Okavango Exploration Safaris


Okavango exploration Safaris visits the Okavango Delta in two main areas.

The Thaoge Channel and Flats in the North West, where we do our Mokoro adventures, and Moremi Game Reserve where we explore the eastern Islands of the Okavango Delta by Safari Vehicle searching the plains and riverine forests for the multitude of wild animals that occur in this natural paradise.

The Thaoge Channel and Flats are the Okavango Delta as we imagine it, endless lagoons covered in water lilies and bordered by lush little palm islands. Here we search for an island where we set up camp to explore the surrounding area on foot, watch the sunset on a lagoon from our Mokoros, listen to our Bayei Mokoro polers singing in the African night.

Moremi Game Reserve encompasses the eastern extremities of the Moanachira channel and almost the entire Khwai river which dies in the Kalahari sands a few kilometres from the border of Moremi. This intrusion of water into the otherwise barren Kalahari sands result in an ecological richness and diversity rarely found in nature.

The Okavango Delta must truly be one of Africa’s most enchanted places. A swirl of lushness in a desert of Kalahari sand, the Delta is a remarkable phenomenon. It owes its origins to the formation of the rift valley across the course of the Okavango River. The area was formed over the last 5 million years due to atmospheric changes and movement of the Earth’s crust.

About 5 million years ago, a relatively recent event (geologically speaking) the southern hemisphere’s atmosphere became increasingly dry due to the glaciation of Antarctica, which absorbed most of the atmospheric moisture. 3 million years ago, strong easterly winds caused the formation of elongated dunes that run from east to west across the middle Kalahari. When wetter times returned these dunes channelled the flow of the rivers in one direction, into Lake Makgadikgadi. These wetter times also caused the great rivers of the middle Kalahari to flow, namely the Okavango, Chobe, and Zambezi Rivers. They all travelled eastwards with the Limpopo River into the Indian Ocean.

Then about 2 million years ago, a geological upheaval of the Earth’s crust caused the formation of a fault, which changed the flow of these great rivers. This is known as the Kalahari-Zimbabwe axis and runs from Harare, through Bulawayo, and ends in the eastern side of the Kalahari. This caused the rivers to flow into and fill up the large basin that was formed, creating one of the greatest lakes in Africa – Lake Makgadikgadi.

Eventually the lake was filled to capacity and the water had to find a way to the ocean. Therefore, about 20 000 years ago the waters of this great lake were forced northwards and then eastwards. This caused the middle and lower Zambezi to connect, which resulted in the formation of Victoria Falls. With the water now able to flow out of the lake, a partial draining of the lake occurred. A drier climatic period followed which caused an increase in evaporation and a decrease in the river flow. By about 10 000 years ago the drying of the Makgadikgadi Lake was in an advanced stage. Windblown sand, as well as the Okavango River depositing increasing amounts of sediment and debris in the lake, were gradually filling the lake.

The formation of the Gumare fault caused a reduction in the elevation of the land, thus causing the water of the Okavango River to spread out over a much larger area of land and forming the now characteristic fan-shaped inland delta of the Okavango. Today the only remains of the Ancient Lake Makgadikgadi (apart from the Okavango Delta) are Nxai Pan, Lake Ngami, Lake Xau, the Mababe Depression, and the two main pans of Makgadikgadi (Sua and Ntwetwe Pans).

A characteristic of the Delta is its annual flood. The Okavango River, which rises in Angola on the Benguela Plateau, flows southeastward across the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, tumbles through the Popa Falls Rapids, and enters Botswana at Mohembo. Bringing the result of heavy rains in Angola to Botswana (an estimated 11 billion cubic meters of water every year). The swollen river breaches its low-water banks and begins the annual inundation of its floodplains. No two floods are ever the same, but one can say that the permanent Delta is some 16 000 square kilometres in extent, whilst a big flood may seasonally cover as much as 18 000 square kilometres. It can take 6 months to work its way from Mohembo, through the labyrinth of channels and lagoons to reach Maun.

More than 95% of the Okavango’s water evaporates before it reaches the Thamalakane River near Maun. The Thamalakane River drains the area and leads the remainder of the water to the Boteti River, which flows through a break in the fault to Lake Xau and eventually the Makgadikgadi Pans. This outflow of water is one of the reason’s why the water in the Delta is fresh since it carries away the salts. The flooding of the Okavango is not a violent process. The waters spread gently down the channels and across the plains. The total fall in height from one end of the delta to the other is only 62 meters and that over a distance of some 250 kilometres! The slow movement of water means a low sediment load and hence the incredible clarity and purity of the Okavango’s water, for which it is justly renowned.

Unique as one of the world’s few inland deltas, the Okavango Delta adds enormously to the variety of experiences open to the visitor. An obvious attraction is the spectacular game viewing; among the best in the world and certainly situated in the most unspoilt corner of Africa. Herds of elephants can be seen here, as well as all the main cats, hyenas, wild dogs and many antelope, including the rare and shy sitatunga. Not only the wildlife but also the vegetation makes for an interesting visit.

The only vegetation types that can survive in such a unique system are reeds and papyrus. Reeds (Phragmites australis and P. mauritiarius) grow in the water of medium depth and are rooted. Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) on the other hand, floats and bends easily with the current. Papyrus is mainly eaten by Sitatunga.

Other interesting plants include

The underwater plants such as Bladderworts (Utricularia spp.) and Water Chestnuts (Trapa natans), as well as; – The floating plants such as Water Lilies (Nymphaea caerulea). A tree species common only to the perennial swamp and not to the seasonal swamp is the Delta Palm (Phoenix reclinata).

Other delta experiences open to the visitor are

Take to the waters of this magic world of islands and lagoons by dugout canoe (mokoro) and, or power boat. – Aircraft offer flights over the delta, which provides an excellent opportunity to view the delta system as a whole unit. A very memorable experience!


Chobe National Park is a large wilderness area covering nearly 11 000 square kilometres, which makes it the third-largest park/game reserve in Botswana.

During the 1930’s Botswana was still a British protectorate known as Bechuanaland. In those days very few people visited the Chobe riverfront, and the area was used mainly for hunting and timber. The large elephant population lured many a hunter to the area during the time when ivory trade was rife, and conservation of wildlife and the environment was not a high priority. The then commissioner of Botswana, Colonel Charles Rey, wanted to proclaim the area a reserve, however, his dream was only realised in the early 1960’s when the Chobe National Park came into existence under the Bechuanaland Government proclamation no. 22 of 1961.

The Chobe River forms the northern boundary and in the extreme southwest corner, it borders onto Moremi Game Reserve. The primary function of Chobe National Park is the protection of the full range of southern Africa’s large predators, as well as the localized puku antelope and migratory elephant population, which can number up to 70 000.

The Chobe National Park offers extreme contrasts and a variety of wildlife experiences within the confines of one park. It covers a variety of vegetation types and geological features that vary from the almost tropical habitat of the Linyanthi swamp to the severe, desert-like landscape of the Savuti, and from the lush Chobe floodplain grassland to the deep sands of the Brachestegia woodland.

It also has the Mababe Depression with its black cotton soil and Acacia scrub, as well as the pan-studded mopane and Combretum areas at Nogatsaa.

Four main areas have been developed in Chobe (namely: Savuti, Chobe River, Linyanthi, and Nogatsaa), each of which offers a unique experience. The Savuti and Chobe River Front areas will be discussed since these are the two areas of focus during the trail.

Chobe River Front

The Chobe National Park was named after the Chobe river, which forms the northern boundary of the park. The Chobe River area is very rich in plant life, offering Bachestegia sand veld, mopane woodland, mixed Combretum veld, floodplain grassland and the riverine woodland. The latter has, unfortunately, been severely damaged by elephants and has in places been reduced to scrub or totally denuded.

Perhaps the greatest attraction of the Chobe river area is the elephants, which can almost always be seen there. Their late afternoon visits to the water’s edge offer hours of fascinating viewing and wonderful opportunities for the photographer.

Along with the huge herds of elephants, huge herds of buffalo can also be seen in this area during the dry season. You can also expect to see tsessebe, waterbuck, roan, eland, sable, giraffe and, if you are lucky, one of the rare puku.

The floodplains of the river make an ideal viewing area, with mixed patches of open grassland, thickets of bush and riverine forest. In the river itself, you should see hippo and crocodile. The Chobe river area has a rich selection of bird life as well. Exquisite sunsets make this a wildlife experience not to be missed.

Chobe River

The Chobe river has its origins in the highlands of Angola and flows in a south-easterly direction. This section of the river is called the Kwando.

When it enters Botswana, it not only changes its name but also undergoes a dramatic 90 degree change in course at the point where it meets a major fault line. The name of the river changes another 3 times before it reaches the Zambezi river.

After entering Botswana the Kwando river becomes the Linyanthi. At Parakurungu it becomes the Itenge and only near Ngoma Gate does it become the Chobe river. From the point where the Chobe abruptly bends, The Magwegqana or Selinda spillway links the Delta to the Chobe. It is popularly believed that the Selinda can flow in both directions, resulting in the Chobe doing the same. This is not true. In fact, the water merely backs up for a considerable distance, creating the impression of a change in the current.



This wildlife reserve was declared by the BaTawana people in 1963, the first wildlife sanctuary to be created by an African tribe in their own area, and as such is unique. This act was described at the time as a shining mark in African tribal history.

