Finally, I've managed to get back to the TR to write up the final segment. Okavango Delta
More photos available here
Ewan arrived at the Tree Lodge just before 10 am and we set out on the 5 hour drive to Savute. Along the way, we saw kudu, elephant and impala before stopping for lunch outside Mababe Gate where we were joined by 2 very persistent yellow-billed hornbills. A teenage bull mock charged the car but turned tail when Ewan insisted that he ‘don’t be silly’. We then drove slowly to Hatab 27 where Vincent, Kazi and Bendigo had set up a very comfortable camp complete with a shady mess tent. There are lamps on the table during dinner and also outside each tent and before dinner we sit around the campfire discussing the day’s sightings with a gin and tonic close at hand.
This was my second visit to Savute, Khwai and Moremi, the first being in May 2004 on a Wilderness Dawning mobile safari. The area is completely different due to all the water and many of the roads we used in 2004 are now under water. I noticed that the HATAB campsites are nowhere near as well kept, there are more safari companies and more vehicles in the park. I was dismayed at the number and size of vehicles bringing day visitors into the Reserve around South Gate. I was also really pleased to meet up with Bebe the guide from 2004. It was great to hear that he and his family are doing well and to hear his family news.
Next morning the wake-up is at 6 am, followed shortly by hot water for an early morning wash. A quick breakfast of oatmeal, tea and rusks and we depart for the morning game drive by 6.40. Near the main road we see our nocturnal visitor, an elephant who we heard rumbling around camp during the night together with kudu, wildebeest , giraffe, impala, tssebe and warthog. Birds included yellow and red-billed hornbills, Bradfield’s and grey hornbills, marabou stork, grey heron and a pearl spotted owl that was keenly watching a raucous toad. The toad eventually made it across the road to safety in the water.
The plain that we criss-crossed in 2004 is now all marsh. There is a lot of water in Savute and Ewan estimated that the Channel was now around 6 metres deep in some places, many roads are now impassable. We drove to the edge of the channel, near the site of the former President’s lodge where we heard trumpeting that preceded 3 elephants with a baby coming to drink. These animals looked to be in poor condition – thin, tired and dusty and Ewan thought they may have just arrived in Savute. Further up the channel a fish eagle perched over the water and a herd of impala graze peacefully.
Later in the afternoon we saw 8 bull elephants bathing at Harvey’s Pan – they walked in very slowly from the mopane trees, stopping to drink and squirt water before some sank into a mud pool for a wallow before plodding off slowly over the grass plain.
The elephant returned during the night and munched on the mopane behind Ewan’s tent. Next morning we drove down the eastern side of the marsh where Ewan spotted a lechwe hidden deep in the reeds with only his distinctive horns showing. The roads are slowly being inundated with water, and we stopped to watch a plethora of waterbirds – grey and squacco herons, cattle and great egrets, jacanas, pied kingfisher, yellow-billed and saddle-billed storks, white-faced whistling ducks, red-billed teal, little grebe, Egyptian geese and a marabou stork. We returned to Hatab 22 in the Old Seep where the guys had made a new camp for us and prepared a delicious lunch that included Vincent’s memorable warm home made bread, tuna bake and a green salad. Coincidentally, this was the same camp that I had stayed during the 2004 safari. I recognized it because it is in a dip, however elephant damage to the trees around the campsite had changed it considerably.
During the afternoon game drive we saw big elephant, small elephant, wet elephant, dry elephant…all were out and about in Savute. Ewan told us that a few years ago the area was almost exclusively populated with bull elephants, however now that the Channel is flowing the breeding herds have returned. We also saw a herd of young wildebeest, nearly all were calves from last season, 6 large male kudu all with impressive sets of horns and a cheeky yellow mongoose. Our nocturnal visitors included an elephant that munched away behind my tent, dropping leaves on the roof for twenty or so minutes before he ambled off to keep Caryl awake and a honey badger that rattled (should that be rateled?) the pots and pans in the kitchen.
