Elephant Sands Lodge has been around for quite a while they are now fourth-generation and the place dates back to the fifties. And I have to say, if you can find an easier, closer, and safer, way to spend a couple of hours in close proximity to the huge animals, let me know. We were at Elephant Sands a couple of years ago and it was quite different. The shower building had taken some damage from the elephants but has now been reinstated into service. You also have some permanent shade at your campsite now as well as a braai.

What has remained the same is the rather good buffet dinner. This is something you are obliged to do when travelling from the north, since there is a veterinary checkpoint just a few kilometres north of here. They won’t let you through with fresh meat or dairy, so either you have a ‘thin’ braai with vegetables and an apple on the sie, or you join the dinner queue. And it is rather good value, with very good food.

Speaking of the north, we came here from Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane along the rather flat and straight A33. This is the main road from Kasane to Nata, which then carries on to Francistown, Palapye and into South Africa. Thus it is quite a busy road with many trucks plying the route to Zimbabwe and Zambia. Although ‘busy’ is a loose term in these parts, a full quarter of an hour between oncoming traffic is not unusual.

Hunter’s Road

As a little alternative to the blacktop, there is a small and relatively unknown road that follows the border of Botswana and Zimbabwe. This road starts in Kasane and follows the border all the way down to Francistown and beyond.

This is the Hunter’s Road, a little track (a ‘twee spoor’) that follows the border fence and is not very well travelled. Its name may have originated in a literal sense, but now it seems to be a patrol road for the border force. And maybe used by the local farmers to access the rear of their large stretches of land. Either way, it is an intriguing little sand road that has an attraction in being remote and not very well used. Add in some rain and it can be an interesting alternative to the aforementioned A33.

But we had some elephants to go and see, so we got back to the main road and made some miles…

Benny

The swimming pool is a big draw here, and it is rather fortuitously situated close to the bar. So a beer and a cool dip in the water is a great way to get through the heat of the afternoon. And the elephants nearby add a layer of ‘wild’ to the surroundings.

One of them is not as ‘wild’. His name is Benny and the people at Elephant Sands helped him deal with an injury. He is quite a large individual, relatively speaking, and holds his ground in the group. A group that comes from all corners to the (borehole-powered) waterhole. However, you can watch old Benny being ‘watered’ if you’re here at the right time of day. And I don’t mean water like a plant, but pouring water into his trunk as he drinks and then give him a little spray down. It is very close and very intimate, and old Benny is very chilled about the whole thing.

The Nightwatch

After your – rather nice – dinner you can ‘retire’ to the (drawing room) lounge, which is an open area right at (or below) eye-level with the elephants as the mill around the waterhole. This is a fascinating dynamic to watch, especially in the darkness.

They seem to be an all-male group (we saw a lot of matriarchal herds up at the Chobe River) and there is a lot of milling about, pushing and shoving and some general domineering going on. It seems that they all come from different directions to get some water, and then disappear into the night.

On our previous visit (late 2019) we found that the elephants would scour the camp all night long looking for water, but this time we saw, or heard, nothing. Either we were extremely tired or the borehole is now functioning at top capacity.

As you sit there in the ‘lounge’ area, you realise how special this is. There is barely a metre-wide section of ‘anti-elephant spikes’ (some pointy concrete slabs inlaid with spikey rods that the elephants can’t stand on) between you and the animals. It is very intimate, and the elephants don’t seem to notice a couple of dozen humans observing them at close quarters. Add in the semi-darkness and it is fascinating to watch.

elephant body language

As usual, it is an early start to the day. We had a good night in the roof tents, and no dishes to wash this time (what luxury is this?) since we didn’t need to cook! The newly refurbished ablution block was just a short walk away and very comfortable, including the showers with a view! We didn’t see much during our morning shower, because most of the elephants had moved on to greener pastures during the night. So we had only a couple of them at the waterhole.

It is a great experience to come here and learn about elephant behaviour. Most people are intimidated by these rather big animals, and there are many (sensational) stories about rampant charges and angry bulls. Perfectly understandable since they are much bigger than we are and can cause quite a bit of damage. Add a level of the unknown and our immediate reaction is to be wary and keep our distance. Nothing wrong with that either!

But if you look a little deeper into their behaviour patterns and their social interactions, you might see something very different. Flapping ears and a shake of the head can indicate irritation or annoyance, but sometimes this is a small warning or a gesture that is easily dismissed.

At Elephant Sands you can start to understand body language a bit more. Where pushing and shoving can indicate aggression in the human sphere, it can easily mean a subtle hint in the elephant social structure. What could be an aggressive move, can also be a small warning in the animal world.

This shouldn’t be taken as a general rule, after all, they are ‘wild’ animals, and unpredictable. But spending some time here will allow a broader understanding of how elephants interact – with each other as well as other animals. At the end of the day, you’re here to experience the African wildlife in its element, and what better place for pachydermal study than this!

Next, we head for Nxai Pan National Park where we encounter even more of these large animals!