Experienced Travel Writer Carrie Hampton believes that, "The Okavango Delta offers just about the best all round safari experience in Africa". Let her lure you into the waterways of the Okavango with her descriptive article , which also includes some sensible advice and accommodation recommendations.
LURE OF THE OKAVANGO
From the lush and fertile highlands of Angola the Okavango River begins its course towards the Delta of Botswana where it forms a permanent life-giving swamp in a country that is 80% arid. This emerald swirl of life can even be seen from space appearing like a limb, reaching south-east into the heart of the Kalahari. For almost 100 kilometres it is contained between two parallel geological faults and meanders through impenetrable barriers of papyrus reeds.
When it reaches the Okavango Delta the river moves gently through a wide winding channel where it leaks through unnoticeable pathways and creeps through reeds into an ever-expanding network of increasingly smaller passages. These link to a succession of water-lily lagoons, palm-tree islands and grassy knolls, with open grassland, forest glades and flooded plains forming a mosaic of land and water.
Although called a 'swamp', the Okavango is in reality a gently moving entity with a strong current rushing through the larger channels and dawdling slowly through lily ponds. The delta fluctuates in size according to a complex relationship between the annual flood from Angola and local rainfall. Not all the 13,000km² is flooded and at the driest time of the yearly perennial flood plains amount to only 6,000km².
GOOD ENOUGH TO DRINK
The Okavango's water is wonderfully clean and pure because it journeys through very sparsely populated areas. It is in fact good enough to drink even though a staggering 660,000 tons of sediment is delivered in it each year. Like a sieve the reeds and grasses of the Delta filter this rich soil and this subtle filtering enriches the whole area.
Man has lived in the Okavango certainly for the last 300,000 years, as Stone Age tools have been found, and San Busmen who normally practised their hunter gather lifestyle in the desert, took advantage of the Delta’s resources. These River Bushmen remain but are not readily distinguishable from many other groups of people who now inhabit the Delta.
Surviving in the Okavango was not hard with good fishing, ample game and drinkable water. There can have been few better places to live a simple lifestyle than here. For the present day visitor, a pair of binoculars and a good camera is essential to catch the colourful array of birds (350 have been recorded) and alert faces of animals. Fishing can be a relaxing pastime or a real challenge with Tiger Fish found in the deeper faster water near the fishing camps in the panhandle at the north of the Delta, and August to February are said to be the best time. Bream are easily caught and mud-dwelling Barbel are common and some say, if gutted quickly, do not necessarily have the 'muddy' taste they are reputed for.
TOO MANY SAFARI LODGES TO CHOOSE FROM
For an all round safari with a mix of game drives, safari walks, traditional canoe (mokoro) and motor launch trips, staying in true African style tented camps or river-side lodges, there is nowhere in Africa that can offer more than the Okavango Delta. With over 40 lodges and camps, it can be hard to choose which ones to visit. The choice may be determined not just by your personal preferences but by the time of year too. So it is worthwhile getting advice from a specialist tour operator.
There is every type of camp from a Swiss Family Robinson rustic style complete with open-fronted tree house at Delta Camp, which offers purely canoe and walking safaris, to fine dining, ceiling fans and sophistication at Chief's Camp, offering only game drives. Kwara Tented Camp is somewhere in the middle with more emphasis on animal encounters than food and a lovely combination of game drives and boat trips through winding channels, ending with a spot of fishing. Ker & Downey have several lodges in different price ranges, all of which are well placed and between them offer the full range of Okavango safari experiences; Okuti, Kanana, Shinde and Footsteps. Go from luxury at Shinde to a more wild experience at Footsteps Camp - where you get back to basics and feel the African earth beneath your feet during walking safaris. There is no electricity here, but amazingly the chef conjures up restaurant quality food. Wilderness Safaris is the biggest lodge operator in the Okavango with about thirteen lodges, most of which are extremely upmarket and very comfortable. All these lodge operators offer multi-day safaris, staying at several of their lodges at a more reasonable rate than if you chop and change between ownership groups. And you get a continuity of quality so your expectations remain satisfied.
Quite simply, a multi- centre safari that includes the Okavango Delta, in which you visit a couple of lodges each offering something different, will leave you feeling like you have had the best safari holiday of your life.
The author suggests including Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta in one itinerary. Spend the last couple of days at a relaxing riverside lodge such as, Impalila Island Lodge or Susuwe in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia or The River Club or Tongabezi near Livingstone Zambia, all of which are on the banks of the Zambezi close to Victoria Falls.
The author flew around the Okavango Delta with the assistance of a very efficient Delta Air and stayed courtesy of Sanctuary Lodges, Delta Camp, Kwando Safaris and Ker & Downey. The author is not obliged to recommend any lodge and her impressions and recommendations are purely personal.
The author of this article is Carrie
Hampton - she can be contacted on email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website:
© Copyright May 2004 Carrie Hampton - not to be reproduced without