In the late 1800’s a Rinderpest epidemic spread through the continent, wiping out a large % of the wildlife and cattle in Africa. As wild animals are the hosts of the Tsetse fly, this led to a natural decrease in the Tsetse fly population in the area. Now it was possible for the movement of cattle into and through the area without the fear of disease. The Batawana tribe feared that continued competition between the returning game and the cattle herds for grazing, and uncontrolled hunting would lead to the destruction of the habitat and a decrease in the game populations.

During this time, (late 1950’s, early 1960’s), the tribe was being governed by Mrs Moremi, the widow of Chief Moremi III, whose son, Matiba, was too young to rule. Thus the Moremi Game Reserve was officially proclaimed on 15 March 1963.

The Moremi Game Reserve is administered today by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks; it is a rich and fascinating area. The Moremi Game Reserve forms an intricate part of the Okavango Delta, comprising permanently swamped areas, seasonally swamped areas, and dryland.

Located on the northeast side of the delta, it is probably the prime tourist destination in Botswana, due to the fact that it encompasses several different types of ecological zones. The total surface area of this reserve is 4 871 square kilometres. This is almost one-third of the Okavango Delta-a fact Botswana can be very proud of. The dryland areas of Moremi consist mainly of Mopane veld (Colophospermum mopane). The giant mopane trees form the canopy woodland and lend an atmosphere unique to this area.

The other main vegetation types are riverine woodland, floodplain grassland, marginal woodland on the edges of the floodplains, Terminalia sericea sand veld, Acacia erioloba sand veld, and Hyphaene petersiana island communities.

Teeming with bird life and wildlife makes Moremi a prime wildlife area where elephant, hippo, buffalo, lion, and most other game (including eland, kudu, roan antelope, and if you’re lucky, even leopard) can be seen in abundance. Bird life (both in the delta and dry land sections) is excellent, especially along the Khwai River. During the dry season a congregation of all species, (bird and wildlife), along permanent rivers and water holes makes Moremi Game Reserve one of the most unforgettable wildlife experiences in Africa!


Within the Chobe National Park, Savuti is perhaps one of the best-known game-viewing areas in the country. Under ideal conditions, the number and variety of animals seen can be quite staggering.

The Savuti area supports mainly Camelthorn (Acacia erioloba) sandveld, Silver Terminalia (Terminalia sericea) sandveld, scrub savanna, and mopane veld. Savuti’s almost desert-like landscape with a scorching sun, loose, hot sand, animals escaping the heat by clumping together in the limited available shade, and elephants impatiently lining up to get to the ever-dwindling water supply, offer a wildlife experience so different, yet so true to Africa.

It is almost impossible to imagine that this desolate, harsh landscape was once submerged beneath an enormous inland sea. Geologically the five main features of Savuti (namely the Magwikhwe Sand Ridge, the Mababe Depression, the Savuti Marsh with its dead trees, the Rocky Outcrops, and the Savuti Channel) are all intricately linked in a fascinating manner.

There is still some speculation as to how this once massive lake received its waters. The most popular explanation is that once the Upper Zambezi, the Chobe, and the Okavango rivers flowed together, across the north of Botswana and down to the sea via the Limpopo. A gentle warping of the Earth’s crust dammed this flow to create a vast lake. In time, however, further crustal movement caused these rivers to find a new route to the sea. The direction of these rivers changed by faulting; the Upper Zambezi and the Chobe turned to the northeast and, after plunging over the Victoria Falls, joined what is now the Middle Zambezi.

Trapped by an emerging rift valley, the Okavango bled its waters into the vast accumulations of sand to create the delta we see today. Condemned by a changing climate which reduced rainfall and brought a return of almost desert-like conditions, the super-lake, cut off from its supplies of water, dried up and was no more.

Savuti Channel: 
One of the great mysteries and fascinations of Savuti is its famous channel. It runs a distance of 100 kilometres from the Chobe river, through a gap in the sand ridge, to the Mababe Depression. Falling only approximately 18 meters (about 18 centimetres for each kilometre of distance covered), this channel brings water from the Chobe to Mababe, creating a small marsh where it enters the Depression.

It is the channel and its water, which explains the fantastic abundance of game that can sometimes be seen at Savuti. However, the channel does not always flow and therein lies its great mystery.

Reports from early explorers confirm that the channel was flowing in the 1850’s and until about 1880. At that time it ceased to flow and remained dry until about the mid-1950’s, when without explanation, it began to flow again. Since then, it has “switched” on and off several times. At the moment it is dry. It is this quixotic flow that explains the dead trees you will see in the channel.

