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Posts Tagged ‘Tubu Tree Camp’

Daily life in a ‘bush office’

July 4, 2011 2 comments

A few nights in a super-exclusive, eco-friendly tented camp or lodge in the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta doesn’t come cheap. But you are guaranteed a once-in-a-lifetime experience and memories you will treasure forever.

Click here to read the full article by Alannah Eames published on July 3, 2011, in The Times of Malta. Sunday edition.

When in the Okavango Delta …

February 27, 2011 4 comments

It's a tough life in the Okavango Delta!

 

Make sure you …

1. Take a flight from Kasane or Maun for a fantastic view of the Delta from above.
2. Hop in a mokoro (dug out canoe ride) ride: Xigera Camp is a great spot for this.
3. Swim in the thermal waters of the Okavango Delta.
4. Enjoy a sundowner on a deserted sandbar, enjoying the fantastic African sunset.
5. Get up close with the leopards around Tubu Tree Camp.
6. “Camp hop” – don’t just stay at one camp. 2-3 nights per camp is perfect. Combine a “grassland” and “water-based” camp for two very different experiences.
7. Spend a night in a hideaway, if you dare.
8. Enjoy a “bush brunch” of bacon and eggs in the middle of the Delta.
9. Talk to the staff and other guests. Part of the fun is sharing your experiences and hearing the “bush” stories, especially around the campfire enjoying the nocturnal bush sounds.
10. Take the chance to explore Southern Africa … you can combine the Okavango Delta with the sand dunes of Namibia, the Victoria Falls of Zimbabwe & Zambia, the teak forests of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the vast elephant herds of Botswana’s Chobe National Park or the rugged beauty of the Cape area in South Africa. Wilderness Safaris have a great network of around 60 top-class, eco-friendly lodges and camps across Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and the Seychelles. Logistics and coordination can be tricky so it’s often best in Southern Africa to use a safari company to organize accommodation and transport.

“Bye Bye” Okavango Delta!

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Loading up and ready to leave before the next thunderstorm strikes.

If you’re lucky, these guys might show up to wave you off.

It’s hard to say goodbye to the Okavango Delta, and to your favorite camps. Even though we’ve only been there for a week, it feels much longer and we don’t want to leave. The two camps we stayed at – Tubu Tree and Xigera – were extremely homely and well managed; I couldn’t find anything to complain about, even if I tried. 

Spending time in the Delta is a chance to recharge, to reconnect with nature and animals and will leave you reenergized. OK, maybe like me, you had some sleepless nights but you leave injected with a sense of admiration and love for this part of Southern Africa.

But all too soon, it’s off to the airstrip where Joel and our faithful Cessna 208B Grand Caravan are waiting to take us back to Kasane Airport.

Touching down on the tarred runway at Kasane, after a week in the bush (the same airport that we thought was tiny on the way out), feels huge; we haven’t seen a single car or shop, or heard the ringtone of a cellphone, for a week. On one hand, I see “civilization” with fresh eyes, but the other part of me craves the peace and nature of the Delta.  I miss the camps, the animals, the food, the people and our daily game drives. That’s the sign of a true vacation: one you don’t want to end … ever.

Island hopping in the Okavango Delta

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

"Cruise" control takes on a new meaning in the Delta.

Game drives in the Delta are not like those on the grasslands of the Serengeti or Kruger National Park. We are in a wetland here and we have to get from island to island. There are no bridges or ferries. The solution is the Land Rover which can cross just about everything from marshy land, small forests and one-meter-deep water (or boat). It amazes me how much hardship these “workhorses of the African safari industry” can take.

Getting from A to B, Delta-style.

As we head off to Chief’s Island from Xigera Camp, I’m amused to see that Barobi, our guide, is shoeless. I soon discover why. After we have crossed one of these meter-deep channels, he opens the door of the jeep to let the water out – the floor of the jeep is covered in about 20 centimeters of water. Going through these channels is not for the faint-hearted as you see the water rising up and up and over the bonnet and wonder how much deeper it’s going to get. The thoughts of getting stuck halfway through is not a pleasant thought! But these camp guides are well trained and know exactly what they are doing so you need to sit back, relax and let them do their job.

Back on dry land, something stinks. It’s a hippo. I learn something new today: apparently you can smell a hippo before you see it because these guys stink even though they spend half the day under water. “This one seems to be a little late getting into the water” says Barobi. I look at my watch, it’s 10.00.

We bump along “the main road to Maun” which is a dirt track and a real bone rattler. (Maun is the “capital” of the Delta, and one of its main gateways.) We’re getting what Botswanan-born Lindi calls “an African massage”.

King of the bush: it's a lion's life.

