What is a Mokoro?

Many of our Southern Africa itineraries mention mokoro rides as a fun water activity option on your safari and a great way to see animals from a new perspective. We realize that most people have no idea what a mokoro is so here is a little information on what to expect:

At a most basic level a mokoro is a dugout canoe propelled and guided by a single person standing at the back of the canoe. A mokoro follows the basic shape of a canoe and is typically crafted out of the trunk of trees and is usually about 20 feet in length. The pole used to move the mokoro through the water is called an Ngashe and it is usually made from the Silver Leaf Terminalia Tree.

Specific trees are used to make mokoros with Jackalberry, Sausage and Mangosteens trees being the preferred wood. The best trees, in order to achieve the right shape and buoyancy, are old and straight. 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 of fiberglass. Historically the people of Botswana made use of controlled fires to hollow out the trees. The burned wood would be chopped away with a curved chopping blade called an ‘adze’. Once the burned 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.

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 propeling it forward with the Ngashe.

For today’s traveler, mokoro rides are an activity that can be found at many camps and lodges in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe but is most likely to be a signature activity for properties in the Okavango Delta, Botswana particularly those set on permanent waterways. 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.

Whether or not a property offers mokoro rides, especially in the Delta, depends on the time of year because of varying water levels and the camps proximity to a permanent waterway. In addition in areas where the water is too high or where hippos are prevalent a property may decide that mokoro rides are not a safe option. Given these limitations if a mokoro ride is high on your list here are few properties which are able to offer them most of the year. They are located primarily in the Delta.

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Lara Ray