One of the few waterholes on the dry track from Mababe Gate to Savuti Rest Camp

Chobe National Park – Savute Camp

The first time I heard of Chobe was as a kid a long time ago. It had the same status as Serengeti or Etosha for me. An unreachable destination somewhere in central Africa.

And then again when viewing the excellent BBC series following the ‘Marsh Pride’ – telling the story of a pride of lions in the Chobe park. It seemed impossible to reach, so distant and remote.

But then I had a 50th birthday coming up, and it was the perfect excuse to visit Botswana. En route from Moremi to the northern border town of Kasane, was Chobe National Park. Having just spent the night in Moremi Game reserve and heading north we would have to cross right through it!

The campsite at Third Bridge in Moremi had left quite an impression on us being very remote, surrounded by water and being quite the adventure to get there. Already, Botswana had served up spectacular memories, and it was only day four!

The longest 160 km

We depart our royally dimensioned campsite content at having enjoyed a great evening in the ‘wild African bush’ and headed for the northern gate of Moremi. We had to cover 160 km today to get to Savute Camp inside Chobe National Park. 160km – how hard could it be? Surely a couple of hours would find us at the Savute camp in Chobe? Little did we know.

It is another fantastic African morning. Birds chirp and call excitedly as the chill burns off in a slightly cloudy, clear blue sky. The sun is already warming and there is a tangible excitement in the air. We tackle the ever-present soft, sandy ‘road’ that that is the only link to the outside world – no highways here…

Once we have crossed the last (fourth?) bridge leading out of Moremi, the road to Chobe is a wide, flat-surfaced dirt road that is well maintained. We passed a number of small villages which indicated sparse population ostensibly focused on livestock and subsistence farming. The washboard surface of the white, sandy road surface was both a welcome and a hindrance being level but also rattling our vehicle (and our dentures).

The distance between Moremi North Gate and Mababe Gate Chobe is not that significant and is dispatched within an hour or so. At Mababe gate the paperwork is easily dispensed with and we find ourselves inside one of the iconic game park destinations in Africa.

Herds of elephants regard our progress from afar as we follow the single primitive dirt track. The ever-present fine dust is all-pervasive within the car. The sun bears down with a merciless heat. The landscape is open, flat and featureless towards the horizon. Elephants monopolise the waterholes. Many elephants. These are easily the most elephants I have ever seen in one place…

Solitary bulls munching on tree branches, scratching the ground for grasses. Herds in waterholes rolling about, spraying water with their trunks. Young calves fumbling about, getting in mom’s way… The landscape is both sparse, empty and open and also intermittently green and full of trees and bushland. It is great just being here. The route is very quiet, with no vehicles at all.

Other wildlife? A wildebeest or two, an eagle, some zebra in the distance and a couple of hippos in a pool of water. Not much else. The road forks – to the left is the Sand Ridge Road and to the right the Marsh Route. Which is very tempting (considering what we have seen on TV it is no wonder of course) but we have been warned, at reception when we checked in, that this is unpassable due to the road being flooded. ‘In this dry heat ?’ I wonder. But we aim for the Sand Ridge Road and continue. Only 40 km to go.

According to our GPS, and the Chobe guide we borrowed, Sand Ridge Road and the Marsh Route are the only two ‘roads’ leading north through the park. ‘Road’ is a generous term because it is more of a dirt (sand) track and not much else. The sand gets softer. The animals disappear (midday again?). The foliage encroaches more and we see nothing besides the track and the brush and trees either side.

It is tough going. The Hilux is having a hard time maintaining a consistent speed through the soft surface. Our average speed is about 18 km/h. This sounds pretty fast when you are gamespotting, but right now there is nothing to be seen. The last elephant we spotted was two hours ago. And we have another two hours to go. The track is made of soft, beach sand, undulations causing the rear suspension to bottom out, so you back off, slow down and think of preserving the car from too many knocks.

Slower still. Until you are forced to stop, and then set off again. Light throttle. Bouncing around. Deep, clinging sand. The motor is struggling, so you increase speed. But then the bouncing around bottoms out the suspension and you slow down again. If you were wondering about the difference between kinetics and inertia then this might be it. It is a precious balance between maintaining forward progress, comfort and protecting the vehicle and coming to a complete halt. And we haven’t seen any animals for hours… Apart from a couple of lost giraffes crossing the ‘highway’ in front of us, bemusedly eyeing us from a height.

And the track is long and straight. Sometimes branching off to bridge a particularly demanding stretch of sand and then rejoining sometime later. The sun beats down. It is hot! 45 degrees Celcius and our slow progress does not provide much in the way of a cooling draft.

But that is also why were are here – to experience it all. The landscape is unrelentingly flat. Just the soft, sandy track and the trees lining it. Nothing else. We feel quite alone and remote. This is great!

