Wilderness Safaris Vumbura Plains Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Known for its sprawling verdant grasslands, the Okavango Delta is hailed as one of the most spectacular wilderness destinations in the world. Occupying a number of camps in the expansive World Heritage Site, Wilderness Safaris originated in 1983 in Botswana, bringing about an abundance of experience and expertise.
My two day visit to the luxurious Wilderness Safaris Vumbura Plains Camp commences on a Monday morning. I am flying with Airlink, and the Embraer 135 is waiting on the tarmac to fly us from Cape Town International Airport directly to Maun International Airport in Botswana. With only two hours and thirty-five minutes travel time from Cape Town to Botswana, you cannot go wrong with Airlink. The friendly flight attendant today is the delightful Dedrè Engelbrecht, who, like all Airlink staff, goes the extra mile to make everyone feel comfortable.
I land at Maun International Airport just after 1pm and proceed through passport control to have another stamp added by a friendly immigration official. Clearing customs and out the other side, I check in for my Wilderness Air flight to Wilderness Safaris Vumbura Plains Camp. The Cessna Grand Caravan is gleaming under the African sun and soon we are up in the blue yonder. Seated next to the pilot, I have a bird’s eye view of the rolling wilderness, stretching for miles. We approach the Okavango Delta and I am awe-struck by the beauty and size of the tributaries that feed into the Okavango River Basin.
At the airstrip, I am collected by a driver from Vumbura Plains, who transports me to camp. Along the way, we are forced to stop to take in the unscheduled sighting of four lions having a slumber under shaded brush while a breeding herd of elephants take respite from the heat with a cooling mud bath. The matriarch of the herd doesn’t like the very close proximity of the lions and with a primal rumble she sends the lions on their way.
Upon arrival at camp, I am introduced to my Safari Guide, Emang Letlhare who will be showcasing the bush and the animals that occupy it. I have made it just in time for High Tea and we all gather to help ourselves to the most delectable herbed chicken on velvet (phyllo pastry), vanilla eclairs, zucchini frittas and the refreshing raspberry and chai lollipop. The first game drive is always the most exhilarating as you are able to gauge which animals inhabit the traversal territory. We see plenty of feathered creatures – slate egrets, little egrets, copper tailed coucals, striped kingfishers and cardinal woodpeckers.
The tiniest elephant stands alongside its enormous mother, dwarfing in size. Getting all shy after all our ‘oohs and aahs’, he hides under his mom’s belly to shield him from the burning rays of the sun. A lone reedbuck looks over his shoulder as I eavesdrop on the animated conversation between Emang and another guide. Not being able to understand Setswana, something exciting must be happening as Emang seems to be driving with a purpose.
As we turn the corner, a tree comes into view and Emang turns off the engine and picks up his binoculars. I scan the tree and see nothing. He is also struggling to find whatever it is he seems to be looking for. Then he points to the fork in the branch but none of us can see what he is wanting to show us. A miniscule shift from the tiny body and then we realise it’s a leopard cub, fast asleep with the sun’s rays warming up his back. We wait for him to descend but he is not moving anytime soon. ‘The leopardess has two cubs’, Emang discloses. ‘We will try again tomorrow’.
The sun has started setting and we make our way back to camp. For the first time, I can have a proper look at my accommodation, Tent no 4. I slide the door open and am immediately impressed with what I find – an outside sala, a plunge pool and a very large dwelling where comfort and low impact is key. Made of natural materials, the wood finishes blend in seamlessly with the environment. My bed is raised on a wooden platform and in the sunken lounge, I can watch the passing traffic of wildlife while sipping on a cool drink from my inclusive mini-bar. The enormous shower overlooks the riverine habitat and your privacy might be interrupted by a semi-aquatic animal taking refuge in the reeds in front of your window.
