Text and photographs Luise Hoffmann – Main photograph: Schinziophyton rautanenii – along the B8 ©Luise Hoffmann
During Namibia’s chilly months, you can seek temporary relief by heading north to the Kavango area. Nights there can also be chilly, but daytime temperatures are usually very pleasant.
Trees and shrubs around the lodges and campsites mentioned in this article are tagged with the Southern African tree numbers. Obtain a list of these numbers with the botanical and common names of the trees from reception, and it will be easy to read up details in your tree book. Many trees will, of course, be without leaves. However, the features visible now will always be present, as opposed to the foliage, flowers and fruit, which come and go as the seasons change.
With the exception of the first and last site mentioned, all these establishments provide boat cruises on the Okavango River for pleasure, birding, game watching and fishing.
A very convenient overnight stop on your way to the Kavango Region is Roy’s Camp, situated just 55 km north of Grootfontein off the B8 to Rundu. It has 10 rustic en-suite bungalows, each uniquely designed and decorated most imaginatively with a wide array of scrap metal. This is really something to see. All of them are equipped with air-conditioning and mosquito nets, and have a private braai area. In addition, there are 10 spacious campsites that come with water and electricity, a clean ablution facility, a well-designed bush kitchen and a laundry complete with washing line. And you can watch game at a waterhole and cool off in a sparkling pool.
Be sure to walk along the marked hiking trails where you will find several examples of the strangler fig (Ficus burkei formerly F. thonningii) (48), their white aerial roots flattening out to engulf the rough black trunks of tall tamboti trees (Spirostachys africana) (341). Here you also have the opportunity to get to know the Transvaal saffron tree (Eleaodendron transvaalense) (416).
As you continue towards Rundu, beautiful evergreen trees with large drooping crowns will catch your eye. At this time of the year, the false mopane (Guibourtia coleosperma) (199) is often the only green tree to be seen. Stop to enjoy the glossy dark-green, bifoliolate leaves similar to those of the mopane tree. In June you may even still find some of the small woody pods, the black seed with its bright red aril dangling from it on a long yellow stalk. The shape of the bare manketti trees (Schinziophyton rautanenii) along this road is highly distinctive.
Created by the owners to provide a camping site where camper is king in contrast to many localities where campsites take backstage to chalets and other buildings, Samsitu Riverside Camping is situated 7 km west of Rundu. Pitch your tent on the grassy bank right above the river under the trees. Braai your dinner with a view across the river to the opposite Angolan bank where elephant may come to drink. The ablution facilities are roomy, with enough space for cosmetic paraphernalia and hooks for clothing. Relax at the riverside bar and on the deck above the river. No food is served in the camp. There are five campsites, with three male and three female bathrooms.
Along hiking trails around the floodplain separating Samsitu from the mainland, 30 tree and shrub species have been tagged. Here you will have the opportunity to get to know the poison-pod albizia (Albizia versicolor) (158), a beautiful, tall tree with spreading crown confined to sandy soils along the Kavango River and eastern Caprivi.
The Mbunza Living Museum is situated a ten-minute walk away along one of these trails and provides insight into the traditional way of life of the local people, including a demonstration by a rural blacksmith. Alternatively, relax during a boat cruise on the river with the open sky above and the chance of spotting an occasional crocodile on a sandbank.
Should you prefer to stay over in town, Tambuti Lodge has eight comfortable and spacious rooms with air-conditioning and mosquito nets in a garden with more than 20 mostly indigenous trees and shrubs. Interesting species to look out for here are sand camwood (Baphia massaiensis) (223), a shrub with clusters of sweetly-scented white to pale rose flowers with a central yellow spot from October to June; Natal mahogany (Trichilia emetica) (301), an evergreen with a dark-green spreading crown, and the corky monkey-orange (Strychnos cocculoides) (623) with its compact evergreen crown and fruit about the size and shape of an orange.
Beware however: while the fruit pulp is edible, the seeds contain strychnine. Tambuti Lodge is situated within view and easy reach of the Okavango River. Patrick, the owner, uses many local ingredients to prepare unusual and delicious cooldrinks, desserts, marmalades and main dishes. Meals are served on a shady deck in a huge flamboyant tree (Delonix regia), an exotic from Madagascar.
A hiking trail from this lodge to Sarasungu leads past almost 30 indigenous shrub and tree species, among them a particularly large shepherd’s tree (Boscia albitrunca) (122), the shrubby Kalaharicurrant (Searsia/Rhus tenuinervis) (393.2), and the River Rhus (Searsia/Rhus quartiniana) (393), both easily identifiable by having three leaflets to a leaf.
About 2 km out of town, Sarasungu Lodge offers camping on grass under a large variety of shady trees. More than 30 species on the premises have been marked. The large-fruited combretum (Combretum zeyheri) (546) is quite a small tree, while the largest of all combretum trees, the leadwood tree (C. imberbe) (539),bears the smallest fruits. Another member of this genus, the variable combretum (Combretum collinum) (541) and its subspecies are quite common in north-eastern Namibia.The sturdy climber finding its way into the highest treetops is wild jasmine (Jasminum fluminense) (F7).
The windows of some of the rustic, grass-roofed chalets are secured only by wire mesh and fly screen for you to listen to the sounds of the night and to waken to birdsong in the morning. Other chalets provide all the usual amenities. While there is no direct view of the river, it is within very close walking distance.
