Our next stop was a comfortable tented camp in the community-run Khwai Private Reserve. This secluded property sits next to a permanent man made waterhole where elephants come everyday to drink. Mid afternoon twice, a breeding herd of up to fifteen visited, with tiny babies in tow. When one slightly older elephant decided it didn’t want to leave, mum’s angry trumpeting moved it along. Other animals such as kudu, hyena and giraffe also visited. This pan made Hyena Pan, which is comfortable and relatively affordable, a very special place indeed.
Pro tip #1: Most safari lodges and camps in Africa are very expensive so they attract an older crowd. We found scant few places in this trip with travellers our age, other than at campsites. There aren’t a lot of low-to-mid range options in Botswana, except maybe Planet Baobab, the Muchenje cottages and places in Maun and Kasane, both of which are busy tourist hubs. Hyena Pan is a solid mid-to-high safari lodge option.
Another thing that makes Hyena Pan stand out is its Skybeds experience. About 45 minutes away and surrounded by wilderness, the trio of three-storey wooden platforms that make up Skybeds each contain a bed open to the stars on the top level and a bathroom on the first floor. A lockable gate and stairs leading up from ground level keep out unexpected visitors at night.
Pro tip #2: Bring plenty of warm clothing and a torch. Also, shower before you get to Skybeds as during our stay, we found the water supply inconsistent. Cash is useful too, for tipping the staff there. Note that you can also book Skybeds if staying at Sable Alley, Hyena Pan’s more upmarket sister camp.
En route, our outstanding guide Custard (yes, that’s his real name) took us to an elephant hide, and we spent over an hour inspecting elephant toenails and watching about fifteen bulls squabble over water.
The pans in the area are super salty, so the solar-powered freshwater pump, which operates during sunlight hours only, has the sweetest water. As such, the biggest bulls jostled for dominance at the point where pumped water came out, which made for interesting watching.
That night, we had dinner by a campfire and then went up to our beds armed with a hot water bottle. The stars and sounds were simply amazing. We saw the Milky Way in fine detail, heard elephants come to drink at the nearby waterhole all evening and awoke before dawn to the growls and yelps of lion and hyena.
The final thing that made our stay entirely memorable was the skill of our guide, Custard. He found two leopards when every other guide from other lodges had given up, and he had contacts who told him where to find lion. He also knew how to anticipate animal movements, shared plenty of interesting facts on their behaviour and had stories about previous guests that kept you amused for ages.
Later, we witness a leopard hunting what we thought were impala. Huddled in a circle, the anxious impala awaited an impending attack. For a few tense minutes we all waited with bated breath, then a flock of guineafowl flew up in the air, squawking loudly. Turned out it wasn’t impala the leopard was hunting. She was looking for a chicken dinner, which she got.
Dragging her prize under a tree, she ripped all its feathers off and to our horror, kept playing with the bird – alive – for about half an hour before she started eating it. Watch her here:
Pro tip #3: A typical day on safari goes like this –
5:30 or 6AM wake up, then breakfast.
6-6:30AM morning game activity. We did things like walk with Bushmen and meet meerkats. Predators are often winding down, either having killed and eaten, or looking for shade. If it is cold, few animals will be seen.
1-3PM siesta time. At Linyanti Bush Camp,they squeezed in a helicopter scenic flight for half an hour here so we wouldn’t miss the later game drive.
3:30PM afternoon game activity, usually a drive with sundowner drinks. We found animals to be much more active at this time, particularly elephants and lion.
We combined camping with lodges so we weren’t tied to this routine all the time throughout our holiday. Sure you can skip activities at lodges, but given you’ve paid so much, would you want to? At campsites, we often spent mornings or afternoons sitting around and just relaxing, taking a break from gameviewing.