When Ricky and I first started looking at the map of Botswana, we had pipe dreams of somehow seeing everything in 17 days. There are apparently over 18.5 thousand kilometres of road in Botswana, and only a quarter of these are paved. That alone would make driving the whole country a sizeable feat (thank God we have a trusty 4×4)! So we relented, and planned a more reasonable journey.
This is part of an ongoing series. See Botswana Blog for more!
Day 1: Johannesburg to Matamba
On our first day, we will drive from Johannesburg to Matamba Bush Camp, about 275 km from home and a three-hour drive. We decided early that we don’t want to rush the experience, and we have heard great things about Matamba from friends. Matamba is in the Limpopo province of South Africa, and markets itself as “built by campers, for campers”. It is unfenced, so game can visit you directly at your camp. They don’t allow driving on the farm but have over 60k of hiking and cycling track, so we are pretty excited about that!
Day 2: Orapa
We’re in for a long haul on our second day. We planned this purposely, so we can enjoy the maximum amount of time close to the bigger parks. Google claims the 540km journey will only take 5.5 hours, but I seriously doubt that! For one, we will cross the border on our second day, at Groblersbrug. We decided to avoid Gabarone for the border crossing, just hoping to have a shorter queue.
Our first night in Botswana should be at Makumutu Lodge & Campsite. We have a contingency plan in case the drive takes longer than expected – and that is to stay somewhere near Serowe (maybe the Khama Rhino Sanctuary). Anyway, fingers crossed all goes well and we make it to Makumutu. This campsite borders Orapa Game Park, which we plan to check out on the third day if there’s time.
Days 3 & 4: Okavango Delta
I am beyond excited to see this part of Botswana. It is in fact one of Africa’s most well-recognised and iconic places. It is a watery paradise, and since we will be there at the end of the rainy season, it’s bound to be quite deep – meaning less access to the central wildlife areas, but increased bird (and mozi) life!
We plan to bypass Kubu Island and the Makgadikgadi Pans on our way to the Okavango, and see them on the way back. On the third morning we will drive 320 km to Maun, on the Okavango Delta border, then stay for two nights at Okavango River Lodge. From here we plan to do a mokoro river safari – where a guide will direct a wooden boat around the Delta for us, looking for wildlife. We will also plan to do our own game drives where possible (it is the end of the rainy season, so we might need to book a trip and not self drive).
Days 5 – 8: Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park is where the elephants are! For about half of the distance from Maun to Ngoma (the Namibian crossing point), we will be in or around Chobe. To be honest though, this part of our trip is only vaguely organised (I’m working on it). It’s honestly rather difficult to determine where campsites are actually located, even with the help of Lonely Planet and other guidebooks! **If you happen to be familiar with this area, please send us your insight and tips!**
We want to stay in or around Chobe, between Maun and Ngoma (where we will enter Namibia). We are planning to be flexible with a day or so, if we decide to stay longer or leave sooner. In organising this trip I’ve found flexibility is key – a lot of campsites don’t respond regularly to emails, I’ve had trouble making calls, etc…but I’ve been told that, during this time of year, we should be able to find open campsites. The best thing about our situation is we could always just park on the side of the road and sleep up top! (Just kidding, mom!)
Days 9 & 10: Nkasa Rupara NP
On the 9th morning we will enter Namibia from Ngoma Bridge, across the Lyshuma River. We are staying for two nights at Livingstone’s Camp, which has just five camp sites, all on the river. Sounds like a win to me! We’ll be in Nkasa Rupara NP, which is touted as one of the most exciting parks in Southern Africa, similar to the Okavango Delta during the rainy season. Unfortunately poaching has hit the park hard, but there are conservation groups working to bring biodiversity back to the region.
From Livingstone’s Camp we will head out on a 4 hour drive across the narrow western strip of Namibia, through Bwabwata National Park and then back into Botswana, where we will stay at Shakawe River Lodge. Bwabwata is a less-often-visited park in this area of the world. It was once badly affected by wildlife crime and violence, but since 2002 has slowly rebounded. We’re excited at the possibility of seeing wild dog, cheetah and sable in this park – and the likelihood we will have those views all to ourselves!
Shawake Lodge is in north-western Botswana along the Okavango river. We can hire a boat or do a sunset cruise with them – they also have a lodge with a restaurant, so if we’re feeling in need of a meal cooked by someone else, we can find that here. I am starting to wonder if we’ll get tired of braais and pasta…(No way!!)
Days 13 & 14: Makgadikgadi Pans
In one of my previous posts, I shared a video clip from Top Gear. In this episode, the guys are racing across the Makgadikgadi Pans, a desolate, beautiful, 3,900-sq-km park that extends from the Boleti River in the west to the Ntwetwe Pan in the east. The video is hilarious, as they always are, but it also introduced the world to one of the most mesmerising, mysterious places in Southern Africa. From Shakawe Lodge we will drive 6 or more hours to Tiaan’s Camp, at the western border of the pans. There’s a swimming pool and a restaurant, but the part we are most excited about is the wildlife (lions, eland, gemsbok, etc), the salty desert and baobab trees!
Day 15: Kubu Island
I think this might be the part of our trip that Ricky is most looking forward to. Boasting rich archeological and cultural significance, Kubu Island is a remote and difficult to access ‘island’, cushioned between Ntwetwe Pan to the west and Sowa Pan to the east. Once upon a time Kubu was actually an island on a lake; its name means hippopotamus in Setswana. We have some detailed GPS directions from the lone campsite on the island – Kubu Island Campsite – so hopefully we are clever enough to figure it out! Supposedly the sunsets on this island are some of the most breathtaking, evocative sunsets anywhere on the continent.
Day 16: Khama Rhino Sanctuary
Established in 1990, Khama Rhino Sanctuary protects (at last measure) 30 white and 4 black rhinos. A few friends have recommended we stop over at Khama for at least one night, and being a huge rhino lover (we set up a Save the Rhino fundraiser page for our wedding), I couldn’t resist. Camping in the sanctuary also means we might get to see rhino close by, and during the enchanting sunrise and sunset hours. I have huge respect for people who commit their lives to protecting endangered species – so I’m also excited to meet the staff!
Day 17: Matamba Bush Camp
On our last night out, we plan to spend one more day at Matamba, rather than driving the full length back to Johannesburg. After leaving the rhino sanctuary and crossing the border, we probably won’t be up for a full day of driving. Plus, what’s the hurry to get back to the city and work?
At this point I’m sure our trusty 4×4 will be a bit of a mess; hopefully we will have eaten (almost) all of the food we have purchased; and I’m sure we will be missing our dear dog Sherlock terribly (as well as our human family!). As you can see, we are about 85% organised as far as itinerary goes, with a few days of flexibility. When it comes to overland trips, apparently, it’s good to remain flexible. Surprises can happen at every turn, and I’m sure there will be some interesting developments – I need good material for the blog after all! Stay tuned…