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50 Days Southern Africa: Self-Drive Safaris in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe


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Posted (edited)

We would check the Salvadora, Chudop and Sueda waterholes twice a day, but do not see lions again. Our favorite waterhole is Goas and we spend a lot of time on the uppermost level and have some beautiful sightings of Elephants, Hartebeest, a Tawny Eagle stealing a Goshak's kill, Zebra, Oryx, and Giraffe.














A highlight: a breeding herd of Ellies is drinking, playing, and frolicking when all of a sudden all activity stops. A huge bull elephant is coming closer and it seems that the females are trying to get closer to him. Many half-grown and babies are stretching out their trunks to touch the male. He, in turn, is stretching out his trunk and touching some females' bellies. It seems each elephant wanted to show respect and be close to this bull. I’m guessing that this male is probably the husband and father of many in this breeding herd. It was amazing to see those interactions. 







Are you my father?


One day we drive further East and get lucky with a Cheetah sighting.






All in all, the Halali area showed us some nice sightings, a wonderful private campsite number 37, and a nice bathroom attendant lady agreed to wash and dry our laundry. Yay!

Pssst.... this is the best and most private campsite IMHO. Number 37

Edited by KaliCA
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That was Halali with the night time viewing of eles and hyenas all lined up so nicely? Plus the horn-to-horn rhinos!

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Posted (edited)

Correct! Halali… they knew where their place markers were and stuck to it!:o

They rehearse it and then give nightly performances. 
Have you been?

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Peter Connan

This is a beautiful trip report! The length of time seems just about perfect to me.

Thanks for taking us along.

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@Peter ConnanGlad to have you follow along, Peter, welcome!



Our time at Halali has come to an end and we drive East via Goas waterhole on a decent road! Finally. 

We also visit the big white nothingness that is the Etosha Pan and see 4 White Rhino walk in a single file out into the pan. We are wondering why. 




interesting, but far away...



We check into the lovely campground that has actual grass and are assigned a nice spot. This camping area is the nicest in all of Etosha, but the camp waterhole is not productive at all, so that is a disappointment. 



In the wider Namutoni area, we have some very nice sightings and driving the tracks is so much easier here. The road is not our main topic of conversation any more! And… we encounter a working GRADER! A special sighting, indeed. 


We see lots of elephants coming to drink and we watch their antics slinging mud and taking dust baths. 








I’m especially happy to see a small herd of Eland antelopes come to drink. 



On the way to Chudop WH, I discover some bat-eared Foxes and they always look so adorable with their humongous ears and scrunched faces. 



At Chudop, a big herd of Springbock is running around, just for fun it seems, and treats us to their boinking display. Fun!

We discover the “Edge of the Pan” drive, a pretty area with a nice vistas of the pan, but with only a few animals present. 



We are lucky to see the same two Cheetah every day, but each time they were very far away and our photos are not good. 


Find the Cheetah...and absolutely no off-road driving


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A typical Etosha scene at a waterhole



Striped Mongoose drinking in a row... a first of its kind for usDSC_470.jpg.4d02a8b39bebafc0f8d6f34023c7953e.jpg













Springbock by the hundreds





Hard to believe but Giraffe eat those flowers




Here in Etosha and also in Nxai Pan in Botswana, you can see Springbock and Impala in the same park. The water in all the waterholes smells yucky and the water level is the lowest we have ever seen.



Another cutie: Dik-Dik antelope

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One day, a leopard crosses the street in front of us and we can see it again behind bushes and then it runs through a clearing and disappears into the brush. Our first 10 second leopard this trip. 



Just a souvenir shot.


My lion heart is happy,  because we have two lion sightings of the same three lions: a handsome mating pair( Prince William and Princess Kate) and a single younger male we call the “spare”. (Prince Harry)

The first encounter is at Klein Namutoni WH, around sunrise and against the light.DSC_7071.jpg.8eb6bbf0dc8e40a308c5e82f687c8a67.jpg







The next sighting is at the same WH, but, thankfully, the light is much better. 









One day, we climb the stairs to the top of the historic white Fort; sadly, the nice souvenir stores, as well as the restaurant that used to be there are gone.





The hide and the Namutoni WH can be seen top right.





