Trip Report Okavango Horse Safari- By Sarah Ward

1st August 2011

I have had another FANTASTIC holiday with Okavango Horse Safaris in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. It is owned and run by PJ and Barney Bestelink and this is their twenty- fifth year operating this truly professional, “once in a lifetime” safari. They have sixty-four horses and impeccably maintained tack and stables. The long standing members of staff are extremely knowledgeable of the area, the food is delicious and the greatest care is taken to ensure that all the guests are enjoying this “ultimate bush experience”.

There is more water coming through from Angola than ever recorded before in Botswana to add to the exceptional annual rainfall so the river crossings were extremely high and the base camp could only be accessed by boat, horse or helicopter. There were riders on this safari from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, France, America and Turkey.

Okavango Horse Safaris has a private concession of over 2500 square kilometres to explore. It is rich in wildlife, flora and fauna. Kujwana, the base camp, is situated on the Xudum River, south of Chief’s Island and accommodates a maximum of twelve guests in extremely comfortable and spacious safari tents, each with bathrooms en suite. There are three main river systems in the area, the Xudum, the Matsibe and the Kiri. The areas between the three rivers contrast greatly and support different species of game and birds. Mokolwane Camp is made up of tree houses ten feet off the ground giving superb views out across the water. It is north-west of Kujwana on the Matsibe River and the area has huge open floodplains, some smaller palm islands and receives its flood water three weeks earlier than Kujwana camp. Qwaapu “fly” (temporary) camp is south east of Kujwana on the Qwaapu River and the site changes according to access due to the rising water levels. Whilst I was there it had been moved to another outstanding area and renamed Lediba Camp. The camp is very much “back to basics” with walk in Meru tents, an outside “long drop” toilet and an outside shower, per tent. Both the toilet and the shower are surrounded by canvas but the roof is completely open to the heavens. During our safari there was a full moon which made the night skies in this magical setting even more beautiful. The deep lagoons make this a good area for hippo which also walk around the tents at night when they graze!
Despite the high water the game was phenomenal and in large numbers. We saw huge herds of buffalo, giraffe, zebra and literally hundreds of elephant in mostly breeding herds. One morning we had spotted fifteen species of mammals before we had our “naartjie and lunch bar break” at 10.30am! These were impala, kudu, reed buck, grey duiker, steenbok, red lechwe, wildebeest, tssesebe, giraffe, zebra, warthog, elephant, buffalo, side-striped jackal and spring hare. After the short break we mounted up and rode on to Lediba fly camp seeing similar game as the morning but added to our list, hippo and crocodile out of the water, baboon, vervet monkey, slender tailed mongoose, tree squirrels, a leopard tortoise, the remains of that morning’s lion kill and a glimpse of an African wild cat. The wildlife in the area moves freely to and from Moremi National Park.  The area hosts a variety of exceptional bird life and we recorded one hundred and twenty-four species of birds over the safari. This ride to the fly camp took a full day with a picnic lunch en route. The ride took us through a variety of stunning scenery, through lush green molapos (seasonal floodplains) that lead from island to island, large open spaces, mopane scrub, dense forest, heavily wooded islands, hippo pools, a lattice of game trails and through many water crossings, two of which we had to swim the horses across. On one remarkable afternoon ride from Lediba we were never out of sight of some game and no-one uttered a word. All communication was done with sign language from the front of the ride to the back of the ride telling which exciting animals were ahead of us and the spoor of the animals that we were following. Each night we  went to sleep to the sounds of the rattling palms, the lion’s roar, the  whoop-de-whoop of the  spotted hyena laughing, the hippo’s watery grunt, croaking frogs, the washing machine sound of an elephant’s stomach, the splash of a disappearing crocodile and one morning we heard leopard coughing in the camp. Every day with Okavango Horse Safaris is completely different. When the guests are not riding they could be on a night game drive following a spectacular sunset with lashings of “sundowner” drinks. They can be on bird walks or in the silent and gentle mokoro (dug out canoe) viewing the game and birds from the water. The memories of this safari are simply awesome.