Although premium lodges and high-end tourism are the norm in this landlocked country we did manage to survive on somewhat of a budget. We had already visited for a full hour whilst heading from Namibia to Zimbabwe, a brief encounter that included a dead zebra and pride of lions, setting us up nicely for a slightly longer return. After deciding to skip out on an expensive 4×4 rental in Namibia and unable to find an agency with availability in southern Zambia we decided on Botswana; still expensive but with one such company renting out fully loaded Toyota Prado’s for $135 a day we eventually bit the bullet. Certainly not spoilt for choice we took the last vehicle at Tawana Self Drive, a small Kasane rental agency owned by a French guy who supplied safari ready SUV’s, perfect for discovering the likes of Chobe National Park. The hefty premium meant that we didn’t want to also be splurging on accommodation, the included rooftop tent and camping equipment giving us every reason not to. Trying to remain under a thousand bucks we picked up the vehicle on a Friday lunchtime and needed to have it back by the following Thursday night.
Chobe National Park Map
With Andrea taking off Monday from work we had four days to get as far into Chobe National Park as my off-road driving skills would allow – being the back end of the wet season and rumors of deep sand we didn’t expect this to be very far! Kasane is situated just across the Zambezi River from Zambia in an enviable location on elephant migration routes and surrounded by national parks both within and outside of Botswana, pretty much ensuring that wherever we went we should be in the thick of some pretty significant wildlife. It was also the gateway to the elephant mecca of Chobe.
Our first port of call after stocking up with food and additional petrol was Muchenje Campsite, a perfect first night location in the village of Muchenje on the elevated banks of the Chobe Floodplain. As long as we hung around the reception area Andrea could get in her Friday half day of work! Protected by an electrified fence the only wildlife we encountered were vervet monkeys who greeted us for breakfast, the campsite luckily not suffering with the same elephant encounters that the local villagers have to endure most nights. Andrea did comment that she heard pots and pans being beaten during the night to keep the invading crop destroying elephants away!
With slight trepidation about what lay ahead we topped up the forty gallons of petrol we were carrying and took advantage of the tarred road that would eventually dead end into sand. Passing through the small villages of Legotlhwana and Kavimba we arrived in Kachikau, Andrea deciding to hand over the reigns almost the instant we got off-road. Neither of us could believe how quickly the conditions changes; one minute tanking along at 100kph on a dual lane road, the next playing a balancing act with the 3.5 litre engine so as we didn’t grind to a halt in soft sand on the extremely narrow trail. We were now totally reliant on the vehicles GPS for getting us the forty seven kilometres to the Ghoha entrance gate and the safety gear we were carrying to dig us out of any mess we may get into.
Other than one sketchy section sand driving wasn’t so bad, the vehicle almost keeping itself in the two wheel tracks worn by countless others. Having an automatic also felt like a blessing instead of having to make sure that the correct gear was selected – the Toyota was proving itself to be our next SUV choice after our Nissan Pathfinder fell apart. We passed one other vehicle on the forty seven kilometre drive which was surprising given that it was a Saturday morning and we were in one of Botswana’s top wildlife parks, also a little concerning as we assumed there would be plenty of assistance had we needed it. Fortunately we were okay, however others weren’t quite so lucky!
At the park gate we were separated from approximately $58 to cover two days entry, an amount that was small in comparison to the $240 we paid to SKL Camps for two nights at Savuti, a very basic privately run national park campground. Apparently its all about the location and something to do with Botswana leaning towards high-end tourism! Continuing on from the entrance gate it wasn’t long before our safety gear all came into use; a family from Lesotho pulling a small trailer stuck fast blocking our way completely.
The sand certainly wasn’t the worst we’d seen but due to them pulling a trailer it had caused their situation. The guy was doing a good job of spinning himself into a real mess and the deeper he became the longer it was going to take for us to get on our way. We tried our studded tracks but to no avail swiftly moving on to the tow rope – I was concerned due to the length of our rope and how close we would be getting to the cause of his demise. The first attempt did nothing so with an unattached trailer we tried again – this time he moved, and I moved, then he moved some more, and I continued on going backwards. Now we somehow had to move his trailer 25 yards through the deep sand and reattach it! With two tow ropes it wasn’t long before the trailer and vehicle were out of the thicker stuff and ready to be attached. This was a problem into itself but with some innovative jack work everything was soon fastened together and he was ready to be on his way. Now we had to get our own vehicle back into the sand tracks and moving without becoming stuck. Luckily I was fast becoming an expert!
The remainder of the drive to Savuti was uneventful, with no human or wildlife interactions causing us any delays. As we had read online the camping site itself was pretty shabby but its location right in the centre of the park made up for it – our first night was at the aptly named ‘Paradise’ site, supposedly the best of the bunch, whereas for night number two we had to move sites, right next door to the unscenic shower block! There was no good reason that the two nights under the stars should have been anywhere near $240, that is unless we’d have had lions wake us in the middle of night from below our rooftop tent. The best things about all the national park campgrounds is that they are unfenced making for an adventure unto itself.
Due to us visiting towards the back end of the rainy season animals weren’t in abundance but we did get to see elephants, zebra, jackals, hippos, giraffe, mongoose, various antelope and on our exit from camp four male lions slumbering off the side of a trail. Our drive south out of the park definitely the highlight, firstly with lions, later followed by elephants bathing in a watering hole. We had gone against the advice of the car rental company and decided not to return the way we had entered, instead driving along the edge of the Savuti swamp towards Maun – this would exit us out of the Mababe Gate where not too much later we would pick up a tarred toad.
The area of the park we had visited was far more like desert, bringing hotter temperatures and more unforgiving terrain, whereas the area of the park to the north along the Chobe River is more lush and scenic. In the dry season Savuti would definitely offer big chances of wildlife viewing due to the lack of watering holes – apparently only a couple remain wet causing game and predators to drink side by side.
A few days later we reentered the park just outside of Kasane at the Sedudu Gate, excited to be alongside the river where surely we would see more – it wasn’t to be and other than a few giraffes, a zebra and some playful baboons the sixty kilometre drive to the Ngoma Gate was relatively uneventful. Turns out that some Aussies we met in Zambia a few days later had seen two leopards and a bunch of lion cubs only a day or two after our visit. Oh well, with wildlife not adhering to a schedule it’s all about the timing!
SIM Card & Coverage
Carrier: BTC, Usage: 1GB, Cost: $14
Arrival: Victoria Falls -> Kazungula, Carrier: Taxi, Cost: $cheap pp
Departure: Kasane (Kazungula) -> Livingstone, Carrier: Taxi, Cost: $cheap pp
April 20th – April 26th 2018
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