The Botswana 4×4 trip has come to an end, and the end of a trip is always bittersweet. This bittersweet is further multiplied when you’ve spent vacation out of touch with the rest of the world. Yes, you miss your friends, family and pets; you’re a bit curious about current events; you might even miss your routine a little bit. On the other hand, discovering a new place or culture is electrifying; you love the remote feeling of looking at your phone and seeing absolutely zero bars of service, no new messages in days or weeks; instead you connect to yourself, the one(s) you are traveling with, and, in our case, to nature.
I’m going to release photos and videos of our trip in batches according to our itinerary. Some days were more exciting than others, and they each have their own stories. For the beginning I’m writing about days 1-4, including: departing Johannesburg, Matamba bush camp, Rakops overnight stop, and two nights in Maun at Okavango River Lodge. If you’re a travel blogger or are interested in becoming a travel blogger, do yourself a favour: don’t try to write your posts while you’re traveling (unless you have lots of time). Rather, keep a travel journal* and then refer to it when you return home. It’s actually a much easier and more fun way to write – you get to live in the experiences more fully, and then when reviewing your notes, you get to live them again!
Apologies in advance for the quality of my videos, but I wanted to document the experience first-hand, no matter how awkward I am!
Day 1: Matamba Bush Camp
We departed Johannesburg before lunch and arrived at Matamba Bush Camp around 2pm. Sue met us at the main gate and directed us to our campsite, with her two dogs riding shotgun, smiling back at us the entire way. Our campsite was very spacious and right on their hiking trails, a unique offering for game parks. We parked the 4×4 and immediately went for a hike…
After we arrived back in camp, no baby giraffe to be found (yet), we started opening up the trusty 4×4 rooftop tent for our very first night of camping. On the menu was chicken pregos, a relatively easy first meal as we eased into what would become our routine for the next two weeks.
Listening to the noise of the bush, we relaxed in our camp chairs, drank a glass of wine and just enjoyed each other’s company. Although we were in South Africa still, there was no cell service, so we were finally starting to disconnect.
The next morning we awoke for one more hike/jog around the property. We saw plenty of sable and other antelope, and when we returned to camp we saw the baby giraffe! The group (called a journey of giraffe) was too far to get a good photo – but we did manage to snap this winner with one of the older family members!
With that, it was time to get on the road to Botswana.
Day 2: Rakops
The border (Stockpoort) was surprisingly quick. We were in and out in 15 minutes with stamps in our passports. Happily, for me, the process is expedited since I have residence in South Africa!
Not 10 minutes after we left the customs desk, God blessed the rains down in Africa upon our heads, and we were stuck in a real deluge for about 30 minutes. It proceeded to rain for four hours as we drove across the country towards our first destination in Botswana. As you would see on the original Itinerary post, we were meant to stay at Makumutu Lodge and Campsite. When we arrived, however, the camp was rather flooded and didn’t seem like the ideal place to set up for the night.
Luckily we had a paper map (old school and so important!) and Ricky had downloaded Tracks4Africa, which directed us to an alternate camp an hour further up the road. So we ended up at Rakops River Lodge – a place that we believe has changed ownership since the last time photos were uploaded, but it was still accommodating and comfortable enough.
It was another easy and early night, this time with a lovely sunset to take us away. In the morning, we got right back on the road towards Maun, a 2-hour drive away.
Days 3&4: Maun
On the way to Maun, we drove on one of the most pot-holed roads I’ve ever seen. Most vehicles were traveling at 50km/hr at most. I have to say, we were so happy to have the comfortable suspension of our Avis Safari Ford Ranger! It took awhile to finish the last 100km, so we were pleased to reach the edge of town where the roads were a bit better off.
As Lonely Planet says, Maun isn’t a world culinary capital, in fact it isn’t a capital of much, but it is welcoming and friendly enough. Maun is located just below the Okavango Delta, so there are plenty of water-related activities to sign up for. We were staying at Okavango River Lodge, which is recognised for its lively ex-pat and overland community (mostly for the bar and restaurant vibe).
I was determined to find a sunset cruise for our first night, and after a bit of searching we learned that the lodge across the river – Island River Lodge – could accommodate us. The owner happens to be friend of Ricky’s family, so we were excited to check the place out. (Spoiler: we would spend a lot more time there the following week, due to hiccups in our trip! Stay tuned for that…)
The sunset cruise was great. Our guide, who went simply by “O.G” was very knowledgable about birds, which were still plentiful at the end of the wet season. We saw bee-eaters, jacanas, kingfishers, cranes, herons, darters, ducks, geese and eagles, among others. We saw a lone crocodile, basking in the last sun rays of the day.
After our cruise we stopped at the bar for a sundowner and chatted with the owners Sean and Brit. Such lovely people, so much passion for wildlife and Botswana. As Island Group and Island River Lodge continue to grow and develop, we look forward to returning for many future visits!
We had prebooked a mokoro trip for the next morning – a unique water-based safari trip – a great way to get to know some of the local people. We departed the campsite at 8am to get to the launch point. Mokoros are traditionally long, skinny wooden boats. In order to fight deforestation, the government has required people to stop making them from wood and to now make fibreglass boats. This doesn’t change the experience – the ‘poler’ stands at the back of the long boat, pushing it along the Okavango as the passengers sit front and centre.
Our guide, Jonah, was extremely knowledgable about all things wildlife – he had a number of certifications and qualifications and was very interested in tourism and conservation. In addition to the expected birdlife, we saw red lechwe and elephant from a distance, tracked zebra and wildebeest on foot, and stopped to look at frogs on the reeds along the river.
By the time we got back to our campsite it was 5pm and we were exhausted! We decided to download a few podcasts and some music using the lodge’s wifi, and while Ricky was distracted, I schemed with the kitchen staff. It was two days until Ricky’s birthday and I wanted to give him a small surprise. It wouldn’t be possible to do much in the bush, so I organised a chocolate cake for our last night in Maun. He was thoroughly surprised when it came out, along with the women singing joyfully as they presented him with their homemade dessert. All in all, a successful end to the first four days of our journey!
*If you’re looking for a nice, short and easy tutorial on writing a travel diary, check out this course on Udemy. It’s only 1.5 hours long and helps with wrapping your mind around what you should and shouldn’t do, when trying to journal about your travels.