If you imagine Namibia to be entirely composed of towering sand dunes and open, rocky plains, then a Caprivi safari will not only offer you an incredible wildlife experience, but challenge your preconceptions. Closer in character to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the Eastern Caprivi is a wonderfully diverse and fluid ecosystem.
Before our light aircraft flight to Nambwa Tented Lodge, the pilot showed us a map of the area and gave us a combined geography and history lesson. Formed as much by the last wrinkles of the Great Rift Valley as by colonial eccentricity, the Eastern Caprivi juts across the map to connect Angola with Botswana and Zambia.
I’d been daydreaming about collecting new passport stamps – but from the moment we arrived at our luxury Namibia safari lodge, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. We’d planned our safari in the Caprivi to coincide with the dry season so that we could share this special slice of Africa with immense herds of buffalo and elephant.
The Eastern Caprivi is delineated – and made delightful – by its rivers. From our treehouse-style room, we had clear views across the floodplains to the Kwando River, which was doing a roaring trade in thirsty creatures.
Rumbling in like storms, the buffalo were particularly impressive – even at a distance, we could spot the cattle egret darting among them. As well as drawing in more wildlife, the relatively low water levels had made more areas accessible on foot, and we opted to spend each morning on a guided walking safari.
The sand banks were an ideal canvas for tracking, and our guide was the perfect interpreter, telling the stories of the night before from the imprints in the ground. On the first morning of our Caprivi safari, our suspicions of the previous night were confirmed when he showed us fresh lion pug marks within a 100m of the lodge.
Later on a game drive, we had one of our most memorable big-cat sightings. The pride had travelled some distance under cover of darkness, following the movements of a herd of several hundred buffalo.
When we came upon them, the lion were dividing the spoils of their hunt. The trampled grass showed that subduing the old bull buffalo must have been quite a struggle; he’d not given his life cheaply. While the lioness were compelled to wait, the shaggy-headed male lion had their fill, as the cubs clumsily clambered about on the carcass.
We found to our delight that it wasn’t always necessary to leave the lodge to enjoy wonderful sightings. My partner turned out to be a closet birder, and was soon ticking off species spotted from our private deck while I enjoyed watching the ponderous movements of elephant, which had clearly accepted Nambwa Tented Lodge as a natural part of their environment.
Our safari in the Caprivi would not be complete without spending time on the rivers that are the lifeline of this region in the dry season, and we enjoyed the experience of slowly slaloming between hippo, and marvelling at the nonchalance of birds walking among basking crocodile, mouths wide open to display wicked dentition.
We continued ‘messing around in boats’ at Chobe Savanna Lodge. Set on a spur of land that, we were told, may one day become an island in the Chobe River, it naturally had even more of a focus on water activities.
This was where our Caprivi safari took a turn for the aquatic. Our guide turned out to be a keen angler, and taking rods along on each boat excursion added a new dimension to the experience. Of course, we fell for perhaps the oldest trick in the safari book – the invitation to meet an African tiger.
When I hooked one of these handsome, striped fish, it was clear how it came by its name – and we got to admire another impressive set of teeth.
Viewing game from the river gave us a different perspective, and also illustrated just how vital watercourses are to the ecosystem of the Eastern Caprivi. While largely flat, the landscapes we passed through on our safari in the Caprivi were anything but monotonous: towering palm trees, stands of papyrus, and low-lying islands all added to the variety and beauty.
As so often on safari, we found ourselves torn between spending more time in the wild and enjoying the comfort and serenity of the lodge. Gazing out over the Puku Flats, we soon discovered how they acquired their name as herds of these unusual antelope cautiously approached the river or grazed placidly on the far bank.
By staying on the Namibian side of the river, we got to enjoy views that few other people see – which, given that we were in a region that’s relatively unvisited, only added to the sense of exclusivity and seclusion that we felt at every stage of our Caprivi safari.
As our departing light aircraft gained altitude, the pilot dipped one wing in salute to his friends at the lodge, but also to give us one last view of the setting for one of our most enjoyable safaris.