Posted on 20th March 2017
Botswana – January 2017 – Fly-in Safari Okavango Delta
I had to be back in Maun early for a transfer from Maun airport to my next camp, Moremi Crossing in the Delta, so I woke at 05h30. At exactly six am the hot water for my coffee arrived as promised. By seven I had said my goodbyes and was on the road. A reminder that the road back to Maun is badly potholed with many domestic animals wandering on the road.
At Maun I met the Moremi Air representatives at Maun Airport where they have offices. Moremi Air would be flying me into the Delta to Moremi Crossing camp, so named as it is situated where one crosses the river by boat from the camp into the Moremi game reserve. The camp is a “water camp”. No game drives in vehicles. The flight to the camp was exciting, a four seater that whizzed us across the magnificent sparkling Delta on a flight to the camp airstrip. Elephant, Buffalo and Hippo were easily seen below us on this short, low altitude flight. Upon landing I was greeted by a representative of Moremi Crossing camp, who took me by trailer attached to a tractor the short distance to the camp.
There I was met by the singing, dancing staff and the camp manager, “Miss P”. She showed me around the camp, which is situated right on the Bora river. My room complex was again impressive with a private deck overlooking the river, two single beds in a large bedroom, and a bathroom area behind the bedroom, including a hot water outside shower. After being introduced to the other guests we sat down to a communal brunch of bobotie, home baked bread, and salads. After brunch we were asked to gather for high tea at 15h30, and until then to relax and make ourselves at home. I sat in their massive communal area – a thatched boma – enjoying their complimentary bar service and gazing out at the Hippo and birds in and along the river below.
My room – Moremi Crossing
After a short siesta – thankfully with all the activities it is a part of the program – it was time for high tea, followed by a boat trip by motor launch. This is a more noisy way to see the Delta but it has the advantage of being able to sail past the hippos that would normally block a Mokoro, the traditional poled canoe of the Delta.
We spent some time photographing and studying the abundant bird life before we headed for where we planned to set up off the boat for sundowners. Alas, our way was blocked by so many hippos that we couldn’t count them. Over 25, some of them huge and aggressive males.
After some discussion it was decided to try and motor past the hippos, which we eventually did successfully at speed, although I think we hit one or two as there were too big bumps as we passed them. But no sooner had we cleared the hippos than a massive African late afternoon storm came in, threatening torrential rain.
We turned the launch around and headed for home, chased all the way by the storm. It caught us just before we reached the lodge but it was enough to leave us wet and bedraggled, despite the ponchos we had been given.
Some of the Hippos that blocked our way:
We warmed up in the huge camp boma, with welcome coffee and tea, watching a glistening Hippo browsing on the grass next to the river. Then it was time for dinner, a brilliant meal of asparagus, slow roasted lamb and vegetables.
My guide, Amos, accompanied me on the long walk to my tented room, flashing his torch at low hanging branches to make sure we weren’t walking under a dangerous predator. The largest animal I saw on the path to my room though, was a big male warthog with impressive, dangerous looking tusks.
We both stopped and after I made way for him he passed me peacefully. Wake up time for the following morning would be 06h00 for a Mokoro transit to a bush walk in the Moremi game reserve. I fell asleep to the sound of hyena, lion and hippo down in the river and beyond it.
Sharp at 06h00 I was woken by a staff member. Actually, I was already awake as there was a lion or lions across the river, roaring loudly. I made my way to the breakfast area, again with warthog sharing the path with me. After breakfast, Amos and another guide took me down to a couple of Mokoros and we poled across the river to a flooded area of long grass. We then poled through the grass until eventually we reached firm ground and prepared to walk.
In the reserves in Botswana no rifles are allowed. The guides protect their guests through adherence to strict protocols in the event of coming across dangerous game. We met no dangerous game though. Instead we spent hours walking through the enchanting riverine forest and across open grassland plains, discussing in particular the many trees and plants common to that area.
These included the Jackalberry, the Mopani tree, the Leadwoods and the Thorny Acacia. Amos took the time to point out plants that could be used for treating fever, infection, snake bite, and one – the flame lily – which he said is “good for male health”. We walked for a couple of hours and saw two Elephants, small herds of Impala, as well as a couple of well concealed Kudu.
Eventually we came to a sandy area where there was plenty of lion spoor. Amos said the lions had been mating there and that was what I had heard that morning. Amos also reminded me that they offer “guided camping trips” on Chief’s Island, where we had been walking. They take out guests on a walking trip, camping overnight for a night or two, along with guides and a chef. That sounds to me like it would be a brilliant experience.
Back to camp by Mokoro, gliding past huge Lala Palms and water lilies, with enough time for a quick outdoors shower before brunch, then a water transfer to my next camp, Gunn’s camp. I said goodbye to Amos, a talented and friendly guide, before meeting “Tiny”, the manager of Gunn’s camp, and her staff.
