Is there ever too many elephants ?

Day 288, Thursday 18 October 2012 – Chobe, Botswana

We had a morning game drive today so I was up staggering blindly around at 5:10 getting organised before we all were loaded onto special game vehicles at the hotel office. Chobe National Park is eleven thousand square kilometres and is next to the Chobe River.

The game drive was interesting, our vehicle did not get to see the leopard that was seen by the other vehicle and I was in the middle which makes photography hard, but it was my turn and I am taller than the others. It was a slow start along the river bank, mostly seeing birds.

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I am not sure who is being braver here, the Malibu stork or the small crocodile.

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We did see lots of impala

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An eventually some elephants, there are a lot of elephants in the park and a massive amount of elephant damage everywhere.

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We watched this large troop of baboons for a while, there were quite a few babies around and they are very cute.

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We were then taken to the site of a dead elephant – a feeding ground for dozens of vultures and Malibu storks. We were quite a long way of and it was hard for me to get decent shots from the middle of the truck, so I was a little disappointed with the results, but they have captured the moment, I love the dead tree and the final insult to the poor elephant was all the bird pooh on it.

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We came across a couple of lethargic lions, they didn’t even acknowledge our presence.

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Before stopping to watch a small family group of elephants playing in the bush, this baby must have been very young as it was spending quite some time trying to suckle, it was quite cool to watch.

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As we left we spotted a couple of female kudu, with the dull colouring and the pale stripes they are quite hard to spot, especially against a small slope.

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After the game drive we had a few hours to kill in the campsite before going on a game cruise on the river. I was on dishes and as we had a massive brunch prepared while we out in the morning there was a load of dishes to be done, by the time these were done and I had washing on the line the afternoon was half gone. I took a quick dip in the pool and spent some time in the shade writing before heading to the bar for a cocktail before the cruise got under way at 4:00. After a bit of effort I found the lawn mower asleep under a bush.

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The boat was fairly spacious, it had seats we could move around and roof access, so plenty of space to see animals and take photos. We saw a load of hippo, both in and out of the water.

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A nice male elephant.

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Herds of impala on the riverbank.

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Crocs

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A great sighting, but bad pictures of a couple of monitor lizards eating a catfish.

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A cape buffalo in a bog ! loved this one – though I am yet to get a good full body buffalo shot.

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On the river banks we saw the largest herd of elephant I have ever seen, I counted over thirty elephants in a couple of groups, very cool.

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Our guide for the cruise spotted another, smaller herd of elephants walking on one of the many small islands in the river, they walking towards the edge and he knew they were going to cross to the mainland. We motored upstream to get closer to watch this event, even the guide was excited, it is not something you see often – and he had his camera out too.

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I loved the little trunks sticking out of the water.

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It was a very cool thing to see, there were a number of crocs lurking in the water, but the herd made it through unscathed. WOW.

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After that we motored back to the campsite, under a fairly cool sunset. It was a great trip, definitely another African highlight.

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The evening was similar to the one before except we pooled all the remaining Botswanan currency – the pula and bought beer in the bar – again! Tomorrow is Zambia.

Apparently yes, there are too many elephants, but there is no political will to cull them at this stage. It is a very tricky situation.

Please stay in your seats, there are elephants on the road.

Day 287, Wednesday 17 October 2012 – Chobe, Botswana

It was a night of very little sleep, around midnight there was a very loud chorus of braying donkeys and barking and howling dogs, it didn’t go on for long but it was enough to break up a good doze. This was followed by rain around 2:30, again, not a big shower, but enough to have to get out of bed and close the shutters on the tent.

We were up at 5:40 for a 6:00 breakfast, pack and on the road for 7:00, it was a big drive day today with 600km to our next destination – the Chobe Wildlife Park. 600km may not sound like a massive amount but when the roads are as busy with wildlife as these ones here you really do need to be alert all the way and driving fast is out of the question.

Before we set off we were warned by driver Will to stay seated as much as possible as this road was particularly bad for animals, both domestic and wild and this proved to be the case quite early as wehad to stop for a small mixed herd of wildebeest and zebra crossing the road.

