Trip Report: Best of Botswana Photo Safari, the Xakanaxa and Khwai Regions

Andrew Beck Andrew 3 Comments

There are many ways to breakdown how this safari itinerary is in fact deserving of the title “Best of Botswana”. Botswana is a bucket list destination and, given the low impact tourism model, always comes at a price. When working through and conceptualising this trip I worked on the assumption that for most people, this may very well be be the one and only trip to Botswana that they would ever do.

It was important to me to combine the best game viewing areas with an authentic safari experience and so a mobile safari which took us through the pristine wilderness regions Botswana had to offer.

Our first afternoon saw us arriving in Maun before heading on a 5 hour scenic transfer through Moremi National Park. As the sun sank below the horizon a faint but unmistakable glow of a campfire appeared through the dense bush.

Heading to bed after dinner I think its safe to say that everyone slept well that night as they were lulled to sleep by the chorus of Angolan Reed Frogs. The new day revealed the raw beauty of our campsite set along a remote lagoon in the Xakanaka region of the Moremi game Reserve.

This would be the standard for the 4 other campsites in the itinerary. No fences, just a beautiful and natural setting form which our daily safaris would be based.

We spent 3 nights here and were treated to some incredible sightings, the first of which was a pack of wild dogs and their pups playing in the shallow waters alongside a permanent lagoon.

It was truly special to be the only vehicle around to sit and watch the group of more than 15 individuals play around in the shallows. This just happened to be the only sighting of Wild Dogs we had during our 2 weeks safari, despite seeing loads of track and sign, so we couldn’t have wished for a better opportunity to photograph these endangered animals in the Delta environment.

Another highlight from this region was a beautiful young female leopard who was watching a small group of Kudu passing beneath a massive Jackalberry tree.

After exiting the tree and following up behind the Kudu, who had a small calf with them, she was spotted by a nearby baboon who gave chase and ensured that the troop’s safety was not compromised.

We spent a lot of time with relaxed elephant bulls in this region but the highlight on that front had to be watching a large bull feeding on massive Mopane trees in the Paradise Pools region. The light was perfect, the positioning of the vehicle ideal, and the behaviour just out of this world.

One of the additional activities we include in this region is a boating excursion which explores the channels and waterways of the delta by boat. Strong winds meant that most of the aquatic birdlife such as Pygmy Geese and Malachite Kingfishers were tucked away deep inside the reed beds. The scenery and scale of the waterways however made up for the lack of birdlife, as did an elephant bull feeding in the channel.

We saw two very special and more unusual species during our stay in this region too. The first was a Side-striped jackal which, whilst not entirely uncommon to the region, is seen far less than their well known Black-backed comrades.

Also not unusual in this region but a very special sighting, was a pair of Wattled Cranes. We spent quite a bit of time with the pair as they went about feeding in a shallow spillway in some of the most spectacular light.

Our final morning in the region saw us spending time with two beautiful male lions who were clearly keeping a close watch on a female who seemed to be in the early stages of Oestrus.

As we sat and made the most of the early morning light, the support crew (a chef and 3 camp staff) were hard at work, packing up our camp and moving ahead of us to the next region, the Khwai region of Moremi National park.

Khwai – Moremi National Park

A couple of hours drive through dry mopane woodlands eventually brought us to our next campsite and region of the Delta, Khwai. This region is completely different to the central region of Xakanaka as the Khwai River flows out of the eastern edge of the delta before flowing into the Mababe depression.

The river winds through the open floodplains drawing in wildlife from the surrounding Mopane woodlands – a backdrop which can only be described as a photographers dream.

Large groups of elephant bulls were almost always present along the river-course as they quenched their thirst and fed on the aquatic plants and grasses.

This was of course over and above the resident herds of Red Lechwe, the semi-aquatic antelope which is an iconic species of the Okavango delta eco-system.

Predator sightings during our 2 nights here were non-existant despite having spent a fair amount of time following up on leopard, lion and wild dog tracks. We did however witness a “predation event” when a Ground Hornbill managed to get hold of a frog.

After our two nights inside the National Park it was time to mix things up a bit as we headed across the Khwai River and spent the next 3 nights in the Khwai Community Concession. Our exit from the National Park was delayed momentarily by a female leopard who was clearly calling for her youngster.


