After breakfast on Thursday, August 8th, we said goodbye to the lovely people at Tongabezi who had treated us so well. We were starting on the last leg of our journey that we had booked with Desert & Delta Safaris – a two night stay in the Okavango Delta and two nights in Savuti – Chobe National Park. We transferred by car heading west to the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. This area is an interesting place as it is the meeting point of four countries’ borders; Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. We crossed the river on a passenger ferry in the shadow of a massive new bridge currently under construction. We were told that the existing Kazungula Ferry often leaves transport truck drivers waiting for days on end to get across. The completion of the bridge is expected to boost trade and the economy once finished.
We arrived at the Kasane International Airport around 10:30am and checked in for our flight. As limited baggage is allowed on the small aircraft we would be using, we had planned to send our big suitcase ahead of us to Maun for pickup later. Our 5-seater Gippsland Aeronautics Airvan GA8 Safari Air flight eventually departed around 1:00pm and flew west over Chobe National Park and the dry sands of the Kalahari Desert. The arid landscape gave way to green grass and shallow waters. We had arrived in the world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango, a World Heritage Site. We touched down on Xakanaxa Island to drop another couple off and were soon airborne again to make the 15 min flight to our home for the next two nights, Xugana Island Lodge. Side note: the X in these names is actually that popping noise made with your tongue…I can’t do it! We jumped onto a boat near the airstrip and were soon racing through the narrow channels lined with tall reeds. We received a warm welcome at the lodge and had made it in time for afternoon tea. During tea time, one of the guides gave an interesting talk on the geography of the region’s flooding process. After tea, we got back on the water in what is known as a “mokoro” or traditional dug out canoe. Our guide, Vee, poled us through the small channels where we got a close-up view of the water and reeds. The wildlife was bountiful seeing elephant, hippo, frog, great white egret, African darter cormorant, reed cormorants, African fish eagle, crocodile, water monitor, hooded vulture, Egyptian goose, saddle billed stork, marabou stork, and glossy ibis. We had a quick sundowner on the water before heading back to the lodge. We freshened up in the room before heading down to sit by the fire. We had a communal dinner and got to meet some of the people staying at the lodge.
The morning wake-up call came at 6:00am followed by a quick continental breakfast. I realized I hadn’t been as diligent with the mosquito spray as Rebecca had been the night before and I was soon tallying up the numerous bites. We were back on the water at 7:00am heading to Sausage Island named for the trees of the same name found there. We would be doing a wilderness bush walk with our guides Flame and Vee. The knowledge of the guides is remarkable, most of whom were born and raised in the area. The walk focused on the tracks and droppings left by the animals and the vegetation, but we still saw many animals including elephant, red lechwe, reed buck, baboon, kudu, common tsessebe, squirrel, white faced duck, bush buck, roan antelope, sable antelope, and the biggest hippo skeleton our guide had ever seen. We headed back to the lodge to have our brunch and had some quiet time in the room before afternoon tea.
We set out with Flame on our afternoon game drive around 3:30pm. We soon found a herd of male buffalo and were entertained by a pair of bull elephants showing off their dominance to one another. We found the resident pride of lions and stayed with them until sunset. On our drive back to the lodge in the dark, Flame showed us how the light reflected from a herbivore’s eyes is a greenish blue while that from a carnivore is red. We used this technique to spot a leopard which was the perfect ending to our drive. We had another communal meal and turned in for the night.
We had heard some branches crunching through the night and came to learn that the lodge had been visited by hippos overnight. Escorted down to breakfast, we could see the big hippo prints on the path. Another game drive with Flame would be our last activity on Xugana Island and we were on the road at 7:00am. Flame almost immediately picked up the tracks of a lone male lion. Bec and I were amazed as Flame was able to follow the spore, even off the road across the grasslands. We stopped and could hear his moan and zeroed in on his location. Then, there he was and Flame did not recognize him as a local lion. We watched as he sadly moaned staring off into the distance. He was on the move again and we slowly tailed him until he arrived under a tree on a mound. We could then see his focus; the resident pride lay on another mound in the distance. Flame mentioned that the pair of dominant resident males had not been seen for a few days and were maybe away patrolling the pride’s territory. Otherwise, this young lone male would never have ventured so close to the pride. We watched and photographed the lions in the soft morning light. It would have been interesting to see how this encounter played out. We toured the island a little more before being dropped at the airstrip from which we had arrived two days before. The density of the game had been much more than we had expected and loved every minute in the Delta. We were airborne at 10:30am and first stopped at Camp Okavango to pick up more passengers before flying to Savuti in Chobe National Park.