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Friday 26 October 2018

“To self-drive or not to self-drive: That is the Question!”

We have been debating the hot topic of self drives for years. The trend seems to be that more and more clients have independently travelled South Africa and Namibia by car, and as a result they think visiting Botswana in the same style is the natural conclusion. Botswana is wilder, has less infrastructure, less tarred roads, is a much more challenging destination. Self-driving in Botswana is for the adventurous, people that want a guarantee to see the amazing game in Botswana should always choose to travel with a guide,  self-driving is possible in the National Parks and Game Reserves, the famous private concessions in the Okavango Delta or Linyanti can only be accessed by plane and visited with a professional guide.

As your partner on the ground we selected a group of brave individuals to go and explore some of the parks of Northern Botswana, their mission was to test a variety of maps available in the local shops, the Tracks4Africa’s app, our self drive maps and the directions we hand out. IMG_0083

This is the first of a series of blogs about “Self-Driving in Botswana”, we will write about our experiences, the road conditions, the user-friendliness of the maps and Tracks4Africa app and much more, enjoy the ride…

Here is Seeletso’s impression of his first self-drive-adventure:

When I was initially asked if I would like to join a self-drive educational from Maun across Savute to Ngoma and into Namibia then back through the Panhandle to Maun I didn’t hesitate for a second. I was only concerned about traveling in the extreme heat of October (we often get more than 40 degrees in our so-called suicide-month), and the stories I had been told of people getting stuck in the thick sand in Savute and Chobe. The last time I was in Savute was in 2002 as part of a Wellness Club in High School where we put up sign posts to guide everyone visiting the Savute region, so this was an opportunity to revisit this area and to check if our signs were still around or the elephants had destroyed them. image001

Cometh the hour, cometh the man… my moment had come. I joined Tlotlo, Brinny and Scarlet on this adventure. Being the farm boy that I am, I nominated myself to drive all the way  through the park to Ngoma in Chobe. A Wild Wheels car was delivered and handed over the day before our trip, a Toyota Hilux double cab with 2 roof tents and plenty equipment. The handover is vital to make sure that all equipment needed for the trip is in the car and works properly. The vehicle came with a GPS system loaded with Tracks4Africa maps, a satellite phone, fridge, high-lift jack, spade, sand ladder and other necessary tools. We also got a proper briefing on how to use the tools, how to lower the tyre pressure. When hiring a vehicle from a local Botswana operator the equipment is guaranteed to deal with the conditions in the parks in Botswana. Clients choosing to travel through the parks need to make sure they have the right equipment. Ready, we left Maun early morning for our first destination, the recently reopened Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge (yes SD travels in style). The drive from Maun via Mababe to Savute took us about 5 hours of solid, but not fast, driving. After the Mababe Gate (guests that stay in lodges usually travel with a voucher from the lodge confirming that park fees have been paid, at the Gate only the payment for the vehicle needs to be made, it helps to have Pula at hand, the costs for locally registered vehicles is 10 Pula a day, foreign registered vehicles are 50 Pula a day) it became a little more challenging as the thicker sand began. We reduced the tyre pressure from the normal 250 to 180 bar. IMG_0095 The Sandridge road is the most direct and easiest way to Savute even though the thick sand there has been a challenge to many. I was up to the challenge and hoping to get photos of us being stuck. To my surprise the sand was not that tough, I do not know if it was my bush baby driving skills or the Hilux just performed better than I had expected. With the vehicle on four wheel drive the stretch was easy enough.

The main challenge of the road was a few kilometers after the Savute Gate on the side track which took us to Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. Apparently, the trucks that came in for the rebuild of the lodge are the reasons for the state of the road. Extremely thick sand with deep burrow tracks, but nothing to worry about as long as you are driving a 4×4. From Savute to Ghoha Hills there is no thick sand, but the road requires one to drive at slow speed as it is bumpy and uneasy.

Savuti Sunset

Savuti Sunset

At the Ghoha Gate it is advisable to ask the Wildlife officials which is the better route, as the direct route is not in great conditions. Here you drive left (north west) towards the Linyanti cutline and once on the cutline turn right and the road leads you all the way to Kachikau village.  Before Kachikau the tarred road comes back to life and at the nearest fuel station we pumped back the tyres to 250 bar. After a night at Chobe Elephant Camp the crew crossed over to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia then spent a few nights in the Okavango Panhandle and back to Maun. The border crossings at Ngoma into Namibia and Mohembo back into Botswana were all smooth and quick. The A3 road from Shakawe to Sehitwa has lots of potholes even though there were few patches of roadworks there and there. (We will speak more about the Panhandle section in a coming Blog).

 “Insider tips from your local experts”

  • It is advisable to not self-drive in the rainy season, the terrain is difficult and chances of getting stuck in mud or having to cross water  are high.
  • Make sure your car is loaded with all the necessary equipment before you depart for your Safari (e.g. tools, GPS, satellite phone, working fridge, lockable doors, spare wheels), check all is in a good working condition. 
  • When switching from tarred/gravel road onto sandy roads reduce your tyre pressure and when going back on tarred road remember to increase the pressure.
  • On sandy roads please switch onto H4 for 4-wheel drive at all times, if sand is too thick and car fails engage Low range to avoid getting stuck, the next car might only come by after 24hrs. 
  • Respect the animals on the road, especially Elephants.
  • Do not stop and get out of the car in bushes, find a clear open space for your safety.
  • Always ask the people working at the entrance gates which road is better or how do you proceed forward.
Seeletso Rakonche

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Seeletso Rakonche

Thursday 5 July 2018

24 magical hours in Savute @ Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge

Let’s start with the essential 2 rules about a stay here:

  • No matter what you do ALWAYS carry your camera with you, ready to shoot
  • No matter HOW freezing it seems in the morning: GET OUT THERE!!

 

Had I listened to the first rule myself, I could have added amazing shots of 2 honey badgers out in the open right in front of the lodge in some golden morning light, watched right from the breakfast table – instead I held on to a fluffy, moist blueberry muffin and a mug of freshly brewed cappuccino. You see: life can be full of tough choices at Belmond Savute!

new Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge

When climbing off the plane at Savute airstrip, the guests climbing on said: If you want to see animals, you need to go with Robert. And my heart sank. I am a huge fan of good guiding and always massively disappointed when sitting on a vehicle with a driver who is just racing from one photographic opportunity to the next. Luckily – I was to be proven very very wrong!

After settling in, freshening up and some tea time treats we headed out on our first drive. Driving through what smelled like a herb garden my curious 7 year old son showed interest in all these smells and Robert stopped, got us some wild basil and shared stories about it. “So do you think this would keep mosquitoes away?” Which got us on to some other herbs and traditional methods and a lively discussion, plus some more sample picking and smelling. While pointing out tracks and interpreting what we saw around us, we slowly made our way towards a spot where some cheetahs were hanging out earlier. Lucky us, most vehicles had already left the 2 sleeping males, who felt now it was time to get up and get active – and to get a good look from some elevation.

And yes: cheetahs are clearly NOT built for climbing ;-) Tree climbing cheetahs in Savute

After this fabulous afternoon we were so excited, that we couldn’t wait to go exploring the next morning – despite of being able to see the clouds of our own breath when exhaling. It was COLD!!

Robert had the perfect technique to battle this aspect as well – even my 6 year old daughter was comfy and toasty, after he wrapped her up in fleeces, blankets and a poncho: “ready to go to the moon”. We tried to find the lions that we heard during the night, but they tried to play games with us. Tracks literally everywhere! In all directions, back and forth, right and left, and back again – hmmm. What happened here last night?? And our imaginations ran wild.IMG_1466

After some fun tracking, a pack of wild dogs were waiting for us in the middle of the road, just around the corner from a mother leopard trying to catch some guinea fowls. While most cars simply waited behind the dogs, Robert decided to approach them differently. We left all the cars behind, and moved to another area, trying to anticipate their next move – and it worked! Stotting impalas all over the woods, showing off their strength, and the pack chasing at top speed. How exciting was that!! We eventually said good bye to the dogs to have a look what was happening out on the marsh.IMG_1437

Some lonely male wildebeest were guarding their territories, then Robert noticed that one of the wildebeest FAR away held up his tail really high – hang on…. ????? So 2 big male lions were crossing the marsh, where were they heading to? We decided to go the same way and see – a little grassveld pipit joined us, flapping and running right in front of our car, for more than 1 kilometer. Now, yes, it made it! Oops, no, it’s back…. The kids had so much fun watching it ALMOST flying off to the side, and back it was – giggles and laughs without end.

Guided by the direction of the male lions and following the pipit we ended up with the rest of the pride, some females feeding on a wildebeest and 5 cuddly little fur balls, roaring like their dads, schmoozing their mums and eventually, collapsing and falling asleep all on top of each other in a cub heap.IMG_1513

Back at home we hung the sage and the wild basil – to test how much of a mosquito repellent they are. And asking: “So what was your favorite bit in Savute?”

  • the cute little cubs
  • and remember the funny pipit who ran with us for SO long
  • and the honeybadgers at breakfast
  • and the elephants up close from the hide during tea time
  • oh – and of course: THE HEATED POOL !!!!

 

Thank you so much to Robert, our fantastic guide, for an all-round, all senses, mega fun experience. For teaching us about the bush, for putting it all into context and all the stories about the background and history of the animals we saw.

What a safari experience!

Keeping the fantastic Belmond Savute Elephant opening special in mind: Book some seats to Savute and get yourselves out there. Go experience!IMG_2726

 

 

Andrea Reumerman

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Andrea Reumerman

Thursday 5 July 2018

Mapula Lodge – a Safari reminiscent of my childhood

 

What was your overall impression of the camp?

