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Okavango in a 4×2





31 October 2016


Readers of this column will recall that Jannie – in an attempt to escape a bout of cabin fever – headed for the area west of the Okavango River in Botswana. In this month’s column he continues his journey, heading north into the Caprivi Strip and then taking an anticlockwise route back into Botswana.

As you will recall, we left our vehicle at Drotsky’s Cabins, and stayed further down the river at Xara Lodge. We highly recommend both establishments. Xara Lodge is a birders᾽ paradise with an international reputation, and for our next stop we travelled just 25 kilometres further north to the Mohembo border post in the Caprivi Strip, now called the Zambezi Region. Here, you immediately find yourself in the Mahango Game Reserve.

The reserve has a rich diversity of animals and bird life, including elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, hippo and a variety of antelope. There are no tarred roads but there are dirt sections for 4×2 and 4×4 vehicles. We saw large numbers of the rare roan antelope and majestic sable. There’s no accommodation in the park and no camping allowed. But it’s worth a visit, and 12 kilometres after exiting the park’s northern gate we reached the turn-off to our destination for two days – the stunning Divava Okavango Resort & Spa.

The catch words at Divava are “body and soul” and the lodge is a meeting ground for luxurious surroundings and the unspoiled Namibian bushveld. The lodge has 20 luxury chalets overlooking the Okavango River with the sound of Popa Falls, less than a kilometre away, a soothing backdrop. Each chalet has a large deck giving a marvellous view of the Okavango River and is equipped with all mod cons, including air conditioning, mosquito nets, mini bar and tea/coffee facilities.

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En-suite bathrooms are supplemented by an outdoor shower for those who want to get a little closer to nature. After a game drive in Mohongo late in the afternoon, sipping a scotch and soda on the deck was a special moment for the missus and me. A view of the river, with all the sounds of the bush is, indeed, food for the soul. Boat cruises offer the opportunity to discover the Okavango. On boat rides you will see hippo and crocodile, an enormous variety of birdlife and your guide will be a fountain of information on life in and around the river. For the sportsmen, a few hours of fishing on the river is not to be missed, and the opportunity to land tigerfish, tilapia and catfish is close to any fisherman’s heart.
So far Divava has taken care of the soul, but what of the body? Rooms in the Spa offer both privacy and spectacular views and you can indulge in a wide range of treatments that include massages (including hot stone massages), body wraps and scrubs.

The staff are highly professional and friendly, and once all the stresses and strains of modern life have been eased, you can relax in the steam room or take a refreshing swim. Breakfast and dinner at Divava are included in the price of R2 300 per person sharing. A different menu is offered every night for dinner, and we rated both the fare and service as top-class. There is also no need to book activities in advance. Reservations can be made during your stay and the staff, mostly locals, are helpful and friendly.

Our trip offered the opportunity to learn about local Kavango culture and lifestyle in this far-flung corner of Namibia. A trademark of the area are the ox-drawn sledges, used to transport anything from firewood to water containers, while goats, cattle and chickens roam free and kids swim in the Okavango shallows with little regard for crocodiles. After two blissful days, we continued our journey. We were surprised to find so many community campsites and safari lodges (to suit a range of budgets) tucked in against the river (see separate list) and we popped into some of them. Each had their own character and from what we saw, people were having a good time.

In retrospect, perhaps we should have taken the road to the east, crossing the Okavango to Katima Mulilo to end up in Kasane, returning home via Francistown. For some strange reason, however, we wanted to see what Tsumkwe was like so we travelled the 540km via Rundu and then south to Grootfontein before taking the gravel road east to Tsumkwe. This remote place just south of the Khaudum National Park is popular with European tourists as they come to observe the San Bushmen in the nearby Nyae Nyae Conservancy. A full day is needed to visit the San, so we gave it a miss and overnighted at the Tucsin Tsumkwe Lodge. For a twin room, including breakfast, the charge was R765: it was basic but adequate and the three pork chops for dinner were so large we saved half for padkos the following day.

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From Tsumkwe, we headed east to the tiny border post at Dobe. We needed a couple of blasts on the horn on the Botswana side for an official to open the gate. We would not have travelled here if we had not spoken to a ranger in Tsumkwe. On maps, the road from Dobe to Nokaneng in Botswana is indicated as a 130km track. The ranger assured us that the road had been upgraded and indeed, we came across many ordinary 4×2 vehicles on this stretch. Once in Nokaneng, we headed home the way we had come in.

I mentioned that in retrospect we should have gone via Katima. I say this because the scenery and wildlife would have been much better. It is also good to know that the very active elephant wildlife (especially in the water) that one finds in the Kasane/Chobe area is missing on the western side of the Okavango. We live and learn but the cabin fever was cured… until the next time. Oh yes, this entire journey can be done in a 4×2 vehicle.

Other Lodging in the area
Ndhovu Safari Lodge
Mahangu Safari Lodge and camping
Ngepi Camp
Nunda River Lodge
Rainbow River Lodge
Shametu River Lodge and camping
Popa Falls Resort