On week 1 of 7 we picked up cars in Windhoek, stocked them with food and camping equipment then headed towards Botswana to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
......After a marathon day in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, of collecting rental 4x4s, navigating the shops for provisions and then packing, and in some cases, repacking the 4x4 so it all fits, we were ready to go.
With Dave van Graan from Self Drive Safaris in the lead in his khaki Toyota “Troopy” our convoy of 7 headed off to our first stop, Ghanzi Botswana. This was a “get there” day – good tar road, quite flat but still a lot to see on the side of the road. A large male baboon, sunning himself on the fence on a lovely morning, a warthog playing “chicken” with Russ and Sue’s Toyota Hi-Lux, donkeys and donkey carts, cattle, goats and pedestrians. The road was lined with green grasses and acacia trees and shurbs – they’ve had late rains and you can see why they sometimes call it the “Green Kalahari Desert”.
The border crossing into Botswana was a little slow (as usual) but the queues were short and in no time we were heading towards the first game park of our adventure, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Our Botswana guide, Chris Dandridge, met us at the campsite in his safari vehicle and gave us the do’s and don’ts of camping where wild animals roam freely through the campsites. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is well known for its large population of cats especially lion and leopard.
The Kalahari is the world’s largest uninterrupted stretch of sand…we were about to get our fair share. A couple of hours and we were into the deep sand tracks. Dave’s Troopy in front left marks as the diff dragged along over the rough terrain. As the temperature slowly rose to around 39 degrees the sand was even softer but with the 285 tyres running at 20 psi we floated through the soft stuff. It was certainly comfortable in the air-conditioning during the day but no need for a/c during the nights with the dessert temperatures (4 degrees the lowest) making the fire a popular place to be reminiscing about the adventures of the day as the stars of the Milky Way turned on an impressive display.
Although the game was sparse to start with in the south we had seen a 4-5 lions with cubs by the time we reached Piper Pan. The campsite there was right on the pan so we could watch the springbuck, wildebeest and birds from camp. By the end of our second day in the CKGR the lion count was higher than the number of vehicles we had seen. Lions 11, vehicles 6. We could add to our “cat count” 3 more after seeing a cheetah with two cubs about 500m from our camp.
Chris told us this was the greenest he has seen this reserve in years. The late rains gave this area 200mls in 6 days and doubled the average annual rainfall. We could see this not only in the amount of green and food around but in the tracks which had obvious signs of some very boggy experiences by recent 4x4s travelling through the area. For an area in which many animals cannot survive we saw very healthy and large herds of Sprinbok and Oryx. One herd of Oryx was 60 strong, the largest herd Chris has seen in Botswana. The young and enthusiastic of a herd of Springbok over 300 strong put on a show “pronking” (jumping vertically up to 2m into the air) as they passed our vehicles. We also saw many bat eared foxes, jackals, ground squirrels, wildebeest, giraffe, slender mongoose, honey badger and dozens of species of birds the most common being the black bellied korhan.
On our last morning in the CKGR Mike reported some lion prints in the sand near our camp – Chris checked this out and there had been 4 lions that passed by our camp that night within 5 metres of Mike and my tent. Just goes to show the warnings given regularly by our guide and escorts that you organise some kind of “wee bottle” in your tent at night and if you do go out, always shine a torch thoroughly around to light up any predators’ eyes in the dark before unzipping your tent. It can be easy to be blasé about such things but paw prints that large, that close to your tent does give you a wake-up call!
We knew we were definitely out of the CKGR when the four legged animals were replaced by large herds of cattle and donkeys everywhere. We hit the tar and refuelled in the small town of Rakops (with donkeys watching of course, no town in Botswana is complete without roaming donkeys grazing through the streets).