Botswana, a landlocked country in Southern Africa, has a landscape defined by the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, which becomes a lush animal habitat during the seasonal floods. The massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve, with its fossilized river valleys and undulating grasslands, is home to numerous animals including giraffes, cheetahs, hyenas and wild dogs.
Botswana: Nata Bird Sanctuary
Opened in 1993 Nata Bird Sanctuary is home to about 165 bird species.
It was now time to launch ourselves into Botswana, our first stop being the small town of Nata, about 300km southeast of Kasane on the road to Francistown. Henny has told us that the road has tarmac and was in reasonable condition up to Francistown and after that, things started to go downhill in terms of road conditions. We had that to look forward to the following day, for now, it was to make hay while the sun shone. As foretold the road to Nata was okay. We’d seen many termite mounds during our adventures in Thailand already, but the one on the side of the road to Nata was spectacular. Firstly, they were bright white due to the white clay soil that predominates in the area and secondly, they were so tall – like gleaming white skyscrapers.
There is not much to Nata, so we did a brief stop to refuel and then made our way to our overnight stop at Nata Lodge. It was about lunchtime when we arrived, so as soon as we’d checked in, we scanned the menu for anything suitable for us Hoblets. The food was largely westernised; pizzas, burgers etc none of which we really fancied. As we had stocked up before leaving Kasane our food supplies (and beer) were good, so we decided we’d self-cater while we were at Nata Lodge. Our cooking equipment was a propane tank with a burner we could screw onto the top – so was highly portable.
Our room was a canvas ‘tent’ on a wooden platform. We’d stayed in a few of these ‘glamping’ tents before, but this was quite basic – but we were only here for one night, so it wasn’t an issue.
After resting a bit, we decided to drive a few miles to the Nata Bird Sanctuary.
We were here in the dry season, so waters of the pan were very low. This was not the breeding season for flamingos, but we thought we’d go and have a look anyway.
At the entrance gate we paid the dues and asked the lady at the office where to go and she pointed us to a long dusty road that disappeared towards the horizon. There were no trees just a few scrubby bushes and dust. I was keen to try the Chobe out in off-road conditions, and this looked perfect. So, off we went.
As we drove along, we noticed a couple of male ostriches off the road, so I took a little detour from the main road to get a closer look. They were a little shy, but we did manage to get a closer look before they trotted off into the distance.
There didn’t appear to be anyone else around. If we’d broken down it would have been interesting, but we did have the satellite phone and all the camping gear with us. After about 5km we reached the pan (a term used in this part of the world for a waterhole – which can be large). There was a large viewing shelter, which was having a new thatched roof put on. Back in the UK, there is a real shortage of craftsmen who can thatch roofs. No such problem here in Africa – these skilled men could earn a good salary in the UK! The pan was very dry, and the waters had receded a long way, so I decided to take the Chobe down the dune and onto the sandy shore – hoping that we didn’t get stuck. Luckily, we didn’t, and we were able to drive close to where the waters lapped gently onto the shore. Not far out from where we parked was a sandbank on which a dozen or more pelicans were roosting. I admit I didn’t get too excited as I have seen pelicans many times, including one winter’s day when we were staying at Sundance Meadows during a snowstorm. But it was nice nonetheless and there were some storks also wading in the shallow waters.
After watching this serene scene for several minutes, it was time to see if we could get back up the sandbanks. I revved the engine and went for it – and the Chobe made it back up with ease.
We decided to take a different path back to the gate. The road followed the outside of the pan for a couple of kilometres before diverting back towards some farmland. Hiding in the shade of a small grove of trees that had taken the opportunity of being near a small brook to grow, were a handful of blue wildebeest. We pulled over to take some photos, and then I spotted a kori bustard close by. This bird had become a bit of a signature sighting for our African tour.
Eventually, we made it back to the gate and headed back to Nata Lodge.
About Nata Bird Sanctuary
The Nata Bird Sanctuary is a reserve which covers an area of 230 km². It is situated on the north-eastern fringe of the Sowa Pan, 20 km south of the town Nata. Nata Bird Sanctuary was founded in 1992 with the goal to preserve wildlife, especially bird species. It is one of only three nesting places for flamingo in Africa.
The protected area is run by a trust, the Kalahari Conservation Society. It is a community project of several communities, who directly profit form the income.
The Sowa Pan (also called Sua Pan) to which the Nata Bird Sanctuary borders is one of three large depressions within the Makgadikgadi region. After the rainy season, when the pan receives influent flow from the Nata River, enormous amounts of water birds have their breeding grounds here. Many pelicans and over 250.000 flamingos can then be found here. Overall 165 different bird species can be found within the Nata Bird Sanctuary.
Apart from birds many antelopes like kudu, oryx, springbok, red hartebeest, eland, impalas, but also hyenas, zebras, baboons, jackals and many more are found in the Nata Bird Sanctuary.
Visitors can stay over at Nata Lodge or on the campsite close to the park entrance. The campsite offers barbeque areas, toilets and showers.
During the dry season the roads are easy to travel on. During the rainy season driving on the pans can be tricky and a 4×4 is highly recommended.
Planning your visit to Nata Bird Sanctuary
|Fees:||$7.63 non-citizens of Botswana|
Best time to visit Nata Bird Sanctuary
During the wet season (roughly November to March), water fills these salt flats, and they become a haven. According to Birdlife Botswana, after good rains, a host of waterbirds converge on these pans’ nutrient-rich waters, including Chestnut-banded Plovers, Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans
Where to stay
Nata Lodge is a guest lodge situated about 10 km from Nata village, close to the Nata Bird Sanctuary in the area of the famous Makgadikgadi salt pans. The lodge offers accommodation in 22 thatched chalets and 10 safari tents. Campers will find a large camp ground.
Nata Lodge has a restaurant with A-La carte menus and traditional African braais. The restaurant hosts a bar which is overlooking the swimming pool. Additionally there is a small curio shop. There are free Wi-Fi hotspots for guests staying at the lodge.
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