Our handsome and very knowledgeable guide, Kyle, went out of his way to show us the very best of what Mapula has to offer. His passion for the bush and all the creatures and plants there within was contagious. Even after having done hundreds of safaris both Amandine and I learnt a whole pile more! Game was scare on our short visit but he made up for it by proposing to take us swimming in the flood water and sharing his “nature” books with us as we enjoyed tea and time-out in the bush. IMG_3813

 

The area is generally rich in game, including Leopard, Cheetah, 2 packs of Wild Dog, Hyena, Sable Antelope, herds of Elephant, Giraffe and plains game all congregated in one big garden of safari Eden! Under the management of Uncharted Africa, Mapula has been tastefully transformed from a red-listed product to a much sought-after camp in the delta. With Eric at the helm and a well-trained and solid team I believe it will give similar camps a run for their mone

A particular mention for the swimming pool which is large enough to do a few lengths in but remains discreet at the same time. It’s built in a way that it makes you feel like you are swimming in the lagoon, surrounded by palm trees and lush greenery.

There are plans to offer Hot-Air Ballooning and a fly-camp experience which we look forward to being able to promote to our clients. sable_mapula

How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience? Are there any notable special offers applicable?

  • I think it offers excellent value for money considering that it’s a small camp on a fantastic private concession, has above average guides and is tastefully decorated in the immediately recognizable Ralph Bousfield Unchartered Africa taste, reminiscent of a bygone era.
  • The exception being during the month of August when a peak surcharge is applied. Further reduced long stay rates are available at Mapula when it is combined with Meno A Kwena – speak to your local expert.

How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why? 

I would be confident in recommending 3 nights here in order to get the full experience and to discover what the concession has to offer completely. My suggestion would be to combine it with Savuti, Khwai, Makgadikgadi and of course Chobe, which fits into most itineraries. 10mapula_lodge_-_main_area_from_the_air

What type of clients does this camp suit and why? 

  • 1 Unit is suitable for families: Consisting of 2 rooms separated only by a curtain. Each room has its own bathroom and outdoor shower.
  • As it is an intimate camp, I would suggest it to honeymooners and couples seeking peace and quiet.
  • The adventurous because Mapula can offer off the beaten track activities such as swimming in the fast-flowing flood waters that quickly fill the dusty tracks or having an afternoon siesta on mattresses out in the wilderness. The ballooning and fly-camp activity will appeal to this market once operational.

How does the seasonality of the area change through the year and what effect does it have on a visitor’s experience, with specific reference to wildlife and activities?

The camp is set on a permanent lagoon. This makes fishing and boating possible all year long. However, the lagoon is home to a large number of happy hippos so if the water level goes down too much those activities would be suspended.

The camp being near the panhandle receives the first floodwaters of the year so they can start their mokoro activities earlier than those camps further down. The mokoro station is not in front of the camp. It’s a 10-minute drive to the jetty. Although we enjoyed the activity, the water was still pretty low so we were wrapped up in cobwebs to start off with! As the water levels rise it will become more pleasant.

When the flood comes down the area where the camp is situated becomes an island. This means that sometimes there’s good game in the immediate vicinity…. and sometimes not, the result being that guests may have to drive further afield in search of the herds.  During high flood levels, it may be advisable to combine it with another game rich area within the delta e.g. Shine, Splash… IMG_4153

Are there any areas that could be improved? Are there any issues that could impact guests experience that should be highlighted to help manage expectations?

The food was imaginative, of good quality and nicely presented however the quantity for the first lunch we had was insufficient. Sundowner snacks were not original and could be improved – biltong / nuts / dried fruit.

Eric, the manager is running a good show. The staff seem genuinely happy to be working together and the service was attentive without being overbearing. They have kept 1 or 2 staff members on from the old camp. They clearly know the area intimately and you can tell that they love the area and are delighted to share information and stories with the clients.

 

Safari Destinations itineraries showcasing this property:

 6N Three Rivers Standard

10N Desert & Delta Option B  DCIM102GOPRO

 

Sarah Graham

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Sarah Graham

Tuesday 3 July 2018

The rebirth of a Moremi Game Reserve icon: Welcome to Camp Moremi 2.0

One never quite knows what to expect when an iconic camp undergoes a complete rebuild. We had the pleasure pf spending a night at the newly built Camp Moremi which is situated on the picturesque Xakanaxa Lagoon in the eastern extremity of the Okavango Delta, within the Moremi Game Reserve. The camp is set a short distance from the lagoon, perfectly nestled under the natural shade of large Jackal berry trees and within a short driving distance of the new Xakanaxa airstrip. 

camp_moremi_-_fire_place

The camp offers morning/afternoon game drives in the Moremi Game Reserve and boating safaris on the Maunachira River. The staff made us quickly feel at home and took excellent care of us which complemented the excellent guiding.  The bush brunch setup on the morning of departure was a lovely surprise which all clients would thoroughly enjoy and find memorable. There is simply no way to describe the feeling of having a delicious brunch prepared for you whilst overlooking a beautiful and productive waterhole in the middle of the Moremi Game Reserve.

How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience? 

Camp Moremi is offered on a fully inclusive basis which includes airstrip transfers, all meals and beverages (local and non-premium) and activities at a very competitive rate considering the hardware of the newly built camp. It is definitely more modern in terms of design than its competitors in the region with much larger rooms that even though are canvas based, cannot be described as “Classic Meru safari tents.” The camp is tastefully decorated and has a much lighter and airier feel than its predecessor. camp_moremi_gues_room_interior1

How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why? 

