Makgadigadi Pans National Park & adjoining Salt Pans


If you are one of those that takes heart in complete and unrelenting silence, in a clear night sky studded with a million stars, in a feelings of total isolation where there is not else to do but self discovery, in a land where flamingos breed and springbok, gemsbok, wildebeest and zebra move listlessly from the pans in the south east of the park, to the Boteti River on the western side in thousands during their migration then you have to spend time in the stunning Makgadikgadi pan. You can also spend time on Sowa Pan finding stone-age tools in the middle of nowhere and leaving them for others to discover. The perennial pools of the river attract waterbuck, bushbuck and resident hippos.

The area was once a superlake almost 100 feet (30 metres) deep, over an area of 30,888 sq. miles (80,000 square km). The climate changed and 10,000 years ago Lake Makgadikgadi started to dry up. As the water evaporated, huge glistening salt-encrusted pans were left. The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park includes a portion of these enormous Makgadikgadi Pans, which are almost devoid of human habitation. Journeying into this magical land and across the desolate pans, you somehow feel its ancient mystique. The subtle hues at sunset transform Makgadikgadi into a surreal wonderland.

The park contains four main vegetation types; riverine woodland, scrubland, pure grassland and salt pans. The pans support palm groves and peculiar looking Baobab trees whose branches look more like roots, giving rise to the name ‘upside down tree. These are interspersed with short spiky yellow grass found on rises between the pans, known as ‘prickly salt grass’. This is extremely saline resistant to the extent that salt crystals can sometimes be seen on the leaves. The interior of the reserve comprises scrub and grassland with a few ‘islands’ of Real Fan Palms and Camel thorn acacia.

From April to November game such as springbok, gemsbok, wildebeest and zebra move slowly from the pans area in the south east of the park, to the Boteti River on the western side. During this migration animals accumulate in their thousands. The heavily wooded areas beside the river also contain shy antelopes like duiker and bushbuck.

If the rains arrive with enough force and river water floods into the Makgadikgadi salt pans, there is nowhere more complete in its transformation than here. Tiny crustaceans hatch and algae blooms to provide food for the largest breeding flocks of greater and lesser flamingos in Africa. The surface of the pans turns a deep pink from 30,000 breeding pairs of these birds. This occurs mainly in the pans to the east of the National Park, particularly Sowa Pan. Other water birds are also abundant and a good place to see them is at Nata Bird Sanctuary, just off the main road at the northern end of Sowa Pan.

As animals and birds are most prevalent during the rainy season in areas normally inaccessible by vehicle, the prime objective in visiting this reserve is not to view game, but to experience true remoteness and absolute isolation.

November to March the pans fill up and retain water until April or May. It is extremely dangerous to venture into the pans during the rainy season unless you are with a guided experienced in the area. During a low-rainfall year, May, October and November are also acceptable. This area gets very hot during the day (up to °F (40°C), but is mild and pleasant at night. April to September is the dry season with strong winds from August to November. From April to July game viewing is best within the park and after that it moves to inaccessible areas. March to September are the best months to experience the pans. Winter is very pleasant during the day but ice-cold at night.

Facts

  • It was proclaimed a game reserve in 1970 and in 1992 its boundaries were extended and it was given National Park status.
  • The Makgadikgadi Pans National Park covers an area of 1,891 sq. miles (4,900 sq. km) but the pans outside the national park are the largest salt pans in the world exceeding 4,633 sq. miles (12,000 sq. km).
  • This is a malarial area.
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