Byron and Matt
As two friends who have travelled together on many trips, we are always trying to find the most unique and interesting experiences to pursue next. When my friend Matt sent me a blog article about self-drive safari-ing in South Africa I thought it was amazing to read, but far from practical. As we researched more, we realized that self-driving is not only a common phenomenon, but the purest and most enjoyable way to experience the African flora and fauna. We decided to narrow down possible destinations based on where we would have the highest possibility of seeing wildlife during the first part of December. December symbolizes the changing from dry to wet season for most of southern Africa, so we knew regardless of where we picked we would need a little luck. We ultimately settled on Chobe National Park in Botswana and after hours of careful research, finally settled on Tawana Self Drive — I AM SO GLAD WE DID!
Vincent and Julie went above and beyond in providing exemplary service. I am an extremely detailed person and as such, I tend to ask a lot of questions and Vincent was there to answer all of my questions with very informative responses, and beyond that, he provided additional information that I did not think to ask about that proved very useful throughout our trip. We ultimately settled on a fully camping equipped Toyota Prado 4 night / 5 day itinerary, starting in Maun and dropping the vehicle off in Kasane. Vincent organized a drop-off of the vehicle in Maun for us (Tawana Self Drive office is in Kasane), and a member of his team was there waiting with a sign that had our names once we passed through airport immigrations in Maun. We got in our Prado with the team member of Tawana and headed to our hotel for a briefing of the vehicle and then on to the grocery store (Spar) for food supplies. It is important to note that for a full drive through the park one will need additional fuel in jerrycans and Vincent organized full jerrycans pre-filled with the drop-off of the vehicle, which proved very helpful. The refrigerator in our Prado was of high quality and operated 24 hours a day, so we opted for barbecue food supplies (meat, chicken, etc.) for all of our dinners, boiled eggs for breakfasts and cold meats for lunch. We purchased some dry foods as emergency food, just in case we had a malfunction of some kind with the electric of our vehicle (we had no malfunctions).
The next day we drove into Chobe National Park with an itinerary of 1 night near Khwai at the Mbudi campsite, 2 nights in Savuti at the SKL campsite and a 1 final night in Ihaha at the Kwalate Safaris campsite. As we drove into the park from Maun, we began to witness more and more wildlife crossing the road (elephants, giraffes, antelope) on our way towards the Khwai area. Once we passed through Khwai village we arrived at the Mbudi campsite not too long after, and WOW was it a delight. It is a new campsite, with trash cans at the sites and some porters to assist with some things (getting fire started, etc.). When we arrived at our campsite, we were about 20 feet away from a small lake, which had a gigantic hippo sitting half out of the water about 200 feet from our campsite. The best part about the Mbudi campsite — they organize small canoe trips through the lake, which is nice after a long day of driving. We saw elephants, buffalo, giraffes, antelope, plenty of birds, and another gigantic hippo. Our canoe guide, Jeff, had clearly done this before and knew exactly how close he could get to breach the outer edge of this hippo’s territory. The hippo started jumping out of the water and making loud dominant territorial sounds. After this wildlife scene, we headed back the way we came to camp. We were stalled by a herd of 20 elephants bathing and drinking in the water. All we could do was wait and it was just magnificent. Once we arrived back at camp, we prepared some hamburgers, made a large fire and enjoyed some Jameson to the sounds of the African wild.
We woke the next morning just before 6am and closed up camp and headed out for some game drives. Thankfully Vincent had loaded Track4Africa on our GPS so no matter which game drive we took, we were able to find our way back to the main roads to get back on our way. We saw hyena, buffalo, antelope, wildebeest, wart hogs and elephants on these drives. It was an amazing experience doing our first self-drive game drives. We did not see any other vehicles the entire 2-3 hour period. It was just incredible. Once we completed our drives, we headed back to the main road and made our way to Savuti. So let me tell you one thing – Sand Ridge Road on the way to Savuti is on another level. I had read about the sand, but actually driving through it was another thing. It is quite deep, but also quite bumpy – a crazy mix of elements. The most important thing is to exert patience and go slow. I highly recommend doing research or asking how to handle this road based on the season you are going. We did not see any vehicles on the entire drive there, so getting stuck would not have been the most ideal. The park rangers told us to take Sand Ridge Road and avoid the Savuti Marsh road, because they said we would get stuck on the Savuti Marsh road. Once we arrived at the SKL camp, the staff told us the opposite and that we should have taken the Savuti Marsh road because it had not yet rained and it was more of a hard dirt road, which we confirmed to be accurate once we ventured towards the Savuti Marsh for our evening game drive, which may have been the highlight of our safari. I believe that until the first hard rain of the season, the Savuti Marsh road is better to take in and after the first hard rain, it is better to take Sand Ridge Road, but to be honest I am still a level of unsure on this, so it is worth trying to ask reliable sources when you are there.
