Earlier this year I received an invitation to Francistown, Botswana, to give a talk to their Garden Club. The Okavango Delta has been on our list of places to visit for many years and we thought it would be a good idea to combine the two. We had been keeping August free for a trip somewhere so I promptly organised bookings though &Beyond who have some of the best lodges in the Delta. Only to find that the Garden Club of Francistown could only host me for a talk in September – so I landed up doing two trips to Botswana back to back.
Our August trip began with a couple of nights at Khama Rhino Sanctuary – despite having been told not to drive on Botswana roads after dark, we landed up lost, late and driving after dark. It was only the next day when we saw how many donkeys, cows, ostriches and horses were roaming the roads, that we realised we had been lucky.
The starlings – the bullies of the camp site – chased the squirrels away from any leftover morsel. We didn’t realise how bold they were until a week later when we discovered a sticky patch under one of the crates. After investigating, we found the source: a fruit juice carton with bird beak punctures neatly pierced into it. The long life milk cartons also had holes in them and had gone sour. Plus a bag of mixed nuts had been broken into. The starlings had only had one morning to forage through the kombi – we had gone to bed on our first night and had left the boot open, but it was enough for them to create quite a bit of havoc.
We set up our tent on the bank of the river at Drifters Camp, just in time to see the sun set and full moon rise. It was a comfy campsite and the only one in our whole trip that had grass underfoot.
This delightfully named shop near Maun says it all . . .
We arrived at the &Beyond office in Maun the next morning just in time to catch our bush hopper plane into the Delta.
As we flew further from Maun, the Delta spread out below us, circles of dry land ringed with water and endless patterns of animal pathways, both across the dry islands and through the water.
Just on the short flight in I spotted a couple of elephants and a few giraffe.
A game viewing vehicle met us at the Pom Pom landing strip – Pom Pom meaning mosquito in the local language. Within minutes of leaving the airstrip we spotted an elephant, head butting a palm tree to get the sweet fruit to fall at his feet.
Our lunch on the way to Nxabega camp.
A baobab that a hungry elephant had a go at.
It took a few hours to get to camp – across water, salt pans and deep sand that even the 4×4 became stuck in.
Nxabega camp is built around a huge jackalberry tree – so named because the fruit is said to be so sweet that even the die hard carnivore jackals will give up their meat eating ways to munch on it. This elephant thought the fruit was pretty good and he rumbled past every day to hoover up the berries.
These are jackalberries
I preferred the brownies!
The plan was to go for an afternoon mokoro paddle and end with sundowners on the river. But as we drove towards the river, we saw this:
We followed him as he climbed up and down three trees before finally settling on one where he felt comfortable. The guide said this was because he was watching something – so we went to find what had piqued the leopard’s interest and it was this:
And so we watched this pride, with seven youngsters, as the moon rose behind them.
The next morning was time for the postponed mokoro excursion. An Italian honeymoon couple joined us. They had decided not to come on the game drive the afternoon before, choosing to have massages instead. En route to the river I heard the bride asking the guide if “we could please go past the leopard and lions on the way . . .” The ranger could not pull that rabbit from his hat, but he did find this sweet pair:
Into a mokoro and onto the river. I asked the ranger what the stick in the front was for. He said it was his GPS . . .
I knew rangers are multi talented but I didn’t know speaking stick was one of the required skills!
Turns out the stick was to clear spider webs away before we paddled through them.
Over the next few days we explored the delta by boat, game vehicle and helicopter:
The water was freeeezing so the soaked rangers quickly rubbed some sticks together and made a fire. I want these guys on my team on Survivor!!
We stayed in the most incredibly beautiful lodges: Nxabega, Xudum and Xaranna. Attention to detail and creating art from recycled objects all added to the &Beyond ethos of treading lightly on the land.
Our private chalet tucked into the forest next to the delta.
Xaranna Lodge took its design inspiration from the ubiquitous delta water lilies.
Now that is what I call a holiday . . . !
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