My trip started early on the morning of the 7th of March as I made my way out of Cape Town in my Hilux, long before the serious traffic started on the N1, and before the sun made its appearance on the horizon. My destination early that Thursday morning, the Growcery, a camp on the Orange River that borders the Richtersveld. The reason was to meet up with experienced overlander, safari guide, and friend Hennie, from Umkulu travel, who had planned the trip and invited a few friends to join him. Our trip included Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Marbuasehube, Central Kalahari and finally the Okavango Delta.
I made my way through the roadworks at Citrusdal and Vanrhyns dorp towards the Northern Cape, and as the roadworks ceased, and traffic lessened, layers of city stress vanished and the open road lay ahead. It was a comfortable eight hour trip to the river. Hearing the calls of fish eagle as I set up camp alongside the river signaled the start of another wonderful adventure.
The next morning we loaded camera equipment, camping equipment, and 2 weeks supplies of food and necessities into the Land Cruiser and we left the Orange River to meet up with the rest of our group at a pre-arranged venue, from there we headed for the entrance gate at Twee Rivieren.
We sorted out our bookings, and our passports for our entry into Botswana at the Twee Rivieren entry gate. Our vehicles were pretty loaded because most of our stay was to be in isolated areas where we needed sufficient water, fuel, refrigeration and food to keep us going for a number of days. After sorting out the formalities we left for our camping spot at Mata Mata.
Kagalagadi was hot and dry. The carcasses of the animals that had died a while back were still evident in the park as we entered. On our drive to the camp we saw a fair number of gemsbok, wildebeest, springbok, giraffe, secretary birds, kori bustard, cape vultures (or is that white-backed vultures?), pale chanting goshawk and many other bird species. I must confess at this point, that I have never been a keen birder nor do I have an extensive knowledge of them, but, I was fortunate to have some knowledgeable and enthusiastic bird lovers with me on this trip, and so found myself learning a lot more about them as we went along. The cape vultures (or is that the white-backed vulture?), were mostly perched in nests at the top of acacia trees. It was quite interesting as every now and again they would stretch their huge wings for a moment, possibly to re-adjust their nesting positions. We stopped for a while at one of the trees, hoping to get a shot of one with outstretched wings, and had to chuckle when I looked at the photo’s later and it looked as if the tree had wings. Most of the animals were huddled in the shade of available trees to get refuge from the sun and the heat, or were gathered around watering holes.
The campsite was quite busy when we arrived. My first priority after setting up camp was to go for a refreshing swim in the pool. We had a great system for evening meals. Each of us took turns to cater and prepare dinner for the rest of the group. So, a couple of nights off dinner duty. We heard jackal that night but I was a bit disappointed we didn’t hear any lion.
The next morning we broke camp early and headed for our next destination, Matopi camp. As we drove out of the gate we saw a family of bat eared foxes. A little later we came upon a red-necked falcon on a dead tree branch near the road, feeding on a bird,and as more vehicles arrived on the scene it took off, firmly clutching its meal. And then, what could have been the shot of the day, a cheetah with three adolescent cubs, that is of course, if I had a 800mm lens, which I didn’t. Anyway, it was precious watching them for a while, particularly the cubs that where lower down the dune from the mother and were chasing and tackling one another like playful kittens. Mother cheetah moved off the dune and started moving a little in our direction, the cubs followed a behind her, and then moved out of our sight into the dense bush. Nossob, Boso trail and Matopi camp awaited us, so we needed to get a move on to make it before nightfall.
We stopped at Nossob on the way to refuel and buy some colddrinks and ice. The condition of the twee spoor sand roads didn’t even warrant us locking hubs and was quite easy to drive in 4×2. We saw cat and hyena spoor here and there on the track, and hoped that we might find lion, but we didn’t. We spent a night wild camping at Matopi and left the next day for Mabuasehube. We arrived at our campsite at Monamodi to find the pan dry. Mabua and Lesholouga pans each had a small pool of water. We anticipated night visitors so every evening we packed everything away in the vehicles. Some of us had had some experience with hyenas on past trips that had run off with potjie pots, and attempted to drag fridges and cooler boxes away.
We heard lion at night, or was that the snoring, we were never really sure, in fact that might explain the lack of night visitors to our camp. Again we saw lion and hyena spoor, but think they had conspired to stay far away from my camera and field of vision. We were fortunate enough to see a Bateleur female and 2 of her young at the Mabua waterhole. The female arrived first to drink and then one followed by the other youngster to join her. We watched for a while and it seemed as though she was teaching them to drink from the waterhole. She watched their every move and they appeared to copy her as she first drank and then they followed. After they left, a small family of warthog carefully made their way towards the waterhole but appeared to be a bit concerned about us parked nearby, so we left so that they could get to the water.
At the other waterhole, we saw a couple of white-backed vultures. Driving through the park we saw a small herd of springbok, a family of bat eared foxes, black backed jackal and a variety of bird species. A brown hyena visited our camp on our final night once we had all tucked in for the night.
Our stay at Mabuasehube ended, and we were once again packing up camp, and on our way first towards Kang and then on to Ghanzi. The road from Mabuasahube to Kang had some pretty thick soft sand and some attempts at roadworks. Nothing too tough though, the Cruiser still managed in 4×2. It was a sort of a challenge we had set ourselves.