Our first evening game drive was an experience to never forget. We were told by the SKL staff that the Savuti pride of lions had killed a zebra the day before near Marabou Pan in the Savuti Marsh. We headed out that direction and as we got closer to the pan we came up on 5 lionesses and a group of 6 cubs feeding on the zebra. JACKPOT! This is what we had envisioned and it became a reality on our second day in the park! It was an amazing experience watching these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. One of the lionesses decided to park herself directly in front of our Prado and another right next to the passenger door. We got some amazing pictures here and beyond that, the experience of this was one I will cherish forever. After waiting for 10-15 minutes the lionesses decided to get up and guide the cubs down to the watering hole. Since the heavy rains had not yet started, water was a scarce resource for the surrounding wildlife, this meant the possibility of seeing multiple animals at the hole. One lioness stayed back to protect the zebra kill to keep the jackals and other surrounding scavengers away. Once we arrived at the watering hole we witnessed a herd of 20 or so elephants dominating the watering hole. As the lionesses approached with their cubs, they were thwarted off by the elephants multiple times. It was just absolutely amazing to see the lions and the elephants create some drama at the watering hole. The Savuti lion pride is famous for being elephant hunters and it was evident, as the adult elephants made a barrier around the baby elephants every time the lions approached. After 30 minutes the elephants retreated into the bush and the lion pride was then able to hydrate.
After this amazing experience, we headed back to our campsite and made sure to build a very large fire, as the SKL staff had advised us to do so to protect ourselves from the lions and elephants who have been known to visit camp. We cooked some chicken, enjoyed some Jameson, and caught some of the most amazing pictures around the campfire with every star in the universe completely visible. The sounds of the night in Savuti are really another experience in Savuti in and of themselves. All kinds of commotion – elephant trumpets, lion roars, and many others. It was really something special. We again awoke before 6am and headed off back to Maribou Pan in search of the pride, with hopes of finding the dominant male. As we made our way to the Pan we spotted the pride in a different locations and made our way over to that part of the bush and the dominant male was there with the pride! WOW! Amazing to see, although he was feeling quite lazy at this very moment and would not move. It was not until our evening game drive when we spotted him again in the same location, were we able to get great pictures of him awake and vibrant. We again continued to much of the same wildlife we had seen up until this point of the trip. We then headed back to camp, for another round of hamburgers and Jameson. We repeated the process from the night before except the sounds of the night were overshadowed by the first big rain of the year in Savuti. WOW, was this an experience too! The wind was blowing around like crazy and rain poured all through the night. Vincent’s equipment held up perfect through the elements and this helped us to enjoy the changing of the season!! We felt so lucky to see all of the wildlife we did, as the rains spread the wildlife out more as they do not need to stay near the watering holes.
We awoke the next morning a little later to let the rain finish up and then we packed up camp and set off for Ihaha. We were a little nervous about the road conditions due to all the rain, but we found it made driving through the deep sand easier than on the way in, as it was more compact. The main thing is to avoid all of the gigantic puddles of water that can take up 90% of the road in some places. The key for us was to listen to Vincent’s advice and take it slow. We made it to the Ihaha campsite for our final night. The road to Ihaha near the end is extremely rocky and a different terrain than we had experienced at other areas of the park. We were told by the park rangers that there was no water facilities working in Ihaha. There was no staff onsite at Ihaha which meant we were truly out in the wild with no resources to ask for help or advice. We did not see any other people at the Ihaha campsites, which meant we had this wild place all to ourselves. As we pulled into our campsite there was a troop of baboons hanging out, who quickly dispersed once we drove our vehicle onto the campsite. We quickly realized we had three resident hippos in front of our campsite on the Chobe River Front. We did a game drive along the river and saw some crocodiles making their way up and down the river. We saw a lot of antelope, giraffes and more baboons. We came back to camp and made our biggest fire yet, as we felt it was necessary being completely alone amongst all of our new animal friends. We cooked some chicken and watched The Ghost and the Darkness on the iPad over some more Jameson. We headed off to sleep around 10pm or so.
We awoke the next morning and headed out of the park and towards Kasane to our hotel before heading to Livingstone the next day to enjoy Victoria Falls. We couldn’t be more happy with our wildlife experiences and with the service from Tawana Self Drive. It was truly an experience we will never forget and I could not recommend self-driving (with Tawana of course) more. We enjoyed some nice showers and food at the River View Lodge slightly outside of Kasane town and the next morning Vincent and Julie came to pick-up the vehicle from us. I can’t thank Julie and Vincent enough for helping to make our experience one to never forget. If you want a real service provider from a wholesome, boutique operation, then go with Tawana Self Drive.