Botswana Adventure: Baines' Baobabs

After a night at South Camp, at Nxai Pans National Park, we had one night left in Botswana before the long drive back to Joburg.

I had seen photos of the famous Baines' Baobabs and heard wonderful things about the campsites there. So we decided that’s where we would head for our last night in paradise.

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   Baines' Baobabs

We went to reception at South Camp and enquired about Baines'. We were happy to hear that Site 3, supposedly the best site from a privacy point of view, was available...but it was going to cost us US$ 90. We thought this was quite a lot of money for a campsite with no facilities. But, as it was our last night, we decided to go for it.

 Jolene the Jimny on the salt pans at Nxai Pans National Park

Jolene the Jimny on the salt pans at Nxai Pans National Park

We packed up camp, whilst keeping an eye out for the elephants that were roaming nearby. There is no water at the Baines' campsites, so we filled up one of our 20L water containers. We also picked up firewood at the shop and jammed it into the back of the Jolene the Jimny, mangling the upholstery on the roof.

We headed off down the same sandy track we came along and about halfway back turned left towards the famous Baobabs. The landscape changes quickly from scrubby savannah grassland to the famous Kudikama Pan and its islands of Baobabs.

We stopped and took photos of the famous thousand-year-old ‘upside down trees’ that were made famous by Englishman Thomas Baines who painted the trees in 1862 during an expedition through the Kalahari.

We drove across the salt pan, making sure to follow tracks made by others and arrived at campsite number 3. Tracks4Africa is a must in this area, as there are very few signs pointing you to your campsite.

Campsite number 3 is marvelous. It is set on its own tree island of golden grassland and, of course, it is scattered with baobabs.

 Jolene under the baobab at campsite 3

Jolene under the baobab at campsite 3

With camp set up, we went for a walk along the shore of our tree island and admired the endless grey expanse stretching to the horizon. The wind picked up and began to pump as the sun set, so we headed back to camp. Strong wind is apparently quite common on the pans, but you can usually count on it stopping after the sun sets.

That evening we had our last bucket shower in the wilderness and cooked Kate’s famous potjie bread and a bean stew. Thankfully we had saved a couple of bottles of wine for our last night, which we drank admiring the stars.

The next day we set-off early, as we had a long drive ahead of us. On the sand road to the main gate we came across a family of ostriches, who weren’t too pleased to see us. Mum and Dad were so quick to run off flapping their wings that they left a couple of stragglers behind.

We spent all day on the road and made it to the Groblersbrug border at sunset. We pushed on for another hour in the dark to Lephalale, where we found the Palm Park Hotel.

We were exhausted and stopped for pizza. We gave into temptation and booked an overpriced hotel room for the night. The hot showers (our first in a week!), aircon and clean white sheets were much appreciated.

Catch up on the first 3 parts of our Botswana adventure: Central Kalahari Game ReserveKhumaga and South Camp.

Botswana Advenuture: South Camp at Nxai

This is post three from our trip through Botswana. Make sure to catch up on our earlier posts about Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Khumaga.

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South Camp

Nxai Pan National Park

Our sightings at Khumaga had been so fantastic (Elephant swimming across the Boteti river! A male lion on a zebra kill! A jackal fighting off 40 vultures!) that we had our doubts about moving on.

We didn’t know if we would find a campsite further north in the Nxai National Park (or if the viewing would be as exciting) but we decided to push on anyway.

We broke camp quickly. Kate sorted out the tent: collapsed the stretchers, rolled the mattress, folded the linen and repacked the bags. Ben sorted out the camping chairs and table, repacked our boxes and started packing Jolene.

 Lion at a kill at Khumaga

Lion at a kill at Khumaga

With our car packed we opened the map on the bonnet and plotted our route. We decided to head north towards South Camp and see if we could get a campsite. We knew there would be water so we ditched a couple of 5 litre bottles, which provided much appreciate leg room for Kate.

We hopped in Jolene and took the road towards the north gate of the Makgadikgadi National Park. We passed the zebra kill again and had a peak. It was almost completely stripped bare by the vultures. What had two hours before been a red and pink carcass was now bones and dried brown flesh. A few vultures were still hanging around in the nearby trees and flew off as we drove by. The two jackals had long moved on - to shady sleeping spots, we imagined, as they must have had full tummies.

The road north was more of the same - sand, sand and more sand (Ben: Kate was asleep for this bit so she can only assume.) As we approached the gate we began to speculate about the possibility of ice. It had become the thing of fantasy for us. Where can we get it? How long will it last? How much are we willing to pay for it? Answer: much more than it was worth.

