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Wednesday 12 February 2014

Hightailing it to Hwange

Elephants Playground - Somalisa Camp

“Come quietly and sit down’ our guide Nick said, moving over to the dinner table laid out by Somalisa Camp’s small pool.  Kay and I negotiated the steps down to the deck carefully by the dim light of hurricane lanterns, trying not to fall on our faces or make any sudden movements.  We were sitting down to dinner with an unusual guest, a big elephant bull who had come to drink out of the pool, trying his best to drain the water dry.  He faced us head-on, something that would make you twitch in the bush, especially as he was only four metres away.  He disregarded us, plunged his trunk into the water, slurped up the liquid and threw it down his throat.  The noise was incredible.  “It sounds like a really big toilet flushing” said Johnny, our host and camp manager.  “They don’t drink out of the waterhole?” Kay asked.  “They like the clean water,’ said Nick ‘they prefer the waterhole for mud baths.”

As we chatted over starters and broke bread, the bull moved off and another came to drink, then another.  Somewhere through the main course, a breeding herd gathered around opposite us, with a very small elephant calf.  We gawked at the noise of 10 toilets flushing in succession as the little calf tried to find water with its trunk.  “It’s amazing how blasé you get’ said Kay ‘we’re just sitting here, having dinner and a chat.” She was right.  If one of the bulls didn’t like us, it wouldn’t have taken much for him to do something about it from the other side of the pool, but they were calm and Nick was used to this behaviour.  It had almost become Somalisa Camp’s guaranteed dinner-time entertainment.

Kay & I had come to Hwange during green season, a time when game viewing is far more challenging and so we were expecting game sightings to be few and far between.  Luck was on side, however and on the first morning game drive into Hwange National Park we found a pack of twelve wild dogs moving along the roadside, sniffing bushes and trying to pick up the scent of something to chase for breakfast.  We followed them for at least ten minutes as they scoured both sides of the road for a scent before disappearing into the thick brush.  Later that day, driving with Nick from Hwange Main Camp we spotted huge amounts of plains game, zebra taking dust baths in the afternoon light, big herds of buffalo spread out across the plains and a big sable bull whose elongated horns curved all the way back to his shoulders.

Lioness drinking

As the sky started turning orange and pink just before sundowners, we found two big male lions and three lionesses stretched out over termite mounds with full, round bellies and a buffalo kill hidden in the bushes.  “It’s interesting about these male lions’ Nick said ‘this one, Cecil with the big black mane is about eleven years old.  One of the lion researchers around here thinks he has the biggest skull on record.  He got kicked out of his territory by a younger male and was living on the periphery for ages.  Then he teamed up with this other male Jericho who’s now nine and they took this area off a younger lion.  It’s not often you see that.  Normally once they get kicked out, they’re out.  And now they have these three young girls here.  They can’t be older than five.  They’re all quite full with buffalo, but it looks as if one of them might be pregnant.”

The next morning the lions were still right where we left them and had begun slinking over to a nearby waterhole to drink.  In the background a black-backed jackal was chewing pieces of meat off an elephant carcass as the vultures watched.  We moved over to another waterhole and Nick was distracted by movement on the water.  “What’s going on here?’ he said ‘I’ve never seen this before.”  Sitting on the water were two Egyptian geese, determined to drown another goose by swooping on his head and forcing him underwater.  The goose would then swim under water and pop up about ten metres away as his bullies scanned the water looking for him.  As soon as he surfaced, the two geese would be on him again in a blaze of feathers and fury.  We watched the attack, holding our breath as each attempted drowning was followed by an underwater swim and a quick breath of air before the geese were back on the trail.  Suddenly it seemed a lifetime since we’d seen our half-drowned goose.  We checked the surface of the water, scanning for a sign of life.  Nothing.  More time passed and we started to believe the goose had drowned as the other two geese started honking out cackles and flapping their wings in victory.  Just as we started lamenting the goose’s demise, a little figure popped up on the side of the waterhole.  He’d swam at least thirty metres underwater in a final attempt at escape.  He was soggy, but undetected and alive.

We headed back to Somalisa Camp to pack our bags and move on to another part of Hwange.  As we wandered around the main camp gossiping about the morning’s sightings, I was distracted by movement out the corner of my eye.  Across the plain near the tree line, impala were scattering.  I pointed and yelled gibberish, trying to get everyone’s attention while trying to figure out what I was seeing.  “Um, lion…” I shouted on impulse, watching something straw-coloured fifty metres away chasing the antelope. “No, cheetah!” said Nick as we watched the chase becoming un-successful, the impala running faster as the cheetah slowed, panting with fatigue.  Nick ran for the vehicle and brought it around as the cheetah retreated to the tree line.  We were going to try and catch up with her in our last ten minutes in camp.  We drove the tracks and scanned the grass.  We knew the cheetah had been right where we were only moments ago.  We drove forward & back, looking for leaves or grasses moving.  “At this time of year, all she has to do is lie down and you’d never know she was here” said Kay.  True enough, she’d disappeared for good, probably hiding no more than twenty metres from us, but in the thick shrub, we didn’t have a chance.  This was why searching for game in green season held an exciting element of the unknown.  You just never knew what was hiding in the long grass.

Zebras in Hwange

Zebras in Hwange

Getting to Hwange

Hwange is surprisingly close to Victoria Falls and accessible by tar all the way up to Hwange Main Camp.  Road transfers from Victoria Falls town will get you to the lodges on their own private concessions bordering the park in approximately 2 ½ hrs.  Flights from Victoria Falls will get you to camps within the park in 45 – 55 minutes.  Due to Hwange’s close proximity to Victoria Falls, the park is a logical extension to any Botswana itinerary finishing in Victoria Falls and can be very cost-effective as compared to a delta fly-in.

Where to visit in Hwange

Like the parks in Botswana, there are no fences around Hwange National Park, meaning game can move freely between the park and the lodges on small private concessions outside the park.  The terrain in the north of the park around Sinamatella features a lot of hills, granite kopjes and deep valleys, whereas Hwange Main Camp is characterised by open grassland surrounded by acacia woodland.  The landscape further south towards the Linkwasha concession changes again, with more Molokwane Palm trees and open pans.  The diversity of the park makes it easy to combine two separate camps in two separate areas and achieve a varied safari experience.

Lodges/Camps outside Hwange: While these properties are not technically in the park, they experience good numbers of game moving through in the dry season and some have very productive waterholes and resident populations of game that can be reliably sighted.  Most of the camps offer game drives on their own private concessions with the option to game drive inside Hwange National Park as well.  We recommend pre-paying park fees to provide clients with the option of both.

Camps inside Hwange:  Staying inside the park provides a more intense bush experience and removes the necessity of checking in at park gates before and after game drives.   The camps inside Hwange National Park have small private concessions around them, enabling more relaxed sundowners without a rush back to camp before park closing times.  Some of these camps can also offer short night drives, something which is not permitted inside national parks in Botswana.

What to combine it with: Hwange is very much a dry land game viewing destination.  The park roads are easy-going and very well sign-posted making it a great introduction to a safari before continuing to Botswana.  Hwange National Park works very well combined with a houseboat experience or Chobe Savanna Lodge in the Caprivi (opposite Chobe National Park) for a dry land and water contrast before continuing to the dry land game viewing of the Khwai Community Area or Moremi Game Reserve.

Pre-Packaged Options: Check out our 8 Night Elephant Paths itineraries combining Hwange, Victoria Falls and Chobe or extend to a 10 Night Elephant Paths package with a fly-in to the Okavango Delta.  All packages can be downloaded from our Agent’s Corner.

 

 

Clare Doolan

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Clare Doolan

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Botswana Bush Etiquette

A safari in Botswana is a true wilderness experience of exploring bumpy tracks in the bush where boundaries are marked by lines on maps and not by fences.  Our famous wildlife areas are untamed places where animals roam freely in their natural habitats.  The bush in Botswana is not a controlled environment and safari goers will get the most out of their experience if they know what to expect from the bush.

Lions on Khwai airstrip

Lions on Khwai airstrip

There are no Fences

An encounter with an animal on safari is an encounter with the wild.  There are no barriers between you and the wildlife, which not only gets the pulse racing, but also results in a level of risk.  When in the bush, remember that your guide understands animal behaviour and the bush around you.  If you listen to your guide you can be assured of the best possible safari experience, as well as your safety.  When in camp, guests should never walk unattended at night, or go for a walk outside main camp during the day.  Animals roam freely in the bush and can often be spotted strolling along the paths in camp at night, or drinking out of the swimming pool, which is often what makes a safari more exciting.

Sa'adia having fun in Khwai

Leave Only Footprints

The bush in Botswana is not tamed by humans.  Camp staff and guides do not intervene in the lives or deaths of animals.  While roads may be maintained for game driving, the bush is otherwise left in its natural state.  Visitors to Botswana need to be careful not to leave rubbish such as cigarette butts or toilet paper in the bush and also not to pick up anything they find on the way, especially animal remains such as teeth, bones or skins.  The exportation of animal remains is highly illegal and a well-intended bush souvenir could end up becoming a ticket to trouble.  It is ok to pick up and look at things in the bush when instructed by your guide, but anything from the bush should be left where it is found and never packed for home.

 

Driving in the Bush

Due to Botswana’s high-yield and low-impact eco-tourism policy, we’re lucky to be able to offer a more exclusive bush experience than many of our neighbours.  To keep the experience exclusive, most camps have a policy of no more than three vehicles at any sighting.  This helps to reduce impact on the animal being observed, as well as allowing for guests on the sighting to have a more relaxed time with the animal and better photographic opportunities.  In order to encourage a better experience for all, guides will move on from sightings after 10 minutes or so when there are vehicles waiting.  Self-drivers visiting Botswana should keep this etiquette in mind when visiting the parks and try not to crowd animal sightings, but wait for excess vehicles to move off.  When transiting through the parks always wait for elephants in the road and allow plenty of space for safety when passing.   Self-drivers should respect the rules of no off-road driving or driving after dark, should stay in their vehicle except at marked rest stops and should carry a satellite phone or GPS in the event of any emergency.  If an incident occurs while en route to a lodge, guests should keep in contact with their next accommodation and request assistance if necessary.

Moss in Khwai

Exposure to the Elements

While on safari it is easy to become dehydrated and exhausted by the elements, especially in the later months of the year when temperatures peak.  Bottled water in Botswana does not contain the same minerals as water at home and needs to be supplemented with juices and soft drinks for proper hydration.  Days on the safari vehicle can be long and the weather changeable.  Dressing in layers with lighter clothing underneath is the key to remaining comfortable and avoiding over-heating and freezing.  Guides pack refreshments for game drives and will be more than happy to stop and hand out beverages as requested.  Bright colours are best avoided in the bush as they prevent you blending with your surroundings during activities, especially during game walks.

If visitors to Botswana have any doubts about what to do while on safari, asking a guide for advice and assistance is the safest way forward to a hassle-free safari.  For a copy of our safari information for guests, please contact info@safaridestinations.net

BTTE agents group on educational

 

 

Clare Doolan

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Clare Doolan

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Our visit to the Jao Concession in the Okavango Delta

In November Muriel and I had the opportunity to explore the camps in the Jao Concession, we visited Tubu, Little Tubu, Jao, Jacana and the new Pelo Camp. I am happy to share our experience with you:

Baby Zebra at Kwetsani

Baby Zebra at Kwetsani

Kwetsani: Spectacular setting over the lagoon, very ‘high and elevated camp’ everything is about views, large public deck, many different, intimate corners and tasteful spaces for the clients to withdraw and enjoy the scenery.

Units: due to their height they almost appear as ‘tree houses’, they will be enlarged and refurbished in the coming weeks, then the camp will be certainly my favorite of the classic collection in Jao.

Management: very passionate, open minded, outgoing, and certainly top service orientated camp manager, Charmaine.

Pelo Camp (pronounce PILU for all Setswana ignorants amongst us, as otherwise it sounds like kidney and not like heart, which is the shape of the island it is on).

New camp only open in high (=dry) season, very romantic, hidden in the thick bush on the island, pure water bases, the only activity is mokoro, so it will make a perfect last to relax in some horizontal safari (the birds’ concert is outstandingly entertaining) and concentrate on the small stuff.

The fire place with the bar is the central meeting point, elevated above the lagoon it offers views combined with a warm camp atmosphere.

The public area is a small tent with a terrace, true to the modest style, no big furniture but cushions to lounge.

The dining area is in another small tent, just enough to make clients feels safe without taking the camping feel away.

Units: from the outside it could be just a notch above mobile safari, they almost hide their luxurious interior (top comfy beds, perfect illumination, desk), which gives the camp the charisma of cozy, tented, intimate. Only outside bucket shower (in the cold winter months of June/July people should be informed/warned).

Food: great brunch, a variety a light and tasteful salads, beef sausages, cold pasta, cooked breakfast, fruit and cheeses. Dinner consisted of a veggie soup, excellent Impala stew, veggies and again salad, very pleasant.

Activities: mokoro, the nicest cruise I have ever done for over 2 hrs, safe, hippo free, and in a very lovely surrounding, apart from birder’s paradise, with hundreds of lechwe and elephant herds at our sights, we even spotted some shy Sitatunga.

Apart from mokoro, the manager takes clients to his very special Delta Pool for a refreshing swim and pick nick on the sand banks. Also catch+release fishing is possible.

Pelo Camp in the Okavango Delta

Pelo Camp in the Okavango Delta

Camp Jao: Just stunning, the jewel of the concession for the pampered, the Balinese palace in the Delta. All emphasis on luxury, spa, food, wine tasting, a perfect end or relaxing start to a safari, I could certainly stay for 5 days in this camp. The whole camp is highly elevated in beautiful old trees, as if the camp was a colony of tree houses connected by swaying boardwalks.

Apart from the spa, there is a proper gym, yoga mats and pilates balls, and a wine tasting parlour, as the unusual features.

Units: the best feature (vs its sisters in luxury Kings Pool/Vumbura Plains) is the shape of the rooms, as they are not deep but long, so from any point of the unit the views over the lagoon can be enjoyed, they are airy and full of light, which takes the weight off the massive wooden furniture and gives it a noble and highly elegant feel.

The public areas are impressive, two pools, one family one adults only plunge pool bordering with the Delta, large shady sitting areas on a 10 m tall deck. The impressive fireplace with unique Balinese drums builds the center of the camp with incredible views over the lagoon and its wildlife, e.g. Lechwe hunting Lions.

Jao Camp in the Okavango Delta

Jao Camp in the Okavango Delta

Christine Ess

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Christine Ess

Monday 16 December 2013

Kay’s visit to Chiefs Camp

Who said that game viewing in green season isn’t outstanding?
Here is Kay’s feedback from her recent 2 night stay at Chiefs Camp (Sanctuary Retreats) on Chiefs Island in the Moremi Game Reserve:
“Well believe it or not I got a first !!!!! I actually saw the BIG 5 !!! after 40 years in Botswana..WOW that was amazing !!!
Although we did slightly cheat & saw the Buffalo from the plane on the way home, but regardless we saw them ….”
a rare sight in Botswana - Rhino at Chiefs Camp

a rare sight in Botswana – Rhino at Chiefs Camp

Positives:
1: Guiding was excellent !!!, we had a guide called Sky for the duration & he was great. Not full of his own importance & bad jokes, that is unfortunately becoming common in many camps, but full of knowledge & certainly tried very hard to please .
2: Management & staff, could not have been more accommodating & pleasant. Always around & ready to serve, but not in your face so to speak. On chatting to different members of staff, most had been with Sanctuary for + / 3/4 years, so that says a lot .
3: Food was outstanding …I am a very picky eater, as you all know, but there was so much choice, nobody could ever complain & it just kept coming. We were there on 26th which was Thanksgiving & joys, we had a camp full of Americans, so the staff actually did Roast Turkey as one of the choices, which was very impressive….
4: Tea & coffee with a very friendly wake-up call ….YES !!!
5: Free 10 minute amazing foot massage at the Spa – all guests get this, what a treat.
6: Campfire every night, whether we sat around it or not, the ambience is there
7: Location, very dry at the moment, tiny water hole in front of the camp & infact very little water anywhere. We drove right up to the Mombo border & all the channels were bone dry. The concession is so diverse, with flood plains, palm islands etc as well as the normally dry inland sections, definitely an amazing area & never boring …..I will just have to go back & see it in full flood.
8: GAME: wow !!!!, although in all honesty we did not see huge quantities, apart from Zebra (several large herds) and the ever present Impala, it was all so relaxed & quiet happy to let you get up close & personal. Some of the game has moved off according to Sky, Leopards have disappeared as the Baboon population has trebled & Wild dog / Buffalo have not been seen for a few weeks……he feels it will all return with the rains / Floods.
Then the ultimate, Rhino, not just 1 but 2 different Males, what an amazing treat. I did see a couple in Chobe back in the 70’s but nothing since, so this was an amazing bonus & so unexpected ….
Lion, I think we counted about 15, 1 Lioness on her own eating a large Tortoise, very gruesome, but very unique. Sadly only 1 Leopard, but she posed beautifully. Surprisingly very few Elephants, apparently they have also headed south for water. But all in all amazing good quality game.
9: Flights in & out with Mack Air. Short & Sweet, perfect for me !!
we were treated to a luxurious sundowner at Chiefs Camp

