Last month we brought you a quick and dusty Botswana adventure, traversing the famous Makgadikgadi pans and hitting some of the popular campsites which lure explorers to this beautiful neighbouring country of ours. This month, we take a different approach, exploring Botswana like royals.
Botswana will always hold a special place in my heart. It is the country where I fell in love with wild camping and the bush, much to my surprise. You see, I am a ‘chocolate-on-the-pillow and turn-down service’ kind of girl and if I travel hundreds of kilometres, sleeping on the ground with hyenas sniffing around is not necessarily my vibe.
That was until about five years ago when I (rather reluctantly) agreed to a Botswana safari to Khwai with the family. I completely and utterly fell in love with the country, its people and everything it has to offer. Since that maiden Botswana trip, I have visited far too few times.
I have been blessed to traverse the well-known Makgadikgadi Pans and have travelled to Chobe National Park, Moremi and Khumaga. The Okavango Delta, however, has always been on my bucket list, as was a luxury ‘chocolate-on-the-pillow’ adventure. Yes, to be spoilt, of course, but more so to learn from local field guides working at the luxury lodges and safari companies. These passionate conservationists have incredible knowledge of their home country, and know just how to get you to those incredible sightings. Speaking of sightings, on all my visits to Bots, the king of the jungle had eluded me. And while we’re at it, could I place my order for some other special sightings of leopard, wild dog and maybe the super-shy Sitatunga marshbuck? Oh, and what about the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl, recently spotted in Moremi? Quite a tall order, I know, but what are we if we cannot dream?
So, when Anton came back from last month’s trip and told me we had been invited to a luxury lodge-hopping trip, I did not need much convincing. Even the 1 100km trek to Maun could not deter me. Our itinerary – carefully curated by Louis Milne from Captivating Destination and Desert & Delta Safaris (DDS) – was the stuff dreams are made of. We would self-drive to Maun, then be whisked off by Safari Air (a DDS sister company) to Moremi Camp for two nights, then to Chobe Game Lodge for three nights, and Savute Safari Lodge for two nights before a quick check-in at Camp Okavango for a night on our way back.
Our enthusiasm was slightly curbed when we hit a bit of a snag with lost Covid-19 tests at the Martin’s Drift border post. We had to return to Lephalale to rerun our tests (best to make sure your PCR test is not a minute older than 72 hours, folks!) and since we had to wait until the next morning for results, we spent the night in this sleepy little town. Luckily the incredible team at DDS rejigged our itinerary and advised that we would now start with two nights in Camp Okavango, followed by a few nights in Moremi and then back to Maun from where we could drive to Leroo La Tau. This would give us three different biomes in six days – nothing to sneeze at, I’d say!
Cruising down the Delta
After spending a night in Maun with family, our luxury adventure started in all earnest with a half-hour flight to Camp Okavango. I am not a fan of light aircraft, but as much as I wanted to shut my eyes to allay my fear of flying, the exquisite sights below beckoned me to gaze out the window in awe. From the air, the winding waterways and dense marshes create a stunning grooved landscape, reminding me of the leathery skin of the elephants roaming below. Before even setting foot on the ground, we spotted giraffe, crocs, ellies and lechwe from the air.
As we disembarked on the DDS-owned airstrip, a wide grin from GB, our guide for the next few days, and the welcoming committee consisting of a massive herd of Lechwe on the runway, immediately made us feel at home. The hospitality did not stop here, as the camp management team of Eddie, Sevara and Lucky welcomed us with an ice-cold cocktail resembling an African sunset which we enjoyed on the spectacular viewing deck, overlooking the expansive Okavango Delta. The Okavango River cuts through the centre of the Kalahari Desert, creating a unique inland water system that gives life to a huge variety of birds and animals. The Delta forms where the Okavango River meets the Great Plains at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, creating an oasis of islands, wildlife, and lush green vegetation. Declared the thousandth UNESCO world heritage site, it is the world’s largest inland delta, covering close to 16 000km².
One of the most authentic ways to experience the Delta is by mokoro (a traditional canoe), gliding down one of the canals. This somewhat colonial experience brings a sense of peace and relaxation little else can match. During peak flood season – which is ironically during the May-October dry spell – wildlife is more concentrated on the islands, and from your mokoro, you have the perfect vantage point. Since Camp Okavango offers mokoro excursions, we knew exactly what we wanted to do that afternoon.
On this sunset cruise, GB shared tit-bits about his career as a field guide and the interesting plant life around and in the water, while making a delta necklace for me (this is when you pluck a fully edible water lily from the water and methodically break and fold it to create a piece of natural jewellery worthy of a queen). I loved every minute of it and could feel the stress exit my body, truly getting me into the relaxed mood this adventure requires. We spotted a myriad of birds, including Spur-winged geese, African Marsh Harriers and a few colourful Malachite Kingfishers. We also saw the very pretty Angolan reed frog, which changes colour according to temperature and climate.
After reluctantly heading back to camp, Sevara and the team surprised us with a pop-up cocktail hour as we enjoyed an incredible African sunset. Our hosts told us that the word pula referred to more than just the Botswana currency – it is also the Setswana word for rain and the way locals cheer a good day. All I could say was: Pula, Pula! After a stunning meal prepared by chef Maggie we relaxed next to the open fire on the viewing deck, accompanied by calls from the resident hippo, Jeremiah. We headed to bed fulfilled and grateful for the first day’s memories, but ready for the fishing we had planned for the next day.
We spent the next few days fishing or exploring in our ‘swamp cruiser’, being stopped only by Okavango traffic consisting of hippos and herds of elephant crossing in front of us. We tracked down a Giant Kingfisher for some exquisite photographs and had an amazing sighting of the very shy Sitatunga. The young male we spotted was standing dead still, which was quite uncharacteristic according to GB since they usually scatter at the sight of a boat. As we slowly moved closer, we saw the reason for his frozen position – a young crocodile right in front of it. The poor buck was caught between a rock (us on the boat) and a hard place (the croc), which gave us a great photo opportunity.
Our time at Camp O came to an end too soon and we could not imagine how the other camps could top this magical experience…
Next up was camp Moremi, just a 15-minute flight away, this time taking what our pilot dubbed the “scenic route”. And scenic it was. We spotted a large herd of elephant, giraffe and lechwe from the air before landing at the Xakanaxa airstrip which is a 25-minute drive to Camp Moremi.
En route we met up with our new guide, Gwist, and jumped into his Land Cruiser for our first game drive. We heard from our fellow passengers – a newly-wed Belgium couple on an African honeymoon and an elderly couple from America – that they had been tracking a female leopard near Paradise pools for the past three days, without much luck. Apparently, we were the good luck charm, as within minutes of us hopping on, Gwist received radio communication that she had been was spotted in a tree with a kill.
The next thing a flurry of Cruisers from both Camp Moremi and Xakanaxa were heading in that direction, sloshing through door-deep water crossings to get to the Sausage tree where the young female was sleeping high up, with her Sitatunga kill a metre below. As we watched, with cameras clicking around us, I could not believe our luck! I have never seen a leopard in the wild, so this was very special. She teased us with a few stretches but stayed put, resting after the hunt. Knowing she would still be around her kill the next morning, and with the sunset transforming the bushveld sky to hues of pink and blue, we headed to camp. En route, we passed a massive buffalo and elephant herd, waterbuck and zebra. Sadly, we could not stop as we needed to make the cut-off time to camp, where we received a warm welcome from hosts ET and Onca.
The next day, our only full day in Moremi, we were woken by birdsong and a stunning continental breakfast before jumping on the game viewers for a three-hour-long game drive in this beautiful reserve. Again, the game-viewing gods were smiling upon us as Gwist got word that four young male lions – who had been trawling the reserve close to the camp in search of a new pride – were spotted about 10 minutes away.
What a sighting this turned out to be! Initially, we saw only three of the lions taking a morning nap in the rising sun. This was perfection captured in the golden morning light, with the boys quietly staring back at us, unbothered. Within a few minutes, the fourth lion joined, limping from what Gwist surmised was a territorial fight. We spent an exquisite 30 minutes in the presence of the lions, before heading off to the reserve gate as our newly-made American friends were departing later that day and had to catch their ride to the airstrip.
