The Royal Zambezi Region
Photo: Chloe Durr
The Royal Zambezi Region
21 October 2019 | Tourism
When I was asked to revisit the Zambezi Region just two months after my first visit my heart skipped a beat. I have fallen in love with the region, its people and everything on offer. It could be the energy of the river system that feeds my soul and seems to flow in the veins of the people who reside there or perhaps the fact that it borders so many countries creating a vibrant cultural melting pot that echoes throughout the region. To me, the Zambezi Region encompasses everything I...
In my previous article “Splendor of the North East” I unpacked the ultimate camping experience. This trip will transport you through the more luxurious offerings of the region and ensure you of a trip of a lifetime.
Day 1: Out of Africa
As I retraced my steps I couldn’t help but take notice again of the barren, parched ground, a landscape wind-swept by whirl winds that chase the cattle grazing along the road side, the shoots of spring blossoms struggling to break free in temperatures that rise to 35°C before noon, and the way life gathers in the shade of camel thorn- and acacia trees, away from the sun. The land was sparser than I remember, huge logs of teak and rosewood line the roadside awaiting transportation; the Namibian government recently having lifted a ban on the transportation of logs out of the area, and villagers clearing their lands in preparation for farming, hoping for summer rains to grace the area.
This region of Namibia offers picturesque scenes that are forever imprinted on my mind and in my heart. I popped in to visit old friends and we reconnected over a cup of Oshikundu (a traditional beer brewed from mahangu-millet), while sitting in the dust and paging through the previous edition of the Tourismus magazine, reminiscing like old friends.
We arrived at Taranga Safari Lodge, just outside of Rundu – a small, quiet and manicured environment with translucent green lawns and tented accommodation, built on stilts to accommodate the rising Kavango River during the rainy season.
Each tent is stylishly decorated with furnishings from around the African continent, allowing for a classical “Out of Africa” feel. It has been built under a canopy of trees, which is home to an array of birds, which you will find out, herald the start of each new day. Rock Shandy in hand we peacefully watched the sun set at Taranga’s Kingfisher River Bar that floats gently on the Kavango River and overlooks Angola’s south, surrounded by local children fishing in the reeds with their wooden Mokoros glistening in the golden evening light.
Day 2: I Dreamed of Africa
Failing to manually set time on my cell phone, my alarm was inadvertently reset to Angolan time. Fortunately I was awoken before sunrise by a gentle wake-up reminder from Claus, my boat driver and bird guide. Together we maneuvered through the misty, shallow waters of the desperately low Kavango River in time to watch the sun break through the early morning frost in red and pink glory. I always value my time learning from locals such as Claus – their knowledge and unique perspectives make for an informative experience. I learned about the grass-hut police stations that line the Kavango River every 5km, allowing Angolans to cross the river to buy supplies and even go to school in Namibia, and I was shown the different ways in which the locals fish in the river. The sunrise boat trip is just one of the many activities offered by the Lodges in the region.
Travelling from Rundu to Divundu offered a different experience of village life. As we travelled along the Kavango River, catfish, tiger fish, bream and tilapia hung in trees to dry along the roadside and children fished with makeshift reed-lines in the shallows of the river.
I arrived at Ngepi Camp just in time for an afternoon Mokoro trip with Emmanuel on the Kavango River and was greeted with a warm embrace and the contagious laughter of the Camp Manager, Meke, who set the tone for a memorable stay at this very friendly camp.
The Spiral Tree House, in which we stayed, hides like an eagle camouflaged by the leaves of the riverine forest, perched on the edge of the Kavango River, overlooking the Bwabwata National Park and with a view towards the previous headquarters of pre-independence 32 Battalion. The row of tree houses are romantically open to the elements, with birds flying freely through the thatched-roofed chalet. The setting sun dramatically sets the symphony, conducted by the grunting hippo and the fish eagle’s cry.
The owners of Ngepi obviously have a wonderful sense of humour, as the signage is hilarious. The netted swimming pool in the Kavango River, reached via a wooden walkway, allow adventurers to capture the sight of hippopotamus or crocodile.
Day 3: Treetop Eco-Luxury
I awoke at sunrise to the sight of the blushing Kavango River silently mirroring the flight of birds as a Giant Kingfisher sat preening himself on the deck next to me – the perfect African dream!
“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up, that I was not happy.” – Ernest Hemingway
We set off to Bwabwata National Park at noon and although the tar roads are in good shape, the lodges we visited, are accessed via sand tracks, requiring you to make use of an off-road vehicle.
Shaken, but not stirred, we arrived at Nambwa Tented Lodge, a regal establishment sensibly built on stilts to allow thoroughfare for migrating elephants to pass underneath. Hanging walkways, constructed around magnificent sausage trees with large, red velvety, flowers in full bloom, connect the luxury tent-chalets to the main lodge. The lodge offers impeccable service, luxury accommodation, a tempting Gin Bar and delicious food, including organic salad and vegetables grown in green houses belonging to the lodge.
In a treetop setting overlooking the Bwabwata National Park and in the heart of the KAZA Trans-frontier Park, Nambwa Lodge stands out like a diamond in the dust. Nambwa prides itself in having a strong eco-vision and a low carbon footprint, and has mastered the art of sustainable tourism. The local community is at the core of the entire African Monarch business; committed to working hand in hand with the local people towards environmental stewardship, respectfully adhering to local culture and traditions, whilst educating and working towards conservation. Its tranquility sets the scene for an ultimate African experience, while leaving a miniscule mark on one of the few untouched wilderness areas in Namibia. Their impressive multi-faceted Sijwa Project aims to create a sustainable biodiverse economy for the entire region, by creatively recycling waste into an artistic commodity.
