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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

Tuesday 4 December 2012

On Safari at Ghoha Hills Camp in Savuti

At the end of October I got the chance to see Ghoha Hills Camp which opened its doors in mid 2012.  The most impressive selling point of this lodge is its location which boasts a magnificent view. The lodge lies on top of the hills it’s named for, overlooking the Ghoha area and a small waterhole. Ghoha Hills offers a brilliant compromise between other lodges based in the Savute & Linyanti areas because it lies between them. The design of the lodge is stunning with the light colour schemes and pale woods used, making a really fresh, modern & welcoming impression.  Even being a grumpy morning person, I had to be impressed by the stunning sunrises, which I watched through my window in camp.

Sunrise from my room at Ghoha Hills Camp

The smooth sunrises at Ghoha ensured I was happy and ready to start my days of game viewing. The lodge offers game drives on their own private road network, daytrips into Savute or if clients stay 3 or more nights, into Linyanti. The lodge offers some flexibility however and is willing to cater to the preferences of guests in camp for activities provided there’s enough interest. With the longer daytrips you also need to keep in mind that the transfer takes a while, because the lodge is situated a while from the Savute marsh. It’s a 45 minute drive from camp to the airstrip and further again to the Savute marsh, but it was worth bumping around in the car on the sandy roads.

During my time at Ghoha Hills I saw so many things: thousands of elephants & buffalos, huge herds of zebras, giraffes and my personal highlight, a cheetah feeding on an impala. We found the cheetah underneath a little bush but the moment I got the camera out of my bag and tried to take a photo it ran away and I was left with a nice shot of buffalo “poo” next to our car instead.

Buffalo Dropping

After I had overcome the big disappointment of my failed cheetah photograph I at last had the chance to get a nice photo of an elephant standing next to a dead tree, giving me a beautiful scenery shot and bringing the beauty of the area across. After spending a few days at Ghoha Hills, I was reminded how great the Savute area is and how much it is worth every visit.  As Ghoha Hills is one of the few lodges with family units (they have two) and are willing to take kids from 6 years onwards, it’s also a great family choice.

Over all, Ghoha Hills offers very good value for money and a great safari experience which is why we’ve packaged it in our 10 night Northern Highlights Standard itinerary and 12 Night Family Safari.

Elephant – Savute Marsh

Check out our agents’ corner for more information on Ghoha Hills and packages that include the camp and the Savuti area.

 

Ines

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Ines

Saturday 1 December 2012

We personally “Meet & Greet” all our clients in Maun

I am sure you all know that we personally “meet & greet” all your clients upon their arrival in Maun (be it in the beginning or at the end of their safari). We introduce ourselves as the on the ground partner agency of their tour operator and greet the clients on behalf of their agent.

Here is one example of a client’s feedback after a beautiful safari which took them from Vic Falls (Ilala Lodge) to Chobe Game Lodge, Sandibe and Nxabega of &beyond, Sango Safari Camp and the last couple of nights they spent at Kwando Nxai Pan Camp. They had booked a stunning and very varied safari itinerary.

Moss of Safari Destinations is happy to greet clients upon arrival in Maun

“I met your clients ….  x2 ex Nxai Pan Camp and they were so happy and said they had a great safari. They loved the hospitality in every camp – said that Ilala Lodge was excellent with its outstanding staff  and great food. They said because they were vegetarians – they were very much impressed with the manner with which they were well catered for – the vegetables everywhere were fresh and the spices were too nice. They were really happy with every lodge and camp, although Chobe Game Lodge was more like a hotel and had so many guests it felt less bush-like, but they said the activities were excellent, they had seen so many animals and they immensely enjoyed the boat cruise on the Chobe River. They both agreed that the highlight of their safari was Sango Safari Camp – for the mere fact that it is run by local people, unlike other lodges that they had been to. They said they both enjoyed their stay there. Mr … said that he also loved Sandibe very much – he said it was one of the best lodges during their safari. All in all, they were extremely happy clients and they were very thankful for the excellent organisation of their safari.”

