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Read More | Northern Botswana
Chobe National Park
Whether arriving by air or road, the first glimpse of the river – deep and dazzling in the sandy terrain – is always breathtaking. It appears as a swathe of brilliant, peacock blue ribbon, winding its way through the tiny town of Kasane, and ensuing wilderness – the Chobe National Park.
Undoubtedly one of Africa’s most beautiful rivers, the Chobe supports a diversity and concentration of wildlife unequaled anywhere else in the country.
Established in 1968, the park covers approximately 4 517 mi², encompassing floodplains, swamps and woodland. The Chobe River forms its northern boundary. There are four distinct geographical areas in the park: the Chobe Riverfront, the Ngwezumba pans, Savuté and Linyanti.
The most accessible and frequently visited of Botswana’s big game country, the Chobe Riverfront is most famous for its large herds of elephants and Cape buffalo, which during the dry winter months converge upon the river to drink.
During this season, on an afternoon game drive, you may see hundreds of elephants at one time. You may be surrounded by elephants, as the main Serondella road becomes impassable and scores of family herds cross the main road to make their way to the river to drink, bathe and play.
Driving the loops that hug the river’s edge, you may see up to 15 different species of animals on any one game drive, including waterbuck, lechwe, puku (this is the only part of Botswana where they can be seen), giraffe, kudu, roan and sable, impala, warthog, bushbuck, monkeys and baboons, along with the accompanying predators’ lion, leopard, hyena and jackal.
Take a river cruise – and you’ll experience the park, and the animals, from another vantage point. Here you’ll get up close and personal with hippo, crocodile and a mind-boggling array of water birds.
Over 460 bird species have been recorded in the park, making it one of Africa’s premier venues for bird Safaris. Common species to be seen include the Sacred ibis, Egyptian Geese, the ubiquitous cormorants and darters, Spur-winged Geese, Pel’s Fishing Owl, carmine Bee-eaters, most members of the kingfisher family, all the rollers, the unmistakable Fish Eagle, the Martial Eagle, and many members of the stork family.
The Chobe River rises in the northern Angolan highlands, travels enormous distances before it reaches Botswana at Ngoma. Like the Okavango and Zambezi rivers, the Chobe’s course is affected by fault lines that are extensions of the Great Rift Valley. These three mighty rivers carry more water than all other rivers in Southern Africa.
Chobe is sub-divided into 4 distinctly different eco-systems:
 
Chobe Riverfront
Located in the northeast area of the park, the Chobe riverfront is most famous for its massive herds of elephants and Cape buffalo that converge upon the river during the dry winter months. The Chobe River rises in the northern Angolan highlands and reaches Botswana at Ngoma. Like the Okavango and Zambezi rivers, the Chobe’s course is affected by fault lines that are extensions of the Great Rift Valley. These three mighty rivers carry more water than all other rivers in Southern Africa.
 
Ngwenzumba Pans
The Ngwezumba pans lie approximately 43 miles south of the Chobe River and comprise a large complex of clay pans, surrounded by mophane woodlands and grassland plains.
During the rainy season, the pans fill with water, then attracting wildlife that move away from the permanent water sources of the Linyanti and Chobe Rivers.
 
Linyanti
During the dry winter months, game viewing at the permanent waters of the Linyanti can be excellent.
The area that falls within the Chobe National Park, which has a public campsite, is sandwiched between photographic concessions to the west and hunting concessions to the east.
 
Savute
Truly at the interior of the park, Savuté boasts most of the Chobe species, except for water-loving antelope. It is best known for its predators, particularly lion, cheetah and hyena, of which there are large resident populations.
The Savuté channel flows from the Linyanti River for about 62 miles, carrying water away from the river and releasing it into a vast swampland called the Savuté Marsh, and further south onto the Mababe Depression, which is also fed by the Ngwezumba River from the northeast. The Mababe – immense and flat and fringed by thickets of trees – was once part of the Makgadikgadi super-lake. When filled with water, it becomes the venue for thousands of migratory birds and animals, particularly large herds of zebra.
Geographically, Savuté is an area of many curiosities. One of its greatest mysteries is the Savuté channel itself, which has over the past 100 year inexplicably dried up and recommenced its flow several times. This irregular water flow explains the numerous dead trees that line the channel, for they have germinated and grown when the channel was dry and drowned when the channel flowed again.
 
Okavango Delta
One of the most sought after wilderness destinations in the world, the Okavango Delta gives entrance to the spectacle of wild Africa such as dreams are made of – the heart-stopping excitement of big game viewing, the supreme tranquility and serenity of an untouched delta, and evocative scenes of extraordinary natural beauty.
A journey to the Okavango Delta – deep into Africa’s untouched interior – is like no other. Moving from wetland to dryland – traversing the meandering palm and papyrus fringed waterways, passing palm-fringed islands, and thick woodland, resplendent with lush vegetation, and rich in wildlife – reveals the many facets of this unique ecosystem, the largest intact inland delta in the world.
The Okavango Delta is situated deep within the Kalahari Basin, and is often referred to as the ‘jewel’ of the Kalahari.
That the Okavango exists at all – deep within this thirst land – seems remarkable. Shaped like a fan, the Delta is fed by the Okavango River, the third largest in southern Africa. It has been steadily developed over the millennia by millions of tons of sand carried down the river from Angola.
Swollen with floodwaters from the summer rains, the Okavango River travels from the Angolan highlands, crosses into Botswana at Mohembo in the Caprivi, then later spills over the vast, fan-shaped Delta. The timing of the floods is uncanny. Just as the waters from Botswana’s summer rains disappear (April, May), so the floodwaters begin their journey – 808 miles of which is through Kalahari sands – revitalizing a vast and remarkably diverse ecosystem of plant and animal life.
The water’s flow, distribution and drainage patterns are continually changing, principally due to tectonic activity underground. As an extension of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the Okavango is set within a geographically unstable area of faults, and regularly experiences land movements, tremors and minor quakes. By the time the water reaches Maun, at the Delta’s southern fringes, its volume is a fraction of what it was. As little as two to three percent of the water reaches the Thamalakane River in Maun, over 95 percent lost to evaporation.
But the flow doesn’t stop in Maun. It may continue east to the Boteti River, to fill Lake Xau or the Makgadikgadi Pans, or drain west to Lake River to fill Lake Ngami.
 
