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Botswana blend: boat, lodges and camping.


Jochen
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Grrr. Damn guilty feeling.

 

Can't keep you all waiting until the fall before I start this trip report.

 

OK, you know what? I'll just start and see how far I get.

Note that studies come first. But hopefully I get to about the self-drive part.

 

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We arrived in Maun in the afternoon, and since our first "real" safari-part of the journey was a houseboat moored at Shakawe (on the Okavango river, not that far from the Namibian border) we opted to stay one night in a lodge in Maun. This lodge was Royal Tree Lodge, formerly known as Motsensela. We've been here before, 5 years ago, and chose this lodge again, for a few reasons;

- it is outside of town, so it's very quiet there

- the lodge has it's own fenced mini-reserve with oryx, eland, giraffe, zebra, and so on. You are free to walk around, and the last time that gave us some good photo opportunities.

 

The lodge has actually improved, not for the accommodation and meals (all this was very good in the past, and it still is), but because the management has changed. The previous time we had a woman that did nothing but nag, as if she hated to be there (while I would gladly donate an arm and a leg to work in such place) and hated life in general. She also scared us about people stealing things (this was around the time that Maun was plagued by a wave of thefts).

Now our host was a black chap in his 50s, a charming man, and a fantastic guy that knew his profession like I've seldom seen. Unfortunately I forgot his name.

 

Some pics of the room;

 

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One of the great joys of an African safari, and one of the reasons I choose certain lodges; an outdoor shower!

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We did a small walk in their reserve that afternoon, but managed to miss all the animals. Apparently they were all in the upper part, while we walked near the river. Pretty funny because we had trouble getting the car past them while coming in. And now we had our cameras we saw none! Ah well... it's not as if it mattered much. Plenty of safari days ahead of us. And at least we had our noses in the wind. and a WARM wind, not the kind of stuff we had at home (and still have at the moment, as it seems summer's going to skip us this year).

 

Even though we did not see any animals, we did have one great sighting though, but at the lodge itself; a genet.

This girl was sitting in the tree above us:

 

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She came back in the evening, trying to steal some leftovers from the tables.

 

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Tomorrow; the houseboat on the river!

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@@Jochen - what news from @@johan db ??? Let him know we said hello from safaritalk if you see him.

 

Tree Lodge reminded me of asking you this question....

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A genet in daylight - can't really complain eh? :-)

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@madaboutcheetah; Johan is in Belgium most of the time now, as his mother needs constant care. Been a while since I spoke to him though. He always phones me, and everytime I try to phone him I end up using the wrong phone numbers.

 

Pretty funny that you ask about him. I ran into Ewan Masson at Xakanaxa boat station, and he asked the very same question. Seems Ewan has been talking with some people from the camps in the delta and they all wonder where Johan is!

 

 They go with us wherever we go, and we got this routine as to where we put them etc. We live out of those bags, while on safari.

 

@johnkok; true that!

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Ah yes! Will have to drop Ewan a line .......... have lost touch with him and Sallie after that CKGR trip ;)

Edited by madaboutcheetah
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@@Jochen ...interesting update on the Tree Lodge management, is it still owned by a church do you know? When I stayed there in August 2011 it was managed by a couple and I think Ewan said the guy was a retired hunter, maybe called Dougie.

 

@@madaboutcheetah ... I spoke with Ewan and Sallie around Easter. They are both well and looking forward to a busy 2013 season. I have Ewan booked for 10 nights in September 2014, itinerary to be decided.

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@Treepol; I don't know about any church.

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@@Jochen looking forward to this and views on the Haina Kalahari area and activities.

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A bit of patience, @@africapurohit. First; the houseboat. Coming right up! ;-)

Edited by Jochen
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Part 2; Ngwesi houseboat, Shakawe, Okavango river

 

We rented a regular car from Budget to get to Shakawe. Their office is located at the back of the Bon Arrivé Bar (which I'm sure all who've been in Maun know). A regular car was all that's needed, as it's all tar. It's also cheaper than flying (which is possible too). But truth be told;

- flying would have saved us that night at Royal Tree Lodge

- there's stretches that are very potholed. So although it's "only" about 4 hours of driving, it is 4 hours of very concentrated driving.

So if you ever plan on renting a boat as well, it's up to you how you want to get there.

 

We arrived a bit late (misjudged the distance + took a break half way just to relax + missed the sign to the boat dock so the owner came to get us at the Shoppies store), but that wasn't really a problem. Now, we were going to get the boat called "Ngwesi", but as there was one couple still renting a room for one night (which meant having to come back to Shakawe the next day) the owner - Francois - gave us another boat of which I forgot the name. So I'll stick with "Ngwesi" if you don't mind.

 

To us it didn't matter really. Both boats were similar in size. Our rooms seemed a bit bigger than on the "real" Ngwesi, but our boat did not have a sun deck (all was under the roof). Nor did it have a braai.

Another difference that our friends (*) saw, and found to be better on our boat was the fact that our dining-, living room- and bar-areas were completely open (no windows). In comparison, Ngwesi had windows all around. But they all could be opened, so... I really wonder which one is best in this regard, as at least on the real Ngwesi you can close them all in the evening to keep the bugs out (more on that later).

 

(* Forgot to mention this yesterday but accompanying us on this trip were Erik and Marianne, two Belgian friend and safari-nuts as well)

 

OK, so from now on, I'll be speaking of "Ngwesi" but you keep in mind that's a similar boat. OK?

