“If you go to Khutse alone and unprepared, you will die!” That was the general consensus from all our research as we planned our first trip to the Khutse Game Reserve in Botswana. "One life, live it" was our cheesy attitude and off we went on our 3-day/2-night camping trip to Khutse…and we lived to tell the tale!
Over the past three years of our life in Botswana, we’ve been to quite a few camps and lodges across the country but Khutse had been on our bucket list from day one, but we didn’t have the vehicle for such a trip (our RAV4, we feared, just wouldn’t cut it) and we didn’t feel ready for a trip out into the “proper bush”, i.e. no electricity, no water, no flushing toilets, no cellphone reception etc. But having recently bought a second-hand, large and very capable 1999 Toyota Prado TZ (read about this vehicle, how we bought and what we did to it, here) and having accumulated enough experience and camping gear over the past three years we felt we were ready to “Tackle Khutse”. Shortly after we got the keys to our 4x4, we made the bookings for our Khutse campsites through Big Foot Tours and slowly but surely started our planning and research.
Booking a campsite is essential, especially if you are planning on going over a long weekend as we did over Easter, but unfortunately we were not able to book the same campsite for two nights in row as they were already booked (which turned out to be a good thing in the end) so we got Moreswe 4 and 3 (one night each) in the South-Western part of the reserve. “Large sites” and “very peaceful” were the recurring online comments on the Moreswe campsites, and “very peaceful” was exactly what we wanted.
Khutse is about 220km away from Gaborone, with the last 100km being a gravel road from Letlhakeng to the gate. The relatively close proximity of the reserve to Gaborone means that city residents often go there on long or even normal weekends so we had quite a few people we could speak to about what to expect, what the road conditions are like and what to bring (water and firewood being the most important as there is none available in the reserve).
We were off on our maiden voyage to the Khutse Game Reserve on Saturday 31st of March, 2018. With a full tank of fuel and two 20L jerry cans on the Prado’s roof rack we made our way to the small town of Molepolole, about 50km North West of Gaborone, took a right turn (there’s a sign) and drove the next 60km swiftly and traffic-free to Letlhakeng. Here there is a small petrol station (on your right just before you hit the gravel road) where we stopped and topped up our tank. As we left the tarmac, I put the Prado into hi-range and not 200m later we were faced with our first obstacle. Due to the heavy rains over the past months, this gravel road had become a labyrinth of large water puddles and we were staring at a big one! We stopped and tried to estimate how deep it was and whether we could cross it. The banks were steep and over-grown so forward seemed like the only option. Just as I was about to ask who was willing to wade through the water to see how deep it was, a Ford Ranger 4x4 pick-up came up from behind us. The driver looked at us strangely, went on ahead without so much as a blink and crossed the water quickly and easily. Dina and I both laughed and decided to follow suit. Seat belts on, windows closed, foot on accelerator, forward we went and SPLASH into the water! The Prado waded through like it was nothing and we both cheered as we came out the other side. “This is gonna be a fun drive” I said, and so it was. The next nearly 100km were filled with water crossings, mud, water crossings, cows, donkeys, more cows and more donkeys and even more water crossings.
Driving along at an average of 30-40km/h, and passing through the villages of Khudumelyape and Salajwe along the way, we reached the Southern gate at around 12pm. At the reception we checked-in at one desk, showing the gentleman our camping voucher. “Moreswe 4?” he asked. “Eish, that’s faaar!”. Our research had indicated it was quite far, but was definitely worth it and plus we would see most of that side of the reserve just on our drive to camp, so it didn’t bother us. We then moved to desk number two to pay our park entry fees. P30 per person (Botswana residents) per day, plus P10 per vehicle (with local registration) which added up to P140 for us and our Prado for the two days. There’s a board in the reception office as well with pinned sightings of certain animals at certain campsites on specific days. Lions hadn’t been around since early March….yet we hoped they would come just for our sake! The lady at desk two told us there’s a tap outside with which we can fill up our water containers. It’s apparently a bit salty but you can drink it. We brought our own 25L plastic jerry can with water as well as an ample supply of bottled drinking water, so we were good. After the obligatory Khutse-entry-gate-photos, and after deflating the tyres a little as the tracks inside the reserve were supposedly sandy, we finally entered the Khutse Game Reserve!
We were given a map* of the reserve at the reception and followed it to the Moreswe pan, where four campsites are located. The track wasn’t too bad or too sandy but there were a number of water puddles along the way. We saw springbok off in the distance and came across a number of large ostrich by the side of the track with a flock of young ones running in the middle of the track. We followed them for a short while before they dashed off to the left to join their adults. There’s a turn to the right about 22km later which leads to Molose waterhole, but we continued on straight to Moreswe through quite thick grass and even had to go off road a bit to avoid a fallen tree. Seems this road isn’t that frequently used.
