Botswana 2013 AKA THE HONEY-BADGER TRIP
For me, I find it frustrating when you meet people after a game drive and they reel off a list of all the animal sightings they just had, and of course, its all the things you hoped and wanted to see but never did 🙁
For years I’ve been looking to see Honey-Badgers and apart from one very fleeting glimpse, a few years back of one crossing a dry river bed in Angola, which hardly counts; its just never happened. Yawellnofine: Botswana 2013 – 16 Sightings including two in two separate campsites where they tried to steal meat off the braai and one performed a comedy show with the rubbish barrell.
We had planned to go to Zambia in August, but on a whim decided to go back to The Central Kalahari instead, on the grounds that we were last there in 2006 and the trip sort of developed a life of its own and we ended up being away for a whole month.
Booking for Botswana, as most people know, is not for the faint-hearted and given the amount of bookings required and the four different organisations that it now requires – we decided to hand it all over, with mixed results, to Maun Car Hire – Shelleen McKenzie – They charged us a booking fee of P1000.00 click 4 website Botswana camp bookings
I don’t think I would go this route again. I accept that booking for KTP & Central are always difficult but we did not get the best campsites and many of those were simply un-occupied. We had also been told via Shelleen that various campsites were full and this simply was not true – I am sure this is not Sheeleens fault but I wonder how good the companies relationship is with Bots Gov.
So, we left early from Cape Town and headed north via the R27 and the coastal railway routes to avoid the roadworks on the N7, which we joined at Nuwerus, only to be confronted with roadworks on the road north to Springbok ! Turning off again at Steinkopf we had our stay-over at Port Nollith again (Bedrock Lodge) click 4 website Bedrock Lodge but this time in one of their self-catering houses on the beachfront with parking in the garden. The weather after a cold and miserable start from home was perfect here.
Next day we carried on and crossed into Namibia from Alexandra Bay to Oranjemund and thence to our favourite place in Namibia – Klein Aus Vista – Piet – At Aus. click 4 website Klein Aus Vista
This time we decided to do something different and arranged to spend one night at the hikers hut – “Geister Schlucht” – this is located in its own private valley/kloof, away from everyone – self catering and basic facilities – we really enjoyed this. For the 2nd night of our stay here we went down into the next valley to Eagles Nest and stayed in one of the small Bungalows there – again self-catering.
Having had a good unwind rest for 2 days to get our eyes and heads into holiday mode we set off up and across the country to Windhoek for an overnight stay – B&B – “The Vagabond” – formally “The Guesthouse” in Klein Windhoek – now under new management – satisfactory with good security and parking arrangements. Dinner naturally at Joes which as usual was pumping.Click to email Da Vagabond
Having never travelled the route east from Windheok to Botswana via Gobabis to Charles Hill we did not know what to expect or how long it would take at the border crossing so we decided to book to camp at Kalahari Bush Breaks, which is 26KM from the border, and paid in advance for dinner & camping. In the event we arrived early in the day and found that what they call luxury camping – see photo – is a poor joke. If we had not already paid for dinner as well – which would have been a 2km drive away – not convenient given that we have an RTT; I would have just written off the camping fees and moved on. As it was we felt trapped (silly!) and thus elected to spend an expensive night down at the main lodge which was empty apart from one other couple of non-english speaking german tourists.
I am not sure whom we met that night at dinner as he never introduced himself but he was severly lacking in hosting skills. Never again !
The border at Charles Hill whilst busy was not an issue other than they no longer give you a gate pass on the Bots side which caused some confusion and only wanted the blue immigration paper and not the white one as well – go figure – a bit of a shambles all round. We made the trip to Ghanzi in good time too and spent the afternoon doing some shopping and stocking up with meat (Artok Butchery opp. Spar, down little lane on right) at good prices & lots of braai wood from the Puma petrol station. We stayed at Tautona Lodge again but this time elected to take a tented camp site and to self-cater. The campsite only had two other campers in it. The tented camp has its own ensuite ablutions plus electricity and is well shaded.
click 4 for website TAUTONA LODGE
The lady at Artok butchery has a niece around the corner who is a hairdresser, Lins hair was already driving her mad in the heat so she got a good quick cut for P 80 !!
