SIMPLY OKAVANGO – ‘PLACE OF PLACID WATERS’
There is no inland delta anywhere in the world that can compare in size and biodiversity with the seasonal splendour of the Okavango as the annual inundation of the Kavango river, rising in the highlands of distant Angola, permeates its way through the meandering channels, quiet lagoons and papyrus fringed islands of this vast wetland of spectacular environmental proportions.
It is indeed one of the natural wonders of the world teeming with life within an otherwise desolate arid savanna landscape in the heart of the Kalahari Desert in the far north western corner of Botswana.
Horizon wide swaths of reeds and papyrus filter the floodwater of sediments providing a natural filtration system creating sweet tasting, crystal clear water teeming with life within a self- sustaining seasonal food chain during the dry season of the austral winter months.
Indeed, the seasonal inundation has been described as nothing short of an environmental miracle sustaining an incredible diversity of wildlife, including many life forms totally dependent on the ecosystem for their continued existence, such as the swamp loving lechwe and papyrus dwelling sitatunga.
As such it is a phenomenal sanctuary of some 15 000 square kilometres protected by the Botswana Government by conservation legislation, as part of an ongoing sustainable environmental initiative to ensure the pristine beauty and dependability of life forms within the sensitive eco system are preserved in perpetuity for future generations to appreciate and enjoy…
With such a commitment, strict rules and regulations apply to concession holders in the hospitality industry to ensure a responsible balance between community needs and wildlife considerations within the fertile oasis teeming with life.
This far-sighted approach translates into authentic ecotourism interactions with all forms of wildlife in the Okavango Delta. This has the effect of limiting the number of guests to around twelve in a camp to ensure a low impact to high conservation return formula in the environmental interest.
Access to lodges situated throughout the Delta is preferably by air from Maun, as the main point of departure, following arrival in Botswana from South Africa or Namibia. Flights in the comfort of a small plane are of short duration and memorably scenic as the channels, islands, lagoons and swamps of this pristine wonderland unfold below the wings of the plane, before coming in to land at an isolated airstrip deep in the bush for transfer by 4×4 safari jeep to the comfort of the lodge.
Ideally, the dedicated eco tourist should plan on a combination of ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ lodge stays with a minimum of three nights at each to get the most out of each localised experience before departing for the next unique destination in a travel itinerary.
Such an approach allows for at least six game drives at each lodge, and the opportunity to get to develop a ‘working’ relationship with the dedicated field guide and tracker assigned to you, as well as an understanding of the surrounding environment in relation to the variety of mammals and birds on offer, as this varies significantly within the Okavango Delta depending on the topography.
Travelling by safari jeep provides for wraparound viewing and photographic opportunities focussing on specific aspects of interest as discussed with the field guide who will do his best in conjunction with his tracker to get you in on the ‘action’ be it members of the ‘Big Five’ dangerous animals or some of the most iconic or photogenic birds found in the swamps, such as the mega-sized fishing owl.
Game viewing by boat, in the form of a traditional mokoro dugout canoe or highly manoeuvrable aluminium skiff through the maze of papyrus lined channels and open waterways, presents the opportunity for close viewing encounters with enormous crocodiles and hippos sunning themselves on the sandbanks or cavorting about in the shallows.
Whatever approach you decide on, photographic opportunities abound and you need to come prepared for a scintillating time behind the lens as you capture the very essence of what the Okavango Delta is known for in the way of exquisite biodiversity, from strikingly beautiful reed frogs, jacanas tripping across the lily pads in the company of colourful pygmy geese, to herds of buffalo and elephant coming down at dusk to drink.
At days end, with the blood red orb of the setting sun for exclusive company, from a scenically selected viewpoint, your attentive field guide will present you with a selection of tasty snacks and a sundowner or two after the day’s viewing excitement…
This is the moment to savour the surrounding ambience as dusk closes in before heading slowly back to the lodge for the flickering fireside get-together with other guests, and the sumptuous safari-style buffet to follow, in the warmth and comfort of the boma to the backdrop of distant drums and the primordial sounds of the African night…… with perhaps the eery ‘whoop’ of a spotted hyena on the prowl or the resonating roar of a distant lion, all under a star-studded sky or watery full moon to complement the bushveld mood of the occasion.