We always forward feedback from our Meet & Greets to the relevant agent (generally we get super positive feedback, sometimes clients also give us constructive critisicm, additionally to informing the agent, such feedback gets communicated to the supplier of the service).

As part of our service we offer to store excess luggage in our office in Maun, assist with lost luggage, communicate flight changes with the air charter companies and the lodges and generally support our agents while their clients are in our “good hands”.

 

Carina

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Carina

Wednesday 21 November 2012

On Safari at Meno A Kwena Tented Camp

 

For those of you who have not been to Meno a Kwena Tented Camp – a plan must be made to go! It is not just a traditional safari experience. It is a unique insight into how tourism does succeed in embracing community and culture, as well as wildlife and the wilderness, as an integral part of the tourism environment.

Meno a Kwena Tented Camp – view over the Boteti River

We were met by Jeff and other ‘Meno’ team members at the camp after a brisk 2 hour drive from Maun and we spent the afternoon in camp at the floating hide viewing wildlife. Elephants, zebra, fish eagle and wildebeest kept us occupied and our cameras clicking.  As sunset fell and the landscape transformed into a mirage of colours a rogue steenbok sprang out from nowhere, catapulting us from our seats in a desperate attempt to keep it in eyeshot while it sprinted along the river bank and made a gigantic leap into the river and swam across! We managed to get a photo of it – somewhat blurred, but despite of all our scanning around the vicinity we could not find any evidence of what could have made this steenbok ‘jump out of its skin’ and into water! Later we were told that there had been a leopard sighting in the area… Meno is definitely a camp that does not require you to go out on activities to be lucky with sightings. That night we also got to witness bush babies playing- chasing each other up and down the trees and the roof of the dining tent!

Meno a Kwena – San Bushman experience

The next morning we went for a nature walk with Xao and members of his family and village, Xaixai. Any scepticism that I had had prior was immediately and totally eradicated! This was not culture put on a stage – it was natural, interactive, educational and extremely fun. They taught us some games which we played together, as well as song and dance. Besides entertainment, these activities were directly related to enhancing skills and attributes necessary for traditional hunting, care of the environment and family life. We ‘walked away’ with some great wilderness survival tips, a better understanding of the bushman culture, new friends, some light exercise and very happy faces.

After lunch it was time for a game drive! In the very safe hands of Cell our impressive guide, a short boat transfer along the Boteti River took as to the Makgadikgadi National Park. Our game drive vehicle was waiting for us and within our first 30 minutes we were blessed with wild dogs, white backed vultures, wildebeest, elephant, and getting stuck in thick sand. Being a lady, I found a cool spot under a raintree and equipped with an icy bottle of water and perched on a fallen tree trunk I proceeded to provide moral support to the boys as they proceeded to get the vehicle out of the sand. I even offered them some tips.

We continued our game drive along the western part of the park and the Boteti River and took in more delights with tawny eagle, honey badger, steenbok, giraffe, magpie and more…a portion of this drive runs along the fence /boundary of the national park that was erected to prevent the cohabitate of wildlife and cattle. This was necessary to prevent the spread of anthrax as well as other potentially fatal variables that can negatively affect wildlife, cattle and surrounding communities. This portion of fencing, however, as it cuts the river off from the park and thus access to water for wildlife, has resulted in wildlife forcing their way through the fencing – and not only opening up the fence to the free movement of cattle and wildlife across the boundary of the park, but also sometimes animals get entangled in the fencing causing fatalities.

The surrounding communities have culturally lived a pastoral farming lifestyle and thus access to some part of the Boteti River was deemed necessary for them to continue with their traditional life. However, with the emergence of Meno A Kwena and their close relationship both economically and sociably  with surrounding communities as well as government empowerment initiatives, the  communities now see the benefits of tourism as well as the destruction caused by the proximity of the fencing to the river. As we speak now, it is the communities that are now humming for the relocation of the fence. It is indeed a true sign that communities are‘owning’ their surroundings and proudly so. We look forward to the news of the movement of the fence. But in essence, visitors do need to be sensitised to this history in order that they may appreciate that change can be a process and that the protection of wildlife and the environment is key to the ultimate goal.