Located in the game rich Moremi Game Reserve, this camp provides a solid land based game viewing experience along with the added advantage of boating all year round. It works well within the Desert and Delta Safaris portfolio of camps such as Chobe Game Lodge, Savute Safari Lodge, Camp Okavango and Leroo la Tau with the added benefit being the rate reduction depending on how long the stay is within these camps and which package is employed. The rebuild does however mean it would be best to avoid Xuguna Island Lodge after a stay at Camp Moremi as the hardware is simply not on the same level. It works well being placed in the middle of an itinerary i.e. coming from Victoria Falls/Chobe or Maun (Central Kalahari/Delta) or at the beginning as clients can quickly fulfil their big game viewing experience upon arrival from Maun Airport.

Outside the Desert and Delta Safaris chain of camps and lodge, it would work best combined with a true delta camp such as Kanana Camp or Stanley’s Camp. These camps are situated in private delta concession and thus work best after a stay at Camp Moremi and not before. They would complement the experience at Camp Moremi by offering clients different experiences such mokoro excursions, walking safaris, night drives and the option of off-roading to get up close to the wildlife. The Elephant Interaction activity available at Stanley’s Camp (at a supplement) or a three nights stay at Kanana Camp thus offering the sleep out under the stars at no extra cost, are unforgettable experiences that can be added to have a truly memorable safari experience. If clients are looking for a mix of experiences, it would be worthwhile to combine this camp with a superior mobile safari such as Savute Under Canvas coming from Victoria Falls/Chobe and if there is no availability at Camp Okavango for a two night aquatic experience after Camp Moremi, cast your gaze to Pelo Camp as an alternative. DSCN1140

 

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Nxai Pan National Park, and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans region would also make for a great combination with Camp Moremi.  The choice of region will depend on the month of travel looking at the clients’ interests.

What type of clients does this camp suit and why? 

This superior level camps suits a variety of clients. It has a great family unit (2 separate bedrooms that have their own bathroom facilities all under one roof) that caters well for families travelling with children below 12 years and adolescents. This room is located in close proximity to the main area for convenience. They offer generous child rates for children from 6 years (minimum age) to 15 years but please note a private vehicle will have to be booked at a supplement if there are children who are less than 12 years old at time of travel. The Ultimate Family Safaris package from Desert & Delta Safaris which include private activities at all properties is geared towards providing a flexible and child friendly experience.

For clients with limited mobility, there is a room specifically tailored to their needs that is connected to the main area by the boardwalk and wheelchair friendly. This would also work well for elderly clients due to the distances between rooms.

It is a perfect camp for a first safari experience being located in the renowned game rich Moremi Game Reserve. There are a number of rooms on raised platforms to please those of us who would rather avoid ground level accommodation due to the creepy crawlies that may join us, but please note that there is a section from the main area to these rooms that is not connected to the raised boardwalk. DSCN1199

How does the seasonality of the area change through the year and what effect does it have on a visitor’s experience, with specific reference to wildlife and activities?

The Moremi Game Reserve offers great game viewing all year round due to the diverse range of habitats within the reserve – from open floodplains to belts of mopane woodland. The best game viewing will be during high season (July – October), with the arrival of the flood waters in the region and the increased visibility due to the lack of foliage. The ability to offer boating all year round is a great advantage, especially during the green and shoulder seasons (November – June) as most delta camps have to curtail their aquatic activities due to receding water levels. The rainy season (December – March) may make for less concentrated game sightings due to the thick foliage but the  heavily reduced nightly rates during this period of travel does compensate for this. It is also great for photographers due to the vibrant and vivid colour contrasts caused by the short but spectacular thundershowers which bring the vegetation back to life.

Are there any areas that could be improved? 

The food and wine list needs a little polishing to fit with the rebuild of the camp. The current game drive vehicles also do not match the new property but thankfully this will be changed in the near future.

Safari Destinations itineraries showcasing this property: 10N Northern Parks Superior SafariLost In Bots

 

 

 

 

 

Tlotlo Saleshando

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Tlotlo Saleshando

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Mashatu – Botswana’s Best Kept Secret

Until recently I thought that I had been to all the great places Botswana has to offer. I thought I knew it all – wow – was I wrong. It took me 15 years in Botswana to finally step into a secret gem, a place of wonders, Mashatu – one of THE best kept secrets in Southern Africa. Scenic-opening-Shem-Compion

Our challenge until now was how to include and combine Mashatu with Northern Botswana. Thankfully, the introduction of special flying rates from either Johannesburg or Maun have enabled us to resolve this “tiny” issue and opened up access to this phenomenal and unique place.

What was your overall impression of the camp? 

Mashatu impresses with very varied landscapes, from dry river beds to rocky cliffs, soft hills or huge open spaces. Ones eye never tires from the overwhelming beauty of nature in this remote corner of Botswana. It was interesting to see that there is very little grass which makes game viewing and wildlife photography even more rewarding. Along the rivers you can find beautiful large Nyala Berries, the locals call them Mashatu Trees.

