There are a few out-of-the-way destinations that have very specific and dedicated followings, particularly among those intrepid South African 4×4 enthusiasts. Like the Van Vuurens who have been camping at Nossob every year since ’98 and return annually like migratory birds to their nests – that kind of thing. Some of these places require ridiculous traveling distances, self-sufficiency and careful preparations. Given that the destinations are often remote and apparently filled with a lot of nothing, the uninitiated may understandably struggle to relate to this madness.

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Gemsbok / Kgalagadi

One such place is the Mabuasehube section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) in Botswana. If you are in the know you affectionately refer to it as Mabua. Situated in the far Eastern part of the KTP, one can access Mabua either via Botswana or from the South African side of the park. Whichever you choose, you are in for a long and remote drive to this legendary wilderness area.

Those viral videos showing lions around, next to and sometimes inside tents? Many of them are from Mabua. The area’s predator density is definitely one of the primary attractions to many adventurers coming this way. It was also one of our excuses for finally investing in that rooftop tent. Those magnificent night-time photos of campsites next to A-frame shelters under starry skies? Also Mabua. We saddled up in summer to find out why so many folks choose to go back year after year.

Male lion / Kgalagadi
Agama / Kgalagadi
Jackal tracks / Kgalagadi

After a pleasantly surprising overnight stop at the Botsalano Game Reserve near Mahikeng in South Africa, we crossed the border, filled up with Diesel and meat (in equal portions as one does) and headed for Mabua via a cutline road. Being rookies, we took only a single spare wheel and as luck or fate would have it, managed to get a neat sidewall puncture before even arriving. I therefore spent our first evening changing tyres on a fully loaded vehicle in deep sand while Simoné braaied a perfectly juicy Lobatse Meat Market steak and kept an eye out for those tent-licking lions. A quick initiation to The Botswana Experience.

Venturing deeper into the area over the next few days we overnighted at remote campsites around the various pans such as Mpayathutlwa, Monamodi and Bosobogolo. These beautiful sites mostly have similar features – no (human) neighbours, a basic shelter, a tap with or without water and some very rustic ablutions. You definitely don’t come here for luxurious facilities. However, the heartbeat of the Mabua experience to us was the immensity of the open spaces, expansive vistas and remote wildness.

We listened to lions calling every night and had the privilege of sharing a campsite with a leopard. We watched as a group of black-backed jackals hunted down a springbok lamb. We experienced the intensity of a Kalahari afternoon thunderstorm. We smelt the rainy damp earth as a family of sodden bat-eared foxes trotted around the pan looking for termites after a storm. We spent hours observing the daily antics of a meerkat family. We napped the hot afternoons away under a Sheperds-tree. We watched Kori bustards looking for snakes against a golden sunset.

Elephant / Mapungubwe

We became accustomed to the slow pace of life and the general absence of Homo Sapiens in this far-flung area. Seeing more than one car in a day was considered busy traffic. So much so that we started realising exactly why it is difficult to make bookings in holiday periods here. It is ironic how far some humans will go just to get away from other humans. But once this particular bug has bitten, it is understandable that tarred and tourist-filled parks play second fiddle to some adventurers. Mad? Most definitely. Mad about Mabua.