Under the Spell of Chobe’s Wild Luxury

If you are following our return drive from South Africa to Kenya, you will know that Mzee is not my dad but an old, reborn Range Rover. I was bringing it back, not with my dad, but with my mum, who had flown down to share the driving – and the adventure.

Last time I described our venture to Botswana’s salt pans. Moving onto Maun, the frontier town on the edge of the Okavango Delta, we restocked in preparation for four days of driving through an area without any shops or petrol stations.

Our itinerary was to take us across the Moremi Game Reserve in the eastern Delta, and into and through the Chobe Game Reserve. We had arrived at the start of the wet season, and patches of black cotton soil waited to swallow us up. At least the sandiest patches had compacted somewhat. It wasn’t long before we escaped the woodland boundary of Moremi, dodging numerous half-hidden elephants, to come out in Okavango’s floodplains.

We took the “Black Pools Loop”, seeing vast flocks of black kites and numerous stork species, all after swarms of insects that were erupting in response to the rain. The swamps were filled with Red Lechwe antelopes, hippos, crocodiles – and more bird life.

Our camp, “South Gate Campsite”, unfenced and covered in hyena tracks, came with hot showers and picnic benches, and offered ample shade. Circumnavigating Moremi, crossing all four of the famous wood-pole bridges before leaving the North Gate and crossing into Chobe.

The stunning landscapes, bird life and ample game of Moremi, have definitely left their mark. We didn’t even have to indulge in the popular “mokoro” boat trips to appreciate this magnificent park.

We left Moremi by crossing the “bridge over the river Khwai” before entering the namesake community conservation area en route to Chobe. The community runs a small shop and a campsite that is considerably cheaper than staying in the park. And the wildlife is just as prolific.

Following advice from an old hand in Maun, we took the “sand ridge” route into Savuti, avoiding the now sodden “marsh road”. After 45 km of deep sand tracks through Mopane woodland, the landscape suddenly opened up as we reached the Mababe Depression, a prehistoric lake bed where Savuti is situated.

With a few hours left before sunset, we explored, finding a rocky outcrop with some 4,000- year-old San rock paintings. Heading for the marsh where we had been told lions had been seen, we found a majestic male and a pair of jackals hunting warthog piglets.

We stayed at the Savuti Campsite. It is a pretty spot situated on the banks of the Savuti Channel, which flows inconsistently, as it is famous for mysteriously staying dry for decades as a result of complex tectonic activities.

The next morning we had bad news. Mzee’s fuel filter had been leaking and we had lost lots of petrol. We spent the day in camp fixing the leak. After all, we had one more night booked and were six hours from the nearest petrol station.

Once we had fixed it with a good pocket knife, cable ties and some string, it turned out to be a great relaxing day, as we spent hours watching the foraging tree squirrels, dwarf mongooses, and numerous bird species.

We were even visited by two elephant bulls. Our penultimate day in Botswana saw us cross the length of Chobe. Along a sandy transit route we saw more elephants and some critically endangered painted (wild) dogs and sable antelopes.

Reaching the border town of Kasane, we used the camping facilities of the Chobe Safari Lodge, a 4-star place on the banks of the Chobe River. Each afternoon, the lodge sends out boats for a three-hour sunset cruise into the national park.

At KSh3,000 per person, including park fees, the cruise is well worth it. Aboard one of the largest boats on the water, filled with South African revellers, it was a fantastic experience. We came very close to animals such as Puku antelope and to birds on the river’s banks and on Sedudu Island (declared Botswana territory by an international tribunal after a dispute with Namibia).

At 86 km from Victoria Falls, Chobe should be considered a good day trip, just as the Falls are a popular site for Kasane residents. As the following dawn broke, we geared up to cross the Zambezi River into Zambia, beginning a determined five-day “slog” back to Nairobi – a great contrast to our time of wandering in Botswana.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation