The magic of a classic expedition

Offering an intimate adventure across one of Africa’s last great corners of untouched wilderness, the secluded canvas escape at Selinda Explorers Camp is a vintage echo of the golden age of exploration…

May 2015

It is, quite simply, one of Africa’s most spectacular corners. Hidden away in northern Botswana alongside the famous Okavango Delta, the Selinda Reserve is a 129 000-hectare private game sanctuary.

It’s perhaps most famous for the Selinda Spillway that runs through the heart of the reserve, linking the Okavango Delta to the Linyanti river system. Although dry for much of the year, when heavy rains eventually turn the sandy riverbed into a gushing cascade of crystal-clear champagne-coloured water, the region boasts some of the finest game viewing in Southern Africa.

While the game is abundant in the lush grasslands flanking the Spillway, Selinda is particularly famous for the vast herds of elephant and buffalo that gather on the banks of the Zibadianja Lagoon, particularly in the dry days of winter. Where there is water there is wildlife, and where there is wildlife you will find predators. No surprise then that Selinda also offers exceptional sightings of lion, leopard, cheetah and packs of endangered African wild dog.

It’s a wild and untamed corner of the continent that has drawn those of an adventurous spirit for centuries. David Livingstone wandered through here on his travels northwards through Africa, as did the acclaimed collector and conservationist Frederick Selous. Today the legendary British explorer lies buried under a tamarind tree in the Tanzanian game reserve that bears his name.

The Selous Game Reserve was also where the Explorers Camp first put down roots. But this extraordinary escape is cut from the safari camps of old, and at its heart remains a wanderer too. The very word ‘safari’ means to journey, and after many years pitched in the heart of Tanzania’s acclaimed Selous Game Reserve, in 2012 the camp journeyed overland to its new home in Selinda, pitched just metres from the waterways for which the reserve is so famous.

Since then this intimate camp of just four luxurious canvas suites has become one of the most sought-after back-to-basics escapes in Botswana, combining the stellar game viewing of Selinda with a rich safari heritage celebrated in a unique and stylish aesthetic.

For the roots of this camp haven’t been left behind, despite its new location in the grasslands of Selinda. Richly textured East African rugs add a splash of ox-blood colour to the tan and tawny tones of the surrounding bush, while scatter cushions invite you to laze away the afternoon scanning the grasslands for elephant. Romantic Arabian lanterns and burnished brass bowls dot the richly furnished communal area, where friendly staff ensure your G&T never runs dry.

Beyond the canvas awning of the communal dining tent, the campfire crackles merrily beneath the boughs of a cathedral mopane tree. In the fresh dawn chill before the morning’s game excursion the coffee pot will be singing its welcome over the glowing embers. Come evening, it will likely be replaced by a traditional three-legged cast-iron ‘potjie’ pot with the chef’s latest creation simmering before dinner.

Meals here are a sumptuous affair served family-style at the communal table, where tales of the day can be swopped over homely African cuisine paired with fantastic South African wines. But then no two nights are the same: if the weather is fine the tables may migrate to beneath the branches of the sheltering cathedral mopane tree, bringing the night sounds to the dinner table and installing the Milky Way as your star-spangled chandelier. Crystal glasses and white linen come standard, of course, because while this may be the wildest corner of Selinda, there’s no skimping on creature comforts.

The same goes for the four intimate canvas suites. Each one is a marvel, given the remoteness of the camp: spacious double beds are draped in crisp white linen, while leather-bound wardrobes fashioned in the style of vintage travellers’ trunks encourage you to unpack and feel at home. Each tent boasts en-suite facilities, with gleaming copper washbasins and both hot and cold water provided in large jugs. The bucket shower, filled on request with piping hot water, is enclosed on all sides yet open to the wide African skies for a view of heavenly bodies above.

The abandoning of unnecessary extravagance runs true to this eco-friendly camp’s philosophy of touching the earth lightly. The canvas suites and communal area were all constructed by hand to ensure all but no impact on the delicate Selinda eco-system. Unlike most other camps in northern Botswana, Selinda Explorers Camp also runs entirely on solar energy, foregoing the noisy diesel generators that both break the silence and sully the night skies.

The camp also has a sophisticated grey-water treatment programme, and uses water pumped from deep beneath the earth – then purified via reverse osmosis and ultra-violet light – to ensure a steady supply of safe, clean drinking water.

With its remarkable location and excellent game viewing you may well be tempted to laze away the days in the comfort of camp, admiring the pristine bush that stretches down to the waterways. But there are a myriad better ways to explore this unique untouched wilderness.

Although regular game drives take guests exploring further afield, true to the camp’s philosophy of touching the earth lightly, non-motorised activities take priority here. This watery wonderland lends itself to leaving dry land behind, and canoe excursions offer an unforgettable game-viewing experience. The hours slip by as softly as the crystal-clear waters beneath your boat as you paddle silently up to grazing herds of elephant, or watch the reed beds for shy red lechwe, a remarkable semi-aquatic antelope common to the region. When the heat of the Botswana sun takes its toll, the expertly trained guides will beach the canoes in safe sandy shallows for you to take a dip in the gentle waters of Selinda.

But remember this is still virgin wilderness: crocodiles prowl the deep channels, while hippo are quick to guard their territory in the pools and river eddies. On the grasslands between the channels, prides of lion patrol the tawny bushveld in search of unwary zebra and impala.

For while you will spend much of your time here on the water, there’s no shortage of delights to be found on terra firma. In the cool of the late afternoon, guided walks set out to discover the nuances of this remarkable wilderness. These walking safaris take guests tracking elephant and other game on foot, but will also see you discover the subtle wonders of the landscape: the candle-pod acacias that thrive in dry river beds, or the remarkable leaves of fan palms. The birding is spectacular here too, with an abundance of raptors and water birds to tick off your list.

And waiting for you at the end of a long day of African adventure is the remarkable Selinda Explorers Camp. With the crackle of the campfire sending sparks into a sky spangled with stars, and the sounds of the bush rustling just beyond the glow of the flames, it’s hard not to sit back and think the likes of Livingstone and Selous would have felt right at home here.

Sebastian Barlett

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