Botswana, out into the Sands of Chobe

From Drotsky’s Camp in Western Botswana, the only choice was the tarmac road to Maun, there is no other way across the Okavango Delta if you have four wheels. This gave us time to think about  how things can change just by crossing a land border. The most immediate striking difference when crossing from Namibia to Botswana was the amount of unattended livestock on the roads. There are cattle, goats and donkeys everywhere, and it seems that in Botswana the “owners” don’t need to keep them from the traffic. Oh, and the Butterfly’s, they are everywhere at the moment, clouds of them rising from the long dried grass, all different colours, all trying desperately to clog up Colonel K’s radiator and overheat the engine. Then there’s the road surface, at some point the government of Botswana must have taken a decision to tarmac even some of their more minor routes rather than using gravel tracks as in Namibia and to some extent South Africa. That is fine but its much cheaper and easier to maintain a gravel road with a ‘grading machine’ than it is to continuously fill pot holes and mend broken tarmac edges, consequently there are a lot of very big and nasty pot holes on the Shakwe to Maun road. 

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Anyway after a long drive we arrived in Maun, and after a quick bit of food shopping, and getting a local sim card for our phone, we found a nice campsite that was part of Sedia Riverside Hotel, which was about 6km out of town. We ended up staying here for a few days, using the swimming pool and lodge facilities, and trying to find out if it was possible for us to drive the direct route through Chobe National Park, via Savuti. This was something that we really wanted to do in Botswana, having done this route about 7 years previously in a Landrover Defender. This was going to be very different, driving in deep sand in a 10 tonne truck is not the same as a 2.5 tonne Landrover! First of all we needed to find out if anyone else currently in Maun had done this in a large truck, or indeed if it was allowed by the Park Authorities. So after a chat to a few people in travel/excursions shops and a quick trip to a very nice coffee shop where we met an English guy and his Belgium girlfriend we decided it probably could be done as long as we avoided the small bridges (some wooden) of Moremi Game Reserve. The English guy was especially helpful, telling us about some of the tracks to avoid due to the mud around the Savuti Marsh. They are trying to set up a conservation project in Moremi, and are hoping to get a permit to stay in Botswana, so good luck with that guys.

Another difference in Botswana is the tourists, in Namibia I guess about 80-90% of tourists are German, here in Botswana, there is a much greater mix of nationalities visiting the country, and they seem much more willing to speak to you, and many seem much more travelled here than in Namibia. I get the impression that many Germans visit Namibia many times year after year (a bit like the Brits going to Spain?).

One pain in the butt when self driving in Botswana is that you will be denied entry to a National Park (if you plan to overnight there) without a confirmed booking in an official campsite, so despite still not meeting anyone who had driven a large truck through Chobe, we headed off to a booking office to pre-book and pay for a couple of nights camping at Savuti Campsite. The next big difference of Botswana over Namibia reared its ugly head…………its so bloody expensive! One nights camping at Savuti was 1,150BWP, or £76.00, thats crazy, stupid, mental! We are used to paying between £5.00 and £12.00 per night on this trip, so staying at Savuti for two nights was out of the question. Eventually we found another site located just outside the Gate into the National Park, so we booked that at another agency for one night at a much more reasonable 400BWP, or £27.00 per night. This second agency was very helpful, and managed to find out how much we would have to pay in park entrance fees, we already knew that it was 120BWP per person per day, and that if you have a vehicle under 3.5 tonnes then thats an extra 50BWP, so it was with shock and dismay that we were told that if a vehicle is over 7 tonnes its 1,500BWP per day! Thats a 3,000% increase over a Landrover. This trip needed planning carefully otherwise our budget would be blown big time! If we spent 7 nights at Savuti with the truck it would cost us over £1,200, just to camp, with no electricity, and no drinkable water!  Yet they are busy here, very busy, with Savuti being fully booked most nights. Botswana really is all about low volume, high prices, especially in the National parks, and it seems to work for them. The lodges are busy, and yet the National Parks are very quiet and totally unspoilt.

