How Botswana’s rainy season guarantees creatures great and small

Join the procession: Botswana’s rainy season guarantees a cavalcade of creatures great and small

  • The Daily Mail’s Richard Pendlebury checked into the stunning Savuti camp in the Okavango Delta
  • He also stayed at its sister camp, the Vumbura Plains – and saw 51 varieties of mammal, reptile and bird
  • The delta is formed by rainfall from the Angolan highlands. The area is now a UNESCO heritage site

An hour after dawn, and our 4×4 is axle-deep in fresh water. Dragonflies dart among the reed beds, starlings chatter in the treetops and the countryside abounds with lush shades of green.

There is a sleep-denied 12-year-old in the back seat, plugged in to a Harry Potter book.

A bachelor herd of kudu — large antelope with curly horns — is gazing across the marsh with solemn concern. Lions have been sighted in a meadow further up the pink lily-covered creek. There is a grassy meadow which would not have looked out of place in Devon.

Richard and his 12-year-old daughter stayed in the Savuti camp, which he described as ‘bliss’

From the terrace at the camp Richard could see elephants mooching in the distance (file image)

This is not what a safari is supposed to look like. But, then, we may be more familiar with the image of the southern African dry season (May to October); parched and barren vistas, dwindling waterholes where predators and prey are brought together by desperate thirst.


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By contrast, north-west Botswana in April is a hymn to the African rainy season. Here, in the extraordinary Okavango Delta, Mother Nature is dancing a jig of joie de vivre. Sure, she’s still red in tooth and claw, but that is largely hidden behind a veil provided by months of regular precipitation. Mopane, acacia and baobab trees are in full leaf, while brimming creeks stretch into the distance.

The Okavango is a glorious anomaly. Each summer (November to March), rainfall from the Angolan highlands drains into this corner of the otherwise arid Kalahari to produce a vast inland delta. Four years ago, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

North-west Botswana in April is a hymn to the African rainy season. Here, in the extraordinary Okavango Delta (pictured), Mother Nature is dancing a jig of joie de vivre, writes Richard

My daughters — there is a 13-year-old, too — had never been on safari. Okavango seemed a good place to start.

We had driven down from the northern border, having briefly crossed into Zimbabwe to marvel at Victoria Falls, and spent a couple of days at a camp on the banks of the Chobe river, looking across to Namibia.

This was the true wilderness; no settlements for 50 miles. From there, we flew in a single-prop Cessna, which bumped under lowering clouds, to a dirt airstrip close to the Savuti camp.

Clad in ponchos and spattered with mud, we arrived at the camp, which was small, thatch-roofed and situated on a channel, along which swam loafing hippos. From the terrace we could see elephants mooching in the distance.

The walls were mosquito nets, the basins copper, the beds four-postered. There was a plunge pool. The food was divine. There was no wifi. The guide mixed gin and tonics as the sun set. Bliss.

The problem with early starts here is the collision of luxury and a 12-year-old daughter. The latter tends to want to stick with the luxury until mid-morning, when all the night-time walkers have gone to bed. But she revived when wildlife began to show.

Richard saw plenty of hippos on his trip. Pictured are a trio of the creatures relaxing in the Delta

A mother buffalo fends off hunting dogs in the Delta from an attack on her calf

On the afternoon’s second drive, Harry Potter was forgotten.

By the time we reached Savuti, we had already logged 51 varieties of mammal, reptile or bird. By the time we had departed its sister camp, the larger Vumbura Plains, the total had doubled.

But this was not about the safari cliches, the Big Five — lions, leopards, rhino, buffalo and elephant. Though you will find plenty of four of them (no rhinos). We loved the supporting cast. An African wildcat peeped out on a grassy bank, the 12-year-old spotted a leopard tortoise. My favourite was the lilac-breasted roller, tame and as gaudy as a robin designed by Baz Luhrmann.

Not that you can deny the power of the big cat. We found four male lions asleep on their backs as if they had drunk too much in Regent’s Park on a bank holiday. A litter of cubs had been left under a bush by their hunting mother. Our century of species-spotting came via two leopards basking in long grass.

This experience is not cheap — the price of a decent family car. But I would prefer to keep my 20-year-old jalopy for another 20 than miss out. Save it for a rainy day in the Okavango.

TRAVEL FACTS 

A Botswana trip starts from £8,110pp for three nights at Wilderness Safaris’s Savuti Camp and three nights at Vumbura Plains (wilderness-safaris.com), including flights (into Kasane and out of Maun) and a private vehicle. Rainbow Tours (020 7666 1266, rainbowtours.co.uk).  

 

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