Botswana and Zimbabwe – Viewing amazing wildlife on a 9-day tented safari

By Paula Adams
This article appears on page 6 of the June 2020 issue.
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Lions crossing the river from Moremi to Khwai.

When I returned from my December 2017 Botswana safari (April ’18, pg. 33), totally captivated, I made a promise to myself that I would return to that stunning part of the world.

I contacted the tour operator I used previously, Roger Turski at Safari Lifestyles (phone +267 760 61186, safarilifestyles.com), almost immediately, setting into motion an itinerary informed by Roger’s patient guidance and high level of knowledge.

Many factors were weighed, including a favorable time of year to travel. I decided on June 2019 to enable me to capture photographs in the preferred light of the winter rather than the harsher light of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months. I began counting the days once the details were finalized by Roger.

Getting settled

Young male zebras playing.

At long last, I departed from Los Angeles on June 11, 2019, my dream of returning to Botswana materializing as I landed in Maun two days later, totally exhausted but excited.

After an overnight stay at The New Mall Guesthouse (booked through Booking.com for $69), I felt refreshed as I headed to the airport for a charter flight to Moremi Game Reserve. There were seven of us, all from different parts of the world, coming together as one group with the same adventurous spirit for the first part of my journey, the 9-day “Northern Expedition” mobile tented safari.

Upon arriving at Moremi Game Reserve with our guide, C.J. of Letaka Safaris, we launched our adventure with a game drive on the way to the campsite. Browsing elephants, two sleeping male lions and grazing zebras and impalas greeted us as we bounced down the road. Eventually, I saw the outline of tents among the trees as we pulled into camp.

After friendly introductions with D.K., Sam and Joseph, our new African friends who would be responsible for our meals, housekeeping and well-being, we settled into our simply furnished tents, home for the next three nights. As rustic as it might have appeared — typical fold-up cots, bucket showers, no flush toilets and all meals cooked over an open fire — there was no shortage of contentment that I was exactly where I wanted to be.

For all of the nine days, I routinely was up at 5:15 a.m. dressing quickly in the cold winter morning air. At night, I always bundled up with a “bush baby” (aka hot-water bottle) and warm, thick blankets, listening to the sounds of the bush — loud, guttural lion grunts, hyena whoops, an occasional zebra bark….

I had no problem shrugging off the frigid nights and mornings as merely being part of the adventure. Layered with the comfort of down coats, wool scarves and snug knitted beanies, the group would head out each morning with cameras in tow, our energized senses ready for the new day.

Moving on to Khwai

A cheetah perched in a tree in Savute.

Moremi Game Reserve is known for its leopards, and it did not disappoint, but the variety of wildlife was abundant — a painted-dog pack, including young pups; cheetahs; jackals; hyenas; elephants; giraffes; zebras; impalas; kudu; warthogs; buffalo; mongooses; honey badgers; wildebeests; red lechwe; tsessebes; steenboks; crocodiles, and several species of birds, including the multicolored lilac-breasted roller and the playful red-billed hornbill.

On the third morning, while we were searching for elusive lions on our game drive, the camp was broken down by the team and they left ahead of us to set up our next camp location. As we headed out, we stopped for lunch by a hippo pool, distancing ourselves but staying within sight of them as they lay in a heap by the water.

After lunch in our luggage-loaded safari vehicle, our group continued down the dusty road, finally meeting up with D.K., Sam and Joseph by a water inlet for three nights at Khwai Private Reserve.

There, the peace of the bush was heightened by a small herd of elephants a short distance away drinking from the water. How tranquil they looked, their ears flapping and their trunks swaying as they drank.

One sighting that I can only describe as captivating was an encounter with a bull elephant as he stood within inches of our vehicle. His intelligent eyes looked at us without any sign of aggression, and our group sat silently watching, humans and elephant connecting through an invisible screen of respect.

It was at Khwai that we enjoyed a mokoro (type of canoe) ride in the waters near our camp. Being paddled down the river by a skilled guide, we detected several bird species, including malachite kingfishers, spoonbills and storks, sitting in the branches along the river and saw waterbuck antelopes grazing peacefully nearby on the shore.

Khwai Private Reserve allows night drives, and for two of our three nights there, we embarked on chilling-to-the-bone but worthwhile drives. No doubt the nights make prey animals anxious as they move precariously through the bush, and I became aware of the sounds being eerily different than those of the day. In the dark, we encountered nocturnal animals, among them the African wildcat and an owl.

Wonderful wildlife encounters

One morning, we heard there were seven lionesses on the opposite shore of the river that separated Moremi from Khwai. We found the big cats, their tawny coats blending into the marshes so completely that seeing them from a distance became difficult until they finally reached the river’s edge. Would they cross?