After dropping them off, we decided to revisit the leopard with her kill. After scouring the sausage tree and the grasslands around Paradise Pools, Gwist’s eagle eyes spotted her as she was slightly hidden away, taking a nap. She woke up and as if she knew she was being photographed, stretched and yawned. Sarah, the Belgium honeymooner, squealed with delight. Africa delivered, yet again! How privileged we are to call this continent home.
Arriving back at camp, a brunch fit for royalty awaited us and we heard that a Pel’s Fishing Owl had been spotted around camp. We immediately set off looking for him, but were unsuccessful. Gwist, however, told us that the owl hunts in the slow-moving stream around camp so we held out hope for a sighting before we departed the next morning. On our afternoon game drive to Marula Island with Gwist, we drove past the hauntingly beautiful Dead Tree Island and noticed an elephant calf without a trunk – it was amazing to see how he adapted by picking lower foliage.
The birdlife again did not disappoint, neither did the wonderful nature scenes with each passing minute. Gwist told us that we were the first group of guests since March 2020 to visit Marula Island is was too wet before. Stopping at the watering hole near Dead Tree Island for a sundowner, a massive pod of hippos entertained us while Gwist shared one of his many tales. This one featured a pod of hippos saving a buffalo from lions and a crocodile in this spot. What a life this man has lived!
On our final day at Camp Moremi, we woke up to a flurry of activity as the Pel’s Fishing Owl had again been spotted around camp. This time we saw him – twice! First at a distance close to the lookout point (which is now a loo with a view – simply stunning), and then, as I sat down to wolf down yet another delicious breakfast, he joined me a few metres from the deck. Amazing!
As a final farewell game drive, Gwist showed us Veronica Island, named after Veronica Roodt who wrote the Shell Field Guide to Common Trees of the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve. We also popped around to Jesse’s Pool where we encountered zebra, a herd of buffalo, and found half of the “Moremi 11” – the pride of lions the young males from yesterday had been trying to infiltrate. What a farewell to this amazing camp!
Last but not least
Our third and final destination was a camp Anton had heard much about as he was growing up, since his parents regularly camped in this special spot on the banks of the Boteti River. This river plays a vital role in the annual zebra migration, making Leroo La Tau the ideal place from which to witness Africa’s second-largest migration of zebra and wildebeest.
On our previous visit, we witnessed the tail-end of this migration, so were hoping to see more this time around. And what a sight we had, even though our guide ollie explained that this was just the beginning. Arriving at the camp after driving the 140km from Maun, hosts Clifford and Boitumelo welcomed us before we headed out for a sunset cruise on the Boteti. We were quite surprised at the high water levels, as we were now cruising in a boat where we had been driving. This gave us an entirely different perspective on the somewhat arid Kalahari landscape of the Makgadikgadi Pans Reserve across the river from Leroo La Tau.
Our one night at this camp, which translates to ‘lion’s paw’, was way too short. We did however manage to slot in an early-morning game drive before departing for the border. While there were no big cat sightings this time around, the beauty of this landscape is truly bewitching. We found fresh lion spoor and tracked it to circling vultures, but did not find the cats or carcass, nor the wild dogs we also tracked for a while. We also saw a breeding herd of giraffe where I counted up to 10 juveniles, and hundreds – if not thousands – of zebra. The birdlife is also exquisite, with a highlight being a Giant Eagle owl we spotted in a Martial Eagle’s nest.
Thank you, Botswana
After the too-short visit to Leroo La Tau, we tackled the 900km home via Martin’s Drift border post. Our hearts were full as we recounted this short but incredibly special time. Was this luxury stay better? No. Was it different and extremely special? A thousand times, yes! Whether you camp in the midst of Botswana’s fine sand or experience her wonders from the comfort of one of the many luxury lodges, this country is the stuff dreams are made of. Thank you for the memories. Kea Leboga Tapandurah.
