New Year’s Day in the Central Kalahari (CKGR)

Our border crossing at Victoria Falls was quick and easy. We stayed another night in Kasane and refilled our supplies. There we met other travelers again whom we knew from Zimbabwe and Zambia and the next morning we set off to tackle the 700+ km route to CKGR. After an overnight stop at Planet Baobab, near Gweta, we reached Matswere Gate at lunchtime on December 30. After about 45 minutes, we had the bookings done and knew at which campsite we would spend the next five nights. The park was – at least in theory – more booked than we thought. Our favorite area – Lekhubu and Letihau – was free for two nights and thus a success for us, whereas the inexpensive and state-owned Kori campsites not far from Deception Valley were booked for the entire time. 

Double booking 

The employee at the gate had his dear trouble to find a place for us for the 30th and 31st of December. The office in Gaborone gave him one cancellation after another by phone and so slowly we ran out of (cheap government) options. The alternative, in the event of a cancellation, would only be Bigfoot. The company markets campsites in most of the CKGR on its own account. The accommodation prices are almost 900% above the prices of the state campsites (40 pula per person per night to 357 pula per person per night) and do not even offer infrastructure for it. 

It is simply an area in the bush that is designated as a campsite. Unfortunately, as a normal citizen, you can’t get past Bigfoot if you want to explore the park. Government campsites are very limited and restricted to the Deception Valley area. After some searching the staff offered us the campsite Kukama. This is located just under 13 km from Deception Valley on an open pan and turned out to be very attractive. We were amazed to find that a family was already staying there. It appeared that there had been a double booking for one night. Fortunately, this family was nice and friendly and so we positioned ourselves a bit apart and spent the night all together there.

During these two days in Kukama we explored Deception Valley with all its loops and smaller trails and discovered a den of bat-eared foxes in the thicket. We are completely in love with these cuddly little guys. They were very trusting and didn’t let us bother them as we stood in front of their den for about an hour at some distance watching them. 

New Year’s Eve traditionally drowns with us in Botswana

On New Year’s Eve we were alone on the campsite and – how could it be otherwise – punctually in the late afternoon it began to pour like from buckets. The water flowed in streams around us and the camper, flooded our seating area and forced us to move a few meters. We already knew the phenomenon from Savuti 2018, where it poured so much on New Year’s Eve that we eventually gave up and went to sleep. Guido was happy about a fruitful 2023 – water is, after all, the source of all life – and we didn’t let it spoil our fun and enjoyed a Swiss raclette with a good white wine, which we had driven around the country for weeks especially for the occasion. Later in the evening, we were even able to light a campfire and go to sleep dry-footed.

Swimming towards Letihau

On New Year’s Day, we set off in the direction of Letihau. This region is famous for its lion and cheetah sightings and we were also very successful here in 2019. We were excited to see what was in store for us. The drive turned out to be an adventure drive, as there had been more frequent than expected heavy flooding and the car was partly floating uncontrollably in the sticky, muddy ground and turning unsteerable. This so-called Black Cotton Soil is really disgusting and we reluctantly remembered 2019 when – exactly because of this subsoil – we had to shovel the car free for 90 minutes to get us out of a predicament in the Piper Pan. After about 2 hours we arrived happily in Letihau without incident, moved into the campsite and settled in. The game drive in the evening was disillusioning because the local waterhole was almost completely silted up. These were not good conditions.

We love the bush

Despite all the imponderables, we enjoyed the environment to the fullest and felt comfortable. The next morning the alarm clock went off at 4:00 a.m. and after a coffee and a leisurely wake-up, we set off in the dark around 5:00 a.m. to be at the waterhole in time for sunrise. It was simply beautiful to drive in the dark towards this wide band of orange horizon, breathing fresh air, hearing birds and enjoying an endless expanse. For us, this is an expression of freedom and life. It is difficult to describe what is going on inside us. However, we enjoy it to the fullest whenever possible.

