Rare | Botswana

Adventures in Botswana’s Okavango Delta

A frequent visitor to northern Botswana’s Okavango Delta, senior destination specialist Hannah Rayner extols the virtues of Beagle Expeditions’s Kweene Trails.

In some respects, the Okavango Delta in Botswana is a victim of its own extraordinary success. In becoming something of a safari mecca, it has as a whole become perhaps too well-known, its fame and its guarantee of the most wonderful of wildlife experiences seeing the market captured by big players and a style of accommodation that has redefined the meaning of remote luxury.

This is fine, of course, for those who enjoy the most classic of gold tap experiences. Plus, many of those abovementioned players are huge advocates of travel-driven conservation. However, if you’re after the private guided experience of the bush camps of old, then the best of the best in the Okavango Delta, at least for me, has to be Beagle Expeditions’s Kweene Trails.

Operating in the Abu Private Reserve in the western Okavango Delta, Kweene Trails is a private mobile tented experience run by the brilliant Marleen and Simon Byron and their three children — a family who know the Delta intimately.

expedition unique

The Byrons spend no more than 100 days a year hosting, which amounts to roughly ten expeditions. With camps set and struck several times, each expedition is different from the last one, on account of the season, the rains, the paths taken, and the wants and needs of their guests.

Some, then, are by and large walking safaris. Others are conducted largely by boat or mokoro or dugout canoe. A few may take place in vehicles, depending on guest mobility. Whichever way, the ever-changing location, the focus on the slow safari, and the unremittingly fine feedback from guests speak to the wild spirit of Kweene Trails and the knowledge and wonderful bonhomie of its hosts.

Private guide extraordinaire

The keystone in the Kweene Trails experience is the quality of the guiding, which is nothing short of brilliant: Simon Byron is recognised throughout the industry as being one of the continent’s very best wildlife guides.

As anyone who has had the opportunity to travel with Byron will know, what that means is so much more than having an encyclopedic knowledge of the land and the life it holds. It’s even more than being a super adept logistician. It’s about two things: one, the ability to build trust and so tell through doing the kind of stories that open up the raw beauty and logic of nature, turning a trip into the most thrilling of adventures; and two, it facilitates long-lasting relationships, especially those that see friendships begin and blossom between visitors and members of the local community, many of whom the Byrons know extremely well themselves, either through work or as partners.

All this is much better told in a wonderful piece by the Financial Times’s Mike Carter, who was lucky enough to be hosted by Byron on a trip that saw him traverse the Okavango ‘panhandle’ and ‘pan’, from top to bottom. The 160-mile excursion was conducted by speedboat, helicopter, mokoro, and on foot, with the quality of the itinerary leaving him in no doubt as to its otherworldliness: ‘The Okavango Delta is part Edenic — no roads, almost entirely unmarked by the trespass of man — and part Jurassic Park: the fence, the lost-worldness of it, the giant spur-winged geese flying under us like pterodactyls, the four-metre dinosaur-like crocodiles on the banks, the prehistoric-looking baobab trees.’

There is no way, as Carter intimates, that he would have been here in this wild and wildly unfamiliar place but for Byron. ‘Simon would find us spots to swim and you realised that, out there, without guides such as Simon, our life expectancy would be pretty low.’ The very best guides have the ability to build a level of trust so profound as to facilitate experiences that visitors could never imagined for allowing when sat at home and imagining what it would be like to go on safari. Byron is one of those guides.

La Camp

To finish then, the camp itself. Whatever the trip, Kweene Trails is a simple canvas construct and consists of a mess tent and sleeping tents. The mess tent is home to a dining table and chairs, a coffee and tea station, and a bar and fire with camp chairs. The sleeping arrangements and the quality of the food and drink are the outfit’s one concession to home comforts: large dome tents with Egyptian cotton bedding on comfortable beds make for a fine night’s sleep. Delicious fire-cooked meals washed down with fine wine make for a most convivial ambience. It’s a lovely and most welcome human-constructed contrast to the pure nature just beyond one’s tent.

If you would like to know more about the Okavango Delta or Botswana, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Hannah or Kyle de Nobrega

All images © Kyle de Nobrega

The trip’s helicopter transfers and adventures were facilitated by the excellent Heli Horizons.

For more on travel in the Okavango Delta, please contact us.

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