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



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


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


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


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; goomoremire­

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..

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