Not far from Maun, you won’t find the centre of the universe, but the centre of the Okavango Delta. Or as close as you can get. This is not entirely an accurate statement, but it certainly feels that way. From downtown Maun, it is about 130 kilometres, and you will have to allocate about five to six hours to get there.

At first, progress is fairly easy on some well-graded gravel (albeit dusty) but as soon as you get through the gate you’re back into the soft sand, always the soft sand! By now we’ve been travelling for just over a week on our three-week Botswana adventure and we’ve encountered many different things. Extreme heat, tough conditions and isolation in the Kalahari, and various adventures in Maun. But, so far, not much success on the game-viewing front.

That’s all about to change as a rainshower comes through just as we head into Moremi Game Reserve. It brings a refreshing reprieve from the very hot conditions we have been facing. And it also brings the bushveld to life.

Take point

Vic and I have been leading the group. Our local knowledge has been a help on occasion, as the others have slowly gotten used to how it all works in Africa. By now Naomi and Diana are comfortable enough to take point in the convoy and lead the way into Moremi. I would think it is about halfway from Maun that you get to South Gate and from there the going is slower. Slower for game viewing, because the road conditions aren’t bad at all – especially for us well-experienced intrepid travellers!

The wildlife is celebrating the recent rain and has approached the road instead of hiding under the trees. We see giraffes, buffalo, zebra and a lot of impalas (of course), along with a nice group of hartebees. But the stars of the show are the elephants.

These elephants graze next to the road, unconcerned (or not much) by the curious tourists. You can tell by their body language that they are relaxed, and the fact that they are picking branches out of the trees, or clumps of grass is the best sign of all. No worries about charging bulls or rampant herds on the run. Apart from a few young ones practising their dominance (only half as big as the car yet) the others continue their quest to fill their tummies.

Play the game

They are used to certain behaviours from us as well, so you need to play the game. Numerous vehicles come through here, arguably the most common is the game viewer, so the elephants (in particular) react to these movements through habit. If you arrive and act differently then they get a little anxious. And that means a shake of the head in disapproval. You need to be a little predictable here, and hesitation can sometimes end badly (for your car).

So we coach Naomi, as the lead driver, in maintaining a consistent distance, and a slow, consistent speed of approach. Stop if you like, but don’t get too close. Read the body language. Then you can pass by within metres without a problem disturbing the elephants. An extremely cool experience!

Some Time pressure

All this excitement (after all that’s why we’re here!) has moved the clock further forward than anticipated. So we gather a bit more speed and aim for the camp. There are not many other sightings along the way, but a couple of spotted hyenas are particularly nice to see. They’re chilling in the low grass next to a waterhole. Not something you see every day, just like the cheetahs in Chobe.

When we arrive at camp at five to six, there is nobody in the office. It seems that they went home early today. Luckily our booking has the campsite number and we found the fourth truck in our group already set up for the evening.

Along with the neighbours – noisy baboons that live in the large sausage-fruit trees above us. They were loud, shouting all night at intervals, and would urinate on the cars from up high. But other than that not very intrusive. Certainly an interesting experience.

The campsite is spacious, with enough room for numerous vehicles. There’s a braai area, but you need your own braai grid (luckily there’s one on the spare wheel of the Landcruisers. So accompanied by our neighbours calling out, we had a nice evening around the fire.

We did have an inquisitive visitor while Vic and I were talking at our car, away from the fire. From out of the darkness a shape appeared, it was a hyena barely one metre away! It looked at us – looking at it – for a few seconds then shrugged (I imagine) and went on its way. Not something we have ever had happen to us before.

A Lion? Maybe…

This was campsite #5 and was about one hundred metres from the shower/toilet (ablutions). The next morning brought word of a lion in the camp (remember, all these campsites are unfenced and open to wildlife).

So a stroll back from your morning shower could get very interesting, very fast. We were all told to keep on high alert – no need to say so! Luckily – considering the vulnerability in camp – all we ended with was lion tracks in the sand…

The road to get here goes over First and Second Bridge and these are looking quite sad and in disrepair. Second Bridge is literally falling apart, and you have to skirt around First Bridge completely. Hopefully, this will be repaired at some point, but the maintenance of all the parks is lacking.

Yes, there is paint on the shower blocks, but then the infrastructure needs work, like doors that don’t close, a broken window or broken/missing furniture. I’m sure this will be addressed in time, but it is starting to show that it has all gotten away from them a little bit.

Third Bridge is thankfully in better shape as we head out towards North Gate. And it needs to be because there is quite a bit of water here. The road to North Gate passes through forests, savannas, thick bush and some open plains, a very nice drive. We need to traverse numerous deep (half a metre) water pools in the road. The sand is clay-like and doesn’t drain very well, so the recent rain showers give us some extra action. I estimate nearly one hundred of these water pools. Good fun!

Thankfully Fourth Bridge is in good shape – it is the longest bridge of all. And also the exit of Moremi Game Reserve. The drive to Khwai is along a wide, but bumpy gravel road, but what lies beyond is pretty special. Mbudi Camp is on the water’s edge, hippos nearby and elephants in the water!