Drifting along the Chobe River in luxury houseboat is cruising like you won’t experience anywhere else. Forget the massive ocean-going liners of the Caribbean, the Med and Alaska, this is a far more intimate, and absolutely exclusive experience in one of the last unspoilt wilderness areas of the world. It’s a bit of a mission to reach, but so worth the effort, this is relaxation at it’s best, maybe a bit boring for the younger folks, but for a more mature “boomer” generation absolutely perfect.
Flying into Victoria Falls
The fun starts with getting there, which is something of an experience in itself. A lot of visitors to the Chobe game reserve in Botswana arrive by road, we took the (relatively) quick route by air. I say “relatively” because from our home airport at George, it entails a 2-hour flight to Johannesburg, a stop-over there of a couple of hours, then a 90-minute flight to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. From here transfer by road, through the Kazungula border post, to Kasane and finally a short boat ride to our floating home for the next 3 nights, the Pride of The Zambezi. But for all that, it’s still way quicker than driving, which would have been a journey of 2 to 3 days.
The airport at Victoria Falls has been upgraded since our trip, apparently, it’s now able to hold it’s own against similar size airports. But at the time of our visit, it was in a sorry state of (dis) repair, with very limited facilities and an unreliable electricity connection (it was off when we arrived). But, as I said it’s apparently fully functional and way better now.
The transfer to Kasane, on the Botswana side of the Chobe River is painless and the staff at the Zimbabwe / Botswana customs post at Kazungula full of smiles, well the Zimbabwe side were anyway, Botswana a bit less so, but very efficient. A family of warthogs roaming around the grounds provide entertainment while waiting to be attended to. The town of Kasane revolves around the river and tourism, with shops to stock up on any last-minute necessities before once again clearing customs and boarding a tender boat for the trip across the river to where the houseboat awaits. If you are lucky you might pass some local fishermen tending their nets from a Mokoro (a canoe formed from a hollowed out tree trunk.
But First Another Border Crossing
The Pride of The Zambezi is in fact located on the Namibian side of the Chobe River, which serves as the border between Botswana and Namibia. So, before embarking on the houseboat itself, a short stop for another border crossing into Namibia is required. It means crossing the river from Kasane by boat, to the Namibian “border post” on the opposite bank, then a short walk up the hill through the bush to a lonely building, staffed by a single disinterested customs and immigration official.
The customs post is actually more of a “hut”, with 2 windows side by side. We naturally approached the window where the guy was sitting, to be told “go to the other window”, he then moved over, took our passports and did the necessary immigration paperwork. We then moved to the original window where he asked if we had anything to declare, before sending us on our way. But this is Africa, and as they say, “when in Africa”, but it’s certainly different.
Relaxing on Pride of The Zambezi
After the customs and immigration formalities, it was back into the tender for a short ride up the river to where our home for the next 3 nights was anchored, the Pride of The Zambezi. The incredibly friendly staff, dressed in their crisp white uniforms, were waiting with welcome drinks and to show us to our cabins.
This must be one of the most relaxing breaks I’ve ever had, cruising quietly up the river, beer or glass of wine in hand, sitting in the jacuzzi, while watching Africa pass by is absolutely out of this world. The staff are attentive but discreet, on hand to attend to any request, this is real luxury travel. We were fortunate to get the honeymoon suite, which is on the highest deck of the boat, the only room on that level, with 360-degree views and a private en-suite shower and bathroom. Being out of the main season we shared the boat for the first 2 nights with one other couple, the last night we had it to ourselves, what a pleasure.
Some of the larger riverboats are somewhat limited in how far up, or down, river they can go, but the Pride of The Zambezi is of a size and draught that allows her to travel a long way up river. We headed slowly West, upstream, for 2 days, anchoring overnight and cruising slowly during the day with plenty of stops to get closer to the wildlife, of which there is plenty.
Up Close And Personal With Big Game
A tender boat is available to take game viewing trips to get even closer to the shore. Wild game is just so abundant that it almost becomes a normal part of the day when passing another herd of elephants, buffalo or hippos munching on the water grass along the shoreline. It’s a photographers dream come true.