The Bots people
With every visit to Botswana, the soft-spoken, respectful and friendly people of this country capture my heart. Their willingness to help and the pride they radiate is infectious. This trip was no different. The three guides taking care of us during our trip deserve a huge shout-out for being amazing ambassadors for their company and country. Incidentally, all three hail from the Hambukushu tribe, who are called the ‘rainmakers of the Okavango’, due to the rituals they perform to bring rain to the Okavango. Their origins are rooted in Angola and Namibia, but the tribe can also be traced to the Barotse tribe in Zambia. They speak a language called Sembukushu and are divided into clans led by dikgosi (or chiefs).
A golden thread with GB, Gwist and Ollie was their obvious passion for nature and conservation – with all three stating it comes from their fathers and grandfathers who taught them how important it is to take care of the land so the land will take care of you. They told us that all rural Botswana boys are gifted with a Mokoro at a young age (from around nine years old) and taught how to use them to fish and care for their families.
Both Gwist and Ollie knew from a young age that they wanted to become field guides and completed all the required qualifications as soon as possible, inspired by older field guides who visited their tribe when they were young. GB worked as an AIDS councillor before the 2009 recession gave him the push to realise his childhood dream of working in the tourism industry. For me, these men are the true heroes of this country. Tapandurah, gentlemen.
Don’t let the big one get away!
Fishing in the Okavango Delta should be on every fisherman’s bucket list. The environment is simply surreal. From the boat ride through the channels to your fishing spot, to the catch(es) of the day, it is really something to experience. There are elephants on the banks, hippos in the water and crocs keeping a beady eye on you for a chance to snatch those fish you don’t get out of the water fast enough.
Being a keen fisherman, Anton jumped at the opportunity to test his fishing skills in the Delta and would have happily spent the entire time at Okavango Camp, chasing the big ones.
The entire experience is rather exciting, jumping in the “Swamp Cruiser”, heading out into the channels surrounding the camp for either a morning or afternoon activity. Our first stop was a lagoon about 15 minutes (by boat) from the camp. With rod and reel in hand and a simple spinner attached to the line, Anton caught his first bream on his first cast! The rest of the morning was filled with one fish after another being landed. After about a 10-minute crash course from a very patient GB, I landed my first-ever fish – a good-sized pike which put up quite a fight! Anton continued to catch in excess of 20 fish, with GB and myself adding to our overall tally of 30 (including 16 for the pan!). Chef Maggie prepared a delicious grilled bream dish for dinner that evening, as well as a crumbed option the next day for brunch.
The Delta has an abundance of fish species and all the Bream and Tilapia species are edible and very tasty. Unfortunately, Tigerfish are very scarce in these smaller channels but on occasion, they do enter them. The prize for biggest catch in terms of size went to yours truly, with a sizable 4kg Blunt-tooth Catfish (Barbel), but Anton certainly took the honours for most fish and the widest variety of species caught.
Species we caught:
- Largemouth Bream
- Thinface Largemouth Bream
- Three Spot Tilapia
- Redbreast Tilapia
- African Pike
- Blunt-tooth Catfish
About Desert & Delta
Established in 1982, Desert & Delta Safaris is one of the most successful safari operators in Botswana. Today the company owns eight premier safari properties and is 100% Botswana-owned. Underlining their operational drive to empower Botswana through tourism, the company recruits all guides and staff from nearby villages.
CAMP MOREMI: Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta
Situated on the edge of the Xakanaxa Lagoon, Camp Moremi offers spectacular game viewing and exquisite facilities. The camp is accessible by light aircraft, landing at the Xakanaxa airstrip from where guests are transferred in a game viewing vehicle camp, about 25 minutes away. You can also self-drive the 140km from Maun which will take about four hours on sandy roads suitable for 4WD vehicles only.
ACTIVITIES: Game Drives | Motorised Boat Safaris | Bird Watching
CAMP OKAVANGO: Nxaragha Island, Okavango Delta
This unique, exclusive and eco-sensitive safari camp is situated in the heart of the permanent Okavango Delta, assuring visitors an unparalleled year-round water wilderness experience. The camp is accessible by light-aircraft transfer from Maun. Once at the airstrip, it is a short five-minute walk to the camp.
ACTIVITIES: Motorised Boat Safaris | Mokoro Excursions | Guided Bushwalks | Fishing | Helicopter Flights (optional extra)
CAMP XAKANAXA: Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta
Situated on the banks of the Khwai River on the Xaxanaxa Lagoon in the heart of the Moremi Game Reserve, this is of the few camps that offer guests a year-round Okavango Delta land and water safari experience. The camp is accessible by light aircraft or self-drive with 4WD vehicles.
ACTIVITIES: Game Drives | Motorised Boat Safaris | Bird Watching
CHOBE GAME LODGE: Chobe Riverfront, Chobe National Park
The only permanent game lodge situated within the famous Chobe National Park, Chobe Game Lodge is Botswana’s premier venue for guests looking for a perfect base from which to explore the Chobe National Park and the Chobe River. This five-star Lodge is fully eco-tourism certified by Botswana Tourism Organisation and boasts a fleet of electric vehicles and boats. Guests fly into Kasane airport, from where they are transferred to the lodge about 45 minutes away. The lodge is about 90 minutes by road from Victoria Falls and Livingstone airports. Self-drive to the lodge is also possible (4WD vehicles).
ACTIVITIES: Game Drives | Chobe River Safaris | Eco Tours | Cultural Excursions
CHOBE SAVANNA LODGE: Zambezi Region, Namibia
Situated in the Eastern Zambezi region of Namibia, a narrow strip of country on the northern bank of the Chobe River, Chobe Savanna Lodge overlooks the vast floodplains of the Chobe National Park’s Puku Flats. The Lodge is accessed via Kasane in Botswana by boat transfer only. Upon arrival at Kasane Airport by international or scheduled local flight (or via self-drive), there is a road transfer from the airport to the Kasane Immigration jetty which is approximately 10 minutes away. From here it is about an hour by motorised boat up the Chobe River.
ACTIVITIES: Motorised Boat Safaris | Skimmer Brunch Cruise | Fishing | Cultural Excursions | Bird Watching | Guided Nature Walks
LEROO LA TAU: Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
Leroo La Tau is situated on the western bank of the Boteti River, northwest of Khumaga Village. It borders the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, which stretches away from the riverbank toward an interior of scrubland and mineral-rich grasslands. The camp is accessed by light-aircraft transfer or 140km drive from Maun. The road from Maun is tarred, though the last stretch is a sandy road suitable for 4×4 vehicles only. From the airstrip, it is approximately 30 minutes to camp.
ACTIVITIES: Game Drives | Motorised Boat Safaris | Cultural Excursions | Nxai Pan Day Trips & Makgadikgadi Pans Sleep Out (as optional extras)
SAVUTE SAFARI LODGE: Chobe National Park
Stretching from the Linyanti River all the way to Savute Marsh, the winding waterways of the Savute Channel have pumped life into the western section of Chobe National Park for thousands of generations. However, this fickle and unpredictable channel has a fascinating history of flooding and drying up, independent of good rainy seasons and flood levels elsewhere. The Savute region, and the Savute Marsh, in particular, is renowned for its intense predator encounters and exceptional game viewing, making it one of Botswana’s most popular wildlife destinations. The lodge is accessible by light-aircraft transfer or 4WD vehicles only.
ACTIVITIES: Game Drives | Cultural Excursions
XUGANA LODGE: Xugana Lagoon, Okavango Delta
Xugana Lagoon is widely recognised as the most spectacular permanent water site in the entire Okavango Delta. Owing to its remote delta location, Xugana Island Lodge is a year-round water paradise offering guests the chance to experience the beauty of the Delta with its myriad deep waterways, open floodplains and diverse wildlife inhabitants.
ACTIVITIES: Motorised Boat Safaris | Mokoro Excursions | Guided Bush Walks | Game Drives | Fishing | Bird Watching | Helicopter Flights (as an optional extra)
*The company is currently running incredible discounts for SADC residents, so now is most definitely the time to book this dream adventure!