Okavango Delta

Flood of Hope: The Waters Reach Maun

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Henry Parsons


This is Wilderness Safaris Botswana Guide Trainer Henry Parsons’ first season in Botswana. Here he shares his personal experience of the Delta inundation and nature coming to life. It’s particularly significant for him, having previously only seen it in pictures.

2019 saw one of the worst droughts in southern Africa for years, caused by months of above average temperatures and erratic rainfall. People struggled. Animals struggled. The outlook was pretty grim –and every time there is a drought, we are left wondering when the rains will come again.

But they did come again!

In the graph below (courtesy of Hydrological Services Namibia) the red line of this year’s exceptional flood can be seen; the highest in five years, compared with the yellow line of last year’s flood; the lowest for 100 years.

The two peaks that characterise most years can be clearly seen against the single low peak of last year, and you can also see that the water level is now dropping and has continued to do so – visible also on the graph below from the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project Environmental Monitoring Station on the Divundu Bridge over the Okavango River in the Kavango East region, Namibia.

The source of the Okavango River is not within Botswana, but from rainfall in the Central Highlands of Angola; from here the river flows south through Namibia and finally into Botswana.

Unlike other famous deltas, such as the Mississippi or the Nile, all the water reaching the Okavango Delta ultimately evaporates and transpires, and never reaches the sea.

As new residents in Maun, experiencing the excited anticipation of the flood’s arrival at the town has been such an immense privilege, especially as last year – with the level being so low – some thought it might be years until the waters reached Maun again.

We followed social media groups on its arrival into Maun with great excitement, and have learned much in the process from those who have lived here for many years. It is a community very much dependent on this natural phenomenon, and the excitement was palpable. Before sunrise on the 9th of May 2020, whilst the world was in lockdown, we watched the flood trickle past the back of our house with shared joy in our hearts. It was such a beautiful moment; nature continues with us or without us, and we must remember that we are a part of this great system and not apart from it or above it.

Perhaps naively, prior to this experience, I presumed the inflow followed a reasonably predictable route – we have all seen the pictures from above; that familiar pattern – but even people that are considered experts on this area admit that the longer they have lived here, the less they feel they are able to predict the inundation.

Imperceptible seismic movements, along with many other factors can change the course, the speed and direction of the flow, water levels in different areas and how far the water reaches. It is this unpredictability which makes this phenomenon even more interesting; that the entire system is too complex for us to make complete sense of.

We have been fortunate enough to make it into the bush since lockdown ended here in Botswana, in order to begin training staff on our new protocols to keep our guests safe from COVID -19 when we are able to welcome you all once again.

Whilst there, we were lucky enough to go and see the Gomoti Channel in spate, and one of our guides, Gully, was visibly excited to see water in the channel. The waters bring such joy, even to – or maybe that should be especially to – people who have lived here their entire lives.

Water means life and one of the things I love about Africa, especially coming from a place where rain and water are taken for granted and generally make people miserable, is how celebrated rain is and how precious water is known to be.

Previous visitors to Botswana will know that the Setswana word for rain is ‘pula’, which is also the currency here and the way we ‘cheers’ our drinks. The word brings such joy and as the whole of the Delta is now full of water and looking spectacular – in fact just a few days ago the waters even made it to the Magkadikadi Pans, which have been without significant water for two years – we cannot wait to welcome you back, say ‘pula’ with you once again, and show you the Delta in all its glory.

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