How often do we dream of visiting far-off places and overlook what’s on our very doorstep? This was one of the reasons I chose ‘Go Hiking in 4 New Places in Botswana’ as part of my #40By40 Challenge. The few hikes I’ve done in the past have opened my eyes to the natural beauty of our countryside – the different terrain, diverse sand colours and textures, varied vegetation and abundant birdlife and animal species. A week ago we explored Mogonye which is about 45km from Gaborone on the recommendation of a friend of ours who really enjoyed his hiking experience there a few years ago and spoke highly of the gorge and water pools.
Before we set off in the morning, there were the usual cries of “I hate cereal” and of course every parent’s favourite, “I can’t find my shoes”. Once we found them, the cries quickly changed to “I hate wearing my shoes”. When I threatened to cancel the whole trip, they didn’t seem too bothered so I quickly had to dig up some other threat in my arsenal. Once we were finally out the door, we got onto the Lobatse Road (A1) and took the Mmankgodi Road at the Boatle junction. We soon spotted the Mogonye turn and drove through the village following some faded signs from the National Museum that guided us to the Mogonye-Mmamotshwane Gorge. We were surprised to see quite an elaborate thatched gate entrance to the gorge.
This structure and the camping site were constructed by the Mogonye community through the Ipelegeng (Self-Reliance) Programme in collaboration with the Department of National Museum and Monuments and officially opened in 2014. We were told that the distance from the gate to the Gorge was about 5km but would be too much for the kids. So we opted to drive and the guide accompanied us. The dirt road was very rocky with some sandy sections and dry river crossings. The dominant tree species in the area include the mohudiri (red bushwillow), mosetlha (weeping wattle), mosu (umbrella thorn) and moselesele (sickle bush). We learnt that the Mogonye community uses these trees for different purposes including fencing kraals, harvesting fruits like mmilo and morula for subsistence and income generation as well as gathering medicinal plants like mohatlha (wild camphor) and mokgwapha (mountain aloe).
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
After a 20 minute drive, we got to a slightly open area with the sign “Mmamotshwane Gorge”. This gorge is the largest in the area and has several waterfalls and pools. It is protected by the Monuments and Relics Act (2001) and some of the rules include not littering, respecting the taboos associated with the site and not removing any artefacts, plants or animals.
The hike started off with an easy stretch through the riverine forest of morukuru, motlhatsa and mmupudu trees. The terrain began to change to rocky channels which gradually became framed by beautiful and majestic rocky walls punctuated by a series of dry water holes. We were told that in the summer when the rains are good, the gorge flows constantly but during the dry winter season the flow is very low or non-existent as we found it. There was a section that used to have a rope to assist climbing but has since broken from wear and tear.
The section leading up to the sixth water hole offered a magical side view of the gorge lined by trees with white bark and bristled vertical branches which are said to give an excruciating itch should you fail to utter the words “tshwatshwa” on time.
Around the corner there were steep rock faces draped with small fig trees with incredibly long roots creeping down the crevices. The guide informed us that the gorge had a continuous water flow throughout the year until the sacred tree at the top of the gorge was brutally uprooted by unknown villains in the dead of the night. Opposite the site of the uprooted tree is a large fig tree with massive hornbill-like nests. The guide also explained that it was in this gorge that a woman, Mmamotshwane found refuge during the Batswana-Boer War in 1852. The gorge was later named after her. The last couple of water holes offered some challenging climbing with some slippery slopes that required a bit of crawling on hands and knees. At the top of the gorge the path terminated in a bushy plateau. Although we didn’t see any, some of the wild animals found here include the leopard, kudu, rock-rabbit, baboon and many species of birds and snakes.
The descent had some challenging sections necessitating some bum-sliding down the smooth rock faces much to the delight of the kids! I was a lot more hesitant on these sections and was very grateful for my well-gripping trail shoes. My kids didn’t seem too impressed with my performance and insisted that they needed to walk in front to guide me.
Once we had navigated these steep sections, the walk down was relaxing and calming in an almost spiritual way, making it easy to see why this gorge remains such a sacred area.
We ended our hike with some fried egg and bacon cooked on our potable gas stove in a very well-kept picnic area with tables and benches as well as a clean ablution block. We were the only ones there but the tables are well spread out so had there been more people, it would still have felt quite peaceful. The kids were in very happy spirits and spoke with great excitement about what they had seen and heard. Although the hike from the gate to the gorge would have been wonderful, I’m happy I shared this experience with the kids. We will definitely visit again in the summer after a few rain showers when the area is green and the water flowing.
“A walk in nature walks the soul back home.” – Mary Davis
Planning a visit? This hike is a great family activity as is suitable for kids and adults. For kids under 10 and adults who are less fit, I would recommend driving to the start of the Gorge. The Gorge is open every day from 8am – 5pm. The entrance fee for citizens is P50 for adults, P25 for kids aged 10 – 17 and kids under 10 go free. For residents and international visitors, the fee is P75/ P37.50 and P100/P50 respectively. This includes a guided tour which is useful for a first visit. There’s an added charge for using the designated picnic spot. There’s also a camping site. Although not a requirement I would encourage you to bring a small tip for the guide. For further information, please contact the Mogonye Gorge Gatehouse on 5350004 or 73057669.
I’m joining two amazing runners, Kim from Running on the Fly and Deborah from Confessions from a Mother Runner for their link up, the “Weekly Run Down”. Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired!