Sanctuary Retreats Chief’s Camp
CHIEF’S ISLAND, MOREMI GAME RESERVE, BOTSWANA
In the heart of the Okavango Delta lies the pristine Sanctuary Retreats Chief’s Camp. Situated on Chief’s Island, homage is paid to Chief Moremi of the BaTawana tribe, who used to occupy the area as royal hunting reserve. Today, filled with an abundance of wilderness and most importantly, the ultimate in absolute sophistication and relaxation, Sanctuary Retreats Chief ’s Camp and the adjacent Moremi Game Reserve on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta is teeming with the most spectacular wildlife and is a game viewer’s nirvana.
The drive from the airstrip to camp is littered with babies – impalas, tsessebe’s and zebra; a sure sign that breeding season was successful to spring a profusion of new life. Annemie Parker, General Manager at Sanctuary Retreats Chief’s Camp and a myriad of staff warmly welcome me to my home for the next two nights. After a brief orientation, Annemie shows me around my impressive room, Pavilion 2, named Sekgathole. Boasting some of the largest rooms in the area and after an extensive refurbishment in 2016, Chief’s Camp is a sanctuary for the mind, body and soul.
My pavilion is ostentatiously spacious, 1,500 square feet to be precise and feels more like a small house than a room. Modern amenities go a long way in ensuring comfort – air conditioning, traditional ceiling fans, in-room Wi-Fi and a bathroom that will make you gasp at the sheer size of it. The floor-to-ceiling windows enhance the feeling of capaciousness and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to a cleansing regime; a lavish freestanding tub, indoor or outdoor shower and double vanities. The foldaway glass doors lead to your covered deck where you can spend copious amounts of time on your daybed or splash about in your private terrace plunge pool. Privacy is an essential part of your stay at Chief ’s Camp and the ten pavilions are impeccably constructed to ensure your seclusion.
On the main lodge deck, I am introduced to my professional guide, Carter Tuelo. After the enjoyment of High Tea, we depart for our afternoon
game drive where the sightings of tsessebe and its young, a lilac-breasted roller, a highly pregnant zebra and a journey of giraffe make for excellent photographic opportunities. A lone elephant bull is surveying the habitation in search of his next meal; there is plenty of food for him. For sundowners, we stop alongside the dam where a pod of hippos delightfully exhibit their playfulness.
Back at Chief’s Camp, I freshen up before joining the rest of the guests for dinner. The choices are splendid – for starters: spinach soufflé or bean soup with parmesan crisp. For main course, I choose the perfectly prepared slices of grilled kudu loin with roasted potato, bacon, walnuts, rocket, dried cranberries and croutons and for dessert, the delectable berry mousse concludes my delicious meal.
I am relieved to have Carter escorting me to my pavilion after dinner as two hyenas come scurrying out of the bushes next to my room - I’m not sure who got the bigger fright. Safely in my room, I lock the door; keeping unwanted visitors out. After a cleansing shower with the fragrant Africology products, I retire to my bed where the mosquito net has been dropped to keep unwelcome critters away. The two three-quarter beds are pushed together and my side has been turned down. The ceiling fan and air conditioner eradicate the heat and humidity and soon I’m fast asleep. I am dressed before my 05:30 wake-up call and when I hear Carter saying ‘good morning’ outside my door, I am able to continue my amazement at the sights and sounds of the African bush.
Alone on my deck, I sit in wonderment after sunrise and witness the two naughty hyenas taking a drink from the watering hole. As I leave my pavilion for breakfast at 6am, their footprints are in the sand right in front of my door. I quietly think it’s a good thing I locked my door for the night! At the dining area, the smell of freshly brewed coffee and home baked croissants will convert the biggest grump into a morning person. Ready for our game drive, Carter’s radio communication seems intense. He drives with vigor to show us what the other guide has discovered – a cheetah with three cubs feeding on a kill. We are speechless, not only because cheetahs are not easily spotted (no pun intended), but to be able to witness the interaction between mom and her cubs is astonishing.
They are very nervous eaters and between the four of them, one is always on the lookout for danger. They will eat their fill and leave the carcass for further consumption by scavengers should anything be left. The vultures are starting to circle and an impala is barking its disdain, having lost one of their young to the cheetahs.
Brunch is a hearty variety of meals and the favorite seems to be ‘make your own pizza’ with a selection of toppings and the pizza perfected in the pizza oven. Instead, I opt for the lamb rack with roasted cherry tomatoes, olives and spicy couscous. For dessert, I request the melt-in-your-mouth vanilla ice cream, the creamiest ice cream I have ever tasted.
Walking back to my room, I wonder if I may stumble upon another animal making its appearance. Thankfully only the tree squirrels are running amok, leading the way for me. As I unlock my front door, I pause for a moment to savior the elaborate lodging, impeccably designed and furnished to encapsulate a true safari chic experience. Dark wooden colors and contrasting whites blend flawlessly to capture the ultimate in luxury. Exclusivity and authenticity are key factors at Chief’s Camp and the re-imagination of past into present combines history with the future of stylishness and refinement.
High Tea is served and I am tempted to ask for a second serving of the scrumptious strawberry pavlova. As we head out for our afternoon game drive, a warthog is rummaging through the leaves while her three curious piglets make everyone exclaim at their cuteness. Once she has finished foraging, they all set off, tails in the air.
An African fish eagle is perched on the bare branches of a tree. A bird usually takes flight when you get too close in proximity, but this one stays put until we can marvel at his glory. He fluffs out his tail feathers and as he takes off, his impressive wingspan has us all in awe.
Dusk is starting to fall and we approach a densely vegetated area. Another vehicle is parked on an embankment when we suddenly see him – The King of the Jungle, the most majestic lion with an exquisite mane. He lies down to take a nap and suddenly gets up, walks around the back of the vehicle and hesitates for a moment. He is blind in his right eye, but it is clear that he rules his pride of a female and four subadult cubs. Driving back to camp, a marabou stork is silhouetted against the darkened sky.
Dinner is a veritable feast and my main course choice is herb-butter beef fillet, sweet potato dauphinoise, stir-fried vegetables and red wine sauce. I ask the waitress if I may have some of the vanilla ice cream and am delighted when she brings me some.
I am awoken during the night by baboons descending on my roof, and tree squirrels having a squabble. Hyenas are laughing in the distance and I hear the unmistakable sound of a lion roaring. Carter tries to locate the lion on our morning game drive and as luck would have it, he finds the lion and the hyenas. The lion is on the prowl and the hyenas are greeting each other with their trademark sniffing of genitals. We are not sure whether the one is ticklish or just showing dominance with a toothy grimace. His reaction makes us all laugh out loud.
It is time to return home and after a rapid drive to the airstrip, I am able to see a herd of elephants having a refreshing splash in a watering hole down below from my window seat of the Cessna 206G.
After landing at Maun International Airport, the journey back to Cape Town International Airport begins. We are scheduled to take off with our Airlink flight at 13:35. With all passengers seated, the captain starts the engines of the Embraer 135 and off we go, landing twenty minutes ahead of schedule, much to the delight of everyone on board. http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/botswana-camps-chiefs
Views expressed are the author’s own. | Photographs courtesy of Sanctuary Retreats Chief Camp and by Heléne Ramackers