Chief’s Island is well worth the journey. The two male lions we watch for almost an hour are magnificent. They are brothers and, apparently the family ties are strong. “These two brothers are very close. They lick each other’s wounds and take care of each other,” says Barobi. There’s also a lioness but no sign of her, although I wonder if she’s closer than we realize.

Whether you're more into birds, cats, deer or plants ... the Okavango Delta has something for everyone.

If you are into bird watching, Xigera is paradise. If you’re not, you’ll still enjoy watching them, and you need to keep your fingers crossed that you won’t end up in a jeep with some “bird fanatics”. We’re on serious business looking for the lions on Chief’s Island but some of our companions seem more excited about spotting a bee-eater or fish eagle, or, to make my blood pressure rise a few more notches, a “sausage” tree which is probably one of the most common trees in Southern Africa. You will spot these “bird loving” people easily – they have huge binoculars, carry a birdwatching book from the camp and will exclaim “Oh is that the African doo-diddley-doo bird” when they hear a bird at least 100 meters away. You meet some characters on safari in Africa- people from all parts of the planet and all walks of life. That’s what keeps it interesting. You talk to people you would probably never cross paths with back home. Although, saying that I didn’t really understand why a couple at Tubu Tree Camp were so upset that they had only seen leopards and no zebras, usually zebras are the most common animal you can see in Africa, but you’ll be hard pushed to get close-ups of leopards!

Coffee time! Little did we know the two lions were only 100 meters away.

Tucked away on an island in the Okavango Delta

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

"Cast away" in the idyllic Xigera Camp.

There's no water shortages around Xigera Camp.

Xigera Camp, pronounced Keejera (or with a funny-sounding click like the locals say it), is in the heart of the Okavango Delta’s Moremi Game Reserve, nestled in a riverine island criss-crossed by a network of deep channels. It’s a “real” water camp and the minute you land at its small airstrip, you feel pleasantly cast away from the outside world.

If you come to Xigera expecting to see prides of lions and abundant wildlife, don’t. Yes, they are out there somewhere but as it’s a water camp, you’re not going to see them as easily as at other “grassier” camps like Tubu Tree. It’s not rocket science: there is less game here as there is more water and less grass; if there’s less game, there’s less predators. But, if you’re lucky, you might see them swimming as this is the main way for the animals to “island hop” around Xigera. And, of course, being surrounded by water, means you’ll see water-lovers like elephants, hippos and crocodiles.

On the prowl. Two brothers hang out on Chief's Island.

If you’re hell bent on seeing other wildlife, the staff can arrange a trip for you to neighboring Chief’s Island which has a healthy lion population. We did a record six-hour game drive across and were treated to a pair of male lions lounging under a tree, less than 100 meters from the spot where we’d hopped out of our jeep for our coffee break under a baobab tree.

South African husband and wife team Mike and Anne Marchington have been running Xigera Camp for just over a year. They are veterans on Southern Africa having spent four years in the Delta and over 20 years traveling around Southern Africa. Mike tells us that he even used to jog in the bush, one time trekking right past a pride of lions, “I was so focused on the prints on the ground that I forgot to look out for the lions,” he laughs.

 

Home away from home. The cosy lounge area at Xigera.

The camp is intimate and cosy, just like in the brochures except even better in real life. It’s got ten tented rooms all kitted out with en-suite and an outdoor shower. Think camping, but upmarket camping. It’s down-to-earth enough to blend in with the nature and to satisfy those with a more outdoorsy rustic taste, but comfortable enough to keep those who don’t like roughing it happy. There is always someone to talk to in the open bar-restaurant-cum living room area which feels like being in your own living room as you can help yourself to drinks and snacks whenever you want. The service is great – attentive enough to make you feel special but not too much to make you feel stifled.

Elevated walkways lead to the camp's 10 quaint tents.

There’s also a sandpit where the “newspaper” is read every morning – that means checking the paw prints. Most of them belong to the “resident” hyena who regularly visits at night but who is very “shy”. It amuses me that everyone in Botswana considers hyenas “shy”, while in other parts of Africa they are highly feared. We spot her one evening, wallowing in the shadows less than 70 meters away, while we sit around the camp fire. I’m curious what she wants: is she enjoying our company, is she looking for a free meal, or is she just being nosy? Our two camp managers aren’t bothered at all by her, in fact quite the opposite. They almost get worried if they don’t see her for a few nights in a row. “Knowledge is power so if you know how the animals react, you will be ok,” says Mike.

