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!
We all know northern Botswana and the fantastic wildlife areas of the Chobe and Okavango. But did you know that Botswana has a ‘toe’ in the south that is also a phenomenal wildlife haven where cheetah are seen almost every day, 92% of the year is rain-free and there are eight rivers for plenty of grazers to thrive?
Yes, Mashatu Game Reserve is in the part of Botswana that juts out to share a border with Zimbabwe and South Africa – just like a little toe! Here you find 29 000 hectares of unfenced private land – not a concession but privately owned by three generations. Over decades, careful land management has resulted in regular sightings of leopard, lion, cheetah (14 new cubs were born in 2019 alone), brown hyena, bat-eared foxes, African wild cats and honey badgers. Kills are also often observed as the wide-open plains lend themselves especially to cheetahs’ and lions’ hunting styles. We agree with Mashatu’s claim that they, ‘sell goosebumps’ and their exciting predator action is enough to give you (never mind the poor antelope!) plenty of goosebumps!
Mashatu is home to at least 700 giraffe and the largest recorded herds of elephants on private land in the world – between 200 and 300 individuals have been seen moving together. Bird nerds should look out for unusual species like Meyer’s parrots and green parrots. When it comes to spotting these animals and birds, you’re in the safe hands of the Mashatu guides, who have – on average – 14 years of guiding experience each. The trackers sit at the back of the vehicles so they can interact with the guests in the back rows. Once they’ve got five years’ tracking experience under their belts, they can move upfront.
In addition to game drives, there are multiple other ways of seeing Mashatu. Cycling safaris are easy because they follow the flattened elephant tracks (there is an age restriction of 12 and a back-up vehicle follows at a distance of two kilometres). Intermediate riders (must be able to canter with confidence) can saddle up one of the over 40 horses on the property and walking is also available.
If guests don’t feel like breaking a sweat, they can watch plenty of game come down to the underground hide where a professional photo guide is available to help them make the most of their cameras and phones. Beanbags, tripods and mounts are all for guests’ complimentary use.
Before BTTE 2019 in Kasane, we had the opportunity to do a fam trip with agents to Mashatu, where we were hosted for two nights by Kelly Evans. This is easily a 4- to 5-night stay destination as there is so much to see and do here.
We loved being on safari in this secret corner of Botswana and recommend incorporating it into an itinerary for your clients for the following reasons:
Flight connections between Mashatu and the Okavango Delta are now easier than ever, with seat rates available to travellers. It’s now much more convenient and cost-effective to fly into the south of Botswana.
Botswana Immigration – if you’re flying in from Zimbabwe or South Africa – is done at Limpopo Valley Airfield, where you’ll be queuing with a maximum of 12 other people. Our group had the immigration counter all to themselves and were done in 15 minutes. Of course if you’re flying from the Delta, you skip this step.
The game viewing is phenomenal. We saw two cheetah kills in two days as well as mating lions, stalking leopards and plenty of plains game. Kelly still felt the need to apologise that it was ‘quieter than normal’!
The variety of activities and size of the area make it a natural fit for a longer, more relaxing stay. In two days, we did two game drives, a bicycle safari and a morning in the photo hide, and STILL didn’t have enough time to get to the area’s fascinating archaeological sites or the horse-riding excursion.
The photo hide isn’t just for professionals. Superb Mashatu photo host, Aubrey, showed our group how to make the most of their iPhones for photography and composition – and we learnt about settings we never knew existed.
With three properties on offer at different levels of budget, there’s a camp or lodge to suit everyone. Opt for Mashatu Tent Camp for entry-level accommodation, Mashatu Lodge for mid-range clients and Mashatu Euphorbia Villas (will open in May 2020) for those who want to splurge. The villas will have heated plunge pools, Wi-Fi and air conditioning plus views over the landscape.
There’s no ‘real’ Green Season here. You’ll find carpets of wild flowers from January to March but the grasses are still short and the rainfall is much less than in the rest of the country, making it a great option for small groups continuing to the Okavango Delta on private charter, or just doing Mashatu as a stand-alone.
