Enjoy a Chobe Floodplains safari in one of Africa’s great national parks. Its northern border is bounded by the Chobe River and adjacent floodplains, an area rich in game, especially vast herds of elephant and buffalo, as well as a spellbinding array of birds. It’s one of Botswana’s best safari experiences.
We set off from our safari lodge into a peachy dawn. Ahead of us lay a Chobe Floodplains safari in northern Botswana. My partner and I were thrilled at the chance to experience this region, famed for its enormous elephant herds.
The sandy road ran parallel to the river, with tracks leading down to the water. We threaded our way through woodlands of mahogany and teak, much reduced by elephant traffic. I noticed that parts of the forest had been completely denuded by the giant ‘gardeners’.
‘Chobe National Park comprises nearly 12,000 square kilometres, much of it impenetrable thornbush,’ explained our guide, Modise. ‘The Chobe River starts life in Angola as the Kwando, then flows through Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into the Linyanti Swamp. Next, it wends its way eastward out of the swamp, becoming the Chobe, before merging with the mighty Zambezi River downstream at Kasane.’
It was July, the dry season, a time when animals congregate near the river. I noticed how herds of every kind were grazing on the seasonal floodplains. At this time of year, when the ground is firm, there are a few roads that lead you out onto these plains. It was along one of these tracks that we now drove.
We headed across a verdant landscape dotted with buffalo quietly grazing. It was a beautiful sight: open grasslands interspersed with glimpses of river, the occasional mahogany tree and golden, morning light making for some stunning photographs.
I noticed a strange antelope that I hadn’t seen before. It looked a bit like a shaggy impala. ‘What’s that?’ I asked.
‘Well spotted!’ said Modise. ‘That’s a puku. These floodplains are the only place in Botswana where you’ll find them. This is pretty far south for pukus. You have better chances of seeing them up in Zambia.’
We noticed a huge herd of elephant in the distance, making their way slowly towards the water. Modise drove closer, then drew to a halt and let them approach us.
‘Our elephant population is well over 40,000 – reputedly the largest in the world,’ whispered Modise. Like a fleet of ships, the grey goliaths ambled past us, giving me the opportunity to take some great photos.
We headed back to the riverbank and came to a halt on a rise. I could make out the portly blobs of hippo and the sinister shapes of crocodile on the grassy banks.
But it was the birdlife that simply took my breath away. I’d never seen anything like it. Everywhere I pointed my binoculars were more birds: kingfishers, egrets, geese, ducks, cranes, spoonbills, storks and my favourite, the Jesus bird (African jacana), strutting across the lily pads as though walking on water.
‘This area has more than 450 recorded species,’ said Modise. ‘We’ve got some incredible specials too, like rosy-throated longclaw, black coucal, collared pratincole and spotted crake.’
Just then, an African fish eagle, perched like a sentry on a branch above our heads, let out its distinctive call. It was as though he was staking his claim to this stretch of river. It sent a shiver down my spine. This was just about as close to paradise as you could get.