Horse & Hound's former editor Lucy Higginson headed to Macatoo camp in Botswana with In The Saddle for the horseback safari that's on everyone's bucket list
‘Safari as it should be’
This is safari as it should be; there are no rangers radioing each other discreet updates; no wifi, no mobile phone signal, no concrete. There is a generator, but one feels surrounded only by hurricane lanterns and wood fires. Macatoo (maximum 14 guests) is one of only three lodges in an area of half a million hectares, so you are on your own, with excursions a daily lottery, though guides carry satellite phones with which to call a chopper if anyone comes a cropper.
Macatoo is practically invisible until you’re in it. Guests’ tents are laced cleverly between trees, and the main lodge is a chic, open-sided canvas and timber affair. Though you would not guess it from brochures, the Okavango is not a watery, lily-strewn paradise year round, but floods each March for several months, after which it reverts to being a still-verdant region strewn with mini-islands.
Macatoo’s 48-strong gelding herd grazes out on the Delta, in ‘pop up’ fields made with electric fences. A groom stays on watch them to keep them safe. At night they sleep in a cool barn bedded on sand. Baboons nip in and out of the stalls at will.
It was only two days before we savoured our best champagne moment, visiting a watering hole so full of activity, one half expected David Attenborough to pop up to complete the scene. A croc slunk away, half-submerged hippo ears flickered, and a monitor lizard retreated as we approached. Then, as fish eagles skimmed the water, some 24 ellies arrived to drink and cool off. Minutes passed like seconds; it was my best safari moment ever.
Lunch under the trees
One ride ended at a tree-top platform where lunch awaited, along with fresh clothes dug out of our tents and laid out ready.
Spotting wild dogs
Our rides encountered quizzical giraffes, straight-tailed warthog, giant monitor lizards, reed buck, eland, tsessebe, wild dog, buffalo and so much more besides.
Our group of five riders gelled instantly. Besides two Berkshire Lucys was a daughter (Rose), mother (Fiona) and grandmother (Diana) from one family who had all evented or hunted. Diana, 78, was a Cornish vet who hopped every optional log. If ever I felt sore, I had only to think: “Pull yourself together; a lady 34 years older than you is doing just fine.”
Botswana; unfenced, truly wild and managed only by nature’s whims, is good at surprises. Last time I visited, unseasonal downpours bogged down our support truck and scuppered our ride. This time the issue was fire, started by lightning strikes on the eve of our arrival. Normally, seasonal rains would soon extinguish them. Instead we had a mini-heatwave and stiff breezes pushing flames across tinder-dry bush.
How much does it cost?
A week at Macatoo costs from £3,185 per head for a week, plus flights
Find out more
In The Saddle, tel 01299 272997 or visit www.inthesaddle.com