By November last year the warning bells were ringing. The summer rains were late. And when the heavens opened, they did so with a vengeance. But this did not deter a group of determined travellers who decided to “do Botswana” in March – at the height of the rainy season
Text: Alan Goodway
Photographs: 4×4 Offroad Adventure Club
Why visit Botswana in June/July when it’s cool and dry when you can brave mosquitoes and mud and do it in March? This is exactly how members of the Gauteng-based 4×4 Offroad Adventure Club reasoned. With club owner Alan Goodway leading the way, eight families were to aim their 4x4s north-westwards for their annual Botswana adventure.
When the big day came, the convoy left Pretoria for an 18-day trip through the beautiful and now green Botswana. Camp was set at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary near the town of Serowe, one of those must-do destinations where a variety of game – including rhino, as the name suggests – can be viewed up close and personal.
Although there’s no electricity in this community- run camp, it is spotlessly clean and there is plenty of hot water. The group spent two evenings here, game driving and checking all their equipment.
The next stop was Lekhubu, or Kubu Island. Rising no more than 20m above the Sowa Pan, this national monument with its fossil beaches, stunted baobab trees and mysterious stone walls leaves an indelible impression. Lekhubu (meaning ridge in Setswana) is the most famous of all the rock islands in the greater Makgadikgadi Pans.
Some of us have been there before, but this time it looked different. Tall grass surrounded the campsites, the baobabs were covered in leaves, and there was water all around. On the downside, cattle also found the grass greener on the other side and left their trademark(s) all over the island and the pans…
After cleaning up after them, we pitched camp and stayed for the next two days, having to contend with our second plague – mosquitoes, out in full force.
On the day we left the pans the clouds had lifted and we had glorious sunshine (which was to stay, incidentally). We headed towards Rakops, with the next stop being the Leroo-La-Tau Bush Lodge’s Xwaranga campsite on the Boteti River, to the west.
The road was under construction and the going slow. One trailer’s suspension started sagging, causing the tyres to rub against the body. In the end we made it and reached our evening’s destination, setting up camp across two sites.
The Leroo-La-Tau Bush Lodge itself is absolutely stunning. The lodge is not sure what the name means exactly, but local inhabitants refer to the area as “The Place of the Kalahari Lion”.
The lodge sits on the high banks of the Boteti River, bordering the Makgadikgadi National Park. There’s a beautiful viewpoint on the river bank, across from a wateringhole that attracts many animals in the dry season.
Empty cans around the campsites and ablutions spoilt the experience somewhat, but the staff were helpful and friendly, and soon had piping hot water pumping to the showers in the basic ablutions.
The tall grass around the camp raised fears of prowling predators and the campers were particularly alert as lion and elephant roam this area freely.
Having survived the night without being eaten or trampled on, we headed for Maun where we refuelled and purchased much-needed supplies at the well-stocked shops.
Our next destination was an old-time club favourite – the campsite at Mankwe Lodge.
Located about 93km from Maun on the Savuti road, the lodge is set among shady mopani and camelthorn trees, and is an ideal place from which to explore the Moremi and Chobe wilderness areas in northern Botswana.
Once camp was set, out came tall glasses with gin and tonic to ward off mosquitoes, and these were savoured as the sun set on the lodge’s pool deck. Soon the magic moment was over, though, and it was back to the routine of camping – making fire and preparing dinner.
Mankwe Lodge is situated on the eastern boundary of the Moremi Reserve, which is unfenced. There was much excitement around the morning coffee fire, the main topic of conversation being the lusty roars of male lions that had reverberated throughout the night.
Over the next two days we explored the Khwai River and Moremi North Gate areas to the north. We saw quite a few animals, but less than usual due to the tall grass and abundance of water.
After sticking to the roads the day before, we decided to use the cut-line to try to reach the well-known “deep water crossing” on the Khwai River. This was a day full of challenges as we battled mud and water. Again there were a number of good sightings, but we had to do a lot of recovery work as the vehicles bogged down one after the other.
From here it was back to Maun for refuelling, restocking and the purchase of mosquito spray, as these pests were everywhere! Then we headed west, for the famous Drotsky’s Caves. Nets were put in front of the radiators to keep grass seeds from blocking them, the tyre pressures were lowered for the soft sand, trailers and caravans were checked, and then the convoy hit the trail that takes you deep into the bush towards the caves, close to the Bushmen community of Xai Xai.
