Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Moonstone Pictures on an African Safari in Khwai - Botswana

February 2013

My husband and I are keen wildlife photographers, ardent campers and enjoy traveling to remote places.  We visit the Botswana bush regularly and often return to the Khwai Development Trust, Magotho Campsites that borders the Moremi Game Reserve.  The Magotho campsites are extremely spacious and private and as the Khwai Development Trust belongs to the Khwai Community, the money made returns to the Khwai Community.  There are no facilities at the campsites, it is back to basics and one needs to be totally self sufficient, such has having own water supply, although we use river water to shower with, own bucket shower, and the ablutions comprise of one’s spade and toilet roll.  But the serenity of the place is just spectacular.  
Signage to entry of the Khwai Community Campsite

Open Bush Bucket Shower in Khwai at our campsite

Open Bush Toilet in Kwai by our campsite
February 2013, we left Johannesburg at 5:30am en route to Groblers / Martin’s Drift Border via The Carousel, Kranskop and Nyl Plaza(N11) taking the R101 to Mokapane, a total of 4 Toll Gates amounting to R89.00 on the South African side, and finally ending the journey at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which is just past Serowe in Botswana.  We drive a Toyota Landcruiser Trooper, which we customized, into a bush photographic vehicle.  We are totally self-sufficient and the Trooper was loaded with all the camping, photographic equipment and all other amenities such as food, drinks, water tank etc..and our average speed was about 100kms per hour. We arrived at the border post at 09:45am and entered Botswana at 10:30.  The Botswana road tax at the Border was 110.00 Pulas and it is advisable to have some Pulas on you as this makes the process of paying the road tax a bit faster.  Just after the Border the road condition is not in a good state and full of potholes for a distance of about 10kms and then the roads are decent, but one must watch out for the cattle on the road.  618kms and 7 hours since departure in Johannesburg we arrived at Khama Rhino Sanctuary Lodge at 12:30pm.  

Our safari vehicle customized into a photographic vehicle
Self-Catering chalet at Khama Rhino Sanctuary Lodge
White Rhinos
We were glad to have left Johannesburg early that morning as this gave us the whole afternoon to enjoy and drive around the Rhino Sanctuary and see the most spectacular Rhinos as well as other game around the waterholes such as Wildebeest, Zebras and various Antelopes.  Our stay was most enjoyable in a self-catering chalet and because we had an early morning, for opt to have diner at the lodge’s restaurant followed by an early night.  We left Khama the following morning en route to Maun going through Orapa, Rakops, Motopi and finally joining up with the A3 that goes directly to Maun, a total of 514kms traveling distance, which took us 5 hours.  There are numerous speed restrictions in Botswana that are often monitored by the police, so it is best to abide to the speed limit and just enjoy the ride.  In total so far our journey from Johannesburg to Maun was a total of 1190kms.

We stayed over in Maun with friends, got some fresh supplies and finally headed off for Khwai that is 116kms from Maun.  After 54kms from Maun, one goes through a checkpoint or also known as a vet fence, but when going in a northerly direction, in this case towards Khwai, there are no restriction on food and one is allowed to take fresh meat and fresh fruits.  It is only when one is going the other way (southerly direction) that no fresh meat and certain fresh produce are not allowed.  After the checkpoint, the tar road ends and becomes gravel with some good and bad parts.  It took us 3 hours traveling time from Maun to our campsite Khwai.

