My visit to Xaranna began with a quintessential Delta experience, an exhilarating boat ride through a watery labyrinth of papyrus-bordered channels and floating islands of water lily pads. Secluded in the pristine wilderness of a 62,000 acre (25,000 hectare) wildlife concession in the southern Okavango, Xaranna can only be reached by boat most of the year. Birds soared as we went by and tiny painted frogs clung to their reeds; bulbous eyes emerged at water level, attached to a large bull hippo unflinchingly claiming right of way. We detoured. Across the lagoon, pale pavilions materialized among the trees. We landed to the warmest of welcomes from the management and staff.
When traveling to remote locations it is a rare experience for me to reach a place where everything is unerringly right. Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge was such a place. Built deep within a 62,000 acre (25,000 hectare) wildlife concession, Xudum appeared like a remote Eden when I first approached it from the water. The peaks of its impeccably thatched roofs peered among the treetops of a lush riverine forest at the edge of a lagoon carpeted with water lilies in full bloom. The tri-leveled main lodge was designed to showcase the endless vistas of reed and papyrus beds of the southern Delta, made all the more striking by the witty blend of sophisticated luxury and whimsy of the stylish contemporary décor. Sectional sofas mingled with local craft and, introducing the property’s recycling theme, tire swings and sculptural end tables that turned out to be made of soda cans. I immediately coveted the Xudum kitchen with its battery of professional cooktops and ovens, its tall wine refrigerator and the latest in kitchen appliances. It even had a gleaming Italian espresso machine and a long granite serving bar with a sweeping view of the Delta!
This was my first experience in the Okavango Delta. I couldn’t have wished for a better introduction to this unique landscape of papyrus-lined channels and water lily-filled lagoons weaving through shady glades and rich savannah grasslands than Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp. Set under a lush canopy of massive ebony trees in a remote 19,800 acre (8,000 hectare) concession, Nxabega (“place of the giraffe” in Basarwa, the language of the river bushmen) was an oasis of elegance and comfort in the heart of the Delta. From the instant the Cessna touched down, it was obvious that a fascinating adventure had begun. Exceptional rains had recently flooded the camp’s own airstrip; we had landed on a nearby, higher ground landing strip, my guide informed me in the course of his warm welcome. We would now drive a few miles to Nxabega; and by the way, a leopard guarding his freshly killed impala had been sighted earlier this morning near our route; would I care to make a short detour to look for it?
It required a day of travel and three flights, the last one on a small bush plane, from Cape Town to reach Kwetsani Camp. We left the comfort of our waterfront hotel at 7 a.m and reached our new honeymoon suite at Kwetsani at 7 p.m. Although we were tired and hungry, we were also thrilled from a close viewing with a female leopard on our way from the airstrip to the Camp. Kwetsani could house up to 10 guests on its one kilometre site which was raised on stilts beneath a shady canopy overlooking the plains. It was one of several properties on the Jao Reserve, a 15-year 60,000 hectare concession with maximum guest occupancy of 48. The large elongated island was heavily wooded with palm mangosteen and fig trees and was one of the most remote camps in the expansive Okavango Delta. That night we enjoyed a fireside buffet dinner on the sandy boma enclosure. Prior to dinner, we watched with pleasure as local staff members sang and danced around the roaring fire with enthusiasm and laughter.
Our first impression of Camp Okavango was colored by the positive comments we had heard from fellow travelers before arriving there. Whenever we mentioned to someone we were headed to Camp Okavango their faces would light up in a smile. They would tell us how much they had enjoyed their stay and send their regards to Rob and Tammy, the Camp managers. We arrived at Camp Okavango following one of the bumpiest bush plane flights we’ve ever had, hot and nauseous not to mention shaky. Rob’s quiet and concerned welcome was priceless. Our introduction to the Camp was beneath the huge mangoosteen tree that was the heart of the one square kilometer island based Camp. Under its shade we enjoyed pleasant moments of contemplation, conversation and excellent bird watching. Thanks to a water feature at the base of the tree many birds congregated and nested there.