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Southern Africa and beyond, Jan 2019 to Jan 2020

Eagle Owl

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(Not sure where the best place is for this as we covered a lot of countries - feel free to move)


My wife and I spent the whole of 2019 travelling, the majority of which was spent in Southern Africa driving through the numerous national parks in the region. Our itinerary was as follows - most self drive. I have split it into separate trips corresponding to groupings or themes such as the places we visited in a specific vehicle.


Trip 1: January to February 2019, Namibia and Botswana: Flew to Johannesburg and then on to Windhoek in mid January 2019. Picked up a Hilux with rooftop tent and drove down to the Kgalagadi via the Mata Mata gate. Into the Botswanan side of the park and out the Mabuasehube gate and up to Maun. A side trip into the Okavango before driving to Nxai Pan and then Chobe via Moremi and Savuti. Drove back to Windhoek.


Trip 2: February to March 2019, Zimbabe. Flew to Harare and on to a lodge for a month. This was not really wildlife related, other than a side trip to Matobo National Park and so I won't talk much about this.


Trip 3: March to May 2019, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana.  Flew from Harare to Johannesburg and picked up another Hilux with rooftop tent and drove to Mapungubwe National Park and into Botswana and the Tuli Block. From there up into Zimbabwe through the Hwange border and up to Victoria Falls. Then we drove across to Chizarira National Park, drove to Lake Kariba before spending a few days in Mana Pools. Drove down to Harare and across to Botswana and into the Central Kalahari before returning to Johannesburg. Changed vehicles and did a side trip to Lesotho. 


Trip 4: May to September 2019, Asia and Europe. For obvious reasons I won't focus on this part of the trip, but briefly... We flew to Nepal, trekked to Everest Base Camp and visited Chitwan National Park and saw lots of rhino. Then spent a little time in India and saw our first wild tiger before visiting Thailand and Indonesia. From there we flew to the central Stans , visiting Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This was followed by a month in the Balkans. 


Trip 5: September to October 2019, Tanzania. Flew to Tanzania and climbed Kilimanjaro before flying on to Zanzibar and then Johannesburg.


Trip 6: October to November 2019, South Africa and Mozambique. Picked up a car in Johannesburg and drove to Mozambique via the Kruger and back; spending three weeks in total in the Kruger (camping).


Trip 7: November to December 2019, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. Picked up another Hilux with rooftop tent and drove up through the Pafuri gate into Moz and straight into Zimbabwe and Gonarezhou. From there we drove to Chimanimani on the eastern border before driving across the breadth of Zim to Botswana. Into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve for a week and on to Etosha. Up to Opuwo and down through Kaokoland and Damaraland to see the free roaming desert elephants (Hoanib). Into the Namib-Naukluft National Park and onto the Kgalagadi via Mata Mata. Returned to Johannesburg.


Trip 8: December to January 2019/2020, South Africa and Eswatini.  Picked up a car in Johannesburg and drove to Cape Town, the garden route and on to what was Swaziland. Brief visit to Mbuluzi Game Reserve and Hlane before driving back to Jo'burg via the Kruger. Flew home. End of an epic wildlife-focussed year that went all too quickly.


Clearly there is a lot here and I can't hope to cover it all, but i will try and give a flavour of some of it trip by trip as I get time. Feel free to ask questions about any of it, even stuff I don't get time to cover. 



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Wow, what an epic trip, I´m looking forward to this!

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Trans-epic trip! Just start soon, as many of us have plenty of time to read while being confined to our homes.

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  • 5 months later...

Trip 1


We covered 5000km across some very remote and beautiful places driving a big loop from Windhoek to the Kgalagadi, up to Maun, the Okavango, Nxai Pan, Savuti and Chobi before driving across the Caprivi strip to Rundu and back down to Windhoek.  


Our first major stop on our year-long sabbatical was Windhoek, where we flew in and picked up a Hilux with rooftop tent for this initial three and a half week trip. The airline managed to lose my carefully packed luggage (for the whole year) in Johannesburg, but fortunately I was reunited with it in Windhoek 3 days later. I also came down with a fever. A somewhat inauspicious start to an amazing year.


After picking up my luggage from the airport we drove south to Mariental for the night. From there we had a long dusty drive along gravel roads to a beautiful camp right by the Mata Mata Namibian/South African border, the gateway to the Kgalagadi National Park.  We were the only visitors staying on a stunning 50,000 acre estate. Our first opportunity to try out the rooftop tent. 



While the Kalahari desert is able to sustain fewer animals than somewhere like the Kruger, this park  makes up for it with its beautiful scenery (red sand dunes etc), its remoteness, and the variety of life that you don’t see in the more well visited parks. I love it. This was our second visit to this great park, the last time being 5 years ago.


We bought our SAN parks wild card at Mata Mata, spent an hour watching a family of meerkats foraging through the camp that rested briefly under our car, before then driving slowly to our first camp, Kieliekrankie. It’s a great camp; a lovely little collection of 4 huts on the top of a dune overlooking what was sadly for us a very quiet waterhole. We spent time watching another family of meerkats on our evening drive – a real bonus of the Kgalagadi. After sunset we also got to watch the three resident African wildcats playing below our balcony as we braaied and drank cold wine.




We camped in Twee Rivieren for our second night. Highlights during the day included seeing 4 brown hyenas at Kij Kij waterhole, 3 adult ostriches with a creche of 34 babies by Rooiputs and another family of meerkats at Leeuwdrill before coming across yet another family of meerkats soon before the camp gate.


