger in South Africa, game viewing here is pretty relaxed. We could sit on our roof racks or explore off road a bit without any trouble.

Best spot for game viewing

Best spot for game viewing

It wasn’t hard to find elephant in the park. We headed straight to the water and straight into a drinking herd. They weren’t too pleased about our presence there and a few of the younger bulls started walking towards us and waving their ears. I was (predictably) very nervous but everyone else was calm saying that they were probably just worried that we were in their path.  (I was worried about that too so not sure how that was supposed to calm me down.) We were in a tricky position. They wanted to come our way and we wanted to go their way. Hmmmmm. Luckily Don drives a Landcruiser and an adventurous spirit and we headed off road into the bushes to try and go around the herd. We came out (a bit bumped and scratched) the other side and the elephant moved on peacefully.

Baby elephant cooling down

Baby elephant cooling down

After that, we made the mistake of heading inland away from the water. Don’t do that. There is nothing there in the dry season. So, we headed back to the water for a quick snack. As we were approaching the ‘hippo pool’ a spotted a large rock about 10m from the road which looked a lot like a hippo. It seemed unbelievable as we were still a few kms from the water. Despite this, we headed back off road and, sure enough, we found a huge lump of a hippo lying in the sun.  This was highly highly unusual. In all my years in Africa I had never seen a hippo this far out of the water in the middle of the day. We were convinced that he must have been kicked out of his pod and had come here to die. He even had wounds to back up our story. This turned out to be a bit overly dramatic. Dan later told us that hippo often do this when they have been hurt, using the sun to dry out their wounds. After that I just felt bad for disturbing the poor old chap!

Lunch with a view

Lunch with a view

Bwabwata National Park by boat

Not satisfied with our morning game viewing, we spent the afternoon on a river cruise closer to our camp. Dan was in his element at the helm of his boat showing us around his neighborhood. He seemed almost familiar with the pods of hippo floating on our route – I wouldn’t be surprised if he recognised each and every one  – and had an almost childlike delight each time he spotted something to share with us. He had boasted to us that he knew the paths of the animals by heart and we teasingly told him we would not pay unless he found us some red lechwe (a type of buck only found in this region). True to his word he hunted out a herd and, once all the obligatory photos had been taken, he expertly maneuvered the boat into a position for us to watch them running away and pronking across the water.

Chris and the still blue water

Chris and the still blue water

Hippo letting us know he's there

Hippo letting us know he’s there

Pronking red lechwe

Pronking red lechwe

Animal watching from a boat is very special. Where cars are noisy and intrusive a boat is able to silently float right up next to the animals. We managed to sit right on the edge of the water while a glorious male Kudu ate from a bush and also snuck up on a hippo out of the water who got such a fright that he belly flopped back into the water right in front of our path. Probably the most special encounter was when we cam across a large bull elephant in the process of crossing the water way. The water mark came right up to his eyes but the time we saw him he was only knee deep and making his way slowly to the edge. He passed by a fish eagle, sitting on the waters edge and gave us a photo opportunity of note – two great African icons in one shot. Once he was out of the water, he went in to the bush and disappeared silently. It never ceases to amaze me how those giants can simply disappear in the bush.

Kudu

Kudu

Elephant and Fish Eagle

Elephant and Fish Eagle

Dan kept us out on the water a little bit longer than usual.  He wanted to share with us the beautiful African sunset over the water (and I think also wanted us to have some close encounters with the hippo leaving for their evening meal!) The sunset was spectacular, especially the way it reflected off the ripples in the water following the water. Just another day in Africa I suppose.

Sunset on the water

Sunset on the water

Namibia – exploring the Caprivi Strip (Part 1 – The West)

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The Caprivi Strip is a really odd piece of land. It is like a little lever stretching out from the top right hand corner of Namibia towards Zimbabwe, crossing between Botswana, Angola and Zambia.  The land was a gift, well more of an exchange, from the UK to given to Germany in 1890 (who at that time controlled Namibia).  Germany had desperately wanted access to the Zambezi river and had even exchanged both Zanzibar and an island in the North Sea for this important stretch of land.

Caprivistrip

For us, the Caprivi strip was important for an altogether different reason. Two of the men in our group had been members of 32 Battalion – a former light infantry battalion of the South African army. They had both lived and trained in an area known as ‘Buffalo’ in the Caprivi strip from where they were deployed into Angola during the Angolan Civil War. One of the aims of this trip was to return to the area where they had lived and trained for so many years. I think it was a bit of a bitter sweet moment to be back there after so much time had passed. This place held a lot of importance for both men and we could visibly see the memories flooding back about their time there.  However, what to them had been a thriving community in the heart of the Namibian bush had now become a series of dilapidated buildings amongst overgrown trees.

Don and Gert at the entrance to their old camp

Don and Gert at the entrance

Deserted building

We spent the day exploring the area – which is now known as the Bwabwata National Park (formerly the Caprivi Game Park and Mahango Game Reserve).  To sound very spoilt, we had been disappointed with our animal viewing so far. Botswana had always been heralded as a game viewing mecca but so far we had seen very little (although, will still had Chobe, Suvuti and Moremi to go so  the best was definitely yet to come!).  This meant that the animal life in the Caprivi was an absolute delight for us. It started almost the second we drove across the border, with the familiar ‘beware of’ signs. Except, this time, there were no pictures of cows or rock falls but rather elephant, wild dogs and hyena. We stopped to photograph one showing an elephant only to spot an elephant in the distance of the sign. Almost like he knew to be waiting there…

Note the real elephant in the bush to the left of the photo

Note the real elephant in the bush to the left of the photo

Once in the park we saw some beautiful animals – including a tiny elephant that trumpeted and charged us. Although very cute and possibly harmless against our car, we got out of the way very quickly in case the bigger elephants heard it and came to help it!

Small elephant and big tree

Small elephant and big tree

Charging elephant

Elephant preparing to charge

Nyala females

Buffalo in the water

Buffalo in the water

There were a few scary moments when the idea of camping in the wild was suggested but common sense (and an acknowledgement that this would be illegal) prevailed and we raced from the park to find a campsite before dark. We ended up in Shametu – a sweet campsite offering a rare luxury –  grass! At only R100 per person (R50 per child) it was a real bargain. Each campsite included a kitchen area with lights and electricity and private toilets and showers. It also offers a view of Popa falls. Although, Popa falls will not quickly find itself om my list of favourite waterfalls. In fact. I’m sure you can only count it as rapids rather than falls?

Sitting on a mokoro watching the falls - yes, the falls are so unimpressive that a picture of us looking at them is more interesting.

Sitting on a mokoro watching the falls – yes, the falls are so unimpressive that a picture of us looking at them is more interesting.