Linyanti River sunset


Day by day highlights from our Botswana self-drive camping trip 2017: Linyanti and Savuti, Chobe National Park. (25-26 July 2017)

*Catch up on an overview of our trip and highlights from day 1 to 5 in the blog series Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Day 6: Ihaha- Linyanti, Chobe National Park

A 4×4 adventure kind of day lay ahead of us and we got an early start out of Ihaha and Chobe National Park’s northern section. Sleepy baboons absorbed the early morning sunshine along the track and a black-backed jackal sniffed along a dry river channel in search of a last snack before he retired from his night’s activities. Baobabs waved us by and we exited via Ngoma gate again and headed towards Linyanti. We’d re-enter Chobe National Park again this day, and find ourselves in the South Western part of it on the  Linyanti River.

Baboons in the sun, Botswana

The route went something like this:

Ihaha-Ngoma Gate- 23kms

Ngoma Gate- Kachikau (village) – 40kms

Kachikau-Linyanti 40kms of sandy challenges and excitement. (Back in Chobe National Park)

Along the thick-sand stretch to Linyanti, a local lodge had erected some funny signs which kept the mood light, even if the butterflies in tummies ahead of our first sandy obstacles were fluttering.

offroad in Botswana, Pajero

Pajero and Patrol in Chobe National Park, BotswanaOne sign offered this advice: “Engage 4×4, select 2nd gear and put foot. Especially if you’re a Land Rover.”

The owner must be a Toyota man.

Pajero and Patrol 4x4 offroad drive, Botswana

On arrival at Linyanti we entered a rustic and inviting environment with a secluded bush feel. Our campsite was number 2 with a view of a swampy section of the Linyanti River. It was a hot day. 32 degrees Celsius, so our cars said. We found a little coolness in the shade of the big tree which watched over our site and poured the gin and tonics.

Linyanti campsite, Chobe National Park, Botswana

An elephant with a taste for G&T’s with lemon

One of the most memorable moments of our trip took place here. My mom and I were lounging in our camping chairs, appreciating the calm and our gin and tonics. The chaps in our herd had gone off to meet the neighbours and talk about maps. We heard some rustling in the bushes beyond our camp towards the water’s edge and soon saw a female elephant step into view while she munched on the tree and walked off like a good girl. A few others followed her. We were in awe.

elephant at Linyanti camp, Botswana

Looking back she and her girl-power gang may have been part of a decoy strategy, sent in to distract us from the naughtiness that loomed nearby. Soon after the elephant cows had walked out of sight my mom and I noticed a big boy ellie chomping leaves just beyond our camp and cars. He was pretending to behave and slowly moved from tree to tree, coming closer all the time. When he was chewing on the bush just behind the Patrol my mom’s nerves could manage no more and she declared he was too close for her comfort and jumped into the Pajero’s passenger seat, insisting I do the same. “He won’t come to us mom,” I said, taking a few more snaps with my camera, feeling sure he had no desire to come closer as we had no other delicious bushes around us.

Elephant bull and Nissan Patrol at Linyanti Camp, BotswanaJust then he took a turn into the middle of our camp, confidentially striding around the big tree and towards our camping chairs with purpose. I instantly found myself in the car too, also on the passenger side, away from the ellie and on my mom’s lap.  She slid over into the driver’s seat, turned the key and closed the electric windows. As fast as a cat she was. Mother instinct kicked into gear. Then that instinct told her we needed to escape. “Come Kelly, we’re getting out of here!” Luckily sense kicked in and we giggled nervously. We were going nowhere with rooftop tents set up on top of us and a misbehaving elephant in touching distance from us, ready to react to any sudden sounds and movements, even though he was very calm at  that time. Rather, we sat still in our safe place and watched him, giggling nervously still.

