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Category Archives: Okavango Delta

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Our visit to the Jao Concession in the Okavango Delta

In November Muriel and I had the opportunity to explore the camps in the Jao Concession, we visited Tubu, Little Tubu, Jao, Jacana and the new Pelo Camp. I am happy to share our experience with you:

Baby Zebra at Kwetsani

Baby Zebra at Kwetsani

Kwetsani: Spectacular setting over the lagoon, very ‘high and elevated camp’ everything is about views, large public deck, many different, intimate corners and tasteful spaces for the clients to withdraw and enjoy the scenery.

Units: due to their height they almost appear as ‘tree houses’, they will be enlarged and refurbished in the coming weeks, then the camp will be certainly my favorite of the classic collection in Jao.

Management: very passionate, open minded, outgoing, and certainly top service orientated camp manager, Charmaine.

Pelo Camp (pronounce PILU for all Setswana ignorants amongst us, as otherwise it sounds like kidney and not like heart, which is the shape of the island it is on).

New camp only open in high (=dry) season, very romantic, hidden in the thick bush on the island, pure water bases, the only activity is mokoro, so it will make a perfect last to relax in some horizontal safari (the birds’ concert is outstandingly entertaining) and concentrate on the small stuff.

The fire place with the bar is the central meeting point, elevated above the lagoon it offers views combined with a warm camp atmosphere.

The public area is a small tent with a terrace, true to the modest style, no big furniture but cushions to lounge.

The dining area is in another small tent, just enough to make clients feels safe without taking the camping feel away.

Units: from the outside it could be just a notch above mobile safari, they almost hide their luxurious interior (top comfy beds, perfect illumination, desk), which gives the camp the charisma of cozy, tented, intimate. Only outside bucket shower (in the cold winter months of June/July people should be informed/warned).

Food: great brunch, a variety a light and tasteful salads, beef sausages, cold pasta, cooked breakfast, fruit and cheeses. Dinner consisted of a veggie soup, excellent Impala stew, veggies and again salad, very pleasant.

Activities: mokoro, the nicest cruise I have ever done for over 2 hrs, safe, hippo free, and in a very lovely surrounding, apart from birder’s paradise, with hundreds of lechwe and elephant herds at our sights, we even spotted some shy Sitatunga.

Apart from mokoro, the manager takes clients to his very special Delta Pool for a refreshing swim and pick nick on the sand banks. Also catch+release fishing is possible.

Pelo Camp in the Okavango Delta

Pelo Camp in the Okavango Delta

Camp Jao: Just stunning, the jewel of the concession for the pampered, the Balinese palace in the Delta. All emphasis on luxury, spa, food, wine tasting, a perfect end or relaxing start to a safari, I could certainly stay for 5 days in this camp. The whole camp is highly elevated in beautiful old trees, as if the camp was a colony of tree houses connected by swaying boardwalks.

Apart from the spa, there is a proper gym, yoga mats and pilates balls, and a wine tasting parlour, as the unusual features.

Units: the best feature (vs its sisters in luxury Kings Pool/Vumbura Plains) is the shape of the rooms, as they are not deep but long, so from any point of the unit the views over the lagoon can be enjoyed, they are airy and full of light, which takes the weight off the massive wooden furniture and gives it a noble and highly elegant feel.

The public areas are impressive, two pools, one family one adults only plunge pool bordering with the Delta, large shady sitting areas on a 10 m tall deck. The impressive fireplace with unique Balinese drums builds the center of the camp with incredible views over the lagoon and its wildlife, e.g. Lechwe hunting Lions.

