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Nxai Pan safari


... is quite a niche and subtle desert experience, a great contrast to the heavy wildlife experiences of the wetlands to the west.

Nxai Pan is a substantial conservation area which covers around 2650 square kilometres on the north side of the main Maun-Nata road in the north of Botswana, opposite the much larger Makgadikgadi National Park.

It is comprised of flat and arid Kalahari bush-veld, but features a three very important networks of salt pans, which are the remnants of ancient saline lakes which have long since dried to leave flat expanses of sodorous crust.

Most startling are the Kudiakam Pans to the southern end of the park, which retain their fierce whiteness, similar to, but without the sheer scale of the remarkable flats of the Makgadikgadi area.

These pans are surrounded largely by fossilised Kalahari dunes, which have long since become vegetated with grasses and modest stands of acacia trees. The dunes contains many smaller pans which fill with water during the green season, enabling herbivores to move in and take advantage of the grazing. In times gone by some of these waterholes would have remained wet year round, but the rivers that feed them have long since dried up.

Both Nxai Pan and Kgama-Kgama Pan further north have lost some of their startling whiteness as grasses have slowly encroached upon their hostile surfaces.

During the Nov/May green season these grasses provide the nutritious grazing that lures in great numbers of animals, most notably zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, springboks, tssesebes and elephants, accompanied by the usual predators lead by lions, spotted hyenas and cheetahs.

Around these pans the soil is more generally clay than sand based, making it more suitable to mopane trees, which run northwards to join the great woodlands of central Chobe.

By contrast the Jun/Oct dry season is a very subtle desert experience, when the pans are dry and the migratory animals have departed, leaving behind a relatively sparse population of desert specialists to struggle through the dry winter months. Of the herbivores only springboks and steenboks remain in any significant numbers, with some lion and hyena also sticking around to prey on them around the few remaining waterholes. Some cheetahs also stick around, springboks being an ideal adversary for them in this wide open landscape. Giraffes, zebras, elephants, lions and other animals may also remain or pass through in small numbers.

Park authorities pump water to the surface in a couple of locations to sustain local game populations, which may slightly distort the natural pattern of animal movements, but that has long since been impeded by the imposition of cattle fences across the country, so this is presently viewed as something worth doing.

Nxai Pan safari

Another major feature of the reserve are the historic Baines Baobabs, a cluster of massive and ancient trees standing proud of the infinite flatness of the pans. They take their name from English explorer and naturalist Thomas Baines, who painted then in 1861. They still look virtually the same to this day.

Being a national park, this is a public access area with other vehicle traffic around and no off-road or night-time driving permitted, all of which have the potential to slightly reduce the quality of important sightings.

When to visit ...

It is important to note that this area has converse seasons to the main safari areas of the Okavango Delta and Linyanti Waterfront, largely because it does not contain any permanent rivers or waterholes, but relies completely on a network of seasonal rain-filled pans.

Nov/Apr ... is the summer green season, the classic period in which to visit, when the pans fill and the land produces luxuriant new grass. At this time wildlife converges into the core areas in large numbers.

May/Oct ... is a fascinating but less obvious time to visit. This is the dry season, when the grass dies back and the pans dry out, causing the wildlife to disperse across a vast hinterland in a bitter struggle for survival.

Read more about when to visit this area ...

Nxai Pan safari

How we like to include Nxai Pan safaris in trips ...

During the Nov/May green season, when the migratory herds should be out here, we usually try to include at least one of the Kalahari areas (Central Kalahari, Makgadikgadi and Nxai) into a safari. Which one of the three usually comes down to a combination of guest preference, cost and availability.

During the Jun/Oct dry season these desert areas tend to be more often overlooked in all but the longest safaris. We most often include the Nxai area in trips during this season when it is included in the Camp K06 discount offer, although it is much more attractive a proposition than simply a way of saving money.

Higher quality safaris usually access the area by light aircraft, with regular services connecting to the main hub airport at Maun, with onward connections to camps in other areas. However it is also possible to arrive by road.

Most visitors tend to stay in just one lodge for 2 to 3 nights.

Nxai Pan Camp ... is perhaps the main draw card for the area, a really good quality facility which is renowned for the high quality of its safari guiding.

Nxai is most commonly combined with one or more camps in the Okavango Delta and Linyanti Waterfront areas. It can also be combined with locations in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Connections to other countries are possible but can be relatively arduous.

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