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Okavango houseboat impressions


johnkok
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Impressions of my Okavango Houseboat Experience

3 nights on the Delta Belle Houseboat 25-28 April 2014

 

My wife and I slotted this in between 6 nights at Nxabega and 6 nights at Kwando Lagoon. We thought it might work well for us this way, like an interlude, and it worked like a charm.

 

Our days in camp are usually frenetic. It revolves around getting up early, bouncing around for hours, downloading and backing up pictures, keeping batteries charged, packing/re-packing for the vehicle, and socialising with fellow safari goers while dining, not to mention trying to get shots of those critters while in camp. On the houseboat, all of these can take place without "going out".

 

But first, a big thank you again to @@Jochen is in order. It was his TR http://safaritalk.net/topic/10904-botswana-blend-boat-lodges-and-camping/ that set this particular plan in motion. Our time on board was spent with the same crew Jochen had - namely Lucas (boatman), Clifford (captain) and Bashi (cook) - the same guys he showed in his shot of the kitchen (#17 in his TR). From his shot of his room (#12), it looks like we even spent our nights in the same room he did - downstairs, forward starboard side. Quite possibly we were also crowded out of the dining area the first night by the same insects :-D

 

We flew in to Shakawe airport from Nxabega airstrip in just a little under an hour. We had enjoyed our morning game drive before finishing packing and leaving, and landed just before 1pm. From the air, Shakawe looked un-remarkable, an impression not changed on the ground.

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And Shakawe is an airport because it has more tarmac than dirt, and an actual brick building. It is however, as deserted as the airstrips out in the bush.

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Except we had Clifford hustling out to meet us and help with luggage.

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A short drive later, we were at the site the houseboat was berthed. We wasted no time getting on board, getting settled and casting off. We were the only passengers and so we effectively had a private vehicle for our three nights. Under such circumstances, how could our camera gear not take over the boat?

 

We didn't really know what the "plan" was. How long/far would the houseboat travel? Where/when would we go out on the smaller boat? But we were happy just to go along. The cool breeze as the boat moves slowly along is really pleasant against the hot African sun during the day. Much more pleasant than in an open vehicle at noon, that's for sure.

 

With the big bazooka being quickly mounted on a tripod (something I seldom bring but specifically packed for this part of the safari), I was soon grabbing quick, excited shots of Cattle egrets, White-fronted bee-eaters and Pied kingfishers on the banks as we passed them in the houseboat. However, what got me really going was when we started to slow down for our berthing spot for the day (this after only hardly an hour of slow steaming). The resident swallows (there were two separate species one nesting under the roof and one nesting under the floor) started to fly out and about. And I started to try and get them in flight. This made the entire crew laugh. As you can imagine, this was quite a challenge for me. Which I relished.

 

So here is the first one in focus (sort of). The Wire-tailed Swallow was the merest speck in the frame. Cropped this shot to kingdom come. And what's a few hundred deleted other shots among friends? :-D

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They were not entirely without pity. These two posed on a branch of a dead tree we had berthed next to. Which allowed full firepower to be brought to bear. So 36 megapixels and 800mm were filled with frame-filling goodness. Couldn't help the harsh light, nor the pose though.

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Here's what a near-100% crop of another shot of the other swallow looks like (and shows up how shallow the depth of field is on an 800mm focal length at f5.6)

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And some White-fronted Bee-eater with dragonfly action

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I guess you can tell by now we are also quite keen on photographing birds. And that's what a houseboat on the Okavango delivers. If birds bore you, give it (& the rest of this TR) a miss.

 

To anyone on ST pursuing the sighting of a Pel's Fishing Owl, go to Shakawe! There's a pair (at least) in that neighbourhood. Sometimes in the trees bordering the river but inside a military compound, but at other times, outside of it. We were offered a possibility of a Pel's and we were off with Lucas on the speedboat post haste. Left the big guns behind and just toted the Sigma 120-300/2.8 and Jill the Nikkor 70-200/2.8

 

That first time, they were inside the military compound. Lucas had told us that pointing our cameras at the base was forbidden. Some military type did come out and checked us out, and Lucas did some magic and lo! permission was granted. So we got a few shots off from the small speedboat. It was the second time around, on the next day, when we saw them outside the military base that we could get off onto land and got much better shots of a pair of them (with a Nikkor 300/2.8). There might even be a third owl (probably their offspring) but I cannot be sure as they never sat together while we were there, craning our necks and pointing our lenses up into the canopy.

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After the Pel's, we did the obligatory White-fronted Bee-eater colony (their nesting holes on the banks of the Okavango - so similar to what we saw of the Southern Carmine Bee-eaters did on the Zambezi), various other bird action, followed by the other obligatory sunset-over-the-Okavango-from-the-speedboat thing.

 

We then ate some bugs on the 15 minute high speed ride back to the houseboat. Coming upon it in the 6:30 light, it looked great.

