5 Reasons Why the Okavango River is a Must-Visit Destination

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Text: Elzanne Erasmus


Okay, so it’s true that the north-eastern Kavango and Zambezi regions aren’t the quintessential desert landscapes one may associate with Namibia. They are as lush and green as a southern African region can get, but they are still part of the country and often offer a welcome reprieve from the arid beauty that is a trademark of this special corner of Africa. That said, the first glimpse you catch of the mighty Okavango River as it meanders along the north-eastern edge of Namibia, creating a natural border with our neighbour Angola, will be a sight for dry eyes. The Okavango, which rises in the Angolan highlands, is a mass of perennially flowing water and the lifeblood of the people of the Kavango East Region. Not only is it a water source, but also the main source of food and commerce for many in the region. It sustains the natural green lushness of fora and beckons a healthy population of fauna to set up camp along its banks. The Popa Falls, a series of cascades and rapids, is a popular site for visitors, especially those seeking an amazing sundowner spot such as the river beach bar of Namibia Wildlife Resorts’ Popa Falls Resort.

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The Okavango River attracts an abundance of life. People live along the river that allows them easy access to a consistent source of water, not only for themselves but also for their cattle and other livestock. What makes it truly special, though, is the fact that large herds of wildlife congregate along its banks, feeding on the greenery and escaping the more arid regions to the south. Bwabwata National Park, an amalgamation of several game parks, lines the main part of the river on both sides, namely with Popa Game Park, as it was previously known, the Mahango Core Area and the Buffalo Core Area of Bwabwata. In these sections of what is known as “the people’s park”, because of the fact that human populations live within the park borders, visitors are treated to sightings of plains game such as kudu, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and impala, as well as antelope less commonly found in other parks in the country, such as sable and roan antelope, plus African buffalo. Large herds of migrating elephants also call the park an on-again-off-again home and sightings of carnivores such as lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog are possible, though rare. Spot special game, not seen anywhere further south in Namibia, such as the bushbuck in the thick woodlands or red lechwe in the marshlands along the river.

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If you’re a birder, a twitcher or a crazy person as some may dub you, then the Kavango is the place for you! With over 400 recorded bird species in the region, most of them congregating along the waterways, there is sure to be ‘lifers’ abundant. With summer migrants and water birds making use of the lush landscapes, a drive through the national park or, even better, a cruise on the Okavango will make for amazing sightings. Tick off cranes, lapwings, eagles, weavers, kingfishers, herons, ducks, geese and many many more. Among our personal favourites are the Wattled Crane, Malachite Kingfisher, Squacco Heron and the African Darter and African Skimmer. And of course, who could forget…. the majestic Fish Eagle. Did you know that the Fish Eagle is the national bird of five African countries, including Namibia? Malawi, South Sudan and our neighbours Zambia and Zimbabwe take as much pride in the beauty and grace of this magnificent eagle as we do. So grab your Roberts and your binos and hit the river for some uber-exciting birding!

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Think boats, water, rapids, rods, reels, splashing, some thrashing, and ultimately… the thrill of the catch. The Okavango is an angler’s paradise and one of the best freshwater fishing destinations in Namibia. During the months of December and January (when the best fishing takes place) the river is a hotspot for those looking to ‘tame the tiger’ or, in layman’s terms, catch a tigerfish. Not an easy feat, tiger fishing is definitely an adventure sport. In Namibia, we practice catch-and-release fishing, which means your conquest goes back in the water after you’ve snatched him up and taken your bragging photo. Off to ‘tiger on’ and make another angler’s day. Trophy fish range from 4.5 kilograms upwards and there are multiple styles in which to attempt to get that satisfying tight line and tug, including trawling, spinning and drifting. Learn more about the subtle art of taming the tiger on our website!

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There’s nowhere better in Namibia to take a sunset photo than on the Okavango River during summer. There, I’ve said it. You can debate with me until you are blue in the face, but the photographs speak for themselves. There is a depth of colour and contrast as the river reflects the kaleidoscope of hues in the thundercloud-scattered sky above. The lush greenery on the river’s edge lends even more weight to the photo. There’s a story behind it. A fairytale. A day that has passed filled with beauty, adventure and wilderness. It’s not just a sunset, but the swansong to a day of clicking shutters as you captured every moment of your visit to the mighty Okavango. The rushing rapids at Popa Falls; the elephants lumbering through the brush in Mahango Game Park, heading toward the river; the spooked buffalo dashing through the thickets as you pass on the Jeep track; the Carmine Bee-eater perched on a branch, showing off his fancy shades of pink; the smiling face of your companion as he proudly presents his tigerfish to capture the moment for posterity; and the sunset… the bloody beautiful, colourful and breath-taking Okavango sunset… A gin and tonic in hand as you stare in wonder. It’s really something you daren’t miss!

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This article was published in the Autumn 2018 edition of Travel News Namibia.


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