An exciting overland adventure that explores Botswana's highlights before ending at the majestic Victoria Falls.
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Guests are met and welcomed at a location of their choice in Johannesburg by their private African Sky guide. After taking care of a few formalities, your tour departs the city and travels north along South Africa’s national N1 route. Our first stop today is at ‘Adventures with Elephants’ adjacent to Mabula Private Game Reserve. Offering more than the usual ‘touch and feel’ activity, ‘Adventures with Elephants’ offers hands-on educational interactions, as well as elephant rides and even swims. After your elephant ride and interaction, you’ll retire to nearby Mabula Game Reserve, where on arrival you’ll be assisted with check in. After some time allowed for rest and relaxation, you’ll enjoy a late afternoon and early evening open 4x4 game drive. Mabula’s varied ecosystem means the area is home to a great variety of animal and bird species, including Africa’s iconic Big Five. Possible sightings include hyena and jackal, and a variety of antelope including red hartebeest, eland, gemsbok and blesbok - not often seen in many reserves in South Africa.
After breakfast, your tour rejoins the national N1 highway and continues north to Mapungubwe in the Limpopo Valley. En route, we’ll stop at Makapansgat near Mokopane (previously Potgietersrus), an archaeological location within the Makapansgat and Zwartkrans valleys. These valleys are important paleontological sites, with the local lime works containing Australopithecus-bearing deposits dating back to between 3 and 2.6 million years BP. The entire Makapan Valley is declared a South African Heritage Site. After a guided tour of the site, your tour continues in a northerly direction, arriving at Mapungubwe at around 13H00. While here, you’ll enjoy various activities in the region. The Mapungubwe landscape is an open, expansive savanna at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. Mapungubwe developed into the largest kingdom in the sub-continent before it was abandoned in the 14th century. What survives are the almost untouched remains of the palace sites and also the entire settlement area dependent upon them, as well as two earlier capital sites, the whole presenting an unrivaled picture of the development of social and political structures over some four hundred years. After Mapungubwe’s decline, it’s believed that the people moved northwards and established Great Zimbabwe in the present-day district of Lake Mutirikwe, and the town of Masvingo in Zimbabwe. When Great Zimbabwe was abandoned some three hundred years later, possibly due to political breakdown, several groups moved south across the Limpopo River into the northeastern areas of South Africa and established new, smaller chiefdoms such as Thulamela. Mopane Bush Lodge also offers guided excursions to various rock shelters within their reserve to view their existing rock art panels.
After breakfast, your tour travels westwards, bypassing the small settlement at Alldays before making our way to the Platjan border control point, where we’ll enter Botswana. After crossing the Limpopo River, we’ll join the Tuli Reserve road and travel the short distance to our overnight accommodation, arriving at Limpopo River Lodge around lunchtime. The Tuli Block in northeastern Botswana is unique as far as wildlife reserves in the country are concerned, as it consists mostly of privately owned land rather than state-owned national parks like the Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. This arrangement came about in 1895 when Chief Khama of the Bamangwato people ceded the land to the British South Africa Company. The objective was to make this thin strip of rocky terrain a buffer against incursions by the South African Boer farmers. It also happened to fall on the direct route from Cape Town to Victoria Falls in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, along which Cecil Rhodes intended to build his ‘Cape to Cairo’ railway. While at Limpopo River Lodge, you’ll enjoy a day of guided game drives, conducted by your African Sky guide, where animals such as elephant – common in the area - as well as leopard, cheetah, hippo, crocodile and various antelope species such as impala, might be seen. Birdlife in the area is abundant, and birders or ‘twitchers’ will be very excited at the prospect of sighting Pel’s fishing owl, a rare species in Southern Africa. During the drier months of the year, short forays on foot into the Limpopo riverbed may also be undertaken – but make sure to check for wildlife first!