elephant drinking gin and tonic, Botswana

That mischievous bull elephant was now right behind our car, sweeping his trunk over our camping table and investigating the items on display, including the gin bottle a cell phone and some salty biscuits and salad. He found them lacking in appeal. He was on a mission. He swiped that long nose of his along the vehicle’s rear windscreen, with us holding our breath inside, not believing the bizarre situation we were in. Trunk lifted; sniffing out something irresistible to him he explored our chairs. Then his trunk was in the cup inside the chair cup holder. Jackpot. He had found what his nose had desired. He lifted that cup out and emptied its gin contents into his mouth. Just like he was having a shot at a shindig. He chucked the cup onto the floor and retrieved the lemon slice he had freed from it. This is what he was here for. His entire focus was on that lemon and getting it into his belly. After chewing on the slice and spitting out the peel he moved onto the other cup and chair. He did not waste effort on picking up the cup this time but just sucked up that lemon and ate it. Luckily, we had put the rest of the lemons and other food into the back of the car after lunch so there was nothing else of interest to him there. Clearly unsatisfied with our meagre 2 lemon slice offering, he bumped the one chair to the ground and kicked it aside before languidly walking off as if to say, “Thanks for nothing guys.”

Elephant and camping chairs, Botswana

My mom and I sat, sweating and wide-eyed in the car still, not sure if it was all over yet. We were aware of another male elephant in the bushes nearby too and watched his movements closely. He was polite though and walked passed, giving us a fair berth and almost apologising for his friend’s rude behaviour.

When we saw it was safe to come out, we did so with adrenalin pumping through us and laughter escaping us. My dad and Graham returned to camp shortly after, having bumped into the elephants on their walk and needing to change their route very rapidly.

They still can’t believe they missed our encounter though. It’s the stuff of life-long memories and that elephant tale was clearly meant to be shared by just my mom and me.

Linyanti sunset, Chobe National Park, Botswana

That evening we relished the sunset over the swampy scene from the deck in a new section in Linyanti Camp and watched the water birds fiddling for fish and the elephants sloshing in the shallows too. We saw no plains game at Linyanti during our stay. It is a setting cherished by water-dwellers only. The night was lovely and quiet, punctuated by hippo grunts and the calls of a scops owl. We woke in the darkness to the sounds of a midnight feast on the go as the elephants had returned to nibble. We didn’t offer them a night-cap G&T with lemon this time.

Note: Campsite 1 has the best location with full views over more of the deeper water section of the channel where hippos grunted and wallowed happily. At the time of our visit a safari camp deck area and a few tented rooms were being built at Camp Linyanti. That deck had the ultimate sunset view, best enjoyed with a crisp glass of white wine in hand, as we did.

The campsite ablutions were new and clean but the hot water system (solar geyser) was not functioning well so cold showers were the norm. The team were working on fixing it but we agreed that in such a secluded setting, a donkey boiler system would be ideal.

Stay there too:


Cost of camping: P240 per person

National Park entry fee: P120 per day

National Park entry fee: P50 per day per vehicle

GPS co-ordinates: S18° 16’228 and E23° 56’163


Day 7: Linyanti- Savuti, Chobe National Park

An aura of nervous excitement gripped our family herd this day, especially the drivers. There was a specific “extremely challenging” sandy section on our planned route from Linyanti to Savuti camp and it had been built up in our minds as “treacherous” and able to “swallow cars” whole by fellow self-drive travellers we’d come across and by reviews on 4×4 community forums too. It was a beast in our heads before we had even met it.

Sandy track from Linyanti to Savuti, Botswana. Nissan Patrol

This day’s 40km drive was a slip and slide, rock and roll escapade in its entirety as the sandy off-road path kept us strained and concentrating all the way through. The daunting and intimidating section came upon us before we knew it. We let down tyres a bit and went for it, adrenalin pumping us through the short 1km span, which felt much longer while in the moment. Both drivers made it through with skill and bravery. It was a fantastic highlight of our trip! High 5’s were exchanged at the end of it and eyes shone from the sense of achievement and fun.

