In January of 2016 we had gone to the small town of Palapye for a friend's wedding. We stayed the night at a small but quaint Cresta Hotel and the following morning made our way to the nearby Khama Rhino Sanctuary for a quick day trip. After enjoying that day-visit and not realising the full potential of the place, we agreed to come back another time for a few days and really appreciate what the Sanctuary has to offer. And a few months later, we were on our way, about four hours away from Gaborone, to spend two nights in a chalet at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.
We arrived in the early afternoon, checked in at the reception, bought a few bags of firewood and headed off to our chalet in the main camp, amidst other chalets and camp sites, all fairly comfortably spaced amongst each other. Chalets and campsites are situated around large mokongwa trees and our chalet had a braai and fireplace outside under the large shade of one of the mokongwa trees. As we drove up to the chalet a female kudu casually glanced at us as we approached, and then just as casually walked out of our site and into the bush.
We unpacked our bags, coolboxes and cutlery only to find that the chalets were equipped with some essential cutlery, dishes and pots and pans. Along with the bar fridge and the kettle for making coffee we had almost everything we needed, which we weren't aware of as on the website visitors are told to bring their own cutlery. There is a wooden table and a few sturdy stools next to the fridge, a comfortable double bed and rather small mosquito net which doesn't comfortably cover you whole. A doorway seperates the bathroom - a seperate toilet, a sink with mirror and a shower. The roof is thatched and hangs low, just below the half-wall of the chalet itself.
After having a beer while relaxing on the porch in front of the chalet, we still had time to go for a quick drive to the pans to see some game. We followed the map and after driving along some fun, sandy tracks we arrived at the first pan and sure enough, there were a few rhino there. Unfortunately, there were a couple of other vehicles already there with loads of people standing around each. They had obviously come for the proverbial "sun downer" - having a drink while watching the sun go down - but as we arrived it seemed more like a raucous party in the making. We came, we saw and we decided to leave. There's a second pan not too far from this one, so we decided to leave the party and go off to a hopefully calmer location. The drive was worth it as the second pan was far less occupied with ample game for viewing. This included a small herd of rhino making their way to the water for a drink.
We hung out with the rhino and a few wildebeest as the sun slowly made its way down. A couple of other vehicles came by, stopped for a bit and moved on. We knew we had the whole day ahead tomorrow, so we headed back to the chalet to start preparing dinner while there was still some sunlight around.
The outside area of the chalet is large and spacious. The fireplaces are next to the mokongwa tree so that's where we set up our tables, chairs and gas burner. As the sun set, we had the fire burning, a beer in hand and we listened to the birds in the trees around us and the other campers arriving and setting up their tents or trailers. As night fell and the fire lit up the canopy of trees above us we prepared our dinner of spaghetti bolognaise* sipped on some wine and made plans for the following day.
*FOOD TIP: We made the bolognaise sauce a couple of days before and froze it for our trip. With the fire roaring we emptied the frozen contents from the ziplock bag into a pot and left it to thaw next to the fire and voila... ready-made bolognaise sauce without having to prepare everything from scratch.
The next day, after having a quick 'bacon & egg' breakfast and coffee in the shade of the trees and washing up our dishes in the conveniently placed sink located at the back of the chalet, we packed a small coolbox with cold cokes and headed out into the bush for a leisurely game drive. I lowered the air pressure in the RAV4's tyres a bit, not to prevent getting stuck (the sand isn't that deeep), but just to make the ride softer and not make any existing corrugations (of which there were only a few) any worse. We stopped by the pans again, but as it was late morning, the animals weren't as keen to be out in the warmer sun. So we drove along, exploring the rest of the bush and encountered numerous zebra, springbok, impala and drove through the middle of a herd of wildebeest who had found a large enough shadey area that covered part of the track, so they were on both sides of the road. We stopped to take photos and watch them as they lazily ate the grass and nibbled on the leaves of the low trees. One youngster fascinated us as it used the stub of branch to sharpen his miniscule horns! :)
Around midday we made our way back to the chalet for lunch with a detour to the reception where we picked up another couple of bags of wood for the fire and braai that evening. The mokongwa tree and its smaller followers made some great shade for us even with the sun at its highest. As we prepared a quick sandwich lunch, a distinct tapping sound came from the Toyota. I went to investigate and found a curious African Grey Hornbill perched on the driver's window and pecking at his reflection in the side mirror. After a short photo session with the bird, we had our lunch, relaxed in the cool shade and then headed out for another game drive.
