I’m off on a first for me – my first trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe. Now I am travelling with Alison who as you all know has vast amounts of knowledge on all things African. As such I am in excellent company and happy to be led as if I am a guest on my own personal fam trip!
So our routing took us from London to Joburg and then onwards via an hour and a half flight on SAAirlink to Maun in Botswana. For the uninitiated, Maun is the tourism hub and main entry point into the Delta. As you clear customs and leave “airside” you are greeted by boards with a variety of names. Here you pick your name out of the throng and start the next leg of your journey. The MackAir staff introduce themselves all round, take your luggage and you go through to the departure lounge. Very shortly you leave the departure lounge to go back out on the tarmac, one door down from where you have just come in! Now it’s time to board your 12 seater bush plane for the 15 minute hop to Qorokwe Airstrip, which is a 45 minute drive from Gomoti Plains Camp. Flying above the delta we get our first glimpse of elephants and the massive network of waterways that characterise this unique part of the world.
Touchdown and we have arrived to be met by the smiling face of Luckiem, who is to be our guide for the next couple of days. Luckiem has transferred from Gomoti’s sister camp, Machaba, as he comes from a community local to Gomoti. This definitely seems to have pleased him!
Gomoti is a small luxury bush camp of only 10 expansive suites. These are really well spaced ensuring maximum privacy. They have both an indoor and an outdoor shower – quite the necessity when you want to cool down after a few hours in the unforgiving African sun. All suites overlook one of the many waterways, or channels as they are known, with lovely raised decks from which you can survey plenty of activity. During the afternoon I sat on my deck fascinated by a family of warthog digging a giant hole which the littlest kept sliding into!
The main camp area has a stunning open plan lounge and dining area with a deck that stretches its entire length. It is from here in the morning that you leave to go out on your Mokoro boat trip. In the evening it is on this deck that you sit round the fire enjoying a post Safari G & T before dining communally under the stars.
Gomoti is located on its own private concession which means that you only see Gomoti vehicles out on game drives and that there will only be a maximum of 5 vehicles out at any one time. Game is prolific and we had some incredible sightings which included a herd of around 800 buffalo and plentiful elephant, giraffe and plains game. One particularly special sighting was watching a rather nervous lioness trying to cross a narrow channel of water following her brother and mother. Gingerly putting one paw in at a time, she gave herself a fright at one point, and in turn gave me one too, but safely she eventually made the crossing.
Gomoti also offers you the chance to explore the Okavango Delta by boat – either a boat Safari or by Mokoro, the traditional boats that navigate the waterways. Here you encounter pods of hippo, crocodile basking in the sun and plentiful bird life. My special moment here was admiring an enormous hippo exiting the water in front of our boat. Far too quick and unexpected for my camera, but our guide Luckiem knew exactly what the hippo was planning and had positioned us perfectly. By Mokoro you are able to admire the water lilies up close, slowly opening in the warmth of the sunshine, the tiny frogs balanced on the reeds and the intricately woven webs.
You truly appreciate how stunning the Delta really is from the unique location which is Gomoti.
From Gomoti, Alison and I jumped back on a MackAir bush plane for a short 20 minute hop to the original Machaba Safaris camp and its namesake, Machaba Camp. Machaba Camp is located on the north eastern edge of the Delta on the banks of the Khwai River, with the famed Moremi Game Reserve just the other side of the riverbank.
As soon as you arrive at Machaba Camp you feel that wonderful laid back vibe which welcomes you, making you immediately feel like one of the family or a returning friend. Machaba has 10 spacious tents including 2 family tents comprising of a lounge area, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom with the customary outdoor shower. This is a Camp ideal for family groups.
Our guide for the duration of our stay would be Leopard – what a great name for a guide! Machaba Camp is all about showcasing the amazing game within this stunning reserve and we would not be disappointed. Throughout our stay we saw giraffe, warthog, zebra, numerous antelope, a slightly skittish jackal, a honey badger (I know how cool!) and the most majestic of male lions with a kudu kill. Now I hasten to add that this male lion stole the kudu from a beautiful lioness and her three tiny cubs. One of the two highlights of my stay was sitting quietly watching the three cubs tumbling around over each other whilst their mother snoozed in the shade. A real sight to behold.
