Having driven over 341 miles (550km) on sandy roads from Windhoek in Namibia to Botswana – all the while, spotting giraffes, elephants and ostriches roaming around the wilderness – our first stop was the Okavango Delta, an extraordinary interior wetland inhabited by hippos and crocodiles which we navigated on mokoros. An experience unique to Botswana, mokoros are canoes piloted by local guides called 'polers'.
We reached our campsite on the edge of the water feeling incredibly relaxed and at one with nature. We watched the sunset, beers in hand, and heartily ate delicious local food by our campfire with our friendly guides through this landscape.
We were here in Botswana to embark on a small group adventure, and this was just the start. An overland odyssey from Namibia to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, over the next nine nights we would have elephants trot past our tents, watch lions in Chobe National Park – and spot an absolute abundance of wildlife.
The crackle of the fire that night was interspersed by the sounds of the nearby elephants and hippos going about their business in the dark of the night. As much as the fire was cosy and warming, we had to walk a few metres towards the water's edge to take in the incredible view of the Milky Way above us.
The immersive experience of being truly in the heart of nature could not be beaten – or so I thought. When one of my newfound friends, a fellow traveller in the group, suddenly whispered, "What was that?" our guide shone his torch to the right and our eyes saw what lay just 10 metres from us. A herd of 30-40 elephants, including calves, were strolling through the grass towards us.
We embarked on a bush walk, my favourite way to do safari – looking for wildlife whilst feeling the land underfoot.
Once they realised we were in their way, the matriarch changed direction to cross the water. We stood there watching, aided by the stars and torchlight, hearing the splashing of the elephants take a different course for our benefit. A truly incredible experience and example of the grand yet humble nature of the elephants – allowing their small human friends encroach on their land.
The next morning we embarked on a bush walk, my favourite way to do safari – looking for wildlife whilst feeling the land underfoot. It did not take long for us to stumble across the same herd of elephants that had gone out of their way to accommodate us just a few hours prior.
They were doing what elephants do: munching incessantly on tree branches. Occasionally the calves would stop and play, sometimes being told off by their mothers. It appears some things really do transcend the human world and the animal kingdom – what a delight to see and experience.
After about an hour of taking in this incredible sight, the elephants decided to move on. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park as I heard myself say to the others, "Er, they’re coming this way…" Rule number one is do not run. So we didn't - but power walk we did. As we glanced back, the relatively slow pace of these magnificent animals did not matter as they were easily narrowing the gap between us.
We turned left. We turned right. They followed. We turned to our guide who spotted a leafless tree ahead of us, which was to be our destination. As we took refuge behind the bare branches, the elephants, for the second time in 24 hours, changed direction and left us be.
An adrenalin rush for sure, but scary, no – you can’t help but feel at peace when you’re having such an incredible experience. This is what life is about. We reflected upon it again with sundowners, good food and good company by the crackling fire, under the starlit sky.
Arriving, I felt like I’d moved on from Jurassic Park and entered the Lion King. It was an experience that I thought only happened on screen.
Of course, elephants don’t just munch on trees. They love the water and the mud. You can’t help but laugh when these huge mammals are having the time of their life and embracing their inner calf, rolling around in the mud.
Chobe National Park is another incredible wildlife destination in Botswana. Arriving, I felt like I’d moved on from Jurassic Park and entered the Lion King. It was an experience that I thought only happened on screen, but when you find yourself in the middle of so many different species of wild animal you realise that the reality of life can take your imagination to new levels.
At one point we had lions to the left of us, giraffes and impalas to the right. We had baboons in front of us running around, being – well, cheeky monkeys – whilst an impala calf suckled off its mother.
The giraffes, warthogs and zebras also joined – it seems humans aren’t the only ones to experience FOMO. We watched the lions watch the crocodiles in the river.
We came across a pride of lions who were doing what lions do: sleeping. But not for long... a lion’s roar from the distance woke the group up.
Moments later, the squabbling lions came back to the pride one by one, slowly, majestically. We all know the importance of being consoled after a fall-out, and that’s what we witnessed.
The love and bonding between two lionesses following the fight was something wonderful to behold: the lioness involved in the fight was then consoled, caressed and licked by another. My heart melted. This is the circle of life. This is Botswana. This is Africa.
Inspired? Find out more about our Ultimate Adventure Through Wild Botswana, an overlanding epic that will take you from Namibia to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.