Glass enjoys being queueless in Botswana and Victoria Falls

WAITING in queues and the constant proximity of too many other people are bugbears of modern life that the mechanics of travelling manages to intensify. What a relief to have them disappear once you walk out of passport control at Maun airport, a tiny African hub in northern Botswana and the gateway to a holiday where crowds – the animal kingdom excepted – and waiting in line are non-existent.

No queues but plenty of stars at Duma Tau

This was my thought when, 24 hours after leaving Heathrow, I was standing by a waterhole in the Okavango delta sipping a cold drink and watching a small flock of spur-winged geese gather for their night’s sojurn. Impala could be heard calling in the distance and a complex sunset was forming in shades of red over a line of trees on the horizon. Returning to Qorokwe Camp, my accommodation for the night, a blanket of stars had enveloped the sky and silence was only sometimes broken by unseen reed frogs; having just arrived from the congested metropolis of London, the sense of being alone in the universe was therapeutic. Qorokwe’s appeal is its boutique scale, having only nine deluxe tents; added luxury is its isolation and serenity.

Comfortable accommodation at Qorokwe Camp

The Okavango is a wilderness, fed by an undammed river from its source a thousand kilometres away in Angola that spreads out when it reaches Botswana to form a vast inland delta system. Within this mosaic of waterways, swamps and islands there are areas of bush, forests and dry woodland that attract myriad wildlife of a conspicuous kind: lion, leopard, hyena, giraffe, hippopotamus …

A part of Botswana's animal carnivalA part of Botswana’s animal carnival

The name Qorokwe apparently means “the place where the buffalo broke through the bush into the water” and the camp, fringed by acacia and mopane woodlands, does look out on a lagoon but Cape buffaloes are only seen from a safe distance on game drives.

A lion and her alone in Botswana A lion and her alone in Botswana.

I came with a copy of Birds of Botswana, invaluable for looking up the incredible diversity of species that your guide will identify. Quixotic-looking hornbills, the glamorously coloured lilac-breasted roller and shaft-tailed whydahs, with incredibly long, forked tails, are all listed as common but not to a newcomer from northern Europe.

Linyanti is outside of Okavango, to the north and close to the border with Namibia, and an ancient watercourse called the Savute Channel attracts wildlife. Elephants travel here in herds and at Duma Tau Camp plenty of them will be seen. Lunch cruises are enjoyed floating along the Savute Channel, reeds and papyrus grass around you on the banks and polyandrous African jacanas delicately stepping from the leaves of one Blue Water Lily to another. At night, you go to sleep in one of twelve stylish tents, part of the camp’s airy architecture which express – if there is such a thing – an explorer aesthetic. During the night, the grumbling bellows of hippos can be occasionally heard not far away in the water.

Tented rooms at Duma Tau alongside the Savute Channel.

Bathrooms with Okavango views at Damu TauBathrooms with Okavango views at Duma Tau.

Being this close to the border with Zimbabwe, an opportunity to see the Victoria Falls should not be missed. There is a grand place to stay close to the Falls and the eponymous town, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, a huge, wood-and-thatch cathedral of a place, overlooking a forest that stretches to the horizon. The forest is broken only by a small lagoon that attracts animals; come darkness, it is spotlit and the free wildlife show is best seen from a table in the bar or restaurant.

A complex sunset forming in shades of red in Okavango A complex sunset forming in shades of red in Okavango.

The Lodge runs shuttle buses into Victoria Falls town, at the western end of the Falls, and there are two major attractions apart from the obvious reason for being here. One is the Victoria Falls Lodge, classic colonial although – like the Raffles in Singapore – so pristinely preserved as to almost vaporize the history that should haunt the place. What has to be seen, though, is the view from the Stanley Terrace of the Falls, misty from the powerful spray, and the view of the 1904 iron bridge that crosses the Zambezi River and divides Zimbabwe from Zambia. The bridge was built as part of Cecil Rhodes’ improbable scheme for a Cape to Cairo railway and he wanted it close enough to the Falls to catch the spray as it passed over the river.

The 1904 iron bridge that crosses the Zambezi River, dividing Zimbabwe from Zambia.

Nearby and even closer to the Falls is Ilala Lodge and its splendiferous Palm Restaurant. It’s not just the food – crocodile frikadelle or ostrich fillet anyone? – but the Alice-in-Wonderland juxtaposition of fine dining with elephants wandering in the adjoining grounds, some fifty metres away from the outdoor tables.

A laburnum in bloom outside the Palm Restaurant at Victoria Falls.

Al fresco lunch at the Palm Restaurant with spray rising from the Falls in the backgroundAl fresco lunch at the Palm Restaurant with spray rising from the Falls in the background.

A trip to Botswana and Victoria Falls means getting away from the madding crowds, experiencing the frisson of being perilously close to large wildlife and, the icing on the cake, enjoying luxury accommodation – and with all of this not a queue in sight.

by Sean Sheehan

Mahlatini Luxury Travel (028 90 736 050) offers a six-night luxury, all-inclusive holiday at Wilderness Qorokwe Camp and Duma Tau Camps and Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. See also Africa Albida Tourism.

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