THE RIVERS AND WETLANDS OF THE ZAMBEZI
The major rivers of Namibia’s Zambezi Region include the Zambezi, Chobe, Kwando, Linyanti and Okavango. The waterway systems consist of wide rivers, shallow sandbanks, islands, lagoons, raging rapids and isolated pools with calm waters. The lure of the region is perhaps the vast contrast between the water-rich green splendour of nature here compared to an otherwise dry and arid country. It is home to an abundance of wildlife and species such as hippo, buffalo and various other antelope that you will not find elsewhere in Namibia. Enjoy the perfection of a sunset from the deck of a riverboat while cruising on the tranquil waters, while migrating herds of elephant drink along the riverbeds.
BUY A TRADITIONAL WOVEN BASKET
Take something typically Namibian home that will last as long as your memories. In buying a traditional woven basket you contribute to a greater cause – the livelihood of locals providing for their families.
The ultimate angling adventure – Tigerfishing
The Zambezi Region’s rivers are home to more than 84 species of freshwater fish, culminating in what can be described as a fisherman’s paradise, the perfect location for a Namibian angling adventure. Fishing in the region is done on a catch-and-release basis. The most important goal at the top of most anglers’ to-catch list is most certainly the feisty tigerfish. The thrill of hunting the notoriously hard-to-capture, ‘tiger of the Zambezi’ is what draws fishermen back time and again. If you have an adventurous spirit, be sure to take on this epic quest on your visit north-east.
TICK OFF ALL THE BIRDS
The Zambezi Region is a birder’s paradise with everything from kingfishers, African Fish Eagles to bee-eaters. We’re talking Boubous, Black-crested Barbets and White-browed Robin-Chats. There is even the ever-elusive Narina Trogon to keep you busy. Squacco, Night and Purple Herons. Dwarf Bitterns. Reed Warblers and African Jacanas (even Little Jacanas!). Our favourite birder, Pompie Burger, says that finding Pygmy Geese is more difficult than one would think, especially when they turn their backs on you every time you try to take their picture. The watery environment in winter is perfect for Thick-Knees, Whiskered Terns, Long-Toes, Wattles and White-Faces, while spring brings the African Skimmer. As for bee-eaters, there are many: Little, White-fronted, Blue-cheeked, Carmine. Raptors also make their appearance. Think Long-crested Eagle, African Fish Eagle, African Marsh Harrier and, if you’re lucky, you might see a Western Banded Snake Eagle. But don’t forget the very special Pel’s Fishing Owl. If you catch a glimpse of one of these, consider yourself among the very few.
SHOPPING AT MASHI
At Kongola in Namibia’s Zambezi Region, on an intersection on the main tar road leading to Katima Mulilo, you will find a wonderful depot of traditional arts and crafts – the Mashi Craft Centre. Stock up on hand-woven baskets, jewellery, wood carvings and much more to take home.
