We absolutely love Ride and Walk Safaris (RAW), a luxury camp which sits on the fringes of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. It appeals to everyone, families, singletons and groups because it offers superb riding intertwined with walking, boating and game drives, which delivers such a diverse way of spotting game and ensures that any non-riding partners, friends or family can enjoy a safari together.

Zara visited RAW in February this year, with a really diverse group of non-riding husbands, young children and teenagers. Here’s her account of their week long stay and how it appealed to everyone.

“My personal review of RAW, Botswana”
Zara Stassin, owner of Zara’s Planet

Even us agents have to take “proper” holidays with the family as it is so easy to fall into the trap of being “on the job” all the time. What with running Zara’s Planet plus keeping up with 3 busy girls who compete on ponies and play numerous other sports… it can be difficult to find a slot for holidays.

I forced the issue over February mid-term break. It’s a good time to holiday — miserable weather here, just about post-hunting and pre-competition season and only for a week.

Going anywhere with a family of 5 is not cheap it has to be said but this year we decided to forego upgrading our old lorry and take one of Zara’s Planets most amazing trips to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. We asked our good friends the Hancocks if they wanted to join us; after giving it 24 hours thought they cancelled their impending skiing holiday and were in!

We chose to go to RAW (Ride and Walk) Botswana based at Motswiri camp which is in the remote far north east of the Delta on the border of the Selinda Spillway. In addition to 2 horsey mums and 4 horsey girls (ages 11-16) we had 2 non-riding dads to keep happy as well as 2 littlies (5 and 7 years old) so we needed a camp that offered lots of great riding and non-riding activities.

Our private charter which brought us into camp.

Our private charter which brought us into camp

After an overnight flight  via Johannesburg we arrived into Maun, Botswana and headed to the tarmac to our little private plane with the able assistance of Hilary from the RAW Maun office.

My 13-year-old daughter was invited to hop into our 10 seater plane and act as co-pilot to our Zimbabwian pilot. She was thrilled with the experience to say the least! We asked to fly below the clouds and spotted large herds of Elephant. Over the course of the 45 minute flight we saw no sign of other camps or human life and indeed that was how it stayed for the full week in camp, apart from the staff on hand to look after us.

We landed on a strip of grass in the middle of the bush, landrovers waiting and after a 2 minute drive we were in camp where we received a warm welcome, drinks and a safety talk. Then it was off to the stables for the riders.

Our youngest jockey was 11 and it would be rude to mention the age of our oldest although she kept insisting she was 21 again! All the kids ride to a good level — they compete at home and hunt. It’s really important to stress that everyone who rides here has to have a good seat and be an independent rider, this is big game country and there is always an element of danger.

The horses were fantastic and Annie, the stable manager, matched us up perfectly. They are all very well schooled, forward going and easy to stop. Even later in the week when Dave, our wonderful guide, succumbed to the challenge of a race with the kids and we went flat out galloping across the wide open plains that went on forever… nobody had trouble putting the brakes on.

The riding was fabulous as one would expect; the terrain changed daily from bushveld and sandy tracks to never ending flood plains where we enjoyed lots of fantastic deep water canters and swimming across rivers.

One of our many river crossings!

One of our many river crossings!

I’d love to bore you with details of all the horses, but I don’t have room, so I’ll pick out a couple. I rode Curry who came off the track in Zimbabwe, then moved to be a safari horse in Malawi before being bought by RAW after a short stint of Riding Club showjumping in Maun.

He was the perfect gent but could accelerate like a Ferrari when asked. One day on returning from a deep pool where we’d spotted 15 Hippos bathing and 2 lurking crocodiles we came across an impromptu cross-country course and Curry just carried me round like a pro.

Curry and Zara riding with Annie

Curry and Zara riding with Annie

Malpuni (pronounced Ma Pony) was a sweet 6-year-old gelding ridden by my 13-year-old daughter Saoirse. She said he was so well behaved and never spooked even when the Kudu jumped out in front of us or when we stood in front of a large herd elephants.

He had been spotted by the staff tied up to a cattle post in Botswana and despite having saddle sores they thought he was worth rescuing and he has since proven to be the perfect safari horse.

Mulpuni (rescue pony)

Mulpuni (rescue pony)

Game wise RAW is in big 5 country and this being an “unmanaged” wilderness area means the game roams in and out on a daily basis. The camp is an open camp and although we didn’t actually see lion, we could hear them roaring one night right beside camp.

The next day we spotted tracks and the remains of a fresh kill of impala on our morning ride.

