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Tour Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia

In a four wheel drive with rooftop tent through the National Parks

Botswana - Game crossing the road in Etosha NP

Travelling in a four wheel drive with rooftop tent through National Parks in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia: Zambezi National Park, Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Chobe Park, Moremi Wildlife Reserve, Okavanga Delta, Khaudom Game Reserve, Etosha National Park and Mokodoli Nature Reserve.

Travelogue: Monique Kamerbeek
Photos: Stef van Leeuwen

Pilanesberg National Park - Lazy rhinos

In Johannesburg we pick up the 4x4 with rooftop tent, camping gear, refrigerator and water tank. We drive to Pilanesberg National Park, which is on our route to Botswana, and pass Sun City (the Las Vegas of South Africa) by.


Pilanesberg National Park - Bird

I always liked ostriches, but not anymore: they walk around on the camping site and whenever they're in a bad mood, they attack you. I had to lock myself into our car for half an hour.

Pilanesberg is famous for its many elephants: we didn't even see a single one. But that goes everywhere: animals won't let themselves be directed, you're lucky if you get to see them. We see a lot of other animals, though: kudus, foxes, zebras, a dikdik, rhinos, hippos and birds (most of which we don't know the names of).


Crossing the salt lakes by squad

We miss the border post at Tlokweng, so we enter Botswana via Schildpadkop near Lobatse. Botswana seems more relaxed and civilized than South Africa. We drive on a long, asphalted road - Gaborone-Francistown - toward the north east. Along this route are hardly any camping sites.

Botswana - Elephant

In Palapye we find a camping site: small, quiet and friendly. There are enough trees to make the place cozy and the shower is ingeneous. The walls are made of tree trunks, built around a tree from which the shower head hangs. The floor is a stone mosaic. On the other side of the tree wall is the bathroom. Also made of tree trunks, with two washbasins, hot and cold water and handy constructions made of wire to put your toothbrush in.

Next morning one of the press-fasteners of the rooftop tent is broken. The camping site's handyman - whose tent is next to us and who lives there during the tourist season - helps us to fix it.

On the road are many checkpoints for mouth and foot disease. In Nata we find a camping site with swimming pool and bus tourists. It is large and houses many people. We find a beautiful, quiet spot between some palm trees where the only sound is that of birds singing.

Botswana - On a squad through the salt lakes

Next day we make a tour of the salt lakes on a squad. There is only one salt lake with some water left in it and there we find exotic birds.

In the bar of the camping site we meet Hannelie and Bram from South Africa, who are on their honeymoon. They ask us to go with them to the Victoria Falls. We let them talk us into it and agree to meet them in two days in the Elephant Hotel in Zimbabwe.

Botswana - Nata Lodge camping site

Wij continue our trip to Kasane in far north of Botswana. We find a camping site on the river Chobe, near the park with the same name. We have to stay here because our refrigerator is broken. Today is a holiday and nobody wants to come on their day off.

Next morning Lawrence comes, he is a political refugee from Zimbabwe who established his own company in Botswana, and fixes the refrigerator meticulously. we give him a ride to Kasane, because he was dropped off at the camping site by a friend and give him a generous tip: he doesn't know how much to ask for the repairs.


Zambezi National Park, Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park

At the Zimbabwe border we pay a fortune for all kinds of stuff: later we find out you have to negotiate about the money. After this annoying experience we find a camping site in Linyathi. There is a lodge available for our friends and a spot for our car, for we sleep on the roof of our car.

Zimbabwe - Zambezi National Park

The Elephant Hotel is huge, with a golf course and real golf people. We take a rest on the banks of the Zambezi and are overwhelmed by this impressive, wide river.

Next morning we visit Zambezi National Park. We are alone, except for the animals, which still run and hide when they just suspect a car is approaching. That means that they don't get to see many people.

Zimbabwe - Zambezi National Park, elephants and wart hogs

The Zambezi National Park is only 9 km from Victoria Falls. We're happy with our 4x4, because also here the roads are a disaster. We pass by rivers and woods and find ever different combinations of animals: elephants, wart hogs, kudus, water deer, sable and bush deer.

In the afternoon we take a sunset cruise on the Zambezi. It is in some places 40-60 km wide and that is a very impressive sight. Sailing, we end up in Zambia's territorial waters.

Zimbabwe - Zambezi National Park, water deer

We see hippos in the water near the other side and a herd of approximately 80 elephants. Two of them cross the river. When it gets too deep for them to walk, they have to swim and all we see are two trunks.

