After travelling 27 days around Botswana promoting local travel and tourism, intrepid traveller and Mmegi Staff Writer, THALEFANG CHARLES picks his best highlights of the epic Rediscover Botswana expedition
Many have asked me about the highlight of the expedition and I have battled to come up with just one. I could say it is driving on the Kgalagadi red sand dunes.
The detour that Yours Truly and his travelling party reluctantly took from Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park’s (KTP) Two Rivers gate to the village of Khawa after the COVID-19 roadblock at Nossop Gate, was a blessing in disguise.
It turned out to be one of the most scenic routes of our entire trip. It is about 100km of going up and down red sand dunes with some dotted mekoba (Camel Thorn) trees, with grass in some places, but mostly just sand.
Patched in between high dunes are oases of modest meraka with windmills towering high above cattle and sheep kraals with frequent metlopi (Shepherd’s trees) providing much needed shade from the desert sun. It is at these meraka that one could easily fall in love with the desert.
Although the locals’ directions could not compute the distance accurately, and hence made the drive anxious, we were so happy to discover the route and I highly recommend those seeking a beautiful fun and challenging drive to head down there.
I am also inclined to say Gcwihaba Caves are amongst my highlights. Deep in the belly of earth, in darkness, steaming hot with bats hanging on the walls, it finally dawned on me why former President Ian Khama was almost obsessed with these caves.
They are just amazing! My travel mate, Sonny Serite, summed it up saying, no words or pictures could describe the allure of Gcwihaba. Located in Ngami District near the Namibian border, and sandwiched between the sand dunes and bush, Gcwihaba is an incredible site that we are underselling.
The caves are huge and beautiful inside. It is like walking through an ancient marble temple.
One of the huge caves, called Drosky’s Hall – named after Martinus Drosky who extensively publicised them after the locals guided him there – can fit an entire truck inside.
Relieving the Boro and Thamalakane Rivers in full flood is also an incredible experience that easily makes it to the list of my highlights. Last year the rivers were bone dry, but in May this year, the long-awaited big flood arrived and breathed life into Maun and its environs.
I had the privilege of being taken on a mokoro sunset ride at AfroBotho in Boro with the legendary Water Setlabosha, a guide and poler who stars in the National Geographic’s Into The Okavango film.
AfroBotho is a place of ultimate peace, where it endeavours to heal with nature. It was there that the team got the much-needed breather, which included massages and recentring of minds midway through the expedition.
The journey into the Okavango Delta, through Moremi Game Reserve all the way
We had incredible wildlife sightings, large herds of elephants, 12 members of the Savuti’s Northern Marsh pride of lions, leopard feeding on big male Impala on a treetop, big buffaloes- duggaboys - fearlessly marching to a waterhole, giraffes, zebras, and lots of birds.
It was also fun driving on the Chobe sand. Sedudu Pride Club members gave us the best welcome reception at Ghoha Gate with a big ‘welcome’ inscribed on the ground with elephant dung.
Makgadikgadi Pans, the place where researchers believe the first family of the modern humans came from, can also be counted in my highlights list because of the time we arrived there.
From Nxai Pan to Ntwetwe Pan, it is best to stay there when there is no moon and during cloudless nights. At Baines Baobabs campsite, with no light pollution, all the stars come out.
The Milky Way was almost tangible, crisp and very bright. We got the same beautiful starry night at Lekhubu Island, famous for amazing sunrises and sunsets.
Tswapong keeps unlocking gems for any visitor and it was the same for us. Goo Moremi Gorge showed us its surprises as we saw the elusive Mountain wagtail bird, - a big highlight. Our guide, Mooketsi Zuma Mmereki, said it was the only wagtail (just one bird) living at their gorge. Mountain Wagtail is on the list of the rare birds found in Botswana. Zuma told us that they often get bird-watchers who come specifically looking for the bird and sometimes they leave without seeing it.
After conquering and sailing through the mean sands of the Kgalagadi, Ngamiland and Chobe we completed with what we expected to be an easy conquest of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). But it was not to be as easy as we thought.
The CKGR sandy roads appear flat and fun, but they are not.
The park has some of the toughest sandy roads in Africa that require strictly 4x4 vehicles with good ground clearance and expert drivers.
Even with all that, we still got stuck multiple times because we were unfortunate to be driving after a bigger truck that went through the road and messed up the passage for the smaller vehicles.
It was the best adventure, a highlight that taught us so much and we promised to return for a smooth conquest. But looking back, the best highlight was definitely leaving. Exiting the Greater Gaborone amidst COVID-19 scare and avoiding the stressing lockdowns to freely travel our beautiful country for 27 days.
*RediscoverBotswana Expedition was supported by Botswana Tourism Organisation, Engen Botswana and Mascom