Banoka Bush Camp is situated on the banks of a seasonal lagoon
Banoka Bush Camp: Our full report
Named after the Banoka people or river Bushmen, who first settled in the Okavango Delta, Banoka Bush Camp is one of Botswana's newer safari camps, having opened in late 2010. Situated in a former hunting concession and overlooking a lagoon connected to the Khwai River, Banoka lies in the Khwai Community Concession, close to the northern border of Moremi Game Reserve.
Accommodation at Banoka consists of ten spacious timber-framed, canvas-walled chalets with en-suite facilities. Each is elevated on stilts, with wooden steps up to a veranda in front set with some camp chairs. Wooden doors lead into the chalets, which are simple but well built and very clean cut in design. The windows are mosquito mesh, which can be covered by canvas flaps in the cold winter but provide a cooling breeze in summer.
Inside each chalet, a double bed with a substantial wooden headboard dominates the room. Behind is a shelving unit for clothes that incorporates an electronic safe. His and hers washbasins and a large mirror are also positioned here, as is an open-plan shower, while a door leads to a separate toilet.
Two 'family units' can effectively be created at Banoka Bushcamp, since two pairs of standard rooms which sit opposite one another, can each be connected via a single set of steps. This arrangement of adjoining would be too far apart for younger children, but might suit older teenagers well.
The chalets are split either side of Banoka's main communal area, which is connected to the rest of camp by long sandy pathways. Here you'll find a couple of seating areas along with some reading material, plus a tea and coffee station and a water cooler where you can fill up the complimentary water bottle given out on arrival at Banoka. A long dining table stretches out towards the lagoon with open sides to the main area providing great views on to the lily-covered waterway. There is also a bar area where drinks are available throughout the day. A couple of guest toilets complete the facilities.
To one side of this, sunloungers on a wooden deck surround the swimming pool, which is quite large by Delta standards, and looks out towards the water in front of camp.
Similar to its sister camp (Kalahari Plains) in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve Banoka Bush Camp can be 100% solar powered, although it also has a back-up generator, should this be required. It's worth asking for a back-of-house tour during your stay to learn how the camp functions and, in particular, about the efforts being made to promote sustainable and renewable energy usage at the new breed of safari camps like Banoka.
Activities at Banoka Bush Camp include day and night game drives in 4WD vehicles, seasonal mokoro (dug-out canoe) excursions and, on request, visits to Khwai village. Game drives are conducted both within the Khwai Concession and to the Moremi Game Reserve – which is entered across the Khwai Bridge, about 75 minutes drive from camp.
The Khwai Concession itself incorporates some of the most diverse habitats in northern Botswana and the Okavango Delta. Riverine woodland and open floodplains flank the river and attract herds of plains game along with the predators that hunt them. Away from the river and Delta lagoons, the fauna changes to mopane woodland dotted with open grasslands which, together with the abundance of water, attracts herds of elephant and buffalo.
The guiding was good when we first visited in March 2011 and knowing Banoka's many sister camps as we do, we had similar expectations on our most recent visit in November 2011. We weren't disappointed and found the guides to be generally a little newer to their roles than the other camps, but knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We really enjoyed the mokoro excursion was led by our guide, but the polers were from the local community and had a wealth of information to share with us about the area.
That said, Banoka Bush Camp is located in a former hunting concession and the game on both our visits was very limited. We were, however, fortunate to spot a leopard with a kill up a tree in November. But - as with most of the other wildlife here - she was very skittish and our encounter was rather brief! The thick mopane bush lining the roads around camp can make it difficult to find the game, especially in the earlier months of the year when the foliage is thicker. Indeed, game drives are usually conducted nearly an hour east of camp, closer to the north gate of Moremi along the Khwai River. In time, as the animals come to relax around vehicles, this situation will undoubtedly improve but for now the game that we observed around Banoka Bush Camp was sparse at best. Banoka is one of the less-costly camps run by Wilderness Safaris, and this is primarily a reflection of the game densities.
