Meerkats and Mokoros
A unique horseback safari in Botswana that combines the best of the Kalahari salt pans with the waterways of the Okavango Delta
In 1850 David Livingstone crossed this part of Botswana (though it was known as Bechuanaland in those days) in an ox-cart accompanied by his wife and young family. He had been told of a magical place of waterways, teeming with wildlife, which lay far out across the Kalahari Desert. Other white settlers dismissed the tales as fanciful nonsense, but Livingstone believed the stories and gambled with his life to reach this fabled paradise.
Today we know it as the Okavango Delta and it is one of Africa’s most spectacular wildlife destinations – if not the most spectacular. It is in complete contrast to the area immediately to its east, the Kalahari Desert, which is flat, dry and dusty. But Kalahari also has hidden secrets: there are areas of excellent grazing, which means the desert wildlife is surprisingly good. It’s not uncommon to see zebra herds several thousand strong, and cantering alongside a mob like that is an absolute blast! The wildlife-stars of the Kalahari are surely the Meerkats: they have been studied for several decades and some clans are habituated to the presence of humans. We ride to one such clan, dismount and spend a few leisurely hours in the company of Meerkats.
A “mokoro” is the local name for a dugout canoe. When we ride in the Okavango Delta we use “fly camps”; that is, camps that are moved when we move and leave not a trace of our ever having been there. The camping equipment is moved in mokoros, poled by local people, which makes this a cultural encounter as much as a wildlife encounter.
We will meet you in Maun, a desert town and the gateway to the Kalahari and the Okavango Delta. We’ll drive you the short distance to board a light aircraft to fly deep into the Kalahari. We’ll show you around camp and introduce the horses. In the evening we’ll ride along the edge of the vast Makgadikgadi Pans – as flat as a table-top and dry as a bone. Welcome to Camp Kalahari.
An early morning ride through the “land of a thousand islands” which are small groups of plants and trees that sprout from the pan and look like islands; search for the herds of zebra and wildebeest. Later in the afternoon jump into a 4X4 to look for rare desert-adapted species such as the brown hyena, aardwolf and bat-eared fox. Continue the search after dark with the aid of a powerful spotlight.
A long day: ride to Xau Xai Fly Camp, riding away from the Pans and into the surrounding woodland. Pass the famous Chapman’s Baobab: a tree with a girth of 27 m! They reckon that a Baobab puts on a metre of girth each century, which makes this tree more than two-and-a-half thousand years old. It’s been a landmark for centuries … if only it could talk! Picnic lunch at Ghutsa Pan which used to be a permanent waterhole but is now seasonal. Late afternoon continue the ride to camp out on the pan, beneath the stars, sleeping on a camp-bed.
Up early to ride in search of a clan of meerkats: spend time with them as they warm up (nights are quite cool) and tag along as the clan hunts and forages through the grasslands. Meerkats are members of the mongoose family and only live in this part of Africa (from southern Angola, through Namibia, Bots and into northern South Africa). Clans vary in size between about 20 and 50 individuals. They are the most endearing creatures with a precise and structured family scene. In the afternoon head out for one of life’s greatest experiences – cantering in the moonlight across the Pans and sleeping out beneath the stars.
A fast ride back across the surface of the Pans to the comforts of Camp Kalahari and a hot shower! In the afternoon take a walk or just relax around this beautiful camp.
Meet up with a group of San Bushmen and spend a couple of hours with these incredible people as they show you how they survive in the harsh Kalahari. Then say farewell to the Kalahari and board a light aircraft back to Maun followed by a short road trip to the edge of the Okavango Delta. Late in the afternoon meet the second string of horses and ride to the first camp, deep within the Okavango Delta – a lightweight camp transported in mokoros by the local people with whom we work.
A full day exploring the Okavango on horseback: the crystal clear waterways and hidden lagoons of the Delta are home to a broad variety of birds and animals. This is one of the best places in Africa to see Hunting Dog; the lions in the Delta are larger than lions from other areas and their manes are darker, which gives them stature and pride (pardon the pun). The birdlife is phenomenal and to mention just one species … it has to be Pel’s Fishing Owl: an owl that hunts fish and amphibians! Bizarre! Overnight in camp surrounded by the sounds of the African bush.
Set off early leaving the staff to break camp (which is moved by mokoro to another beautiful location). We will ride along ancient elephant trails in search of herbivores such as Zebra and less famous grazers such as red lechwe, tsessebe and maybe even the elusive sitatunga which is a deer species that will dive underwater and fully submerge if startled! We may even find spotted-neck otters and elephant, which is always a thrill. Return to the fly camp at the end of the day.
A lovely morning ride exploring the edge of the Kiri River, looking over hippo pools and enjoying the diversity of wildlife to be found here. In the afternoon take a ride in a mokoro – the traditional and most peaceful way to travel through this wondrous waterland. Relax, let someone else do all the hard work, and allow those riding muscles to ease! Return to the fly camp at the end of the day.
We remain in the heart of the Okavango, riding in search of the wildlife of Africa and just enjoying this beautiful landscape from horseback. Herds of buffalo may be in the vicinity. Giraffe saunter by. Lechwe splash through the water alongside you, whilst kudu peer out from the thickets. Return to the fly camp at the end of the day.
Heading south again to the edge of the Delta where we say goodbye to the horses and return to Maun and the end of the trip. Overnight in hotel.
After breakfast transfer to airport.
Riding safari in Botswana
Horses: are Thoroughbred-cross between 15.0 – 16.0 hh. Well-schooled and used to this environment.
Tack: in the desert and on the pans we use McLellan saddles, covered in a sheepskin. In the Delta we use Wintec saddles from New Zealand. Wintecs are made from synthetic material and are much better at coping with all the water.
Rider level: riders should be competent and confident riders. There are long canters across the Pans and we will encounter Big Game which has an inherent risk.
The first five nights are spent at Camp Kalahari which consists of ten Meru-style permanent tents. A Meru tent is huge; large enough to stand up and walk around. It contains two cot-beds and has an en suite bathroom (hot showers) at the rear. They are thatched to keep the direct sunlight off and have a verandah at the front. Technically this is camping, but it’s luxurious camping! There is a small swimming pool at the edge of the camp, sited on the periphery to keep elephants (who drink from the pool after dark) away from the centre of camp. A sleeping bag will be required for the two nights that we sleep out on the pan, on camp-beds, beneath the stars.
The second five nights is spent in two-person tents in fly camps. The best way to experience the Okavango Delta is to move from one habitat to another and carry your camp with you. Camp is transported in mokoros and we ride, via a more circuitous route, to the fresh camp each day. Tents are set up by the guides and all meals prepared on an open fire; this really is a back-to-nature experience in Nature’s most pristine back yard. Sleeping bags are required.
The final night is spent in a hotel in Maun which is a small town that retains its frontier feeling.