Jao Camp in the Okavango Delta

Jao Camp in the Okavango Delta

Christine Ess

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Christine Ess

Monday 16 December 2013

Kay’s visit to Chiefs Camp

Who said that game viewing in green season isn’t outstanding?
Here is Kay’s feedback from her recent 2 night stay at Chiefs Camp (Sanctuary Retreats) on Chiefs Island in the Moremi Game Reserve:
“Well believe it or not I got a first !!!!! I actually saw the BIG 5 !!! after 40 years in Botswana..WOW that was amazing !!!
Although we did slightly cheat & saw the Buffalo from the plane on the way home, but regardless we saw them ….”
a rare sight in Botswana - Rhino at Chiefs Camp

a rare sight in Botswana – Rhino at Chiefs Camp

Positives:
1: Guiding was excellent !!!, we had a guide called Sky for the duration & he was great. Not full of his own importance & bad jokes, that is unfortunately becoming common in many camps, but full of knowledge & certainly tried very hard to please .
2: Management & staff, could not have been more accommodating & pleasant. Always around & ready to serve, but not in your face so to speak. On chatting to different members of staff, most had been with Sanctuary for + / 3/4 years, so that says a lot .
3: Food was outstanding …I am a very picky eater, as you all know, but there was so much choice, nobody could ever complain & it just kept coming. We were there on 26th which was Thanksgiving & joys, we had a camp full of Americans, so the staff actually did Roast Turkey as one of the choices, which was very impressive….
4: Tea & coffee with a very friendly wake-up call ….YES !!!
5: Free 10 minute amazing foot massage at the Spa – all guests get this, what a treat.
6: Campfire every night, whether we sat around it or not, the ambience is there
7: Location, very dry at the moment, tiny water hole in front of the camp & infact very little water anywhere. We drove right up to the Mombo border & all the channels were bone dry. The concession is so diverse, with flood plains, palm islands etc as well as the normally dry inland sections, definitely an amazing area & never boring …..I will just have to go back & see it in full flood.
8: GAME: wow !!!!, although in all honesty we did not see huge quantities, apart from Zebra (several large herds) and the ever present Impala, it was all so relaxed & quiet happy to let you get up close & personal. Some of the game has moved off according to Sky, Leopards have disappeared as the Baboon population has trebled & Wild dog / Buffalo have not been seen for a few weeks……he feels it will all return with the rains / Floods.
Then the ultimate, Rhino, not just 1 but 2 different Males, what an amazing treat. I did see a couple in Chobe back in the 70’s but nothing since, so this was an amazing bonus & so unexpected ….
Lion, I think we counted about 15, 1 Lioness on her own eating a large Tortoise, very gruesome, but very unique. Sadly only 1 Leopard, but she posed beautifully. Surprisingly very few Elephants, apparently they have also headed south for water. But all in all amazing good quality game.
9: Flights in & out with Mack Air. Short & Sweet, perfect for me !!
we were treated to a luxurious sundowner at Chiefs Camp

We were treated to a luxurious sundowner at Chiefs Camp

Negatives:
1: Rooms, not so great….I feel they were dated & quite small for a premier camp. Although the bathrooms were very nice & spacious, they look as though they have been recently revamped.
The rooms had 2 very stiff armchairs that were very uncomfortable, Overhead & free standing Fan, a fully stocked mini bar, but no Coffee / Tea station.
2: Generator runs throughout the night, this happens at all the Sanctuary Lodges I believe, but does affect your natural night sounds. Plus the lights from the pathway are on all night & shine into your rooms.
3: Most Premier camps have private pools nowadays, & with the cost of Chiefs, I feel they could look at this, as the pool is right at the main area and with + 35 degrees, very busy.
4: Down-time, felt very long……we got back from the morning drive @ 10am & departed for afternoon drive @ 4pm, although you have lunch in-between, it did seem to drag.
5: Vehicles…..seemed very tired, definitely could do with a face lift, the middle row, had no foot rests & no soft places to put cameras etc…just a pocket in the back of 2 chairs, or a large metal trough in the front, not even drink holders. Again I feel for a premier Camp, the vehicles should be top class, as they only offer game drives so you spend +-6 hours a day in them.
No hesitation in selling Chiefs now. Still tend to feel that it is overpriced, especially in High Season, as many other camps offer the same or more, but I think the area / concession would take a lot of beating & that is what you are paying for no doubt …..
Kay
Carina

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Carina

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Bush Ways Safaris & Mayonnaise – on safari in Savuti and Khwai

Bush Ways and Mayonnaise

“Who wants mayonnaise? ‘ Masters asks.  There’s a moment of silence where all five of us fail to jump on his offer.  ‘It’s good for the eyes!!!’ he says, putting another spoonful on his dinner and passing the jar down the table.  ‘If you don’t see any animals tomorrow, you know who to blame.”

