Khutse - Land of Fire & Elephants
It has become tradition with us that anytime we decide to go camping, something will always turn up or happen that will make the trip that much more exciting or frustrating or nerve-wrecking (or in most cases all three). Our latest trip to Khutse involved fire, rain, magnificent sunsets and an elephant charge!
Preparation for this trip started well in advance, over 2 months prior when we made plans with our friends Steve and Julie from Venturesome Overland, to go camping together. We decided on Khutse, the campsites were chosen, bookings were made and preparations for this joint adventure were under way. Problem #1 came when the canvas ground tent we had arranged to have made for the trip wasn't ready on time and we had to quickly come up with a Plan B! Three nights before we were to leave, phone calls were frantically being made to friends and friends of friends and we were lucky enough to find someone who had an old rooftop tent that they weren't using and were so kind enough to lend it to us (thanks Kay and Bonolo)! Even more luck came our way when the guys over at vehicle-accessory specialists Hi-Range Safari Centre told us they had an older model, full-size roof rack for our Prado that they could sell and install for us at a great price. So in a matter of two days, we got a larger roof rack fitted, found a rooftop tent and got it mounted just in time for our trip!
Steve and Julie left on their trip to the Trans Frontier Park a week before and we would meet up at Khutse on the following Saturday. That Saturday morning, we packed the last of our gear and hit the road just after 7am. We received a distress call from Steve requesting some parts to be bought for their vehicle as they were stuck at the Khutse gate. Having found the parts needed in Molepolele (Taj Spares and Fitment Centre - Contact Jakes on 71576789 / 72576789), we arrived at the Khutse gate at around 11am and met up with our traveling companions. Unfortunately Steve wasn't able to get their overland rig up and running again, so with heavy hearts we parted ways - us heading into the game reserve and them waiting for a tow-truck to come the next day.
Our campsite for the first night was Khankwe 4, in the northern section of the reserve, which we reached within a couple of hours. The campsite is quaint with a great view over the Khankwe pan, although we didn't see any animals there. The slowly-gathering rain clouds and flashes of lightning in the sky brought back nightmares of our first Botswana camping trip where we were caught by heavy rains on our first night and threw away our leaking nylon tent (read about that horrific night here). We were alone, in the Khutse Game Reserve, with an old rooftop tent we had never used before, with dark, menacing clouds coming at us from both sides, but we were excited to be back in Khutse, far from civilisation and were determined to not let a little rain dampen our spirits!
We made our dinner with our car shielding us from the light drizzle that started to fall. "This isn't too bad" we thought. The rain fell heavier and heavier and we eventually scurried up into the safety of our rooftop tent, which thankfully wasn't leaking and the added rain-cover seemed to be doing the trick of keeping the rain out. Amateur tip #1 for any rooftop tent user... if you do have a rain cover, make sure you tie it tightly down before you fall asleep on a rainy night. We didn't and the next morning were shocked to see water seeping out of the mattress as we folded up the tent after a peaceful night's sleep! The top of the mattress was as dry as were we, but the underside needed some urgent drying out.
The wind was blowing that morning which gave our "Kalahari Breaksfast" it's name, as our scrambled eggs were spiced with a little bit of desert sand that the wind kept throwing at us. We started packing up our camp as we would be moving onto Moreswe campsite #2 where we would spend the next 2 nights. A convoy of "DriveBots" members (fellow travelers from Gaborone, who had also come to Khutse for the weekend) passed through our camp to say hi and soon we were on the road again. We hadn't seen any animals at all at Khankwe 4, but had found fresh hyena tracks that morning around camp, which was good enough!
A few weeks prior to our trip, Steve and I read online that there were wild fires spreading through the Khutse Game Reserve, which made us wonder if we'd be able to camp there at all. The extent of the fire was becoming very visible as we made our way down, in a south-westerly direction to the Moreswe campsites. Most parts of the reserve were charred black with a few sections showing signs of life in the form of lone trees and some grass making it's way through the burnt surroundings.
We reached Moreswe 2 in the early afternoon and immediately took out our mattress and sleeping bags and hung them out to dry in the hot sun. We setup camp, made some shade and spent the rest of the day reading, sipping on cold Heinekens and enjoying the peace and silence of the bush. We had our friend Chris (also from Gaborone) and his camp-mates come pay us a visit later as they were making their way down to Moreswe Pan for a game drive. They were staying at Molose campsite 4 and had been told that there were elephants around. Shortly after they left, we also went for a short drive around Moreswe Pan and stopped on the edge of the pan to watch the sunset, which disappointingly vanished rather quickly. The evening was spent around the campfire, making dinner, having some wine and listening to the sounds of nature around us, before settling into our dry tent for a peaceful rain-less night of sleep.
