Have wheels, will travel.
After registering Snoopy and getting him fitted with a brand new roofrack (SOMEONE’s afraid to sleep on the ground in lion country…), we wanted to do a small test-run road trip, so KC did a little research and found that one of the diamond mines a couple hours from Gaborone has done some conservation work and made a game reserve near the mine. We decided to check it out, as the roads are paved the entire way and we could easily make it a day trip.
So when I said “diamond mine” I should have included the “world-largest” prefix.
And when Audrey gave us a funny look and said, “don’t you need a permit to get in there?” we should have done a little more research rather than saying, “no, the website doesn’t mention anything…”
Lesson learned: they don’t just let you drive up to the front gate of the world’s largest diamond mine and let you in even if you ask nicely to see the animals.
To be fair, nobody actually laughed in our faces.
Back home we went, but not without having a nice little tour of Jwaneng, Botswana, the town outside of the mine’s gates. (Nothing to write home about, frankly. Oops, I just did.)
Dennis recommended a trip to Serowe, a traditional village (the home village of President Khama. When he’s in Gaborone, he’s the president of the country; when he goes home, he gets to be the Chief) with a rhino sanctuary about 4 hours from us, still with paved roads for the entire route. Off we went again, this time for a few days.
Note to drivers: speed traps dot this highway; take the speed limit signs seriously. Fine for going 110 in an 80 km/hr zone: 700 pula ($96). Not that we would know…
We worked for a few hours in the morning, then left around noon, got a speeding ticket, ate lunch, stopped at a post office in a small town (my favorite trick since leaving home – avoid the long waits at the big-city post offices), and pulled into the Khama Rhino Sanctuary around 5 pm. (The gates are open until 7 pm but we’re not quite ready for night-driving yet with all the livestock roaming the roads.)
The Khama Rhino Sanctuary was established in 1992 when a group of local residents decided to restore a former cattle post back to its native vegetation and wildlife. Not to mention that rhinos desperately need saving from poachers who kill them to sell their horns to illegal Asian markets for virility potions. Coincidentally, the site is near a Botswana Defense Force military base, so it’s guarded 24/7 by soldiers, which I imagine reduces poachers’ interest… In short, the park has gone from 3 loaner rhinos to over 30 and now provides rhino stock to other conservation areas (including the one at Jwaneng we tried to visit). Although they originally focused on the white rhino, they now have several black rhinos as well, and are set to lead the reintroduction of black rhinos into Botswana. In a world of too many senseless rhino murders, Khama is a refreshing success story.
The webite has a nice, user-friendly reservation system which I had used to reserve a campsite, but the receptionist at the check-in didn’t have my information, so for other travelers, I can’t tell you how reliable it is (there is no online payment, so we didn’t lose any money). During busy season I would recommend calling the park to make sure it went through. No worries, though: it’s low season and mid-week: there were only 2 other cars in the entire park. Because I’m lazy, I’ll just copy my review from TripAdvisor and let the photos do the rest of the talking.
Granted, Khama is our first game park, but never in our wildest dreams did we expect to see so many animals, and so easily. We visited in mid-week in March, rainy season, which is supposed to make it harder to find animals, but perhaps because it’s a small park, we had no problems even driving ourselves around the park. And we had the park to ourselves, only one other group camping on both nights.
We easily saw a dozen white rhinos (didn’t find any of the blacks), including several babies. On our first morning a mama was taking her baby to the watering hole at one of the pans and we had to scoot just to stay the mandatory 50m away from her – she was completely unconcerned by our presence!
Because we visited mid-week in low (tourist) season, we had the luxury of blocking the road (ok, sand track) to watch dung beetles pass by while herds of zebras, wildebeests and others like steenbock, impala, etc. grazed around us. And another benefit of rainy season: babies everywhere! From ostriches to warthogs, the only animals we saw without seeing at least one baby was a jackal and the leopard.
Yes, we even saw a leopard. Rounding a corner after a late afternoon game drive, there she was, basking in the warm sand, and she stayed for a good long time until she finally moved away. [For our non-Africa-phile friends, a little background: leopard is one of the African "Big 5" - originally a hunting term but adopted by tourist safari outfitters - and most safari guests would consider a trip to Africa an outstanding success to see all 5. The leopard is the most difficult to find because it is exclusively a nocturnal hunter and extremely shy. Maybe I'm a leopard whisperer...]
If the description of wonderful game viewing doesn’t convince you to visit this park, the friendliness of the staff should. They helped me to select a bird book at the reception, and when we wanted help in identifying a snake we’d just seen, the ladies at reception tracked down a guide who was very friendly and immediately recognized that we’d seen a black mamba (could have done without THAT sighting, actually… and glad to report we didn’t see a baby mamba, either…).
We camped in campsite 10 and it was close to the ablution facilities. If I were visiting in the busy season I might try campsite 6, as it looks more isolated while still being close to the ablutions. If you don’t care about proxomity to ablution blocks, go for campsite 13 – it’s way off by itself!
For 2 people, 2 nights of camping, and bringing our own vehicle into the park (all higher non-resident rates), the fees totaled approximately 650 pula (~90 USD).
The only disappointment was that the pool was closed. The salad and burger at the restaurant were fine, not too highly priced, and the beer was cold.
Enjoy the photos; to read the captions, click on one and scroll through them. Extra credit if you find the black-backed jackal…