An Un­ri­valled River Re­treat

SLOW Magazine - - Editor's Choice - Text: Julie Gra­ham Im­ages © Chobe Wa­ter Vil­las

There are few places in the world that epit­o­mise the phrase “un­tamed Africa” quite like the Caprivi Strip. A typ­i­cal pan­han­dle, the nar­row strip of the Caprivi sep­a­rates An­gola and Botswana, and runs roughly 450 km from Namibia to the Zam­bezi River. The re­gion is renowned for its ut­ter wild­ness, with most of the safari camps and lodges un­fenced, al­low­ing an­i­mals to roam free – as they should. The in­de­scrib­able sen­sa­tion one feels when im­mersed in this re­gion can only re­ally be com­mu­ni­cated by walk­ing on the land and breath­ing in the air. It is Africa at its most un­tamed. And it is spec­tac­u­lar.

The Chobe River flows at the very east­ern end of the Caprivi Strip, form­ing the border between Botswana and Namibia. On the banks of Botswana, the fa­mous Chobe Na­tional Park stretches an in­cred­i­ble 154,000 hectares – the third largest in the coun­try – with an ele­phant pop­u­la­tion ex­ceed­ing 120,000. Like in the park, wildlife along the Chobe River is abun­dant. Made up of chan­nels, is­lands, flood­plains and river­ine forests, the river is home to mas­sive herds of ele­phant, buf­falo and hippo, as well as other con­cen­tra­tions of wildlife such as crocodile, gi­raffe, wild dog, the rare puku an­te­lope, sable and other buck, lions, leop­ards and more – and all of them come down to the river’s edge to drink, graze and hunt. It is also a bird-watch­ers’ par­adise so twitch­ers, take note. Over 450 species of birds are found in the re­gion, in­clud­ing cor­morants, pel­i­cans, herons, egrets, bus­tards, cranes, plovers, lap­wings, storks, gi­ant king­fish­ers, bee eaters, and the iconic African fish ea­gle. The birds are a joy to spot in this vast wilder­ness.

The Namib­ian side of the Chobe River of­fers a more tran­quil re­treat into the wa­tery wilder­ness, with fewer lodges and safari camps and no real roads to speak of.

Bas­ing your­self on this side of the river means a greater sense of soli­tude and con­nect­ed­ness with the un­tamed Africa around you. It also means most ac­tiv­i­ties are by boat, much of which in­volve cross­ing the border, so make sure you have plenty space in your pass­port for game drives, boat sa­faris and na­ture walks, as most of this takes place in Botswana.

I have only ever been to few places in the world that stir the soul quite like Chobe Wa­ter Vil­las, an ex­clu­sive bou­tique lodge lo­cated in Namibia’s Kasika Con­ser­vancy. Ac­cess to the vil­las is via the Kasane Im­mi­gra­tion Of­fice in Botswana where you will re­ceive your first stamp (of many!), and be trans­ferred by boat across the river to the vil­las. Though only a short 15-minute boat ride away, the jour­ney is enough to get your blood pump­ing, with sight­ings of croc­o­diles, hip­pos and more en route to the lodge. As the boat cruises around the edge of Se­dudu Is­land, one catches the first glimpse of Chobe Wa­ter Vil­las. The beau­ti­ful bun­ga­lows are erected on stilts, protruding over the river’s edge and thereby of­fer­ing un­ob­structed views of the river, the is­lands and Botswana on the other side. Each bun­ga­low of­fers ut­most pri­vacy and ab­so­lute lux­ury that one may not nec­es­sar­ily be ac­cus­tomed to find­ing so deep in the African wilder­ness.