Our next stopover was at Thakadu camp, and the promise of warm showers and flushing toilets. There is a waterhole at Thakadu camp and we watched some of the animals as they came to drink while we sipped on some much needed refreshments. I managed to get some great shots of wildebeest at the waterhole. We saw kudu and some gemsbok around the camp. It was time to stock up on some much needed supplies so we went into town the next day to do a bit of shopping. Found fillet at R52 per kilo, fantastic for my next dinner of beef stroganoff. The vegetables didn t look that great, but we figured they had been brought in from somewhere a while back. Spar and Choppies had almost everything you could ask for and more. After shopping, filling our depleted water tanks, and a couple of good nights sleep, we were ready for the next leg of our journey. We woke up early the next morning to travel to the Central Kalahari. We drove as far as the Kuke vet fence and turned left and drove along it until we got the gates to Central Kalahari. The staff were friendly and very helpful.
After sorting out our bookings we headed for our campsite at Tau Pan and set up camp. The Kalahari was also very dry, and in our travels to Phukwi pan, Deception and Leopard loop we found no water. The only place we found water was at Matopi pan. Another thing that evaded us were the cats we were hoping to see. We heard them at night, and saw fresh spoor in the morning, but never managed to see them in the areas close to the road. We also saw only one other vehicle in the park, and they were also in search of the elusive cats. We met some people at Thakadu that had spent about 8 days in the northern area of the park where we were, and had seen lion, leopard and cheetah. We did, however, see large herds of springbok, a large number of gemsbok, giraffe, steenbokkies, ground squirrel, mongoose, a large group of marabou stork, and a wide variety of birds. It seemed as though the springbok and gemsbok were much bigger and more robust than what we had seen in Kagalagadi. Not sure if it is because they have harsher, drier conditions, but that was quite interesting. So as a result of the lack of cat species, I found myself turning more and more to my new found interest, birds, and attempts at photographing them. I have always believed that bird photography is an absolute art in itself. I have great admiration and respect for photographers who have the patience and passion for birds, and have perfected the art of photographing them.
At Motopi water hole we came across a large gathering of marabou storks. I must confess I find them rather unattractive. But while watching them at the waterhole I was quite amazed at how they took on the appearance of ballet dancers as the approached the water to drink. They stretched out their wings and pointed one leg forward and delicately dropped their heads and beaks to drink the water. Another interesting thing was that every now and again almost the entire group would spread their wings and face in one direction for a couple of minutes, then drop their wings and continue their activity at the waterhole. A number of giraffe approached the water hole and I’m not sure whether it was our presence or the marabou that helped them to decide not to come any closer. A gemsbok and wildebeest also approached the waterhole and then changed their minds and headed off back into the bush. Then almost by some prior arrangement they all opened their wings and took off and left behind a huge cloud of dust. They looked so inelegant as they flapped their large wings and took to the skies. For a short while the waterhole was deserted and then a secretary bird arrived and appeared to get a bit stuck in the mud as it drank some water.
As was the case in Mabuasehube, the clouds would collect later in the day, with the promise that some rain might fall somewhere nearby. Late one afternoon about 10 drops, okay so maybe a few more, fell, but the ground absorbed it immediately. We saw a beautiful rainbow far in the distance and then were treated to an evening lightning display.
So ten days into our trip we headed back to the main gate, along the vet fence, and out towards Khuke, left at Sehitwa, and on to our overnight stay at Drotsky’s cabin and campsite. When we got out of our vehicles we were met by the sound of running water, fish eagle, hippo and later that evening a swarm of mosquito’s. A 150 mosquito bites later, a good shower, meal and some sleep, we packed up and headed for the Namibian border, Mahango Game Reserve and Ngepe camp. That is, after we had had an early wake up call from a troop of monkeys. They watched intently as we packed up, and scuttled down trees whenever possible, to steal what was left unattended.
Mahango is a wildlife photographers feast of animals and birds. We went to the park every day of our stay at Ngepe. We saw red lechwe, roan antelope, kudu, zebra, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, impala, a single hippo, warthog, baboon, duiker and many bird sightings.
On our second day in the park we saw a large herd of buffalo that we manage to follow for a while and get some good photographs. We saw three male elephant each day in the park. They are one of my favorite animals, even more so after reading Lawrence Anthony’s book “The Elephant Whisperer”. They appeared to be quite irritated by us when we found them closer to the road, and on the final day we saw some creative displays by two of the bulls. We kept the motor running while we got a couple of shots of them, just in case they charged the vehicle.
We had a hippo that grazed around our campsite at night at Ngepe. I sleep pretty lightly and heard it coming out of the water and through the grass. Of course no-one believed me until the final night. The resident Labrador cross made itself at home at our campsite that night. As everyone was making their way to their tents the dog started barking. When we went to see what the fuss was, we almost bumped into the hippo in the dark. Well, that changed the sleeping pattern of some of the more cautious members of the group for the night. The dog barked a number of times during the night, and I woke the next morning to find a tent practically standing at my tent entrance.
After a couple of great days at Mahango and Ngepe it was time to once again pack up our tents, and this time, head south. We spent our final night in Windhoek with an entertaining evening at the famous Joe’s Beerhouse. After a good nights sleep and breakfast with comfortable accommodation, we left for our final border crossing at Vioolsdrift.
It takes a while to settle back in to everyday life after spending time on safari. I often wonder, is some part of me left in the bush after every experience there, or do I bring something of the bush back with me when I return to the hustle and bustle of city life? Well, whatever the answer, something changes every time.