“They said we’d get soaked. They said we’d get stuck. And they said we should watch out for hippos. They were right…” At 4am it was already 24 degrees. The only relief was the slight early morning breeze whispering through the wide-open window. Even the fan was moaning as it circulated around the room in the sleepy suburb of Avis on the outskirts of Windhoek.
I’d negotiated a pretty good deal to borrow Dad’s Hilux for the week, in exchange for a decent bottle of single malt. The old man gave us a final demonstration of how to put the Toyota into ‘diff lock’, we triple-checked our water supplies, packed the last few essentials, roared up the engine and rolled out before the mercury rose even further.
After digging ourselves noticeably deeper into the mud, we were rescued by locals from nearby.
We were heading for what was formerly known as ‘the Caprivi’. Other than a bit of research and some loose accommodation arrangements, none of us knew what we were getting ourselves into.
The Caprivi Strip – know before you go:
- Malaria: The area is classified as high-risk, so pack plenty of repellent and speak to your doctor about prophylactics before your trip.
- 4×4: Don’t chance it without a 4×4. Travel with another vehicle if you’re exploring remote areas like Nkasa Rupara National Park, which floods heavily during the rainy season.
- Currency: R1 = N$1. Rands are widely accepted throughout Namibia.
- Be self-sufficient: Stock up with enough drinking water, food and fuel to last a few days.
- Waterproof: Make sure your tent can withstand a torrential downpour. Quick-dry clothing will also come in handy.
Windhoek to Rundu
Rundu is a small frontier town on the banks of the Okavango River. This expansive body of water rises in the Angolan highlands before snaking its way down to the Kalahari, where it gives life to the spectacular wetland wilderness that is the Okavango Delta.
We set up camp at Sarasungu River Lodge just outside Rundu, under a broad canopy of indigenous trees overlooking the river. After a welcome dip in the pool and an ice-cold Tafel lager we spent the first evening admiring plump cattle, taking bets on local fishermen and watching the sun sink over Angola.
Rundu to Ngepi
The next morning we hit the road. We arrived at Ngepi Camp mid-morning to a warm reception, quirky signs and picturesque loos with river views. After erecting our tents in the sweltering heat, we headed for the infamous ‘croc pool’ – a floating cage in the Okavango waters, to be enjoyed at your own risk.
Cool and content, our only priority for the day was to find something gold and cold, put our feet up on the wooden deck, and watch the river turn from orange to pink, while resident hippos squabbled well into the evening.
A different kind of alarm got us up the next morning… lions. It was not long before we were somewhat dressed and driving through the Bwabwata National Park’s Mahango Gate searching for these predators.
As we wound our way through baobabs, bushwillows, papyrus and palms, it felt like we had the 25 000+ hectare reserve to ourselves. Although we couldn’t find the big cats, we spotted sable, roan, tsessebe and reedbuck, as well as a few breeding pairs of wattled crane.
Back at camp and bushed from another day in the sun we stumbled across a behemoth of a hippo. We breathed a collective sigh of relief when it moved off in the opposite direction, for the time being.
Later that night I was woken by the nervous whisper of a friend in the tent next to me, insisting I unlock the car so she could sleep inside it. Spoor the next morning confirmed that two hippos – a mother and calf – had been grazing just two feet from her pillow.
Ngepi Camp to Camp Kwando
We could easily have inhabited the shores of the Okavango longer, but Kwando was calling. We headed east through Bwabwata National Park, refuelled at Kongola, then turned south onto what would normally be described as a dirt road.
After two days of heavy rain, the C49 was underwater – the time had come to engage low range and diff lock. It was not long before a rookie attempt around a large puddle had us stranded. Thankfully we were still close to civilisation, and after an hour of digging ourselves deeper into the mud, we were rescued by locals from a nearby village.
Lesson mostly learnt, we slid in to the entrance of Camp Kwando head-to-toe in mud, and in search of a shower. Perched along the river from which it takes its name, Camp Kwando is a piece of paradise with views into the Botswana wilderness.
The Kwando ecosystem is not just home to large game, pristine waterways and large riverine trees make it home to some 450 bird species too. We jumped on a late afternoon cruise and were spoiled with sightings that included Meyer’s parrots, Luapula cisticolas, Senegal and coppery-tailed coucals and kingfishers. It’s difficult to describe the tranquillity you feel watching the sun sink through the papyrus, while beautiful African fish eagles compete for the last word of the day.
Camp Kwando to Shamvura Camp
The last stopover of our trip was spontaneous. It had rained several times since our arrival at Camp Kwando so the roads were wetter, and the going slower. A 12-hour drive back to Windhoek felt far, so we spent the night at Shamvura Camp.
Shamvura sits at the confluence of the Cuito and Okavango rivers, and has an incredible view over
the Angolan wetlands. Birding is one of their specialities and owner Mark Paxton took us out on his boat looking for Allen’s gallinule, lesser jacana and pygmy geese. Other species to seek include barred owlet, rosy-throated longclaw, bat hawk and Shelley’s sunbird.
That evening we celebrated our first Allen’s gallinule and toasted the last night of our trip. We retired early to the soft comfort of our first bed in a week, and were quickly lulled to sleep by the African wood owls above our tent, while the rain pattered gently outside.
Heading back home from Caprivi
The next morning we procrastinated for as long as we could. We eventually bid our new friends farewell, swore to return and watched the Okavango River grow smaller in the rear view mirror as we bumbled back to the B8, the B1 and finally, Windhoek.
If you’re thinking of heading to Namibia’s beautiful Kavango and Zambezi regions in the rainy season, consider a few things: you’ll probably get soaked; you’ll more than likely get stuck; and you’ll definitely need to watch out for hippos. But you will also experience the adventure of a lifetime in one of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas and return with your soul restored.
Five things to do in the Caprivi Strip
- Popa Falls: This series of rapids on the Kavango River is a 10-minute drive from Divundu and well worth a visit.
- Sunset cruise: It’s hard to describe the tranquillity you’ll feel winding down the Kwando River at sunset. Keep an eye out for hippos!
- Birding: The mix of open savannah, flooding marshland and thick papyrus reed beds makes this area a twitcher’s paradise. Look out for Meyer’s parrot, Allen’s gallinule, Luapula cisticola, Pel’s fishing owl, wattled crane, black coucal and black-winged pratincole.
- Unwind: There’s nothing wrong with kicking back in your favourite camping chair with a good book and a pair of binoculars.
- National parks: Much of the region is made up of national parks, waiting to be explored. Take your pick of Mahango, Bwabwata, Mudumu or Nka.
For more incredible destinations, CLICK HERE, to read about De Hoop Nature Reserve
Written by Andy Wassung
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