Some know Mombo as the “Place of Plenty”. Others refer to it as Mma Di Campo (“The Mother of all Camps”). With its considerable nightly rate and renowned reputation for sensational wildlife sightings, those who are fortunate enough to stay at this beautiful place cannot be blamed for having very high expectations.
Along with the name and the reputation come a significant amount of excitement. Like the flutters you get before meeting your favourite star or the thrill of seeing the top of Kilimanjaro towering over the Serengeti for the first time.
Land at the Mombo Airstrip and instantly this buzz rushes through you. Guides come bounding across to welcome you and helicopters are on standby to take you anywhere, any time.
So, here you are, you’ve finally arrived at the famous Mombo Concession and your guide takes you on the short 20-minute journey to the lodge. As if they’ve come to welcome you, the track is full of life. Impalas line the road with their young calves leaping through the grass. Geese, ducks, sandpipers and colourful bee-eaters flock the small pans along the road and the characteristic shrill call of the stunning turquoise woodlands kingfisher welcomes us. We’ve arrived in mid-February, the middle of the Green Season, a time when the bush is full of colour and new life.
We’ve arrived at the lodge and the staff’s smiles await you along with the eagerness to make this time at Mombo your most memorable. Sitting down for lunch, we’re treated to crisp baby vegetables and lightly grilled Chobe bream. The “new” Mombo is around two years old and meticulously maintained. When you start to look around, the touches of comfort and elegance are all over, from the motion-sensor lights in your massive room to the carefully packed sachets of Fairtrade ground coffee and bottles of vintage wine in your private lounge. We could tell you about the USD12 000 worth of complimentary Olympus mirrorless camera gear you are free to use, the refreshing private pool, day-bed and more of the delectable meals and snacks we were treated to during our stay but what we really couldn’t wait for was to set out and explore what this famous concession in the heart of the Okavango Delta would deliver. Because, let’s be honest, there are beautiful properties all over Africa… the reason people come to Mombo is for a safari experience to beat all safari experiences.
Well, 48 hours later, and we were completely and utterly blown away by what we had witnessed.
On our first afternoon drive with Moss we headed out to where the breakaway pride had been relaxing the morning before. Sure enough, we rolled up to within breathing distance of them. A perfect place to take in some shade from the hot afternoon sun and start learning about the dynamics of the resident and roaming lions of Mombo.
About 20 minutes later, the distinctive continued shrieking of the red-billed spurfowl alerted the guide to what was most likely another predator. Just 150 metres from the relaxed pride of seven lion was a massive male leopard. Moss called this striking male leopard Sergeant and one couldn’t help noticing how passionate he was in sharing the excitement with his guests. His eyes were fixed on the animal as he shared the years of how he has watched this individual through his challenges and triumphs existing in this predator-rich landscape. Sergeant is reaching the end of his dominance and you can see he has been through a lot as he panted hard in the afternoon heat.
As we made our way along the marshy plains it started to become evident. It’s not just the animals or the thrilling sightings we were being treated to, it’s the sheer beauty of the area, which is unlike anything we’ve seen. It’s Africa as you imagine it. Some of Botswana’s largest baobab trees look as though they’ve been placed there deliberately. You’ll find yourself alongside rolling floodplains where carmine bee-eaters swoop by the vehicle and then into dense forests with old gnarly jackelberry trees. It truly is a breathtakingly beautiful African wilderness.
Nothing could have prepared us for the treat we were in for the next morning. We told Moss we would be ready to set off nice and early to make the most of our time out there. And if you don’t want to miss out on the fresh cappuccino and scrumptious handmade toasted sandwiches cooked on the fire… do not fear, they will wrap it up for you for your breakfast on the go.
We headed towards an area called Tsessebe Plains to find the Mathatha pride. We found them and they were on the move. It was clear where they were headed. The buffalo herd of around 400 animals or more was not far away. Lions are never far away from a big herd of buffalo.
Once again, we were staggered by how quickly we encountered the next predator. A majestic male cheetah was watching these lions with a clear amount of distress. It was the flick of its tail Moss spotted across the grassland. When we got closer, we were treated to rich golden morning light as we followed this cheetah from termite mound to termite mound, posing for us.
