Mark & Miles Nolting in Botswana and Namibia
CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE – KALAHARI PLAINS
There are very few places Mark hasn’t visited, so he was very excited to visit the Central Kalahari for the first time! Even better was the fact that we visited during the Rainy Season.
At a typical concession area, this would mean less than ideal game-viewing, But because the Kalahari is so famously arid, rain is an emanating beacon for the animals clustered in the Linyanti and Okavango regions. In fact, this is arguably one of the best wildlife areas to visit in all of Africa during this time!
After a 40-minute charter flight from Maun, we were met by our guide Paul and then transferred from the airstrip to our first camp: Kalahari Plains.
This permanent tented camp faces unique challenges: because of its remoteness, they must be virtually self-sufficient when it comes to potable water and electricity generation. Since water is scarce, they rely on desalination of subterranean water; since sun is abundant, electricity is harnessed from a large array of solar panels.
Even with such obstacles to overcome, the service, rooms and particularly the food were nevertheless fantastic. An added bonus was the provisioning of “Kalahari Coolers,” which are water soaked towels to wrap around your head, neck or wherever else needs to be cooled!
Our first afternoon and evening was spent on a short afternoon game drive. We were able to see several different kinds of smaller mammals, like springboks, ground squirrels, black-backed jackals and bat-eared foxes.
The evening culminated with a relaxed sun-downer. It was then that we planned our following day: a full-day trip to Deception Valley.
After an early morning departure, we arrived in Deception Valley a little before noon. This allowed us to attain a greater understanding of the landscape: a series of petrified, gently sloping river valleys interspersed with short shrubs and the occasional copse of acacias.
One of the most abundant mammals we saw was the gemsbok. Like all mammals that reside in the Kalahari, these antelope are extremely well-adapted to their near-desert environment. For instance, they do not require drinking water for hydration, and if grass is unavailable, they will browse bushes and smaller trees.
We also saw a surprising amount of bird life, including the Spotted Eagle-Owl, Red Lark, Lilac-Breasted Roller and Kori Bustard.
Our game drive ended with a dramatic sun-downer: as we sipped our drinks, we watched a natural light show before our very eyes: a beautiful lightning storm accompanied by a symphony of thunder.
Over dinner that night, we discussed with other guests about their game-viewing experience. We were amazed to hear that they saw leopard and a small pack of wild dogs!
The following morning, we decided to go on a short “Bushmen walk.” This was a wonderful opportunity to experience a snapshot of the daily life of a multi-generational Bushmen family. I believe this is one of the best cultural experiences offered in Africa!
We began with a demonstration on how they track and hunt animals, followed by a demonstration of how they construct a “booby trap” for small antelopes (e.g. Duiker), and concluded with building a fire and extracting water from a root.
After the walk, we packed prior to taking a 20-minute charter flight to our second camp in the Central Kalahari: Tau Pan.
CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE: TAU PAN
After a quick 5-minute drive from the Tau Pan airstrip we arrived at Tau Pan Camp. This camp faces the same challenges wrought by the Kalahari that Kalahari Plains faces; and like Kalahari Plains, Tau Pan somehow triumphs over them and provides an excellent experience. An added bonus is a great view from the common area of an oft-visited waterhole!
After an afternoon snooze, we departed on a short afternoon game drive. It consisted of driving around the aforementioned waterhole. Unfortunately, most of the animals must have thought it was too hot and stayed in the shade out of view. But the following day would be far more photogenic!
We decided to take a full-day trip out to Passarge Valley. Shortly thereafter, our day began very auspiciously: we followed 5 male lions down to waterhole in view from the camp. They all drank simultaneously for several minutes, allowing for some spectacular photos!
On our return, we were very fortunate to spot a female cheetah chomping down on a baby steenbuck she had just hunted: if our tracker had not looked behind to a small acacia copse, we would have driven right past her!
Our day ended how it began: those same male lions at the waterhole for yet another big gulp!
After arriving at camp, we sat down for dinner. This was the first of two camps we visited that has the policy of communal dining. Coupled with food self-serving, we really had a feeling like we were eating at the dinner table for a big family meal.