There are three main geographical areas:
  • the Panhandle
  • the Delta
  • dryland
The Panhandle begins at the Okavango’s northern reaches, at Mohembo, extending down for approximately 50 miles. Its corridor-like shape is contained within two parallel faults in the Earth’s crust. Here the river runs deep and wide and the swamps are perennially flooded. The dominant vegetation is vast papyrus beds and large stands of phoenix palms. The main tourist attractions of the Panhandle are fishing, birding and visiting the colorful villages that line its western fringes.
At Seronga, the fan-shaped Delta emerges, and the waters spill over the Delta, rejuvenating the landscape and creating stunning mosaics of channels, lagoons, ox-bow lakes, flooded grasslands and thousands upon thousands of islands of an endless variety of shapes and sizes. Many of the smaller islands are grandiose termitaria built by fungus-growing termites, one of 400 termite species in Africa, whose fantastic structures are a source of refuge and food for many animals.
The Delta region of the Okavango can vary in size from 580 square miles during drier periods to a staggering 8495 square miles during wetter periods. Its dominant plant species are reeds, mokolwane palms, acacia, sycamore fig, sausage trees, raintrees and African mangosteen.
At the Delta’s lower reaches, the perennial swamps give way to seasonal swamps and flooded grasslands. To the southeast the third vegetation region becomes evident, as it changes to true dryland. There are three major land masses here: the Matsebi Ridge, Chief’s Island and the Moremi tongue. Here the vegetation is predominantly mopane, acacia and scrub bush and the land is dotted with pans. It is to this region that large numbers of mammals retreat during the dry winter months.
Major tourist attractions in the Delta and the dryland areas are game viewing, birding and boating, often in the traditional mokoro. The diversity and numbers of animals and birds can be staggering. A recent overview of the Okavango records 122 species of mammals, 71 species of fish, 444 species of birds, 64 species of reptiles and 1300 species of flowering plants. A successful rhino reintroduction program in the Okavango now puts the population of White Rhino at approximately 35, and Black Rhino at 4.
 
Moremi Game Reserve
This gem of a National Park has garnered a number of important distinctions. In 2008, it was voted the ‘best game reserve in Africa’ by the prestigious African Travel and Tourism Association at South Africa’s premier tourism fair, Indaba.
It is the first reserve in Africa that was established by local residents. Concerned about the rapid depletion of wildlife in their ancestral lands – due to uncontrolled hunting and cattle encroachment – the Batawana people of Ngamiland, under the leadership of the deceased Chief Moremi III’s wife, Mrs. Moremi, took the bold initiative to proclaim Moremi a game reserve in 1963.
It is the only officially protected area of the Okavango Delta, and as such holds tremendous scientific, environmental and conservation importance.
And, undoubtedly, Moremi ranks as one of the most beautiful reserves in Africa, possibly in the world.
Moremi Game Reserve is situated in the central and eastern areas of the Okavango, and includes the Moremi Tongue and chief’s island, boasting one of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on the continent.
This makes for spectacular game viewing and bird watching, including all major naturally occurring herbivore and carnivore species in the region, and over 400 species of birds, many migratory and some endangered. Both Black and White Rhino have recently been re-introduced, now making the reserve a ‘Big Five’ destination.
Contained within an area of approximately 1506 mi², here land and Delta meet to create an exceedingly picturesque preserve of floodplains – either seasonally or perennially wet, waterways, lagoons, pools, pans, grasslands and riparian, riverine and mopane forests. This terrain makes driving Moremi’s many loops and trails both delightful and, at times, totally inspiring.
Moremi is a very popular destination for the self-drive camper, and is often combined with the Chobe National Park to the northeast.
The rustic Third Bridge campsite, situated near the pretty Sekiri River, flanked with thick stands of papyrus, is a favorite, creating lasting memories of resplendent Okavango sunsets.
Read More | Central Botswana

CENTRAL BOTSWANA – THE KGALAGADI

Covering a full 84 percent of Botswana’s land area, the semi-arid Kgalagadi terrain dominates most of the country. Refuting the classical perception of desert as a barren, vegetation-less, useless land, the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) is rich in natural resources.

These include its sweeping grasslands that feed not only its wildlife populations, but also its swelling cattle herds (numbering approximately 2 million), thus supporting the country’s third largest industry - cattle ranching, and its mineral wealth, namely diamonds, which have fostered and sustained dramatic economic growth for the past 35 years.

A land of singular, often hidden, beauty, the Kgalagadi is intensely alive with an astonishing diversity of plant and animal life. It has broad variations in vegetation, supporting several savanna types, namely grass, shrub and tree savanna.

The Kgalagadi landscape often appears as grassy plains dotted with low shrubs, interspersed with trees or belts of trees, which often stand on sandy ridges. Though a newcomer’s first impression may be one of ‘sameness,’ there are subtle topographical interruptions to the deserts essentially flat surface, including channels, fossil valleys, dune features and pan depressions.

Following a season of good rain, the desert is transformed, covered with lush, green grasses, and flooded pans – a source of rebirth and rejuvenation for both humans and animals.

Many desert animals, including springbok, gemsbok, eland, and even the Kalahari lion, are supremely adapted to its semi-arid conditions, and can live without water, though they will drink if water is available.

Antelope derive their moisture by feeding at night and early morning (when plants regain moisture), by eating succulent plants (such as wild watermelons or wild cucumbers), and by remaining inactive during the heat of the day to conserve body moisture.

Kalahari lions appear to gain their moisture from the body fluids of their prey. Other common Kgalagadi animal species include wildebeest, zebra, kudu, red hartebeest, duiker, steenbok, and the predators, lion, cheetah, leopard, and both spotted and brown hyena.

The Kgalagadi is essentially a basin into which sediments have continually been deposited and covered with sand. It is a region of great ecological, vegetative, geomorphological and climatic diversity. At its northern reaches (Gabon, Congo and Zaire), the Kgalagadi lies in the humid tropics and is dominated by parts of the Congo drainage system. At its core, in Botswana and neighboring countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola), it is an arid to semi-arid region with little surface water.

The Kgalagadi is the largest continuous area of sand on earth, touching nine African countries. With an approximate area of 2.5 million sq kms, it extends through 30 degrees of latitude and embraces several ecological zones.

Within Botswana, the Kgalagadi embraces two unique geographical regions: the Makgadikgadi pans, which research reveals to have been a huge prehistoric lake, suggesting that the Kgalagadi was at one time much wetter than it now is, and the wetland delta system of the Okavango.

Human occupation of the Kgalagadi goes as far back as the Early Stone age. Its Middle Stone age inhabitants, the San, developed survival strategies superbly adapted to – and in harmony with - their environment, masterfully extracting food resources from both the land and animals. Today, settlements, including cattle farms, dot many areas of the desert.

Five game reserves and national parks have been set aside in Botswana’s vast share of the Kgalagadi. These are: Central Kalahari game Reserve, Khutse game Reserve, Makgadikgadi pans game Reserve, Nxai Pan National Park, and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. All are remotely situated, separated by vast distances; and for many visitors, the sensation of unending space and pure isolation are the principle destinations.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Nothing prepares you for the immensity of this reserve, nor its wild, mysterious beauty. There is the immediate impression of unending space, and having the entire reserve to yourself.

Waist-high golden grasses seem to stretch interminably, punctuated by dwarfed trees and scrub bushes. Wide and empty pans appear as vast white stretches of saucer-flat earth, meeting a soft, blue-white sky. At night the stars utterly dominate the land; their brilliance and immediacy are totally arresting.

The Central Kalahari game Reserve (CKGR) is the largest, most remotely situated reserve in Southern Africa, and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, encompassing 20 386 mi².

During and shortly after good summer rains, the flat grasslands of the reserve’s northern reaches teem with wildlife, which gather at the best grazing areas. These include large herds of springbok and gemsbok, as well as wildebeest, hartebeest, eland and giraffe.

At other times of the year, when the animals are more sparsely distributed, the experience of travelling through truly untouched wilderness, of seemingly unending dimensions, is the draw.

The landscape is dominated by silver terminalia sandveldt, Kalahari sand acacias, and Kalahari appleleaf, interspersed with grasslands, and dotted with occasional sand dunes, pans and shallow fossil river valleys.

CKGR is unique in that it was originally established (in 1961) with the intention of serving as a place of sanctuary for the San, in the heart of the Kalahari (and Botswana), where they could live their traditional hunter/ gatherer way of life, without intrusion, or influence, from the outside world.

The reserve was closed for about 30 years, until in the 1980s and 1990s, both self-drive and organized tours were allowed in, albeit in small, tightly controlled numbers.

The Botswana government has initiated plans to develop tourism away from the Okavango and Chobe areas, and has allocated concessions for lodge construction, both at the peripheries of and inside the reserve, allowing for fly-in tourists.

The northern deception valley is one of the highlights, principally because of the dense concentrations of herbivores its sweet grasses attract during and after the rainy season (and of course the accompanying predators). It is also the most travelled area of the reserve, with a number of public campsites, and proximity to the eastern Matswere Gate. The other two gates are completely at the other side of the reserve, at Xade and Tsau, where public campsites are also available.

Other worthwhile areas to drive are Sunday and Leopard Pans, north of Deception Valley, Passarge Valley, and, further south, Piper’s Pan.

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Imagine – if you will – an area the size of Portugal, largely uninhabited by humans. Its stark, flat, featureless terrain stretches – it would seem – to eternity, meeting and fusing with a milky-blue horizon. This is the Makgadikgadi – an area of 4 633 mi², part of the Kalahari Basin, yet unique to it – one of the largest salt pans in the world.

For much of the year, most of this desolate area remains waterless and extremely arid; and large mammals are thus absent. But during and following years of good rain, the two largest pans – Sowa to the east and Ntwetwe to the west – flood, attracting wildlife – zebra and wildebeest on the grassy plains – and most spectacularly

flamingos at Sowa and Nata Sanctuary. Flamingo numbers can run into the tens – and sometimes – hundreds of thousands, and the spectacle can be completely overwhelming.

The rainwater that pours down on the pans is supplemented by seasonal river flows – the Nata, Tutume, Semowane and Mosetse Rivers in the east, and in years of exceptional rains, the Okavango via the Boteti River in the west.

During this time, the pans can be transformed into a powder blue lake, the waters gently lapping the shorelines, and flowing over the pebble beaches – a clear indication of the gigantic, prehistoric lake the Makgadikgadi once was. Research suggests that the Makgadikgadi is a relic of what was once one of the biggest inland lakes Africa has ever had.

Africa’s most famous explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, crossed these pans in the 19th century, guided by a massive baobab, Chapman’s Tree – believed to be 3 000 to 4 000 years old, and the only landmark for hundreds of miles around. Seeing this amazing tree today, you are given entry to an era when much of the continent was uncharted, and explorers often risked their lives navigating the wilderness on oxcarts through rough and grueling terrain.

The Makgadikgadi is in fact a series of pans, the largest of which are Sowa and Ntwetwe, both of which are surrounded by a myriad of smaller pans. North of these two pans are Kudiakam pan, Nxai Pan and Kaucaca Pan. Interspersed between the pans are sand dunes, rocky islands and peninsulas, and desert terrain.

No vegetation can grow on the salty surface of the pans, but the fringes are covered with grasslands. Massive baobab trees populate some fringe areas – and their silhouettes create dramatic landscapes against a setting sun.

The Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve – with an area of 1505 mi² – incorporates the western end of Ntwetwe, extensive grasslands and acacia woodland. At its northern boundary, it meets the Nxai Pan National Park, separated only by the Nata- Maun Road.

In the wet season, this reserve can offer good wildlife viewing, particularly when large herds of zebra and wildebeest begin their westward migration to the Boteti region. Other species include gemsbok, eland and red hartebeest, as well as kudu, bushbuck, duiker, giraffe, springbok, steenbok, and even elephant, with all the accompanying predators, as well as the rare brown hyena.

Humans have inhabited areas of the pans since the Stone Age, and have adapted to geographical and climatic changes as they have occurred. Archaeological sites on the pans are rich with Early Man’s tools, and the bones of the fish and animals he ate.

Human inhabitation has continued to the present day; and a number of villages, including Mopipi, Mmatshumo, Nata, Gweta and Rakops, are situated on the fringes of the pans.