Slowly they swim to the river bank and take a threatening posture toward the silly people with video cameras in the boat. Then they start nibbling at the fresh greens and leave us alone.

The sun sets slowly and even though every sunset in every tropical country is always beautiful, this one is extra special because of the foreground of trees and elephants.

Next day, on our way to the elephants, we see wild dogs, which is rare, sables, kudus, water deer and giraffes.

Zimbabwe - Zambezi National Park, giraffes

When we arrive, we see how the elephants are "sadled up." We each pick an elephant and get acquainted by talking to it and petting it. The elephants here are all orphans or neglected and the foundation that organizes these "elephant walks" uses the money they earn with them to care for the animals.

Then we take a tour of the park on our elephants. While they're walking they eat and snack as much as they can. An elephant calf follows the group. On the way we see giraffes with a calf. Our route goes through water and over hills. After two hours we're back where we started.

Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls

After this morning walk we help feeding the elephants, as a reward. Then we take off the saddles and they can roam the woods freely again.

The Victoria Falls are a spectacle I can watch for hours. Tons of water come thundering down and then splash back up again.

Someone tells me that in this time of the year (September) there isn't that much water. In the rain season there are huge amounts of water everywhere. But to me this "little" is already incredibly impressive. In the rainy season they rent out rain coats to protect you from the splashing water.

Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls

In the lobby of the Victoria Falls Hotel are three African sculptures that reach the (high) ceiling. Farther inside, there is a casino, huge and empty.

Then we try to buy food and gas: neither is available. People are waiting in line at empty gas stations and in front of the Spar super market where the shelves are empty. In a nearby arts and crafts center I buy a 2 meters high mask. It just fits in the car.

Next day we visit the Hwange National Park (14,500 square km), a little south of Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe - View of Hwange National Park

In Sinamatella Camp a ranger walks around carrying an M47. We're the only four guests. The terrace in front of the restaurant has a view of the park and with good binoculars you can actually spot animals. It feels as if you're looking out over the whole world. From our vantage point we see herds of buffalo, giraffes, zebras and gnus.

The park contains different types of landscape: the south is sandy, with vast woods, elswhere there are prairies and granite rocks. It's October, so it is spring here and the trees and shrubs are not yet in full foliage, which means we have an unobstructed view.

Zimbabwe - Hwange National Park, elephant

On our camping site an elephant is nashing on tree leaves. Most parks in Zimbabwe and Botswana are not fenced in and neither are the camping sites. But it is quite safe: as long as you don't hurt the animals, they won't hurt you.

Next day we leave early. We see a group of 14 elephants. Deeper in the park, on banks of a lake, we see an alligator stalking a drinking impala; but he is too stupid to strike fast; there are kudus, zebras and wart hogs.

Zimbabwe - Hwange National Park, elephant

To our left an elephant bull is approaching. Most animals back off and the bull drinks leisurely and then takes a bath. When he spots the crocodile, he walks into the lake and chases the crocodile out of the water. Now that he has the whole lake to himself, he leaves and the other animals return.

Later we see in the dry grass a lone, emaciated lion, probably an outcast. There is a group of elephants at only 5 meters from the car. Three times we spot sleeping elephants, something we'd never seen before. The first time we think it is dead, until we make some noise and it starts to move and finally gets up.

We drive back to the camp and have dinner on the terrace. This is their last food and beer. Tomorrow they will close because of lack of provisions. That means they're bankrupt.

Zimbabwe - Hwange National Park, elephant

Our last day with the newly weds. Halfway the Hwange National Park - at the crossing Robin's camp and Main camp - we say goodbye. They return to South Africa and we go back to Botswana.

We're a little sad when we continue our trip. Then we have to stop for a group of 18 elephants with calves. We also see a lot of male kudus with huge antlers. Robin's camp is deserted. Between Robin's camp and the border we spot a large herd of buffalo.


Chobe Park, Moremi Wildlife Reserve and Okavanga Delta

The border crossing Pandamatenga consists of a big steel fence in the road; to the left of the road sits a house with a vegetable garden. After calling for a long while, someone shows up and gives us forms to fill out. And then they open the fence and we can go.

Botswana - Moremi Wildlife Reserve, buffalo

We drive to Kasane from where we want to enter Chobe Park. The camping site on the Chobe river is closed because of the occurrence of anthrax among buffalo, elephants and impalas in the north of Chobe park. The northern section of the park is closed to the public as well.

It means we have to drive all the way through the park, from north to south, by way of an 80 km long sand road. The car gets stuck. We use elephant dung and twigs to get unstuck; of course we also let some air out of the tires. I stay on the look-out for animals that may want to have Stef for lunch.

