PART 2: Camp Moremi, Duba Plains and Chitabe

Photography and report by Jason Duplessis & Sara Frankovic

High resolution photos available on Flickr! (Wildlife) (Birds) (Camps & Scenery)

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Desert & Delta’s Camp Moremi, Moremi Game Reserve

Before leaving Atlanta, I noticed a map of Botswana on one of the televisions at our departure gate. The entire country was covered in green and yellow and it didn’t look like the rain was going to leave anytime soon. Sara had checked the weather reports for our time there, once again the forecast was all rain. So when we arrived in Maun to a large amount of clouds and standing water around the airport we weren’t surprised. Luckily at the time there was no rain, maybe things were looking up.

After meeting the first of many pilots, we took a 25 minute flight to the Xakanaxa air strip for our first night stay at Camp Moremi. On arrival we immediately noticed how wet everything was. Our 30 minute drive to Camp Moremi could have been a boat transfer! Large portions of the road were under about 3 feet of water. The soil/sand around the Moremi area holds firm in water though, so we didn’t have any problem getting through the water without sinking. I’ve always said that the vehicles will have no issue with wet sand or dry dirt, but when the sand dries into fine powder or the dirt gets muddy sometimes you have a problem. We actually didn’t get stuck at any of our camps due to water or mud, but dry sand gave us quite a bit of trouble later on!

This hammerkop was in the road, yes that’s the road!

Camp Moremi is quite pretty, with a slightly separated ‘breakfast’ area at ground level and a two story lounge/lunch/dinner area. The rooms are tents with attached bathrooms. Unfortunately one of our bathroom lights was out, which we didn’t notice until the night when it was too late to replace it. Later on we would have other issues at a few camps. My recommendation is to tell a camp manager as soon as possible if something is wrong. They will do everything they can to keep you happy and fix the problem.

The room had all the amenities that are needed for safari accommodations including a wardrobe with bug spray, an aerosol insecticide, a safe, cookies, a power adapter, a fan, a mini stove to brew coffee or tea, and a balcony with chairs and a wonderful view. We didn’t get a chance to spend any time in the rooms though, as there was just enough time to drop off our luggage and head out for high tea and our afternoon game drive.

Inside the room you can see the tea & coffee station and the door leading to the entry area and onto the restroom.

This photo of the dining room courtesy of Desert & Delta.

Our two drives at Camp Moremi were very quiet and the bush was very thick. Our guide tried his best to find us something amazing, but when we heard alarm calls there was just nothing to see! The water was so high that many of the roads were closed and we just couldn’t get to areas that we wanted to get to at times. The remarkable thing is that during this quiet time I got some of my favorite photos. It really helped to focus on the little things like birds and beetles. For instance, while following elephant tracks in the road, we came across a large pile of fresh elephant dung.

Exciting? Not in the least, but slowly moving away from that dung was a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung with a female attached to it! I had seen dung beetles before, but never actively rolling a ball for mating purposes. It was quite interesting and I really enjoy the little bit of motion blur in the photo I captured. The beetles were in the shade of our vehicle and with a very narrow aperture, the photo focuses on the beetles and blurs out the boring background of more sand.

So when you’re out on safari having a quiet day, be sure to notice the little things. Ask your guide about something that catches your eye, there is always something interesting to talk about on a game drive.

The staff and the food at Camp Moremi were both very nice. We had a moment before dinner where Sara got to chat with some of the staff and request a local specialty drink of their choice. Their pick was called the Springbok, which was Amarula and Peppermint Bitters. I thought it sounded horrible, as I usually don’t enjoy peppermint much but if you have a chance to try it I really suggest you do so. It tastes like one of those Andes mints that some restaurants offer after a meal. To match the Springbok drink, we were served Springbok Carpaccio for an appetizer. Unfortunately it was probably my least favorite food option of the night. The rest of the buffet and dessert were excellent including a hake curry, stuffed squash and a semi traditional cheesecake.

For our morning game drive we went a different direction to try and avoid some of the more dense wooded areas in the Moremi Game Reserve. Some spots around the camp had open woodlands where animals tend to congregate. We managed to photograph some zebra and wildebeest during our only morning tea break.

Overall, Camp Moremi and the Moremi Reserve in general seems to be quite a difficult area for good game viewing during the green season. The camp is worth visiting, but we recommend it more for a shoulder or dry season safari.

Great Plains’ Duba Plains Camp. Private concession in the Northern Okavango Delta

I’ve heard some amazing things about Duba Plains and I was excited to visit the camp and the area. Duba is well known for interaction between lion and buffalo. There have been quite a few documentaries written, photographed and filmed at Duba Plains about this very subject. Some of the owners, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, actually have a private camp just for themselves a few minutes away from the main camp. They have used it to film and photograph the lions and buffalo for quite some time. One of the very well-known documentaries, Relentless Enemies, is about the daily struggle for life as a predator and as prey.