Kubu Island

One of the most popular destinations on the Makgadikgadi is Kubu Island, a rocky outcrop near the south-western shore of Sowa pan.

This crescent-shaped island is about 1094 yards long, and its slopes are littered with fossil beaches of rounded pebbles, an indication of the prehistoric lake’s former water levels. Many rocks on the island are covered in fossilized guano, from the water birds that once perched here.

Fantastically shaped baobabs perch on the island, and they are surrounded by the white salt surface of the pan, making for a unique otherworldly atmosphere.

Apart from the eerie isolation of this remote area - and its awesome beauty, Kubu is rich in archaeological and historical remains that chronicle both early human inhabitation and more recent history.

Stone age tools and arrowheads can still be found today along the shorelines of this tiny island; and a circular stone wall and stone cairns suggest that Kubu may have been part of the outer reaches of the great Zimbabwe empire that was centered at Masvingo in modern-day Zimbabwe.

Nata Sanctuary

Botswana’s first community-based conservation project is managed and staffed by residents of four local communities – Nata, Maphosa, Sepako and Manxotae. It is a good example of a non-consumptive means of wildlife utilization that brings direct financial benefit to local communities. Proceeds from tourism activities in the sanctuary are shared by the four communities for whatever development projects they decide they want and need.

About 3 000 head of cattle belonging to members of these four communities were voluntarily moved out of the area for the establishment of the sanctuary. Nata Sanctuary opened its gates to the public in 1993, and in the same year was awarded the Tourism for Tomorrow award for the southern hemisphere.

Covering an area of 97 mi² – comprising both grasslands and pans, in an important environmentally sensitive area – the sanctuary offers easy access to the pans, and pleasant, reasonably priced camping facilities.

In the peak season, birding, and even game viewing, can be good. When there is water in the pans, thousands of flamingos, pelicans, ducks and geese congregate, and the scene is indeed awe-inspiring. An elevated hide provides an unbeatable panorama of the pans.

Nxai Pan National Park

Part of the great Makgadikgadi complex, Nxai Pan National Park covers an area of 811 mi², and comprises several larger pans – Nxai Pan, Kgama-Kgama Pan and Kudiakam Pan, which were once ancient salt lakes. These larger pans are now grassed, and are scattered with islands of acacia trees, and smaller pans that fill with water during the rainy season – thus providing rich resources for wildlife.

Wildlife viewing is seasonal, and dependent on if and when the rains come, and when animals migrate. There are several artificial watering points. If the rains have been good, December to April is the best time to visit.

Common species to be sighted are zebra, wildebeest, springbok, impala, gemsbok, hartebeest, giraffe, lion, cheetah, wild dog, brown hyena, bateared fox, and sometimes elephant and buffalo.

The park is one of the more accessible areas of the Makgadikgadi, a mere 31 miles from the Nata-Maun Road.

Baines' Baobabs

Approximately 19 miles from the Nxai Pan National Park entrance, Baines’ Baobabs are a highlight for any visitor travelling this area of Botswana.

Seven huge, gnarled baobab trees, named after the 19th century explorer Thomas Baines, are situated on a promontory or island overlooking and surrounded by the white, crusty Kudiakam Pan. Baines stood here over a hundred years ago and painted this otherworldly scene. It has essentially remained unchanged.

Thomas Baines was an explorer, artist, naturalist and cartographer. He and fellow explorer James Chapman travelled through this area during their two-year journey from Namibia to Victoria Falls (1861-63).

They travelled in horse-drawn wagons and on foot, accompanied and led at different times by Hottentots, Damaras (a tribe from Namibia) and San. They encountered numerous difficulties, including the harshness of the desert, thirst, hunger, illness, and more than once, desertion by their guides, who made off with their supplies.

Despite all this, Baines’ account of the journey is filled with appreciation of the beauty of Africa. ‘I confess,’ he wrote, ‘I can never quite get over the feeling that the wonderful products of nature are objects to be admired rather than destroyed; and this, I am afraid, sometimes keeps me looking at a buck when i ought to be minding my hindsight’s.’

Baines’ painting of the small island of baobabs shows covered wagons, people tending their horses, and a huge baobab bursting with leaves. ‘We walked forward to the big tree, the Mowana at Mamu ka Hoorie, and found the country much improved,’ Baines wrote of the gloriously shaded area.

Baines’ diaries, sketches, drawings and paintings provide fascinating first-hand documentation of that most Africa. Decisive era in the history of Southern Africa.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

History was made when Botswana and a newly liberated, democratic South Africa signed in 1999 a treaty to form the first transfrontier peace park in Africa.

Plans to formalize the joint management and development of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park were proposed as early as 1989, but no such partnership was possible during South Africa’s dark years of apartheid. Following South Africa’s independence in 1994, and with the support and encouragement of the Peace Parks Foundation, negotiations concretized; and in May 2002, the park was officially opened.

This immense wilderness (14 286 mi²) is now shared by both countries as a protected area, and is jointly managed. The entire park is completely unfenced, allowing for wildlife to move freely along the ancient migration routes so necessary for their survival in the desert.

Situated in the extreme southwest corner of Botswana, and adjacent to South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) is run as a single ecological unit, and gate receipts are shared. Tourist facilities, however, are still run autonomously.

Immigration and customs facilities have been designed to allow travelers to enter the park in one country and depart in the other. The main entry and departure point between the two countries is at the Two Rivers/ Twee Rivieren gate, which also has camping facilities, chalets, shops and a restaurant.

The national boundary with South Africa is along the dry Nossop River bed; and three quarters of the park lies within Botswana territory. Currently, KTP is mainly visited by self-drive campers, with a few operators offering mobile tours.

At the time of going to print, the Botswana government had allocated five fixed lodge sites for development by the private sector.

There are three main areas to explore: the Nossop River valley, along the South Africa/Botswana border, the wilderness trails on the Botswana side, and what was once the Mabuasehube Game Reserve, now incorporated into KTP at its most northeastern reaches.

To maintain KTP’s pure wilderness experience, there are strict limits as to the number of vehicles that can travel the wilderness trails, how many nights a camping party can stay at a campsite (usually limited to one night), and how many people can camp at each campsite. Hence booking well in advance is essential.