Driving on sand is exhausting but also exciting: are we going to make it, what do you see around you while driving, do you stay on the road, how fast do you have to drive to keep moving... Despite the distractions we see an elephant calf cross the road.

Botswana - Moremi Wildlife Reserve, buffalo

Kavimba is a deserted village without a camping site, so we plod along on the sand road. And again we get stuck. Again we have to find twigs and elephant dung and finally succeed to get unstuck.

We see wild goats every now and then. Late in the afternoon we arrive at Camp Savuti. Even though we don't have a reservation, we are allowed in. It turns out to be a shabby-looking, outrageously expensive camping site, but there is nowhere else to go.

Botswana - Moremi Wildlife Reserve, hyrax

But the animals here are fun: squirrels, hyraxes and hornbills. Baboons terrorize the camping site. We make a multifunctional campfire out of wood and elephant dung to cook on and keep hyenas, baboons and other animals at bay.

Next day we drive to Moremi. An elephant bull blocks the road, so we shut off the engine and wait for him to leave. Driving along the Kwai river, we see lots of hippos lying in the water.

We arrive in Moremi in the afternoon. When Stef rinses a cup, only two meters away from the car, a baboon steals our chicken, which was wrapped in aluminum foil. There goes our dinner. And the eggs broke because of the bumpy sand road.

Botswana - Moremi Wildlife Reserve, hippo

We explore the park for a few hours more and discover 25 hippos in a lake. We stay for a while to admire these gorgeous animals. When we continue our tour, we find elephants, giraffes, a zebra foal and a herd of 50 buffalos.

Led by our sense of direction we drive back to the camp site, there are no signs anywhere. Dinner is very simple, thanks to the baboon, but the fresh apples make up for everything.

Next morning a baboon steals a big melon from our neighbors and takes it with him into a tree.

Botswana - Moremi Wildlife Reserve, elephant

Sitatunga camp is posh, you can have your laundry washed. Despite the fact that it is Sunday, the women get to work immediately and a few hours later everything is clean. Because it is Sunday, a lot of locals visit the camp to play volleyball and to swim in the pool, it is pleasantly crowded.

Next day we follow the road along the Okavanga Delta. On the side of the road an ostrich is walking her 17 chicks.

In Gumare is a gas station where we get gas. After three miles our car breaks down: the cooling system is leaking. We drive back to the gas station, where the couple that works there, make phone calls for us and does everything they can to get us moving again.

Ze reserve a spot for us at the Nguma Lodge Camping Site: the owner also owns the gas station. Because there is 14 km more of sand path to travel, they call Nguma Lodge to say that we are on our way. If we don't arrive within two hours, they will look for us.

But we make it to the camping site and they are already waiting for us. We get a nice spot and enough wood for a barbecue.

Botswana - Okavanga Delta, walking with elephants

Next morning we leave at eight with the mokoro (boat made of a hollowed out tree trunk) to spend the whole day enjoying silence, quiet and nature. Water, reed, shrubs, islands, flowers and animals.

We dock on an island and make a path through the bush. We see two elephants. Our guide tells us he hasn't seen an elephant in three months. More and more arrive and we are on foot.

Then the wind turns, the elephants smell us and make a run for it. Two stay behind to intimidate us. We quietly back off and so do they. Walking back to the mokoro, we keep looking over our shoulders.

Botswana - Okavanga Delta, elephant in the water

We sail back through the delta and are back at the camp site halfway the afternoon. To be on the safe side, Stef starts the car to make sure everything is okay, but it is not: a lamp lights up.

Next day we have to decide to either return to Gumare or to take a chance and drive to Namibia. The owner of the camp site calls and tells us to go back to Maun.

We decide to go to Namibia, but we'll drive to the gas station in Gumare first, because these people expect us and will be worried if we don't show up.

When we arrive they already have made a phone call and tell us that we can solve the problem with the car ourselves with instructions over the phone. The guy of the gas station puts on old clothes and gets under the hood. He can't do anything because the engine is hot, but Stef knows what to do when the engine is cold again.


Khaudom Game Reserve and Etosha National Park

Namibia - Etosha National Park

The border crossing (Mohembo) with Namibia gives us no problems. The road is very Namibian: a hard, dusty sand road. We buy groceries in Divundu and drive back a little to Popa Falls camping site.

A kid opens the gate for us; we give him an apple, but he wants pens, which we give him. He rewards us with a beautiful smile. Our spot is on the water and we make a campfire to ward off hyenas.

