Tuesday, June 20, 2023

African Adventures - South Africa & Botswana

After our time in Nepal, Kurt and I headed to Africa via two long flights, the first from Kathmandu to Dubai, and the second from Dubai to Cape Town. Both flights were late night/red eye so we were pretty tired once we arrived. We grabbed some sushi and relaxed in our Airbnb until our friends arrived. 

I met Sophia on my very first day of work at Banjo’s, a local pub that I worked at for a year or so in the Whitsundays. She and her partner Ryan have been some of mine and Kurt’s very best friends for years. They still live in Queensland and we don’t get to see them all that often, so spending a month travelling together is just the best. Sophia’s dad is from Mombasa, Kenya, and Ryan’s dad is from Durban, South Africa, so this is a special trip for them. They haven’t really travelled much so when we invited them on our trip to Africa they jumped at the chance. 

There have been several times in my life where people say they’re going to tag along or meet me somewhere and then don’t, so my outlook was always that if they do come, that’s great, but if not, we are still going and will have a good time. But excitingly, they have been keen for the last year and booked their flights, helped with the organisation, and got all the things they needed for the trip. I’ve been so excited for them to be able to take time off work and go on a big adventure, especially with me! We were so excited when they finally made it to our Airbnb.

We had three days in Cape Town and had an absolute blast. Cape Town is a really cool city that I have been wanting to check out for quite a while. We stayed in the Bo-Kaap area of the city which is well known for its colourfully painted houses. Historically, only white people were able to live in this area of Cape Town, so once apartheid ended and black people were able to buy homes here, they painted the houses bright colours in celebration, so this area is well-known for these brightly painted homes. 

Our first full day in Cape Town we rented a car, which felt needed as we honestly didn’t feel totally safe walking around on our own. Cape Town doesn’t have the best reputation so we thought we’d better be safe than sorry. Plus a car would allow us to get around easier and explore more of the city. We started off in the beautiful Waterfront area where we kicked off the trip with a long lunch at a tapas restaurant. It’s such a nice change to have reasonably priced food and drinks available, especially in restaurants. Everything is so expensive in Australia so we’ve been taking advantage of the low prices throughout Nepal and Africa. After lunch, we checked out the aquarium which was really fun. We spent most nights relaxing and catching up over a drink in our cozy Airbnb, which had amazing views of Cape Town and Table Mountain.

Lunch in the Waterfront area!

Fun times in the Cape Town Aquarium.

On the second day, we woke up really early to catch the sunrise from Table Mountain. It was surprisingly cold in Cape Town and on this particular morning, the mountain was shrouded in fog, which hangs over the entirety of the top of the mountain and is affectionately known as the ‘Table Cloth’. This weather occurrence actually provides a significant amount of water to the city of Cape Town as it then trickles down the mountain. We were all a bit wet and cold after walking around in the mist, but it was a really awesome experience. We took the cable car up to the top and back which was actually exciting and a bit scary. The cables ascend into the fog in an eerie way and the whole car actually spins while going up and down, giving everyone a chance to see the different views.

After Table Mountain, we headed back to the Waterfront area and boarded a ferry to Robben Island, an infamous island that was the location of a terrible prison primarily for political prisoners. This is where Nelson Mandela was in prison for eighteen years. We toured the island by bus, hearing many of the stories including about the rock quarry and seeing some of the buildings before touring the actual prison cells. The conditions were horrible and many of the prisoners died regularly. It was shocking to see but interesting to learn more about the history of South Africa. Our tour guide, Parks, was actually a prisoner himself for many years so we were able to hear first-hand about his experience. We ended the day in Camps Bay where we had a drink and watched the sunset which was beautiful. We all live on the East Coast so it’s nice to see the sun set over the ocean for a change.

On the ferry to Robben Island.

The view of Table Mountain from Robben Island.

Camps Bay sunset.

On our last day in Cape Town we had a delicious breakfast at a cute cafĂ© before we set off for the Stellenbosch wine region. Here we did a tasting and had lunch at the beautiful Eikendal vineyard. Cape Town and the surrounding area are really quite pretty, with mountains everywhere, but to get there you have to drive through all of the shanty towns which led us to many discussions… Cape Town and South Africa are certainly interesting. After that, we went for a bit of a drive along the coast to see the penguins and drive along the famous highway that’s carved into the side of a cliff.

Wine tasting in the Stellenbosch region.

We decided that at the end of our stay in each place, we would each give a rating on a scale of 1-10 for the campground. So here is the first of our ratings! Drumroll please….

Cape Town Airbnb: 
Claire – 9.5
Kurt –  9.5
Sophia – 9.5
Ryan – 

Results: We all really loved this Airbnb. It had absolutely amazing views, comfortable beds, an amazing shower, and everything we needed for our stay. We really enjoyed lounging around here all together in the evenings. The location was really good and the building was very safe with security guards who gave us a bunch of helpful safety tips. The apartment also wasn’t part of the load-shedding that takes place in Cape Town, during which different parts of the city have rolling blackouts to accommodate the electricity grid. So we had electricity the whole time which was really lucky.

Overall, Cape Town was a very colourful city, both literally and figuratively, full of interesting culture and history and I’d definitely love to go back someday. But for now, we continued on to begin the next leg of our journey in Botswana. We flew to Kasane, a small town in the top right of Botswana that also borders Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. 

Here we picked up our vehicle which would also double as our home for the next three weeks! I had organised this vehicle about a year out from the trip. It’s a 4wd 2022 Toyota Landcruiser with two rooftop tents and all the gear and equipment you could possibly need, including camping equipment, cooking utensils, gas bottles, and all the rescue equipment you need for off-roading. This car really is a beast and an absolute necessity when travelling across Africa and we’ve absolutely loved it. We’ve been lucky to have it in several situations when a lesser quality 4x4 wouldn’t have sufficed. We have certainly been putting it to the test, that’s for sure. 

For the first leg of our camping trip, we stayed at Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane, which was a super flash resort on the Chobe River with a beautiful pool, restaurant, and bar. The camping area was at the back right along the river and had really nice showers and toilets. Our campsite also came with a cement platform for your campfire which I really liked, and someone came by to brush away the coals and ash every morning. We had a small campsite but still really enjoyed it. The campground had an electric fence around it but we still had really cute Chobe bushbucks wandering the campground. There was a surprising amount of wildlife just wandering the streets of Kasane. We saw heaps of warthogs, mongooses, impalas, and even giraffes, elephants, and zebras just off the streets or the main highway just outside of town. And a quick look in the river and you could see hippos and crocodiles. We were all exhausted after a long day of travel and stocking up the vehicle so we treated ourselves to the lodge’s incredible buffet dinner. It was certainly one to be remembered. We enjoyed the delicious food with the excitement of knowing our camping adventures were just getting started.

Accommodation Rating
Chobe Safari Lodge:
Claire – 8.5
Kurt – 8
Sophia - 9 
Ryan – 8

Results: We were all super happy with the campsite, lodge, amenities, food and beverages, and activities/wildlife on offer. We thought this place would be pretty hard to beat! The only negatives were the size of our particular campsite and that the only dinner option was the expensive buffet.

The first day there we took a river cruise along the Chobe River and had our first real taste of game viewing! We were able to get up close and personal with all the animals as they enjoyed the river. It is the dry season right now in all the areas we will be travelling, so animals congregate around water sources such as this river. Chobe National Park is known for its significant numbers of elephants, and we were able to see them swimming, bathing, and playing in the river, right next to hippos, crocs and water buffalo. The river cruise was absolutely amazing and we couldn’t believe how much we saw. This was our first hint that Chobe National Park is really quite amazing.

On the second day we did our first self-drive safari! If you have a vehicle such as ours, you’re allowed to drive around the national parks yourself, in lieu of hiring a guide or joining a group safari. Although park fees are still a bit pricey at around $30USD per person plus another $20 or so for the car, this is still a much cheaper option, plus it means we are able to go at the times that suit us and go where we want to go, etc. Our main concern was that we wouldn’t see as much since the guides usually know where to find the animals, but we really didn’t even need to worry about that because there are honestly animals everywhere and we’ve had pretty good luck at finding them ourselves, with the occasional tip from other travellers or nice safari guides. 

