About halfway between the dusty little town of Nata and the dusty bigger town of Maun on the edge of the Okavango Delta is Planet Baobab, a quirky camp in Makgadikgadi, Botswana. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a giant cement aardvark on the side of the road.
Head guide Bacos Taubaka explained how the Makgadikgadi salt pans formed long ago. Ntwetwe, Nxai, Sowa and Lake Xau all make up the white Makgadikgadi. A million years ago they used to be lakes, up to 300m deep in places. Back then, the Boteti River filled the lakes then flowed into the Limpopo and on to the Indian Ocean.
Then movement of tectonic plates made a ridge to the west of the pans and water could no longer pass. ‘Water from the lakes evaporated and left condensed minerals and salt behind,’ said Bacos. ‘There used to be people and lots of animals on the pans, and Stone Age implements are still discovered there.’
We stayed over in one of the huts built in the style of the Kalanga people (or Bakalanga). Each has a different bright design painted on the outside. Grace at reception told me that the patterns were traditional but not the colours, which would traditionally have been earthier tones that came from clay and plants instead of a tin of Plascon.
When the wind came up in the afternoon, mopane leaves skittered across our walled yard. With the top half of the stable door open, I looked out at a huge baobab tree in the soft light before sunset. Electrified paraffin lamps lit the meandering paths to the huts at night. Some of the baobabs were lit up too, lending the camp a magical fairytale atmosphere.
There were photos of old Drum magazine covers, chandeliers made of Amstel beer bottles, drums for bar stools, reclining chairs covered with cow hide. A blackboard in a corner announced a menu of shooters with names like Kalahari Breezer, Howling Hyena, Pan Rider, Baobab Sunset and Kalahari Heartbreak.
There are plenty of things to do either in camp or on excursions from camp, so ask for the price list when you book in.
- Join a guide for a late afternoon nature walk among the baobabs, stopping for sundowners.
- Enjoy a swim in the pool during the heat of the day, or lounge in the shade.
- Go on a game drive to Nxai Pan or Makgadikgadi national parks to see plains game like zebra, wildebeest and springbok or maybe some lions.
- Join a troupe of habituated meerkat as they forage across the veld for scorpions, beetles and grubs. Follow them at a discreet distance, or sit down and they may scramble up onto your head or shoulder to get a better view of their surroundings
- Go quad biking on Ntwetwe pan to see how flat and empty it is.
- Enjoy a spectacular sleep-out under the stars on the vast Ntwetwe salt pan, and see the whole of the southern hemisphere’s stars laid out from horizon to horizon.
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