Day 4 & Night 4 – Xakanaxa, Moremi
Today I drove through Moremi to stay at Xakanaxa (pronounced Ka-ka-na-ka) Campsite. Try saying Ka-ka-na-ka. Not too tricky if it’s spelt out like that and you know how. But for me Xakanaxa became Na-ka-na-na, Ka-nak-an-au, Naka-naka, nik-nok-nak, car-car-nar-car. I was reminded of the Ozzie I had laughed at so much who had visited England and asked for directions to ‘Looga-Barooga station’ (Loughborough station) and at the Yanks who had talked about ‘Eedinburg’ (Edinburgh). Suddenly I was no better and heard giggling whenever I tried to mention this place. Some of the guides went so far as to introduce the clicks (which is how you’re really meant to pronounce it). Show-offs.Setswana is the national language although English is the official business language and it is widely spoken in urban areas with most written communication being in English. However, knowing and using a bit of Setswana definitely gets you brownie points.
- Hello (to a woman) Dumela, mma (Dumelang, bo mma – plural)
- Hello (to a man) Dumela, rra (Dumelang, bo rra – plural)
- Good bye – it is OK Go siame
- Thank you Ke itumetse
- I don’t speak Setswana Ga ke bue Setswana
The journey/ itinerary that Safari Drive had done for me was slightly back-to-front at this point, as when I would need to leave Moremi I’d have to retrace this entire drive back up to North Gate before heading off to Savute. It’s a bumpy, pot-holed, sandy, partially flooded road, so this didn’t make much sense but just added to the overall sense of ‘just go with the flow and stop asking questions’. However we’d recommend for anyone planning this trip the more logical would be to stay at Xakanaxa campsite to start off with, then move around to finish at North Gate, which would also take the pressure off any onward drive to Savute. Or I would suggest doing this in reverse if you are planning on visiting Moremi at the other end of the itinerary entirely as the climax to the trip and not the beginning.
In the heart of Moremi, at the tip of the Mopane Tongue, lies Xakanaxa Lagoon. Here the dappled autumn colours of the mopane forests meet a patchwork water world of deep water channels and shallow lagoons. It’s unforgettably beautiful. Here you get a feel for the magical wonderland of the Delta’s channels. This really is PHENOMENALLY BEAUTIFUL and one of the best areas for wildlife in Africa. “Expect Phenomenal densities of game and birdlife here. For the self-driving visitor the game and scenery here is as good as it gets in Botswana – do not miss this area.” Try and get to the Xakanaxa lagoon asap so that you can start to explore in the morning. There’s a lot (almost overwhelming amount) of exploring to do in this area which is veined by game-viewing loops and tracks. So take your time. Drive around slowly, and stop frequently. There are a number of specific areas that you might aim for, or just end up at:
- The game drive loops around Xakanaxa – Veronica’s map
- The 4 Bridge route
- THE BODUMATAU LAGOON. This is a much less reliable track but is called Elephant Alley
- Floodplain Roads – the network of tracks to the west of the main track between Xakanaxa and Third Bridge are probably the most rewarding in Moremi for game. Many are also very beautiful.
- Dobetsaa Pans – take a left in a southerly direction, c 1km after crossing Fourth Bridge on the way to Third bridge and you’ll find a short loop leading down past a few very scenic pans.
Ed and I did some bone-crashing game driving around Dead Tree Island which rewarded me with a lioness asleep on her back waving her paws in the air like a domestic moggy, but not much else. The animals were all playing hide-and-seek with me again. So, I decided I needed tranquil quiet water, and being in the Okavango I was in the right place. For boat trips into the lagoons I had several options:
Mokoros are the traditional dug-out canoos made out of wood or these days fiber glass where you glide silently through the lagoons with your poler as your guide. These are much like punting boats if you have ever been punting in Oxford or Cambridge, but also bear some resemblance to Gondolas in Venice.
If you want a full half day getting out into the lagoons of Moremi in a Mokoro, you will need to get to Mboma and book in advance. It is about £50 for a four hour round trip. The details for boat trips from Mboma Island boat station are online at http://www.mankwe.com or email email@example.com or telephone +267 686 5788 .
2. Power boat
Xakanaxa boat station and the neighbouring lodges offer power boat trips. This is because the lagoon at this point is too deep for the Mokoro polers who need much shallower channels. The lodges say they offer Mokoro trips but what they are actually doing is taking you by powerboat to an island where they have some Mokoros in the shallows, change you into those and take you out for maybe 15 minutes before taking you back in the power boat – so it isn’t really the same. In a power boat you can also get a lot further and so potentially see a lot more. However of course it is more noisy so this in turn may frighten off more wildlife.
Instead of killing ourselves to get to Mboma I went to Xakanaxa boat station and hired a private power boat trip for the afternoon.
Xakanaxa Boat Station
The boat station is well marked on Veronica’s map of the park, but it is also well signed posted as ‘boat hire’ from the road near the camp check-in. The people at the boat station were really lovely, the women greeted me and I went particularly gooey over one very beautiful little girl who was wearing a pink strawberry sundress. These people were the boat people. The men drove the boats, and they had their women and children here with them. The boat station was itself idyllic, nestled on the lagoon edge with cut lawns and dappled shade from overhanging trees, the boats sitting sunning on the bank like white metal hippos. The boat people lived in canvas tents, a lot like the tents in the posh lodges, raised up on platforms no doubt for when things get wetter in the rainy season. Their life looked simple but definitely quite wonderful. And they all looked so happy, everyone had a big smile for me.
I took this from the Internet: “Our best day at Moremi was a culmination of all the elements that make Botswana such a special place. I headed deep into the verdant Okavango by driving west along the banks of the Khwai River to Xakanaxa Lagoon. There, I took a ride in a power launch, zipping through the maze of marshy channels past reed beds and papyrus and an astonishing array of bird life: African fishing eagles, squacco herons, white egrets, saddlebill storks and endangered wattled cranes. The speed of the boat, the fresh breeze, the vibrancy of the delta’s colors were all exhilarating and essential. Blue sky, bluer water, an elephant browsing on an island. As far as the horizon, there was not another soul. It was my own private Africa.” I couldn’t say it better myself. I did what they did and found exactly the same experience. At 2pm went on an afternoon boat trip for 2 hours. My guide and boat driver was called John. He gave me a copy of the Shell guide to look out for birds and animals ourselves, but he was fantastic at pointing out things my slow eyes would have missed.
This experience was magical. I sat on the boat with John and instantly relaxed. After crashing around bone-shaking dusty roads for several days and having to navigate every pothole and bump, being driven on smooth, crystal clean blue water was bliss. It was a vast sparkling expanse broken up by walls of reeds, rushes, grasses, and islands into what must look from the air like a huge organic structure, like the branches of a tree in winter, or lungs. Down below, in amongst the reeds and the channels, it was a magical mystery tour of lagoons and water corridors with reed walls and water lily carpets, with wonderful birdlife around every corner. I had never been anywhere like it. It was exquisite. And it felt so fragile, so undisturbed, and so clean. Again I felt humble. I arrived back two hours later and I had the delight of exchanging more forms in triplicate using carbon copy books for payment for the trip, a process which took a long time but somehow I found incredibly relaxing in itself, watching the woman take great care to complete the form and carefully tear off the copies, handing me mine with a massive smile. I went back to the campsite feeling completely refreshed and relaxed. I couldn’t recommend the Xakanaxa boat station and a power boat trip from there more – it was a real highlight of the trip.
Xakanaxa Campsite (pronounced Ka-ka-na-ka)
Xakanaxa is a beautiful National Park campsite situated on the edge of a large lagoon in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve. Here I camped in a pre-booked and paid for campsite, arranged by Safari Drive. On arrival I stopped and signed in at the wooden office of the camp’s warden, which I found next to the XAKAIR airstrip, 3.5km southeast of the camp. This is the campsite check-in, although it says Wildlife Office on the door. After 4pm your site will be given away. This campsite was completely full when I was there, so this was good advice. As at North Gate, there is no map for your pitches, but ask for directions at the check-in office and once you get there the pitches are numbered – look out for tiny wooden signs hanging from trees or nailed to tree trunks. The Xakanaxa Campsite is a really marvelous place to stay. Here about 8 marked sites blend into a long stretched-out camping area, which runs along the edge of the lagoon. Facilities are very limited with very basic toilets and showers plus water taps dotted around the sites. Look out for the purple hanging flowers of the Kalahari appleleaf overhead, which are very beautiful.
That night I drank G&T sundowners sitting on the roof of the Landy looking out over the tops of the pampas grass and reeds across the lagoon, listening to the sounds of the delta chorus at dusk. The delta song was all around me in the distance, but where I was on the campsite was hushed and at rest. That evening I enjoyed a Braai as I watched another amazing sunset, then I took a bottle of wine up into the tree house and dangled my legs over the side and felt completely at peace with the world as I enjoyed the glow of the fire down below and listened to the noise of the bush come alive at night, without any fear of anything creeping up behind me in the dark. It was magical.
This is an area of dense game, so watch out and always remain vigilant as you move around the campsite, making sure you keep your eyes out for animals at all times. Incidents do occasionally happen. There are a couple of stories that come with this campsite about human fatalities. If you are getting up early the next morning you will need to be quiet, vigilant and careful – just get up and go with minimal amount of noise and fuss because this will be prime time for animals to be coming through. Common sense says don’t be daft, don’t walk around after dark to the ablution block, be sensible and discover the joy of a bush wee. Go for a game drive but I recommend you don’t get back much later then 5:30pm so you can make sure that you have everything done before it goes dark.