The second highlight for me was also a first for me – an elephant in camp – munching on a tree next to the main deck whilst we were having afternoon tea. You have no idea how exciting this was for me! Frankly I was already excited at the afternoon tea spread which included hazelnut chocolate pastry ‘cigars’ with a white chocolate sauce. This just topped it off!
Alison and I also experienced a wonderful bush walk with the enigmatic Leopard. This offered us the chance to learn more about the flora, fauna and plentiful birdlife. Seeing the reserve on foot makes you truly appreciate this beautiful wilderness area.
Machaba Camp has recently had a new addition a 2 minute drive from main camp, Little Machaba. Here you still enjoy the spirit of Machaba main camp but in a smaller more boutique environment as there are only the 4 suites, of which, 2 are 2 bed family suites. Here you also have the option to take the Camp on an exclusive use basis. What a wonderful option for a larger travelling party.
Machaba Camp and Little Machaba really do have an idyllic location right on the Khwai River.
After 4 action packed days, we were leaving Botswana for the next and final leg of our journey. We travelled to the airstrip and hopped back on a MackAir flight to Kasane. From here we were met by our driver who took us the 3 hour journey into Zimbabwe and to Victoria Falls airport. Now I must admit that 1 of those hours was spent at the border crossing, but forewarned is forearmed and patiently we waited for our visa and passport stamp. At Victoria Falls airport we took our final flight of the day, a one hour bush plane to Manga, the bush airstrip utilised by Verney’s Camp, our next and final stop. Next we jumped back in our vehicle for our game drive to Verney’s located in a private concession in Hwange National Park.
Wow, wow, wow – this I was not expecting. We turned a corner into camp and all I could see were hundreds of elephants heading down to the waterhole directly in front of camp. Now I have seen Ellie’s at water holes before but never in such huge quantities. I would be told later by our guide, Trust, that there are approximately 45,000 elephants in Hwange National Park and 80,000 in Zimbabwe. The largest elephant population in Africa. This by far and away would be my highlight at Verney’s.
On both nights, from around 4 pm, the elephants start arriving and then by 6pm they are coming in herds. By 9pm you can’t see them anymore, but the cacophony of noise gets louder and a little more argumentative as they are all jostling for space in and around the water.
Verney’s is the latest of the Machaba Safaris Camps to open, the first in Zimbabwe, and the most luxurious to date. It follows the same models as the other camps with 10 spacious suites, 2 of these being 2 bedroom family suites. Here though the suites use a lot of Zimbabwe Teak, a beautiful hard wood that gives a stunning and very high end finish to the decks, flooring and furnishings. All of them well spaced with views over the aforementioned waterhole.
Verney’s is laid out slightly differently than the camps in Botswana with a separate dining and Lounge tent. Dining here is in your individual party groups unless requested otherwise. Your guide can join you for dinner as well. The main focal point however is the fire pit with the Safari chairs and the bush bar, which is set up to maximise that great view.
Flexibility is the key here. Guests can do as little or as much as they want to and to their own timings, with guidance of course from the staff. Generally though guests are having breakfast and heading out on game drives from around 6:30 and then coming back in time for lunch. Some will then have a short “sundowner” game drive, but most are drawn back to the beauty and tranquillity of the waterhole. You can view this from your bed, shower or deck or obviously all the main areas including the most inviting swimming pool!
Trust took us out in the morning and we soaked up the beauty of this wonderful National Park that is slowly gaining back its rightful place amongst some of Africa’s best parks. We spotted ostrich, elephant (of course), giraffe, zebra, monkeys, a python, wildebeest, roan and the incredibly rare sable. This really was one of Alison’s highlights, along with the honey badger at Machaba Camp and the birdlife at Gomoti.
Verney’s Camp is the perfect spot to treasure the most majestic of African mammals, the elephant, within the pristine wildness of Hwange National Park.