Our first safari that day started with an elephant blocking our path and then walking in front of us for about 10 minutes. It was an incredible start and only got better from there. We wandered down all the tracks, mainly along the river, and saw so many elephants, water buffalo, impala, kudu (a surprisingly beautiful type of deer that has become one of everyone’s favourites), crocodiles, hippos, and giraffes. We also really enjoyed spotting the different types of birds. We had bought a guidebook at the front gate where you could tick off the animals as you spot and identify them, and we’ve had a lot of fun with that. The guidebook also had really helpful maps of the parks in Botswana so we’ve used it a lot.

The next day we did another self-drive safari and spent more time on the back roads, away from the river, and then spent the rest of the time on the river spotting birds. We were all starting to get really familiar with the birds and were able to identify a lot of different kinds. At the end of this day, an absolutely massive herd of water buffalo came through one of the only rest stop/picnic areas of the park (you have to stay in your vehicle in all other areas of the park). We actually had to cautiously drive through the herd to get out of the park. All of the locals have gone on and on about how it’s not really the lions or leopards you need to worry about, it’s the buffalos as they’re aggressive and dangerous, so we proceeded with caution.

One of our favourite birds was a very pretty yet common one - the lilac-breasted roller.


We often saw bones scattered around the national parks.

We found out that warthogs do a funny thing where they crawl around on their front knees to eat.

Another one of our favourite birds that were very common in Botswana and Zambia, the hornbill, also known as Zazu from The Lion king.

A cute little tree squirrel.

An unexpected favourite, the Kudo (male above, female below).



We had so many amazing elephant encounters!

I have a love-hate relationship with velvet monkeys. They're cute, but they're cheeky and like to steal food.

We were sad to leave Chobe Safari Lodge but excited to start the next leg of our Botswana travels. We set off on the next day to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. For this drive we stayed on the highway, stopping in Nata for a snack. The drive took about 8-9 hours. Most of the drive was un-exciting with mainly large crops planted all the way to Nata, and then fairly barren plains dotted with small villages the rest of the way to Maun. The roads were decent until the last few hours when we had some gravel roads and absolutely massive potholes the size of a small bathtub. We would find these potholes to be a common theme across all the countries we would drive through. We also saw quite a few elephants and zebras on the side of the road as they drank from square concrete things that we later found out were wells.

We stayed at Sitatunga Campsite, which was about 20 minutes outside of Maun, down a dirt track off of the main highway. This was much less fancy than where we stayed in Chobe, but was still really nice. There were a lot fewer people and we had a much larger campsite. There was a nice pool, and both the shower/toilet blocks as well as the bar and restaurant had a really cute, rustic vibe. The food here was really good and there were nice cocktails as well. The staff was also incredibly nice and helped us book our activities. 

Accommodation Rating
Sitatunga Camp: 
Claire – 9
Kurt – 8
Sophia – 8.5 
Ryan – 8

Results: We all really like this place and even though it wasn’t as fancy as Chobe Safari Lodge, we liked the atmosphere and laid-back vibe and the food at the restaurant was really good. The staff was also incredibly nice and the activities we did through them (Delta Rain Safaris is the name of their company) were amazing.

On our first day in Maun we went on a full-day guided safari into the delta. We were driven out in a massive vehicle where we met our guides and then got into mokoros, which were traditionally wooden canoes that the tribes used to navigate the flooded plains. Now the canoes are made with some type of fibreglass/plastic to resemble the wooden canoes, but the government has banned the chopping down of the specific type of wood that is needed for wooden canoes.

It was amazing how our guides were able to balance and steer so well whilst standing on the back of the canoes and pushing us through the water. We spent about an hour going through the water using hippo trails. The canoes are so quiet and peaceful, and I’ll never forget the sound that the wind makes going through the tall reeds. We saw hippos and elephants in the water as we went along. It’s impressive how our guides were able to navigate through all the different paths and corridors without being able to see over the reeds.

