Explore the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is one of the most memorable places I have ever visited. Nothing could get you closer to nature or be more serene and relaxing than lying back in a Mokoro canoe, your head barely a foot above the water as you glide through the reeds and waterlilies into an incredible water-world.
The day before we sailed into the reeds, I had soared into the skies to get a bird’s eye view of the delta. From above the patterns and swirls of the flooded landscape in a marble of blue and green all the way to the curved horizon was simply stunning. Whole herds of elephants and giraffes looked like tiny miniatures I could just pluck from the landscape and place on the palm of my hand. From up there it was hard to imagine what it would be like to be lost amongst those labyrinthine waterways and rivers and enveloped by this landscape. But that is where I eventually found myself and then those elephants looked humungous!
A Mokoro safari is a safari from a completely different angle. No engines and no great herds of tourists. Just your fellow travellers, a local Botswanan poler to steer you, and the peace and quiet of one of the world’s largest and most beautiful inland deltas.
The Mokoro is a typically Botswanan mode of water transport and the best, and in fact only way, to gain access to the depths of the delta and get some fantastic up close and personal vantage points of the wildlife. Traditionally, they are wooden canoes made from the hollowed out trunks of mature trees (I was advised to find myself a Sausage Tree if I want to make the best one), but because of the threat to the indigenous trees since the growth of the tourist industry, and also due to the limited lifespan of the wooden Mokoros, many are now made of fibre-glass. Whatever the material however, the experience is wonderful.
A Mokoro is the perfect size for two and I shared mine with my new found Canadian companion. Our trusty guide poling us through the delta was Michael a young local of just 18 who was poling to support his family and young daughter. Having grown up here, as have all the polers, he knew the veins, rivers and markings of the delta like the back of his hand. His antics with his fellow poler Dipsy, who lived up to his name entirely, kept us very entertained, and talking with them also gave us such an insight into the lives of young Botswanans. Our passage through the water was so smooth and relaxing and the delta so enchanting. And one thing must be said. It certainly beats having to row!
There are islands and large areas of land within the delta where tours set up camp or have luxury lodges and accommodations, and these areas also provide great opportunities for bush walking. So once we were set up in our Delta home (which in my case was a not-so-luxurious tent), we went on some fascinating walks tracking game, marveling at towering termite mounds, sharing grassy plains with herds of zebras, spotting giraffe, learning about the flora and fauna of this unique eco-system and hoping to god there weren’t any lions around.
There are areas of the delta that you can swim in. It is fantastic to get some relief from the African sun in the cool delta waters, but I let a couple braver people test the water before I abandoned the safety of our little wooden vessel. I also got the chance to try my hand at poling. In a moment of, maybe misguided, confidence Michael allowed us to take the helm of his beloved Mokoro. It is actually a little harder than it looks. There were one or two unintended detours into dense reeds, which took a bit of maneuvering to get out of and there was quite a bit of rocking and wobbling going on for a while, but somehow I managed to get the hang of it and not capsize us into hippo inhabited waters.
For the delta is a fantastic place to see hippos. I love these cute, fat, adorable creatures. But be under no illusions. They have a reputation in Africa as being one of the most dangerous animals. Having held a hippo tooth as big as my forearm before, I have been convinced. Guides are all very experienced, so as long as you follow their instructions, there are no problems. We mosied over to the Hippo Pool one evening to watch them splashing around. From a safe distance of course.
Sundown in the delta is a spectacle to behold. Long suffering friends and relatives will tell you I have many many pictures of many many sunsets, but my Okavango delta sunset is one of my favourites and theirs. It always takes me back to lying in my Mokoro, running my hand through the deep Okavango waters, watching the glowing orange of the retreating sun reflect in the ripples and through the reeds as the chorus of croaking frogs, cicadas and the cantankerous grunting of hippos was just warming up for the night symphony.
Three days later I emerged from the reeds relaxed and in love with the delta. A Mokoro safari is one of those once in a lifetime experiences you will never be able to replicate. I would love to have my own Mokoro, but I am not sure the river Wye in Wales would be quite the same and anyway who would I convince to be my poler..?
For a choice of Botswana accommodation, take a look at some of the recommended lodges and camps in the Okavango Delta National Park and neighbouring conservancies.
Biking nomad Tony Gahegan says: “When I was travelling through Botswana I heard of a great place to do a Mokoro safari. On the eastern edge of the pan handle is a lodge owned by the Okovanga Polers Trust. We arrived out of season so the lodge was being cleaned and repaired ready for the next season. The staff were so kind that they upgraded us from tents to a private lodge for no extra cost. The Mokoro safari itself was spread over two days, the first day we went out and saw Zebras, Elephants, Hippos, tiny frogs and lots of insects. That evening we camped on a small island in the delta, spending the evening sat around a campfire. On the second day we went for a walking safari and saw more Zebras and Warthogs before taking the Mokoro back to the lodge. The delta is not only home to the usual safari animals, but also many beautiful birds and insects, a great place for bird spotters or photographers.”
Tropical Sky client Ellen Woods says: “Being terrified of flying didn’t really seem an option when invited on a ‘Once in a lifetime trip flying over the Okavango Delta’. I started off at the crack of dawn and met the pilot who seemingly thought and subsequently tried to convince me that he had the best job in the world – I was sceptical! Having taken off and with the promise of NO turbulence, the beauty which had previously surrounding me came into view — incredible. We actually had to ascend to clear some trees but the sheer speed and area we were able to cover gave us an awe inspiring vantage of the Delta at sunrise — the best time for game viewing. Pools of hippos could be clearly seen, as well as entire herds of elephants, giraffe, buffalo, to name a few.
Who would have thought that I would have happily been hanging out of a helicopter in the middle of Botswana?! Well certainly not me. It was the trip of a lifetime! Best job in the World? Well it’s certainly up there.”
Article written by Lucy Haines.