The lionesses seemed to hesitate, considering whether to take the plunge. Ultimately, they crossed, one behind the other, and we couldn’t believe our good fortune to observe such unusual activity, as lions characteristically do not like the water. Once across, the lionesses spread out as they intensely surveyed a herd of wildebeests and impalas in the far distance, oblivious to our presence.

Our last three nights were in a remote area of Savute, in a clearing surrounded by thick bush. Savute lies within the parameters of Chobe National Park, and memories of my prior visit to the area flooded back to me.

Savute teems with wildlife, including the famous Marsh Pride of lions, members of which I had observed 1½ years before. We observed with interest a gathering of bull elephants at a water hole, their trumpeting, pushing and shoving typical as they demonstrated their dominance. They even took strides to chase giraffes and ostriches away in order to savor the water hole for themselves. It raises the question, who is truly king of the beasts?

A family of elephants stopping for a drink.

Continuing to Chobe

It was sad to say goodbye to D.K., Sam and Joseph. D.K. had an inventive ability to cook delicious meals; he even used his prowess to make carrot cake, bread and all sorts of one-dish stews over the campfire.

Sam and Joseph were helpful in making sure we all were comfortable, attending to every detail and need, including my dietary restrictions, and always being gracious and thoughtful. In short, my mobile tented safari was a roaring success. Now it was time for the next segment of my journey.

I sat in the front of the vehicle with C.J. as we bumped down the road toward Kasane and the Chobe River. I opted not to take the scheduled river cruise, choosing instead to go directly to Chobe Elephant Camp, where I was greeted by the friendly staff members. It was good to be back at one of my favorite lodges and to see some familiar faces, including Mike, my trusty guide from last time.

I noticed that the Chobe River was at a low level and that Chobe National Park, itself, had changed from the lush green that I saw 1½ years before to parched brown ground. Chobe was still beautiful but in an altered way.

One afternoon, Mike took me to a local village to visit a school of young African children, who greeted me with shy smiles. It was heartwarming to see that education was a priority in the children’s lives and that the teachers were devoted to their students.

Mike also suggested going to the village’s cultural center, where handmade baskets were available for purchase, with all proceeds going back into the community. I admired the grace of the basket makers in considering the welfare of others in addition to their own individual needs.

While at Chobe, we spotted lions in the grasses near the river, vast herds of buffalo and impalas grazing, several mischievous baboons, wandering giraffes, sables, kudu, jackals and zebras as well as fish eagles, kori bustards, vultures and several water birds.

While Chobe is famous for its richness of elephants, I was to learn that the elephants were not fond of the cold and wind, so they chose to remain out of sight, deep in the bush, during our visit.

On the last morning, Mike drove me through the park on the way to the Kasane Airport. It was a long, eventful drive, as we stopped here and there to observe wildlife, but we made it in time to meet up with the driver who was to transport me to the Zimbabwe border.

There, I had to pay a $30 visa fee before transferring to a Zimbabwean guide, who took me to the Victoria Falls Airport. A charter bush aircraft and pilot were there to fly me to Hwange National Park.

Zimbabwe

Fish eagle in flight.

I was met by my guide, Bee, and we immediately headed off to Somalisa, my home camp for the next four nights. Pulling into Somalisa, I was greeted by the joyful rhythm of the singing staff members. With seven tastefully furnished canvas tents, Somalisa uses organic features in its contemporary African design.

In front of the camp was a large water hole, usually dominated by elephants. A small swimming pool located close to the deck, shaded by large umbrellas and surrounded by chairs, encouraged guests to sit and observe the elephants drinking from the water hole. I felt incredibly blessed to be so close to these special creatures.

It was a great moment early the next morning when Bee and I located a lion pride that included two lionesses that were the daughters of Cecil, the beloved lion that was infamously killed by a dentist from Minnesota in September 2015. Between the two, there were six cubs no more than 4 months old — Cecil’s grandchildren! A coalition of two brothers — Humba and Netsai — are now the leaders and protectors of the pride.

Bee and I chose to spend valuable time with the lions to observe their behavior, and I couldn’t get enough of the cubs’ vocalizations and playful frolics.

One morning, as we were leaving for a game drive, we had to pause for a herd of at least 400 buffalo crossing in front of the camp. What an astonishing sight as they left in the morning light, leaving a trail of dust!

Leaving Somalisa and its wonderful staff was not easy. After bidding Bee farewell at the airstrip, I was met by the bush pilot and we headed back to Victoria Falls Airport for my flight.

Looking down at the tree-filled land, I hoped that the wildlife would thrive despite the challenges of human-wildlife conflict and the loss of their habitat. Reliable and solid decisions by the governments of both Botswana and Zimbabwe to vigorously manage their wildlife is of utmost importance, inviting and involving the local people to successfully coexist with the variety of unique animals there.

My 16-day trip, including the 9-night tented safari and 4-night stay at Somalisa, cost $8,244. All internal air and land transportation, meals (including wine and beer), bottled water and laundry service were also included.

