The Okavango Delta is one of the most sought after wilderness destinations in the world.
The Okavango Delta is situated deep within the Kalahari Basin, and is often referred to as the ‘jewel’ of the Kalahari. That the Okavango exists at all – deep within this thirst land – seems remarkable. The Delta is shaped like a fan and is fed by the Okavango River, the third largest in southern Africa. It has been steadily developed over the millennia by millions of tons of sand carried down the river from Angola.
Swollen with floodwaters from the summer rains, the Okavango River travels from the Angolan highlands, crosses into Botswana at Mohembo in the Caprivi, then later spills over the vast, fan-shaped Delta. The timing of the floods is uncanny. Just as the waters from Botswana’s summer rains disappear (April, May), so the floodwaters begin their journey – 1300 kilometres of which is through Kalahari sands – revitalising a vast and remarkably diverse ecosystem of plant and animal life.
The water’s flow, distribution and drainage patterns are continually changing, principally due to tectonic activity underground. As an extension of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the Okavango is set within a geographically unstable area of faults, and regularly experiences land movements, tremors and minor quakes. By the time the water reaches Maun, at the Delta’s southern fringes, its volume is a fraction of what it was. As little as two to three percent of the water reaches the Thamalakane River in Maun, over 95 percent lost to evapo-transpiration.
It should be noted, however, that game viewing very much depends on season, and water and food availability.
The Okavango is a proposed World Heritage Site. Its long-term conservation is ensured through government policy and regulations (though only Moremi Game Reserve has an official protected status), the efforts and initiatives of camps and lodges in its concessions, the recently launched Okavango Development Management Plan (ODMP) and its status as a Ramsar site, under IUCN, an agreement that limits its utilisation and development.
MOREMI GAME RESERVE
The Okavango Delta is one of the most sought after wilderness destinations in the world.
The Moremi Game Reserve is the first reserve in Africa that was established by local residents. Concerned about the rapid depletion of wildlife in their ancestral lands – due to uncontrolled hunting and cattle encroachment – the Batawana people of Ngamiland, under the leadership of the deceased Chief Moremi III’s wife, Mrs. Moremi, took the bold initiative to proclaim Moremi a game reserve in 1963.
It is the only officially protected area of the Okavango Delta, and as such holds tremendous scientific, environmental and conservation importance.
Located on the northeast side of the Delta, it is probably the prime tourist destination in Botswana, due to the fact that it encompasses several different types of ecological zones. The total surface area of this reserve is 4 871 square kilometres. This is almost one-third of the Okavango Delta - a fact Botswana can be very proud of. The dry land areas of Moremi consist mainly of Mopane veld (Colophospermum mopane). The giant mopane trees form the canopy woodland and lend an atmosphere unique to this area.
The Moremi Game Reserve makes for spectacular game viewing and bird watching, including all major naturally occurring herbivore and carnivore species in the region, and over 400 species of birds, many migratory and some endangered. Both Black and White Rhino have recently been re-introduced, now making the reserve a ‘Big Five’ destination.
Moremi is a very popular destination for the self-drive camper, and is often combined with the Chobe National Park to the northeast.
The rustic Third Bridge campsite, situated near the pretty Sekiri River, flanked with thick stands of papyrus, is a favourite, creating lasting memories of resplendent Okavango sunsets.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK
The Chobe River is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most beautiful rivers and supports a wide diversity and concentration of wildlife unparalleled anywhere else in Botswana.
The Chobe National Park was established in 1968 and covers approximately 11 7 00 sq kilometres, encompassing floodplains, swamps and woodland. The Chobe River forms its northern boundary. There are four distinct geographical areas in the park: the Chobe Riverfront, the Ngwezumba pans, Savuté and Linyanti.
The most accessible and frequently visited of Botswana’s big game country, the Chobe Riverfront is most famous for its large herds of elephants and Cape buffalo, which during the dry winter months converge upon the river to drink.
During the dry season, on an afternoon game drive, you may see hundreds of elephants at one time. You may also find yourself surrounded by elephants, as the main Serondella road becomes impassable and scores of family herds cross the main road to make their way to the Chobe River in order to drink, bathe and play.
Within the Chobe National Park, Savuti is perhaps one of the best known game-viewing areas in the country. Under ideal conditions the number and variety of animals seen can be quite staggering.
The Savuti area supports mainly Camelthorn (Acacia erioloba) sandveld, Silver Terminalia (Terminalia sericea) sandveld, scrub savanna, and mopane veld. Savuti's almost desert-like landscape with a scorching sun, loose, hot sand, animals escaping the heat by clumping together in the limited available shade, and elephants impatiently lining up to get to the ever-dwindling water supply, offer a wildlife experience so different, yet so true to Africa.
One of the great mysteries and fascinations of Savuti is its famous channel. It runs a distance of 100 kilometers from the Chobe River, through a gap in the sand ridge, to the Mababe Depression. Falling only approximately 18 meters (about 18 centimeters for each kilometer of distance covered), this channel brings water from the Chobe to Mababe, creating a small marsh where it enters the Depression.
It is the channel and its water, which explains the fantastic abundance of game that can sometimes be seen at Savuti. However, the channel does not always flow. The long dry period of this century gave the Camelthorn trees (Acacia erioloba) enough time to establish themselves and grow to full size. The flood that followed drowned the trees both in the channel and on the edge of the marsh. The dead trees, which have remained erect for more than 35 years, are today one of the most prominent features of the Savuti landscape.
The extensive Kwando, Selinda and Linyanti concessions offer superb wildlife viewing – and terrain to rival the physical beauty of the Okavango, these areas can be found sandwiched between the Chobe National Park to the east and the Okavango south.