Enjoying our daily breakfast while sitting at a waterhole and watching animals: priceless!


We truly enjoy our time in and around Namutoni. Our sightings are nice and varied and the roads are less of an issue here. 

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Thank you for this report @KaliCA- Namibia looks amazing.  I've not been yet! 

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@madaboutcheetahYou're very welcome. You were really close to Namibia when you were at Lebala Camp! The few desert-adapted lions and the desert-adapted elephants are very special in Namibia. We also like the huge Dunes at Sossusvlei. The Caprivi area is a little more like Botswana. You have noticed that there are no Buffalo or Crocs, nor Wild Dogs in Etosha, but they can be seen in the Caprivi strip. 

I always enjoy reading about your safaris.

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We booked our last night in Etosha park back in Okaukuejo camp for ease of exiting. We discuss whether to drive around the park and back to Windhoek on tar, rather than suffer through the bad roads again. At the end we decide to brave the corrugated tracks one last time, because we are here to see wildlife after all and we would love to sit at the Okaukuejo waterhole one last time. 

On our way back, we have some sightings of the usual suspects. 










 Notice the big Etosha Pan in the back. Can be seen from space, I read.



One of the few natural springs at the edge of the pan



from the front




and from the back...




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A last highlight:

Just before camp, a big herd of elephants is on its way to the camp waterhole. After checking in, we hurry to the camp fence and watch the pachyderms file past us. We hear their friendly rumblings and inhale their distinct smell; like it used to smell in the circus. Then I quickly make my way to the waterhole. The whole herd is frolicking in the lake, splashing around and dunking under. The joy of the animals is palpable and clearly expressed in their body language. 

A grand finale performance par excellence!












Very bad picture... but what a sight in person!




In the evening, we pay a last visit to this beloved waterhole. 










As an auditory sensory good-bye, we hear a lion roar close by our campsite. Nothing better than falling asleep with this archaic sound in our vicinity. 

The next day we return the van to Bobo campers and are quite dismayed to hear the amount of money they are asking for the replacement of the windshield. They insist that it needed to be replaced because of the damage created five minutes after we exited the Depot. We disagree but to no avail. So we shell out US$500 and put the whole thing in perspective: in 13 safaris and this many car rentals, this is our first and only mishap. So not too bad after all. 

In the evening, we fly back to Johannesburg and spend another quiet night at the Garden Court Hotel. 

I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow when we will rent a Hilux 4x4 with rooftop tent. Then the more “serious” part of our tour will get underway. 

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Peter Connan

Etosha delivered, big time!

Looking forward to the rest of the trip.

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The Bushlore Depot is located in Midrand, in a rather sketchy part of town. Travis, who picks us up at the hotel, is also doing the hand-over of the Hilux 4x4. He is doing a fine job and we get a great, almost new car, automatic, with a 2.8 Liter engine. I’m immediately impressed with the roof top tent. It has a flat aluminum top when closed and works on pistons when the top is pushed up and the canvas sides pop out. I can set it up without any help, if needed. The interior is very roomy and the mattress is thicker than normal. 



We do some grocery shopping at the San Ridge Mall before leaving Pretoria town on the R511 to Marakele NP. It’s a new park for us and we chose it because it breaks up the long drive to Botswana, and we are hoping to see some wildlife; in addition, our Sanparks entry pass from last year is still valid. 

We spend the evening getting organized with our gear, clothing, and food and the most heard question in the next two days is as always, “Where the heck is….” Eventually, there is a perfect place for everything.




The two nights at Bontle campsite are unexpectedly cool and I’m sorry I left my base layer pajamas at the depot. We agree that this is the most comfortable roof top tent we have ever slept in.

We have one full day to explore Marakele park. We were told that the sightings would be modest, but that the landscape would be amazing. Well, the herbivore section of the park is indeed very bushy but we manage to see a few zebra, Impala, eland, kudu, giraffe, warthog, ostrich, and baboons. Then we drive through a tunnel and open the electric gate that keeps the predators and big game separated from the other game. 

And what do we find? Would you believe that we spotted four of the Big Five in the span of an hour in this section of the park?This is totally unexpected, but we are delighted to see Ellis, Buffalo, many White Rhino, and a LION! And…my lion heart is happy.











The landscape is indeed very dramatic and so different from what we expected. We drive on an extremely narrow, one-lane road with steep drop offs, to the top of a mountain called the Lenong Viewpoint.  There is supposed to be a big colony of Cape Vultures in these mountains, but sadly, we don’t spot any today. 

Down in the valley, we encounter quite a few White Rhino, all with horns intact! They graze peacefully on the newly sprouted grass in the burnt areas. What a delight to see so many of these magnificent creatures in this mountainous environment! 













So all in all, our short visit to this park surprised us in two ways: The landscape is amazing with tall, round mountains and wide valleys, and we spot four of the Big Five. In addition, we are lucky to see 11 healthy Rhinos, some with offspring. 

Tomorrow is going-to-Botswana day!

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What amazing and dramatic scenery in Marakele.


Great wildlife sightings too, especially the rhino. Really enjoying your travels and trip report.

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Peter Connan

You were indeed lucky in Marakele.


I was there for a day just before new year and saw two Rhino, one Buffalo, 4 Giraffe and a bunch of Baboons.


I have always enjoyed camping at Bontle though.

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A South African friend recommend to use the Stockpoort border crossing into Botswana, rather than the Martin’s Drift one. Boy, that was a great tip and I can fully recommend it as well. We leave Marakele NP, drive to this border and check out of South Africa within two minutes. Then we cross the Limpopo River and check into Botswana which takes another few minutes. No lines and no one checks for the forbidden fruit and vegetables we are not allowed to import. We do have to pay Pula 140 for the road tax. We make our way to the A1 in Malapaye  and head north on this decent tar road. In Palapye, we stop for a SIM card (very cheap) and a great chicken lunch at Nando’s our now favorite chicken place. 

We do some more grocery shopping in Francistown, a busy place with traffic lights, before checking into Woodland’s Stop-Over about 10 km north 

of town. It’s a charming place for overlanders. It has shade, grassy spots, a Braai station, a pool, and nice ablutions. we spend a quiet night at this little oasis. 


Camping at Woodland's Stop over



Crossing the Limpopo river that marks the boundary between SA and Bots



Typical street scene along the A1 in Botswana


The next day, we have a rather short drive to our next stop and we arrive at 1pm at Elephant Sands Lodge for camping. (No day visitors allowed) Their main attraction here is a waterhole frequented by wild elephants. The campsites are not labeled, so it’s advisable to arrive early for a good spot. We got one in the front row where we watch the comings and goings of the many thirsty elephants. The chalets form a circle around the waterhole and elephants pass freely between the houses and the cars. What a sight! 








Now that's close!



Camping at Elephant Sands


We spend a lot of time on the patio watching the Ellis drinking, jostling, and pushing each other around for the best position at the waterspout where the cleanest water emerges. We are well entertained and can recommend spending an afternoon and an evening here, watching elephants interact. It is an amazing experience to sip a Coke with ice (Yes!) while sitting extremely close to wild elephants without being protected inside a car. 




As a bonus, we meet five very friendly South African campers who invite us to dinner at their site. We enjoy a good meal and good conversation together, all the while the elephants are walking to and from the waterhole in spitting distance. Wow!

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What a fantastic ellie experience!

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The early bird gets the elephant views.

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Good-bye Ellies at Elephant Sands and thanks for the great show!



After a nice and relaxing elephant day, we are experiencing our first stressful day in Zimbabawe. We drive towards Pandamatenga town, where we will cross into Zimbabwe. Along the highway, we see Giraffe, Ellies, Kudu, and Impala, so extra caution is warranted in this wildlife corridor.

Our first Lowlight:

We fill up our tanks to the brim in Panda town and then make our way to the border post. Exiting Botswana is easy and very fast. Entering Zimbabwe, on the other hand is a big, long pain. We pay $30 each for a visa, $50 for the car and road tax, and then - a surprise - $60 for a TIP which stands for Temporary Import Permit, for the car. A fee I knew nothing about. So all together $170 just to enter the country. Two of the “officers” are asking us for a drink and food and I’m getting mad that, as officials, they beg from tourists. 