Putting up the tent is the first thing we do on arrival
Our tent is up in our very spacious and private campsite
Our campsite in winter (June 2012) – Summer vs Winter bush
Although we have been to Khwai numerous times, we have not experienced Khwai during summer, which we have found to be totally different to the usual dry sandy campsites as opposed to the long green grass during summer and abundant river water supply.  Numerous off roads tracks were flooded by the rising Khwai River and some crossings were rather tricky.  One of the many reasons we enjoy Khwai is that there are no driving restrictions, as one is allowed to drive off road which allows closer game viewing at any time during the day or night.
One of the water crossings
Morning coffee on the road
After finishing putting up our tent and setting up camp, we immediately went on a bush drive and after a successful water crossing, we continued on to an area where we had seen a pride of lions with cubs the previous time we were in Khwai, and were hoping to find them again as Lions are territorial, but we unfortunately got stuck in black sticky sucking mud.  Sitting in our vehicle, the path looked a bit wet but good enough to try it out, however our vehicle just sank in the mud and the chassis was well glued to the mud!.  What we should have done is to adhere to the rule of always walking the way first to see if it is fine for the vehicle, especially when traveling alone!.  Luckily not far from our vehicle was a reasonably strong tree which we tied our winch to it and pulled ourselves out.
Our vehicle stuck in the mud!
After getting vehicle out of sticky mud
Our typical safari day starts around 5:00 in the morning.  After a quick splash of water on the face and teeth brushing we get into our safari vehicle and get underway to find the game.  If we heard lions roaring during the night we head off in that direction or else we follow game trails and spoors or we may also choose to go to a waterhole, and hope to find some nice game viewing.  After about 3 hours we have a little break and enjoy a quick breakfast in the bush before we head off and carry on our bush drive.  We usually return to our campsite around midday as it is too hot during the day to drive around and the game is hiding in cool shady places.  Whilst at camp we freshen up, have siesta, download photographs and just chill like the wildlife is doing!.  Around 3:00 we head off for our afternoon game safari with Gin and Tonics loaded in the car for the daily Sundowner at a scenic spot and we return around 19:00.  On return to our campsite, we make a bush fire and sit around the fire enjoying a relaxing drink whilst listening to the amazing bush sounds, such as the Jackals and Hyenas calling.

Getting bush fire ready for bush braai
Bush Diner, nothing better like a little piece of fillet and African mielies!
We stayed in Khwai for 5 nights and only saw one other occupied campsite during that time.  Unfortunately due to such long grass and an abundance of water, the game was not as easy to find as to what we are used to in winter, but we were rewarded with some good birding.  The one night we heard lions and another night hyenas and found the lions tracks as well as some wild dog tracks, but we unfortunately did not see them.  We of course saw much antelope such as Impala and Waterbuck and also saw Warthogs, Hippopotamus, Giraffe and Vervet monkeys.  Even the elephants were fewer this time of the year as usually an elephant is seen around every bend. We did a total of 340kms of Safari driving in Khwai during the 5 days we were there, which for us is quite a lot of traveling, as we would usually spend much time taking photographs of game rather than driving.

European Bee-Eater
Lone Elephant enjoying an early morning drink
Waterbuck amongst the lush green bush
Scenic view of the Khwai River at sundowner time
Most late afternoons we stopped by “Hippo Pools” for sundowner drinks and listened to the wonderful sound of bird calls and Hippopotamuses and watched the African Jacanas feeding on the edge of the water – it was such a beautiful surreal moment of just been totally by ourselves in this vast bush, a cherished experienced in summer Khwai.

Jacana searching for food
The colors of the bush are so beautifully lush and green, which gives really good photography opportunities.  However our favorite is till the winter bush, and that we cannot wait to get to.

Until our next trip…….Ciao for now!

Moonstone Pictures & Safaris


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Kenya Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara Safari - September 2011

Wildebeest migration

September is that time of the year to see the Great Wildebeest Migration in Kenya Maasai Mara.  After a 40 minute scenic flight from Nairobi's Wilson international airport, we promptly arrived at Olkiombo Airstrip in Maasai Mara where we were greeted wholeheartedly by our ranger named Pilot who was dressed in the traditional Maasai attire, which consists of all colours of tartan dressed-up with silver and beaded earrings and numerous threaded beads suspended around the neck, hips and wrist.  We got into our six seater Toyota Landcruiser and took a scenic 20 minute game drive on the way to our lodge.  On arrival to our lodge, Entim Camp, we enjoyed refreshments all whilst taking in the breathtaking scenery.  Entim is a luxury East African style camp situated in a forested area in the heart of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  This ensures immediate access to the very best game viewing areas.  The canvas tents are very spacious all equipped with luxury accommodation and with en-suite bathroom and flush toilets.

