What a thrilling opportunity to dust off the camping gear and head out to our newest location in Botswana. The Qorokwe Concession, which encompasses over 26 180 hectares (64 692 acres) and is located in the high density game area of the south-eastern Okavango Delta, was to be my destination for the better part of a week. Those who visit our properties regularly will know the Chitabe and Gomoti areas; Qorokwe falls almost between the two on their borders with only the Gomoti Channel separating it from the Moremi Game Reserve – thus putting it slap bang in the middle of some of the most productive game areas in the whole of Botswana.
The drive to camp was only a few hours from Maun, but it did throw a few exciting challenges my way, with deep water crossings and the odd stubborn elephant or two. The sense of wild Africa heightened as I passed through remote settlements with children racing my overloaded safari vehicle along worn, sandy tracks. Elephant trumpeted at me as I pushed past them on the outskirts of the settlements, giving weathered fishermen and farmers the odd lift to avoid the beating sun and the countless kilometres they otherwise have to walk on a daily basis to sustain their livelihoods.
Guests should note that by the opening date Qorokwe will have its own brand-new airstrip, dropping visitors directly into one of the wildest areas of the Delta, less than 20 minutes’ flying time from Maun. So no need to face the elements and fix punctures as I did in the hot, sun-bleached Delta sands…!
Soon there were no more villages to be seen and only pure African wilderness; untouched, as it were, for hundreds of years bar the transit route I had been following to get to my destination. As animal numbers grew and the camp staff I had somehow accumulated along the way became more chatty I knew I was nearing the exciting new development which very soon will become their pride and joy – not to mention another highly beneficial tourism partnership to train, develop and grow their hospitality skills. These skills are much desired and needed in a country where tourism is one of our top-employing industries and also often allows crucial employment closer to home.
It’s important to note that Qorokwe intends to employ 49 personnel. Statistics show that each lodge staff member directly supports a further seven people as a result of their employment, while every lodge bed indirectly impacts no less than 14 rural people through other elements such as revenue share, procurement and additional services.
Arriving on site I realised what a mammoth task was at hand. Qorokwe, comprising eight guest units plus one very spacious family unit and a magnificent main area to fit in with our Classic Camp standards, is being constructed on land unutilised for over four years. A land so wild that even roads seem a luxury is soon to become the newest addition of the growing Wilderness Safaris footprint, giving it protection and purpose in a sustainable tourism and conservation model.
Introducing myself to the building team I heard about elephants, unfazed by the building process, still coming down daily to enjoy the nourishing lagoon which forms the western boundary of the camp. I had to chuckle at the building team who had an unscheduled day off work when a lioness decided to leave her sub-adult progeny within a stone’s throw of the camp main area for a whole day.
I met up with Richard who was to be my tracker for my stay to ensure I made it back to camp at night. Keen to see the lions that I had heard so much about I was eager to set out as soon as possible. Richard assured me that if anybody here could find the lions, it was him. This land is very close to the heart of his family, and he has followed the animal movements for years. The lions of the area, a pride of 15 he said, were like friends to him and he knows exactly where they prefer sleeping out the hot hours of the day.
Richard was true to his word, and by day two we had managed to catch up with the pride. By then he had told me countless stories of spending time with them at waterholes, and how their love for water also became their lifeline as they waited out their unsuspecting prey which regularly came down to quench their thirst. And whether it was coincidence, luck or some magnificent behind-the-scenes planning I would never know, but the lions remained true to their reputation and took to the water like Labradors to the family pool!
Over the days our countless hours of exploring opened up a world of diverse Delta biomes – from scattered acacia woodland with herds of giraffe, zebra and various plains game to pristine floodplains, home to curious red lechwe and gnarled buffalo bulls, from where the name Qorokwe is derived: “The place where the buffalo broke through the bush into the water”.
But for me what stood out was the abundance of huge male elephants creating magnificent subjects against a picturesque Okavango backdrop.
It’s a classic Delta setting for another Classic Wilderness Safaris camp…
Words and images by Deon de Villiers