Day 7 – Crossing the Magwikhwe sand ridge & Mababe depression
We passed over the precarious bridge that straddles the River Khwai and through the tiny village. Whilst at this point we were in between national parks the area still felt wild and remote. A long and dusty track soon led us to the Mababe Gate and the start of the ‘infamous’ Magwikhwe sand ridge. The ridge takes you into the western section of the Chobe National reserve, and we were headed to the Savuti area.
Savuti is encircled by the Magwikhwe sand ridge, which is 156 miles (100km) long and 65 feet (20 metres) high. Once part of the ancient shoreline of a super-lake that covered much of northern Botswana. As we traversed the ridge, characterised with deep sand and only enough width in most places to allow one car it was hard to imagine this dry arid landscape was once submerged beneath an inland sea.
The sand was indeed deep, but given the stories we had heard and vaguely recalling our trip through here in 2005 it was not as bad as we had expected. We dropped our tyre pressures to 20psi which gave us more traction and all was fine. Actually, the biggest challenge was upon very occasionally meeting other vehicles. With barely any room allowed to pass, keeping that momentum going remained the challenge!
After about 3.5hrs after leaving North Gate we started to encounter elephants, who would rather hurriedly cross the tracks in front of us, all crossing in the same direction. We knew at this point we must have been nearing Savuti and it’s watercourse. These elephants, all looking somewhat stressed were undoubtably heading to seek water. It became a little nerve wracking as they would occiasionally storm across the track right in front of us. This was in an area where the vegetation was thick right up to the track edge and so it was hard to see if any were making a passage. I am glad to say it it did not happen too often! An elephant running into the side of your car is not really what we had on the plan for the day.
By this time it was getting to the hottest part of the day when we started to see signs toward the public campsite. It was unbelievably dry and dusty as travelled deeper into Savuti,open plains dwarfed by huge monoliths of volcanic rock. A prefect setting for a leopard! Although it had been an interesting drive seeing that we were close to our camp for the next three nights was a welcome relief. At this point we were starting to get a little bored of sand!
As we approached into the camp we could see the glimmer of water to our right. It was the beautiful Savuti channel, that in recent years has brought life back to the savuti Marsh and with it plenty of game. For 30 years the channel had remained dry, until it started flowing again in 2008. Now every year it goes through a cycle of drying out and then refilling as the rains from Angola fill the channel.
The camp was larger than others we had stayed in with a rather odd looking ablution block. That was central to the camping area and resembled an old war bunker! However, quite obviously to stop the elephants raiding the toilet block for water. There was even a tiny little shop that seemed to sell everything! However, the best part was that our pitch was located close to the channel and like all the other sites fence free. A perfect spot to watch game coming down to drink.
As we found our pitch and whilst getting a drink quite randomly (or not perhaps given we were in the African bush) a large bull elephant literally strolled by and just passed through and mooched around the camp pitches. One of the camp guys came over and welcomed us and checked our paperwork, and as we chatted told us that the channel had only just started coming through for this year. We were soon to experience more of the magic of the channel in the next few days.
The camp chap did not even cast much of a glance toward the elephant. We had heard and read many stories of bull elephants wandering around the site and even recall seeming this when we were in Savuti in 2005. However, on arriving we had neglected to remember this minor fact! It was quite hilarious just seeing these high mammals once just wandering around. People just walking right past them on their way to the washrooms! Although we were staying a healthy distance for the time being. It may be normal here but even so! Yet another close encounter of the elephant kind! Savuti was already giving us a fabulous welcome.