Africa – the name alone conjures up images of smiling people, wild animals, and an awe-inspiring landscape that has to be seen to be believed.
Until you go it is nearly impossible to imagine how diverse and beautiful the continent is, but once you arrive, you quickly realise that there is nowhere on earth quite like it. Melanmag.com contributor, Karen Rollins, visited Africa for the first time in April this year, and shares her amazing experience.
I joined a 33-day overland ‘On the Go’ tour which started in Nairobi and took me through six countries before finishing in Johannesburg. The trip was truly mind blowing and one of the major highlights was a week I spent in Botswana.
Botswana, like all of the countries I went to, has its own unique selling points. It’s one of the most politically and economically stable African countries due to its diamond mines, and the tourism industry is booming as visitors are treated to some of the world’s largest areas of wilderness, including the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, which are home to a never-ending array of exotic animals.
Day 1-3 Chobe National Park
My group and I started our Botswana adventure in Kasane on the banks of the Chobe River, which forms a natural border between Zambia, Namibia and Botswana.
The town is the gateway to Chobe National Park which is renowned for its elephant herds and we were going to spend the night in the park at a ‘bush camp’.
Our game drive started at about 4pm and it didn’t take long for us to spot one of the most common animals on any African safari – impala. These medium-sized antelopes are everywhere and are so used to humans in vehicles that they barely move when you approach them. The males are usually surrounded by a group of females and spend most of their time eating, running from predators and trying to keep other males from taking over their harem.
When you go on safari you have to accept that a lot of what you see is down to luck so any animal sighting is met with pleasure and relief. Most game drives are spent just gazing into the great outdoors wondering where all the animals have gone, and if you’ll ever see anything up close, so you can imagine how blessed we felt to eventually encounter Chobe’s biggest star – elephants.
These beautifully majestic and serene animals are mightily impressive close up and I could’ve spent hours in the presence of these 13,000lb mammals as they walked in close knit family groups, used their big ears as fans, and grabbed a bite to eat.
Over the next two hours we were also privileged to see a leopard which was in the process of hunting an impala when it was disturbed by some water buffalo, countless birds such as lilac breasted rollers and fish eagles, giraffes, monkeys, and hippos.
The overnight stay in camp was thankfully uneventful apart from a bit of rustling in the bushes while we sat around the fire which soon stopped when our guides shone a light in that direction.
Needless to say, I survived.
Day 4 – Chobe River cruise
A sunset cruise on the Chobe River is a must when you visit the area as it gives travellers a different view of the park and its amazing inhabitants. The easiest animals to spot while on the water are hippos, which barely tolerate the boats and the tourists, and frequently yawn to show their teeth and make unhappy noises. Hippos are known for their aggressive nature and kill about 3,000 people in Africa every year primarily by tipping fishing boats.
On the banks of the river itself it’s possible to see monitor lizards and crocodiles catching the final rays of the sun, as larger animals including the Greater Kudu and even more elephants, go down to the bank to get a drink. The cruise is a relaxing way to spend a couple of hours but of course the animals are a bonus.
Day 5 – Elephant Sands
The next day our group travelled for nearly four hours through a largely unpopulated landscape to a lush campsite called Elephant Sands in Nata.
This bush lodge boasts of a natural watering hole where groups of elephants come almost every evening to drink and provide a rare show just a few metres in front of grateful open-mouthed tourists.
There’s plenty to do at the camp while you wait for the elephants to appear as it offers bush walks and game drives. The site itself has a bar as well as a BBQ pit, a pool and WiFi, but everyone goes for the elephants and we were lucky enough to see a large family group appear later that night to quench their thirst. The only downside perhaps, was that it was so dark you couldn’t get good pictures.
Day 6-7 Okavango Delta
We left Elephant Sands early in the morning to travel to Maun – one of the entry points to the Moremi Game Reserve which covers one third of the Okavango Delta.
The Delta is a vast area of grassland, covering more than 7,700 square miles, and is best navigated using the local mode of transport, a dugout canoe known as a mokoro.
The mokoros are ‘powered’ by villagers called ‘polers’ who use large pole vault type sticks to move you through the narrow channels. When you step into the boat you are immediately given a unique perspective of a largely untouched landscape strewn with water lilies and teeming with insects.
I felt like I’d be transported into an episode of ‘Dawson’s Creek’ as our ‘poler’ manoeuvred us silently through hippo-infested waters and tall reeds, while the sky was perfectly reflected in the surface, towards our tented camp.
It took 90 minutes to get to our overnight campsite and not long after arriving we were visited by three elephants that stayed for hours frolicking in the water and seemed totally oblivious to our group. In the evening we went for a bushwalk and saw zebras and giraffes and the most spectacular sunset.
The night in the bush was quiet although some of my group swore they could hear lions roaring somewhere in the background.
We went for a 6am bushwalk after breakfast but all of the animals must have been asleep as we only spotted some birds and monkeys.
Soon it was time for us to get back into our mokoros and enjoy the ride back to our accommodation in Maun where we recalled the unbelievable sights we’d seen, looked through the pictures we’d taken, and dreamt of doing it all over again.