Chobe River

We had a leisurely morning at Elephants Sands as we only need to travel about 250 kms to our next stop. The elephants had finally left the watering hole at some point in the night. The lady at reception said that they won’t come back until around midday again. We continued heading north and soon we were riding near the Botswana-Zimbabwe border. Our destination was Senyati Safari Camp which is about 20 kms outside of Kasane. Kasane is on the far North West tip of Botswana and is on the Chobe River. The other side of the river is the Caprivi Strip (and therefore Namibia) and Vic Falls and Zimbabwe on the East and Zambia on the North East.  There is a point where all four countries theoretically meet in the river.

We arrived at Senyati just after midday and on checking in we discovered that we could do a Chobe River sunset cruise but they depart at 3pm and we had to be at the departure point in Kasane by 2:45pm. That didn’t leave us much time so we quickly unpacked and then headed into Kasane to do some shopping and to draw some more cash (as the river cruise costs P360 which is +- R500 or $40 per person). As we hadn’t had lunch and the KFC was right next to the Spar, some of us did as the locals do and bought KFC for lunch.

By this stage it was almost 2:45pm and the departure point was the jetty behind the Spar (which was pretty easy to find). We had a 14-seater boat for the 14 of us and after meeting Charles (our river pilot and guide) we were off. First we went downstream toward Zimbabwe and the Falls and we saw numerous birds including nesting Yellow Billed Storks with their chicks. There was so much bird life it was almost impossible to know where to look at times. We then went upstream toward Chobe National Park and after paying the park entrance fees (there is a parks office on the side of the river) we headed up into the National Park. There is a lot of game on the river banks and we saw Crocodile, Hippo, Buffalo, Kudu, Impala, Elephant and Red Lechwe.

We also saw a lot more birds and that included two different Night Herons both of which were lifers for us (one of them quite rare to see and was spotted by the youngest member of our group – Ben – who is 8 years old). In all we saw 5 lifers today (one of the best days we have had for lifers in years) and included one lifer right at Senyati as well. We are now up to 109 bird species for the trip and we have another 12 days still to go so I will be disappointed if this isn’t one of our best birding trip tallies as well. We have seen surprisingly few birds of prey so far and I am sure we will see more during the next week.

One of the highlights of the cruise today (and there were lots of highlights) was seeing a herd of elephant swim across the Chobe River to the island. The island was actually disputed territory between Botswana and Namibia and they eventually had to take the matter to the International Court in The Hague to resolve the dispute and it was declared to be Botswana’s land. They have erected a flag pole with the Botswana flag on it to remind the Namibians in case they forget whose land it is!

The sunset was also quite incredible and you almost couldn’t stop yourself from taking numerous photos of the sun setting over the Caprivi with the river in the foreground. My only regret is that the WiFi and cellphone signal is so bad that I can’t post any pictures on the blog for you to see. It was a fantastic cruise and well worth every cent we paid for it. I would do it again without hesitation.

Until tomorrow … P, H, C, S, M

Elephant Sands

We left Maun heading east toward the Makgadigadi Pans. The drive today was only 270 kms, which is pretty short compared to the other days we have done. The GPS was predicting an arrival time of 2:30pm and I couldn’t understand why it would take us so long to do such a short distance. What I hadn’t factored in was that we were driving through to Pans and both are national parks and the speed limit was down to 80 km/h.

What was really funny is that they take the speed limit down to 80 because of the wildlife and we saw nothing in the National Parks area at all. However, before we entered the National Park we saw an elephant on the side of the road. It is the strangest thing to be driving 120 km/h and see an elephant standing there. The other thing about the 80 km/h limit is that you have a lot (and I really mean a lot) of other animals crossing the national roads all the time and they don’t take the speed limit down from 120 km/h for them. And while I am thinking of it, I don’t think I have ever seen so many donkeys in the rest of my life than I have over the last 4 days in Botswana. What do they do with the all the donkeys is what I wonder about?

We stopped at Gwede for a quick toilet break and lunch. As there is no fuel station and nothing else around we “borrowed” the toilets at one of the lodges. They didn’t seem to mind at all (fortunately) and after a quick lunch we headed on toward Nata where we refueled and then headed for Elephant Sands (where we are overnighting).