The long dry period of this century gave the Camelthorn trees (Acacia erioloba) enough time to establish themselves and grow to full size. The flood that followed drowned the trees both in the channel and on the edge of the marsh. The dead trees, which have remained erect for more than 35 years, are today one of the most prominent features of the Savuti landscape.

A possible explanation for the erratic flow of the Savuti channel can be the tectonic movements (earth crust movements). Even without water from the Chobe, Savuti remains a place of enchantment, of singular beauty, and boasts one of the greatest concentrations of animals in Southern Africa.


Nata Village, set on the banks of the Nata River; the people of Nata have tried, as far as possible, to maintain the village in a traditional layout with decorated huts and groves of Ilala palms.


The Nata Bird Sanctuary was developed at the mouth of the Nata River in the extreme northeast of Sua Pan. It was established as a community-initiated project, in which the funds go directly to the community. Nata Bird Sanctuary was designed to provide refuge for wildlife on and around Sua Pan. If more communities all over Africa saw the benefits and took the initiative of following suit, it would do a lot for conservation.

Nata Bird Sanctuary provides one of the best possible views of the pans. This is thanks to an elevated wooden hide, which is a beautiful vantage point. Most of the protected wildlife in the area is of the winged variety.

The area is an important flamingo and pelican breeding ground. If there is water in the pan thousands of flamingoes, ducks, geese and pelicans are to be seen. It’s a sight to behold!

The Makgadikgadi is a place of wide-open, uninhabited spaces under an endless canopy of blue sky. The remoteness, inaccessibility and danger of the pans all add to their allure.

It is a vast expanse filled with subtle hues and surrealistic beauty. Almost the size of Portugal, the pan covers 12 000 square kilometres and is the largest saltpan in the world. The pan is only a portion of what used to be one of the largest inland lakes in Africa.

The area is comprised of the Sua and Ntwetwe pans. During the heat of the late winter day, the pans become a shimmering mirage of disorienting and ethereal austerity. The large number of small villages and the small stone age tools and other artefacts that can be found scattered around the islands (for example on Kubu Island), all point to the fact that the Makgadikgadi Pans have supported human habitation, and their livestock, for a very long time. At one time the Makgadikgadi Pans were important as a major trade route.

In September large herds of antelope, zebra and wildebeest roam the dusty plains awaiting the first rains. On their arrival the waters turn the pans into a perfect mirror of the sky, distorting all sense of place and time. Although these rains are short lived, in December another deluge turns the edges of the vast pans into waving fringes of green grassland where herds of wildlife converge to partake in the bounty.

Flocks of birds arrive to build their nests along the shoreline of the Nata River, in Sua Pan and feed on algae and crustaceans that have been lying dormant in the salt and sand awaiting the drenching rains.


Nxai Pan National park is set on the northern fringe of the Makgadikgadi basin and includes Nxai Pan, an ancient lakebed that was once part of the ancient lake Makgadikgadi. Nxai Pan, Lake Ngami, Lake Xau, the Mababe Depression, Ntwetwe Pan, Sua Pan and the Okavango Delta are all remnants of this gigantic lake.

When Nxai Pan National Park was first proclaimed in the 1970’s it was only 1 676 square kilometers. In 1992 it was declared a national park and enlarged to an area of 2 578 square kilometers, which includes Baines’ Baobabs.

Nxai Pan National Park consists mainly of a series of fossil pans, all of which are covered in short nutritious grasses. On the pans are “islands” of Acacia trees that form shady spots in which the animals often rest during the day. Today Nxai Pan consists mainly of rich, clayey soils and very thick sand dunes on the periphery of the pan. This makes for beautiful scenery and is unique to Nxai Pan. The short, sweet grasses on the pans provide excellent grazing, particularly for the springbok, which is almost always abundant in this area.

Interestingly, both impala and springbok can be seen in this park, where as they are usually separated by different habitat preferences. Although the habitat is more suitable for springbok, the impala can survive because of the surrounding mopane veld and the availability of permanent water.

The area is also the breeding ground for large herds of zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, and eland. Unusual game species that can be seen here are the hartebeest, bat-eared fox, brown hyena, and cheetah. Note that the game viewing can be rather unpredictable in Nxai Pan, especially during the dry season.


By referring to Baines’ painting it can be seen that these majestic trees have changed very little over the past 130+ years.

Although there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary about these trees when the pan is covered in water the setting is very beautiful. An outing to Baines’ Baobabs will certainly be one of the highlights of your safari.

Overlooking Kudiakam pan, on the south side of Nxai Pan National Park, is a group of 7 giant baobab trees. These 7 impressive baobabs, originally known as the Sleeping Sisters, were immortalized for posterity by the artist/adventurer Thomas Baines on 22 May 1862, when he was traveling from Namibia to Victoria Falls with the explorer James Chapman.