This is no ordinary horse ride! Novice riders need not apply; experience and a high level of in-the-saddle competence is a pre-requisite for this adventure with African Horseback Safaris. You have to handle horses that are fit and raring-to-go, as well possible encounters with big game of the Okavango Delta like leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and wild dog. I was up for the challenge and riding fit and very excited about this trip.
It is my not-so-humble opinion, that the Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s greatest wilderness areas. It offers one of the best all round safari experiences and being on a horse here, is for me, the pinnacle of safari experiences. The potential dangers of the African bush are far less fearsome on horseback than say walking, as the horses play their fair share in warning of hazards. After all they don’t really want to be eaten by a lion either.
GALLOP THROUGH THE FLOODPLAINS.
I was last seen galloping joyfully through the Okavango’s seasonal floodplains, joining in a zebra stampede and trying to keep up with suprisingly speedy giraffe. We never met any lions, who would probably run away from this wild-west cowboy spectacle anway.
Soaked with the spray from horses hooves, I was grinning from ear to ear at the sheer exhilarating feeling of riding free from formality in one of the most beautiful game areas in the world. The Okavango Delta is a life-giving source in an otherwise parched country, reaching reaching its fingers of waterways and papyrus-lined channels over the Kalahari sands, which open out to reveal peaceful lagoons full of water lilies. Shady forest glades, Ilala palm islets, mopane bushes and rich savannah grasslands are surrounded by vast floodplains, and together, provide an extraordinary range of habitats.
BABOONS BY THE POOL
Macatoo Tented Camp is African Horseback Safari’s base camp, but this is no normal camping experience. My large walk-in safari tent was equipped with instant hot water in my en-suite bathroom. I even found a hot water bottle warming my bed as the temperature cooled into the night. My canvas room was decorated with African batik fabrics and I had my own little veranda looking out towards the floodplains. Before and after meals, the interesting international crowd who’d come together with the common interest of horses and safari, often relaxed at the lagoon-side wooden viewing deck. Sunk into it is a refreshingly chilly swimming pool, which the resident baboons drink from. They treated this deck, and its supporting beams, as if it was built purely as their playground. The youngsters played tag and chase for hours while parents lounged about.
Macatoo Camp food is excellent and some culinary surprises confirmed in my mind, that Macatoo rates alongside many of the best in the Okavango Delta. One morning we rode into an ambush where a ‘Bush Breakfast’ brunch table was laid out for us. It started and ended with ‘buck’s fizz’, as there seemed to be an endless supply. It turned out we were right by the camp, although none of us realised this, and instead of remounting our steeds under the influence of too much champagne, the horses were miraculously spirited away by grooms waiting in the bushes.
Evening meals were a gastronomic treat too, with all the guests sitting at one long table under a starry sky. Sounds romantic? Well yes it was, although romance was the last thing on my mind after going hell for leather in a saddle for 5-6 hours a day. My butt was a little saddle weary, but the burning feeling I felt in my buttocks was not from overuse, it was because hot coals had been shoveled under each chair, to warm us up in the place we most needed it! A ‘hot bottom’ in riding speak, usually refers to someone who always seems to make horses leap around and buck, but here it took on a new meaning. As darkness descended we gathered around the campfire and heard nocturnal animals like lion and hyena announcing themselves. We managed to do a lot of laughing of our own and an easy camaraderie formed amongst us.
My impressions of the Okavango are governed by my senses – sounds, smells and colours of Africa. There were flowing mane palominos, the same golden hue as the thigh-high grass, and chestnuts and bays matching the various shades of autumn leaves and well worn leather. A herd of a thousand grunting buffalo gave off a bovine whiff, made more pleasant by their hooves releasing the pleasing scent of wild sage under their hooves. When they stampeded through the shallow water, it made a sound similar to the great Zambezi falling over the Victoria Falls. A more indefinable scent was that of impending rain. This was heaven on horseback.
The occasional rain was as warm as the shallow lagoons and I got soaked a few times. I either got wet from below with water kicked up from the galloping horse in front of me, or from above in the occasional downpour. This didn’t matter and the gigantic white clouds give relief to a too blue sky. I was physically exhausted but could still not get that grin off my face as the mixture of challenging physical activity and all the best aspects of being on safari, turned into one of the most pleasurable holidays a horse rider could ever wish for.
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