When it comes to the quintessential safari, there’s only Africa, and in the southern realm of the continent Botswana reigns supreme. Now more than ever, Botswana beckons travellers who relish the chance to make pilgrimage into a remote, uncluttered utopia where time is on pause. Allison Foat talks of beguiling landscapes, staggering bio diversity and vast tracts of virgin wilderness, where there’s a glorious sense of having it all to yourself.
The Linyanti and Chitabe Concessions
The 125,000 hectare Linyanti Reserve is a crucial wildlife corridor bordered by the river of the same name in the north, and Chobe National Park in the east. The region is bisected by the Savute Channel, a waterway that only started flowing for the first time in 1983, which dramatically changed up the fauna and fauna dynamic of the area. The Linyanti is famed for the large number of elephant that congregate along the floodplains and the impressive number of endemic birds, mammals and reptiles that are enticed by the year-round water and food supply and nutritious grazing opportunities.
The adventure is an epic one that starts as soon as your light aircraft touches down from the capital, Maun. As is customary, you’re met by a camp representative, ushered into a 4×4 and driven to your lodge that’s usually a half hour dash along narrow jeep tracks that wind through spindly Mopane forests. Come November to March though, those same trees have burst into life, the new leaves a vibrant display of green luminescence that contrasts brilliantly against the blue sky. Add to that the deafening din of the resident cicadas and your intro to the extraordinary beauty of the region is a fait accompli.
A pool fit for a king
King’s Pool is owned by Wilderness Safaris, a highly respected outfit with a presence in seven African countries and a reputation for an enduring commitment to land and species conservation. Their pledge to environmental protection extends to each unobtrusive build, a deferential eco nod to the fragile landscapes. After a stylish reimagining in 2019 the lodge emerged more refined, a haven of unpretentious bush luxury rooted in comfort. Wilderness Safari’s has always managed to clinch prime positions for their properties and King’s Pool champions an exceptional outlook across an ox-bow shaped lagoon frequented by wallowing hippo, crocs, elephant and other creatures that move in and out of view throughout the day. The activity continues unabated no matter the hour and once you’ve settled in your tent for the evening, there’s no wandering out again, for as the stars come out so do myriad other creatures, often right into camp. From the grunt of a lion, to the trumpeting of bathing elephants and the stirring hoot of an owl, the nocturnal atmosphere is charged. You’ll want to resist sleep for as long as possible just so you can hang on to every note of the symphony.
Pictures: Allison Foat and Wilderness Safaris
A landmark conservation area
The Okavango Delta, a World Heritage Site since 2014, is a landmark conservation area and as one of the planet’s last remaining Eden’s, it is precious. Shaped like a spread out hand (hence the name), it is a wetland within a desert, with a delta that receives some of its water from the Angolan headlands and empties into the Kalahari sands. The classic Chitabe Lediba camp is found in the south-eastern Delta, on an island in the Chitabe Concession and accessed by air. It’s an intimate camp constructed on elevated decks and walkways with only five Meru-styled tents, all overlooking and a ‘lediba’ or small lagoon-turned-watering hole. With scores of bird species – resident and migratory- it’s a twitcher’s paradise. Roaming these thriving habitats is a divergent array of herbivores like buffalo, red lechwe, tsessebe, impala and elephant and they in turn support the larger predators- lion, leopard, spotted hyena, cheetah and rare wild dog. If you can, snap up a helicopter flip for a stunning perspective of their lush playgrounds and complex ecosystems.
Pictures: Allison Foat and Wilderness Safaris
It’s all down to an experienced ranger
Pivotal to the consummate safari experience is your ranger. Au fait with these far flung frontiers, these are the men and women who take an experience from average to exceptional. They are the ones with whom you spend most of your time at the lodge, interesting men and woman who read the wild precisely and are conversant with what needs knowing be it unpacking the country’s history, explaining topography or sharing fascinating trivia about the way giraffes hum or hyenas soak carcass skins for an easier chew. These guides have it down. Guest expectations are high and aside from receiving superb attention from the in-house team, the pressure is on to locate apex predators and they embrace the task with determination and joy. Taking cues from the alarm barks of baboons, alarmist bird chatter or the intel supplied by colleagues out in the field, they propel the vehicle on and off road, bushwhacking with next-level directional and navigation skills, missioning until they spot the prize. With the engine cut and the wildlife tableau before you, all that remains is the soft clicking of cameras and the ecstatic whispers of the onlookers. After a while there’s just the silence, and the moment feels sacrosanct.
A walking safari is a must
Take the opportunity to explore on foot, where nature is the tutor. Your guide will escort you, who by now feels like an old friend. The walks are mostly undertaken in dry season when the vegetation is lower and visibility is at optimum, and being in predator territory, you tread quietly. It’s a contemplative time where there’s little banter and more observation. Guides are armed for good measure and even though you’re traipsing in the wild, they inspire confidence as they move through an area they know like the back of their hand, acutely aware of surrounding sounds and movement. It’s a sensory, tactile outing experience with a gentle rhythm about it, where you’ll discover ancient elephant migration paths, perhaps run a hand over forgotten bones and learn about different plants and animal tracks. Being on the ground shifts focus to the little things missed when you’re seated up high in a game vehicle.
Late afternoon drives conclude with G&T’s in some or other spectacular location. Guests reminisce over what the day has delivered, eyes fixed on the blazing carmine sunset, gazes held until the night sky has replaced the drama with an inky canopy thick with stars. It’s a fitting finale.
Karen Blixen was on point in the film, Out of Africa when she said, “There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne — bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.”
Botswana is a place for your heart to go – don’t delay!
For King’s Pool and Chitabe Lediba rates and info: www.wilderness-safaris.com