Elephant Sands is about 1.5 km off the main road and really does seem in the middle of nowhere. As we arrived we were amazed to see a herd of elephant in the middle of the camp. You can see why it is named as it is. I went to check in and the rest of the group just vanished and I found them all posing on the edge of the boma taking photos of themselves with the elephants within spitting distance.

The camp is quite incredible in that the chalets/tents and reception/boma surround a watering hole. The elephants come through constantly to drink and bathe and then move on. Since we arrived at just after 3pm until now (10pm) there have been multiple elephants in the waterhole. It is just non-stop action. You have to be careful where you are as the elephants exit between the chalets/tents on a regular basis. Getting to dinner this evening (we took the car) involved a little stand off with a group of elephants leaving the waterhole. It really is quite an incredible venue and the best view of elephants you could ever hope for. The birding was also incredible and we ticked off a number of species for the first time on the trip including some we aren’t meant to see in the area (Common or Indian Myna). We are now up to 74 bird species for the trip so far.

Dinner tonight was in the boma and included one of my favorite dishes – pap and sous (tomato and onion). It was as good as I could remember eating when I was growing up (for some reason my wife doesn’t know how to make it). There were also plenty of vegetables (what we all had been feeling like) and they let us BYO wine (for a small fee) which made the meal even better.

The only thing stopping us from a good nights sleep is the noise of the elephants bathing and drinking (and dare I say it … farting … sorry Mom).

Until tomorrow ….

P, H, C, M & S

Moremi

We went to Moremi Game Reserve today. It is not far from Maun but to get to South Gate you have to travel about 40 kms to the turn toward Moremi and then another 30 kms to get to the gate.  The first 15-20 kms are on tar road and then you’re on sand roads the balance of the way.  I say sand and gravel because it really is sand. After we got onto the sand we let our tyres down to about 1.5 bar as that makes it a smoother ride. It did improve but the road is really rutted so you don’t get a smooth ride at all.

Once you turn toward Moremi we had read you could view game from that point onward and they were right.  On the 30 km stretch before the gate we saw Elephant, Giraffe, Kudu, Impala, Buffalo, Steenbok and numerous birds. When we stopped at the gate everyone remarked at how much we had seen and we weren’t in Moremi yet. Once inside Moremi the roads are single track and at times they were very sandy.  No one got stuck though I suspect everyone’s cars were scratched as the thorn bushes are pretty close to the road. We saw everything we saw outside the gate (including quite a few herds of elephants and some with very small calves) as well as Tsesebe, Zebra, Baboon and most importantly another lifer for me taking my tally to 400!

We had hoped to get to Third Bridge but there was no way we could do that and get back before dark and you don’t want to drive on those roads in the dark. While Helen concluded that she had seen enough of Moremi roads to know she didn’t want to come back unless it was a plane bringing her, I think I would definitely like to spend more time in Moremi and in fact would like to stay inside. I suspect the game viewing could be incredible if we had more time (that said even though we didn’t see any predators). Stephen felt similarly to me – maybe because the birding was incredible and maybe because he drove from midday through the rest of the day (he did extremely well given the roads). I gave up the driving seat because of a splitting headache which I have unfortunately not yet shaken (I am lying on my bed typing this blog with one hand while everyone else is at dinner in the restaurant).

We do have some pics which I just don’t have the energy to post right now but will do so over the next few days. WiFi has been none existent and cellphone reception also not great.

Until tomorrow … S (he really does deserve to be first today because of his driving – he did a great job and the R200 I paid for him to join me on the 4×4 training course paid off today), C (for putting up with the very back seat which is way worse on those roads), H (for also being in the back seat and letting me have the front seat even though she said she wished she’d worn her sports bra today), M & P

 

Audi Camp

We were up at dawn today so that we could have breakfast at 7am when they opened for breakfast which enabled us to be on the road as early as possible. We were headed to Maun on the Trans Kalagadi Highway and we needed to be in Maun early afternoon as some of the group (everyone excluding us) had booked to do an hour flight over the Okavango Delta.