The trip commences: We knew it was going to be a fairly long and hard drive to our first nights camp at Piper Pan so we got on the road early. The road was not too bad and it took three and a half hours to Xade Gate where we were welcomed by very friendly staff. In total it was almost 7 hours from Ghanzi to Piper Pan Campsite #2. The first 100Km from Ghanzi on the gravel is fine but the next 50km is deep sand, however at the outer boundary of the park the sand road improves considerably – the route to Piper pan whilst slow going is very pleasant. Campsite 2 had good shade but on balance I think that Campsite 1 is the better one as it has a view of the pan. Bigfoot administer these sites.Click to email 4 bookings
We had only one night at Piper – it was all that was available we had been told – this proved to be simply untrue 🙁 The next day we moved on to Passarge Pan #3 for two nights, going via our beloved Tau Pan where they have still not built the planned lodge, but closed off the camping and roughly sawn off the shower and loo fences – quite un-necessary and a real shame. Wow, was Tau Pan dry ! This applied to the whole of the Central Kalahari, hardly a drop of water to be seen anywhere and the dust was a real problem when the wind came up. We spent some very cold nights here thanks to the cold front that Cape Town sent our way ! The last 8kms of road from Deception Valley Road to Passarge Pan camp is seriously corrugated and no fun. There are man-made water holes at Piper, Passarge and Sundays but for the rest everything is bone dry, desolate & dusty. In respect of the other campsites at Passarge they are quite spread out. #2 was 18 Kms away and up on a hill as is #1, but I think that #2 is the best site with a nice outlook.
We went on game drives and only met one other vehicle ! So much for fully booked. Kori camp, deception valley, was our next destination where we also stayed two nights at #3. This was OK but I would far rather have stayed again at Sundays Pan #3 which has fantastic views. As far as Kori is concerned #1 is the best, #3 which we had is huge and could accomodate a large tour group, #2 is a bit exposed and #4 is down on the road.
Click to email Kori bookings
We had some sightings in Central but nothing to get really excited about other than our first few Honey-Badgers.
Heading out to Matswere Gate across the Magadikadi we went via Rakops to re-fuel. Hello, has Rakops grown ! Even a new petrol station since we were last there. Scrum down at the local shops to buy large bottles of water but braai wood was there none. Went to the other end of town to the bakery and got a fresh hot loaf of white bread which as you might imagine did not last long 🙂 (naturally, showing my English origins, with farm butter & Marmite!).
The road north was good and I was amazed to see that yes indeed there was water and plenty of it in the Boteti River. I had thought that the “ferry” was a joke, but no indeed, here was a ferry and a ferry man off fishing, who hurried back when he saw us and charged P130 pula to cross the short distance.
Khumaga was a great surprise.Bookings Khumaga HERE Got braai wood, everyone extremely pleasant. Great campsite with fantastic abulutions. Sites 1 or 2 are the best I think and closest to the bottom set of abultions, otherwise #8 up at the top. Each site has a water pipe, fire place and mobile braai all in good order and clean. We did a game drive along the Boteti River where care needs to be exercised due to some areas of very deep and soft sand. The area has quite a surreal feel due the the amount of dead wood everywhere – its like being in a movie the day after the bomb was dropped – weird. Hippos and Eles abound.
That night after our dinner the people from campsite 8 up at the top appeared, driving around warning everyone that they had just had an encounter, up close and personal, from some lions who were most interested in their dinner ! I think that they had received quite a shock. They had taken a very swift shelter in their vehicle; I’m not sure what happened to their dinner !
The next day we took the dreadful deep sand road up to Nxai pan via Baines Baobab campsite. Words fail me for this road. Undulations, sideways shakes, serious corrugations: in short hell on wheels. We had booked (Xomae) Click to email XOMAE to spend a night at the Baines Kudiakam Pan Campsite but arriving there it was 38 degrees and there is no shade. Whilst the setting is lovely and it was good to see the much painted and reproduced trees in real life, it was simply far too hot to consider staying there. Fortunately Xomae also administer South Camp at Nxai so I got on the Sat phone and arranged that we could rather go there for two nights instead. Note – when approaching the Baines turn off, travelling north, do not take the sign-posted turn off; rather carry on another 15 or so metres and you will see behind a big bush (which is how we missed it) another un-sign-posted turn off. Take this one; it is a slightly longer route to the pan but on a much better road – we came out this way.