We were treated to a luxurious sundowner at Chiefs Camp

Negatives:
1: Rooms, not so great….I feel they were dated & quite small for a premier camp. Although the bathrooms were very nice & spacious, they look as though they have been recently revamped.
The rooms had 2 very stiff armchairs that were very uncomfortable, Overhead & free standing Fan, a fully stocked mini bar, but no Coffee / Tea station.
2: Generator runs throughout the night, this happens at all the Sanctuary Lodges I believe, but does affect your natural night sounds. Plus the lights from the pathway are on all night & shine into your rooms.
3: Most Premier camps have private pools nowadays, & with the cost of Chiefs, I feel they could look at this, as the pool is right at the main area and with + 35 degrees, very busy.
4: Down-time, felt very long……we got back from the morning drive @ 10am & departed for afternoon drive @ 4pm, although you have lunch in-between, it did seem to drag.
5: Vehicles…..seemed very tired, definitely could do with a face lift, the middle row, had no foot rests & no soft places to put cameras etc…just a pocket in the back of 2 chairs, or a large metal trough in the front, not even drink holders. Again I feel for a premier Camp, the vehicles should be top class, as they only offer game drives so you spend +-6 hours a day in them.
No hesitation in selling Chiefs now. Still tend to feel that it is overpriced, especially in High Season, as many other camps offer the same or more, but I think the area / concession would take a lot of beating & that is what you are paying for no doubt …..
Kay
Carina

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Carina

Monday 9 December 2013

Passionate about sharing our Experience…..

Every year we organise numerous educationals for our agents. This year was a record year, Lorraine, Clare and I counted and counted and we think we had over 80 agents travelling around Botswana, Zambia & Zimbabwe on educational visits. Most trips were individually tailor-made trips, based on the needs of the agents. Around Indaba we had 20 agents on safari, one group in Botswana and one in Zimbabwe.

agents educational in Khwai with Letaka Safaris

agents educational in Khwai with Letaka Safaris

Agents enjoying a helicopter flight over the Delta.

Agents enjoying a helicopter flight over the Delta.

This year one highlight followed the next. Recently Botswana Tourism organized the first “Botswana Tourism and Travel Expo” in Kasane. We were honoured to be part of it. It was hugely successful as it hosted 81 Tour Operators from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France and Belgium. These 81 agents were split into various pre- and post-Expo educationals of 4 – 5 nights each. Safari Destinations partnered with Bush Ways Safaris and with Great Plains Conservation and put together three trips.

On site inspection at Chobe Game Lodge

On site inspection at Chobe Game Lodge

Dinner during the BTTE in Kasane - we had lots of fun.

Dinner during the BTTE in Kasane – we had lots of fun.

We always try to show our agents the beauty of the different regions as well as the different products on offer. Last week’s agents’ safaris included nights at Selinda Camp, Ghoha Hills Camp, camping with Bush Ways Safaris in Savuti, camping with Letaka Safaris in Khwai, both Sango Safari Camp and Machaba Camp in Khwai and a visits to Meno a Kwena Tented Camp on the Boteti River & Jacks Camp on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. The agents enjoyed site inspections of three lodges in Chobe (Chobe Elephant Camp, Ngoma Safari Lodge and Chobe Game Lodge) and brunch at Zarafa Camp and Savuti Safari Lodge. They experienced game drives, night drives and a walk with San Bushmen at Meno a Kwena.

Flying to Selinda in a Caravan of Mack Air.

Flying to Selinda in a Caravan of Mack Air.

Carina

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Carina

Thursday 13 June 2013

Sylvester – the cheetah ambassador

Last weekend we spent a few days in Vic Falls and were excited to meet the famous cheetah Sylvester, who lives in the private concession of “The Elephant Camp” a few kilometers outside of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Sylvester in full flight

Sylvester – the cheetah ambassador

Here is his story:

In April 2010, in the Lowveld area of Zimbabwe, a cheetah gave birth to five cubs. Sadly within two days, in a cruel act of nature, she and four of her cubs were fatally attacked by a male lion, something which is common between apex predators in the wild. The sole survivor was discovered by a game scout named Sylvester, who witnessed the event and the cub was named after him by Norman and Penny English who became his surrogate parents. Norman worked in National Parks and Wildlife Management for many years and now heads the anti poaching unit in the Bubi Conservancy. Penny is a registered nurse and having both their experience was invaluable in the attempt to keep this young cheetah alive. At two days old, Sylvester still had his umbilical cord attached and unopened eyes.