Self-drive campers must comprise at least two vehicles; well-equipped 4x4s are required for the rough, sandy roads.

KTP’s very beautiful terrain comprises fossil river valleys dotted with dwarfed trees and bushes, grasslands and different colored sand dunes. Wildlife is abundant, and the animals are attracted to waterholes along the otherwise dry riverbed.

Several species of antelope, including the ubiquitous springbok and gemsbok, hartebeest, and eland can be seen, as well as the famous black-maned Kalahari lion, jackal, brown hyena, and wild cats.

Rich birding is always part of the experience. Over 170 species of birds have been recorded here, and it is not uncommon to see over 30 bird species within a few miles of the campsite.

At Mabuasehube, the terrain is a mixture of typical Kgalagadi tree and shrub savanna with patches of wide open grass savanna.

This area of KTP comprises a series of exceptionally large pans, which are the principle focus of the reserve. Campsites dot the various pans, and many are situated on slight promontories, giving almost unimpeded vision, thus making for good game viewing right from your camp-side chair.

Three of the largest pans lie along the main road; these are Bosobogolo, Mpayathutlwa and Mabuasehube. Others, like Leshologago, Khiding and the fossil valley complex called Monamodi, are linked to the larger pans by sand tracks.

Each pan is different. The floor of Mabuasehube pan is bare clay that is rich in salts, and this attracts animals that come to lick the surface, deriving essential minerals from it. The floor of Bosobogolo pan is short, shrubby grassland, which antelope frequent to graze, accompanied, of course, by predators.

All of the major predators can be seen at Mabuasehube, including the Kalahari black-maned lion, cheetah, leopard, brown hyena, bat-eared fox, lynx, and silver fox. Small mammals, like the Cape fox, aardwolf and blackfooted cat can be seen at the pans in the evening.

Khutse Game Reserve

Because of its proximity, and relative accessibility, to the nation’s capital, Khutse game Reserve is a favorite retreat for Gaborone visitors or residents. The 150 miles drive takes the traveler through a number of interesting Kalahari villages, including the ‘gateway to the Kalahari,’ Molepolole.

Adjoining the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to the north, and with no fences separating the two, the terrain of the 966 mi² reserve combines most types of Kalahari habitat – rolling grasslands, river beds, fossil dunes and grassed and bare pans.

The reserve is part of an ancient river system that once flowed northeast to fill the prehistoric Lake Makgadikgadi. Khutse’s Pans and dry river valleys are remnants of this river system.

Officially declared a protected area in 1971, Khutse (meaning ‘place where you can kneel down and drink’) was the second game reserve in Botswana to be established on tribal land (Moremi game Reserve in the Okavango was the first).

There is a series of rather picturesque pans (signposted) where wildlife often congregate, particularly during and following good rains; and indeed game drives are focused around the pans. These include the Motailane, Moreswa and Molose pans. Sometimes water is pumped at artificial waterholes at Moreswa and Molose, making for good game viewing year round.

Animals commonly sighted include springbok (often in abundance), gemsbok (often common), giraffe, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu, black-backed jackal, steenbok, duiker, and the accompanying predator’s lion, leopard, cheetah, smaller cats, and the endangered brown hyena.

There are several delightful loops worth driving through the reserve. The shorter drive is the northern loop around Sekhushwe and Mohurusile pans, approximately 15 miles from the reserve headquarters. The longer drive is to Moreswa Pan, about 40 miles from the headquarters, or a 75 miles loop.

The San and Bakgalagadi peoples – the Kgalagadi’s original inhabitants – live in small villages on the periphery of the reserve. Their traditional arts and crafts can usually be purchased here; and walks with the San can be arranged at the Khutse Kalahari Lodge, about 6 miles before the reserve entrance.

Read More | Eastern Botswana

CENTRAL BOTSWANA – THE KGALAGADI

Covering a full 84 percent of Botswana’s land area, the semi-arid Kgalagadi terrain dominates most of the country. Refuting the classical perception of desert as a barren, vegetation-less, useless land, the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) is rich in natural resources.

These include its sweeping grasslands that feed not only its wildlife populations, but also its swelling cattle herds (numbering approximately 2 million), thus supporting the country’s third largest industry - cattle ranching, and its mineral wealth, namely diamonds, which have fostered and sustained dramatic economic growth for the past 35 years.

A land of singular, often hidden, beauty, the Kgalagadi is intensely alive with an astonishing diversity of plant and animal life. It has broad variations in vegetation, supporting several savanna types, namely grass, shrub and tree savanna.

The Kgalagadi landscape often appears as grassy plains dotted with low shrubs, interspersed with trees or belts of trees, which often stand on sandy ridges. Though a newcomer’s first impression may be one of ‘sameness,’ there are subtle topographical interruptions to the deserts essentially flat surface, including channels, fossil valleys, dune features and pan depressions.

Following a season of good rain, the desert is transformed, covered with lush, green grasses, and flooded pans – a source of rebirth and rejuvenation for both humans and animals.

Many desert animals, including springbok, gemsbok, eland, and even the Kalahari lion, are supremely adapted to its semi-arid conditions, and can live without water, though they will drink if water is available.

Antelope derive their moisture by feeding at night and early morning (when plants regain moisture), by eating succulent plants (such as wild watermelons or wild cucumbers), and by remaining inactive during the heat of the day to conserve body moisture.

Kalahari lions appear to gain their moisture from the body fluids of their prey. Other common Kgalagadi animal species include wildebeest, zebra, kudu, red hartebeest, duiker, steenbok, and the predators, lion, cheetah, leopard, and both spotted and brown hyena.

The Kgalagadi is essentially a basin into which sediments have continually been deposited and covered with sand. It is a region of great ecological, vegetative, geomorphological and climatic diversity. At its northern reaches (Gabon, Congo and Zaire), the Kgalagadi lies in the humid tropics and is dominated by parts of the Congo drainage system. At its core, in Botswana and neighboring countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola), it is an arid to semi-arid region with little surface water.

The Kgalagadi is the largest continuous area of sand on earth, touching nine African countries. With an approximate area of 2.5 million sq kms, it extends through 30 degrees of latitude and embraces several ecological zones.

