“Why is it you can never hope to describe the emotion Africa creates? You are lifted. Out of whatever pit, unbound from whatever tie, released from whatever fear. You are lifted and you see it all from above.”
- Francesca Marciano (extract from “Rules of the Wild”)
There are few places in the world that epitomise the phrase **untamed Africa** quite like the Caprivi Strip. A typical panhandle, the narrow strip of the Caprivi separates Angola and Botswana and runs roughly 450 km from west to east from Namibia to the Zambezi River. The region is renowned for its utter wildness, with most of the safari camps and lodges unfenced, allowing animals to roam free – as they should. The indescribable sensation one feels when immersed in this region can only really be communicated by walking on the land and breathing in the air. It is Africa at its most untamed. And it is spectacular.
At the very eastern end of the Caprivi Strip, the Chobe River flows, forming the border between Botswana and Namibia. On the banks of Botswana, the famous Chobe National Park stretches an incredible 154,000 hectares – the third largest in the country – with an elephant population exceeding 120,000! Like in the park, wildlife along the Chobe River is abundant. Made up of channels, islands, floodplains and riverine forests, the river is home to massive herds of elephant, buffalo and hippo as well as other concentrations of wildlife such as crocodile, giraffe, wild dog, the rare puku antelope, sable and other buck, lions, leopards and more – all of whom come down to the river’s edge to drink, graze and, of course, hunt. It is also a birders paradise so twitchers, take note. There are over 450 species of birds found in the region, including cormorants, pelicans, herons, egrets, bustards, cranes, plovers, lapwings, storks, giant kingfishers, bee eaters, and of course, the iconic African fish eagle. The birds are in abundance and a joy to spot in this vast wilderness.
The Namibian side of the Chobe River is a more tranquil retreat into the watery wilderness with fewer lodges and safari camps and no real roads to speak of.
Basing yourself on this side of the river means a greater sense of solitude and connectedness with the untamed Africa before you. It also means most activities are by boat, many of which involve crossing the border, so make sure you have plenty space in your passport for game drives, boat safaris and nature walks – most of which take place in Botswana.
There are few places in the world that I have been to that stir the soul quite like Chobe Water Villas – an exclusive boutique lodge located in Namibia’s Kasika Conservancy. Access to the villas is via the Kasane Immigration Office in Botswana where you will receive your first stamp (of many!) and be transferred by boat across the river to the villas. Though only a short, 15-minute boat ride away, the journey is enough to get your safari blood pumping with sightings of crocodiles, hippos and more en route to the lodge. As the boat cruises around the edge of Sedudu Island, one catches the first glimpse of Chobe Water Villas. The beautiful big bungalows sit erected on stilts, protruding over the river’s edge offering unobstructed views of the river, the islands and Botswana on the other side. Each bungalow offers utmost privacy and absolute luxury that one may not necessarily be accustomed to finding so deep in the African wilderness.
A warm, Namibian welcome of singing and dancing awaited us as we arrived at the main thatched lodge, situated under an amass of beautiful, indigenous acacia trees. Entering the space, I was amazed at the transition from what I had seen from the boat. From the water, the lodge and bungalows, with their thatched roofs and wooden exterior give the impression that what you’re about to walk into is a rather typical African lodge – donned with browns and ochres in typical safari style. It is anything but that. Maintaining a very real sense of safari chic, architect and interior designer, Jan Lewis from Design Union in Cape Town, uses natural materials in flowing spaces with dashes of décor genius, all of which are references to the elements in Namibia like the desert, the rain, tribal patterns and of course, the animals. Everything is a symbol and holds a precious meaning. This is bush luxury that, in my opinion, is unrivalled.
The main lodge is where most of the gatherings happen: the infinity pool and deck offer magnificent views across the river, G&T in hand of course; **view pits** on either side of the pool are equipped with fire pits and are perfect for evenings regaling stories of the day around the fire; the lounge, with a nicely stocked library is a great place to relax and unwind (and enjoy the afternoon high tea); the cocktail bar is ready and waiting to supply pre or post-dinner drinks; and the restaurant is where real culinary magic happens. From the cold and hot buffet-style breakfasts and lunches to the a la carte fine dining dinners, or even a braai on beautiful evenings, the food at Chobe Water Villas is fresh, thoughtfully and deliciously prepared and presented, and a real reflection of the lodge’s commitment to providing guests with a 5-star luxury experience smack bang in the middle of Africa.
A walk through nature along the raised, wooden boardwalks gets you to your villa and if you thought you were impressed with the main lodge, just wait until you open the door to your very own slice of paradise. As aforementioned, the villas are erected on stilts over the river’s edge and each one offers unobstructed 180º degree views of the river, the islands and their inhabitants. Go to sleep to the grunts of hippos mingling in the dark just under your balcony and awaken to the calls of African fish eagles hunting at the break of day. The spacious open-plan bedroom and lounge afford magnificent river views through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, and offer an array amenities that resemble true world-class hospitality. A complimentary mini-bar with snacks as well as a coffee and tea station ensure that you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your villa for sustenance. En-suite bathrooms, high-quality linen bathrobes, slippers, air-conditioning, mosquito nets, hair-dryers, complimentary Wi-Fi (throughout the lodge), a writing desk, safe, torches and an intercom phone are all part of the package to ensure guests utmost comfort as well as safety.
The lodge and villas are truly unique and really epitomise world-class luxury, with a safari chic twist. However, the real draw-card in this region, is the uninterrupted wildlife right on your doorstep. It is truly a sight and sensory experience that one has to immerse oneself into to really understand. Home to one of the biggest elephant populations in the world, an abundance of wildlife and activity that exists nowhere else, one of the biggest zebra migrations after the Masai Mara or Serengeti, and sunsets that will leave you breathless, Caprivi is unmatched in its wildlife offerings. Chobe Water Villas offers boat cruises, game drives as well as nature and village walks on top of a host of other activities, all designed to get guests as immersed in the bush and water wilderness as possible.
And after all that, the perfect place for respite and reflection.
As I boarded the plane from Kasana back to Cape Town, two full pages of passport stamps later, I couldn’t help but think of a quote by Italian author, Francesca Marciano: “When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leaving a continent you’re leaving a state of mind. Whatever awaits you at the other end of your journey will be of a different order of existence.” (extract from “Rules of the Wild”)
For more information, visit www.chobewatervillas.com.
TEXT © Julie Graham