Continuing up to Nxai Pan the road if anything got worse and I was dreading the fact that we would have to return that way in two days time.
OK so Nxai Pan. Very very dry, very exposed and lots of dust when the wind comes up. Lots of Eles who love to come into and through the camp – do not take campsite #2; it is their direct route :-). They have destroyed one of the abultion blocks and thus the remaining one is not in good condition at all. No hot water only 1 loo, dirty, no loo paper, no maintenance. Its a disgrace especially at the rates they have the cheek to charge. Obviously no one wants to travel the road up there to fix things and until they find a way a controlling the elephants nothing is going to change. They have constructed, for want of a better word, small concrete blocks with spikes (these would not look out of place in the Gaza strip) – the Eles just flatten the spikes and shove the blocks out of the way, really heavy concrete manhole covers are just pushed aside – such is the shortage of water. That said there is water at the pan where they take baths and drink and this is not so far away, so I guess they just enjoy making a nuisance of themselves. The best site to take here is #3.
We were on the other side at #5 Nxai Pan (not bad, bit far to walk to the abluts)and whilst having dinner we had a Hyena in camp and then all of a sudden a noise and a Honey-Badger was on the scene trying to pull the grid off a very hot braai – not phased at all, routing around all over the place looking for food.
We travelled around Nxai pans extensively and are due to go back next year after the rains; it will be very interesting to see what this dust pan looks like then.
Returning on the road South out of there proved to be nowhere near as bad as I feared, for one it was early morning before the heat had dried out the sand so the going was firmer and at the section just after the turn off to Baines Camp – lo and behold – a grader appeared on the horizon – so we made much better time than I expected. Coming back to the junction with the A3 we turned right and headed for Maun. Encountering the Vet fence before Xhana I was surprised that they only wanted to see my drivers licence, this was the first fence that we had passed through since entering the country. They were however, checking cars travelling west to east.
We had hoped to stop over at Drifters but it was full. Eckart Neumann had told us about a small campsite at the back of a lodge just north of Maun – Thamalakane Camp – located on the riverbanks of the same name. We first did some shopping in town and bought nicely packed braai wood from Rileys garage. Good meat is also available at Delta Meats in the same vicinity. Again what a surprise to see how much Maun has developed since 2006; I wouldn’t say that it has any style about it but development there has been.
click here 4 THAMALAKANE
Arriving at the campsite was a pleasant surprise. Whilst very small – I guess it can take about 4 – 6 vehicles max; it is clean and pleasant with good abluts. Sufficiently out of town and North of Audi camp, it is quiet and attractive and the staff very friendly. The lodge itself mostly caters for overseas groups but one has access to the pool, restaurant, bar and lawns. All in all a very nice stop-over.
