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May 10 2013

Chobe National Park

This was our last stop in Botswana, the culmination of a fantastic two weeks, and with a fitting finale.

Our exit from Moremi National Park was followed by a 40km sandy track until we entered at Mababe Gate.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t the easiest navigation, but we found our way to the entrance.  Once again, we signed the necessary books and forms, and stopped to look at the little owl that was sleeping under the top of roof.  Off we went on our 70km journey up to our campsite at Savute.

Chobe National Park is 11,000 sq km and claims to be home to Boswana’s most varied wildlife, with the Chobe river front and Savute marshes providing different habitats.

It was another typically hot, sunny, cloudless sky.  Travelling northwards, the sun streamed in the car, making us sweaty and uncomfortable.  The animals outside were doing their best to avoid the heat, and so we saw little by way of wildlife during the 3 long hours we took to reach Savute.  The landscape was, however, quite different from Moremi.  There seemed to be more grasslands, and open plains, with small trees and bushes.  We opted for the sandridge road, rather than risk the marsh road – surely during the wet season this would be impassable.

Our campsite overlooked a small river, enjoying the shade of a large tree.  Elephant enjoy the campsite too – there were many elephant footprints, and the ablution block had a very impressive elephant-proof wall built around it!  I emerged from a trip to the ablution and headed casually down to our campsite – in my casual backward glance I noticed a large elephant sauntering from behind the ablution and heading across to one of the other campsites!

On our afternoon drive we wanted to explore the numerous tracks in the vicinity of Savute.  Again, the elephant were numerous, and we rounded corners with care.  One particular corner had an elephant on either side, and they were either agitated or playing with us: as we edged forwards, they edged closer to the road; as we edged back, so did they.  We elected not to play the game, and took a different route.  But we were spoilt with other special sightings of elephant: we watched a lone elephant enjoying a dust bath, throwing up trunkfulls of dirt which landed on his body; we watched a small family of 5 elephant drinking at a waterhole, the youngest still small enough to fit under his mother and still learning how to use his trunk to drink; and we watched a herd of about 15 cross the river towards us where there once was a road.

We also came across a group of vehicles who were watching for 2 male lions to wake from their snooze under a tree.  Try as we might, we couldn’t see them, and we found out later that they stayed sleeping and resting until sunset, when everyone returned to the campsite.

We also saw a large herd of buffalo – probably more than 100 – amongst small trees. Some were grazing, some lying down, none of them concerned as we slowly drove past.  Our first siting of waterbuck was also during the afternoon – the white markings on his hindquarters very distinctive.  We also saw the regulars: zebra, impala.

That evening we heard the lion roaring.  Many of them.  They seemed so close by – just over there.  But we never saw them.  The elephant continued their activities into the hours of darkness, with much trumpeting.

The next morning, it was back on the road, as we made our way from Savute to Ihaha campsite.  This required us to leave the Chobe National Park and cross through the Chobe Forest Reserve.  The sand changed in colour from almost white to a deep red.  The conditions were just as sandy and just as deep.

At Kachikau, the sand turned to … tar!  The Chinese have laid a beautiful tar road that leads from here all the way to Kasane – the border town where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe all meet.  We also found the first craft market since we arrived in Botswana, and managed to pick up a gorgeous wall hanging.  Scott and Karl were grateful for the adjacent bottle store, and stocked up on essential supplies.

A quick 40km later and we re-entered the Chobe National Park at Ngoma Gate, and made our way along the enormous Chobe River, which feeds into the mighty Zambezi.  It was breath-taking: the river stretched hundreds of metres across.  On the other side: Namibia.  The track followed the river with a few places to venture closer to the water for a look.

With time heading for the hottest part of the day, any active wildlife seemed to be heading to or from the water.  We were spoilt with a rare siting of hippo grazing on the side of the river.  We identified a few new birds and saw many of usual suspects: kudu, impala, zebra and also many giraffe.

The campsite was spectacular: although smaller than most others, it was a mere 10m from the edge of Chobe River.  Up close and personal.

On our afternoon drive, we headed further east along the Chobe River.  Scott and Karl would be heading this way the following morning, but we would be heading back to Ngoma gate to cross into Namibia.  We saw an enormous family of giraffe – at least 40 or so, browsing quietly.  There continued to be many elephant – on the whole, they were unconcerned by us, only the occasional youngster felt the need to trumpet and flap ears as we passed – but not in an aggressive way.  We saw another large group of buffalo – again, more than 100 grazing among the trees. And we saw a huge crocodile swim away from a dead buffalo in the water.

Our last night in Botswana.

That evening, we enjoyed sundowners as we watched the sun set over the Chobe River.  The hippos grunted and a crocodile floated past in the twilight.  As the night drew in, the frogs started their serenade.  Magic.

The following morning was our farewell to Scott and Karl, as they completed their Botswana adventure and we headed into Namibia.  We were interrupted by a vehicle coming past: “Have you seen the lion?!”  We all jumped into our vehicles and headed off in the direction of the pointing finger. After passing another car (Daniela and Niels who we had seen at Savute) who gave us more information and pointed, we continued our search with little hope as they seemed to be disappearing into the bush.

So, we were pleasantly surprised when we saw a female and male emerging from the trees, and heading at an angle past us.  Unbelievable.  They stepped into the road, and made their way along for a little way before crossing over.  Then, they stopped and lay down in a sunny spot each.  She emitted little murmurs while he closed his eyes and dozed in the sun.

What a perfect way to end our time in Botswana.  Definitely a place to visit again.

 

Facts:

• Chobe National Park lies between Moremi Game Reserve and the border with Namibia. It can be entered from Maun in the south, from Ngoma in the north west, or from Kasane in the north east.

• There are no provisions in Chobe National Park, but ablution facilities are clean and comfortable

• Reservations for camping must be done before entering the park. Camping for internationals is USD50pppn. Camping for SADC residents is R250pppn.

• Conservation fees can be bought at the offices for the national parks in the main towns (Maun, Lethlakane, Gaborone, Francistown, Kasane), or you may be able to buy them at the entrance gates. Fees are P120pppd, and P50pd for the vehicle (under 3.5t). Vehicles over 3.5t are charged at P1,000pd!

• 4×4 is essential. You cannot explore the park without good ground clearance and low range. Tracks are sandy and narrow.

1 comment

  1. Margaret (gemini)

    We love Chobe – have lost count of the number of days we have spent there and would go back tomorrow !! You missed a great treat by not going on a sunset cruise.

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