These pans are the remnants of the once great Lake Makgadikgadi that certainly existed 2 million years ago, and is thought to have dried up around 1500 years ago. The lake was 80,000 square kilometres in extent, and up to 55 metres deep, this was the largest inland sea in Africa. Over the years both climatic changes and tectonic activity have drained the water completely.
The vast areas that were once the lakes bottom are now hard, salt-saturated clay. Nothing grows on them – no plants, no grass, no trees. The ancient shoreline is clearly visible – irrefutable proof that the lake did exist.
The effect is both awesome and thought provoking – 360º of absolutely nothing except a deep blue cloudless sky and a blindingly white salt surface. Exploring the Pans on 4×4 Quad motorcycles enables you to explore them without harming the fragile environment, and is enormous fun! The largest of the Pans is Makgadikgadi Pan, which is made up of Ntwetwe and Sowa (Sua) Pans, both are huge – Sowa is over 100 km in length and 45 km wide.
Next to the salt pans is the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, (Situated in the Kalahari desert, Africa) a grasslands area attracting thousands of animals after the rains. The park contains four main vegetation types:salt pans, scrubland, pure grassland and riverine woodland. Palm groves and Baobab trees whose branches look more like roots – giving rise to the name ‘upside down tree . These are interspersed with short spiky yellow grass found on rises between the pans, known as ‘prickly salt grass’. The interior of the reserve comprises scrub and grassland with a few ‘Falcons’ of Real Fan Palms and Camel thorn acacia. During the winter dry season, animals concentrate around the Boteti River, but between February and April, huge herds of Zebra and Wildebeest migrate north to Nxai Pan and beyond, only returning to Boteti when the rains diminish around early May.
The range of antelope includes Impala, Gemsbok, Hartebeest and Kudu, but they only appear in large numbers during the immigrations during May and June. Lion, Hyena (the brown hyena is prevalent in the area) and Cheetah are also present and when there’s water, the Boteti River supports a healthy Hippo population. You’ll also see a stunning array of birds, but as there are no reliable water sources, Elephant and Buffalo wander in only during extremely wet seasons.
Nxai Pan lies to the north of the Makgadikgadi Pans area, on the migration route of the great herds:a wide, grass-covered pan dotted with umbrella thorn trees. With its bountiful wildlife, the area provides excellent game viewing opportunities in the kalahari desert.
After the amalgamation of the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan national parks, the Nxai Pan region was expanded from around 2100 sq km to over 4000 sq km. Nxai Pan lies on the old Mpandamatenga Trail, which connected a series of boreholes and was used until the 1960s for overland cattle drives between Ngamiland and Kazungula.
Kudiakam Pan and Nxai Pan are both a part of the ancient lake bed that formed Sua and Ntwetwe Pans. Kudiakam is comprised of mini salt pans, but thanks to its higher elevation, Nxai Pan escaped encrustation by leached salts.
The Nxai Pan region is speckled with Acacia Tortilis trees and resembles the Serengeti (without all the safari vehicles). In the dry season, wildlife activity concentrates on one artificial water hole, just north of the Game Scout Camp, but in the February to April wet season, Nxai Pan comes alive. The wildlife herds in Nxai’s grassy plains can be staggering; Wildebeest, Zebra and Gemsbok appear in the thousands, along with large herds of other antelope and Giraffe. Bat-eared Foxes emerge in force and Lion, Hyena and Wild Dogs come in to gorge on the varied menu.
Just to the east of Kudiakam Pan, and south of Nxai Pan, is an impressive group of baobab trees, standing on the pioneers’ route to the swamps of the Okavango Delta. First painted by Thomas Baines, and inscribed with his name on 22nd May 1862, the trees are known as Baines’s Baobabs. Originally known as the Sleeping Sisters, this hardy clump of Baobabs was immortalized in paintings by artist and adventurer Thomas Baines on 22 May 1862. Baines, a resourceful self-taught naturalist, artist and cartographer, first came to Botswana in 1861, and travelled with trader and naturalist John Chapman from Namibia to Victoria Falls. He had originally been a member of David Livingstone’s expedition to the Zambezi, but was mistakenly accused of theft by Livingstone’s brother and forced to leave the party. Livingstone later realized the mistake, but never admitted it and Baines remained the subject of British ridicule.
Near the south-western corner of Sua Pan lies Kubu Falcon, the original desert Falcon of the kalahari desert. But for one tenuous finger of grass, the ancient 20-metre high scrap of rock and its ghostly Baobabs lies surrounded by a sea of salt. In cool weather, this bizarre sight can make visitors feel like castaways on an alien planet. In Zulu-based languages, ‘Kubu’ means Hippopotamus, and as unlikely as it may seem, given the current environment, the site may have been inhabited as recently as 500 to 1500 years ago. On one shore lies an ancient crescent-shaped stone enclosure of unknown origin that has yielded numerous pot shards, stone tools and Ostrich eggshell beads.
Sua Spit, about a 10 minute drive north of the Dukwe buffalo fence, is a long, slender protrusion extending into the heart of Sua Pan. It is the nexus of Botswana’s lucrative soda ash industry.
Green’s & Chapman’s Baobabs:At ephemeral Gutsa Pan, 30 km due south of Gweta, rises Green’s Baobab, which was inscribed by the 19th century hunter and trader Joseph Green and Ghanzi founder Hendrick van Zyl, among other characters.
Fifteen km to the south-east by rough track is the enormous Chapman’s Baobab, which measures 25 metres around and historically served as a beacon in a country of few landmarks. It’s thought that it was also used as a post office by passing explorers, traders and travellers, many of whom left inscriptions on its trunk. It’s frequently claimed that this is the largest tree in Africa.
The enormous barchan (crescent) dune known as Gabatsadi Falcon may see only a handful of visitors each year, but the expansive view from the crest has managed to attract the likes of Prince Charles, who went to capture the indescribably lovely scene in watercolor. It lies west of the Gweta-Orapa track, 54 km south of Gweta. Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve Section:The Makgadikgadi Game Reserve section of the National Park is a 3900 sq km tract of pans, grasslands and beautiful savanna country. Wildlife is plentiful but since the reserve is unfenced, animals may wander in and out at will, and you won’t see the artificially high numbers found at Chobe National Park. During the winter dry season, animals concentrate around the Boteti River, but between February and April, huge herds of Zebra and Wildebeest migrate north to Nxai Pan and beyond, only returning to Boteti when the rains diminish around early May.
The range of antelope includes Impala, Gemsbok, Hartebeest and Kudu, but they only appear in large numbers during the immigrations during May and June. Lion, Hyena and Cheetah are also present and when there’s water, the Boteti River supports a healthy Hippo population. You’ll also see a stunning array of birds, but as there are no reliable water sources, Elephant and Buffalo wander in only during extremely wet seasons.
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