MAKGADIKGADI PANS & NXAI PAN
West of Gweta, the tar road road to Maun slices through Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan National Park. Because of their complementary natures regarding wildlife migrations, Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve and Nxai Pan National Park were established concurrently in the early 1970s, in the hope of protecting the entire ecosystem. In December of 1992 the area of the Nxai Pan National Park was extended south to the main Gweta-Maun road, so it adjoins the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve, which was renamed 'The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park' to form one vast area covering just under 7,500km2. The park incorporates Ntwetwe Pan, Makgadikgadi Pans, Nxai Pan, Baines' Baobabs and Kudiakam Pan.
In the middle of the northern Kalahari, lies a complex of huge, flat salt pans. They are a collection of huge salt pans that make up the northern reaches of the Kalahari Desert. They are some of the largest salt pans on the planet and one of the last remaining homes of the San Bushmen. The most famous pans are the Makgadikgadi, consisting primarily of the vast Sua and Ntwetwe pans. Makgadikgadi is a truly unique destination that can be visited at any time of year, with guests exploring the unique lunar landscape and spending time with the San Bushmen. Over the last few years, the meerkat community here has also received much publicity
Around January to March, if the rains have been good, the pans flood. When this happens, grasses spring to life, flamingos arrive to nest, and a huge migration of zebra and wildebeest arrives from the Okavango Delta. This is one of Africa's great, unpredictable wildlife spectacles, with around 30,000 mammals making the journey. There are three luxury lodges located close to the pans, providing superb isolation, game-viewing in season, and wonderful experiences year-round.
In the dry season, the wildlife is attracted to the western edge of the park by the Boteti River. As the water dwindles to a series of shallow pools, the game becomes ever-more concentrated. There are two luxury lodges near the river and a new mid-range property.
The focal point of Nxai Pan is the water hole, situated only two kilometres from the entrance gate, in the midst of a large grassy plain which is dotted with a few clumps of short umbrella thorn trees. Here, and within the mopane woodland, lion, giraffe, kudu, impala, ostrich, fascinating birdlife and large numbers of springbok, together with a good population of jackal, bat-eared fox and numerous smaller creatures, are permanent residents. During the dry season there is a good population of springbok, giraffe and gemsbok, though this often increases between around December and April when the rains can turn the park into a veritable salad bowl for herbivores. You'll also find hartebeest here, along with lion, cheetah, and both brown and spotted hyena.
Once the rains have started, gemsbok, elephant and zebra migrate to the area from Chobe. At that time, zebra are present in thousands and drop their young at Nxai Pan, rivalling the spectacle of the multitude of young springbok, to further enhance game-viewing opportunities. Whilst many other parks and reserves are not considered to be at their best during the rains, Nxai Pan becomes a veritable Garden of Eden. Don't leave without seeing Kudiakam Pan, and the famous Baines' Baobabs. There is one lodge inside the park.
Baines Baobabs were named after the famous painter and explorer of the last century Thomas Baines, who painted this unusual group of baobabs in 1862 during his journeys through Southern Africa. This remarkable cluster of trees, also known as Seven Sisters, has been immortalised by other painters as well, including Prince Charles.
Today, the scene that captivated Baines, inspiring him to record the formation on canvas, is little changed and still attracts the attention of visitors, although now the baobabs are recorded on film. The seven giant trees dominate a small island on the edge of the open grassless Kudiakam Pan. They used to be an ideal picnic spot for visitors, but now that this area has been incorporated in the national park this is no longer permitted, and it will be years before the area recovers from the damage of uncontrolled camping.
Although the pan at Baines Baobabs is dry for most of the year, the area is transformed into a massive sheet of water, dotted by water lilies, during the rainy season from December to March and water birds abound, creating a spectacle of great beauty.
The Bushman word for salt is 'Sowa' - an apt description of the vast white expanse of the largest natural Salt Pans in the world. During the rainy season the Nata River carries water into Sowa Pan filling the northern part of the pan and attracting an array of waterbirds including flamingos, pelicans, ducks and teals.
Sowa pan and the western Ntwetwe are important breeding sites for both greater and lesser flamingos who migrate here from Etosha in neighbouring Namibia and as far as East Africa. Brine shrimps, worms and tiny crustaceans provide food for greater while lesser flamingos feed on algae. These food types all flourish in the warm shallow waters of the pans.
In the dry winter months bustards and korhaans can usually be found in the grass fringes of the pan accompanied by migratory birds including kites, eagles and bee-eaters.
There are very few rock islands in the Makgadikgadi, but in southern Sowa a scattering of granite islands lie on the white surface like beached whales. All have unique characteristics that give this desolate place its mesmeric attraction. Of all the islands, Kubu is the most famous.
where to stay
From our visits to the pan areas, we have first-hand knowledge of the lodges and below you can find the ones we most commonly use. Those lodges include mainly our favourites sorted from low-key to deluxe, which are usually smaller lodges with very personalised service, but also some bigger places, if they are the best or only option available.