Sylvester and one of his carers

Sylvester is an orphaned cheetah who found a home in the private concession of The Elephant Camp in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Over the following six months the hard work and devotion from the English
family was rewarded but it did not come easily. Feeding was complicated and
Sylvester grew faster than his bones could grow but the struggle to find a
suitable formula was assisted by the many cheetah experts who passed on
information. In time a dietary plan that suited Sylvester was formulated and
he  began to respond.
As Sylvester was never destined to become a pet, and being a specially
protected animal on the endangered species list, the Department of National
Parks and Wildlife Management have naturally been involved from the outset
with Sylvester’s welfare. A  plan needed to be formulated for a future
permanent home for Sylvester, and in this regard VFWT became involved. Despite numerous release attempts, cheetah, apparently, do not survive in the wild without experiencing the maternal care of a mother for the initial twenty two months of their lives. The human imprints of upbringing in captivity are not conducive to a wild release with rehabilitated cheetah often coming into contact with human settlements and being seen as “problem” animals.

The Sanctuary that Vic Falls Wildlife Trust operates from has large areas of
open grasslands where a cheetah can exercise naturally and build up the
speed for which they are renowned. With no large predators around and the
support from his three carers who exercise him extensively and assist in
nurturing  this orphan, Sylvester has settled in to his new life with
vigour. Through our educational programme, Sylvester interacts with
schoolchildren and guests who visit the Elephant Wallow during other
activities. He will become an “ambassador” cheetah, interacting with the
public to raise awareness of their peril as a species and the challenges
they face being on the endangered species list.

Here in the Victoria Falls region, cheetah are a rare sighting and whilst
VFWT respects that the ultimate aim is to promote the conservation of
wildlife and are merely custodians of this magnificent animal, funds need to
be raised for his upkeep. With feeding, exercise, care and constant
companionship, Sylvester has already adapted perfectly to his new
environment.

Guests at The Elephant Camp have the unique opportunity to experience Sylvester, learn about his endangered species and can support this good cause.

We at Safari Destinations would like to raise awareness for this very important project.

Find out more about Sylvester the cheetah on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sylvester-Cheetah-Ambassador/169927003078626

Heiko and Noah admiring Sylvester

at The Elephant Camp guests have the rare opportunity to learn about Sylvester and the endangered species of cheetah

Carina

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Carina

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Luggage restrictions have several reasons…

All travellers visiting Botswana want to experience the beautiful, remote places they’ve seen in the TV documentaries.  The real wilderness Botswana has to offer that they don’t have to share with lots of other tourists.  A safari in the out-of-reach corners of Botswana is an exclusive experience with a catch 22 about it.  To get to these areas there are no tarred roads.  Aside from the lack of tarmac, the distances are too big or the camps are surrounded by too much water, sitting on islands that can’t be reached…which is exactly why travellers want to visit, to experience a wilderness inaccessible to mass tourism.  As a result, travellers need to jump into a light aircraft and let the pilot fly them into the adventure, wilderness & luxury camps that dreams are made of.

Already the name “light aircraft” should give you the hint that we are not talking about an Airbus A380. For most air transfers charter companies use aircraft such as the Cessna 206 or Cessna 210 which can accommodate the pilot and around five passengers. If clients are really lucky they may fly in an Airvan which can transfer seven passengers and one pilot or possibly a Cessna Grand Caravan, which is as big as it gets, accommodating 13 passengers and the pilot. But that’s about it. Bigger aircraft would need to overcome a long brake path and can’t land on the short graded airstrips in the national parks and private concessions.

With small aircraft comes this issue of fitting both luggage and passengers into the plane. All aircraft has a baggage compartment where the pilot stores clients’ luggage during their flight, but these are small and limited, meaning bags need to flexible (not rigid) and packed economically in order to make the most of the space available.

Due to the small payload of these aircraft any other variations in the expected weight in the aircraft need to be factored in far in advance to avoid overloading and breeching safety regulations.  This includes passengers weighing more than 100kgs.

While it may seem an insensitive topic to broach, charter companies calculate their payload and required fuel based on passengers weighing 100kgs or less.  As a result, charter companies need to be aware if passengers weigh more than 100kgs so they can limit the total amount of passengers and baggage accordingly.  The restrictions in loading aircraft that result from flying passengers over 100kgs requires charging for an additional seat to compensate for the inability to carry the standard amount of passengers and luggage as a result.

LUGGAGE RESTRICTIONS:

Luggage dimensions should not exceed 25cm (10 inches) wide, 30cm (12 inches) high and 62 cm (24 inches) long. Anything larger and the luggage will not fit.  Baggage weight (including hand luggage) is limited to a maximum of 20kg. Luggage must be entirely soft-sided.  Hard covered, rigid bags are exceptionally difficult to load and unload and will most likely be left behind.

SD TIP! Due to the cramped space in light aircraft luggage holds, we also recommend taking camera equipment and other valuable items as hand luggage during flights to prevent possible damage.

 

Luggage restriction for small aircrafts

We know that restrictions are never pleasant but clients need to keep in mind that we advise them of these restrictions in advance so they can arrive prepared and enjoy smooth air transfers as a result. All rules exist to provide the maximum possible client safety and comfort on board.

We understand our clients’ needs and know it is often hard to pack light for such a long journey; however clients can be re-assured that camps in remote areas usually include laundry service in the nightly rate. Clients are welcome to use the laundry service to minimise their luggage and rest-assured that the animals in the bush don’t mind seeing the same shirt twice.

