Encompassing well over a million hectares of seasonally-flooded marshland, the Okavango Delta in Botswana’s north has been named one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders as well as a World Heritage Site for the remarkable landscape and diverse ecosystem sustained by its life-giving waters. With more than 80% of the country classified as desert, the Delta rises like an (extremely large) oasis out of the otherwise arid Kalahari, providing sanctuary for nearly a thousand distinct animal species, many of whom are critically endangered. Whether from above or below, from the water or on the banks of one of its many islands, it’s impossible not to be in awe of this visually stunning and biologically complex natural wonder. (It’s admittedly less impossible when you’re covered in bed bug bites and too itchy to sleep, but I guess it wasn’t malaria, so at least that’s something.)

All the details: Okavango Delta excursion

Cost: Our 2D/1N Okavango Delta Mokoro Safari with Delta Rain was $280USD per person, which included 4×4 transport from their Sitatunga Camp in Maun; 2 hour mokoro ride into the Delta camp; 1 night in pre-erected “en-suite” tents with cots, drop toilets, and bucket showers; afternoon swimming and mokoro activities; afternoon and morning walking safari around the Delta; all meals while in the Delta (which were amazing); and mokoro and 4×4 transport back to Maun. The scenic helicopter flight was an additional $150USD per person (expensive, but worth it!) and was booked through the Sitatunga Camp prior to our departure for the Delta.

Getting there: Unless you are driving, reach Delta Rain’s Sitatunga Camp by flying into the nearby Maun Airport. All transport from here can be organised by Delta Rain as part of your safari.

Where to stay: On the night before your Delta excursion (and possibly also the night after, as you may be too tired to travel after several full days in the Okavango), stay in Delta Rain’s Sitatunga Camp outside Maun. Camping is 115 Pula per person, while pre-erected tents with ensuites are 650P and chalets are 700P. The camp features passable wifi, two pools, a beach volleyball court, clean facilities, and a very nice bar area.

Top tips: Be sure to lather up in DEET when you journey into the Delta, as it’s a high-risk malaria area and mosquitos can be abundant depending on time of year. While we emerged malaria free, we were absolutely eaten alive by bed bugs, so learn from us and check your mattress in the pre-erected tent carefully!

We wake up in our tent this morning to a brilliant sunrise, rolling out of bed and heading over for breakfast with the group around 545am. Each morning we are getting more into our routine, so cleaning up the kitchen and packing up the truck is also getting quicker, and it’s not long before we wave goodbye to the amazing Elephant Sands and hit the road. Our drive to Maun today takes about 5 hours, so I spend my time editing photos, napping, snacking, napping some more, and chatting with the rest of the truck. We play music on the speakers and there’s lots of hysterical laughing before the heat gets to be too much for everyone and we all fall into a bit of a heat-stroke sleep.

About an hour off from our destination, we pull over under the shade of a tree and Rachel whips of a fantastic lunch while we all whine about the heat. After a bit of a bushy-bushy, we pile back into the bus and cruise another half hour to reach Maun. Finally, we arrive at our campsite for the night and all rush through unpacking the truck so we can hop in the pool. We play some rather rowdy pool games and then, gin & tonic in hand, I float around and watch while Callum and Nicole try to drown each other, feeling like I may survive this heat after all.

The rest of the afternoon is equally relaxed and I spend most of my time either in or next to the pool until 5pm rolls around and I have to go back to the truck for cooking duty. Thankfully, Rachel is really the master chef, so our only tasks are chopping a few dozen onion and carrots that will go into the East African dish she is making tonight. After the veggies are done, there’s time to catch up on my photo editing and writing before dinner is ready, but I can smell the food wafting over from our camp kitchen so 7pm can’t come soon enough. We chat about our plan for tomorrow over chapatti and an incredible saucy beef and veg mixture, and then I get to enjoy one of the greatest showers I’ve had in ages before going back to the bar and engaging in some spirited banter with our Aussie friends.

Okavango Delta by water

By the next day, it’s finally time to journey into the Delta! We wake up well before our rather late 630am alarm today, stuck into the routine of waking at 530am even though we had the opportunity to sleep in. It’s a pretty quick morning routine today, as we will leave our tents set up for tomorrow night as we journey into the Okavango Delta and stay in pre-erected tents with little beds tonight. It will be quite a luxury, plus it’s always nice not having to wrestle the tent down, so everyone is in high spirits as we eat and prepare for our 730am pickup.

We drive in a safari truck for around an hour and a half before we reach the water and board the mokoros that will deliver us far into the Delta. Cal and I slide into the canoe-like boat and our poler swiftly hops in behind us, standing at the back to balance and steer the boat while propelling it through the shallow Delta with the use of a long wooden pole. The ride is nearly 2 hours, during which time we relax and take in the beautiful scenery of one of Botswana’s greatest natural wonders. The polers have very thoughtfully packed umbrellas into the boats, so when I quickly tire of being in the direct sun and start to feel like I’m melting in the sweltering 9am heat, I pop my umbrella up and lounge in the shade as the reeds fly by, even whipping up a freeze-dried mountain meal as a bit of a snack.

The heat has become almost unbearable by the time we reach our little camp in the middle of the Delta, so many of us try and nap in the shade before lunch, but I’m still sweating buckets by the time I emerge, really wishing I had a good fan or some aircon out here in the wilderness. We have a delicious babotie lunch and then spend a few hours playing card games as a group before going out for a swim. The Delta may not look that clean, but the water is surprisingly clear and refreshing (plus, it’s too hot to be choosy about your swimming water), so we all splash around and enjoy the sweet relief from the afternoon sun.

