Thrilling land and water safaris

Thrilling land and water safaris

Images of wild Africa come to mind when Botswana is mentioned.

Home to the Okavango Delta, whose waters end not in a sea of water, but rather a sea of sand in the form of the Kalahari Desert, Botswana offers great richness and diversity of wildlife, and was the ideal destination for my second African safari experience.

On this six-day expedition, my wife and I visited two higher-end lodges - Camp Chitabe, located on the eastern flank of the famed Moremi Game Reserve, which allowed for better dry game viewing; and Camp Xigera, located on the western flank, right in the heart of the delta, which allowed for better wet game viewing.

Sunrise and sunset sightings

At Camp Chitabe, our first impression was one of awe.

We were amazed by the vastness of the savanna expanse, as well as a host of wildlife - not just elephants, leopards and giraffes, but also impala, black-eye jackals, Chacma baboons and saddle-billed stork too.

It was different from a previous safari we went on, where lodges sat on their own fencedin land, and animals roamed in what seemed like a free-range zoo, though these properties were still huge.

In one of the lodges, a couple of lions were kept in an enclosure.

In Botswana, we found ourselves eagerly anticipating the twice-daily safari drives - once at the crack of dawn and another before dusk.

Our pulse raced every time our driver cocked his head and gunned our vehicle, signalling he had spotted something, which hopefully would result in an opportunity to view some magnificently beautiful creature.

While the big cats like lions and leopards are always prized sightings, we were surprised at how much we marvelled at every creature we encountered, thanks in no small part to the excellent commentary from our drivers, who whetted our appetite for more information and more sightings.

It was not just the wildlife that made our experience memorable.

The total strangers with whom we shared our safari vehicle rapidly became our friends, as everyone on board needed to cooperate with one another and with the driver to maximise sightings as well as capitalise on photo-taking opportunities.

Come every sunset, the practice of stopping at a location with gorgeous scenery to have a sundowner, like a glass of wine, gave us all the chance to compare the photos we had taken, and to reminisce about the one that got away.

Tiny frogs and hostile hippos At Camp Xigera, we found the experience of a safari on a canoe in the waters of the Okavango Delta to be so different.

We saw even more species of wildlife, including lovely tiny frogs that were half the size of a little finger.

We were also able to get closer to hippopotamuses, with one even swimming underwater beneath our canoe, but thankfully not too close, as these are the most aggressive and dangerous creatures on this continent.

Jumbo drops by

The wild animals here are known to wander right up to the rooms and connecting walkways, which are elevated over 1m above the ground for our own protection.

But it was a thrill to view them up close.

One night, after we went to bed, an elephant stood right outside our window for what seemed like a long time.

We were concerned that it was thinking about pushing into our room, as we could see the wall bulging.

We had been instructed not to antagonise the elephants as they get scared easily and can do a lot of damage when on a rampage.

So we lay quietly in the dark, waiting for the magnificent mammal to move off.

After it did, our room was immediately filled with a stench: the creature had pooped.

Our first thought was to call a lodge staff member for help, but we knew how spoilt we would sound. After a while, we didn't notice the smell any more, and drifted off to sleep. The next morning, the huge mound right below our window was proof of the nocturnal visitor.

GUIDE LINES

■ We flew from Singapore to Johannesburg, stopping for a few days to tour this city, following which we flew to Namibia for a 10-day stop.

We chartered a four-seat aircraft to take us from Windhoek, capital of Namibia, to Camp Chitabe in Botswana.

■ A more direct way is to fly to Johannesburg, take South African Airways to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. Have a travel agent or the lodge arrange a flight for you from Gaborone to reach your camp, each with its own landing strip.

■ Botswana's climate is semi-arid, so it is hot and dry for much of the year, and you can enjoy a visit all year round.

However, locals feel that September is the best time to visit, as the weather is dry but not too hot, and as the delta has filled up from the waters flowing down from Angola.

■ For photographers, bring along a camera with a zoom lens that has a maximum focal length of at least 400mm or more, as well as a monopod. Also, have a second camera with a zoom lens of a shorter focal lens.

The opportunities to snap a good photo of the wildlife are gone quickly, and you will not have enough time to switch lenses.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.


This article was first published on December 2, 2014.
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