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Friday, 13 March 2015

Pioneering Stand-Up Paddle Board Safari Expedition to the Okavango Delta

The inaugural expedition team in Cape Town. (Photo supplied)
The inaugural expedition team in Cape Town. (Photo supplied)

The tireless team at Escape + Explore are once again bringing their own unique brand of fun and conservation to the fore – this time in the Okavango Delta and surrounds. Founder of the travel company, and long time admirer of the extensive conservation work done in Botswana, Ingram Casey has recognised that with the country’s ban on hunting there could be a new, even more thrilling way to take in its wildlife.

Escape + Explore have carved out quite a niche for themselves as the ‘go to’ team for a trip that offers something different, and the feel of taking on uncharted territory, without sacrificing any of the sights and sounds of a more traditional safari. Which is where Stand Up Paddle boarding (SUP) comes in. This is the world’s fastest growing water sport. Its eco credentials are stellar, and with no engine to scare away wildlife, and an elevated vantage point, it offers a supremely effective and thrilling way to view Botswana’s exquisite fauna and flora.

“We want to contribute to giving the area its own identity post hunting,” explains Ingram. “To give the local community guiding work; and help to bring in low impact tourism to replace the hole left by hunting in this beautiful sector of the Delta.”

The inaugural expedition team depart in March 2105 with future expeditions taking place from April and run through to November. Key to these expedition is team leading them combining local guides offering their extensive knowledge of the area; Chris Bertish, arguably Africa’s number one waterman who holds a number of SUP world firsts and records overseeing the paddling; Camilla Howard , an adventure guide and gourmet chef assuring the very finest camp fire meals; and Maun based and renowned Delta guide Andrew Harkness who’ll lead the morokos – so you’ll be in safe hands. In keeping with the company’s ideology, the trips will embrace local communities and cultures, and incorporate traditional Mokoros guides (dug out canoes) alongside the modern paddle boards.

The SUP Botswana trip will kick off in Cape Town – arguably the world’s most beautiful city, where budding boarders will spend three nights at the One&Only Cape Town hotel whilst they hone their paddling skills amidst penguins on the Cape Peninsula and through wine farms on the Breede River.
With paddles in hand, the trip will then transfer to Botswana to join the Bayei community in the heart of the Okavango Delta – the 1000th World Heritage Site; from where a further three days will be spent paddling the waterways under the guidance of local mokoro guides. Nights will be spent fly camping on islands with the cacophony of the Delta all around you.

“This safari will be the first time that modern SUPs and traditional mokoros have come together in the delta as an organised safari experience,” Ingram enthuses. “This means that our guests will be able to enjoy the unique perspective of the waterways and wildlife from a standing vantage point that the local communities have enjoyed for years from mokoros.”

At the end of this extraordinary safari trip a helicopter will transfer guests from the SUP base camp in concession NG32 to Wilderness Safari’s Seba Lodge, where they can kick back and regale more sedate safari visitors with their adventures. A camp chosen as it offers unpretentious luxury and comfort and the chance to see game in particular predators such as spotted hyeana, wild dog and leopard you are unlikely to spot on the expedition itself.

In true Escape + Explore fashion though, this is just the beginning, and having put SUPs on the map in Botswana, Ingram and his team are turning their attention to an Orange River Trip through South Africa and Namibia; a Rainforest to Beach Trip in Madagascar; and an Island Hopping Quirimbas Archipelago Trip in Mozambique.

Escape + Explore.
SA Tel: +27 (0)21 789 0142
Loft 4 @ The Cellars, Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Noordhoek, Cape Town 7979.
UK Tel: 0207 060 6747
8 Thames Reach, Purley on Thames, Reading RG8 8TE.

Main Contact Ingram Casey:


About Concession NG32
NG32 is a community run concession. The people are primarily of Bayei origin – the tribe that first emigrated to the Delta around 1750, bringing with them the world famous mokoros.
They’re a hunting and fishing tribe, and have continued this tradition until recently through the trophy hunting industry. However in 2013 the Botswana government banned hunting, so the Bayei people are in need of new ways to preserve their unique culture. Photographic tourism through their mokoros is the best option.

Their concession is a vast wilderness within the Okavango – home to all of Africa’s iconic large mammal species. SUPing is an exciting way to diversify their product, whilst keeping the traditional mokoro poling and guided walks as part of any itinerary.

Licence and Permissions
After submitting a proposal, the community have agreed to try out the SUPing option in conjunction with Escape + Explore and Harkness Safaris. A G Licence has been submitted to the Ministry of Tourism. This allows ‘alternative water activities’ in the area. This, in tandem with the C Licence and Poling Licences of communities, more than covers the official side of things.

From an operational point of view the safety of our guests is paramount to both the community and the handler companies. Therefore, any SUPing that takes place will be in shallow, open water to help avoid any contact with hippos or crocs. Any SUPs will also be surrounded by a protective ring of mokoro polers to make contact with these animals practically impossible. In addition, a fully licenced Botswana Pro Guide will sit in the lead mokoro with a licenced firearm in case of that one in a million chance that goes with any walking or mokoro based activity. All mokoro polers possess a Specialist Guide’s Licence, recognising their indigenous skills in the area. Any slight hint of trouble, and SUPs will be abandoned, and guests will be placed in the guarding mokoros.

About The Escape + Explores Exceptional Guiding Team.

Chris BertishWildly regarded as one of Africa’s if not the world’s top watermen. His achievements include:
Stand Up Paddling:
•    Open Ocean 12-Hour World Record – 130.1km/12 hours: SUP 17 Dec 2013
•    New English Channel World Record: SUP – 5:26:03, Sept 2013
•    First ever Source-to-Sea Adventure: River Thames, England – Aug 2013
•    First person to SUP Africa’s Biggest Wave Dungeons, 2010
Big Wave Surfing
•    XXL Award – Biggest Wave Paddled onto in the World (2010)
•    Mavericks Big Wave Invitational Winner, Biggest waves ever surfed in completion. Half Moon Bay, California.
•    First person to paddle in to the famous big wave Jaws, Peahi, Hawaii

Click Here for a short trailer of Ocean Driven a documentary about Chris Bertish

Camilla Howard – Adding ‘Gourmet’ to camp fire cooking. A top adventurer in her own right Camilla was part of the first team to climb Kilimanjaro barefoot and hiked the whole coast line of South Africa over 3 months as part of a litter awareness campaign in 2012. Along with her mother they set up Cape Town’s ‘Gourmet Chef’ Cooking school and when not adventuring around Africa run culinary tours to Tuscany and Umbria in Italy.

Andrew Harkness – Arrived in Botswana with nothing more than his backpack and ranger qualification in 2004 and never left. Widely regarded as one of the leading private mobile safari guides in the Delta and owner of Harkness Safaris.

Click Here to learn more about Escape+Explore Adventure Guides. Africa’s Leading Adventure Guide Team

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