WHEN SHOULD I GO?

Go! Camp & Drive - - Destination Botswana -

1 Wait un­til the wa­ter lev­els drop

The north of Botswana usu­ally re­ceives heavy rains be­tween Jan­uary and March, and even up to late May, mak­ing marshy ar­eas like Kh­wai al­most in­ac­ces­si­ble in a par­tic­u­larly wet year. The best time to go is be­tween June and Septem­ber, be­fore it be­comes un­bear­ably hot.

2 Avoid school hol­i­days

Kh­wai lost its sta­tus as “hid­den gem” a few years ago. These days the camp­sites are chock full over South African win­ter and spring school hol­i­days. So book either be­fore or af­ter 22 June to 17 July and 28 Septem­ber and 9 Oc­to­ber 2018.

PLAN YOUR TRIP 3 Stay longer

It’s tempt­ing to try and squeeze Moremi, Kh­wai, Savute and Kasane into 10 days, but the re­al­ity is that two to three days in Kh­wai are not enough. Rather camp here for nine to 10 days if you want to see a greater va­ri­ety of game – five nights each in Kh­wai and Savute. Moremi looks like Kh­wai and the road to Kasane is a mas­sive de­tour.

4 Start sav­ing to­day

A stand be­neath one of Kh­wai’s trees will cost you sub­stan­tially more than a spot in Satara or Twee Rivieren – so start sav­ing. South Africans pay BWP300 (R388) p.p. at Magotho

It’s in­ad­vis­able to walk through the chan­nels, as the wa­ters in this re­gion are packed with hip­pos and croc­o­diles.

and BWP400 (R517) p.p. at Sable Al­ley. If you plan on go­ing be­tween June and Septem­ber, make your book­ing to­day.

5 Book­ing tips

Send an email to the Kh­wai De­vel­op­ment Trust at kh­wai@ bot­snet.bw or 00 267 686 2365. You can book one of 15 pub­lic stands at Magotho, or, if you want com­plete pri­vacy, ask for Sable Al­ley or Matswere – both are exclusive stands. Kids of all ages are wel­come, and even though there isn’t a limit on the amount of ve­hi­cles, a max­i­mum of 20 peo­ple per stand is al­lowed. khwait­rust.co.bw

6 Magotho first

If you want to camp at Magotho and Sable Al­ley or Matswere, start at Magotho. Although the game-view­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties here are ex­cel­lent, there’s more traf­fic than in the two exclusive camps. Plan your trip like you would a visit to the Kruger: Start where it’s busiest and end where it’s quiet.

YOUR VE­HI­CLE 7 Take your 4x4

You def­i­nitely need a 4x4 to tackle Kh­wai’s sandy tracks, and if you are tow­ing an off-road trailer, low range is es­sen­tial. Although a snorkel isn’t a re­quire­ment to get to your camp­site, it will al­low you to cross the net­work of chan­nels, mean­ing you’ll be able to ex­plore a larger area on your game drives.

8 Check every­thing

The cor­ru­ga­tion be­tween Maun and Mababe Vil­lage, to­gether with the thick sand, mud and wa­ter in Kh­wai, will quickly take its toll on your ve­hi­cle. There­fore be sure you thor­oughly check your en­gine and chas­sis be­fore you leave. Re­mem­ber, if your For­tuner breaks down, you’re very far from the near­est Toy­ota ser­vice cen­tre. It’s al­ways safer to drive in a con­voy of at least two ve­hi­cles.

9 Re­pair work in Maun

If you do en­counter prob­lems and you’re look­ing for a me­chanic in Maun, phone Hokkan Haisam­banga. He’ll come to where you’re stay­ing to in­spect your ve­hi­cle. 00 267 7418 5114

THE ROAD IS LONG 10 Cross at Stock­poort

South Africans love cross­ing the border at Grob­lers­brug, but it’s quicker to cross at the smaller Stock­poort border post near Lepha­lale. Take the tar road from Lepha­lale to Stock­poort (the dirt road is in a dread­ful state) and don’t worry about the 50 km dirt road on the Botswana side – it’s in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion and takes you to the A1 high­way south of Ma­ha­lapye. >

11 Drive this route through Botswana

Don’t drive the A1 and A3 high­ways through Fran­cis­town and Nata. The way to Maun is shorter and qui­eter on the A14 that runs past Orapa and south of the Mak­gadik­gadi Pans. To get from Maun to Kh­wai you drive on the dirt road that runs north through Mababe Vil­lage. On this stretch the road forks and a sign in­di­cates you turn left to Kh­wai and right to Savute. Keep right; if you turn left you have to drive through Moremi and pay a park fee. The road turns west as soon as you get to Mababe and the turn-offs to Magotho and Sable Al­ley lie at the fol­low­ing GPS co­or­di­nates: Magotho turn-off S19.093310 E23.871491 Sable Al­ley turn-off S19.133292 E23.766164

12 This is where you should spend the night KHAMA RHINO SANC­TU­ARY

This small re­serve is a day’s drive from Pre­to­ria and has big stands with loads of shade. Ask for stands no. 5, 6, 7 or 8 if you want pri­vacy but still be within walk­ing dis­tance of the ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties. The stands don’t have elec­tric­ity, but the show­ers are (usu­ally) hot. There’s also a restau­rant with an ex­ten­sive menu.