Gunn’s camp, like Moremi Crossing, is a water based camp, offering water and walking guided excursions, but no vehicle drives. Tiny showed me around the camp before taking me to my tented room, a long walk on a raised boardwalk across a delightful wetland. This private tented area had a delightful private deck with huge trees growing through it. Upon entering the tent there is a private sitting room with writing table. From the sitting room flows the comfortable bedroom, through sliding wooden doors.
The bedroom has twin beds with pillows embroidered with a Mokoro poling scene. Behind the bedroom is a spacious and well-appointed bathroom with separate toilet. Finally, through a wooden door beyond the bathroom is a large outside deck with shower and bath. In my complex, a huge Leadwood tree was growing through the deck between the shower and bath. A massive ceiling fan was above the beds, a welcome addition in the warmer months.
As usual, high tea – with delicious homemade chicken “sausage rolls” – was served at 15h30 but there was no evening activity for me as the other guests were already out on a long motor boat cruise. I enjoyed my quiet time on the upstairs bar deck, watching and photographing the scenery and the animals, including a browsing hippo, a huge male Lechwe, and two browsing warthogs. A glass of cold Cape Winelands Sauvignon Blanc enhanced the experience.
Soon a Brazilian bush pilot arrived. He was with Moremi Air, staying overnight to fly out two Swiss passengers the next day. He felt that he had garnered enough experience as a bush pilot and would be heading back to Brazil in March to look for a job there. He emphasized that flying in the Delta was extremely safe because, “even in the event of a failure of some sort there are so many places to land.”
Then the two Swiss guests arrived after their motor boat excursion, where they had seen buffalo amongst many other wild animals. They had been looking for lion they had heard near the camp, but had not managed to find them.
Dinner followed, with the manageress taking the lead in regaling us with stories about her travel abroad and life in Botswana. The dinner was an excellent three course meal with a tomato based starter, beautifully presented in a broad onion ring, followed by a choice of meat with vegetables and rice.
By now I had stopped eating the rich deserts that camps in Botswana offer, but it must have been good judging by the way the others wolfed theirs down. After a briefing about a shortened morning activity the next day due to an early flight to my next camp I was escorted along the long boardwalk to my room, where I fell asleep at once.
At six am promptly the next morning I was awoken with coffee being served in my private tented sitting room. Hippos grunted contentedly as they made their way back from grassland to the main channel of the river. The birds sang overhead. Good, strong filter coffee, as I had requested.
The morning activity was a short Mokoro ride along the channels in front of the camp. We were to restrict the ride to an hour due to my early flight to my next camp. Once my guide had launched the Mokoro we tried turning left from the camp but were blocked by hippos. We turned right but were blocked by a huge hippo entering the water.
Now in a quandary, we were lucky to be passed by the camp’s motor launch which stopped and scared the hippos off on the left hand tributary while we slipped through. After nearly an hour of peaceful poling through the lilies and Jacana birds I enquired of my guide as to when we would be returning. He seemed less concerned than me about my early flight but we turned around and began poling gently back to camp. My guide said he thought that the hippos had left for the main channel, but they were still where we had found them earlier that morning.
We poled over to an island with an imposing termite mound, and stretched our legs while the guide radioed for help. Before long another motor launch pulled out from camp to assist us. The launch revved its motors around where the hippos had been, and we cautiously slipped past, not before I had secured my gear and identified the nearest dry land to flounder to if we were attacked. The guide seemed experienced though, and had us moored at the lodge within a few minutes.
Waiting for a motor boat to get us past the hippos
Upon my arrival at the lodge the Brazilian pilot told me that my flight was now after lunch but my guide insisted it was at ten to ten, so rather than argue I prepared to leave from my tent at the earlier time. Upon the arrival of my guide at my tent to escort me to the nearby airstrip, I asked him to check with management, who told him that I was leaving after lunch. This was unfortunate as had my guide and I been told, we could have had a longer and less stressful Mokoro experience. However, any down time in these beautiful camps is actually a blessing, as one can sit outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature for that little bit longer. And I was invited to brunch at 11 am, always a treat.
Brunch was with Tiny and my guide. I was the only client left in camp. A superb lunch which I could hardly do justice to. A vegetarian quiche, along with cold meats and salads, as well as a choice of eggs. Freshly baked bread was also served, along with biscuits…the list goes on. I left for my room to pack and shower before moving my bags to a collection point close to my tent, for my next transfer, to Pom Pom camp.
The transfer was by small plane, as it happened with one of the owners of Pom Pom camp and his family. They offered me the front seat on the four seater plane, next to the pilot. We took off and for the benefit of the owner we took sweeping loops around the Delta while he studied his camps from the air.