It should also be noted that guests flying into Banoka have to use Khwai Airstrip, which is a couple of hours' drive from camp. There are plans for an airstrip closer to Banoka but for now, the transfer to camp is usually incorporated into a game drive.
Following our first visit to Banoka Bush Camp in March 2011, and subsequent return in November 2011, we came away with mixed views. The accommodation and main area are of a very high standard with a fantastic swimming pool area and an expansive, open space in front. The food was very nice, the staff friendly, the guiding good and the management always attentive. It's also good value, compared with what you'll often have to pay for a similar-standard camp in the Moremi / Okavango Delta area.
However, the lack of game around camp, and the need to drive far to find it, is the camp's main drawback. We do have reports of animals in the area – for example wild dogs were seen passing through in late May 2011 – but even so we think that game densities have some way to go before sightings will be consistently good. Travellers should be aware that Banoka is sometimes used for groups touring through Botswana, which might not appeal to individual travellers.
Ideal length of stay: We'd suggest a stay at Banoka Bush Camp of 2-3 nights, probably combined with other camps in the Okavango Delta's more watery parts or areas with denser wildlife.
Directions: Access to camp is usually via a light-aircraft transfer to Banoka airstrip, completed towards the end of 2012. It is about a 15 minute drive between the airstrip and the camp. It is possible to self-drive here for adventurous types with their own self-contained 4WD – although the camp isn't very well signposted, and Expert Africa doesn't organize trips of this sort in Botswana.
Owner: Wilderness Safaris
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: A light breakfast of cereal and muffins is offered before the early morning game drive. Then brunch is served after the morning activity. A range of cooked options can be made on request, in addition to the selection of salads, hot dish and freshly baked bread on offer from the buffet table. If guests opt for a full-day game drive, the camp will arrange a packed lunch (usually sandwiches, fruit and biscuits).
Afternoon tea is served at around 4.00pm, and on our last visit we were treated to a zesty lemon cake and really tasty chicken wraps. Add to that the tea, coffee and biscuits on morning activities, as well as sundowners and snacks on the afternoon excursion; and you can rest assured you won't go hungry!
But save space for Dinner which is, more often than not, taken as a group around one long table. On one visit we had a starter of lentil soup followed by bream in a tomato salsa accompanied by vegetables. Dessert was an indulgent banoffee pie. Coffee and Amarula around the fire was a very nice way to finish dinner.
Once or twice a week the camp will prepare a traditional Setswana meal for dinner, accompanied by singing and dancing. This is usually a rather festive affair!
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits cost extra and may need to be requested in advance. There are usually tea- and coffee-making facilities available in the main building during the day.
Attitude towards children: Children are welcome within the restrictions outlined below.
Equipment: There is no special equipment provided for children.
Generally recommended for children: Although children aged six years and above are welcome at Banoka Bush Camp, children share game drives with other guests, usually adults. Therefore, we recommend the camp only for older children with longer attention spans, as they may have to sit quietly for long periods of time.
Notes: The camp is unfenced and dangerous wildlife can wander through the camp at any time. There is no fence around the pool. The tents and main buildings are all raised off the ground on decks, with open railings. Children need to be closely supervised by their parents/guardians at all times.
Power supply: Solar Power
Communications: There is no mobile reception, no direct phone or fax and no email. Communication is maintained with the head office in Maun via radio.
TV & radio: Banoka is in the bush and there is no TV or radio.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Maun. All management and guides are first aid trained and Medivac rescue is available in case of emergencies. There is a nurse on call (via radio) 24 hours a day.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: Guests are escorted to their rooms after dark as dangerous wildlife is known to wander through the camp. A safety briefing is given on arrival. 'Fog horns' are provided in the rooms in case of an emergency.
Fire safety: There is a fire break near the camp and a fire hose outside each room.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A laundry service is included at Banoka. Laundry is collected in the morning and usually returned the same day, weather permitting. Detergent is provided in each chalet for guests who wish to do their own hand washing.
Money: There is a safe in each room. No exchange facilities are offered.