The reserves string along the rivers, with the Kwando to the northwest, Selinda (1350 sq kilometres in area) south and Linyanti (1250 sq kilometres in area) east. A small area of the Chobe National Park juts up to meet the Linyanti River and swamps; it has a government campsite and facilities for the self-drive camper, while the concessions offer private camps.
This is real African big game country, and during the dry season the permanent waters of both the Kwando and Linyanti Rivers serve as important migration points for wildlife from much of northern Botswana – including large herds of buffalo and elephant, wildebeest and zebra.
Virtually all naturally occurring antelope and predators can be seen in these concessions, depending, of course, on the season and the availability of food and water. These include waterbuck, reedbuck, giraffe, impala, kudu, and with any luck the rare and shy Sitatunga, and accompanying lion, hyena, leopard, cheetah, jackal, serval and caracal.
However, perhaps the greatest attraction of this part of Botswana is the feeling it gives of extreme isolation, and being completely removed from the world as we know it. The camps are small and private, with perhaps only twenty or so guests present at one time.
There’s nothing else out there – except you, the bush and a fascinating contingent of wild animals – just waiting to be discovered, and explored.
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is the second largest game reserve in the world. Situated right in the centre of Botswana, this reserve is characterised by vast open plains, saltpans and ancient riverbeds.
Varying from sand dunes with many species of trees and shrubs in the north, to flat bushveld in the central area, the reserve is more heavily wooded in the south, with mopane forests to the south and east. Rainfall is sparse and sporadic and can vary from 170 to 700 millimetres per year.
Central Kalahari Desert is one of the remotest and pristine parts of Africa, the Northern part of this park is one of the prime game viewing areas in Botswana. Deception Valley was made famous by Mark and Delia Owens book, Cry of The Kalahari. The best time to visit is during or soon after the rains - though any time can be a rewarding experience. During the dry season water is non-existent in the park. It is amazing to see the number of animals that can survive for months with no surface water to drink, getting moisture from vegetation (some dig up tubers) and dew.
NXAI PAN NATIONAL PARK AND BAINES BAOBABS
Nxai Pan National park is set on the northern fringe of the Makgadikgadi basin and includes Nxai Pan, an ancient lakebed that was once part of the ancient lake Makgadikgadi. Nxai Pan, Lake Ngami, Lake Xau, the Mababe Depression, Ntwetwe Pan, Sua Pan and the Okavango Delta are all remnants of this gigantic lake.
When Nxai Pan National Park was first proclaimed in the 1970's it was only 1 676 square kilometers. In 1992 it was declared a national park and enlarged to an area of 2 578 square kilometers, which includes Baines' Baobabs.
Nxai Pan National Park consists mainly of a series of fossil pans, all of which are covered in short nutritious grasses. On the pans are "islands" of Acacia trees that form shady spots in which the animals often rest during the day. Today Nxai Pan consists mainly of rich, clayey soils and very thick sand dunes on the periphery of the pan. This makes for beautiful scenery and is unique to Nxai Pan. The short, sweet grasses on the pans provide excellent grazing, particularly for the springbok, which is almost always abundant in this area.
Interestingly, both impala and springbok can be seen in this park, where as they are usually separated by different habitat preferences. Although the habitat is more suitable for springbok, the impala can survive because of the surrounding mopane veld and the availability of permanent water.
The area is also the breeding ground for large herds of zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, and eland. Unusual game species that can be seen here are the hartebeest, bat-eared fox, brown hyena, and cheetah. Note that the game viewing can be rather unpredictable in Nxai Pan, especially during the dry season.
Overlooking Kudiakam pan, on the south side of Nxai Pan National Park, is a group of 7 giant baobab trees. These 7 impressive baobabs, originally known as the Sleeping Sisters, were immortalized for posterity by the artist/adventurer Thomas Baines on 22 May 1862, when he was traveling from Namibia to Victoria Falls with the explorer James Chapman.
By referring to Baines' painting it can be seen that these majestic trees have changed very little over the past 130+ years. Although there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary about these trees, when the pan is covered in water the setting is very beautiful. An outing to Baines' Baobabs will certainly be one of the highlights of your safari.
MAKGADIKGADI PANS NATIONAL PARK
The Makgadikgadi is a place of wide-open, uninhabited spaces under an endless canopy of blue sky. The remoteness, inaccessibility and danger of the pans all add to their allure.
It is a vast expanse filled with subtle hues and surrealistic beauty. Almost the size of Portugal, the pan covers 12 000 square kilometers and is the largest saltpan in the world. The pan is only a portion of what used to be one of the largest inland lakes in Africa.
The area is comprised of the Sua and Ntwetwe pans. During the heat of the late winter day the pans become a shimmering mirage of disorienting and ethereal austerity. The large number of small villages and the small stone age tools and other artifacts that can be found scattered around the islands (for example on Kubu Island), all point to the fact that the Makgadikgadi Pans have supported human habitation, and their livestock, for a very long time. At one time the Makgadikgadi Pans was important as a major trade route.
In September large herds of antelope, zebra and wildebeest roam the dusty plains awaiting the first rains. On their arrival the waters turn the pans into a perfect mirror of the sky, distorting all sense of place and time. Although these rains are short lived, in December another deluge turns the edges of the vast pans into waving fringes of green grassland where herds of wildlife converge to partake in the bounty.
Flocks of birds arrive to build their nests along the shoreline of the Nata River, in Sua Pan, and feed on algae and crustaceans that have been lying dormant in the salt and sand awaiting the drenching rains.