Chobe, Botswana- Picture Perfect Safaris

Beauty To Fill The Soul and Lens

If you have an eye for natural beauty, you’ll know as soon as you reach the Chobe River, in north- eastern Botswana. It’s a wildlife lover and nature photographer’s dream.

 

For elephant lovers and safari fanatics, the great elephant concentrations on the Chobe River occur during the winter months. For birders, the wet summer months are the drawcard, when the migrant birds are in full colour, and antelope start dropping their young. Any time of the year, the Chobe provides the most spectacular sunsets.

 

Game viewing in the dry season pretty much guarantees excellent sightings, since animals have to visit the river to drink when all the watering holes dry up. And viewing game from the water is possibly the nicest way. And possibly the nicest way to do that is aboard Flame of Africa’s Chobe Explorer.

Chobe Explorer

Chobe Explorer
Chobe Explorer

 

On board this triple decker, spacious, wood cladded river cruiser you have what my fellow “shipmates” described as their best Chobe experience ever- and between us we had had over 50 such experiences.

Skipper David Twembuchi, barman and charming front of house Ronald Rungwe, with Kabelano, Mercy and Malebogo running the kitchen, were warmly welcoming. Then, it was a short hop from the Flame of Africa jetty in the town of Kasane, Botswana, before the boat nudged in at the Chobe National Park offices to gain entry permit to the park (the cruise is on the Chobe River and there are happily no immigration formalities). After our welcome briefing and drinks from Ronny we were sedately on our way.

Raise Your Glasses

Drinks glasses became prism glass as guests reached for cameras when skipper David got us up surprisingly close and personal- especially considering the boat’s size- with a plethora of wildlife. One such involved a massive bull elephant swimming across a river channel and then taking a keen interest in the long grasses at the boat’s prow, causing an evacuation of the lower dining deck.

 

 

After 1 ½ glasses of Nederburg Brut bubbly, backing off from one sighting was a giddy delight as David spun the big vessel almost 360 degrees.

 

The dining deck is where we enjoyed a superb lunch: delicious Botswana beef steak, boerewors, chicken, various salads, potato bake with excellent freshly made bread- followed by a delightful dessert and accompanied by a selection of wine.

The five adults at our table- repeat visitors to the area and one a riverside resident- repeatedly exclaimed that this was their best Chobe River experience. Exclaimed may not be the correct term. We were too laidback for that, lulled by the sumptuousness and the pace. And it is the pace, together with the service and the space afforded, that sets the Chobe Explorer apart. Another plus is that you have a head start on the usual afternoon mass launch, seeing plenty of wildlife long before, without any jostling for photo opportunities.

 

Above the dining deck is the bar and lounge, with ample, comfortable couches which seemed even comfier post-lunch- and the top deck has a formation of suspended, luxurious loungers which really top off the show.

 

Gently swaying atop the boat is the dreamiest way to top off the day. And, having launched around 11 am, it was on the stroke of 6pm that we nudged up to the jetty again- pretty much the whole, glorious day.

Frontiers, Borders, Intersections

Chobe/Kasane and the surrounding area is frontier territory. Sedudu island in the middle of the floodplain was previously disputed territory, with the Namibian and Botswana flags swapping duties- Namibia being across the river.

Impalila Island is uniquely positioned, straddling the intersection of four countries. Here you can enjoy a Zimbabwean Zambezi beer, a Botswana St Louis, a Zambian Mozi and a Namibian Tafel and know that the countries from whence they came are about 200 yards away- and the nearby village of Kazangula has a new rail and road bridge connecting the four countries.

The bridge is a really big deal, alleviating truck queues near border posts, where truckers sometimes wait weeks.

Plugging Away

I loved Western movies when I was a kid- especially the larger-than-life characters. You’ll find similarly diverse types here- one of whom is Flame of Africa owner, Brett McDonald, complete with wide brimmed hat and moustache. An African cowboy, most of who’s tall tales (if not all) are true.

I shamelessly plug Flame of Africa, simply because of my experience using them. It was a Google search for a transfer company that kicked it off and I have extensively used them for transfers between Kasane and Victoria Falls, 80 km distant, and/or Livingstone. I’ve also experienced lodges they market and activities they provide in the Chobe area.

Another recommended river outing, if all day is too long, is aboard the sumptuous Chobe Style- perhaps with lunch on The Raft. Flame of Africa owner, Brett McDonald, lives most of the time on the Chobe and constructed this unique 64-seater floating restaurant from scraps and throwaways.

Get Hooked- Fish and Film

A trip to the Chobe or the Zambezi would not be complete without trying your hand at fishing. These waters are home to the voracious, powerful tiger fish- a true thrill to every serious or amateur angler. Capture and release is the policy with tiger, while “hook and cook” is adopted for the delicious bream that frequent these waters.

