Chasing Sunrise: Botswana – Okavango Delta

It was a 3 hour drive to Maun, the town that is the jumping off point for the Okavango Delta. We got there around lunchtime and headed to the airport as ideally we wanted to fly over it. There are plenty of scenic flight operators (and all are doing the same route). It turned out to be much easier to organise than we’d expected. Within 5 minutes we had a 45 minute scenic flight for 2 booked.

There had been a nice cafe full of tourists that we’d passed just by the airport so we headed there for lunch and to chill for a couple of hours until our report in time. The food was fresh and delicious – like a cafe as we think of them – the first since Cape Town.

We’d only have an hour or so until sunset after the flight so we googled some camp options and called and booked one 30km out of town. Now we were in Botswana we’d decided we’d stay in the country and do the long drive to Chobe. So we also picked and booked some accommodation for the next night. For the first time we actually had got ahead a little and got a bit of a plan!

Our little Cessna plane had 2 pilots. This is probably meant to be reassuring. It wasn’t. It was slightly disconcerting… Every plane had 2, we think it must be a regulatory requirement. It was a stinking hot day, late 30’s degrees C. The pilot warned us that because we’d be flying low (500 feet) the heat would give us some turbulence.

Unlike most rivers the Okavango doesn’t flow out towards the sea, instead it flows inland and turns into a Delta before it is soaked up by the desert sands of the Kalahari Basin. This also makes it one of the few delta systems in the world without an outlet to the sea. Covering over 2 thousand hectares it is Africa’s third largest alluvial fan and on the UNESCO list. It is considered to be in near pristine state being a largely untransformed wetland system, and teems with wildlife.

We knew Angola had had an unusually dry winter, this was party the reason why we hadn’t detoured in Namibia to visit Popa Falls on the Caprivi Strip as we weren’t far away when we turned for the border. But it also meant the delta waters hadn’t reached as far as normal. Our lead pilot changed the route slightly as a result. We also hadn’t realised part of the route went over the Moremi Game Reserve.

It was interesting to see the town by air as we took off, but tin roofs quickly gave way to open landscape which was full of tracks, as the villages dwindled off we realised many of them were elephant tracks. There were elephants everywhere, we saw everything from single males to big herds, walking, hanging in the shade of trees and drinking and bathing in the delta water. We could also see hippos doing the same, this was our first time seeing hippos so we were really excited. We saw some giraffes too but elephants were by far the most common. We hadn’t really expected to be able to see wildlife from the air, we just wanted to see the delta so it was really exciting.

The excitement continued when we reached camp shortly before sunset. Set next to a river it had hippos. It had an electric fence to keep them out as campers used to get up in the night and find them wandering around. We walked out onto the camp’s bamboo jetty to photograph the sun setting over the river and noticed 2 eyes upstream. We watched them mesmerised as they came closer as it made its way downstream. Further up the river we could see at least a dozen more. The hippos can’t get onto the jetty but after the sun had gone the first out of eyes came closely past us. The other dozen had rapidly made their way downstream too but it had gone dark by the time they reached us. They made a hell of a racket for a few hours until they finally moved on.

Marie had a bout of violent vomiting in the night, it was hot and a long night. With a long 7.5 hr drive to Chobe the next day the alarm was set for daybreak to maximise how much distance we could get under our belt before it got really hot. In the event it wasn’t needed. Marie felt very rough and had had no sleep so she had really had enough of the tent and was wanting to get the journey done. So come first light we were up. Not that she helped much with the pack down.

Keen to drive as a distraction we’d had to stop within 5 minutes on departing and did twice more in the first half hour. There was nothing left in her to come out so once her body was sure of that we got underway properly.

She did well and managed to drive for the first two hours. Long straight roads again made for hypnotic driving. Particularly when villages got sparse. The cool thing about driving in Botswana though is they don’t have wildlife fences for the road. We frequently saw ostriches by the side of the road and of course there are always warthogs, but occasionally it would be oh look there’s an elephant, oh there’s a giraffe. The picnic pull offs come with their own warning signs too about it being a wildlife area so you use at your own risk. In other words if you get eaten by a lion it’s your own fault!

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