So having booked a couple of nights camping ahead of us it was time to return to Sedia, on the banks of the Thamalakane River, and watch the Fish Eagles here for one last night.

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There was a huge storm off to the south, with a lightening show in the darkening evening skies, this is not unusual during late afternoon at this time of year, but once again we only saw the rain in the distance and it never actually reached us, but it made for a stunning last evening here.

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Our first prebooked campsite was a fairly new place called Dijara Campsite, and on the way up here from Maun, the wildlife was coming thick and fast, especially elephants.

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Including this rare six legged elephant.

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As we got closer to Chobe and Moremi we started to see water, lots of water, and some tracks were closed off and we had to ‘back track’ to find ways around the flooded areas (no vehicle tracks were entering these waters, all had turned around), we were hoping that Chobe wasn’t too wet as it can get very muddy (9 tonne trucks don’t like mud).

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Early afternoon we reached Dijara, and the very friendly owner got us to follow him in his Landrover Defender to our camp spot, wow what a place! It was right on the banks of the Khwai River, with  long distances in-between each camp  spot (there are about ten camp areas here), and each camp has its own ‘flushing toilet’ and bucket shower. And then there’s the elephants, they were constantly coming out of the river and through the campsite, sometimes eating, sometimes deciding to stop and have a snooze.

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What ever they were doing, there was never an elephant too far away, never threatening us but you really must respect these animals! This was proved late in the day when the guys came up the track quite quickly in the Landrover, and surprised the young bull elephant in the photo above as he was dozing against the tree, he completely freaked out, but fortunately he charged off in the opposite direction to us and Colonel K.

It really is a special place, and just goes to prove that you don’t have to be in the National Park here in Botswana to experience wild animals, after all there are no fences here and these animals do not know the park boundaries.

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And again the bird life was great, with Fish Eagles, Tawny Eagles, and Open-Billed Stork.

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Soon it was time to fill the bucket shower and allow the sun to heat the water in the said bucket, so we lowered the bucket using the cord and pulley system and started to fill the bucket using the “river” water from the tank and tap nearby (check out the lovely “clean” water we are about to wash in).

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Then just as we started to hoist the bucket up, the cord snapped and the bucket came crashing down. A quick re-tying of the cord (shortening it somewhat) and another refilling of the shower bucket, saw us slowly hoisting it up into position above our heads, gently, gently, crash!!!! Ok this is crazy and dangerous under this bucket with rotten cord, so we resorted to using our outside shower instead (this was only the second time we’ve used it on this trip, as we do need a decent amount of privacy to get your kit off and shower outside). But despite the shower issue, this is one of the nicest places we’ve camped at on this trip. That evening we cooked dinner on the fire to the sounds of elephants, hippos, and hyena, then it was off to bed for an early rise to tackle the sands of Chobe.

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We didn’t get away quite as early as we had hoped in the morning, leaving Dijara campsite at 7.30am. We only had about 80km to do that day to get to Savuti Campsite, but we really didn’t know what to expect as far as driving in the sand was concerned, its also better to drive the sand earlier in the day when there is a small amount of moisture in it and so it holds the sand together slightly better.

Then just after leaving the campsite, we had a first for us, a real treat…….. we came across a small pack of African Wild Dog, these are quite rare and can be difficult to spot, but they seemed to have a ‘kill’ on the edge of the track, and were reluctant to leave it.

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It was just after seeing these beautiful animals that we arrived at Mababe Gate, officially the entrance to Chobe NP, and expressed our shock and horror that they were going to charge us 1,000BWP for our 6.8 tonne truck to enter for the day!