The landscape and habitats are totally different to northern Botswana, lending a fantastic contrast to the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, both in terms of expected wildlife sightings and the landscapes to enjoy it all from.
If you want goosebumps and a huge thrill, Mashatu might be the place to find them!
Mashatu forms part of our 9-nights Best Kept Secrets Superior package – see how to link the Delta, Mashatu and the Victoria Falls for your clients here.
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!
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.
Ever been on honeymoon with 28 in-laws? Or made promises of the most awesome holiday? Or wanted to make others fall in love with Botswana? Maybe you can answer yes to one of these questions but all three?! That is me: going where others fear to tread!
I sent my request for this holiday, thinking: “Puuuh! We are a large group. 29 pax! How on earth are we going to fit all those people into safari vehicles and go on safari for 6 nights?” The worst of it: an unhappy safari would mean 28 in-laws mad at me that I overpromised on my beautiful Botswana. So the pressure was on. My national pride was at stake! I love my country and wanted my new family to fall in love with it and to go home raving about this awesome safari experience. The solution to my crazy request was a mobile safari with Bush Ways Safaris!
The first day of our Bush Ways’ semi-participation safari started with a bang. Eddie and Moscow, our guides, with their assistants, and our three safari vehicles with big trailers including all safari equipment expected us outside Maun Lodge ready for our journey to begin. Excitement filled the air! After a briefing of the route of the day, was the vehicle naming ceremony. We were ‘The Xakanaxa Endurance’. I secretly hoped that this was not going to be a journey of me “enduring” unhappy in-laws. In their usual style, Bush Ways’ staff were on time, organised, friendly and informative. So far so very good.
The first stop of our journey was Khwai. And boy she did not disappoint, revealing some amazing sightings for my new extended family. On day two, we spotted a pride of 17 lions with cubs!! They had killed 4 buffalos the previous night and they were busy feasting when we arrived at the sighting. The cubs were running around with buffalo guts, falling over their feet and haul. Vultures were scavenging around also wanting to join in the feast! Looking around, I saw happy smiling family faces. It was going well.
Next we set off for Savute. It had rained a lot the previous night, so temperatures were just right for game-viewing. The rainy season means loads of babies and that is what we got: baby giraffes, baby impalas, baby kudu, baby elephants, baby zebra and even six baby hyena in their den with Mom. A sighting of 2 male lions drew our attention but we caught our breath with the next sighting. It was too good to be true. It was a fully-grown male leopard lying in a tree! Seriously it was too good to be true! That evening, sundowners with the setting of the bright orange Botswana sun, had us all feeling contented. Life was good.
Next up was Chobe, ‘the mothership of elephants’. Being the rainy season, I did not expect to see as many elephants as I did! We counted about a thousand elephants: they were everywhere! Moms and babies, teenagers and even the big bulls! All this with the backdrop of spectacular scenery! Interesting was also the amount of giraffe seen. On our way to setup camp, a leopard ran in front of the car and crossed the road to the other side. This had us laughing and cracking jokes: “What’s next, a leopard riding on top of a lion?” Otherwise, we had seen it all.
By the 6th night, the last night of our safari, our semi-participation safari had the girls putting up their own tents. Being the bride, I allowed my husband to do that for me! Our last night meant a special meal for us all. While the food was yummy the entire trip, night 6 was just that extra special. Food is one of my guilty pleasures and each morning I would ask about the meals for the day. On day 6, Moscow whispered into my ear that we would be having seswaa, morogo and phaleche (delicious meat in cabbage and pap), I squealed with excitement! And it did not disappoint. KD, the best chef ever, has gifted hands, he even masters baking a cake with no oven.
And so on day 7, with happy bodies and full hearts, we said good-bye to Bushways, heading off on the next leg of our journey. From the reservations staff, to the guides and guide assistant, offering us superb service and support at each step of the way, and being integral to our adventure, we had been provided with a holiday of a lifetime. Thank you to each one that had made it special. We had more than endured! I had done well!
