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.