Chitabe & Jao Camp, Okavango Delta, BotswanaIt was 4am at the Chitabe camp and I’d been awake for a while listening to the haunting animal sounds outside my room. The most prominent was the guttural growl of two lions, with owls, monkeys, cicadas and a variety of croaking frogs adding to a cacophony of wildlife calls.
There were only eight glamping-style tents (about the size of a one-bedroom apartment) in this camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Built on elevated wooden decks among trees, each tent had twin beds, en-suite facilities and indoor and outdoor showers.
The setting moon was bright, the air crisp and, as I peered outside the fly screen door, I could see and a huge hippopotamus grunting happily below my deck as he hoovered up the thick undergrowth.
By 6am we were in the jeep, ready for the day’s game drive, armed to the teeth with photography equipment. Before we left, the guide told us not to expect anything – this is nature, nothing is scripted and the lower your expectations the higher the thrill.
Ten minutes into the drive, the guide slowed to a halt to examine a mess of animal tracks. He told us that a pack of lions had recently procured a kill.
Minutes later we were watching on in awe as four fully-grown female lions ripped into a young zebra. The crunching of bones and the ripping of flesh was quite surreal. The lions were unmoved and unafraid, knowing that we were no threat to them or their prey.
After taking a thousand photos we moved on past a few hippopotami in their private pond. One of them took exception to our presence in its territory and threatened us with a few jaw-gaping manoeuvres before mock charging us. With pulses racing, we took the hint and moved on.
As we drove on, herds of impala scattered everywhere while inquisitive giraffes checked us out from over the tallest trees.
The wildlife was extreme; there were elephants, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs (possibly the ugliest animal in the world) and baboons on the land, while in the air vultures soared, searching for unwanted carcasses. Nothing goes to waste in the Delta.
Soon we came across a rare cheetah stalking impala, and for the next two compelling hours we stalked him.
After he exploded into the undergrowth, we lost track of our cheetah, but while searching for him we came a cross a leopard and his fresh impala kill. All this, and it was only our first morning.
From Chitabe, a 30-minute flight took me to Jao Camp in northern Botswana, where there were so many giraffes on the runway, guides had to remove them before we could land.
Jao Camp is stunning, set among trees with a huge deck overlooking the lush savannah plains. Red lechwes (antelopes) and elephants greeted me on arrival as they grazed outside my room. The fresh, clean smells of the Delta and the serenity were palpable.
There are just nine opulent rooms at the camp, each connected to the dining areas, bars, spa and gym by a series of raised, snaking boardwalks. The rooms are set over a one-kilometre radius so privacy isn’t a problem – it’s the perfect combination of romance and adventure for a honeymoon or special anniversary.
Our first afternoon game drive was filled with exotic and colourful birdlife, but the day was truly complete when we came across a male lion, massive and in its prime. We were just three metres away and you could see why this beast is at the top of the food chain. Slowly, magnificently, he made eye contact with each of us in turn. As our guide explained, he knew we posed no threat to him or his food and, consequently, we were of no interest to him whatsoever.
As the sun set on an exquisite afternoon our guide found a predator-free area and set up for gin and tonic sundowners.
On the game drive the next morning we were privileged to follow and observe nature at its best yet again, this time spending our time with two female lions (the male lions’ partners) and their six cubs as they (unsuccessfully) hunted red lechwes.
All in all we spent two days at each camp, leaving with a lifetime of memories and a million photos, mostly of that lion.
How to organise your tour:
Soul of Africa Safari Company
0404 497 105
Where to stay:
The writer was hosted by Wilderness Safaris
How to get there:
South African Airways has daily flights between Sydney and Johannesburg with direct daily connections to the largest network on the African continent. Return economy airfares start at $1917 including taxes.
1300 435 972