The Delta from the air
Upon landing at Pom Pom camp (“soft sand” in Setswana) we were greeted by a guide known for being the tallest guide in the Delta, Max. At about seven foot, and well built, he carried our bags to the vehicles with ease. There I was introduced to my guide for the next two days, Delton. Pom Pom camp differs from the previous two Delta camps I had been to, as it offers vehicle safaris as well as the Mokoro, motor boat, and walking experience.
We were greeted in the traditional way at the Botswana camps, by singing and ululating staff members. The managers, Andy and Dineo showed me around the communal areas and to my luxurious room. We were asked to assemble at the dining area for high tea at 16h00. This left a few hours for relaxing reading, and if one wished, a siesta. My tented area was similar to those of the previous two camps, with a private deck overlooking a huge wetland area populated by Hippo and birds. Upon entrance there was a small sitting room. Sliding doors led to the bedroom with two beautifully presented twin beds, the towels being intertwined with floral arrangements reflecting the local flora.
My tented bedroom – Pom Pom camp
At 16h00 I reported at the Pom Pom boma for high tea, where I met some of the other delightful and interesting guests, German, Dutch and Swiss. The high tea was a mixture of savoury and sweet dishes, including mini pizza slices and scones with cream and jam. By 16h30 we were on our vehicles, being briefed on procedure and safety. Then we set out into the grassland and forest around the waterways of the Delta.
We saw a large number of plains game, Red Lechwe, Impala, Wildebeest, Tsessebe and Common Reedbuck to name a few. We trawled the riverine forests looking for Leopard without any luck. We spotted a Striped Jackal, which was my favourite find of the outing, a small fox like creature with a white stripe emblazoned on its side.
The bird life was prolific, giving rise to numerous good ‘photo opportunities. Jackalberry (African Ivory), Fever Berry, Leadwood, Camelthorn Acacia, Knobwood Acacia, Strangler Fig, Rain Tree, Sausage Tree, and many others were scattered across the open plains.
Our guide took the time to explain each tree and its cultural or medicinal significance. The few remaining Baobabs that we came across had been damaged by elephants and didn’t look like they could take much more damage before collapsing.
The guides stopped the vehicle at sunset in an open area near a waterhole to allow us to stretch our legs and have a sundowner. Next to the vehicle where we stopped was a large lion print – ironic seeing as we had spent so much time in the forest looking for big cats! Back at the camp for dinner we sat down with the many guests and enjoyed the company, good food, and wines. All too soon it was time to retire. At this lodge they drive one to one’s room due to the potential proximity of dangerous game around the guest accommodation.
05h30 was the Pom Pom wake up call. After a quick breakfast and coffee we set out by Land Cruiser for a Mokoro outing on a large wetland area that boasted prolific bird life. What a delightful paddle! Three knowledgeable guides took us on three Mokoros, explaining the aquatic plant and bird life. It was so decadently peaceful to lie back as the guide poled silently along the waterways of the Delta.
The Malachite Kingfisher that settled on a reed in front of me gave me one of my best photo opportunities ever. As the morning grew warmer we beached the Mokoros on a small island (after an inspection for dangerous animals) and had coffee and a snack on the shore before heading back to the vehicles for camp. Brunch was served upon our arrival back at the camp, then we were given off again until 16h00, time for reading, siesta or just relaxing on the deck overlooking the wetland Hippos. A swimming pool at Pom Pom was also a refreshing alternative for those who didn’t want to sleep away the afternoon.
After high tea we boarded the safari vehicle hoping to see cats, as this was the last game drive for most of us. Alas, our hopes were not to be realised. That is the way it is in the Delta though. As a local told me, “the Delta is one of the last true Wilderness areas of Africa. It is not a zoo.”
We dined that evening on fillet steak and fish with vegetables and paired wines, enjoying fascinating conversation from the cosmopolitan guests. All too soon it was time to retire. Many of us were leaving the next day on the small Delta bush planes, at different times. I was returning to Maun and then to Cape Town.
Pom Pom was my favorite camp on this trip. The managers told me that it was 90% booked all year around and I’m not surprised. It manages to blend interesting and enjoyable activities in a relaxed environment with good company, and good food and wine. The tented accommodation is very private, tastefully decorated, clean and functional. This camp also offers a family room – with a large second bedroom adjoining the main tent, as well as a honeymoon suite with the most romantic bath situated outside on a deck in a secluded forest area.
Honeymoon Suite Bath
As we winged our way in a small 4 seater plane back to Maun, mulling over the experience of a lifetime, our pilot suddenly exclaimed, “Rhino!”, and without further warning banked sharply in a tight turn to fly low over three Black Rhino trotting majestically below.
What better experience could one have to end a Safari?