Mokoro safari, Okavango Delta

Newsletter April 2014: Beautiful Botswana…

Dear friends,

Still on a high from our recent trip, Sally and Alice Travel Co. now understand why Botswana’s Okavango Delta deserves pride of place on any safari enthusiast’s or nature lover’s bucket list. Read on to hear more about our adventures, accompanied by some of our favourite photos…

The Okavango Delta

Safari in Botswana is amongst the finest in Africa, taking advantage of a relatively unpopulated country which is dominated by the Kalahari desert, its seasonal water sources and its vast salt pans. The most famous safari area is the Okavango Delta, a huge wetland area which was recently listed as one of the Seven Wonders of Africa. Every year, floodwaters from the distant highlands of Angola in the north arrive into the Delta causing vast quantities of game to migrate inwards and congregate around the reed filled water channels, lagoons and islands.

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For our trip we chose a fly-in safari by light aircraft which allowed us to hop between different environments in minutes and in the process come to appreciate Botswana’s remarkable geography with a bird’s eye view…

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Pristine wilderness

The country’s high quality / low volume tourist policy (in the private concession areas it is typically one guest per 50 square kilometres) means that in certain areas you can watch wildlife completely undisturbed, with no other vehicles or tourists to spoil the moment. We had this leopard sighting all to ourselves on arrival to Chitabe Camp, which is where we saw the most prolific game of the whole trip…

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Water-based activities

Aside from the day and night game drives on offer, the Okavango is one of the few places in Africa where one can go on safari by mokoro – a dug out canoe where ‘polers’ guide you through the labyrinth of channels, standing like gondoliers at the rear of the boat.

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Silently gliding through crystal clear water dotted with water lilies in a mokoro allows you to take stock of the beauty of your surrounds, the tiny delicately painted reed frogs and myriad of colourful water birds, without causing disturbance.

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Those particularly interested in water activities should definitely include a few nights’ stay at a ‘wet’ camp. These are camps that are surrounded by permanent water year round, thus arrival is always by motorboat. We loved the intimate feeling of Jacana – the cosy communal areas and decked area faces out to the west creating the perfect stage for sunset G&Ts, whilst the peaceful Little Vumbura (pictured below) feels hidden away from the world amongst the reeds like a well-kept secret.

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Fabulous lodges

We visited some incredible properties on our adventure through the Delta, too many to mention, but one of our favourites was Vumbura Plains. For someone with limited time to travel, this is the perfect one stop shop as the game viewing is superb and there are wet and dry safari activities on offer virtually year round.

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The main communal area is designed to calm, all blues, greens and soft greys, with a cool breeze blowing in off the lagoon. The rooms themselves are vast – outside there is a decked area with a private plunge pool and day bed, inside the interiors are soothing with softly draped wall hangings and an open plan bathroom, all with views out over the floodplains.

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Best of all is the east-facing aspect which makes early morning wake-up calls a pleasure…

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Beyond the Delta

North of the Delta, the Linyanti region offers both land and water-based activities with game-viewing on a par with the Delta from May through to November. The high volume of elephants we saw here was a particular highlight…

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We were lucky to spend time at both Selinda and Zarafa Camp of the Great Plains collection, owned by renowned film-makers and photographers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert. We may have become critical in this job, but Zarafa scores the perfect ten – it’s an incredibly luxurious camp where no expense has been spared (we loved touches like the complimentary Swarovski HD binoculars and Canon cameras which are available for guests’ use) yet it somehow manages to stay understated.

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Of course to gain a full picture of just how varied and dramatic Botswana’s scenery can be, a visit to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a must if time allows. You won’t see the prolific game of the Delta here, but this huge conservation area has its own unique beauty that’s only enhanced by its vastness, emptiness, grandeur, and desolation. To the east, the flat landscape of the greater Kalahari contains the even flatter, harsher and emptier landscape of the Makgadikgadi Pans where you can take in the overwhelming sense of solitude and space of the spectacular salt pans, and meet and learn about Botswana’s indigenous people, the San Bushmen.

When to travel

The varied landscapes change with the seasons meaning that, in Botswana, every safari is unique. The dry season from May through to the end of October sees the seasonal flood waters arrive in the Delta and game viewing at its best with animals concentrated around the flooded areas. The rainy or ‘Green Season’ from November through to mid April is when the Kalahari springs in to life as rain showers pass, followed by huge herds of zebra in particular. October and November are the hottest months of the year with temperatures averaging 35 degrees Celcius while June and July have cool nights with pleasant days in the mid 20’s.

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