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.
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, 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.