“Lift your feet up” says the guide casually as the water slops into the Land Cruiser’s footwell. This is Botswana’s Okavango Delta and if you want to see the wildlife you take your safari vehicle through the channels to find it. Four-wheel drive means the wet conditions are no barrier to grip and an air intake higher than the windscreen allows the vehicle to ‘breathe’ when apparently under water.
The same channels are no barrier to horses and the flooded plains are an excellent place for good riders to canter and gallop alongside plains game such as giraffe. There are camps to ride out from or others to ride between on a multi-day riding safari.
Elephants are equally adept at traversing this area and are described by the team at Abu Camp as better than the best 4wd safari vehicle. Certainly exploring the Okavango Delta from the back of an elephant ensures a unique perspective and you’re offered the chance to get to know the character of each of the elephants in the herd.
Who says cats don’t like water? In the Okavango Delta they need to and the lions have developed stronger muscles to allow them to hunt through the water-filled channels. This technique, with the water cooling them, also allows them to hunt during the heat of the day when they’d generally lie in the shade.
Despite their extra strength, and the amount of prey on offer in this lush area, not every hunt is successful and a single lioness faced with hundreds of buffalo knows when to call it a day.
Most people head into and out of the Okavango Delta by light aircraft, something which both gives you a feeling of a truly wild safari holiday and allows you an interesting perspective of this wilderness area. The waters of the Okavango River descend from the highlands of Angola to Botswana, where they fan out into a myriad of channels before disappearing into the Kalahari sands.
Botswana is a land of contrasts, none perhaps more so than the difference between the lush Okavango Delta and the arid salt pans of Makgadikgadi. This is an ancient lake system which are thought to have dried after a shifting of the tectonic plates. This area, home to evidence of early man and unusual species such as brown hyena and meerkats, is best explored by quad bike as the large tyres spread the weight on the fragile crust.
It’s in the harsh environment of Makgadikgadi that Jack’s Camp provides an oasis of style and service – where else do you find a swimming pool in a tent? Set up in a palm grove on a site discovered by Jack Bousfield, father of the current owner, this is a camp in an area which is so quiet you can hear your blood pumping.
A final thrill in this most magical of safari destinations, comes in the Tuli Block, a wedge of land that even some who consider themselves safari aficionados will not know. Sandwiched into a triangle of land between South Africa and Zimbabwe, this area of Botswana enjoys landscapes unlike much of the rest of the country, with riverine vegetation, open plains, rocky kopjes and huge baobabs.
Mashatu, set within its own private area, offers wildlife drives, walks and even mountain biking, but differentiates itself with a hide set into the ground, so the feet of the animals coming to the nearby waterhole are at ground level and some of the most incredible photographs can be taken.
Nine photos can never really cover the whole country, nor can they show the difference between the same area in the dry season and the wet season. We’ve not looked at huge elephant herds in Chobe Game Reserve, nor fishing on the panhandle of the Okavango River.
Nine photos do however give an idea of the variety a holiday in Botswana can encompass. Choose one area or visit them all, whatever you do you’ll love it.
Richard Smith is Operations Director at Aardvark Safaris.