In December I spent a few days in Kasane and had the chance to join a Pangolin morning boat cruise on Chobe river. The funny thing is that although I call a semi-fancy camera my own, which I have used blindly on many game drives in the past, I never actually learnt a thing about taking good pictures. This rainy morning in December was my moment, I knew it. I was super excited to be guided by Guts who is one of the owners of Pangolin Safaris and has years of experience as a photographer. The Pangolin boats are all equipped with state of the art digital cameras and lenses. Guts and his business partner Toby have created camera-mounts which offer the best possible flexibility for you and your camera. During this three-hour activity the photograhic guides teach the guests how to use the camera and the lens, which settings to use. They explain it in such a way that even beginners like I understood. At the end of the experience the guests get to take their SD card home. If they are keen, they can use the editing suite in the Pangolin Chobe Hotel to start working on their pictures.
Each boat only takes a maximum of eight guests, making the cruises not only educational but also very exclusive. Using smaller boats they generally also travel further on the Chobe river. All guests staying at the new Pangolin Chobe Hotel enjoy these special experiences when booking the fully inclusive package. Generally on a two-night stay all guests would join two cruises (morning and afternoon cruise) plus a game drive. The Chobe river can get busy, especially in the afternoons when all the Kasane Lodges take their clients on boat cruises. To avoid the crowds, Pangolin takes their guests further and also offers the alternative of quieter morning cruises.
To make the most of this experience and to really have an impact on the rest of your clients’ safari we suggest to include Pangolin Chobe at the beginning of an itinerary. This way your clients can learn from the best and apply all they learnt during the rest of their safari. They will love Botswana even more and return home with fantastic memories.
Driving through Botswana can present some challenges – difficult road conditions, destinations far apart from each other, remote areas and confusing “road” networks. All the more important is it to be thoroughly prepared and use the tools at hand to make sure your journey will be the safari of your dreams.
One of the priorities of our recent self-drive adventure was to test the different tools available. We were super curious to test the app that everybody is talking about – Tracks4Africa. We compared it with the Shell Maps, our maps (which are great as a back-up) as well as the Garmin GPS. During our self drive trip through Savute, the Caprivi, and the Panhandle it became very quickly apparent that the Tracks4Africa app is a very effective tool!
The app is very user friendly and the best about it, it works offline! Even in the remotest areas, the app connects the dots via GPS signal and allows people travelling to easily find their way around the complicated and sometimes a bit chaotic bush network.
Tracks4Africa allows to search by accommodation, places, GPS coordinates, or when you see on the screen where you would like to go, you can simply tap on the screen and it will calculate the route for you. You also have the option of putting in so called “way points” along your way. This way you can literally map out your entire trip beforehand and it will lead you from stop to stop. The indicated estimated driving times are very accurate and if it changes along the way due to rest stops, slower driving etc. the system simply recalculates.
We know that some clients struggle with the costs for the app. It currently costs USD 50, but this includes regular updates. The app covers many African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and many more. Users purchase it once and can use it again and again.
Driving through the bush, the app was most reliable. The ways leading up to the lodges usually are not mapped as some lodges do not advertise themselfes as self drive lodges, but by using the SD self drive maps with the accurate GPS points for the lodges, following signs or asking at gates even that was easily manageable.
For next season we are considering putting together self drive-kits including the paper maps of Tracks4Africa as well as the guide book. This can be pre-ordered through Safari Destinations and the clients would receive it on arrival. Our recommendation however is that clients study their itinerary beforehand, downloading the app (available for Android and iOS) and make themselves familiar with their route. Botswana is a demanding destination when self-driving and proper preparation is everything.
We have been debating the hot topic of self drives for years. The trend seems to be that more and more clients have independently travelled South Africa and Namibia by car, and as a result they think visiting Botswana in the same style is the natural conclusion. Botswana is wilder, has less infrastructure, less tarred roads, is a much more challenging destination. Self-driving in Botswana is for the adventurous, people that want a guarantee to see the amazing game in Botswana should always choose to travel with a guide, self-driving is possible in the National Parks and Game Reserves, the famous private concessions in the Okavango Delta or Linyanti can only be accessed by plane and visited with a professional guide.