IMG_1758There is really not a lot to see between Kang and Maun. It is 550 km of road and basically 2 towns between and nothing else. The terrain is pretty much bushveldt for the whole 550 kms. Occasionally there is a small herd of cattle or some goats on the side of the road but no other sign of civilization.  It does make you wonder where the people are who own the goats and cattle. We did see a reasonable amount of wildlife though even though we were driving at 120 km/h. We saw a lot of Steenbok (one of the convoy said they stopped counting at 20) and numerous birds.  There were numerous Crowned Lapwings on the side of the road and we also saw some birds of prey (including some White Backed Vultures). It was quite amazing that you could sight things at 120 km/h.

Our only stop was at Ghanzi (one of the two towns on route to Maun) and that was to refuel and but something for lunch. There was a brand new mall in the town and half the shops were still empty though there was a Shoprite in the mall (not a lot of variety). We kept heading for Maun and no further stops got us to Maun at 1:30pm. The place where we are staying is Audi Camp which is just to the north of Maun on the river.  Us and the other family (name rhyming with Boyles) are staying in the ‘House’, the one couple (let’s call then the Whiters) are staying in a permanent tent (has beds in case you’re wondering) and the finally family (let’s call them the Wattsons) are camping.

Michael helped out with the tent erection and the rest of our family (after dropping off our bags) headed back into Maun.  Helen and Chloe to do some food shopping for the whole group (at the Woolworths which we had been told was to found in Maun and caused a traffic jam when it opened) and Stephen and I to go to Toyota to fix the fuel filter and then to the National Parks office to get the permit to get us into Moremi. One of my staff had very kindly called in advance to TIMG_1761oyota to warn them that we were coming and they had said they could fix the issue quickly. Quickly is all relative though in a town like Maun. The service manager took our details and then drove the car into the garage section (after I showed him how to turn it on!). The guys actually fixing the car were very chatty and showed us how to drain the fuel filter (water builds up from the poor quality diesel) and they changed the filter as well. The longest time was taken in trying to find an Allen Key (no 5)!

After the car was fixed we headed to the National Parks office to get the Moremi permit. All the while we were getting whatsapp messages from Helen explaining how the Woolworths was a joke – basically no fresh produce (and definitely no meat). They headed to the Spar to buy the rest of what we needed. Getting the permit was relatively painless (though it is pretty expensive). We picked up Helen and Chloe and headed back to Audi Camp. We still had enough time before sunset to do some birding around the camp and managed to spot a lifer in the camp itself (now up to 399). The others in our group did an hour flip over the delta in a plane (actually two planes) and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.  We have done that previously and so didn’t want to do it again (which turned out well as we needed to fix the car).

IMG_1763The accommodation we had booked was advertised as self-catering with a kitchen. As it turns out the kitchen was taken away to make a laundry (though their advertising brochures still say kitchen!). The patriarch of the family whose name rhymes with Boyles said “what they mean by self-catering is you cater for everything yourself including plates, cutlery etc”. When you’re not prepared for that it does make it slightly harder but we managed to have a braai though the steaks were pretty poor and hardly got eaten in the end (that was the only passable meat Helen could find though in town). The company was still pretty good!

Until tomorrow … M (because he has helped with the braai every night), S (because he helped with the car, permit etc today and birded with me even if it was briefly), C (because she complains she is always last), H & P (because they complained I never put myself last)

Kang

We left Springbokpan Guest Lodge at around 8:30am this morning and drove the 6kms to the McCarthy’s Rest Border post. The SA side was pretty painless – quick stamp of the passport and a cursory look by a policeman to check we weren’t smuggling in anything and we were on our way. The Botswana side was a little more tedious involving filling in arrival forms, passports stamped, pay road tax and then back in the car. Customs check where we discovered it was illegal to bring in citrus into the country and we couldn’t even throw it away in their bins. If you want to throw it away you have to take it back to South Africa to do that. We asked whether we could eat the naartjies and they said yes.  All four of our cars had citrus so we quickly scoffed them and threw away the peels. They were very pleasant and even took the peels off us to throw away themselves. The fact that one of our convoy had far more alcohol in their car than their allowance got somehow overlooked in the naartjie eating. It would be unfair of me to mention who that was except to say their name rhymes with boils.

