The Figure Eight tour – four countries, five rivers, countless wonders

Sharing traditions in Zambezi
September 3, 2012
Bird’s-eye view – Namibia’s weaver bird
September 3, 2012
Sharing traditions in Zambezi
September 3, 2012
Bird’s-eye view – Namibia’s weaver bird
September 3, 2012

by Ginger Mauney

Caprivi map

The Caprivi Region anchors Namibia in a wet, wild and wonderful world of adventure. With its lively cultural mix, the rivers that create borders between the dynamic countries of the region, and the wildlife that walks and flies freely across these borders, Caprivi is part of a much bigger whole. By virtue of the opening of the bridge across the Zambezi River linking Namibia and Zambia, it is now possible to explore Caprivi on a graceful figure-eight tour, visiting four countries and viewing countless wonders by vehicle, boat and air without duplicating any path.

From the raging power of Victoria Falls and a colony of bee-eaters’ nests on the banks of the Linyanti River to the beating of drums in a traditional village, each sighting on the journey is fresh, vibrant and alive, creating the feeling of being in the heart of Africa.

Adventures along the Kwando River

Heading west out of Katima Mulilo, the hub of Caprivi, on the main Trans-Caprivi Highway, traditional villages are dotted along the roadside and there are several signs warning you that elephant cross the road. A hundred and eleven kilometres from Katima, at Kongola you turn south onto the D3511/ MR125, a wide dirt road maintained regularly for two-wheel drive vehicles that explores the lush wilderness of marshes, rivers and open woodlands in the region.

Mudumu National Park, proclaimed in 1989, is a vast expanse of dense savannah and woodlands covering 1 010 square kilometres. Herds of elephant, buffalo and rare roan antelope roam the forests, while crocodile and hippo patrol the Kwando River, the western border of the park. The big cats, including the elusive leopard, are also represented here. As with most wild places in Caprivi, Mudumu is a bird-watcher’s paradise. Most lodges bordering the park, including Lianshulu Lodge, Lianshulu Bush Lodge and Camp Kwando, offer guided game drives into Mudumu, and scenic boat trips along the waterways.

As the Kwando River meanders southwards, it makes a sharp turn to the north to become the Linyanti River. On the riverbank and covering multiple channels, papyrus swamps and islands is Mamili National Park, the largest wetland area with conservation status in Namibia. Elephants and buffalo cross the river, and bird life abounds.

To explore Mamili you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to experience the tranquillity and beauty of the Linyanti.

Back on the district road, D3511/ MR125, heading north east, you pass small villages and roadside butcheries. Fresh cow and goat meat is available for the meat lover (who is not faint of heart), while these scenes also provide wonderful photo opportunities.

Into Botswana

After a journey of approximately 100 kilometres on the D3511/ MR125, the road hits the tar of the Trans-Caprivi Highway again, completing one loop of the figure-eight trip. You then turn south onto the Ngoma road, also tarred, that leads to the Chobe River and the Namibian border with Botswana.

It is necessary to clear customs (see page 12) on both sides of the Chobe River before entering Botswana. After clearing customs, you drive directly into the world-renowned Chobe National Park.

Covering almost 11 000 square kilometres, the Chobe National Park is home to the largest concentrations of elephants in the world. Massive herds of these pachyderms, buffalo and even large herds of rare sable antelope are found here. The Savuti section of the park is famous for its lions and the intense interaction between predators and prey at waterholes, which shrink during the dry season. Sunrise and sundown boat excursions along the Chobe River brush past herds of animals and pods of hippo, with game moving freely between the two countries. The Chobe National Park is a memorable, magical place.

The nearest town from the park is Kasane, replete with lodges, campsites, restaurants and other amenities, including an international airport linking the region to Gaborone, Johannesburg and Maun.

It is possible to clear customs in Kasane and simply walk from the customs building on to a boat for a journey on the Chobe River as it meanders and meets some of the region’s other waterways. From the Chobe to the Zambezi, the Linyati to the Kwando, nowhere is the pulse of life in this region more clearly felt than on the water. You will pass crocodiles scurrying from the banks and diving underwater, fishermen using traditional mokoros and nets to land their catch, and elephants moving across channels, using their trunks as snorkels.

Most of the area’s lodges and campsites are located on these rivers. They offer splendid sunrises, grand sunsets and countless adventures in between.

There are several options for international travel by boat, such as taking the Kazangula Ferry from Kasane across to Zambia or continuing the journey by road. The main tarred road from Kasane to Zimbabwe leads straight to one of the seven wonders of the world: the magnificent Victoria Falls.

The smoke that thunders

Victoria falls

Don a raincoat and enter the forest near the falls where, for a fee of US$20 for US and EU passport holders or 20 South African Rand for SADC passport holders, you can explore the dense tropical forests along the paths that lead to different lookout points over the astonishing Victoria Falls. With mist on your face, rainbows soaring overhead and the sound of thundering water plunging over the falls, your every sense will be stimulated.

Adventures abound in Victoria Falls, a quaint town that supports a vast array of tourism products developed around the natural beauty of Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River. Helicopter flights over the falls, white-water rafting, bungi jumping, and horseback riding are just some of the activities offered to the young and young at heart.

In town there is a mixture of old and new shops, restaurants, hotels, camping sites and a massive curio market with sculptures, functional wooden objects, textiles and lots of willing sellers to keep you engaged for hours.

