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Saturday, June 8, 2013

African Okavango Delta


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The tranquil Okavango Delta, a 15,000sqkm flood plain that fans out in the northwestern corner of Botswana, is one of the world's greatest natural miracles; a verdant paradise of palms, papyrus, crystal-clear channels and deep lagoons. Set in a massive sea of desert sand, the fragile wonderland is an oasis for wildlife drawn to its life-giving waters. 



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In the delta, the evening air is filled with the sounds of birds calling, frogs trilling and antelope rustling in the reeds. Wildebeest, hartebeest, buffalo and zebra roam the islands; herds of elephant wade across channels guarded by hippos and outsized crocodiles; and leopard, hyena and lion rule the night, preying on massive herds of wary herbivores. 


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Run by Wilderness Safaris, one of the largest safari companies in southern Africa, Mombo Camp is located on the northern tip of Chief's Island, within the Okavango Delta's Moremi Game Reserve.




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Built under large, shady trees and overlooking the floodplains that teem with wildlife year round, Mombo Camp's nine spacious tents have indoor and outdoor showers, making it possible to take an al fresco shower while hippos graze nearby. 


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Encircling the Okavango Delta, the Kalahari Desert is a large, semi-arid savannah extending 900,000sqkm over much of Botswana as well as parts of Namibia and South Africa. Derived from the Tswana word kgala, meaning "the great thirst", or khalagari, meaning "a waterless place", the Kalahari's vast areas of red sand have no permanent surface water. However, it is not a true desert; some parts receive more 250mm of erratic rainfall annually and are quite well vegetated. 


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Overlooking an immense salt pan, Wilderness Safaris' Kalahari Plains Camp (KPC) is perfectly situated within the CKGR. As with Mombo, the best way to witness surrounding wildlife is to take a dawn or late afternoon game drive.


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The San people, or Bushmen, have been living in and around the CKGR for thousands of years. Originally nomadic hunters and gatherers, the lifestyle of the Bushmen has gradually changed with the times, and many of them now live in settlements, some of which are situated within the southern half of the reserve. Like many hunter-gatherer tribes the world over, the Bushmen are finding it difficult to maintain their traditional culture and lifestyle. There are only about 3,000 Bushmen left that still follow a totally traditional lifestyle (out of a total population of 95,000). Nomadic groups usually number 10 to 15 individuals and move around frequently to find new foods and resources. 


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The easiest way to access the Okavango Delta and CKGR is to fly to the South African city of Johannesburg, connecting through to the Botswanan city of Maun, gateway to both destinations. From Maun, Wilderness Safaris operates turboprop flights to all their camps in the area. More on all of Wilderness Safaris' Botswana camps can be found on their website.
Other highly popular Botswana camps are run by Uncharted Africa. These are based in the Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans, an extensive network of salt pans and ephemeral lakes lying just to the northwest of the CKGR and also accessed via Maun. (Daniel Allen)

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