We arrived at Savuti camp before midday and setup at site RSV 3. It’s quite a busy camp and the actual setting is nothing special but it serves its purpose as being a base to be able to explore the Savuti region.  The generator, which ran, loudly throughout the day and up till 8pm at night, did not impress anybody though and I hope they find an alternative soon. The camp has remarkable ablution blocks which look like a fort and have been built that way to keep the naughty elephants out and away from the water source.

elephants in Savuti, Chobe national Park

Scorpion at Savuti Camp, BotswanaSavuti has been built up in our minds through wildlife documentaries and articles about the amazing predator sightings it can bestow on visitors. We chose to get out into that wilderness for the afternoon.  It is proper bush out there with wonderful golden plains stretching out in sections, reminding me of the movie scenes of Tsavo in “The Ghost and the Darkness”. The landscapes were stirring. But there was not much game around.

Savuti plains, Botswana

wildebeest Savuti, Botswana

We stretched at the enormous baobab and scrambled up rocks at the “Rock art” site marked on the map and trails. We also found lions, 7 of them, bloated and snoring in the shade, digesting a kill they had made the previous day. We wonder if they were part of the notorious “Marsh Pride” we knew of through TV shows about them. Apart from them, we did not see much else, which is in stark contrast to the great numbers of wildlife seen near Ihaha. We were in very different territory though but we did find it very quiet there. We lazed next to a waterhole for a while but nothing came to visit. We did see elephant and some antelope as well as Botswana’s national birds, the Kori Bustards.

Baobab, Savuti, Botswana

Savuti lioness, BotswanaRock art site, Savuti, Botswana

Rock paintings in Savuti, Botswana

Kori Bustards, Savuti, Botswana

Our leopard in her cave

Savuti did have a fabulous surprise in store for us later that day though, and had kept us in suspense until then. We returned to camp for a quick shower and chatted to our camping neighbour before heading out for our sundowners drive. Thank goodness for good neighbours. He had told us about a leopard he had seen the day before in her lair and offered to lead us to the scene.  We knew not to get our hopes up, but this time, we needn’t have worried about that. We stopped at a point which the map called “Leopard Rock” and scanned the rocky koppie he pointed to with binocular-eyes. There was a cave up there, and standing at its entrance, as if ordered by that map, was our leopard.

leopard in a cave, Savuti, BotswanaThis was a sighting straight out of one of those documentaries we had watched and not something we had ever imagined seeing in real life. She was a beautiful, little female leopard and she was all ours. She surveyed her surroundings from her high perch, watching the impala herd far below her. Then she exited her cave and sat on a rock nearby, grooming herself, as if getting ready for a night out on the town.

Leopard on Leopard Rock, Savuti, BotswanaIn silence and with gobsmacked mouths wide open, we watched her hop and skip down the hill and strut through the grass just next to our cars. She then rolled in the dust in the road and strolled along with us following behind, joining her for her evening’s outing. She sat down on the road and then moved off into the grass next to it, watching the impala always. There she sat down too, so demurely. We watched her stalking, low down in the grass, and we held our breath, wondering if she would attempt a hunt. However she chose to rather move off, teasing us with a flick of her tail.

leopard, BotswanaWe ended our drive with a stop at the fat, full lions and saluted them and our leopard with sundowners in hand. Those bloated cats were not much entertainment as they slept off their supper but we did smile as two cubs toyed with the wildebeest horns from the carcass, so entranced by their game.

Sleeping lion, Savuti, Botswana

Lioness Savuti, Chobe National Park

Stay there too:


Cost of camping: P240 per person

National Park entry fee: P120 per day

National Park entry fee: P50 per day per vehicle

GPS co-ordinates: S 18′ 34′ 014 and E 24′ 03′ 905

Read more about our route, tips and an overview of the entire trip in part 1 of this blog series and then all about our first 5 days at Nata, Elephant Sands and Ihaha in part 2 and part 3.