We’ve just arrived in Savute.  It’s the end of October, it’s HOT and we’ve just met Masters who will guide us through this area and later on to Khwai.  We’ve also just learnt Masters’ best-kept secret for spotting game, except that he isn’t too concerned with keeping his trick in the bag.

We had returned from an incredible sunset over a waterhole which we shared with a cross-legged elephant and a few roan antelope.  As Masters had pulled out the G&T the roan scattered and herds of impala sprinted out of the background.  “See’ said Masters ‘we were so lucky to see that Roan.  If we’d turned up a little later, we wouldn’t have seen anything at all.”

in Savuti with Bush Ways

in Savuti with Bush Ways

We were quickly learning that this was the advantage of being on a mobile safari, spending two nights in each area, driving around the same corners but seeing different things on the horizon each time.  Just when we’d begun to recognise the roads and game patterns in one area, we’d travel to the next campsite and look for it all again on a different backdrop, but with the same guide who understood what we’d already seen and where we’d already been.  If we hadn’t seen something yet, Masters usually had a quick solution.   When we put hyenas on our wish-list he pointed to his shirt and grinned, “It’s the Bushways logo!  You’ve already seen one.”

In the wide-open space of the Savute marsh we spent our time chasing wildebeest, watching elephants sleeping standing up against trees, a big male lion bending a branch under his chin for a pillow and wild dog collapsed in a mess of legs and ears under the closest shade they could find.  The animals regarded us vaguely but didn’t bother stirring as our cameras clicked away.   Despite the intense heat which kept most animals in the shade, we came across plenty of elephants butting their heads against trees, hippos yawning out twisted laughter and a herd of buffalo big enough to be counted at a thousand, give or take a few.  “That’s my favourite animal’ said Masters ‘because with that one…eish…the buffalo doesn’t mock charge, so if he comes for you, it’s already too late!”  The rest of our group had already heard these tales in Chobe, spending their first night on safari wide awake as buffalo entered the campsite and Masters’ tales repeated in their minds.

Sunset in Savuti

Sunset in Savuti

On the road between Savuti and Khwai we watched green open spaces turn to long yellow grasses and closed-in mopane forest before stopping for tea in open grasslands of the Mababe Depression.  The landscape was yellow and the sky a blazing blue that formed mirages on the horizon.  “As soon as the rain starts, this place is green, green, green and full of thousands of zebra and wildebeest.”  It was hard to imagine that we were only a few weeks away from a complete landscape change that would come with the first rains.

Sleeping Lion in Khwai

Sleeping Lion in Khwai

Arriving in Khwai, Masters found us seven lions under a tree, across the road from two signs pointing in opposite directions.  “Welcome to Chobe” on the left and “Moremi Game Reserve – 20kms” on the right with no fences in between to impede the animals’ movements.

The lions were almost impossible to see, even as we stared straight at them camouflaged in the yellow grass.  “It’s because I eat mayonnaise” Masters reminded us.  As we jumped out of the vehicle on the Khwai River for sundowners, there was a burst of activity on the radio and Masters bundled us back in the car “There’s a leopard over that way…let’s go!” As the sun dipped towards the horizon, we bumped along off-road and came upon a female leopard making contact calls.  We watched her as she jumped up on branches, circumnavigated termite mounds and prowled around the vehicle.  Heading over to our campsite in the now pitch-black night, Masters told us to look for shining eyes as he moved his flashlight across the bush.   Impala, impala…more impala, then suddenly several pairs of eyes caught the light and we found ourselves amidst ten or so spotted hyena fighting over the carcass of a baby elephant.  We sat and watched as their curved ears caught the torchlight and they pulled meat from the carcass, rocking it back and forth in a little tug of war.  “See?’ says Masters “Bushways watching Bushways!”