Day 3 was sunny with no wind and after a quick breakfast we folded up our tent and went for a drive through the reserve, seeing a magnificent brown snake eagle flying past. Our intention was to pass by the Molose waterhole and go to the gate to refill our water container as we were running low on cooking and washing water. We stopped by Molose 4 campsite to say hi to Chris and the gang and ended up staying there for a bit, chatting and having a drink with them. They also very kindly gave us one of their water containers as they had more than enough water to go around, thus saving us the long and hot trip to the gate and back. That's what camping comradery is all about, thanks guys!
We then all went down to the Molose water hole where we saw a small herd of elephants and a lone bull heading off into the bush as we approached. Once the other vehicles left, we parked under the shade of a large tree, had some lunch and watched the lone bull as he cautiously strolled back to the waterhole, passing near metres from our car. We figure he saw us in the shade, but we made no noise and didn't move, so were not seen as a threat to him. He splished and splashed in the waterhole and seemed oblivious to his surroundings.
After a short while we started up the car and drove around to the other side of the waterhole to get a better view of Mr Washy. As we stopped at the water's edge he saw us and his fun-time came to an end. He strolled around a bit as we took photos of him. All seemed fine and dandy until his strolling turned into charging as he came right at us! Dina yelled "Go Go Go" and I hit the gas as my finger kept pressing the shutter on my camera.
We moved about 20 metres away as the bull came up out of the waterhole towards us. I hit the brakes and Dina glanced back. He paused for a split second and then charged again. "Gooooo" Dina yelled in my ear and I floored it again moving off and away from the clearly peeved elephant bull who was not happy at all that we had disturbed his me-time! I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw him stop, but we kept going as we didn't want to agitate him anymore. With hearts pounding we moved away from Molose and headed back to camp.
Back at camp we had a cold, refreshing shower and after having calmed our nerves from the "Elephant charge" we packed up our chairs and drove down to the Moreswe pan where we got front row seats for that afternoon's sunset. We chilled in the shade of our car, reading books, sipping cold beverages and enjoyed the peace and quiet as the local herd of springbok grazed nearby.
As the sun began its gradual decent to meet with the horizon, we moved our chairs forward and basked in the glow of the late afternoon rays. We snapped some photos, and before we knew it the sun had vanished again, leaving behind a faint glow in the maroon sky. We sat there for a little while longer before packing up and heading back to camp.
Our final evening in Khutse was spent around the campfire, sipping wine, having dinner and watching the countless stars as they decorated the dark canvas of the night sky. We laughed about our elephant incident earlier that day and were disappointed not to have seen or even heard lions in Khutse. Oh well, there's always next time. We turned in relatively early that night as we planned on leaving for home before 10am the next morning.
I was up at around 7am the next morning, made us coffee and watched the springbok through my binoculars as they came out onto the pan for their morning graze. Dina got up soon after, we drank our coffee and expressed our reluctance to head back to the city. We had more firewood, extra water, leftover food.... we could stay another night, couldn't we? Oh if only.... But reality beckoned and so we packed up camp and by 9:30 we were cruising the sand tracks back to the gate, stopping along the way at Chris' camp to return the water container and bid them farewell. The drive back to the gate was steady and hot as the sun shone down hard on us. We did have the luck of seeing what we thought were lion tracks in the middle of the track, which we followed for a couple of kilometres, hoping to see the big cats somewhere. But unfortunately the tracks disappeared at one point leaving us with no sight of the one animal we have yet to tick off our list.
As we moved closer to the gate, the evidence of the fire became less visible and by the time we got to Khutse pan, there was a lot more greenery and we actually saw impala, gemsbok and some more birdlife. We passed by the apparently abandoned airstrip which we didn't even know existed there and were at the gate by about 13h. At the gate we asked about Steve and Julie and were told the tow-truck came for them the next morning after we left. We aired up our tyres, removed the seed net, emptied our jerry cans into the Prado's tank and bid farewell to the amazing place that is the Khutse Game Reserve, silently knowing that we'd be back again soon.
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Who is RBOF?
"We are a Botswana-based family of 3, with a passion for going out into nature and the bush any chance we get!"