So, if we happen to come face to face with this hyena on the narrow entrance into the camp, we should basically step back, treat her as a lady and let her go first. She’s alone, maybe that makes a difference. “They’re masters of chaos; once they’re in a pack, they create chaos. Hyenas are very successful hunters; they’re not just the scavengers that people think they are. And they are an important part of the ecosystem as they clean up a lot of the carcasses of animals that have died of natural causes,” explains Mike. I’m starting to feel like I know these huge scary-looking animals personally, and even beginning to admire them.

Wilderness Camps give a new meaning to the word "safari" - besides abundant wildlife, the great homemade food keeps flowing too.

Fully owned by Wilderness Safaris, which has managed (through its dedication to sustainable tourism and good reputation in Southern Africa) to buy some of the best sites and camps in the Delta, Xigera Camp is built on elevated walkways so you don’t need to walk on the ground and reduce the risk of stepping on a snake. After a week in Okavango and Zimbabwe, I haven’t yet seen a single snake. “There are plenty of snakes, but sadly we never see them. We all think a snake will bite us and kill us but we just have little knowledge about them,” says Mike. All too often, we freak out if we see a cobra but it is quite predictable despite the rumors. The black mambo is considered one of the most unpredictable and aggressive snakes in Southern Africa.

After Tubu Tree, where the cats can wander in and out of the camp, Xigera seems very tame. Mike’s comment makes me laugh: “What can an animal do to you – it won’t hop into your tent and eat you.” This seems to be the general consensus in the Delta by the chilled-out staff who live there year-round. It’s us visitors who think that we will be eaten by man-eating lions, attacked by crocodiles or trampled on by an elephant … the minute we spot one!

Rainy Vs dry season in the Okavango Delta

February 20, 2011 Leave a comment

The African safari "workhorse" (the Land Rover) can take a lot. Even bonnet-high water is a piece of cake.

The Okavango Delta has two faces: dry and wet. The “dry” winter officially runs from May to October; and the “wet” summer from November to April, but, in recent years, this is also becoming less predictable.

Soon this road network will disappear under water, during the "flood" season.

The Delta looks completely different during the two seasons – during the wet season many areas turn from swampy grasslands to mini-lakes and visitor activities move from the Land Rover to motor boats. I visited in January, at the peak of the “wet” season, enjoying the hot, sunny and humid summer days and with the occasional thunderstorms at midday and in the evenings. If you want to have a bit of both “wet” and “dry” in January – Tubu Tree Camp, with its large grassland areas, is a great base for Land Rover safaris and wildlife viewing (especially leopards); follow up with a few days at the water-based Xigera Campto experience the other side of the Delta.

A hyena was here. It's much easier to view the wildlife in the "dry" season.

Sitting on my balcony at Tubu Tree, looking at the zebras and wildebeest grazing on the “lawn” in front of the camp, I find it hard to believe that in just over a month, this area will begin to flood and turn into a mini-lake. In August it will start to dry up again. Later we see some photos of the Land Rovers “swimming” along the road to the nearby airstrip. During the flood season 80% of the dirt road network surrounding the camp turns into waterways. The Land Rovers, the main mode of transport, are well able to handle water up to the bonnet but there’ll be fewer stops to view the game as the engine will cut out if the jeep stops moving. If a jeep gets stuck, as can happen occasionally, the camp has two tractors offering a “rescue” service. “It’s not a true delta safari unless you get stuck in or break down. This doesn’t happen often but remember this is the bush and anything can happen,” Justin, the camp manager, tells us. It’s all part of the adventure and that’s what a trip to Africa should be about.

Whether it's wet or dry, these grumpy water-lovers will always be around!

Dry or wet?
So, should you visit the Delta in the wet or dry season? There are pros and cons for both. In the dry season the Delta is transformed into a patchwork quilt of shimmering grasslands and small waterways. This is the best time for Land Rover-based game drives as there are plenty of herbivores (zebras, wildebeest, buffalos, impalas etc) around and it’s also much easier to spot, and get close to, lions and leopards. Many of these animals are not year-round residents. As their grasslands fill up with water, they move on to other areas in search of food before returning again in the dry season. Those that stay in the flooded Delta will have to adapt if they are to survive. Like the animals have adapted to the harsh habitat in the deserts of Namibia, so too has the Okavango wildlife. Even the cats, who notoriously hate water, swim from island to island in search of their prey.

On the other hand, in the rainy season, the Delta really turns into a massive 15,000-square-kilometer floodplain dotted with little islands and lagoons. Visitor activities tend to be more water-based, such as the popular dug-out canoe (mokoro) ride. You’re more likely to see elephants and hippos frolicking around in the water, and the red lechwe antelope, but it will be harder to find the cats. “One camp manager [in another camp] even had a resident croc living in the water under his tent during flood season,” laughs Tubu Tree Camp manager Jacky. So whether you go in dry or wet season, you’re guaranteed plenty of unique experiences. And, if you visit in dry season, you’ll probably want to go back in wet season too, or vice versa.

