An Okavango Delta safari puts you in touch with the watery world of northern Botswana where the Kalahari Desert meets the floodwaters of the Okavango River. Take a game drive in this elemental wilderness and enter a Garden of Eden unlike anywhere else on the planet.
We arrived at our beautiful, tented Okavango lodge just in time for a sumptuous tea on the deck. Then it was time to head out into the delta on a game drive. My partner and I were thrilled at the chance to experience this famous waterland for the first time.
Our vehicle was a specially-fitted Toyota Land Cruiser. These 4x4s are unrivalled, with features specifically designed for comfort and photography – open sided with a canopy for much-needed shade.
We drove along the banks of a wide expanse of water decorated with lilies and bulrushes. It looked like the Garden of Eden. Everywhere were grazing red lechwe, antelope specially adapted to living in and around water. There were gorgeous lala palm trees, stately baobabs, stands of mopane and tall, green rain trees. We spotted the sinister shapes of crocodile on the grassy banks and happily wallowing hippo.
As we drove, our guide told us about the reserve and the delta: ‘Moremi Game Reserve is, in my opinion, the most beautiful park in Africa. It covers much of the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and combines permanent water with drier areas, which creates startling contrasts. It’s a very diverse reserve, comprising mopane woodland and acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons. Only about 30% of the reserve is mainland, with the bulk being within the Okavango Delta itself.’
This is a birder’s paradise, boasting well over 500 recorded species. We were rewarded with wonderful sightings at every turn. I kept jotting them down until my list was bulging with ‘lifers’. As we were driving in a marshy area, most of the sightings were waterfowl, including a staggering array of kingfishers, egrets, geese, cranes, spoonbills, storks and my favourite, the Jesus bird (African jacana), strutting from lily pad to lily pad as though walking on water.
Later, we came upon two lioness with four cubs on a buffalo kill right next to the road. The cubs were playing on the carcass, pulling the ears and biting the nose. We watched the brute power of one of lionesses as she pulled the enormous carcass into the underbrush and away our prying eyes.
On we drove, towards the setting sun, traversing a magnificent waterland: blue lagoons, yellow bulrushes, green lily pads. The game viewing was remarkable: the best my partner and I had ever experienced. In many African parks, you can drive around for hours and not see any animals. Not here! Large herds of zebra, troops of baboon, waterbuck up to their knees in the marshes, impala by the hundred. Maternal elephant had recently given birth to clumsy babies who were not yet steady on their feet. It was an adorable sight watching them playing about in the mud.
The highlight of our Okavango Delta safari came on the way back to camp. Our guide suddenly switched off the engine and allowed the vehicle to glide to a stop. Without a word, he pointed to a leadwood tree. There, draped on a branch, was a large male leopard, a sinuous shape of spots and grace. The moon lifted off the horizon behind the cat. It was a sight that will stay with me for many, many moons.