Located 7 km east of Rundu, Kaisosi River Lodge is beautifully set out on the banks of the river. The double-storied chalets are spacious and well equipped. The grassy camping area is well shaded but situated away from the river behind the chalets. When I first travelled to the Kavango Region, I expected all the riverbanks to be dense with tall riverine forest, and was greatly disappointed to find no trees at all along the Rundu waterfront, in either direction. So I was overjoyed when I saw the lush trees at Kaisosi.
In particular there are some really mature leadwood trees (Combretum imberbe) (539) and several other species taller than the double-storied chalets. A special bonus for tree lovers is that here you can see tall examples of all four Albizia species (A. anthelmintica (150), A. versicolor (158), A. antunesiana (151), and A. harveyi) (155) recorded for the Kavango Region, as well as a number of interesting exotic species such as the fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) (G2) from West Africa and the kapok tree(Ceiba pentranda) (F5) from South America.
Shamvura, a permanent tented camp located 10 km east of Rundu offers very adequate but not luxurious accommodation in a charming fully-equipped treetop cottage and four tents on raised platforms, two en suite and two with shower and toilet facilities close by.
As can be deduced from their names, the tents are situated under marula, manketti, ushivi and combretum trees (Sclerocarya birrea, Schinziophyton rautanenii, Guibourtia coleosperma, Combretum collinum) respectively. The camp is situated on a prominent sand dune, offering the visitor access to 15 km of riverbank and pristine riverine vegetation. There is a large swimming pool and a treetop deck providing an excellent view of the extensive floodplains on the Angolan side of the river, which becomes home to numerous wetland birds and fish in the wet season.
Meals can be arranged at the main building in the very hospitable and highly entertaining company of the owners Mark and Charlie. Mark has a thorough knowledge of all things natural, especially birds, while Charlie, a trained nursing sister, has been involved in the trade with baskets and other handicraft at a series of spots along the river.
Founded by the Denner Foundation, Kayova River Lodge is situated 113 km east of Rundu. All profits generated by the lodge are invested in the upliftment of the local community. The foundation supplies 25 000 people in the surrounding countryside with water, runs four nursery schools and is in the process of erecting an orphanage for aids orphans at Nyangana. Local people are trained to do almost all the necessary construction work, as well as run the lodge.
The Kayova River Lodge has eight well-appointed chalets, each with a view across the river from its own veranda. Situated on a high bank, the lodge also offers beautiful views of the adjacent Angolan flood plains.
To the west of the main building is a large riverside camping area, which was under construction in May 2013 and should be completed by now. It is shaded mostly by tall knob-thorn acacias (A. nigrescens) (178), which will become more prevalent towards the east and into the Caprivi Region. The raised knobs on their trunks and older branches, each knob bearing a sharply curved thorn, make them easy to identify. At Kayova Lodge you will find the first occurrence of the evergreen African mangosteen, (Garcinia livingstonei) (486), recognised by rigid, short lateral branches arising at an acute angle to the main stem, unusually in whorls of three. The stiff, leathery, dark green leaves occur in whorls of three or four. The outer flesh of the fruit is edible with a pleasant fruity flavour. Male and female flowers are borne on separate trees.
Please note, however, that the variety of species inside the walled area is not too great.
Roughly 30 km west of Divundu, River Dance Lodge is highly recommended for nature lovers and for tree lovers in particular. Accommodation is in five wood-and-glass cabins on raised platforms, tucked away in the riverine forest and totally secluded from each other. Downriver from the main building are four equally stunning grassed campsites under shady trees, each with its own beautifully designed ablution facility. Each site has a direct view of the river.
At least 60 different indigenous trees and shrubs have been tagged. For a special botanical treat, book a trip to the two islands in the river. They are completely uninhabited and covered with huge old trees entangled with liana-like climbers and scramblers. The vegetation is only penetrable if you cut a path open with a panga. On one of the islands we found the huge strangler fig (Ficus burkei), gutted by fires but still going strong.
A visit here is an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with many woody species, which will become more common as you travel eastwards into the Caprivi. On the way to the lodge I passed a violet tree (Securidaca longipendunculata) with a characteristic pale-grey trunk and unmistakable fruit. The tall, evergreen mobola plum (Parinari curatellifolia) (146) reaches a height of up to 20 metres and has dark-grey corky bark and a spreading crown of dark-green leaves.
The leaves are prominently veined below with secondary veins almost parallel. The jackal-berry (Diospyros mespiliformis) (606) has dark foliage that turns yellow before it falls, black-grey rough bark, and leathery, shiny, lanceolate leaves. This species has a disjunct distribution, occurring along the oshanas in the ancient Cuvelai Delta of central northern Namibia, northern Kaokoland, at River Dance, and then again in Eastern Caprivi.
The N//Goabaca Community Campsite across the bridge over the Kavango at Divundu offers pleasant, shady camping with a tap at each site and modest but clean ablution facilities with hot showers. It is close to the Mahango National Park, which has no accommodation.
Twenty indigenous trees, such as the bird plum (Berchemia discolor) and the northern omupanda (Philenoptera violacea, formerly Lonchocarpus capassa) (238), have been tagged. Species not tagged thus far are the river dwaba-berry (Friesodielsia obovata) (108) and the mouse-eared combretum (Combretum hereroense) (538).
TNN Winter 2014