Caprivi Wetlands Paradise

Total distance: 430km

Suggested time period: 1½ - 3 days

Think wildlife, think water, think communities, think Africa - this is the Caprivi Wetlands Paradise Experience. This route epitomises the appeal of Africa with an abundance of wildlife and communities protecting and sustainably utilising their resources. Crossing the Okavango River to enter the route from the west (Bwabwata National Park) travellers will immediately realise this is not a typical park. Approximately 5,000 people live within the park and have formed an association to co-manage the park with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and derive benefits from the natural resources. As travellers leave the national park and the dense forest they enter the Kwando water system which provides a unique environment with a number of community conservation areas, called conservancies.

Attractions:

Bwabwata National Park:

Bwabwata is named after a village in the reserve and means 'the sound of bubbling water.' The Bwabwata National Park (formerly the Caprivi Game Park) is known as 'a people's park' as it supports both large wildlife and human populations. The park is 6,100km² and extends for about 180km from the Kavango River in the west to the Kwando River in the east. Access is easy as the park is located 200km east of Rundu or approximately 100km west of Katima Mulilo. The park is sanctuary to 35 large and numerous small game species. Visitors wishing to experience the abundant wildlife should travel into either the Buffalo Core Area (eastern section of the park) or the Kwando Core Area (western section of the park and where Horseshoe is located - see below). One of the best times in the year for excellent and reliable game-watching is in October; however, it can be incredibly hot at this time of the year.

Fort Doppies Ruins and Omega:

The remains of the SADF base at Fort Doppies are still visible. Fort Doppies was established in 1970 and derived its name from a vervet monkey who lived in the area and had a habit of rushing into the base area to steal spent cartridge cases (known as doppies in Afrikaans), and then rushing away with his booty. Terry the Lion was a camp mascot, who as a cub wandered in to the camp and was adopted by the Special Force operators.

During the independence struggle Omega base had the largest concentration of San people in one place. Their incredible tracking skills were utilised in warfare. Previously several thousand San people from the !Xun and Khwe groups lived at Omega which has now become a small almost forgotten settlement in the Bwabwata National Park. Most of the community were translocated to the vicinity of Kimberley in South Africa, during Namibia's independence. Those that remain behind use their ancient tracking skills for wildlife management.

Mafwe Living Museum:

The Mafwe Living Museum consists of a traditional village and its surrounding fields where the Mafwe demonstrate their original way of life. They present their old, almost forgotten culture in traditional dresses on a beautiful hill with a view on the Kwando River. Step back in time and the massive Baobab trees on the banks of the Kwando River and experience the culture of the Mafwe river people. Elizabeth and her extended family will take travellers through demonstrations of basket weaving, fishing and insights into the way homestead were run. Locally made crafts are also available for purchase.

Authentic Local Crafts (Mashambo Crafts, Mashi Crafts & Ngoma Crafts):

The Zambezi Region (former Caprivi region) is a unique location between Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana that has fostered a very inspired and creative craft industry. Ample availability of wood, clay and makalani palm leaves affords the local potters, woodcarvers and weavers excellent opportunities to hone their skills. Some of the markets to visit in the area are the Mashambo Craft Centre (within the Bwabwata National Park) and the Mashi Craft Centre (in Kongola) wick and choose from a wide variety of locally hand-crafted goods.

Ngoma Craft Centre is situated near Ngoma which is the border between Namibia and Botswana. There is a long history of craftwork in the area and the centre provides the community with an outlet for their products. All the ladies that work at the centre are self-taught and produce a variety of crafts including weaved baskets and mats, pottery and woodcarvings.

Horseshoe:

Horseshoe, as the name suggests, is a large perennial oxbow lake on the Kwando River system which is one of the prime wildlife sites in the west of Bwabwata National Park. The lake is accessible by 4x4 only and offers spectacular herds of elephant which come down to the water to drink. It's a favourite spot for safari operators who can almost guarantee elephant sightings to their clients. Ancient leadwood trees, white sand beaches with breeding herds of elephant as well as other big game entrance visitors. Water lilies cover the marsh and attract a wide range of riverine birds. Nambwa Campsite is the only accommodation available within the vicinity of horseshoe. However, a number of operators have established themselves in Mayuni Conservancy, directly opposite horseshoe and offer boat cruises in the area.

Kwando, Chobe and Lynanti River systems:

Rising in the central Angolan highlands, and east of the Kunene River, is the Kwando River, which forms the boundary between Namibia, Angola and Zambia. After making its way through the Caprivi Strip, it flows along the border of Mudumu National Park, before disappearing into the Okavango River in one direction and breaking up into a labyrinth of channels, islands and oxbow lakes, to form the vast Linyanti Swamps in another. Due to the late flooding within this area (April to June); this unique water system becomes the lifeblood for communities and wildlife. Local fisherman skillfully pole their mokoros (dug-out canoes) as they cast their nets for tilapia, bream, nembwe, squeaker or barbel on the Kwando River. The Kwando riverine is noted for its wildlife, birdlife and diverse fishing. Most lodges and campsites within this area offer an array of activities for travellers to choose from.

Mudumu National Park:

Mudumu is a pocket sized National Park on the Kavango River and is one of the gems of the National Parks system in Namibia. It was established in 1990 and covers an area of approximately 1 000km². Mudumu National Park has a combination of dense vegetation and abundant water that is home to a prolific birdlife. An annual count is conducted nesting African Skimmers, a favourite of the bird twitches; more than 400 bird species have been recorded in Mudumu. The flood plain drive of some 30km is easily accessible by sedan vehicles and is a favourite outing for travellers over-nighting at the lodges just outside the park. The western section of the park is accessible by four wheel drive only. Camping is available within the park; however, tourists need to book through the MET office at the park.

Nkasa Lupala National Park (Mamili National Park):

Nkasa Lupala National Park (formerly known as Mamili National Park), is centred around the Nkasa and Lupala islands on the Kwando/Linyanti River in the south-western corner of the Zabezi region. Botswana lies to the west, south and east, and Sangwali village to the north. Nkasa Lupala holds the distinction of being the largest wetland area within a conservation area of Namibia. This protects all the flora and fauna living within its complex channel of reed beds, lakes and islands that form the Linyanti swamps

During the dry season the islands can be reached by road but after the rains 80% of the area becomes flooded, cutting them off from the mainland. The benefit is that the area remains a sanctuary for birds, with more species of birds recorded here than anywhere else in Namibia. In those dry winter months, huge herds of elephant congregate on these islands. The unfenced park forms a trans-boundary link for wildlife migration between Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. Nkasa Lupala is part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.

The Arid Eden Route:

Offering an unexpected, otherworldly experience both in its landscape and the rewards it brings travellers, the Arid Eden Route stretches from Swakopmund in the south to the Angolan border in the north and includes the previously restricted western area of Etosha National Park, one of Namibia's most important tourist destinations with almost all visitors to the country including the park in their travel plans.

The Arid Eden Route also includes well-known tourist attractions such as Spitzkoppe, Brandberg, Twyfelfontein and Epupa Falls. Travellers can experience the majesty of free-roaming animals, extreme landscapes, rich cultural heritage and breathtaking geological formations. As one of the last remaining wildernesses, the Arid Edin Route is remote yet accessible.

Top 5 reasons to visit:

  • Visit one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs (rock art) in Africa at the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site;
  • Learn more about Namibia's traditional cultures such as Himba and Damara;
  • Visit ancient riverbeds, craters and a petrified forest on your way to an oasis in the desert "" the Epupa Waterfall;
  • See desert adapted wildlife such as elephant, rhino and lion in its natural environment;
  • See how communities take ownership of their natural assets in communal conservancies.

Interesting facts:

  • "Epupa" is a Herero word for "foam", in reference to the foam created by the falling water;
  • In the Himba culture a sign of wealth is not the beauty or quality of a tombstone, but rather the cattle you had owned during your lifetime, represented by the horns on your grave;
  • The longest exposed tree at the petrified forest is 45m long;
  • The desert-adapted elephants of the Kunene region rely on a little as nine species of plants for their survival while in Etosha they utilise over 80 species;
  • The Brandberg has Namibia's highest peak at 2574m and is home to the White Lady, a San Painting. The White Lady was first believed to be Isis, as known from artworks of Pharonic Egypt, and that the figure bore resemblance to artworks of the classical Mediterranean cultures. The painting is in fact not of a lady, but is a medicine man or shaman of importance and is a fine example of San Rock Art;
  • The western gate of Etosa, known as Galton Gate, is named after the British explorer Sir Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) who travelled extensively central and northern in Namibia from 1850 to 1852. The gate was previously closed to the public, but now gives access to a previously restricted area of the park;
  • The circular "Fairy Circles" in the Marienfluss is actually caused by termites that kill the grass by eating the roots, causing the water to stay in the ground for years at a time. The termites literally swim in watery sand, sustained by water and whatever organic material is left there until the next rain and the next round of new annual grass. Plants stick their roots just inside the circle to get water, but not far enough to tempt the termites, causing barren circles on the landscape;
  • The Dorsland Trek is the collective name of a series of northwards explorations undertaken by Boer settlers from South Africa towards the end of the 19th century and in the first years of the 20th century. One of these groups entered Angola by crossing the Cunene River at Swartbooisdrift. The formed an entirely closed community which refused integration into Angola, they returned in the 1970's when the country became independent;
  • The Etosha Pan covers a total area of is 4 730 square km and developed through tectonic plate activity over about ten million years;
  • The elephant population in Etosha has grown substantially over the years. In 1954 as little as 26 elephants were counted while there are over 2 500 today. This is largely as a result of a series of boreholes that were drilled to attract them from surrounding farms.
  • Elephants communicate via infrasound - sound below our threshold of hearing;
  • The Welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis) is a gymnosperm relict plant endemic to the Namib Desert. Some individual plants are estimated to have lived for over a millennium;
  • The Kunene is Namibia's most rapidly flowing river and its ancient course is thought to have been connected to the present day Okavango and Zambezi Rivers. It also hosts over 80 different fish species.

Suggested Experiences

Windhoek to Galton:

This national road sweeps through well settled farming country. The landscape includes savannah thornveld with numerous game farms and early German settler towns with well-developed infrastructure. Novelties en-route include German delicatessens, coffee shops and locally run butcheries that source delicious game and beef from surrounding farms. The excellent highway offers glimpses of families of warthogs foraging on the road verge and quick views of kudu, giraffe and other game as you pass by.

Welwitchia Experience:

This route links Namibia’s premier coastal holiday destination, Swakopmund with the wildlife spectacle of Etosha National Park. The well-maintained gravel road passes by some of themost spectacular landscapes and attractions in Namibia. Dominating the landscape enroute is the towering Sptizkoppe and Erongo mountains. The mountainous in south attract both mountain bikers and rock climbers while less adventurous hikers can experience this wilderness at a more leisurely pace.

Himba Cultural Experience:

This routes links oasis settlements and springs through a part of the Himba tribal heartland. Palmwag is a cluster of ancient palm trees under which small herds of elephants congregate in the river vegetation. Local tour operators also offer walking tours to find the last free ranging black rhinos in the area. Further north, the six fountains that resulted in the establishment the historic settlement of Sesfontein brings life the arid Hoanib valley.

North West Trail:

This route links up the western gate of the spectacular Etosha National Park and its teaming wildlife with another Namibian highlight the two major waterfalls on the Kunene River. The route traverses Mopani shrubland while skirting the Etosha Park fence for some sixty kilometres. Opuwo, the main center in the Himba heartland and is a necessary refuelling and supply stop, before heading off into the rugged mountain complexes of the Baynes and Zebra Ranges. The experience takes you all the way to the Epupa waterfall, one of the truly unspoilt natural wonders of Africa.

The Four Rivers Route comprises an unusual water ecosystem that gives life to rich and rare wildlife, birds and culture, while being affordable to visitors who feel nourished in its presence. The name is derived from the four river systems that flow through the Zambezi (formerly the Caprivi) and Kavango regions, namely the Zambezi, Okavango, Kwando and Chobe Rivers. The unusual water ecosystem created by the rivers is one of Southern Africa's best kept secrets and is home to over 430 bird species, free-roaming wildlife and numerous culturally rich villages and attractions.

This route stretches from Nkurenkuru in the North East through the Zambezi Region (former Caprivi Strip) to one of southern Africa's most spectacular attractions, the Victoria Waterfalls.

Top 5 reasons to visit:

  • With over 430 bird species, the area is one of the most attractive destinations for birding in southern Africa;
  • Experience the rich culture of the region at the Mbunza and Mafwe Living Museums. These living museums help to sustain the livelihoods of local people while acting as a traditional school that preserves local culture and traditions;
  • Buy authentic, hand-made craft from local crafters. The Khwe crafters at the Bwabwata National Park are renowned for their unique style of basket weaving found nowhere else in southern Africa;
  • Take part in a range of river activities in the largest water ecosystems in southern Africa. Activities include fishing, birding, hiking, game viewing and canoeing; and
  • See how communities protect their resources through communal conservancies and community forests. In one of Africa's greatest success stories, communities are managing and benefiting from their natural resources through 17 registered conservancies covering close to 5,000 square kilometres.

