Wild dogs hunt in packs amongst the floodplains of the Okavango Delta with close coordination that is mind-blowing to watch.
With smoke pouring out of our car bonnet we barely made it to Maun, limping into the gateway to the Okavango Delta after a hair-rising drive in the dark, swerving to avoid donkeys and zebras on the road in. We left our broken-down Landcruiser in the oily hands of some bush mechanics and set off on a tour of one of the world’s largest inland deltas with Sanctuary Retreats. The flight in did little to dampen our sky-high expectations, soaring over the green and blue patchwork of lagoons, floodplains and palm-fringed islands.
We were taken straight from the dirt airstrip to a nearby jetty, jumping into a boat and weaving our way amongst reeds, hippo pools and hidden waterways. An hour or so later, we caught our first glimpse of Baines’ Camp, a well-hidden lodge with five suites built on raised platforms above the Boro River, right in the middle of the papyrus swamp. This intimate camp was to become one of our favourite places to stay in Africa, with its stunning setting right over the water and the extravagant surprises that just kept coming.
Our first bit of excitement was one that we had been anticipating with dread for some time. Kate’s mum, having grown up in Zambia and knowing all too well about hippo attacks in the Luangwa River, had expressly forbidden her to set foot in a mokoro. To be honest, we were nervous about coming face-to-face with an enraged hippo in a flimsy dugout canoe, but we couldn’t visit the Delta without giving it a go. Our first mokoro ride was surprisingly serene, floating past lily pads and palm trees, the air filled with birdsong.
Somehow, we were able to forget that hippos and crocodiles were lurking just beneath the surface and could pop up at any moment. Instead, we settled back into the canoes and listened to the rhythmic splash as the polers propelled us along, drinking in the lush scenery. In this state of bliss we arrived back at Baines Camp to a moonlit dinner, followed by a surprise bubble bath set up on our private deck. The African romance didn’t stop there, as our bed was wheeled outside so we could sleep beneath the Botswanan stars.
After our short but exceptional stay at Baines’, we were driven across to Stanley’s Camp, where we were met by the rumbling snores of a sleeping elephant. The young bull had made himself comfortable in a cosy clearing under a grove of jackalberry and sausage trees, stopping us from getting to breakfast but putting on quite a show. From Stanley’s, the wildlife spectacle continued on morning and afternoon game drives with the large numbers of plains game and predators that are drawn to the life-giving waters of the delta.
We flew back from Stanley’s to Maun and received the depressing news that our Landcruiser needed a complete engine overhaul. Sanctuary Retreats very kindly put us up in their staff quarters in our own cottage on the outskirts of town. Just as we were starting to lose sleep over our bank balance and whether our car really would make it back to Nairobi in one piece, Sanctuary surprised us once again. This time with a stay at Chief’s Camp, a luxury bush lodge in the Moremi Game Reserve, known as the ‘predator capital of Africa’.
On game drives from Stanley’s and Chief’s camps, we focused mainly on finding rarely seen wild dogs. Having missed out on spotting these painted canines in both South Luangwa and Hwange, we ended up catching sight of a pack of wild dogs every day. The difficulty was keeping track of these swift hunters, staying with them only by driving between islands as the car filled up with water. We watched the wild dogs hunt, rest and play, and became completely enamoured of these highly intelligent and gregarious creatures.
Seeing wild dogs for the first time was a dream come true for Marcus and just part of all that the Okavango has to offer. As luck would have it, one of the most heart-stopping sightings was when Kate went out alone on a mokoro from Chief’s Camp and forgot to take a camera. She came within metres of two young bull elephants play-fighting in a hippo pool, locking trunks and splashing around. To our immense delight we did manage to come into even closer contact with these massive mammals, but that is a story for another day.
All photographs © Marcus Westberg