Driving in the bush
Maneuvering the gravel roads and sand tracks of Botswana certainly requires some practice. Awareness of the common pitfalls - and what to do about them - can be of great help.
Driving on gravel
Many people tend to over-estimate the speed they can travel on gravel roads. Do not exceed 80kph. You may be deceived by a good section of road, only to come up against a huge crater-like pothole, a rock, a boulder, a patch of heavy sand, or an animal. Wherever you are, always be on the look out for domestic or wild animals suddenly darting across the road.
The dust raised by an on-coming vehicle, an over-taking vehicle, or cars or lorries moving slowly in front of you creates another potentially dangerous situation, as your vision is radically reduced. Put on your headlights, reduce your speed until you can see, or if necessary, pull over to the side of the road until the dust settles.
Driving on sand
Before setting off, familiarize yourself with engaging four-wheel drive, experiment with various gears, and if possible, try out some sand patches to see how the vehicle handles them. Your type of vehicle will also affect how you drive. Land-Rovers and Land Cruisers are heavy, solid vehicles and less likely to turn over than lighter 4x4 vehicles. Always keep both hands on the wheel.
Driving on sand requires continual concentration, as conditions are constantly changing. When you see a rough patch ahead, slow down and change down a gear before you meet it but do not stop.
Many sand tracks are corrugated and driving along them is rather uncomfortable. Reduce your speed considerably, or you will find your head hitting the roof, your supplies bouncing up and down, the suspension on your vehicle damaged and your back aching.
Driving in deep sand can be made easier by lowering the air pressure in the tyers to increase the gripping area.
Also if you get stuck in the sand and you can't get out using your driving expertise, a wrench would help. If however there are no trees around, then take your spare wheel, dig a hole in the ground, put the spare wheel in the hole and hook the wrench to the wheel. Seal back the hole and you will have enough power to get out. (This is an interesting tip from an experienced bush-driver).
Driving in mud
Do not over-estimate the power of four-wheel drive in mud - it is more difficult to extricate yourself from mud than sand. Some areas have the infamous 'black cotton soil' which, when wet, is notorious for bogging vehicles down axle-deep in mud. One such area to be careful of is the stretch between Khwai River and Savuti. Be especially mindful during the rainy season. If the soil appears wet and black, try to go around it over a dry patch. You might even pre-test it by walking over a small stretch - the top may appear caked and dry while underneath the soil is wet and slippery.
Driving on pans
Pans can be particularly deceiving. The surface may appear white, hard and dry, while underneath the soil is wet and muddy. It is best to drive only on existing tracks, or if this is not possible, stay close to the shore-lines.
If you do become stuck in sand or mud, first dig out from under the wheels with a shovel, then place sticks and logs under the wheels to give them traction. If necessary, jack the vehicle up to place sticks and logs further underneath the wheels. A hydraulic jack can be used to jack up the wheel itself by placing it in the rim of the wheel, but take care as the jack slips easily and the handle can suddenly fly up.
Driving in the parks and reserves
Perhaps the best frame of mind to cultivate in Botswana's parks and reserves is that you are now in the animals' territory and not your own. Respect for the animals is essential.
Allow a good distance between the animals and your vehicle. Do not get out of your vehicle when on game drives, unless it is absolutely necessary and do not go very far. The speed limit in Botswana's game parks is 40kph. Off-road driving is NOT allowed.