A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Okavango Delta is a wonderland of wilderness, with beautiful landscapes and a plethora of wildlife.
The flora is also diverse and exceptional as this delta occurs in a desert and provides life for many people and of course the animals too.
The Okavango Delta is situated in north-west Botswana, a peaceful democratic and wealthy country. Thousands of migratory bird species flock here each year, especially to the fig tree clad islands of the delta and many visitors also visit and in particular, those who want to witness the huge landscapes and who want to explore this pristine environment.
The Okavango covers around 15,000 square kilometres - seasonal floodplains and water ways fed by rain waters from the far north (Angola) waters. As the water travels through hundreds of miles, through the Kalahari sands and papyrus reed beds, it emerges into the delta almost pure and wonderfully tasting.
To visit the delta is a must and to maximise the experience, one should preferably stay in two camps/lodges, in two different areas, so that you have a variety of activities and also scenery and wildlife. For example, some camps only offer water activities – like motor boat excursions and mokoros (canoes), others only game drives, others walking and water activities. And in others you cannot walk at all.
There are also differing levels of camps and lodges available for consideration, from the luxury to the more simple and old traditional camps were the emphasis is on the experience. On my recent return back to Botswana I visited some wonderful camps including Sandibe, Duba Plains, Little Tubu Tree and Eagle Island Lodge.
The latter two lie deep in the delta itself and yet the activities are different and the lodges are completely different in design. Eagle Island has a modern twist with greys and turquoise and deep yellows, and views straight across a low floodplain of reedbeds to the main river. Whilst Tubu Tree has large canvas clad rooms, light streaming in through gauze windows and gorgeous views where red lechwe like to nibble the short sweet grasses.
Sandibe is exceptional in design with wooden pods, some of the best cuisine we have tasted on safari and an incredible diversity of landscape – from papyrus reedbeds along a small river flowing from the Okavango, to mopane forests in the drylands and riverine forests.
I had a great sighting whilst there of a leopard sauntering past the game drive vehicle whilst being barked at by baboons that he had treed and now where telling everyone within a couple of miles radius that there was a predator around. He causally walked past and away.
Duba Plains is certainly a favourite of ours in that the wildlife and game viewing is very good, year-round and the birdlife is super. This is truly a wonderful area for wildlife and also what makes this area incredibly special are the rhino that have been re-introduced back to the area after many years. Duba Plains was incredible.
From the copper clawed bathtub, private plunge pool and luxury room complete with carved Zanzibari doors to the five course tasting dinner. But most of all, the rhino encounters – just so great to see rhino roaming the plains in Botswana- safe and secure, and the lion interaction when the resident pride decided to visit the northern side of the bridge and introduce the teenagers in the pride to the local dirt airstrip. The youngsters soon found the refuelling pipe for the helicopter and a game of tag followed. Before long the long pipe had been ‘sushi’ed.’
The seasonal changes over the Okavango Delta transform its character over the year. In the mid-winter months many of the heronries are full of water birds whilst in the green season the migratory birds arrive from the north and start nesting everywhere.
The wetland is transformed between the dry and flooded seasons as climate and hydrological and biological interactions alter the landscape but the wildlife knows, embraces and adapts to the seasons.
Such as when the elephant matriarchs know when to turn and take the same routes back through the surrounding drylands when the flood waters arrive and are gratefully welcomed as the waterholes dry up after the rains. When I lived in the delta for many years we always had lesser striped swallows nesting in the eaves of the camp radio room, and in fact many generations later they still return.
Walking in the Okavango is a wonderful experience because not only will you come across the tracks of the animals and hear the sounds of the birds, perhaps a baboon barking in a nearby forest, or try to creep up on a herd of impala or a stately giraffe but you will also see the smaller things that go unnoticed like the huge mushrooms (Leboa) – Termitomyces reticulaty and other fungi, such as the woodcap species, Bushveld bolete and puffballs.
Your guide will no doubt stop and tell y who does and doesn’t eat them, what part of the food chain are they linked to and how fungi are a creator of the landscape, much like the ants who are in many cases instrumental in creating the islands that these wonderful safari lodges live on. Each habitat be it savannah, woodland, riverine forest, islands, permanent swamp or seasonal floodplain is exceptional and each species is adapted to living in each.
Headline and background pictures by courtesy of Belmond Safaris Botswana.
Internal accommodation picture by courtesy of Great Plains Beverley Joubert.