After we are cooled off a bit, we then have the opportunity to have a go at poling the mokoros. Grace is the first to give it a crack, and we all wet ourselves laughing as she steers straight into reeds and can’t get out. She definitely has the last laugh, though, since we all do the exact same as soon as we are handed the pole (some of us even worse.. not naming names, but me, it was me). I have a newfound respect for the women doing the poling— not only is it an art form to get the boat to do what you want, it’s also amazingly strenuous and my arm is sore after just a few minutes.

Okavango Delta by land

Following a few spirited mokoro races and an attempt at mokoro jousting, we hop back into the boats as passengers and glide quickly back to our camp. I won’t lie, I’m thankful to not be the one doing the work anymore, and I am sure the experienced polers who looked on as we tried to do their job would have been near death from holding in the laughter. Once back at our tents, we have time to get out of our wet clothes and throw on some long pants (even though it physically pains me to do so) before heading out on a nature walk, which starts with another several second mokoro ride across the water to an island.

Even though it’s 430pm, it’s still hotter than death outside and we are all slowly declining as our elderly guide leads us through the brush in search of animals. We spot an elephant, a number of wildebeest and giraffe, a few warthogs, and some interesting birdlife during the multi-hour walk, and only at the very end does the sun finally start to dip behind the clouds and offer some relief from the heat.

We watch the sunset and then walk back to the camp to get ready for dinner, which is a three-course feast of chili pumpkin soup, pap and chicken veg stew, and mulva pudding. After plenty of spirited conversation, everyone gathers around the fire to roast marshmallows and enjoy a few drinks. The two lovely staff who have cooked our food and taken care of us in the Delta, joined by the mokoro polers who delivered us here this morning, break out in song and dance while we are toasting away and it’s one of those moments where I’m like “wow, I’m really in Africa”.

After a few renditions of Beautiful Botswana and some other songs about welcoming us to the Delta, one of the women comes by and scoops me up by the hand, leading my in a circle around the fire. Soon, we are joined by the rest of the group, each with one of the mokoro polers, and we dance around the fire by their lead. Exhausted and smiling so hard it hurts, we eventually fall back into our chairs, applauding the mokoro polers. After a few more marshmallows (and a very poor performance of the Australian national anthem), most of the group disbands for bed.

I don’t even make it all the way to the tent, though. Glancing up, I am rooted to the spot by the stars. There are few places in the world you could see stars like this, I expect— the sky is perfectly clear and there isn’t artificial light for I don’t know how many kilometres. I swear I’ve never seen a night sky look even half this amazing, and that’s before Kerri pulls out her binoculars and about 10x as many twinkling stars are visible. With the help of her night sky book, we identify constellations and just generally drool over mother nature until I’m so tired that I have no choice but to walk back to my tent and collapse in a heap. I fall asleep thinking of that sky. Views like this make it worth all the dirt and heat.

The following morning, we wake up at 530am in the Delta, covered in what at first appears to be thousands of mosquito bites, but, after finding out that no one else at camp got bitten in their tent and that we were the only ones who put on any DEET, and also after inspecting our own suspiciously rashy bites further, we realise that we have bed bugs. Our morning bush walk is heavily punctuated with aggressive scratching of the bites, so I hardly notice the zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, cow, elephant, and the bachelor herd buffalo that we pass. The guide even claims to hear a leopard in the distance, but I’ll admit that I am slightly sceptical.

A huge herd of buffalo below

Okavango Delta by air

Once back at camp, we tuck into a tasty breakfast and then hop back into the mokoro for our 90 minute ride to land. I enjoy a nice nap under the cloud cover, wishing we had had such cool weather yesterday, and before I know it we are back in the safari vehicle. We drive only a short distance to the field where the helicopter will pick me, Callum, and Nicole up for our scenic flight, and then eagerly await the 10am arrival, cameras at the ready. Finally, we hear the tell-tale sound of a chopper approaching and rush forward to meet the driver, a rather amusing Irishman, and all hop inside to our window seats, which are entirely open-air. It’s all of our first times on a chopper, so excitement levels are high as we put our headsets on and buckle up for the flight.

During our 30 minutes in the air, we fly over the Delta at varying heights and see dozens of different animals, including giraffes, buffalo, hippo, and a family of warthogs running across the fields in a way that is almost just too African for words. Honestly, even if we hadn’t seen any giraffe or warthogs, I would have loved the flight, though—just flying as the air whips by your face and seeing the Delta from above is incredible. It’s hard to comprehend what 80,000 square km looks like from the ground, but we certainly get a better concept of the vastness of the Okavango Delta from the helicopter that makes the expensive flight completely worth it.

Back on the ground, we re-join the group in the safari vehicle and continue on back towards the campsite from yesterday. I nap basically the entire drive, even though it’s impossibly bumpy on the rugged dirt road, so I’m ready for some pool time when we get back. After another amazing lunch from Rachel and aggressive scrubbing of all of our clothing and bedding in an attempt to kill the bed bugs, we grab some drinks and while away the hours poolside, playing some games, talking quite a bit of shit, and even moving the fun to the sand court for a bit of volleyball (where I look on rather than subjecting either of the teams to my poor athleticism).

Around 7, we move to the bar for our wonderful 3-course dinner of samosas, beef curry, fried rice, and homemade ice cream and, with the help of a few G&Ts, I momentarily forget the pain and itchiness of my bites. After more rounds of cards, Cal and I turn in for an uncomfortable sleep in our tent, sorely missing our sheets and pillowcases that are still hanging on the line, hopefully bug-free for tomorrow night. Cross your fingers for us.

Read more about our travels through Botswana:

ON SAFARI IN CHOBE NATIONAL PARK, BOTSWANA

ELEPHANT SANDS: BOTSWANA’S COOLEST CAMPSITE

MEETING BOTSWANA’S SAN BUSHMEN

PHOTO JOURNAL: THE BEST OF BEAUTIFUL BOTSWANA