The Makgadikgadi Pans in central north Botswana, are part of a surreal magical wilderness rarely found today. This place of solitude with an ancient mystique is the antithesis of the modern world.
In times of rain, thousands of Wildebeest and Zebra
migrate to the sweet nutritious grasslands and clouds of Flamingo's feed in its algae rich waters. It is an area of low rainfall so this spectacle only lasts a short while. The pans then revert back to being hostile salt-encrusted dust bowls with whirlwind dust devils gaining strength as they snake across the seemingly endless desert.
This transformation from dry to wet is extreme and the experience unique. Around the edges of the pans are grasslands fringed with palm trees and peculiar looking Baobab trees
- whose branches look more like roots, giving rise to the name 'upside down tree'.
No one can prepare you for the vastness of these gigantic salt pans
, which are so large you could easily get lost forever. In 1989 explorer Jack Bousfield asked....'Makgadikgadi Pans, what is out there?' and was told 'Nothing - only idiots go there!' His response was 'Fine, that's the place for me.' His descendants are still here and own the famous Jack's Camp, which offers a unique way to come face to face with true isolation.
Makgadikgadi was once a superlake
some 30 metres (100 feet) deep, covering a massive area of 80,000² km (30,888² miles). But as recent as 10,000 years ago, climatic shifts had already started to dry up Lake Makgadikgadi. Further evaporation turned the lake into large pans with a surface glistening with salt. Only odd rocky outcrops or large isolated sand dunes interrupt the flat, endless landscape.
These inhospitable pans are almost devoid of human habitation
, but peripheral villages and artefacts found around the pans is evidence that people lived here even in the Stone Age. These days the only people daring to cross these hostile pans are lodge guests exploring the area on quad bikes. The remote lodges and camps
of Makgadikgadi offer a really unique safari and give you the rare opportunity to experience real solitude.
Only a small section of pans occur within the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, and the largest pans in the world
are outside the park boundaries. These include Ntwetwe Pan and Sowa Pan. Sowa is renowned for its rainy season Flamingo population and abundance of other water birds, which can be seen from the Nata Bird Sanctuary in the north of Sowa Pan.
Apart from salt pans, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park contains pure grasslands, poor scrubland and riverine woodland with perennial pools containing resident Hippo. Palm trees grow in clusters and distinctive 'upside down' Baobab trees
are dotted around. Growing on rises between the pans is short, yellow, saline resistant, 'Prickly Salt Grass'. The interior is mainly scrub and grassland with patches of Camel thorn acacia and tall swaying Real Fan Palms.