We arrived at a mobile safari camp and then set off on a bush walk where we saw zebras, wildebeest, impala, and a lot of birds. It was really cool to be out walking around knowing there are lions, etc. that could be dangerous. We had to stay behind our guide in a single-file line which confuses the animals into thinking there is only one person so that they were less likely to run off. The landscape was really interesting. It’s the dry season so where we were walking would have been flooded just a couple of months ago, but the land was really dry and not a single stone or rock could be found anywhere.

After walking around for a few hours, we returned to camp and had lunch. Afterwards, Ryan and Kurt took a turn standing at the back of the mokoro trying to steer, which was hilarious. They confirmed that it is really difficult. We went back to camp to find an elephant munching away on some leaves right in our camp so we were able to watch it for a few minutes until it moved on, then we set off back the way we came on the mokoros. 

This experience was really cool and something I had always wanted to do. It was also really lovely to get to know our guides, Terrance and Chase, and hear about their experiences with their villages and tribes. We also met Tony when we arrived back in the village who showed us the handicrafts his village had made for sale. Tony was very enthusiastic and said that most people couldn’t read, but that there was a schedule for everyone to take turns being able to sell the crafts. He looked forward to hearing one of the women read out the names of who’s those whose turn it was this week. We bought a few bracelets and a handwoven plate made of reeds straight from the delta.

The next day in Maun we had lunch at the Okavango Delta Brewery which was really nice. The beer and food were great and we saw a chameleon! I spotted it literally right under Sophia’s feet while we were sitting at the table. We got to watch it slowly head off towards the trees in its funny, swaying, twitch walk that it does. It started to change colours the closer it got to the trees.

After that went on a scenic flight over the Delta which was amazing. It was a really tiny plane with just the four of us and two pilots who both looked under 21 but who were very professional. We took off and stayed just a couple hundred metres above the ground so we were able to spot heaps of animals. We saw absolutely massive crocodiles and giraffes, and huge herds of elephants, impalas, buffalo, and hippos. So many animals! It was really cool to see the thousands of little tracks made by animals crisscrossing the plains and see the animals follow each other. We also saw some zebras and ostriches. I’d love to do this flight again one day during the wet season because I think the Delta would be impressively huge.

Our very young pilots preparing for take off.

The next day we set off early in the morning. We drove north back into Chobe National Park. This park is huge and has many different areas. We previously spent time in the Chobe Riverfront area and now planned to check out the Savuti area. The navigation was a bit sketchy and we weren’t always totally sure we were on the right road. We have a GPS loaded with Tracks for Africa, a hard copy map, and google maps, but at times these can all have conflicting information, so you kind of just have to go for it and do your best. We followed the main road and eventually made it to the park entry gates which was exciting. Once in, we drove through the marsh (which was dry because of the dry season). This whole area was quite different from the riverfront area and was much drier with safari grass and flat land everywhere except for some random rocky hills. We made it to the national park campsite at around 3pm. 

These campsites are run by a privately owned company, not the national parks, and it’s really expensive to camp here - $50USD per person for very basic amenities. But it’s definitely an experience and ultimately worth the money!

A hippo skull!

We set off around 4pm to drive around the main area surrounding the campsites as we heard there were lions around. This part of the day is prime time for spotting the large predators, so we were hoping to see some. We set off and mistakenly turned down a different road than intended towards the dry riverfront and as we came out from some trees I turned my eyes to the left and laying there not even twenty feet away was a massive male lion looking straight back at me! I could barely get the words ‘lion lion lion!’ out of my mouth I was so excited! He was huge and majestic and after 30 seconds of us being there, he rolled onto his back and put his feet up in the area for a bit like a giant kitten. We were the first to find him and it didn’t take long for another five safari cars to join us, so we eventually moved on. 


