The largest inland delta in the world, the Okavango Delta is the most unexpected wonder – water present in a desert. The broad Okavango River sinks into the dry sands of the Kalahari Desert, creating a lush and waterlogged oasis with crystal clear lagoons and channels, reeded islands and fertile floodplains. Dubbed “the river that never finds the sea”, this magical oasis spreads over more than 15 500 km² (almost 6 000 square miles) and yet is so fragile that, if it were denied water for even a decade, it would revert to a semi-desert.
This breath-taking environment constantly adapts and changes with the ebb and flow of the floodwaters that seasonally inundate large portions of the Delta. Although dry for two thirds of the year, during the winter months the rising floodwaters create a maze of marshes, small wooded islands and shallow lagoons. Water lilies and other aquatic plants flourish in the shallow water, while water birds inhabit the banks of papyrus. As relatively little water can be found elsewhere during this time, the wildlife is drawn to the clear waters of the Delta.
On the edges of the Delta, where land blurs with water, breeding herds of elephant splash gently through shallow channels, the long necks of a family of giraffe materialise slowly out of the Delta skyline and graceful sitatunga antelope hide in the reeds. It is a place where you can wonder at the antics of wild dog in the morning and cast a line for tiger fish in the afternoon, wake in the dappled shade of a forest and enjoy dinner beneath the boughs of a massive baobab at full moon.
At the heart of the Delta lies a secluded network of waterways and islands where life slows down even further. Beautiful little reed frogs cling to the water grasses and a variety of incredible bird species make their appearance, from jewelled kingfishers and bee-eaters to ponderous herons and cranes and solemn-looking owls. Red lechwe scamper through the shallows and wild cat, serval and pangolin can be spotted at night, when the moon reflects off the backs of a family of hippo coming out of the water to graze, turning them into slabs of shining silver.
The Okavango Delta is home to a large number of species, including some that are specially adapted to the semi-aquatic lifestyle, like the elegant red lechwe and shy sitatunga antelope. Lion prides, cheetah, leopard and African wild dog may be encountered, while hippo reside in deeper channels and lagoons. Honey badgers are observed during daylight hours. Roan and sable antelope favour taller grass in open woodlands and families of dwarf and banded mongoose occupy large termite mounds.
Graceful giraffe, with their impossibly long necks, and herds of zebra can be encountered on the floodplains. Lion, as well as other predators, can also be found in the area, particularly in the drier areas. Although predominantly nocturnal and difficult to spot, leopard occur in the dense forest are the water’s edge. The sparkling channels teem with a variety of fish, while hundreds of bird species, frogs and insects inhabit the reeded banks.
The Okavango Delta is a large inland delta formed where the Okavango River reaches a tectonic trough in the central part of the endorheic basin of the Kalahari.
All the water reaching the Delta is ultimately evaporated and transpired, and does not flow into any sea or ocean.
Each year approximately 11 cubic kilometres of water spreads over the 6,000-15,000 km² area.
Some flood-waters drain into Lake Ngami. The Moremi Game Reserve, a National Park, is on the eastern side of the Delta.
The Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa
Summer (October – April)
Summer temperatures range from 25°C to 40°C / 77°F to 104°F
Winter (May – September)
Winter temperatures range between 5ºC to 33ºC / 42ºF to 91ºF
During summer and spring, hot days usher in thunderstorms over a dry Delta, while in winter the land dries and the Delta fills with water.