Until very recently it took a back-breaking three hours to reach Tsodilo Hills, just 40 kilometres off the main road, and now it's an easy 30 minutes. The road south from Maun to Ghanzi was a hellish four hours a few years back, but, with the new tarred road, it's a breeze at one hour and twenty minutes or so. Nonetheless, there is still plenty of wilderness out there for you to get lost in and where you can just soak up the silence and solitude.
Remember, when doing these trips you will need to be self-sufficient, particularly with regards to water and fuel supplies. Villages along the way may have rudimentary supplies only. It is also recommended, when going through parts of the Central Kalahari and to the north-east of the Okavango, that you travel in a group of at least two 4x4 vehicles.The lodge is situated just outside the reserve's northern boundary, and access to it is also along the cutline. It was Mark and Delia Owens who brought Deception to the attention of the world with tales of their life and work in the book Cry of the Kalahari.
Because of the arid conditions, game in these regions is usually scattered, but there are times during the summer months when local migrations take place and, during the early winter period, you may find animals concentrating around the remaining water-holes. Otherwise, ask wildlife officials at the entry gates about which pans are being artificially pumped, and head for those.
World renowned for their majestic black-maned lions, these parks also offer reasonable numbers of oryx, springbok, eland, red hartebeest and ostrich. Cheetah, giraffe, wildebeest, brown hyena and many of the smaller species can also be seen, but less regularly.
This is where you go for the 'great escape', and the longer you spend here the less you will feel like returning. This is big sky country at its most remote, with every chance that you may not bump into another soul. And the experiences that you can have here are unique - seeing black-maned lions, barking geckos, pronking springbok and blood red sunsets that match the colour of the shallow dunes.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve, originally proclaimed to protect the traditional hunting rights of the Bushmen, covers almost 53 000 square kilometres of semi-arid grassland, sparse acacia woodland and dry fossil riverbeds.Until very recently it took a back-breaking three hours to reach Tsodilo Hills, just 40 kilometres off the main road, and now it's an easy 30 minutes. The road south from Maun to Ghanzi was a hellish four hours a few years back, but, with the new tarred road, it's a breeze at one hour and twenty minutes or so. Nonetheless, there is still plenty of wilderness out there for you to get lost in and where you can just soak up the silence and solitude.
Many will know this protected area as the Gemsbok National Park. It made history by being the first fully operational transfrontier park on the continent, when it opened its gates in May 2000. It's now run as a combined unit with the Mabuasehube Game Reserve and the South African Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, and consists of almost 38 000 square kilometres of desert-like dunes and grassland - not too dissimilar to the Central Kalahari.
The Gemsbok side of the park has a variety of accommodation and campsites, while Mabuasehube has more rudimentary camping only. The best access is from the South African side via Bokspits. Be warned, though, that entry through the South African side of the park does not allow you entry into the Botswanan side unless you have booked your campsites.Entry via Mabuasehube is more testing. Two heavy sand tracks, one heading south from Tshane and the other north from Tshabong, are your alternatives. The best game viewing is along the Nossob and Auob river valleys where lion, cheetah, oryx, springbok, red hartebeest and eland are commonly seen. The raptor viewing during the summer months is among the most rewarding to be found anywhere in southern Africa.
It's not often included as a destination, but the eastern bank of the Okavango River makes for a terrific trip away from the beaten tar, and particularly so for those who are fascinated by rural village life. Cross the Okavango River by ferry (it's the only one on the river) a short distance north of Shakawe, and just follow the dirt road all along the eastern bank of the river.
Stop in any or all of the villages and spend time with the people for the most authentic of cross-cultural interactions. Seronga and Ganitsuga have community campsites with basic facilities, or just ask to camp wherever you find yourself.
The Okavango Polers Trust, a community-based operation in Serongo, will be able to provide mokoro polers and guides for you, if you want to spend time on the waterways. If you're feeling really intrepid, push on through Eretse and Betsha and link up with the Maun-Chobe road, or head north to the Kwando region. Once you've left the villages this is real lonely countryside, so be well prepared.
Lying within 27 kilometres of each other, south of Tsodilo Hills, these two sites are located in one of the more remote corners of the country, close to the Namibian border. The turnoff is at Nokaneng, along the western edge of the Okavango. What used to be at least a five-hour battle through deep sand has become a quicker and more sedate ride on a recently graded dirt road.
Aha consists of two large limestone and dolomite hills, which you may want to scramble up, before heading on to the cave. But first, for the sake of eco-tourism and your safety, it's worth stopping at the tiny village of Xai-Xai almost 10 kilometres past the hills to hire the services of a local Bushman guide.
The Gcwihaba Cave, which is a national monument, is situated at the base of a collection of rocky outcrops alongside an old fossil riverbed. There are north and south entrances, which do meet somewhere amidst the caverns inside, but let your guide choose the way in, and make sure you take a number of flashlights or lanterns as it is extremely dark. The best wildlife is to be found on the cave ceilings above you, usually in the centre somewhere, where reasonable numbers of slit-faced and leaf-nosed bats can be seen roosting.
If you are travelling with two or more vehicles, you can try the alternative route back to Maun following the narrow sand track that heads out past the Gcwihaba Hills. During the summer months, large herds of zebra migrate into the Central Kalahari to take advantage of the fresh grasses that begin growing once the first summer rains have fallen.
The best viewing is at water holes such as this one at Meno A Kwena Camp on the way to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.