If clients can’t travel without excess luggage we offer to store the luggage at our office in Maun.   The restriction however is that this only works if clients start and end their safari in Maun. If clients end their safari somewhere elsewhere we would need to send the luggage on (e.g. on a flight to Kasane) creating extra costs for clients who have already spent all their spare change on their trip of a lifetime in Botswana.  If excess luggage storage is required, we need to know in advance so that we can make a plan prior to arrival and not during our short meet and greet with your clients at Maun airport.  Please also keep in mind that if your clients are travelling through Johannesburg Airport multiple times, excess luggage can be stored there as well.

To all travel agents & tour operators out there, please brief your clients about luggage restrictions connected to bush flying prior to travel. You can save your clients a lot of hassle if they’re aware of what to expect and how they need to be prepared for their journey of their lifetime.

Usually we allow our children to fly with us in the cabin

 

Ines

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Ines

Sunday 7 April 2013

Our Selfdrive Adventure in Khwai and Savuti

Our Selfdrive Trip from Maun to Khwai and Savuti!

Have you ever wondered what it takes to get off the tarmac and explore the sandy tracks of Botswana’s National Parks in a 4×4?  We did.  With our mission set, four of us Safari Destinations girls, calling ourselves the SD Angels departed Maun early on a Sunday morning for a five day self-drive safari through Moremi, Khwai and Savute.

Self drive adventure in Khwai and Savuti

SD Angels on a self drive adventure in Khwai and Savuti

Leaving Maun, the small village of Shorobe marks the end of the tarmac.  From here to the buffalo fence is a big wide stretch of calcrete road where we had our first encounter with someone driving far too fast and almost wiping us out.  We quickly discovered slow is the answer, as people generally tend to drive too fast and run into trouble.

From the buffalo fence there are two ways of getting to Khwai.  You can either go via Mababe Village, staying on the calcrete road or head through Moremi Game Reserve via South Gate.  We decided to go through Moremi as we were in no rush, since the route is more scenic with much better opportunities for spotting wildlife.  The road between the buffalo fence and South Gate is quite narrow, passing through mopane forests and very sandy, so the driving is quite a bit slower and we let our tyres down to about 1.6 bar to deal with the terrain.

Once we reached North Gate and exited Moremi Game Reserve, we crossed over a proper bush bridge made from Gum Poles and into Khwai Village.  To get here took us approx four hours from Maun, stopping for game sightings on the way.  In Khwai, we stayed at both Khwai River Lodge and Khwai Tented Camp, however other options in the area include Sango Safari Camp and Machaba Camp.

For self-drivers, the road network around Khwai is quite disorienting.  As a result, it’s best to arrange your game viewing activities with your lodge as the professional guides know the area, where the game is and what signs to look for in tracking animals, resulting in a more enjoyable safari.

Leaving Khwai for Savuti, there are two possible routes.  Different people gave us different arguments and opinions on whether we should take the Marsh Road or the Sandridge Road.  In the end, we took the Marsh road which is longer but a lot more scenic, traversing the Mababe Depression and the Savute Marsh.  There is a lot more wild life on this section of road especially around the Savute Marsh and we saw leopard, cheetah, elephant, wildebeest, giraffe, impala, the list goes on.  This road can become flooded in some areas, and very slippery in the rainy season.  In October, it took us approximately four hours to drive the Sandridge route.

Selfdrive through Savuti

Selfdriving through Savuti

In Savute, we stayed at both Savute Elephant Camp and Ghoha Hills, however other options include Savuti Safari Lodge, as well as SKL’s Camp Savuti next to the public campsite.

Returning from Savute, we drove back towards Khwai on the Sandridge road, which was a lot quicker with better road conditions.  Although quicker, the driving is through a lot of Mopane and we only saw elephant and steenbok driving this way.  In the winter months before the rains, this sandy road can get very churned up and a lot of people get stuck.  Taking this route back to Maun and skipping Moremi Game Reserve on the return took us approx 5 ½ hours.

To self-drive successfully through the parks, we recommend a good 4 x 4 such as a Land Rover, Toyota Hilux or Landcruiser.  It’s essential the car has 4×4 and has good clearance.  This driving cannot be done in either a 2WD or a 4WD without the height to manage deep sand and water crossings.  For good vehicles carrying the essential equipment as standard and good back-up service in case of emergencies, we recommend Travel Adventures Botswana.  Essential items to pack are a high-lift or air jack, two spare tyres, spade, axe, tow-rope, jumper-lead cables, tyre pressure gauge and air compressor.  If you don’t have a long-range tank, you will need extra fuel as driving in sand uses a lot more fuel than travelling on tarmac.  You should always have plenty of drinking water, basic food supplies, a GPS, satellite phone and a well-stocked first aid kit on hand in case of getting lost, stuck or experiencing break-downs.  Of course, you will also need your park entry permits for your vehicle and for yourself, together with any confirmation from lodges you’ll be staying at which confirm they’ve pre-paid park fees on your behalf.

 

Storm

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Storm

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Bush Ways Safaris & Mayonnaise – on safari in Savuti and Khwai

Bush Ways and Mayonnaise

“Who wants mayonnaise? ‘ Masters asks.  There’s a moment of silence where all five of us fail to jump on his offer.  ‘It’s good for the eyes!!!’ he says, putting another spoonful on his dinner and passing the jar down the table.  ‘If you don’t see any animals tomorrow, you know who to blame.”

We’ve just arrived in Savute.  It’s the end of October, it’s HOT and we’ve just met Masters who will guide us through this area and later on to Khwai.  We’ve also just learnt Masters’ best-kept secret for spotting game, except that he isn’t too concerned with keeping his trick in the bag.