Fifteen minutes later, after being spoilt with photographs of this cheetah, we ventured to the thickets where the impalas alarm calls were causing panic. This was not typical behavior for antelope in the presence of a cheetah. If you’re an antelope within visual contact of the fastest land mammal on the planet you’re best of making a run for it sooner rather than later. Moss realized there must have been another predator. Sure enough, he spotted a leopard dash for the bush – but we didn’t see it. She was moving away from three huge male lions who were after her kill from the night before.
We were almost exhausted by the morning’s excitement but that wasn’t all. We headed back to the buffalo where the Mathata pride had been seen moving closer. The script was set. A buffalo had stopped to wallow in a pool of rainwater and was flanked on all sides by seven lion. He’d allowed himself to lag behind and we settled in. Not more than three minutes later and it all kicked off.
Those who are fortunate enough to have witnessed a kill will know it can be distressing to see nature at work. Like killing machines each lion had its job in bringing down this beast. One to weigh down the rear and several others below the legs to weaken its stance. Importantly, one young male clenched his awesome jaws over the buffalo’s mouth to suffocate his distress calls that would invariably bring with them the rest of the buffalo to rescue him.
What a sighting and what a magnificent place. The place of plenty for sure. A place which preserves the pure essence of Africa as it was millions of years ago, beautifully intact.
For travellers who are lucky enough to afford a stay at Mombo the answer is yes! It is absolutely worth it!
Think back to 2010… Nicholas Sarkozy was president of France, Barack Obama was the president of the US, Ian Khama ruled Botswana and Angela Merkel was chancellor of Germany (OK, some things change faster than others!). The best movie at the Oscars was The Hurt Locker (we had totally forgotten about that one) and the top songs were by Ke$ha, Train and Lady Antebellum (who, who and WHO?). There was no Instagram until October of that year, Nxai Pan and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve had no permanent camps, Natural Selection didn’t exist, and who would have thought that AirBnB or Uber would grow so quickly?
Things were very different then and no more so than at Safari Destinations. Our little company was just four years old. Our office was above Mack Air opposite the airport and we had about 15 staff, half of which are still with us today. 2010 was the year when Lorraine and I started searching for a new home for our business, which we found only a couple of kilometres down the road. We bought our new premises in 2011 and thought we would never need all the space – hahaha, were we wrong.
21st century technology
In those long-gone days, most of us still worked on large desktop computers and used the small but efficient Nokia 5300 mobile phone. The fax machine still played a key role (remember how the ink faded right at someone’s phone number?!).
Kay, reservations manager, recalls the prehistoric days before the IT revolution, ‘We used to do everything ourselves: no personal administrators or fancy systems.’
Karen, reservation supervisor, who was the sixth employee to join in June 2008, agrees. ‘When I started, we were quoting manually using Excel and we were also doing all clients’ documentation manually, too, which used to take hours. Now, we have a clever system that works out costs and pulls documentation like invoices, vouchers and confirmations.’
The longest-standing staff at Safari Destinations agree that the biggest change the decade has brought is the colossal change in technology.
‘It really has changed my job in a big way,’ says Angela, Travel Experiences manager. ‘We used to carry a huge manual file with more than 60 Operations Reports when going to the airport to meet clients and, believe me, it was HUGE… Every time you received a call from a supplier, agent or client, you would have to find a little corner in the terminal and flip through the file as fast as you could in order to retrieve information. Today that big black folder has been replaced by a single tablet.
The Travel Experiences team
Angela touched on another big change over the decade: the development of a specialized and highly skilled Travel Experiences team that handles all client meet & greets at Maun International, smoothing arrivals and departures, handling lost luggage, welcoming clients and everything in between.
The Travel Experience team in 2020 makes a big difference to a client’s overall experience and are very appreciated by the rest of Safari Destinations. Kay and Karen remember having to drop consulting in order to race over to the airport to meet their clients, then race back again. ‘Back then, each consultant had to go and meet their own clients. There was no such thing as a “Travel Experiences” team. I must admit, I’m very happy we do now have a Travel Experience team!’, laughs Karen.
But no matter how sophisticated the technology became, Safari Destinations always put people first and the years between 2010 and 2020 saw some incredible projects for staff and the community.
