After last year's trip to East Africa, I knew I'd be back before too long ... as it was, I couldn't wait longer than a few months and June found me flying south to Johannesburg and on to Maun in Botswana to set out on a two-week camping safari through the national parks of Botswana, with a short trip into Zambia to relax for a couple of days on a houseboat on the Zambezi and take in the magnificent Victoria Falls. Once again, the trip was booked through Explore, by now a tried and trusted travel partner.
The links on the left will take you to photos of the trip which went something like this ...
Day 1: Left a wild, windy and flooded England behind and took a night flight to Johannesburg.
Day 2: Arrived on schedule and transferred to onward flight to Maun, meeting a number of fellow Explorers on the way. Were met at the airport by Brian - our tour leader - and headed off to a hotel for a last night with indoor plumbing!
Day 3: A fairly leisurely start, loading up for departure at 8am on a 5 hour drive east to the Nxai Pans National Park for our first two night camp. Arrived in time for late lunch, settled in and headed out at 4pm for our first game drive. With the dry season well underway, game is fairly sparse in numbers but wide in variety.
Day 4: Out at 7am for a morning game drive, we were very excited at our first giraffe sighting ... a head just visible above the tree line ... Brian tried to reassure us we would see more and closer, but those first spots are far too exciting! We were however soon blown away by four, yes four, cheetah walking across the grassland. A real highlight - I could have gone home happy at this point! A few hours back in camp before an afternoon game drive and another cold night.
Day 5: Left at 6am for a long day on the road heading east then north to the Zambian border at Kazangula. Leaving the truck on the Zambian side, we took a boat across the Zambezi and were collected by bus on the other side. A short drive and even shorter boat ride took us to our home for the next two nights - the Kingfisher houseboat - moored in a side channel of the Zambezi.
Day 6: A very civilised start with an excellent breakfast before setting off on the motor boats at 8.15am to a local fishing village, bird-watching on route. After a walk round the village accompanied by the children, it was back to the houseboat for lunch before another boat trip in the late afternoon. There was intended to be a spot of fishing but we got rather carried away by the bird (and crocodile / water monitor / otter) spotting and settled for a beer as the sun sank over the papyrus grass.
Day 7: New day, new location ... this time we head to Livingstone to visit the stunning Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), otherwise known as Victoria Falls. Hiring a poncho was $2 well spent! The largest waterfall in the world in terms of peak flow (Angel Falls is over 7 times higher), it's an amazing spectacle with double rainbows forming and fading as the view emerges briefly before being shrouded once more in mist. We got another perspective in the afternoon by flying overhead in a helicopter, before returning to our lodge for a sunset cruise down the river.
Day 8: Set off at 8am to head back through the border posts and over the river to Botswana, stopping at Kasane to stock up on supplies for the next seven days under canvas. Our next camp was on the Chobe riverfront (actually 4km or so back from the river) in the Chobe National Park and on our drive through to camp and the later evening game drive we were amazed by the sheer quantity of animals - huge herds of impala, kudu, giraffe, buffalo and elephants everywhere. We rounded off our evening drive with our first lion sighting - four females lying quietly at a waterhole before their night's hunt.
Day 9: Early start for more game viewing, finding a leopard kill (impala) up a tree, but no sign of the leopard. We returned several times during the day and the impala was still there. After brunch back at camp, we headed into Kasane for a boat safari on the Chobe River, which was a delight - lots of birds, bushbuck, kudu and the highlight, elephants swimming across the river to the central island. Amazing sight!
Day 10: Packed up and headed off at 6.30am for a game drive out of the park (with trailer hitched behind) on our way to our next camp at Savuti, still within the Chobe NP. We checked the impala on the way and were pleased to see it gone ... at least the leopard had eaten. Stopping on route for coffee and lunch, we arrived around 2.30pm and had time for a shower and hairwash (bliss) before the afternoon game drive. Saw a large bachelor herd of elephant at the waterhole on the way to camp and again in the evening - beautifully silhouetted against the setting sun.
Day 11: Off again this morning, even earlier, to drive west to the Okavanga Delta. Spotted our one and only hyena on the way, played hide and seek round the bushes with it for a while but no chance of a photo! We were within the National Parks all the way - effectively an all-day game drive - and saw our first leopard, albeit it very briefly, in a tree alongside the track. As we moved from Chobe into the the Moremi National Park the habitat changed - more water, more vegetation ... stopped for coffee by a hippo pool and enjoyed the local birdlife. Our evening game drive was spectacular - no lion, but an African wild cat (much like a domestic tabby) and then a Serval, very rare ... the first our guide had seen for 8 years ... beautiful.
Day 12: A quiet start to this morning's game drive, until we paused to watch a banded mongoose popping its head out of its den in an old termite mound and heard tell from a passing guide of lion in the bush. Peering through the scrub, I saw the outline of a fairly small female slinking through the trees. Seeing no others in the area, we back-tracked in the direction from which she came and turned onto a track through the bush. First I spotted the kill and as we backed up for a better look, spotted a lioness almost hidden behind a fallen tree. Some further manoeuvring put us about 20m away from a group of at least five lion, replete after feeding on zebra. Back to the camp to lunch, shower and commune with a passing elephant before returning to the site of the kill to sit quietly and watch the lions for a while.
Day 13: We broke camp this morning to head further into the Delta. The journey deserves a photo section all of its own as we first followed the two male lions from last night as they patrolled their territory, scent marking and roaring as they went, then watched a female leopard apparently unbothered by our presence as she stalked doves and posed in the morning sun. Onward to Xakanaxa, our final camp in a delightful spot and later out for a quiet but beautiful evening game drive. Think this was the coldest night yet and we learned later it had snowed in Jo'burg!
Day 14: Easy start for a 7am game drive in the freezing cold, frost still on the ground, then back to camp for coffee before our final boat trip, through the channels of the Okavanga Delta. There was less wildlife than I expected, but it was beautiful nonetheless, and we stopped for lunch on an island before heading back. With room for four "up top", I had a good view over the reedbeds on the return journey and, at a stop for waterlily photos, spotted a pair of shy and rarely-seen Sitatunga. On the way back to camp, we diverted to see more lion at a hippo kill, then headed out again for a final evening drive.
Day 15: Up at 5am for the last time and set off at 6am wrapped to the eyeballs against the cold. Arriving back at Maun, we stopped off to book a table for dinner and arrived at the hotel from whence we started at about 11am. After an essential and completely blissful bath, five of us headed back to Maun to take a flight over the Delta. The landscape seen from above was stunning, with brilliant colours and roaming herds of buffalo and elephant. Our last supper at the Hunters Bar and Grill in Maun was a loud and happy occasion, finished off round the fire (it wouldn't have been the same without a nightcap by the fire) under a full moon.
Day 16: A lie-in and leisurely breakfast, bidding farewell first to Ted, Vicky and Ping as they headed off for an early flight, then to Elaine and Paul who were flying up to the Linyanti River at the start of an extra week in Botswana. Eventually back to Maun airport, on to Jo'Burg and finally, after a couple of hours delay, on to Heathrow arriving the next morning in the middle of a security alert! I think that's what they call "back to earth with a bump"!