WHEN SHOULD I GO?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?