Duke’s Camp: The hottest new destination in the Okavango Delta
Duke’s Camp in Botswana is the safari lodge on everyone’s lips. New for 2022, this striking safari destination from the creators of iconic Jack’s Camp is set on a vast concession rich in game and natural beauty, surrounded by the crystal-clear channels of the Okavango Delta. After a 45-minute transfer from one of two nearby airstrips, we arrive at camp, accompanied by a VIP escort of gorgeous southern carmine bee-eaters, attracted to the insects thrown up by the vehicle.
Dense bush and forest give no indication of the magic that lies beyond but break through the foliage and a spectacular clearing is revealed, crowned by a soaring safari tent, dripping in billowing swags and oozing with style.
A tribute to the legacy of far-flung lands, explorers and adventurers, this exquisite canvas palace is rich in texture and drama, featuring printed fabrics from India, engraved Moroccan brass and glossy antique furniture and objects. A dining table to seat as many as 18 anchors the main space, surrounded by leather director’s chairs, teak tables and trunks, studded with brass and dotted with the skulls of everything from elephant and warthog to baboon and catfish. Maps adorn the tented walls, some of which have been swept usher in a welcome breeze, creating a seamless relationship between camp and bush – explore a little further and you’ll stumble across a bijou swimming pool, shimmering like a baguette-cut emerald and embedded in chic decking and the world’s grooviest lavatory, built around a tree.
Either side of the grand mess tent are further delights: a bar and sitting room stockpiled with sparkling bottles of spirits from which to help yourself and a Moroccan-inspired lounge covered in a patchwork of rugs and cushions, (no shoes allowed) where afternoon tea is served every day at 4pm. We gather for a welcome from our hosts and tuck into platters of freshly baked and delicious scones, cupcakes, sausage rolls and fresh fruit, artfully arranged alongside flasks of tea and coffee, plus cut-glass and silver jugs of fresh lemonade and iced tea. Lavish doesn’t cover it.
Further luxury sings from the suites, located down a sandy path that snakes through the property and set beneath a canopy of ebony and leadwood trees overlooking the lagoon. Pitched on raised decking, fringed by reeds and native grasses, are 12 truly magical tents, each one a miniature kingdom with stunning four-poster beds hand-carved from rich mahogany and a gorgeous bathroom filled with polished brass fittings.
Remote as it is ravishing, Duke’s has been purposefully innovated to encourage immersion in the bush so guests can disconnect, dream and drink in this extraordinary destination with zero distractions.
Low-touch, despite its high-impact, opulent design, there is no wifi and no air-con; instead, I enjoy the cooling flow of a fan and get stuck into lagoon tv, embraced by nature and cocooned in birdsong, the hum of insects and a chirpy choir of frogs. Elsewhere in camp, expect a warm and relaxed family atmosphere that echoes the Zen of the bush and service so discreet that life happens here as if by magic. There’s even an in-camp masseuse, should you require some next-level pampering.
All meals are served communally, outside if the weather permits, and perfectly balanced with a divine range of dishes. Not only will you never go hungry at Duke’s Camp at Okavango Delta in Botswana, but you’re likely to be blown away by the food, dishes of incredible variety and quality that belie this wilderness setting. Lunch is usually something like a homemade pasty or Greek-inspired spanakopita with salad, followed by a cheeseboard, while dinner is a three-course affair consisting of a soup, followed by a modern European-style main – a fabulous piece of grilled Botswana beef fillet on mashed potatoes, perhaps – topped off with crème brulée or similar.
So, what can one expect from the game drives? I encountered some of the most thrilling action I’ve ever experienced on Dukes’ 180 hectares of land: from observing a den of hyenas and resident lions en respose to chasing cheetah on the hunt after dark and a particularly gruesome warthog kill, courtesy of a pack of wild dogs, each drive offered something extraordinary, with expert guide and all-round legend, Costa leading the charge. A natural orator with a flamboyant communication style, Costa is never short of a giggle and brought the bush and its creatures to life with drama and panache, in the style of a man who was born for the stage.
Exploring the waterways by mokoro with a local poler is also highly recommended, providing a chance to switch off, tune in and be at one with the delta. You’ll glide through the landscape observing flora and fauna great and small, with local guys who grew up on mokoros making it look easy, before sundowners on the riverbank: trust me, it’s the only way to travel.
On my last evening, looking out onto the lagoon, I raise a glass to Sarefo ‘Duke’ Sarefo, the custodian of this bountiful piece of wilderness, who has made it possible for us to experience the magic. Born some 80 years ago on the very island that the camp now occupies, his ancestral roots run deep into these sandy soils – little wonder the atmosphere here reverberates with a legacy of love and care.