Other-worldly island in a sea of salt


KUBU Island is one of the most astounding places you will ever see. It is eerie; desolate; other-worldly! British broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson once commented, this is “just about the most astonishing place I’ve ever been,” and he’s right!

Kubu Island, or Lekhubu as it is locally known, is a kilometre wide granite island or outcrop surrounded by a sea of salt – the Sowa pan, part of Botswana’s immense Makgadikgadi Pans. At 12,000 km2, the Makgadikgadi is one of the world’s largest salt pans – the same size as Israel’s Negev desert or the Falkland Islands.

A mysterious granite outcrop, littered with fossil beaches and providing a throne for large boulders and striking baobab trees to lord it over the featureless landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see…

It therefore goes without saying that getting to Kubu is a challenge. One usually attempted in a 4WD; and with more than one vehicle. The most common route to Lekubu is from the vicinity of Johannesburg or Pretoria in South Africa via Parr’s Halt or Martin’s Drift border crossings. Martin’s Drift is most likely the easiest, particularly because it starts operating at 6am in the morning, compared to Parr’s Halt, which only opens at 8am. Both close at 4pm.

Tip: Border officials will seize meat and fresh fruit if located during a search.


The total trip from Pretoria to Orapa, via the dusty towns of Palapye, Serowe and Letlhakane, takes about 10 hours. For the final stretch onto the salt pans it is best to deflate the 4WD’s tyres to about 1,5 bar – and make sure the coordinates on the GPS is accurate. You do not want to be caught on the salt pans in the sweltering midday sun – dehydration will set in rapidly and can be fatal.

Tip: Be totally self-sufficient with provisions of water, food, firewood and spare fuel.

With a modicum of overlanding skills and having traversed the shifting sands of the salt pan, you will begin to see the 20m high Kubu Island rising from the sea of salt. A mysterious granite outcrop, littered with fossil beaches and providing a throne for large boulders and striking baobab trees to lord it over the featureless landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see…


Kubu, which means ‘hippopotamus’ in the local Setswana language, is actually a misnomer. The island’s real name is Lekhubu, which means ‘ridge’. A gigantic African super lake in the mists of time, at which time Lekhubu would have been completely submerged, climatic changes caused the lake to dry up thousands of years ago. It is known that the San (or Bushman) visited Lekhubu and probably practised initiation rites at what would be a spiritual place for them. Some sources even hint that a stone wall on the island may be linked to the Great Zimbabwe Empire of the Shona that existed from 1100 to 1500AD.

Tip: Stay at least one night to experience the sunset and sunrise, but preferably two nights to soak up the atmosphere.


Camp sites provide a rock fireplace and long drop toilet. Set up your roof top tent and take a seat on one of the boulders, perhaps with a glass of Pinotage or Castle lager, to see the setting sun paint the landscape and baobabs in bold strokes of orange, yellow and red.

Where can I get more information? Visit the Kubu Island website for booking information.


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  1. Amazing, awe-inspiring photos! Kubu is indeed one of those places that leaves you speechless…and breathless should you hike the salt pan and surrounds with your camera bag and tri-pod in tow😊
    When we visited Kubu the first time some years ago it was almost desolate. I remember that our two vehicles were the only vehicles at the island at the time and we camped amongst the huge Baobabs, our children scampering over the huge boulders.
    During our second visit in 2012 the experience was quite different, as Kubu has become much more developed with designated camping sites to accommodate the ever increasing tourist influx.
    Never-the-less, an experience not to be missed and the most amazing photo opportunities ever!
    Can I suggest a vote for Kubu as one of the 7 wonders of the world? Or is it perhaps, as the blog author has aptly described it, too other-wordly to be of this world? 😉

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