The Historic Baobabs in Botswana
There are a number of extraordinary baobabs in the Makgadikgadi area but the ones most worth visiting are Chapman’s and Green’s baobabs in Ntwetwe Pan and Baines Baobabs in Nxai Pans National Park.
Green’s baobab can be found at Gutsha Pan on the Gweta–Orapa track, 27km south of Gweta village. In the days of early European explorers, a small pan beside this baobab was filled with perennial water, giving the great old tree special significance as a beacon of hope that signaled a spot to replenish supplies after a long trek through the saltpans. The intrepid Green brothers were one of the many early traders, hunters and explorers to carve their names here, leaving “Green’s Expedition 1858–1859” scrawled into the tree’s bark and giving the tree its name. Perhaps the most intriguing mark on this baobab though is the date 1771, which is even before Livingstone’s time and was possibly left by an early Portuguese explorer. The tree is now one of Botswana’s National Monuments. Baobab trees can live for thousands of years and this one certainly bears the battle scars to prove it, gunshot wounds included.
The enormous Chapman’s baobab, six km to the north of Gutsha pan, was the first landmark to be seen by travellers crossing the lonely saltpans. The tree was noted by many early explorers, including David Livingstone (who past here with George Oswell in the 1860’s on the way to Linyanti), for its astonishing size, a circumference of 25 metres. In his journal Livingstone wrote, “About 2 miles beyond the northern bank of the pan we unyoked under a fine specimen of the baobab called in the language of the Bechuanas, Morwana; it consisted of 6 branches united into one trunk.” James Chapman, after whom the tree was named, was a South African explorer and hunter and left his name on one of the trees enormous roots when he passed by with the artist Thomas Baines in the 1860s. A hollow in the tree also served as an ancient letterbox. Unfortunately, this legendary baobab fell down in January 2006 but is still a very impressive sight in its collapsed state, and travellers should visit it sooner rather than later before the tree decays. For those who don’t want to camp, Uncharted Africa have a selection of lodges nearby that offer day trips to visit the Baobab and visitors can explore it by clambering about on the giant’s collapsed limbs.
Located in the south of Nxai Pans National Park are the seven baobabs known as Baines Baobabs or the Sleeping sisters. This stunted cluster of Africa’s most iconic tree was immortalized by the paintings of Thomas Baines, a British landscape artist commissioned by the Royal Geographic Society. Baines camped beneath these trees in 1862 en route to the Victoria Falls. The pans at Baines Baobabs are dry and bare for much of the year, as are the branches of the baobabs themselves, but during wet season the pans are covered in sheets of water and green canopies emerge from tree’s branches.
Baines Baobabs overlook Kaudia Camp Pan on the South side of the Nxai Pan South camp. There are three allocated camping areas with very basic toilet and shower facilities requiring visitors to bring their own water.