Game Viewing in the area is excellent all year round, chances of seeing the big cats are brilliant. In our short two game drives we saw cheetah on a hunt, several leopards and a lioness with her 2 month old cubs. P1020336

Unique experiences add to the charm of this jewel: we joined a mountain bike safari which offered us a totally different perspective of the bush. Our morning cycle was guided by Mosa, a very experienced ranger. We pedaled leisurely for about 20 km along ancient elephant paths, watching plains game in a distance and enjoying and absorbing the colors and smells of nature. Another brilliant way of getting up close to the animals is the Photo-Hide. which provides a safe place in which to view of the herds of elephants and even the occasional leopard who come and drink from the waterhole in front of the hide. Guests are also accompanied by a professional photographer who provides tips and tricks on how to use their cameras and can answer any questions they may have.

IMG_3348

How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience? Are there any notable special offers applicable.

There are actually no other camps offering a similar experience. Mashatu has a truly unique offering. The two camps in the reserve are very different in terms of look and design. Mashatu tented camp is an authentic safari camp, offering the safari addict a comfortable place to stay while enjoying the bush. It is ideally combined with camps like Pelo or Gunns Camp for the water experience, and in Vic Falls I would recommend Gorges or Little Gorges Lodge to complete the itinerary. The more upmarket Mashatu Main Camp is much bigger, with more rooms, a large new pool, different sitting areas and even a discovery centre. I see Mashatu main camp work wonderfully with the likes of Camp Okavango, Kanana or Splash in the Delta and in Vic Falls it could be completed with a place like Zambezi Sands or Old Drift.

Specials: Both camps offer a great 4 nights for the price of 3 special during the months of January to April.

How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why? 

Ideally Mashatu is the first stop in an itinerary, flying in from Johannesburg Lanseria and continuing to Maun. There are daily flights from Joburg to Limpopo Airfield (Mashatu’s gorgeous little airport). This way guests arrive on a positive note, the immigration officers in Limpopo are friendly and professional. Another advantage of starting your Botswana safari with Mashatu is to avoid the long immigration queues at Maun Airport (which can sometimes take up to two hours). The flight from Mashatu to Maun is either on a scheduled flight on Wednesdays or Saturdays or on a private charter.

Alternatively guests can arrive by car from South Africa before continuing their journey in Botswana or across the border to Zimbabwe. Walking_Safari

 

What type of clients does this camp suit and why? 

This camp basically suits all different target groups. Main Camp has a family unit and can accommodate families with children. The tented camp is better suited for couples or single travelers.

Adventure seekers found their heaven, Mashatu offers mountain biking, guided walks and horseback-safaris.

How does the seasonality of the area change through the year and what effect does it have on a visitor’s experience, with specific reference to wildlife and activities?

The camps in Mashatu offer a year round experience. Excellent value for money from January to April with the 4 for 3 nights special. In Green season (rainfall is very low in this area, with more than 330 days of sunshine) the landscape miraculously changes into a colorful spectacle. Mashatu is much less seasonal than the northern parts of Botswana and offers excellent game viewing throughout the year.

Safari Destinations itineraries showcasing this property: 

9 N Best Kept Secret Safari

3N Mashatu Safari

 

IMG_3306

 

 

 

 

Carina

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Carina

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Self Driving in Botswana: the how, where, when and why (not)

Exploring Botswana on a self-drive is becoming more and more popular. However it is not for the faint hearted nor is it for the ill prepared. We realize it is time to give you, our agents, a small guideline how to consult clients who want to drive themselves, what to expect and who the ideal candidates for such an adventure are.

Very often we receive enquiries mentioning that the clients are very experienced as they have been self-driving in Namibia and South Africa. Well, well…. Botswana is a totally different level of adventure.

Unfortunately, Botswana cannot be compared to South Africa or Namibia where the roads (and road signs) are generally very good and the whole experience is pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Botswana is actually a fly-in destination. There are 18,482 km of beautiful highways, but only a quarter of these, 4343 km, are paved or tarred, which is not to say those don’t get flooded nor are they kept in good condition. It is a well known joke that we all hold a degree in driving and are pros at dodging potholes! IMG_6971

All expert professional guides work by the following motto: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance and this very much applies to planning a self drive itinerary too whether you’re planning a route on the main roads or an adventure through the parks!

