Adventure Africa #04: Canoeing / Mokoro adventures
About the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta (16 000km²) is a wetland wilderness of looping channels edged with tall papyrus. A spectacular oasis rich in wildlife, the Delta is an ever-changing Eden where copper-hued jacanas tiptoe gracefully across lily-lined channels, and the booming bellow of hippos and the haunting call of fish eagles answer the song of reed-frogs. When the grasses mellow to gold, marking the wane of the rainy season, a pantheon of African wildlife is drawn, sometimes in thundering waves, to the perennial water. Sable antelope, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, lion and Africa's monumental wanderers, elephant, drift across the Kalahari sands towards the Delta.
The Okavango is the most unexpected of wonders: water in the desert. The glistening outstretched hand of the Okavango Delta over the barren, baked Kalahari is nothing short of miraculous. Tens of thousands of years ago this expanse of dry woodlands and savannah lay under a giant flamingo-rich inland sea. But subterranean movements wrenched the Earth’s crust, changing the course of its rivers and leaving skeletal veins of sand as the only memory of its watery past.
The Cubango River, flowing from brooks in the Angolan Highlands, found its ancient course impeded by ragged fault lines. The river spread itself into an intricate web of ribbons, imprinting a green lacework over the brown Kalahari to form the world’s largest inland delta.
Rain in the Delta :By October, the seasonal Delta is shrinking and the land craves water. Huge clouds build up in the hot afternoons and are extraordinary to witness. Each summer, floods pour down from the highlands of Angola into the Okavango River and seep through a vast network of narrow waterways, lagoons and broad expanses of the delta. The water flows through this flood plain and dissipates in the sands of the Kalahari. Over 90% of this water evaporates, but not before it has brought life and sustenance to the wildlife and people of the Okavango.
At the start of the rains, animals unseen for months move into action - tortoises, frogs, chameleons and dung beetles. Ponds form, pans fill up and nature begins its spring frenzy of rejuvenation. The abundance of water disperses many of the larger animals into the surrounding plains and woodlands. You may awake one morning to find yesterday's quiet plain seething with hundreds of animals. Water birds flock to the marshes - storks, herons, kingfishers and bright-coloured bee-eaters. New life spreads throughout the Delta. New-born antelope take their first staggering steps, and litters of bat-eared foxes peep from secret burrows.
In addition to the usual river cruise, you can go on a mokoro (dugout canoe) trip poled by an experienced guide, who shares his knowledge of the environment. Cruising past one of the idyllic floating islands is part of the experience. Back at the lodge, bush breakfasts and elegant bush dinners are delicious highlights.
About a Mokoro adventure:
A mokoro is a traditional method of transport. The ancient craft of mokoro making dates back a few centuries to the arrival of the Bayei tribe in northern Botswana. Large trees are identified by craftsmen and chopped down. The trunks are then hollowed out using a hand axe. Favorite wood supplies include the Jackal berry, Sausage and Marula Trees [from which the popular Amarula liquor is produced]. It can take from 100 to 500 years for a tree to grow in size suitable for a canoe, yet only five years on the water renders it useless. A more sustainable eco-friendly industry has evolved with the introduction of the fiberglass mokoro which is used today for the canoeing adventure. Mokoro safaris are a great way to experience the Okavango delta. Your guide highlights the characteristics of all the unique flora and fauna seen during the mokoro adventure, as you float through the beautiful sceneries surrounding the narrow waterways. Several Hippo and Crocodile are spotted along the adventure and often Leopard’s kills can be seen hanging on the branches of the trees close by. Large herd of Elephant are usually seen by the delta bathing and playing in the water, offering excellent photographic opportunities for travelers. It’s hard to not notice the excitement caused by the numerous Antelope [Sitatunga] herds surrounding the delta, keeping a watchful eye out for predators such as Lion and Crocodile who could be waiting patiently, ready to spring on them out of the forest’s camouflage. During the trip, you may also set out on an island for a nature walk with your guide to get a closer feel of the landscape. Birdlife is prolific around the Okavango Delta. Here you find a living showcase of rare and beautiful species such as the African Jacana, Fish eagle, Wattled crane, Slaty egret, Pygmy goose, Coppery-tailed Coucal. Your Safari Guide is provides excellent account on bird behavior and habitat during the course of your interesting adventure.