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That first evening, we were un-prepared for the insect onslaught. As you can see above, the lounge and dining area of the houseboat is entirely open. The crew put out some lights away from the food - to attract the insects away from the people as much as to provide illumination. It was nice and cool out in the open. But the insects soon drove us away. We quickly finished dinner and withdrew into the sanctuary of our rooms. The enclosed space was not as comfortable as the lounge, but we just could not take the bugs. As it turned out, this first mooring place had the most bugs. On the third night, they just let the reeds catch the houseboat and we were stopped in some shallow side channel in the open, as it were. There were much fewer insects. Or maybe we had just gotten used to them :-)

 

 

More to come - time permitting :-)

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Love the pic of the bee-eater swallowing the dragonfly

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Love the pic of the bee-eater swallowing the dragonfly

Wow - that was quick.

And thanks

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michael-ibk

Love the pic of the bee-eater swallowing the dragonfly

 

+ 1.

 

And all the rest. The houseboat must be very relaxing (if you don´t try to catch swallows ;-))

 

Looking forward to more.

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:o Those images are stunning. My jaw just dropped. Hope there's more coming!

 

And glad you enjoyed the Delta Belle!

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Love the pic of the bee-eater swallowing the dragonfly

 

+2

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That Pels Owl is fantastic.

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SafariChick

Fantastic shots already - wow!! Look forward to more - your TRs are always great!

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@@michael-ibk, @@Jochen, @@Tdgraves, @@wilddog, @@SafariChick

 

Thanks for reading and leaving those kind words. Much appreciated.

As for the pix - those with the D800E (36 mpixels) with the 800mm still blow me away. When some guests at camp ask to see some pix, I would put one of those up on the screen. They would make all the polite noises. Then I zoom in to 50% and they stop murmuring. When I zoom to 100% they call their friends over :-)

 

The "dark side" is that the combo is a handful, really demanding. I have yet to manage subject-in-motion shots, even with plenty of light and 1/2000 or faster shutter speeds. And the cost of an extra seat on those little planes (learned this the hard way - having had my mood spoiled from the start of our Zim safari when Wilderness Air zeroed in on me at Vic Falls, weighed my kit up and demanded additional cash for all their flights; why do I say this? - because adding up our baggage weight + Jill and my weights together did not even come up to the planning weights pilots use in their passenger weight estimates, let alone their estimates for passengers plus baggage; and the salt in the wound? we were the ONLY TWO passengers in that flight out of Vic Falls). So to avoid this - I ask up front for an extra seat and I avoid Wilderness whenever possible

 

John

Edited by johnkok
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Love the pic of the bee-eater swallowing the dragonfly

 

+2

 

 

+3

 

Cheers JK, I hadn't previously considered trying a few days on house boat but now you've got me intrigued! Thanks very much, I'm looking forward to seeing/reading more!

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Incredibly sharp photos. I can't imagine being bored by them. :)

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Superb pictures ( as usual)! The bee eater swallowing the dragonfly and the Pels fishing owl shot are particularly spectacular.

Wow, you lugged the 800mm lens. Over 10lbs. How many lenses in total with that. How did you carry all that on the international flights and SAA or Air Bots from JNB. Was there a plan B to check in some of the gear, meaning a hard case was on hand.

 

Did you use the 1.25TC that comes with the 800mm for any of your shots.

 

Thanks for your report JK.

Edited by AKR1
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madaboutcheetah

Awesome, John........ Sounds like an awesome trip on the house boat. Can't wait for more! Thanks for your report.

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Superb pictures ( as usual)! The bee eater swallowing the dragonfly and the Pels fishing owl shot are particularly spectacular.

Wow, you lugged the 800mm lens. Over 10lbs. How many lenses in total with that. How did you carry all that on the international flights and SAA or Air Bots from JNB. Was there a plan B to check in some of the gear, meaning a hard case was on hand.

 

Did you use the 1.25TC that comes with the 800mm for any of your shots.

 

Thanks for your report JK.

 

Thanks @@AKR1

 

I carry a lot of gear since my wife and I both like to shoot. Her weapon of choice is the 300/2.8 while this time around I used the 800/5.6 for the first time. I also have the Siggie 120-300/2.8 and Nikkor 70-200/2.8 on hand. Bringing up the rear as it were is the tiny V1 with (this time) the 10/2.8 Actually, the 800/5.6 is the same weight as the 400/2.8 (4.6kg) that has been travelling with me over all these years. It's maximum diameter is also the same. It's just a bit longer (and slower).

 

Only the thinks like tripods, monopods, clamps, heads, chargers and such like are in the checked-in duffels. The camera bodies plus lenses and notebook plus HDD are all in my hand-carry camera bags. They do weigh a lot. I'm a frequent flyer so I do not get any baggage weight issues on the long hauls. The regionals can be iffy. These days I padlock my hand carry after security in preparation of handing the camera bags over to the airline at the base of the steps up the plane and then I retrieve the bags at the tarmac at the base of the ladder/steps.

 

For the little planes (which used to be the least problematic before) I buy an extra seat for my gear. I do not have hard cases (like the Pelicans) because the size and weight would make them even more problematic for the small planes. My main camera bag is a Kata Flyby-76, a fairly rectangular bag, with external dimensions which are at the limit of international airline allowances (usually 22x14x9 inches). I rest this on a Kata trolley when hauling it across airports and tarmac, and carry the trolley with me into the cabin on the regionals. I have another slightly smaller camera bag which I slot into a back pack with wheels.