Just as we’d thought we were done for the night, a civet ran across the road in a spotted blur and we arrived back at our campsite to find our tents made up, our showers ready and food almost on the table.

Bush Breakfast - delicious

Bush Breakfast – delicious

Our ensuite tents on the mobile safari

Our ensuite tents on the mobile safari

Over dinner we discussed food, “I don’t understand how you foreigners each so much’ Masters said piling the mayonnaise on his dinner ‘if we do that, we get fat.” We tried to protest that people don’t normally eat us much as they do on safari, but he cut us off, ‘did you eat your mayonnaise?  If we don’t see anything tomorrow, you know who to blame!”  By now, Masters has made his point and everyone around the table takes a spoonful.

The next day we see the hyenas again, sleeping under bushes as vultures move in on the baby elephant.  In the daylight we can see the tiny protrusions of the elephant’s milk tusks from the skull.  We see waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, red lechwe, hippos, warthog, Egyptian geese, bateleur eagles and saddle-billed storks.  We stop for a mokoro excursion in the afternoon and everyone comes back with water lily necklaces and hats.   That night we see the spotted hyena again, munching on baby elephant for the second night in a row.

On our last night we’re a little sad to think it’s back to the real world where we don’t find ourselves in the middle of herds of antelope, elephant, wildebeest and buffalo every day.  We hear hyena calling in the night and lions roaring close by in the morning.  We’re all excited over breakfast, hoping to catch the lions before we leave.

For a long time we find nothing.  We visit the spot where we found the lions last.  Nothing.  We drive several tracks looking for spoor.  Nothing.  We turn the next corner and meet a vehicle hurtling down the track, the guide behind the wheel motioning for us to follow.  We pick up the pace and arrive at a clearing in the bush where two lionesses are running across the clearing, herding their cubs off.  “This is interesting’ says Masters ‘they’re nervous about something.”  He moves the vehicle and we see three big male lions in the bushes.  “I think they’re trying to kill the cubs so they can mate with the females” he says.  We watch as the lioness lead their cubs quickly off, stopping, looking over their shoulders and moving further into the brush.  Masters moves the vehicle to where he thinks they may emerge from the shrub and sure enough, a few minutes later they walk right past us.  Masters giggles and gets on the radio ‘they’re walking towards our campsite’ he says, ‘I need to radio the camp staff to get in the car.”

“I think they might go to the river for a drink’ says Masters, putting the car in gear.  It’s a guess that pays off.  As Masters parks by the river we wait a little while and sure enough, the lions emerge.  “The girls might just take their cubs across the river for safety.  Those big male lions will try to track them.  This isn’t something you see often, cats don’t like getting wet and crocodiles are a threat to them too.”

Lion crossing - Khwai river

Lion crossing – Khwai river

The lioness round up their cubs and take them to the narrowest part of the river, belly-flopping into the water and beginning to paddle.  Very soon, all nine are treading over to the other side.  We’re feeling a bit inspired and all cheer ‘mayonnaise!’ as the lions emerge looking soggy and worried before disappearing into the Moremi Game Reserve on the other side of the Khwai River.  A moment later we’re also on the road out of Khwai, heading back to the real world on the calcrete road to Maun.

Bushways Fully Serviced Mobile Safari

6 Nights in Khwai, Savuti & Chobe

Combine with: Victoria Falls and the Okavango Delta on our 10N Authentic Lodge & Mobile with optional extension to Meno a Kwena on the Boteti River/Makgadikgadi NP.

Access: from Maun or Kasane/Vic Falls or Livingstone with Northbound and Southbound departures throughout the year.

Clare Doolan

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Clare Doolan

Sunday 6 January 2013

The Okavango Delta – some true insider information about the water levels

THE OKAVANGO DELTA 

“Unfortunately there is not enough water in the Okavango Delta during the rainy season for boat excursions”

“The water levels of the Okavango Delta are the highest during dry season”

Have you also read one of those before and wondered?

