I decided this year to slip a little out of my comfort zone and for my personal holiday embarked on a 3 week self-drive camping adventure through Botswana. My aunt and uncle, who live in South Africa, are avid campers and invited my husband and I, together with my father-in law (aged 69 years and never been to Africa), to join them on their adventure.
I won’t lie, I was a little apprehensive. Through my wonderful job, I have been incredibly fortunate to explore Southern and Eastern Africa staying in some incredible camps and lodges, totally spoilt I know. I now had to think of sleeping on top of a vehicle and, if lucky, being able to get a shower! However, it was time to get back to my roots and get my hands dirty again and we could not miss this incredible opportunity.
We landed in Johannesburg and spent our first night (and last!) in a bit of luxury. Our vehicle was all kitted out and we had a crash course on how erect our tents before we set off!
We travelled south-west, through remote countryside to Kuruman where we spent our first night (there were showers J). We then travelled north-west to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park where we spent three nights exploring. I was quite taken by this park, characterised as it is by red dunes and dry river beds set in lovely scenery. Our wildlife highlights included huge black-maned lions, a honey badger in broad daylight, and many African wild cat (which are relatively easy to see here).
Continuing into Botswana, we travelled north-east and spent a night in a town called Kang. Back to a little civilisation for a while before continuing east to Khutse Game Reserve. Bill in the office had told me that he had visited Khutse in the 80’s and how wild it was and so I was rather curious to see if there has been much development and how many other vehicles we would see. With its close proximity and ‘relative accessibility’ to the nation’s capital, would it naturally be a favourite retreat for Gaborone residents? Well, it was still pretty wild! We spent our first night camping approx.. 2 hours from the gate and we did not see a soul.
The following day we travelled several hours through the reserve until sunset. This day was tough, the roads where poor and landscape uninteresting scrub grassland with little game, the look on my father in law’s face was on of ‘what have I done?’! Having not seen another vehicle all day, we eventually came across two locals who had broken down and not seen anyone for 3 days. They were visiting the reserve to fix a water pipe which elephants had dug up and broken. We helped jump start their vehicle and followed them through the bush to the water hole they were supposed to attend. It had been a long day, and the water hole had an attractive setting so we decided to stay the night, camping close by. We enjoyed an early dinner, a much needed gin & tonic, and it was early to bed for some much needed rest or so we thought…
Wild camping is all about being at one with nature, the theatrical sounds, the intoxicating smells and the close encounters! We certainly had the latter that evening in Khutse. In the still of night, we were woken suddenly with our vehicle being shaken up and down. We then heard rustling on the other side of the vehicle and soon realised, we had two elephants for company! For the next half an hour these inquisitive creatures inspected every inch of our vehicle. Through the gauze of our tent and under the glow of starlit sky, we watched intently, hearts in our throats, as a trunk gently skimmed each step of the ladder to our tent. The only think I could think of was Bill’s words ‘Khutse, yes that is pretty wild’. When they finally lost interest and moved off, we all breathed a sigh of relief!
The following morning, we scouted around our vehicles, looking at the huge footprints that surrounded them. Our bull-bar was scratched from the elephant’s tough skin as he had clearly enjoyed rubbing his bottom against it!
Still shaken, albeit a bit exhilarated, we left Khutse and travelled through the central Kalahari where we unfortunately encountered a problem with our vehicle. We decided not to dwell and continued on to Maun, a further 8 hours drive away, unable to open windows and with no-air-conditioning in 40 degree heat! That grimace on my father-in-law’s face was back.
After a pit stop in Maun whilst the vehicle was repaired, and we travelled to the famous Okavango and spent an incredible 5 days exploring the Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai concession. Wow!
Having personally visited them several times previously, I didn’t expect to be as blown away as I was. The scenery, the wildlife, the water – it was magical. Highlights included lions mating, elephants chasing hyaenas through and around our camp, roan antelope, and a leopard sitting out in the open in broad daylight which we had completely on our own!
The plan was to continue north to Victoria Falls, but unfortunately we were struck with the vehicle problem again and had to turn back. However, that certainly did not detract from our overall enjoyment of the entire experience.
I can honestly say that I absolutely loved it and can’t believe what I have been missing! It’s not for the faint hearted, there is a lot of dust, roads are challenging, showers are limited, but this simple, more adventurous safari is so rewarding. We ate well, we slept well, and we had exciting wildlife encounters all of which were enjoyed at our own pace. That cold gin & tonic (or three) at the end of each day never ever tasted so good.
Although we don’t organise self-drive safaris through Botswana, we can book either group mobile camping safaris or private mobile safaris. You will get to experience the wilderness and adventure of camping, but with the benefit of an experienced local guide together with fully equipped crew. Many of the mobiles operate in very similar areas to those which we visited, most of which are truly stunning and wild.
Perhaps it’s time to get out of your comfort zone? I would recommend it highly!