As we travel today, you’ll experience several rural villages typical of Botswana, as well as extensive Mopane woodland synonymous with road travel in the country. The ubiquitous Mopane tree is in fact very common in Botswana and a very versatile plant. Elephants use the tree as a food source during the drier months, and the local Tswana people use the wood extensively in the construction of traditional homesteads and as firewood. Our route today will take us via Baines Drift - named after the British explorer Thomas Baines - to Selebi Phikwe. Later, we’ll join the national A1 road and travel north to Francistown, Botswana’s second largest city. Gold was discovered in the area in 1869 and that sparked the first gold rush in Southern Africa - fifteen years before the gold boom on the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Founded in 1897 by the Bakalanga people as a settlement near the Monarch Mine, the city is named after Daniel Francis, an English prospector from Liverpool who acquired prospecting licenses in the region in 1869. The Monarch Mine was not the only mine in operation at that time, and it was expected that Francistown would grow rapidly. After arriving, we’ll pass a local shopping center before retiring to our overnight accommodations to the east of the city for the remainder of the day.
After a relaxing morning and a late breakfast, your tour departs the bustling Francistown and takes the leisurely drive north-west to the rural village of Nata, close to Sowa Pan on the eastern side of the great Makgadikgadi Pans. Nata Lodge is a welcome retreat in an otherwise harsh environment. Set amongst Mokolwane palms, facilities at the lodge include a full course restaurant, bar and lounge, swimming pool, and a gift shop selling (amongst other items) traditional Tswana basketry. Lesser galagos are frequent nightly visitors to the restaurant area. Nata Lodge also offers a complimentary WiFi service. Your second day at Nata is spent exploring the nearby Makgadikgadi Pans. These huge salt pans are remnants of the ancient Lake Makgadikgadi, created some two million years ago with the development of the Harare-Kalahari Axis. This fault line resulted in the formation of a huge basin in the Kalahari Desert, in the process capturing waters from the Okavango, Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi rivers. About 20 000 years ago, after the lake reached capacity, its waters began to push north and then eastwards.
This caused the middle and lower Zambezi Rivers to connect, resulting in the formation of the Victoria Falls. With the water now able to flow out of the basin, along with decreased rainfall and evaporation, Lake Makgadikgadi continued to drain gradually until it finally dried out completely. Nevertheless, during good rainfall years, surplus water from the Okavango Delta pushes its way eastwards along the Boteti River and fills portions of the pan. The arrival of these fresh, cool waters in an otherwise bone-dry landscape results in a huge migration of wildlife (the second largest in Africa) into the pans, as well as the arrival of large flocks of water birds, particularly many hundreds of thousands of flamingos, which are common at Nata Bird Sanctuary when there is water in the pan. The arrival of these waters is seasonal and coincides with peak flow at the Victoria Falls. Throughout the course of the day, we’ll also travel westwards to the Gweta district, where we’ll visit two historical landmarks - Green’s Baobab and Chapman’s Baobab, both national monuments. These huge trees served as route markers for explorers, missionaries, traders and hunters in times past. Green’s Baobab was inscribed by the brothers Charles and Frederik Green in the 19th century with the words, ‘Green’s Expedition 1858-1859’. Also visible are the letters H M V, presumably the initials of Hendrik Matthys van Zyl, a man of questionable character. The more impressive Chapman’s Baobab is a further 11km to the south. Until the 7th of January 2016 when it fell, this baobab was one of the largest trees in Africa and well over a thousand years old. The tree was first documented by explorer James Chapman when he traveled with Thomas Baines to the area, and measured 25 meters in circumference with six main trunks. Thanks to a new 7th trunk, it was sometimes referred to as the ‘Seven Sisters’. Courtney Selous, Robert Moffat and David Livingstone were some of the famous names who passed the tree. A cavity in one of the trunks is said to have served as Africa’s first ‘post office’; explorers going north would leave their letters for loved ones in the hole in the hope that those returning south would take the mail with them and post it when - or if - they got home.
Departing Nata, our tour continues northwards, tackling the dead-straight 300-kilometer stretch of road to Kazungula on the Chobe River in the very north-east of the country. After passing through the ‘buffalo fence’ about 50km north of Nata, the possibility of wildlife sightings, particularly elephant, becomes a possibility. Early departures are often rewarded with spectacular sunrises. Once in Kazungula, we’ll travel the short distance to Kasane and your overnight accommodations. After assisting with check-in, you’ll say goodbye to your African Sky guide as he or she returns by road to South Africa. Chobe National Park finds itself at the core of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, a cross-border conservation effort formally established in 2011 and incorporating an area of approximately 444 000 sq. kilometers (171 000 sq. miles) of African wilderness. The region spans five countries and sixteen national parks, including the Okavango Delta, and is without doubt home to Africa’s largest elephant population, an estimated 207 000 animals. The initiative aims not only to protect the region’s wildlife, but also the livelihood of its rural communities, particularly folks who find themselves in daily conflict with animals such as lion and elephant which destroy livestock and crops and pose a threat to human lives.