Savute Camp

Savute Campsite is where the Sand Ridge Road ends. A very welcome sight after nearly eight hours in the 4×4. Eight hours to cover 160 km. We are happy to be here, it has been a long day! The reception formalities are double-edged. Two parks employees help us out – one being very friendly and helpful, the other not so much. No matter – a beer is calling…

There are a number of camps and lodges in this area, but Savute Campsite has just four (yes) camp pitches lining the riverside and a half dozen more near the ablution block. It is not so much a river than a ‘canal’. Normally transporting water across the park, but now completely dry. There is a drought in the region this year…

We are totally shattered. Surprised at how much it takes out of you, driving this far along barely a twin-track sandy road. Much respect to the TV crew spending months out here tracking a pride of lions… That cold beer is much appreciated as we plunder the fridge in the back of the pickup – which has also taken quite a few knocks on the bumpy route.

Our pitch sits under a very tall tree. There is no grass at all, just very powdery, dark-beige coloured sand, which has a black undertone between the toes. The site is huge. Bigger even than last night and perhaps fifty by fifty metres. We can see the neighbours, eighty metres away, but cannot hear them at all. What a luxury!

The camp has been ‘elephant-proofed’ which means the source of water – a tap at each pitch – has been ‘moulded in’ by cement and concrete into which sharp stones are embedded to prevent the elephants from damaging the taps. The ablution blocks are similarly ‘fortressed’ with earth abutments surrounding the building to prevent elephant trunks from coming through the window while you’re showering… You can’t blame them – it is very dry here and they’re just looking for water.

It is very quiet around here (no campers near enough), the only sounds being the birds in the treetops and a couple on the ground trying their luck on us for scraps and a drink of water… We spend a relaxed evening cooking up dinner on our gas stove as well as using the braai area for a couple of toasties. Very delicious, made even more so because of where we are.

This is an eye-opening experience – once again. The African bush is captivating, especially at sunset when the senses go into overdrive. The sounds. The energy… No game fences (once again) stimulating the senses even more. No mobile phone reception either, thankfully (just like Third Bridge Camp in Moremi). A vast campsite (an extravagance). And, once again, that energy that is typically African. You can’t quite put your finger on it…

Is it worth it?

So, now to the burning question. Well, as per Moremi Game Reserve, it is not a cheap getaway. And all the better for it, dare I say it. And this was a big financial commitment for us…

For some reason, I expected a mass tourism destination, which is thankfully not the case, with no busloads of tourists which would have been very disappointing. It is (still) very much a form of an expedition, in that you will need to put in some effort to get here, be it a time or a monetary investment. And there are a limited number of camps sites available. An experience to be savoured…

An alternative is to book a bush plane into the nearby airstrip and be chauffeured in. But that seems to have a price tag in itself.

Tomorrow we head towards Kasane. An, as yet to us, unknown destination perched on the Chobe River at the confluence of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. We have a campsite reserved at Chobe River Lodge. Sounds good!

2 Comments

Hey guys,

What an adventure and a very great pleasure to read all about this expedition. Would you share the ‘hows’ about booking accommodation and the cost per camp per person?

Hi Steve,
Thanks for your comment.
Since this was our first foray into Botswana we asked for some advice from the vehicle rental company for the campsite bookings. I basically took one of their generic Botswana tours and adapted it to our timeline and they went ahead and finalised the bookings per site.
Except for the Makgadigadi camp which I booked through expedia.com since they didn’t want to ‘accommodate’ this destination (I suspect that their insistence that it was not available was something to do with the salt in the area😉). But I absolutely HAD to see this iconic part of Botswana so I booked it myself, although funnily enough this was the ONE site where they weren’t expecting us and scrambled to prepare for us when we arrived at the gate. To be fair, we were the only guys there – and it was all good in the end and a simply fantastic experience).
I am not too sure what to say about the rental company since granted, I am happy to pay to prep their itinerary but we had less than half of the normal amount of sites to be booked and I had done most of the work so I wasn’t expecting to pay full beans for this (R2000) and I later discovered being charged double by them in Maun and who knows where else?
Lessons learned and school fees paid!

However, to be fair, they DID include the cross-border papers for the car etc (which some operators don’t include as standard.

Rates were very varied: (This is what we paid in South African Rands)

Chobe Safari Lodge was R320 (ish) for the night – which was an absolute bargain (there’s another blog on it here somewhere)
Same for Makgadigadi Adventure Camp – R320
Chobe and Moremi were R1500 a night (BUT Park Entry fees for these two was another R1800 (for both) at Moremi gate). Which isn’t to be sniffed at. But arguably worth it for an unforgettable adventure.
Elephant Sands – R580
African Ranches R650
Okavango River Lodge Maun R400 (is actually R200) But this one may be permanently closed by now

I hope this helps! There’s more info of a practical nature in my other blog post: https://asimplyfab.life/journal/botswana-4×4-self-drive-tips-observations/
Our next expedition to Nam/Bots/Zim next year will be done by yours truly as it is not much different from booking at Kruger Park or on tripadvisor/bookings.com.
You just need to be aware of the vehicle permits/papers cross-border and the National Park permits.

Sorry for the long answer – but you did ask and I hope it is helpful! It is still exciting even now thinking back on it.
Good luck and enjoy the experience!
Cheers, Marcel

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