As a mom of two girls herself, Karen appreciates Safari Destinations’ focus on boosting the next generation. ‘The support the company offers parents who have children is one of my biggest highlights of the past decade. Allowing our children to physically be on the office premises in a cottage (known as the Kiddies’ House), being supervised, whilst we can work is a massive benefit.’ This development was ahead of its time in Maun (and actually the rest of the world) and support for working parents is a growing and welcome global trend into 2020.
‘One of the biggest projects,’ says Lorraine, ‘is the vision to build a school and after-care facility for the Bana Ba Letsatsi (BBL) underprivileged children, a dream come true and a testament to the meaningful contribution Safari Destinations and our partners have made through tourism. The long-awaited building will be started in 2020.’
Other notable community-engagement projects include the start of the ‘Magic Bus’. This is a mini-bus that is sponsored by Safari Destinations and gives transport to especially the elderly of Maun, who may otherwise have to walk long distances to attend a clinic or go shopping.
To celebrate Botswana’s 50 years of independence in 2016, staff took part in the ‘500 Man Hours’ project that encouraged them to collectively give 500 hours of time to community projects. Today, Safari Destinations works closely with the Maun Animal Welfare Society (MAWS), Women Against Rape (WAR), Bana Ba Letsatsi (BBL) and many others. Many in the industry are also aware of SD’s work with Sekgoma Primary School, the bed night bank, Travel for Impact and various drives for donations of winter clothes, blankets and foodstuffs.
‘People’ also refers to how Safari Destinations finally started employing the so-called ‘stronger sex’ (ha! Us ladies change tyres, set up tents, dig game-drive vehicles out of sand AND give birth!). ‘The number of men employed is also a big change. In 2008, when I joined, employing men was not in the pipeline; however, once more women joined the company, there was a definite need for some male company!’, jokes Karen.
A maturing industry
As Safari Destinations grew from a toddler to a teenager over the decade, the broader safari industry also matured radically. Everyone agrees that far more players have entered the market, bringing fresh ideas and new people, and making every supplier raise their game to stay competitive. Often this had meant a new level of luxury: wine cellars, Wi-Fi, media rooms, gin bars, specialist spa treatments and à la carte dining were all virtually unknown in 2010.
As Angela says, ‘Suppliers have had to keep up with trending luxury décor in order to stay relevant while not destroying the authenticity of the camps or environment.’ ‘Yes,’ says Karen, ‘More properties are popping up, which means new players as well. The upgrading or rebuilding of a lot of properties to a very high-end level means some products are far more luxurious now than ever before.’
And keeping up with times means the decade also saw huge shifts in how it uses technology.
‘Smart-phone technology and websites being a go-to place for people to do research has been a big change. There is so much more access to information now,’ adds Karen.
‘Social media is a plus. It makes it so much easier for all concerned to get the message out there and also for clients to dream up and plan exotic holidays. Wildlife documentaries, viewed across the world, are also a plus but trying to get an 8-10-day trip to compare with a documentary that is five years in the making, is sometimes challenging, to say the least! Luckily, we rise to the challenge!’, laughs Kay.
‘The rise of social media over the past decade has changed many things,’ agrees Andrea. ‘In some ways, thanks to smart phones and social media, travel is less about the experience of being in moment now and more about what you can post to Instagram later… Every camp now needs a few corners that are highly Instagrammable. It’s the same with some sightings: if the light is low or branches are in the way, then there’s no point in stopping for a photo for some guests. Some clients want the exact experience they’ve seen on Instagram – unfortunately, the elephants aren’t trained to drink from the same swimming pool at the same time every single day!,’ she jokes.
‘Social media also allows for a lot of information, which is a good thing as Karen says, but sometimes that information is put out by amateurs who get things wrong. TripAdvisor is now a staple source of information for clients that they trust without knowing the full story of a stranger’s holiday – a good camp may get a bad review for something beyond their control. As professional consultants and experienced experts, knowing what product would suit which clients is a skill that cannot be replaced by a single TripAdvisor post.
