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Traveller Stories: Botswana and the Majestic Okavango Delta

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Devryn Panaino

Safari Travel Planner

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 Devryn Panaino

Author: Devryn Panaino - 29 May 2020

Last Update: 30 January 2024

Crossing into Botswana from Namibia at the Mahembo border post on the Okavango panhandle was easy enough (the border official girl even sang us a welcoming song!), but from there on things got slightly more difficult. After staying the first night at Drotskies Camp near Shakawe (which was quite acceptable and easy to get into), we subsequently found that due to the seasonal flooding occurring all down the Okavango that all the other camps southwards such as Sepopa Swamp and Ghoma were flooded and inaccessible. We drove down to the water’s edge (sometimes 5 – 10kms down a track off the main road) to find deep water blocking the road. Most travellers book a car with Botswana car hire when exploring the Botswana continent.

Traveller Stories: Botswana and the Majestic Okavango Delta

The lodges were often taking guests and their gear across in boats and dugout makoros, but that didn’t help us much with or rooftop tent on top of Tin Can. A New Zealand guy in a huge 4×4 Mercedes truck managed to churn through at Ghoma, but we weren’t trying Tin Can in water up to the headlights!

So we spent two nights camping at Tsodilo Hills which is the site of 3,000-year-old San Bushmen rock paintings and has a  local Community run campsite which is pretty good and very cheap (free if you have paid a guide  P100 (USD$12) to take you on the 5km walk to see the rock art). Tsodilo Hills is well worth a visit – and the 35km dirt road to get there is reasonable, if dusty.

After Tsodilo and attempting to make it to flooded river camps, we just made a beeline for Maun 250km to the south-west and arrived at Audi Camp late in the day, but fortunately, with just enough time to drop in at the local LandRover dealer, Lesedi Motors, and book Tin Can in for a much-needed service the next morning. Audi Camp is not bad and has a nice pool and a restaurant at which we had a first restaurant meal in weeks that night, but we found Audi a bit dusty and over popular with the big overland tour groups. We spent 4 days in Maun and after 2 days at Audi Camp moved to Senia Hotel Camp down the road which we preferred as it was half the price of Audi Camp, still had a pool, restaurant and river frontage, but was much quieter and less dusty.

The (complete lack of any) visible modern equipment at Maun LandRover coupled with the enthusiasm of the Batswana mechanics with spanners in hand was somewhat disconcerting – and I was a little glad that it was only a minor service and that nothing major was to be fixed as Tin can have been performing flawlessly. At least the right (synthetic 5w-30) oil went in  (I made sure of that) and they did a fine job greasing everything and blowing out filters etc and replacing some slightly loose rear shock absorber mounts. So should be good- and here’s hoping as the first 700 km from Maun through Moremi, Savuti and Chobe NP was soft sand, corrugations and water most of the way. The 4X4 light on the dash will probably burn out soon as it’s almost constantly on!  They often say in the motor advertising blurbs in Australia “made for Australian conditions”, but I tell you what- Africa is harder on a vehicle! Particularly the suspension takes a hammering and dust is in everything.

Traveller Stories: Botswana and the Majestic Okavango Delta

We found out in Maun that you have had to book ahead for campsites in the Moremi, Savuti and Chobe National Parks. You can’t just go and camp without booking as we are used to. (to control numbers apparently). It is  MUCH more expensive than anything we have encountered so far as each day to camp in the National Parks costs USD$50 per person plus $50 for the vehicle. (Whereas in Sth Africa and Namibia we were used to USD$25 – $30 per day all up). In fact, we have found Botswana far and away from the most expensive country we have encountered so far. They know how to milk many foreign visitors. Much is geared towards the luxury lodges and the fly in, fly out tourists. There are a huge number of tour operations in Maun.

It’s not a one-stop system. We found you have to book your campsite in the National Parks first  (at a number of quasi-private concerns like Xakanaxa, Savuti and Ihaha camps) and then go back to the Wildlife & National Parks Office and pay for a permit. They won’t give you one without proof of booking first. Nothing is too user-friendly at the National Parks office where we fronted first off. If it wasn’t for a white tour guide also at the counter and listening to us asking for direction and getting blank faces, we would probably still be there? The guy was great and took us around Maun to various booking offices.

So with permits in hand, and after 4 days mooching around Maun not doing much other than taking a scenic flight across the Delta – which was well worth the USD$250 splash out, we set off North for Moremi (Xakanaxa), Savuti and  Chobe NPs.

Traveller Stories: Botswana and the Majestic Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta and Botswana’s national parks are what one would expect after all that has been written so I won’t say much more other than the wildlife was plentiful and the sunsets over the swamps were impressive. We liked Ihaha Camp  GPS  S 17* 50” 383’ E 24* 52” 587’ in northern Chobe best with its views of the Chobe River but Moremi and Savuti were good as well. What probably made them all was the wild campsites where elephants roam past your tent at night like huge grey ghosts in the gloom. All you tend to see is their white tusks in the dark moving silently as you cannot see the rest. Amazing how quietly they can move? At night we lay in bed listening to lions roar in the distance and hippos grunt in the river at Xakanaxa.

The 850 km from Maun to Kasane is no easy matter. A mixture of soft and most of the way together with bad corrugations near Savuti and the odd log bridge and water crossing in Moremi. Pleased to say that we came through unscathed and even had to render assistance to a German couple in a Toyota Hilux (whose diesel engine had just stopped – I think due to injector trouble) just out of Ihaha by way of Tin Can tow the Toyota 30 km through the sand to Kasane. Another Toyota has sheared off all its wheel studs the day before we heard together with a Kia breaking a half shaft so we were quite proud of Tin Can and Land Rover!

Supplies also had to last a week and after running out of bread we decided to try and buy some in a village we passed. Quite an experience! It involved first chatting to the local AIDS counsellor  (a lovely girl who we met in the general store who spoke good English and told us there was a woman who baked bread on the other side of the village). Then Marianne had to stay chatting with her while I took a local guy with me to show me where the bakery was. The bread is still in the oven but should be ready in 30 minutes. Back to where Marianne was waiting. Cost me a beer to the guide. Back to the bakery where the local kids set out stools to sit on while we waited. Cost us pencils, rusks and the odd apple to the kids. 1 hour later the bread was ready and hot. Only Pula 6 but all I had was a P20. Keep the change as they had none to give. Still, it was good bread!

Last night in Botswana after dropping off the Germans Hans and Elisabeth at a repair shop was spent at Chobe Safari Lodge  Kasane – which is uber-luxurious (although we camped for only P150 (USD $22) and is full of foreign tourists flying in from Victoria Falls. (It even has Wi-Fi where this is being typed, but alas, not free)! The sunsets across the Chobe River from the front of the lodge are the stuff of travel brochures. Botswana has been good, but more expensive than SA and Namibia and the deep sand roads are tough. Tomorrow we cross into Zimbabwe at Kazangula and head to the “smoke that thunders” (Victoria Falls)…


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