It is quite

There are basically two types of game drives. In the first one you consciously follow a track. You track an animal, have skills to read the tracks and follow this track until you have found the animal – in the best case. In the second type, you drive around, looking carefully left and right, and need the right moment for an encounter. In national parks on common game drives, procedure number 2 prevails. We have experienced too often that we have seen something, e.g. in the KTP a leopardess, and a minute(!) later a guide with guests arrives and the sighting is history. So timing and luck is usually necessary. This luck was not with us. It was very quiet in this region and although we gave everything our knowledge gave, it remained quiet and our highlight was the sighting of a bull elephant on the way back to the campsite. This was very surprising to us, since to our previous knowledge elephants are rare in the center of the CKGR. At the edge we have seen them a few times, but, so deep inside so far not.

We stayed tuned

Staying with it is the secret in the bush. Whatever happens, go ahead and seek your fortune. It’s not a zoo. As we always say: you never know what you get, and that’s a good thing. Faithful readers of our blog know the saying and our attitude towards it. In the afternoon of the second day it happened: suddenly a cheetah sat under an acacia tree and looked at us. We could hardly believe our luck, stopped and enjoyed the encounter with this beautiful predatory cat. After about 20 minutes next to the tree, we decided to follow the trail a little further and come back after about 30 minutes to see what would be seen further. The cheetah seemed to be out relaxed and was in a resting mode. We followed the trail, left him alone, and turned back right on time. When we were close to him, Guido drove a bit into the field to get the right distance for the telephoto lens when we realized that two springboks appeared in front of us. 

Our first hunt

What happened next was fascinating for us. The cheetah had long since noticed them and made himself as small as he could behind the acacia. The springboks ran right up to us and grazed without noticing him. The cheetah kept looking at us, then back at the springboks, and back at us. Guido gently opened the door without influencing the action in any way. When the springboks came behind our car, the cat straightened up, got his final orientation and ran towards our car. He used us as a shield and came rocketing around the corner at full speed. It wasn’t until the chase was underway that Guido quickly slid out the door, aimed his lens at the scene, and took photos from the ground next to the car. The speed of everyone involved was incredible. We were deeply impressed and the springboks were running for their lives. How it happened that one of the springboks had many plants in front of his face, we could not understand, but it had a certain comedy. 

A hook at the last second

We held our breath, followed the action with a high pulse and were both completely fascinated. However this turned out, everyone involved deserved to win. Just before the cat reached the ram – it was no more than a leg’s length – the ram made the final 90┬░ hook, again giving himself a lead of about 3-4 meters. In the end, that was enough to defeat the cheetah. What an impressive result. We would have bet on the cheetah, because everything spoke for him. 

He himself gave us the feeling of not understanding why he had failed so narrowly. He looked at us, approached us, went to a nearby tree and then rested. We left him alone, because cheetahs are completely exhausted after hunting and need to regenerate. He handled us as if we were part of the habitat. Honestly, we were completely out of our minds because this was our first hunt since we started traveling Africa. Perhaps this shows how rare it is to witness such an event. We were completely alone, with no other people, and also involved. After the recently experienced elephant birth, this was our highlight number 2.

Our return to Deception Valley and another surprise

The next morning the cheetah was no longer to be seen and otherwise it was very quiet. The waterhole was now completely dry – the pump was broken. We made our way back to Deception Valley, eager to see what would await us on the drive. Fortunately, it had not rained for two days. In fact, almost all of the areas that had been lake-like on the outward trip had completely dried off and so the drive back was a breeze and went without any problems. In the afternoon of our last day in the CKGR we discovered a female cheetah under an acacia tree in Deception Valley. Unfortunately she was lazy during the whole observation time of about 90 minutes and relaxed without making any effort to move. Our visit to the CKGR 2022 was rather quiet, but then suddenly held a highlight for us. We love it ­čÖé

Next we will drive to the Khwai region. We are very excited to see what this region of Botswana has in store for us.

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