Chobe – What’s The Buzz?
If you have an eye for natural beauty, you’ll know as soon as you reach the Chobe River, in north- eastern Botswana. It’s a wildlife lover and nature photographer’s dream.
For elephant lovers and safari fanatics, the great elephant concentrations on the Chobe River occur during the winter months. The Chobe National Park has one of the highest densities of African Elephant herds in the country. Botswana, in turn, has the highest population levels in the world.
For birders, the wet summer months are the drawcard, when the migrant birds are in full color, and antelope start dropping their young. Any time of the year, the Chobe provides the most spectacular sunsets- and sunrises.
Game viewing in the dry season pretty much guarantees excellent sightings, since animals have to visit the river to drink when all the watering holes dry up. Viewing game from the water is possibly the nicest way. And possibly the nicest way to do that is aboard Flame of Africa’s Chobe Explorer.
On board this triple decker, spacious, wood cladded river cruiser you have what my fellow “shipmates” described as their best Chobe experience ever- and between us we had had over 50 such experiences.
Skipper David Twembuchi, barman and charming front of house Ronald Rungwe, with Kabelano, Mercy and Malebogo running the kitchen, were warmly welcoming.
Then, it was a short hop from the Flame of Africa jetty in the riverside town of Kasane before the boat nudged in at the Chobe National Park offices (7270 square miles of park!) to gain entry permits to the park (the cruise is on the Chobe River and there are happily no immigration formalities). After our welcome briefing and drinks from Ronny we were sedately on our way.
Raise Your Glasses
Drinks glasses became prism glass as guests reached for cameras when skipper David got us up surprisingly close and personal- especially considering the boat’s size- with a plethora of wildlife. One such involved a massive bull elephant swimming across a river channel and then taking a keen interest in the long grasses at the boat’s prow, causing an evacuation of the lower dining deck.
After 1 ½ glasses of bubbly, backing off from one sighting was a giddy delight as David spun the big vessel almost 360 degrees.
The dining deck is where we enjoyed a superb lunch: delicious Botswana beef steak, boerewors, chicken, various salads, potato bake with excellent freshly made bread- followed by a delightful dessert and accompanied by a selection of wine.
The five adults at our table- repeat visitors to the area (like me who’s been a dozen times) and my partner Hilary, a riverbank resident, repeatedly exclaimed that this was their best Chobe River experience. Exclaimed may not be the correct term. We were too laidback for that, lulled by the sumptuousness and the pace.
And it is the pace, together with the service and the space afforded, that sets the Chobe Explorer apart. Another plus is that you have a head start on the usual afternoon mass launch from riverside lodges, seeing plenty of wildlife long before, without any jostling for photo opportunities.
Above the dining deck is the bar and lounge with ample, comfortable couches which seemed even comfier post-lunch- and the top deck has a formation of suspended, luxurious loungers. Gently swaying atop the boat is the dreamiest way to top off the day. And, having launched around 11 am, it was on the stroke of 6pm that we nudged up to the jetty again- pretty much the whole, glorious day.
Frontiers, Borders, Intersections
Chobe/Kasane and the surrounding area is frontier territory. Sedudu island in the middle of the floodplain was previously disputed territory, with the Namibian and Botswana flags swapping duties- Namibia being across the river.
Impalila Island is uniquely positioned, straddling the intersection of four countries. Here you can enjoy a Zimbabwean Zambezi beer, a Botswana St Louis, a Zambian Mozi and a Namibian Tafel and know that the countries from whence they came are about 200 yards away- and the nearby village of Kazangula has a new rail and road bridge connecting the four countries.
The bridge is a really big deal, alleviating truck queues near border posts, where truckers sometimes wait weeks.
I loved Western movies when I was a kid- especially the larger-than-life characters. You’ll find similarly diverse types here- one of whom is Flame of Africa owner, Brett McDonald, complete with wide brimmed hat and moustache. An African cowboy, most of who’s tall tales (if not all) are true.
I shamelessly plug Flame of Africa, simply because of my experience using them. It was a Google search for a transfer company that kicked it off and I have extensively used them for transfers between Kasane and Victoria Falls, 50 miles distant. I’ve also experienced lodges they’re involved with and activities they provide.
Another recommended river outing, if all day is too long, is aboard the sumptuous Chobe Style, a Miami type cruiser-perhaps with lunch on The Raft. Brett McDonald lives most of the time on the Chobe and constructed this unique 64-seater floating restaurant from scraps and throwaways.
Get Hooked- Fish and Film
A trip to the Chobe or the Zambezi would not be complete without trying your hand at fishing. These waters are home to the voracious, powerful tiger fish- a true thrill to every serious or amateur angler. Capture and release is the policy with tiger, while “hook and cook” is adopted for the delicious bream that frequent these waters.
The scenery and lighting make even my pics look good but, if you want the best photographic experience, Pangolin Photo Safaris have the slickest operation. Flatbed boats with great, gimballed camera rigs, expert coaching and great facilities (including darkrooms) can turn rank amateurs into prize winning photographers.
Also try to make time for a visit away from Chobe- in particular to Victoria Falls, if you’ve never been. Even if you have, it never loses its awesomeness.
Take Your Rest
There are plenty of accommodation offerings lining the Kasane stretch of the Chobe, plus several on the Namibian side and some, a fair boat ride away, on the Zambezi River. They range from self-catering to luxury lodges and houseboats.
By far the most exclusive is deep in the Chobe National Park- the only lodge in the park, famous for famous guests, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Five star Chobe Game Lodge has other distinguishing features, including electric boats and game vehicles and, as a result of its gender equity drive, a full complement of women game guides.
Wherever you stay, aircon is your friend in the fiercely hot summer months. Minimum nighttime temperatures can be around 80°F , with daytime highs in the 100s. Mosquitos are a thing in the green (wet) season, especially from November to February. Boating on the river keeps you cool.
Most travelers arrive aboard Airlink jets from Johannesburg, South Africa. Airlink operates daily direct flights between Johannesburg and Kasane. Air Botswana also flies into Kasane, but not daily and via other Botswana destinations- which is fine if you are also visiting the amazing Okavango Delta, but otherwise not so much.
I’ve already mentioned Flame of Africa and Pangolin Photo Safaris, but there are many transfer and activity providers, such as Wild Horizons and Bushtracks Africa– as well as townsfolk with taxis.
Check out these links to some of the activities I’ve mentioned: https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/chobe-fishing/