We had a coffee stop at Nata, where it took fifteen minutes to present us with hot water and a jar of Nescafe, not sure of they had to go buy the water or the coffee, but it was all nicely served in little china jugs, one for each person.

We stopped for lunch at a road side rest area, I loved the warning sign.

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The road through here is being almost completely rebuilt by the Botswanan government and there was a lot of road works, but the road is superb, one of the best on the trip so far, it is shame that you just cannot drive fast on it, we saw a dead donkey on the road side and soon after a truck was stopped on top of another donkey, not a nice sight! We came very close to creaming this ostrich, it was only a metre or so away from a messy end.

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When we were having coffee at Nata Will had said we would see elephants on the road side and he was not wrong, only a few kilometres from the town of Kasene, just outside Chobe he had to suddenly slow down as four elephants meandered out on to the road side just before we passed. Very cool, not something you see everyday in New Zealand, sadly I didnt get a picture, wrong side of the truck!

We stopped in Kasane to shop for snacks and drinks – and for those that were hungry – KFC, the first I have seen in Africa.

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We had quite a long break here so Stuart and I went for a walk off the main highway and found the phone shop – a shop with a phone that people pay to make calls from.

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An most importantly the local bar, where a bottle of Windhoek lager was under half the price it was a kilometre away inside the campground. There was a couple of people in there but most were just hanging around outside, not sure what they were waiting for – leftovers ?

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The campsite at Chobe is on the edge of the national park and the Chobe River – the Chobe is one of the main rivers flowing into the Zambesi River, we have an electric hippo fence outside the tents. It is very close to the borders with Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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The campsite is really crowded and as usual very dusty, there are a lot of vervet monkeys and mongoose running around the grassed area near the lodges and the swimming pool/bar area.

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We had a typically relaxed dinner and drinks afterwards and then an early night.

Braving a scenic flight

Day 286, Tuesday 16 October 2012 – Maun, Botswana

Much to my disgust I managed to make it up for sunrise, and of course it was less than average. Fortunately at the camp there was a group from National Geographic TV and they obviously had plenty of sway with the staff as there was coffee and tea available at 6:00 AM, yes !

The light was pretty cool pre dawn and the lake still so it was not a waste of time.

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When the sun did it rise, it rose very quickly and in a lovely small ball, it was over in seconds.

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After the sunrise I took a shower before the rush and went back to bed for a while until breakfast and packing up the 4WD truck at 9:00 to go back to our truck Malakai. We were back on the road for 10:30 and on the way for the five hour drive to Maun.

We stopped for lunch on the way under the most awesome camel tree ever, it was huge and the weaver nests were pretty cool too, pity there is a large green truck under it.

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I went for a quick walk to look for photos as I wanted to find another tree, but as everywhere around Africa you cannot stray too far from other people, there was plenty of animal tracks here…

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It was then off to Maun Airport for an optional scenic flight over the Okavango Delta. I am not a great flyer, I don’t get scared scared and I don’t DISLIKE flying, but it is well outside my comfort zone and small planes – well I normally would just say no. However, this is the Okavango Delta and it is probable I will never be back again so I took the flight.

Ten of us decided to the flight, it was $120 US each, expensive on my limited budget, but worth it. We had two five seater planes.

We were not told that we would have to go through normal airport security when board our little planes, we had to surrender drink bottles and pocket knives – which luckily, we got back after. We also had to go through the normal security gate, most of us made it through OK. However, our New York friend, Bill was not quite as lucky, he has pants and shirts with many many pockets and kept setting the alarm off – i think he was on is twelfth trip through when he got grumpy with them. Turns out he had a foil wrap from some hydration powder in his pocket, man that machine was sensitive. He became curmudgeon number 1 (there are three of us curmudgeons).

We finally made it out to the aircraft.

