Elephant sands


Day by day highlights from our Botswana self-drive camping trip 2017: Nata and Elephant Sands. (19-21 July 2017)

Day 1: Johannesburg – Nata, Botswana

 A 4am wakeup call is only okay when the reason for it is a holiday. On the 19th of July 2017, this was how our day and our incredible Botswana trip started and we welcomed that alarm clock chime. We tackled the very long drive from Johannesburg to Nata (886kms). Our excited anticipation got us going and later the emotional support from each other over our little 2 way radios and the energy from snacks and energy drinks got us through that final stretch. We were a herd of four and two trusty 4×4’s, heading off to explore Botswana on a self-drive camping holiday.

Nissan Patrol in Nata Bird Sanctuary

Getting our bearings in Nata Bird Sanctuary. Scouting the way to the platform from the roof.

We entered Botswana via the small Stockpoort border post, just after Lephalale. No queues, no issues and  recommended as our preferred way into the county. From there it was onwards to Francistown and then to Nata. We finally arrived at our happy place, Nata Bird Sanctuary, just before 5pm and in time for sunset over the Makgadikgadi Pans. It’s an especially significant spot to Graham and me as it’s where we got engaged in 2013 (More on that story here) and is a setting we wanted to share with my folks too. Graham exclaimed that our return to it and to our beloved Botswana felt like coming home.

Nata Bird Sanctuary platform viewing deck

Toasting our first Botswana sunset at the Nata Bird Sanctuary pan.

Sunset at Nata Bird Sanctuary

Sunset at Nata Bird Sanctuary, A scene with so much water, it looked like an ocean sunset.

It was tranquillity personified as the setting sun painted that scene pink and pelicans and flamingos danced by before their bedtime. It was the most perfect welcome to Botswana. We were there!

Flamingos at sunset at Nata Bird Sanctuary.

Flamingos posing in the sunset at Nata Bird Sanctuary.

Sunset at Nata Bird Sanctuary

Capturing the magic of this special place – Nata Bird Sanctuary.

On a previous visit to the Nata Bird Sanctuary we had camped near the platform on the pans, which was such a memorable experience. However, the sanctuary no longer allows this as they work to conserve that natural place and keep the human footprint to a minimum.

Nata Bird Sanctuary Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana

A view of the Makgadikgadi Pans from the roof rack.

Instead we headed to the convenient, secure and wonderfully managed Nata Lodge, just up the road, for our first night’s camping and our first sleep in our rooftop tents. We were visited by the bushbabies at night as they jumped from tree branches to our tents and beyond. We also indulged in a hearty breakfast at the lodge the next morning before moving off in search of wild adventures.

Nata Lodge camping.

Camping in our tropical campsite oasis at Nata Lodge

Stay there too:

Website: http://underonebotswanasky.com/camps/nata-lodge.php

Cost of camping: P85 per person (About R110 pp)

GPS co-ordinates: S 20° 13.485′  E 26° 16.155′

Day 2: Nata- Elephant Sands

The Botswana elephants were calling and we spent the next day with them at Elephant Sands. This camp is just an hour’s drive up the A33 road from Nata (towards Kasane) and is in a much wilder setting.  It’s a favourite overnight camping spot for all sorts of travellers including overland tour groups, solo travellers (like the American off-road motorbike adventurer we met), families and couples.

Elephant Sands, Botswana

Mandatory selfies with the ellies at Elephant Sands

Elephant drinking at Elephant Sands Botswana

A tall drink of water at the Elephant Sands Bar and water hole.

The resident elephants know that the local waterhole in front of the bar is filled daily by a pump, and they are regulars there. We spent a relaxed afternoon, recovering from our previous day’s drive, in the company of those ellies. We had a few rounds of drinks with them at the bar throughout the day when we strolled between the campsite and the bar area.

Elephant swimming at Elephant Sands, Botswana

Taking a dip at Elephant Sands.

Elephant Sands lodge

Visiting the great grey residents at Elephant Sands

The elephant-created-path towards the water is directly in front of the camp and we’d regularly lookup from our camping chairs to see new great grey characters silently floating past our tents on route to “Happy Hour” and a cool bath time too. It’s amazing how quiet their footfall is. If we hadn’t noticed them walking by, sometimes their “tummy rumbling” communication sounds would alert us to them.

Elephant Sands camping

Strolling, silently through the Elephant Sands camp towards the waterhole, because they own the place.

Elephant Sands water hole

Locals get together at their favourite bar at Elephant Sands.

They came and went throughout the day and night. At sunset, as we were putting the first of many delicious Botswana beef steaks onto our braai, the elephant silhouettes contrasted against the pink sky close by, just going about their evening too. That night we fell asleep to their rumblings and woke later to lion and hyena calls in the distance too. Things were getting wilder.

Elephant Sands camping

Watching the ellies stroll by at sunset from our campsite at Elephant Sands.

Elephant silhouettes at Elephant Sands

Elephant silhouettes saying good night at Elephant Sands.

Stay there too:

Website: http://www.elephantsands.com

Camping Cost: P90 per person (About R120 pp)

GPS co-ordinates: S 19° 44.977′  E 26° 4.282′

Note: We had filled up with fuel and stocked up with some braai meat and groceries in Nata. This is where we also met an especially friendly village puppy who reminded us of our own Penny at home. She was the first of many Botswana dogs we’d watch from our car windows as we passed through their homes in different regions, all definite Penny ancestors. We’d also picked up firewood from an unmanned wood station on the roadside. The sign said to leave P20 in the empty cool drink can and thanked us for the support. It was the first of many “honesty box” firewood stands we’d support on that trip.

Botswana Dog at Nata

Penny’s family member -a Botswana dog in Nata.

Firewood for sale Botswana

A firewood stall run based on honesty.

Read more about our route, tips and an overview of the entire trip in part 1 of this blog series here.