The usual early start for a 165km drive to Nossob for a couple of nights, with more brown hyenas enroute and then wildebeest with young before turning the corner to see what was one of the most upsetting sights I have ever seen in nature, a jackal with a plastic container stuck firmly over its head, which would not only have stopped it from feeding and drinking, but it looked so tight that it must have struggled breathing too. Clearly someone had discarded it at the nearby Rooiputs camp and this poor animal had gone through the camp searching for food and got its head stuck in it. I alerted the authorities as soon as I could, but it had quickly run away over a nearby dune when I was watching it and so it was likely never found. A death sentence not just for this jackal, but for other animals too as the plastic container is likely still out there.




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Great start to your report, brown hyena are a lovely sighting.

Such a shame about the jackal, that would have really upset me as well.

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Peter Connan

Poor Jackal.


Nice sighting of the Browny.

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The park (Kgalagadi) is known for its predators and we saw at least 18 different lions over the first three days in the SA part of the park, including the famous black maned Kalahari males. We even had a few lions walk within two meters of our car on three different occasions. One of the highlights early on being two large males sat on top of a sand dune looking down on us as we made breakfast one morning in an unfenced picnic spot. Another was seeing three lionesses and 6 cubs immediately on leaving Nossob gate on our morning drive. They all walked right past our car, although one of the cubs was lagging badly behind and by the time it reached the dune where the rest of its family had recently disappeared it could no longer see them and wandered off on its own. We saw it that evening on its own at the camp waterhole looking rather forlorn. Jackals soon noticed it was on its own and kept calling for reinforcements, and then half a dozen of them spent the next hour circling around trying to pluck up the courage to confront it. An uneasy truce ensued with the cub spending much of the time pressed against the camp fence on the walkway to the hide, trying to get out of sight. No idea what happened in the end as we had to get some sleep before an early morning. 



Highlights on our drives from Nossob included yet another brown hyena, this time very close. It sauntered right past our lone car whilst we were watching lanner falcons hunt doves at a waterhole in the 40oC+ early afternoon heat. It jumped right into the waterhole for a long bath whilst a group of Gemsbok kept a close eye on it.


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After Nossob, we drove to the Botswanan side of the park, a somewhat gruelling bumpy 200km drive along a single lane dune track, an area so remote that at times there would likely have been no other humans for many tens of kms in any direction. Parts of the drive can be a little daunting, in that you have to maintain speed when going up a dune to avoid getting stuck, but you have no idea if a vehicle is coming the other way as you crest the dune with your heart in your mouth. Fortunately, because it is a seldom visited part of Africa the chances of meeting an oncoming car at the top of a blind dune is very slight. The complete absence of waterholes along the way means there is little visible wildlife to interrupt the natural beauty of the place, although we did glimpse quite a lot of Eland running away from the sound of our car.




Just before we got to our camp for the night (Monamodi 2) we saw loads of vultures on the nearby pan around the small artificial waterhole. As we got close we could see just how many there were, it was difficult to count as they were milling around and some took to the skies, but I estimate there were nearly 200 of them, including quite a lot of Lappet Faced ones. The most vultures I have ever seen together in one place. What on earth could sustain so many? All I could see was just the very dried up remains of a kudu and so its possible they were largely there for the water.



The individual camping spots on the Botswana side are unfenced and usually spaced far apart (many kms), most without the luxury of water and so we had to be self-sufficient – with jerry cans of water and diesel.  This being high summer in the Kalahari it was unbearably hot, every day was above 40oC and on one day it hit 40oC by 10.30am in the shade before continuing its journey into the mid-40s. Camping can be tough in such heat, we spent the afternoons lying in the shade with no energy to do anything and the nights brought little by way of more comfortable temperatures. Jackals and the occasional other small mammal were similarly flopped out in the shade, sometimes using the shade of our car - one jackal even winked at us to thank us!




Whilst I have grown to really love the unfenced nature of the camp sites in much of Botswana, they can bring a certain frisson of fear to camping, at least after a few years away from the beauty of wild Africa in the somewhat sterile UK. For example, we arrived at our first camp site, Monomodi, and quickly set up camp before it got dark. Just after it got dark we walked the ten metres to the long drop toilet only to see a leopard a few metres away in our torchlight.  Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat and stayed by the Hilux for the rest of the evening. But that wasn’t it, the moths then came out, by the thousand. The air was so thick with them that if you swished your hand through the air you would have hit loads of them.  The leopard and the moths put paid to any hopes we had of photographing the most amazing stars we have probably ever seen; the benefit of no light pollution for hundreds of kms and no moon. The moths found holes in our tent that night we didn’t know existed, but the tiredness of driving so many hours through deep sand augmented by some cold craft beers (amazingly available in Windhoek liquor store), washed down with gin and tonic and wine soon overcame any lingering squeamishness.  




We then spent a night in Khiding 2 campsite, another lovely remote spot where we were visited by one of my favourite birds in the middle of the night. I was woken by the gentle call of an eagle owl, perched on the top of the a-frame right by our rooftop tent at pillow level.


From there we left the park through the Mabuasehube gate. This part of the park is so seldom visited, at least at this time of year, that the visitor entries in the records book at the gate came to barely a handful in total over recent days.

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Seems like an epic journey. We been to a lot of the same places. Hope you also write a bit about Nepal.. And I think we just missed each other in Mabuasehube . I think we left around the 15th of january. And you were also blessed with some good sightings.

 Really looking forward to the next part. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Your journey started in a great way,  with Kgalagadi and its many wonders. Great sightings and photography.

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Comin to this a bit late but thoroughly enjoying it. I could not have coped with those moths. :wacko: Give me leopard any day. How's that for logic?

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