I wake up with a jolt, stirred by the crunching of fallen branches metres from my pillow. A heavy-footed intruder is on the prowl and he isn’t doing a very good job of disguising his tracks.
Since I fell asleep, two hours ago, the full moon has traced a perfect arc across the sky, like a ball-bearing swinging on a pendulum. The thin gauze net wrapped around my four-poster bed billows in the warm night breeze, offering the only protection between us and the lively savannah.
Sharing a bedroom with a herd of elephants may not be every newly-wed couple’s idea of bliss, but for a growing number of honeymooners eschewing schmaltzy romance for a spirit of adventure, it’s a match made in heaven.
Besides, as guests at Sanctuary Baines’ Camp in Botswana’s wildlife-rich Okavango Delta, we’re hardly roughing it: sleeping under the stars on the deck of a luxury lodge is just one of the many intimate safari experiences at which this hotel excels.
Set on the banks of the Bora river, part of the Delta which spreads like a bony hand across north-west Botswana, the five-lodge camp has been constructed with minimal disruption to the environment and is staffed by local communities.
The combination of top-class camps, diverse game viewing (the region is home to 450 birds and 90 mammal species) and far fewer tourists than neighbouring countries makes Botswana an appealing option for safari seekers. With a new international airport terminal due to open in the region’s main town, Maun, in two years’ time, its popularity is only set to rise.
The safari begins as soon as our light aircraft takes off from Maun. During the 10-minute ride, 150m above ground, we sight herds of elephant, zebra and wildebeest marching across parched scrubland, dotted with spore-like mounds of vegetation.
We’re greeted at the airstrip by a welcoming committee of inquisitive buffalo, who raise their heads to catch our scent, and a procession of sombre marabou storks, cloaked in black.
Oddly, the Delta floods in dry season (peaking from June to August) reshaping the terrain, creating new islands and submerging tracks. Our local guide, Tuello, expertly navigates our 4x4 truck through the ever-changing landscape, bumping over mud mounds and blasting through puddles almost a metre deep.
Jittery impala (whose availability as prey has earned them the nickname ‘MacDonalds of the bush’) fly from the path of our vehicle, their hooves barely touching the ground. A family of baboons grapple with pendulous seed pods hanging from ubiquitous sausage trees, while the cacophonous call of a blacksmith bird adds an oddly industrial clatter to the soundscape.
And all this before we’ve even reached the camp.
Wildlife viewing is the highlight of a visit to the Delta, but Baines’ Camp also provide opportunities to learn about local ways of life and survival - from weaving baskets with river reeds, to harvesting water-lily roots to make a dense, earthy stew.