Mum-of-two Jacquiline Hamilton went back to her roots in beautiful Botswana
At the end of last year, we decided to pack our bags and show our fourteen-month-old twins, Braedon and Lachlan, their African heritage.
The boys were born in Hong Kong in May 2016 and so none of my extended family had met them. This was the perfect opportunity for me to return to my roots, show my boys where I come from, and where I met their Scottish dad. It was three years since I was last ‘home’, so I was pretty keen for a trip back. I couldn’t wait to be tucking into a plate of local food, the Setswana language to swirling around my ears as the never-ending greeting sessions took place around me (seriously, it can take up to ten minutes of a good hearty ‘hello’ in Botswana before the conversation even starts).
Botswana has a population of 2.25 million people and is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Neighbours include South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This beautiful country is covered by the semi-arid Kalahari desert in the south and the Okavango delta – a vast inland river – in the north. During the seasonal floods between May and July, the delta is rich with wildlife. It becomes a lush green haven and is home to vast numbers of elephant, rhino, giraffe, impala and big cats.
For a three-week holiday, we planned for one week in Gaborone, the capital, where most of my family and friends live. Gaborone is the heart of Botswana, with great vibes, restaurants and activities for both parents and kids.
We also booked a second week in the tourist capital of Maun in the north of Botswana for a safari and boat rides on the Thamalakane River – the Thamalakane has no well defined beginning and no clear end as it runs into the Delta.
And we spent the last week in Pilanesberg visiting Sun City and the Pilanesberg National game reserve.
After an overnight pit-stop in Pretoria to recuperate after the 12-hour flight – no easy task with twin toddlers! – we left South Africa mid-morning and drove the four-hour journey to the Ramotswa Immigration border post. From there it was another two hours to the capital.
The moment my parents met the boys was emotional. They had been in Hong Kong when they were born, but because they were premature they had to spend ten weeks in hospital, covered in tubes and could not be touched. We had to get special permission just for them to be allowed into NICU to see them. So to see the boys all grown up and healthy was pretty tear-jerking and quite overwhelming.
We spent our time in Gaborone filling up on the delicious local food and enjoying Botswana Independence Day on September 30. We celebrated by visiting the Lion Park and tucking into a ‘bring-and-Braai’. Botswanans like their meat – food is not food in this country unless meat is involved – and we brought a cooler box filled to the brim. The park is great for families, it has a waterpark and amusement park as well as a lion viewing area (lionspark.co.bw).
Another fun day out was the Mokolodi Nature Reserve. This is a non-profit game reserve and home to a variety of indigenous African game, bird and reptile species, some of which are threatened with extinction. The park has a herd of beautiful southern white rhino which it is trying to breed to re-build the national herd. It hosts disadvantaged children from around the country to teach kids from a young age about the conservation of their wildlife.
A great day was topped off with an evening game drive. We bumped our way along a dirt road in an open-top 4WD in search of wildlife, and we weren’t disappointed. We viewed white rhino, cheetah, mountain reedbuck, giraffes, zebra, red hartebeest, sable, gemsbok, elephant, kudu, impala, spotted hyena, leopard and waterbuck….. Even the sunset was a highlight – the vivid red, orange and yellow dancing behind the trees, silhouetting the winding necks of giraffe reaching for leaves (mokolodi.com).
Far too quickly we were already into our second week. We drove a long, flat, straight 1000 km road for nine hours from Gaborone to Maun. I know, we’re both brave and crazy to travel this kind of distance with two 14 months old babies, but we were compensated with amazing views of elephants, zebras and white rhinos crossing the road. We had to stop the car to let them pass like pedestrians, which was pretty awe-inspiring.
We arrived at Kamaga Safari Lodge that evening and headed straight back out to one our favourite restaurants, The Old Bridge Backpackers Lodge. It’s Prince Harry’s favourite hideaway too, we’ve seen him playing poole a few times with the locals. With the boys running around barefoot, the African sand between my toes, a pint of local beer and a plate of wholesome food that you eat with your fingers, I was an African girl back in her element.
The next day we took a boat trip on the Thamalakane river. This was Botswana in all her graceful glory. The boys squealed with delight as we cruised along, an abundance of bird life chasing our boat.
Next on the list was a scenic flight over the delta with Mack Air Safaris. I had forgotten how beautiful the delta is from above, an endless river weaving its way like a snake through the grasslands. We spotted zebras and elephants, wildebeest and giraffes. The six-seater Cessna plane made for a bumpy flight, so we were glad we hadn’t eaten before boarding.
After a sad farewell we hit the road back to South Africa. We rented a lovely self catering villa at Kingdom Resort which is just a five minute drive to Sun City. Sun City is a huge venue and I would advise making bookings before you arrive – a lot of activities were fully booked when we were there. Entertainment includes hot air balloon tours, safaris, drift trikes, 4WD quad circuits and for the kids, an afternoon at the Wonderland of Water.
We had afternoon tea at the stunning Palace Of The Lost City, a five star hotel. We definitely stood out as Hong Kongers here, taking pictures of the cakes and rearranging the tea stand for the best shot.
It had been an amazing trip and we will definitely be back.
What to do… in Gaborone
- Sanitas plant nursery and cafe, Botswana’s oldest nursery and tea garden close to the Gaborone Dam. There is a cafe and playpark for children, sanitas.co.bw
- If you’re into hiking, check out the Kgale Hills.
- For a bit of culture, find out about Botswana’s presidents at the Three Dikgosi Monument, or check out the Botswana National Museum for arts and culture.
What to do… in Maun
- Safari destinations safaridestitation.net
- Mac Air Safari macair.co.bw
- Kamanga Lodge and safaris
- Maun Lodge
- Old bridge backpackers
What to eat
- Phalestshe (maize polenta)
- Seswaa (slow-cooked beef, pounded into shreds) and Morogo (local type of spinach) Dikgobe (traditional samp and beans with beef stew)
- Magwinya and Serobe (fat cakes and beef tripe)