Of course, the first thing we hear upon arrival to Duba is that just two days ago a small pride of 3 had taken down a female buffalo that had just given birth. The calf was no match for the lions either and didn’t manage to live for more than a few hours. We also learned that the aptly named ‘Duba Boys’ were no longer around. They had dominated the area for nearly 14 years, and only a month before our arrival a younger male had managed to kill them both. We were experiencing a changing of the guard which caused the large pride of females to split up into three smaller prides. Two were currently with the new male, eating the buffalo cow, while three other females were tending to cubs and a few sub adult males. We would meet up with these males and possibly their mother, but we didn’t manage to find the cubs.

I was slightly worried that the lions wouldn’t be able to take out buffalo in smaller prides but the guides were confident that things would get even better quite quickly. With the previous Duba Boys, the females had lots of trouble raising their cubs to adulthood because other females would kill the cubs. These are females from the same pride possibly killing their sister’s cubs, mind you. From what I had read, experts suspect that a fear of inbreeding was the main reason for killing cubs. Even on our two night stay we managed to see three young males that were all cubs of the new dominant male. I believe the future of the prides at Duba is bright and we will continue to hear amazing things coming from the area.

Ox-peckers congregating.

A hunt spoiled by poor timing.

Duba was possibly our favorite camp. As I said in the introduction, it might have ruined our game viewing expectations for the following camps. We got to see lions 4 different times. Feeding, playing, hunting, swimming, and we could hear them roaring in the mornings and evenings from our tent. I could sit here and describe what it was like, but I believe a few photographs will explain better than I could how wonderful our two nights were.

Scanning for crocs.

Mother leads the way while the youngest hitches a ride on his big brother.

Sub-adult brothers play fighting.

Lions weren’t the only thing at Duba. We saw lots of water birds as the area was flooded very similarly to Camp Moremi. The difference was the large amount of open plains between the dense bush. We could drive just about anywhere we wanted as well.

We happened to spend Valentine’s Day at Duba Plains, which was quite special. Not only did the staff surprise us with a bush lunch where we had kudu walking through our dining room, so to speak. But after a somewhat quiet evening boat cruise we were treated to an absolutely stunning private Valentine’s Day dinner on the balcony of our tent! The food during our stay was also possibly the best during our safari.

I really can’t recommend this camp enough. We also heard that the camp will be undergoing a renovation within the next few months. I guess we will just have to drag ourselves back to one of the best safari camps in the world for another visit!

Wilderness Safaris’ Chitabe Camp, Southeastern Okavango Delta

We were a bit unfortunate during our transfer to Chitabe. Instead of a single flight, we would end up landing at two stops on the way, Nxabeja and Pom Pom, before arriving at the Chitabe airstrip. This is just the luck of the draw as both Mack Air and Wilderness Air have a limited number of planes and have to adjust flight schedules according to when clients are arriving, changing camps, or heading home. Luckily we still arrived at Chitabe by about 12:30 with time for (another) lunch. That’s one thing you will have a difficulty escaping at any camp in Africa, food!

Chitabe Camp would be our first Wilderness Safaris camp of the trip. I have come to expect a certain level of comfort and beauty when visiting Wilderness camps and Chitabe met those expectations. The camp is on a private concession in the southeast portion of the Okavango Delta. 10% of the area is flooded year round and that number can rise to as high as 56% when the water flows in from Angola. The area is actually quite open compared to what we experienced at Camp Moremi. There are a good amount of open flood plains and while we were there, the water was actually not too bad.

We would only be spending one night at Chitabe, so once again we could only have a couple of drives total. The evening drive started off very slow but our guide, BB, did a great job of showing us tracks and explaining what he was looking for. He really was an excellent guide and we had fun with him. We only had about half an hour of sunlight left and we were told about a wild dog sighting nearby. There were only 4 of them but a couple of our shots came out quite nice during the golden hour. This was the first time I had seen wild dogs since about 2009.

After leaving the dogs we also had a quick sighting of some female lions hugging and grooming each other. The sun had already gone down and most of our shots are slightly blurry but the moment was worth the wait.

Still slightly jetlagged, and this being her first safari, Sara learned that this vacation would be quite a bit different than ones she had been on before. She decided that the next morning she would sleep in to avoid a 5:00AM wakeup call and just have a leisurely morning to herself. Sometimes a lazy morning is exactly what you need on your vacation, so don’t be afraid to ask for this if you’re feeling beat from too many flights or bumpy roads.

Continue to Part 3

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