Day 6 – Chobe National Park – Savute

Day broke with military efficiency, packing when it was still dark so that we would be ready to start the engine and leave the Camp at the first chink of dawn. “Go, go, go!”

My sense of urgency was because this was the dreaded day of the drive through the Killer Sand of the Sandridge Road. So, I was a bit tense. My tentative approach to the roads in Moremi on days 1 and 2 went out of the window. I retraced earlier steps to get back up to the North Gate where I crashed back over the wooden bridge for the last time, and I signed more books. I went to the north side of the river and followed the main track through Khwai Village. This bends to the right and heads roughly northeast passing the Khwai Airstrip on the right. Near the Airstrip a right turn leads to Khwai River Lodge, while a few kilometers later a second right heads to Machaba. About 8km after the Airstrip the road forks. The branch to the north signposted to Seronga by one of the park’s old green concrete pillar signs, heads off to Selinda Reserve and the NE of the Delta. We went right here to go to Chobe which initially bends east, following the stunning Khwai River Valley. This place is really magical. I looked back and got views across the stunning beautiful river valley, waterways and shady glades under the acacia, which was really lovely – before I ploughed into the dry dust and sand of Chobe. We were there by 7.30am, so knew we weren’t going to hit the dreaded sandridge by 8am, but nevertheless had made good time.

I was rewarded with sightings of: a cheetah dragging its kill across a field; a lioness sitting right beside me on the roadside drinking from the river; and many elephants. This turned out to be one of the most rewarding self-drive game drives I did and was testimony to the need to get up early to see the wild life, especially to see predators.

About 9km after this I crossed into the Chobe National Park, which is signposted, and then hit the first difficult stretch of sand. This is the infamous Magwikee Sand Ridge which had been painted in my mind to be like a sand mountain like the ones you can find in the Namib desert. I started to go uphill, and the driving got slower the as the sand became thicker and stickier, and darkened in colour. I did get slower and slower and I saw one vehicle get stuck (who were fine and didn’t need help when asked).

From the base of the sand ridge to Chobe’s Mababe Gate is c 6km. We drove to MABABE Gate (19° 06. 182’ S; 23° 59.119’E) – not to be confused with OLDGAT which is further on. However Mababe is pretty obvious and difficult to confuse with the old gate in so much as Mababe is the big one with the gate building and guards where as the old gate is unmarked except for on the map. I stopped, stretched my legs, relieved to have survived the first notorious stretch of sand, and I went through the process of signing in using the carbon copy books, showing and exchanging paperwork, producing forms in quadruplet and signing into the registration book. I had begun to notice I was the only Brit traveling around these parts, everyone else was South African.

20km north of the Mababe Gate the road forks. Both forks go to Savuti. This was decision time. “The road not traveled” sprang to mind. The right fork was the Marsh Road, apparently like the surface of the moon churned up by elephants in the rainy season and now baked hard into massive craters which lie as deadly traps for your landrover to plummet into. However it is more scenic with views of the Savuti Marsh and several guide books had said it was the easier route in the dry season. The other way was the dreaded Sandridge Road which ran the length of the Magwikee Sand Ridge and I’d heard sucked lone self-drivers down to drown in its deep sand.

I turned left.

And after all that hoo-ha-carry-on-song-and-dance fuss, whizzed along what felt like the easiest road of the trip and arrived at my destination, Savute Elephant Camp, for 11am, just in time for brunch. The Landy was my hero, it had got through the thick sand like a knife through butter. All those South Africans who had been making a real fuss out of the whole Sandridge Road looked like a bunch of Drama Queens.

The Chobe National Park, the second largest national park in Botswana, has one of the greatest concentrations of game in Africa, promises a safari experience of a lifetime. The park has four areas:

  1. Savuti Marsh in the west c. fifty kilometres north of Mababe gate; (where we are now)
  2. Serondela with its lush plains and dense forests in the Chobe River area in the extreme north-east; (see later in theb trip)
  3. Linyanti Swamps in the north-west – most areas of which are not allowed to self-drive campers like us
  4. the in-between dry hot bits

Savute/ Savuti

This is a dry unforgiving desert-like dustbowl which promises one of the best wildlife-viewing area in Africa today and boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife left on the African continent. It is harsh, arid, and feels like nothing could live there. It is a wilderness region that feels very desert-like with a scorching sun, loose hot sand and Elephants lining up at watering holes. What few trees exist have been stripped bare by the elephants, making Savute look like an apocalyptic nuclear winter landscape.

The Savuti Channel itself is a dry gully. It inexplicably dries up and recommences its flow when it feels like, which is not often. The present dry period started in 1982. The mysterious Savuti Channel is often dry, as it is now, but inexplicably flows again. To compensate there are now permanent pumped waterholes, but there is therefore a feeling that man is interfering and the animals are only there because of the manmade waterholes which are only there because of the tourists, so there was something about this place that made me feel it was somehow fake.

Savuti’s elephants are notable for a number of old bulls which live in the area permanently. We saw many of these jostling for drinking positions at the waterholes.

Tip:

To avoid your vehicle being prised open like a tin can or being turned over and generally having more adrenalin than you’d ever care to have running around your system do NOT take citrus fruit into this park. There is a story we read about of a family having their landrover prised open like a tin can by an elephant who used its tusks to get into the vehicle, to go after some oranges which had been left on the seats. As our story will show, don’t risk it, you will be in close proximity to these animals and you don’t want them to get too interested in the contents of what is your only transport and accommodation.

 

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One Response to “Day 6 – Chobe National Park – Savute”

  1. Owen Shaw Says:

    Hi

    I am travelling to Moremi and Savuti in June and am having nightmares about the dreaded Magwikee sand Ridge. I will be towing an offroad trailer with an isuzu auto 4×4 KB. Will I make it?

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