Imagine a map of infinite space, where sinuous blue channels snake through 150 000 islands of green. Imagine a river that for thousands of years has flowed from the Angolan highlands down to the desert, the Kalahari, forming the greatest natural delta on Earth. A river interrupted, never reaching an ocean. Imagine floating over the purest, clearest water – graced with water lilies, fringed with reeds and ilala palms – in a mokoro dugout canoe, as a spectacular abundance of life comes to greet you.
This is the Okavango Delta, Botswana’s pristine oasis and the planet’s 1 000th UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the best game-viewing sites in the world, a unique ecosystem based on the ebb and flow of the Okavango River and on the life-blood of Africa: rain. Each year expanding and contracting between 6 000 and 15 000 square kilometres, ironically fullest in the dry winter season. Once the Okavango drained into a vast lake, now the Makgadikgadi Pan in north-eastern Botswana. But 50 000 years ago an earthquake diverted its path, channelling trillions of gallons of nutrient-rich water into the desert, carving out islands mostly birthed from termite mounds, seeming to float on the floodplains.
I fell in love with the Okavango, and in the Okavango, on my first visit years ago, with a young man travelling on another overland truck; we converged at the Delta and I watched him longingly from afar as our mokoro drifted in a dream. On my second visit, my mother – a proper Bostonian fashionista gamely going on safari to get over my father’s death – was a wildlife magnet, inexplicably luring hippos to chomp their way around her tent at night or elephants to snatch branches above her. They left her unharmed. She found it thrilling, a baptism by fire. Her mourning lifted.
As you find your own experiences here, or they find you, these you may encounter: vast herds of elephant, trooping through the water or appearing magically from the bush; lechwe antelope leaping acrobatically; leopard, lion, hyaena or wild dog on the prowl; zebra and giraffe running and loping; hippo and crocodile submerged or resting on shore; iconic fish-eagles soaring, crying plaintively, or the rare Pel’s fishing-owl perched in a tree; tiny, emerald reed frogs, staring as your mokoro passes. And countless others. Roughly 160 species of mammals, 155 reptile species, 35 amphibian species, 85 fish species, more than 500 species of birds, and 1 500 plant species.
Nature in all its richness and diversity, in all its unadulterated magnificence. Leaving you awed, humbled, reconnected, restored. Supremely grateful.
And as you glide across the waters – reclined in your dugout, slipping into the Delta’s spell; or stop for sundowners as the fiery sun loses its watery reflection; or gather with your guide around the campfire telling stories old and new, listening to the night chorus of frogs, crickets, nightjars, hippos and other performers, the African sky exploding with stars overhead – you become part of it.
Visit the Okavango Delta and stay at our luxurious camps such as our flagship Mombo, or Abu.
Written by Melissa Siebert
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