 

I did try out the TC which brings the 800 to a 1000mm, AND mounted it on the V1 with the adaptor. An insane 2700 focal length. Shot with electronic shutter so as to remove mechanical shutter slap. It is insane, because distance haze plus an ultra-narrow angle of view plus poorer IQ of the V1 plus what is there to shoot that you can find within that narrow view plus ... Just for fun.

 

I think I did try the 1000mm on the big brothers but I cannot recall any wow pix from that effort :-)

 

John

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SafariChick

@@johnkok I wish I had the slightest idea what you're talking about. How does one learn about all this stuff - did you take classes or just read up on it yourself? we have so many good photographers on here and I'd love to learn to take better photos but it's kind of overwhelming!

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On 6/7/2014 at 8:58 PM, SafariChick said:

@@johnkok I wish I had the slightest idea what you're talking about. How does one learn about all this stuff - did you take classes or just read up on it yourself? we have so many good photographers on here and I'd love to learn to take better photos but it's kind of overwhelming!

 

Sorry @@SafariChick

 

I hope I didn't come across in all the wrong ways. I was responding directly to @@AKR1 and I recalled he had been interested in the details on previous occasions.

 

I still remember years ago seeing someone else's safari photos taken with a 600/f4 - something I was not even dreaming about back then. In any case, I did reach out and asked how he managed his gear for his safaris. I recall his willingness to share. In the same spirit, I impart all the details I think might be meaningful and helpful to anyone else who might be wondering. I also recall on some early safaris looking at others with their big bazookas and wondering what that must have been like. Now I'm that guy. (I bought my first digital DSLR - a Nikon D70, and a Sigma 70-300 lens - for my first safari back in 2004. You could say I have come along a bit since then).

 

As for "all this stuff" - it's a hobby I pursue that keeps me mostly out of mischief (but permanently in the poor house); I have not taken any courses (and I think it must show), but do read; some early "gurus" have left me with lessons I regret following, others I have benefited from greatly. C'est la vie. And I personally think there is nothing like doing - whether correctly or not. After 50,000 mistakes, one finds the first gem. So I keep making those mistakes, and stuff my hard drives full of stuff I should delete, but have not gotten around to doing. I look on all the photos I take on safari as my way to make my 10 day safari holiday last for 10 months. And so, rather than being overwhelmed (like thinking its a journey of a thousand miles), my state of mind is I'm just running around having fun, and sometimes along the way, I find "Hey! That's a shot I rather like, and I took it - OK, back to running around again and having more fun)

 

The ROI on this thing is a down some black hole somewhere, no doubt ready to devour the next investment. Resistance is futile.

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@@SafariChick, John is simply getting into what I and others on this board find to be extremely useful safari photography and gear logistics issues. For those carrying elaborate and heavy photography gear, this is type of detailed info is extremely useful.

 

@@johnkok, thanks again for the details.

Edited by AKR1
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SafariChick

@johnkok @AKR1 oh gosh now I'm afraid it might be I who have come across the wrong way. I have absolutely no objection to the discussion! Carry on, it's all very interesting. I am quite impressed with all the knowledge and just wish I understood better - but I in no way meant to express unhappiness with this line of discussion so I'm sorry if it came across this way! I just wish I could wave a magic wand and understand it all better but I'm afraid it takes years of hard work - so by your calculations, if I buy my first DSLR now, in about 10 years I could be you, John! :)

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ROI & belief = that's absolutely right; ROI on an exotic lens for me is totally based on faith. How can there can be any financial justification for something used (at most) 2 or 3 times a year? :-D

 

Canon 200-400/f4 - Resistance Is Futile

 

Just doing it

+1

Resistance is futile. You WILL be assimilated.

 

Signed,

Just another drone

Edited by Tdgraves
A
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Peter Connan

Incredible IQ on the swallow and bee-eater John! And getting a swallow in flight is quite an achievement however much you had to crop it. I am ooking forward to the rest of this report!

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Panthera Pardus

Wonderful Images @@johnkok - enjoying this report.

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Incredible IQ on the swallow and bee-eater John! And getting a swallow in flight is quite an achievement however much you had to crop it. I am ooking forward to the rest of this report!

 

@@Peter Connan

 

Thanks for your kind words.

 

Trying to get a swallow in flight is a lot of fun because of the challenge it presents. Their flight path is so unpredictable. And they are so quick. I did try once or twice to even get one of them in frame in the 800mm. Alas. This as a bridge too far. I found it totally impossible :-D

 

John

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Nice report John and thanks for the details of your gear.

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Not sure I missed this, love the report so far and find the camera logistics very interesting. I went to book an extra seat on my upcoming Tz trip but was offered extra freight space at a reasonable price so took that. Subsequently, the cpy has waived the freight cost due to loads in the flights so I hope that all works out. I hate the stress of travelling with so much carry on weight.

 

Love the photos, especially the Pel's. The houseboat looks so relaxing and is a great idea in the middle of a busy safari.

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FlyTraveler

Great report and stunning photography (as usual) @@johnkok! Looking forward for more!

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