 

Here's a few pics;

 

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Our room;

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Dining area;

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And perhaps one last thing; getting the boat all to ourselves meant that we were free to go where we pleased. If you want the same "luxury", in other words if you want to be as lucky as us, then the only tips I can give you is; go at a moment that few South African tourists go there (I'm not entirely sure which periods are best, but you can ask Sun Safaris). Because these boats are really popular with the SA crowd, and I've been told there's only 4 to be had on the entire Okavango river (and I'm not even sure they're all operated commercially).

 

Or to be really sure; rent all the rooms (and bring plenty of friends). It isn't that expensive, at least not compared to most water-based camps in the delta that offer similar activities. And certainly not if you take into account that this boat is actually a mini-lodge which offers a different view from the deck about every 10 minutes. :D

Edited by Jochen
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So what did we see while on the boat?

 

Well, every morning and every afternoon, you hop into a small (metal) motorboat in search of wildlife near the edges of the river, and in the canals. So what you get is a lot of birds, and then of course crocs, water monitors and hippos. But apart from those we did see some other mammals as well; we saw an otter, and yes: a sitatunga. This was a first for us. We really enjoyed both these sightings, but unfortunately; no successful shots as both ran/swam away from us.

 

Anyway, I'll let the pics speak for themselves. Here you go:

 

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Edited by Jochen
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Every sunset and sunrise was spectacular. So I took a zillion of those shots as well.

 

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Something I need to mention; in the evening you do get a lot of insect life. They are drawn to the lights of the boat. This is unavoidable if you're near or on the water.

And even though the lights are kept to a minimum, it still depends a lot on where you are moored. Invariably, you are moored in the middle of nowhere with no civilization in sight. But we noticed that at one place we had lots of bugs on our ceiling (lots, as in; you could barely see the ceiling in some spots), while at another place there were far less. Note that these "bugs" are not mosquitoes, but mostly very little flies. They also stay where they are, so they do not end up in your food. Still, there are some mosquitoes, so my advice is; wear long sleeves, long trousers, and use a bit of insect repellant.

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On with the show! This game-viewing schedule repeated itself the next two days. The landscape was sometimes a bit different; sometimes more open plains, other types very high papyrus with little or bigger canals criss-crossing through it. And thus the animals varied a bit as well. Don't ask me where we've been exactly as I have absolutely no clue. What I do know is that on the last day we went up and passed Shakawe. So we did the top part of the river as well, all the way up to the border (the corner of Mahango NP in Namibia). And I also remember passing a "getaway" house of the President, somewhere hidden deep in the reeds.

 

More pics...

 

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While on the boat we tried to keep track of the number of different species we saw. At the end we estimated; about 50. But now that I got home and started fiddling in my bird book I notice that we forgot to count quite a few species. I think we should end up somewhere between 70 and 80 species, of which half were willing to pose for a decent photograph. Note that e are not birders, so I'm sure a birder would actually notice much more species.

 

Anyway, speaking of decent photographs; there are a few shots that I know I will treasure as they are of species that are firsts for me. Plus some of those are a bit more uncommon, or even very hard to see.

 

Little Bittern;

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Male African Stonechat:

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Black Shouldered Kite (in the last sun rays of the day):

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...and yes...

 

Pel's Fishing Owl!

 

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I must not forget to mention the crew. They were three staff members; a captain, a cook, and a guide. The guide took us on the motorboat trips, while the cook prepared meals and (I assume) the captain kept our rooms and the whole boat tidy. Here's the cook in action, while his colleagues are watching;

 

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Meals were delicious. I particularly enjoyed the boerewors. I almost exploded from eating too much of it.

 

Another pic from the boat, other angle;

 

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This was our "living room":

 

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Who needs a TV with a view like that??

 

 

 

Let me finish today with some more sunset stuff.

 

If you got any questions about the boat, just let me know. For us it was a fantastic time, and a perfect start for a safari. We got to unwind first, leave the crazy western world behind us, before the more "regular" safari activities. When it comes to relaxing, I don't think there's actually a better way than this houseboat.

 

Over the weekend, I hope to cover Haina Kalahari Lodge.

 

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Edited by Jochen
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Good reading so far. Especially like the tip of the (papyrus?) stems image and some of the water lilly shots.

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The shots get more and more persuasive and the last one did it for me, especially as I was still thinking of exploding from sausage eating. Looks so relaxing.

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The houseboat on the river goes into the list. That damn list just keeps getting bigger and my bank balance keeps getting smaller.

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Jochen, I just love all your photos! It's four years since I've been to the upper river. I've stayed at Nxamaseri many times and love the wonderful bird life and the days cruising up and down the river.

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Pels Fishing Owl :)

 

Just added Houseboat to my list too.

 

What is the daily rate for the boat?

 

We stayed at Ngepi Lodge about 5 years ago which is on the Namibian side close to the border and had similar sightings

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Great stuff Jochen. It's funny how we safari-goers neglect the Panhandle of Okavango, when that's a world onto itself worth visiting.

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What is the daily rate for the boat?

 

We paid US$ 240 pppn in low season (we were there still in low season).

US$ 50 more pppn in high season (which starts about now, up to end of october)

 

@Safaridude; the fact is that they offer a quite similar experience than a water-based camp in the delta. The difference? Perhaps that such camp can show a bit more mammals during the driest months. But Ngwesi can compensate that with stunning views over the river that change every 10 minutes. So...

 

Bottom line is that you compare water-camp prices to the prices above ...it's actually strange that the panhandle is neglected a bit (compared to the main delta). I think the only logical reason is that these boats were never marketed internationally. Kudos on Sun Safaris to have done this.

Edited by Jochen
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