Thus loaded up again we headed off direction Moremi; like Nxai this was also a new area for us to visit. The road north is tar initially then changes to good gravel which looks as though it is going to be tarred in the forseeable future. Arriving at Southgate Camp we were welcomed by very friendly staff who went to great lengths explaining about the newly opened Black Pools area in the South of the park. Again Eckart had told us about this and we had already bought the new updated Veronica Roodt map for this area. My T4A is 2011 issue so this did not appear. I do not think that this is a new area but rather an old concession that is now run by the park themselves – the tracks are all very well established. It was a very nice area to explore and we came across a lion kill of a small elephant which was rather sad. It was funny to see the other animals walking around quite calmly & close knowing that for once the Lions were not interested in them – for now –
Southgate is administered by Kwalates Safaris and we had site #1 which was a bit close to the staff quarters; best would probably be site 5 for the top abluts or site 3 for the bottom abluts. The general site is quite nice, well shaded and large – they are doing a water treatment development at the moment so there is a bit of mess. The Abluts were passable but again no loo paper. That night another Honey-Badger appeared and tried to steal off the fire. He managed to get into the large old oil can barrell (rubbish bin) but tipped it up in getting out whereupon it rolled towards us a speed ! The Badger was completely unconcerned and just carried on routing around for whatever.Click to email 4 southgate & Xaxanaka bookings
Day two here saw us travel up to Xaxanaka site as 3rd bridge was full. The drive up was most enjoyable and we finally got to see the much reported famous 4 Moremi wooden bridges. There was quite a lot of water in and around 3rd bridge with a fair amount of activity. Arriving at Xaxanaka was special. It is a lovely destination. There had been trouble lately with Elephants in Camp but nothing happened whilst we were there. It is well shaded and on the lagoon so much hippo noise and the roaring of lions at night. We took a boat trip on the delta which was also much enjoyed. As far as the camp is concerned the higher camp numbers are a very long way from the abults – people drive to and from, especially at night, for obvious reasons 🙂 we had site 6 which we liked and I would say that 5 or 6 are about the best here.
The next day saw us go back in a round about sort of way to 3rd bridge camp, administed by Xomae – they are on a rip off policy. Due to the popularity of 3rd bridge and the relatively small size of the camp they make you share campsites – up to 4 vehicles – 8 people per site. If you want exclusive use of a campsite you have to be prepared to pay 75% of the total that they would have made had they 4 vehicles booked. Not fun if you don’t know or like your neighbours. In the event we had camp site 2 and I think 1 or 2 are the best in all regards; in total there were three vehicles in all between us, so it was no problem at. Must be hell though at school holiday time.Click to email 4 3rd bridge bookings
Our 4th day in Moremi was spent going to Khwai Camp (Northgate) run by the Savuti group. NORTHGATE BOOKINGS It is expensive. The journey there was interesting in that the water levels were quite high in places with some roads blocked off and poor signposting for the alternative route. It was however a very beautiful drive through thick forests. We stopped off at many water pans – lots of bird life here as well as the usual suspects. Quite a contrast after the dry Central Kalahari. The campsite is large. We had been alloted campsite 6. NOTE you do not want campsite 6 – it is in a dust bowl, on the road, with passing traffic, no shade. I complained about this and we were changed to #7. The best are sites 5,7 or 9 – protected with good shade and a close walking distance to the abluts which were fine. It occurs to me that this trip report rather resembles “The Good Loo Guide to Botswana 🙂 but in reality no one wants a potential trek should the need arise. It has to be said that the word maintenance is not used or practised very often though. Is it known I ask ?
That night whilst eating dinner we had hyenas in camp and what with the monekeys trying to steal in the late afternoon you have got to keep your wits about you.
Sadly we had reached our furthest planned point and it was time to start heading south. I could easily have gone back to Xaxanaka and spent a few more days there.
Heading out south with thick bush on either side, I obviously startled an elephant who was about to cross the road – we missed each other – just – but boy did he have something to say about it staring at me and trumpeting after my fast departing rear ! That could have been interesting. Never caught so much as a glimpse of him.
Arriving back in Maun we slotted back into the Thamalakane Camp site and elected to have a good steak dinner in the restaurant rather than cooking ourselves. One of the things that I find a real problem is getting a good (proper) pepper steak – the last excellent one that I had was many years ago in a now defunct Hout Bay restaurant where they served a real Hollandse boefstek. Well let me tell you the restaurant at Thamalakane comes out tops in this regard, its worth to go back there just for this 🙂 and we will 🙂
We still had a way to go and our holiday was far from over but we took it at a leisurely pace and went from Maun down to Ghanzi where again we stayed in tented camp accomodation at Tautona. On the way down we passed through the 2nd vet fence of the trip at Kuke. Here we did the usual dip pad dance and opened the fridge. I asked what he was looking for and apart from meat they were after dairy and fruit to the extent that when seeing the bottle of longlife milk was opened we had to drink it and throw the empty carton onto the fire. I know there’s no point in going on about this but it really is a serious farce. For S Africans we know the score so they seldom get anything from us, if ever, at all. But the foreign tourists get ripped off time and again – what a tourist winner that one is – someone should actually engage brain. Grrrrr 🙁
From Ghanzi where we again stocked up with good meat and other supplies we did the shorthaul down to Kang where we camped at the Kalahari Rest Camp which has been seriously altered for the better since 2006. The sites are very nice and there was just us and one other couple. Serious hot water. Click here for Kalarhari Rest Camp
Taking the tar road to Hukuntsi you could see signs of development taking place. The sand road to Zutshwa has been upgraded and has all the looks to me of a road about to be tarred. Given that Sun International have been allowed to develop upmarket lodges at Polentswa, Rooiputs & Unions End these people are going to have to get there somehow and I can’t see them bundu bashing like us. Watch this space.