Brett McDonald
Brett McDonald

Also try to make time for a visit away from Chobe- in particular to Victoria Falls, if you’ve never been. Even if you have, it never loses its awesomeness.

Take Your Rest

There are plenty of accommodation offerings lining the Kasane stretch of the Chobe, plus several on the Namibian side and some, a fair boat ride away, on the Zambezi River. They range from self-catering to luxury lodges and houseboats.

By far the most exclusive is deep in the Chobe National Park- the only lodge in the park, famous for famous guests, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Five star Chobe Game Lodge has other distinguishing features, including electric boats and game vehicles and, as a result of its gender equity drive, a full complement of women game guides.

Wherever you stay, aircon is your friend in the fiercely hot summer months. Minimum nighttime temperatures can be around 80°F , with daytime highs in the 100s. Mosquitos are a thing in the green (wet) season, especially from November to February. Boating on the river keeps you cool.

Getting There

Most travelers arrive aboard Airlink jets from Johannesburg, South Africa.  Airlink operates daily direct flights between Johannesburg and Kasane. Air Botswana also flies into Kasane, but not daily and via other Botswana destinations- which is fine if you are also visiting the amazing Okavango Delta, but otherwise not so much.

Getting Around

I’ve already mentioned Flame of Africa and Pangolin Photo Safaris, but there are many transfer and activity providers, such as Wild Horizons and Bushtracks Africa– as well as townsfolk with taxis.

Check out these links to some of the activities I’ve mentioned: https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/chobe-fishing/

https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/day-trips/

https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/kazungula-bridge-tours/

https://flameofafrica.com/product/cultural-village-tour/

https://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/competitions/win-3-nights-at-cresta-mowana-safari-resort-and-spa-botswana-0307fc67-446c-4fe5-8e6d-83d79c41bbc7

WIN a 3-night safari package for two at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa

Luxury Meets Nature- Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa

Chobe Water Villas- Inspiring Tranquility

Wilderness Safaris- Unparalleled Okavango

Luxury Meets Nature- Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa

Early morning: bushbuck tiptoeing past the river facing rooms, the sounds and smells of cheerful staff preparing breakfast. The Chobe River, glistening in the morning light, awaits our early departure from the jetty of Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa. Flame of Africa’s Ben McDonald arranges for breakfast to be held over in case we’re late returning (though coffee and muffins are provided) and we’re off on the silky, calm waters, looking so different than they did from the Airlink jet that brought us here.

Silky smooth Chobe waters. Photograph by Adrian Rorvik
Silky smooth Chobe waters. Photograph by Adrian Rorvik

First, a quick visit to the rapids at which the resort is perfectly sited, away from the bustle of the town of Kasane in north- eastern Botswana. The Chobe rapids create an exciting ecosystem of their own; pratincoles, nesting storks and cormorants. Then we head for the Chobe National Park.

Mowana (mowana means baobab) is a 10-minute drive/ boat ride from the North part of the 11 700 square kilometre Chobe National Park. Arguments rage as to whether the elephant population is 60 000 or 120 000. It really does not matter which is correct as the sight of herds numbering in the hundreds is a sight you will never forget.

Elephants grazing on the Chobe floodplain. Photograph by Adrian Rorvik
Elephants grazing on the Chobe floodplain. Photograph by Adrian Rorvik

No early morning game drive. Instead, we smoothly glide up really close to wildlife at the water’s edge. Then, after breakfast, cruise in an enclosed, airconditioned game drive vehicle to a part of the Chobe National Park that other game drive vehicles usually don’t reach, at a time when those vehicles have left the to rush back for breakfasts.

Slow Burn

The Park is quiet, the day is ours. The whole day, since Flame of Africa introduced meals on 4×4 wheels, with a proper, freshly prepared sit-down lunch in the park. No “Ferrari safari” this! Rather, one that affords the best opportunities to see lions, for example, as they slowly get ready for the hunt in the afternoons.

Game For Adventure?

Flame of Africa occupies the activities desk in the Cresta Mowana entrance foyer- and they have a similar, oh-so-sensible approach to other activities.

These include an all-day outing on the luxurious double decker Chobe Style or a day aboard the triple decker Chobe Explorer, both highly recommended. Unlike the usual lodge boat afternoon circuit, you can really explore, at leisure. I maintain that a day aboard the Chobe Explorer is the best way to take it all in.

Chobe Explorer
Chobe Explorer. Photograph by Olwen Evans

There’s also fishing. These particular waters are home to the voracious, most powerful power to weight ratio fresh water fish in the world- the tiger fish- a true delight to every serious or amateur angler.

Fancy a round of golf? Do so in very close proximity to the vast elephant population surrounding the only course in the area (the nearest being over an hour away, in Zimbabwe) at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa, trimmed by warthogs and other four-footed creatures. Holes 1 and 2 play down towards the river, the 2nd green sticking out, half island like into the river itself and the 3rd, a long Par 4, with the stroke 1 playing over a dangerous water hazard into the green. Magical.

