More on Kaza: Going with the flow in Zambia & Namibia

In the 2nd of a two-part series, we explore more of the Kavango-Zambezi TFCA, with a deep dive into its rivers, floodplains and a swim above that epic waterfall

10 December 2023 - 00:00
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Get your timing right and you may just get to gallop with wildlife on the Zambezi floodplains with Zambian Horseback Safaris.
Get your timing right and you may just get to gallop with wildlife on the Zambezi floodplains with Zambian Horseback Safaris.
Image: Supplied

After four days of adventure in Zimbabwe and Botswana*, we were ready to trade the 4x4s for flip-flips aboard a small boat on the Kwando River, which was to deliver us to our next destination. In the heat, the breeze brought cool relief and the water’s swaying motion worked its magic.

We were halfway through our exploration of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza TFCA) and it was time to travel the lush waterways of Namibia and Zambia. It seemed only fitting. The Kaza TFCA, the largest combined conservation area in the world, converges in the Kavango and Zambezi river basins, where Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola meet. Uncovering its natural riches would require plenty of time spent on or along its rivers.

With the Okavango River to the west, the Kwando River to the east and the Angolan and Botswana borders to the north and south respectively, Namibia's Bwabwata National Park was established in 2007 when the Caprivi Game Park and the Mahango Game Reserve were combined.

A series of raised walkways links the tented suites among the treetops at Nambwa Tented Lodge, Namibia.
A series of raised walkways links the tented suites among the treetops at Nambwa Tented Lodge, Namibia.
Image: Monique De Beer Photography
A light and airy room perched between the trees at Nambwa Tented Lodge.
A light and airy room perched between the trees at Nambwa Tented Lodge.
Image: Monique De Beer Photography
The lounge in the main area of Nambwa Tented Lodge.
The lounge in the main area of Nambwa Tented Lodge.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

It is home to all sorts of creatures, from the large herds of elephant for which the TFCA is known, to flocks of rare endemic birds. It is also where the stunning Nambwa Tented Lodge resides, where raised walkways link the tented suites in the treetops. It’s a design that gently places you in the heart of the wild where you can observe — in the epitome of luxury — what unfolds about you without being obtrusive. This you can do from your suite or the main viewing deck, lounge and dining area where boma fires roar at night and meals fulfil your epicurean desires.

The lodge is built on a concession in the national park and all visitors pay a fee that goes towards conservation initiatives, including the Sijwa Project, where community members are taught valuable skills that enable them to turn recyclable waste from the lodge into beautiful clothing, art and reusable objects, a vital revenue stream in a region of Namibia with the highest unemployment rate.

Sunset in Namibia's Bwabwata National Park.
Sunset in Namibia's Bwabwata National Park.
Image: Monique De Beer Photography

The on-site mushroom farm and organic permaculture nursery also produce food for the community and lodge guests.

Its values of conservation, community, culture and commerce feed into the mission behind Kaza: that promoting wildlife conservation and responsible tourism will benefit local communities.

OFF TO THE CHOBE

Namibia’s lush Zambezi Region (previously known as the Caprivi Strip) has a somewhat unfair reputation as a destination that is difficult to reach. But from the gateway that is Chobe, it’s a swift and whimsical experience. After a hop into Botswana at the Ngoma border post and a quick stamp out again at the immigration office in Kasane, we were soon jetting on the great Chobe River.

Our journey to Serondela Lodge required a pit stop at the Kasika Namibia border immigration office on Impalila Island, where a barefoot walk over its sandy shores to the small shack-like offices got us the entry stamps needed to proceed back into Namibian territory.

Serondela Lodge is situated on the Namibian banks of the Chobe with views of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, where waterside game watching is a pristine pastime.

