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Posted on November 11, 2019
In a series of three blogs In The Saddle’s Becky Clarke writes about her visit to the Okavango Delta….here is Part 2 and her visit to Kujwana Camp.
As I arrived back into the tiny airport that was Maun International. I was met by a representative of Helicopter Horizons and taken through to the departure lounge. It was here I met up with five other ladies all destined for Kujwana camp.
As the aircraft went up, our pilot handed us a pair of headphones so that we were all able to communicate. As we passed over the buffalo fence, we were rewarded almost immediately with aerial views of a group of elephant. Flying into camp by helicopter was absolutely incredible and I would certainly recommend this to anyone thinking about it!
Once we’d disembarked from the helicopters we hopped into a 4×4 that drove us all into camp. As we arrived we were met by the camp manager John and his team. Each of us was handed a wonderfully cold ice tea as we took a seat by the fire pit for the introductory talk.
John spoke to us about the rules of camp which included not walking by ourselves after dark and what to do in case of an emergency. It was all very clear and afterwards there was time to freshen up and have a light lunch.
As we were finishing lunch PJ Bestelink came around and introduced himself to everyone. I’d been lucky enough to meet PJ a few years ago at Badminton Horse Trails (where In The Saddle has a stand) and so it was great to see him again. He gave us a full horse briefing, talked about the plan for the week and gave us a disclaimer to sign. Once we were all changed and ready, we headed towards the stables.
We arrived to find the horses all tacked up and ready to go. There, ready to introduce us to our first mounts was Barney (PJ’s wife). Together PJ and Barney set up the first riding safari in the Okavango Delta. They are still very involved in the day to day running of camp.
I’d heard lots about Barney’s passion for horses and how much care she puts into matching horse to rider so it was safe to say I was pretty excited as she introduced me to Denotsi. He was a beautiful bay with the softest mouth and wonderful paces. I absolutely fell in love with him that first afternoon ride. It was easy to understand why when Barney told me he’d been intermediate eventing before joining the team.
We rode for about 1.5 hours. In the short time we were out, we managed to see several elephant and a large herd of giraffe.
As we walked back to the stables the sun was just beginning to set. We all grabbed a cold beer or gin & tonic from the bar and sat on the decking for the best view you could ask for.
The next mornings wake up call was at 05:00 with a flask of hot water and milk. Inside each of the rooms are tea and coffee making facilities. You can make your own drinks as you are getting ready for breakfast. Following a quick bowl of melon I grabbed my hat and was ready and waiting for Barney at 06:00. This morning I was to ride the incredibly handsome, liver chestnut Egyptian Arab that was Malachite.
This mornings ride started steady with Chief guiding at the front and Boy as our backup. It wasn’t long before we found a playful group of giraffe and Chief led us up alongside them for a canter – what a wonderful experience! Later in the morning we also got to canter with a herd of zebra and wildebeest which was even more exciting because it felt as though we were part of the herd.
I thought it was amazing how the guides would read the game and be able to tell whether they were relaxed enough for a canter or whether we needed to just walk on by. Their knowledge was really impressive.
After our mid-morning water and biscuit break we started to head back towards Kujwana. By the time we made it back we’d been out for about four hours. As well as being able to canter with giraffe, wildebeest and zebra, we’d also seen elephant, impala, red lechwe and warthogs.
It was safe to say we were all happy to see lunch and I think everyone had seconds! After we were full, it was time to relax by the pool.
Afternoon tea at Kujwana is served at 15:30 and at 16:00 we all headed out in the 4×4 with Percy and Chief. Percy has been part of the team at Kujwana for over twenty years and his depth of knowledge on the area combined with his wicked sense of humour makes him the perfect non-riding guide.
We drove for a couple of hours and saw so much including elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and several different types of antelope but the real highlight was hyena cubs! We were driving along a sandy track when suddenly Percy stopped and got out to look at something, we then drove on a little way before he turned off the engine and just pointed. As we sat in silence, a little head popped up from the sand and looked around. The head was slowly followed by a body and then another little head as the second pup emerged from the den.
After we’d returned to camp and showered, dinner was served at 19:30 by candlelight. Each evening at Kujwana a different three course meal is served and no one was ever left hungry. Tonight’s meal was a starter of brie and chutney, followed by pork, creamed potatoes and vegetables and finished off with a chocolate mouse – delicious.
The next day there was excitement in the air as we ate breakfast around the fire. Today was the day we were all riding to Moklowane Camp, which is a smaller camp made of five tree houses built into the tree line near the Matsebi River. On stays of seven nights riders will get the change to do an all day ride to move camps – it’s a good seven hours in the saddle but well worth it.
The morning ride was the usual four hours with a break for a leg stretch and water. It was interesting as we rode how the landscape changed and I became aware that there were more palm trees appearing and there were less pockets of water.
Lunch was under a canopy of trees on a small ‘island’. Some of the grooms from main camp met us off the horses. They were un-tacked and taken for water and a roll. I also noticed how all the bits were washed. Saddle pads were hung out to dry in the sun. Such care is taken of these horses and it’s wonderful to watch.
For us there were chairs set up around the lunch table so we could enjoy a cold beer followed by meatloaf and salad. The vehicles had met us at the spot with our overnight bags. I went and found my book, took one of the camp beds and found a quiet corner.
Later, after we’d had tea and cake – yes there was still tea and cake at 16:00! – we walked to where the horses were waiting and mounted up. It was a ride of about two hours at a gentle pace. Not far from Moklowane we were rewarded with the view of a lone male elephant cooling off in a pool.
Once we arrived into Moklowane camp, we helped un-tack the horses before heading for the main area for a safety briefing. We were reminded not to walk about by ourselves or without either Chief or Percy nearby as this camp is not connected by boardwalks.
The camp itself has five tents built into the treeline and overlooking water where hippos are heard at night. All of the tents have running water and flush loos. Each is built up either on stilts or in the trees. There is a main dining area with a balcony for enjoying breakfast and dinner or just sitting back with a cool drink. After we’d had a quick shower, this is where we met for a pre-dinner drink.
The next morning I met the others for breakfast and we said our goodbyes. They would be heading off for a bush walk with the wonderful Percy as their guide. I would be leaving camp for my next adventure. The horses had waded into camp the previous day and so today we had to use the boat to get back across the water. PJ met us on the other side and drove me the hour or so to PomPom airstrip.
It was really interesting to speak with PJ and learn all about what made him come to Botswana and stay there. We talked about his plans for the camps and the drive to the airstrip just flew by!
Once the little plane had landed, PJ asked the pilot if I could sit up front. As we took off I was rewarded with a first class view. Being up front really helped with the bumpiness of the journey. Luckily it was only ten minutes to the next airstrip. I’d never been on so many planes in a short space of time!
Part 3 of my adventure coming soon …