In all seriousness, contemplating a self drive itinerary through Botswana incorporating its National Parks is not to be underestimated and can be seen as an authentic “cultural experience”. One must have a sense of adventure and take all that is African in their stride from long delays to the often comical communication glitches. As mentioned above there is a very limited road network with single lane highways, no hard shoulders and minimal road signs so don’t consider the holiday ruined if you encounter challenges along the way or things don’t go according to plan – it’s all part of the adventure. The season one decides to travel in is also vitally important. There is almost only a short window of opportunity because the summer months – our rainy season – is highly unrecommended for all areas in Botswana as can be seen below when even us experienced bush girls got hopelessly stuck in the mud for hours. Nor are the winter months – which is our dry season, flood levels are high – this is to be considered if the Delta is on the itinerary. Depending on the size of the flood most of the roads are closed and bridges overrun by the flood waters, therefore decreasing the area that can be navigated and explored. Towards the end of our dry season the temperatures sky rocket so all the sand roads become very thick and very sticky and unless the clients know what they’re doing with their gearbox and tyre pressure getting stuck is virtually guaranteed.Pam self drives

The free ranging wildlife is another element of self drive itineraries that may cause some excitement. All parks in Botswana are unfenced (as are all of the neighbouring countries except South Africa) which means animals are free to roam and this they do to their hearts delight. Travelers need to have some basic understanding of animal behaviour and know that animals always have right of way. It’s not only the wildlife that uses these road networks, but also a huge amount of domestic livestock, who move between grazing and water sources. This means that not only does one need to have the utmost respect for all animals but driving at night should always be avoided. DSC_3670

What a lot of people also don’t realise is that the distances here are not navigated at the same speed as they are used to at home. 100km here does not mean 1,5 hours… It can easily take 4-5 hours to cover 100km – due to the road conditions, animal movements and the clients’ knowledge of challenging 4×4 driving. One can have the fanciest, finest equipped vehicle, with all the latest gadgets but have no idea how to put it into 4 wheel drive let alone Low range or difflock. So unless clients have that knowledge, no matter how fancy their car is, if it’s stuck in 2 wheel drive they will not get out, and revving the engine, burning the gearbox and spinning the wheels will not get them out any quicker.

Can you imagine the stress of knowing you’ve got an international flight to catch but you’re stuck out in the middle of the bush, trying to dig your way out of the sand? This is why we always recommend a pre-night in town before flying out!

There is a lot to consider when booking a self drive itinerary so let us advise you on the best routes to take, the best time of year to successfully navigate the inevitable challenges and the 4×4 driving courses we recommend clients take, before embarking on this adventure!

Hereby a short list of the Dos and Don’ts for your clients to consider on a self drive:

DOs:

  1. Be open minded and flexible: driving in Botswana is not as easy as you may think. Road conditions can be challenging in many areas and include soft sand, slippery clay, deep water and broken bridges. Getting stuck or breaking an essential part of your vehicle happens easily and often.
  2. Be prepared: plan your route carefully and don’t underestimate the time it may take to cover those distances.
  3. Make sure you have rented the correct type of vehicle and your car has all the necessary equipment from highlift jack to a spade and most importantly a GPS (Download the tracks4africa App which works OFFLINE!) and ideally a satellite phone. You will be in remote areas with no cell phone signal and the next car coming might be days away.
  4. Carry more spares and extras than you’ll ever think you’ll need – i.e. fuel, water and tyres without overloading your car.
  5. Have a nicely stocked medical kit with you – the smallest cut can turn into something nasty quickly in the right conditions.
  6. Treat officials and bureaucrats with respect. Losing your temper never gets you anywhere. Remember the 3 Ps: politeness, patience and perseverance.
  7. Be aware of rules and regulations: Botswana has so-called vet fences which prevent the spread of highly contagious diseases such as Foot and Mouth. These fences restrict the movement of any cloven hooved products so you might end up handing in your recently purchased BBQ meats and road snacks to the local officials and you will not win any argument with them.
  8. Preferably travel in convoy.
  9. If you change your plan and arrive a day later or not at all at the next prebooked accommodation, please let us know, otherwise we will start a search which can become a challenging thing, like finding a needle on the Salt Pans.
  10. Embrace the spirit of African adventure in all its glory!

 

DON’Ts:

  1. Do NOT drive off-road! This is prohibited in all National Parks to keep the wilderness pristine and undamaged. Respect those rules also outside the parks. Also driving around a puddle is not always the best route – if you don’t recognise Mopane forests for the treacherous things they are then you will inevitably get stuck driving around the puddle rather than taking the road most traveled straight through the middle of the puddle.
  2. Do not drive in the dark.
  3. Do not feed the animals, this will only encourage them to lose their fear of humans which can end disastrously.
  4. Do not leave your vehicle under any circumstances. You do not know the bush nor the animals. You have a better chance at staying alive with access to the safety of your car and the copious supplies of food and water then risking a walk through the bush and an encounter with a buffalo. EVERYTHING out there is faster than you are.
  5. Do not lose your sense of humour – Africa will inevitably throw challenges at you and keeping an open mind about it all will prevent you from losing your sense of humour and/or patience.
  6. Do NOT travel unprepared. Study the maps, directions and distances while planning your trip not once you arrived in the country.
  7. Prebook all accommodation, Botswana has a very low population density, distances between villages can be huge. If planning a camping trip, campsites have to be booked about 11 months before travel to avoid disappointment.

