I have written before about the Boteti river – our closest flowing river, but that after being dry for 24 years. Yesterday we decided to go and find Lake Xau, into which the Boteti flows before it heads out in towards the salt pans.
The Boteti River is the overflow for the Okavango delta which only fills up about 6 months after the rainy season as the majority of its water comes from the Angolan Highlands.
In the 1970s, the Boteti river was diverted to bypass Lake Xau and to bring water to Mopipi Dam from where it was pumped to the diamond mine in Orapa. After a direct letter from our president to the mining company to stop using the water, other solutions were found for the needs of the mine. A few years ago, therefore, the diversion works around Lake Xau were removed and the original flow pattern of the Boteti river restored.
Subsequently, the high Okavango floods of 2010 and 2011 pushed the river water into Lake Xau for the first time since the 1970s. The Boteti River reached Lake Xau by the end of June 2011. Between June 2011 and February 2012, the Lake grew to a considerable size. By September 2011 Lake Xau was partially filled and continued to fill up and reached a considerable extent by 1st January 2012
Like most of our adventures in Botswana we always start by getting rough directions from somebody – and like normal they seemed simply. “just get to the small town of Mokobaxana – and turn left on the tar road just after the super market. Head to the village of Kedia and you will see the lake”.
Well the supermarket was actually a typical African village take-away and the tar road went about 500m straight into somebodies property. Taking the next best option on a gravel road we travelled miles through some of the most arid bush you can imagine and it was very hard to believe that we would find an expanse of water out there.
Just when it seemed we were lost the bush opened and there looked like there was water, but at this stage a mirage was not out of the question. Especially as we had not reached Kedia as the directions stipulated.
Two locals confirmed our sighting of the lake and mentioned Kedia was just over the ridge. 20m down the road we saw a water tank and a small sign saying welcome to Kedia. We had arrived. The little town was actually bigger than we thought it would be and even had a school and some government buildings.
All we now had too do is find a road down to the lake, find a tree to braai under and we had done Lake Xau. We travelled plenty of Kilometers past Kedia and the lake before we found a track. It led us through more arid ground dotted with Acacia tortilis. Mud huts, cows and chickens everywhere. Needing directions we stopped some locals on their donkeys and got told we must “carry on to home and turn right”.
Battling even to see our track we were on, we pushed forward, the soft sand was like powder and covered the car and all our stuff in the back. Almost ready to give up we saw some water, but no – it was only a mirage this time. It did lift our spirits and give us a bit more incentive to go on.
Coming over a small ridge there it was water. We had found Lake Xau. Why we battled so much still surprises me as it is a massive stretch of water.
We had reached almost the point where the Boteti River flowed into it and here it was interesting to see reeds were already growing (remembering that there had only been water here in the last year after 24).
The track we had been following just went straight into the water – obviously last used before the water had risen in this area. Making our own road we followed the shoreline aiming to get back to Kedia. The land being so flat in this area, meant that there was water was everywhere and the number of spits sticking out meant we were travelling a massive distance.
Having done the un-conventional route meant we really got see the true massive extent of the lake. It is a truly fragile ecosystem that is trying to redevelop. Normally around a lake you would expect green bush, trees etc, but here it was arid and trees in the water were still alive.
One of the most striking things was the incredible number of grey herons on the lake, almost every corner we went around there were another 2 or 3. Also on the land surrounding the lake were 100’s of Black bellied Korhaans. But for us the highlight of the day was the flock of flamingos flying over the water.
We eventually found our way back to the “main road” and to Kedia only to find a track down to the waters edge from the point we had first seen the lake. The wind was now howling and massive whorl winds could be see all over. Try to cook on a gas cooker was useless – so we took our meat off, packed everything way and went home – something we were told to do many hours back by somebody on a donkey.