The Last Eden of Africa: A Journey through the Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Last Eden of Africa: A Journey through the Okavango Delta, Botswana

only when viewed from above that the full magnitude of
Botswana’s Okavango Delta becomes apparent. The world’s largest
inland delta, each year between March
and June,
the Okavango River meanders over a thousand kilometres south from
the rain-soaked highlands of Angola and – instead of draining into
the sea – spills onto over 15,000 square kilometres of Botswana’s
Kalahari sands.

As we glide along in a tiny propeller plane towards DumaTau – a luxury tented camp at
the northern edge of the country – the vast grasslands below,
fractured by a network of water channels, are dotted with palm
groves, thick mopane forests and clusters of grazing giraffes,
zebras and elephants; vivid proof of the Delta’s comparison to the
last Eden of Africa.

Back on solid ground, we are ushered into an opened-topped
Toyota Land Cruiser by Topps, our cheerful guide who expertly
navigates the vehicle through narrow tracks flanked by dense bush
and tall grass. He chats animatedly about our forthcoming safari
experience and occasionally stops to point out various birds. “Just
this morning, a lioness came to visit us in the camp,” he reveals
as we approach DumaTau.

Fittingly meaning “roar of the lion”, DumaTau can be found
within the private Linyanti Wildlife Reserve. Its precise location,
on an elephant corridor along the banks of the peaceful
lily-swathed Osprey Lagoon, means it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise,
while creatures of all sorts (including lions) can be found roaming
right through the camp. By now, the early evening sun has started
to paint the sky a deep orangey pink, so we take Topps’ advice and
hop onto a waiting boat for a slow meander along the lagoon and sip
gin and tonics while listening to the grunting hippos nearby.

Early the next morning, we emerge bleary-eyed from our tent into
the chill of the pre-dawn air. “I have heard there is a pack of
wild dogs in the region,” says Topps rubbing his hands together
enthusiastically. So, coffee downed, we hop into the back of the
jeep in search of these endangered and elusive creatures.

As we bump along the sandy road, dewy spider webs glint in the
early morning light and the air is heavy with the restorative scent
of the wild sage so abundant in this region. I inhale deeply and
savour being back in the bush; one of the pleasures (along with the
dramatic thunderstorms) that I miss from my childhood in South
. The vegetation in this part of the Delta is dense:
compact woodlands make way for grass so tall, that spotting a
giraffe could very well be a challenge. So it is by pure chance, as
we round a bend, that we come face-to-face with the curious eyes of
a wild dog, a mere second before it scampers off into its grassy
sanctuary. Here, off-roading is not possible, so motivated by this
fleeting teaser, we move on.

The rest of the morning passes pleasantly, stopping every so
often to gaze at giraffes munching on thorny twigs or to observe a
herd of elephants, their fan-like ears flapping, as they trample
ploddingly through the grass to their destination. With the late
morning sun beating down on us, we head back to DumaTau and spend
the rest of the afternoon mooching around the camp, alternately
snoozing, eating and taking in the sights and sounds of the
lagoon’s wildlife from the luxury of our own private deck.

The next day, after a short 15-minute plane ride, we arrive at
Moremi Game Reserve. Located south of the Linyanti
Concession, it covers much of the eastern edge of the Delta,
rolling out over 5,000 square kilometres of sprawling grassland,
mopane woodlands, acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons. We are
headed to Little Mombo, a luxury camp on the
northern tip of Chief’s Island. Also known as the “place of
plenty”, this soon becomes apparent when, on arrival, we are
greeted to a sweeping, endless vista of wide open grassland,
speckled with peaceful clusters of grazing zebra, impala,
wildebeest and hippos.

The smaller, more intimate version of its sister camp, Mombo,
Little Mombo is tucked away on the other end of a raised boardwalk,
beneath which animals regularly wander. Built under the shady
canopy of jackalberry and sausage trees, the camp’s three tents all
overlook the floodplains. So, belly full after lunch, we retreat to
our private deck and enjoy the scenery from our cooling plunge

Later that day, the bright afternoon sun hot against our skin,
we find ourselves in the thick of the overgrown grass. Acting on a
tip-off, we had swerved off-road to witness what we thought was an
innocent pride of three lionesses and their cubs, frolicking under
the shade of a tree at the top of an abandoned termite mound.
Unexpectedly though, we had stumbled upon a turf war of sorts: the
lionesses – in staking their territory – had callously separated a
cheetah cub from its family, as they scattered for safety. So,
perched anxiously on the edge of our seats, we hoped for the best,
as the young cub figured out how to cross the lions and reunite
himself with his worried relatives. Two hours later, after
culminating in a face-off and a high-speed chase that ended with
the cheetah outrunning the lioness to relative safety, we slowly
make our way back to the camp, the full moon rising silently on the
pink-tinged horizon.

On our last evening, as we sit with an after-dinner cocktail
under a blanket of glittering stars, I reflect on the last four
days. With its extraordinary landscape, diverse ecosystems and
abundance of wildlife, it’s easy to see why the Okavango Delta is
considered one of the best safari experiences in Africa. An
impressive 38% of Botswana’s land is officially protected, and the
country is shaping the future of
sustainable tourism
, thanks to strong government dedication to
preserving habitat, and the passion of operators like Wilderness
Safaris. A few of the company’s pioneering initiatives include
running some of their lodges solely on solar power; creating
temporary camps with a zero footprint; setting up community run
recycling projects; and successfully reintroducing black and white
rhinos back into the wild. A conservation success story, the
Okavango Delta no doubt deserves its title as the jewel in southern
Africa’s crown.

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