Friday 8th July 2016
Today our overland trip started proper and we got fully acquainted with the blue elephant (our so named late Model DAF fitted out with 24 seats along with a mobile kitchen, camping gear and excellent air-con……..to turn on you open a window..to turn off you close the window) on a 70km drive from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe crossing the border into Botswana and onto the town of Kasane which is the gateway to the Chobe National Park.
Chobe National Park, in northern Botswana together with the Okavango Delta are arguably two of Botswana’s top wildlife destinations. Chobe may not be the country’s largest reserve but it’s still home to a diverse array of wild and birdlife including the African Fish Eagle and Marabou Stalks. It is perhaps best known for it’s Elephants of which around 50 thousand of them call Chobe home as they migrate between the wet and dry seasons from the saltpans in the South to the banks of the Chobe river. The river, which flows along the Northeast edge of the park is a major watering spot in the dry season (May through October) and borders the neighboring country of Namibia
Our border crossing was reasonably smooth if not prolonged as our truck was registered in Zimbabwe and of course paperwork to that effect needed to be in order to allow us to cross over. That done we had a short drive into the town of Kasane where our cook (Charles from Kenya) went shopping for dinner and we had a look around and changed money into the local currency which is the Botswana Pula ($NZ1 = 7.5 Pula)
Our camp for the night was at the Chobe Safari Lodge which was located on the banks of the Chobe river. There were plenty of ominous warning signs around that wildlife was present especially those warning of Crocs and Hippos. We were also told not to use certain paths at nighttime as they were close to the riverbank. We felt safe with our tents being pitched at least 30 metres from the waters edge. In fact the biggest wildlife issues faced were that of the warthogs and monkeys that roamed around. From our campsite we could see Elephants that were crossing the river which was an omen of what we would experience later.
Having setup camp and had lunch we were then due to take a 3 hour river cruise and participate in some serious wildlife spotting.
Going at a reasonably slow speed with a Captain who was open to feedback about when to stop or get closer and an on-board bar we made our way down the river with some early views of Crocs. Elephants and Buffalo’s. In the middle of the river channel we were heading down sits a marshy island that officially belongs to Namibia (ownership had been argued over by both Botswana and Namibia however it was agreed along the lines that whoever had the deepest channel on their side of the river could claim ownership of the island…..hence the Botswana flag sitting on top of this marsh)
To reach this island which is predator free (except for the Crocs) the wildlife swims across the main river channel. This is a distance of around 300 metres. As it was late afternoon by now on the main river bank many herds of Elephants were coming out of the bush and scrub and now congregating to drink off the afternoon heat. The herds lead by their Matriarchs included babies as well as others of varying sizes. We could hear in the distance a number of them communicating through their roars. After drinking we then watched a large group of elephants led by the Matriarch take to the water and swim across to the island. We were no more than 30 metres away from them as they swam and although the younger elephants looked as though they might struggle they were proficient swimmers using their trunks as a snorkel. We then watched them scramble up the muddy bank to the island and made their way into the centre of it. Again not long after another herd but much larger did the same crossing and our boat along with others in the vicinity were captivated by this. The boat sat against the bank as elephants made their way across and up from in front of us. By this time of the day the sun was starting to set and as a result of witnessing this Ellie spectacle we were somewhat behind schedule. Also on the island we saw buffalo, the occasional hippo and of course the crocs around the waters edge. We also had many avid photographers taking numerous shots and of course not far from the front of the pack was Noelle.
It was darkness upon our return after witnessing yet another remarkable African sunset. The colours of the sky change from moment to moment and within a short period of time the huge night sky opens and stars start becoming apparent.
Upon returning to the camp we found that Charles our cook had dinner ready and by this time we were pretty ravenous. The usual dinner briefing took place which outlined our start for the next day but also covered where we were headed and what we would be doing. After dishes and “flapping” to dry them (In the morning it was flapp-aerobics or Floga) a campfire and a few drinks saw out the end of the day once the kids had been put down for the night.
We can report there were no animal incidents overnight and the warthogs were still cruising around the campsite in the morning as we packed.
Although we had one day in Chobe it was enough to whet the appetite to return again in the future. If you are an Elephant fan then this is the place to observe them in their natural environment and yet see something about them we had never even considered. The group was still buzzing from our river cruise the day before as we headed off towards the Namibian border. Animal spotting was now high on the agenda for all of us.
There are many lodges and campsites that dot the river bank and area catering to all budgets and offering differing levels of luxury. There is also a drive option along the riverbank where you can view animals from a different perspective. On a personal level we were excited and overwhelmed with what we had seen but as the trip progressed it would come to pass that this was only a taster for what was on offer in the days to come.