Tonight we dine around the campfire and after traditional dances and singing, we feast on butternut soup, beef seswaa samoosas, bread sticks, oxtail, pap, spinach, sweet potato wedges, tomato & onion relish, aubergine curry with brown rice, peri-peri chicken kebabs, vegetable kebabs and malva pudding, custard slices and fruit kebabs. After dinner, I am escorted back to my room; walking alone at night is not allowed as animals can venture into camp at any time.
The mosquito net has been dropped and I cannot wait to indulge in the wonderfully fragrant Africology products for my shower before retiring to bed. There is excellent ventilation in the room and despite the heat and humidity, I soon feel comfortable enough to cover myself with the soft white duvet and close my eyes. My dreams are occupied by leopards – my favorite animal in the whole world. I wake up realising that I might have developed a slightly unhealthy obsession with leopards. To put it mildly. There, I said it.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I awaken before the 5am wake-up call. This isn’t your average wake-up phone call – someone physically walks to your room and calls until you answer. The most beautiful birdsong heralds the start of a brand new day. An African fish eagle joins in the choir as the sun makes its appearance, promising another unforgettable day in Africa. As I leave the confines of my suite, I am inspired by the magnificent colors that are unfolding in front of my eyes – hues of pinks and orange. A sudden splashing grabs my attention; it’s a red lechwe, bounding about in the swampy grassland in front of my room. Splish splash and he’s gone!
Breakfast is served in the dining area and apart from cereal, bread, fruit salad, yoghurt, cold meat & cheese, muesli, juices, coffee and pancakes, you can order any hot breakfast to get you going.
Emang has us all eager about what we will discover today and around every corner there are new impala lambs, having been born after the first rains. They are so cute with their brown eyes and big ears it’s sad to think they are easy pickings for predators. A tsessebe is grazing on the plains and Emang quietly discovers a leopard footprint. He drives us back to the area where we saw the cub the previous day, picks up his binoculars and scans the region. There is nothing where the cub was and he examines the other trees. He starts the engine and my enthusiasm reaches fever pitch – “Have your cameras ready!” he exclaims. A cub is fast asleep, shrouded behind the leaves and momentarily peers at us. “I have something much better”, Emang announces.
Out in the open, Miss Leopard Cub is perched on the bare branch of a tree, nonchalantly posing for us. I am speechless. She is so beautiful and is positioned as only a cat can be – no sense of comfort, just perfect balance from a vantage point to see what might be approaching. On our way back to camp, we see a giraffe taking a drink and further along the route, a herd of elephants revel in the cooling mud. After a languid brunch, I enjoy the refreshing water of my private plunge pool while taking in the incredible scenery.
The activity after High Tea is a mokoro (dug-out canoe) excursion. The canoe takes two people and a poler does the rowing and steering for you. Our poler, Casper Olatotswe ensures that we are comfortable before guiding the mokoro over the calm waters of the Delta. We encounter red lechwe, a stunning painted reed frog and many colorful water lilies. Not wanting to miss out on any land-based game viewing, we convince Emang that we are ready for a post-mokoro safari.
A chacma baboon is barking in the distance and then we see her silhouette – the most majestic leopardess running for cover with her two cubs, trying to escape the aggressive sounds of a warning call. The playful cubs follow her pursuit and under the cover of darkness, she looks for safety for herself and her offspring.
We encounter her the following morning, sans cubs, on the hunt. She walks silently, pauses by a tree and with the effortless grace that only a leopard can display, scales the tree to search for prey. I ask Emang if she has a name and he says “We saw her for the first time as a cub and named her Selonyana, which means ‘something little and cute’ in Setswana”. We follow her for a while until she disappears into the thick brush and all hope that she will raise her three-month old cubs to independency, just like she has become.
For a complete digital detox without compromising on luxury, Wilderness Safaris Vumbura Plains Camp is the perfect choice for a reconnect with yourself and other people. Sitting around the campfire talking to other guests, hearing their interesting stories without someone checking their phone every few minutes is truly liberating. Going back to basics of face-to-face conversation – who knew having no Wi-Fi or cellphone signal could be so freeing?
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 travellers 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 Wilderness Safaris 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.