The Okavango Panhandle – animal spotting from the water

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The Okavango Panhandle – animal spotting from the water

I remember doing a school project on Botswana when I was about 10 years old. It was a handwritten single page document showing a map of Botswana (undoubtedly hand drawn as well) and three facts: 1) the capital is Gabarone; 2) The currency is pula and; 3) a tourist attaction is the Okavango delta (I think I may have termed it the Okovango swamp back then).

Since then Botswana has held a special place in my heart and visiting the Okavango Delta has been an important item on my bucket list.  In 2009 Chris and I visited it for the first time. In my little Ford Focus we headed to Maun and then (rather nervously) hopped into a Mokoro so we could experience the Delta like a local – first, dangerously close to the hippo in our little dug our canoe and then camping under the stars in the middle of the reserve.  It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Chris testing out his mokoro driving skills in October 2009

Chris testing out his mokoro driving skills in October 2009

This time, we were bypassing the ‘delta’ section and heading straight to what is known as the ‘panhandle’. (Literally, if you look at an image of the delta it has a long inlet and then a circular bit, looking a lot like a pan with a handle!) We stayed at Drotsky’s Cabins, a lovely campsite with a beautiful bar overlooking the river. Although we were a few days into our Botswana holiday we had so far had no real close encounters with animals. Kubu Island was fairly barren and the ‘holiday home’ at the Makgadikgadi reserve had a large fence between us and Africa’s wildlife. It was,  therefore, with great excitement that we found our campsite was right on the river – no fence between us and the hipos and crocs this time.  Although we experienced nothing near as close to what we would come to experience with animals later in the holiday, it was wonderful to be woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of grunting hippo and then in the morning to the iconic sound of the fish eagle.

Our shady campsite on the edge of the river

Our shady campsite on the edge of the river

The river

The river

The Okavango Delta is the perfect place for animal and bird spotting in Botswana. Especially in the dry season, Africa’s wildlife flocks to the edge of the water. We decided to take advantage of this and spend the afternoon on a  boat with our wondeful guide, Salvation. As expected we saw many crocodiles and hippos in the water – both were a bit skittish of the boat and as soon as we got close they would make themselves scarce. The one animal that seemed to be very relaxed with the boat was a fish eagle. As soon as one flew close, Salvation mimicked its call and the bird responded. It flew closer and took up position on a tree close to the boat. Salvation then took out a small tiger fish he had with him and told us that this was our chance to take a photo of a fish eagle hunting. It seemed unlikley to me but, then again, the fish eagle did seem to have been chatting to him only a few moments earlier. Salvation got the fish ready and tossed it into the water close to the boat. Within seconds, the fish eagle took off from the tree, swept down and took the fish right in fromt of us. Sure, it may have been a planned hunt but it was still spectactular!

Hunting fish eagle

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Bee eater

Prehistoric creature on the water

Prehistoric creature on the water

Elephant peering out at the boat from the bush

Elephant peering out at the boat from the bush

You don't only get to see wild animals... there are also plenty of domestic cows wading through the water

You don’t only get to see wild animals… there are also plenty of domestic cows wading through the water

At the end of any boat ride the best thing to do is relax with a glass of wine and watch the predictably stunning African sunset. So, what would a post about Africa be without a photo of a sunset…

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One response »

  1. Pingback: Planning a 4×4 Trip in Botswana | The extraordinary adventures of Christopher and Emmylou

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