African Diaries — The Wetland Eden of the Okavango Delta
In the mainly roadless immensity that is Botswana, the landlocked southwest-African country where a sparse 2.3 million population is spread across an area roughly the size of France, adventure usually begins with a bush plane flight into the middle of nowhere.
Now, after over almost two weeks spent exploring the surreal, featureless landscapes of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and the barren plains of the Central Kalahari, my next nowhere is the Okavango Delta.
A Natural Wonder of Africa
There is no sign of human life below the chartered Cessna – only a patchwork of greens and ochers stitched together by narrow canals, all the way to the hazy midday horizon. The plane drones on for some 30 minutes before the bare ground slash of an airstrip emerges from the exuberant greenery. We are about land.
Rated one of the of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Okavango Delta is considered one of the most pristine oasis in the world. From its origins in the highlands of Angola, the Okavango River travels some 1,900 kilometers (1200 miles) to come fanning out into an intricate system of wetlands that cover some two-million hectares (77,000 square miles) of Kalahari sands before being swallowed by the desert.
One of the largest in-land deltas in the world, the Okavango boasts a unique eco-system that offers a safari experience unlike any other in all of Africa. It is renowned for the outstanding diversity and abundance of fauna that congregates to its waters. For my introduction to this intricate environment, I have trusted andBeyond Botswana for their long established reputation as a conservation-driven, experiential travel company.
The Place of the Giraffe
Today, I am headed for Xnabega (“the place of the giraffe” in Basarwa, the language of the river bushmen), one of andBeyond’s luxury tented camps. But since exceptional rains have recently flooded the camp’s own airstrip, my guide informs me in the course of his greeting that I have landed on a nearby, higher ground one. We now will have to drive a few miles to Nxabega (pronounce Na-ber-rah).
A few miles’ drive on a remote African bush trail can easily take a couple of hours. Ours does. After a visit to an obviously satiated leopard warily guarding the remains of its impala dinner as we gawk at it through the thicket, we stop for a tailgate picnic lunch. Reedbucks scamper away, red lechwes – indigenous wetlands antelopes – meld into the reeds. The camp’s namesake, a regal bull giraffe, struts across our path. Two hours and a few channel-crossings over narrow tree-trunk bridges later, we pull into the shaded clearing in front of Nxabega’s main lodge to the warm welcome from the assembled staff.
Set under the lush canopy of massive ebony trees in a remote 8,000 hectare (19,8000 acre) private concession, Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp brings life in the bush to exceptional heights of luxury. Nine elegantly appointed canvas suites raised on high platforms stretch on either side of the handsome multi-level dining and sitting lodge with burnished teak floors under a lofty thatched roof. Within the expansive space, exotic wood paneling delineate several inviting seating areas decorated in stylish, locally crafted furnishings and artworks, and the sweeping views of the surrounding permanent floodplain and lagoons.
Exceptional Wildlife Experiences
These luxury accommodations, further enhanced by outstanding guiding and service are a mere backdrop for the extraordinary wildlife experiences that unfold consistently throughout my stay. My first morning wakeup call comes curtesy of an impressive bull elephant devouring the shrubbery a few feet away from my deck. The high points of a seemingly routine afternoon drive to the nearby boat landing for a sundowner cruise include sightings of a lion on the move and a leopard crouched high in an acacia tree.
While the customary twice-daily game drives are available, my favorite way to explore the delta is from the water. My fondest memories are from exhilarating boat rides through the watery labyrinth of papyrus-bordered channels and floating islands of water lily pads in bloom. Birds soar as we go by, tiny painted frogs cling their reed perches, and occasionally bulbous eyes emerge from the water, attached to unimpressed hippos unflinchingly asserting their right of way.
I soon discover that there is no better way to enjoy the sunset than sitting low on the water in a mokoro (flat dug-out canoe commonly used to navigate the Okavango waterways) – expertly stirred by my ever cheerful guide. There, with giraffes strutting in the distance and the occasional elephant wading across our path, I spend many contented moments taking in jewel-bright kingfishers darting in and out of the reeds, and iridescent dragon flies hovering about, as the blood orange sun dip into the lagoon
Good to Know
- Getting there — Air Botswana and Airlink operate scheduled flights from Johannesburg to Maun. From there, it is a short flight by light aircraft to the Nxabega Okavango Safari Camp airstrip, where andBeyond staff welcome the guests. A 15-minute drive in an open safari vehicle completes the journey to the Camp.
- andBeyond Africa — is one of Africa’s leading luxury safari company, with exceptional lodges and camps in Africa’s most breathtaking wilderness locations.