It was a scorching day in November, typical weather for this time of year. I had put my bags down, grabbed a cold bottle of water and headed straight for my deck chair to take in the sweeping views of the Central Kalahari Desert.
The Kalahari was nothing like I thought it would be, except for the heat. That was exactly how I anticipated but one can never fully prepare for it.
Movement between my tent and the main area was more of a hop, skip and a jump! I had opted to wear open sandals, and these are great on a flat surface, but they sure made for clumsy dance in the red-hot sand.
Standing on the deck outside my tent, I took in the incredible views of the Desert before me. Those who have been to Botswana, know how flat the land is, one can literally see for days! Yet here in the Kalahari; equally as flat, an ancient sand dune exists, and up on this ridge is where Tau Pan Camp is located.
This was to be my temporary home for the next 24 hours and every image I had previously held in my imagination was wiped out by the beauty unfolding before my eyes. The Kalahari is not barren and sandy, as one would expect in most deserts. Even when it is dry enough to ‘qualify’ as a desert, it is not strictly speaking a desert because the ground cover is too dense.
‘Tau’ is the Setswana word for lion and the Kalahari is famed for the impressive compliment of black-maned lions, the very same that frequent the permanent water hole located in front of camp. What I thought was going to be a quiet dreamy night under the stars, turned out to be rather a noisy and interrupted sleep with a choir from the wild; well more like a symphony of roars from one pride to the next that bellowed throughout the night. It was an impressive sound, one that never rings tired with me.
I sat down in my deck chair, dusted the sand from my feet and lifted them up to the small table in front of me. Head back, eyes closed and just about ready to take in my afternoon siesta when something inside me insisted that I look up.
As I opened my eyes, I caught a glimpse of a bushy striped tail hanging from a rafter; and there it was…a beautiful little genet, sleeping peacefully in the shade of the thatch. We both had the same great idea for that hot afternoon in Africa; quiet uninterrupted blissful sleep.
For those wanting to visit the Kalahari, do it on your next planned safari in Botswana. It’s wild and mysterious beauty almost never disappoints!
Interesting facts about the Central Kalahari:
With 52,000 km2 the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the world‘s second largest protected area and one of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is mostly famous for its ancient fossil river beds, which form valleys through the bush of which Deception Valley is the most famous. A highly recommendable read is “The Cry of the Kalahari” by Delia and Mark Owens.
Specialized desert species are found in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve with gemsbok (oryx) and springbok often seen; the famous black-maned Kalahari lions and of course bat-eared foxes. And if you are very lucky, the brown hyena.
Although the Central Kalahari is an all year round destination, an especially magnificent time is during and after the summer rains when the colors of the Kalahari explode and grey turns into fifty shades of green. The rainy starts in mid November and ends in March.
Information on Kwando Tau Pan:
Tau Pan is one of two lodges located within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the other being Kalahari Plains.
Activities offered at Tau Pan include game drives, day trips to Deception Valley, Sunday, Piper and Passarge Pans, star gazing and nature walks with Bushman trackers.
Accommodation consists of 9 environment adapted en-suite rooms including 1 family room and a sleepout deck (an absolute treat for the more adventurous!).
100% solar operated
Guide and tracker team
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.
… OR KEEP THE SECRET TO OURSELVES?
Imagine a place with trees so beautiful they make you ‘treedrunk’,
Imagine a place where around every corner a different antelope can be discovered,
Imagine a landscape diverse and exciting, from river beds and sandy beaches to open grasslands and forests,
Imagine majestic elephants wandering in front of the bright red sandstone of the Chilojo Cliffs,
Imagine a completely untouched wilderness,
Imagine a community that understands the importance of protecting their heritage, their environment and especially their trees (the people in the Mahenye village rather walk for kilometres to collect firewood than cut down the trees around them),
Imagine a man who understands that for the local population to care about protecting wildlife, they have to benefit from wildlife. Clive Stockil is this man; he is the founder of Chilo Safari Lodge. Clive has dedicated his life to solving human-wildlife conflict. He is the father of CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources). He explains it this way: “If you are a conservationist, your problem is all about space, so deal with human pressures first. CAMPFIRE has turned conflict into co-operation and everyone has benefited. The community is happy, the parks are happy and the animals are happy. Everyone wins.”
Gonarezhou means ‘The place of elephants’. There are special places in Africa where you truly feel at one with nature. Gonarezhou is one of them. I was blown away by the diversity of fauna and flora.