Interesting facts:

  • An Omarumba is an ancient, dried-up river bed found in the Kalahari sands of Namibia. The Omarumba Omatako is found in the Kavango region south of the Okavango River towards the Kalahari Desert. These river beds provide occasional standing pools during the rainy seasons and are often home to a unique type of vegetation, different to that of the surrounding plains.
  • Fort Doppies, 32 Battalion, Omega I and Omega III are all historic military in the Zambezi and Kavango regions. These bases were used by the South African Defence Force to fight the war on independence. In 1991, Namibia gained its independence and by 1993 most of these bases and operations were disbanded.
  • Around 10,000 years ago the Kwando River merged with the Okavango Deltawhen the land surface between the two courses was raised through tectonic activity. Today the Kwando flows into a swamp land known as the Linyanti Swamp.
  • The Chobe River is l river course that flows in two opposing directions. It flows west towards the Linyanti swamps but also east towards the Zambezi River.
  • The vaKavango people consists of five kingdoms;, Kwangali, Mbunza, Shambyu, Gciriku and Mbukushu. The line of decent is only traced through the females. This means that should a man hold a hereditary position, which is passed on to his sister's eldest son and not his own children.
  • Nyemba is the word derived by the vaKavango people for immigrants and is largely referred to Angolan immigrants who moved down to the Kavango and Zambezi regions during the war to trade.
  • Until the end of the 19th century the Caprivi region was known as Intenga and was under the rule of the Lozi kings. Later it formed part of the British Bechuanaland Protectorate (known as Botswana today).
  • The Caprivi Strip (now known as the Zambezi Region) was named after the German Chancellor General Count Georg Leo von Caprivi di Caprara di Montecuccoli.
  • In 1890 Germany laid claim to the British-administered Island of Zanzibar but the British objected. This was settled at the Berlin Conference in 1890 when Queen Victoria acquired Zanzibar and Germany acquired the territory that is now known as the Zambezi Region.
  • In 1958 the Zambezi rose to the highest levels ever recorded. It flooded the entire eastern portion of the Zambezi Region pouring into a broad depression located south of Katima Mulilo and thereby creating a lake known as Lake Liambezi.

SUGGESTED EXPERIENCES:

Kavango Open Africa Route

The Kavango Open Africa Route, is based on the riverine landscapes of the Kavango, its people, birds and wildlife. The route roughly stretches 383km from Nkurunkuru in the west to Mohembo in the east and also provides access to the Mahango and Khaudum National Parks on the border of Botswana. The beauty of this area was only discovered by explorers in the late nineteenth century and is still being discovered by tourists today. The route off ers an array of attractions and a diversity of culture and is a renowned birding hotspot. Other attractions that form part of the experience include the Mbunza Living Museum, Khaudum National Park, Nyangana Mssion, Andara Mission, the Okavango River System and Popa Falls as well as Mahango National Park.

Caprivi Wetlands Paradise Experience

The Caprivi Wetlands Paradise epitomises the appeal of Africa with wildlife and communities living side-by-side. The area is renowned for its successful Community Based Natural Resource Management programme that allows communities specific ownership rights and allows them to protect and sustainably utilise their wildlife and other natural resources. This can be seen first-hand when crossing the Okavango River into the Bwabwata National Park. Travellers will immediately realise this is not a typical park as approximately 5,000 people live in the park and derive benefits from its natural resources. It is not until you reach the Kwando River with its more densely vegetated riverine woodlands that you are likely to spot herds of elephant. The area is also known as Namibia’s birding paradise. It has varied habitats including broad-leafed and acacia woodlands, mopane forests, riverine forests, grasslands and fl oodplains, and therefore boasts more than 400 species of birds.

Four Courners Experience

The Four Corners Experience stretches from the Ngoma border post, through Chobe National Park in Botswana to the mighty Victoria Falls that are shared by two countries, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Along the way travellers will have glimpses of the Zambezi River before reaching the Chobe River as it merges with the Zambezi at the confluence. Seeing the abundant wildlife of the area come to drink at sunset on the banks of the Chobe River is one of the best experiences southern Africa has to offer. The final destination on this experience is the famous Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), Africa’s biggest spectacle of water and a sight not to be missed. Anyone with a passion for wildlife, birds and fishing will return home with a thousand pictures and wealth of memories to share. The main attractions that form part of this experience include Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls and the Four Corners Baobab on Impalila Island.