Getting within less than 10 metres of a huge elephant as it waded out into the water, with only it’s back showing was exciting, and approaching huge herds of buffalo on the river bank, much closer than would be possible on land. Hearing the roar of lions nearby at night, or the sound of hippos feeding right next to the boat – it just doesn’t get better.
It’s not only the big game, watching the warthogs is so entertaining, not to mention the ever busy meerkats (also known as a suricate). Birdlife is unbeatable, I could have, and probably did, spend hours, watching the African Fish Eagles hunting, their call is just so “Africa” to me. And the nimble kingfishers are incredibly well adapted to their role, watching them hover and divebomb into the water, more often than not emerging with a catch, is a wonderful experience.
Sadly we didn’t get to see any of the big cats this time, but I do believe that they are frequently seen. Next time I guess!
World Class Cuisine
The food was outstanding, it wouldn’t be out of place in a 5-star restaurant in any world-class city. The boat has a comfortable indoor lounge and dining room with a fully stocked bar. There are also various decks and viewing platforms to chill out and watch Africa pass by, and staff are always discreetly on hand to bring drinks and snacks, you only need to ask.
Evenings are a special affair, with a sit-down dinner, candles, quality wines, gourmet starter and main course and delicious desserts, the lot. I have no idea how they do it, but the chef puts out some incredible dishes, mostly using local ingredients, with venison featuring high on the list. I know I’m repeating myself, but this food wouldn’t be out of place in the finest city restaurants.
When booking, which was done with the owners themselves, food and drink preferences are asked for. So while you will be eating and drinking according to your preferences, the preparation takes it into another realm. So vegetarians or folk with special dietary needs are catered for, but be warned, that in this part of the world the word vegetarian isn’t well known.
Breakfast is another treat, taken in the open sided dining room as the boat gets underway for the day’s cruise. If you like pastries, you are in for a treat, and of course eggs any way you like them with all the trimmings and excellent coffee. The only problem is that when you get home, your clothes are all likely to have “shrunk” somewhat, but that’s something to worry about later, not here.
The Chobe River System
Kasane, on the Botswana side of the river is the gateway to the Chobe National Park, whether accessing it by road or water, the town has all the necessities, as well as numerous accommodation options. The Chobe National Park was Botswana’s first, and it’s also the most biologically diverse. Located in the north of the country, it is Botswana’s third largest park, after Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and has one of the greatest concentrations of game in all of Africa with a large population of elephants and lions (Wikipedia).
Kasane is located at the rapids, where the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers meet. The river is navigable upstream, but the rapids prevent any downstream travel. It’s about 80Km from Victoria Falls, but it also has an international airport of it’s own with regular flights to Johannesburg and other destinations. We flew in via Victoria Falls but flew directly to Johannesburg from Kasane on the homeward leg. To be honest, it’s a better airport, if flight schedules allow, I’d recommend skipping Vic Falls and flying directly to Kasane.
All good things must come to an end and all too soon that was the case. A tender ride back to Kasane and a road transfer to the Kasane airport this time is quickly over. Our flight back to Johannesburg was a short 90-minute flight. Watching the confluence of the mighty Zambezi and Chobe rivers and the green lung of the floodplain disappear beneath the wings as we turned South, back towards “civilization” is an awe-inspiring sight. I want to go back already!
- The Houseboat is moored in Namibia, so there is a border crossing, you will need passports to enter.
- This is a malaria area, so it’s a good idea to take the necessary prophylactic medication or make sure that arms and legs are covered at night, especially in the early evening. And it goes without saying that you should use the mosquito nets provided.
- There is a ride in a tender boat from Kasane to the Houseboat, it’s not rough but can get a little wet so keep cameras etc covered.
- The walk up to the “border post” in Namibia isn’t long, but there is no disabled access, you will need to walk there.
- Being on the boat removes the risk of contact with wildlife, but bear in mind that this is wild Africa, some of the animals in the area will gladly make a meal of you, so when on game viewing trips, stay in the boat and obey the instructions of your guide.
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