Having explored three incredible African safari parks in Botswana, our trip of a lifetime was coming to an end with one more to park to visit, the Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp.
To recap on our African safari adventure, Mashatu Game Park was our first safari experience. We stayed five days on a large concession in the remote eastern corner of Botswana. We were guests of one of the shareholders so we had the Rock Nest camp to ourselves. It was our first introduction to African wildlife and we were star struck by everything we saw including incredible herds of elephants, lions and giraffe.
Our second African safari was at Jack’s Camp could not have been more different. In the middle of the Kalahari Desert, we explored the vast Makgadikgadi salt pans finding meerkats, buffalo and wildebeest. But, it was salt pans that were the jewel of the crown.
Our adventure at Jack’s Camp culminated in an extraordinary event on our last night, but we were sworn to secrecy so guests to Jack’s Camp can experience the unexpected … definitely a highlight of Botswana.
Our third African safari was at Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge. It was our first experience of the delta where the rainfall from Angola finds its way to this part of Botswana creating waterways and canals. The water provides great relief for the wildlife after the long summer drought. Here we experienced the hippos as well as a myriad of other great sightings.
Our fourth and final African safari was at the Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp.
Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp
Xaranna stretches over a concession of 25,000 hectares in the Okavango Delta. We should have been over-looking a channel of water, but because of the low January rainfall in Angola, the water had not trickled down, usually taking about six months. We were disappointed because the beauty of Xaranna is exploring the intricate waterways and myriad of islands teeming with wildlife by traditional mokoro (canoe) or ‘eco-boats.’ But it was not to be, this time.
Instead, we did the usual game drives twice daily, in an open 4×4 safari vehicle experiencing fantastic sights, including a kill. The vehicles we well kitted out with blankets and bushbabies (hot water bottles) for our early starts and late evenings.
Lions, cheetahs, leopards and African wild dog share the floodplains with large herds of elephant and buffalo.
We had seen a lot of wonderful sightings at the other game parks so our guide, Jakes and his tracker, Culture were keen to fill the gaps and ensure we had new experiences. We hadn’t seen a kill and as gruesome as it sounds, we wanted too. We were also keen to complete the ‘big five,’ and see a rhino.
So not long after arriving at the lodge, we joined Jakes and Culture in the Landcruiser for our evening drive.
Finding the wild dog den, we sat alongside the dogs in our vehicle as the light began to fade. They lounged in the late sun until the alpha male began to stir. Smelling the air, he looked into the horizon, possibly with an empty belly, wondering what the evening would bring. One by one the dogs rose to their feet, 16 in total eventually taking off at speed, in pursuit of dinner.
Wild African dogs resemble the canine species and have a swagger like a hyena. Although they look common, they are endangered with only 500 left in Botswana. The alpha male and female breed, but the rest of the pack do not mate out of respect.
On the hunt, the dogs chased two impalas. Impala is seen as an easy kill and is considered the ‘fast food’ of the jungle. Both got away but the dogs were eventually successful. The pack covered a wide area, clearly a proven strategy. As they converged on yet another impala they ran from all directions, closing in as the frantic animal realised its fate. Ravishingly, they tore it apart leaving little behind. While it was horrific to witness, (with my hands over my eyes) it was all about understanding the jungle.
On a happier note, we saw our favourite jungle animal, the warthog in much higher numbers than we had seen at the other reserves. Once they spotted us, they stopped in their tracks, eyeballed us before going about their business.
There were also large numbers of elephants, not just seen on safari, but right in the camp. The drought bought them to the plunge pools in a desperate search for water. To encourage the elephants away from the tented site staff created a drinking whole. However, the uber-intelligent elephants unearthed the plastic piping, put it directly in their mouths to get clean, fresh water.
Not only were the elephants stressed because of the drought, but the hippos were too. We had a disturbing afternoon watching over 100 hippos in a mud bath, trying to keep wet in the extreme heat. They looked like beached pilot whales, defacing and urinating in the mud. A white substance excreted from their eyes was evidence of their dehydration and stress.
Even the crocodiles were stressed. While pursuing the wild dogs, they stopped and curiously investigated a croc, trying to bite its tail. The croc was under a bush in the shade and according to our guide was going into hibernation because of the lack of water.
However, the highlight of Xaranna was seeing a couple of rhinos, the last of the ‘big five’ to be sighted. Sadly, a rhino is killed every eight minutes in South Africa for the keratin in their horns. A gram of rhino horn is now selling for more than a gram of gold on the black market.
To preserve these seriously threatened mammals, an organisation called ‘Rhinos Without Borders’ has been established. It is committed to moving rhinos from poaching hot spots in South Africa to the safety of Botswana. Eighty-seven rhinos have been relocated to date.
While the rhinos on the concession had not bred yet, they have settled into their new environment.
Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp has nine ensuited safari tents, blending beautifully into the environment. The organic design comprised of a combination of canvas and bleached timber, with a luxurious bath and shower inside, as well as al fresco. We were happy to share our private plunge pool with the elephants desperate for water.
From the deeps of our luxurious our poster bed we could hear the elephants rearranging the outdoor furniture at night and the hyenas high pitched squeal. With just canvas between us and the jungle, the nights were very real, in fact sometimes a little terrifying.
In the mess, as well as the dining area under canvas there were a number of other intimate seating areas overlooking the delta. An open fire took the edge of the chilly nights.
We were well looked after by our butler who quickly learnt our drinks preferences and was ready and waiting when we returned from a game drives.
Before dinner, on our final night at Xaranna, we enjoyed sundowners on a special island in the delta, before a delicious meal and a final night-cap around the fire.
Leaving Botswana, we caught a small plane to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The safari part of our adventure was over, but there was still more to see in Africa.