Okavango Delta – From The Air (05.04.14)

Having spent the last week travelling across, through and above the wondrous wilderness that is the Okavango Delta I am now giddy from such a delightful assault on the senses. The abundance of extraordinary sights, sounds and smells – on journeys by light-aircraft, motorised boat, mokoro, 4×4 and on foot – has left me with some altogether out-of-body experiences. I feel, on reflection, as if I have been travelling amid this Garden of Eden landscape in a dream.


I have revelled in re-discovering an area I first visited over thirty years ago and been bowled over by the beauty of so much Okavango scenery, flora and fauna.

While visiting the Chitabe, Jao and Vumbura Concessions – as well as the outlandish Linyanti Reserve – I covered hundreds of miles across so many different eco-system-landscapes that I am left with the impression that I have been on a magic carpet tour. Encompassing 5 different flights, 13 different camp visits and a never-ending array of wildlife experiences, I benefited, along with my fellow travellers, from the heaviest rainy season in thirty years, which has resulted in this amazing paradise land appearing greener and more alive than at any other stage since my first visit.


The sheer enormity of this expanse of freshwater-inland-ecosystem is hard to comprehend, even when flying across the middle. Not only is it the world’s largest inland delta, it also offers one of the remotest and most diverse ecosystems with wetland and dry-land natural habitats. Planted in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, the Delta supports an almost incomprehensible 500 species of birds, 150 species of mammals and 90 species of fish. Not to mention over 5,000 different insects and over 150 reptile types.

The shifting diversity of terrain, dominated by changing water levels (over an altitude differential of only 1-2 metres), is remarkable to see, whether from a light aircraft high above or from the ground. The rainy season (December-March), followed by a separate unrelated Okavango River flooding season (April-September), together result in an explosion of fertile habitat in the rivers, lagoons, swamps, flooded grasslands and riverine woodlands. All these are interspersed with higher dry land, sustaining a healthy proliferation of big game animal life.


This abundance of sights, sounds and smells confronts you at every turn, whether in the flooded areas or traversing the dryer areas. High grasses, fertile reeds, dramatic trees, palm-fringed sunsets, sentry-style termite mounds and oh-so green pastures form the backdrop to an apparently inexhaustible supply of wildlife. From grandstanding elephants to fingernail-sized reed frogs, from firework-coloured kingfishers to imperial fish-eagles, the cacophony of all things living is both overwhelming and infectious.

After my ‘week-of-wonder’, whenever I close my eyes I am flooded with Okavango images akin to the endless patchwork quilt of greenery that stretched to the horizon as far as the eye could see.

As these images (all taken this week) highlight, the macro-scale of the Delta – including Kwando and Linyanti River systems – covering approx. 6000 sq km, with up to 15,000 million cubic metres annual inflow, is reflected by the grand scale of the landscape and lush floodplains and dry scrub scenery.


From the air the micro scale of the Delta landscape abounds with images of narrow channels, twisting rivers, flooded islands and bathing elephants and hippos.

Seeing is truly believing, and while we at Nomadic Thoughts have been arranging trips for clients to Botswana for over two decades, I would strongly advise that if/when you do visit the Okavango Delta you let us include journeys by air as much as on the ground.

With such a water-dominated landscape, it helps to have a bird’s eye view. As the local Tswana proverb goes: “Eyes can see widely: they can cross a river in full flow”.