Botswana series (3)

Chobe

Adjoining Moremi to the north-east is the amazing Chobe National Park. At just under 12,000 square kilometres, it is Botswana’s third largest national park (after Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park). Chobe is made up of 4 distinct ecosystems: the northernmost riverfront (Serondela area), the Savuti marsh, the Linyanti marsh, and the little visited hinterland (Nogatsaa grass woodland). Founded in 1967, Chobe is also Botswana’s oldest National Park.

It’s best to get an early start if you are entering Chobe from Moremi in the south, especially if you are planning to make it all the way to the popular Serondela area (Kasane) in one go. Depending on where you depart from in Moremi, it may only be 250km to Kasane, but the roads are treacherous in many places, with deep sand making the going very slow. Therefore, if you are able to secure a reservation at Savuti it is a great spot to break that long stretch. 

Furthermore, Savuti is a prime wildlife destination in its own right, with awesome scenery and wildlife in abundance, easily justifying a 2-night stay. You may even be lucky enough to witness the Savuti channel in flow; its irregular flow pattern is one of Africa’s strange mysteries. The channel did not flow from 1982 until 2008, and has again been dry since 2016. Whilst the ecosystem is completely transformed when the channel flows, it doesn’t mean there is no action when it is dry. In fact, the area is well known for large prides of lions, who stalk the game that comes to the artificial water holes. 

Savuti is about 110km north of Khwai Camp (Moremi) on reasonably good sand and gravel roads. Despite seeing elephants and a solitary roan antelope, this stretch can best be described as monotonous… From Savuti, the next 80km are tough deep sand driving, where you need to keep your wits about you and always maintain your momentum. 

About 30km after leaving Savuti you come to a park entrance gate, where the manager on duty advised us to take a 7km detour to the west, in the direction towards Linyanti, because the direct route was deep single track sand, making it challenging to deal with oncoming traffic. 

After 7km we turned north, to tackle the last 37km of deep sand to the small village of Kachikau, where the reunion with a tar road is most welcoming!

There is also a shop where you can inflate your tyres. Another 40km further you join the A33, which takes you to Kasane some 55km later, all on excellent tar. Beware on this last stretch, because you are travelling through a prime wildlife area, and you really don’t want to encounter an elephant at high speed!

Another option for breaking the long stretch between Moremi and Kasane is to take a detour to

Linyanti, about 70km further on from Savuti.

Kasane

Kasane is a smaller version of Maun, and like its bigger brother, it is expanding at a rapid rate. The towns of Kasane and Kazungula are now practically one, and the latter actually extends into Zambia.

In Kasane you will mingle with warthogs outside the supermarkets, and you will likely have elephants or buffalo’s crossing the main road, so travel slowly. When we were there in 2011, we encountered a pack of wild dogs just outside town.


There are tons of accommodation options in this area; first prize is to camp within Chobe at the Ihaha campsite, but don’t hold your breath as it is notoriously difficult to get in. For us, second prize is Chobe Safari Lodge , because it borders onto the park, meaning you get a chance to hear wildlife sounds at night. Chobe Safari Lodge also has one of the most amazing river-side decks, ideal for sunset G&T’s. The sites are fairly small, and one cannot make a reservation in advance, so it’s always potluck, but worth a try none-the-less. 

Big 5 Chobe Lodge

Another decent option is the Big 5 Chobe Lodge, http://www.bigfivelodge.com/, which is adjacent to a wildlife corridor, so we had a constant supply of elephants, day and night. Whilst the Lodge is set along the Chobe river, the campsites are a good 200m back from the water, and there is a high probability that you will hear music, dogs, donkeys etc. until late at night, but that is likely to be the case in most Kasane-based accommodation. 

Senyati Underground Hide

Other than camping at Ihaha, the other option is to head south on the A33 for 7km from Kazungula, to Senyati Safari Camp, which is set in a secluded private camp. Granted, it’s not near the Chobe river, but the owners installed a large waterhole in front of the well-appointed viewing deck, which attracts all manner of wildlife. There is also an underground tunnel that literally gets you within meters of the waterhole, where you have a ground-level perspective of the world. Make sure your camera has a wide-angle lens fitted, for when the elephants come to drink in the late afternoons; it’s unlikely you will ever get that opportunity anywhere else!

