The Okavango Delta has received a fantastic flood from the Angola highlands this year. The water takes approximately six months to reach Maun and now it is already heading south and filling up the Boteti river. This is great news for people planning their holidays to Southern Africa post Covid-19 as the Okavango Delta will be in pristine condition offering the most amazing scenery and open spaces.
Each year Maun resident place bets on the date the water reaches Maun at a certain spot in the dry riverbed and we enjoyed the excitement those years it did reach the little town. We were shocked at how dry everything was last year when we visited the Delta in June and this was even more apparent during our scenic flight.
Bernie led the team for the rebuild of a lodge called Leroo la Tau in 2008 (Setswana for “footprint of the lion”) and we remember how thirsty the animals were and a lot of work went into digging water holes for them to be able to drink after a long walk from the Makgadikadi salt pans. It is a magical place and well worth a visit post Covid-19.
Leroo La Tau is situated on the west bank of the Boteti River, north east of Khumaga Village and about 140 kilometres southeast of Maun. The eastern bank of the Boteti forms the boundary of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, which stretches away from the riverbed towards its interior of scrubland and mineral-rich grasslands.
A UNIQUE HISTORY
The Boteti River is the main outflow of the Okavango Delta, collecting the water that flows past Maun and stretching about 250 kilometres southeast to Lake Xau on the extreme south-western edge of the great Makgadikgadi salt pans.
In the mid-1980s the flood waters of the Okavango Delta started to decline as the region entered a cycle of low rainfall, and consequently the Boteti River began to recede. The river stopped short of Leroo La Tau in 1988, and by the mid-1990s had dried up completely.
Leroo La Tau was left with a few waterholes in the riverbed which continued to offer refuge to a small pod of landlocked Hippo, together with Crocodiles which became completely terrestrial, making dens in riverbank ‘caves’ downriver from the lodge. Large numbers of Zebra and Wildebeest continued to graze the rich grass plains, migrating to the Boteti River at the end of winter to access the remaining waterholes.
In 2009, two decades after the Boteti River stopped flowing, record rainfall resulted in the highest Okavango flood levels for 25 years, and the river once again flows past Leroo La Tau.
Leroo La Tau is built on cliffs over 10 metres above this changing riparian environment, offering a vantage point that ensures unsurpassed views of the river and the Makgadikgadi Pans to the east.
Richard Uren of Earth Touch clip is from 2009 when the Boteti flowed for the first time in about twenty years!
Where Water is Life: The Return of Floodwaters in the Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is situated in northern Botswana and forms part of the Kalahari Desert. This ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’ unlike other famous deltas, never reaches the sea. This vast, inland river delta’s yearly ebb and flow is mostly dependent on rain falling 1 600 kilometres upstream in the wet highlands of Angola.
The True Source of The Okavango
In Angola, streams and smaller rivers in the catchment of the Okavango’s two major tributaries – the Cubango and Cuito – are fed by summer rains falling between October and April, peaking between December and March when no less than 700 mm of rain typically saturates the ground and swells the rivers. From here the Cubango flows south through Namibia away from the sea. It forms part of the border between Angola and Namibia (as the Kavango River), and then flows into Botswana, where the river becomes known as the Okavango River.
Yearly Arrival of The Floodwaters
Due to the shallow gradient of the land and the swamp vegetation slowing the water down, the flood travels very slowly at only one kilometre a day and it takes months for the flow of water to reach the actual Okavango Delta.
From March the flood usually arrives into the northern reaches of the Okavango Delta making its way steadily down reaching many camps only sometime in May, June, or possibly early July, depending on their precise location, reaching its peak sometime in August.
When the floodwaters arrive in the Okavango, the main channels of the delta weave their way around small and large islands of lush grasslands, reed beds, palm groves and mopane forests, creating a green oasis for all creatures that call this place their home. The largest of these islands, Chief’s Island (70 kilometres/44 miles long), is whereto much of the delta’s wildlife retreats as water levels rise. As such, the island is home to what could be the richest concentration of wildlife in Botswana.
What to Expect in 2020
The excellent rains that have fallen in Angola these past months has resulted in the water levels in the Okavango River rapidly rising with a lot more still to come. This year’s flood levels are at their highest at this time of year for at least the past 5 years. Coupled with late rains, the arrival of the 2020 inundation brings some very welcome relief to northern Botswana, which has been struggling in 2019 due to low rainfall and drought.
The flood reached its peak at Rundu in Namibia at the beginning of March 2020 and the waters have already begun to subside. In Shakawe in northern Botswana the river has burst its banks and inundated vast areas of floodplain. As the river widens the amplitude of the flood decreases from a rise in ~4m at Rundu down to a rise of only ~1m at Guma Lagoon where it enters the alluvial fan of the Okavango Delta.