Honeymoon couples opt for wild holidays

Resident elephants of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Resident elephants of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

The rural four-star Siblu Holiday Park.

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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, the beaming 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 savanna.

Sharing a bedroom with a herd of elephants may not be every newlywed couple’s idea of bliss, but for a growing number of honeymooners, 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 intimate safari experiences at which this hotel excels.

Set on the banks of the Bora river, the five-lodge camp has been constructed with minimal disruption to the environment and is staffed by locals.

The combination of top-class camps, diverse game viewing 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, we sight herds of elephant, zebra and wildebeest marching across parched scrubland.

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.

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 ‘McDonalds 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.

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.

Our guide, Tuello, regales us with stories of countless nights spent sleeping in the bush.

He demonstrates his ability to follow animal tracks on a frantic hunt for lions.

Hitting the breaks occasionally to examine faint paw prints on the ground, we drive in tense silence until Tuello casually point to a lioness and her juvenile cooling off in the water.

Of all the animals in the Delta, though, elephants prove to be the most charismatic.

More than a quarter of Africa’s 400,000 elephant population live in Botswana, with 80,000 in the Delta.

These mighty creatures bulldoze their way through trees, bushes, bullrushes, water lilies and, it seems, safari lodges.

TRAVEL FACTS

Three nights at Sanctuary Baines’ Camp starts from £1,478pp (two sharing) on full-board basis, including park fees, laundry, morning and evening game drives and excursions, but excluding transfers from Maun. Visit sanctuaryretreats.com

South African Airways offers return flights to Maun from London Heathrow via Johann-esburg from £1,197pp. Visit flysaa.com or call (0844) 375 9680.

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