Botswana by boat: feel like royalty cruising on the Zambezi Queen
You'll enjoy a safari experience like no other floating down the Chobe River on this luxury houseboat, writes Jo Kromberg
The heat in the wee town of Kasane in Botswana side-swipes us like a Muhammad Ali left hook as we disembark from our hour-and-a-half Airlink flight from Johannesburg. Little do we realise that the route to our floating abode for the next couple of days, the Zambezi Queen luxury houseboat on the Chobe River, will be a mini adventure in itself.
The drive to the river where we get off to get our passports stamped only takes 15 minutes. Then we leave Botswana.
Our guide Martin Nchindo meets us on the river bank for a boat ride of another 15 minutes to a tiny beach on the Namibian side where we walk up to a minute, boiling hot customs "office" with a single sweating official behind a desk, resembling a scene from an Alexander McCall Smith novel.
"It's a passport killer, this trip," says Nchindo when we're back on the boat. Luckily our gorgeous destination comes into view like a floating vision just around the corner and we board this spectacular vessel, eyes wide and grinning like children.
We are welcomed by a singing crew and ushered up the stairs with a welcome drink for a safety briefing with the other passengers. Captain Patrick Muhamubi also explains that we can't sail at present since the wind is blowing too hard and, for safety reasons, the boat is not allowed to sail if the wind blows at more than 11 knots.
After a delightful lunch with excellent South African wine (included in the price, as are beers and all soft drinks), we explore this floating boutique hotel.
The Zambezi Queen is a five-star, 42m-long luxury houseboat moored in one of the most remote locations on the planet. The upper deck contains the bar, lounge and dining area as well as outside decks and a small pool with fantastic views.
The interiors are classic yet contemporary and designed with taste and style. Each of the stunning 14 suites has air-conditioning and a private balcony with unobstructed views. But no time to muck about since a sunset cruise is afoot.
We hop onto a tender boat with our guide Bernard Kaiba and cruise along the banks of the Chobe National Park which, by the way, boasts one of the densest populations of elephants on the African continent - estimated at approximately 120,000.
The park is also home to a large number of buffaloes, leopards and lions, along with a variety of antelopes and abundant birdlife.
Kaiba parks the boat metres away from a herd of bachelor buffalo, who don't look like the happiest chappies in the world. It's incredible being able to get this close to the animals, hearing and smelling them - a chance only suicidal types would take on land.
Another half a kilometre or so downstream we come upon a herd of elephants frolicking in the water. We watch them, mesmerised by their behaviour and interactions. We return as the sun sets like a giant vermillion fire ball over the Chobe.
Dinner is preceded by a presentation about the boat and the staff. Each and every one, including the mechanic, is personally introduced by manager Jesse Gouws, which I thought was a nice touch, although the whole affair may have gone on a tad too long.
This is also your opportunity to tell your guide what activities you would like to do the next day and these include tiger fishing, safari cruises and a village walk. Unlike at a traditional game lodge, there is no need to stumble out of bed at some ungodly time to freeze on a game drive before the sun comes up. Here your time is your own. Bless them!
The food is a splendid affair, matched by fantastic service. We feast on butternut soup and chicken satay for starters. Mains are either beef fillet or hake, followed by a delicious white chocolate panna cotta. We have a nightcap on the balcony with the full moon glistening on the Chobe stretching in front of us, watching a gazillion stars above.
A soft breeze blows through my hair in an old movie kind of way and the gentle sound of tiny waves lapping at the hull is interrupted only by a lion roaring in the distant African night.
Unfortunately, the wind is still too strong for us to cruise the next morning. In normal weather conditions, the boat traverses about 25km up and down the Chobe.
After a scrumptious breakfast we head to a nearby village for a tour with our charming fellow American passengers. In the afternoon, Bernard Kaiba takes us to Impalila Island. He is incredibly knowledgable and goes out of his way to accommodate his guests - a truly exceptional guide. On the way back we spot hippos, crocodiles, more ellies and more buffaloes.
That night I sleep like the dead, only to be woken up by what sounds like engines and, wonder of wonders, we are actually cruising! I lie in my bed watching the African landscape go by, replete with buffaloes running through the shallow waters and reality takes on a magical texture.
The Zambezi Queen has left me with memories of beautiful vividness and will do the same for you.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
As a regional feeder airline, Airlink offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA. It offers direct scheduled flights between Johannesburg and Kasane (Chobe).
Guests also have the freedom to travel beyond from Kasane to Livingstone and from Livingstone to Nelspruit. The journey can be extended from Nelspruit to Vilanculos. Alternatively, connect from Victoria Falls direct to Cape Town. Visit flyairlink.com
GREEN SEASON SPECIAL OFFER
Experience the beauty, tranquillity and adventure of the magnificent Chobe River with the Zambezi Queen Collection. Whether you’re looking to spend a few days relaxing on board a deluxe houseboat or on land underneath a riverine canopy at their secluded tented lodge, book early and save 40% on travel from until February 28 2019. Terms and conditions apply. Visit zqcollection.com
• Kromberg was a guest of The Zambezi Queen Collection and Airlink.