Forgotten villages and forbidden gorges
Palapye is one of the busiest villages in south- eastern Botswana. Many people make a quick stop to draw money, shop for groceries and refuel before heading further north. Next time, add a day and a half to your itinerary and do this short scenic route, w
PALAPYE TO LECHENG (26,7 KM)
The cultural heartland of Botswana isn’t the capital of Gaborone. The Khama family – current president Ian Khama and his father Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of independent Botswana – hail from this region. The town of Serowe is seen as the cultural capital of the country.
The Khama family and other members of their Bamangwato tribe once lived at the base of the Tswapong Hills, in a place called Phalatswe. Phalatswe is now better known as Old Palapye; modern Palapye only came into being once Phalatswe was deserted. From 1889 to 1902, Old Palapye was the most important village in the region.
A journey to Old Palapye starts in “new” Palapye, and why not kick off your trip with biltong? Buy padkos at Bosveld Meat Market near the T-junction on the Serowe road. This butchery is owned by Hennie Herbst, but during my visit I met the friendly manager Henning Hattingh. You can buy braai meat (I tried something different: goat chops!) and mopane firewood (P30/R39 per bundle).
Follow the A1 highway south out of town for 9,7 km and turn left onto the tar road towards the Grobler’s Bridge border post. After 8 km, turn left onto another tar road at the Lecheng sign – Lecheng itself is 9 km further.
Bosveld Meat Market GPS: S22.54103 E27.08859
LECHENG TO MALAKA (13,4 KM)
Look for the sign in the middle of Lecheng and turn right to the makosho trees, about 200 m away. You can park in the shade near the fenced clump of trees, open your coffee flask and take in the view. The clump consists of about 42 makosho trees – also called ana trees – and they’re conserved here because they are rare in the area.
Next, drive 13,4 km along the narrow tar road to the village of Malaka. Along the way you’ll see the turn-off to Old Palapye, but continue straight for now. The tar road stops at the local chief’s office – this is where you need to get permission to visit the ruins at Old Palapye. They basically just write your name in a book, but if you don’t go through the motions, you will be fined.
It’s free to visit Old Palapye.
Makosho trees GPS: S22.66688 E27.22346 Chief’s office in Malaka GPS: S22.61544 E27.33223
MALAKA TO OLD PALAPYE (9,9 KM)
Now retrace your route from Malaka. Follow the tar road for about 4,4 km to where the dirt road turns off to Old Palapye. This road is in a poor condition in places, so drive slowly. It’s about 5,5 km to the most imposing section of ruins – the old church made from red mud bricks.
In the late 1800s, Old Palapye was home to up to 30 000 people. European missionaries, farmers from the old Transvaal, fortune seekers en route to the goldfields of Tati and big game hunters often passed through.
The London Missionary Society built the church between 1891 and 1894. The dirt road leads up to the ruins of the church. Most of the other structures – like the marketplace and jail – were smaller and built using stone or mud and branches. These structures have mostly been swallowed by vegetation over the course of the past century. Give yourself an hour to explore.
Old Palapye GPS: S22.64555 E27.29268
OLD PALAPYE TO GOO-MOREMI RESORT (41,75 KM)
Drive back to the tar road (5,5 km) and turn right, as if you’re returning to Malaka. Be on the lookout for a hidden turn-off on the left – it’s about 2,65 km from where you got onto the tar road.
This hidden road is sandy gravel, but you don’t need a 4x4 unless it has rained. Still, we’d recommend a vehicle with some ground clearance. The road turns sharply to the left after 6,4 km. You’re now on open plains, driving through mielie fields, in the “platteland” of Botswana. You might have to get out to open a farm gate or two.
Follow this road for another 12,8 km, until you reach a T-junction next to a pan, which should have water in summer. Turn right here and drive 14,3 km to the tar road. Turn right again and follow the tar road south for 1,1 km to Moremi village.