We reached the gate and the receptionist, Becca, started the checkout process. We signed the forms, chatted about recent sightings and bought ice-cold Fanta Oranges.

“Do you have ice?” we asked. She smiled and disappeared around the back of the building. She emerged a few minutes later with a couple of 2 litre frozen water bottles. We could have kissed her.

We repacked the cool box - positioning gin and tonic supplies next to the ice - and hit the main road.

About 15 kilometres later we arrived at the entrance to Nxai National Park. We booked a campsite for the night at South Camp and hit the sand again. (There’s only so much we can say about the sand. It’s tough going.) We had a dicey moment when Ben hopped out for a quick pee and the car started sinking. Sticking Jolene the Jimny into low range and reversing saved the day.

We arrived at the reception to find an elephant trunk-deep in an underground water tank. He emerged every few minutes to check on the cars coming and going.

The reception has an impressive shop! It's not cheap but there is an amazing selection of supplies and (importantly!) booze. After four days of low rations we stocked up on cold drinks and packets of chips.

After signing in we headed to South Camp. It’s a well equipped campsite but not our sort of place. The campsites are very close together. It doesn’t have the feel of a wilderness camp but you will regularly have elephants wandering past your tent.

The toilets are protected by electric fences, metal spikes embedded in concrete and locked gates. This is to keep the elephants from breaking down the building to get to water pipes.

We relaxed during the afternoon and then headed off to a nearby waterhole with a bottle of wine. We arrived just as the sun began to set and sipped Chardonnay while about 20 elephants jostled for the water.

 Sunset at the watering hole.

Sunset at the watering hole.

The next morning we were up early and headed off in search of cheetah. We didn’t have any luck, though. The highlight of our drive were two bat-eared foxes curled up together in the morning sun.

Our next stop was a night at the legendary Baine's Baobabs - a camp on tree islands in the middle of a salt pan.

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Botswana Adventure: Khumaga Wildlife Camp

We were sad to leave the CKGR and we will definitely return in the summer after the rains when it’s cooler and the bush has recovered from the tragic fires. The trip really reminded us of the importance of putting out a campfire at night - even hot ash can start a bushfire in very dry areas like the Kalahari. (Read our trip report from CKGR here.)

 Khumaga zebras checking us out. 

Khumaga zebras checking us out. 

We’re planners so heading off into the unknown was a new to us but we enjoyed it more than we thought we would. A week or so before we departed Ben had read a blog on 4x4community about Khumaga. We found it on the map and it looked pretty close.

We packed up Jolene, plotted our route and headed back along the sandy track to the main gate. It was slow going and we saw little game.

After signing out we got back on the tarred road and headed towards Khumaga. After days in the dry and dusty Kalahari we were amazed the GPS instructed us to "take the ferry in 300 metres"!

And sure enough, just over a small hill, the Boteti river was in full flood and a pontoon was waiting for us and Jolene.

 Jolene floating across the Boteti river on a pontoon. 

Jolene floating across the Boteti river on a pontoon. 

We paid out fare and drove onto the pontoon. The driver guided us safely across the bank on the other side. We drove up a short dirt road and arrived at the entrance to the Makgadikgadi National Park.

Two very helpful and friendly receptionists welcomed us and recommended we spend the night at the Khumaga Wildlife Camp. Unfortunately, there had been a small burn at the camp recently but nowhere near as bad as at CKGR.

We set up camp under a large Tamboti tree in campsite 10. The camp has excellent ablutions and after the bucket showers and long drops of CKGR Kate headed quickly disappeared to enjoy a long cold shower.

The campsites could be a little more private, but the recent burn meant a lot of the normal vegetation providing privacy was gone. It is a small very well-maintained camp and the staff were extremely friendly.

Khumaga Bird List

  • Khumaga Bird List
  • White backed vulture
  • Double banded sandgrouse
  • Pied Kingfisher
  • Hammerkop
  • Lappet faced vulture
  • Sacred Ibis
  • Great White Egret
  • Goliath Heron
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Lilac breasted Roller
  • Red-billed hornbill

The banks of the Boteti, with little water elsewhere in the region at this time of year, are teeming with game. The river is fed by the highlands of Angola, where it rains for nine months of the year.

We were lucky enough to see a herd of elephant cross the river at sunset. In places the river was so deep that the elephants had to use their trunks as snorkels. They emerged on the bank less than 20 metres in front of us.

 Elephants swimming across the Boteti River at sunset. 

Elephants swimming across the Boteti River at sunset. 

