In November 2017, Nicci and Laura took a hardworking trip (we promise!) to Botswana to visit a few of our favourites and some of the most stunning camps and lodges in the Okavango Delta and the Central Kalahari.
Our Delta to Desert journey began with an easy flight from Harare to Victoria Falls, which is fast expanding as a major hub in the southern and central African region, as it is perfectly placed for an adventurous stopover to South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia. With direct flights onwards to and from Cape Town, also, Vic Falls just gets more and more attractive.
From vibey Vic Falls, we crossed the border by road into Kasane, an easy transfer, where we then took off in a light aircraft to Great Plains Conservation’s Selinda Explorers Camp in the heart of the private 320,000-acre Selinda Reserve Just four tents next to a winding water channel, Selinda Explorers was a dream first stop, easing us into safari mode in unexpectedly cool weather and the warmest hospitality. Our guide took such delight in our own and showed us the best of his bush home, with fantastic elephant interactions and bird sightings.
The Kavango River, which flows southwards from Angola into Botswana to become the Okavango and then one of the world’s most miraculous natural ecosystems, spreads its cooling fingers through the hot Kalahari sands. Along the way it fills the grooves and pushes along the channels formed by hippos and elephants on their trodden paths to water. From the air, (Laura managed to work out her “light aircraft issues”!) it’s a spectacular navy and lime green panorama that spreads out before you, dazzling in its vast vividness. On some of the shorter air transfers, you can see elephants, giraffes, buffalos, antelope and hippos. An “air safari”! How awesome.
From Selinda, we flew southwards to Maun, a dusty town on the edge of the Kalahari Desert and the main hub for most Botswana safaris.
We were so excited for our next adventure, spending time with safari friends, David and Robyn Foot at their mobile safari camp in the Moremi Game Reserve. From a specially selected and secluded spot amongst the trees, this hard-working, committed couple share their love of genuine adventures in Africa, walking and horse riding with their guests amongst the wildlife from their simple, down-to-earth set-up. It was like taking a lovely deep breath of fresh air! We arrived in camp via mokoro, a type of kayak or canoe, modelled on the old traditional dugouts, steered in by a skilful and enthusiastic young poler from the local community.
Back to Maun far too soon, we said goodbye to the fabulous “Feet” and enjoyed a pleasant overnight stay at the best accommodation in Maun – Royal Tree Lodge. We then winged our way with Mack Air to the first of a series of Wilderness Safaris camps, which each lived up to their famously refined and perfectly blended offering of warm hospitality, great comfort, fantastic guides and excellent locations.
Generally, there are two types of camp in the Okavango: water camps, deep in the delta, which offer fantastic birdlife (we saw the broad-billed roller, marabou stork, rattling cisticola, spur-winged goose, purple heron, squacco heron, malachite kingfisher, wattled crane and African spoonbill, to name a few), plenty of antelope including red lechwe and bushbuck plus grunting hippos, magnificent elephants but not so much in the way of large game – and “dry”, land-based camps at the delta's edge, where there is spectacular game viewing, almost too easy to come by, sometimes. We stayed at and visited a combination of these, namely Chitabe, Xigera and Tubu Tree, each with their own unique feel, different landscapes and wildlife experiences, but all with the well-known Wilderness stamp of quality.
Our next stop? Shinde Camp. A very welcoming and thoughtfully designed camp with a specially devised enclave, private and perfect for families. Here, we enjoyed different activities including a memorable mokoro excursion with a veteran of this Venetian-style transport. We asked him if he could look out for the rarely spotted sitatunga for us, a shy, aquatic antelope, which lives among the reeds and has especially adapted splayed, elongated feet. He laughed, indicating the long shot of our request, but in minutes he shushed our chat and slowly pointed towards the papyrus straight ahead. And there she was. A beautiful female sitatunga, camouflaged and composed in the reeds, chewing contentedly…
A bush walk with an outstanding guide lent to us from Shinde’s smaller family-oriented and mobile walking safari operation, Footsteps Camp, began our day of departure and we enjoyed getting out and active after being slothfully sedentary for a few days!
