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A week in the Zambezi with the Gondwana Collection

Avatar of inke inke - 05. octobre 2018 - Gondwana Collection, Tourism

Welcome to the Zambezi! Lush waterways adorned with waterlilies and resounding with birdsong; the languid waters of mighty African rivers; and national parks frequented by elephant and buffalo. 

By Ron Swilling

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 4x4 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 magnificently 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 highlights 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 shades coloured 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 bathroom 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. 

After a deep and peaceful sleep, and leisurely morning with coffee in bed looking out onto the floodplains, 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 smorgasbord 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.

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 . . . 

The Zambezi magic remained long after we returned home.

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