*Download a PDF of the map here.
By 3pm we had reached Moreswe 4 (after having gotten a bit lost around the sites as we had seemingly come along a 'back route'). Moreswe 4 is a large, open campsite with ample shade provided by the low-hanging branches of the central tree. There’s a large fire pit (as well as a smaller, unused one nearby), a bucket shower and long-drop toilet, both individually encircled by tall wooden poles. We parked under the shade of the tree and setup our camp in the peace and quiet of the mid afternoon. Soon after we had drinks in hand and were warming up the pre-cooked, semi-frozen bean stew we had made a few days earlier. The plan had been to prepare some meals at home, freeze them (and keep them frozen in the cool box), then thaw them earlier in the day when we were planning to eat them. As we were having our lunch we discovered that the campsite was infested with ticks and no matter how many we eliminated, more just kept coming. Their presence was soon eradicated by Dina’s camp fire and we were able to sit back and finally relax.
The drive that day had been a long and tiresome one, so we opted to just stay in camp and enjoy the serenity and sounds of the bush around us. We heard fellow campers at Moreswe 3, which was about 50m away from us, but they were as quiet as we were. As Dina did her thing with the camp fire, I cleaned out some of the grass that had gotten stuck in the Prado’s radiator as in some sections of the track the grass was really tall (note to self – next time make sure to fit a seed/grass net to the front of the car). A full moon gave us sufficient natural lighting that evening as we cooked our pasta dinner – again, pre-cooked sauce from home – and had a couple of cold ones before sleep got the better of us. We were both tired and the plan was to go for an early morning game drive, so we packed up all our stuff (left the table and chairs outside), setup our “beds” and were asleep by 10pm.
Day 2 started off with coffee shortly after we got up at around 6am. Few things can beat the morning stillness and fresh, crisp air while out in the bush and the hustle and bustle of city-life seemed a million miles away! We folded up our mattress/sleeping bag/pillow beds and jumped in the car for a quick game drive before it got too hot and all the animals vanished into the bush to find shade. In retrospect, we probably should have left the campsite even earlier than we did, as it took us about 45 minutes to get to our destination, the Molose water hole where, according to internet lore, lions hang out most of the time. We were in no rush however and soon enough we came across a small herd of Gemsbok grazing lazily by the side of the track. We took a few photos as they eyed us curiously and moved on. Not 15 minutes later and crossing the track in front of us was a magnificent herd of about 17 giraffes. We came to a stop as they crossed and slowly strolled past us, some stopping to have a look at these curious creatures that were gawking at them. More photos accompanied by “oh look at how dark and mature that one is” and “oh look at that large one, he’s got one broken horn” (technically not horns but “ossicones”). The giraffes eventually got bored of us and made their way further into the bush and we took our cue and drove on to Molose.
22km later and the thick bush surrounding the road gave way to vast plains of grassland, sprinkled with a few trees and bushes. We passed a couple of camp sites (the Molose campsites) and turned towards the water hole. There is a track that goes around the small water hole which we followed all the way around. Not a single lion to be seen. Very ambitious of us at 8:30 in the morning, although it seems they hadn’t been in the area for a couple of weeks now anyway. We did see a lot of relatively fresh elephant droppings all around the waterhole and had we taken the Gate-Molose-Moreswe road yesterday when we arrived, we very well might have seen ellies! We parked under the shade of a tree next to the water hole, sipped some coffee, munched on some crackers and watched the pigeons flocking around the water’s edge for a drink before slowly making our way back to our campsite.
On the way back we came across a couple of other overlanders taking a drive through the reserve. A friendly nod, wave and smile were exchanged and we continued along. Not many other animals were seen en route back to our campsite apart from the same herds of giraffes and gemsbok we saw earlier. Check-out time for campers is 11am in the morning and we had booked Moreswe 3 for our second night. We drove past Moreswe 3 and saw that our neighbours from the previous night had already left, so we decided to move our stuff there right away while everything was still packed up. Within 10 minutes we had migrated to our new campsite and were setting up. Moreswe 3 is as spacious as 4, with the same ‘amenities’ (fire pit, bucket shower and long-drop toilet), but the shade the tree provides is much less. No sign of ticks though, so that was a plus! And we had brought along our gazebo, which was quickly set up to give us some shade as we fried some eggs and sausages for breakfast.
The mildly hot afternoon was spent in the shade, sipping drinks and watching a very friendly yellow-billed hornbill as he scurried around our campsite, looking for morsels to eat and just generally surveying these new visitors to his domain. Later in the afternoon as the sun began its journey to the horizon, we hopped into our 4x4 and made our way to the nearby Moreswe Pan for sundowners. The pan is really close by and features a small water hole on the one side. We followed the track to the water hole where we parked and enjoyed the setting sun and the glowing light it cast onto the plains in front of us. Ostrich roamed about the plains and we saw small herds of impala and springbok in the distance on the other side. We sipped our cold whiskey & coke, took some photos of the spectacular landscape around us and as the sunlight dwindled we continued along the track around the pan, making our way back to camp.