As Kay says, ‘with more and more beautiful videos and photographs appearing online every day, we need to remember that they represent just one moment of a safari. A photographer chooses a single perfect image from a whole journey. For us, the fun and excitement remains in finding sightings, having great guides, smelling the wild sage, hearing the bulbuls call to each other and seeing remarkable landscapes – not in reducing it all to a few pixels on a screen.’
A decade of good laughs
While it’s never easy to grow a business from strength to strength, it is certainly made a lot easier if everyone has a good sense of humour. The Safari Destinations employees who’ve been around since 2010 and before have shared plenty of jokes and funny anecdotes over the years.
Kay groans at some of the crazy requests… ‘We’ve been asked to provide a double room with a sea view at the Victoria Falls Hotel! Once a client was disappointed because they couldn’t take a mokoro from Nxamaseri to Tsodilo Hills to see rhino!’ ‘Oh, that’s nothing,’ says Karen with a straight face. ‘I was once asked if the clients would be able to see unicorns on safari…’
Travel is a big and often stressful part of our jobs as we have to see as many properties as possible, make extensive notes, take photos (and videos now with our phones – unthought of in 2010!) and remember countless names, numbers and facts. But even educational travel has it’s funny side: Lorraine and I were once hosted at Baines’ Camp by Sanctuary Retreats.
‘They ran us a romantic bubble-bath following the afternoon activity that we had no choice but to use. So, we had fun taking a picture of the two of us fully dressed in the bath!’
We’re all looking forward to seeing what advancements, achievements, jokes and memories the next ten years will bring us!
I often get asked which places I would recommend for a relaxed armchair safari. Safaris can be exhausting: early mornings to catch the predators hunting, late nights watching ‘bush TV’. Having done numerous safaris and often rushing from one place to the next to make sure we know all the camps we are offering, I came to realize that a slower pace is the way to go. If clients insist on seeing many different areas they often don’t have enough time to stay three nights in each camp. In this case, I highly recommend adding the occasional ‘armchair destination’ into the itinerary, where guests can enjoy an afternoon spent in camp, watching the animals from the comfort of their lodge.
Pick #1: Meno a Kwena Tented Camp, Boteti River, Botswana
This camp has been one of my favourite places since about 2004. It is situated above the Boteti River, offering stunning views of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Its unique location guarantees outstanding game viewing from camp. All tents are built along the edge of the cliff. The best time to travel is between April and November when the zebra migration arrives along the Boteti in search of life-giving water. The camp offers an authentic San Bushmen nature walk, full-day trips into the Makgadikgadi and, for guests that stay a minimum of three nights, a sleep-out under the stars in the middle of the vast nothingness of the salt pans can be booked.
Pick #2: Nogatsaa Pans Lodge, Chobe National Park, Botswana
Nogatsaa had been on my list of camps I needed to visit since its opening. Years ago, I had been camping in this very remote part of the Chobe National Park and loved the area since then. When the owner of Ghoha Hills told me about his plans to build a safari camp in Nogatsaa I was super-excited. The camp is situated on the edge of the Nogatsaa Pans, which have water pumped into them throughout the dry winter months. The pan is one of the few reliable water sources in this harsh area, making it a hot-spot for large herds of elephants. It is the perfect spot for a relaxed armchair safari: guests don’t need to leave camp, they can watch the animals come to drink. We saw hundreds of elephants, buffalo, giraffe, roan antelope, waterbuck, kudu and even a resident baby hippo during our stay. Access to the camp is by road from Kasane; the drive takes about two-and-a-half hours.
Pick #3: Deteema Springs Camp, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Deteema Springs opened in May 2019 and is the second addition to the Machaba Safaris’ portfolio in Zimbabwe. The camp was built on the old Deteema Picnic site, a very popular spot with Hwange visitors. The national park authorities asked that the design of the new camp incorporates the old picnic site and the architects did an excellent job. This tented camp is super-comfortable and offers amazing views over the springs and towards Deteema Dam. Guests can skip an afternoon activity and enjoy the comfort of their veranda to watch the elephants come down to drink from the fresh-water spring.
