It was with much excitement that my wife and I decided that the time had come for us to do a three week trip to Botswana. I had been to the Kgalagadi (KTP) as a child and have always wanted to visit the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park (CNP). Unfortunately, after having made the decision to go, was the same time my frustrations (blood pressure) started to skyrocket.
Trying to get bookings made in Botswana was frustrating and to find, what turned out to be 23 consecutive nights at relatively short notice was for me anyway, almost impossible. So I decided to try travel agents, and on my limited budget I was disappointed as most of them did not seem to want to help if you were not willing to spend ridiculous dollar prices per person per night, a trip which would only work for the very wealthy over such an extended period. Much was my delight to eventually get a hold of Ruth and the Jenman people. They were prompt in finding out what my needs were and within a few days came back with an itinerary that not only suited our needs but most importantly our pocket.
With little to no camping experience I set off to get my car kitted with a rooftop tent, extra jerry cans for fuel, just about everything a camper could need to take on the trip into the unknown. A couple of weeks before our departure I received a full itinerary with photos directions and a short summary of the places we were booked at, together with GPS points. So we left for Twee Rivieren the most southern camp in the KTP. Two nights in a self-catering unit, before the real adventure would start, 3 nights in the camp-sites on the Botswana side of the park. The road from Nossob to the Matopi and then to Mabausahube is a real test of both you and your vehicle’s durability. It is probably the worst corrugations I have experienced in my life, so bad my high lift jack broke off the roof of my car, and the dent will be there as a reminder for time to come. But the destination is well worth having a few teeth shattered and your intestines shaken upside down. Our first night was at Matopi camp-site 1, a wild experience with no fences, just you and nature. There are no facilities here, making the experience all the more authentic. That night we heard lions roaring from three different directions, but unfortunately for us that would be as close as we got to lions in the KTP.
The next morning early we took on the corrugations again for our two night stay at Mpayathutlwa. Here we had a toilet and a tap, true luxury compared to the previous night, but still no fences. Just after sunset we got a fire going and relaxed with a G&T each. Not long after my wife jumped up catching a dark figure from the corner of her eye. A brown hyena, no more than 10 metres away from us. It walked around, to behind where we were sitting and snatched our bread from right underneath our noses. That was it for my wife and thereafter it looked like a Cape Town disco at our camp site with her flashing the torch in all directions nervously trying to spot whatever else could eat her. It was the next evening however where, as I started setting up the tent , the sun had already set, that she screamed: CAT! As I turned I saw the leopard, at our dustbin, 20 meters away from us. She walked off and before you could say leopard the tent was down and we followed her. We eventually found her at the camp-site next to us drinking from their shower. After finishing she was off back towards our camp. We followed for a while, and then decided to leave it was now dark at I still had to make camp, with some wild animals in the area. Not half an hour later that very same leopard came chasing something (couldn’t make it out in the dark) through our camp, the leopard coming to a standstill 15 metres away from us. I do not believe you could ask for anything more exciting than that, but yet our trip had only started. That night it was disco in our camp-site again.
On leaving the park the next morning, we found a leopard in the middle of the road stalking a heard of springbok. We sat for about an hour watching, until a flock of guinea fowl came by and raised the alarm, alas my wait to see my first kill would not be fulfilled this trip. Two leopards in two days, amazing but little did we know…
We spent three nights in Mankwe just outside Moremi, an amazing reserve. Our first morning we saw a pride of seven lions, with plenty plains game. The roads were a maze, we got lost often but somehow managed to figure it all out in the end. The three days we spent in Moremi we only saw about 10 other cars the whole time. I’m sure during school holidays things will be a lot more hectic there but for us it was perfect.
From Mankwe we took the road to Savuti, a 90 km drive, but through thick sand. I had my moments where I thought perhaps the Fortuner wouldn’t make it but we got there in the end. By now I was a bit tired of driving so we decided to book a game drive for the late afternoon. Two leopards, and a pride of lions playing in-front of us later, we drove into our camp-site startling a massive elephant bull. That was it for my wife, disco lights again. By the way, that is now 4 leopards, and two of the big five in our camp. That night the elephant was back browsing on the tree underneath which we were sleeping! The next morning all around our car the footprints of lions, we didn’t manage to see them, but hey, that’s three of the big five in our camp!
The next afternoon we decided to do the game drive again seeing that we had such success the previous day, I kid you not when I tell you we saw another two leopard (that’s 6 now) and two sleeping lionesses. I had seen 4 leopard in my life before and my wife two, and believe me I’ve been to game reserves lots of times. In Botswana, maybe there are more leopards than humans?
We were off to Chobe (Kasane) next, to a lodge by the name Kwalape. It wasn’t quite to our liking and my wife managed to get us a spot at Ihaha, a camp-site right on the Chobe river. On the way to the camp-site we saw three lions, and wait for it, a leopard (number 7). This time he was stalking Impala. We sat patiently, maybe I’d finally get to see that kill. I’m convinced the two game drive vehicles that came shortly thereafter and drove straight through the area put the fellow off, and he started his charge way to early and the Impala got away again. Alas, no kill.
That night as the sun set we heard lions roaring, and I couldn’t wait to go look for them the next day. As we got the fire started we heard something in the bushes, and then it appeared, first one then two more… buffalo!!! The only thing between us, the trusty Toyota, and you guessed it, 4 of the big 5, right there. Unfortunately there are no rhinos in these parks so we couldn’t go for a full house, but I can’t but wonder if anybody had had such luck on one trip.
The next day I found those lions that were roaring the previous night, we left them under a shady tree returned in the afternoon as they awoke. As we left them at dark, I could see Zebra coming their way, and I was sure the kill was coming, but after 6 there is no driving allowed in the park. The next morning first thing I went looking for those lions, and no more than 100m from where we left them the previous evening, a dead buffalo in the road and three gorged lions lying next to them. Timing is everything, and on seeing my first kill, my timing was always just a little out. On leaving the park, we saw wild dog, after leopard, my favourite animal to see.
The rest of our trip was not as eventful as those first few days, although we did find our eighth and final leopard in the very late afternoon on top of the Waterberg.
A big thanks to Jenman, and especially Ruth, for putting together the most amazing holiday of our lives. I’ll be back there next year!!!
– Marthinus & Nadia van der Nest from South Africa