Back at camp, the fire was lit and another full moon graced us with its presence, rendering pointless all of the lanterns and torches we brought along. The fire was soon crackling nicely, emitting a pleasant glow around our cosy campsite as we chatted in the silence of the bush. There were no sounds coming from campsite 4 all evening, which probably meant that the campers never arrived, so we didn’t really have to move, but the lack of ticks at Moreswe 3 made the move worth it. Pre-cooked and frozen steaks in sauce were thawed and put in the pan to fry a bit more for dinner and potatoes wrapped in foil were thrown onto the coals. A quick tomatoe and feta salad was made (ingredients still kept cold in our cool box), a bottle of merlot was opened as we enjoyed our final evening and dinner in this amazing place.
The following morning we slept in a little and I was up by 7am, making coffee and enjoying the warm rays of the sun on a crisp morning. The plan was to relax a bit in camp, have a quick breakfast and starting packing up as we still had to drive all the way back to the gate and then head on home to Gaborone. Dina got up shortly afterwards and soon we were making 2-minute noodles for breakfast and sandwiches for the road back home. One of the “to do’s” (as indicated on the large sign in the toilet area) was to bury the ash from your fire, which we duly did, we cleaned up the campsite, packed everything away and by 10am were on the road again. This time we chose to head straight to Molose and then continue East to Mahurushele pan and then south towards the gate. The road East was sandier than in the western side of the reserve, but not bad enough to warrant deflating the tyres anymore.
Somewhere between Tshilwane and Motailane pans we stopped for a short break alongside a vast plain to admire the game we could see. Impala, ostrich and sable roamed here as well as a small herd of springbok, one of which came up from behind us and passed by quite close to our car. The peaceful herd of sable suddenly scattered and we immediately thought lions were around but after scanning the landscape with our binoculars we saw no large cats but rather a man on a horse…. Yup, a man, riding a horse in the middle of the Khutse game reserve. He stopped and got off his horse to let his animal graze a bit. We got back in our car and slowly moved on and he jumped back on his horse and made his way straight towards us. We stopped the car and greeted him in Setswana and he greeted us back with a smile and a way. “Ga gona metsi” he said, pointing to the empty water can he was carrying with him. We gave him one of our 1.5L bottles of water and an unopened packet of fresh sausages, which he accepted, thanked us and made his way off into the bush, with spear in hand. Maybe this is normal out here in the wilderness, who knows?
We reached the south gate by about 12:30 and while Dina signed us out at the reception, I checked the car and tyres and figured that we still had enough fuel in the tank to make it to Lethlakeng without having to use any of the jerry cans. Having signed out, we bid Khutse farewell “until next time” and made our way back to Letlhakeng, this time on a seemingly different road. We were going the same way we came, but the road was mostly dry leaving very little traces of the water puddles we encountered on the way in. Driving was smooth and relatively quick, driving at around 60km/h this time and by 14:00 we were at the Letlhakeng fuel station, emptying one jerry can of petrol into our tank. Behind the fuel station is a tyre repair shack where the guy aired up our tyres. The filling station was crowded and it was much quicker to give the guy P20 to air them up than for me to park somewhere else, unpack the air compressor and inflate all four tyres again. It was smooth sailing on to Molepolole and then Gaborone, where the taxis, crowds and noise brought us back to reality in a flash.
The Khutse game reserve in comparison to the mighty CKGR to the north is tiny. While the CKGR is nearly 53,000km2 Khutse is only 2590km2 but it’s still a very vast and large place, giving one a feeling of complete isolation and solitude. It isn’t a place for the first-time camper, or for the faint-hearted seeing as there is no water, electricity, shelter or cellphone reception, but if you are keen for the outdoors and for the great wilderness that Botswana has to offer, are well prepared and willing to rough it out in the bush, then Khutse should be on your bucket list as well….and don’t worry, with care and proper planning, you will make it back alive!
Visit the Bigfoot Tours website to find out more about the Khutse Game Reserve and how to make camp bookings. Below is a gallery of some of our photos from this trip. Feel free to post comments at the bottom of this page if you would like to visit and found this article and photos useful, or if you have visited Khutse Game Reserve feel free to share your experiences with us.
*Road Beneath Our Feet and its founders have no affiliation with the mentioned game reserve/camp/lodge/hotel/accommodation provider. All comments are based on our personal experience and we aim to inform other travelers based on that experience and our point of view only.*
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"We are a Botswana-based family of 3, with a passion for going out into nature and the bush any chance we get!"