The Chobe riverfront where your lodge is located is a hive of wildlife activity, one of a handful of ‘must see’ hotspots on the African continent.
The riverfront is an ’eco-system within an eco-system’, with large daily back-and-forth migrations as animals move into the surrounding woodland during the day to feed, only to return again in the late afternoon to quench their thirsts. The floodplain, close to the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers, is an oasis in an often harsh and unforgiving environment. Hundreds of hippo, large Nile crocodiles and an incredible variety of birdlife are just some of the animals encountered here. The floodplain is home to Botswana’s only population of puku antelope.
Elephant herds numbering in the hundreds are often seen during the late afternoon, sometimes swimming across one of the many channels. Close encounters are all but guaranteed. Buffalo often wade across to the perennially green islands in search of better grazing. Lion, spotted hyena, wild dog and leopard are sometimes sighted along the riverbank. Many species of antelope, including the impressive sable, are common. Giraffe, zebra, impala and wildebeest are frequently sighted on game drives. A lucky few will find themselves witnesses to a ‘kill’. With the golden hour of late afternoon sunlight coming from just the right direction, a game viewing cruise on the Chobe River is about as perfect a location as any wildlife photographer could ever hope for. Your activities today alternate between an open 4x4 game drive in the park - for the most part keeping reasonably close to the river - and a water-based game viewing cruise on the Chobe River, arguably the single most rewarding wildlife activity on offer in Southern Africa today.
After breakfast, you’ll be met and transferred to Victoria Falls (group transfer) in neighboring Zimbabwe, en route to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. The accommodation is ideally located on elevated ground and faces westwards, overlooking the Zambezi National Park. From the lodge, both wildlife sightings - especially elephants - and magnificent sunsets are almost a daily occurrence. The lodge also boasts the popular Boma and Makuwa-Kuwa restaurants, offering traditional Zimbabwean fare and dancing displays. After check-in and some time spent relaxing, guests will enjoy a tour of the mighty Victoria Falls, locally known as ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ or the ‘the smoke that thunders’. The Falls span an impressive 1 704 meters in width and plunge 108 meters into the turbulent gorge below at their highest, creating an impressive display of mist and rain. The Falls are definitely a worthy member of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
First thing this morning, you’ll be met and transferred to Masuwe Estate, not too far from Victoria Falls, where you’ll enjoy their ‘Walking with Lions’ activity. The activity forms part of an active conservation program, Africa’s first genuine effort to ethically reintroduce the offspring of captive-bred lions into the wild. In the first stage – in which you’ll be participating - young lion cubs are taken out into the bush to help build their confidence in a natural environment. Lion cubs enjoy daily walks with or without guests, as the primary role of the project is not commercial tourism but rather the successful re-introduction of lions into the wild. As they gain confidence, they start to develop and practice their stalking and hunting skills - crucial for stage two of the program. By participating, you’re actively assisting in pre-release training for the cubs, as well as providing essential funding to the program. On this once-in-a-lifetime activity, you’ll get to meet young cubs in the bush and watch as they learn, explore, and play. The activity is an opportunity to learn about lions as well as get some fantastic photos – and memories! Once you’ve returned to your accommodations, you’ll have the opportunity to freshen up, enjoy your lodge’s amenities or otherwise catch an afternoon nap. Some folks prefer to be on the go all day and book additional activities, which can easily be arranged at reception. During the late afternoon, you’ll be met and transferred to a local jetty where the remainder of your day will be spent enjoying a tranquil sunset cruise on Africa’s fourth-largest river - the mighty Zambezi. Drinks and snacks are served on the riverboat, and on a good day you might see a pod of hippos or an elephant or two. After a spectacular African sunset, you’ll be returned to your overnight accommodations, where the remainder of your evening may be spent at leisure.
Today your morning is at leisure, although many folks choose to book an additional last minute activity if time permits. Activities such as helicopter flips or microlight flights over the Falls start early and last just fifteen minutes. Later, at a time to be announced, your transfer will arrive and transfer you to the local airport. There you’ll board a return flight to Johannesburg in South Africa, bringing to an end a memorable Botswana and Victoria Falls tour.
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