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02 January, 2012

Mabuasehube with an Off-Road Caravan

As you all know from previous posts, Mabuasehube Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa,  is no place for the feint hearted. Due to the fact that there is no hotels or self-catering accommodation available, tourists must be completely self-sufficient.

Yep, that translates to CAMPING!

Now, if you’ve missed the previous post about the Mabuasehube Reserve that forms part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, here is a quick recap of the important facts:-

1. The reserve is unfenced. Yes, that means the campsites are unfenced too and visitors often find themselves held hostage by groups of lions.

2. The ablutions consist of pit toilets surrounded by a wooden snail-like structure open at the top and bottom. (If you don’t believe me about the lions, just check out the claw marks on the seats of those toilets.)

3. Mabuasehube forms part of the Kalahari Desert and the roads vary from sandy (and I do mean sandy) highways to deep rutted sandy tracks.

4. Your closest neighbours are often on the other side of the salt pan and more than a kilometre away as the crow flies.

Using an Off-Road Caravan when Visiting Mabuasehube

On our first visit to Mabuasehube we towed a Jurgens Explorer off-road caravan behind a Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 DiD. It was late July after a dismal rainy season and the sand resembled the upper part of a beach where the waves never reach. You know, that part where the hot sand always get into your shoes no matter what you do.

Off-Road Caravan at Matopi, Mabuasehube

It seemed like the best solution at the time as we could carry enough drinking and washing water as well as enough fuel for the four day stay at Lesholoago Pan. We also would be protected by something more than just mere canvas from the predators that roamed the semi-desert landscape. A fact my daughter made full use of by retiring inside when darkness fell and only emerging when morning came.

It also meant we could use our own shower as at that time, the campsite at Lesholoago didn’t have water. Over all, it was a great decision to go to Mabuasehube with a competent off-road caravan. But, as you can guess, it wasn’t all moonshine and roses.

Advantages of Towing an Off-Road Caravan to Mabuasehube 

Please bear in mind these my own experiences of using a caravan. Other people may have different opinions and you’d do well to research them before making a decision.

1. As mentioned before, we had a solid structure to protect us from the elements and predators. During winter, the nights at Mabuasehube is bitterly cold and the temperature often drops to well below zero. Having the protection of the caravan, the cold was barely noticeable inside.

2. We had ample space to carry supplies such as water, fuel and wood inside the caravan.

3. All our amenities were in one place. The caravan comes equipped with a fridge/freezer, washing basin, two plate gas stove, cutlery and crockery, king sized bed and bathroom cubicle.

4. The awning provided shade during the day and protection during the evenings against the dew. It also provided cover for the stove and washing basin.

5. It doesn’t take a long time to stabilize and you can set up camp fairly quickly.

6. The pull-out kitchen made having a cup of coffee or a quick meal along the road, easy as you didn’t have to unpack everything in order to get to the kitchen.

Overall, I loved the idea of the caravan and the convenience it offered.

Disadvantages of Towing an Off-Road Caravan to Mabuasehube

You guessed it, there is a “But” in there somewhere. Towing an off-road caravan that by its nature is a large, heavy structure, does have a number of disadvantages. I suspect many of my complaints about the caravan are of my own doing, but it just didn’t justify the hassles I experienced. Here is why I say that:-

1. Off-road caravans are heavy beasts. Empty it weighs nearly a ton and fully loaded you creep to nearly one and a half tons. Moving that beast around in sandy soil is no picnic. If you consider that my husband and I usually travel alone and that despite my size I am not the strongest person in the world, this caused many grunts and complaints along the way. Even on level tarred surfaces the sheer weight of the caravan was daunting.

Couple this weight with sand dunes not compacted and rutted and you might get this result:

Stuck in Sand Between Nossob and Matopi

Going up a large loose dune, the vehicle in front of us braked suddenly. We had to stop and the digging above was the result. In the end we had to winch both the car and caravan to the top of the dune. We were so intent on getting the vehicle out of the sand, that we stopped checking for predators after a while. On our return we found these two just on the other side of the same dune.

Lions Mating on Nossob-Mabuasehube Road

2. As stated before the roads are heavily corrugated at times. During our first visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the road between Askham and the entrance gate at Twee Rivieren, were not tarred. The corrugations were so bad, people were often asked to drag empty tires behind their vehicles in order to try and tame the corrugations. So our first taste of what corrugations could do to an off-road caravan came relatively early on our trip. By the time we reached Mabuasehube from Nossob, I was getting used to cleaning up inside before we could bed down for the night.

Although the Jurgens Explorer is a competent off-road caravan (and believe me if I say we tested it on a variety of terrains) the inside is still manufactured from a type of hardboard. This means that the thin wooden panels had to withstand an amount of vibration. They often didn’t. I cleaned up mayonnaise, sugar, coffee and various other stuff that simply shook out of the cabinets on the corrugations. Although these items were in closed containers, the locks on the cabinets failed and the contents were shaken out – this was before the time of clip – seal plastic containers. Cleaning up before you could set up camp, prolonged the getting settled process unbearably long after a hard day’s driving.

3. Dust. I hate dust. The clips of the slide windows on the Jurgens Explorer didn’t hold up on tough terrain and would shake the window open. Even the slightest opening allowed the dust to settle on the bedding and we had numerous nights where we had to shake out the bedding first before we could go to sleep.

4. Due to the amount of fuel and water we had to carry to Mabuasehube for consumption, we had little space for other camping equipment inside the caravan, The cabinets inside the caravan is small and being winter, we had to pack our clothes in suitcases which had to go on top of the bed. Camping chairs, table, and various other items also found a traveling space on the nicely made bed. We had to unload this first before we could get some sleep.

5. Accessing the fridge while on the road was a menace. The fridge/freezer is located under the three-quarter sized bed on the nose side of the caravan. You had to lift the bed to get to the fridge. When loaded with items, this proved to be irritatingly difficult. Even when the bed was made, you still had to lift it to access the fridge.

Now, you might say these are petty concerns, but travelling for weeks on end with the same problems, these petty concerns become major irritations. Would I use an off-road caravan to Mabuasehube again? Maybe. You have to decide what is more important to you. For me, I don’t think I’d do it again.


  1. wow great i have read many articles about this topic and everytime i learn something new i dont think it will ever stop always new info , Thanks for all of your hard work!

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