IMG_1325 (1)The road on the Botswana side was tarred and we headed into our first town in Botswana – Tshabong. The plan was to get SIM cards for everyone’s phones, fill up the cars and buy anything else needed. Filling up in Tshabong took pretty long as we stopped at the Caltex which only had one diesel pump. Getting SIM cards took even longer as the person initially told us she didn’t have nano SIMS (which is what everyone needed) but it turned out that in fact she did. Getting registered, data loaded etc seemed to take another age but we finally got on the road again. While doing these things we were ‘entertained’ by a local with a boom box and microphone singing karaoke outside the supermarket.

We had about 400 kms to travel to get to Kang – our overnight stop on the way to the Okavango Delta area. You have to take the Trans Kalagadi Highway from Tshabong to Kang. It is a tarred road which is mostly good but at certain times it was really badly potholed. At one point the lead car managed to lose (what looked to me driving behind them) about 25% of their tyre into the pothole and doing that at 100 km/h isn’t something you would like to do too often. A quick stop to check the tyres and finding all to be in order we were on our way again.

There are very small villages everything 20 km or so and every time you approach one the speed limit reduces from 120 km/h down to 80 km/h and then 60 km/h. Unfortunately they often don’t post the increase in speed limit again and so you have to guess or work it out from the speed signs on the other side of the road. I can also see why you don’t drive at night in Botswana. There are donkey’s, cattle and goats wandering all over the place. At one point we almost had to stop completely because a donkey was just standing in the middle of the road and at another time a goat crossed between two of our convoy. When you have that happen while you’re driving at 120 km/h it isn’t really fun.

At one point I overtook a trunk that was belching out fumes and dust and just as I did a warning light popped on saying ‘Fuel Filter Maintenance Needed’.  Not really what you want when you are 1700 kms into a 6500 km trip (and the car was serviced just before we left). After searching the manual and also googling it seems it isn’t crucial to do right away but as we are heading to a reasonable size town tomorrow with a Toyota dealership I will see if we can get it fixed while we are there. The car’s performance didn’t seem to suffer at all and in fact our fuel economy improved. The manual says it sometimes occurs when poor quality diesel is used and given some of the garages we have used I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason.

IMG_1326As we had consumed quite a lot of time in Tshabong, we decided to have lunch on the road and we found a picnic spot and just ate what we had available in the cars. We arrived in Kang at just after 4pm and after filling up the cars we checked in at the Kang Ultra Stop. That process took quite some time as the lady behind the counter only gave us 1 room. We pointed out the reservation was for 5 rooms and a family room and that seemed to surprise her and she wanted to see the confirmation and the payment (all of which we fortunately had). She eventually gave us the family room. Now we just had to persuade her we needed 4 other rooms still. After some cajoling we got another 2 rooms out of her and then after one final push we got the final 2 rooms. When ‘security’ took us to the rooms, they were not even finished being made up yet. It was 5pm … I wonder what they did between 8am (no doubt when the last people left) and 5pm?!

The place is nothing fancy but it is an overnight stop and we really didn’t expect a lot. They did have WiFi in the restaurant though I don’t think it was built to sustain 12 people trying simultaneously to connect and download emails! It also wasn’t really big enough to handle the 14 of us for dinner and so we stayed in the bar and had our dinner in there instead. The service was very pleasant and the food was fine and the company was excellent as usual.

Until tomorrow …

P, M (because he hugged me today for the first time in about 10 years), H, S (because he came back to our car today) and C

Springbokpan Guest Farm

This morning Stephen and I went out for a sunrise drive in Augrabies and a group of crazy people went for a morning run. The temperature was 10 degrees C in the camp but once we were in the game area it dropped down to 4 degrees C. Stephen and I saw an Eland pretty much straight out of the camp and we managed to add 2 lifers to our bird list as well (taking my tally to 398 … closing in on the 400 mark!). We considered that quite a successful morning drive. I am now on 32 birds for the trip so far with the serious birding still to come.

