Chobe Safari Lodge is a premier safari destination located on the banks of the magnificent Chobe River and sharing its border with the Chobe Game Reserve… and we were on our way there! We left Nata Lodge bright and early, having spent the previous day exploring the Nata Bird Sanctuary and the Makgadikgadi salt pans, heading towards Kasane on the A33, the main route between the Zambian border at the Kazungula Bridge and Martin’s Drift, the border crossing across the Limpopo into South Africa.

Still dodging potholes and watching out for heavy vehicles we passed several small settlements and villages, with goats and a few cattle a common sight. I was amazed at the extensive agriculture around Pandamatenga, the soil rich and the crops lush. We slowed awhile to watch three Southern ground hornbills forage between rows of what appeared to be potatoes. 

The closer we got to Kasane, the more wildlife we saw; giraffe nibbling on acacia leaves on our left, buffalo wallowing in a pan off to our right, a snake eagle hovering above and a couple of large elephants on the roadside. A front-scrunched white SUV, with a smashed windscreen, lay haphazardly to one side. A sobering exclamation mark to the many ‘don’t drive at night’ warnings we had received.

Nothing beats that first glimpse of the Chobe River as it snakes its way through the verdant riverine bush and floodplain, the occasional tree and splashes of white water visible as it picked up speed over rocky sections.  We drive through the small town of Kasane, the gateway to all things      Chobe, and the point (kind-of) where four African countries meet – Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe –       making it a major transport hub for the region.

And at the very end of the main road that runs through Kasane we arrive at the luxurious, yet affordable, Chobe Safari Lodge…

The Chobe River is calling, and with a welcome drink in hand, we make our way to the deck for our first real view of the Chobe River. We pause a while enjoying the welcome shade and appreciating the breeze off the river, which runs slow and deep with views across to the Zambezi Region. The barman sees me gazing into the depths and tells me, almost reverently, about the huge resident croc that lives beneath the deck… he also tells me that this spot with its river backdrop is known as the best selfie spot on the Chobe.

An early lunch at the main restaurant is called for and we choose a spot overlooking the river. We check out the menu. My hubby opts for the pan-fried Chobe whole bream, and I choose the sesame sprinkled chicken salad… but I’m intrigued by the Seswaa, a meat dish considered by some to be the national dish of Botswana and decide in advance what my choice for dinner that evening would be. A great choice, as it turned out to be absolutely delicious! 

Before going on a walk-about of the extensive property we pop into the main booking office to confirm our afternoon boat cruise – it’s here that guests can book their safari game drives, an excursion to the fabulous Kazungula Bridge as well as day trips to Victoria Falls, amongst other activities.

Chobe Safari Lodge offers a range of luxurious accommodations to suit different preferences and budgets. We were booked into a safari suite, with its balcony views over the lush lawn and Chobe River, king-size bed, and luxuriously appointed bathroom, all set within a spacious open-plan design. But I was keen to see what other options were available…

The river-facing rooms are located closest to the main lodge area making them ideal for guests preferring the close proximity of facilities – they were undergoing refurbishment at the time of our visit and would soon be sporting sleek and more modern attire. A huge wild fig tree overhangs the glistening pool, we walk along the wooden deck, enjoying the mottled sunshine created by the canopy of trees overhead.

The classic rondavels are the original rooms of the lodge and date back to the 1960s and are perched in close proximity to the edge of the river. Now lovingly restored, these thatch dwellings are spacious and comfortable with en-suite bathrooms in keeping with the style of Chobe Safari Lodge. I must admit to feeling a a spot of accommodation envy and looked longingly at the directors’ chairs on the small veranda and could see myself sitting with binocs in hand, watching the river came to life at sunrise.

For those unfamiliar with the term rondavel, it is a traditional round hut or house with a thatched roof, and it is a common architectural style in many parts of southern Africa.

We popped into neighbouring Chobe Bush Lodge for a quick peek. The rooms have the same open-plan elegant design, but instead of river views the overlook the Chobe Game Reserve. I imagined myself game viewing from the comfort of the terrace… the rest of the lodge with its stylish modern décor that spoke of Africa without being over the top had me planning another visit to this remarkable region. And we hadn’t even slept a night yet!

But there was no time to linger as the renowned Chobe Safari Lodge boat cruise beckoned.