As your partner on the ground we selected a group of brave individuals to go and explore some of the parks of Northern Botswana, their mission was to test a variety of maps available in the local shops, the Tracks4Africa’s app, our self drive maps and the directions we hand out.
This is the first of a series of blogs about “Self-Driving in Botswana”, we will write about our experiences, the road conditions, the user-friendliness of the maps and Tracks4Africa app and much more, enjoy the ride…
Here is Seeletso’s impression of his first self-drive-adventure:
When I was initially asked if I would like to join a self-drive educational from Maun across Savute to Ngoma and into Namibia then back through the Panhandle to Maun I didn’t hesitate for a second. I was only concerned about traveling in the extreme heat of October (we often get more than 40 degrees in our so-called suicide-month), and the stories I had been told of people getting stuck in the thick sand in Savute and Chobe. The last time I was in Savute was in 2002 as part of a Wellness Club in High School where we put up sign posts to guide everyone visiting the Savute region, so this was an opportunity to revisit this area and to check if our signs were still around or the elephants had destroyed them.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man… my moment had come. I joined Tlotlo, Brinny and Scarlet on this adventure. Being the farm boy that I am, I nominated myself to drive all the way through the park to Ngoma in Chobe. A Wild Wheels car was delivered and handed over the day before our trip, a Toyota Hilux double cab with 2 roof tents and plenty equipment. The handover is vital to make sure that all equipment needed for the trip is in the car and works properly. The vehicle came with a GPS system loaded with Tracks4Africa maps, a satellite phone, fridge, high-lift jack, spade, sand ladder and other necessary tools. We also got a proper briefing on how to use the tools, how to lower the tyre pressure. When hiring a vehicle from a local Botswana operator the equipment is guaranteed to deal with the conditions in the parks in Botswana. Clients choosing to travel through the parks need to make sure they have the right equipment. Ready, we left Maun early morning for our first destination, the recently reopened Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge (yes SD travels in style). The drive from Maun via Mababe to Savute took us about 5 hours of solid, but not fast, driving. After the Mababe Gate (guests that stay in lodges usually travel with a voucher from the lodge confirming that park fees have been paid, at the Gate only the payment for the vehicle needs to be made, it helps to have Pula at hand, the costs for locally registered vehicles is 10 Pula a day, foreign registered vehicles are 50 Pula a day) it became a little more challenging as the thicker sand began. We reduced the tyre pressure from the normal 250 to 180 bar. The Sandridge road is the most direct and easiest way to Savute even though the thick sand there has been a challenge to many. I was up to the challenge and hoping to get photos of us being stuck. To my surprise the sand was not that tough, I do not know if it was my bush baby driving skills or the Hilux just performed better than I had expected. With the vehicle on four wheel drive the stretch was easy enough.
The main challenge of the road was a few kilometers after the Savute Gate on the side track which took us to Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge. Apparently, the trucks that came in for the rebuild of the lodge are the reasons for the state of the road. Extremely thick sand with deep burrow tracks, but nothing to worry about as long as you are driving a 4×4. From Savute to Ghoha Hills there is no thick sand, but the road requires one to drive at slow speed as it is bumpy and uneasy.
At the Ghoha Gate it is advisable to ask the Wildlife officials which is the better route, as the direct route is not in great conditions. Here you drive left (north west) towards the Linyanti cutline and once on the cutline turn right and the road leads you all the way to Kachikau village. Before Kachikau the tarred road comes back to life and at the nearest fuel station we pumped back the tyres to 250 bar. After a night at Chobe Elephant Camp the crew crossed over to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia then spent a few nights in the Okavango Panhandle and back to Maun. The border crossings at Ngoma into Namibia and Mohembo back into Botswana were all smooth and quick. The A3 road from Shakawe to Sehitwa has lots of potholes even though there were few patches of roadworks there and there. (We will speak more about the Panhandle section in a coming Blog).
