Maun is the gateway town into what is perhaps the ultimate safari area; Botswana’s Okavango Delta. But only a couple of years ago the choice of accommodation in Maun was pretty dire. So why stay in Maun you might think? Well, firstly it is the only town for many miles, secondly after a long international flight and an internal flight from a major airport like Johannesburg, you may reach Maun at an inopportune time to take your final flip into the Okavango Delta. Or thirdly, you may just be so exhausted that you need a night or two to recover before flying into the Park on a 6 or 8-seater light aircraft and paying top Dollar prices while staying there.
In which case, I would recommend staying in Royal Tree Lodge, called Motsentsela Tree Lodge when I was there. It is only 15km outside town on 200 hectares of mixed bushland, dotted with springbok and zebra and other non-threatening animals. You can wait a day or so before you come face to face with something capable of eating you in the Delta itself, by which time you will be awake and ready to witness the great beasts of Africa.
Slide into safari mode slowly
Until then, relax and recover at Tree Lodge. The owner, Brent Dacomb, had a hand in building many safari lodges in the Okavango Delta, so when it came to constructing his own, he selected the best elements of a tented safari camp and put them together to make ‘Tree Lodge’. Here was someone, that was for once, was able to use hindsight to achieve the best possible results. And even though this is a tented safari camp, it is so far from traditional camping it’s not funny.
Classic design elements are often the most effective – it’s the KISS principle at work again (Keep It Simple Stupid!). But it does take a good eye to bring everything together and this isn’t always easy. At Tree Lodge they certainly make it look easy, with small distinctive details, like putting up curtains in a tented room. Who’d have thought of installing a curtain rod above the flyscreen mesh windows of the walk-in safari tents, like a real home? The effect is very comforting. So is the big bed dolloped with soft pillows and cushions lying atop crisply laundered white linen, that just makes you want to spend time in it.
Another great feature of the room is the false wall that creates the head of the bed and separates the bedroom from the bathroom. Beside the bed are tables and attractive wall-mounted lamps that help give the room a sense of permanency. The rear of the false wall has a consol with dual hand basins and a freestanding bath. This makes the one large canvas room into two distinct spaces, yet allows free flow from either side of the bed.
Additional consideration has gone into providing a separate toilet, and the lovely safari feature of an outside shower surrounded by tall reeds. These are just a couple of the design features Brent picked up on his travels, which work beautifully. Another is to frame the doors with wood and situate the whole tented room on a glossy wooden deck as appealing as any home, which extends onto a small balcony of your own.
If this is sounding good, then you may also like the thatched honeymoon suites discreetly positioned amongst the trees, and offering a little bit more privacy and luxury.
At the lodge
The main gathering and eating area of Tree Lodge is an open plan affair with thatched roof and doors onto a large teak deck. A thousand-year-old Leadwood sprawls its boughs over the deck and the Birdplum tree is big enough to enable drinks to be sipped in its shade. Décor inside the large open-plan hall is unashamedly African, with a soft brown leather sofa to slump into and easy chairs scattered with cushions of African fabric. Dinner is in an atmosphere of sharing, with guest often sitting at one big table, chatting over tasty food.
The Okavango Delta may be just a short hop away from Maun, but Tree Lodge has its own little patch of Africa too, inhabited by about 200 different kind of birds, numerous wild animals, and I’m sure I spotted some cattle and horses too. You may also be lucky enough to see the rare nocturnal aardwolf and aardvark, and if you clock them up, you can count yourself amongst the lucky few, as after 13 years on safari, I have never seen an aardvark. Take one of the walking trails with a strong torch and you may be lucky. Or just chill out by the cute plunge pool, which is a real temptation in the heat of an African day.
Staying at Tree Lodge made all the difference to my onward journey into the bush, which always involves dawn awakenings and so many new experiences which can be quite exhausting. Unlike some fellow travellers, I arrived in the Delta cool, calm and collected and ready for whatever wild Africa was going to throw at me.