Windhoek - How fabulous it feels, Namibian brew in hand, the pinch-me-I’m-dreaming feeling, the surreal experience of leaving Pietermaritzburg aboard an Airlink jet in the morning and skimming along the Chobe, then Zambezi rivers around lunchtime.
Five minutes from the airport and you’re at the Botswana border post on the banks of the Chobe River. The first leg of the boat ride is to the Namibian border post on the Chobe side of Impalila Island. Up the path past amusing signs - “deep breath - almost there” - then back to the boat and through winding channels that link up with the Zambezi.
It’s a dreamy cruise past Zambians and Namibians poling mokoro dugouts while cattle graze on the islands that will be covered when the waters rise two or more metres in the flood season.
Cranes, storks, herons, giant and glittering malachite kingfishers and the posers of the species, the pied kingfisher, share the Zambezi River, its channels and tributaries with prime heart attack candidates - ultra-skittish cormorants that fly, ragged, laboured and haphazard lines at the remote possibility of anyone approaching.
And then an island divided the Zambezi into two and we turned up a small channel and to the jetty of Cascade Island Lodge, until recently known as Ntwala but now is under the controlling interest of Flame of Africa.
Lodge manager Chrispin Simalrumba was there to greet us and get us and our gear along the long, floating walkway.
Cascade Island Lodge has just four massive, private chalets amid trees and termite mounds, each with a plunge pool, loungers, outdoor shower and day bed along elevated walkways. The bedroom with stocked bar fridge, filter coffee, teas and fresh milk takes up one half of each building, the ablutions the other with a massive bath the centrepiece.
French doors and huge windows with mozzie screens bring the outdoors in. It is cool at night on the river and industrial fans and super quiet ceiling fans cool things further if needed, until the power goes off around 10.
The main lodge is airy, elevated, with plenty of indoor and outdoor space. The view from the deck on the river is mesmerising. Hippos and kingfishers are ever present but, to my huge delight, otters frequently share fishing rights with darters. I saw five bobbing abreast down the cascading rapids, while the eddies and gushes of the Mambova Rapids provided the best ear candy of any riverside spot I’ve yet visited.
There’s stacks to do so, once high tea was devoured, we were back in the boat for a birding/fishing/sundowner cruise. I was amazed not necessarily at the diversity of bird species (with over 450 species), but the volume. The lodge lies outside the Chobe National Park, yet there seemed to be more birds than in the park.
Tiger fish are the main attraction for sport fisher-folk. Famous fighters, they really get the adrenalin pumping, as did an unexpected sighting. Just when I thought we would only see wildlife in the reserves, two ellies loomed large on the bank behind fellow anglers. Later, over an excellent dinner, Simalrumba recounted a surprise encounter between guard and ellie that resulted in a large depression in the walkway as both hotfooted it into the night.
Plans in place for the next day and tummies happily full, we toddled off to dreamland in our vast beds.
If You Go...
Call Flame of Africa at 031 762 2424 or visit www.flameofafrica.com/agent-corner/cascade-island-lodge
Only Airlink offers an all-jet service from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg providing convenient same day connections from Johannesburg to Kasane daily. Take off from Pietermaritzburg in the morning and be in Botswana by lunchtime.
Book your flight direct on www.flyairlink.com, contact your travel agent or SAA Central Reservations on 011 978 1111.