Positioned on the periphery of the Gomoti river system in Botswana, you will find Gomoti Plains Camp in the south eastern section of the Okavango Delta. A shining example of exclusivity and understated luxury, the enraptured traveler will revel in the offerings that are custom to Machaba Safaris.
Five little faces are staring back at us, perplexed by our admiration of them. One minute has passed and they all bound off in different directions, with only two resurfacing, tagging after mom.
Having relinquished my heart to the bush the first time I set foot there a few years back, I relish nothing more than a sojourn to a destination that offers an all-inclusive package. With its landlocked beauty, the African country of Botswana offers something for everyone – adventure, luxury and the venture of traveling into a wilderness so remote that it seems almost impossible to have constructed anything in such a far-flung concession.
Which is exactly what Machaba Safaris has achieved – the most pristine camps have been built in the most unlikely places in Africa – where you cannot even imagine that there would be something as simple as electricity, let alone a camp that runs like a well-oiled machine, built on the fringes of a floodplain.
Journeying into Africa takes some planning and what makes the trip so much easier is having a direct flight to your destination. Since Airlink’s non-stop flights between Cape Town and Maun were introduced in 2016, it is evident from the number of passengers on board, kitted in their safari best, that Airlink is the airline to choose.
What could be better than starting your week off by heading to the bush? Which is exactly what I did – no Monday blues for me! As we take off from Cape Town International Airport, we head in a northerly direction in the Embraer 135, flying over Table Mountain and Robben Island; icons in their own right. With a mere 2 hours, 30 minutes flying time between Cape Town and Maun, you are there before you can say ‘safari’!
After landing at Maun airport, a friendly customs official stamps my passport where-after I collect my suitcase and make my way to the charter company where I wait for my transfer to Gomoti Plains Camp. Our flight is up next and traveling om my own sometimes has its advantages, in this case, sitting right next to the pilot. Captain Lefa Ditlhabi from Mack Air ensures that I am strapped in and after his pre-flight safety check, we are ready to head into the big blue in the Cessna Grand Caravan.
My guide, Mothusi Ketsholang, affectionately known as Mott, is waiting at the Gomoti airstrip to drive me to camp, which is 45- minute meander with animal sightings along the way. The overwhelming odor of wild sage permeates the air. I am welcomed at camp and shown to my accommodation for the next three nights by Onalenna Rannoane. It is quite a walk to my tent and I make a mental note to request a vehicle transfer for the back and forth. I am staying in the honeymoon suite sans husband and imagine it can be quite romantic had I brought my significant other along.
My tent with its cream color canvas walls is airy and spacious, with two three-quarter beds, a couch for seating, an indoor and outdoor shower, double vanities, an outside area for viewing the passing wildlife and the only difference to the other rooms – a beautiful freestanding outside bath. It is amazing what a difference the light color of the tented ‘walls’ make; giving such a roomy feel whilst blending in with the surrounds of the grasslands.
These bespoke tents take you back to the 1950’s with a contemporary modern twist and the added high-end cotton bedding adds the most luxurious addition to an already fantastic glamping experience. The grey bedding offsets the cream of the tents wonderfully and is in keeping with the brilliant Machaba Safaris design acumen.
Back at the main area, I meet Andrew and Rhona Currell, management couple extraordinaire and their delightful daughter, Amy. With their background in lodge management and Rhona’s expertise in cuisine, they are the perfect fit for Gomoti Plains Camp. It is time for high tea before departing on my first game drive. Today’s spread consists of banana bread, cranberry slices, vegetable wraps, iced tea, iced coffee and ginger lemonade.
Mott is waiting at the vehicle and as we depart, I enquire about the incredible lion sightings they have had of late. I’m disappointed when he tells me that the youngest cubs, estimated to be around seven weeks old, have not been seen for a few days as they were probably moved to a safer hiding place because of the presence of a dominant male.
A giraffe is playing hide and seek at the base of a tree, perfectly camouflaged. We suddenly encounter a lioness and a male lion known as ‘nagmerrie’ (nightmare). They are walking through the long grass and we spot the two sub-adult cubs, chasing mom. We lose sight of them and Mott decides to spend some quality time with his favorite animal, an elephant. All of a sudden, he gets a radio message to say that the lions have just made a kill. A kudu with the most stunning horns has met his fate and is being devoured bit by bit. The male is not letting the lioness, who we assume made the kill, anywhere near the carcass but tolerates the cubs to feed with him.