In places the bush towered high above the vehicles and caravans, and although we were following a GPS route plotted by the dependable Tracks for Africa, the road had not been used in a while and the tall grass didn’t help matters.
We reached the campsite in one piece, although the lead vehicle was starting to overheat, set up camp and settled in for the evening.
Drotsky’s Caves, or the Gcwihaba Caverns as they’re called now, have two unspectacular low ridges of sand-covered rock at the entrance, but an enchanting curtain of stalactites is the first of many wonders inside this fascinating formation.
The system of caves contains a maze of passages which lead to bizarre rock formations, flowstones of various beautiful and subtle colours, stalactites, hallways and “frozen waterfalls”.
The Gcwihaba Caverns were first brought to European attention in the mid-1930s when the local inhabitants showed them to Ghanzi farmer Martinus Drotsky, and for years they were known as Drotsky’s Caves.
The tours are now guided, thanks to the efforts of the Botswana museum authorities, and this should play a big role in the preservation of the caves. We were given clean face masks for protection against the dust and guano in the caves, left by millions of bats down the years. Visitor numbers are limited on the tours, which makes the experience even more pleasant.
From here the road took us via Xai Xai towards the village of Gumare, our fuel stop. Then the convoy turned north to the Shakawe District, where we were to camp on the banks of the Okavango River – at Drotsky’s Cabins.
Botswana regulars need no introduction to Drotsky’s Cabins. This small fishing lodge on the panhandle of the Okavango Delta, near Shakawe village (about 23km from the Namibian border), is one of the most idyllic camping and lodge venues on the northern parts of the Delta. It’s the ideal base for day trips to venues such as Tsodilo Hills, the Caprivi Strip, Popa Falls and the Hawangu Game Reserve just across the border in Namibia.
The beauty of this spot is that you don’t have to go anywhere. The lodge offers plenty to do, such as sightseeing cruises in aluminium river boats, tiger fishing and sunset cruises in a double-decker boat. The spectacular sunsets, river scenes and abundance of fish eagles make it a photographer’s dream, and the dinners at the lodge are certainly something to write home about. Jan and Eileen Drotsky were the perfect hosts. And the prices are affordable.
On return south from Shakawe, the group visited the village with the peculiar name of Etsha 6. This is home to the Okavango Basket Shop, where you can buy high-quality Botswana baskets and other crafts at lower prices than in Maun or Gaborone.
At the Spar in Ghanzi the group stocked up on fresh meat – what a pleasure with prices ranging from 18 and 22 pula (about R25) a kilogram for fillet, rump and T-bone.
Our camp was at the Dqae Qare Game Farm in the Kalahari Desert, some 24km from Ghanzi. This is a community-based tourism project of the Bushmen (Ncoakhoe – meaning Red People) from D’Kar village. The aim of the project is to create employment, preserve the Ncoakhoe indigenous knowledge through tourism activities and to generate income.
After a visit to the local handicraft centre, farm manager Hennie Bekker introduced the children to the hunting skills of the Bushmen, and later, around the fire, the Ncoakhoe demonstrated their impressive dancing skills. Absolutely magnificent.
The next destination was the Mabuasehube area in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where the convoy followed the cut-line through the bush.
The route presented two problems. The first was a road block where an official waved the driver past a stop sign, only for him to be stopped and fined by a second for ignoring the sign (we left with a warning after about an hour of arguing). The second problem was that the wheel of the troublesome trailer mentioned earlier simply broke off.
The trailer was left there and its contents distributed among the rest of the group. While the owner was escorted back to Kang by two of the group to get assistance to recover the trailer, the rest made their way to the park, with the escorting vehicles arriving only after dark.
After the long day’s travelling everyone was “bushed”, and not even aware that lion prowled around the camp on the Khiding Pan until the children noticed the huge spoor the following morning. In fact, a jackal howling right next to one of the caravans the following night caused a much greater rush of adrenaline!
We spent the days game driving and lazing around the camp. This was the end of the tour, and we headed for home, stopping over one last time at the Soetvlakte Farm, reliving our experiences around the campfire.
Botswana in the rainy season was stunning, and we realised once again that life’s too short to allow opportunities like this to pass you by.