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 Job done, we set off and almost immediately we were in deep sand, very deep sand…… oh bugger this is going to be a long couple of days! We were already in low range  and selecting first gear, the Daf just dug in and slowly (4 kmph) it pulled us through . No using the sand ladders yet so job done! But despite letting the tyre pressures down, I felt that reducing them further would help us even more after we had seen the extent of these deep sections (and we knew worst was to come). So we decided to wait until we got to a clearing and then get out and reduce them further. Soon we came across a vehicle that had stopped ahead of us with a trailer, so slowly we pulled up some distance behind him thinking that they had seen some animals and were stopped and were watching them. After about 5 minutes I decided that they weren’t moving and got out to look at the tyres (it was nice firm ground). to my amazement I realised there was no car in-front of the “off-road” camper trailer, and looking closely I realised it had been abandoned after the chassis had snapped! Not a good advert for Conquerer Trailers, Africa is tough on vehicles.

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Anyway we quickly whipped the valves out and reduced the tyres down as far as we dare, trying not to drop the valve into the sand (Jac having the spare valves close at hand), and drove around the trailer through the long grass and back on our way.

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There were indeed lots of sections of deep sand, some longer than others, but as long we reduced our speed to walking pace in first gear, the truck managed to pull through each one. Other than the weight of the truck (over 9 tonnes), our other big disadvantage in the sand is the much wider track of the wheels. A Landrover or Land Cruiser 70 series track neatly fits within the inside of our wheel tracks, that means that the Daf has to cut its own track in the outside of the ‘normal’ vehicle route, so being in soft sand all the time.

But slowly we were getting there, and the animals along the route made up for the demands of this driving, there were huge herds of Zebra, Giraffe, and literally hundreds of elephants.

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But after six hours of driving, we eventually got to Savuti, this is about midway through Chobe, we had averaged 12kmph (7.5mph), we had met only 4 vehicles (all coming in the opposite direction, nothing caught us up). We quickly set up in our camp spot for the night (a very expensive one), had a quick look around and brewed a well earned coffee. That evening we were entertained by a family of small Mongoose’s, the young ones being very bold and approaching us perhaps a little too closely.

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The next morning we left Savuti campsite at 7.00am, knowing that if we got to the exit gate later than 11.00am we would have to pay another day of vehicle and personal fee’s, and we had been told that there was again lots of deep sand in front of us. Also there was the stopping for the animals, including these Impala in the early morning light.

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And of course the elephants, hundreds of elephants, sometimes having to wait for them to move before we could carry on.

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But we made it to the gate before the extra charges kicked in, and were told that the track leaving the NP was closed due to deep sand and that we needed to follow a “new” route, this was a much longer route but hopefully not so much deep sand. The original route must have been bad as this detour was indeed very sandy, but we did the 85 km by about noon. On reaching the tarmac, we stopped under the shade of a tree in the village to re-inflate the tyres (front from 40psi back up to 90psi, and the rears from 65psi back up to 125psi), we timed this and it took almost 90 minutes to carry out this task (that also included spraying and releasing the coupling on the air tanks so we could attach the airline, as it was packed full of sand and crap). This is a big disadvantage of a big truck, as the air tanks only inflate to about 100psi, so we have to use a heavy duty portable compressor to slowly get the rear tyres up to 125psi. We then have to wait for the compressor to cool down before we can store it away (it gets seriously hot).

Overall we were gobsmacked at how well the Daf performed in the Chobe sands, we never got stuck once in the 180km’s of sand that we drove, not needing the sand ladders that we invested in at all. The cooling system coped well with the massive heat of the day, and the very low speeds at times (so little air was passing through the radiator). The biggest issue was the rear wheels occasionally got “crossed up”, with say the right rear deciding that it wanted to be in the left hand rut! This could only be cured by almost stopping, correcting the steering and then moving forward again. You really had to concentrate to make sure the wheels were pointing in the right direction, but this happens with all vehicles in this deep sand environment.