“Africa has her mysteries and even a wise man cannot understand them. But a wise man respects them.” – Miriam Makeba
Day 4: The Heart of the Land
We set off on a morning bush walk led by our trusted guide Eustace, who taught us about the fauna and flora, traditional medicine and practices of the area. He led us respectfully past a breeding herd of elephants, who gently acknowledged our presence, before they trumpeted off to join a pod of hippo lying in the mud at a watering hole. I enjoyed listening to his childhood stories and marveled at his invaluable knowledge.
“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.” – William Burchell
I spent the day at the Sijwa Project, a short boat trip from the main lodge. I assisted in crushing beer and wine bottles to be used for bead making and watched as hundreds of tin cans were melted and formed into aluminum bricks later to be molded into stylish milk jugs for the lodge. A group of local women sat at a sand pit filling empty plastic bottles with sand, destined to be used to erect additional building structures at the Sijwa Centre, where junior rangers are destined to be trained and a small factory will allow for further stylish objects to be made. The enthusiasm and passion of the project-team is inspiring.
During our final evening we watched a full-blood moon rising over the park, perched next to the river at Horseshoe Bend. Herds of antelope, elephant and buffalo joined us for a Sundowner, and kept us entertained as the light faded. At night I heard a lion roaring in the distance, while elephants grazed silently below our treetop luxury tent.
Day 5: Elegant Sophistication
Next we headed to Nakasa Rupara National Park. At Lianshulu Lodge we were treated to an African safari with an elegant German touch. Lianshulu is located in the Eastern Caprivi on the banks of the Kwando River in a privately owned concession inside the Mudumu National Park – forming part of the KAZA Route. The landscape is entirely different and comprises of scenic, open woodlands joined by yellow grasslands. We enjoyed many memorable game sightings: elephants rolling and playing in a mud pool, as well as buffalo, giraffe, sable and roan antelope roaming in plain sight.
The sophisticated lodge offers excellent service and cuisine, stylish sundowner experiences and prime views of elephant, hippo, and large crocodile from an elegant deck.
Day 6: Remote Wilderness
The Nkasa Rupara National Park treats you to herds of sable antelope crossing your path and roan antelope roaming past, as you traverse the savannah grasslands. Travelling along deep-rutted sand tracks without getting stuck – a personal record for this rookie 4x4-driver – the Nkasa Rupara National Park is akin to a game-drive on the way to Jackalberry Tented Camp. This remote, tranquil and well-managed tented camp is situated in the Linyanti swamplands, allowing for views of herds of grazing elephants and the woodlands of Botswana just across the river. Located in the centre of the newly established KAZA Conservation Area, the lodge and its treetop viewing area are a perfect base from which to explore the surrounding National Park. Its unique location and proximity to the Botswana woodlands allows for spectacular birding along the Linyanti River.
Day 7: Living Side-by-Side with Wild Animals
The region is dry right now, due to fill up again during the rain season ending in April. Dusty pans will be replaced by pools of water and tented camps on stilts will again stand in water. Gondwana Chobe River Lodge is a perfect example. Built on stilts along the Chobe River, one now walks on grassy lawns to the swimming pool and the main lodge with its dining areas – in April guests are ferried by Mokoros.
Chobe Lodge boasts with a perfect setting along the river bordering Botswana and overlooking the Chobe Game Reserve. From the personal decks, you can view cranes, bee-eaters, storks, and many other bird species in their annual nesting grounds. Otters, crocodiles, tilapia, bream, catfish and tiger fish swim in the river, whilst herds of elephant, buffalo and zebra graze on the plateau.
The coexistence of wildlife and people, with people crossing the roads as intermittently as elephants, is something to behold. Hiding in the papyrus on the sandbanks of the Chobe River, trying to capture “that perfect photo”, I heard a strangely repetitive call in the Chobe reserve, only to discover later, that it was a herder giving continuous commands to his dog while searching for his cattle that were grazing freely amongst a herd of zebra and buffalo – a quintessentially African sighting. Fishing is popular in the Zambezi region and tourists partake in this pastime (it is done on a catch-and-release basis).
Day 8 Relaxing with Friends
Revisiting previously made friends was a pleasure. I thus returned to Caprivi Mutoya Lodge on the backwaters of the Zambezi River. This time I was overwhelmed to experience thousands of starlings nesting in the trees around the lodge and I was I was treated to a colony of thousands of carmine bee-eaters nesting within touching distance, when we spent the entire afternoon on a boat, watching birds skimming across the blue water to their nests as if watching a ballet performance. Safe to say that Caprivi Mutoya Lodge is a bird lover’s paradise and the perfect location to view the sun dipping over the river in front of the Lodge in its most glorious hues.
The lodge is the perfect base from which to visit the Impalila Islands and Victoria Falls, viewed from the Namibian side, as the Katima Border is just 31km away. It fits perfectly into a KAZA-adventure through Zambia and beyond.
There is no assurance of viewing game when you visit the splendidly isolated havens of the Zambezi Region. My two trips stand in stark contrast to one another – proof that no visit to this area will ever be the same as before.
“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise; an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home.” – Beryl Markham