The Omulunga Palm Route is not only the gateway to Angola but also links the remote and desolate northwest region (the Arid Eden Route) to the lush water ecosystem of the Four Rivers Route (Kavango and Zambezi regions). This route showcases Namibia's heartbeat. It is located along the northern border of Namibia and stretches from Ruacana in the west to Nkurenkuru in the east and is named after the distinctive palms that accent the desolate landscape, called Omulunga in Ovambo. The route is the quintessential oasis for weary travellers and serves as a practical stop-over for visitors to refuel and restock in the heart of a bustling African community.

With vibrant colours, sights and sounds, travellers will enjoy lapping up the traditional and contemporary Ovambo culture and steal a glimpse into the local tribal royalty. The area echoes a strong liberation history which, if delved into, will fascinate history buffs, while nature lovers can enjoy the abundant wildlife and wilderness in the world-famous Etosha National Park.

Top 5 reasons to visit:

  • Explore Namibia's modern history with an array of war museums and shrines commemorating those who struggled during the War on Independence;
  • Discover a unique culture, traditional villages, royal homesteads, bustling African markets and hear the drums beat in Namibia largest city;
  • Gain a different perspective on Etosha National Park by entering through the north-eastern gate at King Nehale (within King Nehale Conservancy);
  • The Oshakati open market is said to be the biggest in the country and is an important part of the town's economic infrastructure. The open market is a cultural experience in its own right as travellers can buy anything from Mopani worms, traditional beer, local crafts and artefacts, and many other local delicacies; and
  • Visit one of Africa's largest waterfalls outside Ruacana and discover how the Kunene Rivers is harnessed to generate renewable energy for Namibia.

Interesting facts:

  • The Cuvelai-Etosha River Basin is located in the north central regions of Namibia, including Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto. The Cuvelai drainage system originates in Angola, however most water travels in shallow ephemeral watercourses known as oshanas.
  • "Efundja" is the word used for major floods during the rainy season when travellers can find the oshanas covered with water.
  • In 2012, scientists found over 5-billion cubic meters of water within the Cuvelai-Etosha Delta (Northern Namibia and Angola). The aquifer is said to be more than 200m deep but could supply water for a further 400 years at present consumption levels.
  • The Oshigambo River (also Ekuma River) links Lake Oponono, Cuvelai Delta with the Etosha Salt Pan. This river is an ephemeral river and rarely carries surface water.
  • Natural salt pans are flat expanses of ground covered with salt and other minerals. Usually shining white under the sun, these pans are found in deserts. Namibia contains a vast array of salt pans, the largest being the Etosha salt pans that are protected as part of the Etosha National Park. Other salt pans in Namibia include Omuntele Salt Pan in the Oshikoto region, Otjivakunda and many others.
  • In about 1550, the people referred to collectively as the "˜Aawambo' moved southwards from the Great Lakes in East Africa and settled between the Kunene and Okavango Rivers. Today, the area is known as Owambo Land (north central Namibia) and represents nearly half of the total population of Namibia.
  • In the pre-colonial structure of Owambo society there was a king and his headmen in each of the seven Owambo groups (Ondonga, Uukwanyama, Ongandjera, Uukwambi, Ombalantu, Uukwaluudhi and Uukolonkandhi). The king always had the last say.
  • In 2005, the first female chief was elected into the Uukwanyama tribe.
  • The Etosha Pan covers a total area of is 4 730 square kilometres and developed through tectonic plate activity over about ten million years.

SUGGESTED EXPERIENCES:

Roof of Namibia

The Roof of Namibia Experience links the Kunene River at Ruacana Falls with the Okavango River along the Angolan border. The route leads through numerous pans and flooded channels known as oshanas that move southward from Angola towards the Etosha salt pan. Travellers will enjoy the feeling of a rural landscape interspersed with a bustling urban landscape. Those with a keen interest in Namibia’s recent history can enjoy attractions such as the Outapi War Museum, Ombalantu Baobab Museum and the Eenhana Shrine.

King Nehale Experience

The King Nehale Experience takes travellers along a journey through the colourful towns of Oshakati, Ongwediva and Ondangwa and the starkly contrasting rural villages that surround it. Travellers will have the opportunity to visit the Omugulugwombashe National Monument, Uukwaluudhi Royal Homestead, Uukwambi Kings Monument, Oshakati Open Market, Ongula Traditional Homestead, Nakambale Museum and Lake Oponono and experience the abundant wildlife of the Etosha National Park.