Brian Simons, The Daily Telegraph, February 3, 2012
On holiday in Botswana, and there was no mistaking the chocolate-coloured humps lumbering through the papyrus reed beds in the darkening light — a big pod of hippos, maybe 15 or 20, pushing their way through the closing water lilies.
The slow, rhythmic dipping of the ngashi pole propelling my mokoro canoe through the water suddenly changed beat. Time to get a move on — preferably out of their way and off the water as the African night was closing in fast.
The hippos had been just one of several “up close” encounters we had experienced that afternoon. Perhaps most stunning was seeing the five giraffes which appeared to walk on water as they graciously crossed a shallow flood plain in front of us. Then there were the many beautiful birds — a stately fish eagle; bee-eaters catching insects on the wind; pied kingfishers diving around us; and even a rare purple heron.
We failed to see an elusive Pel’s fishing owl but had been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a sitatunga, a rare and very shy antelope specially adapted to live in the undisturbed wetlands of Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
Wildlife viewing in Botswana means close encounters of the best possible kind, whether you’re in a dug-out mokoro canoe on the Okavango Delta, watching wild dog puppies from a vehicle in the Linyanti wilderness, seeing elephant families frolicking from a boat on the Chobe River or following meerkats on foot in the Kalahari Desert.
There is, however, only one way to ensure you get the best possible view of these and myriad other wildlife experiences — put your travel plans into expert hands. Safari Consultants has been tailor-making exceptional wildlife encounters for the discerning traveller for almost 30 years. Botswana is a stunning but complex wildlife destination and Safari Consultants really understands the ever-changing ecosystems and how to make the most of your time and budget in this beautiful land.
Prior to our time in the Okavango Delta, we had spent a few days big game viewing in the Linyanti region. While we saw a beautiful female leopard and an impressive pride of lions finishing off an old buffalo carcass, the highlight for me was a morning spent with wild dogs, which are making an excellent comeback across many parts of east and southern Africa. It was hard to keep up as they dodged through the woodland at breakneck speed hunting impala, but the experience was exhilarating.
The Linyanti region, along with neighbouring Chobe National Park, is also a fantastic region for elephants and I lost count of the wonderful sightings we had.
One thing that struck me was how few people or vehicles we encountered. Botswana’s pride in its natural wildlife resources has ensured a high degree of conservation awareness and protection for the wilderness.
This is not a mass-market destination; the government has followed a low-impact tourism strategy that makes the safari experiences here very exclusive.
I was also keen to experience the Kalahari Desert, where black-maned lion, cheetah, oryx, meerkat, brown hyaena and aardwolf are just some of the species to seek out. However, the Kalahari experience is about much more than the wildlife – it is the emptiness, the spectacular scenery and, especially at night, the silence.
I enjoyed a fascinating walk with San bushmen who showed me how they survived in their arid environment, sat with a habituated meerkat colony as they warmed themselves in the morning sun, and explored the vast Makgadikgadi Pans and surrounding grassland on horseback and by quad-bike.
A tailor-made safari can include a wide range of activities to complement standard game drives. And staying in remote locations certainly does not mean roughing it. Safari Consultants will ensure your safari includes a level of accommodation you are comfortable with. Though a high proportion is technically tented, there are plenty of very luxurious safari lodges to choose from, while various forms of camping are available for more adventurous travellers.
At the end of my superb safari, as I sat by our camp fire with a cold drink in hand and the Milky Way arching brightly overhead, I marvelled at all I had seen and began to understand why safari enthusiasts come back to Botswana time and time again.
Safari Consultants (01787 888590; www.safari-consultants.co.uk ) offers tailor-made safari holidays throughout east and southern Africa. Call to talk through your individual requirements with a specialist.
While July to October is the peak game-viewing season, to achieve better value for money, travel in the shoulder season months of May, June and November, when conditions are still good. For the best birding conditions and Kalahari Desert experience, travel in the wetter summer months from December to March.