We headed out on a game drive the next morning thinking this experience couldn’t be topped. We were wrong.

We had a great breakfast on the banks on the Boteti river while we watched its abundant birdlife waking up for the day.

 An after breakfast pic on the banks of the Boteti River. 

An after breakfast pic on the banks of the Boteti River. 

On the way back to camp we stumbled upon a large male lion on a fresh zebra kill. We watched him finish off his meal before he sauntered off. He stopped briefly to have a quick pee on a bush.

The real action then got underway. Over 50 vultures had been watching the lion from trees. But before they could get to the carcass a jackal dashed out and claim it for himself. For the next 45 minutes we watch the jackal fight off the vultures between mouthfuls of zebra.  

 Spot the angry jackal. 

Spot the angry jackal. 

The vultures eventually fought off the jackal and mobbed the carcass. We quietly drove away and headed back to out camp to pack up and set off.

We arrived back to find out tent collapsed under the weight of a troop of monkeys. They had tried to break in and raid our bags. Luckily they had been unsuccessful and the only damage was a couple monkey turds on our tent.

We packed up our gear and headed off with our sights set on spending a night or two at Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Check back soon for that trip report.

Marakele National Park: An easy bush getaway

 

Marakele National Park, near Thabazimbi, in Limpopo, has a variety of landscapes from mountains, grassy plains, valleys and forest. The most unique part of the park is a winding mountain pass that takes you to the top of Kransberg Mountain, where you might get the opportunity to spot a Cape Griffon Vulture. The park contains the largest Griffon Vulture population in the world. 

Marakele is an easy weekend away from Joburg, as it is only three hour drive on good roads. So even if you struggle to get out of work on time, like we did, you can still get there before 7pm when the main gate closes. The park has a variety of accommodation options on offer, including camping and self-catering.  

We got out of work late and struggled up the N1 through the usual Friday afternoon traffic, but once we got to the other side of Pretoria it felt good to be out on the open road and we started to feel that unique sense of freedom and relief that only a weekend out of the city can offer. We got off the N1 at Bela-Bela and started heading west towards Thabazimbi and the park. Late afternoon sunshine shone golden on the bush, which was thinning out after a relatively dry summer. 

We arrived at the park entrance 15 minutes before closing time. We weren’t the only ones who were getting there late after the drive up from Joburg 

We checked in with the friendly park staff and drove the short gravel road to Bontle rest camp. In the fast fading light we managed to find a quiet campsite set in the Mopane forest away from the other campers and with privacy. We set up camp using Jolene’s headlights and started the braai. Despite the late start we both couldn’t stop smiling as we sat around the fire sipping our beers admiring the stars. There is nowhere else in the world we would rather be. 

The camp has excellent toilet facilities. Showers are hot and have good pressure.  

The next morning, we got up a little later than we would have liked and took our time getting ready for a morning game drive. We left too late for the game. We drove to a hide near the campsite, and although we didn’t see any signs of life, it was beautiful just sitting taking in the site and sounds of the bush. After getting slightly lost on a 4x4 track we were probably not meant to be on, we returned to camp for a mid-morning siesta and a picnic lunch. 

In the mid-afternoon we set off again for a drive to the summit of Kransberg. It is a spectacular winding mountain road that takes you through the various biomes of the park. It took us over an hour to reach the top, but the drive is well worth the effort (4x4 not required). The view at the top is stunning and the grassland there, which is not dissimilar to the type of vegetation found nearly 1000km away in the Drakensberg, waves in the breeze giving the summit an almost surreal feel as you look down on the bush below. We walked around the top for nearly two hours and enjoyed a bottle of champagne.  

With the sun getting low in the sky we made our way back to camp. About 15 minutes from the campsite, with the sun set, a hyena dashed across the road in front of us against the night sky. We felt extremely privileged to have experienced such a rare sighting. 

The same routine followed that evening, around the fire with cold drinks, meat, the sounds of the bush and stars. We also chatted with the honorary rangers staying in the camp who gave us some good tips for our game drive the next morning. Tip number 1 was get up early.  

We woke up before sun rise to head out on a game drive. Encouraged by our sittings the night before we headed out in Jolene with rusks and coffee in a flask. We were rewarded with sightings of rhino, elephant and an absolutely ginormous male lion, sitting in the clearing just off the road 

We returned to camp mid-morning packed up and headed home. This time avoiding the N1 and going via Brits. It is a more difficult road and not recommended for driving at night, but was marginally quicker.  

This post is part two of our two-part blog on our favourite places the in the Waterberg. Our first post about Jemisa can be found here.