Review of Moremi Game Reserve

© Breakfast on your private deck
Wake up to Breakfast in MoremiThe Savute marsh and twisting contours of the dry channel disappear behind me as our Cessna speeds away towards the Okavango Delta. It's only a short flight to Moremi Game Reserve but I'm amazed at how the scenery significantly changes.
The harsh dry landscape of Chobe National Park slips away and suddenly the water world appears. Small tributaries and marshy floodplains glint in the sun as we fly low, before landing on the bumpy Xakanaxa runway. Flights between camps in Botswana usually take place around lunchtime, so as not to clash with prime game viewing hours. This morning I watched the sun rise in Savute and later will catch the sunset in Moremi.From the dirt airstrip, it's a short drive to Camp Moremi, a luxury lodge beautifully situated on the Xakanaxa Lagoon. The lodge accommodates just 22 guests in tastefully furnished walk-through East African safari tents. It also has a lounge, dining room, wildlife library and cocktail bar in an elegant elevated thatch structure built around giant ebony trees. The grounds are green and spacious and include a swimming pool, sundeck, hammock and raised viewing platform overlooking the lagoon.
After lunch and a refreshing swim, I head out with a British couple that are also keen photographers, for a sunset game drive. Our guide Jaco Tlotlego steers us through a forested area of mopane, jackal-berry, sausage and rain trees. Here on the edge of the delta, the vegetation is varied and changes constantly, with wooded forests, riverine habitat, open grassland and seasonal floodplains all combining to create one of Africa's great wildlife sanctuaries.

We catch sight of a lone cheetah but it quickly runs off and even though we try to follow, it soon disappears in the distance. Nearby, a small herd of zebra, Botswana's national animal, graze peacefully in a field.

As the light softens and a yellow glow spreads over the plains, two lionesses slink into view. With ears pricked and heads forward, it's clear they are on a mission, so we follow them until sunset, hoping to see a hunt. But they seem in no hurry and soon settle down to rest. Lions hunt best after dark.

Another day dawns in the animal kingdom of Africa. My body is finely tuned to the wilderness schedule and I'm awake before the alarm. It's freezing in the pre-dawn hour and I don several layers of clothing. A tee-shirt, jersey, photographers jacket, fleece coat, shorts, tracksuit pants, boots and balaclava, and I'm ready to face the cold. Jaco drives us down the sandy path past the airstrip and we stop to watch the sun rise above distant mopane trees.Two kudus eat from the bright red flowers of a cat's claw tree and a troop of baboons plays naughtily on a log. Some scavenge under rocks for scorpions, others groom each other while the cute babies fight and roll. We arrive at a small waterhole where hundreds of large catfish are rolling and slipping in the mud.  'This waterhole is drying up fast and the fish are all trying to stay at the bottom so they won't be the first ones eaten by that fish eagle perched in the tree,' says Jaco.

We drive through a shallow floodplain and end up getting firmly stuck in the mud. Jaco radios the other vehicle for help who attach a tow rope and try to pull us out backwards. It doesn't work and they drive around to try from the front.

Engines rev and mud flies everywhere but our wheels just stick in deeper. An elephant arrives to see what's happening and when he gets too close, Jaco shouts and chases him away. The guides jack up the vehicle to stick logs under the tyres for added traction. Forty five minutes and much mud-spinning later, we're finally free.

At Magwegana Pools, 20 huge crocodiles, some up to six metres long, sit sunning themselves on the bank. I crawl on my belly to get a little closer but they are still out of camera range when they sense my presence and start to slide into the water. The best picture I get is of a black-winged stilt. It's nearly midday by the time we get back to the lodge. After a delicious lunch of pasta salad and cold meats, I swim in the pool and chill out reading a book, followed by a siesta in the hammock overlooking the lagoon.After tea and cake, it's time for another game drive. This will be my last of my trip as tomorrow I head into the delta where activities are water-based. As the sun starts to sink, we come across two male lions lying in tall grass. 'They are brothers,' says Jaco, 'because adult males are usually by themselves unless they are with a member of its family.'One lion is fast asleep on his back but the other, who has a very shaggy mane, is up and alert. His eyes watch our every move. But as long as we stay still inside the vehicle, the lion cannot distinguish us, as they only see the shape of the vehicle and no details. The rule in an open vehicle is to watch, be silent and not move around.
The light is perfect and we spend some time photographing the vigilant cat, until the British woman starts jumping around trying to get a better vantage. 'I wouldn't do that if I were you,' I whisper loudly to her. 'That lion is already on edge. . and look how he's watching you now.'He sits just ten metres away, his ears pricked and tail flicking erratically. Then he lets out a warning roar. This lion is clearly angry and does not want us around. We have unwittingly parked in a precarious situation - a lion sandwich - with the brother lying nearby on the other side. Ten metres is not a lot of ground for lions to cover. 'This situation is not so good,' says Jaco, starting up the engine. 'We've stopped on rocky ground and it's not easy to drive away fast. That lion is angry and we need to back out of here now.'We reverse away and circle round to watch the brother who is sleeping amongst foliage on his back. Then, in a moment I'll remember forever, he rolls over and with one visible big brown eye, stares straight into my lens. After sundowners on an open plain, we drive back to camp with night setting in.Suddenly our headlights catch a familiar sight. Padding slowly down the sandy road, the angry lion with the shaggy mane walks proud, just metres away from our open vehicle. Unconcerned, he walks right past me without a glance and disappears in the gloom.Later in my tent, I switch off the light and all is dark and silent. Suddenly, a hippo grunts near the lagoon and in the distance, I hear the high-pitched cackle of a hyena. Then, like a distant roll of thunder, comes the powerful roar of a lion. I fall asleep, listening to the sounds of Africa.Reviewed by Jeremy Jowell
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