Back in the winter of 2020 we tracked the approaching Okavango flood. Now here’s news of the summer rains. Up in the North East of Botswana, Pandamatenga had over 200mm of rain in about one day! As with the flood footage, this comes from Janet in Maun, via her network up there. This time her friend who farms outside Panda.
This water has fallen in the Zambesi catchment, so it will run off to the NE, cross the Zimbabwe border north of Hwange game reserve, flow into the Matetsi river and then into the Zambezi below Vic Falls. The flood will benefit nature, but we will complain it has ruined our ventures. But floods like this are a normal occurrence, though possibly higher than usual as we are changing our climate faster than we can cope with.
Fascinating stuff! That area can be dry as anything, but periodically it can get inundated showing us what it is: A floodplain, a drainage course. This is clearer when looking at it from high above. See the google earth view. It looks like a lake now because of changes we have wrought, such as building up the road, effectively damming the drainage course.
Here’s a pic taken by Janet’s Dad Neil out of a plane window of the kind of rain dump / cloudburst that can dump so much rain all at once:
Last year Maun received none of the floodwaters that usually arrive in winter. The summer rains in Angola 1000km to the north had been poor, and the flood just didn’t get right through the Okavango Delta to Maun; Well below average summer rainfall added to the drought. Rainy season is December to March in Angola and Botswana. So this winter, as word got out that the highlands in Angola had had good summer rain, and knowing that local rainfall had been above average, filling the pans and raising the underground water table, word got out that the flood was a big one and there was a lot of excitement in town.
Everybody who’s like me (!) followed the progress of the water flowing south with great interest. The levels are monitored as the mighty Okavango leaves Namibia and enters Botswana and spreads out into its beautiful delta in the Kalahari desert.
The highlands in central Angola is where the water is coming from – 1000km north as the crow flies. Rain that fell in January and February is reaching Maun in May. It travels the first 700km in about a month, then slows down as it spreads out in a fan in its dryland delta on the sands of the Kalahari.
The focus of the townspeople of Maun was when the floodwaters would reach Old Bridge. My main focus was when it would reach little sis Janet’s home 13km further downstream. We started getting updates when the headwaters of the flood reached the Boro river, which flows into the Thamalakane.
Monitoring the incoming flood was Hennie Rawlinson, a neighbour two doors down from Janet in Tsanakona ward. Janet’s lovely cottage on the river is the feature pic above. Hennie had the inspired idea to turn the event into a fundraiser for WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center by allowing people to follow him daily as he tracked the headwaters. On average the flood moves about 2km per day, but that’s a huge variable, depending on the terrain, the foliage and the water table, the porousness of the sand its moving over, how much its channeled or spread out at that point, etc. Even in a river bed, where it moves quicker, it will reach a pool and have to fill that up before overflowing and moving on. So there can be long hours of ‘no progress’ – no forward progress, that is.
Hennie traveled into the Delta fringe to find the headwaters. Here’s one of his videos:
Then the water reached the confluence of the Boro and the Thamalakane! Great day! But wait! It headed NORTH East! It had to fill up a few pools and only then did it push South East towards Maun.
Much excitement as the water past under the high new bridge across the Thamalakane and approached Old Bridge, a historic landmark with a backpackers and pub just downstream of it on the left bank; and the site Hennie had chosen for his ‘Finish Marker.’ Other denizens of Maun also awaited the flood:
Finally the time came when the pool before Old Bridge started filling up and Hennie decided the flood would flow under it that night. He and a few others got permits to be up all night on the bridge as Maun was under corona virus stay-at-home orders like most places.
They waited all night, along with a crocodile or two. The water took a couple hours longer, and arrived in the wee hours of the next morning:
The fundraiser: The Rawlinsons tallied up all the donations and announced: The final amount we have raised is: P50 511 – We will be handing the money over to WoMen Against Rape and the Polokong center this week. The winner who guessed the time the water would arrive was James Stenner and that couldn’t have been luckier, as he had pledged the prize – a chopper flight over the Delta – to three deserving people of his choice who are involved in research on the delta but have never flown over it! What a mensch! He runs luxury mobile safaris – have a look at his website.
Meantime, further downstream, here’s what the dry river bed looked like outside Janet’s front gate:
We had started our own little competition: When will Janet’s size three clogs get wet? So she went out in them to show us how dry the riverbed was . .
and then when the water started seeping into the grass, showed us the first time her clogs could get wet in many months – a year!
From the air you could see more: the flood was approaching. That’s ‘Wilmot Island’ in the riverbed in the distance – dry – water arriving – water filling up. Over the course of just three days. Janet’s home is in the lower left corner just out of picture.
On the ground her view changed from the one above to:
One of her neighbours in Tsanakona ward made a collage of the view from his gate:
In dry times the river is a road and many streets cross straight across it. When the flood arrives you have to cross at the three big bridges:
And so Maun celebrates and heaves a huge sigh of relief. Residents flocked to the waters, welcoming it and scooping up some from the very front of the headwaters to take home. Pula!! The waters have arrived!
