Most bush-lovers know that when you’re sitting in your car on a game drive and a massive elephant bull wanders up the road towards you, the sensible thing to do is back off slowly and give him all the space he wants in case he decides you’d make a convenient trunk rest or roll toy.
Very few of us, however, have ever entertained the thought of sitting comfortably within a trunk-swing of a double handful of them, listening to their rumblings with an icy drink in hand.
In the east of Botswana, fifty kilometres north of the ever-popular (and sometimes overcrowded) Nata Lodge, lies a 16000 ha private conservancy called Elephant Sands offering very affordable campsites and simple chalets. More importantly, Elephant Sands is part of the elephant migration route between Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana, and owner Ben Moller has provided these thousands of wandering pachyderms the best reason to swing by: fresh water throughout the dry season.
Every day during the dry season, driver Benjamin Mpinyane heads out with a five thousand-litre Jojo tank to the nearest water point, 30 km away. It takes him over an hour to fill it up before heading back again and transferring the water to the specially-built water-trough for the five-ton wanderers rushing in from miles around to slurp up the fresh, salt-free alternative to the water that’s naturally available to them if they dig. Each adult elephant can consume up to 200 litres of water per day, and with dozens of them at the trough at a time Benjamin fills his Jojo four or five times a day and is still hard-pressed to keep up.
What his and the rest of the staff at Elephant Sands efforts add up to though, is the unique opportunity to sit, entirely relaxed (and in relative luxury), in the presence of wild elephants, watching and experiencing their intimate communications and interactions.
The water trough is situated directly in front of the restaurant, bar and pool area, but the action isn’t limited to these areas. An unfenced campsite means you might want to think twice about complaining if your four-legged neighbours munch their way through the tree you’ve camped under, and although elephants might be the most frequent and obvious attractions, they’re not the only visitors you might encounter in the night.
In the dry season especially, wild dogs and spotted hyenas brave enough to dodge giant angry feet are regular visitors too, and if you keep your eyes open and are really lucky you might just spot the resident leopard as she wanders past reception in the early hours of the morning at any time of year.
So, instead of moving out of the way whenever Dumbo makes an appearance, take a turn past Elephant Sands and get to know him, and perhaps a few of his buddies, from an entirely different and especially memorable angle.
Elephant Sands offers visitors the unique opportunity to photographs elephants from right up close. Even a shorter telephoto lens like a 70-200 mm will allow you to capture detail such as trunk wrinkles and elephants’ eyes. However, since the elephants are so close, I found myself using either a 24-70 mm or a 10-22 mm lens. The 24-70 mm worked very well for elephant portraits, especially when they stand right in front of you with their trunks lifted, while the 10-22 captured the animals in these somewhat surreal surroundings. Photographing people around a bonfire at night with a herd of elephant no more than 10 metres away is a sight to behold! If you’re itinerary allows for it, visit when the moon is full and bring a tripod along.
If I want to go:
Where? Elephants Sands Private Conservancy approximately 50 km north of Nata, Botstana.
GPS co-ordinates: S19.74919° E26.07127°
When? Elephants visit right throughout the year, but most of the action takes places during the dry season (June – October).
Twin chalet: R594/chalet/night
Family chalet: R715/chalet/night (4 pax)
Government bed levy: R11/person/night
• Small camping ground with communal unisex ablutions, no electricity and very little shade.
• Bar, restaurant, salt swimming pool and chalets all located around the waterhole.
• Electricity and free wifi only available certain times of the day.
Phone: Inge Dijkstra on +267 734 45162 or Roan Claase on +267 730 79896
TOP TIPS: Stay for more than one night!
You could easily stay here for three nights during the dry season and not get tired of sitting at the waterhole, watching as herd after herd comes in to quench their thirst.
Check out the March 2013 issue of Getaway Magazine for a feature on our favourite waterholes in Southern Africa, including Elephant Sands.
Info about the authors
“Tabby Mittins and Villiers Steyn both studied Nature Conservation and now work as freelance travel writers for South Africa’s top travel and outdoor magazines. The job allows them to combine their passions for travelling, writing and photography as they journey from one wild place to the next, exploring Southern Africa’s most beautiful natural destinations.”
Please visit www.villierssteyn.com and www.visionphotography.com