A WEEK IN ZAMBEZI WITH GONDWANA
The pocket of wild land in Namibia’s north-eastern corner is a rich wonderland of rivers and national parks, balancing the more arid swathes of the country perfectly. The beauty is as exceptional and the region holds its own special magic and charm. And, as I discovered, it can be visited with ease, either by flying into Katima Mulilo and hopscotching from lodge to lodge with Gondwana’s shuttle service; or by exploring with your own vehicle or in one of Gondwana’s fleet of sleek and strong Dusters. We landed in Katima and hopped into our Duster, a comfortable and capable 4×4 chariot, donned our adventurers’ hats and went exploring. First stop was Namushasha River Lodge. The thatch-roofed lodge, set among the trees and overlooking the Kwando River’s waterways and floodplains, is fit for an African princess. At this Zambezi hideaway, tree squirrels hop nimbly along the branches, the melodic call of swamp boubous rings throughout the day and the sound of hippos chortling floats through the evening air, providing sweet music as you dine outdoors on the deck by candle and star light. I took it all in, moment by magnificent-ly juicy moment, feeling like royalty and being enchanted by the fusion of wild Africa with the magic of the waterways that wend their way through the reeds on their watery journey eastwards. The high-lights at Namushasha include boat cruises on the river with its abundance of bird life and the top-notch excursion into Bwabwata National Park. This superlative afternoon trip begins by boat from the lodge and conveys guests to the riverbank in the national park where a game-viewing vehicle awaits them. Buffalo eyed us cautiously before skittishly disappearing in a cloud of dust, elegant kudu appeared, perfectly camouflaged in the long grass, and an elephant family hovered between the trees before scampering to the water for a drink. Horseshoe Bend, a favourite elephant drinking hole, provided a peaceful spot to alight from the vehicles to raise glasses before returning to the water as the sunset painted the sky a deep ruby red. Life is all about celebrating the moment – and if not, it ought to be. We were being gently reminded. And there was no better way to celebrate life than at Namushasha’s recently built luxurious River Villa that floats in a channel on the Kwando. We took the opportunity to treat ourselves to the ultimate river experience. The scrumptiously 5-star, private, double-storeyed and glassed villa with a bedroom and bath-room above and a lounge and fully equipped kitchen below, was the ultimate river experience. We padded onto the deck with a glass of quality wine from the well-stocked bar, a plate of delicious pre-prepared snacks, good books and binoculars, and spent the afternoon in our river kingdom. Kingfishers swooped, jacanas walked on water, lechwe peeped up from the reeds and buffalo grazed on the nearby bank. The sunset enveloped us in golds and reds as we lit the barbeque for supper.
Being a few kilometres north of the Ngoma border, the camp is a good base for forays into Victoria Falls, only 150km away, either for a day trip (by shuttle or car) or to overnight. What better way to end one of the best journeys of our lives than with the thundering falls, one of the seven wonders of the world, which Livingstone described with the words ‘… scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.It was a fitting ending to the week of wonder: the ‘smoke that thunders’, elephants trumpeting, wild waterways and waterbirds.a
After a deep and peaceful sleep, and a leisurely morn-ing with coffee in bed looking out onto the flood-plains, we were ferried back to the lodge for our next adventure, Zambezi Mubala Lodge. A two-hour drive away and set on the banks of the Zambezi River, this restful, refreshing and stylish lodge has a presence all of its own. Wooden walkways connect the spacious chalets that are positioned along the riverbank with superb views of the river. The lodge exudes peace and is the place to open your doors and let the soothing colours of the river wash over you. As we arrived on the boat from Zambezi Mubala Camp (the only way in), the life-affirming calls of African Fish Eagle echoed on the river. This quintessential African sound merged with the soft sound of the occasional dugout canoe gliding through the water and the small waves lapping against the shore. Although catch-and-release Tiger fishing is a popular activity this part of the world for avid fishermen, the Zambezi River is a birding hotspot for nature-lovers. We took a stroll to visit the lodge’s annual springtime guests, the bright and colourful Carmine Bee-eaters, as they swooped, caught insects and rested on the upper branches of the trees. The colour at Mubala – and the lodge is aptly named ‘colour’ in the local Lozi language – continued with a sunset boat trip to end the day as the sun dipped ceremoniously into the horizon colouring the sky with a wash of pastel colours.Just as we were wondering if this remarkable smor-gasbord of Zambezi delights could possibly get any better, we arrived at Chobe River Camp. The charming and simple tented camp is a breath of fresh air and a peaceful retreat on the Chobe River, opposite Chobe National Park. Tented chalets line the river bank, providing exceptional views of the Chobe floodplains. When the river is high, mid-year, the camp offers one of the finest activities in the country: a cruise along the Chobe River, viewing elephant, buffalo, sitatunga and a host of waterbirds from the water. With none of the traffic found downriver, it’s an unrivalled activity in the Zambezi Region. We watched wildlife on the opposite bank, herds of zebra that had begun to migrate across the floodplains as the water level dropped, and the spectacular reflections of the clouds on the water.