Ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted to see elephants in the wild. They were always my favourite animal even though I had only ever seen them in Fossett's Circus on the Fair Green in Carrick or in Dublin Zoo on a Presentation school trip. Seeing them in the wild would be a different kettle of fish. Anyway, in 2015, that dream of seeing them in their native habitat became a reality as we set off on my 50th birthday trip to Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. I was so excited. We had planned this amazing trip to Africa to mainly see elephants. And, boy, did we see elephants!!
I’m sometimes asked “Of all the places you’ve visited which stands out?” I can say hands down “Southern Africa”. It’s like nowhere else on the planet. Wonderful people, stunning scenery, spectacular nature and wildlife and it’s the cradle of humankind to boot. This is how we got on. A lot of the good photos are mine; most of the amazing ones are Charlie's. Enjoy!
What We Booked
We booked the holiday with a local company in Cape Town called Rhino Africa. Nothing was too much trouble for them. It only took a few emails to the wonderful Beverley setting out our budget and roughly what we wanted to do and see (i.e. Elephants, Wildlife Safari, Elephants, Victoria Falls, Elephants, Cape Town) and she came up with a custom itinerary with suggested transfers and accommodation. Beverley advised that Chobe National Park in Botswana in the dry season would tick all boxes.
It has the largest number of elephants in the wild c. 80,000. In the dry season they come to drink in the Chobe River and cross back and forth to Namibia (without passports or Covid certs!) ……so we were guaranteed to see lots of elephants from the river cruises without the need to drive through the bush for hours to try and find them. They would come to us instead of us chasing them around. That sounded good to me 😊.
So this was our itinerary:
Where We Went
We had tons of Avios air-miles that we had saved for a few years from previous holidays so we had enough to upgrade to return business class flights with British Airways from LHR to Johannesburg. So, we organised the international flights ourselves while Rhino Africa organised everything else. Shortly after landing in Jo’burg (South Africa) we took a small plane for the connecting flight SA8306 with South African Airways to Kasane in Botswana arriving in the sweltering mid-day heat of the day.
Kasane is close to Africa's 'Four Corners', where four countries almost meet: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its population is about 9,000 people. A growing number of them now work in the burgeoning tourist industry. That in itself is not without its challenges and I have watched with interest how the local people are getting to share (or not) in these new developments (here). While we were there, it was encouraging to see lots of young local boys and girls being trained to work in the lodge that we were staying in.
So we landed in lovely Kasane Airport which was spotless. Since we were there in 2015, a new 7,800 square metres (84,000 sq ft) terminal was opened on 22 February 2018. It replaced the original 1,300 square metres (14,000 sq ft) terminal building opened in 1991. The population of Kasane is small so the main reason the airport was expanded was to accommodate tourism. Previously, Kasane briefly obtained international fame as the location of the remarriage of Elizabeth Taylor to Richard Burton, in 1975.
Where We Stayed
The Chobe Safari Lodge, our accommodation while in Botswana, is a large lodge and was a short transfer away from Kasane Airport by mini-bus. First impressions were very good as check-in went smooth; if a little slow……but we soon learnt that the pace of life is slower in this part of the world 😊. The lodge is situated just where the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwando river system forms a landscape of lakes, islands and floodplains. There is an abundance of wild game and birdlife in this area and the lodge offers ample viewing opportunities. This is a slightly blurry YouTube video of the lodge from their website....but it gives a good feel for the place:
Our room was a spacious, spotless air-conditioned Safari Room with doors out onto a deck and then down to the lawn and the Chobe River. There were about 40 of these rooms and another 22 river rooms. All had en-suite bathrooms. We had stunning views of the sunsets in the evenings and great fun watching the mongoose, monkey and warthog visitors. We had been advised to keep the deck door closed as the monkeys in particular were not adverse to robbing things from people’s bedrooms. And indeed one evening we witnessed one of the “neighbours” chasing after a monkey to retrieve some stolen snacks. This is a little clip I took on my phone of us watching the mongooses from the deck of our room:
We stayed four days and fitted in 4 x Chobe River Cruises (including a private daytime cruise and a private night-time dinner cruise) and 3 x Game Drives in the nearby Chobe National Park. We alternated the cruises and drives; morning drives left at 5:45am (to avoid the mad heat of the day) and afternoon drives left at 2:45pm. I would definitely recommend the private river cruise; it was more personal and we got up close to the river bank in the smaller river boat used. And we could freely ask the guide loads of questions.
We also had loads of time to take photos and videos and we took hundreds…the ones on this blog are just a small sample of what Charlie and I took ….and I had a very hard time curating them and picking a representative small sample. Here’s a video clip Charlie took of me on the private river cruise admiring a family of elephants:
The Chobe Game Drives were in open 4-wheel drive safari trucks with sun-canopy shelters. We sped down the main tarred road to the national park entrance often having to stop to leave an elephant herd to cross. Once in the park the drivers/rangers knew where to bring us as they were all in contact by radio and kept each other informed of where the animals were hanging out that day. Each drive lasted about 3 hours and we always came back ready for breakfast or dinner…..depending on the time of day.
The Chobe River Cruises have to be one of the finest game viewing experiences in Africa in my opinion. The Chobe is a major tributary of the famous Zambezi River. With over 80,000 elephants in the Chobe National Park alone, they are a very frequent sighting. Hippos, giraffes, water birds, buffalo, crocodile and puku are also viewable from the river. I personally loved these cruises as I felt that they were less intrusive and didn’t disturb the animals or interfere with them drinking at the river. There was also a lovely warm breeze off the water which was welcome in the sweltering heat.