Of course the water doesnt stop till it has evaporated, sunk into the Kalahari sand or been pumped out and used by us humans. It carries on! Onward towards the Boteti and Nhabe rivers, with their endpoints in Lake Xau and Lake Ngami respectively. There it does stop. Those are lowpoints and there’s nowhere else to go.
I may post on that. The headwaters have already reached the split where the Boteti flows SE and the Nhabe SW.
Read how the Okavango may just be the site where humankind originated! Latest mitochondrial research moves the probable origin site of the direct ancestors of people alive today. Fascinating work by an Aussie scientist.
I don’t do DIY. I was going to say except for our wedding, but on reflection, I also did that the way I do everything: Stand back and watch as others do it all, encouraging and applauding while trying to save money.
So Andre Hawarden did the invites:
What I did do was buy the booze and fill Mike Lello’s Isuzu Trooper and trailer with it and drive it out to Barry and Lyn’s farm Game Valley Estates at the foot of the well-known Hella Hella on the Friday. Lots of rain, muddy roads. It had been a wet summer following the huge September 1987 flood.
Like most bachelors when they do fall, I headed off cheerfully to meet my fate, all my own advice forgotten, marching singing to the gallows!
Luckily Saturday cleared up. I always sing ‘The robots change when I go thru, the clouds dissolve and the skies turn blue, and EVERYBODY loves me baby – – – what’s the matter with you!?
And the clouds did dissolve . . It got Sunny. Then Hot. Then Scorching, Humid, Sultry. It felt like all the rain of the big flood was trying to get back up into the clouds.
Barry’s big old 4X4 Ford F150 gave people a tug up slippery Hella Hella Pass so they could get to their lodgings at the nearby Qunu Falls Lodge. The Brauers, the du Plessis, the Reeds, the Schoemans, the Stoutes, the Stewarts. The Hills live nearby. Family stayed in the concrete A-frame lodge on the farm.
The sauna was pitched on the lawn under the Hella Hella mountain.
The Porters were linked up to ESKOM but just because ESKOM has arrived does not mean that when you throw a switch with a flourish that anything will happen. And so it was on our wedding day that ESKOM was feeling a bit off that day and we were without krag, power, lights and fridges.
Enter David Hurle Hill !! He roared off in his bakkie and fetched a huge diesel generator on a trailer. David is a Drrrillerr and will drill you a borehole. In fact his company motto is ‘On The Hole Our Work Is Boring.’ He linked up and threw a switch with a flourish and nothing happened.
She was not wekking, as David Hurle Hill would say.
Enter Enea Spaggiari !! All the way from Italy via Kenya and Petit outside Benoni. He climbed up onto and over and under the trailer and fiddled with wires and threw a switch with a flourish and Let There Be Light! Music! and Cold Beers!
Iona coaches her daughter: Make all the big decisions, but make him think he made them . . . Aitch: Ha Ha I already do that . . .
Then the usual stuff, the ominous music from Jaws: Tun Tun Ta Da!;Tun Tun Ta Da! What? Oh, the wedding march. The father of the bride looks like he’s having having second thoughts; Guys are thinking hm hm hm who’d a thunk this day would arrive?; Ladies are smiling – they seem to enjoy weddings; Aitch saying – ‘Honour? OK; – Obey? Are you mad!?’ and so on. The usual kak.
Then the cake, made by Lyn’s talented friend with a green frog couple in tux and wedding dress – probly a strongylopus and an arthtroleptis. In the heat they keeled over. We should have got a pic, but something like this, just green frogs and not from alcohol:
Then The Lies! You just can’t trust some people. Ten years prior to this I had done a very good job being his best man and if he had paid attention he’d have learned something. Like, to stick to the flattering truth and not tell scurrilous alternative truths that nobody wants to hear. At least nobody called the object of your attentions wants to hear them . . .
Followed by The Truth!, plain and unvarnished:
At last, we could change into shorts and relax and party.
Later came The Getaway:
Which took a while, handicapped as we were. We wore getaway kit appropriate for our intrepid honeymoon. We were headed for Deepest Darkest America.
On the Monday friend Allie Peter flew over Hella Hella in a helicopter and took pics of Rapid No.5&6 looking downstream and then back upstream:
Twenty Five Years Later – 28 Feb 2013 – I wrote to friends:
Crazy, innit! 25yrs ago today Aitch and I got hitched down in the Hella Hella valley in a fun DIY game farm wedding. She made it to 23yrs of married bliss (OK, she might have had something to say at this point . . ) and one month short of 26yrs together. We celebrated that 25yrs-together milestone in August 2010.
Thinking of all you good peeps that made our wedding so memorable – that’s the bachelor days before, the day itself, and the 25yrs since!
Lotsa love – Pete – and now Jessica & Tommy!
BTW, Lyn and Barry Porter of Hella Hella also died in 2011: Lyn in January – also breast cancer; Barry in April – hospital infection; And then Aitch in July.
