Hotel Insider Set in the Linyanti Reserve, Kings Pool Camp blends exclusivity with polished service.
A luxurious walk on Botswana's wild side at Kings Pool Camp
A guide in an open-air Jeep meets us at the small airstrip where our tiny Cessna from Kasane lands. The noise of the engine drowns out introductions, and it's not until we have driven for five minutes down a dusty lane that Nbeo stops and introduces himself. He will be our guide for the next 48 hours.
When we arrive at camp - several sightings of elephants, monkeys and mongoose later - there are six members of staff waiting to greet us. Over a Kings Pool Cup (a mocktail), Warren, the camp manager, reads us the rules.
There are no phones so we are to blow the horn in our room should there be a medical or animal emergency and turn our lights on. If we hear someone else blowing a horn we must turn our lights off so there is no confusion about whose room they should head for. Under no circumstances must we leave the room unaccompanied after dark, in case we bump into an elephant or a hippo or even a lion. We then sign an indemnity form that we have heard and inwardly digested this advice.
Kings Pool Camp is in the private reserve of the Linyanti/Savuti Channel in the northern area of Botswana. On the other side of the river is Namibia. It lies on the edge of an oxbow-shaped lagoon and gets its name from the fact that the former king of Sweden used to camp there to hunt big game. Twenty-nine years ago, Wilderness Safaris gained the concession (an agreement to rent the area for tourism and conservation) and built a permanent lodge. Logic would say that it should be King's Pool but the apostrophe, as far as I can tell, was never part of its name.
Wilderness Safaris controls the 120,000-hectare area. It runs four camps and is limited under the agreement to cap it at 54 rooms. Even by my bad maths, that equates to a lot of space per person or, more accurately, a lot of animals per person to view. The government of Botswana pursues a policy of high income, low impact. As a result, the guests are mostly American, honeymooners or wealthy middle-aged empty nesters. The neighbours are giraffes, impalas, antelopes, zebras, lions and more elephants than you can possibly count.
Camp food can be a mixed bag, but Ben, the South African executive chef, is a star. Meals follow a schedule: at 6am, it's mugs of tea, cereals, home-baked bread and hard-boiled eggs around the camp fire. Brunch is served on return from the bush at about 11.30am, depending on the sightings. There are two or three choices of salads, soup and a hot dish, such as pasta. At 3.30pm, tea and home-made cakes are served before the evening safari. Finally, dinner is served under the stars (and the African sky is bigger than any other, but don't ask me to explain the science) is a traditional three-course meal: soup or a light starter; fish or meat; then a pudding - all delicious.
The tented rooms are reached along a raised walkway. Upgraded recently to "premier camp", the rooms manage the trick of feeling native African as well as modern and stylish. In the bathroom, the twin basins are built into a large lump of wood serving as a vanity top. As well as an indoor double shower, there is an outdoor shower for those who want to feel closer to Africa. Our twin beds are pushed together under a large mosquito net, and the sitting room area has a desk (the only place in the Botswana bush where my mobile gets a signal as it taps into Namibian satellites), a sofa and a coffee table with glossy magazines. Outside, a plunge pool and a daybed are built into the private decking area, although the baboons think it also belongs to them.
Most guests come for 24 or 48 hours before moving on to another camp and the staff have learnt to bond quickly. They want to create a campsite atmosphere, and the guides, with whom you spend most of your time, are easy-going and flexible as well as reassuringly good at what they do. I was also in awe of the immense backroom operation: hundreds of people are moved in light aircraft every day between camps (without the visible help of mobiles or emails) in what must be a scheduling nightmare, but I did not meet a single person who experienced even a two-minute delay.
One morning I skipped the early morning game drive and had the lodge to myself with only an elephant for company a few metres below me. We both stayed where we were, him chomping bamboo in the river and me gazing out over the African landscape.
This sort of game drive is not for the faint hearted. I had several heart-in-the-mouth moments when large animals were so close I could see their eyelashes.
An experience that most of us only ever dream about, and I still am.
The bottom line
Two nights at Kings Pool Camp on a fully inclusive basis (with all meals, house beverages, laundry and game activities) costs Dh9,120 per person, based on two sharing. This also includes light aircraft transfers between Maun and Kings Pool Camp. One night's fully inclusive accommodation without light aircraft transfers costs Dh3,790 per person. Book through World Odyssey (www.world-odyssey.com; 00 44 1905 731373).