Before we drive south from the Khwai River to Maun, the entrance gate to the Okavango Delta, we make a detour to Moremi N.P. A few miles outside the South Gate we find a beautiful and hidden wild pitch outside the park. Since there is no fencing here, the animal observations are not different from those within the park – however free of charge. We sit comfortably on our animal observation platform (Shujaa’s roof terrace) at the evening Gin Tonic and are rather a bit disappointed about the few giraffes we observe…. When calmly a leopard walks by about 3 meters next to Shujaa, looks up briefly and then continues his way. I’m struggling to stop Karin from escaping through our skylight into Shujaa, so unfortunately there is not a very good picture of this situation. In the complete wilderness and not during a guided game-drive or similar such a close-up experience is really unique. At night we are surrounded by huge hyenas, which we observe with the torch.
Interestingly enough, during the daytime while driving, we just had the discussion about how “safe” we are on our almost 4 meter high roof terrace in front of leopards and their well-known jumping and climbing skills. At first, we said that he could never do it, after all, Shujaa’s cabine wall is smooth and not like a tree on which a leopard can work his way up. However, when the situation indeed occurred to us, Karin realized that jumping up the roof was not going to be a problem for a full-grown animal, which is why she had considered the escape. A few days later, we ask our Game Drive Guide and he estimates the jumping height of a leopard from a standing position to about 3-4 meters ….
After this unique experience we drive to Maun: we want to spend a few days at a lodge, in the middle of the delta: not self-driving ourselves during the game drive, learning from experienced guides and not estimating the jumping height of leopards. Immediately after arrival in Maun we visit numerous lodge agencies, hoping for a good “last minute” deal: however, the selection of lodges is rather limited as we want to do both water and land activities, and contrary to the last 10 years the Okavango Delta is very dry. Few lodges are able to offer boat and mokoro tours. At Wilderness Safaris we find our deal: great advice, a fantastic high-end lodge for a special price, arrival by plane possible the next day and a secure parking space for Shujaa on the premises of the company.
The next three days and nights at the Vumbura Plains Lodge surpasses our high expectations from our recent trips to the Okavango Delta: the flight in a small plane over the delta lets us really experience the true dimensions and the fine water veins – although this is certainly even more spectacular at higher water levels. The lodge is fantastically located on a large lake, the elephants and hippos are directly in or in front of the camp (with corresponding noise at night). The game drives are highly professional and performed with great passion. The whole staff makes an effort to create a highly family-like atmosphere and one gets the impression that they are there exclusively for you. We see a plethora of animals in the immediate vicinity and partly with their killed hunting prey – including lions and the rather rare leopard. It’s unbelievable how relaxed the animals are when being approached by the safari jeeps, but they’ve learned that the jeeps are no danger. In fact, it must be a paradise for any animal to have the opportunity to live in the Okavango Delta: no poaching, enough water even in dry years, and extreme biodiversity. As a consequence, Botswana is the only country in Africa that currently has a growing elephant population; there are even considerations of transporting elephants back to neighboring countries where they are mainly coming from.
Even though the three days were a dream, we are again happy to find Shujaa in good shape on our arrival in Maun and to return to our normal daily routine. Now we are back to finding animals ourselves and can look back on a wealth of experience, which we were allowed to take away from the lodge.