28 January 2011
Eagles over the Okavango
The verdant waterways at the heart of Botswana are home to an extraordinary variety of animals and birds.
In a land blessed with more than its fair share of natural beauty, Botswana's greatest treasure has to be the amazing Okavango Delta, so often described as the most beautiful place on earth.
This neon-green and blue patchwork of grassy islands, lagoons, floodplains and channels big and small stretches as far as the eye can see over more than 16,000 square kilometres. It's absolutely teeming with wildlife.
Scan the landscape and in just one sweep you might see zebra, impala, giraffe and elephant browsing peacefully on the lush vegetation. Flitting amongst the reeds you'll find fabulous birds, such as the gorgeous lilac-breasted roller and electric-blue malachite kingfisher, and in the water itself, pods of hippos honk at each other and crocs galore slide along the surface.
In the middle of this paradise sits Eagle Island Camp. The 12 luxury tents, each perched on its own wooden platform and placed away from the others for maximum space and privacy, have huge comfy beds, proper bathrooms and all the comforts you need.
The Fish Eagle Bar, once voted the most romantic bar in the world, overlooks a tranquil lagoon. Sit and sip a cocktail at sunset and a whole hour slips away just like that as you soak up the tranquillity.
Go with the Flow
Explore by mokoro canoe, boat or helicopter: the Okavango Delta is a world away from the traditional Jeep safari.
Water is what makes this camp so extraordinary. Here, in the right season, you can enjoy a totally different kind of safari from the traditional game drive over dry savannah. Guests explore the waterways in dugout canoes called mokoros, by cruiser, speedboat and even by helicopter. There's game spotting, of course, but also catch-and-release fishing for tilapia, fresh water pike and catfish.
Musical FrogsIt sounds like oriental wind chimes, but the 'music' of the Okavango Delta is the croaking of frogs out among the reeds.
A boat safari allows you to look a hippo in the eye - though not too closely! - sneak up on crocodiles sulking among the water lilies and hop over to a quiet island where a beautiful orange Pel's fishing owl blinks lazily back at you from a branch.
For birdwatchers, Eagle Island Camp is true heaven, with the chance to spot more than 400 of the 550 species of birds of Botswana. You don't have to leave your tent to see the awesome fish eagles, after which the camp is named.
On a 45-minute helicopter safari to the far reaches of the delta, a dazzle of zebras, usually too flighty to tolerate a land vehicle near them, stay still and undisturbed as you skim over the treetops, and you have fun counting the hundreds of shiny round rumps of plump hippo poking out of the water. Extremely lucky guests have even spotted a leopard staring back at them.
After dark, it's your turn to gaze up as, with no light pollution from busy cities, the sky turns velvet-black, the perfect canvas for a million shining stars and planets. It's an astronomy lesson to remember.
By Wendy Gomersall, who writes on travel for a wide range of UK publications
What are your memories of the Okavango Delta?