Gaborone - The swamp is fringed by golden bushveld with the tree-line extending behind as far as the eye can see.
It’s a serenely peaceful, sun-filled day deep in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Then, almost as if stage-managed, a large elephant cow tiptoes (as only they can) into the swamp.
Looking on all this as a very privileged “intruder” on the deck of a lodge in Chief’s Camp on Chief’s Island in the Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve, I am blissfully unaware of the entertainment in store.
Kicking lazily at the water which comes up to just above her feet, the elephant moves slowly towards a muddy area even closer to where I sit now in some anticipation.
Then the show starts - muddy water flies everywhere as she uses her trunk to spray the stuff all over herself. Before long she kneels down and then she’s on her side with legs in the air, wallowing in a most undignified (for elephants) manner.
What a sight! How marvellous to see it all playing out just metres away. The performance is repeated a few times until she decides it’s enough, although I thought she missed a few bits, and strolls ever closer to me to rub her giant rear end vigorously against the trunk of a large tree to obviously relieve a big itch. The bliss is very evident!
The next day my wife and I are taken out on the swamps in a mokoro, which glides along a water channel close to the very place where the elephant had given its mud bath show.
The ride is quiet, smooth, therapeutic. The swamp is filled with sprays of mauve and white lilies and we see a wide variety of birds in the air and on the water. Two hours fly by and we arrive back praising the pristine beauty of the place and so grateful it is free of pollution.
But that was just the introduction to this wildlife haven, a World Heritage Site, and a wetland of international importance for its bird populations and breeding potential.
Out on game drives, with a guide who has in-depth knowledge of the reserve, we saw some stunning sights on our two-day stay including: tailing a young cheetah for about 15 minutes before it accelerated in a flash after its prey, a small buck, which escaped - a happy ending for us at least; joining a lion and three lionesses in pursuit of warthogs, the females leading the way setting up what looked like an ambush as the male lay some distance away waiting for lunch to be served. The hogs appeared to be walking into the trap and we sensed action but they spotted the lions, sprinting off with tails like erect aerials.
There’s so much I like about the bush such as getting close to both white and black rhino recently reintroduced to the reserve.
Back at the camp, the saying “there’s an elephant in the room” took on new meaning when a large tusker did its utmost to get into our chalet, particularly the outdoor-shower area. So what do you do when there’s an elephant at your front door? Nothing much except wait for it to go.
Chief’s Camp, run by Sanctuary Retreats, is located on the private Mombo Concession in the heart of the Delta. Well run by lodge managers Trevor Mcdougall and Lianna Swanepoel, both from South Africa, it boasts 12 ultra-luxury chalets each with a spectacular view of the bush from expansive decks which all have private splash pools.
The units, recently extended and refurbished, are about 140m² in size (previously 40m²) and have comfy four-poster, super king-sized beds.
There’s an outside shower, indoor shower and a free-standing bath. The rooms are air-conditioned and have three ceiling fans, while a private bar area completes the scene.
The camp’s open plan communal area overlooks a swamp area which attracts a variety of animals, including amazing bird life.
The nouvelle cuisine-style fare is good and wholesome with kitchen staff willing to cook up meals to suit all tastes.
Added attractions are a well-equipped gym, a children’s playroom and a health spa.
Light aircraft operating from Maun fly guests in and out of Chief’s. Flights take about 35 minutes with Mac Air, one of the major operators.
In the Delta, the senses are filled, the mind at rest and the African magic put a spell on me. Flying out we were sad to leave but excited about our next stop and adventure, Baines’ Camp.
l For more info on Chief’s Camp, call Sanctuary Retreats on 011 438 4650, e-mail: [email protected] or see sanctuaryretreats.com.
Facts and figures
The Okavango Delta covers an area of about 1.3 million hectares when in full flood. The Okavango River rises as the Cubango and Cuito rivers in the central highlands of Angola about 500km to the north and discharges about 11 000 millionm³ of water into the Delta annually.
The river catchment covers 413 000km² of which only 45 percent significantly contributes to run-off into the Delta.
When the Okavango River enters Botswana, it is 200m wide and 4m deep, flowing in a depression between parallel faults 15km apart, known as the Panhandle, before the flow is distributed in a characteristic fan shape over the Kalahari sands.
The Delta consists of a series permanent river channels, semi-permanent drainage channels, lagoons and floodplains with 75 percent of the total water volume supplied by the Okavango River and the rest by direct rainfall.