We had been told that the Chobe River was one of the most scenic waterways in Africa, offering breath-taking views of the surrounding wilderness the opportunity of seeing elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and other wildlife as they come to the water’s edge to drink and bathe. A previous visit for me had proved this true, but it was a delight seeing the look of wonder on my hubby’s face as we cruised along the river.

There are several different boat cruise options to suit different preferences and schedules. The morning and afternoon cruises are the most popular, but there are also sunset cruises that offer a magical view of the African sunset over the river. We had opted for the afternoon cruise as I wanted to get back in time to catch sunset from the Sedudu Sunset Bar located in the Chobe Safari Lodge campsite grounds… which are a great option for those inclined to roughing it a bit.

The boat, with its comfortable seating and an upstairs viewing platform ensured that we would have the best possible views of the wildlife and scenery, and the onboard restrooms and refreshments ensured our comfort throughout the cruise. Not that there was much time to worry about comfort, because as soon as we got going Isaac our knowledgeable guide, with over 20 years of experience on the Chobe, had us enthralled from the moment we left the shore. He had us appreciating the amazing camouflage of a young water monitor on a tree stump, the long yellow wattles of a white-crowned lapwing and the iridescent turquoise of a woodland kingfisher, all the while sharing valuable insights into the flora and fauna of the region.

We watch hippo graze in the shallows of an island, while an African jacana flits across waterlilies and a little egret peck for insects. Isaac spots a small herd of elephants in the distance; they walk purposefully past a herd of impala, intent on their destination. Making an educated guess, or more than likely from his years of experience, we change course to get closer to where they are heading… we pause for a large crocodile, its mouth open and teeth bared – not in aggression, but as a cooling mechanism, which I’m sure would have changed in a blink if it thought we would be a tasty meal.

We arrive at Isaac’s chosen destination for a close-up view of the elephants, and with a young one in tow, they purposely walk past not even giving us much of a glance. In the distance Isaac point out another elephant – he’s large and clearly following them. ‘One of the females must be in oestrus’ Isaac tells us, a fact that becomes evident as the large, and clearly amorous, male strides past. 

The Chobe River is also home to a diverse range of bird species, and gliding along the river, Isaac points out the different bird species and provide insights into their behaviour and habitat. We meander slowly past the islands; Isaac explains that some of them would be submerged soon with the rising water levels. But for now they were the ideal spot for ticking off more species on our growing bird list…

A water thick-knee bathes on the edge and an African darter perches on an exposed tree stump as it dries its wings, its long slender neck the reason for its nickname of snakebird. A flock of pygmy geese take off in alarm as we round a corner of an island, and a reed cormorant stands in readiness to catch an unsuspecting fish as it swims past. We unexpectantly see what we think could be a Curlew sandpiper, and delight at the sighting of a long-toed lapwing and even a squacco heron.

I was hoping we would see African skimmers, the tern-like bird with their distinctive bright red-orange bill, the upper mandible being shorter than the lower, a characteristic that enables them to feed by skimming the water to scoop up small fish. Isaac explains that they arrive in the Chobe around mid-year when the river’s sandbanks become exposed and move north again after breeding and once the water levels once again start rising early in the new year. They are a big birding tick, one that we’ll just have to come back for to achieve.

Buffalo graze on the water’s edge as yellow-billed oxpeckers feast, an African fish eagle perches on a branch of an overhanging tree, before taking off gracefully then delighting us with its characteristic call – we were hoping for the iconic fish-catching moment, but to no avail. A flock of white-faced whistling ducks fly low over an island bordered by water lilies, and Egyptian geese strut along oblivious of their surroundings. Giant, malachite, and pied kingfisher are soon added to the list, as is the pretty wire-tailed swallow.

And just when we think it can’t get any better, Isaac says ‘puku’, pointing towards an island on our right. Not seeing anything we rush to the upper deck for a better view, and there she is, almost hidden from view in the long grass, she allows us a fleeting view and a not-so-great photograph. But I am happy to see this wonderful near-threatened antelope even if just for a moment. The puku is found only in wet grasslands in southern Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and the floodplains of the Chobe River.

We arrive back at the lodge as the colour of the sky softens to a milky blue and the horizon, tinged pink… just in time to hurry to the Sedudu Bar – the anticipation of a chilled G&T and another African sunset just the motivation we needed.

Words & pics – Tessa Buhrmann (with additional pics supplied by Chobe Safari Lodge)

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