The writer returns to the boat after getting her passport stamped for entry into Namibia.
The writer returns to the boat after getting her passport stamped for entry into Namibia.
Image: Nicky Furniss
The Kasika Namibia immigration office on Impalila Island.
The Kasika Namibia immigration office on Impalila Island.
Image: Sanet Oberholzer

After a quick check-in we found ourselves drifting down the Chobe with the occasional stop to admire the plentiful bird and animal life. A lioness was lurking stealthily on the bank draped with enormous crocodiles, lying in wait at the tempting waters. We weren’t the only mammals looking to make the most of sundowner hour and soon encountered a large herd of elephants in Elephant Bay just as a dusting of pink began to settle over the river.

A swallow looking to nest flitted about the boat as we passed African darters, kingfishers and fish eagles perched on the overhanging branches which were quickly filling with all manner of birds settling in for the night and filling the air with their singsong chorus.

An aerial view of Serondela Lodge in Namibia's Caprivi Strip.
An aerial view of Serondela Lodge in Namibia's Caprivi Strip.
Image: Wild Waters Group
The Caprivi Strip is a bird and wildlife haven.
The Caprivi Strip is a bird and wildlife haven.
Image: Monique De Beer Photography
An African darter in flight on the Chobe River.
An African darter in flight on the Chobe River.
Image: Monique De Beer Photogarphy

Serondela is on a piece of land on the Kabulabula conservancy which becomes an island during the rainy season, when reaching the lodge is only possible by boat.

It has been recognised by Eco Awards Namibia for its environmentally-friendly practices and has been built not to impress outwardly but rather to merge with its surroundings. In so doing, it has struck gold. Each of the river-facing rooms enjoys unobstructed views and meals are savoured in the fresh air on a deck in the main area.

Even in the dry season, the Chobe transforms the landscape into a green oasis teeming with wildlife, making this an escape on the doorstep of paradise.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF SAFARI

Soon we were heading back into Botswana to cross the Kazangula Bridge. When it opened in 2021, the 923m bridge replaced the arduous ferry that once connected Botswana and Zambia at the world’s only quadripoint — where four nations (Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia) meet. Built with a curve to avoid dissecting the Namibian and Zimbabwean sides of the Zambezi, it’s been a game-changer for crossing between the two countries.

Our swift drive across the bridge to stamp out of Botswana and into Zambia was done so that we could make our way to the village of Mambova and to the Zambian side of the Zambezi, which would carry us to the banks of the Simalaha Community Conservancy.

The Kazangula Bridge was officially opened in 2021.
The Kazangula Bridge was officially opened in 2021.
Image: Monique De Beer Photography

Here, we met Doug Evans and Gail Kleinschmidt, owners of Chundukwa River Lodge on the Zambezi River, just outside Livingstone. They opened Zambian Horseback Safaris as an extension of the lodge in 2020.

Disembarking from the small boat, we transferred onto horseback and were soon taking an easy ride into camp, passing a towering baobab tree and impala, with wildebeest and sable in the distance. On a good ride out, you may even experience the thrill of galloping alongside the herds that roam these plains.

They've taken the concept of slow travel and produced itineraries that take you to different parts of the conservancy on horseback to experience the unique ecosystem, where the plains are flooded for six months of the year. During this time, many of the locals move inland. It is also for this reason that the camp is only operational from July to the end of January.

Making our way to camp at Zambian Horseback Safaris.
Making our way to camp at Zambian Horseback Safaris.
Image: Monique De Beer Photography

It was thanks to the dream of two leaders — Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta of the Sisheke Chiefdom and Chief Sekute of the Sekute Chiefdom — to see wildlife return to the Zambezi flood plains that the first efforts to rewild the Simalaha Wildlife Conservancy started 10 years ago.

Working with the Peace Parks Foundation, the body that facilitates the establishment of TFCAs in Southern Africa, they set out to create a corridor between Botswana’s Chobe National Park and Zambia’s Kafue National Park. More than 3,000 animals have since been reintroduced to these plains.

In addition to the riding, Zambian Horseback Safaris offers luxury tented accommodation with an option to sleep under the stars.
In addition to the riding, Zambian Horseback Safaris offers luxury tented accommodation with an option to sleep under the stars.
Image: Supplied

As the only tourism operator on the conservancy, Zambian Horseback Safaris contributes to the Simalaha Conservancy Trust, which supports community and wildlife initiatives.

THE MIGHTY ZAMBEZI

Next we headed for the new Radisson Blu Mosi-Oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort, also on the Zambezi. At the resort, guests can enjoy boat cruises, lying by the pool, or relaxing at the spa. Livingstone, of course, is the gateway to seeing the Victoria Falls from the Zambian side but it has other places of interest. The Livingston Museum — the largest and oldest in Zambia — holds an impressive collection of David Livingstone memorabilia and traces the history of the country. Shoppers may like the touristy Mukuni Park Curio Market or the more local-orientated Maramba Market towards the fringes of town.

The foyer of the Radisson Blu Mosi-Oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort.
The foyer of the Radisson Blu Mosi-Oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort.
Image: Monique De Beer Photography
Take a dip with a view of the Zambezi River at the Radisson Blu Mosi-Oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort.
Take a dip with a view of the Zambezi River at the Radisson Blu Mosi-Oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort.
Image: Patrick King Photo

The timing of our visit proved impeccable for a trip to Livingstone Island. Open between mid-August and mid-January when lower water levels permit, it is here the invitation comes to follow in the footsteps of Livingstone as you tread to the very edge of the falls.

Visits are only possible through Livingstone Island, a tour company that arranges speed boat transfers to Livingstone Island where views of the falls, a daring dip in Devil’s Pool and high tea await.

It was a full-circle moment to behold the falls from the Zambian side where we spied people milling about on the Zimbabwean edge where we had been just days before. This time, we were barefoot and dressed in our Instagram finest for a swim to the water’s edge.

Daredevils in Devil's Pool on the edge of Victoria Falls, Zambia.
Daredevils in Devil's Pool on the edge of Victoria Falls, Zambia.
Image: Supplied

It's safety first all-round as the guides gingerly prance about the waterfall’s ledge to get you the perfect front row seat — or in this case belly lie — as you lean into the scary abyss.

Between posing for pictures you need to remind yourself to take a moment and absorb it. The thunderous crash of water and mist rising majestically from the 108m drop envelop you in the natural rock pool, hidden by the waters cascading over its edge. For a blissful moment it looks — and feels — as though you’re being carried by the water, floating in an ethereal world. For those few minutes it’s you and your beating heart at the top of the world. And it feels as though you belong.

For more information, visit the Kaza TFCA website. 

Spanning 519,912km2, the Kaza TFCA (in green) is the largest combined conservation area in the world.
Spanning 519,912km2, the Kaza TFCA (in green) is the largest combined conservation area in the world.
Image: Joseph Lion

STAY HERE

NAMBWA TENTED LODGE, NAMIBIA

The lodge has 10 tented suites. Rates from R8,700 ppspn include accommodation, all meals, activities, local beverages and a sustainability levy. See website.

SERONDELA LODGE, NAMIBIA          

The lodge has seven double chalets and one family chalet. Rates from R8,820 for two people sharing per chalet per night include accommodation, breakfast and dinner. See website. 

ZAMBIAN HORSEBACK SAFARIS, ZAMBIA

Offers four tents which can accommodate a maximum of eight riders. They’re running a Zambian and Southern African Development Community resident special until January 15 for R4,700 ppspn (depending on exchange rates). This includes accommodation in the tented camp, all meals, horse riding safaris, taxes, a tourism levy and service charge. A minimum three-night stay applies. See website.

The horseback safaris are suited to intermediate and experienced riders. Non-riders can be accommodated and riders of all abilities can be accommodated for groups who book out the camp on an exclusive-use basis.

RADISSON BLU MOSI-OA-TUNYA LIVINGSTONE RESORT, ZAMBIA

The hotel has 200 rooms, suites and villas. Rates from R4,230 per room sleeping two people per night. See website. 

* This is the second in a two-part series on the Kaza TFCA. If you missed it, you can read part one here.

• Oberholzer was a guest of the Kaza Secretariat.


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