“Insider tips from your local experts”
- It is advisable to not self-drive in the rainy season, the terrain is difficult and chances of getting stuck in mud or having to cross water are high.
- Make sure your car is loaded with all the necessary equipment before you depart for your Safari (e.g. tools, GPS, satellite phone, working fridge, lockable doors, spare wheels), check all is in a good working condition.
- When switching from tarred/gravel road onto sandy roads reduce your tyre pressure and when going back on tarred road remember to increase the pressure.
- On sandy roads please switch onto H4 for 4-wheel drive at all times, if sand is too thick and car fails engage Low range to avoid getting stuck, the next car might only come by after 24hrs.
- Respect the animals on the road, especially Elephants.
- Do not stop and get out of the car in bushes, find a clear open space for your safety.
- Always ask the people working at the entrance gates which road is better or how do you proceed forward.
The newly rebuilt Stanley’s camp is situated in the Southern reaches of the Okavango Delta. With a modern explorers theme, the camp is looking and feeling refreshed, but has still kept the classic safari feel.
In addition to game drives and mokoro excursions (no boating), Stanley’s offers an Elephant interaction, which is one of the most unique experiences in the Delta (at an additional cost). This experience is very educational as you meet and get up close and personal with some of Africa’s biggest giants. You learn about their history, behaviour, biology and some of the human conflict threats these gentle beasts are facing. This is all before going for a walk through the delta “hand in trunk” and sitting and having a delicious bush lunch accompanied by the elephants themselves grazing in the background. Please note it is advisable to pre-book this activity as it is a first come first serve basis, with one activity a day only taking maximum 10 clients at a time.
How does the camp compare to similar camps in terms of value and experience?
After the rebuild Stanley’s rates have experienced an increase for 2019. Being situated between the Boro and Santandadibe Rivers, Stanley’s Camp does not guarantee a big game experience but has the unique advantage of being able to offer guests the elephant interaction year round, and the added benefit of being able to offer mokoro excursions during the flood (typically Jun – Sep), creating a varied itinerary on a 2 night stay. The hardware of the camp is brand new and being a Sanctuary Retreats property, it has the edge in terms of service, guiding and the food experience which helps justifying the price increase.
How would you combine this camp in an itinerary and why?
Stanley’s Camp would need to be combined with a stronger game area, that possibly has boating as well, as this activity is missing from Stanley’s. I would mix it with the newly re-built Splash Camp as strong game area, and they can boat all year round
You could combine it with Chief’s Camp as long as you start with Stanley’s, with this combination creating a circuit, you would then start to qualify for Long Stay rates, bringing the overall cost down a fraction.
What type of clients does this camp suit and why?
This camp would suit all sorts of clients across the board. Those wanting up close and unique wildlife experiences, clients that love elephants and are interested in conservation, and just simply those wanting to enjoy the Okavango Delta.
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?
Situated in the Southern part of the Delta, Stanley’s Camp is greatly affected by the flood water levels.
During the high flood levels, June – August/September time, the water levels are high enough in order for you to enjoy Mokoro. So the mix of land and water activities is offered during the winter months, which offers guests the variety in experience. However, once the water levels start dropping towards September/October time, Mokoro excursions are affected and normally stop. Boating is not offered at Stanley’s Camp.
Although Stanley’s Camp is not renowned for its excellent game viewing, we were lucky to see Lion, Elephant and general plains game. Hyena are known to frequent the area. We did travel at the end of the rainy season and so the grass was still long, making visibility more difficult than during the dry season, when the grass and bush has died down, making spotting game a lot easier.
Are there any areas that could be improved? Are there any issues that could impact guests’ experience that should be highlighted to help manage expectations?