Within Botswana, the Kgalagadi embraces two unique geographical regions: the Makgadikgadi pans, which research reveals to have been a huge prehistoric lake, suggesting that the Kgalagadi was at one time much wetter than it now is, and the wetland delta system of the Okavango.

Human occupation of the Kgalagadi goes as far back as the Early Stone age. Its Middle Stone age inhabitants, the San, developed survival strategies superbly adapted to – and in harmony with - their environment, masterfully extracting food resources from both the land and animals. Today, settlements, including cattle farms, dot many areas of the desert.

Five game reserves and national parks have been set aside in Botswana’s vast share of the Kgalagadi. These are: Central Kalahari game Reserve, Khutse game Reserve, Makgadikgadi pans game Reserve, Nxai Pan National Park, and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. All are remotely situated, separated by vast distances; and for many visitors, the sensation of unending space and pure isolation are the principle destinations.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Nothing prepares you for the immensity of this reserve, nor its wild, mysterious beauty. There is the immediate impression of unending space, and having the entire reserve to yourself.

Waist-high golden grasses seem to stretch interminably, punctuated by dwarfed trees and scrub bushes. Wide and empty pans appear as vast white stretches of saucer-flat earth, meeting a soft, blue-white sky. At night the stars utterly dominate the land; their brilliance and immediacy are totally arresting.

The Central Kalahari game Reserve (CKGR) is the largest, most remotely situated reserve in Southern Africa, and the second largest wildlife reserve in the world, encompassing 20 386 mi².

During and shortly after good summer rains, the flat grasslands of the reserve’s northern reaches teem with wildlife, which gather at the best grazing areas. These include large herds of springbok and gemsbok, as well as wildebeest, hartebeest, eland and giraffe.

At other times of the year, when the animals are more sparsely distributed, the experience of travelling through truly untouched wilderness, of seemingly unending dimensions, is the draw.

The landscape is dominated by silver terminalia sandveldt, Kalahari sand acacias, and Kalahari appleleaf, interspersed with grasslands, and dotted with occasional sand dunes, pans and shallow fossil river valleys.

CKGR is unique in that it was originally established (in 1961) with the intention of serving as a place of sanctuary for the San, in the heart of the Kalahari (and Botswana), where they could live their traditional hunter/ gatherer way of life, without intrusion, or influence, from the outside world.

The reserve was closed for about 30 years, until in the 1980s and 1990s, both self-drive and organized tours were allowed in, albeit in small, tightly controlled numbers.

The Botswana government has initiated plans to develop tourism away from the Okavango and Chobe areas, and has allocated concessions for lodge construction, both at the peripheries of and inside the reserve, allowing for fly-in tourists.

The northern deception valley is one of the highlights, principally because of the dense concentrations of herbivores its sweet grasses attract during and after the rainy season (and of course the accompanying predators). It is also the most travelled area of the reserve, with a number of public campsites, and proximity to the eastern Matswere Gate. The other two gates are completely at the other side of the reserve, at Xade and Tsau, where public campsites are also available.

Other worthwhile areas to drive are Sunday and Leopard Pans, north of Deception Valley, Passarge Valley, and, further south, Piper’s Pan.

Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Imagine – if you will – an area the size of Portugal, largely uninhabited by humans. Its stark, flat, featureless terrain stretches – it would seem – to eternity, meeting and fusing with a milky-blue horizon. This is the Makgadikgadi – an area of 4 633 mi², part of the Kalahari Basin, yet unique to it – one of the largest salt pans in the world.

For much of the year, most of this desolate area remains waterless and extremely arid; and large mammals are thus absent. But during and following years of good rain, the two largest pans – Sowa to the east and Ntwetwe to the west – flood, attracting wildlife – zebra and wildebeest on the grassy plains – and most spectacularly

flamingos at Sowa and Nata Sanctuary. Flamingo numbers can run into the tens – and sometimes – hundreds of thousands, and the spectacle can be completely overwhelming.

The rainwater that pours down on the pans is supplemented by seasonal river flows – the Nata, Tutume, Semowane and Mosetse Rivers in the east, and in years of exceptional rains, the Okavango via the Boteti River in the west.

During this time, the pans can be transformed into a powder blue lake, the waters gently lapping the shorelines, and flowing over the pebble beaches – a clear indication of the gigantic, prehistoric lake the Makgadikgadi once was. Research suggests that the Makgadikgadi is a relic of what was once one of the biggest inland lakes Africa has ever had.

Africa’s most famous explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, crossed these pans in the 19th century, guided by a massive baobab, Chapman’s Tree – believed to be 3 000 to 4 000 years old, and the only landmark for hundreds of miles around. Seeing this amazing tree today, you are given entry to an era when much of the continent was uncharted, and explorers often risked their lives navigating the wilderness on oxcarts through rough and grueling terrain.

The Makgadikgadi is in fact a series of pans, the largest of which are Sowa and Ntwetwe, both of which are surrounded by a myriad of smaller pans. North of these two pans are Kudiakam pan, Nxai Pan and Kaucaca Pan. Interspersed between the pans are sand dunes, rocky islands and peninsulas, and desert terrain.

No vegetation can grow on the salty surface of the pans, but the fringes are covered with grasslands. Massive baobab trees populate some fringe areas – and their silhouettes create dramatic landscapes against a setting sun.

The Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve – with an area of 1505 mi² – incorporates the western end of Ntwetwe, extensive grasslands and acacia woodland. At its northern boundary, it meets the Nxai Pan National Park, separated only by the Nata- Maun Road.

In the wet season, this reserve can offer good wildlife viewing, particularly when large herds of zebra and wildebeest begin their westward migration to the Boteti region. Other species include gemsbok, eland and red hartebeest, as well as kudu, bushbuck, duiker, giraffe, springbok, steenbok, and even elephant, with all the accompanying predators, as well as the rare brown hyena.

Humans have inhabited areas of the pans since the Stone Age, and have adapted to geographical and climatic changes as they have occurred. Archaeological sites on the pans are rich with Early Man’s tools, and the bones of the fish and animals he ate.

Human inhabitation has continued to the present day; and a number of villages, including Mopipi, Mmatshumo, Nata, Gweta and Rakops, are situated on the fringes of the pans.