The Okavango Delta is a bird-watcher's paradise. The Delta is home to over 500 species of birds. There are few more haunting calls than that of the African Fish Eagle - a bird more common in the Okavango than anywhere else on the continent. Birds are abundant in the riverine forest, with Hartlaub's Babbler, Swamp Boubou, Grey-backed Bleating Warbler, Heuglin's Robin, Barred Owl, Red-eyed Dove, Red-billed Woodhoopoe and Red-billed Helmetshrike among the characteristic species. Look out for both Black-eyed and Red-eyed Bulbuls. The elusive Pel's Fishing Owl roosts in evergreen trees by day.
A variety of warblers and weavers nest in the papyrus beds, and Pied Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher and Coppery-tailed Coucal can be seen among the tall stems. Woodland birds are plentiful, with hole-nesting species such as Red-billed Hornbill, Grey Hornbill, Burchell's Starling, Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owl, Crested Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, Striped Kingfisher and Meyer's Parrot among the most conspicuous.
Bird enthusiasts resource: Click here to view a bird checklist for the Okavango Delta Region.
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About Sandibe Safari Lodge:
Listed among the 101 best hotels in the world in UK Tatler's Travel Guide 2001
At Sandibe, you can experience the ever-changing miracle of the Okavango Delta on your doorstep. Sandibe Safari Lodge is set within a 270km² private concession bordering Moremi Game Reserve in one of the most beautiful parts of the Delta. Located near the perennial Santantadibe Channel, the lodge nestles between permanent water and grass-swept plains where herds of Elephant, Buffalo and Topi (Tsessebe) wander amid vigilant predators. Rolling plains stretch into the distance, etched with the silhouettes of palm trees, mud-castle spires of giant termite mounds and ancient Baobabs
The lodge, constructed according to strict environmental principles, was opened in 1998. Prior to opening, a medicine man was called in to protect Sandibe from bad spirits, sickness and fire. After a three-hour blessing, the Sangoma intuited an atmosphere of protection, sensing the particularly strong presence of Lion. As he left the camp, two Lionesses prowled the exit, noble sentinels of Sandibe Safari Lodge.
Sandibe is flanked by channels of the permanent Okavango Delta that course into the adjacent Moremi Game Reserve, the only declared conservation area in the Delta. It is strategically situated in one of the prime viewing destinations of the continent. Coupled with the diversity of Chobe National Park to the east, the region offers more than 160 mammal, over 500 bird, 38 amphibian, 157 reptile and 89 fish species.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the Okavango Delta is the complete absence of hills and rocks - the landscape is as flat as a lake (it slopes one metre every four kilometres to the south-east). This has led to the formation of the Delta, as the water entering in the north has no clear course to follow.
The Okavango Delta consists of three major components - and one way of picturing this is to look at your outstretched hand. The wrist being the so-called "panhandle", your palm would be the permanent Delta, and the fingers the channels - arteries which feed the seasonal Delta.
Canoeing in Zimbabwe
[*PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL SAFARIS TO ZIMBABWE
HAVE BEEN TEMPORARILY DISCONTINUED DUE TO POLITICAL UNREST &
NEW SANCTIONS IMPOSED ON THE COUNTRY. WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO USE BOTSWANA [above]
FOR CANOEING ADVENTURES, FOR THE TIME BEING]
We offer canoeing in Zimbabwe from our base, the Matetsi Water Lodge. Morning and afternoon riverboat cruises and guided canoe excursions are among the many delights that await you. Five canoes are able to take a maximum of ten guests on Water Lodge's private river frontage. For bird-watchers, exploring this region is pure magic. A minimum of 3 night stay is advised. Other activities at Matetsi include twice a day game drives in open Land Rovers, as well as exciting spotlit night drives to watch the predators on the prowl and bush walks through the private Matetsi Game Reserve are led by armed rangers. More activities include a visit to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the 103 metre Victoria Falls, which are just 40 kilometres away (about a half hour drive.) A complimentary daily shuttle is available to guests. A host of adventure activities - from white-water rafting to walks in the rain forest on the lip of the Falls, can be arranged. The ever-changing moods of the Zambezi are a siren's call for today's explorers. You can make your way into Victoria Falls for heart-pounding white-water rafting or gentle boat cruises. There are tours of the falls and surrounding areas, canoeing in the falls, sky-diving and horse riding. You can listen to a Marimba band and see traditional dancing, or enjoy the breathtaking views of the Victoria Falls ravine by light aircraft, helicopter or microlight. Adrenalin junkies can take the plunge and bungee jump off the bridge spanning the gorge below the Falls.