Khwai Community Concession

With unfenced neighbours such as the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park, the 180,000-hectare Khwai Community Concession is considered one of the prime safari destinations on the fertile north-eastern fringes of the Okavango Delta. A community-run eco-tourism initiative, Khwai is a superb example of conservation tourism at its best, with all proceeds going back into the Khwai Village for community upliftment and community projects.

Most of our time here was spent explrng the banks of the Khwai River and the many inland islands dominated by Kalahari Apple-leaf trees.

On our very first afternoon out we came across a vehicle sitting quietly and waiting on the edge of a mopane thicket. The unmistakeable alarm calls of Spur-fowl could only mean one thing.

A predator was near.

We positioned ourselves in a  region where I thought our still to be identified predator may move, in close proximity to a bachelor herd of impala.

Any guide will tell you how great it feels when things just fall into place and this was one of those occasions. Even through the thick grass the patterned coat of a leopard was clearly evident.

Moving cautiously, still un-noticed by the herd of impala, the young male stepped out into the open.

Moments later his cover was completely blown and he gave up on what was a half-hearted attempt to begin with. He did however allow us to follow him, completely relaxed in our presence, as he moved along the Fever-Berry thickets stopping briefly to pose for us.

October represents the peak of the dry season here in southern Africa and, where there is permanent water, there are sure to be elephants. Every day at mid-day and late afternoon we would spend time parked on the edge of the river sitting and waiting for the herds to make their way out of the dry woodland areas and down to the river.

When is 40 degrees Celcius outside (104 F) its understandable that the elephants waste no time in immersing themselves in the cool water.

Thoroughly soaked the pitch black bodies made for some great photography.

Late afternoons were spent photographing some cheeky hippo and simply admiring the spectacular sunsets reflected in the Khwai River.

On our second night in this concession our evening meal was rudely interrupted by some of the local wildlife enjoying their evening meal.

The unmistakable sound of lions fighting over a kill had both myself and our local guide alert and out our seats. The group of 5 females were not more than 80 metres from our dining tent and we hadn’t even heard them take down the impala.

We left our dinner and hopped into the vehicle to go and get a better view (baring in mind that we had seen them in the light of our headlamps). Night drives in this part of the delta are not permitted so spotlights were not an option, however, cranking the ISO still yielded some good results under the dim light of a headlamp.

Heading out the next morning we picked up on fresh tracks for the pride and wasted no time in following up.

It wasn’t log before we found them, reunited with their cubs, resting at a nearby pan.

The light was perfect and energetic cubs put on a good show for us.

It was also here that we enjoyed one of the popular activities for visitors to the delta, a Mokoro excursion.

The mokoro has become the iconic symbol of the Delta and is a popular way for visitors to explore the Okavango while on safari. Originally, the only form of transport for fishing or transporting people and goods around the channels, these canoe-like vessels, approximately 20 feet or 6 meters in length, used to be crafted from tree trunks, which were painstakingly hollowed out using hand-tools.However timber ultimately rots, and results in more trees having to be cut down, a practice which is not environmentally sustainable.

So, in keeping with the times, the modern mokoro is constructed from molded fibre-glass.

These excursions are not usually associated with big game sightings, a bit like a walk, these are more to appreciate the finer details of the delta. That being said, we were fortunate enough to encounter a bull elephant grazing along the channel and were able to sneak up silently and spend some time with him.

Our final morning in the region saw us once again scanning the edge of the Khwai river for activity and we were rewarded with a fantastic lion sighting just before we hit the main road and began the next chapter of our journey – Savute and the Chobe River.

I’ll be sharing more on the final 6 nights of this incredible 14 Night journey in a follow up post soon!

Experience The Best of Botswana

Botswana is seen as the last true wilderness on earth and offers what money cannot buy – unique and diverse habitats, epic sunsets and vast areas of undisturbed wilderness. This mobile safari journey starts in Maun and slowly meanders through the most iconic regions of the Okavango Delta before culminating with 3 nights on a luxury houseboat on the Chobe River – making this Botswana Photo Safari the wild adventure of a lifetime.

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About the Author

Andrew Beck

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Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

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