From Zutshwa we did not take the labelled “Tourist Route” to KTP but took the old twee-spoor up and across the cutline to Ngwatle enroute to Masetleng Pan and another pan nearby which I will not name or identify as some things one likes to keep quiet about 🙂 You are supposed to pay for bush camping at these pans and one is requested to do this at the last hut on the left as you leave Ngwatle – we came through the village before lunch time and the place was deserted apart from a child yelling for sweets so we pushed on. I feel that if they are going to do this then they need to get organised; we waited long enough for someone to appear but no one came. Last year when we were going the other way we were held up for almost half an hour whilst they found the person concerned but as I say no one came this time so we pushed on.
Arriving up at Masetleng pan whom should we run into but Patrick the area Ranger and his female assistant, in their government truck – we found them here last year too. He’s a nice chap and initially asked to see our permit, then recognition set in and it was like a meeting of old friends. He said that they have a lot of trouble with people camping at Masetleng who refuse to pay at Ngwatle but he fully understands the village problem. Since we were last there they have built an ablution block which was locked as it is not working yet ! 🙂 Teeth marks on the door 🙂 So obviously they are going to get jacked up in this area. Masetleng was very dry too and there had been serious bush fires in the area; in fact that night at the pan nearby where we stayed you could see fires raging in the distance, fortunately they were quite far away and the wind was blowing in the opposite direction – having nearly got caught in a bush fire last year on Lake Tanganyika we tend to be quite cautious about this as things can change very quickly and the bush is very very dry.
Moving on we took the twee-spoor back to the cutline and then endured a 40 km stretch of deep sand, low range 4th, rear diff engaged, what a dreadful section of road, really tiring driving. This brings you out at a junction on the tourist route road and it is then a short stretch, also not on a wonderful path, to Kaa gate itself.
No excitement this trip at Kaa, no lions in camp or flash rain storms ! Really quite tame.
Taking the general road back into the KTP we were all too soon back on the R360 in the park and traffic ! What a shocker after the general privacy of the trip mostly so far. We stayed this night at Polentswa and it has to be said that whilst it’s a pity about the new lodge, it is quite far away and does not intrude. Obviously when they have guests there will be light polution at night but on this occasion all was dark. At $400-$550 per person per night one could hope that it mostly stays unoccupied. Can’t see it being a success myself at those prices. The KTP is not the Serengeti.Click to email KTP sites Bots side
We had a leisurely drive down the next day to Rooiputs stopping off on the way for a hot shower and to do some washing at Nossob. Whilst it has to be said that the roads have been graded in the KTP and are vastly improved, Nossob has gone down even more and is in serious need of maintenance. The school holidays were not yet in full swing but the place was already very crowded and there were arguments going on between management and campers about who could stay where and complaints about a particular party of four upcountry cars with badly behaved & noisy children – all in all a lot of unhappiness, we were glad that we were not staying there. I took the advantage of having a shower whilst there and got locked in; the door was so buggered that once closed it would not open & I had to climb up over the wall to get out 🙂 – On this tack the condition of the abultions is poor with broken locks, broken clothes hooks (who breaks clothes hooks ? and Why ?? ) and in a generally run down condition. This is sad.