We drive on a decent track about 50 km to Robins Camp. Any animals we see on the way run away from us. Natural behavior for sure, but not helpful for photography.  We pay our Hwange Park entrance fees which are $100 per day for the two of us. Camping is another $20 pppn. Robins Camp is nice and shady and there are about 30 sites and a new Ablution Block. 




We have a quick lunch there on site 14 which seems the nicest of them all. We mark it “occupied” by leaving our table and chairs there. Our afternoon game drive is taking us to Little and Big Tom WH and Salt Pan. We see Elephants, Riedbock, Giraffe, and the best: a few Roan Antelope. 



Upon returning to our site, a second Lowlight: 

We can’t believe our lying eyes, but a SA couple with two kids have set up their camp on our site 14 and pushed our table and chairs out of the way. Pirates!

Needless to say, I’m having quite a few choice words for them. Why would they take over an occupied site when there are 27 free sites available? Their excuse? They don’t know that a table and chairs placed in a site means that the spot is “occupied”. I can’t believe such stupidity. 

My husband has more patience than me and talks to them for quite some time while I relocate our furniture to a different site. He reports that they really have no clue and are very sorry. Anyway, I’m having a hard time calming down but eventually I do. 

The garbage can is not secure and has no lid. So sometime before midnight, a Honey Badger turns it over and makes a big mess. 


So…. Not a very good beginning to our time in Hwange NP. 



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We have the next four days to explore this new park. 

We sleep two nights in the Main Camp campground, one night in the Sinamatella campground, and a last night back at Robins Camp campground. Distances in this park are huge. It is almost 200 km from Robins Camp to Main Camp. On the way we stop at all the waterholes and dams where most of the animals are found. It turns out that Elephants are dominant here and indeed, we encounter hundreds of them. 








Many dams have hides and an attendant. My plan was to spend a few nights at these special places, but either they are already booked or no one knows if they are booked.  The check-in people do not have a computer. So that’s a big disappointment and a lowlight for me. 

The dams, hides and picnic areas are very pleasant and we spend some time there observing animals and talking to fellow travelers. 




Mayer's Parrots, a first sighting for us at Deteema Hide



Both Main Camp and Sinamatella Camp are fine for campers, but the chalets are in poor condition, some falling apart and can’t be lived in. Money is scarce and the heyday of this park lies in the past. That’s such a shame.  If you like solitude, then this park is for you. There are only a few self-drive travelers and camp visitors and we meet most people when we are having breakfast or lunch at picnic sites. 






Last three pics taken at Mandavu Dam, huge lake where locals fish close to a lion sighting!


Our animal sightings in Hwange NP are rather modest. We enjoy seeing many Elephants for sure, and we are happy to see a large herd of Sable Antelopes and many Roan Antelopes. Zebra and Kudu, even some elephants, are extremely shy and many start to run away when they notice our car. (Poaching problems)








Edited by KaliCA
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Some animal highlights: As we are exiting Main Gate in the early morning, we are lucky to come across a Cheetah. 



At Dopi Pan we find 4 active lions in the golden morning light and are all alone with them. My lion heart rejoices!











At Mandavu Dam I spot a far away Lion on a Buffalo Kill and we are able to find a track and watch him and his buddy from closer up. 

And while these sightings are nice, I was expecting a lot more from this park. 


I spotted the lion on a buffalo kill top left from this spot. A lucky fluke  






His amigo snoozing away



Vultures waiting in the wings




Finding a spot of shade behind the carcass


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 A few more of our Hwange sightings:




Tawny Eagle?















Camping at Main Gate with barking dogs nearby... GRrrrrr



Camping at Sinamatella Campground. Only guests there, what a view and peace and quiet... Bliss!


The donkey! Works great and had plenty of hot water.

Edited by KaliCA
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Sorry you had to move your campsite.  The roan and sable are fantastic!


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Peter Connan

A tree Hyrax!

Now that's a fantastic sighting. I am not sure if they are actually scarce or just very shy, but I have never seen one.


Sorry about the bad experiences at the border and at Hwange.


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@AtravelynnThanks! Yes, those antelopes were indeed happy sightings. 
@Peter ConnanHyrax were present at Sinamatella And Mandavu Dams. Never seen any in SA, only other place was in the Serengeti. Did you know they are genetically related to…. Elephants. 

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