 

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
Lions crossing the river from Moremi to Khwai.

When I returned from my December 2017 Botswana safari (April ’18, pg. 33), totally captivated, I made a promise to myself that I would return to that stunning part of the world.

I contacted the tour operator I used previously, Roger Turski at Safari Lifestyles (phone +267 760 61186, safarilifestyles.com), almost immediately, setting into motion an itinerary informed by Roger’s patient guidance and high level of knowledge.

Many factors were weighed, including a favorable time of year to travel. I decided on June 2019 to enable me to capture photographs in the preferred light of the winter rather than the harsher light of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months. I began counting the days once the details were finalized by Roger.

Getting settled

Young male zebras playing.

At long last, I departed from Los Angeles on June 11, 2019, my dream of returning to Botswana materializing as I landed in Maun two days later, totally exhausted but excited.

After an overnight stay at The New Mall Guesthouse (booked through Booking.com for $69), I felt refreshed as I headed to the airport for a charter flight to Moremi Game Reserve. There were seven of us, all from different parts of the world, coming together as one group with the same adventurous spirit for the first part of my journey, the 9-day “Northern Expedition” mobile tented safari.

Upon arriving at Moremi Game Reserve with our guide, C.J. of Letaka Safaris, we launched our adventure with a game drive on the way to the campsite. Browsing elephants, two sleeping male lions and grazing zebras and impalas greeted us as we bounced down the road. Eventually, I saw the outline of tents among the trees as we pulled into camp.

After friendly introductions with D.K., Sam and Joseph, our new African friends who would be responsible for our meals, housekeeping and well-being, we settled into our simply furnished tents, home for the next three nights. As rustic as it might have appeared — typical fold-up cots, bucket showers, no flush toilets and all meals cooked over an open fire — there was no shortage of contentment that I was exactly where I wanted to be.

For all of the nine days, I routinely was up at 5:15 a.m. dressing quickly in the cold winter morning air. At night, I always bundled up with a “bush baby” (aka hot-water bottle) and warm, thick blankets, listening to the sounds of the bush — loud, guttural lion grunts, hyena whoops, an occasional zebra bark….

I had no problem shrugging off the frigid nights and mornings as merely being part of the adventure. Layered with the comfort of down coats, wool scarves and snug knitted beanies, the group would head out each morning with cameras in tow, our energized senses ready for the new day.

Moving on to Khwai

A cheetah perched in a tree in Savute.

Moremi Game Reserve is known for its leopards, and it did not disappoint, but the variety of wildlife was abundant — a painted-dog pack, including young pups; cheetahs; jackals; hyenas; elephants; giraffes; zebras; impalas; kudu; warthogs; buffalo; mongooses; honey badgers; wildebeests; red lechwe; tsessebes; steenboks; crocodiles, and several species of birds, including the multicolored lilac-breasted roller and the playful red-billed hornbill.

On the third morning, while we were searching for elusive lions on our game drive, the camp was broken down by the team and they left ahead of us to set up our next camp location. As we headed out, we stopped for lunch by a hippo pool, distancing ourselves but staying within sight of them as they lay in a heap by the water.

After lunch in our luggage-loaded safari vehicle, our group continued down the dusty road, finally meeting up with D.K., Sam and Joseph by a water inlet for three nights at Khwai Private Reserve.

There, the peace of the bush was heightened by a small herd of elephants a short distance away drinking from the water. How tranquil they looked, their ears flapping and their trunks swaying as they drank.

One sighting that I can only describe as captivating was an encounter with a bull elephant as he stood within inches of our vehicle. His intelligent eyes looked at us without any sign of aggression, and our group sat silently watching, humans and elephant connecting through an invisible screen of respect.

It was at Khwai that we enjoyed a mokoro (type of canoe) ride in the waters near our camp. Being paddled down the river by a skilled guide, we detected several bird species, including malachite kingfishers, spoonbills and storks, sitting in the branches along the river and saw waterbuck antelopes grazing peacefully nearby on the shore.

Khwai Private Reserve allows night drives, and for two of our three nights there, we embarked on chilling-to-the-bone but worthwhile drives. No doubt the nights make prey animals anxious as they move precariously through the bush, and I became aware of the sounds being eerily different than those of the day. In the dark, we encountered nocturnal animals, among them the African wildcat and an owl.

Wonderful wildlife encounters

One morning, we heard there were seven lionesses on the opposite shore of the river that separated Moremi from Khwai. We found the big cats, their tawny coats blending into the marshes so completely that seeing them from a distance became difficult until they finally reached the river’s edge. Would they cross?

The lionesses seemed to hesitate, considering whether to take the plunge. Ultimately, they crossed, one behind the other, and we couldn’t believe our good fortune to observe such unusual activity, as lions characteristically do not like the water. Once across, the lionesses spread out as they intensely surveyed a herd of wildebeests and impalas in the far distance, oblivious to our presence.