Pick #4: Savute Elephant Lodge, Chobe National Park, Botswana
The Savuti region in the Chobe National Park has been especially famous for its large lion pride, the Marsh Pride. They had to adapt to the super-harsh environment of this intriguing place in order to survive. This group of sometimes up to 30 lions have become experts in hunting elephants – a spectacle that can’t be guaranteed but one that anyone who has witnessed it will never forget. Savute Elephant offers its guests a comfortable place to relax and enjoy the environment. The hide underneath the terrace and pool offers amazing views over a busy waterhole that gets pumped all year and attracts lots of animals during the day and night.
Pick #5: Kanga Camp, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Kanga Camp lies hidden in the backland of Mana Pools National Park. Its unique attraction is the super-busy waterhole right in front of camp. The animals know that Kanga Pan is the only reliable source of water in the area and they make use of that knowledge. Guests can enjoy a delicious lunch on the main deck while watching the elephants come to drink. This authentic bush camp consists of six comfortable tents and guests get a true bush feeling in this remote part of the park.
Tucked away in the Khwai Private Reserve, Tuludi from Natural Selection has access to 200 000 hectares of land to explore… so we went exploring!
Tuludi is stunning. Every small detail has been thought of while putting the lodge together. The main area offers so many different places to sit – the problem is that they are all very welcoming so the choices seem endless! All these different seats have different views of the area surrounding the lodge.
The whole lodge, including the staff, is premier material. Food is à la carte with a good number of choices that are out of the ordinary but tasty. The rooms are spacious and restful yet romantic with outside bathtubs. The family room is stunning. In fact, the whole camp is family friendly especially with the fun addition of the slide in the main area!
The vehicles are so comfortable that no bumpy road can ruin your game drive. They also have an elevated hide overlooking water for lunches or dinners.
Comparative value and experience
Tuludi offers a chic modern style, some of it’s design elements are unique, like the bar, made of thousands of mosaic pieces – stunning artwork. This new camp has the air of a premier camp at more classic rates, it would go perfectly well with the likes of Kanana, Nxabega or Xaranna. I can also see it being combined with Ngoma Safari Lodge, Belmond Savute Elephant or the new Selinda Camp.
This lodge is definitely for clients wanting a luxury safari who love their comfort. It’s also good as an upsell for honeymooners. Tuludi is a good family camp for children aged six and over but a private vehicle must be booked in this case.
Seasonality, wildlife and activities
Tuludi is one of four camps in the vast Khwai Private Reserve. Only vehicles of one of the four camps are allowed to gamedrive in the area, making it an exclusive experience. The main source of water is the eastern-most finger of the Okavango Delta, the Khwai river, which attracts large herds of elephant and buffalo. The permanent waterholes are home to resident hippos. During rainy season the floodplains fill up, changing the landscape from open grassy floodplains to lilly-filled lagoons.
Clare and I were among the first to visit the ‘new’ King’s Pool Camp, which has been given a very impressive make-over…!
The new rebuild of King’s Pool is looking fantastic. They have used a lot of earthy colours such as browns, beiges, golds and black, which give a really refreshing feel to be somewhere completely different to the Delta.
From the main area and all the rooms, you have a lovely view over the Linyanti Swamps, teeming with hippos and crocodiles.
One of the special treats of King’s Pool is their very own in-house masseuse, who will spoil you with a massage on the deck of your room overlooking the swamps, for total relaxation in your siesta or after a hard day’s game driving.
The lodge has the advantage of driving along the riverbed in the late afternoons where you don’t have to search for any game, as hordes of different species come down to drink in the heat of the afternoon.
We were lucky enough to watch crocodiles displaying mating behaviour plus see hundreds of elephants, roan and sable antelope among other plains game.
The landscape and habitats are completely different to the Okavango despite the Linyanti Swamps being a Delta system of their own; they are completely separate to the Okavango.
Driving the river’s edge in the afternoon is a completely different experience to driving further back in the mopane woodlands in the early mornings looking for more predators. It gives a complete contrast of habitats.
This area is well known for its large herds of elephants in the dry season: it did not disappoint in that regard as we encountered huge breeding herds.
Another highlight of this camp is the two hides. One is underground in front of the water, meaning you are looking out at ground level up at the gentle giants that dominate this area.
