Chasing Sunrise: Botswana – Chobe National Park

We reached camp at mid-afternoon. Marie was still feeling pretty washed out and the drive had been very long and hot. 10km south of the border town of Kasane (it has border crossings to both Zambia, which we planned to take, and Zimbabwe) we had a choice of a shorter 4WD access road or a long convoluted 2WD access road. We’d done enough driving and there’s no point having 4WD if you don’t use it. There were big warning signs about it being deep sand. We really didn’t want to get stuck, it was far too hot and Marie really wasn’t up to dealing with it (she does all the rough driving). It turned out to be a lot of fun, yes the sand was deep but it also had 2 sharp corners, a left then a right. Given the secret of driving on sand is keeping momentum and really not wanting to get stuck we took a high speed approach and slid around them. Such fun!

Botswana is known for its elephants, it has around a third of all the elephants in Africa, more than any other country.

We hadn’t realised when we booked it but it turned out we were staying at the only camp in the area with it own watering hole. This was perfect as it meant we could spend the entire afternoon just sitting watching the elephants come and go. They even had a bunker hide, accessed by a 7-8m tunnel that brings you out just a couple of metres away from the watering hole.

There was a reasonable breeze so it was dusty work even from the upstairs bar that overlooked the watering hole, but it was quite incredible being just meters away. The camp was unfenced too so the elephants would literally pass right by and then drink and splash around in front of us. We loved watching their behaviour, the lone males differed from the herds who always had a sentry keeping watch, the interactions when herds met and how after some barging some herds would coexist while others chased the other family off.

It was also fascinating to see how their behaviour changed when it went dark. They were far more active but also more confident, a couple of times the elephants came close to inspect the building. We also watched some elephants drive off a jackal, you can’t imagine it being a threat but the elephants didn’t like it being around.

By 9pm there had been a quiet spell. Suddenly a huge wave of dust came sweeping in. Out of the dust came a huge herd of buffalo, they lined the watering hole and it’s stream as far as the eye could see. There must have been hundreds. It was an incredible sight and an amazing end to the day.

That night it was pitch black and a nice temperature. We slept like babies.

The next day we decided to go to Chobe National Park and do a safari drive in the morning and then spend the afternoon hanging out at the camp watching the elephants and getting prepped to cross the border.

Botswana’s tourism model is high value low volume. There are a number of high end lodges in its national parks and Chobe is no exception. They’re not keen on self drive tourists so the guys at the park entrance are not helpful and there is nothing useful like a map. We photographed a scrappy map on the wall but most of the time it was no help in working out where we were.

We’d had a lie in so missed the early morning prime time but we were fine with this given we’d already seen a lot of wildlife.

It was a stressful morning. Chobe’s tracks are mainly sand and half the time they’re deep sand. We couldn’t think of a worse place to get stuck. Marie was not happy. On top of that we had no idea where we were for the majority of the time. There are some markers but they are in poor condition so even when you find one it’s often not readable. Add that to our crappy map and navigating was incredibly difficult.

There were a few other safari vehicles and self drivers but often we couldn’t see anyone else, which isn’t reassuring when you don’t know where you are.

Though at one stage we were in deep sand between 2 Safari jeeps watching a solo male elephant only 10m away, his trunk was up and he looking directly at us and he was not happy. We couldn’t move and it wasn’t a fun place to be. Nor was it when we stumbled across a big herd of elephants in the trees next to the road, though luckily we were at a fork so Marie quickly took the other branch.

We did see a lot: elephants, hippos, giraffes, antelope, vultures and water birds. But our stressful morning ended on a high. We’d found the upper road back to the entrance gate and having stopped and compared notes with one of the other self drivers we knew there had been a male lion by the side of that road. One of the Safari driver’s restored the balance by signalling to us cat ears so we followed him. Sure enough hidden in bush we could see a male lion asleep, a bonus was 10m up the toad was another, this one couldn’t give a fig about being camouflaged. It was hot and he was just collapsed under the shade of a tree.

Feeling happier off the sand we explored a couple more side tracks before calling it a day. It was early afternoon and just too hot for anything to be fun.

We supermarket shopped, sorted out some money matters and figured out the right turn off for the Zambian border post on the way back to camp. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening watching the elephants at the watering hole while do some research to get a handle of the complexities of the next day’s border crossing.

Click on any photo to enlarge and click through

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