The Okavango Delta is a relatively untouched world and unique geography. The Okavango River is fed from Angola but never reaches the sea. Instead, it spills through swampy plains in Botswana where it evaporates and is used by the terrain. This Delta moves up and down with the rains flowing with the peak flooding time is typically between May and October.
Animals move on a seasonal basis in the area spanning 120 000km2 which means that like any wildlife experience what you see will depend on the season, weather on the day and the ability of your trackers. There is an unusual abundance of wildlife though many of them rare.
While it seems an untouched paradise the Delta like everywhere is experiencing pressures from environmental changes and impacts. Botswana’s cattle industry was devastated by the tsetse fly and in order to remain exporting harsh sprays have been used. The result is that vegetation and wildlife have been effected. Changing climate conditions have also meant that water levels are at a very high level in the Delta.
This visit is focused around the Moremi Game Reserve in two camps which are part of the Sanctuary Group. The Bains and Chiefs Camp both offer luxury lodges and an ideal base to explore. The Okavango Delta is not a budget destination which has been a conscious decision by the Botswana Government. This opens up debates of access vs preservation but there is no doubt if you are lucky enough to experience it the Okavango Delta its a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Catching the light plane into the camps is part of the African adventure. Light aircraft despatch excited tourists to each of the camps from the international airport. As water and drainage is a challenge we found ourselves stuck in the thick mud on the runway which took a few men some effort to push the light plane out. Adding to the sense of control that nature has out in the bush.
Baines Camp is the smallest of the lodges that the Sanctuary Group have in the Delta and as a result is a much more intimate experience. The team great all new arrivals with fresh towels and a refreshing drink which sets the scene for how this visit will evolve. Being a small camp everyone eats together which is a lovely way of meeting and socialising with your fellow guests.
The environmentally friendly lodge has been built using tin cans and plaster and no forrest was destroyed in the building of it. However its not the materials you notice first but the fact that the lodge is perched over the Delta which means you are quite literally part of the wildlife. How many lodges can you complain that the hippo’s keep you awake at night.
Another unique feature of the lodge is the fact that the beds can be rolled out onto your private balcony so that you can sleep under the stars. There is something infinitely romantic about being under the mosquito net and hearing the sounds of Africa around you. The lodge can also wheel a bath each to enjoy the Delta sights and sounds.
Baines Camp is also one of the camps that does walking safari’s. So wildlife permitting there is an opportunity to get out of the safari jeep and discover the bush slowly and at ground level. The guides show and explain all the wild flowers, fauna and some of the small animals such as the frogs which you can’t see otherwise. If there are lions around though the price you pay is to stay in the jeep.
As you drive through the plains there is a good chance of spotting Doug Groves and his elephants. Twenty two years ago he travelled to Africa to train elephants for a movie. While in Africa he discovered an elephant was about to be destroyed and offered to take it on. Today he has a family of three elephants and runs an amazing program with both tourists and local children called Living with Elephants. From Baines camp you can spend a morning and see close hand the amazing relationship he has with these beasts and learn a lot more about them. This is not included in the camp price.
Chief’s Camp is situated on the largest island in the Delta and enthusiastically described by Rory, the Camp Manager as the predator capital of Botswana. Rory spends a generous amount of time explaining that the camp is part of the wild and to respect the dangers. Included in the list is not walking on your own back to your rooms. Something that was appreciated as one night a young male elephant was hiding in the bush less than a metre off the path.
Chief’s Camp is certainly rich in wildlife and if you spend a few days you will be rewarded with some amazing travel experiences. The activity options are similar to Bains with the addition of an on-site helicopter but no opportunity to walk with the animals. The helicopter is an amazing experience as you float over the Delta with the doors off the helicopter. The animals are shy of the noise though. Most activities are included but the helicopter is an optional extra.
A popular way of seeing the Delta is on a traditional canoe known as a mokoro. You will be paddled expertly through the swamps and see the quieter and slower side of life on the Delta. Some were disappointed not to see more wildlife but it is the experience of being on the water that makes this a must do. It is also interesting to learn than in high waters many of the local people still use these boats as their main transportation.
Chief’s Camp is a much larger than Baines and consequently there is more of a life around the lodge. There are people arriving and leaving every day and the evenings are social. A nightlight is their dinner under the stars and all the camp employees sing and dance. Another highlight is that the main area overlooks a huge open swamp where you can often see elephants playing or hear hippos.