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Tau Pan, Little Kwara, Lagoon Camp, Savuti Camp


MisterAviator

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MisterAviator

Trip Report: Botswana -- September, 2009

 

Tau Pan (CKGR) - 3 nights

Little Kwara - 3 nights

Lagoon Camp - 3 nights

Savuti Camp - 3 nights

 

This journey to Botswana began with something new for us, a visit to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Kwando’s brand new Tau Pan camp located within the boundaries of the reserve. For our entire three night stay we were the only guests! In the Kalahari, this is the low season, when temperatures soar and much of the game has migrated to other areas. Still, we found plenty to fascinate us, including an epic 11-hour game drive through Deception Valley.

 

The sight of Deception Pan, with its optical illusion of a water-filled lake, was stunning. In reality, there was not a drop of moisture anywhere, and the primary man-made water hole in the valley was dry too, due to poor maintenance by park staff. Despite the desolation, there was no shortage of oryx. Each scrubby-looking shade tree had an oryx or two underneath, quietly avoiding the solar rays.

 

I would recommend Tau Pan to repeat visitors to Botswana or to those seeking a stark contrast to the Okavango Delta. Tau Pan operates its own water hole in front of the lodge, but it is set a bit too far away to provide easy viewing. It would be fantastic if a hide could be constructed adjacent to the water. Nevertheless, we caught some nice glimpses of two male lions that lingered around the lodge -- one of them had a black mane. A Kwando maintenance manager staying at the camp was “trapped” in his room for 8 hours, while one of the lions slept under his porch. (This was highly inconvenient, since maintenance was urgently needed to solve a power outage that lasted for two days. The camp runs entirely on solar energy and the batteries were not retaining enough juice as the refrigerators and other appliances worked overtime in the brutal heat.)

 

The highlight of our Tau Pan adventure was the morning spent on foot with our tracker “Skupa” -- an always-smiling Kalahari Bushman who gave us a detailed hunting demonstration followed by a concert. Yes, a concert! He sang, danced, and played music on a traditional keyboard instrument. It was obvious from his enthusiasm that he truly enjoyed sharing his remarkable talents and his disappearing culture with us. Thank you Skupa!

 

From Tau Pan, we headed for more familiar territory -- the Delta. I must however make some remarks about Kwando’s airline, Moremi Air. All of our bush flights were on time and functional. But the various aircraft themselves looked disturbingly shabby, with liberal amounts of duct tape applied to rattling and disintegrating fixtures, giving the impression that each plane could fall to pieces at any moment. On one flight, the co-pilot’s seat I was occupying broke completely free from the floor. The pilot merely remarked “Oh well, that stuff happens.” Happily, our final two flights on the itinerary were with Wilderness Safaris on Sefofane, where the condition of aircraft and concern for the customer is noticeably better.

 

Now, to Little Kwara! This, in my opinion is Kwando’s best all-around camp -- spacious tents, experienced staff, and a lovely combination of land and water-based activities. Here, our guide Techo and tracker Bait provided efficient game drives, boat adventures, and a guided walk and mokoro outing. Game was easy to find, but unfortunately, none of the famed cheetah of Kwara made an appearance during our three night stay. (We later had good cheetah sightings at Lagoon.) We had some fantastic sightings of lion, including four males loudly calling each other during a night drive. We also encountered a good-looking pack of wild dogs.

 

Little Kwara had a superb mixture of international clientele, and we had a great time with the German couple that shared our game vehicle. Hari’s name came up in conversations at both Little Kwara and Lagoon Camp (he was due to arrive shortly) as staff members and knowledgeable guests discussed how easy it is to fall in love the Botswana and became a repeat visitor to the Kwando camps.

 

Our sunset boat cruise at Little Kwara was quite special, with multiple elephant crossing the water near our boat. Along the way, we passed a capsized vessel that had encountered an angry elephant a few days earlier. The elephant charged the boat and pierced its hull with his tusk! The boat filled with water and flipped over and its passengers (who were on a private mobile safari) had to climb onto the hull to avoid the crocs and hippos nearby. Staff from Kwara rescued the passengers when they came upon the capsized boat during a routine cruise. It was lucky for the travelers that their mishap occurred on an active finger of the delta, otherwise they might never have been found!

