Review by Jeremy Jowell
The small Cessna banks to the left and I look out over the open expanse of the vast Savute marsh. In the distance, the twisting contours of the dried-up channel are clearly visible. Way down below, a lone elephant drinks at a waterhole.
My plane swoops low and in a cloud of dust, comes in to land on the sandy runway. Munihango Limbo, a guide from Savute Safari Lodge, is waiting for me next to the landing strip. We drive through thick sand to the lodge, a luxurious camp situated on the edge of the dry Savute channel, where I'm warmly welcomed by camp managers Johan and Tanya Bruwer.
Savute Safari Lodge
Elephants are perpetual visitors at the lodge.
The lodge accommodates just 24 guests in beautifully finished thatched-roof chalets, each with its own lounge, en-suite bathroom and wooden veranda overlooking the waterhole where elephants are ever present. Savute is situated in the heart of Chobe National Park, one of the great game parks of Africa which stretches over 11,700 sq km, from Kasane in the north of Botswana to the edge of the delta in the south.
Savute is a magical place. Just by driving past the rocky outcrops and along the magnificent marsh, or through the dry channel with its strange terrain of stunted acacia trees, one can sense the drama and death that is an eternal part of the park. The area is famous for its elephants and the adult males often congregate in large numbers at the pump waterholes. These elephant populations are known to be mild mannered by nature, which makes for great close-up encounters.
Wildlife of Savute
Savute is also renowned for its large pride of lions and sightings of the beautiful predators are almost guaranteed. But it's not only on game drives that one can experience these cats up close. Guests staying at the lodge get to share the swimming pool with the local lions. 'They often come early in the morning, to play on the grass and drink from the pool,' says Tanya. 'Just last week we had 19 of them, all sitting in a row.
They like to play with brooms and often they attack the kreepy krauly, pulling it out the pool. But we don't want to antagonise them by chasing them away. So you can understand why a guide will always escort you to and from your room.' Limbo fetches me for a sunset drive and we head out to Harvey's Pan, passing Kalahari apple-leaf and mopane trees. As the light begins to soften, we arrive at Quarry Hill, a favourite haunt for leopards. 'Always have your camera ready because you have to expect the unexpected,' says Limbo. 'You never know what's around the next corner and sometimes you will have to photograph fast.'
A little further on, we find two lions sleeping under a bush. 'We call them the honeymoon lions because they are currently a mating couple,' explains Limbo. 'They will mate four times an hour for a whole week.' The lions are taking some much-needed rest and show no sign of rising from their slumber, so we head on to Pump Pan for sunset. Backlit by the sinking sun, a large herd of elephant drink peacefully from the waterhole. Several jackals sneak around, trying to catch the turtledoves that scatter in the still Savute air.
It's freezing when I awake before sunrise the next morning so I dress in layers of clothing before venturing outside. After a quick breakfast, we set out in the open 4x4 to explore Savute. The sun softly appears as we drive along the sandy path, creating contorted silhouettes of the camel-thorn trees. The eerie landscape is bathed in a pink glow when we stop at Pump Pan to watch two elephants having a dawn drink.
Waterhole view from the dining patio.
Then we continue through the Savute channel that dried up in 1982 when waters from the Linyanti River stopped flowing. Movement of the earth's tectonic plates determines when water will flow again to fill the channel and flood into the marsh. We push on through thick sand into the golden light of Africa. As the day warms up, off come the layers of clothing, and soon I'm sweating in the morning heat.
The bird life is prolific and we see a wide variety of species, including the red-billed hornbill, crimson-breasted shrike, Cape turtledove, the fork-tailed drongo and Botswana's national bird, the lilac-breasted roller. Limbo is a wealth of information on the flora and fauna and often stops the vehicle to inspect animal tracks in the sand. We pass Bushman Painting Rock and he shows me Presidents Camp, a secluded area where past president of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, used to come and pitch his tent.
'He used to love being in nature and now his son Ian Khama, who is vice president of the country, is a wildlife enthusiast. He comes to stay at out lodge every year and I've guided him twice. Such a nice man,' says Limbo giving a big thumbs-up. We journey on through Wild Dog Vlei and stop to photograph a family of dwarf mongoose who are sunning themselves on a log. A white-backed vulture glides gracefully in the thermals above.
Past Peter's Pan and Leopard Rock, we arrive at Marabou Pan where 14 bull elephants are drinking from a pump waterhole. The elephants of Savute are known to be good-natured, so I alight from the vehicle to photograph them from ground level. I crawl on the sand to just seven metres away from the amazing animals who are unconcerned by my presence and continue to drink and splash. A warthog arrives and even he doesn't mind me being around.
For the next two hours, I click away at the elephants, lying amidst their dung and watching from the vehicle when we park close to their giant frames. It's silent in Savute and I can hear every sound as they slurp and swish and spray themselves with mud. Eventually I tear myself away from the spectacle and we drive back to the lodge for lunch.
Dining on Safari
Game-viewing from your dinner table.
Meals are first class affairs and we feast on delicious pasta salad, followed by Spanish tortilla and bobotie, accompanied by freshly baked corn bread. Dinners at the lodge vary every night but some of the favourites are smoked ostrich salad, guinea fowl potjiekos, venison and seswa, a tasty traditional dish of pounded beef served with samp and beans, wild spinach and butternut.
The Lions are coming
The next morning I wake early to an ear-splitting roar. Four members of the local lion pride are prowling in the channel right in front of my room. 'They were at the pool a few minutes ago,' says Limbo with a big smile when he arrives to escort me to breakfast. 'One of them walked up to the boma and pulled the cover off the garden light.' Early rays illuminate the acacia trees as we set off at sunrise for a game drive. Soon a call comes in on the radio. A large pride of lions have been sighted near the bushman paintings.
Lions at the man-made water at the Lodge
Lions at the man-made water at the Lodge.
We rush over and find 14 lions, including a large male and four cubs, sleeping in the sun. They are right next to the road and I spend the next two hours watching them as they occasionally wake, groom themselves, roll over again and begin to snore. The cubs are keen to play but the adult male is not in the mood and pushes them away with his big paw.
As the day heats up, one lioness stretches and walks past our open vehicle to rest in the shade of some bushes. One by one, the rest of the pride follow and I freeze as they pass just metres away. An inquisitive cub stops to sniff out bumper before moving on to join his mates. Finally, the male rises and looking directly at the car, he yawns wide, exposing his fearsome fangs and throat. Then slowly he gets to his feet and majestically walks off alone down the road. Here in Africa, the lion rules supreme.
Copyright © 2003 Jeremy Jowell. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.