These are our pictures of Banoka Bush Camp - and so will they pre-date Sable Alley.
Sable Alley: Our full report
Set to open in May 2017, Sable Alley is situated in the 2,000km2 Khwai Community Concession which borders Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve. Like almost all of Botswana’s private reserves, this was formerly used for hunting. However, since 2014 there has been no hunting here (or on any publically-owned land in Botswana) and so this reserve has been dedicated to photographic safaris.
Sable Alley is the new incarnation of the old Banoka Bush Camp, which was opened here in 2010. We are very familiar with the location, overlooking a lagoon connected to the Khwai River, as several of the Expert Africa team visited it in its first few years of operation – but we have yet to visit this camp in its new incarnation. However, we have long known the people in the experienced team behind the new camp, and because of this we anticipate that it’ll be well run with a real focus on the game-viewing and wildlife experience.
Sable Alley overlooks the lagoon, with views on to the lily-covered waterway and Moremi beyond. We understand that the main area will incorporate a bar, firepit, and options for both indoor and alfresco dining. The new camp will also have a swimming pool.
Long, sandy pathways will lead out from each side of the main area to Sable Alley’s 12 tented chalets. Spacious, timber-framed, canvas-walled structures, these will be elevated on stilts, with wooden steps up to a veranda with a couple of camp chairs. All will be en suite, with indoor and outdoor showers, and will have either twin beds, or a double. Two of the chalets can be connected to form a family unit suitable for those with teenagers – but they are not interconnected, so would not suit families with younger children.
Activities at Sable Alley will include day and night game drives in 4WD vehicles and seasonal mokoro (dug-out canoe) excursions. There will also be the option of a visit to the camp’s simpler sibling, SkyBeds, to sleep out under the stars.
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 environment changes to mopane woodland dotted with open grasslands which, together with the abundance of water, draw herds of elephant and buffalo.
Sable Alley itself is located in a former hunting concession and the game on our previous visits to this concession has been limited. Added to this, away from the line of the river and its lush riverine forest, the thick mopane bush has sometimes made it difficult to find game, especially in the earlier months of the year.
Having said this, to counter the adverse impact that hunting had had on the wildlife within the concession prior to 2014, a team from Sable Alley has spent more than year tracking wildlife with a view to habituating the animals. We are told that leopard and lion are now regularly seen, with elephants, wild dog and cheetah moving through the concession.
In other areas of the Okavango region, we’ve seen the wildlife sightings turn around swiftly within two or three years after hunting stops, and we’re very optimistic that the same will have happened here.
Our viewSable Alley is very well priced compared to similar-standard camps in the Moremi/Okavango Delta area, and we have high hopes for the camp itself. We expect a comfortable, well-run camp with a firm focus on good guiding and a great wildlife experience. It’s one to watch in the coming few years.
Ideal length of stay: We'd suggest a stay of two or three nights at Sable Alley, perhaps combined with their fly camp, SkyBeds, or other camps in more watery parts of the Okavango Delta, and possibly also in the Makgadikgadi pans area.
Directions: Access to camp is usually via light aircraft to Banoka airstrip. It is about a 15-minute drive between the airstrip and the camp. That said, for most of the year it’s also possible to reach the camp with a road transfer from Maun. This is a half-day dive, but does open up possibilities for those who don’t want to drive – especially when linked to options like Meno a Kwena, which is also accessible by vehicle.
Accessible by: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Natural Selection
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: On our last visit to Banoka in May 2014 the food was overall very good.
A light breakfast of cereal, toast, pancakes and muffins is offered before the early-morning game drive, together with tea, coffee, and fruit juice.
Brunch is served after the morning activity. A range of cooked options can be prepared on request, such as eggs of your choice with sides such as bacon, sausages and mushrooms. In addition we had lasagne and a huge selection of salads and freshly baked bread. If guests opt for a full-day game drive, the camp will arrange a packed lunch (usually sandwiches, fruit and biscuits).
Afternoon tea, served just before the afternoon activity, was delicious. We had blue cheese and walnut tart, pulled pork wraps, chocolate brownies and an apple and honey cake, as well as iced tea and coffee.
Dinner on our last visit was very tasty: a starter of cheese and vegetable spring rolls, with lamb stew, lebanese rice and roasted vegetables for a main course. As it was one of the guest’s birthdays that evening, the chef had cooked a very decadent chocolate cake with cream-cheese icing.
Once or twice a week the camp will prepare a traditional Setswana meal for dinner, which is usually accompanied by singing and dancing.
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. Each guest will usually be given a water bottle, which can fill from the filtered supply in the camp's main area. Chalets will be provided with glasses and a flask of filtered drinking water, which will be replenished daily. We don't recommend that travellers drink from the tap.
Further dining info: There's a plan for private dining options to be available.
Attitude towards children: Children of 6–12 years old are welcome at Sable Alley, but please note that they will be accommodated on game drives only in a private vehicle, which may be at extra cost. The minimum age for any mokoro (dug-out canoe) activity is likely to be at least 13 years old.
Notes: The camp is unfenced and dangerous wildlife can wander through at any time. There is no fence around the pool. The tented chalets 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
Power supply notes: Sable Alley 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 this.
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: Sable Alley is in the bush and there is no TV or radio.
Water supply: Borehole
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: The nearest doctor is in Maun. All management and guides are first-aid trained and medical evacuation is available in case of emergency. There is a nurse on call (via radio) 24 hours a day. Please note that it is only possible to fly out of camp during daylight hours as the bush airstrips do not have any lighting at night.
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 to attract attention in case of 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 will be included at Sable Alley. Laundry will be collected in the morning and usually returned the same day, weather permitting. Washing powder will be provided in the room for guests to wash their smalls, which will not be handled by the staff.
Money: There is a safe in each room. No exchange facilities are offered.
Accepted payment on location: Visa and MasterCard are accepted, as are cash payments in US dollars, euros, GB sterling, South African rand and Botswanan pula.