The Okavango is a unique ecosystem of papyrus-lined waterways, knee-deep floodplains, water-lily lagoons, shady forest glades and rich savannah grasslands. All this fecundity lies in the middle of the largest continuous stretch of sand in the world – the Kalahari Desert Basin. Seen from space as an emerald swirl surrounded by a parched landscape, the Okavango Delta is an incredible source of life in a country that is 80% arid.
The Okavango river is southern Africa’s third largest watercourse. It originates in the uplands of Angola and flows across the Namibia’s Caprivi strip into Botswana. It is here that it spreads out over the Kalahari sandveld in an immense, fan-shaped inland delta. This delta, it is in fact an alluvial fan of sediment and debris, which filled a trough formed by the sinking of the earth’s crust, between a series of parallel faults across the Okavango River.
The Okavango region contains the state-run Moremi Game Reserve surrounded by a number of strictly controlled, privately managed wildlife concessions. The game viewing in all of these areas is no less than outstanding and activities can either be undertaken on foot, in a game-viewing vehicle or in a mokoro (dug-out canoe) or motorised boat. Such varied opportunities in a beautiful and diverse range of habitats, makes the Okavango the best all-encompassing safari destination in the world.
The lure of the Okavango and its extraordinary range of habitats provide the perfect environment for African animals to thrive and people to watch them. Great herd of antelopes, zebra, buffalo and elephants roam the pastures, and lions, leopards, cheetahs and all the other carnivores prosper. As Moremi Game Reserve contains large areas of constant water, game viewing during the dry season is particularly good as animals are drawn to the permanent water sources.
There are no fences between Moremi and the private reserves so the entire Okavango merges into a unified animal kingdom of grand proportions. Each area has its own particular habitats, resident herds and familiar predators, and night drives in the private reserves, often reveal secretive animals like porcupine, pangolin, aardwolf and genet.
November to March is the hot rainy season and the roads can be quite bad. The advantage of this time of year is that most of the animals give birth, providing a wonderful game watching experience. The landscape is lush and green and there is an abundance of wild flowers.
April to October is the dry season and the drier it becomes the easier it is to spot animals close to permanent water holes. At this time much of the Okavango dries out, apart from permanent rivers in Moremi Game Reserve and the northern reaches of the Okavango. The heat starts to build in earnest from October onwards.
Millions of years ago the Okavango river use to flow into a large inland lake called Lake Makgadikgadi (now Makgadikgadi Pans). Tectonic activity and faulting interrupted the flow of the river causing it to backup and form what is now the Okavango delta. This has created a unique system of water ways that now supports a vast array of animal and plant life that would have otherwise been a dry Kalahari savanna.
The Delta is fed by the Okavango River originating over 800 miles (1,280 km) away in the highlands of Angola. The Angolan highlands have an average rainfall of between 1,200 and 2,000mm per year, compared to around 400-600mm in the Okavango. The Angolan rains start in October and finish sometime in April. The floods only cross the border between Botswana and Namibia in December and will only reach the bottom end of the delta sometime in July.
Taking almost nine months from the source to the bottom. This slow meandering pace of the flood is due to the lack of drop in elevation, which drops a little more than 60 metres over a distance of 450 kilometres. The delta’s water descends in the Kalahari – via the Boteti river, with over 95 per cent of the water eventually evaporating.
During the peak of the flooding the delta’s area can expand to over 16,000 square kilometres, shrinking to less than 9,000 square kilometres in the low period. As the water travels through the delta, the wildlife starts to move back into the region. The areas surrounding the delta are beginning to try out (the rains in Botswana occur approximately the same time as in Angola) and the wildlife starts to congregate on the edge of the newly flooded areas, May through October.
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