Unearth Experience travel to the Delta

We were very fortunate to be invited by Africa in Focus and Ker and Downey Botswana to experience Ker & Downey’s 4 luxurious camps in the Okavango Delta. Okuti, Shinde, Footsteps Camp and Kanana. An extended weekend filled with unusually dramatic weather conditions, incredible activities and captivating stories shared by the friendly staff and guests alike, made for a memorable experience.

Day One:

Arriving in Maun on the Air Botswana flight, Rory and I were filled with excitement. It was my first time to Botswana, with the Okavango Delta being on my bucket list for more years than I can remember. Rory had lived and worked in the Delta, although he hadn’t been back for many years.

After we cleared customs, we met with the girls from Africa in Focus, Ker & Downey Botswana and 6 other agents who were also fortunate to be on this epic adventure. Our group checked into our Safari Air flight and boarded the Cessna 208 Caravan for our first stop — Okuti in the Moremi Game Reserve.

Rory acting as co-pilot — mandatory selfie

Rory was co-pilot with a lovely female pilot taking the reins. It was a short 20minute flight which gave us plenty of time to appreciate a bird’s eye view of the Okavango Delta. The vast landscapes, deep water channels and abundance of wildlife spotted from the aircraft made for an eager group upon landing.

With 10 of us being in the group, we jumped into 2 open air land cruisers, receiving a warm welcome with chilled towels, a cold drink and a quick safety briefing which included signing an indemnity form. We traveled a few minutes before stopping at the foot of the Moremi Game Reserve to sign one more form and off we went.

We were driving along, appreciating the phenomenal bird life when we were surprised by a beautiful set up in the bush for high tea. We were welcomed by the camp staff and offered a glass of bubbly and a slice of banana loaf. We were in heaven! After mingling, drinking our champagne and eating our banana loaf, we hopped back into our land cruisers and continued onto Okuti. As we were driving to the camp in anticipation of what was awaiting us there, we came across a beautiful big bull elephant who came right to the vehicle to say hello. After admiring the elephant for a few minutes we continued along and before we knew it, we were being greeted by the beautiful African voices welcoming us to Okuti

Rory on a motorboat at Okuti

We arrived in camp just after 5 pm so we decided to delay the room orientation, and take advantage of the approaching sunset by exploring the Okavango waterways by motorboat for our sundowners. We were cruising along through the channels, appreciating the gorgeous sunset and reflections on the water. We stopped at the banks of the river and enjoyed some gin and tonics as the sun was setting. We arrived back into camp after dark and were escorted to our mosasa. Mosasa is an ancient tribal word for house of reeds. The room was absolutely beautiful. Rory and I stayed in the honeymoon unit which featured a double bed, outside bath, and an indoor and outdoor shower. We freshened up and joined the group for dinner.

We all met at the boma and were greeted by the friendly staff awaiting our drink orders. As we all settled in, enjoying our beverages, we were welcomed by the lovely voices of the Okuti choir. We all appreciated and enjoyed the show and were danced to our seats for dinner.

Dinner started off with a roasted tomato soup followed by the main meal which was a lovely kudu fillet and veggies, with dessert never disappointing, a delicious home-made apple crumble with custard. After dinner, Moses decided to introduce us to their specialty drink — Grenadine, Amarula and Whisky = Mudslide = hangover material. After many hours of exchanging stories by the boma, we all decided to hit the hay with an early game drive awaiting us in the morning.

Day 2:

We were woken at 6am to a knock on the door and the smell of freshly brewed coffee. We met on the deck at 6:30am and after a quick breakfast, we were on our way to see what the Moremi Game Reserve had to offer. After some great game viewing, we met at the airstrip and were split into 2 groups to board 2 very small Safari Air, air vans.

Safari Air planes

We all arrived safely at the Shinde Airstrip and were transported to Shinde for a quick lunch before the group were split up between Shinde and Footsteps camp. Rory and I were heading to Footsteps first and we were very excited for the rustic experience. Due to the unusually high rainfalls, we were transferred to a crossing point which was a 20min drive from Shinde. We were met by Noah and as Rory liked to say his arc, which took us across the channel. It was my first ever Mokoro ride. I loved the peacefulness and how close to nature you got. Once we all crossed the channel we had a 90min drive to Footsteps Camp.

