I guess you could say that our holiday’s fate was sealed in the planning stages of our 2010 Botswana trip when I courageously gave Hillary the brief to take us to the most remote campsites she could find. (Hillary has a flair for working out exciting itineraries!) This bravado was born on our trip to the Central Kalahari in 2009 where we had stayed in marvelous campsites unfettered by fences and open to all the wildlife that the area had to offer, lions and all. Anyone who has ever camped in the wild like this knows that it has no equal in the African bush. There is something so special about sitting around a campfire, under a canopy of stars and knowing that there are no other campers anywhere close and it’s just you and the bushveld.
With consummate skill Hillary found routes that, unbeknown to her, would give us adventures we hadn’t counted on and would leave us with memory banks so full of credit we would remember the holiday fondly for years to come. After spending our first night at the Kalahari Rest Game Farm just outside Kang, we departed on the first leg of our journey to Matseleng Pan via the little village of Hukuntsi. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this road was the first of many that would challenge the skills of the drivers and the mettle of our trusty Toyotas. The tarred road was so bad that we averaged about 40 kph and looked like slalom skiers as we zig zagged our way around the giant potholes.
Hukuntsi was our last opportunity to refuel the vehicles and once done, we followed a friendly local who showed us the road to Matseleng Pan. There were three ways we could have gone to the Pan – one via Monong, the other via Zutshwa, both of which were regularly used gravel roads. The third option was a direct route between the two that consisted of a very sandy track.
We voted for the middle one, the road less traveled, wanting to take the shortest and most challenging route. At the outset the road looked sandy but pretty innocuous.
However, this soon changed as the sand gave way to grass tracks and then the road was hardly discernable through the tall grass.
Rob and Jon had placed seed nets over the front fenders to protect the radiators, but with grass seeds flying over the bonnets of our cars we soon felt like we were driving combine harvesters. It didn’t take long for our air conditioner to stop working and both engines to heat up. An inspection revealed that the radiator grills were totally clogged up with seeds.
After using sticks and brushes to clear them and waiting for a few minutes for the cars to cool down, we resumed our journey, keeping anxious eyes on our gauges for overheating. We progressed slowly but fought a losing battle against the seeds. There wasn’t much shade along the way, and with the sun burning down on us the heat was relentless. The journey proved very slow as we literally stopped every couple of kilometers to clear out seeds and let the cars cool down.
The 80 kilometer drive to Ngwatle, took us six and a half hours. I don’t think we took in much of the scenery, because of the overheating problem, but the road itself would have been quite drivable if it hadn’t been for the grass seeds. At Ngwatle we saw a number of Abdim Storks, which we had particularly wanted to photograph on this trip, so that turned out to be a moment of excitement for me and Rob. Camp fees had to be paid to the local community and after settling with the lady in charge and fending off hordes of children asking for sweets, we proceeded on the last leg of our journey to Matseleng Pan. In her book on Botswana, Veronica Roodt describes this area as “the most spectacular Acacia savannah veld that Botswana has to offer” and she was not wrong about that.
Unfortunately the only campsite was taken so we had to look around for somewhere suitable to park ourselves off. We ended up making camp on a lovely area overlooking the pan.
With views of hartebeest, herds of springbok, ostriches and birds aplenty, it felt like the Kalahari Ritz! On an early evening game drive we found a single tree next to the Pan, which was quickly dubbed “Lone Tree Pub” and was the forerunner of many evening sundowners at similar pubs on our trip!
The birdlife was quite prolific in the area and when we filled a frying pan with water we were visited by the most amazing collection of red-headed finches and shaft-tailed whydahs.
Altogether a magnificent spot to spend a couple of nights, enjoy the solitude and spend time alone with the local fauna.