Renowned for its unbridled wildlife sightings, Khwai Private Reserve is home to the most staggering amount of animal viewings. Add to that a stay at the luxurious family friendly Sable Alley and you know you have landed in paradise.
Ah, Botswana, the Eden of Southern Africa, home to the famously unique oasis that is the Okavango Delta. After a few solo trips, I think the time is ripe to bring my daughter along to witness the indescribable beauty that Botswana has to offer.
We depart from Cape Town International Airport directly to Maun International Airport on the stylish Airlink Avro RJ85, flying us there in a just 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Making our way through customs and immigration, we have our passports stamped and are met by a representative from Mack Air, who ensures that we are checked in for our charter flight from Maun to Khwai Private Reserve in the Okavango Delta. The Cessna Grand Caravan takes to the skies with the expertise of Captain Pieter Bezuidenhout at the helm, getting us to Khwai earlier than expected. The magic of the Delta is right on our doorstep.
Our ranger MD Mpdisane collects us at the airstrip, where our drive to Sable Alley takes us through part of Khwai Private Reserve. We are warmly welcomed by the staff and after being shown around our lovely room, we settle in for lunch on the deck overlooking the hippo pool. Lunch is a tasty selection of butternut, hake fish, beetroot and salad. Apart from dinner, which is plated, all other meals are served buffet-style and you can help yourself until you can eat no more.
My daughter and I take respite in our room from the heat outside to freshen up before our afternoon game drive. I opt for a hasty alfresco shower outside with nature as my foreground. The Healing Earth products are wonderfully fragrant, and I emerge smelling wholly better than when we arrived.
Our tent is enormous in size and with 600 square feet of space, the interior is stylishly furnished. When I mention tent, this is not your run-of-the-mill-camping-façade, this is ‘camping’ with all the modern conveniences you can imagine in the middle of the Okavango Delta. The tents are elevated off the ground to allow the cooling breeze to waft through on those hot summer days when the temperature gets close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
I’m totally in awe of the expansive bathroom, which houses an inside and outside shower, a flush toilet, double vanities, a dressing area and the best lighting I have ever experienced in an off-the-grid camp. If you don’t want to leave the comforts of your tent, you can sit all day on the comfy couch on your veranda, watching the wildlife coming for a drink.
It’s well worth noting that our stay at Sable Alley, or any of the Natural Selection properties, benefits their various conservation projects. A percentage of the revenue raised impacts the protection of endangered species and here at Khwai, Natural Selection is proud to partner with Botswana Predator Conservation Trust and the University of New South Wales to investigate the leopard population in this vast area, a worthwhile cause. They have also teamed up with Round River Conservation Studies / Okavango Research Institute to collect baseline data on large herbivores to monitor the game in the reserve.
After donning our sunscreen, hats and sunglasses, my daughter and I set off to the dining area for high tea, after which we are met at the vehicle by MD to take us on our first game drive. The vehicles are spacious, with only seven guests per vehicle and an allowed three vehicles per sighting, we are sure to have the best seats in the house.
MD sees another vehicle parked next to an overgrown shrub, and excitement abounds as I wonder if it might be a leopard. The other vehicle makes space for us and much to our elation, a stunning leopard, affectionately known as the Delta Female, is on the prowl, shielding herself from being spotted.
As she crouches down to start stalking her prey, she uses our vehicle as cover, but the alarm call of the tree squirrels gives her game away. She looks towards us, lets out a frustrated snarl. We learn that she has two cubs, younger than one month in age, and she has to keep her strength up to be able to provide milk for them. We leave her, hoping she will find a meal that will ensure the livelihood of the cubs.
A few meters further, vultures are circling, feeding on a buffalo carcass left by lions having had their fill. As we continue our drive, we spot African Wild Dogs playing close to the water. They are seemingly curious, but wary as the water is home to hippos and crocodiles and they can be caught unawares. This is the biggest pack of Wild Dogs we have seen thus far – we count twenty!
The sun has started setting and in the swampy grassland, a waterbuck family is silhouetted against the sun’s last rays. We return to camp, where a delicious dinner is waiting.
After a cleansing shower, we retire for the night under our silky soft duvets. The mosquito netting has been dropped and an air of serenity engulfs the surrounding bush. Except for the hungry hippo. He must have tasted something really good next to our tent as his loud feeding frenzy makes it sound like he’s going to eat the whole tent!
Before our morning game drive, we pause in the dining area to greet the new day with some liquid refreshment and home-made baked goodies. It’s always exciting to wonder what we will find when the nocturnal animals might still be lurking. We encounter the Wild Dogs again, sleeping in the long grass, and an elephant family looking for shade under a tree.
Back at Sable Alley, we indulge in breakfast with the rest of the morning spent at leisure. I sit in the lounge area, watching elephants in camp coming in for a drink. My daughter has made friends and they all enjoy the refreshing water of the pool.
With Khwai Private Reserve being hailed as one of Botswana’s best-kept secrets, this former hunting concession now teems with the most prolific wildlife sightings in the Okavango region. During our afternoon drive, as our eyes fixate on a vulture perched against the bluest of skies, MD suddenly announces ‘has anyone spotted the lions over there’? The male is lying about ten meters from where we stopped, grumpily holding on to a zebra foal. As the lioness walks over, he drags the carcass under a tree, trying to fend her off with noisy growls.
When we return a few hours later, she has started feeding on the piece that is not clutched in his jaws. The closer she gets to ‘his share’, the louder he growls. Not being very discreet about their location, a herd of elephants sniff them out and with a very large trumpeting, the matriarch charges at them, but they are not moving tonight.
Dinner is set poolside, and we dine on leg of lamb, vegetables and potato mash. Dessert is delectable strawberry ice cream.
Despite the incessant feeding of the hippo (again), I manage to get a good night’s sleep. MD has arranged for us to do a game drive and a mokoro excursion. Our poler, Junior Hatshe is steering us through the channels of the Delta. He stops momentarily and hands each of us a beautiful water-lily and reed necklace, made with his own two hands. As he hands my daughter’s one to her, he says ‘You are now The Queen of The Delta’.
| Photographs courtesy of Sable Alley and by Heléne and Jodie Ramackers
*** Thank you to Mercedes Bailey from Natural Selection for arranging our stay.
*** Views expressed are the author’s own.
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- Malaria precautions are required for travel to Botswana; speak to your healthcare practitioner about prophylactics.
- Visas are required for travel to Botswana.
- Botswana’s currency is the Pula. US Dollars, MasterCard and Visa are accepted as means of payment.