Canoeing safaris versus mokoro safaris?

For the more adventurous traveller, activities on offer can often be the deciding factor when choosing an African safari destination. With this in mind, African Bush Camps reviews the major differences between conducting a canoeing safari and a mokoro safari, briefly glimpsing at the history behind the two. Although both are formed on similar principles of being propelled through water channels whilst observing the scenery, wildlife and birdlife, the two have distinct difference in their make-up and the overall experience.

 

CANOEING SAFARIS

 

Originating from the native people of North America, canoes have developed over the course of thousands of years. The word ‘canoe’ originated from the word ‘kenu’ – meaning ‘dugout’. Originally thought to have been used by the Carib Indians of the Caribbean islands, canoes were made of large tree trunks which were shaped and hollowed, and were strong enough to travel between the islands.  In its human-powered form, the canoe is propelled by the use of paddles, usually by two people. Paddlers face in the direction of travel, either seated on supports in the hull, or kneeling directly upon the hull. Modern day canoes contain a kiel, which runs down the middle of the canoe and is used to stabilise the vessel.

Canoeing safaris are offered throughout Africa and are argueably one of the most scenic ways to discover the Africa and its wildest animals. The quietness of a canoeing safari makes close encounters with wildlife easier than on foot or in a motor driven vehicle, and yet the element of adventure involved in a canoeing safari adds to the excitement of being in the African wilderness. In addition, a canoe safari allows travellers to cover considerable distances and gives you the chance to see places that are not usually accessible on game drives and / or are impractical for walking safaris.

Canoeing safaris are tailored to guests abilities and for the more adventurous who enjoy the exercise whilst soaking in the sun rays, guests are able to paddle themselves through the water with a professional guide in tow or leading the expedition. For those who would prefer, a professional guide will accompany you, paddling the canoe through the waterways, whilst you sit back, relax and enjoy the up close and personal encounters with Africa’s wildlife.

When two people occupy a canoe, they paddle on opposite sides. For example, the person in the bow (the bowman) might hold the paddle on the port side, with the left hand just above the blade and the right hand at the top end of the paddle. The left hand acts mostly as a pivot and the right arm supplies most of the power.  Canoes can also navigate swift-moving water with careful scouting of rapids and good communication between the paddlers.

Regarded as the best canoe safari destination in Africa, and famous for its prolific wildlife and diverse landscapes, the Zambezi River offers a once in life time adventure through Africa’s wildest terrain. It was along these banks that David Livingstone remarked “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”.

African Bush Camps are able to offer guests canoeing safaris on the Zambezi River when staying at Zambezi Life Styles or Kanga Camp in the World Heritage site of Mana Pools National Park.

 

MOKORO SAFARIS – BOTSWANA

 

Following the basic shape of a canoe, whilst using the methodology of a punt, a mokoro is typically crafted out of the trunk of trees and is usually about 20 feet (6 metres) in length. Specific trees are used in the crafting of this vessel, with the preferred choices being Jackalberry Trees, Sausage Trees and Mangosteens. The trees should be older and straight for the desired buoyancy and shape to be achieved. Historically the people of Botswana made use of controlled fires to hollow out the trees. The burnt wood would be chopped away with a curved chopping blade called an ‘adze’. Once the burnt wood was removed and the boat was buoyant, it would then be crafted to into an elongated and streamlined shape with distinct points at the bow and stern. Today, the barks of the trees are hollowed out with tools such as hatchets. An Ngashe, which is a stick or rod is used as a “pole” to move the vessel through the water. The Ngashe stick is usually made from the Silver Leaf Terminalia Tree.

However, in an effort to minimise the environmental impact of utilising older trees, and to compensate for the amount of trees required to make the mokoro’s, more and more operators are turning to mokoro’s made out of fibreglass.

Traditionally mokoro’s were used by the local people of the Okavango Delta to traverse and fish amongst the water channels. Having navigated the channels on a regular basis, local boatmen are able to maneuver the mokoro at considerable speed and many have perfected this lifelong skill. Usually limited to two people, the mokoro historically would have one person sitting at the stern and steering the direction of the boat, whilst the other stands toward the front propelling it forward with the Ngashe.

For today’s modern traveller, the mokoro safari usually entails a guide standing at the back (stern) of the boat using the Ngashe Pole to steer and propel the boat forward, whilst one or two guests sit at the front of the boat relaxing and enjoying the view. Described as one of the most peaceful ways to experience Africa in all its splendor, mokoro safaris provide an opportunity to observe the sights and sounds of nature at water level, without running the risk of scaring off animals and birds with the noise of a motor. The advantage of a mokoro is that it can be ‘poled’ across deep lakes and rivers as well as the scenic papyrus and reed filled channels and waterways, allowing one to traverse shallower waters, getting closer to the wildlife and birds frequenting the edge of the riverbanks. The photographic opportunities provided on a makoro safari are immeasurable as one glides past the herds of animals on the banks of the Delta river system. As tourism to Botswana has increased, the mokoro has since become an iconic symbol of the Delta.

African Bush Camps are able to offer mokoro safaris to guests staying at Linyanti Bush Camp, Saile Tented Camp and Khwai Tented Camp.