Our last three nights were in a remote area of Savute, in a clearing surrounded by thick bush. Savute lies within the parameters of Chobe National Park, and memories of my prior visit to the area flooded back to me.

Savute teems with wildlife, including the famous Marsh Pride of lions, members of which I had observed 1½ years before. We observed with interest a gathering of bull elephants at a water hole, their trumpeting, pushing and shoving typical as they demonstrated their dominance. They even took strides to chase giraffes and ostriches away in order to savor the water hole for themselves. It raises the question, who is truly king of the beasts?

A family of elephants stopping for a drink.

Continuing to Chobe

It was sad to say goodbye to D.K., Sam and Joseph. D.K. had an inventive ability to cook delicious meals; he even used his prowess to make carrot cake, bread and all sorts of one-dish stews over the campfire.

Sam and Joseph were helpful in making sure we all were comfortable, attending to every detail and need, including my dietary restrictions, and always being gracious and thoughtful. In short, my mobile tented safari was a roaring success. Now it was time for the next segment of my journey.

I sat in the front of the vehicle with C.J. as we bumped down the road toward Kasane and the Chobe River. I opted not to take the scheduled river cruise, choosing instead to go directly to Chobe Elephant Camp, where I was greeted by the friendly staff members. It was good to be back at one of my favorite lodges and to see some familiar faces, including Mike, my trusty guide from last time.

I noticed that the Chobe River was at a low level and that Chobe National Park, itself, had changed from the lush green that I saw 1½ years before to parched brown ground. Chobe was still beautiful but in an altered way.

One afternoon, Mike took me to a local village to visit a school of young African children, who greeted me with shy smiles. It was heartwarming to see that education was a priority in the children’s lives and that the teachers were devoted to their students.

Mike also suggested going to the village’s cultural center, where handmade baskets were available for purchase, with all proceeds going back into the community. I admired the grace of the basket makers in considering the welfare of others in addition to their own individual needs.

While at Chobe, we spotted lions in the grasses near the river, vast herds of buffalo and impalas grazing, several mischievous baboons, wandering giraffes, sables, kudu, jackals and zebras as well as fish eagles, kori bustards, vultures and several water birds.

While Chobe is famous for its richness of elephants, I was to learn that the elephants were not fond of the cold and wind, so they chose to remain out of sight, deep in the bush, during our visit.

On the last morning, Mike drove me through the park on the way to the Kasane Airport. It was a long, eventful drive, as we stopped here and there to observe wildlife, but we made it in time to meet up with the driver who was to transport me to the Zimbabwe border.

There, I had to pay a $30 visa fee before transferring to a Zimbabwean guide, who took me to the Victoria Falls Airport. A charter bush aircraft and pilot were there to fly me to Hwange National Park.

Zimbabwe

Fish eagle in flight.

I was met by my guide, Bee, and we immediately headed off to Somalisa, my home camp for the next four nights. Pulling into Somalisa, I was greeted by the joyful rhythm of the singing staff members. With seven tastefully furnished canvas tents, Somalisa uses organic features in its contemporary African design.

In front of the camp was a large water hole, usually dominated by elephants. A small swimming pool located close to the deck, shaded by large umbrellas and surrounded by chairs, encouraged guests to sit and observe the elephants drinking from the water hole. I felt incredibly blessed to be so close to these special creatures.

It was a great moment early the next morning when Bee and I located a lion pride that included two lionesses that were the daughters of Cecil, the beloved lion that was infamously killed by a dentist from Minnesota in September 2015. Between the two, there were six cubs no more than 4 months old — Cecil’s grandchildren! A coalition of two brothers — Humba and Netsai — are now the leaders and protectors of the pride.

Bee and I chose to spend valuable time with the lions to observe their behavior, and I couldn’t get enough of the cubs’ vocalizations and playful frolics.

One morning, as we were leaving for a game drive, we had to pause for a herd of at least 400 buffalo crossing in front of the camp. What an astonishing sight as they left in the morning light, leaving a trail of dust!

Leaving Somalisa and its wonderful staff was not easy. After bidding Bee farewell at the airstrip, I was met by the bush pilot and we headed back to Victoria Falls Airport for my flight.

Looking down at the tree-filled land, I hoped that the wildlife would thrive despite the challenges of human-wildlife conflict and the loss of their habitat. Reliable and solid decisions by the governments of both Botswana and Zimbabwe to vigorously manage their wildlife is of utmost importance, inviting and involving the local people to successfully coexist with the variety of unique animals there.

My 16-day trip, including the 9-night tented safari and 4-night stay at Somalisa, cost $8,244. All internal air and land transportation, meals (including wine and beer), bottled water and laundry service were also included.