In Moremi, turn right at the sign to Goo-Moremi Resort (Moremi Gorge). Follow the road for another 4,5 km, cross the bridge over the Lotsane River and drive to the gate. You’re heading straight towards the Tswapong Hills.
Hidden turn-off (tar to dirt road) GPS: S22.61415 E27.31491 Sharp turn to the left GPS: S22.59187 E27.32924 T-junction at the small pan GPS: S22.47948 E27.34974 Right turn in Moremi village GPS: S22.57199 E27.44763 Goo-Moremi Resort gate GPS: S22.58266 E27.43089
Goo-Moremi Resort, also called Moremi Gorge, is one of the most scenic spots in Botswana – and totally unique. The gorge is wedged into the Tswapong Hills and there’s a hiking trail that will take you to big trees, high cliffs, a vulture breeding colony and even a waterfall or two.
The accommodation was renovated recently and everything is spic and span, from the campsite at the entrance, where each stand has a private bathroom, to the chalets a little further along.
It’s the perfect spot to spend the night. Take an early morning walk in the campsite and look for kudu. You might also see zebra, eland, gemsbok and wildebeest.
There are three hiking options at Goo-Moremi – hiking with a guide is compulsory. The shortest route is the Senwedi Trail (2 km), which starts at the entrance gate and goes past natural springs, the grave of Kgosi Senwedi and the ruins of an old school and a kgotla. The trail ends at the parking area at Moremi Gorge. If you’re in a hurry, skip Senwedi and drive to the parking area – the trail up the gorge is the best.
I meet guide Tico Kwadiba at the parking area. The Gorge Trail is also only about 2 km long (there and back), but it can take up to two hours to complete. You walk slowly and you’ll want to stop often to take photos.
Before we disappear under the dense canopy of wild fig, monkey thorn, Kalahari apple-leaf and nyala-berry trees, I see some vultures circling above. Cape vulture and white-backed vulture breed higher up the gorge. The third and hardest hiking trail takes you all the way to the colony, but you’ll need to set aside at least half a day.
Most people only hike to the big waterfall in the gorge. You should see vultures along the way and you’ll also stop at Khama’s alarm rock: This rock tumbled down the mountain in the early hours of 13 July 1980 and the crash woke the residents of nearby Moremi. Later that same morning, the residents received word that President Seretse Khama had passed away, which led to the belief that the falling rock had brought the news.
Sometimes you have to boulder hop to cross the river; in other places there are chains and a steel bridge to assist you. Swimming isn’t allowed. The local people believe that the river pools are home to their ancestors. Still, the cool shade in Goo-Moremi offers unexpected relief in an unexpected corner of the country. Add it to your itinerary if you’re planning an extended tour of Botswana, or just nip across the border for a long weekend.
Goo-Moremi parking area GPS: S22.60713 E27.43991 Entrance fees at Goo-Moremi Resort: P60 (R77) per adult; P45 (R58) per child under 16; plus P50 (R64) per vehicle.
See page 86 for accommodation options. 00 267 71 247 225; firstname.lastname@example.org
to Francistown A1 Tsh ok an a Mogopinyana to Selebi-Phikwe 10 km Tamasane Dikabeya Kgagodi Crater to Serowe Mompele Mine A14 Lesenepole Lotsa ne Lo t s a n e D a m Moremi Palapye Goo-Moremi Gate Goo-Moremi Gorge Maunatlala Goo-Moremi Parking e rg Go i m e or M o- Go Malaka TSWAPONG HILLS Seolwane Old Palapye A1 Lecheng Moeng Mokhungwana to Lerala B140 Ratholo Gootau Majwaneng to Gaborone to Grobler’s Bridge
FOLLOW THE SIGNS. Signs like these, put up by the Botswana National Museum, indicate a place of historical interest. You’ll see them along the route.
HOLY FALLS. There is an abundance of water in Moremi Gorge.
RED RUINS. The old London Missionary church in Old Palapye.
BUSH BLISS. The campsite at Goo-Moremi Resort is one of our favourites in Botswana..