Check out time at Augrabies was 10am and we left pretty much at 10am. There was quite a queue to check out at reception and only one lady on duty so it took much longer than expected. Michael and I did see one highlight for the day while we were waiting though – a guy with a Go Pro strapped onto his head recording his every move. Why would someone do that?!

Today we drove from Augrabies to Springbokpan Guest Farm that is almost on the Botswana border. The drive took us through Upington (a quick stop to buy some rolls for lunch) and then on to Olifantshoek, Kathu, Hotazhel and then our accommodation for tonight. Not places any of us had frequented and doubt we will again any time soon.

About halfway to Olifantshoek we determined that the other 3 cars seemed to have taken another road entirely (and it turned out incorrectly being led by the GPS wanting to take them in a very long route to our destination). My 10-year old GPS (the trusty steed) took us the most direct route and the end result was we arrived substantially earlier than the rest of them. We did stop just after Olifantshoek to have lunch at one of the million rest areas with a picnic table on the side of the road (there really are no shortage of them on these roads). It was pretty windy and cold so we ate quickly and then we were off again.

The route took us through the Sishen area (with the town of Kathu) that is surrounded by iron ore mines. Kathu (which I hadn’t known about until today) even has it’s own airport with scheduled flights to Johannesburg on Jet West Airlines (which I also had never heard of today). Chloe also enlightened us on how iron ore is extracted (she had just learnt it for her iGSCE exams). After Kathu comes Hotazhel. We never went into the town but Stephen (traveling with his girlfriend’s family) did and they said it was really abandoned. The area around Hotazhel is a manganese mining area.

Just after Hotazhel the road turns to a dirt road. I didn’t know this but about 10 kms before it happened I needed a break from driving and Michael took over. He got the 100 kms of dirt road to contend with and he did remarkably well especially since it was his first time driving a substantial amount of time on a dirt road at relatively (100 km/h) high speeds. The only issues we had was that when someone comes the other direction they kick up so much dust you actually have to stop for a short while to see where you are going. And then Michael had to stop very quickly for a warthog that decided to linger in the road. The safety belts of the car immediately kicked in and locked and then actually pulled us back into the seat. I have never felt anything like that before. We fortunately missed the warthog and Michael did well to stop and keep the car under control for us to safely travel on and arrive at our destination.

We arrived at Springbokpan Guest Farm at around 4:20pm and as we arrived first we checked in for everyone and got our rooms. The rooms are basically prefab rectangles. Nothing fancy at all. No kitchen except a central one and most of the rooms have no en-suite either – the bathroom is outside the room. We fortunately have a room that includes a toilet and basin.

The others arrived 40 minutes and an hour 10 minutes later than us (depending on which route they took). We then got dinner going – a braai in the central boma. We enjoyed the dinner together and then sat around the central fire until it burnt down and we were getting cold.

Cellphone signal is really patchy as I would love to post a few pictures of the trip but unfortunately I have not been able to do it yet. I am currently standing outside holding my laptop and cellphone in a patch with signal and about to freeze to death (must be 4 degrees or colder) – the things I do to send out the blog!

Until tomorrow … P, M (for driving today on the tough stretch), H, S (even though he has abandoned us for another vehicle), C (and she deserves to be last and she knows why …)

 

Augrabies Falls

IMG_7415-Edit-mid_resWe all seemed to sleep in fits and starts last night. Helen and I eventually got up around 7am and it was pretty cold outside. Our car temperature was reading 4 degrees when we left at about 9am. Michael had the best experience of the night though. At about 1am in the morning he felt something in his bed and tried to swat it away and when he managed to swat it he realized it was bigger than just a small insect. It turned out to be a mouse. After he and Stephen chased it down for an hour they eventually got it into the shower and left it there for us to examine the morning.

Chloe, Helen and I IMG_1709had a quick walk around the block (it was quick because it was 4 degrees C) and then we had breakfast at the Guest lodge. After breakfast we headed to the Spar at Calvinia to ensure we had enough food for lunch and dinner for tonight. The Spar wasn’t up to the usual standard and so we also had to frequent the OK in town to get the rest of what we needed.