We had returned from an incredible sunset over a waterhole which we shared with a cross-legged elephant and a few roan antelope.  As Masters had pulled out the G&T the roan scattered and herds of impala sprinted out of the background.  “See’ said Masters ‘we were so lucky to see that Roan.  If we’d turned up a little later, we wouldn’t have seen anything at all.”

in Savuti with Bush Ways

in Savuti with Bush Ways

We were quickly learning that this was the advantage of being on a mobile safari, spending two nights in each area, driving around the same corners but seeing different things on the horizon each time.  Just when we’d begun to recognise the roads and game patterns in one area, we’d travel to the next campsite and look for it all again on a different backdrop, but with the same guide who understood what we’d already seen and where we’d already been.  If we hadn’t seen something yet, Masters usually had a quick solution.   When we put hyenas on our wish-list he pointed to his shirt and grinned, “It’s the Bushways logo!  You’ve already seen one.”

In the wide-open space of the Savute marsh we spent our time chasing wildebeest, watching elephants sleeping standing up against trees, a big male lion bending a branch under his chin for a pillow and wild dog collapsed in a mess of legs and ears under the closest shade they could find.  The animals regarded us vaguely but didn’t bother stirring as our cameras clicked away.   Despite the intense heat which kept most animals in the shade, we came across plenty of elephants butting their heads against trees, hippos yawning out twisted laughter and a herd of buffalo big enough to be counted at a thousand, give or take a few.  “That’s my favourite animal’ said Masters ‘because with that one…eish…the buffalo doesn’t mock charge, so if he comes for you, it’s already too late!”  The rest of our group had already heard these tales in Chobe, spending their first night on safari wide awake as buffalo entered the campsite and Masters’ tales repeated in their minds.

Sunset in Savuti

Sunset in Savuti

On the road between Savuti and Khwai we watched green open spaces turn to long yellow grasses and closed-in mopane forest before stopping for tea in open grasslands of the Mababe Depression.  The landscape was yellow and the sky a blazing blue that formed mirages on the horizon.  “As soon as the rain starts, this place is green, green, green and full of thousands of zebra and wildebeest.”  It was hard to imagine that we were only a few weeks away from a complete landscape change that would come with the first rains.

Sleeping Lion in Khwai

Sleeping Lion in Khwai

Arriving in Khwai, Masters found us seven lions under a tree, across the road from two signs pointing in opposite directions.  “Welcome to Chobe” on the left and “Moremi Game Reserve – 20kms” on the right with no fences in between to impede the animals’ movements.

The lions were almost impossible to see, even as we stared straight at them camouflaged in the yellow grass.  “It’s because I eat mayonnaise” Masters reminded us.  As we jumped out of the vehicle on the Khwai River for sundowners, there was a burst of activity on the radio and Masters bundled us back in the car “There’s a leopard over that way…let’s go!” As the sun dipped towards the horizon, we bumped along off-road and came upon a female leopard making contact calls.  We watched her as she jumped up on branches, circumnavigated termite mounds and prowled around the vehicle.  Heading over to our campsite in the now pitch-black night, Masters told us to look for shining eyes as he moved his flashlight across the bush.   Impala, impala…more impala, then suddenly several pairs of eyes caught the light and we found ourselves amidst ten or so spotted hyena fighting over the carcass of a baby elephant.  We sat and watched as their curved ears caught the torchlight and they pulled meat from the carcass, rocking it back and forth in a little tug of war.  “See?’ says Masters “Bushways watching Bushways!”

Just as we’d thought we were done for the night, a civet ran across the road in a spotted blur and we arrived back at our campsite to find our tents made up, our showers ready and food almost on the table.

Bush Breakfast - delicious

Bush Breakfast – delicious

Our ensuite tents on the mobile safari

Our ensuite tents on the mobile safari

Over dinner we discussed food, “I don’t understand how you foreigners each so much’ Masters said piling the mayonnaise on his dinner ‘if we do that, we get fat.” We tried to protest that people don’t normally eat us much as they do on safari, but he cut us off, ‘did you eat your mayonnaise?  If we don’t see anything tomorrow, you know who to blame!”  By now, Masters has made his point and everyone around the table takes a spoonful.

The next day we see the hyenas again, sleeping under bushes as vultures move in on the baby elephant.  In the daylight we can see the tiny protrusions of the elephant’s milk tusks from the skull.  We see waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, red lechwe, hippos, warthog, Egyptian geese, bateleur eagles and saddle-billed storks.  We stop for a mokoro excursion in the afternoon and everyone comes back with water lily necklaces and hats.   That night we see the spotted hyena again, munching on baby elephant for the second night in a row.

On our last night we’re a little sad to think it’s back to the real world where we don’t find ourselves in the middle of herds of antelope, elephant, wildebeest and buffalo every day.  We hear hyena calling in the night and lions roaring close by in the morning.  We’re all excited over breakfast, hoping to catch the lions before we leave.

For a long time we find nothing.  We visit the spot where we found the lions last.  Nothing.  We drive several tracks looking for spoor.  Nothing.  We turn the next corner and meet a vehicle hurtling down the track, the guide behind the wheel motioning for us to follow.  We pick up the pace and arrive at a clearing in the bush where two lionesses are running across the clearing, herding their cubs off.  “This is interesting’ says Masters ‘they’re nervous about something.”  He moves the vehicle and we see three big male lions in the bushes.  “I think they’re trying to kill the cubs so they can mate with the females” he says.  We watch as the lioness lead their cubs quickly off, stopping, looking over their shoulders and moving further into the brush.  Masters moves the vehicle to where he thinks they may emerge from the shrub and sure enough, a few minutes later they walk right past us.  Masters giggles and gets on the radio ‘they’re walking towards our campsite’ he says, ‘I need to radio the camp staff to get in the car.”

