Organising one’s own safari to Botswana in a four-wheel-drive vehicle re-awakens the sense of adventure one may have lost in the grind of daily city life. The first challenge was trying to track down information about the routes, destinations and equipment needed for a 12-day safari.Eventually I managed to trace the Botswana Tourism Board and after two requests was sent maps of the areas we intended visiting. It was also difficult to gather information on fuel supplies, availability of water, the purchase of fresh provisions and the condition of the roads. Intrepid by nature, our family set off undeterred.
Our first day in Botswana was made eventful by roadblocks before and after Gabarone and just before Francistown our first stop-over point. As we were obviously a family on holiday we were not harassed unduly although at one roadblock we were asked to unpack the vehicle and our bags. The Marang Motel situated on the banks of the Tati River just outside Francistown provided excellent thatched chalet accommodation in the middle price range. The motel also had a campsite.The next day we had 190 km of tar road to Nata which is the last fuel-up point before Maun, 304 km away. We had been told that two wheel-drive vehicles could manage this stretch of road but it was so thick in sand in parts, I doubt whether anything but four-wheel-drive vehicles could have come through that day (the condition of the road changes daily). The Island Safari Lodge, 12 km outside Maun, had been recommended to us and with its situation on the Thamalakane River, it gave us our first encounter with the wonderful birdlife of the swamps.
Riley’s Hotel in Maun is presently being revamped and for those with limited time it may be preferable to stay there. We found it time consuming to travel 12 km into Maun for provisions and then back again to the Lodge.
There is a small well stocked superette with fresh fruit and vegetables in Maun. There is only one reputable butcher shop and I was told to buy only the fillet and rump – lamp or mutton chops are seldom available.The road to Moremi South Gate is extremely sandy and I would not recommend it for an ordinary vehicle. At the Gate one has to pay an entrance fee for vehicles, passengers and camping. This is the procedure at the entrance to all the parks and only Botswana money is accepted.
The campsite at Third Bridge is the most popular because it is on a crystal clear stretch of river in which one can swim. But the campsite was so overcrowded with German tourists we decided to move onto Xaxanaka where we found a secluded spot along the river.
The water is potable but it is not safe for swimming here because it is very reeded. The Moremi Wildlife Reserve is extremely varied and attractive. One passes through dense mopani and acacia forests, while at other times the road skirts the Okavango or circles huge flood plains with views over still lagoons.In this Reserve we saw mostly eland, impala, kudu and giraffe but other people we met up with saw leopard, lion and elephant. The road to Savuti is treacherous and a good test for four-wheel-drive vehicles and drivers. Savuti is known for its game-viewing and 10 minutes from our campsite we came across our first pride of lions.
The campsite is situated along the Savuti Channel, bone-dry in July, when we were there and the whole area is covered in thick, powdered sand. It is a rough, dry looking place but it does have the luxury of showers and toilets.The host at this camp is a half-tame elephant called Baby Huey who charms all in his path except when he decides to overturn a land rover in search of food as is his custom at times. If you want to see elephants for Africa then you will not be disappointed when you reach the Chobe River area and the Serondela campsite in the Chobe National Park. Late afternoon visits to the river’s edge offers the view of enormous herds of elephant of all sizes enjoying a bathe or a long drink.
After leaving the Chobe National Park, the route back from Kasane to Nata-Francistown is tarred all the way. There are really only two ways of seeing Botswana, either on an organized safari or in a private party with four-wheel drive vehicles.