Okavango flight

A spectacular way of observing this most biodiverse of wildernesses

Okavango flight
2nd March 2007 Jane Tomlinson

The Okavango delta in northern Botswana seeped into my consciousness through watching wildlife programmes.

It is much-loved by wildlife film-makers because of its unique habitat of reeds and waterways, scrubby riverine forests and grasslands which support a rich variety of species. It was inevitable that some day I’d visit. I blame David Attenborough.

Before we went, my friend Les, who visited the delta a few years ago, told me: ‘you must get a flight in a light aircraft if you can, it’s the only way to really understand it’. Excellent advice, Les!

As the seven-seater took off in the oppressive, afternoon heat out of Maun airport for our one-hour scenic flight, I could hear Mozart’s clarinet concerto playing in my head – just like when Meryl Steep and Robert Redford fly over the landscape in ‘Out of Africa’. And I felt just as emotional! We flew at a steady 500 feet, and to see this unspoilt land stretch out in every direction was awe-inspiring.

The flooded landscape

I could see random patterns and textures made by trees and rivers, outcrops and ant hills; tracks and pathways worn by thousands of hoofs; and more greens, blues and yellows than exist in my imagination… Add to that view the privilege of viewing wildlife from the air and it all becomes too much. Too special, too beautiful.

Immediately I spied giraffes, buffalo and hundreds of antelopes, then small herds elephants, hippos floating in the water, the dark comma-shapes of lurking crocodiles … eagles and vultures soared around and below us, storks perched in trees and amassed at waters’-edges.

A hippo floats among the waterlilies

Moth and I took endless photos, knowing most of them would be out-of-focus (we were shooting through glass on a long lens) hoping that a few would be OK.

Just two of the many elephants we saw

Flying low over Africa … looking at wildlife … I was in heaven!

Marabou storks relax in a pool

And I was still in heaven when, halfway through the flight, I began to swiftly deposit the contents of my stomach into a small paper bag I had found in the pouch of the seat in front of me. I still smiled. In fact, I hadn’t realised I’d eaten so much at lunchtime! I was anxious not to miss a moment’s aerial viewing, so I spent a few moments perfecting a vomit-as-you-view technique. No problem.

We saw loads of giraffes. Pity we couldn’t photograph on in focus, eh?!

The plane touched down. I was so hot and cramped on the plane I thought I’d melt. My legs turned to jelly, sweat poured off me and I stepped carefully, wobblingly, from the plane. ‘Is there anywhere for me to dump this?’ I meekly asked the cool, dashing, young uniformed pilot as I gestured towards the sick bag I was clutching.

Photos: Moth Clark and me