Our Food & Drink
Our package at the lodge included breakfasts and evening dinners….and we purchased lunches and snacks either at the lodge or in the village shop. For Breakfast there was a choice of Continental or European breakfast; a very nice lady operated an egg station when we had breakfast around 9 each morning having returned from the activities. Service was VERY slow but friendly. (Everything moved at a slower pace; I thought I would lose the will to live that day in the office organising the activities!!) Too many wasps to even get near the juice in the morning. But you know what....it was all worth it and I would recommend. There's nothing badly wrong here just small attention to details missing that are now expected in hotels.
The (above) terrace restaurant at the lodge overlooks the Chobe River and we sat outside under the African skies at night eating some of the tasty, indigenous dishes for Dinner. Food for dinner was very good and we ate a variety of roast meats, stir-fries and barbeques with accompanying vegetables.
There were also two bars; the Sedudu Bar offering stunning sunsets and the Cocktail Bar overlooking the Caprivi floodplains. We enjoyed both….sure you had to wash that dust out of your throats following the game drives! 😂🍹😂🍺
Relaxing at the bars (above)
What We Saw
But the main reason we were here was to see the animals particularly the elephants. That first afternoon we arrived in Kasane, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then headed straight out on a shared river cruise. It’s no exaggeration to say that this place is just mind blowing. Like the Garden of Eden crossed with Jurassic Park. Over the course of the four days we were there, we saw elephants by the hundreds with babies in tow, hippos, giraffes, leopards, lions, baboons, zebras, pukus, kudus, impalas, wildebeest, buffalos, warthogs, crocs, mongooses (yes – mongooses not mongeese!), hyenas, painted dogs and hundreds of varieties of birds and insects. We were lucky to see 4 of "The Big 5" (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant).
We saw an amazing number of animals in Chobe every single day. The game drives in the morning were fascinating as that is when you could see what had been killed or died naturally during the night….and was being eaten by predator animals or scavenging birds in the morning light. Nature in reality is cruel.
On the Friday morning game drive - our last full day in Chobe - we were so lucky to come close to a small lion pride with a magnificent male (below). He looked like he had been through the wars. We were reminded again that these were wild animals and would not look as manicured or pretty as those in captivity that did not have to fight to survive from one day to the next.
We also saw a younger male lion (clip below) who looked to have been separated from his friends. It was amazing to hear him calling out for the others…and to hear his growls could be heard for miles:
That day we also saw a leopard taking a rest underneath a tree. He wasn’t the least bit interested in us:
One of the most fascinating things we saw that day was a young Puku (a medium sized antelope) being chased down by some African Painted Dogs….the clever lad ran to the edge of the river and then turned to face them all. He stood his ground as he knew they could only take him down from behind. We watched for quite a while to see his fate; and were happy that eventually the dogs decided to chase another animal and “our” lad escaped across the river and lived to die another day.
We saw stunning red sunsets on the Chobe River. We particularly enjoyed the night-time dinner cruise dining under the stars on the Fish Eagle II; just me, Charlie, our chef/ server and our boat driver. We had such a great time chatting to the lads learning about their lives and eating great food (starter, mains and desserts) as we cruised up and down the Chobe River between the shores of Botswana and Namibia: sailing down to the river border with Zambia and back up again.
On the Night-time Dinner Cruise, we sipped our wine while listening to hippos and other night-time sounds of African nature. At one stage the guys ran the length of the boat to chase away a large crocodile who was on the verge of getting up onto the flat-bedded boat gangway just yards from the unsuspecting Charlie. I thought afterwards about the awkward conversation I’d have had to have with Charlie’s kids trying to explain that their Dad had been last seen in the mouth of a large croc being dragged under the Chobe river. Luckily it never came to that as the guys on the boat knew what to do and in reality we were never in danger at all.
Who We Met
People whether working in the lodge, in the local shops and and/or our fellow safari goers were all so friendly. We felt safe and relaxed at all times. As we were leaving the lodge, we were lucky to encounter a happy wedding party. A local couple were arriving to have their wedding reception at the lodge (below). The colourful clothes, the dancing and singing and the beautiful smiles were heart-warming. We wished them a long and happy life together:
Weather We Had
The weather was scorching hot during the day; thankfully we could relax by the pool when not out on safari. We could listen to our smartphone music apps but the WiFi by the pool was a bit patchy although there was an internet room. Mornings were actually cold but dry. The evenings were cool and dry but not cold.
Clothes We Packed For Safari
Clothes-wise I would definitely recommend wearing a warm jacket in the mornings and a scarf/ bandana as it's breezy on the road to the park in the wee hours of the morning. We were advised to bring neutral colour clothing – best to not disturb the animals. We had our dinner cruise on the river one night but other than that we ate at the hotel and we didn’t need to get dressed up…so evening wear was kept to a minimum. The transfer aircraft were small so we brought duffle type waterproof luggage that would fit in the hold. Here is what I brought with me.
Our time in Chobe flew by. It had been really spectacular and I look back on it in awe. I would return in a heartbeat and loved every second of it. I would love someday to do another safari.
On Saturday 26 Sept 2015 we headed by transfer bus for the nearby border with Zimbabwe where we crossed at Kazungula Border Post en-route to Victoria Falls.
PART 2 – TO FOLLOW
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 70
Number 57 - Travel - 7 Continents
Number 60 - Travel - 80 Cities/Towns
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever been on a safari? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!