Botswana Trip Report – Part 1

By Bert Duplessis

 

 Kings Pool Camp
As is customary at most of the camps in Northern Botswana, dinner at Kings Pool Camp in the Linyanti Reserve of Northern Botwana is a communal affair, served buffet-style. Vegetarians are well catered for.

If I had any lingering doubt as to which country to recommend as the best game-viewing destination in Africa, no more. I just returned from what can only be described as a mind-blowing educational trip with Wilderness Safaris in Botswana, experiencing both in quantity and in quality an astounding array of wildlife sightings.

In just 10 days there in late May & June, my wife and I saw close on 50 lions – twice seen hunting – once for buffalo and the other time for kudu. We observed leopard on three different occasions including one with the remains of an impala in a tree and another one with a youngster frolicking alongside. African wild dogs were likewise seen three times, once just seconds after they had taken down an impala; and cheetah twice, the latter sighting of a female knocking down and ‘delivering’ an impala to her five youngsters. She patiently waited in the shade until they had their fill, before she moved in and fed herself, keeping a wary lookout as the vultures started moving in. There were many other fantastic sightings including scores of elephants, magnificent sable antelope, a martial eagle on a fresh impala kill, a ‘Giraffic Park’ scene at one of the camps with as many as 23 giraffe in one area, all staring at two cheetahs walking by; some superb night drives (including my first ever sighting of aardwolf ), etc. etc.

However I hasten to add that the Wilderness people made an even stronger impression. They were simply wonderful. Without exception, every single Wilderness Safaris employee we met at the various camps in Botswana – as well as at Matusadona Water Lodge in Zimbabwe – was terrific. They made us feel welcome right away, they were friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable to boot. Very professional all round.

I have always been very relaxed about sending clients halfway around the world on a Wilderness Safaris trip and my experience this year justifies every bit of confidence I have in them.

Our first stop was Victoria Falls where we spent the night at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Don’t believe a word of the reports you may have seen that the venerable old Vic Falls Hotel has seen better days. Not so. Our room – in the recently added west wing – was large and comfortable with powerful air- conditioning, a massive ball and claw style bath, cable television and a well-stocked mini-bar. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, by all means make an effort to enjoy high tea on the terrace (served between 3 and 5 pm). You can skip lunch that day. For about $15 (for two) you get plenty of dainty cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches (sans crust naturally), several chunky scones with strawberries and freshly whipped cream and a selection of petit fours to top it all off. High tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel comes with as much Earl Grey tea as you care to have, attentive service and one of the best views in Africa: a long, lingering shot down the Batoka (sp?) Gorge with the railway bridge over the Zambezi River at the end.

We enjoyed the table d’hote dinner at the Livingstone Room (the hotel will provide the required coat and tie for the gentlemen). Salmon tartare salad, mushroom soup, Kariba bream, Zimbabwe beef stuffed with chicken & spinach and a forgettable dessert for about $18 per person. Impeccable service and impressive setting, but rather quiet on Mondays when the live band has the night off.

Exploring the waterways
A novel way of exploring the waterways around Kings Pool. This ‘houseboat’ is used for wildlife observation and for sunset cruises.

On May 26 a friendly Botswana customs official stamped our passports at the Kazungula Road border post and in short order we were en route from Kasane’s neat little airport to Kings Pool Camp. Our 50-minute flight in one of Sefofane Air’s well-maintained Cessna Stationairs would take us alongside the flooded Chobe River for a while and then across into the Linyanti area.

Our first camp was Kings Pool where we were fortunate enough to be put up in tent # 1, the elegant honeymoon suite, a large and well-appointed tent under thatch, complete with tiled bathroom. As was the case at every Wilderness Safaris camp we visited, we received a comprehensive briefing about camp routine, activities and safety procedures. In our tent there was a guest information brochure with detailed information about aspects of the area and its wildlife, a disclaimer of liability, a general warning about the presence of wildlife in and around the camp, game drive etiquette, gratuities, bar and curios, emergencies, electricity, laundry, etc. There was also a complimentary bottle of South African wine and a bird & mammal checklist.

Kings Pool is noted for its very large elephant population, several of which we couldn’t help noticing or hearing, as they were feeding right outside and around our tent. In fact, our walk back to the main lounge for lunch took much longer than anticipated, as we had to wait for a couple of elephants to move away. Even so, the walk was pretty adventurous, as we tip-toed past one or two elephants and ducked behind some foliage or sneaked under the balustrades to stay as far away from them as possible.

From past clients I had heard many stories about how Kings Pool’s noisy and naturally cantankerous hippopotamus population had kept them sleepless at night. As if to remind us of their presence, two hippo put on quite a noisy display mating in what appeared to be fairly deep water. All during dinner later that evening we could hear them and the rest of their clan bellowing at each other. However, we slept right through the 4 am ‘hippo wake-up call’ which I had heard so much about. Another notable inhabitant of Kings Pool is crocodile, with a 3 to 4 meter (10 to 12 feet) specimen being visible upon our arrival. Guests need not be reminded that the only safe bathing at Kings Pool is in the plunge pool.

Our afternoon game drive with concession manager Angus as our guide started on a high note. Not long into the drive, we came across a wild dog pack of nine, resting up and lolling about in a loose group, a couple of the younger ones coming right up to take a look at our vehicle. Over the following few minutes their demeanor changed from relaxed and inquisitive to alert and focused as they started hunting. We followed the main group as they rambled through the bush, slowly increasing their speed to a steady trot. Soon, they were moving rapidly through fairly dense woodland, changing direction once or twice, but heading in the general direction of the floodplain. Two hyenas could also be seen, following the dogs, in the hope of a ‘free meal’, no doubt. By this time, there were two vehicles in radio contact ‘working’ the hunt, one trying to maintain visual contact with the dogs, and the other one anticipating the direction and speed of the chase. As it happened, we were in the lead towards the end. As we emerged from the tree-line and descended onto the edge of floodplain, in a cloud of dust, we came upon the wild dogs just seconds after they had brought down an impala ram. It was a scene of primeval intensity as they devoured their prey, the sound of their teeth tearing the skin and ripping at the sinews all that could be heard other than our muttered exclamations of amazement and awe. Within the space of just five minutes or so the impala was reduced to little more than backbone, skull and horns. We sat there for the longest time just taking it all in, waiting for the last light of dusk to fade away before we slowly made our way back to camp, for dinner.


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