We had not planned on visiting the pans as being January which is the highest rainfall month in Botswana, the pans are normally flooded and impassable at this time of year. However as we were passing close by en route from Serowe to Maun, we decided to at least go to the viewpoint in the south, which is just a bit north of the village of Mmatshumo.
On arrival at the viewpoint, when looking at the pans through the binoculars, they did not look very flooded. Having been told by one of the locals that the rains were very late this year, we made a snap decision to try and see how far through the pans we could get heading north.
Well.......what an amazing, adrenalin filled 4 x 4 off road adventure this turned out to be. In hindsight and having afterwards spoken to a few people, I think having been on our own without any other vehicles, this may have been a bit of a risky decision, but given that we eventually got through without incident (+- 7-8 hours to do the approx 190 kms south to north) we are so glad we did do it. The sheer vastness of the pans is awe-inspiring. The scenery either side although fairly sparse did make for some terrific photographic opportunities.
That said, I would not recommend this in the wet unless you have a reliable 4-wheel drive vehicle, with high clearance, low range & any other additional settings available as the terrain is hectic. We went through a LOT of water, a LOT of thick mud and a LOT of very thick deep sand on either side of the pans. Fortunately our vehicle is well equipped to deal with all of this (Land Rover Discovery 3) but even so there was a few parts where I have to admit being a little nervous!
Be forewarned, the Garmin GPS loses signal for a fairly large part of this journey and we had to rely on the vehicle's compass on the built-in Navigation system and we just kept heading due north. We did have a few tracks we could follow, however one honestly does not know when they were made so this could be a hit & miss situation. At one point with no GPS and no tracks, we got a little lost when the "track" ran into a flooded section with no other visible routes around, but using common sense we eventually picked up the tracks again on the other side of the "dam".
We saw no wildlife other than one squirrel, and very little birdlife other than a few raptors, a couple of vultures and the odd small water bird in the wetter sections. One does see domestic animals / herds - cows, goats, donkeys etc near the odd settlements on the way. I think as per previous reviews, the birdlife is very dependent on the rainfall and being late this year there were no flamingos or pelicans at all, not here or at Nata Sanctuary which we visited about a week later.
In the south the closest town with fuel is Orapa, in the north at Gweta, and there are no other facilities for a very long way once you start the journey, one needs to be well prepared with food, water and any other necessities to be totally self sufficient. The next possible stop that has facilities - flushing toilets, hot showers, accommodation / camping sites & a pub is at the Makgadikgadi Adventure Camp (http://www.makgadikgadiadventurecamp.co.bw/index.html) which is about 19kms north of Kubu Island & approx 87 kms south from Gweta. A very friendly gentleman offered us refreshments in the bar but as we did not know how much further we had to travel or how long it would take us, we decided not to stop.
All in all an exhilarating, sometimes nerve wracking experience, but one well worth doing, perhaps better in the dry season for those that are not quite so adventurous!
The photos don't do the trip or the sight of these pans any justice but perhaps those attached tell more of the tale!
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