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TravelIf you don't want to get your Land Rover's tyres dirty, or simply wish to experience an alternative and infinitely more 'local's eye-view’ visit to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, take public transport. No, seriously. Matthew Freemantle was your personal guinea pig, and came back a convert.

We roll our eyes as South Africans when we hear of public transport north of our borders. In fact, Botswana's buses are so punctual it borders on the compulsive. At 07.59 the engine starts to grumble; by 08.01 you are on your way.

The first leg of the trip is a painless five hour bus ride from Johannesburg to Gaborone, and when you arrive it will be easy to mistake the Botswanan capital for a medium sized South African city. Most of the major companies and stores are local - you will draw money at Standard Bank, have breakfast at Mugg & Bean and buy spare tent pegs at Cape Union Mart.

Several buses leave Gaborone for Francistown in the North East every day, but the night train, which leaves town at 21.00 and arrives around 06.00 the following morning is comfortable if not luxurious. It's an old Spoornet train, so the cabins - costing R150 per person - are much like those on national routes. Unlike local rail there is no canteen, so bring your own food.

The buses wait for train passengers in Francistown before leaving to Maun, the gateway town to the Okavango. It is a long drive, with one stop in Nata, but it is worth doing it in a day if you have the stamina. If not, staying overnight at Nata gives you the chance to visit the nearby Makgadigadi pans. You can get one of several buses to Maun the following day.

There is all sorts of accommodation in Maun, from beautiful waterside campsites - Audi Camp on the outskirts of town is the pick - to lodges and rudimentary backpacker's hostels. Each venue will have its own tours into the Delta, but private trips can be arranged. From Audi, which was our base, there are three night or one night trips, with the trimmings optional.

The Delta was for years a seasonal attraction - rains in Angola would fill it each year - but for the past few years it has been constant, which means the only consideration in terms of time to go are temperature, rain and game. In the rainy season, the bush is thicker and game viewing more difficult, and, of course, it rains a lot. Winter is better in every respect, which is why - next time - we will go then.

Being poled through the reed avenues of the Delta is a thrill unlike anything we had experienced. It is a veritable birdwatcher's paradise - Fish Eagles circle overhead, Kingfishers, Jacanas, just about every sort of Stork alive; it's all there. From the campsite you will be led on long and exhilarating bush walks, on which you may or may not see one or more of the big five.

If you're lucky your campsite will be quiet, even empty, and you will sleep under the stars beside a huge bonfire with the sounds of frogs and nearby hippos soundtracking the night away. For most of the trip it's hard to remember there is a world of buildings and appointments somewhere nearby. In the Delta, all of that might as well not exist.



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