We were given the sad news on our drive that a cheetah cub had been killed by the wild dogs the day prior. We went for the kill and saw the carcass completely cleaned by the vultures, all that was remaining was the skull and bones. We continued driving and found an impala which had been killed. Our guides Opi and Noah knew it was the cheetah who had killed the impala and knew they were still close as the hyenas hadn’t found the kill yet. After a few moments, Opi spotted the cheetah returning back to the kill with her remaining cub. We had a great interaction, listening to mom calling for her cub, the cub playing and having a bite to eat. After some magnificent photo opportunities, we were on our way to Footsteps.

Cheetah and her cub

When we arrived to Footsteps camp, the heavens decided to open. We had 34mm of rain that evening which is completely out of season for the area. The rustic tents were furnished with 2 comfortable beds, an en-suite bathroom, bucket shower, buckets to wash your face, and battery operated lights. Prior to dinner, Opi gave us an insightful and knowledgeable presentation on how the Okavango Delta was formed and how it still exists today.

We had an intimate dinner under the dining tent due to all the rain. The Footsteps choir greeted us with their beautiful voices before dinner was served. Tonight we had a lovely oxtail which we all went back for seconds, a traditional African dish called samp with spinach and perfectly roasted veggies. We had a lovely rich cream based desert with crumbed biscuits and banana. After a few hours of sharing stories over a few glasses of wine, we all went to bed with the sound of raindrops hitting the canvas tent.

Day 3:

At 5:30am the rains were heavier than we anticipated. Thankfully by 6:45am the rains had stopped, just in time for our walking safari. We were given a safety briefing before heading out on our bush walk. Opi was leading the walk and was very knowledgeable, pointing out plants and telling us the stories of how the bushman used them for contraception and others which were used to smoke. Within 15minutes we were lucky to see a big elephant bull, peacefully feeding on the trees. We walked quietly towards the elephant, giving him plenty of space. Moments later we heard another elephant to our left. Opi moved us off slowly allowing the elephants to continue feeding. As we continued on our walk, we witnessed beautiful plains game and phenomenal bird life.

An intimate experience on our walking safari in the Okavango Delta

Another wonderful surprise awaited us. A bush breakfast with hot eggs, bacon, sausage and freshly brewed coffee — all set up on the banks of the river. After a hearty breakfast we walked back to camp and enjoyed a bucket shower for the first time before heading back onto the vehicle to drive to Shinde.

On our drive back to Shinde, we decided to go back to see if the cheetahs were still around. We noticed that the impala was untouched by the hyena’s so we knew the cheetahs were close. We were impressed with Noah’s spotting eyes when he spotted them about 500m away on top of a termite mound. We captured more incredible photographs and continued onto Shinde.

We arrived at Shinde just after 1pm. We said a quick hello to the rest of the group and they were on their way to Footsteps. We enjoyed a delicious lunch before being escorted to our tent. Our tent featured a double bed, large en-suite bathrooms and phenomenal views of the open grasslands. We had a short time to settle in before we embarked on a fishing trip for our afternoon activity.

The boys showing us their fishing skills whilst fishing on the Delta

We cruised along the Delta and stopped at a favourite fishing spot. We had many good laughs during our fishing expedition and caught over 20 fish between the 5 of us. We released each of our fish and enjoyed the sun beaming on our faces. On our boat trip back, we had a pit stop for sundowners with other the guests staying at Shinde. We enjoyed another gorgeous African sunset with a chilled beer, biltong and dried fruit before heading back to camp for dinner.

Dinner didn’t disappoint. Tonight we were spoilt with a cauliflower soup to start, roasted chicken, baked potatoes and roasted veggies for our main and a divine brandy pudding for dessert. We all ate quickly in anticipation for our night drive. The night drive was chilly and unfortunately due to the abundance of rain, the grass was extremely long so we didn’t get to see too much but it was still an incredible experience. We arrived home at 10pm to a hot shower and a comfortable bed.

Day 4:

We were woken at 5:30am to our favourite smell — freshly brewed coffee. We enjoyed our hot coffee and headed straight out on our morning safari. We witnessed an abundance of plains game and a beautiful sighting of a big female hyena. We were tracking 2 big male lions when we got distracted by the commotion in the trees. The baboons were having a great time, although at times we couldn’t figure out what was happening. Between all the alarm calls, fighting and bonking, we could only imagine what they were up to. After a few full-bellied laughs, we continued to track the lions until we saw that they crossed over Paul’s Pan. We turned around and drove back to camp where a hot breakfast was awaiting us. After breakfast, we were transferred to the airstrip where we caught a flight to our final camp for this trip, Kanana.

Baboons

During our flight, we appreciated incredible sightings including an elephant herd of approximately 50 elephants. As we came in for landing, our transfers were awaiting us to take us directly to camp. The guides mentioned that a lioness and 3 sub adults were in camp this morning, so we went looking for them before arriving in camp. It was amazing! We found the lioness with a full belly lying in the middle of the road with the 2 youngsters. We were appreciating the sighting of the 2 sub adults when we heard bones crunching, as we turned our heads 180 degrees, we saw a beautiful sub adult male lion munching on an impala leg. We enjoyed the sighting and captured some great moments before heading off to camp.

A sub-adult male lion

We were welcomed to Kanana by the wonderful staff singing in their native language and a delightful spread for lunch. We can appreciate why Kanana is described as a hidden gem on the Xudum River. The sheer beauty of the islands leaves you mesmerized. We were taken to our tents and again, they did not disappoint. Beautifully furnished with a comfortable double bed, a spacious en-suite bathroom and views of the Xudum River.

After freshening up, we met the group for some Young Explorer activities. Young Explorers is a specifically designed safari which offers families the opportunity to discover the wonders of the African wilderness together. The guides are well trained and the kids absolutely love it.

High tea was scrumptious — we enjoyed our chocolate cake and coffee and embarked on a motorboat. We were heading towards paradise island for our mokoro ride. The birdlife was sensational along the way.

A painted reef frog nesting in a daylily

We saw Malachite Kingfishers, Jacana’s, Green Backed Herons, African Fish Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, Stately Egrets just to name a few and a pod of 4 hippos’ in the water. We arrived at our destination and were all so excited to get into our mokoro’s. All I could think of whilst I was peacefully cruising along the waterways of the Okavango Delta, appreciating the day lilies, chirps of the birds and small crocodile on the riverbank, was who needs to ride a gondola in Venice when you have this!

A croc on the banks of the Delta during our mokoro ride at Kanana

Our surprise stop for sundowners was under a giant fallen down baobab tree! After a few laughs, more stories and some heavily poured gin & tonics we took a leisurely boat ride back to camp. This was our first night that clouds weren’t covering the beautiful night’s sky. We all sat around the boma before dinner, appreciating the constellations. Dinner was divine! A hot creamy soup with homemade bread to start, perfectly cooked beef fillet and roasted veggies followed by granadilla cheesecake and a few too many jokes left us in a fit of giggles.

Rory ontop of a fallen baobab tree

After dinner, Rory, Leonie and I, were the only one’s eager for a night drive. When we arrived back into camp, the rest of the group were incredibly jealous, to say the least. It was Leonie’s first-night drive and we definitely had beginners luck on our side. We saw 3 hippos’ out of the water, grazing, a serval and a very rare sighting of an aardvark. We appreciated the star gazing whilst our guide was pointing out the constellations with his laser.

We enjoyed a night cap when we returned to camp, before calling it a night.

Day 5:

Today was the day we were all dreading. Departure day! We had a whirlwind adventure and were heading out for our last safari experience. Rory and Brad went on their own vehicle to focus on a specific photographic safari, with the rest of us enjoying our usual game drive. The boys found lion tracks which they called in over the radio. Our guide, Doctor, followed suit and the ladies were helping the tracking efforts. After approx. 10mins, the girls found the lions! The boys weren’t too impressed… It was an incredible sighting. Mom was full again, the 3 cousins were huddled together, showing affection and activity through their large yawns. We were appreciating the lion sighting when, out of nowhere, heavy mist came rolling in. It was freakish.

We all decided it was time to return to camp and enjoy a hearty breakfast and a hot steaming shower before we boarded our last flight to Maun and then home.

The flight home was uneventful and left me yearning for more! I loved the Okavango Delta and cannot wait to go back. Amongst the wonderful staff, luxurious camps and unforgettable activities, we had an experience which we will cherish forever.

Karen & Rory — Co-Founders of Unearth Experience & Travel Blog: Chasing Unicorns