From Zambia, we turned South West to Botswana. Our journey would take us by road, boat, and bush plane to get to the famous Okavango Delta, and our first stop: Sanctuary Retreats’ Baines Camp. From Royal Chundu, we were picked up by Bush Tracks, the local team that coordinates safari transfers between Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia (did you know all four countries meet in a point on the Zambezi an hour west of Royal Chundu?). We were taken to the Botswana border and smoothly passed over the river and through the customs. On the other side, it was just a short drive to the delta’s Kasane Airport, where we met Augustine — our pilot, who would be flying us deep into the bush en route to Baines Camp!
I am a frequent and comfortable flyer when traveling with commercial airlines, but I couldn’t help feeling a few butterflies of worry when we walked onto the tarmac towards our tiny propeller plane at Kasane. After the initial rush during takeoff, we leveled out and I felt at ease and was immediately engrossed in the scenery floating below me. I even teared up several times at the beauty — it was straight from the movie Out of Africa. The flying time was about an hour and a half, and David and I couldn’t take our eyes off the passing landscape — from bushvelt to green marshy delta and the sinuous branches of it’s channels. We saw giraffe, elephants, and even hippos from the air. A few times, we were surprised to be joined by eagles soaring not too far below us, scanning the land for their next meal.
Coming closer to Baines Camp, we saw the rectangular air strip growing larger on the horizon. The camp is quite remote — a four hour drive from the nearest town, and the airstrip is made of termite hill dirt (surprisingly sold material). We thanked Augustine for a smooth ride and touch down, and turned to greet Max, our guide who had just pulled up in his Land Cruiser. Max explained that Baines Camp was an additional hour’s ride from the airstrip and we set off on sandy roads towards camp. (The roads undulate quite a bit — as they are not permanent roads and are underwater during the flooding season, during which, guests are picked up in a boat and ferried to camp). As we made our way across the delta landscape, we were in awe of its unique beauty – so different from the bushvelt of South Africa. We especially loved the tall golden grass, that waved in the breeze inviting imagery of what the waters would look like in different times.
We pulled into camp, greeted by a chorus of song and dance, as staff introduced themselves to us one by one. Their voices were beautiful and it was certainly one of the most memorable and touching moments of our time on safari! Baines Camp is at once rustic and luxurious — surrounded by wilderness, built atop wooden perches over the delta. We made our way into the elevated lounge and heard barks and fighting in the distance — hippos getting a bit aggressive in a lagoon just beyond the dining area! Gorgeous yellow weavers flitted back and forth from their nests just feet from us as we went through orientation. The schedule at Baines Camp was similar to other safaris, with a morning and evening game drive each day, as well as afternoon tea, evening “sun downer” cocktail hour, and of course meals.
At Baines Camp, we felt truly connected to the wilderness — in a great way. Almost every wall in our cabin had panels that could be rolled up, leaving only a screen between us and the outdoors, creating a wild immersion experience — especially after hours when hippos and elephants become more active for feeding and would constantly be growling and breaking branches a few feet from our bed. Baines offers a “sleeping under the stars” experience (or can I suggest, sleeping with the elephants?), where your canopy bed is rolled out onto your balcony for a truly immersive experience. Due to the threat of rain we didn’t get to try this out, but felt like we were close enough anyway with the panels open.
And then there were the game drives! We loved surveying the delta with Max, and learning about its unique ecosystem, largely and surprisingly sustained by termite mounds, who create brick-quality mud that eventually builds up the land and creates new islands for earth-based life during the flooding season. We loved seeing the elephants, warthogs, lions, hyenas, giraffe, and even a friendly leopard tortoise from the vehicle. For one drive, we traded our rover for a dugout canoe called a mokoro, to glide along the lily pads and reeds of the delta, taking in the landscape’s smaller details. From water level we saw so many more birds, including a malachite kingfisher that seemed to be following our boat, and a thirsty elephant that trumpeted when we came around the bend and surprised each other!
The staff were constantly surprising us with meals in different locations, including a beautiful lunch out in the bush with white linens and champagne that was straight out of Out Of Africa. On our last night, we were surprise to come back from our evening drive to a lovely bubble bath positioned to watch the sunset on our balcony, before we headed to a private dinner set up by the pool. During dinner, a mischievous elephant decided to snack on a tree at the end of the pool deck, and staff told us he often likes to chase the staff on their walk to work!
We loved our two nights at Baines Camp, and with a renovation planned for later this year I hope we can return to see their new look and experience the delta during the wet season in 2019! Thank you to Max and the staff at Sanctuary Retreats’ Baines Camp for such a memorable stay!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com