As we started banking into Maun airport in northern Botswana and I considered the nine days that lay ahead for me, I was a little dumfounded to consider again that there was so much relatively ‘new stuff’ for me to see within the stunning wilderness of the Okavango Delta. Having travelled to the delta a great many times, I thought I had covered it all! But with the last remaining hunting concessions turning to photographic (hunting was banned in 2014), and the usual emergence of new camps and lodges, my itinerary was in fact full of intrigue.
I spent my first few days up in the far north of the delta, bordering the Selinda Spillway. Here I visited Kadizora, Mapula and the new Duba Explorers. There is a real contrast between these products in terms of the prices and sophistication offered, but they all end up seeing many of the same animals – during my visit to the area we had a productive time with cheetah, leopard and wild dogs all on show.
After a lunch stop at the gorgeous but expensive new Mombo Camp (and Little Mombo), my next area to explore was the south-east section of the delta bordering the southern edge of the Moremi Game Reserve. Here I briefly visited the established Chitabe Concession (home to Chitabe, Chitabe Lediba and Sandibe), before spending nights at Qorokwe to the immediate south, Gomoti Plains to the south-east and Mme Dinare further east beyond the Gomoti River. This entire region is very good for big game and incredibly varied in habitat. The Santandibe and Gomoti river systems are lush and green, even at the end of the dry season, but between them the land is harsh and dry, a reminder that the delta sits firmly on a Kalahari ecosystem.
A real highlight of my trip was a morning helicopter flight up the Gomoti River. Sitting in what felt like a glass bubble, we flew low along the river course, spotting herds of buffalo, red lechwe and elephants along the banks. In the water we could see huge pods of hippo, whilst flocks of egrets and storks rose in unison over the vast floodplain. It was a magical experience that illustrated just how pristine the Okavango still is.
In the eastern Delta I spent a night on the Khwai Private Reserve, at a fairly new small camp that specialises in photographic safaris. Pangolin Safaris have branched out from their excellent photo-boat operation on the Chobe River and have built a lodge in Kasane and a tented camp here in the Okavango. I was handed an expensive looking Canon camera to use on our game drive, which was handy considering I was unusually travelling without my main camera and focusing on filming, and we set off to find a pack of wild dogs that had been seen on a kill that morning. We were rewarded eventually with one of the best wild dog sightings I have had, with pups playing and cavorting, adults play fighting on their hind legs and all the dogs playing and chasing each other around our cars. I don’t think I did the camera justice, though perhaps I could blame poor light? Pangolin Safaris do focus on photography but you do not need to be an experienced photographer and in fact you don’t need to pick up a camera at all. Pangolin Khwai Camp is a simple and cosy camp which I very much enjoyed and would recommend to anyone looking for a slightly more down to earth Okavango big game camp.
My final few nights were spent in the western delta, home to luxury lodges such as Nxabega, Xudum and Xaranna, long established camps such as Pom Pom and Kanana, and horse-riding operators Okavango Horse Safaris and African Horseback Safaris, with whom I stayed. Although I long ago vowed not to waste my time trying to stay on a horse, I enjoyed superb hospitality with both operations. PJ from OHS hosted me at his Kujwane Camp, and took me to see his outreach camp, Mokolwane, from where he offers remote walking safaris in addition to his riding trails. At Macatoo Camp I was hosted by owner John Sobey and enjoyed exploring by vehicle whilst other guests headed out on horseback. We all met up for convivial sunset drinks on a platform overlooking the floodplains – wonderful. Macatoo offers a warm welcome to riders and non-riders, with guides who are able to offer game drives, water activities and walks in addition to the main focus which is riding. In a country that is generally dominated by more commercially-minded safari companies, it was so refreshing to stay at two owner-run properties that really delivered on the personal touch and safari ambience of a bygone era.
The western delta has also improved dramatically in terms of game-viewing over the last 10 years. Rhino have been re-introduced in various places across the delta, including in the west where they are being regularly seen. At Kujwane Camp I sat for an hour just after sunrise with a wild dog pack, whilst at Macatoo Camp cheetahs were seen close to camp the day I arrived and we tracked a big male leopard who wandered through camp calling just before sunrise.
The Okavango Delta will always be one of my very favourite safari regions in Africa because it offers such an amazing and pristine wilderness experience. Combining different sections of the delta you simply move from one magical scene to the next – a never-ending supply of ‘wow’ locations. From incredible wetlands and vast open flood plains to beautiful mature woodland and palm-fringed islands, the Okavango is a truly special natural environment.
Rob stayed at Kadizora Camp, Mapula Lodge, Duba Explorers, Qorokwe, Gomoti Plains, Pangolin Khwai Camp, Mma Dinare, Okavango Horse Safaris and Macatoo Camp.
Rob site inspected Duba Plains, Mombo Camp, Chitabe Camp, Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, Sable Alley, Hyena Pan, Skybeds, Khwai Tented Camp, Khwai Bush Camp, Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp, Pom Pom Camp, Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp and Xudum Delta Lodge