 

Lagoon Camp was our home for the third leg of our 4-stop safari, and the buzz of excitement over the wild dog pack denning with puppies at Lagoon had reached us days earlier, as other travelers recounted moments spent watching the pack at the den site. Thus, you can imagine the crushing disappointment we felt when we arrived at Lagoon Camp to be informed that the dogs had abandoned the den two days ago and were nowhere to be found. Our guide, Alberto, said the chances of finding them would be slim, given the vast distances the dogs can cover.

 

Fast-forward now... two days later... to the most harrowing game drive my wife and I have ever experienced. After much searching, dog tracks had been spotted! They led far away from any roads. And the tracks went twisting off in all sorts of crazy directions. Obviously the pack had been busy hunting. Alberto breathlessly turned to us and said our bumpy game drive was about to go into overdrive, and he insisted that we fasten our seat belts. This was not just a figure of speech. Lagoon Camp is one of the few lodges that even has seat belts in its game drive vehicles. Securely strapped in now, we spent the next hour plowing through bushes, mowing down trees, and bounding over aardvark holes as we followed the fresh footprints. But where were the dogs? It seemed we were going in circles. Then, a faint whimper, a rustling in the dry leaves, and there they were. It was the whole family, their bellies full, and the young ones (three months old) piling on top of one another in play.

 

We returned to the dogs in the late afternoon in hopes of seeing them hunt. But it soon became dark, and when the dogs did in fact begin hunting, our guide told us we’d have to call off our pursuit since we could no longer safely drive off-road, nor could we shine a spotlight at the dogs. No problem.

 

No problem, that is, until dinner time back at the camp, when guests who were in a different vehicle (captained by a more aggressive rule-bending guide) whipped out their video cameras to gleefully display graphic shots of the dogs ripping an impala to pieces! It was the kind of safari moment most can only dream of witnessing. Those of us who missed it (because we followed the rules) came away with no blood-drenched action photos... only a small patch of moral high ground upon which to rest easy that night.

 

Next stop: the magically transformed environment of Savuti Camp. We had left the Kwando camps and entered the world of Wilderness Safaris -- a good way to end a two week trip, with luxurious accommodations and outstanding game viewing. Until last year, the Savuti channel had been dry. Now, it is flowing in full glory, bending directly by the lodge and attracting many elephant just yards away from the balcony of our room. Here, the game drives are almost a distraction from the endless entertainment available directly at the lodge!

 

Goodman, our guide at Savuti Camp, was perhaps the single most hilarious guide we have ever had. His jokes were not the typical safari patter. Goodman is a true original. He says the heavy rock-hard fruit of the sausage tree makes a good souvenir (if you can get it past the customs agents) because they are useful in whacking the knees of noisy children back home. He says the helmeted guinea fowl are like the United Nations -- blue-helmeted creatures that run around all day but ultimately accomplishing nothing! The comedy was delivered in a dead-pan style that made it hard to tell when serious wildlife information was being imparted. But when serious information was indeed being communicated, Goodman knew his animal behavior better than most, and gave us accurate predictions on what various animals were about to do next. If you know that an elephant is going to charge the vehicle in ten seconds, it makes the video-taping process a lot more successful!

 

After previous trips to Africa that were all booked well in advance, this time we did everything very last-minute. Based on a random tip provided in another trip report, we found an agent in Maun who greeted us at the airport to verify our last-minute bookings. Liquid Giraffe is the name of the company, and if anyone is curious, I can confirm the entire process went quite smoothly. We are already working on the next Botswana adventure for 2010.

 

Here are the photos:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.a...;localeid=en_US

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Pangolin

Sounds great!

 

Pictures?

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twaffle

Mister Aviator, what a wonderful report and trip.

 

I like the fact that you at least spent one night resting on hallowed "moral high ground" after the more concerning comment

Securely strapped in now, we spent the next hour plowing through bushes, mowing down trees, and bounding over aardvark holes as we followed the fresh footprints.
:rolleyes: But I understand this having done much the same when trying to see an illusive black rhino cow and calf in the Mara.

 

Pretty scary incidence with the boat and elephant! Glad the occupants were all ok, shaken but stirred.

 

I can do without the blood soaked images, but that is just my preference. I am looking forward to seeing the photos as well.

 

Nyama is going to make me a green smilie to show how envious I am of some of these wonderful safaris people are lucky to experience.

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Atravelynn

Great report from a great itinerary. Was the more aggressive guide from Lagoon a Kwando employee? The duct taped planes would be a concern. Hope two negative comments in a row don't seem like I'm bashing the operation.

 

How nice there is a Kalahari option to add to the delta and Linyanti. Looking forward to photos.

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Atravelynn

The inglorious bustard looks pretty glorious to me. Nice reflection with the giraffes. Loved the dog piles. It appeared to be quite windy in the bat eared fox photo.

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twaffle

Thanks for the photos MisterAviator. It certainly looked dry and desolate at Deception Valley, in fact it looked pretty dry elsewhere as well. I liked the effect of the out of focus giraffe legs in the background of the cheetah head study and the leopard resting in a tree of blossoms … very poetic. No snakes this time? :D

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I like the photos MisterAviator.I enjoy recognising the various tents and camps. The upturned boat worried me,

 

but I have had several near escapes in boats. Looks like you had a good trip.

 

Thanks,

 

Jan

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twaffle
The upturned boat worried me, but I have had several near escapes in boats. Looks like you had a good trip.

 

Thanks,

 

Jan

 

I shouldn't have thought that meerkats would like getting wet.

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The upturned boat worried me, but I have had several near escapes in boats.

 

 

 

Jan

 

I shouldn't have thought that meerkats would like getting wet.

 

 

I don't! But living on the edge of Ntwetwe Pan, and having a good burrow system keeps me dry most of

 

the time.

 

 

Jan

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Pangolin

Thanks for the pics. Many nice ones. I look forward to comparing the CKGR and Savuti Camp to my experience coming up in February.

 

FYI - it took me about 30 seconds before I "got" the bustard reference. I never said I was smart.

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Wow - fantastic pictures - especially the cheetahs ang wild dogs.

 

Atravelynn -

 

The inglorious bustard comment made me laught out loud when I read it - excellent!

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MisterAviator, thanks for sharing your report and pictures. The inglorious one looks like a curry bastard to me, at least that’s what the guide of an old Fodorite once called the bird.

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Thanks a lot for the trip report and photos. I really liked the wild dog piles with the leaves around them, lovely. And the cheetahs are always nice!

 

Interesting also to see Savuti camp with the water flowing!

 

/Tom

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Guest sniktawk

Mister Aviator,

 

Given the relative paucity of game viewing in CKGR, do you think that it is a suitable destination to turn into a private lodge monopoly, or should it be left to mobiles and self-drive.

Are you happy to pay $500 ppn for the privilege of staying in a lodge rather than $ 200 or less for a good quality mobile?

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MisterAviator
Mister Aviator,

 

Given the relative paucity of game viewing in CKGR, do you think that it is a suitable destination to turn into a private lodge monopoly, or should it be left to mobiles and self-drive.

Are you happy to pay $500 ppn for the privilege of staying in a lodge rather than $ 200 or less for a good quality mobile?

 

Based on my initial experience at CKGR, there is ample room for everybody -- private lodges and the mobile safari crowd. The construction of Tau Pan camp resulted in the closing down of a campsite that was near the lodge. I'm not convinved this was absolutely necessary, but at least a mini-monopoly for the lodge in a small area certainly enhances the benefit for those staying at the lodge and paying top dollar. We visited several of the public camp sites in the CKGR during our day-long drive through the CKGR. This would not be my first choice of ways to enjoy the reserve, although I can certainly see the benefits of a good mobile or self-drive safari.

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Guest sniktawk

Mister Aviator,

 

I did not question whether there was adequate room for luxury lodges in CKGR, just whether it was an appropriate place for luxury.

 

The camp site you refer to was widely used by normal travellers, the fact that it was closed to provide "a mini-monopoly", illustrates my point entirely.

 

Is it correct for rich tourists to deprive others of being able to stay there, does this fit into the idea of National Parks providing access to everybody?

 

Do you believe that only rich people should be allowed to visit Botswana?

 

Do you believe that the so called "high cost low volume" actually works, when lodge numbers have tripled in the past 10 years.

 

Do you believe that these lodges actually improve the lives of ordinary citizens?

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Pangolin

All valid questions, but can't Mister Aviator just give a nice trip report here, and then we have this continuing discussion somewhere else?

 

I assume I'll get the same when I return from Kalahari Plains.......

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Pangolin

Into your heart it will creep.......

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madaboutcheetah

MisterAviator,

 

Nice report! Thanks for sharing.

 

Thanks for the updates on the other thread too ........... I think I had already left on my trip when you had posted.

 

The rains are in full swing now ........ shall have a detailed report in the next coming days.

 

Thanks,

Hari

 

PS: We had Bait tracking for us too at LK.

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twaffle

Welcome back Hari, looking forward to your report.

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