Wed 16th & Thu 17th Nov – Sable Alley, Khwai Private Reserve
Fri 18th Nov – Camping, South Gate, Moremi GR
Sat 19th Nov – Camping, Xakanaxa, Moremi GR
Sun 20th & Mon 21st Nov – Claire’s Cottage, Maun
Savuti – Khwai, including game drives: 112km
Khwai – South Gate, including game drives: 140km
South Gate – Xakanaxa, including game drives: 111km
Xakanxa – Maun: 124km
Around Maun: 68km
Total km driven since leaving Nairobi: 9,481km
OH, THE OKAVANGO!
Although I had lived and worked in Botswana for a year at the end of last century, I spent very little time exploring the jewel in Botswana’s safari crown… the famed Okavango Delta. So for both of us, this was very much a sense of exploring new territory and we were very excited to get stuck in. We had planned 2 very different experiences in the delta – our first 2 nights in the rather smart Sable Alley Lodge on Khwai Private Reserve, on the northern side, followed by 2 nights of camping in the Moremi Game Reserve, at the south-eastern end. Many of the delta’s most famous camps and lodges are only accessible by air, but we had decided to limit ourselves to places we could drive into on this overland safari.
We carefully drove south through Chobe National Park from Savuti, trying to shelter our welded spring from the worst of the terrain… it’s amazing how bumpy a sandy road can be. Along the way, we encountered several elephant bulls, who are amongst the largest I’ve ever seen… rivalling Kenya’s 50+-year-old Tuskers from Amboseli in size, although the ivory here was typically not quite as impressive. However, most of the drive was endless mopane shrubland and aside from the elephants, the only other notable sighting was of three rather rattled Italians and their guide who had managed to shear the axle of the camping trailer, sending one of the wheels bouncing off into the bush in the process. We stopped to see if we could provide any assistance but there was little they could do other than shift all their kit into their car and abandon the trailer on the roadside until someone could come out to do some serious repairs.
Khwai Private Reserve is a private concession set north of the River Khwai and encompasses a mix of open water and swampland, riverine forests, grassy plains and mopane woodland. As it had rained about 3 weeks ago, the area was beautifully green and quite a bit of the wildlife had dispersed away from the river. We still saw a good variety of ungulates, including our first red Lechwe, a semi-aquatic antelope that’s found across the delta, and were lucky enough to see more lions and leopards here as well. I can imagine that, during the dry season, game viewing would be pretty amazing because of the varied habitats and activities on offer – day and night game drives, walking safaris and excursions in Mokoros, a type of shallow draught canoe which is poled down the water channels. Sable Alley was a very comfortable and well-appointed camp, which we loved. We also visited their flagship camp, Tuludi, which has air-conditioned tents and a slide to get from the lounge to the dining platforms as well as Little Sable Alley, a lower-key, smaller version of where we were staying. One thing we did find in both the other camps were several sculptures and artwork of pangolins, which would make one think they were all over the place, but our inability to find them continues as the animal itself remains as elusive as it has for my last 25 years of guiding…
From Khwai, it should have been an easy drive into the Moremi Game Reserve but the central section of the bridge at the nearby North Gate had been dismantled for repairs so we ended up having to do an almost 4-hour detour all the way around the river channel. We camped at South Gate for our first night, which was a rather uninspiring location in the mopane woodland but our drive the following day to Xakanaxa (a Bushman name pronounced Kakanaka with clicks on the ‘x’s) more than made up for it.
The water levels in the Delta are low at this time of year and the Okavango River, whose headlands in Angola are receiving rain right now, won’t start swelling the channels properly until April and May. Despite this, we soon started encountering pans and floodplains, some of which contained water from the recent rains and others which are permanent, and we were soon having to cross larger water channels, either on simple wooden bridges or by splashing through the water, some of which was a little deeper than we expected.
Xakanaxa is the last bit of land before one gets to the main delta swamps and our campsite looked out over miles of this. It was the most scenically interesting part of Moremi that we drove through and also had the best wildlife – wild dogs, lion, elephant, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, lechwe, impala and more – but all quite spread out and not in the kind of densities that I had expected or that it seemed the area could carry. We thoroughly enjoyed our time here and it ranks amongst the best game-viewing of the trip that we’ve done under our own steam.
7 days after entering Botswana and exploring much of the Chobe-Moremi landscape and 5 days and almost 500km on from welding our spring back together, we thundered into Maun with the car still functioning properly… big thanks once again to Timothy the mechanic for his excellent work and for proving wrong the nay-sayers back in Nairobi. Our two nights in the town were spent with a friend from Kenya who moved back here and were mostly spent replacing the broken spring, which ended up being more of a mission than getting it welded back together, servicing the car again and stocking up on supplies. Maun has grown in the last 23 years and it took me a while to get my bearings, but I soon found some familiar old haunts along the Thamalakane River, a tectonic fault line that led to the creation of both the magnificent Okavango Delta and our next destination, the Makgadigadi Salt Pans, where I started my guiding career.