Here is some helpful information about road conditions in Botswana: https://traveladventuresbotswana.com/helpful-information/driving-and-road-condition-information/

Most importantly: Botswana is by far the most challenging destination and can in no way be compared to Namibia, South Africa and even Zimbabwe and Zambia due to the unique circumstances of season, habitats, environmental conditions and lack of infrastructure! WhatsApp Image 2018-05-07 at 18.52.07

 

Pam Zweerts

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Pam Zweerts

Sunday 10 June 2018

Flying High

It is pretty special when you take your first aeroplane flight. But when your first flight is in a caravan, flying over the Okavango Delta, on your way to Khwai, there is something extra special about it although it can be something of a scary, bumpy ride. For Resego, she was excited at the thought of flying. “I was looking forward to seeing the earth from a bird’s eye view”. Resego received lots of advice: “Kay told me to remember my pressure points if I felt air-sick. I did but it didn’t work! Helmie advised that I should get some ginger ale but with the excitement and nervousness, I forgot. Lisa told me to drink water before the flight but I was worried about having to use the bathroom once we took off, so I ignored that advice. Amandine’s advice: keep swallowing to unblock your ears, that worked. I was super excited when we took off”. And the actual experience? “Ten minutes into the flight I wanted to jump off! My tummy was in knots, I was nauseous and my ears kept blocking. The flight being bumpy didn’t help either. It was the longest thirty minutes of my life. I kept telling myself that I was on a bus to Gaborone and the bumps were the potholes. This seemed to work for a while but as soon as I looked outside, that illusion disappeared. As I felt the Mack air caravan getting ready to land, I breathed a sigh of relief. After getting off, a bottle of water helped ease my nerves and I was good as new again.  I am thankful my first flight experience was with people I consider my SD family, as they helped me through it.”

Resego's first flight

This trip was also Resego’s first educational ever.  With nights at Little Machaba and Khwai Tented Camp plus site inspections to Kwai Guest House, Sango, Khwai River Lodge and Machaba, complete with all the activities on offer, Resego was immersed in the Khwai experience. Visiting together with a more senior consultant, meant that Resego was able to learn from Gen’s experienced eye and put the properties into perspective.  Resego commented: “I got to see first-hand how busy Khwai really is and experience the importance of starting an itinerary with a lower end property and ending with a high end one. The personal highlight was the mokoro as I have always wanted to do that”.  Resego Mokoro 1

 

These first-time experiences are because Resego has recently been promoted to Associate Consultant. For the first time, she will be allocated her very own agents, creating her own itineraries and experiencing the pleasure of a confirmed booking.  Fresh from the University of Botswana, with her Honours in Tourism Management degree in hand, Resego joined the Safari Destinations’ team two and half years ago. In this time, Resego has teamed together with other consultants, working directly with suppliers learning about their camps, rates, activities as well as about Botswana as a tourist destination.  Resego is just one of many such Motswana graduates being trained as part of SD’s staff development programme.

As a new consultant, Resego will continue to be supported and guided by her team leader, Karen Reed, who has over 20 years of experience in the travel business.  Key to the training of our consultants, is the visiting of numerous properties that Safari Destinations sells to our agents. These educationals with a night at certain lodges and site inspections to others, ensures that our consultants get to feel the vibe of the camp, interact with the staff, taste the food, ride in the mokoro, experience the guiding: the stuff that the travel brochure does not tell you, giving our consultants unique insight into the camp and what it has to offer. All this translates into better product knowledge to be shared with our agents. Group 1

The SD family is very proud of Resego’s achievements. Kay, our Reservations Manager, has been working closely with Resego for the past year. She had this to say about Resego and her going off on her first educational and flight: “To be honest I feel like a mum, watching her kid go off on her first day at school, very proud … I am sure that Resego will take the confidence we have placed in her and run with it …” Or is it a case, of flying to new heights?

 

Sarah Fischer

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Sarah Fischer

Friday 6 April 2018

Chasing Rainbows in the Kalahari

On arrival at Dinaka Camp we were welcomed by a lively song sung by the camp staff, which brought a smile to everyone’s faces and set the mood for a fun and most enjoyable weekend. Dinaka has just recently opened after an extensive refurb following it’s take over by Ker and Downey.  This beautifully constructed camp is set on a private conservancy bordering the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.  It still had the “new car aroma” one would expect of a newly refurbished camp, so I have to take my hat off to the staff who created such a welcoming and homely atmosphere, that one could be lead to believe that the camp had already been operating this way for a several years.

After a sumptuous lunch we had a little time to enjoy a short siesta in our rooms or a relaxing moment by the crystal clear pool overlooking the water in front of camp before our afternoon game drive.

Dinaka3

The Kalahari is truly a kaleidoscope of colours during the green season. The contrast of colours created by the budding flowers from the scrubland and the summer skies is simply amazing. The thick scrubland can make game viewing a little harder during this time of year, but this is compensated for by the landscape and birdlife, not to mention the chance to observe young offspring. The skyline makes for incredibly rich and vivid pictures and when the sun breaks out from the rain cloud formations, spectacular rainbows arch across the landscape. The wildlife also makes for picture perfect conditions as a large male giraffe posed for us against the back drop of the dark rain clouds heading north. The sunsets are spectacular at this time of year and provide the perfect scene at sundowner hour.  On our game drive back to camp, we were lucky enough to spot a caracal with its cub and a puff-adder before settling down to an amazing dinner under the stars. Our guide’s knowledge of astrology was really impressive and star gazing and identifying the different constellations around the camp fire after dinner completed what had been an excellent day on safari.

