Wednesday, 04 December 2013 14:03

Chobe versus Hwange - exploring the pros and cons

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Being a Zimbabwean myself and having grown up visiting places like Hwange regularly I tend to have a very strong allegiance to our own National Parks.  This you might say would render me not entirely objective in my ability to compare Chobe, Botswana with Hwange, Zimbabwe, two parks in similar proximity to Victoria Falls.  However, I did have the pleasure of co-managing (with my partner Suzanne) a large ground handling safari operation in the Chobe area for nearly two years in 2008 and 2009.  We were based in Kasane, had a fleet of 25 vehicles, 10 boats and 50+ staff underneath us and being the largest operation in the area we were intricately involved in Chobe’s safari and tourism industry.  And so, I believe as result of that experience, I am fairly well placed to give a balanced view of both parks.

Let me start by saying that both Chobe and Hwange are world renowned parks in their own right.  Between Chobe and Hwange the elephant density is said to be the largest in Africa with some estimates saying this could as high as 60,000 elephants.  In fact it is known that some elephants do indeed move between the parks crossing private safari or forestry areas that lie between them.  I am writing this article not so much to try and convince you the reader of which park is the ‘better’ one to visit.  I would prefer that the words stimulate your mind and help you make a decision that is best suited to your needs when you go on safari to this region.

Chobe National Park is approximately 1,5hrs drive west away from Victoria Falls.  It is probably Botswana’s second most popular safari destination after the Okavango Delta and covers an area of 11,700 square kilometres. To get there one can take a transfer bus from your hotel in Livingstone, Zambia or Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  Going from Zambia means that you need to get on a boat to cross the Zambezi, where four countries meet (one of only two places in the world where this occurs) i.e. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia (the eastern most tip of the Caprivi strip).  Travelling from Zimbabwe means a land crossing at the Zimbabwe/Botswana border in Kazungula.  Both routes lead you to Kasane town (just outside Chobe NP) where there are numerous hotels and lodges.  There is only one lodge in Chobe National Park itself.  There are a number of safari companies based in Kasane that offer game drives and river cruises into Chobe.  Practically all of these operators concentrate their game drives or boat cruises along a 20km stretch of the north eastern part of the park that borders with the Chobe river and Namibia.  As there are no significant waterholes inland you find that the game concentrates in this area due to the life giving waters of the river.  The frequency and variety of good game sightings here is phenomenal and what makes a visit to Chobe so attractive.  The downside is that all the vehicles and boats are concentrating in this relatively small area, so chances are that you will share your sightings with quite a few other people.  Kasane operators have mainly capitalised, over the years, on the day trip market from Victoria Falls and Livingstone.  Whilst there are various accommodation options the bulk of travellers come into Chobe for a 2,5-3hr game drive in the morning , followed by lunch at one of the hotels and then a 2,5-3hr boat cruise in the afternoon before heading back across the border again.  This makes the experience somewhat mass market oriented and the quality of guiding can be affected as a result.  Walking is also a distinct rarity in Chobe.

Hwange National Park is approximately 1,5hrs drive south away from Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe.   It is one of Zimbabwe’s premier safari areas and covers an area in excess of 14,600 square kilometres.  To get there one can take a transfer bus from Victoria Falls to Hwange Main Camp on wide tar roads.  At Hwange Main camp most people are then collected in a 4×4 game drive vehicle from the lodge or camp that they are going to stay at in the park.  At the moment there are still only a few people that do a day trip to Hwange and tour operators prefer to build this park into a package with at least two nights (preferably three) spent here.  Hwange does not have any major rivers running through or bordering the park.  To compensate for this the park has a number of man made waterholes that are pumped with borehole water using a combination of diesel, solar and wind pumps.  The diesel pumps do make a knocking noise that can detract from the peaceful surroundings a little.  The beauty though of having scattered waterholes all over the park plus a wide road network means that traffic in the park is well dispersed over a very large area.  Most camps and lodges are also located on their own private concessions meaning that when you stay at them you are unlikely to see many people other than those in camp.  Game drives do sometimes go over the borders of the concessions into public parts of the park, but as mentioned above the scattered waterholes and wide route network manages traffic well.  Zimbabwe is renowned for its excellent guiding (it takes at least 4 years to become a professional) and Hwange is no exception.  Each camp or lodge typically has at least one professional guide in residence.  Learner guides are also very knowledgeable and eligible to take game drives.  Aside from game drives the opportunity to walk in Hwange is something not to be missed.

So in closing let’s look at the main pros and cons from each park again:

CHOBE

Pros

  • Easily reachable from Victoria Falls
  • Offers both a water based and land based safari experience
  • Conveniently set up to cater for day trippers
  • Excellent wildlife sightings even for day trippers, with excellent chances of seeing big game, including elephant, cheetah, lion and leopard
  • Those that are able to stay in Chobe for longer than a day may be rewarded in that their game drives and boat cruises may be less congested as they are in the park at a different time to the day trippers.
Cons

  • Limited route network for game drives
  • Game drives and boat cruises are operated in a small area of the park
  • Somewhat mass market safari tourism
  • Guiding abilities may not be as good as elsewhere in southern Africa
  • Only one lodge located in the park itself
HWANGE

Pros

  • Excellent road route network that manages traffic well
  • Well positioned waterholes that have excellent game viewing
  • A variety of fantastic camps and lodges catering for all budgets
  • Excellent learner and professional guides that ensure a memorable and personal safari experience.
  • Superb opportunities to walk in the park with a professional guide
Cons

  • Diesel pumps at some waterholes can hinder the peace
  • Not ideally geared for day trippers from Victoria Falls
  • Limited to a land based safari experience only
  • A day trip to Hwange may not yield as high a number of big game sightings
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