After a comfortable 2.5 hour drive from Maun we turned off the tar road and headed north into the Nxai Pan National Park.
A seemingly endless sand road soon came to an abrupt end and, almost instantaneously the vegetation changed. A dense stand of Mopane and Terminalia woodland ended and an open plain with scattered termite mounds lay before us.
We had arrived at Nxai Pan and could not have asked for a better welcoming as we approached the main waterhole in the area.
Predominantly a harsh dry environment during the hot months of July to November, the first rains bring one of the greatest transformations witnessed in Africa as the Nxai Pan and Makgadikgadi Pan areas becomes an important habitat for migrating animals including wildebeest and one of Africa’s biggest Zebra populations.
Not many people realise that Botswana is a great destination throughout the year and not just during the peak of the flood waters reaching the Okavango Delta and for many people, the main attraction at Nxai pan is the annual zebra migration. Every year, at the onset of the rains in November, up to 25,000 zebra begin their annual migration through Botswana’s Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Parks.
Botswana seems to have experienced below average rainfall this season and the migratory herds had already abandoned the dry pans and returned south, but the low rainfall meant that the game viewing around the permanent water points was unusually good for this time of the year. In my chats to Pilot our Guide from African Bush Camps (who setup a mobile camp at Nxai pan for the zebra migration), game viewing in Nxai Pan can be erratic, but it can also be exceptional. During the rains (usually from November to April), the pans become covered in lush, sweet grass. This abundance of nutritious food attracts swathes of plains game, including zebra, springbok, wildebeest, gemsbok and large numbers of giraffe.
This is a national park though and that comes with certain limitations such as no-offroading and strictly enforced game drive times – we needed to be back in camp by 19:00 which at this time of year meant that we were pushing time to the max in order to be out in the field, at the waterholes to capture dramatic silhouettes and make the most of that golden light.
So, whilst we may have missed the zebra migration we were lucky that the game viewing was still good as a result of the low rainfall. We enjoyed great sightings of lions moving between the Mopane woodlands on both mornings and I think I gained some insight into what this part of the world would be like towards the end of the dry season where almost all activity would focus around any remaining water in the region.
Even during my 2 night stay the waterholes were pumping and we saw pretty much everything that occurs in this region venturing down to drink.
Interestingly, all of the elpahtns which seemed to be permanently on guard at the waterholes were bulls. Apparently it is only on rare occasions that the breeding herds are seen in this region as they leave the safety of the woodlands and move out onto the open pans. If these were the kind of sightings we had in march I can only imagine what it will be like in October.
If this post seems elephant heavy its because the elephants certainly did feature prominently during my visit.
I would love to see this place when the rains have fallen and herds of zebra move through the ankle-deep waters which cover the pans. Thats the beautiful thing about nature, its unpredictable and if you’re off by a couple of weeks or even days, you might miss it. Despite this, I think Nxai pan can deliver some great sightings and photographic opportunities.
I do think that the drier winter months from May to October would be the best time to visit though, as planned in our 14 night Ultimate Botswana Safari which runs in October this year.
In one of my earlier posts a fan left a comment that Nxai Pan is a place where the wind talks to you.
We didn’t have any wind whilst we were there but the stillness and peace of the place certainly spoke to me and I will certainly be back.
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Visit Nxai Pan
Our 14 night Ultimate Botswana Photographic safari will spend 2 nights in Nxai pan in October this year.Find out More