Thursday, 1 March 2012

On to Vumbura Plains

Tuesday, 28th February 2012

Following the usual early start, I had a final morning drive at King's Pool with my guide Od (said 'Oh-Dee'). This resulted in the usual sightings of birds, Impala and Elephants. We visited the injured Hippopotamus who had finally died, prompting more musings about life and death in the Bush. Later, at one of the green-covered Pans, I was amused to see a group of Whitefaced Duck apparently standing to attention.

A group of Whitefaced Ducks apparently standing to attention in the slime-covered shallows of a Water Hole.

Od followed Leopard footmarks in the sand of the track we were on and, sure enough, we eventually came to a leopard part-hidden in the grass, enjoying the morning sunshine and completely ignoring our arrival. We spent a little while studying the handsome animal from different viewpoints and eventually he raised himself, to display the complex markings which are called 'rosettes' (rather than 'spots'). At first, we thought he was going to move away but then he sank down into the grass again for some more relaxation.

The Leopard displays his streamlined profile and the variety of 'rosette' markings.

The variety of game was amazing. We passed Giraffe, Zebra, Elephants and had an encounter with a playful group of young wild dogs. Although they tend to sleep during the day, they were forever getting up, playing with other group members for a while, and then settling down again. At one of the Pans, we found a single Hippopotamus. Even the small Pans are often the daytime home of a Hippo.

Two of the group of Wild Dogs.

Our route back to the Camp took us past Chobe airstrip where we found Cessna A2-BOK 'tied down'. This was the aircraft that had brought a DeLoitte auditor to King's Pool as part of the end-of-year audit. I'd seen the auditor and his Pilot overnighting at the Camp. I discovered that Chobe airstrip was provided with a W.C. (connected to a septic tank) and washing facilities. I liked the improbable nature of a flush toilet out in the Bush and, of course, couldn't resist recording the facilities on film. Near the Camp, we came across another family group (male, female, youngster) of Elephant. They had clearly been for water as the splash marks on their hides revealed.

Elephant Mother and Baby.

After my usual Brunch, I said my farewells at this very friendly Camp and at noon Od drove me to the airstrip for my transfer to my final Camp on this tour, Vumbura Plains.

The Cessna 206 turned up on time but already had three passengers - apparently a middle-class Indian family with the sari-clad wife seated up the front with the pilot, and the husband in a business suit next to his long-haired teenage daughter in jeans and T-shirt in the middle row. The rear row of seats already seemed overful with their large, black solid-framed suitcases. The friendly pilot shuffled their luggage about so that there was just room for me to take up a rather cramped position next to the cases. I always read the safety instructions in an aircraft, even if it's a type I'm familiar with, and I was surprised to find that, this time, I was travelling with Mack Air as my previous flights in the Okavango had been with Wilderness Air. I learned that there is some co-operation between the companies to minimise the number of movements. The Okavango from the air is a fascinating area, with many contrasts. There are trees, bushes, numerous clearly-visible animal tracks and Pans of standing water.

Aerial view of one of the many circular 'Pans', surrounded by trees.

Our 30-minute flight took us to Stanley's Airstrip - a rather temporary-looking affair. This was the destination for the other three passengers. A Land Rover from the Sanctuary Retreat was waiting to meet them and their luggage. I didn't know Sanctuary Retreats but apparently they opened their first luxury lodge in Kenya in 1999 and now operate a number of camps in Africa in addition to expedition cruises.

Final approach to the airstrip at Stanley's.

Once all the luggage had been transferred and I was happily installed in the front right seat, we took off for Vumbura Plains - a flight of about twenty minutes over a diverse landscape of bush and watercourses. The airstrip at Vumbura didn't look much more permanent than Stanley's. Being used to major airports with hard-edged tarmac runways, the strips of bare sand with ragged edges as the grass attempts to subdue the sand looked rather odd, but they seemed to work well enough.

At the airstrip, I was met by my guide for Vumbura Plains, Ona (say 'Oh-Narr') and we set off to the Camp. It took around an hour to get there but we were rewarded by a host of sightings including birds, a Kudu, Impala, Warthogs. We met a group of at least five zebra. I couldn't help thinking that they looked like horses with a very extrovert paint job. We also saw Giraffe and a herd of at least a dozen Buffalo.

A group of Zebras with a Warthog trotting away in the background.


King's Pool: Game Drive 5.
From King's Pool to Vumbura Plains.