The remoteness of Gonarezhou is a mixed blessing. Access to Gonarezhou is easiest from Harare via small aircraft. The flight takes around 90 minutes and arrives in Mahenye, which is the closest airstrip to Chilo Gorge. Clients flying in from Johannesburg are recommended to fly with Federal Air into Buffalo Range (currently two weekly flights on Mondays and Thursdays); the road transfer from Buffalo Range to Chilo is about two hours long.
Gonarezhou is the place to be if you want to be ‘treedrunk’ after only an hour of safari, never mind the multitude of birds we saw, the incredible variety of antelope, buffalo, crocodiles and elephants. Just the trees alone are intoxicating…
Imagine every few hundred metres a beautiful baobab, thick, tangled riverine forests full of jackalberries, bizarrely bent rain trees, stoic leadwoods, ruffled African mangosteens… It’s almost too much to process!
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!
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.
Everyone is exhausted after a long-haul overnight flight, often involving multiple connections and inevitably ending in long immigrations queues on arrival. Not to mention the build-up of going on holiday, delayed flights and lost luggage. On arrival, most of us are simply looking for a hot shower, followed by a G&T while we take in our surroundings, ending the day with a good meal and a comfortable nights sleep.
Victoria Falls is the ideal place to kick-off a safari. No onward flights or long road transfers required as most hotels are only a stone’s throw away from the airport. Comfortable accommodation with all the amenities allows guests to ease into their safari experience. As the properties in Victoria Falls are generally more affordable, there is less of a need to hit the ground running and more time to relax and find your feet. This is especially important when travelling with young children. Compared with the high-pressured start at the top dollar lodges in the Okavango Delta where every minute counts and where you feel compelled to jump on the first game drive on arrival, followed by an early morning wake up call on day one.
After a recent visit to Victoria Falls with my own family, I realized that 2 nights just isn’t enough for first time visitors and especially families to fully appreciate what this corner of paradise has to offer. I found myself rushing from one activity to the next, pressurized by pick-up times, with little time to relax and yet there was so much more than we could have done.
During our 2 night stay in Victoria Falls, we explored the Falls on foot, by helicopter and by Zip Line and that was about all that we had time for bar a mad dash around the market. There is a big choice of activities on offer beyond the falls themselves, one that I feel is grossly underestimated is the canoeing on the Zambezi River. For families, the falls has lots going on to cater to all ages and interests breaking up the typical safari routine.
Beyond the activities, the town has a holiday vibe, showcasing the country’s culture, local crafts (curio shopping) and a great variety of restaurants, which really add to the experience. Not accounting for the day of arrival and departure which are often lost due to flight times and transfers, one full day simply isn’t enough to take it all in. I would comfortably recommend a 3-night stay in Victoria Falls town itself. There is a selection of properties to match all budgets, offering potentially good value for your money, helping to stretch the budget when combined with the top dollar lodges in more remote game areas.
Day 1: Relax and enjoy a slow start to your safari
Dinner at the hotel
Day 2: Tour of the falls followed by the flight of angels (12 – 15 minute helicopter scenic)
Lunch at the Lookout Café (which will reopen in Dec 2019 after it burnt down half a year ago)
Canopy Tour / Elephant Interaction / Sunset Cruise
Day 3: Option 1: Full day upper Zambezi Canoe or Rafting experience
Option 2: A combination of the following with lunch on the terrace at The Victoria Falls Hotel
Horse Riding, Bicycle Tour, Village Tour, Pay It Forward (Family), Bird Watching, Shopping, Bunji Jumping, Croc Farm (Family), High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel, and more
Independent Dinning Options:
Traditional (Family): The Boma, Jungle Junction
Formal: The Livingstone Room, The Palm Restaurant
Casual: Zambezi House, Three Monkeys, The Lookout Cafe (will reopen Dec 2019)
The same could be said when coming off a safari in the delta. Days of early rising, long bumpy game drives and a day in transit, including the border crossing, is taxing of the best of us. Ending with 3 nights in Victoria Falls to slowly get re-acquainted with civilization before diving back into your daily routine at home is always a good idea.
Guests that have a little bit more time are recommended to spoil themselves with 4 nights in Victoria Falls, the 4 nights could be split between 2 nights in town and 2 nights in the quieter Zambezi National Park. The options are endless, we have put together some stunning itineraries which can be found on our “Best in Travel Zimbabwe 2019”, the packages for 2020 will soon be released.