On the way out of the National Park, just before we got to the town of Kasane, we suddenly got a ping on the phone (we hadn’t had a signal for three days), and Jac was just reading an email from my sister Brenda (these emails are always precious from home, WE DONT GET ENOUGH!), when suddenly we spotted this absolutely stunning Lioness, no more that 3 metres from the edge of the road.

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A fitting end to a fantastic few days of driving in the bush? Well no not exactly, because Africa will always through up a surprise (sometimes many every day), as we started slowing down to enter the town, a young elephant ran across the road in front of us, he obviously wasn’t heading for the border, he wanted the town centre.

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We are now at Chobe Safari Lodge Campsite, which is right on the edge of town (less than 5 minute walk to Choppies Supermarket), its a huge hotel/Lodge with 81 rooms, 2 bars, and the tightest campsite that we have ever stayed in! We really struggled to get into a camp area, but we have been here for 3 nights, and it is a wildlife park all on its own. Since being here we have seen Crocodile (one was about 2 metres from Jacs feet and the first we knew of it being the was it shooting off into the river), elephants, a snake (at the river edge), Vervet Monkey’s, Baboons, and lots of families of Warthogs. There are lots of security roaming the campsite, which I’m sure is for protecting against animals rather than petty theft. Today we have done all our clothes washing, and had a purge on an infestation of tiny ants (a constant problem in this heat), this travelling is so romantic eh.

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The view from here over the Chobe River is stunning, but it has changed since we were last here about 7 years ago, there are lots more “evening cruise” boats now, some seem more about party boats rather than scenic cruises, so we won’t bother this time, this is strange as we hardly saw another vehicle while actually driving in the National Park. 

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But the birdlife is still the same, including this Brown-Hooded Kingfisher, and Striated Heron.

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But we have a small tyre issue, whilst driving in the sand we somehow must have hit something sharp somewhere and have wrecked a rear Michelin ZXL. So tomorrow we are going to see about the possibility of replacing it. I did risk arrest whilst in town on Saturday to approach a Botswana Army truck to inspect the size of its tyres, they are old imperial sizes like ours, but a slightly wider rim size, but I’m sure I saw a smaller tyre on an older MAN truck earlier in the day. So fingers crossed that we can get a couple of tyres either here in Kasane or near the border at Francistown, we really want to get this sorted before we cross into Zimbabwe.

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As you can see the damage is about 150mm long and deep enough to show the steel bands, amazingly the tyre held all the way to Kasane (though at a low speed). We will now change the wheel for the spare, but may end up hanging around for a bit until we can source a new tyre.

But hey, thats Africa!

Thanks for reading and sorry if its a bit long,

V

 

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

   

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

10 Comments on “Botswana, out into the Sands of Chobe

  1. Lovely read, thank you. We saw you in De Hoop in Januarie. (Beige landcruiser Motorhome) Since then, following your adventure. Regards.

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    • Hi Johan, we remember you well and that fantastic Landcruiser of yours, very jealous of it still, thanks for staying in touch
      V

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  2. So interesting to read and never too long, tremendous how you coped through that difficult part. Hope you get a new tyre soon. When you settle down again, eventually!, your next profession is going to be photographer!

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    • Hi Helga, every day is an adventure here if you are looking for it! Yup got tyre sorted, now waiting for your son to come out and see us again ha
      V x

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  3. Thanks again for the blog never mind “next profession is going to be photographer” how about a tour guide how am I going to find these fantastic places when it is my turn ??.Good luck with the tyre hunting keep safe Rod

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  4. Well done Guys… Crazy that they (Bots National Parks) are still insistent on such exorbitant fees for trucks to use their non-existent roads.
    Africa just ain’t what it used to be.
    I hope you enjoy every moment of it… It sounds like “The Col’s” performimg beautifully… Long may it last.
    Hamba Kashle,
    Paul (Nyati)

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    • Hi Paul, and yes loving the trip still, and fingers crossed that the Daf stays reliable (kiss of death now!)
      Hamba Kashle
      V

      Like

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