Kubu Island

One of the most popular destinations on the Makgadikgadi is Kubu Island, a rocky outcrop near the south-western shore of Sowa pan.

This crescent-shaped island is about 1094 yards long, and its slopes are littered with fossil beaches of rounded pebbles, an indication of the prehistoric lake’s former water levels. Many rocks on the island are covered in fossilized guano, from the water birds that once perched here.

Fantastically shaped baobabs perch on the island, and they are surrounded by the white salt surface of the pan, making for a unique otherworldly atmosphere.

Apart from the eerie isolation of this remote area - and its awesome beauty, Kubu is rich in archaeological and historical remains that chronicle both early human inhabitation and more recent history.

Stone age tools and arrowheads can still be found today along the shorelines of this tiny island; and a circular stone wall and stone cairns suggest that Kubu may have been part of the outer reaches of the great Zimbabwe empire that was centered at Masvingo in modern-day Zimbabwe.

Nata Sanctuary

Botswana’s first community-based conservation project is managed and staffed by residents of four local communities – Nata, Maphosa, Sepako and Manxotae. It is a good example of a non-consumptive means of wildlife utilization that brings direct financial benefit to local communities. Proceeds from tourism activities in the sanctuary are shared by the four communities for whatever development projects they decide they want and need.

About 3 000 head of cattle belonging to members of these four communities were voluntarily moved out of the area for the establishment of the sanctuary. Nata Sanctuary opened its gates to the public in 1993, and in the same year was awarded the Tourism for Tomorrow award for the southern hemisphere.

Covering an area of 97 mi² – comprising both grasslands and pans, in an important environmentally sensitive area – the sanctuary offers easy access to the pans, and pleasant, reasonably priced camping facilities.

In the peak season, birding, and even game viewing, can be good. When there is water in the pans, thousands of flamingos, pelicans, ducks and geese congregate, and the scene is indeed awe-inspiring. An elevated hide provides an unbeatable panorama of the pans.

Nxai Pan National Park

Part of the great Makgadikgadi complex, Nxai Pan National Park covers an area of 811 mi², and comprises several larger pans – Nxai Pan, Kgama-Kgama Pan and Kudiakam Pan, which were once ancient salt lakes. These larger pans are now grassed, and are scattered with islands of acacia trees, and smaller pans that fill with water during the rainy season – thus providing rich resources for wildlife.

Wildlife viewing is seasonal, and dependent on if and when the rains come, and when animals migrate. There are several artificial watering points. If the rains have been good, December to April is the best time to visit.

Common species to be sighted are zebra, wildebeest, springbok, impala, gemsbok, hartebeest, giraffe, lion, cheetah, wild dog, brown hyena, bateared fox, and sometimes elephant and buffalo.

The park is one of the more accessible areas of the Makgadikgadi, a mere 31 miles from the Nata-Maun Road.

Baines' Baobabs

Approximately 19 miles from the Nxai Pan National Park entrance, Baines’ Baobabs are a highlight for any visitor travelling this area of Botswana.

Seven huge, gnarled baobab trees, named after the 19th century explorer Thomas Baines, are situated on a promontory or island overlooking and surrounded by the white, crusty Kudiakam Pan. Baines stood here over a hundred years ago and painted this otherworldly scene. It has essentially remained unchanged.

Thomas Baines was an explorer, artist, naturalist and cartographer. He and fellow explorer James Chapman travelled through this area during their two-year journey from Namibia to Victoria Falls (1861-63).

They travelled in horse-drawn wagons and on foot, accompanied and led at different times by Hottentots, Damaras (a tribe from Namibia) and San. They encountered numerous difficulties, including the harshness of the desert, thirst, hunger, illness, and more than once, desertion by their guides, who made off with their supplies.

Despite all this, Baines’ account of the journey is filled with appreciation of the beauty of Africa. ‘I confess,’ he wrote, ‘I can never quite get over the feeling that the wonderful products of nature are objects to be admired rather than destroyed; and this, I am afraid, sometimes keeps me looking at a buck when i ought to be minding my hindsight’s.’

Baines’ painting of the small island of baobabs shows covered wagons, people tending their horses, and a huge baobab bursting with leaves. ‘We walked forward to the big tree, the Mowana at Mamu ka Hoorie, and found the country much improved,’ Baines wrote of the gloriously shaded area.

Baines’ diaries, sketches, drawings and paintings provide fascinating first-hand documentation of that most Africa. Decisive era in the history of Southern Africa.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

History was made when Botswana and a newly liberated, democratic South Africa signed in 1999 a treaty to form the first transfrontier peace park in Africa.

Plans to formalize the joint management and development of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park were proposed as early as 1989, but no such partnership was possible during South Africa’s dark years of apartheid. Following South Africa’s independence in 1994, and with the support and encouragement of the Peace Parks Foundation, negotiations concretized; and in May 2002, the park was officially opened.

This immense wilderness (14 286 mi²) is now shared by both countries as a protected area, and is jointly managed. The entire park is completely unfenced, allowing for wildlife to move freely along the ancient migration routes so necessary for their survival in the desert.

Situated in the extreme southwest corner of Botswana, and adjacent to South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) is run as a single ecological unit, and gate receipts are shared. Tourist facilities, however, are still run autonomously.

Immigration and customs facilities have been designed to allow travelers to enter the park in one country and depart in the other. The main entry and departure point between the two countries is at the Two Rivers/ Twee Rivieren gate, which also has camping facilities, chalets, shops and a restaurant.

The national boundary with South Africa is along the dry Nossop River bed; and three quarters of the park lies within Botswana territory. Currently, KTP is mainly visited by self-drive campers, with a few operators offering mobile tours.

At the time of going to print, the Botswana government had allocated five fixed lodge sites for development by the private sector.

There are three main areas to explore: the Nossop River valley, along the South Africa/Botswana border, the wilderness trails on the Botswana side, and what was once the Mabuasehube Game Reserve, now incorporated into KTP at its most northeastern reaches.

To maintain KTP’s pure wilderness experience, there are strict limits as to the number of vehicles that can travel the wilderness trails, how many nights a camping party can stay at a campsite (usually limited to one night), and how many people can camp at each campsite. Hence booking well in advance is essential.

Self-drive campers must comprise at least two vehicles; well-equipped 4x4s are required for the rough, sandy roads.

