by Ginger Mauney
Each of Namibia’s cities has its own unique appeal. Windhoek has cosmopolitan flair, Swakopmund and Lüderitz exude old German charm, while Otjiwarongo and Gobabis reflect the farming communities in which they have their roots. Katima Mulilo, the largest town in Caprivi, lies at the crossroads of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Angola, and beats with the pulse of Africa.
Katima Mulilo is a microcosm of Caprivi, a place where seven different languages and many more dialects are spoken, where traditional villages abut the town and where open markets resonate with more modern conveniences.
A fusion of 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, including tailors waiting for work, their antiquated machines set up under trees. I
n the hollowed-out base of an ancient baobab tree you’ll find a unique public toilet. More centrally located is First National Bank and Bank Windhoek, and three petrol stations.
In the centre of Katima Mulilo a large, vibrant African market provides a glimpse into the daily lives of Namibians in this lively town. At stalls, erected under shade netting, women sell fresh vegetables. In a separate area is a meat market where cows and goats are slaughtered and where fish, a staple in the diet of people living along the rivers, is dried and sold. There is also an interesting curio shop stocked with the wooden items and baskets for which the Caprivi Region is famous.
Inspired by their passion for the Caprivi Region, Strijs and Elaine Coertzen founded Tutwa Travel in July 1999. “I was leading a tour with two German tourists who had travelled through South Africa to Victoria Falls, and they said Katima was the first real African town they’d seen,” says Strijs. “Plus it is much more affordable to stay here than in Vic Falls or Botswana, apart from being the gateway to western Zambia.”
Tutwa Travel has links to tourism operators in neighbouring countries, and organises boating, fishing, kayaking and other holidays in the region. “We are client-driven and flexible. We ask our client how many days they have to spend and what standard of accommodation they would like, and then we take it from there, developing individual itineraries.”
Tutwa Travel offers packages from Katima Mulilo to Victoria Falls and into the Chobe National Park, and runs the only car-hire service in Katima. “We can arrange a pick up at any regional airport, and then tourists can start their holiday in a vehicle that is fully equipped for camping.”
Camping is an option offered throughout the Caprivi Region, but for those nights when the comfort of a room is preferred, there are several attractive options in and near Katima Mulilo.
Mukusi River Lodge in Katima Mulilo offers 10 chalets, and three ‘floating’ rooms. There is a conference room for up to 30 people, plus a restaurant and bar overlooking the Zambezi River. Mukusi attracts primarily South African tourists because of its competitive rates. The owner, Bertus Coetzee, operates boating trips for Mukusi and other lodges in the area and is particularly adept on the water, having spent time in Greece building boats. In addition to Afrikaans, English and German, he also speaks Greek, Turkish and Italian.
The popular Zambezi River Lodge is a well-known establishment on the banks of the Zambezi River in Katima Mulilo. Set amongst lush tropical gardens overlooking the river, with almost a kilometre of prime river frontage, it has twenty-six bedrooms and a floating bar. Accommodation extends to camping facilities for leisure travellers who are on a budget. The location is ideal for guests to enjoy a range of leisure activities such as cruises and angling, and has access to a golf course. Amenities include a restaurant, swimming pool and conference facilities for a hundred delegates.
Caprivi River Lodge is an upmarket option located just a few kilometres outside Katima Mulilo owned and operated by Keith and Mary Rooken-Smith. Mary and Keith moved to Caprivi 10 years ago, after opening Hakuna Matata Adventures in Windhoek.
Like others who have fallen in love with and then settled in the Caprivi, Mary and Keith are passionate about the region. “It’s an area unknown to many,” says Mary. “The crime rate is low, the roads are good and most places are accessible in a two-wheel-drive vehicle.” Keith was instrumental in launching the Caprivi Promotional Project, a guide to ‘what’s what’ and ‘who’s who’ in the Caprivi.
Set on the banks of the Zambezi River, Caprivi River Lodge has lovely gardens, a swimming pool, facilities for small conferences, a restaurant and a licensed bar. Although small, it provides three separate types of accommodation. Eight en-suite river-facing chalets have double rooms with refrigerators and provide privacy and lovely views. Two of the chalets are for self-caterers, while all eight have refrigerators, high thatched roofs with ceiling fans, and kettles. Five air-conditioned cabins are set away from the river. Two are en suite; the other three share ablution facilities. One cabin is equipped for self-caterers and is very popular with self-drive tourists. The owners plan to add two more campsites to the existing one.
Keith, referred to by the locals as Mr Matata, does guided trips, including kayaking and fishing, and tours to Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls and several Namibian parks. The rates at Caprivi River Lodge are competitive and have many interesting special offers, including discounts for those arriving in a Land Rover or on a motorbike.
This article appeared in the July/Aug ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.