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The flight was fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was only holding on for dear life for a short time 🙂 Photography was hard, the windows were disappointingly grubby and even as low as 500 feet it was hard to shoot the animals. I managed to get a smear of an elephant before I gave up, fitted the wide angle and shot landscapes.

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I love the landscape here, it would be fantastic to be able to do the trip in a hot air balloon and shoot straight down on the water systems, the rivers and ponds and paths made by the hippos and elephants.

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We did see a lot of wildlife, especially elephants and this great herd of buffalo. Though I was surprised at the vast tracts of land that just appear to be empty.

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We did see one bush fire from the air, possibly caused by the lightening we saw last night and there are huge areas that have been badly burnt in the past.

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The hour long flight disappeared very quickly and far too soon we were flying over the town of Maun and landing back at the airport. It was a great flight and I am so glad i did it. Photos were a bit crap though !

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Surprisingly we found those who did not fly in a bar over the road from the airport, so we joined them for a quick beer before heading off to Sedia Camp just out of town, our home for the night. The campsite was dry and arid, but had a great swimming pool and a bar with free wifi ! I manged to get off three blog posts that I had pre-written along with a whole bunch of emails, which was just perfect! It was another late night – into bed at 9:30

Hip hip hippos

Days 283-285, Saturday-Monday 13-15 October 2012 – Guma Camps, Botswana

In an (now failed) effort to catch up before the next tour starts this is three day post – warning, this is a mega post!

After going to bed early last night for some quiet contemplation I ended up with a lousy sleep. I did not get to sleep fast enough to beat the snorers and then it rained in the middle of the night and we had to get up to get washing in and put the rain cover on the tent. There was quite a bit of frantic activity in the camp site as we were all caught unawares. It was a brief shower and by the time we were sorted it had finished – oh well.

I stayed in bed till 8:00 as we are not leaving camp until 11:30. It is an overcast and warm day, not great for photography at all so I wandered the camp site and took some photos of the various toilets and showers; it is all very unique and quite special. Especially the throne that overlooks the Okovango river. As I was standing on the bank looking out over the river I could see a couple of hippos briefly raising their snouts out of the water to grab a breath before sinking back below the surface in their slumber. A great spot to sit quietly for a while, definitely do not need the newspaper here! Ngepi camp is definitely my favourite so far and it is a shame we only had one short night here, I would rather have done a down day here rather than in Swapokmund.

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The drive from Ngepi to the border with Botswana is only a few minutes and we were through the Mohembo border post in a few minutes and into country number three. There are a lot more mud brick houses in Botswana and there are more donkeys than I have ever seen in my life grazing on the road sides, another fraught day of driving for our driver, Will.

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We stopped in the town of Satwe to try and get some lunch but the supermarket was almost dry of take out foods so we jumped back in the truck and had another road side lunch.

At 3:00 we parked the truck in a dusty little town – Etsha 13, there are 16 towns along the edge of the Kavango that were close to military bases and they are named Etsha 1 – 16. We offloaded three nights worth of gear into an old 4WD truck which then took us on the rough and sandy 10km drive to Guma Lagoon camp, our home for the night.

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It was another early night, but I surprised myself by sleeping well until 4:00 when I woke up quite cold. We were all expecting a warm night like the last couple but it was not too be and being cold was the topic at breakfast (It was the last time !) Sadly I was not up for sunrise, the keen ones got some great photos so I did kick myself – again.

We packed all gear into bin liners for the days trip, at 9:00 we were on a speed boat to Mokoro Island, we saw this great sea eagle on the way. I have seen loads of them flying about and they are magnificent birds, first time one has sat still long enough to photo.

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We unloaded all the gear from the speed boat and loaded everything onto mokoros, these canoes are of course traditionally made from a hollowed out tree though ours we fibreglass. The plastic wrapped mattresses from our tents doubled as seat covers for the trip.

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We were all allocated a mokoro and a poler to push us through the delta, ours was Tim and he was relatively new – and to be fair, pretty hopeless – he could pole a mokoro but could not identify wildlife, some of them were great though.