We leave them to their seemingly delicious meal and drive back to camp as it’s almost time for dinner. I forego ‘freshening up’ and head straight for the campfire where pre-dinner drinks are being enjoyed by the other guests. Tonight, the most delicious food is on the menu and we all dine together at a long table, weather permitting. For starters, there is chicken liver pâté followed by the most tender made-to-your-taste beef medallions with julienne carrot parcels and cauliflower au gratin for main course. We had hardly started on the main meal when a torrential thunderstorm has everyone running inside for cover. Dessert is the delicious rooibos tea panna cotta concluded with coffee or tea.
It doesn’t take much convincing for me to ask Mott to drive me to my room and he obliges like the gentleman he is. It is night time, which means the nocturnal animals are at play and you are not allowed to wander around unaccompanied. I unzip my tent and switch the light and the fan on. I take in the night sounds and the frogs are croaking in a choir; I hear the distant sound of a hyena calling. With hot and cold running water, my shower with the Healing Earth products is reviving after which I climb into my comfortable bed. This is the silkiest bedding I’ve ever slept on and the pillow is, as Amy puts it so truthfully the following day, feels like ‘sleeping on a cloud’.
Refreshed from a wonderful night’s sleep, Mott accompanies me on a walk to the main area as it starts getting light. It is overcast and as we leave for our game drive, it starts to rain. Not many animals will be around, I think out loud, when we stumble upon the sub-adult cubs still enjoying their kudu kill from the previous night. The female cub is eating in such a ladylike way that I jokingly say I need to bring her a knife and fork to dine with. She doesn’t seem to want to get her face dirty, takes little bites and she immediately starts grooming herself.
Mott thinks he sees the shape of a lioness in the swampy area, but we can’t go near where she is with the risk of getting stuck. He picks up his binoculars, but it’s raining so hard we lose sight of her. Unexpectedly, she appears on the horizon and walks with vigor and purpose. We follow her and hear her calling. Calling for what we both wonder. Then we hear them. The sound of cubs answering! She found them! They are so tiny that we cannot even see them in the swampy grasslands. The reunion is so sweet between mom and cubs that we hope the other three cubs are safely stashed away somewhere.
Brunch today is build-a-burger with fries, salads and fruit skewers. Before I know it, high tea is served, consisting of marble cake, savory tuna parcels and chocolate lamingtons. Being the only vehicle that had encountered the lioness and her cubs in the morning, we are hopeful to lead the other guests to this special sighting. Mott finds her hiding place with great ease, but she is sitting under a dense tree and we can only just see her outline, interacting with the two cubs from earlier.
We wait, patiently and get rewarded when she takes the cubs on a walkabout to hide them somewhere else. Their legs are so short that they are having a hard time keeping up with mom, but she stops every few meters to check that they are still with her. They are both completely exhausted and hungry from all the activity; we leave her in the swamp where the cubs are now nursing.
Tonight, we dine on peppered mackerel for starters and for main course, individual kudu potjie with mash and broccoli, patti pans with roasted almonds and mocha Bavaria for dessert. The food at Gomoti Plains Camp is so delicious; it is clear that care and attention to detail is incorporated with each and every meal.
Sunrise the next morning promises to be another incredible day as we make our way to where the mokoros are moored. Our poler, Kedidimetse Goitsemang, known as Bafana, is gliding us through the Okavango Delta’s channels and up ahead, an African fish eagle is making her presence known. This is the most serene way to see the riverine life and all its inhabitants.
On our way back to camp, Mott thinks it suitable to ‘pop by’ where we last saw the lion cubs. We turn the corner and our jaws drop in unison. There they are – all five of them! Exclaims of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ abound as we cannot believe our luck – we were fearing the worst. It’s not long before they have all disappeared and mom appears, setting off with two of them in tow.
I spend the remainder of the day in the main area where I watch impalas feeding on the grass close to camp and witness the pandemonium as a lioness has a stroll through camp in the middle of the day.
On my last morning, I concentrate more on the birdlife that inhabit the plains. They are exquisite – a long-tailed paradise-whydah, an African harrier-hawk, a woodland kingfisher, a spur-winged goose, some vulnerable wattled crane and a bateleur eagle to name a few. It is time to say goodbye; we take the winding drive to the airstrip for my charter flight to Maun airport. After landing at Maun International Airport, the journey back to Cape Town International Airport begins. We are scheduled to take off with our Airlink flight at 13:35. With all passengers seated, the captain starts the engines of the Embraer 135 and off we go, landing twenty minutes ahead of schedule, much to the delight of my family and all the passengers on board.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
How to Get There
Airlink is a privately owned airline business. The Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA.
Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town to Maun, Botswana.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travelers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty programme -Voyager.
Flight Bookings: online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.
Thank you to Wendy Rankin from Machaba Safaris for making my accommodation and local flight arrangements and to the very hospitable staff at Gomoti Plains Camp for hosting me.
-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.
| Photographs courtesy of Machaba Safaris and by Heléne Ramackers