Midwinter in northern Botswana and the Okavango Delta is reaching the height of its annual flood. Tendrils of crystal clear water creep towards Maun, creating deep channels amid the vast plains of flooded grassland.
And it’s all without a cloud in the sky, of course. For these creeping floodwaters have come not from rainfall — well, not here, at least — but from the Kavango River meandering its way out of the Angolan highlands about 1,600km to the north and west.
It’s a new year and a new flood, and in one remote corner of the Okavango Delta it’ll also mark the first time these floodwaters have lapped at the feet of a brand-new tented camp.
Natural Selection is certainly no stranger to Botswana, with more than a dozen camps and lodges in its portfolio. They range from laid-back overnight haunts for road-trippers to Maun, through to unrivalled luxury amid the Makgadikgadi Pans. And this July the conservation-focused safari operator welcomes another new escape, in the shape of North Island Okavango.
Tapping into the demand for more immersive and intimate safari experiences, North Island Okavango has been designed from the ground up to offer just three opulent yet intimate safari boltholes. It’s an ideal choice for multi-generation travellers, or small groups seeking privacy and exclusivity, and is cast in a similar vein to Duke’s East. That camp — on the ancestral land of Sarefo “Duke’ Sarefo and the Wayeyi tribe — opened in 2022 with just four opulent safari tents, and has proven to be an enormous success.
While Duke’s Camp and Duke’s East revel in the classical glamour and opulence of a yesteryear safari, North Island Okavango brings a more contemporary aesthetic to the Okavango experience.
Each of the three tents at North Island Okavango stretches to more than 140m2, including spacious bedrooms, a private lounge — with fireplace for cooler nights — and a private veranda complete with plunge pool. Jaw-dropping views out over a lagoon filled with hippo come standard, of course. Set beneath the boughs of ancient, wild ebony trees, the tents rest lightly on the landscape, all but disappearing into the thick woodland of stately mangosteen, leadwood and wild fig trees.
The tents rest on an island — known locally as Xuxuga — set deep within the Delta, ensuring year-round access to the waterways for daytime mokoro expeditions. These traditional dugout canoes offer an unforgettable way to experience the Okavango Delta, with the focus not on big game, but rather the birdlife left undisturbed by the silent poling, and the iridescent reed frogs that hide within the shoreline reed beds. That said, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sneaking up on a semi-aquatic red lechwe, caught unawares by the oh-so-silent mokoro. Off the water, twice-daily game drives offer more traditional game viewing; while sunset boat cruises (subject to seasonal water levels) create unforgettable sundowner moments. Birding is exceptional throughout the year, though best in the rainy summer months, and specialised birding excursions can be arranged on request.
Back in camp, the intimate nature of North Island Okavango allows guests to set their own pace come evening, whether it’s a private dinner in your suite or a celebratory dinner in the main lodge. The next day, you’ll wake up and do it all again.
Along with tapping into the demand for smaller exclusive camps, North Island Okavango is also entirely solar-powered, ensuring a lighter carbon footprint on the Delta ecosystem. It’s a camp with a light footprint, but also a large impact on the local community.
North Island Okavango sits on a large semi-private concession, and much of the annual concession fee goes to support the local Magobagoba Youth Trust. Funds are used to support educational and employment projects in the region, as well as regional conservation efforts. A landmark new luxury offering, and yet more proof that low-impact tourism can be a powerful force for good in Africa.