Ben Dark was happy enough to leave his comfort zone when he knew he was going to the centre of Africa. He headed for the Okavango Delta, the world's largest inland delta, in Botswana. It is where the Okavango River, filled with water from Angola, empties into a swamp irrigating 17,000 square kilometres of the Kalahari Desert.
Botswana is a landlocked dry country, far from a coast. The delta is an oasis in an arid land with some wonderful wildlife species. Bush elephant, buffalo, hippopotamus, lechwe, blue wildebeest, giraffe, Nile crocodile, lion, cheetah, various varieties of hyena, antelope, black and white rhinoceros, zebra, baboon, warthog and more than 400 species of birds. It's wonderfully natural and free with animals coming and going as they please.
Annual rainfall is 450mm, mostly falling between December and February when temperatures are as high as 40°C with humidity up to 80 percent. Between March and May temperatures are a more comfortable 30°C and the coolest months are June to August.
Ben said Okavango Delta is a wilderness unlike any other he's seen. A half-hour flight from the town of Maun took him to Eagle Island Camp, his launch pad into the vastness of the Okavango, the river that never finds the sea.
Eagle Island Camp is on the island of Xaxaba, surrounded by Illala Palms, and overlooking a surrounding lagoon fed by the waterways of the delta.
Its 12 luxury tents with ensuite are on raised wooden decks overlooking a lagoon. They have traditional African thatched roofs, four-poster beds, mosquito netting and air-conditioning. Private viewing decks have lounges, hammocks and ceiling fans. The Fish Eagle Bar has been voted one of the most romantic in the world.
The best way to appreciate the flood plains is from the air. He did just that with safari pilot Trent Garnham who is most familiar with the land below. The waters fan into a maze of channels and islands stretching 300km.
During the 45-minute air safari you will see zebras, giraffes and of course herds of elephants. To see them from high in the early morning light is one special experience.
Botswana is the world's elephant capital and Ben met three orphaned African elephants rescued by Doug and Sandi Groves from the ghastly practice of culling. Each morning the elephants take a four hour stroll around the delta's Elephant Island. They eat, bathe and congregate with other herds.
Despite the size of the animals, particularly the bulls, they know the Groves and are protective of them. Once when Doug was threatened by an attacking lion, the elephants ran shoulder to shoulder to his aid. They dropped their heads, tucked their trunks under their chins and the lion vamoosed.
When it came to rolling out the swag, Xudum Camp in the Ranns Concession offered luxury African style. It has nine huge suites, each with plunge pool and upper viewing deck. The tented dining room and lounge areas overlook a floodplain and the bar is built in a fork of a jackal berry tree. Open fireplaces keep you snug on cool nights.
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The Okavango Delta in the north of Botswana.
The Africa Safari Co. has four- to six-night Botswana in Focus tours starting at $2995 per person twin share. Return charter flights from Maun, all meals and drinks and the choice of either four nights at Stanley's Camp including an elephant interaction or four nights at Xudum Camp including a helicopter excursion. Valid between October 16 and December 20, 2010.
For further information
The Africa Safari Co.
Office 1, Block D,
Illawong Shopping Village
273 Fowler Road Illawong NSW 2234
Ph: (61 2) 9541 4199
Fax: (61 2) 9532 0744
Visas: Australian nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
Electricity:220V to 240V at 50Hz.
Time zone: GMT +2.
Currency: The pula.
Telephone code: +267.
It is recommended travellers to Botswana see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. The Okavango Delta is a malaria area and necessary precautions should be taken. Other precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au