The following morning we parted ways with the friendly staff of Tau Pan to head to our next concession area: Nxai Pan National Park. But prior to our charter flight, we had one fantastic sighting: a Bateleur, gracefully landing at the nearby waterhole.
NXAI PAN NATIONAL PARK
Nxai Pan National Park is very similar ecologically to the Central Kalahari, except in one respect: there are enough umbrella acacias and baobab trees to allow seasonal habitation by elephants.
And there were plenty of elephants at the waterhole adjacent to our next camp: Nxai Pan. Some even walked right by some of the rooms!
For our afternoon game drive, we decided to head to area’s main waterhole. There we saw a small bachelor herd of elephants drinking water and covering themselves with muddied water (sun protection). We also saw some other animals brave enough to approach the waterhole while the elephants were there!
In the morning, we joined our driver & tracker to walk around the camp’s waterhole. Our goal was to find spores of interest. Our efforts came to fruition when we spotted a lioness spore. An hour later, she crossed our path, and followed her to main waterhole in the area.
Because it was midday, the lioness decided to relax in the shade of a nearby forested area (don’t worry, we’ll come back to her later). But there was already a small herd of elephants. The elephants acted similarly as when we saw them yesterday. But that was only until a bull elephant in musth arrived on the scene!
You can tell if an elephant is in musth by secretions in their temporal glands and a large rise in hormones. Bull elephants in musth are also different behaviorally: they typically exhibit hyperaggression towards other bulls. The other elephants around the waterhole were very deferential: if the bull in musth walked toward where they were drinking from, they would move out of the way without hesitation.
The only kind of elephant that would not show deference is another elephant in musth; low and behold, one arrived on the scene shortly thereafter!
The new bull in musth not only had one tusk; he was also noticeably smaller than the other. Yet in true underdog fashion, the single-tusker won the tussle, and proceeded to chase the other away. If you have experienced an earthquake before, that is exactly what two bull elephants running full-speed mere meters from your vehicle feels like!
As the afternoon began to cool, the lioness decided to reemerge from the forest area nearby for a drink of water. Unsurprisingly, all the animals nearby were on high alert. Even the elephants were deferential to her!
All except one. The victorious single-tusker in musth was not in the mood to have her around. So when she returned near sunset, the bull directly confronted than chased her away. To see a lion frantically run away from something is quite surreal!
Here’s a video of the chase:
Our day concluded with yet another stunning sun-downer. This time we were able to take a picture of some very photogenic ostriches!
The following morning we said our goodbyes to our guide, tracker and the friendly staff of Nxai Pan before departing for our next destination: the Kasika Conservancy in Namibia.
NAMIBIA: KASIKA CONSERVANCY
It was quite an adventure just to get to our next destination. After two charter flights, we arrived in Kasane. We there then transferred to a border patrol office right on the banks of the Chobe River.
We then boarded a small motor boat to take us to the Namibian border patrol office on the opposite bank. Only one person was working in the single room office: a far cry from the busy immigration lines at international airports!
Once our passports were stamped, we resumed our boat cruise down the Chobe River. Because this was the early afternoon, we saw many animals coming down the river for either a drink to cool off. Some highlights included an African Fish Eagle and a large troop of baboons.
But the highlight was undoubtedly witnessing a small breeding herd of elephants cross the Chobe River. We took some video footage that you can see below!
We then checked into our final lodge: Chobe Savanna Lodge. This is one of the few lodges located on the Namibian side of the Chobe River. Furthermore, it also quite a ways downriver from most of the larger lodges on the Botswanan side. As a result, there was no one in sight during our evening boat cruise!
After the multiple game drives during the preceding week, it was very refreshing to cruise through and along the multiple isles and banks of the Chobe River. After a quick sundowner, we hurried back to the lodge for dinner. But not before spotting our only leopard of the entire trip, coming down for a drink of water!
The following morning, we had to say goodbye after only one night to the great staff at Chobe Savanna Lodge. Our trip had come to an end, and boy, it was a good one!