Dinaka4

I was lucky enough to be allocated the spacious family room all to myself, with the only disadvantage being that it is quite close to the main area so I was awoken earlier than I had planned by the generator starting up and to the voices of a few of the staff starting off their busy day. We then set off on a safari walk with the Bushmen of the Kalahari and the Ker and Downey Guides. I appreciated having the guides there with us as they were armed for our safety which is paramount in an area renowned for our favourite big cats, the lions. Getting down on the ground and immersing oneself in the surrounding wildlife is always an exhilarating activity, as we were walked through the ancient survival techniques used by the Bushmen in the harsh terrain that is the Kalahari. We returned to camp to say our goodbyes and could not help thinking how this area would be completely different during the winter season as the foliage disappears and the wildlife concentrates around the waterholes on the conservancy.

“Inside tips from your local experts”

  • Guests are accommodated in seven spacious twin and double-bedded safari tents on raised decks. Each en-suite bathroom has an indoor and outdoor shower, hot and cold running water and flush toilet. Families are accommodated in a two-bed-roomed tent, sharing a spacious en-suite bathroom.
  • The area is a big contrast to the Delta so works well when combining different locations within Botswana.
  • In green season, the annual rains transform the arid desert landscape into a lush profusion of Kalahari vegetation, offering guests a unique insight into the lesser known desert experience.  It gets very bushy and lush with thick, green vegetation, so spotting game can become very difficult.  However, there is still game about and the birding is good, so this would be a great time for birding enthusiasts.
  • Dinaka being based in a private concession outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserves offers a different experience to the camps inside the Game Reserve. Our experts recommend it in dry season, ideally combined with camps in the Delta. The camps inside the Game Reserve (namely Tau Pan and Kalahari Plains offer a great experience during our green season when the Kalahari comes to life again).
  • Activities include early morning, afternoon and night game drives, birding, guided walks and photographic hides.
  • Best suited to your mid-range clientele along with families or honeymooners.  People who want to experience something different and are not highly concerned with lots of game but rather quality game viewing opportunities.  Such as from the underground bunker, viewing decks, hides, game walks etc.

 

Tlotlo Saleshando

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Tlotlo Saleshando

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Duba Plains – I found paradise

Set in the heart of the Okavango Delta, the renowned and brand new Duba Plains Camp is a wildlife haven and the perfect place to visit year-round. andreapics4

The constraint of the deep permanent waters of the delta means the wildlife on the 77, 000 hectare private reserve remain here across both wet and dry seasons. A matrix of palm-dotted islands, flood plains and woodland, one of the most beautiful concessions in the Okavango Delta.

Game viewing was mind-blowing, my short 24 hour stay in early January was filled with great sightings.

andrea5

An enthralling experience from morning till night. Thank you to Great Plains & the managers & staff at Duba for hosting me last weekend. I was absolutely blown away by every aspect of my stay, in particular the surprise evening in the interactive kitchen, a truly unique experience, where chef Herrmann managed to captivate and entertain while preparing an array of gourmet dishes. 2017-greatplains-dubaplains-experience-3

 

Quick Facts:

Belongs to Great Plains Conservation

Five tented rooms, max 10 guests

Activities: early morning and late afternoon/evening game drives, boating (water levels permitting)

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Reumerman

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Andrea Reumerman

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Pelo: A heart shaped island in the Delta

If your client is looking for a unique, cozy, romantic and chilled camp, then Pelo is the answer.

Most of these requirements will already be met as the little aircraft descends over the palm tree dotted, flooded landscape of the Jao concession. Your eye gets caught by a tiny island in the shape of a heart; the Setswana word for heart is PELO.

Pelo

All 5 tents are on stilts facing the water, the intimate terraces open up to the safari wonderland of the deep Delta and are filled with the beautiful cacophony of birdsong.

Pelo is a water camp, meaning there are no vehicles on the island. It therefore combines superbly with productive land camps in Khwai, Moremi Game Reserve or Savute. This camp is a little jewel and shines well at the end of a safari.

Pelo 3

Here you come to glide silently over Delta Waters in a Mokoro and explore the endless diversity of the floodplains by boat. Most importantly you come to chill and enjoy yourself and the universe – it should also win the prize for the most stunning pool in the Delta!

Jao water levels vary greatly, your safari consultant will have the best advice for you. Pelo sits in fairly deep waters, which dry out last in the Delta – another reason to include Pelo in your next itinerary!

Pelo Mokoro

FACTS ABOUT PELO

Pelo is run by Wilderness Safaris as an Adventures camp.

Activities on offer include mokoro trips, boat based game viewing and seasonal catch and release fishing.

The camp has five guest tents, complete with a covered front veranda, and both an indoor and outdoor shower.

Pelo is open annually from 1 March to 30 November.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christine Ess

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Christine Ess

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