King’s Pool suits first-time safari goers as it is an easy comfortable safari experience. Everything is pretty much thought out for you and not too much energy is required. Those first-time Botswana travellers who have heard about our large elephant populations, but don’t want to do the crowds of Chobe and have the Premier budget, would fit King’s Pool perfectly as they still get the barge on the river and game drives, all in the exclusiveness of a private concession. You have the flexibility of game drives, boating, walks and sitting back in one of the two hides relaxing with a gin and tonic, watching the animals coming down to drink.
The best months to explore this area in a typical year is July to October as the food resources and excess surface water from the rainy season have dried up, pushing the big herds into the Linyanti Swamps area to greener pastures and permanent water sources. In the Green and shoulder seasons, although the big herds will move out, the predators remain because they’re territorial, and the antelope that remain give birth to their young, meaning lots of babies around that make for easy pickings for the lions!
We stopped at Kwara Camp in the famous Kwara Reserve in September 2019, just after it reopened after a complete rebuild. The new camp is bigger and more luxurious than the old one: there are nine tents (including one for mobility impaired guests), two swimming pools and private vehicles available.
What was your overall impression of the camp? Please highlight the unique selling points.
Sue Smart of Kwando Safaris was there to show us around and she is clearly very proud of the new addition to the Kwando portfolio – quite rightly so! This new lodge is lovely and the feel is classic 50’s safari style with contemporary touches: elements of décor like old trunks, framed photos of insects on the wall, a brass telescope, fabrics depicting plants and animals mixed in with a modern light fitting and bar stools, for example.
Every small detail has been thought of and geared towards a more demanding, sophisticated and mature clientele. The lodge is definitely not child friendly – the minimum age is 18. The main area is constructed on different levels and offers various places to sit, play games, read, write, lounge, drink and eat. The rooms are huge and include a proper lounge area with a sofa, armchairs and coffee table, a king-sized bed wrapped in a mosquito net, en suite bathroom with lots of packing space and surface areas on which to put toiletries, a vanity, bathtub, enormous rain shower heads in the indoor and outdoor showers, and a large deck with table and chairs. The linen looked first class, too.
The room I saw was for clients with mobile disabilities was all on one level. The others are identical but have a sunken bathroom. The rooms have solid walls and wooden doors and yet there is a canvas feel to it (good for clients who don’t want to sleep in a ‘tent’). I love the fact that there are two good-sized swimming pools at each extremity of the lodge so they will never seem overcrowded nor in full view of the main area. Each pool area has a ‘clubhouse’, which has a fully stocked fridge, tea/coffee-making facilities, armchairs and a ceiling fan. There are four deckchairs on one side of the pool, facing the bush.
How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience? Are there any notable special offers applicable?
I feel that Kwara Camp is good value for money. Being a four-star classic camp, it is super comfortable but not as luxurious (or as expensive), as Tuludi or the Wilderness Classic camps. Long-stay rates are always a plus at Kwara and as long as you stick with a minimum of three nights, the Five Rivers package can include Kwara. Please remember that a minimum stay of three nights is necessary, and honestly spoken this concession justifies at least a 3 nights stay, ideally even longer.
How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why?
The camp covers land and water activities, I would combine it with a camp in a completely different area such as Savute or Makgadikgadi Pans. Or in the Linyanti, the obvious choice would be Lagoon or Lebala Camps because of the reduced long-stay rate.
What type of clients does this camp suit and why?
This lodge is definitely suited for higher-end safari goers, seeking an authentic, good quality safari in one of the best concessions in the Delta. It comes with lots of creature comforts but not over-the-top luxury: groups of friends, couples, families with adult children (minimum age is 18 years), repeat clients and honeymooners would all feel comfortable here. It is also suited to those who want solid walls, and windows and doors that open and close (not tents or canvas).
How does the seasonality of the area change through the year and what effect does it have on a visitor’s experience, with specific reference to wildlife and activities?
This huge private concession borders the Moanchira channel, which has permanent water so boating will always be possible, whatever the season. Game is super-chilled and plentiful. Moremi Game Reserve is just on the other side of the channel so lots of animals cross backwards and forwards throughout the year. If the low water levels in the Delta persist into 2020, the Kwara Reserve will be a big draw as this year water in the upper Delta is more plentiful and reliable.
