F ormerly referred to as the Caprivi, the Zambezi Region is a fertile wilderness of riverine forests, flood plains, swamps and open woodland created by a complex network of rivers and relatively high summer rainfall. For freshwater angling enthusiasts, canoeists and white-river rafters, Zambezi offers much excitement and challenge.
Well over 400 of Namibia’s bird species occur in this part of the country, and the region is steadily gaining a reputation as a retreat for bird-watchers, nature lovers and specialist travellers. It is also of growing interest to scientists studying the wetlands system and its flora and fauna.
Formerly known as Itenga, Zambezi was ruled by the Lozi kings until it became part of the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, today’s Botswana. In 1890, at the Berlin Conference, Germany acquired the territory, named it after the German Chancellor General Count Georg Leo von Caprivi, and added it to German South West Africa. The capital of the then Caprivi was Schuckmannsburg (renamed as Luhonono in 2013) until about 1933, when it was moved to Katima Mulilo, a name that means ‘put out the fire’. Katima Mulilo has since become a busy tourist centre and gateway to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Travelling from Ngoma on the B8, a 64-km stretch takes visitors along the Chobe River to Impalila Island, from where a high lookout point offers views of Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The link for these attractions is the 500-kilometre TransCaprivi Highway, a wide, tarred road that has replaced the dusty gravel tracks of the past. The route runs through a region of which one third is a floodplain, and where the population is small and the human impact limited. Providing access to three state-protected game reserves, it lies in the geographic heart of the Kavango-Zambezi (KaZa) Transfrontier Conservation Area. Read more on KaZa further down in this section.
The largest town in Zambezi, Katima Mulilo, lies on the banks of the Zambezi River, at the crossroads of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola. It beats with the pulse of Africa and is a microcosm of Zambezi, a place where seven different languages and many more dialects are spoken, with traditional villages bordering the town and open markets resonating with more modern conveniences.
Dirt tracks and freshly paved roads in the centre of Katima Mulilo lead you to a mixture of old and new shops, banks and small businesses. An interesting feature of the town is the water-flushing public toilet housed in the hollowed-out trunk of an ancient baobab tree. In the centre of Katima Mulilo a large, vibrant African market provides a glimpse into the daily lives of Namibians in this lively town.
Zambezi pots and baskets are noted for their distinctive beauty and symmetry. The fine workmanship of the Caprivians can be seen in the crafts offered for sale at several outlets, including the Caprivi Art Centre, situated next to the hospital in Katima Mulilo; the Katima Craft Centre next to the open market in Katima Mulilo; the Ngoma Crafts Centre near the Ngoma border post where travellers cross into Botswana; the Mashi Crafts at Kongola in East Zambezi; and at the Lizauli Traditional Village, where a programme of traditional music and dance gives visitors an insight into Caprivian culture.
The Zambezi Waterfront Tourism Project on the banks of the Zambezi River is a government initiative aimed at stimulating socioeconomic development. In addition to providing accommodation, it also promotes community tourism through cultural activities such as traditional dances, woodcarving, weaving and basketry.
Tutwa Tourism and Travel provides information on the region and organises activities and tours. The Baobab Bistro is a great place for a meal, and also provides information on what to see and do in the area. If you’re looking for entertainment on the banks of the Zambezi River, Bezi Bar is a favoured hangout for locals and visitors alike.
The Katima Mulilo Airport is situated 20 km outside the town within two hours’ drive from Victoria Falls and not more than four hours’ drive from the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Air Namibia offers flights to Katima Mulilo four times a week.
Tutwa Tourism and Travel
Tel (+264 66) 25 2739
Malachite kingfisher, Alcedo cristata. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk
A red-billed oxpecker on an impala. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk
Baboon, Papio ursinus. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk
PARKS IN ZAMBEZI
Mudumu National Park
Centred on the Mudumu Mulapo fossil river course, this vast 1 010-km2
expanse of dense savannah and mopane woodlands bordered in the west by the Kwando River, was proclaimed a national park in 1990. Dense mopane woodlands are at the core of Mudumu, the combination of forest and water ensuring a wealth of wildlife. The park is home to small populations of sitatunga and red lechwe, while spotted-necked otter, hippo and crocodile inhabit the waterways. During a game drive, animals likely to be encountered are elephant, buffalo, roan antelope, kudu, impala and Burchell’s zebra.