Yet another great experience that Meno A Kwena has to offer is an overnight pan trip. As it is quite a lengthy drive to the pans – to avoid disappointment book a 3 night stay at Meno and indicate that you would like to go there! I experienced the night out with Meno and amongst colleagues and family of Safari Destination earlier this year in June. It is an experience that is hard to describe and unforgettable – I felt like I was floating, with the endless panoramic views – a feeling of weightlessness. I understood then the cliché often used… ’sleep under a canvas of stars’. There is no other way to say it… and don’t forget to take your camera to get shots of you looking like you have special powers… but bring your thermals as it is cold at that time of year, and as much as you feel like a super hero when you are there – sadly, you are still prone to the elements… You may even be lucky and see a family of meerkats on your journey. This activity is not possible in the rainy season as the pans are flooded and it is impossible to get near them!

And of course a visit to Meno is often portrayed in photos against the background of a contrast of black and white stripes surrounded by a sea of soft dust… The Zebra Migration! The larger concentration of zebra is best experienced outside of the rainy season- perhaps between June-September (dependent on the weather maker).

Meno A Kwena is a great way to start or end your visit to Botswana and get a feel of the country with its complimentary offering of wildlife, culture and community in an intimate environment.

We have several itineraries that include Meno a Kwena, one of the most popular is our “10 night BEST VALUE Safari”, a combination Livingstone, Chobe, Delta and Makgadikgadi. You can download the details from our agent’s corner.

 

 

Saadia

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Saadia

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The truth about “Green Season” in Botswana

With our first rain of the season last night, the residents of Maun are breathing a sigh of relief. It is a welcome reprieve from the October heat. With all the industry talk of  “Green Season” and the countless specials on offer, I thought I would shed some light on the subject for those wanting to travel to Botswana at this special time of year.

The green season in Botswana (Dec—Mar) is becoming increasingly popular as many operators offer significantly reduced rates paired with clever marketing strategies. However, you need to know the difference in the product during these months and be honest with your prospective customers.

Moremi Game Reserve, Bush Ways Safaris

Both wet and dry spells occur throughout the season. Typically short, spectacular afternoon showers offer a welcome relief from the heat of the day and make for great photographic opportunities. However, periods of heavy rain, low cloud cover and drizzle can occur.

Large concentrations of wildlife surrounding the permanent waterways during the dry season disperse to seek new grazing and are sustained by the seasonal pans now filled with rain water. Lower concentrations of wildlife are compensated for with lower visitor numbers offering added exclusivity. With the arrival of the rain comes new life as birthing season begins for many species. Predators take advantage seeking out the vulnerable young as easy prey creating spectacular wildlife interaction. Heronries and other nesting colonies are very active at this time of year and it is the peak breeding time for many of the colorful migrant birds.

Nxai Pan National Park (K Richardson – winner of the Kwando Safaris photo competition)

The normally arid landscape of the Kalahari is transformed into a thriving paradise teaming with herds of springbok and gemsbok attracted by the short, sweet grasses and the water filled pans. Nxai Pan becomes home to thousands of Zebra resulting in excellent predator interaction with the resident lion prides.

The scenery is refreshingly lush and vibrant as the dust is washed away and trees and flowers burst into life. The retreat of the flood means that more varied habitats are accessible to explore on game drives. Lower water levels in the delta can limit water activities dependent on seasonal flood levels. Walking is limited for safety reasons due to the cover provided by the long grass and lush vegetation.

The green season rates offer excellent value for money, providing a great opportunity to visitors that could otherwise not afford Botswana, or returning visitors that would like to see a different side.

Tau Pan Camp (Kwando Safaris), Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Lorraine Potter

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Lorraine Potter

Thursday 27 September 2012

Hello world!

Welcome to our new website! We will start uploading lots of interesting stories soon.

 

Carina

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Carina