Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Salt Pans is one of the largest of its kind in the world and was created when the massive inland water expanse, Lake Makgadikgadi dried.
Even though we live so close to it, apart from Kubu Island, we have done little exploration of the pans, probably because we are apprehensive about the extreme conditions it offers. If it is wet, you just don’t go there as you will get stuck, plenty of signs of this, can clearly be seen on the road to Kubu Island.
Also you stay on the road; the hard outer crust of the pan looks fine to drive on, break this and you are in sticky mud. Trucks have fallen in and almost disappeared, then abandoned as you can’t get them out. This isn’t a place for sissy’s.
We were going to cross the pans by ourselves and from the road we could see no other car tracks, even old ones. We were alone and if we had problems we would have to sort it out ourselves – no help was going to come quickly.
We were very pleased to see that the pans were white, if grey it meant that they were wet. We moved off the grasslands that surround the pans and soon the pans opened up and we could see nothing for miles and miles. Some people say you can actually see the curve of the earth when you look out and from the below photo you can imagine this. It is an awesome sight.
In places the surface was very bubbly which must be caused with water pushing through pores in the crust and then drying out. The bubbles popped when you touched them and it was a strange sensation when you walked over them.
We were fortunate to see a herd of springbok that were running across a mirage, which made it appear that they were running through water without splashing. A really beautiful sight, unfortunately a bit to far to take pictures.
The route we took was about 30km of open pan, which reminded us of how stunningly beautiful nothing can be and why we always loved visiting the pans. I would have been quite happy to set up camp right here and spend a night, to see the sunset, the stars and a sunrise. But we had a place to get to and we had spent longer than planned even getting here.
Far to soon we were back on the grasslands on the edge of the pans, this side was, however, much more wooded.
The next land mark on our trip was Chapman’s Baobab. Africa’s most famous explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, crossed these pans in the 19th century, guided by this massive baobab, believed to be 3 000 to 4 000 years old, and the only landmark for hundreds of miles around.
We could see it many kilometers before we got to it, as it towered above all the other trees. It is magnificent, but with time marching we just stopped at it, long enough to have a quick bite of lunch.
From here it was on to the town of Gweta, which would be the last place we could get fuel before heading onto Nxai Pan. The road kept on splitting in all directions and the only way we assumed was the correct track to take was the direction our GPS indicated that Gweta was in. At one point I took the wrong split and I had to reverse. Now I am not the world’s best when reversing a trailer, and I went straight into a thorn bush and jack-knifed the trailer, damaging its hand brake.
After many hours the bumpy roads was getting to us and Gweta wasn’t appearing, were we lost? A very welcome sight was another tourist vehicle heading in the opposite direction, they must have come from Gweta. It was the first moving vehicle we had seen since we left the tar at Orapa.
More and more huts/houses came into view, finally we had reached Gweta and amazingly we hit a tar road. Assuming there was only one tar road in Gweta I turned the wrong way and we were lost. Anybody having visited Gweta will find this very amusing as there is nothing much to the town.
After getting directions and filling up with fuel we were on our way, quite drained already, to Nxai Pan.
Part 3 to follow.