Exploring the Okavango Delta

IMG_3576.jpgStarting in central Angola the Okavango River flows nearly 1,500km through Namibia’s Caprivi strip and into Botswana where it fans out through the open plains until being swallowed by Kalahari Desert. The result is a maze of lagoons, islands and channels that spans over 1,600 sq. km making up the area known as the Okavango Delta. This massive wetlands not only attracts a myriad of wildlife, but tourists and adventurers looking to experience the world’s largest delta and its plethora of flora and fauna.

The town of Maun sits at the southeast corner of the massive delta and just a couple hours from the Moremi Game Reserve. Because there are no “real” roads into the delta, exploring this region requires a four-wheel drive or more likely a fly-in trip to a safari lodge only accessible by air. According to our hosts at Audi Camp, the Maun airport is the second busiest in all of Africa. This is because all the lodges located in the Delta are 100% service by air: supplies, guests, workers and food. So exploring this area by motorcycle is practically impossible. Without the time nor budget for an extensive fly-in safari experience I opted to explore this vast network of water channels, islands and its wildlife by land and by air.


Rich in wildlife we saw impala, giraffes, elephants and hippos like you see above.


Water ways like this are likely formed by hippos as they move from one area to another.


From the air the Okavango Delta is both a network and maze of waterways, islands, inlets and bush – ever changing. A microcosm of life.IMG_3489_2.jpg

First, I took an all day trip to explore the waterways by makoro – a shallow dug out canoe that is piloted by a “poler” – then Ronnie and I along with two German travelers charted a 45 minute scenic flight over the Delta – taking off and returning to Maun. Getting to the launching point of my makoro canoe trip was an adventure itself. As the only person from Audi Camp making the Makoro journey that morning my driver stopped along the way picking up local people standing by the side of the road with bags, packages, food and children. We’d stop, drop people off and pick up more. I noticed plastic resin chairs along the way hanging atop trees, tall shrubs or on sticks planted in the ground. I asked if there was a chair factory nearby. He laughed and told me that these chairs and other things hanging in the trees indicated “bus stops” for the local people. Through the heavy forested bush along the road I noticed some dirt roads and many small foot paths. Soon I’d learn where these led as we got closer to the Moremi Game Reserve.IMG_3583_2.jpg

We took one of the dirt roads and drove nearly two hours through deep sand, mud, crossing rivers and passing through villages, through the gate of the reserve. We passed elephants, monkeys, giraffes and plenty of birds. The dilapidated Toyota Land Cruiser handled the rough terrain easily with the experienced driver behind the wheel. At some of the villages we dropped of passengers while the driver greeted locals in their local language. We crossed rivers, plowed through deep sand and swerved and slivered through dozens of muddy trenches until we came upon a small pond surrounded by tall reeds. A dozen canoes (makoro) sat in the water most of them filled with rain water and in some state of sinking in the small pool.

Tall, dark, slender and with wide set easy eyes, my poler for the day would be Daniel. With his foot and a kinetic jerking motion with his foot he kicked the water out of one of the makoros while another local took a machete to nearby reeds which he then set at the front of mokoro making a soft cushioned area for me to sit. The makoro was made from a local tree, dug out and two feet deep with a semi-flat bottom. To these eyes it didn’t appear stable and I envisioned capsizing and becoming lunch for the crocodiles and hippos that call this delta home. Surprisingly, Daniel took command of his nearly fifteen foot two-inch diameter pole and piloted the makoro through a narrow channel northward through the reeds. The whisper of the hull pushing the green water was muted by the birds who fluttered and took flight from nearby reeds.


One of the guys used his feat to kick the water out of the makoro (canoe)

A good understanding of the local wildlife and certainly excellent makoro skills I relaxed and nearly sitting at the level of the water gazed through the reeds, into the water and up into the sky spotting herons, egrets, kingfishers, eagles, ducks and more as Daniel called out the names. After more than an hour of poling through the maze of waterways that wind through the tall reeds we came to a landing. Here Daniel led me on a “bush walk” through tall grass, small forested glades and pass nearly a half-dozen hippo pools. With broken english which I strained to hear and understand Daniel continued my wildlife lesson. At one point on the path he used a stick to draw oversize diagrams of paw prints explaining how to identify animals prints and the approximate age of the print.IMG_3660_2.jpg IMG_3592_2.jpg

Sitting almost on the water the makoro is a very shallow draught canoe which made seeing and getting up close to wildlife a personal experience.


In Africa more deaths are caused by hippos than any other wildlife including lions, elephants, leopards, hyenas — anything


Water lilies, these open during the daylight.


Knob billed ducks hanging in the grass – the males are to the right.


A Squacco Heron patiently awaits the right moment to get his breakfast, then takes off after the intrusion of my makoro.


If I had more time, I would have opted for a two or three day journey and camped in the bush. But all things must pass and we finished our hike, took the makoro back to the landing area where our Land Cruiser waited to take me back to Audi Camp, three hours passing more monkeys, giraffe, elephant and eagles.


A Saddle Billed Stork in Flight

Back at Audi Camp I learned that DHL forgot to send my package from Windhoek and it would be three more days before it would arrive. I told them to sit tight until I knew where I would be. I figured Livingstone or Lusaka might be the best place. But before committing I urged them to hold onto my package. Still no word from NamPost on the “Johnny A” package. I’m sure this is lost.

Ronnie decided to stay an extra day. He has a business associate who put us in contact with a guy who runs a lodge and a couple luxury houseboats near Chobe National Park in the northeast of Botswana near the Zambia and Zimbabwe border. There’s an open offer to join him on the river for a night or two. So we’ll head to Kasane tomorrow taking the road to Nata then north to Kasane near the Zambezi River.

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