A warm Namib­ian wel­come of singing and danc­ing awaited us as we ar­rived at the main thatched lodge, sit­u­ated in the shade of a mass of beau­ti­ful, in­dige­nous aca­cia trees. En­ter­ing the space, I was amazed at the tran­si­tion from what I had seen from the boat. From the wa­ter, the lodge and bun­ga­lows with their thatched roofs and wooden ex­te­rior give the im­pres­sion that what you’re about to walk into is a rather typ­i­cal African lodge, in browns and ochres in typ­i­cal safari style. It is any­thing but typ­i­cal. Main­tain­ing a very real sense of safari chic, ar­chi­tect and in­te­rior de­signer Jan Lewis from De­sign Union in Cape Town uses nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als in flow­ing spa­ces with dashes of dé­cor ge­nius, all of which are ref­er­ences to the nat­u­ral el­e­ments in Namibia – the desert, the rain, tribal pat­terns and the an­i­mals. Ev­ery­thing is sym­bolic and holds a mean­ing.

The main lodge is where most of the gath­er­ings hap­pen – the in­fin­ity pool and deck of­fer mag­nif­i­cent views across the river, G&T in hand. View­ing pits on ei­ther side of the pool are equipped with fires and are per­fect for evenings spent ex­chang­ing sto­ries of the day. The lounge, with its nicely stocked li­brary, is a great place to re­lax and un­wind and en­joy the af­ter­noon high tea. The cock­tail bar is ready and wait­ing to sup­ply pre- or post-din­ner drinks, and the restau­rant is where real culi­nary magic hap­pens. From the cold and hot buf­fet­style break­fasts and lunches to the à la carte fine-din­ing dinners, or even a braai on beau­ti­ful evenings, the food at Chobe Wa­ter Vil­las is fresh, thought­fully and de­li­ciously pre­pared and pre­sented, and a real re­flec­tion of the lodge’s com­mit­ment to pro­vid­ing guests with a five-star lux­ury ex­pe­ri­ence smack-bang in the mid­dle of the African bush.

A walk through na­ture along the raised, wooden board­walks gets you to your villa, and if you thought you were im­pressed with the main lodge, just wait un­til you open the door to your very own slice of par­adise. As men­tioned, the vil­las are on stilts over the river’s edge and each one of­fers un­ob­structed 180-de­gree views of the river. Go to sleep to the grunts of hip­pos min­gling in the dark just un­der your bal­cony and awaken to the calls of African fish ea­gles hunt­ing at the break of day.

The spa­cious open-plan bed­room and lounge af­ford mag­nif­i­cent river views through the floor-to-ceil­ing glass doors, and of­fer an ar­ray of ameni­ties that re­flect true world­class hos­pi­tal­ity. A com­pli­men­tary mini-bar with snacks as well as a cof­fee and tea sta­tion en­sure that you don’t even have to leave the com­fort of your villa for sus­te­nance. En-suite bath­rooms, high-qual­ity linen bathrobes, slip­pers, air-con­di­tion­ing, mos­quito nets, hairdry­ers, com­pli­men­tary Wi-fi (through­out the lodge), a writ­ing desk, safe, torches and an in­ter­com phone are all part of the pack­age to en­sure guests’ ut­most com­fort as well as safety.

The lodge and vil­las are truly unique and epit­o­mise world-class lux­ury, with a sa­farichic twist. How­ever, the real draw-card in this re­gion is the abun­dance of wildlife right on your doorstep. It is truly a sight and sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence that one has to im­merse one­self into to re­ally un­der­stand. Home to one of the big­gest ele­phant pop­u­la­tions in the world, an abun­dance of wildlife, and the big­gest ze­bra mi­gra­tion af­ter the Maa­sai Mara or Serengeti, and sun­sets that will leave you breath­less, Caprivi is un­matched in its wildlife of­fer­ings. Chobe Wa­ter Vil­las of­fers boat cruises, game drives, na­ture and vil­lage walks on top of a host of other ac­tiv­i­ties, all de­signed to get guests as im­mersed in the bush and wa­ter wilder­ness as pos­si­ble.

As I boarded the plane from Kasana back to Cape Town, two full pages of pass­port stamps later, I couldn’t help but think of a quote by Ital­ian au­thor, Francesca Mar­ciano: “When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leav­ing a con­ti­nent, you’re leav­ing a state of mind. What­ever awaits you at the other end of your jour­ney will be of a dif­fer­ent or­der of ex­is­tence.”

For more in­fo­ma­tion, please visit www.chobe­wa­ter­vil­las.com.

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