Entering Zambia

The Victoria Falls Bridge straddles a gorge of the Zambezi River, providing panoramic views of Victoria Falls and linking Zimbabwe with Zambia. After a time-consuming experience of clearing customs in both countries, Victoria Falls can be seen from the Zambian side of the river where slippery paths, including the Knife Edge footbridge, offer magnificent views and a wild connection to Victoria Falls.

The town of Livingstone, Zambia, named for the famous British Explorer David Livingstone, who first sighted the Falls in 1855, is a collection of old buildings, mixed businesses and different types of accommodation establishments. Flights over the falls, canoeing on the Zambezi and jet boating in the Batoka Gorge are just some of the activities available to tourists. Livingstone also has a recently upgraded airport with a direct service to and from Johannesburg in South Africa via Nationwide Airlines, BA/Comair. From July 2006, South African Airways will also fly into Livingstone.

After a morning on both sides of Victoria Falls, you can take the newly tarred road heading back to Namibia. After clearing customs and crossing the Sesheke Bridge over the Zambezi River, you will have completed the figure eight, and you’ll be back in time for a late lunch in Katima Mulilo.

Linking a world of wonders

The Figure Eight trip is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, but even if you’re pushed for time, the route offers a breathtaking variety of activities, adventures and insights. And, using Namibia as a base, it is also surprisingly affordable. With expansive rivers, spectacular scenery and wildlife in abundance, Namibia’s Caprivi is linked naturally to this impressive region, allowing the visitor easy access and providing memories for a lifetime.

Tips for border crossings

Travelling in and out of the four countries in the Caprivi Region is basically simple and not inordinately expensive, but it does present some challenges. However, if you’re well prepared, the crossings won’t spoil a good day in the bush.

If driving into Namibia in a foreign-registered vehicle, you’ll need a vehicle permit from the Cross-Border Charge office in Katima Mulilo. To obtain the permit is a simple matter of completing a form and paying a fee; it is then issued and remains valid for one year. The fee is based on the size of the vehicle, and while the fees are subject to change, a basic guideline is N$120 for a passenger car and N$380 for a bus.

If you drive out of Namibia, you need to re-register your permit each time. The cross-border charge office keeps the same hours as the local border posts, 7:00 to 19:00, seven days a week.

When travelling from Namibia to Botswana on the tarred road, the Namibian border post is at Ngoma and in Botswana at Kasane. Namibia’s border post is open from 7:00–18:00 every day. Passports are stamped in a new building, and forms must be completed if travelling out of the country in a foreign-registered vehicle. This is generally a quick and painless exercise.

You then drive across a bridge over the Chobe River into Botswana. All passengers must dip their shoes into a decontaminate devised to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, after which the vehicles move through a bath of the same decontaminate.

A customs official carefully checks to make sure that no vegetable, meat or dairy products are brought into the country. This includes tinned meat, eggs and cheese, and powdered and long-life milk. If any of these items are found in your possession, they will be confiscated.

Namibian-registered vehicles travelling into Botswana need to have their original registration papers, police clearance and insurance for foreign-registered vehicles, and drivers are required to pay a fee that varies, depending on the type of vehicle and amount of time spent in Botswana. For example, 40 pula covers insurance on a double cab for two days. A road-safety token must be purchased and this is valid for a calendar year. Customs offices are open from 7:00 to 18:00. After clearing customs, you drive past a striking stand of baobab trees before entering Chobe National Park. At the entry gate, you sign in, pay US$20 per person and, as a transit check for day visitors, sign out again on departure.

At Kasane there is a modern airport with an Avis car-hire facility. Air Botswana and charter companies operate flights to Johannesburg, Maun and Gaborone.

There are many options for travelling to Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe from Kasane in Botswana. At the government building in the centre of Kasane, you clear customs and can then travel by boat to the Kasika border post in Namibia, or board the Kazungula Ferry in your own vehicle or transfer with a local company into Zambia. After clearing customs in either country, it is possible to re-embark for a boat trip to several outstanding lodges in the area. In Kasane, Kalahari Tours & Safaris will help with boat transfers and holiday itineraries, and provide superb logistical support for travellers.

If you choose to drive from Botswana to Zimbabwe, the procedure is easy when leaving Botswana. You need to present papers for your vehicle’s insurance and have your passport stamped. At the Zimbabwean border you need to be patient, as it could take a while. Charges again vary for visas in the US and EU passports, and there are multiple, different charges for vehicles, including carbon tax, a toll fee and insurance.

Crossing the Victoria Falls Bridge from Zimbabwe into Zambia, the scenery is superb, but the border posts in both countries are far less appealing. Allow time, patience and a supply of US dollars for fees on both sides. Zambia has introduced a carbon tax, as well as a fee for insurance, valid for one year. The border posts keep convenient hours – from 6:00 to 22:00 on both sides.

The Sesheke border from Zambia to Namibia has been made easy and convenient with the new bridge spanning the Zambezi River and linking the two countries. Checking valid vehicle permits and having your passport stamped allows visitors to leave Zambia, while a stamp in your passport is all that is required to enter Namibia. But keep in mind that if tourists are driving a foreign-registered car, it needs to be re-registered at the Cross-Border Charges Office in Katima Mulilo.

Please note: Times, fees, and conditions are subject to change, and while this information was accurate at the time of going to press, we encourage all visitors to inquire with the customs authorities in the various countries before setting off on their travels.

This article appeared in the July/Aug ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.


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