After a restless night - hyenas howling - in the morning we drive to the Khaudom Game Reserve on the border between Namibia and Botswana. We know this is going to be taxing, not many people take this route, because it is difficult.

After plodding on for a few kilometers we get stuck. Twigs under the tires, car mats which immediately sink in the sand, nothing moves. We try to back up, but after a few meters we're stuck again.

Namibia - Oryx in Etosha National Park

After an hour Stef drives the car into the bush. Next to the sandpath is a grass strip with trees and shrubs. Okay, we're moving again, but what next? We use the axe to clear enough surface to turn the car. We are convinced that there is no way we can go on.

While we're demolishing the shrubs, we see that there is another sandpath on the other side of the grass strip. We clear more bushes to be able to "cross" to the other path. Then we put more twigs and branches on the other sandpath to be able to keep moving. It works. With difficulty we drive back the few kilometers. Disappointed but also relieved.

Via Rundu and Grootfontein we drive to the Bushmen in Tsumkwe, a 500 km detour, because the Bushmen live south of the Khaudom Reserve.

Namibia - Roy's Camp

Just before the exit to Tsumkwe we find Roy's Camp, where we stay for the night. From the restaurant, where we have delicious kudu steak, we have a view of the watering place and soon elks and zebras arrive to drink. The elks walk around the restaurant, completely imperturbable.

Next day we have to drive 50 km to Grootfontein to get gas, because we're not sure that there is a gas station in Tsumkwe. On our way we encounter a wagon drawn by a donkey. There are children in the wagon. We stop and give them T-shirts.

Namibia - Giraffe and kudus in Etosha National Park

In Tsumkwe we want to go to the Holboom camping site. We drive for 10 km in the bush, but we don't find it. In Tsumkwe is no gas, we were right. We head back to Grootfontein, we drove 600 km for nothing.

Because we can't go to Khaudom, we have two days to visit Etosha Park. We arrive in Tsumeb in the evening.

Next morning we arrive in Etosha early and it looks the same as two years ago. Now I remember why I didn't want to return: it is too cultivated in comparison with what we have seen in the last few weeks. We see animals, but they don't care if you get close to them with your car.

Namibia - Hyena in Etosha National Park

At night hyenas are howling and monkeys throw over trash cans. We start our way back via the Kalahari desert. Via Okahandja and Windhoek we drive toward Gobabis and the border with Botswana.

Thirty km before the border we see a sign "Kalaharibushbreaks" and decide to take a look. It is a camping site with lodges, a restaurant and a game park with 23 different kinds of animals. Kudus are grazing between the lodges and the swimming pool - but if you make a sound, they immediately leave.

Namibia - Zebras in Etosha National Park

After dinner the owner calls us, there is a porcupine in the yard that is eating the dog's food. He does everything to make the porcupine move in a position where we can see it from close up. He pulls out a few stings for us as souvenirs.

We give the last clothes we brought to the owner's wife. She is in contact with a woman who helps street children. So those clothes will find their way.


Mokodoli Nature Reserve

Botswana - Donkey in Mokodoli campsite

The Kalahari Transfrontier is a long straight road which goes on for 800 km through bushland with farms and cattle. In Gabarone (the capital of Botswana) we hear that there are no camping sites nearby.

Just outside the city we find Nature Reserve Mokodoli and it has a camping site. It's great, we're completely surrounded by nature and we have our own "donkey" (boiler fueled by wood). The shower hangs from a tree. Immediately we spot impalas, kudus and wart hogs.

This is how a "donkey" works: a little tower of stacked stones with a hole in the middle. One hangs a kettle with cold water over the hole and make a fire of twigs and wood at the bottom.

The restaurantet borders the nature reserve and during dinner we see animals searching for food. In the dark we have to find the way back to our car and we should also pay attention to zebras and gnus. We light the donkey in order to have hot water for the shower tomorrow. We also make a campfire to ward off funny animals.

In the morning we enjoy the silence. We drive through the reserve and spot elephants, ostriches, impalas and wart hogs.

Botswana - Gnus

In the afternoon we arrive in Gabarone to visit a couple we met in Palapye early in this trip. We stay with them for two days and relax by their pool. We tell them about the Mokodoli Nature Reserve. They have never heard of it, even though it is so close by.

That night we take them out to dinner to thank them for their warm welcome. Next day is really the last one of our vacation. They show us an easy route to the airport in Johannesburg, but we still get lost in Johannesburg, which isn't fun at all. We ask directions and an extremely friendly man guides us through the city to the airport.

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