We’re walking across a low bridge over a water channel to Duba Explorers Camp. Elephants are browsing in the reeds to our right, a striped kingfisher perched on the railing. On a raised deck ahead are the smiling faces of Duba’s staff. It’s the start of another Okavango Delta safari here in Botswana and we couldn’t be happier.
The main area
The main area of Duba Explorers Camp consists of a lounge and dining room under an elegant curve of canvas marquee. The lounge is a comfy space of couches and chairs in harmonious brown leather and neutral-toned upholstery, of wood-and-brass campaign chests, wine barrels turned into stools, carved tables and small sculptures.
There’s a large raised deck in front with a fire pit where safari chairs are set in a semi-circle in the evening before dinner. The weather was good when we visited so we enjoyed our lunches and dinners here under jackalberry trees, sometimes with a view of elephants feeding to the tune of branches cracking not far away.
As a special treat after dinner, the staff mounted a show of singing and dancing. It was perfect, from the rhythms and warmth of the performance to the smiling faces and evident delight of both dancers and their audience – the two of us, a family of four Americans on their first trip to Africa, and a honeymoon couple from Edinburgh, who had never been to Botswana before. All were thrilled with their experience, not just the food and the singing, but the wildlife sightings on their Okavango safari too. The Americans were already planning a return trip.
Good news for anyone interested in supporting sustainable travel is that like all Great Plains Conservation camps across Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya, Duba Explorers Camp uses clean solar energy. You won’t find single-use plastic here either (you get a refillable metal water bottle, for instance), and if the camp were to be taken apart today there’d be no trace of it within a few months.
Duba Explorers has an appealing intimacy, with just five expedition-style canvas tents built on raised decks under woodland waterberry, jackalberry and mangosteen trees that provide shade for at least part of the day.
Like the main area, each is designed and furnished with an impeccable eye for detail by Great Plains Conservation photographer and film maker duo Dereck and Beverly Joubert. The style is reminiscent of safari expeditions of the old days, with dark wood, brass and pewter finishes. Think king-size bed with crisp white linen and blue accents as well as an enveloping mosquito net for a four-poster look, a large wooden chest at the foot of bed, a wood-and-brass writing desk and tea chest. In the bathroom, you’ll find double brass basins and sweeping curtains with leather tie-backs to separate a giant shower and flush loo from the dressing area.
On our first game drive with guide Lets Ngoma we started out gently with sightings of green woodhoopoe, zebras, red lechwe and common reedbuck, then escalated to buffalos and elephants.
Then, there in a dry tree, a leopard lay draped on a branch, legs and tail dangling. The soft late afternoon sun lit her perfectly.
We watched entranced for 15 minutes. Suddenly her gaze focused on a reedbuck not far away. She stared and calculated for a while, then climbed down the tree and began stalking with intent. After a few metres during which she calculated the wind direction, she started to make a wide arc around the buck so it didn’t smell her approach. We lost sight of her in the long grass. There were some tense moments – wanting it for the leopard but not wanting it for the reedbuck. Then the reedbuck trilled a few high-pitched whistles and bounded away. It had spotted or smelled her and the game was up.
By now it was almost dark and we had a long way to go back to camp even though Lets said she’d probably hunt something else that night.
On the drive back, Lets spotted two honey badgers right on the side of the road, frantically digging with their long claws under a bush. Using the spotlight with its red filter to minimise disturbance to the animals, we saw sand fly backward until one badger almost completely disappeared down the hole it was digging. Rump and back legs were all that were visible. When it reversed out again, it had caught a snack. We could hear the crunching but couldn’t see properly what it was – perhaps a scorpion with a crispy exoskeleton.
It was dawn and a thick cloud of dust stretched across the veld in front of us. An enormous buffalo herd was on the move. The buffalos crossed the track ahead of us, silhouetted against the rising sun, pink and red shades behind them as they walked through the tall yellow turpentine grass. They don’t eat turpentine grass, but were nibbling on shorter green grasses as they moved. Surrounded by them, we noticed how many calves there were. ‘See how the males are in front, at the back and to the sides, to protect the females and calves,’ said Lets.
Meyer’s parrots flitted from tree to tree calling out with their high-pitched whistle, coppery-tailed coucals hopped about in the marshland and a malachite kingfisher flashed its jewel-like colours as we stopped to listen to a black-collared barbet and a crested barbet calling from the same tree.
Before long we found a second big herd of buffalos drinking at a large patch of water, elephants with calves forming a counterpoint in the background. Seeing two Big Five animals at one sighting is always special. We watched the buffalos for a long time, mostly peacefully drinking, some of them with all fours in the water. Once or twice a mooing scuffle broke out but was soon over. There must have been about 400 buffalos between the two large groups of buffalo we saw that morning. ‘There are lots of buffalo in this area now,’ Lets nodded, ‘because water has dried up elsewhere in the drought.’
The rest of the pack hunts then regurgitates food for them all, including the alpha pair. Lets said he’d seen them come back a few days earlier with no food to regurgitate. ‘The alpha female was lowering her head and making the call to regurgitate but they had no food.’ When they didn’t produce the goods, she started nipping and biting them, not pleased. She knows she needs food to make milk for the pups.
While we were watching the two alphas, we heard the alarm calls of baboons further away so Lets decided to investigate. ‘It could be a lion,’ he said. ‘Usually, when they bark with five-second intervals it could be a lion or wild dog or hyena. If it’s a leopard they just keep barking nonstop.’
It had been a great morning, with sightings of wild dogs and three of the Big Five. It’s one of the reasons we love the Okavango Delta and are in awe of the Great Plains Conservation guides, who deliver time and time again.
Things to do at Duba Explorers Camp
Go on a game drive
The late afternoon game drive might include sundowner drinks somewhere with a great view, or you might be enjoying so many wonderful sightings that you all agree to skip the drinks and keep watching animals. (That’s what happened on our drive when we saw the leopard.) You usually arrive back at camp after dark, so you fit in a little bit of a night drive as well. This is the time when you might spot nocturnal animals like lion, leopard, spotted hyena, genet, honey badger and owls. If you don’t enjoy spending time in the open safari vehicle on the lookout for wildlife, you don’t deserve to be here!
Enjoy a guided walking safari
Getting out of camp on foot is rewarding, especially if you’re staying in one place for three or four days. Change up the activities by opting for a morning walk instead of a game drive one day. Safe in the hands of your guide, you’ll learn about some of the small wonders of the bush, plants that are used by locals as food and medicine. It’s also a time to smell the wild sage, feel the texture of leaves, and listen for the alarm calls of baboons and birds, telling you (or at least your guide) what’s going on around you.
Don’t miss a mokoro ride
The Okavango Delta is home to more than 460 species of birds, including Pel’s fishing-owl, African fish-eagle, wattled crane, slaty egret, African skimmer and saddle-bill stork. You can enjoy birding during your game drives, mokoro ride or walking safari, but keeping your eyes open around camp is also a chance to spot birds. Even from the deck of your tent you might see birds like bee-eaters, African jacanas, kingfishers and more.
Indulge in superb food
Immerse yourself in nature
Take some time to sit and take notice of your surroundings and the sounds of the wild that envelop you. Whether you park yourself in the main area or on the deck of your tent, try to tune out everything but the natural surroundings and you’ll be surprised by how much you can hear, smell and see, from birds to tiny lizards and skinks, from the sound of hippos arguing to that of red lechwe gently splashing through a water channel.
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