A visit to Botswana is likely on everyone’s wish list, and a great place to start is on the Chobe region, with easy access into Chobe National Park for game drives and the expansive Chobe River.
Crossing the spectacular Kazangulu Bridge over the Zambezi from Zambia into Botswana had us wishing that there was a view site, such is the beauty of the structure. In keeping with the new bridge, the new immigration building which houses both Zambia and Botswana immigration makes crossing this border a breeze.
Lunch was at the Old House in Kasane, a delightful B&B and restaurant built using bricks reclaimed from the original sawmill settlement at Serondela which was gradually removed after the proclamation of the Chobe National Park in 1968. The décor was rustic and quaint and the food delicious – I chose the garden salad, but some serious food envy kicked in when I saw the yummy looking burger and chips next to me! Beverages included local Okavango Craft Brewery beer or house specialty the ‘Ginoholic’, a G&T with elderflower, rose and cucumber.
No visit to Kasane is complete without a game drive into the Chobe National Park, easily accomplished with Flame of Africa, one of several tour operators in town.
Driving alongside the Chobe River we soon ticked off impala, plenty of giraffe, including a rather amorous bull, an old dagga boy (buffalo) feasting on water grass, hippo, and several elephants.
Our afternoon drive culminated in sundowners alongside the river at the Serondela rest camp area with our guide-cum-barman creating the perfect G&Ts whilst fending off the pesky vervet monkeys.
Timing our departure to exit before park closing time our expectations weren’t high regarding game sightings. Almost at dusk we rounded a corner to see a lioness carrying one of her cubs from one thicket to another, and on closer inspection saw that there were already two cubs hiding under the bushes. A relatively short drive, but a fabulous introduction to this magnificent conservation area.
After a wonderfully comfortable sleep at the stylishly renovated 4-star Chobe River Lodge (it used to be called the Chobe Garden Lodge) I was up early to catch the dawn. The pastel skies reflecting on the still waters of the Chobe indicated we were in for another glorious day.
During breakfast I had the opportunity to chat to one of the new owners Leana Reis, who told me that during the renovation they had kept all the staff on, even though there were no guests. Kitchen staff became general cleaners, wheelbarrow pushers and general ‘whatever-was-required’ workers. Such was their commitment to the lodge and their desire to keep their jobs, many of which had been working there for several years.
A Chobe River cruise is another ‘must-do’ when in Kasane, early morning and sunset cruises are the most popular, but a midday cruise offers the most relaxing, less crowded option with fewer boats on the river. So later that morning we hopped aboard one of the luxurious Flame of Africa river boats – this one was said to have been used in a raunchy music video and is referred to as the ‘porn boat’.
An assortment of beverages that ranged from tea and coffee to bubbly and cocktails, accompanied by finger snacks, had us appreciating the expansive river views and assortment of wildlife. Which were mostly elephants, hippo, crocodiles, and buffalo, as well as a variety of water birds.
There’s something special about cruising slowly along the expansive Chobe River… especially with an exotic cocktail in hand.
For avid photographers another ‘must do’ is a photographic safari with Pangolin Photo Safaris. We arrived in time for a quick check-in, where we were each given a water bottle for use during our stay, and delicious high tea. Then it was into the vehicle for a quick transfer to the dock on the Chobe River for our afternoon photographic river safari – each boat is well kitted with Canon 80D cameras with 600mm lenses.
It’s quite extraordinary to be able to get up close to animals, such that you’re almost too close for complete body shots and must resort to close-up shots only! Such a fabulous experience, whether you’re a keen photographer or not.
The best part is that you learn some photographic skills in the capable and professional hands of your photographic guide, and get to keep the SD card of the pics you have taken!
The industrial and almost minimalistic Pangolin Lodge has the feel of an art gallery, with stunning wildlife photos adorning the walls, inducing much photographer envy, and inspiration, I’m sure. The minimalistic industrial style continued in the guest rooms… my room was simple but with all the comforts required, and all the space a photographer would need for their kit as well as all the appropriate plug points.
Pre-dinner drinks around the fire pit were followed by dinner under the stars… and those that lingered later than others were treated to elephants drinking from the swimming pool and then at the little waterhole in front of the ground level photographic hide.
An early start with coffee and a quick bite to eat had us back in the boat for an early morning river safari on our way to Chobe Game Lodge, a beautiful historic and environmentally conscious lodge on the banks of the Chobe River.
This was a fleeting visit with just enough time for was an informative tour of their impressive eco-initiatives – I had spent some time here before so knew what I was missing! (Read about my previous experience HERE and HERE).
Heading out in an electric game viewer with Lebo, one of the all-female guiding team, through the reserve to Kasane Airport gave us a few more moments to experience the wonders of Chobe National Park.
After more paperwork and a passport stamp, we boarded a MACK AIR 12-seater light aircraft for our flight into Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls – by far the easiest way to do the border crossing! Mack Air have been operating in northern Botswana for over 25 years and would certainly be my choice for exploring the region with their ‘intimate knowledge of the country and ability to access any runway’.