The park is alive with more than 400 species of birds. Of particular interest are slaty egrets, Hartlaub’s babblers, greater swamp-warblers (in the papyrus swamps), chirping cisticolas, and swamp boubous. Other noteworthy species include black coucals (an intra-African migrant), coppery-tailed and Senegal coucals, wattled cranes (floodplains) and rosy-throated longclaws. In the backwaters and swamps, African pygmy-geese and comb duck (between September and April), Allen’s gallinules (between December and April), and African and lesser jacanas are found. The infrastructure and facilities of the park were upgraded in 2012.
Nkasa Rupara National Park
The 320-km2 Nkasa Rupara National Park, proclaimed in 1990, has the distinction of being the largest wetland area with conservation status in Namibia.
The park is characterised by a complex network of channels, reed beds, ox-bow lakes and tree-covered islands, with the focal point on Nkasa and Lupala, two large islands in the Kwando/Linyanti River. During the dry season the islands can be reached by road, but after the rains, 80% of their surface area becomes flooded, cutting them off from the mainland. The same bird and animal species occur in Nkasa Rupara as in the Mudumu National Park.
For campers who like to rough it, Nkasa Rupara offers basic campsites at Mparamura/Nzalu and Lyadura in the east and south-east of the reserve, on the banks of the Kwando. Please note, these sites have no facilities, so visitors have to be completely self-sufficient in terms of water, food and fuel. Four-by-four vehicles are necessary here.
The banks along the rivers are spectacular sunset viewing spots. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk
Popa Game Park
Rushing rapids, melodious birdsong and the rustling leaves of shady, riverine trees are sounds that typify Popa Game Park. Located on the Okavango River opposite the Bwabwata National Park, Popa Falls is famous for its lush setting and the sound of the rapids cascading down the rocky descents in the river.
Over 400 species of birds have been recorded here. Tigerfish, threespot and green-headed tilapia are just some of the game fish that occur in the Okavango River, making it a popular destination for anglers.
Popa Falls Camp (managed by NWR) was renovated in 2014.
Bwabwata National Park
In 2007 the former Caprivi Game Park, proclaimed in 1966, was incorporated into the 6 100-km2 Bwabwata National Park, inclusive of the Kwando or Golden Triangle, and the Buffalo and Mahango (the former Mahango Game Park) core areas. This heralds a new generation of parks in terms of an integrated approach towards park management. Bwabwata was designed not only to protect the environment, but also to generate income for the country.
The central area of the park is being zoned for community-based tourism, including trophy hunting, human settlement, and development. Cattle movement is controlled to prevent the spread of diseases, and communities living in the park or neighbouring areas are given conditional tourism rights to establish – either on their own or in joint ventures – tourism facilities within the park confines.
Bwabwata has three distinct areas: the perennial Okavango and Kwando rivers, their riparian vegetation and floodplains characterised by reedbeds, floating grass mats and woodlands with jackal-berry, mangosteen, apple-leaf, knob-thorn and wild-date palm; a parallel system of drainage lines (omuramba) that run west-north-west or east-south-west; and deep windblown Kalahari sands that form dunes between 20 to 60 metres high and support deciduous woodlands dominated by seringa, Zambezi teak, wild teak and several wild raisin and bushwillow species.
The park is a sanctuary to 35 large game species – including elephant, buffalo, impala, reedbuck, red lechwe, sitatunga, hippo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, Chobe bushbuck, tsessebe, and sable and roan antelope – and numerous small-game species. Predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah and African wild dog also occur in Bwabwata. Because there is no surface water, most species congregate along the Okavango and Kwando riverbanks and at the Malombe and Ndwasa pans in the north-east. The Okavango and Kwando rivers and their associated floodplains are important habitats for wetland bird species, such as wattled cranes and African skinners.
Over 400 bird species have been recorded here, conspicuous examples being kingfishers, herons, cormorants, African skimmers, wattled cranes, pygmy geese and African fish-eagles. Visitors are cautioned that there are crocodiles and hippos in the river.
Bwabwata takes its name from a village in the park, and refers to the sound of bubbling water. It forms part of the 278 132-km2 KavangoZambezi (KaZa) Transfrontier Conservation Area, the world’s largest conservation area. The infrastructure and facilities of the park were upgraded in 2012.