There are three things one must absolutely do when staying in Kasane, and the most important is to spend a day exploring the Serondela wildlife section, which covers an area of about 60km to the west of Kasane. There is no need to venture off the track that hugs the south of the Chobe river, because most of the action happens close to the water. You are assured to see massive herds of elephants, hippos and buffalos. This is also the most southern reach of the puku, a medium-sized antelope that thrives in wet grassland and superficially resembles the more common lechwe. 

The western section of the Serondela wildlife area is less densely populated with wildlife, but there is a really good chance of encountering roan and sable antelope. Another bonus is that the tour operators don’t venture that far afield, so if you do spot something interesting you normally have it to yourself. 

We have been to Chobe 3 times now; the first was on our honeymoon in 1991, when it was the most amazing experience – lush vegetation, with vast herds of everything. We returned 20 years later to relive our honeymoon with our kids, and the change was noticeable – the vegetation was much sparser and there was less game. In 2019, the deterioration was even more noticeable, so what changed? 

There are estimated to be 120,000 elephants in Chobe, which translates to 10 elephants per square kilometre. The Kruger National Park in South Africa is just under 20,000 square kilometres and has about 15,000 elephants, which means there are only 0.75 elephants per square kilometres (many experts believe the Kruger population should only be half the current number).

This is a very sensitive topic, because let’s face it – everybody loves elephants, but the fact that they are heavy going on the environment cannot be ignored. That being said, the Serondela area remains premier wildlife destination, worthy of a visit.

The second thing you must experience is a sunset river cruise; just about all the lodges offer these two-hour excursions, and they all cover the same area. In fact, when we did it on our most recent trip, there was a bit of congestion on the waterways. Still, it offers a great way to explore wildlife from a different proximity, and often allows visitors to get closer to wildlife than in a vehicle. Lucky visitors can experience elephants swimming across the Chobe river on their way to the lusher vegetation on offer in Namibia, which is an experience to behold.

Victoria Falls

Finally, an excursion into neighbouring Zimbabwe to view the spectacular Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, should be on everybody’s agenda. It is a mere 80km from Kasane on good tar road, and the border crossing is fairly efficient, especially if you carry a South African passport (no visa needed). Alternatively, you can contemplate a tour that takes all the hassle out of the trip, allowing you to relax and enjoy without worrying about being harassed by overenthusiastic officials. 

The mighty Zambezi, Africa’s third largest river, spills into a chasm some 108 meters below, over a distance of 1.6km, creating Africa’s widest waterfall. When the flow is at its strongest during April, you are well advised to hire a raincoat because you are likely to get drenched from the misty spray that is generated by the sheer volume of water. 

Roughly two thirds of the falls occur in Zimbabwe and the remaining third in Zambia. Some believe the view from Zambia is superior, but we can’t vouch for that, because when we were there on our last visit, the water was so low it didn’t even flow on the Zambian side. Still, if you have time, it is worth viewing the falls from both sides. 

You should certainly take the short stroll down to the metal bridge, which offers a great view of the gorge below the falls and there are various adventure activities on offer, including bungee jumping, bridge swinging, ziplining, and abseiling. 

For an insane experience, contemplate a guided trip to Devil’s Pool, on the very edge of the falls, only accessible from the Zambian side. 

Time permitting, the white-water rafting is an adventure that you will remember for many years to come; rated as grade 5 river rafting it is second only to the Grand Canyon in terms of intensity.

With all this on offer around Kasane, one should plan to spend at least 4 nights in the north-eastern corner of Botswana.

WANT HELP WITH YOUR TRIP? – Botswana, Zimbabwe, South African National Parks and interesting itineraries around South Africa tailored to your specific interests and preferences….

Email us Thomas and Ingelise: info@campout.co.za

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