We left camp at 6.40 the next morning to travel to the southern area of the marsh in search of lions passing hammerkop and many white crowned shrikes. Lions were calling from Jackal Island but there was no access to the area. However, as the road became increasingly waterlogged we turned back, stopping to watch a large herd of wildebeest moving up the western side of the marsh – their dusty trail and grunting reminded me of the migration in the western Serengeti that we had seen in 2008. We searched unsuccessfully for the leopard that had been seen at Wild Dog Pan before starting back to camp for lunch. A small herd of roan antelope were drinking at a waterhole and with them was a confused oryx, a remarkable looking animal with one normal horn and one that looked to be growing downwards. Roan are such attractive animals with beautifully marked faces.
Closer to the channel a family of banded mongoose were foraging and ground hornbill were booming away.
We ran the ‘elephant gauntlet’ once again to drive down the eastern side of the marsh where an estimated 500-1,000 elephants were visible.
Actually, the elephants had all gone to the marsh for the weekend (this was a Friday afternoon) as that area was thick with them and we saw only a couple on the way back to camp. One of these was a musth bull that we took a quick detour around only to cross paths with another agitated bull – Ewan surmised that it had probably had an altercation with the musth male and was looking to vent his frustration on the next thing to come along. The last sighting was a magical moment - at dusk, a bull walked peacefully along the road towards the vehicle, filling our forward view. Ewan switched off and we watched this big guy ambling towards us through the loose sand – before he reached us he turned away from the road and disappeared into the night. A fitting end to the Savute safari.
Reflections on Savute are dominated by the rising water – Ewan estimated that the marsh is up to 20-25 kilometres long, 12 kilometres across, although it could be as shallow as 15cm in places. The Channel is flowing very quickly past the ranger’s station and a new lodge has been built in the public campsite – rates (from memory) were $545 pppns in the high season. Elephants were everywhere and entertaining to watch feeding, bathing, playing, play fighting or striding out across the marsh. The images that I have bought home with me are:
• waterlogged roads
• hopping hornbills
• noisy cape and glossy and long-tailed starlings
• elephants big, small, wet, dry
• mopane stumps
• a lilac breasted in (almost) every tree
• francolin ‘alarm clocks’
Next morning we left Savute for Khwai and were amused by African Conservation Trust staff releasing a hyena just 10 minutes from the public campsite. We asked why they were releasing it so close and they said it wasn’t their target animal. Shortly after, a honey badger was fossicking about in the early sun.
It was delightful to see Sallie at Moremi South Gate where we stopped for lunch and later checked out the new bridge at Khwai. Sallie joined our camp for 3 days – lovely to see her again and to benefit from the skill of 2 great guides on our Khwai game drives. The old bridge that we had used in 2004 was now under water.
Our camp at Khwai is at Hatab 5 well away form the road and on the edge of the rising water. Vincent measured the rising water with a stick and during the first night it gained 15 cm. As we arrived in camp a young saddle-backed stork was quietly fishing his way around the edge and impala and red lechwe graze across on the far bank. This shallow waterhole which we came to know as ‘our swamp’ provided views of waterbirds from the tents and at night we could hear the animals wading through the water – the slow drag of elephant and the more delicate stepping of lechwe and zebra.
During the afternoon game drive we saw zebra, wattled plover, wattled crane, ground hornbill and more lechwe.
At sundowner time, about 5,000 frogs (so it seemed) are noisily croaking, a hippo is grunting nearby and lions are calling about 5 km away. Camp was quite busy during the night as the 2 male lions moved down the road 100 m from camp and may have been responsible for a zebra stampede – I woke up and hoped nothing tripped over the guy ropes! Later impala began hissing and snorting and an elephant waded through the swamp to munch away over the water. Next morning we searched in vain for these lions until we were turned back by water – we came to refer to these guys as the famous levitating lions of Khwai. We did see a giraffe that was almost black – so dark the pattern was mostly obscured – I wonder if it is possible to have a melanistic giraffe? There was a pelican roosting in a dead tree and further along 6 hippos floated in a pool.
We stopped for morning tea at the former public camp site and were gently chided by a local staff member about using the now privately owned facility. The baboons provided entertainment as they played and groomed in the morning sun.