Magic to my ears is the news that Flame of Africa have partnered with AirVentures to offer balloon safaris- a first in Botswana- over a vast concession known as the Seloko Plains, 45 minutes away, between May and September, when the treacherous cotton soil is dry and not a recovery vehicle graveyard.

The Seloko Plains is an important wildlife corridor and its diverse habitat incorporates large tracts of forest which open up into wide open grassland plains, making it perfect for balloon safaris.

Chillax

You’ll find there’s really no rush (it’s not native to the area)- unless it’s to bring your camera or binoculars to your eye in this fabulous game viewing destination. Rather chill, catch a cocktail, as you enjoy views from the beautiful grounds across the river and the floodplains into Namibia on the far side.

Cresta Mowana rooms and grounds. Photograph courtesy of Cresta Mowana.
Cresta Mowana rooms and grounds. Photograph courtesy of Cresta Mowana.

Mowana, more elevated than other lodges on the Botswana river bank, has arguably the best views, with all 112 bedrooms and four suites having sliding glass doors opening onto a private patio with views of the Chobe River, though you may have to share the patio with vervet monkeys or a warthog or two, especially if you have fruit. The upstairs bar is the place to be if you want to see the most beautiful African sunsets.

Cresta Mowana upstairs bar. Photograph courtesy of Cresta Mowana.
Cresta Mowana upstairs bar. Photograph courtesy of Cresta Mowana.

There’s a warm, nurturing atmosphere under the welcoming outstretched arms of the central mighty Mowana (baobab) tree. The high thatched roof of the lobby pretty much points at the tree, and lodge buildings circle it- at a respectful distance.

There’s a sparkling pool and, away from the main buildings, a rimflow pool adjacent to the spa and in front of the gym- perfect for a few laps before sunset and dinner.

Cresta Mowana rim flow pool, gym and spa. Photograph courtesy of Cresta Mowana.

The spa is managed by the delightful Gaone Mokalake and she and Kelebogile Moses acquit themselves admirably in the spacious, well-appointed couples’ treatment room. It’s always great when knowledgeable hands intuit the kinks that need ironing out. I learn a technique or two as I drool into my mask.

Covid protocols are carefully adhered to at Mowana and I smile inwardly as Hilary studiously unwraps the tv remote from its protective sheath in our comfortable, spacious executive suite. We enjoy the old world yet fresh style of this overhauled grande dame (Mowana, not Hilary).

Refreshed and Refreshing

Taking inspiration from the river and the surrounding vegetation to make it contemporary. I would definitely say the overall tone of “luxury meets nature” has been achieved and, having visited before, appreciate the new decks, the decluttering, the clean, contemporary surfaces with minimalistic organic elements like chandeliers and iconic pieces of furniture and wall sculptures.

Cresta Mowana lobby. Photograph courtesy of Cresta Mowana.

Fresh blues and greens with greys and white lighten everything and create a cool, calm, refreshing feel which complements the warmth of the thatch and terracotta flooring. The tech upgrades are much appreciated, with an improved Wi-Fi experience and many more plug points.

Borders, Intersections

Beyond what I have already shared, a full day outing to Victoria Falls is a moving must-do, if you’ve not been (even if you have). Also, perhaps take advantage of the recently opened bridge at the conjunction of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s made cross-border excursions so much easier.

Impalila Island, close to the lodge and also straddling the intersection of where the countries meet, is another interesting visit, with a huge 2000-year-old baobab tree riddled with bullets from when South African armed forces used the tree as both a lookout, a heavy machine gun placement and- clearly- target practice.

Obed Silumbu and 2000 year old baobab
Obed Silumbu and the 2000 year old baobab. Photograph by Adrian Rorvik.

That mowana outlasted all- as, I’m sure, will your memories.

Getting There

Most travelers arrive aboard Airlink jets from Johannesburg, South Africa.  Airlink operates daily direct flights between Johannesburg and Kasane. Air Botswana also flies into Kasane, but not daily and via other Botswana destinations- which is fine if you are also visiting the amazing Okavango Delta, but otherwise not so much.

Getting Around

Flame of Africa, operating within Cresta Mowana, is the most convenient- and offers the most comprehensive water based transport and activities, but there are many transfer and activity providers, such as Wild Horizons and Pangolin Photo Safaris.

Check out these links to some of the activities I’ve mentioned: https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/chobe-fishing/

https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/day-trips/

https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/kazungula-bridge-tours/

https://flameofafrica.com/product/cultural-village-tour/

https://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/competitions/win-3-nights-at-cresta-mowana-safari-resort-and-spa-botswana-0307fc67-446c-4fe5-8e6d-83d79c41bbc7

WIN a 3-night safari package for two at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa