Botswana Part III –Mapungubwe, Francistown, Nxai Pans, Baines Baobabs, Maun

Nxai Pan National Park

Nxai Pan National Park lies to the north of the Nata–Maun road at the northern fringe of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi basin. It is contiguous with Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, to the south of this same road.

Nxai is probably the easiest area of the pans to drive yourself into, and from December to around July will also have the best game. Add in the spectacular sight of Baines’ Baobabs to make a super destination for a three- to four-day self-drive trip.

Note that Nxai is usually pronounced to rhyme with ‘high’, unless you’re familiar with the clicks of the Khoisan languages, in which case the correct pronunciation of the ‘x’ is actually a palatal click (ie: press tongue against the roof of your mouth, and then move down).

The park covers an area of 2 658 km2, comprising Nxai Pan itself, Kgama-Kgama Pan complex to the north-east, and the Kudiakam Pan complex (including Baines’ Baobabs) to the south. The baobabs were added to the original park in 1992. The baobabs overlook[ing] Kudiakam Pan were painted by the renowned Victorian explorer and artist Thomas Baines on 22 May 1862, and have changed little in the 155 years since. They are not the only baobabs around, but they’re certainly the most celebrated.

The pans themselves are ancient salt lakes, ringed to the south and west with thick fossil dunes of wind-blown Kalahari sand. Today they are completely grassed over, but scattered across their surfaces are smaller pans or waterholes that fill up during the rainy season. Two of these are artificially maintained by the park authorities to provide surface water throughout the year, but the watercourses that once fed the area from the north-east have long since dried up.

The park’s general topography is flat and featureless, with the famous baobabs being the most striking landmarks, and one of the higher points of elevation. To the north and east the soils become increasingly clayey, supporting the encroachment of mopane woodland and integrating with the dense mopane woodlands of the Chobe–Zambezi river catchment system.

̶  Source: Botswana: Okavango Delta, Chobe, Northern Kalahari (Bradt Travel Guides)

This one follows on Hugoʼs post, which he left half finished. From the Kruger Park, we went to Makhado (Louis Trichardt) mainly to get my laptop fixed. On the way there, I searched online for help and spoke to everyone in South Africa who might be able to help. Partserve said they could help. I could courier the laptop to them, but they did not have the specific screen in stock and would have to import it. It would take three to four weeks from the time they received the laptop until they would finish the work. Wow. Why are we so dependent on technology?

Anyway, in Makhado I found a PC Worx and they claimed they would be able to fix it and for a fraction of the price. Not so. At least I could attach another screen and email my important documents to myself. And so I couriered the screen to my lovely friend, Marietjie, who’s now sorting everything out for me. I owe her a spa day for this.

One of the batteries in the car needed replacement, so we also did this in Makhado.

Next on our list was Mapungubwe, a World Heritage Site and National Park on the border of Botswana.

Mapungubwe National Park is a national park in Limpopo Province, South Africa. It is located by the Kolope River, south of the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers and about 15 km to the north-east of the Venetia Diamond Mine. It abuts on the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, and forms part of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. It was established in 1995 and covers an area of over 28 000 hectares. The park protects the historical site of Mapungubwe Hill, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, as well as the wildlife and riverine forests along the Limpopo River. The Mapungubwe Hill was the site of a community dating back to the Iron Age. Evidences have shown that it was a prosperous community. Archaeologists also uncovered the famous golden rhino figurine from the site.

– Source: Wikipedia [Ed: with its characteristically atrocious grammar and style]

We wanted to go to the archeological site, but children aren’t allowed to go, as it is a long hike and climb. Oh well. The campsite here is very small; only 10 stands. Again, we met lovely people and took forever to pack up and leave for Botswana.
Day 86, Wednesday 20 May 2015, finally saw us back in Botswana. It has taken us since 13 April to get back on our planned track. Thirty-seven days. Nearly five weeks. But we don’t regret it for one moment. This is our year, and we can do whatever we want or need  ̶  whether it’s visiting loved ones or spending two weeks in the Kruger. The totally unnecessary part of our detour, of course, was waiting and waiting for the Cruiser.

We crossed the border near Mapungubwe at Baines Drift into the Tuli Block, driving on sandy off-road tracks from the word go. Directly after the border, we had to cross a semi-dry river bed with the most beautiful scenery. From here, we went to Selebi Phikwe for our last meal at the Spur and back onto tarred roads. We’ve been having last meals at Spur and Wimpy restaurants since we left South Africa for Namibia. We kept saying we’re sure we won’t see any more, but they kept popping back up! Well, this really was the last one, as we haven’t spotted any more of them to date (13 June, Zambia).

Since we left Mapungubwe quite late, we only reached Francistown after dark. From the beginning, we’ve said we’ll try and avoid driving in the dark  ̶  and with good reason. Donkeys, cows, goats, people, elephants, kudus and more are seen on the roads even during daylight hours, but it becomes extremely dangerous after dark. And the worst: potholes. They were busy with major roadworks in Francistown and we had to take a few detours to get to our destination. One of the diversion roads weren’t lit at all and it had a massive pothole on a 90-degree turn. It was about a metre by a metre and at least half a metre deep. And we didn’t see it. Hugo barely missed it with the Cruiser, but the trailer went straight through it. Miraculously, we didn’t burst a tyre and kept going for another 18 km to our overnight stop, Woodlands Stop Over.

The next morning at first light, Hugo got up to examine the damage. The one rim had a dent, but at least the tyre wasn’t losing air. The bearings on both sides seemed fine, but once he lowered the trailer back to the ground, both wheels were obviously skew. No. No. No. We just got back on the road after repairs and now this. Back to Francistown.

We met Douglas and Menoli (from Shingwedzi  ̶  we kept in touch, as we knew we were following more or less the same route) at Nando’s for breakfast and Douglas contacted his family in town, who gave him a few names and numbers. The first guy took Hugo to the second guy and he took him to the third guy. He had an engineering business and the necessary equipment to take off the axle, which was clearly bent. Lucky for us, it didn’t look too bad or damaged beyond repair, and after he straightened it with a massive press, we were on our way again. A whole day later. And back to Woodlands we went. It is really not such a nice place that I would have liked to spend more than one night here out of choice [Ed: contrary to the website…]. As the name says, it is just a stopover. But oh well…

In the meantime, Douglas and them took off for Kubu Islands.

When we finally left Woodlands for the second time, Sophia realised she lost her little soft toy puppy her tannie Janine gave her in Khama. She was devastated, said she still had it when we crossed the border, so she must have dropped it in the parking area at Nando’s. Begged us to go back to ask all the shopkeepers whether they’ve seen it. There was no way it would still be there. There were hundreds of people around and anyone could’ve picked it up. My poor baby. I almost cried with her. She didn’t even want something else, nor an exact replica; she wanted THE ONE Janine gave her. Another one just wouldn’t be the same. Gustav told us to stop talking about it because it makes his sister sad …

For us, the next stop was Nxai Pan National Park. We arrived at a decent time and left a message at the gate for Douglas and Menoli that we would meet them the second night at Baines Baobabs. We drove to South Camp, where we set up camp under huge trees. When we arrived, we heard the voices of other children; Gustav and Sophia were ecstatic. Soon a boy appeared with his dad in tow.

Richard, Carolyn, Berthe, Senne and Suze are a Dutch family who lived in Zambia for the last 10 years and are moving back to the Netherlands. They are also on a road trip in Southern Africa until school starts in September. They very kindly worked out a route for us for Zambia. All five children were happy to have friends and had a great time.

We were in awe of them, as they are travelling with three children, one vehicle, no trailer and a pop-up ground tent. We said to each other, their trip would be three months long and they had only just started  ̶  surely they would get sick of it? Sour grapes? Hugo still tells me if they can do it, so can we. Give up my comfortable bed? Sleep on the ground on a blow-up mattress? What about all the homeschooling books (which we seldom use, but might need some time)? I said from the beginning, I will do this trip, but not if it will be a hardship. And so far, we all still love it!

The ablution blocks at Nxai Pan are fortified with electric fences and paving blocks with sharp iron rods in it. There was a very narrow zigzag path for us to get in. I was constantly worried that one of us might lose our balance; itʼs a given that you will be hurt very badly. The reason for all of this is elephants. During the dry season, they are known to destroy buildings and water pipes to get to water. But I do think this is way over the top.

Early in the evening, Gustav spotted a black-backed jackal and later on we heard lions roar. Far away. Still no tick on my list!

The next morning, the children played a last time with their new friends while we packed up. We left the trailer in the camp and drove to a water hole. We saw zebra, bluewildebeest, impala and giraffe. Nothing exciting, but still beautiful.

Back at South Camp, we got the trailer and drove to Baines Baobabs. At the gate to South Camp, we ran into Menoli and Douglas. They decided to join us and we drove together. In Nxai Pans National Park, you either drive in thick sand or on salt pans. During the rainy season, the pans are wet and dangerous and one shouldn’t attempt driving on it. As we had only two vehicles and small children, we decided to play it safe and stay on the edge of the pans, even though it had been a month since the last big rains.

Nobody is allowed to camp near the famed baobabs, so we opted for campsite 2 on another island a little distance away. The island has two huge baobabs under which we set up camp. It was lovely to have company again. Our children enjoyed attempting to climb the baobabs with the other two children, Menoli and Douglas.

We drove together to Maun, where Menoli begged for a real bed and a hot shower. Maun Lodge, where we’ve stayed previously, was fully booked. While we had lunch there, Douglas and I went online to find a place for the night. The choice fell on Jump Street. They should just change their name to Lodge-with-tiny-bathrooms-and-Big-Mosquitoes. At least we could use my dish basin from the trailer to fill up with hot water and give everyone a pedicure while we watched Spider-Man.

After a “last” Wimpy breakfast with Douglas and Menoli, we went our separate ways. They went to Moremi, and I was on a mission to find anyone who could do our laundry. Sitatunga Lodge outside Maun has lovely campsites under massive trees and they did our laundry for a steal. The lodge is under new ownership and I’m sure next time we won’t recognise it. They also served a good meal and cold beers in a retro bar.

Their dogs adopted our children and followed us everywhere we went, even to the bathroom. When I got up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, they were sleeping right outside our tent, guarding their new friends.

From Maun, we took the road heading north to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. As I was searching in our guides and online for a place to stay, Drotskys popped up. This will go on our list of absolute favourite places. Nothing fancy at all, but a stunning setting on the panhandle of the Okavango Delta.

More on this in the next post, our last place to stay in Botswana.

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