And then, like all self-respecting globetrotters, we waved our cheery goodbyes and bravely braced ourselves for yet more delights, which awaited us near the Gomoti River…
Gomoti Plains Camp is set on part of the Gomoti River system and offers both land and water-based activities. This stylish, spacious and superbly-managed camp was a particular favourite of ours, not least because the management, guides and staff are so top-notch, but also because it is cleverly run, evident in what some guests call a “highlight” of their visit – the back-of-house tour! If this area is impressive, it can only reflect well on the rest of the camp. A game drive, exciting lion sighting and a motor boat sundowners excursion with elephants up close, all in one afternoon, led into relaxed dining under the stars on the “beach” in front of camp. Scrumptious food with real wow factor and convivial company saw us happily reverting to slothful type once more and well into the evening…
Can it get any better? Onto our next stop and we knew that John would have said - “Yes! This is what I’m talking about!” Simon and Marleen Byron of Beagle Expeditions (named after Charles Darwin’s exploratory ship) welcomed us into their family and simple bush camp with open arms and we just loved it. Their youthful, positive passion and yearning to offer a truly authentic, simple and exciting bush experience is evident from the get-go. Bush knowledge, warm hospitality and confidence are a hard combination to come by but Simon has it in spades. This very light operation made up of small, perfectly appropriate tents, bedrolls, long-drop toilet and bucket shower plus uber-talented chef (you have no idea how great campfire-cooked food is until you taste its smoky subtleness) is John’s dream of a safari camp. Completely in touch, all senses engaged, utterly primal and at one with nature, there’s nothing better once you understand just how close you actually are to the wild. That night, we were surrounded by, in Simon’s estimation, over a 1,000 buffalo, all snorting and snuffling… rather almost too close, I’d say.
What is Botswana if not a land of contrasts? From on-the-ground basic to a camp that required all 6 feet of me to climb into its elevated, colonial-style bed… from the wet wilds of the delta to the spectacular salt pans of the desert… Jack’s Camp promises its guests to “give them what they never knew they wanted”. Situated beneath a grove of mokolwane palm trees (the seeds of which were “planted” by migrant elephants) with amazing 360º views of the immense Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, this special but slightly self-conscious 30s period-style camp offers romance and remoteness, plus some pretty exciting activities to boot.
Walk with San Bushmen, observing their centuries-old bush craft and how to live life simply and happily. Become Lawrence of Arabia as you head out across the pans on a quad bike, explore remote archaeological sites and search for the rare and elusive brown hyaena (I was lucky enough, thanks to my brilliant guide, to spot a mum and her offspring), or sit for hours with a gang of busy meerkats! Jack’s is an experience all on its own and one we’d urge you to do.
As if I hadn’t crossed enough off on my bucket list (when are we humans ever satisfied!), I was most fortunate to end an incredible Botswana safari on the largest island in the Moremi Reserve (about 40 miles long), namely Chief’s. Here, newly translocated black and white rhino, wild dogs, lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant, giraffes, warthogs, hyaena and more thrive in a varied and hospitable ecosystem. My hosts, the wonderfully welcoming Sanctuary Chief’s, fell over backwards to ensure I was a pampered princess for the entire visit. I whooped with delight (and with great dignity, you understand) at the expanse of my suite and the many right royal treats therein. Outside shower, inside shower, bath with a view, private splash pool, generously stocked bar and indulgence shelf (didn’t need to go near them, mind you, as the camp’s dining and bar staff ply you with enough to live on for years…), huge bed, view over the floodplain… the list goes on. For a little luxury, this is just lovely and the ultimate way to end a remarkable trip, with all the space and time to reflect on all that’s come before.
Thank you, Botswana, we’ll be back.
Thank you to the following safari friends and suppliers, who hosted and transported us in great comfort and style!
Although we’ve “done” Botswana a few times now, and we have a good inkling of what it looks like, how it feels, why it works, where it’s at, that’s just not enough. In every way, this amazing destination continues to surprise and delight and there’s nothing quite like doing it yourself. We invite you to consider a Botswana safari for your next great adventure. Better still, add on Zimbabwe and we believe you have a perfect combination!
Contact us now.
Best wishes from John, Nicci, Sarah and Laura