Our third stop required us to meet a guide at Planet Baobab, a cheerful backpackers with a pleasant thatched bar and a giant pink aardvark statue outside. Once we met him, we all bundled into our 4WD and made our way down a white gravel road that marked the eastern boundary of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.
As we bumped along the road, we spotted a large leopard tortoise. It never fails to astound me that such creatures can live in such a dry, salty environment and these ones can reach up to 40kg! We helped this one along a little, so it wouldn’t accidentally become roadkill.
Camp Kalahari is owned by the son of a renowned early 20th century croc hunter who fell in love with the expansive salt pans of central northern Botswana. It shares 4,000sq km of private wilderness with two other small luxury camps – San and Jack’s. I saw all three and my favourite was still Camp Kalahari, also known as “CK” as it was the most contemporary of them all.
Pro tip #1: If your style runs towards vintage, consider the other two camps. Personally, I thought that there were too many skulls and stuffed animals around Jack’s Camp for my liking and it was very dark. San was lovely – very romantic – but pricey. CK is roughly half the price of the other two and you enjoy the same guides and activities the other two camps offer.
Our guide, Bones, was a local Gweta boy, and he knew his stuff. Our game drives were always accompanied by interesting commentary on wildlife behaviour and there wasn’t a bird or animal he didn’t know the name of. Later, he also led us on a walk (similar to the one at Meno a Kwena) with a group of San Bushmen.
On game drives over two days, we encountered some 4,000 plus zebra and over a thousand wildebeest in Makgadikgadi Pans NP, part of the planet’s second-largest land mammal migration (the herds travel between the Boteti River and this part of the park for water and grass). We also saw our first African wild cat and plenty of spring hares.
Food was good, if portions small. However, they feed you regularly, with afternoon tea and canapés with sundowner drinks if you go on an evening game drive. There is also a beautiful large swimming pool shaded by a large tree. Meals are individually plated and vegetarians well catered for.
Pro tip #2: You receive a metal water bottle on check in at CK. Carry it around so you don’t have to use disposable plastic bottles. Many times, other guests forgot to bring their own bottles and went back to using plastic!
On our final day at CK, we went to see the meerkats. There are three semi-habituated groups that live in the private reserve and every day, three staff members go out in search of each one. Bones took us to a group of around six, who let us photograph them in close proximity, then we went on to mingle with a separate group of around thirty. One warmed up to our presence so much, it sat on one guy’s hat for a few minutes.
After this unique and truly memorable experience, it was time to go.
Pro tip #3: Hat, sunnies and sunscreen. Take them everywhere. Forget them and you’ll fry, especially if you’re on anti malarial medications that make you photosensitive!
We departed for Nata, a small town around three hours away. The campsite at Nata Lodge was adequate and a little noisy as it was quite full. There was nothing much to comment about this place other than to mention that the communal ablution block was clean, if dark, and that there is a restaurant, bar, a well-stocked curio shop and firewood for sale. There is also a nice pool, which we didn’t use, and a small area reserved for wild birds which people cannot enter. We chose a site accessible only by 4WD (for a bit of seclusion) and it had a power point – handy!
What I will mention is that when we “checked in” at Nata Lodge, the rep we dealt with at Avis Safari in Maun had dropped off a license renewal sticker for the vehicle as well as a spare gas bottle, worried that we might run out (as he must’ve forgotten to check the tanks). Later, he dropped off a spare blanket and kettle at Kasane for us, as we requested both of these. Now, that’s service!
Go to Part 4 of our Botswana self-drive safari: