Kubu Island

A quick email exchange with the booking office assured us that Kubu Island was open. Hooray! A 3 hour drive took us to the office in Mmatshumo, where we paid and got instructions about which tracks to use. Then we were on our way.

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Kubu Island here we come

We first saw Kubu Island on the Top Gear Botswana special, where the gang drove across the full 70km width of the salt pan to get there. The place looked stunning and so it was on our ‘must see’ list for our trip. As we were here just after the rains, we couldn’t cross the whole pan as it was still too wet, and in any case it would probably be daft to do it on our own even in the dry season. But we could cross the pan from the south and this road was safe for a single vehicle. The track started off as sand between bushes but then we hit the edge of the pan. It was beautiful.

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Crossing Sua Pan

Sua means salt and the place wasn’t short of it…

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Salt crystals on the pan

It was strange driving across the pan. It was firm but the salt crust crackled under the wheels, and the wide open landscape around us was just an amazing place to be. After 2 and a half hours we finally saw the island. An outcrop of granite about 1km long and 15 metres high.

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Approaching Kubu Island

We just about got there for sunset, after quickly registering and finding a camp site under a shady African Star Chestnut Tree. The following morning we got up early and walked around to the other side if the island to watch the sunrise across the pan.

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No need for words

We walked back to camp up and over the top of the island, visiting some of the ancient Boabab trees that are scattered across it.

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Huge old Baobab tree

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This one reminded us of an elephant

They are the most incredible trees, some of which seem to have grown literally out of the rock and some had lifted rocks up amongst their roots and branches.

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Unfortunately the island was also covered in a patchwork of low scrub, herbs and grasses, several of which had savage barbs or finely-hooked seed heads which stuck into our skin and clothes, the latter slowly burrowing their way deep into the fabric and jabbing into our legs. We ended up scratched to pieces and pulling sharp seed heads out of our clothes for days!

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Every rose has its thorn…

After lunch we copied our photos across to the laptop. As Angela sat there, PC in lap, a Violet-eared Waxbill flew onto the arm of her chair, then onto the top of the laptop. The warden later told us they were after water, so we filled up the frying pan from our Trangia for them. The starlings found it first, same as at home, and then the other birds, including the waxbills, joined the party.

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You’re meant to drink it, not sit in it…

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Not quite what the Trangia was designed for…

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A pair of Violet-eared Waxbills

As well as lots of birds there were plenty of insects and other small creatures around. This fella had made a home on our route to the drop toilet. Even Angela had to admit that he was pretty handsome. We’ve read that the zig zag in the web is probably there so that birds, etc can see it and don’t fly through and destroy it.

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Amazing spider

In the afternoon we recced the island for the best spot to photograph the sunrise. Then we got dinner on and left it slowly plopping on the fire while we went out to watch the sunset. We walked right out on the pan, opened some sparkling wine that we’d bought especially for the occasion, sat on the damp salt pan and supped as the sun sank below the horizon. Magic.

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We then turned our backs on the island and waited for the moon. It was full and one of the most beautiful moon rises we have ever seen.

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We lay on the pan and watched the stars before the moonlight bleached them out, with a gentle warm wind blowing across the pan to keep us cosy. Awesome.

As we headed back to the island, the heat radiating from it was palpable. Not surprising as the rocks had been baked in the hot sun all day. Our curry awaited us, followed by an early night ready for another sunrise. We’d left the water tray out and during the night a Jackal came and had a nervous drink. 

We had a perfectly clear sky for the sunrise. We’d found a spot where we could watch and photograph it from behind the Baobabs on the island shore, imitating many a photo from previous visitors.

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Kubu at dawn – the best place we’ve visited in Botswana

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The pan was stunning in the early morning light.

Reluctantly we broke camp and left Kubu Island behind us, to head south once more. As we drove back across the pans we came across a couple of South Africans who were stuck up to their axles in the mud. They had a shiny new Ford Ranger, fully kitted out with all the off-road gear you could think of. But they’d made the mistake of leaving the track and had paid for it. Twice! They’d already been stuck further back and had spent the night out there. Someone else had pulled them out this morning only for them to make the same decision again with the same result – what do people say the definition of insanity is again? They had a winch so we attached that to our car and, after Gareth helped them dig the wheels free, they slowly reeled themselves across to the path. We encouraged them to stay on the path this time and left them to it. Hopefully they’re not still out there…

Kubu Island was a truly magical place. We’ve heard that, to protect the site, they are building a new campsite nearby and once it is open you won’t be able to camp on the island, only visit it. We feel very lucky and privileged to have stayed there.

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