The horses could also smell the lion and were very jumpy that morning but at no time did I feel unsafe. Otherwise we saw loads of elephants, hippo, zebra, kudo, impala, baboons, giraffe and beautiful birds for which the Delta is famous.

The non-riders had an equally amazing time and rose slightly later than us riders — we had a 5.30am wake up call. After a relaxed breakfast they would head off on a boat ride experiencing some fantastic game viewing from the rivers, a jeep trip or a gentle paddle downstream on a traditional Mekoro (dug out canoe).

Walking safaris are also very popular but as the non-riders were with littlies they stuck to the boats and jeep. The boating is fabulous and often the guides would stop and everyone jumped into the warm waters for a splash, diving down and digging up lilly roots which are edible or searching for frogs.

Zara's Planet

The food was fantastic. Just like really top notch home cooking, dinner party standard and plenty of it. Lunches were my favourite, especially the surprise lunch out in the bush.

That day we enjoyed 3 varieties of homemade pizza, several salads, home cooked breads and a platter of assorted cheese and this was after a delicious glass of bubbly as we dismounted off our horses!

RAW Botswana makes you feel really comfortable — kind of home from home if you like. The tents are all new and apart from the canvas walls and ceilings, they don’t really feel like ‘tents’!

Animals freely wander around the camp so you have to stay awake when moving around and we got the guides to accompany kids.

They tents sit on polished wooden platforms and are spacious with lovely dark wood furniture, super comfy high beds with soft, crisp bed linen and duvets.

The bathrooms have beautiful pottery bowl shaped his and hers sinks, along with solar powered showers all ensuite. The main communal area is the central mess tent which is dotted with leather sofas and lovely outdoor spaces leading out on the open deck, and includes an open bar and a bottomless fridge!

The mess tent

The mess tent

Of course behind every operation it is the team who pull everything together in a seemingly effortless fashion and this is apparent with the RAW team.

There was Sam the camp manager who skipped his siesta time on many occasions to join the kids in water high jump competitions and Mekoro races, to Dave our riding guide who painstakingly French plaited my daughters hair every night, taught us how to track game, allowed us to enjoy controlled gallops and helped the kids collect elephant dung to ice as a valentines cake for their dads (really!).

Then there was Clinton who showed the kids how to survive in the Delta on Lilly roots, took them frogging at midnight and got the littlies to drink water through plant straws and Grant the ever smiling 3rd generation Motswana guide who was an encyclopedia on the wildlife and birds, plus got us hooked on fishing.

Ellen, front of house, full of warmth and who was called in to help my girls when Sadhbh (11) spotted a scorpion with babies on its back running up the tent wall in her shower (Ellen bravely removed the insect ).

And Annie the horse manager who matched us up so well and made everyone feel special when they created a bond with their horse for the week.

Saoirse (13) spent hours chatting to back up guide Tops who is from a local tribe and learnt some Motswana. Machete, another local guide was so patient trying to teach us how to pole the Mekoro’s although we were completely useless to the end!

Sam playing with the kids

Sam playing with the kids

And what surprised us the most? A week in nature without any electronic communications of any sort, the perfect antidote to modern living. The permanently “wired” members of our group included a high flying investment banker, a 24/7 small business owner (moi) and a couple of facebook/texting addicts (our teenagers). I can report back no one missed being out of touch, no one was bored for a second and I think that RAW Botswana is still resonating with the constant sounds of our laughter that I am certain kept the crocs away!

This is truly a trip of a lifetime and perfect for families, couples or single travellers. Families will be booked separately or with other families and adults, kept to adult only weeks.

Costs
A week at RAW Botswana at this time of year (low season) costs £2,310 per person sharing.

International flights and transfers into camp are extra and you should budget approx £1,400 (bear in mind you are flying in on a private plane as there is no road access).

Zara’s Planet is a small, niche travel company which has put together a collection of the best riding adventures in the world today, including African safaris, polo training, expeditions in Mongolia, classical dressage training in Spain, trail rides in South America, hunting in Ireland and lots more.

Please see our website for a full list of our carefully selected rides www.zarasplanet.co.uk and join us on Facebook for the latest news and offers www.facebook.com/ZarasPlanetHorseRidingAdventuresWorldwide

We have a UK and an Irish office, contact details are;

UK Office, tel: 08444 870 300 or info@zarasplanet.co.uk or www.zarasplanet.co.uk

Irish Office, tel: 01440 7477 or info@zarasplanet.ie or www.zarasplanet.ie

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