Descending towards the runway through the clouds that have crowded together like minions in their hundreds, I am introduced to my first view of Chobe from the sky; being the Chobe and Zambezi rivers snaking through the verdant trees. As we skim across the runway these trees line the either side of the airplane creating what seems like an impenetrable mass.
This is my welcome to Chobe. Alighting from the airplane I set eyes on Kasane International Airport; neatly basking in the sun. The heat envelops me and I am really glad I have brought a safari hat with me for protection from the sun.
I have always wanted to visit Chobe. I guess it comes largely from growing up watching all the Sunday afternoon wildlife documentaries on TV. Growing up on a farm further fostered an interest in wildlife and nature. To my wonder, we are driven through Chobe National Park on our 45 minute commute to the Lodge which acclimatizes us to the Botswana landscape.
The Lodge that I am staying at is Ngoma Safari Lodge, part of the Africa Albida Tourism group.
This project is owned by the local community and private funding and has been developed with the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust, making sure that the project is a sustainable one. Ngoma is the area where the Safari Lodge is located. The word Ngoma means ‘a drum’. Much like the rhythms of life and the plains of Chobe, this runs as a theme in the area and even as the beat that calls you to dinner at Ngoma Safari Lodge.
Arrival at the the Lodge sets the standard for the rest of my stay. I am greeted by pleasant, joyful staff; leading us through the great wooden doors via the greenery lined passageway to the view of the Chobe River and flood plains that lie below. The panorama is completely captivating. You almost feel like you have been included in a piece of the history of this grand area and it evokes nothing short of awe.
What to expect
I get excited when I think about this place. A thrill flutters in my chest. It is the epitome of old world luxury with warm woods, leather and local art from the community with the convenience of modern accessories and facilities. It is what you think of when you are wanting a Safari experience in Africa. But in your best dreams.
There are eight luxury suites elevated over the plains below with a view that will be etched into your memory for the rest of your days. You can take a swim in your own private splash pool (recommended before the elephants drink the water) while you sip a beverage and watch the colours change from dramatic hues to the muted tones of evening.
The romance of the decor of the suite is only outdone by the palette of colours in the sunset view. Draped mosquito nets make you feel like royalty with beaded bedside lamps adding soft ambient tones to the crisp white of the bedding. Be warned however, that if you lie down on this bed, you do not want to do much beyond staying there. Such is the comfort level!
The rooms have an indoor rain shower which will soak away the weariness of travel as well as a generous bath to soak away the dust from your safari trips in luxury. Try the private outdoor shower for a unique and refreshing experience. Being able to claim you showered outdoors while looking over the plains is quite impressive.
The food at the Lodge is simply luscious. The meals are Ala Carte for lunch and dinner. Whether it be the continental or warm breakfast, lunch on the water in Chobe Park or the impeccably paired wine with delicious dinner, your tastebuds will be all the happier (and perhaps more educated) for having dined here.
What to do
Chobe Game Reserve was established in 1960, before it became a National Park in 1967. It is said that the name originated in the time when there were timber concessions with teak trees which are used extensively in furniture and railway sleepers. The Subiya people working to get the timber to the water would chant ‘Choba, choba‘ which means to push forward. This is how the region and river got its name.
Chobe National Park has the highest concentration of elephants in Africa and has no internal fencing, allowing the game to roam free through to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe side. If you ever want to see large herds of elephants, then Chobe is the right place to be.
The activities available from the Lodge are early morning and afternoon or sundowner game drives. A full day guided game experience where you can choose between a river cruise and game vehicle combination. There are visits to the local community that can be scheduled where art work can be purchased. In fact, some of the produce and artwork at the Lodge is from the local community, showcasing their skills and talents.
River Guided Tour
Experiencing ‘The Land of Giants’ as Chobe is known is a memorable journey. Whether by land or by river. Both have their own benefits. A beautiful sunny day presents itself on our guided river cruise. Johane Mathengu tells us at the start of the cruise that where the Chobe and Zambezi river meet is the point of four countries; being Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The Sedudu Island is the meeting point between Botswana and Namibia which was long part of a debate between the two countries as to who owned it. After going to The Hague it was decided that the island belonged to Botswana due to the channel on the Namibian side being wider and deeper.
We learn about Jackalberry trees that always grow alongside water with their roots being exposed by the ebb and flow of water washing the soil away. These are always a good indicator that water is near while their berries are edible too.
The best time to visit Chobe is said to be in the dry season from May – September. The wet season is March – May.
During the course of the morning we see about 500 elephants in total. I am fascinated by the habits of these giants. They are just as happy existing solo, in bachelor herds or larger maternal herds because they will always spend time together at some point socially. I watch an elephant swishing the vegetation around with his trunk. He is trying to get rid of the soil on clinging to his food so that it doesn’t wear down his molars. An elephant only has 6 set of molars in a lifetime, so they are careful to take care of them.
I learn about Buffalo and their habits as they age, watch a suspicious hippo make a run for the cover of water and a Fish Eagle preen itself in a tree. After a tranquil lunch watching elephants swim across the Chobe River, we make our way round to the conclusion of the cruise.
Land Guided Tour
The afternoon yields more excitement as I witness the ‘Ugly 5’. This is the Marabou Stork, Wildebeest, Hyena, Warthog and Baboon. I also find out about the aquatic Lechwe buck which use their sharp hooves to defend against prey (a lot of the time, this would be crocodiles).
Elephants are recyclers to a degree in that they eat up to 250 kgs food in 18 hours. Only 40% of this gets digested which means 60% becomes dung. The nutrients in this becomes food for Baboons, Red Billed Hornbills and Guineafowl (aka Chobe Chikens).
The fortunate thing, is the Guides selected by the Lodge are knowledgeable in all characteristics of the flora and fauna as well the unique and eccentric attributes that you wouldn’t normally hear about the land they inhabit. Johane proves no different, being able to tell so many stories that have me slack jawed.
Needless to say, my legendary dream of visiting Chobe National Park in Botswana was amply brought to life. And then some. Between having a stellar guide, game viewing, photographic opportunities and knowledge passed my way; combined with an authentic experience of a Safari Lodge that abundantly supplied for my comfort and needs (including having elephants drinking out of my splash pool), I couldn’t have had a more epic dream come true.
Thank you to Africa Albida Tourism and Ngoma Safari Lodge for making my dreams a reality.
Broad brimmed hat