It costs BWP92 (R119) p.p.p.n. to camp and the en­trance fee is BWP87 (R112) p.p. and BWP71 (R92) per ve­hi­cle per day. You can buy wood at the en­trance gate for BWP20 (R26) per bag. khamarhi­nosanc­tu­ary.org.bw

MAUN REST CAMP

Camp on the banks of the Thamalakane River on the out­skirts of Maun at this shady camp. Stands have elec­tric­ity and there are hot show­ers and free wi-fi. It’s BWP100 (R129) p.p. for a stand next to the wa­ter. You can also book a full-day boat trip to Chiefs Is­land for BWP1 250 (R1 612). maun­rest­camp.com

13 Pack your fridge care­fully

You are usu­ally al­lowed to take meat out of South Africa north­ward through Botswana, but you’re pro­hib­ited from trans­port­ing any meat from the north down to the south. But when there’s an out­break of a spe­cific ill­ness, you won’t be al­lowed to take, for ex­am­ple, pork or chicken prod­ucts across the border or through vet fences. There may also be a tem­po­rary ban on cer­tain fruits and veg­eta­bles. Dou­ble check with the AA be­fore you leave.

14 Fill up in Botswana

Fuel is up to R3,50 cheaper per litre in Botswana than in South Africa. So fill up your jerry cans on that side and don’t for­get to fill your tank be­fore re-en­ter­ing South Africa. Re­mem­ber, the near­est fill­ing sta­tions to Kh­wai are in Maun. Take at least 40 ℓ of ex­tra fuel per ve­hi­cle if you’re plan­ning a lot of game drives. If you’re in a bind, ask Onks at the Kh­wai De­vel­op­ment Trust (he comes round to check book­ings and col­lect trash) for help. He sells diesel in Kh­wai Vil­lage at BWP290 (R375) for 20 ℓ.

15 Stop at Ri­ley’s

Ri­ley’s in Maun is a good place to fill up, let air out of your tyres (to about 1,8 bar), and buy a cooldrink for the road to Kh­wai. There’s also an Au­toZone if you for­got to pack an emer­gency fan belt or light bulbs. GPS S19.988167 E23.426089

PARK RULES 16 Stay on the road

Although the signs in the camp­sites in­struct you not to de­vi­ate from the roads, you’ll no­tice that no­body obeys this rule – and there’s also no­body who en­forces it. But be warned: Chances are you’ll cut one of your tyres’ side­walls on an old tree trunk. We lost two tyres like this.

17 Pick-up sticks

Ac­cord­ing to the web­site you’re not al­lowed to col­lect wood within 1 km of the camp­site. You’d think that meant you’re al­lowed to do it else­where. If you don’t feel like search­ing the bush, you can buy bun­dles next to the road in Mababe Vil­lage be­tween Maun and Kh­wai. Bury the re­mains of your camp­fire at least 30 cm be­low ground be­fore you leave or use it to fill up your toi­let hole.

18 Lights out

Night drives are not al­lowed for self-drive vis­i­tors, but be­cause Kh­wai is not in a na­tional park and the camps don’t have gates, you can linger a lit­tle be­fore sun­rise and a lit­tle bit af­ter sun­set with­out get­ting into trou­ble.

GAME FOR AFRICA! 19 Ask the guides

Be­tween Mach­aba Camp, Kh­wai River Lodge and other camps in Kh­wai, you’ll spot game-drive ve­hi­cles. Don’t be shy to stop and ask the guides where the wild dogs are hid­ing their cubs or where a lion killed its prey. They are usu­ally very friendly and ea­ger to as­sist. Of course, you can also pay it for­ward by shar­ing your finds with oth­ers.

20 Ele­phants

Kh­wai is widely known for its ele­phants, and the big bulls love com­ing down to the Kh­wai River late in the morning. Look for them about 2½ km north-west of Magotho, where a game-view­ing track veers off away from the river (GPS S19.101661 E23.852531). On a warm day there could be as many as 10 of them to­gether in the shal­low wa­ter.

21 Lions

Of all the preda­tors, lions are prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult to spot in Kh­wai. There isn’t a dom­i­nant pride that pro­tects the area, but rather var­i­ous prides that move through the area from time to time. Your best chance to spot them is if you drive slowly along the Kh­wai River, look­ing for them on the Moremi side (south).

22 Leop­ards

There are leop­ards aplenty in these parts, es­pe­cially in the Sable Al­ley area. There’s a very peace­ful fe­male named Mat­sebe that loves the at­ten­tion of cam­eras. Most of the cubs, in­clud­ing a beau­ti­ful young male, are also peace­ful and they are reg­u­larly spot­ted by vis­i­tors. Keep your eyes peeled for these spot­ted cats around Magotho. If there’s one place where you might spot a leop­ard sit­ting on a tree trunk, it’s here. Lis­ten care­fully to the warn­ing

cries of the im­palas, vervet mon­keys and guinea fowls – it may well in­di­cate where the leop­ards are hid­ing.

