Chief’s Island Walking Trail: A Vintage Botswana Experience

Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta is considered by many to be the premier wildlife location in all of southern Africa. At the north end of Chief’s Island is the famous Mombo Camp, one of the most luxurious and popular camps in Botswana. However, in the southern area of the island it is now possible to turn back the clock and experience a vintage Botswana safari experience.
Following a night at one of the most established camps in Botswana, Delta Camp, guests travel in the traditional mokoro (dugout canoe poled by a guide standing, like a gondola) to Chief’s Island. A fly-camp of simple dome tents is set up in a prime location to serve as the base for two to four days of walking. Delta Camp is one of the last places where guides use real wooden mekoros that they have carved themselves. Another highly unusual fact is that the guides do not carry a rifle for walking safaris, rather they depend on their wits and in-depth knowledge of the bush.
Walking allows for an unfiltered connection to the African bush, heightening senses hidden within all of us from the days when our ancient ancestors walked as part of the African wilderness community. I consider my time walking on Chief’s Island to be some of my most adventurous. The anticipation was riveting in the early morning as we spotted vultures circling down in the distance – the possibility that we could trek our way to a kill site, most likely by lions was exhilarating. Side-striped jackals surged ahead of us also following the lead of the vultures. This time the joke would be on us and the jackals, as we learned first hand a little mentioned fact that on occasion vultures will lead other scavengers astray in an effort to reduce competition. Even though we struck out with finding lions the excitement and anticipation of the approach stays with you and remains a treasured memory. I had another unique first time experience walking on Chief’s Island when a bird known as the greater honeyguide approached and solicited our attention with a chattering call. The greater honeyguide has a symbiotic relationship with humans, locating and guiding people to hives and then receiving some of the spoils once humans incapacitate the bees with smoke and open the hive. Some experts suggest that the honeyguide also leads honey badgers (ratels), and possibly baboons and vervet monkeys to hives but this remains disputed. We took the opportunity to follow the greater honeyguide. The bird would fly ahead with a conspicuous undulating flight. If we lost her at all she would fly back toward us chattering again. When we would catch up more chattering followed by flight. After about fifteen minutes we indeed arrived at a tree with a dead snag containing a beehive in a cavity. This was the type of fascinating experience only possible on foot. The next day again the greater honeyguide found us, however, tribal legends suggest we could have been led into big trouble had we followed again since we did not open the beehive on the previous day. Legends suggest that if the bird leads and humans do not share the prize the next time they will be lead unexpectedly into lions, elephants, or a venomous snake!
In two days of walking on the island we had great views of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, side-striped jackals, chacma baboons, vervet monkeys and many other species. This is a great area for walking and for those looking for a real old school Botswana safari experience this is one of the best.

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