Dodging the occasional thunderstorm in the "wet" season.

A “normal” day in the Okavango Delta

February 18, 2011 1 comment

Rush hour on the airstrip. A group of impalas hang out on the sandy runway.

Ask any person what they want to see on their game drive, and 90% will most likely answer “the cats”. “You have to remember that when you go home you won’t see an impala or zebra, apart from in a zoo, maybe,” points out Justin Stevens, one of the camp managers at Tubu Tree.

Getting close up and personal with Tubu Tree's "local" leopards.

But going on safari is about much more than seeing the cats, it’s about experiencing the bugs at dinner, seeing the birdlife, sitting around a campfire listing to the bush noises, having a sundowner under a Marula tree watching an African sunset. But most of all, it’s about enjoying being at one with Mother Nature without the hassle and curses of modern day life – cellphones, internet, Facebook, traffic jams, office politics, stress and daily agendas. Every day in the bush animals fight for survival, for food, to protect their young. They have much more important things to worry about than about how they look in the mirror, having the latest car or iPhone, following a rigid daily routine that’s about as flexible as an iron rod, or about what people think of them.

A safari is so much more than seeing animals, it's also about experiencing "moments" like its magnificent sunsets.

Of course, every person on safari in Africa wants to see the “Big Five” – that’s the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino – and tick them off their list.  On this trip to Africa, I learned there’s also an “Ugly Five” (the unattractive hyena, vulture, wildebeest, warthog and marabou) and the “Secret Seven”, a mainly nocturnal collection of the serval, African wild cat, porcupine, civet, spotted genet, pangolin and aardvark.

If you’ve got a leopard obsession, Tubu Tree Camp, on the Jao Concession, in Okavango, has one of the best leopard populations around. According to Johnny Mowanji, our guide, ten “non-shy” leopards have already been identified in the camp’s vicinity, making it one of the best places for leopard viewing, but this can change.“We’ve seen territorial battles and leopards are always coming and going,” he says. On the down side, because there are so many leopards, there are less lions. There was a pride of lions in the concession but as they had recently had cubs they were keeping a low profile.

No hyenas under our tent today, just this perky baboon.

According to the two camp managers, no day at Tubu Tree is ever the same. They have been “held hostage” in their tent for an hour and a half while two lions mated outside their door. And it’s not uncommon for leopards to drink out of the bird bowl at the foot of the reception area. The staff take it all in their stride but do confess to being “a little scared when lions come into the camp.” Interestingly, the Botswanans are terrified of geckos, who they believe have evil eyes, like snakes. These harmless fly- and spider-eating creatures often end up dead in the staff quarters.

By my second day in the bush, I’m confident enough to hop in and out of the truck. Johnny has assured us that as long as we stay close to the jeep or tent we are not part of the food chain. They don’t associate a jeep or tent with food, but wander around in the dark when the predators are hunting and then you might find it’s a different story.

Setting up the Bush Brunch. Visitors welcome!

After our morning game drive, we’re surprised by a “Bush Brunch”, set up under a fig tree close to the camp. The staff have laid a tablecloth and buffet and are enthusiastically frying sausages and omelettes. Well, I think, if the animals haven’t already heard the pots and pans and the banging as the table and chairs are put in place, surely, they’ll be interested in our bacon and eggs. By the time we’re finished, an hour later, we haven’t had a single four-legged visitors.

Anyone for bacon and eggs?

I’m still amazed by the lack of animal attacks on tourists in Botswana and the “non-aggressive” nature of the animals compared to their counterparts in Kenya and South Africa, for example. “It’s all about respecting the animals,” we are told several times at the camp.

A two or three-night stay per camp in the Okvango Delta is perfect. Two, from my experience at Tubu Tree, was too short as we were so busy with our game drives and activities that we didn’t have time to just hang out at the camp and relax. I would have loved a day to sit by the cute little pool, reading a book … but most importantly, instead of going out to look for the animals, to sit back and let them come to visit us in the camp.

The quaint pool area at Tubu Tree Camp, perfectly positioned for relaxed game view spotting.

If Tubu Tree Camp is not wild enough for you, there is a “hideaway” about a 10-minute drive away from the camp. It’s basically a few wooden steps leading up a tree trunk to a wooden platform. Many people book it in the search of adventure but chicken out when they see it.

 

 

 

 

It's your choice at Tubu: this super-comfortable tent ...

 

 

 

... or this adventurous "hideaway", 10 minutes from the camp?

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