Day 1 – 12: Botswana: south-western conservation areas

Distance travelled from home: 2227 km

In Johannesburg, we went to the Mayo clinic for our Covid PCR tests. The tests were taken at 16h00 and we received the first SMS result at 02:00 that night. The other result was received at 07:00 the next morning. We went back to the clinic to obtain original stamped certificates and were ready to cross the border near Zeerust.

Skilpadshek | Pioneer Border

We have crossed the borders into Botswana many times, but this was different. Covid changed the whole experience.

The truck queue before the border was exactly seven kilometers long – one single line of trucks. They were regulated by border officials, who let them proceed one by one towards the border gate. We took a chance and skipped the queue and found three cars at the South African offices. It took us less than 15 minutes to get through.

When we arrived at the Botswana side, there were less than 10 trucks and a few more cars. The Covid screening office was the first point of entry. Covid test results were inspected and signed off. (Negative PCR test result within 72 hours from actual test was required). Immigration (passport stamp) was quick, with no queues, but the queue to the cashier for road tax was a different story.

A queue with more than 20 people to pay road tax, with no movement. A truck driver told us that it was his third day since arriving at the truck queue on the South African side, and it is like that every time he has to cross the border.

After almost an hour, we were out and ready to proceed to the gate, and the officials did not bother to look at the vehicle at all. No control on what goes through. They took our gate pass and waved us through.

Due to the FMD no fresh meat or dairy products are allowed into Botswana. We were ready for them with no fresh meat or vegetables other than onions and potatoes. We prepared lots of lamb chops and boerewors by char-grilling them for a minute or two beforehand, ready to defrost and properly grill them when we need to. Therefore we only took ‘pre-cooked’ meat through the border.

Lobatse

We camped at a very nice campsite a kilometer from the border on the way to Lobatse. Afrikaans owners, and very helpful and friendly. They also own a butchery in town. We did not investigate, but will remember to visit it next time, as the meat in the supermarkets did not look very appealing – typical cuts for an African consumer market. We bought chicken.

Lobatse town has a very laidback and friendly atmosphere. Nobody bothered us and we felt totally safe. As usual when entering a new country, a local sim card was bought.

Kang

We camped at Kang Ultra Stop campsite and proceeded to the Kgalagadi Kaa section via Hukuntsi and Zutshwa. The last available fuel is at Hukuntsi, with no fuel available until we get back to Hukuntsi. We filled our 160 liters tank as well as two collapsible 20 liter Desert Fox biker fuel bags.

We filled the 40 liter water tank and bought more than 30 liter bottled water. In Kang at the Ultra Stop there was no firewood or charcoal available and we visited the Choppies and USave supermarkets in the town. Well stocked and impressive for such a small town.

The road from Kang to Hukuntsi is tarred, and from Hukuntsi to Zutshwa a 60km stretch of gravel. There was no traffic until 2 km before Zutshwa where there was an accident – a head-on collission. A small truck with local people was overturned in the middle of the road, with the other car in the ditch on the side of the road. One of the drivers most probably drove on the wrong side of the road to evade the corrugation. Just a reminder that even on the most remote roads one should be careful.

KD2

The area between Zutshwa and the Kaa Gate in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a concession area called KD2 (Kalahari District 2). One can drive through the area with a permit that you can buy in Zutshwa at a self service kiosk. There are two bush camps at Name Pan and Kaa Pan – you have to be self sufficient.

Drive through vehicle permit – P60 per vehicle

Camping – P100pppn (if camping the drive through permit fee is waived)

Coordinates for the kiosk: -24.14193, 21.24628

Zutshwa self service kiosk

The self service kiosk in Zutshwa also emphasises the culture of trust in Botswana – a small locked box on a wooded post where we inserted our details as well as 400 pula.

Zutshwa

The road is a two-spoor sand track through the most beautiful savanna veld. We lowered the tyre pressure to 2 bar, which was sufficient. It was such a pleasure to drive, and the track was compacted nicely.

This area of the Kalahari is absolutely beautiful after the recent rains. We have never seen it like this.

From Zutshwa to Name Pan
Wildebeest en route to Name Pan

Name Pan

A beautiful grassy pan with lots of springbuck, wildebeest, red hartebeest, black backed jackal, bat-eared fox, kori bustard, and small birds. No facilities. Therefore no ablutions, no water.

Name pan
Name pan late afternoon

From Name Pan to Kaa Gate the beautiful trail continues. Large herds of wildebeest, gemsbok and ostriches that were very skittish and started to run when they spotted us. We were very fortunate to see two huge herds of eland (more than fifty animals per herd).

Ostrich
Eland

We passed several smaller pans with no water. There were herds of gemsbok, hartebeest, springbuck and ostriches in almost all these pans. The Kaa Pan had lots of surface water and was beautiful.

Kaa Pan

We have visited the Mabuasehube section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) before, but have not yet been to the north-western area of Kaa. We booked at Swartpan and Thupapedi and entered at the Kaa Gate from KD2.

See Kaa area at top left on map

The Kaa 4×4 wilderness trail from Kaa Gate to Swartpan was overgrown and one could see that it is driven very seldom. It took us almost four hours to get to Swartpan campsite (78 km).

Swartpan campsite – KTP SWP02

Swartpan is a large open pan with lots of gemsbok, springbuck and hartebeest. Also some jackal and ostriches. Again no facilities.

As soon as it became dark, three different prides of lion started to roar on the opposite side of the pan. They were quiet during the night, but roared again early the next morning.

We drove around Swartpan, but did not see them and we then took the trail to Thupapedi via Gnus Gnus.

As soon as we got onto the trail to Gnus Gnus we saw fresh lion tracks on the trail, and we followed these tracks for 10km to the next pan, where it disappeared. It was easy to tell that the tracks were fresh as it rained during the night.

We fitted a seednet for the tall grass and we stopped every hour to remove seeds from the radiator. The growth is abundant with lots of different types of grass and flowers everywhere.

The trail from Swartpan to Thupapedi is also overgrown with a faint line in the tall grass to indicate the tracks.

We saw one couple going from Gnus Gnus to Swartpan, which was the only vehicle in four days.

Thupapedi was very quiet with little movement on the pan. In the camp was a meerkat colony which gave us hours of entertainment.

From Thupapedi to Kaa Gate we saw the normal groups of gemsbok, ostrich, lots of steenbuck and some cat spoor on the trail. It looked like leopard tracks, but we did not see any cats.

We wanted to visit Peach Pan, and took the cutline on the edge of the KTP towards Mabuasehube. After 54 km, at the turn-off to the pan, we encountered a no-entry sign. Although it is a pan in the KD2 conservation area, one needs a pre-booking to enter, a fact that we were unaware of.

Cutline from Kaa to Mabuasehube
Peach Pan entry from cutline

We turned back towards Kaa Pan. On the cutline to Kaa Pan we again saw the biggest herd of eland ever. They ran away as soon as they noticed us, but the herd exceeded 100 animals.

Kaa pan is a beautiful open pan with lots of surface water and lots of animals. Herds of hartebeest, gemsbok, the odd springbuck and lots of ostriches roamed the pan for the rest of the day. We spent the night at the campsite with a nice view onto the pan.

Kaa Pan
Kaa Pan
Kaa pan
Kaa Pan

From Kaa Pan, we returned to Zutshwa permit self service kiosk to pay our camp fee for the previous night. And proceeded into the KD1 area via Ngwatle. At Ngwatle we found a similar permit self service kiosk.

Ngwatle

From Ngwatle we took another 4×4 trail towards Masetleng pan. It was evident from the very overgrown trail that there have not been visitors to the area for a very long period. We battled to follow the trail.

Tracks to Masetleng Pan
Tripple seednet

The pan is wide open with some surface water, and a lot of ostriches, hartebeest, springbuck, gemsbok and steenbuck. The black-backed jackals were heard frequently, and the landscape is beautiful.

Masetleng Pan
Masetleng Pan

From Masetleng pan we travelled back to Kang via Ngwatle, Monong and Hukuntsi.

Both Zutshwa, Ngwatle and Monong are tiny rural villages with a school and a handful of houses. No services or shops. The people have cattle around their homes and small gardens. The nearest town with some supermarkets, a hospital, fuel and other services is Hukuntsi.

Village
Monong village
Pan outside Monong

The distance we travelled from Hukuntsi to this area and back to Hukuntsi was 712 km and one has to be totally self sufficient for the entire distance. The only water available was at Kaa Gate (KTP) and that was not suitable for drinking.

Hukuntsi to Swartpan via Name Pan
Swartpan to Hukuntsi via Gnus Gnus, Thupapedi, Kaa Gate, Peach Pan turn-off, Kaa Pan and Masetleng Pan

In Lobatse we bought a sim card with a 5Gb 30-day data plan from BTC (BeMobile). Since leaving Lobatse we have only had BTC reception in Hukuntsi. Mascom has towers in all the villages in this area, and would have worked for us while travelling through the villages. We chose the wrong service provider for this area!

This south-western pan area of Botswana is true African wilderness at its best. Almost the whole area apart from the villages are wildlife conservation areas with no fences, no people movement, completely safe to drive and camp and very remote.

NEXT: Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR)……

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