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Oliver explores Zambia and Botswana – December, 2013

Oli-Vic-FOn my way to Zambia in November, I got as close to philately as I am ever likely to come when I collected an unexpected immigration officer’s ‘stamp’ in my passport, following a surprise visit to Zimbabwe. After landing in Victoria Falls Airport, a bus whisked me across the border to Zambia, where my next series of adventures began.

I spent the first few days around the provincial town of Livingstone – named after the famous explorer, I presume. Stepping across the threshold of the property where I was to spend my first night in Zambia, I wondered whether I had been watching too much Dr. Who and had unwittingly uncovered the secret of time travel. I left London in 2013, but initially had the illusion of arriving in Zambia in 1913. Blinding sunlight bathed the perfectly manicured velvet-green croquet lawn that stretched out before me, and solid white Doric columns rose uniformly to one side of the grass like guards standing to attention as they supported a terracotta roof. Once the three course evening meal was completed, this was a superb venue for a midnight croquet match.

After an afternoon spent enjoying a sumptuous high-tea and exploring the treasure trove of historical pictures, books, maps and fascinating Edwardian bric-a-brac that adorned the snooker pavilion, it was time to set out from ‘The River Club’ and enjoy a cruise on the sombre waters of the mighty Zambezi river.

Oli-kingfisherThe motorboat cast off from the neat little jetty and the small craft was soon purposefully cutting through the dark blue depths, alone on the water. This was a wonderfully peaceful experience, with the soothing sound of the Zambezi burbling past on its long journey to the sea only occasionally broken when we came upon large pods of hippos snorting miniature clouds from the water’s surface. The vivid blues and reds of tiny jewel-like kingfishers caught the eye now and again as they flitted along the riverbank, with a camouflaged crocodile sometimes acting as a lurking spectator below these impromptu aerial displays.

Later on my journey, I hiked on baked ground in the intense mid-day heat to get a close look at the famous Victoria Falls. In November the falls are at a relatively low ebb. At this time of year the local name for the falls, ‘Mosi-oa-tunya’, (smoke that thunders) seemed a little optimistic, and while the vast rocks of the waterfall’s exposed geology were a spectacular sight, you should visit in April to appreciate this natural wonder in full flow.

I had a different perspective of the landscape from the air. The following morning, grinning from ear to ear, I strapped myself into the passenger seat of a helicopter and was soon rattling rapidly over the ground and gaining altitude for a dramatic flypast. Arid earth gave way to verdant green as the helicopter fluttered ever closer to the water. I was now able to view the impressive width of the Zambezi, as it stretched majestically out from bank to bank below me. Clouds of glistening white spray rose where the water fell, and an incredible zig-zag system of gorges trailed out below the falls. The impressive iron bridge, built in Derbyshire, still stretches precariously across one of these gaps; proving the enduring quality of Victorian engineering.

Oli-leopardNext stop was Botswana. A series of light aircraft took me to the banks of the Linyanti, where I sat and looked out from between candles on a wooden bar into the liquid moon-lit night sky. In the mornings, swiftly drained tea cups and five o‘clock starts led to the discovery of some beautiful sun-rise scenery, and during a warm afternoon I was treated to a long and intimate encounter with a beautiful female leopard.


My journey progressed as I pressed on, heading further into the country. When I stepped out of a land rover at the remote Abu’s Camp in the Okavango Delta, I was welcomed by a three-day old baby elephant and her mother, part of the habituated herd. The creatures roam freely for most of the day, but are fed and cared for at camp. I came close enough to touch one of these great beasts. The elephant’s skin was strangely soft, but textured like dusty napped leather. As the sun climbed down from its mid-day zenith, I notched up another personal ‘first’ when I scrambled on top of a particularly large member of the herd, and rode through the bush back to camp.

Luckily, I adjusted quite quickly to the rhythmic lurching motion that corresponded with the elephant’s gait as we journeyed across parched earth through a landscape of lofty palm trees and sparsely placed bushes. The elephant progressed more or less as it pleased, frequently stopping to refuel when we came across any tasty looking greenery, and some delicate persuasion was needed to cross a wide body of crocodile infested water.

Oli-reedfrogAs I travelled deeper into the delta, I added to the variety of unusual modes of transport when I went for a spot of punting in a traditional mokoro (essentially a dug-out floating log). The mokoro was perfectly suited to gliding noiselessly over the glassy surface of the shallow waters of the Okavango, and I made slow but steady progress through a breath-taking scene of tranquil reeds and freshly blooming water lilies. In this afternoon of silence and trickling water, my boat took on gigantic proportions as I seemingly drifted into a magical world in miniature.

Tiny tadpole shaped shadows rippled peacefully a few inches beneath the water’s surface, as little fish swam slowly in diminutive shoals. Above water too, the reeds and aquatic plants were teeming with an array of fascinating mini creatures. Shining emerald green reedfrogs smaller than a 5p piece clung limpet-like to comparatively towering plant stems, Oli-sunsetsoaring high above the liquid, disturbed from soaking up the gentle vista when my mokoro pushed rudely past. The day drew to a close as I neared the end of this particular journey, with the water being transformed into a cauldron of molten red and burning gold by the reflection of a spellbinding sunset. As I clambered out of the mokoro, I looked back towards the sun. The verdant greens of rounded vegetation had turned to scorched black silhouettes, forming the only boundary delineating water from sky. It was time to move on and head for home.

Zambia and Botswana – lands of incredible diversity, contrast, colour and variety; for your new year’s resolution, why not try a new mode of transport in 2014.

For further information on safaris to Zambia and Botswana please call us on 01787 888590 or contact us to speak to one of our safari specialists.

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