Jao – Changing with the Seasons

Our Collective

Antony Mulligan


As we move from summer into winter, the annual inundation in the Okavango Delta begins trickling in from Angola, filling the channels and fleshing out the shape of the Delta’s waterways.

Just like the Delta, our beloved Jao Camp took on a few of its own seasonal changes… In summer, we said goodbye to the spectacular original Jao Camp. In autumn, Jao began taking on a new form as building got into full swing. Now, as we enter winter and get closer to the final steps of the rebuild, we prepare for the full transformation.

As I write this, we are now in the final stages of the build (and probably the most difficult part). We are currently finishing off décor and the masterful touches that will bring everything together.

All the pools for the rooms and main area are complete and look very inviting, especially to all of us working in the 33° C heat!

An inviting villa pool…

The main area pool right next to the channel – a place to relax and enjoy the view

In terms of the build, we have made great progress. The final ceiling work and main bathroom, treatment room and spa reception are looking great and nearly complete. The main area decks (a private dining area and fire deck) are ready, and we are currently working on the satellite kitchen finishes. There is another fire deck which leads to the main pool (shown above). The gym, is nearing completion and we will start with the teak floors next.

A glimpse of one of the treatment rooms; you will have to book to experience its true detail and magic.

David Kays deciding on how the rails will be mounted at the end of the main jetty

One can’t help admire the guest rooms – they are magnificent. The floors and walls are complete and the bathrooms, bedrooms and lounges are taking shape. Guests have a lot to look forward to with the inside fireplaces and cooling systems, the bath, inside and outside showers, the outside decks and plunge pools. Looking at the room from the outside, it flows and blends, and one feels at home before even opening the doors.

I believe the Jao rooms epitomise exactly how the Delta should be experienced, appreciating everything around you, as building and nature become one.

Does it look like it’s just been built? We have made sure we blend into nature…

A sneak peek of the room interiors

The solar plant is complete and Jao will run on 100% solar; we have installed thermo-dynamic geysers which use just 400 W of power to heat 350 litres of hot water per room. We have installed a full above-ground sewerage system throughout the camp that converts all grey and black water back to clean water. We have also reused material such as wood and decking in order to build in the most eco-friendly way possible.

This year had a drier than usual summer, and this has impacted on the annual inundation. The channels have stopped flowing and the waterholes have dried up, creating additional pressure on the wildlife to find water sources.

That said, the change has been good for wildlife viewing. For the first time in almost ten years, we have seen large herds of zebra, tsessebe and ostrich, as well as roan antelope and giraffe returning to Jao. This is not their usual habitat, but with drier conditions the area has become very enticing. The large floodplains, normally filled with water and lechwe, are now perfect grazing areas for these animals.

Zebra enjoying the dry conditions and open space

It is strange seeing ostrich standing in an area that is normally a metre deep in water

The wild dogs and lions are still patrolling and have been really welcoming to all the additional animals to the area… a few more options on their “buffet” menu! Leopards have been seen more regularly too, perhaps due to the fact that we have less water, so everything is gathering around the available sources.

A Jao lioness walking through what is normally a wet floodplain

The elephants have dug their own waterholes in the riverbeds and continue to thrive, even with the drier conditions. Buffalo have moved into the area in small herds and can be found along the rivers and in the tall reeds. On our island, the mongoose family visits our office twice a day to drink from a small water feature. Hyaena calls are heard every evening as the wandering hippo move further away in search of better grass.

A couple of the "Jao Mafia” gathering for their daily drink at our office

I cannot write an update about Jao’s transformation and not share equally good news about the Delta. So, although we are at the lowest and driest I have ever seen the area, Mother Nature is still sending us much needed water. As I write, water levels in the northern part of our reserve are rising, and the inundation is slowly making its way south.

Maybe the entire Delta will not be experiencing the same transformation as Jao this year… we do, however, have a lot to still be grateful for – an amazing and inspiring new camp, and an abundance of life all around.

Our first mokoro activity of the season in the newly-arrived water

As we ease into winter and the seasonal change, Jao too is changing, and soon both the Delta and our reserve will have transformed. We are excited to share it all with you, and look forward to welcoming you to your home away from home!

Written and photographed by Antony Mulligan, Jao Reserve Manager

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