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Exploring the Okavango Delta by Helicopter

By Rob Slater

As the grass flattened around us, and our pilot carefully manoeuvred the cyclic in front of him, we lifted gingerly into the crisp morning air. Within seconds we were skimming over bushes and trees, gradually gaining height until the curvature of the earth marked our distant horizon. As the pilot eased us back down to a lower level, we watched a herd of giraffe move lazily through the sparse woodland below us, whilst ahead of us the waters of the Okavango Delta glistened in the early morning sun. As we reached the water, a flock of white egrets erupted from their perch on a dead leadwood tree, a trio of hippos sploshed dramatically into the water and in the distance a lone elephant bull fed nonchalantly in the papyrus. It was a truly beautiful scene.

The Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana is a stunning stretch of wild Africa, full of wildlife and ever-changing habitats. Deep water channels, reed beds and shallow floodplains fuelled by the Okavango River merge into Kalahari scrub bush, mopane woodland, riverine thickets, open grassland and savanna woodland. It is an area of continual beauty and intrigue. To explore this iconic wilderness by helicopter is a thrilling experience which is now an affordable proposition for most visitors to Botswana. Transfers between camps in the Okavango can easily be undertaken by helicopter, which offers great value as an upgrade from a fixed wing air transfer, whilst for the full aerial safari experience you can interrupt your game drive for a ‘doors off’ scenic flight of any duration.

Helicopter Horizons are based in Maun on the southern edge of the delta, but have choppers stationed throughout the delta region. For the ultimate aerial adventure, they fly Robinson 44’s capable of taking just two or three guests – it’s like flying around in a glass bubble with 180 degree visibility. Short ‘flips’ give you a 20 minute thrill with some game viewing thrown in – they will fly you over lagoons full of hippo and over plains studded with red lechwe, impala and reedbuck. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot a predator, perhaps some lounging lions or a pack of wild dogs on the move. An elephant herd moving gently through the shallows is a sight you’ll always cherish. Longer flights are available too, showing you the full Okavango Delta ecosystem from the air (the pan handle through to the Kalahari sands) and taking you to remote islands impossible to reach any other way.

For something a little different, a helicopter allows you to access unique experiences. For example, you can head away from the delta to the mystical Tsodilo Hills for half day and include exploring this area both by air and then on foot with a professional San guide. For those interested in conservation efforts in the region, combine a scenic delta flight with a touch down at the Elephant Havens orphanage where you can interact with elephants at different stages on the journey to being reintroduced to the wild.

Whatever your budget, no trip to the Okavango Delta is complete without an aerial experience, and a helicopter flight is as good as it gets.

Photo and video credits: Helicopter Horizons