We had just over 400 kms to drive today to get to Augrabies Falls (our overnight stop). The road for much of the way is very straight and you get excited when there is a turn in the road. The landscape is very sparse as well. You wonder how anything can survive in the Karoo and why anyone would actually choose to live here. We drove past places like Brandvlei , Kakamas and Keimoes.

We crossed the Orange River, which was pretty low in water. Not surprising given the drought throughout the country. Keimoes was thriving with people all over the place. It did make me wonder what kept them employed. There is a lot of farming around the Orange River, which I am sure, employs a lot of people but there were a lot more people in Keimoes than it seemed could be employed on the farms.

We arrived at Augrabies National Park around 1:30pm and tried to check in but we were told check in time was 2pm and even though I could see our keys on the table behind them they said the rooms weren’t ready and we couldn’t have the keys and had to come back at 2pm. Just before 2pm everyone else rolled in and so we managed to all get our keys at the same time.

A quick afternoon visit to the see the Falls (which weren’t as impressive as we have seen previously again because of the low river) and then at 4pm we headed out into the ‘game’ area for a quick sunset drive. We saw a few birds and a herd of Springbok and another herd of Gemsbok. The pick of the sightings was probably the Pygmy Falcon. A lovely bird to see but quite hard to spot as it is pretty small and many people drive past it thinking it is a dove. We have seen 25 species of birds so far (and haven’t really birded seriously yet).

We got back just after sunset and in time to watch the second half of the Springbok v Ireland game (they have DSTV in the chalets) and then we got a braai going for our evening meal. Another lovely evening (it was 22 degrees just after the sunset) with good company. The only compliant so far has been the poor cellphone reception and difficulty connecting to the web (to download emails and post the blog!).

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, M & C

PS: Happy birthday to my favourite oldest sister 🙂

Botswana here we come

We are on holiday and we are on our way to Botswana. We left Cape Town mid-morning on our way to Botswana and Namibia for next 20 days. In total we are expecting to do over 6500kms during this trip. Our car (The Beast) was load to the brim. When we started packing I thought there was no way we would fit everything in but amazing we did manage. We are Master Packers and this trip was no exception.

We left the house and by the stop street at the end of the road realized we have left a few things and so turned around and went back to fetch them. Stephen still managed to leave his bird book at home (vital accessory for the trip really).  We had planned to stop for lunch but never managed to find anything until almost 2pm at Klawer (Wimpy).  That was already past the mandatory stop for biltong at Trawal Biltong Shop. If you’re traveling on the N7 past Trawal you absolutely have to stop and buy biltong at their store.

After Klawer we turned off the N7 heading toward Calvinia. You have to go over the Van Rhyns pass and unfortunately heavy trucks also use that route. We got stuck behind two of them doing 4 km/h (not kidding). Very painful. And while I think of it, it still amazes me how people drive. We have a minibus with a trailer driving in front of us at 130-140km/h in the yellow line (they had a 100 km/h maximum speed sticker on the bus!) and another guy passed us doing about 150 km/h on a blind rise having no idea what oncoming traffic he could be meeting (fortunately it was none because he would have taken us out as well).

We arrived at Calvinia at around 4:30pm and had a quick drive around the town and saw their post box which they claim is the biggest post box in world. We are staying at Die Blou Naartjie – a guest house we have actually stayed at previously. We are actually traveling with 3 other families as well. They all arrived after us – one family pretty much right behind us and then the other 2 arrived about an hour later.  We had enough time for a quick walk around the town. Not much happening in Calvinia except people doing their Friday late afternoon shopping.

We had a dinner in the restaurant at the Guest House. The 14 of us basically had half the restaurant. As we are in the Karoo, many of us had lamb – either lamb pie or lamb chops. Good hearty food and even better conversation. Relatively early to bed – watching a little cricket while I type this.  Trying to forget that the UK really did vote to leave and implications of that for me personally (and my employer) and the world financial markets.  Most of our conversation for the 4.5 hours in the car today was on the Brexit vote – the time did pass quite quickly.

Until tomorrow …

P, H, S, M & C

(sorry no pics … connections were just terrible)