The highlight of all my holidays last year was the two days I spent on safari in Etosha wildlife park in Namibia. I decided I’d love to do more safari one day. I happened to read a magazine article where a wildlife photographer said that the Chobe river is the best place for taking photos – and so the decision was made: I would visit the Chobe river one day. And even more recently, I remembered to stop saying ‘one day’ and start doing, so I looked into booking this safari.
There are a lot of tours available with set itineraries. I was quite keen to do one of these as a group, but there was always something not quite right – like camping with ‘bush ablutions’ or the itinerary included two days at Victoria Falls (too long for me) or the dates/budget were not ideal. I came across Safari Specialists and made an enquiry about one of their set itineraries. Sadly, the dates were not perfect, but the lady who contacted me, Nadine, started asking questions about what I wanted and what kind of budget I had. I wasn’t really interested in booking things separately and I wasn’t sure I’d get what I want for the budget I was looking at. As she was asking though, I told her, and she started putting some potential itineraries together and said she could change anything. And so my itinerary began to take form! We settled on the following:
4 nights at the Old House in Kasane, Botswana (including breakfast and some game drives)
1 night at the Rainbow Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (including breakfast)
3 nights at Sable Sands in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (all inclusive – meals and game drives)
Correspondence with Nadine was friendly and efficient, and she was always encouraging me to get the itinerary exactly how I wanted it. I asked many questions and switched things around and everything was OK with her! I recommend them highly:
After finalising a plan, I booked my flights using Ebookers. I booked this about five weeks before I was set to fly at the beginning of March. The other advantage of booking through an agent was the peace of mind in having a set itinerary that includes transfers between all locations. Particularly as a female travelling alone, it helped to know everything was sorted out so I was free to enjoy my holiday!
I took some Botswana Pula for Botswana and US dollars for Zimbabwe. I also ordered a ‘South Africa’ plug adaptor from Amazon.co.uk as I remembered from last year it was really tough trying to find this in UK airports or Namibia itself. I did later discover they have them at Johannesburg airport for a significantly higher price.
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
London to Botswana
I took the tube to Heathrow airport for the flight to Kasane, Botswana via Johannesburg, South Africa. I chose the option for a four hour stop over as opposed to the option for a one hour stop over – the latter is far too tight for my liking! However, I do have a paranoia about missing flights so often arrive ridiculously early.
London to Johannesburg was about 11 hours, followed by a four hour stop over then Johannesberg to Kasane took about four hours. My flight started at 6 pm in London on a Saturday and I arrived the following day at 1 pm local time.
Everything went fine, the South African Airways flight was fine – the meals were even OK! One thing to note – I was going to buy some booze from Heathrow airport – they pointed out that it may get taken away at Johannesburg airport. I rarely take connecting flights, so I had forgotten/didn’t realise this might be an issue. So I didn’t buy any booze from London, and there WAS another security check at Johannesburg to take a connecting flight where they confiscated my bottle of water. I would have been very upset if they had taken my booze away, so I’m glad I didn’t buy any!
Next step was trying to buy some booze in Johannesburg duty free to take to Kasane. It turns out this is very limited and I was only allowed to take South African wines! Apparently anything that had been imported was not an option for British citizens – unless I am a diplomat. Which I’m not. What an odd perk!! So I did purchase some wine which I was happy to try out.
A chap called Sox came to pick me up from the airport as well as another lady who was on the same flight as me. The lodge The Old House is charming and lovely. I was pleased with my room, a nice double bed with a sofa and a kettle with teas/coffees. Nice and clean, good sized bathroom with a shower. The shower was not my favourite – it sprays all over the place (yes, I know this is what a shower is supposed to do, but this was in a very disorganised manner!) – this is a really minor point, overall it’s all good. It did take me a few minutes to notice there is no TV in the room – but obviously TV is not the reason I came to Africa 🙂
Wifi was sporadic – but free and included. Fine for holiday purposes.
The restaurant at the lodge is good – open air under a thatched roof, reasonably priced, friendly staff and good grub. I had lunch and dinner there. I was really pleased to see warthogs and mongoose hanging around outside my room. The restaurant has a good view of the river, which is just a few minutes walk away. I took it easy that evening so I could recover from the long flight and be ready for a 5.30 am pick up the next day.
I signed up with Pangolin Photo Safari for a morning game drive and afternoon river cruise. I had read so many great reviews on TripAdvisor, and I liked the idea of learning from wildlife photographers. This is like your normal safari, but with wonderful Nikon D7000 cameras + Sigma 150-500mm lenses provided so you can take amazing pictures with the guidance of a professional photographer who is also onboard. The game drive at Chobe National Park is located about 20 minutes drive away from the lodge. I had the good fortune of meeting Guts and Killer who are both wonderful, friendly and experts at what they do. They are both very patient – Guts provided excellent teaching on the move and Killer was great at getting us to the right place at the right time.
We saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, as well as wild dogs that are endangered and very rare. There were only two of us on the safari that morning as a group of five had pulled out at the last minute. This actually worked really nicely as we both got quite a lot of attention. I appreciated that Guts catered for all levels of photography. I’ve had my DSLR for nearly a year and a half so although I know and understand the basics, I still have to think to put it into action. The other chap had never used a DSLR before, so Guts explained the basics of how to use the D7000 as well as some of the basic concepts like shutter speed, aperture and ISO. He also spent time with both of us to cover anything else that was useful to us. We had a good laugh throughout and enjoyed a cup of tea and biscuits by the riverside – before having to rush off to follow up on the wild dog sighting.
It was a great morning, we saw lots of animals and our guides were very knowledgeable. The vehicle was cool, very open and there are bean bags lined up on the frame so you can rest your camera. I was dropped back off at the Old House for 10 am, in time to have breakfast. I later had lunch at the Old House restaurant and visited the nearby shopping area with the lady who was picked up from the airport with me, who is also my neighbour. There is a Spar for grocery shopping as well as clothes shops and… KFC.
In the afternoon I went on a boat trip on the Chobe river with the same company. They have a special boat that is designed for photography. There are swivel chairs in single file, each with a specially designed camera holder. I admit I felt very spoilt on a boat trip after this – and I felt it more on the following boat trips I went on in standard passenger boats! A lady called Lynn guided us in taking photos and pointing out the animals and birds. We saw lots of elephants along the river, hippos, crocodiles, fish eagles, pied kingfishers, bee eaters and a whole range of other birds. Lynn was really helpful in checking our camera settings, and it seems keeping an eye on the ISO was very important as the lighting was changing continuously. The boat was amazing because the camera + lens is quite a heavy combination so the camera holder was very helpful in staying steady for shots over three hours or so. We were also offered coke, beer or water throughout the trip. It was a fun and cheerful afternoon full of animals, birds and photography! It ended at around sunset, so we were able to get some great photos over the river.
I was dropped back at the Old House at about 6.30 pm. That evening I had a drink on the jetty with a new friend who was also staying at the lodge. This was beautiful with the remainder of the sunset, but painful because all the mosquitoes seemed to think it was party time – despite the insect repellant I had just applied. We headed back and had dinner at the Old House restaurant. I had the venison carpaccio (apparently kudu) which was really delicious, and the meat pizza. And a couple of ciders. Bizarrely, for some reason we were watching female WWF wrestling on the TV – strange but very amusing!!
I had the opportunity to join Pangolin for another boat trip as they had space available, which I happily took! It was a 6 am pick up from the jetty. I ended up being locked in my room :-\ unfortunately I wasn’t able to unlock my room from the inside!! I had to call the reception from my mobile and someone came to let me out!! In that time Lynn had also come to find me, just in time for my release!
This time there were five other people on the trip too. I enjoyed this trip a lot, largely because I felt more comfortable having done it once before and felt more confident in using the equipment. Plus I think the others were pretty much beginners, so I was happy to get on with my thing. I found I was more selective in what I was taking pictures of, so I was a lot more relaxed and enjoyed the actual boat ride a lot and absorbed the wonderful atmosphere and the fact that I was on a boat trip on the Chobe river in Botswana. It was fantastic.
So following three trips with Pangolin, I would certainly recommend them to anyone who is interested in the photography aspect of safari. I learned a lot while having fun – and that’s special! I’m glad that, as planned, I had the photography guidance at the beginning of my trip so I could make use of these tips for the rest of the safaris planned! Guts and Lynn are both so personable, good and patient teachers, and a pleasure to spend time with.
My lodge neighbour friend (Carolyn) and I decided to venture out and had lunch at a restaurant called Hunter. It wasn’t thrilling – so I won’t go into it! After lunch we walked a little further and came across the Chobe Marina Lodge, which looks amazing! They had a really nice restaurant too. It took about 10-15 minutes to walk back to our lodge. And we saw some warthogs on the way back! I love that they hang out in the street. It was pretty hot walking in the early afternoon heat, I wouldn’t recommend it for long periods.
That afternoon, I went on my first activity arranged by the Old House, a boat ride with Sox. This was different to the Pangolin trip, in the sense that there was no photography aspect e.g. no advice, no cameras provided and it was a little harder to take photos as there were bars in the way (yes, I was photographically spoilt with Pangolin), but it was very enjoyable for exactly what it was – a boat trip on the Chobe river. We saw lots of animals, including a herd of around 50 elephants rushing to the river side to drink – that was amazing. Sox is also a very knowledgeable and friendly guide.
The following day I went on a morning game drive and afternoon boat trip, both with Sox.
In the evening I had dinner with a couple of hotel friends (Carolyn and Mike) at the Chobe Marina lodge. It was a nice set up, and to my surprise we were led to an outside veranda to dine. We chose a table with a view over the river, which was beautiful. I ordered a medium-rare steak with peppercorn sauce, rice and veg on the side. My friends had the fish dish and a well done steak with mashed potatoes. And it all went down hill from there. There were flies and bugs all over the place, on us and our plates. Then they completely mixed up the order, so my steak was well done with rice and Mike got the medium rare with mashed potatoes. By the time Mike and I figured out the mix up and switched the remaining half of our steaks, I don’t know… it wasn’t great! And Mike got all my peppercorn sauce which he said was delicious. It was a quick meal, we didn’t stick around to savour the fly ambience or dessert. I was disappointed with the meal, however, I’m not writing this place off. I accept that Botswana is not to the same culinary standard as London when it comes to dining out. They did try, service was friendly, food presentation was good and next time I would definitely sit indoors!! I’d also be happy to stay here, as accommodation it does look amazing.
This was my last night in Kasane. I left with a heavy heart, I really enjoyed my stay and I would have happily stayed longer for the lodge, the nice vibe in the area and the wonderful viewing on the game drives and on the river.
Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Old House for the friendly staff, the good restaurant service and the comfy feel of the place. I don’t know how to describe it – it wasn’t sterile like a chain hotel, it felt nice and homely and it was easy to chat to other guests. I also enjoyed the food there (especially the daily special ‘venison carpaccio’ which was springbok the second time, or maybe it was just mystery meat?) and the fact that the restaurant was 30 seconds from my room so I could roll up at any time. And, I did love the local warthogs and mongoose that liked to hang around.
The trips I went on by both Pangolin and the Old House were great, and I highly recommend Pangolin if you are interested in photography, using a mega lens or improving existing photography skills – this was really enjoyable.
Game drives and boat trips were both good. The boat is great for bird photos and close up hippos/elephants in the water, I don’t think this is always so easy to find. If you can only do one or the other, I’d recommend an afternoon boat trip so you can also view the sunset.
After Botswana, I continued my trip to Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park