We had met a father and son – Antonio and Hector – from Spain who we were sharing a campsite with and they were following us on the dirt roads looking for animals. They were just in a Toyota Hilux and the roads were really sandy and deep in some parts, so it wasn’t long before they actually got stuck and we had to help them out. This led us to go down a different road than we had planned. About thirty seconds in, Sophia looked to her right and spotted a leopard laying under a tree! It was an impressive find – at this point, we were all getting pretty good at spotting animals.

The leopard was incredible! After a minute or so it sat up, and then actually walked straight towards our cars. For a second, we thought it was going to try and jump into the car or something, but instead, it walked right between our two vehicles, and sat just a few feet away from us! We watched it for a couple of minutes and could tell it had its eyes on a group of impalas a hundred meters or so away. It started to stalk them slowly and then took off through the trees. It was such an experience! We actually think the leopard strategically used our vehicles and the sound of them as cover to creep up on the impalas.

We continued our drive for a bit but as it got darker we decided to head back to camp before the gates closed at 6:30pm. On our way back we saw a bunch of other safari cars all looking at something and decided to check it out. It turned out to be another two male lions! 

These guys were super cute and were most likely brothers since they were still together and without a pride. They kept giving each other cute cuddles like cats would do. We watched them for a while and then head back to camp to start a fire and cook dinner. 

The four of us plus Antonio and Hector had just finished dinner and were relaxing by the fire when all of the sudden, an elephant stormed up into our camp! It was crazy how stealthy and quiet it was and just appeared out of the dark! We were camping inside of the national park and there aren’t any fences around the campsites so we were prepared that this could happen. We all stood up and got in front of our car underneath the rooftop tents and behind the ladders and used our head torches to watch the elephant who checked out our campsite. He knocked over our cups and dishes sitting on the table, smelled around where we were sitting, and then walked over towards us. We had luckily put away all of our food and most of our dishes and locked up our vehicle, so he moved on pretty quickly and walked over to Antonio and Hector’s vehicle which had unfortunately been left open. 

It didn’t take the elephant long to find the tub of food, and he proceed to take everything out one by one and put it on the ground. He kept picking up an empty plastic bag with his trunk and throwing it into the air which was hilarious. We watched as he ate all of their onions and a few other things, but luckily left the rest. They were on their last night of camping and had eaten almost all of their remaining food which was lucky. 

The elephant hung around for a bit longer and then sauntered off. Around this time, we started hearing many other animal noises coming from the bush – lion roars and hyena cackles! It was crazy! Kurt said he saw what looked like a hyena duck into the trees just behind our vehicle. We decided this was a good sign that it was time for bed so we packed away everything else that we could and climbed up into our rooftop tents. 

All night we continued to hear lions and elephants and hyenas. We even had two more elephants come and walk through our camp again and eat from some of the trees. None of us got the best sleep that night as we were constantly waking up looking out of our tents at what was going on out there. It was a really cool night that I’ll never forget. We even noticed that the elephant had apparently brushed against a massive concrete block that made a tabletop and it had shifted. Both of the guys pushing together as hard as they could could barely even twist it back which just goes to show how massive and tank-like these things are.

The next morning, as soon as the sun rose, we had a quick breakfast and set off. We decided to do a quick game drive to see if we could see any more big cats, but the only thing we saw was a jackal which was still pretty cool. We drove all the way through the rest of the Savuti area of the park and out the gates. These roads were very bumpy and very sandy. It was slow going and we were all thankful to eventually make it back onto tarred roads.

Accommodation Rating
Savuti Campsite – Chobe National Park: 
Claire – 9
Kurt – 9
Sophia – 9
Ryan – 8

Results: This campsite was all about the experience. Seeing all the big cats was incredible and our nighttime experiences were amazing. But the campsite itself was really sandy and the toilets/showers were pretty average, plus you couldn’t leave your camp to walk to them after dark. The price was also really expensive. Overall, it was an awesome campsite worth the money, but you just have to remember what you’re there for – the animals.

Our week in Botswana was one that I’ll never forget. The animals and the people were incredible, and I hope to one day go back. We made one quick stop in Kasane and then continued on towards our next destination – Zimbabwe.

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