Gaborone - Gossamer spider strands drifted through the air as we glided over the waters of the Chobe River, the border between Botswana and Namibia. The strands were from parachuting spiders attempting to escape the rising waters on the flood plain.
The scene before me made me want to pinch myself. This was real, not a dream.
Just that morning I left Pietermaritzburg aboard an Airlink and now, hours later, I’m gliding over the Chobe River on a houseboat that is my home for a day or two.
I thought I knew this stretch of water, having been here seven months before, but the waters have risen about 3m since the dry season, transforming the waterways. The sky was clear, the air cooler, and the trees, shrubs, reeds and grasses bursting with birdlife.
Obed Silumbu – meeter, greeter, boatman and guide – whisked us from the riverside border post to the recently refurbished Pride of Zambezi houseboat. Skipper Given Mayumbelo smiled us aboard.
Pride of Zambezi has five en-suite cabins on the bottom deck and one luxury cabin on the top deck. There are king-size beds, aircon and huge windows, which bring the outdoors closer. The middle deck was light and airy with an open-plan lounge and dining area with bar facilities. There was also a plunge pool.
A sign of a good place is happy staff, and the multi-tasking crew are that. The service aboard Pride of Zambezi was good, as was the food which we enjoyed at a communal long table, usually after sundowners.
Guests spend most of the day on water safaris, or discovering local culture. We took a tour along the Chobe, through the channels and down the rapids of the Zambezi. Fish Eagle sentries checked our progress. Obed also took us on to his home island, Mpalila, where we marvelled at a ginormous 2 000-year-old baobab.
Zipping, or slowly coasting, on the waters was sublime. Your body changes gear, senses are heightened and time becomes largely irrelevant.
At this time of year there is not much game as there is abundant water away from the river bank. That doesn’t mean there is nothing to see. The elephants were ever present, the snorting hippos and buffalo permanent fixtures. We also spotted a group of lion.
Our time on the river regretfully ended and the second part of our adventure began with a hunt for a Namibian border post that was functioning. Thereafter it was efficient transfers through the Botswana and Zimbabwe customs posts as we headed for about an hour to the Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve just outside Victoria Falls.
Here we were graciously welcomed into the spacious opulence of the Safari Lodge that reflects a bygone era, but with every modern convenience.
As the name suggests, the lodge has a Stanley and Livingstone theme with framed newspaper articles, sketches, botanical drawings and maps with imposing busts of the Scottish explorer, adventurer and abolitionist, David Livingstone, and Welsh journalist Henry Stanley.
The vast suites feature all mod cons including flat-screen TVs and wi-fi. A huge bathroom boasts gilded taps and ball-and-claw bath. There are 16 garden cottage suites, each with a veranda. The manicured grounds have koi ponds and a large swimming pool overlooking the bush.
Stanley and Livingstone is the only fenced reserve in the area – and also the only reserve with black rhino, guarded by an anti-poaching unit, also making it the only reserve to offer a Big Five experience.
Before we explored the reserve we visited the adjoining Ursula’s Camp, the charming family-friendly camp with self-catering options, as well as Nakavango Conservation Centre. This gave us some insight into the conservation drives on the reserve. Here students from around the world come to take courses on wildlife management, guiding, tracking and sign identification, wildlife photography, navigation and survival courses.
Then it was off into the bush in the company of experienced guide Patrick Mhlanga.
While tracking rhinos we also saw kudu, giraffe and buffalo. Sundowners on an old dam wall, followed by dinner at the boma, made for a complete experience.
Of course a visit to this part of the world would not be complete without experiencing the natural wonder of Victoria Falls. We had seen the rising spray form kilometres away and, up close, the ground trembled while the force of the falls caused spray which drenched our happy faces. A hard place to leave. - Sunday Tribune
l Explore the Mantis Collection at www.mantiscollection.com or call 021 715 2412.
If You Go...
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If you live in Pietermaritzburg or nearby, try Pietermaritzburg Airport. It’s accessible and less congested with easy parking, quick boarding and disembarking. Only Airlink offers an all-jet service from Pietermaritzburg to Joburg and from Joburg to Kasane daily. Take off at 8.30am and be in Botswana by lunchtime.
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Book your flight directly at www.flyairlink.com, call Airlink at 033 386 9286/7. Spread your wings – fly Airlink.