I must say that I was really impressed by the new camp. Having stayed at Stanley’s Camp a few years ago, the rooms are now substantially larger than what they were before, and there is plenty of room for guests to move around. The bathrooms are done well. Spacious and provide enough privacy, should guests be travelling together who don’t know each other very well. Dietaries were catered for and we enjoyed a great 6 course fine dining experience which really enhanced our stay.
Safari Destinations itineraries showcasing this property:
Let’s start with the essential 2 rules about a stay here:
- No matter what you do ALWAYS carry your camera with you, ready to shoot
- No matter HOW freezing it seems in the morning: GET OUT THERE!!
Had I listened to the first rule myself, I could have added amazing shots of 2 honey badgers out in the open right in front of the lodge in some golden morning light, watched right from the breakfast table – instead I held on to a fluffy, moist blueberry muffin and a mug of freshly brewed cappuccino. You see: life can be full of tough choices at Belmond Savute!
When climbing off the plane at Savute airstrip, the guests climbing on said: If you want to see animals, you need to go with Robert. And my heart sank. I am a huge fan of good guiding and always massively disappointed when sitting on a vehicle with a driver who is just racing from one photographic opportunity to the next. Luckily – I was to be proven very very wrong!
After settling in, freshening up and some tea time treats we headed out on our first drive. Driving through what smelled like a herb garden my curious 7 year old son showed interest in all these smells and Robert stopped, got us some wild basil and shared stories about it. “So do you think this would keep mosquitoes away?” Which got us on to some other herbs and traditional methods and a lively discussion, plus some more sample picking and smelling. While pointing out tracks and interpreting what we saw around us, we slowly made our way towards a spot where some cheetahs were hanging out earlier. Lucky us, most vehicles had already left the 2 sleeping males, who felt now it was time to get up and get active – and to get a good look from some elevation.
After this fabulous afternoon we were so excited, that we couldn’t wait to go exploring the next morning – despite of being able to see the clouds of our own breath when exhaling. It was COLD!!
Robert had the perfect technique to battle this aspect as well – even my 6 year old daughter was comfy and toasty, after he wrapped her up in fleeces, blankets and a poncho: “ready to go to the moon”. We tried to find the lions that we heard during the night, but they tried to play games with us. Tracks literally everywhere! In all directions, back and forth, right and left, and back again – hmmm. What happened here last night?? And our imaginations ran wild.
After some fun tracking, a pack of wild dogs were waiting for us in the middle of the road, just around the corner from a mother leopard trying to catch some guinea fowls. While most cars simply waited behind the dogs, Robert decided to approach them differently. We left all the cars behind, and moved to another area, trying to anticipate their next move – and it worked! Stotting impalas all over the woods, showing off their strength, and the pack chasing at top speed. How exciting was that!! We eventually said good bye to the dogs to have a look what was happening out on the marsh.
Some lonely male wildebeest were guarding their territories, then Robert noticed that one of the wildebeest FAR away held up his tail really high – hang on…. ????? So 2 big male lions were crossing the marsh, where were they heading to? We decided to go the same way and see – a little grassveld pipit joined us, flapping and running right in front of our car, for more than 1 kilometer. Now, yes, it made it! Oops, no, it’s back…. The kids had so much fun watching it ALMOST flying off to the side, and back it was – giggles and laughs without end.
Guided by the direction of the male lions and following the pipit we ended up with the rest of the pride, some females feeding on a wildebeest and 5 cuddly little fur balls, roaring like their dads, schmoozing their mums and eventually, collapsing and falling asleep all on top of each other in a cub heap.
Back at home we hung the sage and the wild basil – to test how much of a mosquito repellent they are. And asking: “So what was your favorite bit in Savute?”
- the cute little cubs
- and remember the funny pipit who ran with us for SO long
- and the honeybadgers at breakfast
- and the elephants up close from the hide during tea time
- oh – and of course: THE HEATED POOL !!!!
Thank you so much to Robert, our fantastic guide, for an all-round, all senses, mega fun experience. For teaching us about the bush, for putting it all into context and all the stories about the background and history of the animals we saw.
What a safari experience!