Raining cats and dogs in the Okavango Delta

Blogged by Anne 

The Okavango Delta is the star of Southern Africa’s wildlife areas and an important world heritage site. It is the largest delta in the world, and is unique in that the river doesn’t flow into the sea, but rather seeps away into the Kalahari desert. If it wasn’t for a quirk of topography (this is actually the southern end of the Rift Valley) and the lush Angolan highlands which feed the Okavango river, the whole area would be desert.

We divided our Okavango trip into two contrasting halves, first a luxury lodge in the flooded region of the Delta and then a self-drive camping piece in the drier Moremi National Park. We made a last minute booking for three nights at a Wilderness camp called Kwetsani (http://www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/kwetsani-camp). The trip began with a 40 minute flight over the delta. The floods had started about two weeks prior and it was incredible to watch the dry, burnt veld give way to lush green grasslands with water everywhere. Kwetsani is wonderful, and the best Wilderness camp we have ever been to (we have been fortunate to go to quite a few). At this time of year it can only be reached by boat but it is close enough to a large island called Hunda which is excellent for game drives. This means that you have a perfect balance between water activities by mokorro (traditional dugout canoe, now made of fiberglass) and speedboat as well as land activities. Our guides, Phenyo and Dennis were excellent and Dennis was particularly great with birds as well as driving gleefully through meter deep water!

View from the plane
More views
Walkway to our room
Gorgeous room
Another terrible sunset
Boat rides

On Hunda we had the single best wildlife sighting we have ever had. We had almost finished our afternoon game drive and were about to head back to the boat after spending some time with some big male lions. It is important that you avoid being on the water after dark because hippos use the channels to get to their grazing grounds and can be quite dangerous, so we were under some time pressure. Earlier in the day Phenyo had spotted a francolin alarm-calling and we had spent quite a bit of time trying to find what we thought was probably a leopard without success. As we were driving past that same area, I noticed a herd of impala that had definitely spotted a predator – they were very tense and all staring at the same spot, and the francolin was alarm-calling again. Phenyo drove around for a few minutes and we were about to give up when Dave noticed two wild dogs sitting back on the road. The dogs were pretty relaxed, lying down, when suddenly they jumped up and ran. Phenyo glimpsed a flash of a tail and raced after them. They were chasing a female leopard who dashed up a tree leaving the dogs jumping like puppies below. We watched the scene for a minute of two and we had just explained to the Americans on our vehicle that wild dogs don’t bark (they yelp) when the dogs starting barking exactly like domestic dogs. In strolled one of the big male lions to see what the fuss was about and we had a three-way standoff on our hands. Amazing. We had to leave because our boating window was closing and every vehicle on the island was racing towards the sighting.

Standoff
Thwarted
This one was heavily pregnant

 

You can’t catch me
What’s going on here?
Sigh, lion…

We spent some quality time with the same leopard the next morning on another spectacular Hunda drive. Another highlight of our time at Kwetsani was a drive on the stunning Jao floodplain with Dennis. The grassy plain was covered with water more than a meter deep and was a paradise for birds and red lechwe. A wonderful experience with some impressive driving showing off the capabilities of the lodge’s Defender. We also enjoyed a peaceful morning being poled around in a mokorro which gave us a different perspective on the delta from water level.

 

 

 

Next up was a night at a decent backpackers near Maun (https://maun-backpackers.com) so that we could resupply with meat from Riley’s deli (thanks John for the recommendation) and a stop at the tiny Woolworths food to watch the expats eagerly buying French cheese and 180 pula (about ZAR270) salmon. The Moremi camps are difficult to get into at short notice and by this stage we were getting a bit grumpy about moving camps too often so we booked one night at a private campsite called Mankwe to the west of the park and two nights inside the park at South Gate (http://www.wildsideafrica.net/mankwe-camp-sites.php). Although not in a very game-rich area, Mankwe is actually really well situated for Moremi, about 1.5 hours from both South Gate and North Gate. To get to North Gate from Mankwe quickly you need to turn left off the main road onto a cut line slightly north of of the Mankwe camp, and then turn right onto a road that goes directly to North Gate (it’s the second right, after a restricted road, you can see where the cut line road gets a bit disused). In typical Botswana style, neither turn is signposted, although it is a legitimate route that is marked on the Moremi map. The Mankwe guides pointed us in the right direction, and there is actually a short cut to the cut line from Mankwe which we couldn’t find. In retrospect, we should have spent the day in Moremi rather than in the Mankwe area, although we did do a great night drive where we saw African wild cat, serval and genet.

Bucket showers at Mankwe
African wild cat looking very chilled

We left Mankwe very early to enter Moremi at North Gate, from where we did a few of the Khwai loops and then travelled to Hippo Pools before heading south to our campsite at South Gate (kwalatesafari@gmail.com). There was plenty of game near the river, including a leopard mom playing with her two cubs that we had all to ourselves. In the afternoon, we drove around the Black Pools area which was also very game-rich, seeing two big buffalo herds and a pair of cheetahs on a fresh zebra kill. We didn’t see another car for the entire afternoon.

Leopard mum
Spot the cub
Playing
Cheetah kill

Our second day was spent driving up to Xakanaxa via Third Bridge. As we were pulling into our lunch stop at the old airstrip we saw two lions, followed by an elephant and a buffalo so we thought three of the big five during lunch wasn’t bad. We were unlucky with the wild dogs but they are spotted regularly in that area. This is definitely a part of the park that we would like to return to, and stay at the campsite for a few days. We returned via the Badumatau area which had crazy elephants and some interesting road conditions.

Roads in Moremi
More crazy roads

Roads in the Moremi are quite challenging, with various combinations of deep sand, huge holes and scratchy trees. We found it difficult to go faster than 20 kph, and this combined with the ever present risk of getting stuck in a herd of elephants for half an hour, make ensuring that you make it home before dark challenging. Our Tracks for Africa navigation didn’t seem to like Moremi, so we got by with the excellent Shell map (bought at the entrance) and the maps.me app. Sign posting is poor. This was also the closest we came to needing our spare fuel. The roads were incredibly quiet , and we had most sightings to ourselves. South Gate seems to be the least popular campsite but we really enjoyed it and would definitely go back. It is in a beautiful forest, very quiet and we heard numerous owls and hyenas at night, with the hyenas visiting our braai one evening. The Black Pools area is nearby with good game viewing. All in all, Moremi lived up to the hype even surprising us with a final leopard on our way out.

We are now heading south and east as we gradually work our way home.

 

Cumulative distance since leaving Johannesburg: 10 577km

Cumulative bird count: 258

New animals:

  • Wild dog
  • Reed Buck
  • Tsessebe
  • Slender mongoose
  • Serval
  • Genet
  • Scrub hare
  • Dwarf mongoose

 

Next stop: Khama Rhino Sanctuary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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