Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans

The Makgadikgadi is a remote and elemental place and one that shows two very distinct and unique faces.  For much of the year this is a harsh, dry environment covering some 16,000 sq km and not somewhere you come to see large quantities of animals, rather to experience the intense silence and space on the salt pans and the desert adapted species that manage to make a living in this most marginal of habitats.  But in the rains, the pans turn a vibrant green and host one of the continents largest mammal migrations.

Between June and October standing on the pans, the white surface stretches as far as the eye can see, creating mirages in the heat.  When there’s no wind blowing, the silence fills your ears in a way that is extraordinary; quite literally a deafening silence.  Life, other than dormant invertebrate life, is almost entirely absent from the surface of the pans (take a spoon full of apparently lifeless sand and salt and immerse it in water and within a mater of hours creatures will have hatched and be swimming around).

However, as the dry season comes to an end an astonishing transformation takes place in this extreme region of the Northern Kalahari.  By March thousands of square miles of stark white salt pan are transformed by the advent of the rains. With the rains come tens of thousands of zebra and wildebeest  - accompanied by attendant predators and scavengers.

To add to the surreal atmosphere of the place, stone-age hand tools, dating from anything from 30,000 yrs to several hundred thousand years old, can be found the surface of the pans.  Many of these are exquisitely fashioned and you will find them you stroll around.

The Mkgadikgadi pans were originally part of an enormous super-lake that covered most of northern and central Botswana.  The lake was formed when tectonic movement along the Kalahari-Zimbabwe fault line (east of Mkgadikgadi) sealed off the outlet for the Boteti River.  Further tectonic activity along the Thamalakani fault caused the area to the north east (now the Okavango delta) to drop.  This sealed off the inlet and the die was cast; the lake gradually dried out to leave the pans (originally the deepest part of the lake.)  In recent years the Boteti River has begun to flow again, bringing with it a certain amount of game into the dry season.

Jack's Camp, San Camp and Camp Kalahari are all wonderful places to stay in their own right

Brown hyena pups View slideshow



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