The journey out to our island home took almost two hours and we twisted our way through tight channels, made by elephant and hippo and through large open ponds surrounded by lilys and papyrus, luckily/unluckily we did not come across any big game on the way.

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The island we are staying on was probably by the large termite mound, which then collected debris and seeds and then grew into the island it is now, it is not large, though we were not allowed to stray from site as the delta is a dangerous place.

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We pitched our tent in a small clearing in the grass, right next to a pile of elephant pooh…

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The loo was a hole in the ground, though we were lucky to have a seat 🙂

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After lunch it was snooze time for a few hours, I was a wee bit ticked with this as if I had known i would have brought my book with me, I am not good at doing nothing for three hours in the middle of the day, most people are less fussy than me and went to sleep under a big shady tree. The tree also turned into a camera hanging spot and became the camera tree for the duration.

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At 4:00 we loaded up camera gear and jumped back onto the mokoros for an hour long paddle to a hippo pool. The hippos sleep during the day, but start stirring late in the afternoon. We again crossed some large pools and went up some really tight and shallow channels before arriving at hippo pool.

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There were seven makoros in our group and ours was second to last, as we approached the pool we could hear hippos bellowing in the distance and as we got closer we could hear Simon, the head poler, banging his pole on the canoe. When we arrived there was not a lot of room for us in the small area at the end of the channel so I had a lousy view of the pool, obscured by a shoulder to my left and a hat to my right. I was using the lens at 400mm, which is tricky in a canoe at the best of times , but in the end pleased with my photos. I did miss out on the money shot though.

When I arrived in the pool I could see the tops of a couple of hippo heads on the far side, and as we watched this number grew till there was eight or nine of them looking at us.

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The dominant male gave us a few glares, snorted a few times and then started a long process of diving below the surface and reappearing a few metres closer, then swimming to the left and right before diving again and then popping up to glare at us and then displaying his huge choppers.

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All of a sudden he just started coming towards us quite quickly and our poler got scared and started back pedalling rapidly, the hippo jumped out of the water and I missed it. Once recovered from the charge and then the sudden retreat of our poler I was a bit miffed at missing such a great sight, those with less of a chicken for a poler got some good shots.

The hippo stopped about thirty metres in front of us, and the others all gradually approached and were facing us down, at one point they all got together in a group and it looked like they were discussing tactics and then they all lined up and glared at us again. We had another sudden retreat as the big hippo started forward again and then we were back taking photos. After another great display the hippos drifted back to the other side of the pool and we left. It was a good experience, it could have been great if we didn’t have a scaredy cat poler. The others just stood there and watched. Having said that, the hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa.

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We poled back to the main pool as the sun set, due to our lowly position in the poler rankings we were late getting to the sunset pool, so largely missed it.

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While we were out, Ebron our chef had whipped up another great meal on the open fire and afterwards we toasted marshmallows before doing some night photography.

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I had a go at stars as I had never done this before and there is no ambient light here, this isn’t perfect, but I am pleased with the result.

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The path to the loo was lit with little lanterns

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In the morning we had a quick coffee and were back on the mokoro for short ride to another island for a nature/game walk for a couple of hours. We saw lots of sign of big game but sadly all I managed to photograph was a dragon fly.

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The walk was interesting, led by Simon, he gave us a good run down on the various plants that grow in the delta. The coolest of which is the sausage tree. The fruit grows up to 5kg and has been know to kill people when they fall, they are huge.

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I thought it was a warm morning, not for some…

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The local people are allowed to keep fish caught in the delta, tourists have to tag and release, while we were out on the walk some of the polers cleared some nearby nets and I saw this guy fishing while we were out.

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After a late brunch we loaded up the mokoros again and headed back to mokoro island where were offloaded to the speed boat and were back to Guma Lagoon camp for another night.

Lillie pads from below.

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While waiting for dinner I spotted a troop of vervet monkeys moving through the trees above the camp, I managed to get a couple of shots in before they disappeared.

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As we were going to bed after dinner someone found a non-venomous western green snake on the track to the tents, cool – I think !

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