# 1 of a series of 4 – The best game parks in Botswana
I’ve recently returned from several weeks in Botswana, having had the most sensory experiences. Close up I observed many of the species inhabiting the game parks and from afar, I saw the bigger picture of this incredible ecosystem.
With so much wildlife in Africa, how do you choose where to go on safari? It’s a difficult one, but our dear friend Deb, originally from Zimbabwe knows Africa well and recommended Botswana because;
- there’s a political democracy
- it’s not corrupt and money is spent on the people and countries infrastructure
- they have a long term view on conservation and focus on sustainability
- a significant portion of this country is devoted to National Parks and Game Reserves
- they have extreme anti-poaching measures
We chose four-game parks, all with something unique to offer. I’ve written a blog post on each reserve as there’s so much information to impart. Here’s the first park.
Mashatu Game Reserve
Mashatu Game Reserve covers 29,000 hectares (72,000 acres). It’s one of the largest privately-owned games reserves in southern Africa and lies in the eastern extremity of Botswana where the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers converge.
The Botswana Government owns the land and has divided it into concessions, on average 25,000-30,000 hectares each, for a period of around 100 years. The land is managed as one giant game park with no fences and the animals are free to roam accross its entirety. Mashatu is one such concession.
The beauty of privately owned and managed games reserves, like Mashatu, is the number of people visiting the park is limited. Fewer people and vehicles create a more authentic safari experience and help preserve the delicate the eco-system.
The game reserve takes its name from the Mashatu tree, a magnificent dark green tree found along the rivers, The foliage provides refuge, shade, and food to many of the animals.
The landscape is diverse from vast open plains, grassland, and marshland providing a habitat for many animals. I thought the vegetation would be denser, but it was quite spartan. However, in the summer months, there is more vegetation, making animal viewing more difficult.
Of the Big Five, the elephant, and lions are plentiful in this reserve. Our talented guide and tracker, Kenosi spent much time observing the animal tracks before looking for some of the more elusive species, including the leopard and cheetah.
Our highlights were numerous, including seeing a herd of more than 150 elephants converge on a water hole with their young, as the sun dropped behind the hill. The reserve has the largest herds of elephant on privately owned land on the continent. So it was no surprise when within two minutes of arriving into Mashatu, two mature elephants and with two juveniles came into view. Having stopped the vehicle, they meandered in front with the younger two taking a particular interest in the Landcruiser.
One day a troop of baboons arrived at the camp after lunch. About 200 in total, they are collectively very organised. While the majority of the baboons played and fed, ‘scouts’ up the tree kept a lookout for danger. When it was time to move on the ‘sweepers’ ensured the young and dawdlers were not left behind.
We saw many giraffes, some with their beautiful leggy young. Easy to spot, but difficult to get close too, they are very timid animals. A giraffe’s heart weighs approximately 14 kilograms. It needs to be this size to pump the blood up is the neck. Interestingly, they have the same number of vertebrae as humans.
Impala is a small type of antelope, but unfortunately for them, they are seen as the ‘fast food’ option for carnivore predators. Hunted by the lion, hyena, wild dogs, cheetahs and leopards they are always on the lookout for their enemy.
My favourite animal of all is the warthog. Just like in the Lion King movie, they have personality plus. They stop in their tracks and eyeball you, then run for their lives. We followed a pack of wild dogs pursuing a warthog, but it was no surprise the warthog got away with some smart strategic moves.
Our camp, Rock Nest is one of two owned by the shareholders of Mashatu Game Reserve. It is not available to the public. It was aptly named Rock Nest as there is a massive rock at the entrance, alive with rock rats. They are timid, friendly-looking mammals, much bigger than a rat. As soon as we arrived, they dived for cover, squeezing themselves into the cracks in the rocks. These mammals are surprisingly related to the elephants because of their long gestation period of seven months. Like elephants, they are the only other male mammal with an internal scrotum.
While we stayed at Rocknest there are two other camps on the property for paying guests; The Mashatu Lodge and the Mashatu Tent Camp. The Mashatu Lodge is an oasis among the undulating wild plains with 14 luxury suites. However, the tented camp is more suited to people wanting a more intimate connection with the environment. Guest from both facilities, have guide and trackers driving them in open topped Landcruisers over the 29,000-hectare property in pursuit of African wildlife.
Our accommodation was very comfortable with our suites scattered through the bush but still close to the main lounge and dining facility.
The food – self-catered
As we were staying in the shareholders lodge, we self-catered. Deb, our ‘camp mother’ had done a wonderful big shop and we were well catered for. We had two ladies to help us with housekeeping, preparing our breakfast, and on our return in the evenings assist with dinner. It worked perfectly. One of the things we loved most about Mashatu was we had it to ourselves.
A day at Mashatu
Our morning started with a cup of tea and a biscuit, before heading out with our Kenosi at first light. The sturdy, open-roofed, four-wheel drive Landcruiser would be our viewing platform for the next five days.
After a morning of incredible sights, our rumbling tummies had the better of us by about 11 am. Heading home, we had a big breakfast, followed by a gin and tonics, before quiet time. But napping was not always possible. The antics outside our suite were often noisy and the temptation to get up and see what was going on was too great. One afternoon the baboons tried to get in our window while the blue- ball monkeys constantly squabbling over food. The elephants too had no boundaries, tearing down trees and rearranging our outdoor furniture.
At 3.30 pm we were off again, often not returning to the lodge to well after dark. Sundowners were a daily occurrence, often finding an elevated spot in the reserve to watch some of the world’s best sunsets.
My most memorable experience at Mashatu was finding a lion late one afternoon. He came and sat five metres from our stationary vehicle. He eyeballed us, yawned, eyeballed us again before having a snooze. Had he taken a lunge at us, I am not sure what we would have done, but thankfully that never happened. Many photos later we decided to head home as the sun was dropping, only to find our Landcruiser wouldn’t start. Radioing in for help, we had to sit quietly until our replacement vehicle arrived. An hour later, we were rescued, gingerly stepping from one Landcruiser to the other, not wanting to disturb our sleeping friend.
Why we loved Mashatu?
- It was our first safari experience, so everything was amasing
- Kensio our guide and Tau our tracker, were the best
- We loved all the Botswana people that looked after us at Mashatu
- Having the lodge to ourselves was amazing
- Although the lodge was not as luxurious as the others we visited, you realise its about the experience not the lodge, food and G&T’s (although they were great too)