Driving back to camp we saw many ‘mongai’ – slender, dwarf and banded.
Hippo Pools did not live up to its name – we only saw one from the very rickety lookout. There was an amusing sign on the public toilets at this stop very politely asking people not to use this area as a toilet! Later we saw a Nile monitor, a side-striped jackal and 2 new birds for me a Southern black tit and an Arnotts chat, a tidy black and white bird found only in the mopane forest. The afternoon was very hot and from my tent I could see long-tailed starlings, red lechwe grazing on the island in the middle of the swamp, jacanas, fork-tailed drongos and an egret. A hippo honked in a neighbouring pool.
During the afternoon game drive we saw the first spoonbills of the trip and ‘hooding’ black egrets making a shade with their wings to assist fishing. At dusk we stopped to watch 2 honey badgers on the Hippo Pools road. The day was capped off with 2 bird silhouettes – a roosting pelican near a waterhole and a great eagle owl on a branch hanging over the road.
Arriving back at camp on dark we drove very carefully through 3-4 jumpy elephant families that were hard to see I the dark, an experience not for the faint-hearted.
Next morning we found the footprints of the levitating lions close to camp, and although we drove 18 km searching, they continued to elude us. Perhaps they had been helicoptered out at dawn??? There was a large troop of baboons near Khwai gate and a dead baboon near the water tank – shot by the Wildlife Dept for causing a nuisance at the campsite. Later we enjoyed morning tea on the banks of the Khwai River where we watched hippo and lechwe. Returning to camp we saw a female leopard at Colonel’s Loop and vervet monkeys.
Later in the afternoon a large Nile monitor was seen making its way through the swamp.
Next day Sallie returned to Maun and we left for our last camp in the Mopane Tongue area. During the drive we saw honey badgers and a herd of zebras before stopping in Khwai village to buy baskets. We turned off for Hatab 14 at South Gate where 6 giraffes were grazing and a gymnogene was searching for food in a tall, dead tree. Closer to the water we saw a brilliantly coloured malachite kingfisher and 2 lionesses making a poor show of stalking warthog.
Hatab 14 is at the edge of a hippo pool, and we heard the locals many times – great background music. The resident jacana could usually be found slowly wading along the edge of the water just in front of camp.
The first afternoon we found a wounded lone hippo quite close to camp and later we would hear him honking in response to those in the pool closer to camp. We searched in vain for the lionesses seen earlier in the day, however they had vanished. At dusk, a long line of elephants held us up as they crossed the road after which we had a close sighting of a watchful great eagle owl perched in a low overhanging branch. We enjoyed sundown reflections of squacco herons, slaty egrets and jacanas on the return to camp and the last sighting of the day was a hippo in a pool of yellow light at sunset.
The chorus of thousands of raucous toads and bell frogs continued through the night and was at full voice at 3 am. After waking very early we set out on the morning game drive and found a black-backed jackal digging for grubs beneath the remains of a giraffe kill. Shortly after we found 2 young honey badgers, a couple of buffalo and a group of about 45 hippo when we stopped for morning tea. It was difficult to decide who was watching who at this pool!
A large flock of open-billed storks flew overhead whilst we were stopped and a herd of zebra came to drink cautiously at the water’s edge. A big group of banded mongoose ran determinedly alongside the vehicle as we returned to camp.
We drove to Second Bridge to see a ‘pile of lions’ reported by a day safari group, however they were nowhere to be found when we arrived - in hindsight Ewan believed they had mixed up the bridges and that the lions were at Third Bridge. However, we did see herds of zebra and wildebeest between First and Second Bridges. The guys radioed through to say that a lion had walked through camp and we returned to find a muddy, wet lioness lying just behind the ‘kitchen’ calling for her sisters. Ewan spoke for all of us when he said ‘I hope you’re not going to lie there all night making that noise.’ The guys said she had left 2 males across the channel and swum across in search of other pride members. The frogs were eerily quiet this night, perhaps a night heron was patrolling the pool.
Next day we set out for Third Bridge, stopping to sit with a male lion lying close to camp, one of the 3 that roared around camp last night.
