When he shared his agenda with me, and it was almost a mirror image of mine (except his involved helicopters and mine involved the Delta's most-prized safari camp), I knew we were on the same mission. It turned out he needed a place to stay and I needed a ride, so it was a no brainer to combine our efforts and fulfil all goals on a single itinerary.
Marc Stickler (primatologist, photographer and Nikon ambassador) and I got together with Helicopter Horizons’ manager and pilot, Andrew Baker to explore a few remote and totally untouched areas of the Okavango.
Cameras? Check… (It looked like we were going to war, with a full set of Canons, Nikons and a highly prized Leica in the mix)
Satellite phone? Check...
Emergency kit and water? Check...
(And pretty much in that order of priorities too!)
A quick radio check with the tower and off to the Okavango we were headed for an epic aerial two-day photographic safari.
Doors off and cameras already buzzing we arrived right on the doorstep of our destination. The doorstep of not only one of the world’s most sought-after luxury safari destinations, but also some of Africa’s most amazing wildlife and picturesque landscapes. It's no wonder they crowned the Okavango Delta a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, and Mombo won Travel + Leisure’s best hotel in the World 2013!
For me heading out on an aerial photographic safari with a globally-renowned wedding and wildlife photographer was a real treat and an opportunity to challenge my photographic skills against a real master.
Andrew, who has been flying the Delta for just over 20 years, assured us that we would be flying in totally remote and unutilised areas, a short flight away from Mombo Trails. This area, as Andrew tells me, is where they do quite a bit of their scenic flying. They’ve chosen this area as they know it doesn't disturb any ground safari goers, and the wildness – in his opinion – is unmatched.
Another interesting fact Andrew shared with me was that their choppers have flown over 100 hours in the first half of this year on wildlife operations alone. “We are based in all areas of the Delta and Linyanti so have eyes in the sky and are in constant communication with APU (Anti-Poaching Units) and the various conservation and research organisations,” Andrew explained. Our machines are in the air every day and the pilots have a keen eye for anything out of the norm. So a helicopter can be tasked at a moment’s notice to lend a hand, whether looking for a wayward rhino or assisting in darting operations for injured and endangered species.
To some, choppers represent noise and maybe even pollution, yet to us they provide a vital link in wildlife conservation. A link that none other can deliver in the remote and inaccessible outlying regions of the Delta.
Isn’t it incredible that our guests are now part of this exciting and vitally-important conservation “purpose” – this because every guest flight concentrates on flying in areas that are less-used – providing that daily eye-in-the-sky surveillance. Furthermore, each pilot is very experienced and knows and understands exactly what to look for, having contributed countless hours of volunteer rhino missions through donations by helicopter Horizons as needed. That presence is vital to the safekeeping of our precious Okavango Delta and its highly-prized inhabitants.
So not only does your Delta scenic flight offer you mind-blowing experiences, it also delivers a purpose for the greater good of sustainable tourism – and wildlife conservation specifically.
Next time you're in the Delta opt for a scenic and explore areas where man has never placed a foot, and the only footprints are from nature itself.
You can pre-book your scenic prior to travel, or on the ground during your journey, as you prefer.
Written and Photographed by Deon de Villiers