Arriving in Maasai Mara
The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a large reserve situated within the Great Rift Valley in Southern-Western part of Kenya and covers some 1510 square kilometers.  The Maasai Mara is named after the Maasai People who are the traditional inhabitants of the area.  The Maasai Mara, an unfenced Savannah grassland, is well know for its abundant population of predators and game and of course the Great Annual Wildebeest Migration where over 1.5 million wildebeests, zebras and several species of antelope make their annual circular pattern between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Maasai Mara in Kenya in pursuit of greener pastures.  The best time to witness the annual Migration occurs from around July till October.

In Maasai Mara with our ranger Pilot
The annual Wildebeest Migration is an impressive phenomenon.   Most depends on the availability of grazing, which in turn dependents upon the amount of rainfall.  This year the grazing is still good and The Mara is looking beautiful with green pastures which makes a nice contrast for photography.  We started off with a game drive towards the Mara river where we watched thousands of Wildebeest gather by the river bank, when suddenly one brave Wildebeest leaped into The Mara river and the other thousand Wildebeests followed.  What a sight!  It is truly amazing, the Wildebeests jumped fiercely into the Mara river with the crocodiles ready to snap at any opportunity of a good meal. The Wildebeest will now slowly make their way back to the Serengeti and continue this circle until they once again return to Maasai Mara the following year.

Wildebeest running towards the Mara River
Wildebeest crossing the Mara river
In addition to tracking the migration and seen the crossings, we searched for predators, such as Leopard, Cheetah and Lion which again we were lucky to see each day.  In addition we saw Black Rhinoceros on three occasions and an abundance of general game such as Zebra, Eland, Topi, Gazelle, Elephant, Buffalo, Warthog, Hyenas, Jackal, Bat Eared Fox and much more.  One day we saw the big 5 in one afternoon!.  Where else can one find such amidst the African wild just there on your “doorstep”?.   

A Male Lion on the chase in the Maasai Mara Plains

On our fourth day we decide to have lunch in the open.  The animals all seek shelter from the hot midday sun and we do the same and scan the plains in search of a suitable tree with lots of shade to spread out our picnic lunch.  We reminisce on our successful days so far and Pilot proceeds to tell me some Maasai Traditions.  One that amazed me is that the Maasai woman is the one who builds the house, fetches the water and attends to all chores including “handyman” work  while the Maasai man looks after the cattle all day long!.  After a wonderful lunch and some interesting tutorials, we proceeded to track a pride of lions and we followed them for a little while.  One of the lioness had two little cubs, who obediently followed their mother wherever she went.   
On one of our morning game drive, we came upon a fresh kill where a pride of lions were feasting on their Wildebeest kill.  Once the males lions were finished and left the prey, one mom Lioness brought he young cub to the fresh kill where the cub will enjoy his first taste of fresh meat!
Lion Cub and mom on their way to a fresh kill and below, cub enjoying his first taste of fresh meat

On another early morning after watching the classic Mara sunrise, we were lucky to find a leopard mom with her two young cubs of about 3 weeks old at their den.  As it was still early in the morning, the cubs were very playful and was such a special interaction to see.  The cubs played for a while, then the mom showed them into their den and their mom left them for day where the cubs would remain safe in their den.  We left the cubs and continued our game drive on the plains of the Mara which were plentiful with Zebras, Wildebeest and numerous antelopes. 

Classic Maasai Mara Sunrise against Acacia Tree
Leopard Cub with mom

A Black Rhino walking alone in the plains of Maasai Mara was such a treat to see, as it is rare to see such a sighting.
Black Rhinoceros



The Masai Mara is well known for its reputation of been one of the world's most spectacular wildebeest migration and the dramatic sights that occur during the mass crossing across the Mara River as well as been one of the world’s most spectacular game viewing. But even if one had to see no game, the scenery of the Maasai Mara is truly remarkable with beautiful acacia trees and shrubs where one can spot birds such as Eagles, Owls, Kingfishers, Rollers, Coucals and many more.  The Maasai Mara remains one of our favorite African destination.