Travelblog: Okavango delta, Botswana (2012)

Our trip started with a few days in Windhoek, Namibia, staying at Kapps Farm with my sister and her husband.  A few days were spent relaxing and getting ready for our first trip to Botswana, with a Range Rover on loan. Day one of the trip was a drive from Windhoek to Maun in Botswana, about 800 km on a good tar road. The trip to the border post was uneventful, though the border crossing was a bit of a form-filling exercise on both sides.  There was a perceptible change once in Botswana as the road verges were busy with cattle, goats, horses, donkeys and ostriches, thus the speed of our progressed slowed dramatically.  We would later realise that many of the animals were “vehicle aware” and would wait until we passed before crossing the road. However,we also saw a people carrier at a petrol station with a missing engine – they had driven into a cow. We reached Ghanzi in mid-afternoon; not the most enticing of towns and we were on our way after topping up with diesel. Another 250 km to Maun where we stayed overnight in the Maun Lodge and had a nice meal of local food, including maize porridge. A little annoying were were the constant power cuts which invited an early night.

Early the next morning we left for Moremi, our first camp site in the Okavango delta.  This would be a novel experience for us, as most of our previous trips in southern Africa had been into the Namib desert and Skeleton Coast.  We signed in at the gate and went to look at the camp site, which was unfenced, before driving towards the delta. Oh wow, our first lechwe (Kobus leche), an antelope adapted to wetlands.

 

In our “gawking” at the lechwe, which were in the wetland to our left, we had completely missed a young male lion lying in the shade under a bush about 5 meters away to our right (with my widow open). We would later also find a lion pride with cubs, approximately 1 km away as the crow flies.

The array of wildlife was immense and we were still to see impala, kudu, zebra, red hartebeest, water buffalo, zebra, giraffe, monitor lizard, crocodile, hippo, elephants. a honey badger and a variety of birds including pied kingfisher and later a fish eagle catching its meal.  The wild life is often not “conditioned” to humans or cars and we had a few scary encounters with elephants that did not appreciate our presence, necessitating a rapid retreat in one or two cases.

As the sun started heading towards the horizon, it was time to get back to South Gate camp, set up our tent and prepare our evening meal. While we were sitting around the fire, we spotted a honey badger circling around our camp site; fortunately, it was only passing through, these small animals are scary (they have been known to attack lions). After we had finished eating, we cleared everything away, as the the camp was not fenced and we did not want to attract predators. Unfortunately, other campers apparently did not take the same precautions; I woke up to the the sound of crunching bone and the “crying baby” bark of hyenas. A rather eerie experience, as a hyena shadow was visible on the tent wall.  Once the hyena had left, we took our sleeping bags and decamped into the range rover until sunrise (next time we will get a rooftop tent).

We left South Gate camp early the the next morning and headed north towards our next camp site at Xakanaka. We spotted our first ground squirrels, which were smaller than those previously seen in Etosha game reserve, Namibia. We headed away from the delta and we were gifted with a close-up sighting of two Kalahari black-maned lions, a male and female.

Further on we started reaching water again and we stopped for a single hippo in a rather small pool; he was clearly not too happy that we were invading his space and showed this in no uncertain terms. We kept the engine running, just in case he started moving towards us, but he moved away after his display, tail wagging furiously.

We continued until we came to a “small” channel. The guidebooks had recommended that one walk through water crossings to assess depth etc., but we had already encountered hippo and seen crocodiles, thus this was not an option. There were, however, fresh tyre marks and we decided to make the crossing. My wife was driving and I grabbed hold of the satellite phone, just in case. The water got deeper and deeper until it started spilling over the bonnet of the range rover (we were driving a diesel with a snorkel).  My wife was amazing; she did not panic and “gunned” the car through the channel to the other side, where we stopped and took a few deep breaths – we were not going back that way! The next water crossing was, to our relief only about 30 cm deep, but then we got to a third channel that was similar to the first one, with water now spilling through the air vents into the interior of the car. We made it across safely and endeavoured that we would not make any more water crossings until we had no other option.  Our travel diary has the comment: “nappy change, crossings 1 & 3). We had been fortunate not to get stuck!  The subsequent road to Xakanaka camp was sand road and we reached the camp late afternoon. After setting up camp, we undertook a guided trip on the delta that was filled with a wide variety of different birds settling down for the night.

We went to sleep with the sound of feeding coming from the water and the next morning we woke up to the wonderful site an a single elephant feeding approximately 30 meters away, with fresh elephant footprints visible in the road running past our camp site.

Time to pack up and head back towards towards South Camp, where we would spend our last night in the Okavango delta.  Another day of wonderful wildlife was waiting for us, including “grumpy” elephants, fish eagles and velvet breasted rollers. We saw a fish eagle catching a big fish while another fish eagle was attacked by two crows, defending itself by rolling upside down and baring its talons. The elephants were a bit of a nuisance as they provided a roadblock on several occasions that necessitated a detour; we were in their “space”, fair enough.  The next morning we were were woken by velvet monkeys scampering through the trees; we also spotted some fresh tracks around the camp site, possibly hyena?

A final treat was seeing a family of elephants arriving for their morning drink, including a baby that had not quite gotten used to using its trunk. Moremi – definitely worth a visit. Our next stop would be the Central Kalahari. 

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