“I think they might go to the river for a drink’ says Masters, putting the car in gear.  It’s a guess that pays off.  As Masters parks by the river we wait a little while and sure enough, the lions emerge.  “The girls might just take their cubs across the river for safety.  Those big male lions will try to track them.  This isn’t something you see often, cats don’t like getting wet and crocodiles are a threat to them too.”

Lion crossing - Khwai river

Lion crossing – Khwai river

The lioness round up their cubs and take them to the narrowest part of the river, belly-flopping into the water and beginning to paddle.  Very soon, all nine are treading over to the other side.  We’re feeling a bit inspired and all cheer ‘mayonnaise!’ as the lions emerge looking soggy and worried before disappearing into the Moremi Game Reserve on the other side of the Khwai River.  A moment later we’re also on the road out of Khwai, heading back to the real world on the calcrete road to Maun.

Bushways Fully Serviced Mobile Safari

6 Nights in Khwai, Savuti & Chobe

Combine with: Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta on our 10N Authentic Lodge & Mobile with optional extension to Meno a Kwena on the Boteti River/Makgadikgadi NP.

Access: from Maun or Kasane/Vic Falls or Livingstone with Northbound and Southbound departures throughout the year.

Clare Doolan

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Clare Doolan

Sunday 6 January 2013

The Okavango Delta – some true insider information about the water levels

THE OKAVANGO DELTA 

“Unfortunately there is not enough water in the Okavango Delta during the rainy season for boat excursions”

“The water levels of the Okavango Delta are the highest during dry season”

Have you also read one of those before and wondered?

The Okavango Delta is a very unique part of the world. Looking at a satellite image you can easily see a few blue lines meandering from the Angolan highlands all the way to Botswana, forming a magnificent river that spreads into an alluvial fan and then simply disappears. It creates an amazing oasis in the middle of the World’s biggest stretch of sand, the Kalahari, reaching from Congo to South Africa. Magic. But the true magic is in the timing of the flood!

Rainy season in the catchment area and around the Okavango usually begins in November, with the majority of rain falling in January and February. The local rainfall only contributes to between 2 and 25% of the delta waters, the majority of water is coming down from the Angolan highlands.

If we traveled with a little drop of water from the source of one of the main contributories, the Cubango and Cuito River in Angola, the start of our journey would be quite exciting, through the Angolan highlands and then down to Botswana, but even before we’d cross over the border we’d already travel at a rather leisurely pace simply due to the lack of gradient. It takes this little drop of water average 8-9 weeks to reach Botswana and the panhandle of the Okavango Delta. From here onwards the journey slows down even more: the Northern part of the Okavango is 250km away from the Thamalakane fault line – the delta’s Southern border – but there is only a difference of 50 meters in altitude! The main waters reach Botswana in April and start to spread throughout the alluvial fan slowly filling up the channels, backflows and floodplains, with the delta being at its fullest in July/August. From August onwards the water levels start going down again due to evapotranspiration now exceeding the input by rain waters. The driest period in the delta is in October and November, when food is scarce and animals are found around the remaining water sources and rivers. Many channels have dried up, avid birders can’t get enough of all the bird life gathering around fish traps as the water keeps receding and cars can be used where just a few months ago boats were necessary to get around. Just then the first rains fall again, the shades of brown start turning into shades of green once more, impala and other antilope drop their young and the cycle starts over – the Okavango becoming a place of plenty. The water levels in the heart of the delta though will only rise significantly once the rains have long gone.

Eagle Island Camp - sunset (December)

Eagle Island Camp Sunset in December

So what does this mean for us selling the destination?

This region is highly dynamic. Each year presents a varying amount of flood water in winter and a varying amount of rain falls in summer. Being nature, this provides a certain amount of unpredictability and nobody knows what will happen from one year to the next.

A well rounded Botswana Safari consists of game drives in drier areas and also water activities, be it by boat or mokoro. Mekoro are ideal to travel over floodplains in shallow water, gliding through reeds, discovering the little hidden gems of the area. Once the floodplains have fallen dry it becomes difficult to offer mokoro excursions due to safety concerns in deeper waters of permanent channels and rivers. Even if those deeper waters are actually not that deep anymore, they are considered prime real estate amongst hippos in not that great a mood as their territories are shrinking with the receding water and they are now very much up close and personal with their competitor and neighbor….

It is far easier on the nerves to observe those dynamics from a motor boat, but be aware that cruises can be a lot shorter due to a lack of either depth or river altogether! Eagle Island Camp for example, a camp that often has been sold as typical water-based delta experience, may not be able to offer mokoro during very low flood levels. The camps shift their focus. The floodplains may not be ideal for mokoro anymore, but they provide wonderful grazing for herds of buffalo as around Duba Plains; around Jao Camp the floodplains fill up with big herds of lechwe, enjoying the greenery. Other camps might not be that heavily affected and still happily take their guests on mokoro excursions and motor boat activities.

Here in Maun the flood levels of the Okavango Delta are an everyday topic and we never get tired of it. When did “the wave” come past Nxamaseri, has the water already moved towards Vumbura, when will it reach Sandibe… There is no end to it!

The delta is a truly wild place, it is alive and offers mind-blowing experiences on land and water year round. For next year: Let’s just keep the waterlevels in mind and choose the camps that offer water-based activities wisely.

Lechwe - Jao Camp (copyright Wilderness Safaris)

Jao Camp – Lechwe in the Okavango Delta

 

Andrea Reumerman

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Andrea Reumerman