We drove past many impala and followed a herd of around 500 buffalo moving out of the delta into the reserve. Ewan checked around the stragglers to make sure lions weren’t following.
Other vehicles had reported 2 male cheetahs closer to Third Bridge but these had melted away from the numerous lodge vehicles in the area. We did find a bloated male lion, so full that he could hardly waddle to the shade of a nearby tree.
Alwyn Myburgh told Ewan that wild dog had made a kill at Fourth Bridge earlier in the morning, sadly too late for us to make the trip with any certainty of seeing the dogs.
The last morning dawned and we set out for a slow return to Maun. The first sighting was of a male civet, it looked to be slinking like a leopard, but wasn’t as big. We searched, but the animal had literally ‘gone to ground’ and we didn’t see it again. Closer to South Gate we found a female cheetah wearing a huge collar – I felt very sorry for the animal having to carry such a large tracking equipment, although it didn’t appear to impede her movement. This sighting was enhanced by some very aggressive tree squirrels that constantly alarm called – so noisy.
This was a fine sighting to end the Okavango safari and too soon we were on the road to Maun and the beginning of the long trip home.
I have added an album of accommodation photos for those interested in the camps.
Like all well-planned safaris this one changed shape a few times before we settled on the final version. The chief aim of the safari was to spend as much time as possible in top wildlife viewing locations and to include a variety of habitats. We preferred clean and comfortable accommodation rather than ‘lux’ properties and as it turned out the Tree Lodge and Mashatu were the poshest places we stayed. I both drew on my own safari experience to shape the final itinerary and also relied on the views of other travelers for areas I hadn’t visited. This year’s safari was to be shorter than usual as none of us had huge amounts of leave available this year. Therefore, the itinerary was designed to reduce transit time and airport hotel nights in Joburg wherever possible, hence the road transfer to Kgalagadi.
Originally, Caryl and I were going to visit a colleague volunteering in Malawi, however we ran out of time for this due to the dates available for the Maun flight and the Mashatu transfers. As things turned out, our friend arrived home just days after us. The volunteer agency had terminated her contract due to the ongoing violence in Malawi. Shindzela
were included as a result of Jochen’s review
of affordable lodges along the western border of Kruger and it was the only chance that Caryl would have to see rhino. Mashatu Tent Camp
was included due to Caryl being a fan of Pete’s Pond for many years and my enthusiastic report of my 4 day stay in 2008. I happily booked Masson Safaris
again as we had good sightings in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve with Ewan in 2008. Ewan is an experienced guide who knows where and how to find animals, and he’s good company to boot! Kgalagadi was included for its red sand desert environment and the consistently good trip reports on the Travellers Tales
forum on the Sanparks website. Savute, Khwai and Moremi were included as a result of the excellent game viewing experience I enjoyed in 2004, when we saw everything on my (first safari) wishlist except cheetah. This first safari introduced me to mobile camping - a type of safari I enjoy because it offers some home comforts together with a ‘real’ safari experience in private campsites under canvas.
Although this was my fourth African safari I am tempted to return again and again, the reasons for which I posted on another forum earlier in the year.
Safari restores my soul, spending time in scenic and stimulating environments with the potential to surprise and delight every minute of every day. Being free of work routines and home and house related niggles in a wild environment with an experienced guide to deliver the best safari experience is a tonic like no other.
I will always enjoy the wildlife wherever I am in the world and especially in Africa. The spectacular landscapes and coasts of South Africa and Namibia, together with the open space of the Central Kalahari and the Kgalagadi and the wetlands of the Okavango and St Lucia make for a heady mix when remembered with the lions, oryx, leopard, hippo, honey badgers and other animals which contribute to these unique environments.
The style of travel is intoxicating and I have a fondness for mobile safaris utilising private campsites where human presence is minimal and it is possible to develop a true sense of sharing the land, the sky and the stars with others whose home it is. I enjoy the thrill of discovery that safari brings, as a guide once said - "we will go and see what nature has sent". Appreciating the small creatures as well as large predators and herbivores brings its own rewards.
Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.