11 January 2018

Botswana Dreaming

It’s late November, and I had five glorious days flitting across Botswana. The Okavango Delta regionis an interestingly complex, natural system where everything revolves around the ebb and flow of water - it’s easily a year-round destination, where the miracle of the ‘high water’ and ‘low water’ seasons can be explored at different times of the year.

After spending two days along the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, I entered Botswana through the Kazangula border post. It’s easy and convenient for those travelling from Victoria Falls to Kasane Airport and connecting to Chobe or Savuti. Our guide drove the whole way – helping through customs at the border post and all the way to check-in at Kasane Airport.

Flight access to the various lodges in this region is incredibly easy – small ‘bush planes’ operated by reputable and safe air charter companies makes connecting the different lodges with Kasane and Maun Airports a breeze. Another option would be helicopter flips between destinations.

The first stop was Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp – a firm favourite! One can sense wild adventure as you arrive – a short boardwalk over a little grassy pond where the warthogs were foraging led to a deck looking over the floodplains. The camp is understated elegance with all the creature comforts one could ask for.

That afternoon I set off with AK & Candrew (the most entertaining and captivating guide and tracker team). AK was born in a local community nearby, and has guided in the area for over 15 years. He regaled stories of the land and his experiences which kept me entertained for hours. It wasn’t long before we happened upon a Hyena with her two young cubs. We watched them role around their den and play before continuing. Wildlife is prolific here, and the birding exceptional. We stopped at a large waterhole where drinks, snacks and fishing rods were set up and waiting. We spent the evening watching the sky change through all colours of the rainbow and storms rolling across in the distance before packing up and heading back for dinner. The next morning, we spent hours on the motor-boat exploring the water ways of the permanent water channel, while navigating pods of hippos through some of the narrow paths. The birding is out of this world – African Fish Eagles with that distinctive African call, Malachite Kingfishers doing what they do best – fishing and all of the others inbetween.

The next day we flew to Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge. While Nxabega offers the best of both worlds in terms of land-based wildlife viewing and water-based experiences, the focus at Xudum is around the calm, stillness of the water. Game drives and walking safaris here are still exceptional, but there’s a real sense of slowing down, immersing yourself in your surroundings and using the time to reconnect. One of the guides mentioned he had taken guests on a silent mokoro safari (a locally made dug-out canoe), and I knew this is something I needed to experience.

I had two magical days at Xudum – days spent over tapas style lunches with a group of friends, trekking across the wilderness following herds of elephant, circling vultures, male lions walking with purpose and lounging around my private plunge pool in the heat of the day.

My last stop was at Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, with the scenic helicopter flight from Xudum to Sandibe the cherry on the top of this journey!

The lodge is a site to behold – the entrance welcomes one into an architectural and design feat behind which the floodplains, filled with golden Papyrus, stretch into the distance. The focus here is land-based wildlife viewing, and while I knew the game would be great, I had no idea what the first night drive had in store for me. What started out watching three lionesses sleeping the last of the afternoon heat away, quickly moved on to a den of Bat-Eared Foxes and escalated after dark. I watched an aardvark foraging for termites, a honey badger ducking out of sight, a lone bull hippo who had just crawled out from a nearby waterhole, a hyena with her three slightly older cubs looking for their next meal, an African Wild Cat who sat as if it were posing for an oil painting and spent some time in the darkest hour with the lights of the vehicle off stargazing.

This truly is a very special place on Earth. I was completely captivated by every aspect of this legendary land – its people, the landscape, the lodges, and of course, the safari.

Magical moments:

I spent an hour or two with my book on the swing chair on the deck of my tent at Nxabega. It wasn’t long before the book fell to the floor and my mind wandered while looking over the floodplains.

Fishing at sunset. It wasn’t so much about the fishing (catch and release) as it was about getting out of the vehicle barefoot and thoroughly enjoying the beautiful evening, drinks and snacks in hand!

A lone bull elephant in camp at Xudum. He was dining on a pile of fallen leaves from the Jackalberry trees for breakfast. This was right outside my room - it was a traffic jam of a different kind!

The silent mokoro safari. I felt the need to fill the silence with conversation right in the beginning, but after 10 minutes, it was a welcome relief to float across the water channels undisturbed, with only the sound of the water swishing along the boat, the wind in the reeds and the birds calling

The helicopter flip from Xudum to Sandibe is a bit of an adrenalin rush and a new perspective over the Delta, with great big game sightings from the air.

The night drive at Sandibe. I think we were out for an hour longer than I would have anticipated, but it was worth every second.

Good to know:

There are flights directly from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Maun, the hub for travelers continuing onto their safari. Air charter and helicopter companies stretch across the Okavango Delta, ensuring a seamless safari experience. Remember to pack light – luggage restrictions are limited to 20kg (44lb) per person. A laundry service is available at all lodges.

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