We passed the first pan and made our way to the second but took a slightly longer way to get there and we're glad we did. As we came out of a dense section of the sanctuary we noticed that in the clearing in front of us was a mini-convoy of about three vehicles, all motionless. We appraoched slowly out of the trees and looked around to see what was causing the hold up. Then we noticed a small herd of rhino on the left, quite close to the road. They were subtly making their way closer and closer to the road while the people sitting in the back of the Toyota pickup that was at the end of the convoy, closest to the rhinos, were smilingly uneasily. The rhinos suddenly sprang to action and jogged right across the road and made their way one by way over to the other side.
A few minutes later the convoy moved on and we came out into the clearing and came to the spot where the rhino herd had crossed and were now lazily grazing the grass a close, but not too uncomfortable distance away. We stopped there to admire them, take photos and comment on their massive size. Another car came behind us and also stopped. From the opposite direction came a game vehicle that stopped a short distance from us, thus making like an opening between the road. All the while, the rhinos were grazing and slowly but surely making their way closer and closer to us. A few other cars came up behind us and stopped when they saw the proximity of the rhinos. As they approached the "opening": between our RAV4 and the game cruiser, we could hear the loud chewing as they grazed, heads down but inching closer and closer to the road. They eventually made their way through the gap between the two cars amidst fears from my better half that they would ram our car, which they didn't. :)
As the herd moved off to graze at a relatively safe distance this time, the cars behind passed us and nods of approval were exchanged between the passengers of each vehicle. We hung back a little while longer to give us some space from the crowds. We bid the herd farewell and moved on. We took a smaller route on the map, away from the pans where we presumed everyone else would be and went along a sandy, less frequently used track through some bushy and clear areas. Along the way we spotted kudu, some magnificent giraffe and even fresh rhino droppings, but no rhino. We searched the area for about an hour but alas came across no rhino during our search. The sun was setting as well and it wasn't that easy to spot them anyway. So we made our way to the camp which was about twenty minutes away from where we were. The sandy path back was fun to drive as the sand basically guides your vehicle along without you having to really steer it at all (a trick I picked up from watching one of Andrew St. Pierrie's Youtube videos on overlanding).
We arrived at the chalet just as night fell and we could see fires being lit around the other campsites and chalets. Tonight the camp sounded pretty full as there were more voices and bodies heading towards the ablution blocks (and mistaking our chalet for one of them...luckily we informed them on time that this was in fact a chalet. It was dark, we understand. :). We lit both fires tonight, one for the ambiance and one for the meat. Fillets, chicken and boerewors were soon smoking over the fire as we enjoyed the stillness of the summer evening. Even though all camps seemed full, noise was kept at a respectable minimum (except for the occasionaly loud burst of laughter) that evening.
We enjoyed our dinner and discussed our plans for the following day, as we were heading back to Gaborone. We decided that we'll have an early breakfast, pack up our things, drop the key off at reception and go for one more visit to the pans before we left for home. And that's just what we did. Around 11am we were at Malema's pan, hanging out with a small herd of rhino who were socialising with a few giraffe who were wandering by. We took a few more photos and eventually headed back to the reception and the gate. We didn't want to leave too late so as to not drive at night*. At the gate Dina popped in to the shop to buy a couple of cold cokes while I aired up the tyres before we hit the tarmac.
* Driving in between towns at night in Botswana is risky and dangerous as livestock (cows, goats and donkeys mostly) freely roam the road side and frequently cross the road during the day and even at night. Being hard to see the animals at night makes for very dangerous night driving in Botswana. To be avoided, if possible.
The Khama Rhino Sanctuary really is a beautiful place to visit and unwind. Game is plentiful and it seems the rhinos aren't shy and hiding from human sight at all times. There are numerous other animals and birds to see and the pans themselves are always popular meeting spots for the various horned and hoofed animals in the sanctuary. There is even a rustic bird hide overlooking a small waterhole where bird watchers and photographers can spend some time in. The chalets are basic but with electricity and running water and cutlery too. The site itself is large, spacious and very shadey with a convenient fire pit and braai stand as well. The sink at the back of the chalet is convenient for washing the dishes and the local hornbill is always around to keep you company...and look at his handsome self in your car's side mirror! ;)
Visit the Khama Rhino Sanctuary website for more information and booking.
See the rest of our chalet trip photos from the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, below:
Location of Khama Rhino Sanctuary
"We are a Botswana-based couple who live for those outdoor, bush-bound moments."