Pitch your tent under a baobab on Botswana’s Kukonje Island and enjoy the surprising beauty of the stark salt pan. It’s just as beautiful as the more well known Kubu Island. By Boudewijn de Roo
Featured picture: Hannes Thirion
Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions continue to be in place, but we won’t stay homebound forever. We’re sharing stories to help you plan your next adventure for when borders open up again.
The Department of Wildlife for Botswana in Maun don’t know where Kukonje Island is or anything about it. The same with tourist information in Kasane.
The internet gives very little information other than a BF Goodrich advertisement that says you require BFG tyres to get there! But it does say that it is as beautiful as Lekhubu Island (Kubu Island) on the opposite side of Sua Pan which everybody knows about and visits.
So did we, 10 years ago. We tried to reach Kubu Island by driving over the pan from the north. We got about three-quarters of the way and had some pretty scary and narrow escapes before turning west and getting off the pan to take the more conventional track. Please don’t try it.
Also read: An expert’s guide to the Makgadigkadi Pans
I promised myself I would never drive on Sua Pan again. Yet now I was planning to visit Kukonje, an island hardly anyone visits and about which little information is available. And all of that in a 2×4 camper van. Needless to say, I slept very badly the previous night and had all kinds of visions of what could go wrong.
The road to Kukonje
The night before departing for Kukonje, we slept at Pelican Lodge just east of Nata, which has excellent camping. I enquired at reception about Kukonje Island. Excellent road I was told. The receptionist seemed to know what he was talking about, yet I hardly dared to believe him. Tracks4Africa shows two options to get there. He was adamant that I take the one from the Dukwi Veterinary Control Gate.
At this control gate I enquired again with the official on duty. Yes, he said, excellent road all the way to the island. Mustn’t I let air out of the tyres? No, not necessary. And how right everybody was. We drove 50km at 60km/h, except for two river crossings which were dry since it was in September. The 6km crossing on the pan was also completed without problems.
Campsite with views
On arrival there was a sign at some huts saying “Report at reception” and a display of tariffs, P100 pppn. There was nobody so we proceeded to campsite 1 on the western edge of the island. All campsites have a good, clean and acceptable long drop toilet, a concrete table with benches and good shade. Campsite 1 has the best view but the others have more picturesque baobabs. The campsites are much better than Kubu was 10 years ago. The island is just as beautiful and bigger, but Kubu has the ancient rock walls and more baobabs. The well that is shown on the Tracks4Africa map is in disuse but does have water in it. A challenge to reach it though.
An hour before sunrise we walked 1 hour due west over the pan to watch the sunrise over our campsite. When jumping you create a mini earthquake for metres around. The soft mud is right under the surface and would not support a vehicle at that point, almost 5km offshore.
It is impossible to explain how “nothing” can be so beautiful! What a surprise to hear my phone delivering a message at this point. Instinctively I looked around me, as I’d thought there was no reception here. It was my birthday.
On departure there was still nobody at reception. As it is a community campsite and they had done an effort to supply a facility, we felt it should be rewarded. We left our money under the tomato ketchup bottle in the cooking hut.
If you’re planning to explore Botswana, our Botswana Self-Drive Guide Book is essential reading. It not only features destination information and accommodation listings, but also detailed maps for trip planning. It explains the ins and outs of Botswana’s vet fences and what they mean for overlanders, plus provides useful information on places to visit, sights to see and where to sleep.