In Defence of Eden
Chobe National Park is one of the most special places in Africa; a home-from-home where you can go for some peace and tranquillity and be surrounded by, quite literally, hundreds if not thousands, of all creatures great and small. However, in the past year or two, the Chobe Riverfront (in the north of the park) has been slowly developing a reputation. And it’s not always a good one. However, avoiding this part of the world because some people have told you some horror stories would be akin to missing out Victoria Falls and claiming that a bit of water isn’t that interesting. This article therefore simply aims to make it all, well, simpler. So you can approach Northern Chobe without any sense of dread or the feeling that you’re not welcome.
When I sat down to try and shed some light on wildlife viewing and the “challenges” facing the Chobe Riverfront I came up with the rather pretentious and somewhat preposterous title that clings resolutely to the top of the article. However, in retrospect, having just watched 300 elephants lazily playing, shoving, eating, drinking and generally soaking up the floodplain, it doesn’t seem like such an outlandish title after all.
Guide to getting the most out of Northern Chobe
Maintain a respectful distance
1. Knowing the Rules.
The powers that be have, in a number of instances, done a superb job of confusing almost everyone as to what the rules regarding the use of the Chobe Riverfront really are. Most of us here on the ground are also flummoxed. Firstly it is important to know that the general park rules haven’t changed. The basic rules to follow are:
- Don’t litter
- Don’t drive off road
- Don’t harass the wildlife
- 5 vehicles on a sighting and, if there are other vehicles waiting, please move along once you’ve had the opportunity to get any photos etc.
- When parking at the side of the road the basic rule to follow is “2 wheels on, 2 wheels off” the road. The way people can momentarily pass without widening the road.
Follow these and you’ll get through the park without a hitch.
What has really created the confusion is that there is a separate set of rules for a section of the Chobe Riverfront known as the Chobe Decongestion Strategy. (Cue bass organ notes, black clouds rolling in and general horror all around.)
This came about owing to the perceived congestion in the park and the pressure it was putting on wildlife and environment. While I, and many others, have opinions regarding the strategy and would like to see a number of changes, it is important to understand that the aims behind it were based on conservation and environmental concerns. However, for now the rules are there. So here’s how to get round them without feeling you need to tie a length of string from the park gate to your bumper upon entering in order to find your way out again.
Decongestion Rule 1: Know what area it applies to….
Decongestion Rule 2: Know and (hopefully) understand the rules
In this section I’m going to simply list the rules as they stand. This is going to be rather boring as, despite my efforts, I really can’t think of a way of making it exciting without throwing in pictures of wildlife for good measure. As such I have pretty well plagiarised it in large parts from official documents. The focus here is on the River route as this is the only route people looking for wildlife normally drive on. So sit up, pay attention and read on. Or just skip to the next bit.
Be low key
Entry into the park should be by booking/reservation, (Sedudu entrance gate), prior to any activity to be conducted in the park. The three routes include the following; the river front route, upper route, (towards Chobe Game Lodge) and Nogatshaa junction route.
The bookings will be done up to a week in advance and confirmation done after 2 days and bookings can also be done up to the last day for walk-in clients provided the number 25 is not exceeded in each route.
This section relates to driving of the River Front Route between Sedudu Gate and Serondela. The other two routes are, on the whole, not attractive to the self-driver who wishes to view game. (I personally enjoy driving the other routes just to be in the bush but it’s not for everyone.) These two other routes do have game passing through them although the nature of the bush, (principally teak forest with limited water sources), means that most self-drivers would most likely prefer the game rich areas of the Chobe River Front, (Sedudu Gate-Serondela) Route. The rules for using this route are as follows:
- Anyone wishing to enter this route can book the route up to one week in advance. However given the nature of having to book at the gate this is not a practical reality for most self-drivers who are not in the Kasane area much time prior to entering into the park. At busier times of the year Sedudu Gate may enforce a limit on the amount of vehicles entering this route but this is not the norm.
- Upon entering through Sedudu Gate the self-driver should follow the route noted on the map below:
- Take the first right at the top of the hill (east) where indicated and follow the road that loops East, then North, then West until meeting with the cross roads for Sedudu Valley and Watercart Loop.
- Turn right on Watercart Loop and drive as far as Chobe Game Lodge where the Watercart Loop road turns left up to re-join the main park road. Turn Right.
- Drive past Game Lodge (on the right) and continue straight towards Puku Flats which is an exit on the right.
- Turn right where indicated towards Puku Flats.
- Continue West towards Serondela. At Serondela there are toilets and a picnic site.
- Should you wish to return to Sedudu Gate drive 500m south to the main park road and turn left towards Kasane.
- Drive straight on the road until you meet the cross roads with Watercart Loop at the bottom of Sedudu Valley and turn right.
- Drive straight and where the road splits take the left fork up the hill to Sedudu Gate.
Self-drivers may enter through Sedudu Gate and use this loop between the hours of 09.00 and 14.30, (year round). Before 09.00 and after 14.30 they are not permitted to be in this area. (These times are reserved for tour operators.)
Decongestion Rule 3: The Strategy resembles a Swiss cheese. It has holes in it.
For reasons that still quite unbeknownst to me, I have taken an interest in trying to understand how it all works. (Probably in the interest of trying to get it all changed.) There are a couple of points that have arisen from questions, (and sometimes interrogations), that I have received over the past couple of years.
- Past Serondela heading west towards Ngoma there are no additional rules, routing systems etc., in place other than the normal park rules. You’re free to go where you want as long as you stick to the rules.
- The main entry and exit points are Sududu Gate, Ngoma Gate and also Nantanga. The latter is the road that runs along the western side of the decongestion area. (When coming from Sedudu turn right opposite the sign indicating Nogaatsha (to the left).) You can enter and exit through Nantanga. If in doubt as to whether you should be in the decongestion area when entering through Nantanga, head north into the park on the Nantanga road and turn left when you get to Serondela.
- If you are a self-driver and have entered at Ngoma and are heading towards Sedudu and the time is after 3pm you are best to exit via Nantanga. While you would be unlikely to see a single vehicle on the river route road as all the game drive vehicles will be entering the park at this time at Sedudu Gate, a wildlife officer may have words with you for being in the area at the wrong time. The routing system doesn’t have a rule for entering the decongestion area from the west, (regardless of whether you are an operator or self-driver). As such it is pot-luck whether you will get pulled up for being there if you enter from the western side.
Be careful of ground nesters - Three banded courser
Giving the Riverfront a Bad Name
It’s a wildlife paradise – how could it get a bad name. Well, you may have heard of Human-Wildlife conflict. However, this is nothing compared to Human-Human conflict. Let me explain…
- The Guides. We have some fantastic guides in Chobe. Like anywhere else however, there are some cowboys. Please don’t encourage a guide to drive off road, get too close to lions etc. Not only could he lose his license, (and his livelihood), you are also endangering yourself and the environment. (For example, how many nests etc might you be driving over when off road? Also, how close will you get before tooth, claw, horn and tusk lose patience with you and demonstrate just how far the car fits down the bush hierarchy?) Any guide who breaks the rules “just for you” isn’t a good guide. Nor is he doing you a special favour. (He probably also did it for his guests yesterday.) He’s an ass and is most likely breaking the rules to get at your tip money.
- Self-Drivers. There is an impression flying round the interweb that we don’t like self-drivers in Chobe - but we really appreciate our self-drive visitors. As with the guides, there are always a small number who blacken the name of the rest. South African self-drivers in particular for example have a generally underserved bad rep. In fact the South African self-drivers can be amongst the most bush savvy of all. However, a small percentage of self-drivers ruin it for others. By way of an example – my colleagues and I have spoken to a number of SA number plates driving off road, setting up picnics anywhere they see fit and generally behaving like they own the place. Don’t be surprised if this behaviour is met with a particular lack of enthusiasm from our side. This might sound harsh but I draw your attention to my “favourite” example: a colleague who had to stop a South African group WINCHING a tree down in the Park. When asked what they were doing they uttered the immortal words “but we just wanted to have a little braai”. Forget the braai; a full intelligence transplant would have been more useful.
The most important thing is that most of us go out to enjoy the Park with a huge respect for the environment. Please don’t be the fool, self-driving or guiding, who behaves like they own the place.
As I hope you have seen – the rules aren’t that difficult. However, while this humble author is of course open to correction and a mild amount of criticism / social media trolling etc., it is more or less accurate as far as I know. Debate is however the best way of improving on any system so please feel free to tell us how we can make it better. As long as we use the park in an environmentally sustainable way we all win. Although we are always working to make things better, it can be a slow process.
Incidences of bad behaviour can be reported to The Chobe Operators Committee on firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographs are very helpful as without them it is difficult to get anything done.
Rest assure we are working to make it better and don’t miss out visiting us whether it be on a mobile safari, lodge safari, day trip or self-drive safari. Chobe is an awesome place to visit, which brings us full circle back to the preposterous title. So what is the only real difference between Chobe and Eden?
Simple. We have more Elephants...
Hailing from Scotland, Clive gave up the suit and tie to go and get lost in Africa. He has lived in Botswana for 7 years and is a director of Safari and Guide Services, (www.sgsafrica.com) – a leading tailor made Mobile Safari Company in Botswana based in Kasane. He is an Honorary Wildlife Officer and also the Secretary of the Chobe Operators Committee which represents the local safari and tourism industry in the Chobe area.
All text and images courtesy and copyright Clive Millar, Safari and Guide Services.
Note, this article was originally scheduled for publication in the Safaritalk Magazine.