Botswana: A Journey of Extremes...

Your Guide to Africa

Our Collective

Melissa Siebert


Take a journey of extremes. From the fluid waterways and lush woodlands of the Linyanti to the harsh semi-desert of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Along with the Okavango Delta, these areas are testament to Botswana’s spectacular pairing of water-based and land-based game viewing. Less travelled than the Okavango, the Linyanti and the Central Kalahari offer distinct but equally magical experiences in the wild.



In the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve – a 1 250 square kilometre private concession north-east of the Central Kalahari and one of the world’s most remote, pristine game-viewing areas – water is everywhere, and sometimes, in some places, nowhere. The reserve lies along a river descending from the Angolan highlands, first as the Kwando, then the Linyanti, then the Chobe; it’s also watered by the mysterious Savute Channel, dry for 75 years prior to 1958, and then again from 1982-2010, taking a huge toll on the wildlife dependent on it. A disappearing act largely attributed to tectonic shifts, which periodically drain the channel westward.



Take a helicopter flight over the Linyanti and its diversity impresses: as the south-western tip of the Great Rift Valley, it comprises mopane woodlands, riverine forests, grasslands, marshes, floodplains, and lagoons, habitats home to a multitude of game, shifting through the seasons: large concentrations of elephant – migrating between Botswana and Namibia – lion, wild dog, zebra, buffalo, rare antelope such as sable and roan, hippo, and many others. Classified as an Important Birding Area (the Savute Channel), it also hosts a year-round proliferation of birds, with different migratory patterns– the rare African skimmer, southern carmine bee-eater, southern ground hornbill, wattled crane, and innumerable raptors, among 450 other species.




Guided walks through the Linyanti’s woodlands and forests, encountering elephant and other wildlife on foot, are unforgettable.. The ancient trees themselves – towering leadwood, jackalberry, knob thorn and others – engage, awe. But for this traveller at least, the most sublime Linyanti experience is on the water: resting on a barge as hundreds of elephants of all sizes forge across, perhaps stopping fleetingly to acknowledge you as they continue their migration. A path they and their ancestors have traversed for eons. With these convergences, and the Linyanti’s general abundance, life feels full.


Contrast this with the Central Kalahari Game Reserve,,,which often looks so empty; appearances deceive. Roughly 500 kilometres south of the Linyanti, the CKGR feels a world away. It’s 52 000 square kilometres of semi-desert, rolling ochre sands, dunes, and vast pans punctuated by the occasional camelthorn – like the surface of Mars in the dry season (April-October), greening in the wet (November-March). Reaching temperatures as high as 45° C in summer, dipping down below 0 Celsius in winter, with rainfall ranging from a mere 100 mm to 500 mm annually. As elsewhere, game viewing here is seasonal; the numbers vary dramatically with the seasons, diminishing in winter. In all seasons, though, the desert-adapted species of the Kalahari are unique.


Iconic black-maned lion and gemsbok often create scenes together, predator and prey.


Other game figuring in the landscape include a variety of buck, such as springbok, kudu, blue wildebeest, steenbok, and duiker; giraffe; brown hyaena; bat-eared and Cape foxes, yellow mongoose; meerkat; leopard; cheetah; honey badger; black-backed jackal; and a menagerie of smaller creatures, even frogs when the rains come. Bird sightings are especially thrilling, given how varied and unusual they are: you’ll likely see kori bustard; secretary bird; pale chanting goshawk; ostrich; various birds of prey, including martial eagle and Verreaux’s eagle-owl.


But the greatest reward of a Kalahari journey is meeting its custodians: the Bushman clans who have lived here for tens of thousands of years, still struggling to return and stay on their ancestral lands. First peoples, southern Africa’s oldest inhabitants, they are the best Kalahari guides. Seeing the place through their eyes is a new way of seeing, and an ancient one.



Track with the Bushmen and you may learn: the gender of a gemsbok by its bodyprint; how long ago a lion passed by, from its spoor and scent marking; where spiders’ and scorpions’ bunkers are; who’s sharing a burrow; how to make tea from a shepherd’s bush, treat fever and pain with devil’s claw, slake your thirst with tsamma melons. The resident Bushman family at Kalahari Plains can teach you more: how to hunt with poison arrows, to make fire with stones, sticks and grass.



Perhaps the ultimate Kalahari experience: hearing Bushman legends around the fire. How animals were people. How the jackal always outsmarts everyone. How the ancestors climbed threads to the sky, and remain there. The everlasting stories of the sky and the stars, watching down on you in their flickering thousands.


Visit the Linyanti and stay at our premier camps King's Pool or DumaTau.


Written by Melissa Siebert

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