Rooiputs was full but it was nice to be back there allbeit that we had campsite 6 in the full glare of the new lodge. What a joke, what were they thinking ? The whole hillside opposite is covered by this lodge with a bird hide down the slope and solar power plants in the dip of the valley in between – basically the lodge has a full view of the campsite. I wonder how long it will be until they decide to close the camp at Rooiputs on the grounds that the “important overseas guests” don’t want to look at us plebs ! 🙁 Contrary to what I had been told before the lodge is viewable from all 6 campsites in one way or another. There were people there and noise travels across very quickly. Sad sad sad. Again at 400/550 US $ pppn one hopes it stays empty. Unfortunately what will probably happen is that they will reduce prices and offer cutprice, all inclusive package trip tours, to get bums on seats. We left feeling quite sad about the place.
Leaving the park at Twee Riveren and doing passports etc was a doddle and no one wanted to check the car so we were soon on our way. The campsite was full to overflowing with caravans.
We went to Molopo Lodge where Rheinhardt showered us with gifts to welcome us back and we spent what we reckoned was going to be our last hot day for a while enjoying the place. MOLOPO LODGE HERE
Travelling South the next day we checked out their new place in Upington, Tshahitsi Lodge which is on the edge of town going on the N14 Olifantshoek Rd – note made – very suitable for a stopover.
Tshahitsi LODGE HERE
We filled up and did some shopping and then headed out of a busy town to Keimos and the R27. We had planned to stay the night on Verneukpan – we have tried to do this on a few occasions but the weather has always been against us. We knew that it was going to rain in CT and that this would come our way, but thought (?!), that it might be OK; so off we went on the gravel road just before Kenhardt.
The wind was pumping as we left Upington but I felt that it might be better when we turned towards Kenardt. How wrong can you be. Getting out of the car at the entrance to the Malcolm Campbell speed track the wind nearly knocked me over. Decision time. There was no way the RTT could have been put up in that wind and if it had rained……….well we could see the results of other cars that had obviously got stuck in the mud there before, so we beetled out and did the 140 KM round trip back to the R27 at Brandvlei and thence decided we might as well carry on to Calvinia, arriving in the dark at 8.00pm – so much for a nice quiet leisurely drive. Oh well. 5 sets of stop/go roadworks on the road to Calvinia. It was freezing and in the night the heavens opened big time – thanks again CT. Hamtam Huis Calvinia Accomodation.
Click HERE Hantam Huis
Friday morning, our last day, we stocked up with farm butter at the local shop and were going to take the R355 to Ceres to avoid the N7 roadworks; having gone about 10km down this, by now, very wet and muddy road, we turned back and thought, oh to hell with it, and carried on down the R27 to the N7 at Van Ryhnsdorp. Speaking of which, the people who own Molopo Lodge have also bought the land that the catholic church stands on, over-looking the N7 on the far side i.e. facing towards the town. They are going to build a similar lodge there and the deal is that they must do some upkeep on the church. I think that this will prove to be quite a good place to stop-over but it is a pity that there is not somewhere better on the Calvinia to Upington stretch.
Friday was the first day of the government schools holidays – our route south was really not so bad at all and the roadworks really didn’t affect us. The traffic going north however was another story; just about every 4×4 from CT with boat, trailer or caravan was sitting bumper to bumper trying to get past the trucks in the rain – what a miserable time they were having of it. I often wondered why I rarely see Cruisers when we are away – they all sit and wait for the school holidays 🙂
Arriving home to find all was well except the house was very cold, & still raining, we put the cruiser straight into the garage, delayed unpacking for a better day !
So a month away. For once no windscreen or tyre problems, it was not a spectactular trip, the sightings were not great and one does get a bit tired of endless dried out pans and the resultant dust. On the other hand it was great being away from the world and cell phones and the news and the usual stories and we enjoyed ourselves and saw much to delight.
Highlights: Honey-Badgers, Central Kalahari, Khumaga and Xaxanaka – Moremi – Polentswa
We are going back early next year with some friends from Jhb and it will be interesting to see the difference – hopefully there will have been some rain by then (but not too much I hope !) and the input of which camps to book and avoid has been an interesting and useful exercise.
Just over 7000 Kms covered.:-)
More Photos at: CLICK HERE FOR PHOTO ALBUM THIS TRIP