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.
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.
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.
At the end of October I got the chance to see Ghoha Hills Camp which opened its doors in mid 2012. The most impressive selling point of this lodge is its location which boasts a magnificent view. The lodge lies on top of the hills it’s named for, overlooking the Ghoha area and a small waterhole. Ghoha Hills offers a brilliant compromise between other lodges based in the Savute & Linyanti areas because it lies between them. The design of the lodge is stunning with the light colour schemes and pale woods used, making a really fresh, modern & welcoming impression. Even being a grumpy morning person, I had to be impressed by the stunning sunrises, which I watched through my window in camp.
The smooth sunrises at Ghoha ensured I was happy and ready to start my days of game viewing. The lodge offers game drives on their own private road network, daytrips into Savute or if clients stay 3 or more nights, into Linyanti. The lodge offers some flexibility however and is willing to cater to the preferences of guests in camp for activities provided there’s enough interest. With the longer daytrips you also need to keep in mind that the transfer takes a while, because the lodge is situated a while from the Savute marsh. It’s a 45 minute drive from camp to the airstrip and further again to the Savute marsh, but it was worth bumping around in the car on the sandy roads.
During my time at Ghoha Hills I saw so many things: thousands of elephants & buffalos, huge herds of zebras, giraffes and my personal highlight, a cheetah feeding on an impala. We found the cheetah underneath a little bush but the moment I got the camera out of my bag and tried to take a photo it ran away and I was left with a nice shot of buffalo “poo” next to our car instead.
After I had overcome the big disappointment of my failed cheetah photograph I at last had the chance to get a nice photo of an elephant standing next to a dead tree, giving me a beautiful scenery shot and bringing the beauty of the area across. After spending a few days at Ghoha Hills, I was reminded how great the Savute area is and how much it is worth every visit. As Ghoha Hills is one of the few lodges with family units (they have two) and are willing to take kids from 6 years onwards, it’s also a great family choice.
Over all, Ghoha Hills offers very good value for money and a great safari experience which is why we’ve packaged it in our 10 night Northern Highlights Standard itinerary and 12 Night Family Safari.
Check out our agents’ corner for more information on Ghoha Hills and packages that include the camp and the Savuti area.