In August, Chartered clients, Mike and Cathy Upton visited Botswana to revel in all that makes Africa an exceptional experience.
We spent our first three nights at Ngoma Lodge in Chobe, rated No. 1 on Tripadvisor for the area after our flight from Joburg to Kasane.
Ngoma Lodge is perched high on a hillside overlooking the Chobe River and the plains – it was the most beautiful setting imaginable. A waterhole halfway down the hillside was great for viewing animals, mostly buck and giraffe. The lodge itself was very comfortable: the chalets all looked onto the same gorgeous view with huge windows … so our bed was the best place to be a lot of the time. The food was outstanding. There were a few little missing items, such as a hot water bottle on your lap during game drives, and coffee first thing in the morning with rusks is always nice to get up for, but this did not detract from the experience.
The Lodge was a five to 10 minute drive to the gate to enter Chobe National Park. Sadly, this Park does not allow visitors to go off-road, so unless the animal is close to the road, you have little chance of seeing much. I far prefer going off-road and tracking the animals, as we did in the Okavango and even at Sabi Sabi. For this reason, we would not readily return to Chobe. We had some good sightings while at Ngoma, but nothing exceptional.
The Lodge takes guests out on a full-day outing in the Park during their stay. Four of us set off after breakfast for a game drive, lunching at a picnic spot along the river. We cruised the river on a skiff boat, and saw loads of crocodiles basking along the banks. We witnessed a wonderful elephant crossing, these magnificent creatures swimming across with trunks curled into the air. A baby got stuck in the mud on the bank and the bigger elephants trumpeted, flapped their ears and managed to pull baby out using their feet and trunks. What a very special sight to see from only a few metres away. The 10 small boats watching manoeuvred to avoid impeding viewing for the guests.
We spent the following two nights on the Zambezi Queen river boat. We embarked at lunch time, but a technical flaw grounded us for about five hours. Despite this wasted time, this boat trip was lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed our time on board. We were taken twice on the smaller tender boat, guests being accommodated onto two boats of 10 people each, for a couple of hours along the Chobe River. We again saw loads of elephants, buffalo and crocodiles, and Mike caught three huge barbel on a catch-and-release basis … he was very proud! We visited a Namibian village and bought some wooden crafts, hopefully helping them in what appeared to be dire circumstances. We met friendly people on the boat and made some great connections.
The Chobe National Park is truly a birder’s paradise. We were amazed at the number of birds everywhere, all the time.
A Mac Air small plane flew us to our third venue … the best of all: the Savuti Elephant Lodge. It’s also in the Chobe National Park, and we were incredibly lucky with our wonderful sightings. The lodge is lovely, the food mouth-watering, and our guide was just great. On each of our three nights, we had dinner in a different spot, once in the dining area, once on our private patio and the third night was a boma evening. The attention to detail at this lodge was impressive. Let’s hope the standard is maintained, since the managing couple are now running Eagle Island Lodge which has just completed its renovations. Savuti, Eagle Island and Kwai are Belmond properties (formerly Orient Express), all very special places.
On our arrival, a pride of 11 lions had killed a buffalo, right in a big open space area, easy for viewing … along with the vultures, jackals and hyenas who tried to get a look in. Two lions were mating and you know how long that goes on! Every 15 minutes for four days! We also saw a leopard on an impala kill, but a pack of wild dogs raced in, forcing the leopard up the nearest tree.
Our best sighting was on our last game drive when the same pride of lions rampaged around the &Beyond mobile camp at breakfast time. It was scary, but fascinating seeing these lions dragging battery packs and cables and picnic boxes away from the tents. Thank heavens the guests were away on their game drive at the time. The camp staff spotted the lions and apparently they ran (yes, they did), causing the lions to approach to investigate and cause chaos in the camping area. This was a remarkable experience. On their return, the poor guests watched in disbelief at what was happening to their mobile camp. I would love to find out if they moved the whole camp immediately – I certainly would have insisted!
We flew to Maun and then home on a 90 minute flight. It was an excellent trip but my heart is still drawn to the Okavango for an off-road excursion.