23 Wild dogs

It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult not to spot African wild dogs when you’re vis­it­ing Kh­wai. The res­i­dent pack uses a de­serted aard­vark bur­row near the Matswere Pan north-west of Magotho as a den, and the pups are usu­ally born in May or June. This means chances are fairly good that you’ll spot them dur­ing the win­ter months. They en­joy hunt­ing in the Magotho area so the odds of see­ing them ev­ery morning and af­ter­noon are pretty good. When the pack breaks up dur­ing a hunt, each dog runs south to the river and then fol­lows the trail of the oth­ers un­til ev­ery­one is re­u­nited. >

TAKE WIN­NING PHO­TOS 24 The golden hour

In the first half an hour af­ter sun­rise, the Kh­wai River is some­times cov­ered in a layer of fog – a pic­ture-per­fect sight if you’re driv­ing to­wards the sun. Look for some hip­pos to snap while they’re grunt­ing and bear­ing teeth. If you’re stay­ing in Sable Al­ley, you have enough time for a late-af­ter­noon visit to the Lechwe Plains, where you can take pic­tures of the beau­ti­ful an­telopes. Be sure to park your ve­hi­cle so that the an­i­mals are ex­actly be­tween you and the set­ting sun.

25 Birds

If you’ve never vis­ited the north of Botswana, you’ll def­i­nitely be able to add some new bird species to your list. Red-billed fran­col­ins like to take a sand bath in the twin-tracks, and Brad­field’s horn­bills of­ten hang out with their yel­lowand-red-billed cousins. Be on the look­out for long-toed lap­wings, ru­fous-bel­lied herons, and Sene­gal cou­cals on the banks of the Kh­wai River, and use your binoc­u­lars so you don’t mis­take the rare lesser ja­cana with the more com­mon African ja­cana – they look al­most iden­ti­cal. Keep your eyes peeled for the lilacbreasted roller and wat­tled cranes on the Lechwe Plains near the Kh­wai River Lodge, and stop at Matswere Pan to see com­mon spoon­bills, grey herons, pied king­fish­ers, and, if you’re lucky, white pel­i­cans.

26 Pack a wide-an­gle lens

In the ab­sence of any air pol­lu­tion, and with gi­ant camel thorn trees in the fore­ground, Magotho is a fan­tas­tic place to take night sky pho­tos, right from your camp. Re­mem­ber, aim south if you want to snap star rings.

IN GEN­ERAL 27 Road con­di­tions

Some sec­tions, es­pe­cially in the Sable Al­ley area, quickly be­come very sandy with­out warn­ing. You can get stuck here if you’re not con­cen­trat­ing, es­pe­cially if you’re tow­ing an off-road trailer. Re­mem­ber to bring your tow rope. The wa­ter cross­ings aren’t very deep but rather wait for a ve­hi­cle with a snorkel to drive through first – just to be on the safe side. Re­mem­ber, there are hip­pos and croc­o­diles in these wa­ters, and that’s why it’s un­safe to walk through the chan­nels. If you’re un­sure about the line, wait for one of the lodge ve­hi­cles – they know ex­actly where the shal­low wa­ter is.

28 Stay in con­tact

Two-way ra­dios are ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial when trav­el­ling in a group. It keeps you in con­tact even if you break away from the group in search of game – and in do­ing that you cover a larger area. Once you’re on the open road, it’s a good way to make the oth­ers aware of any cat­tle, don­keys, or pot­holes in the road – or to just shoot the breeze. There is also no cell­phone re­cep­tion in Kh­wai and it’s worth­while to rent a satel­lite phone. If some­thing goes wrong, you’re very far from civil­i­sa­tion.

If you’re un­cer­tain about try­ing a line through a river cross­ing, then wait for an­other ve­hi­cle with a snorkel or a lodge game viewer to do it first. The lo­cal guides know ex­actly where the wa­ters are shal­low enough to drive through. SAFE CROSS­ING.

BIG SHOWOFFS (clockwise from above). The bull ele­phants res­i­dent to the area def­i­nitely aren’t cam­era shy and play­fully spray each other with wa­ter in the evenings. You’re camp­ing with­out elec­tric­ity, and in some places with no toi­lets, so bring a spade and toi­let pa­per for when na­ture calls. It’s good prac­tice to hang up your refuse in a heavy­duty garbage bag to keep it out of reach of hye­nas and wild dogs.

It’s quite dif­fi­cult to miss the wild dogs. With pups born in May or June ready to feed in the win­ter months, this is an ideal time to visit Kh­wai as the pack tends to hunt more dur­ing this time. They’ve also de­vel­oped a unique method of find­ing each other if they get bro­ken up dur­ing a hunt – they sim­ply make their way south to the river and fol­low the oth­ers’ tracks. WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?

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