The Okavango Delta is a very unique part of the world. Looking at a satellite image you can easily see a few blue lines meandering from the Angolan highlands all the way to Botswana, forming a magnificent river that spreads into an alluvial fan and then simply disappears. It creates an amazing oasis in the middle of the World’s biggest stretch of sand, the Kalahari, reaching from Congo to South Africa. Magic. But the true magic is in the timing of the flood!

Rainy season in the catchment area and around the Okavango usually begins in November, with the majority of rain falling in January and February. The local rainfall only contributes to between 2 and 25% of the delta waters, the majority of water is coming down from the Angolan highlands.

If we traveled with a little drop of water from the source of one of the main contributories, the Cubango and Cuito River in Angola, the start of our journey would be quite exciting, through the Angolan highlands and then down to Botswana, but even before we’d cross over the border we’d already travel at a rather leisurely pace simply due to the lack of gradient. It takes this little drop of water average 8-9 weeks to reach Botswana and the panhandle of the Okavango Delta. From here onwards the journey slows down even more: the Northern part of the Okavango is 250km away from the Thamalakane fault line – the delta’s Southern border – but there is only a difference of 50 meters in altitude! The main waters reach Botswana in April and start to spread throughout the alluvial fan slowly filling up the channels, backflows and floodplains, with the delta being at its fullest in July/August. From August onwards the water levels start going down again due to evapotranspiration now exceeding the input by rain waters. The driest period in the delta is in October and November, when food is scarce and animals are found around the remaining water sources and rivers. Many channels have dried up, avid birders can’t get enough of all the bird life gathering around fish traps as the water keeps receding and cars can be used where just a few months ago boats were necessary to get around. Just then the first rains fall again, the shades of brown start turning into shades of green once more, impala and other antilope drop their young and the cycle starts over – the Okavango becoming a place of plenty. The water levels in the heart of the delta though will only rise significantly once the rains have long gone.

Eagle Island Camp - sunset (December)

Eagle Island Camp Sunset in December

So what does this mean for us selling the destination?

This region is highly dynamic. Each year presents a varying amount of flood water in winter and a varying amount of rain falls in summer. Being nature, this provides a certain amount of unpredictability and nobody knows what will happen from one year to the next.

A well rounded Botswana Safari consists of game drives in drier areas and also water activities, be it by boat or mokoro. Mekoro are ideal to travel over floodplains in shallow water, gliding through reeds, discovering the little hidden gems of the area. Once the floodplains have fallen dry it becomes difficult to offer mokoro excursions due to safety concerns in deeper waters of permanent channels and rivers. Even if those deeper waters are actually not that deep anymore, they are considered prime real estate amongst hippos in not that great a mood as their territories are shrinking with the receding water and they are now very much up close and personal with their competitor and neighbor….

It is far easier on the nerves to observe those dynamics from a motor boat, but be aware that cruises can be a lot shorter due to a lack of either depth or river altogether! Eagle Island Camp for example, a camp that often has been sold as typical water-based delta experience, may not be able to offer mokoro during very low flood levels. The camps shift their focus. The floodplains may not be ideal for mokoro anymore, but they provide wonderful grazing for herds of buffalo as around Duba Plains; around Jao Camp the floodplains fill up with big herds of lechwe, enjoying the greenery. Other camps might not be that heavily affected and still happily take their guests on mokoro excursions and motor boat activities.

Here in Maun the flood levels of the Okavango Delta are an everyday topic and we never get tired of it. When did “the wave” come past Nxamaseri, has the water already moved towards Vumbura, when will it reach Sandibe… There is no end to it!

The delta is a truly wild place, it is alive and offers mind-blowing experiences on land and water year round. For next year: Let’s just keep the waterlevels in mind and choose the camps that offer water-based activities wisely.

Lechwe - Jao Camp (copyright Wilderness Safaris)

Jao Camp – Lechwe in the Okavango Delta

 

Andrea Reumerman

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Andrea Reumerman