Dave Hill: I remember it well – I ‘nipped’ home to fetch my generator when the power went off.
Pete Stoute:Remember the week-end like yesterday! Struggling up the other side of Hella Hella to the Qunu Falls hotel in the mud and rain – Dave Hill saving the day with a BIG generator.Will have an extra glass of vino this evening – great mates and good times.
Sheila Swanepoel:Those pics are great. What a wonderful record of a very special day. I remember the incredible heat and how you, Pierre and Pete sneaked off and changed into shorts straight after the ceremony. And how the phone kept ringing in the middle of the ceremony in the house. Linda was flower girl, Robbie was so proud of his brand new red “tight”
. . and Jeff kept putting off going to change, saying that he was charge of the antelope on the spit – he dithered for so long that there was no time to change and that pleased him no end. Bess & I sneaked down to the pool for a kaalgat swim and found Iona had beaten us to it!
Steve Reed: Will always remember the weekend; a great occasion. I think it was thanks to Mike and Yvonne in the 4×4 that we traveled safely back through the mud to our lodgings. Fond memories – raising a glass tonight to all of you!
I remember Brauer chasing a tight deadline speech writing – wise.
Pete Brauer:Damn. Been holding my breath during this stroll thru memory lane hoping that no-one noticed at the time or that no-one would still remember that poor last-minute effort.
Terry Brauer: Steve nothing has changed! PB has his own website called lastminute.com
Steve Reed:Speech was excellent. Not many can compose a wedding speech while putting on a tie with the other hand. Besides, Swannie probably tasked Brauer with the job as he was getting dressed himself.
Terry Brauer:Yip Brauer remains an orator of note and Swanepoel continues to notify me he is coming to stay usually on the day when he lands in Pretoria – 😀 Those old dogs ain’t gonna learn new tricks but love them both! T
Pete Swanie:I had prepared well in advance.
Brauer procrastinated and ignored my two rules: Keep it short; and NO LIES.
Pete Brauer:If I stuck to the latter rule the first would have fallen into place quite easily.
Tanza Crouch: Thinking of you, Aitch, Tommy and Jessy at this time. My spider days at Hella Hella are very special to me and Aitch, Barry and Lyn were very special people.
The old paper album has been scrapped, but here it is in pixels:
As a schoolboy I was keen on kayaking and was tickled by a cartoon depicting a kayak on dry land trailing a dust plume with the caption Kalahari Canoe Club! I kept that on my wall for years. Kayak’ing in the desert was just a joke, right!?
In January 2010 we got to the Kalahari to hear the Nhabe River was flowing strongly into Lake Ngami and Aitch’s twin sis Janet and boyfriend Duncan had organised us kayaks! Hey! Maybe you really could kayak the Kalahari!
A reconnaissance trip to the area with GPS found us a put-in place where we could launch – no easy task as this Kalahari “desert” was knee-deep and chest-deep in green grass after the good rains. We returned the next day with two vehicles, four yellow plastic expedition kayaks and lunch, and set off on the beautiful river, flowing nicely between overhanging trees. It was my idea of Paradise! Green green everywhere, with plants, flowers, grasses and birds all putting on a spectacular show.
everything was green –
Five Giant Eagle Owls peering down at us blinking their pink eyelids from one thorn tree – that was special! As was a big green snake, I guessed over 2m long that came towards me on the bank as I drifted towards it. I was amazed it kept coming. When my kayak’s prow beached it still came on up to about a metre away, grabbed a small shrub in its mouth and only then beat a hasty retreat. A Kalahari Vegetarian Viper? I was thinking till I heard a loud hiss and saw the big flap-necked chameleon he had caught (together with some leaves) in his mouth. I had missed seeing a chameleon in that tiny green shrub! My guess is he was an Angolan Green Snake.
Another memorable sight was rounding a bend and seeing four cows drinking: One all-black, one all-brown, one all-white and one all-tan. They looked so striking against the lush new green backdrop that we remembered the camera but we had drifted past in the current and by the time we paddled back against the current they had dispersed. Here’s the white one:
Lunchtime we ate on the bank sitting on the kayaks. I remember hardboiled eggs and very tasty sarmies, thanks Jan!!
The girls then turned back as the paddling would be much slower against the current while Duncan and I headed on, determined to get into Lake Ngami.
And we did. How spectacular! The trees fell back and the sky opened up and huge reed beds stretched in every direction. Fish eagles cried, ducks scattered before us and herons and cormorants and waders were all over the place. At first we were still in a channel, but after another kilometre or so we could branch into other channels and lagoons out of the main current. We felt like David Livingstone in 1849. Sort of. Better.
Way too soon we had to turn back to get back upstream to the girls and the vehicles.
This is a trip crying out for a multi-day one-way expedition with seconds collecting you at a take-out point on the lakeshore. To do it though, you have to be free to leave at short notice on those rare occasions when the river is up. Or else you’ll be reviving the oldKalahari Canoe Club – with plumes of dust!