KTP’s very beautiful terrain comprises fossil river valleys dotted with dwarfed trees and bushes, grasslands and different colored sand dunes. Wildlife is abundant, and the animals are attracted to waterholes along the otherwise dry riverbed.

Several species of antelope, including the ubiquitous springbok and gemsbok, hartebeest, and eland can be seen, as well as the famous black-maned Kalahari lion, jackal, brown hyena, and wild cats.

Rich birding is always part of the experience. Over 170 species of birds have been recorded here, and it is not uncommon to see over 30 bird species within a few miles of the campsite.

At Mabuasehube, the terrain is a mixture of typical Kgalagadi tree and shrub savanna with patches of wide open grass savanna.

This area of KTP comprises a series of exceptionally large pans, which are the principle focus of the reserve. Campsites dot the various pans, and many are situated on slight promontories, giving almost unimpeded vision, thus making for good game viewing right from your camp-side chair.

Three of the largest pans lie along the main road; these are Bosobogolo, Mpayathutlwa and Mabuasehube. Others, like Leshologago, Khiding and the fossil valley complex called Monamodi, are linked to the larger pans by sand tracks.

Each pan is different. The floor of Mabuasehube pan is bare clay that is rich in salts, and this attracts animals that come to lick the surface, deriving essential minerals from it. The floor of Bosobogolo pan is short, shrubby grassland, which antelope frequent to graze, accompanied, of course, by predators.

All of the major predators can be seen at Mabuasehube, including the Kalahari black-maned lion, cheetah, leopard, brown hyena, bat-eared fox, lynx, and silver fox. Small mammals, like the Cape fox, aardwolf and blackfooted cat can be seen at the pans in the evening.

Khutse Game Reserve

Because of its proximity, and relative accessibility, to the nation’s capital, Khutse game Reserve is a favorite retreat for Gaborone visitors or residents. The 150 miles drive takes the traveler through a number of interesting Kalahari villages, including the ‘gateway to the Kalahari,’ Molepolole.

Adjoining the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to the north, and with no fences separating the two, the terrain of the 966 mi² reserve combines most types of Kalahari habitat – rolling grasslands, river beds, fossil dunes and grassed and bare pans.

The reserve is part of an ancient river system that once flowed northeast to fill the prehistoric Lake Makgadikgadi. Khutse’s Pans and dry river valleys are remnants of this river system.

Officially declared a protected area in 1971, Khutse (meaning ‘place where you can kneel down and drink’) was the second game reserve in Botswana to be established on tribal land (Moremi game Reserve in the Okavango was the first).

There is a series of rather picturesque pans (signposted) where wildlife often congregate, particularly during and following good rains; and indeed game drives are focused around the pans. These include the Motailane, Moreswa and Molose pans. Sometimes water is pumped at artificial waterholes at Moreswa and Molose, making for good game viewing year round.

Animals commonly sighted include springbok (often in abundance), gemsbok (often common), giraffe, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu, black-backed jackal, steenbok, duiker, and the accompanying predator’s lion, leopard, cheetah, smaller cats, and the endangered brown hyena.

There are several delightful loops worth driving through the reserve. The shorter drive is the northern loop around Sekhushwe and Mohurusile pans, approximately 15 miles from the reserve headquarters. The longer drive is to Moreswa Pan, about 40 miles from the headquarters, or a 75 miles loop.

The San and Bakgalagadi peoples – the Kgalagadi’s original inhabitants – live in small villages on the periphery of the reserve. Their traditional arts and crafts can usually be purchased here; and walks with the San can be arranged at the Khutse Kalahari Lodge, about 6 miles before the reserve entrance.

Botswana is well known for having some of the best wilderness and wildlife areas on the African continent. With a full 38 percent of its total land area devoted to national parks, reserves and wildlife management areas – for the most part unfenced, allowing animals to roam wild and free – travel through many parts of the country has the feeling of moving through an immense nature wonderland.
Botswana is a rarity in our overpopulated, over-developed world. Untamed and untamable, it is one of the last great refuges for nature’s magnificent pageantry of life.
Experience the stunning beauty of the world’s largest intact inland Delta – the Okavango; the unimaginable vastness of the world’s second largest game reserve – the Central Kalahari Game Reserve; the isolation and other-worldliness of the Makgadikgadi – uninhabited pans the size of Portugal; and the astoundingly prolific wildlife of the Chobe National Park.
Botswana is the last stronghold for a number of endangered bird and mammal species, including wild dog, cheetah, brown hyena, Cape vulture, wattled crane, kori bustard, and Pel’s fishing owl. This makes your safari experience even more memorable, and at times you will feel simply surrounded by wild animals.
The first – and most lasting impressions – will be of vast expanses of uninhabited wilderness stretching from horizon to horizon, the sensation of limitless space, astoundingly rich wildlife and bird viewing, night skies littered with stars and heavenly bodies of an unimaginable brilliance, and stunning sunsets of unearthly beauty.
As well, with more and more cultural tourism options on offer, you will be charmed by the people of Botswana, visiting their villages and experiencing first-hand their rich cultural heritage. But perhaps most of all, Botswana’s greatest gift is its ability to put us in touch with our natural selves. It offers that vital link so keenly felt by inhabitants of the developed world, a pervasive void we feel but often cannot name – our connectedness with Nature and the astonishing diversity of plants and animals to be explored.
 
Botswana at a Glance
Location:  Botswana is a land-locked country situated in southern Africa. It borders South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Approximately two-thirds of the country lies within the Tropics.
Country Size:  Botswana covers an area of 224 607 mi²– about the size of France or Kenya.
Topography:  Most of the country is flat, with some small hills in the eastern areas. Kalahari sands cover 84 percent of the surface area. With the exception of the northern areas, most of Botswana is without perennial surface water.
Capital:  Gaborone
Independence Day: 30 September 1966
Head of State: Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama (4th President)
Population: 2.182 million
National Language: Setswana
Official Language: English
Currency: Pula notes & thebe coins
Ethnic groups:  Tswana (or Setswana) 79%, Kalanga 11%, Basarwa 3%, other, including Kgalagadi and white 7%
Main Exports:  Diamonds, textiles, beef, soda ash
Electricity: 230volt A/C 50 hz
 
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