The Okavango Delta is an incredibly dynamic ecosystem. Its fluctuating water levels cause vegetation and habitats to adapt accordingly in very short time spans.
The Delta has historically always experienced wet and dry spells, which last roughly 30 years each. We are currently in the tail end of a wet cycle and the exceptionally low rainfall beginning of this year is not unusual according to historical data. Tentative weather predictions are looking positive with better rains this year and a bigger flood in 2020.
The current drier conditions we are experiencing are, almost counter intuitively, not bad news. During our exceptionally high flood levels in the early 2000s, large tracts of the Delta were flooded for longer periods of time. This meant that the grazing that occured on the floodplains once the water receded was no longer available for the herbivores and the nutritious grass was replaced by unpalatable sedges (types of mostly perennial but sometimes annual herbs that have a ‘tuft-like’ appearance). This has meant that herbivore numbers actually declined over this period even though the Delta was at its fullest and prettiest.
This year’s exceptionally low floods mean a lot of those floodplains have become accessible and the sedges will die back so that grass can grow again, making the land once again suitable for grazing. The herbivore populations will increase thanks to the extra food, which in turn positively affects the predators. So, while there may not be picture-book Delta water activities everywhere, there has been exceptional game viewing instead.
The upper or northern Delta has received its usual annual floods, albeit in lesser volumes, which means that conditions there haven’t changed as much.
The lower or southern Delta is affected the most due to the lack of flooding but the newly available grazing will only enhance the game-viewing experience. The reason for this distinct shift in flooded areas between the upper and lower Delta is most likely directly related to the big earthquake Botswana experienced in 2017. Due to the sandy substrate the Delta lies on, even a small shift is enough to divert water flow.
This cycle should see an overall improvement in the amount of grass available as the water-loving sedges die down, leading to the exciting game viewing we all enjoy so much.
We have long loved the Panhandle and have always considered it a secret gem. It’s a wonderful ‘new’ destination for clients who would like guaranteed water activities like mokoro and boating as well as a gateway to the Tsodilo Hills.
A 70-kilometre watercourse that starts at the Namibian border before spreading out into the Okavango Delta, the Panhandle offers year-round water. Value-for-money lodges and more affordable transfers are now making it extremely attractive. Access used to be a prohibitively expensive but now it’s on par with any other Delta flight, making it a serious option for more cost-conscious bookings.
The water experience is unrivaled: guests glide silently through the channels on a mokoro, absorbing the peace, quiet and lush greenery. They can also head out on a high-speed motorboat to experience the vast space opening up in front of them.
Tigerfishing is a famous and exciting activity in the Panhandle, as is angling for bream and barbal. Birders can train their binos on the densest concentration of fish eagles in southern Africa and look out for multi-coloured narina trogons, kingfishers, African skimmers and Pel’s fishing owls.
In addition, 30-minute scenic helicopter flips here are the same prices as those over the Victoria Falls but with the doors off, giving you clearer, more expansive view and a proper opportunity to trace the channels by air.
Travellers who want more adventure can branch out on a day-trip to the Tsodilo Hills. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2001, these four large outcrops account for the highest peak in Botswana. The Tsodilo Hills have been nicknamed the ‘Louvre of the Desert’ because of the hundreds of rock paintings found here. Clients who are hikers or ramblers can stretch their legs on trails here with a local guide.
Upscale options are Nxamaseri Island Lodge and Setari Camp. Nxamaseri is only 37km from Shakawe while Setari is easily accessed on a 35-minute flight from Maun to the Setari Airstrip. Guma Lagoon Camp and Xaro Lodge are favourites for self-drive itineraries, offering down-to-earth accommodation in comfortable canvas chalets and Meru tents. Mopiri Camp is a good mid-range option.
For more details on how to incorporate the Panhandle in an itinerary, please ask your dedicated Safari Destinations consultant. Thank you to Helicopter Horizons for the image of Tsodilo Hills.
We’re only momentarily disorientated… I’ve been lucky enough to call Botswana home for 7 years now and have traversed most of its dusty roads. However, there are always new gems to explore and last weekend the Makgadikgadi National Park was on the itinerary. This largely underutilised park only has a couple of roads crisscrossing its interior and most of them are long and straight with miles of visibility. Despite these pretty good odds, I still managed to be momentarily disorientated… or in plain English “lost”.
In hindsight this is actually a pretty impressive feat seeing as there are so few roads and yet we still managed to miss one of them – turns out it was the crucial one. We had booked a campsite in the middle of the park but for some reason we ended up on the Boteti river which forms the western boundary of the park. I’ll never forget when we came out of the ‘woods’ onto a ridge with a very pretty view of a dry river bed. After a moment or two of complementing the view it dawned on me that we were looking down on the Boteti and nowhere near where we were supposed to be. The little cement pillar stating Khumaga office a mere 2km away confirmed this. I couldn’t help but start laughing, almost uncontrollably, at this rather long detour. It was now 15h00, we’d left Maun at 8h30 and still had to cover 60km to get to the campsite and set up camp. Suffice to say the giraffe, gemsbok and elephants we’d passed earlier looked a little surprised to see us again so soon going the opposite direction at a slightly faster pace..
We made it to Tree Island in record time, set up camp and managed to get out onto the pans for a well-deserved sundowner. Nothing beats the open spaces the pans have to offer, there is quite literally nobody around let alone any man-made structures to disturb the endless views. My Dutch friend, who is an avid sailor, likened the emptiness of the park to being out at sea – the grass waving in the gentle breeze reminded him of the waves and if you know enough about astronomy you can easily navigate by the stars. I’ve seen plenty of impressive night skies but on a moonless night like we had, the universe in all its glory makes you seem very small and irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. A feeling that more people should experience more often if you ask me!
Back in camp dinner was served and we ended the day with a nightcap around the fire – you’re not camping properly if you’re not sitting around a fire contemplating the days’ adventures whilst hearing lions roar in the background.
The next morning, we left bright and early, changed our second flat tyre and made our way back to the Boteti (we knew the road by heart now..) to catch the annual zebra migration. This natural phenomenon is utterly astounding and quite literally breath taking. Imagine hundreds of zebra and wildebeest making their way down to the river, which isn’t much more than a couple of big puddles and trying to squeeze in between large herds of elephants. We parked our car under the trees, opened our picnic lunches and just sat there for hours watching the spectacle unfold before our eyes. Whilst the zebra, wildebeest and elephants were all jostling for space lions starting calling. I’m convinced they did so just to make the experience all the more surreal for us.
No matter how long I’ve been in Africa for nor how many safaris I’ve done, those hours spent on the river banks watching the spectacular migration in action is something I won’t easily forget. It ranks pretty high in special moments and trust me, this continent has granted me quite a few!
The Okavango Delta, the largest oasis in the world, attracts large concentrations of all forms of life from the surrounding Kalahari Desert. During periods of flooding plants flourish, animals reproduce and large herds of mammals migrate away from the swamp, to the fringes and to areas in the surrounding desert that benefit from the water that is slowly making its way through the sand.
The exact opposite happens during dry spells! Large concentrations of animals come together around water pools, receding channels and lagoons. Considering the current water and flood levels and data on rainfall in the Angolan Highlands and the catchment area of the Okavango Delta it is very likely that the upcoming year will be very dry. It looked similar in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and game viewing around the core Okavango was nothing short of spectacular! We were there to see it. Elephants, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra jostling for a place around the precious wet; carefully watched by predators that follow the herbivores and focus ALL their attention around the last remaining watering holes.
You remember all those times when we said: Or should I rather suggest to the clients to travel a bit later? When the game viewing is a bit better? Don’t you think June is maybe too early? Maybe rather September?
In 2019 we are up for a much longer season of enhanced game viewing with less animal movement out of the Okavango, a true premier savanna game drive and superb walking experience. In essence: it will be September from June onwards…..
Sure, the water levels might get too low to conduct boat cruises and mokoro excursions sooner than in previous years in a lot of areas. But there is still a number of camps around, located close enough to the more permanent channels, where your clients can enjoy gliding through the swamp on a mokoro. Our consultants know exactly where to find those camps to add to your clients’ itinerary and where to include mokoro or boating.
But don’t let anybody fool you into believing that a dry cycle in the Okavango is bad news.
It is great news for a photographic safari. Get ready for an amazing season !!!!