East Caprivi in Namibia

A closer look at a map of Eastern Caprivi reveals the unusual feature that except for a 90-km strip of land along the northern border, between the Kwando River and the Zambezi River, the region is completely surrounded by rivers. The Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe forms the border to the west, south and southeast, with the Zambezi, the border with Zambia, to the northeast. Enclosed by these rivers is a landscape which is largely flat, with numerous flood plains, oxbow lakes, swamps and seasonal channels.

The hydrography of the area is particularly interesting because in years of good rain the flow of water in stretches of the rivers can be reversed and water can actually spill into the Okavango Delta system, a completely different (internally draining) watershed. With a map in hand, consider the complexities of the river system, starting in Angola, where the
Kwando River
rises in the Luchazes Mountains. As this river flows southeast it forms the border between Angola and Zambia before it cuts across the eastern end of the narrowest part of the Caprivi Strip (the eastern border of the Bwabwata National Park). Where the river cuts through Namibia (past Kongola) it is known as the
Kwando
. Having cut across the Caprivi Strip, the river once again becomes an international boundary, this time between Botswana and Namibia. At Nkasa Island, the southwest corner of Mamili National Park, the river channel turns sharply to the northeast and becomes known as the
Linyati River
until it reaches just south of
Lake Liambezi
(at one time 100 sq km and an important source of food and water for the surrounding villages; since May 1985, dry and prone to fire); from here it becomes the
Chobe
, which flows into the
Zambezi
at Impalila Island. Confused? It's even worse 'on the ground'.

Kongola and around

At the eastern end of
Bwabwata National Park
the B8 crosses the Kwando River. This area was heavily manned during the fight for independence but game is gradually returning, particularly elephant, as it is an important migration route for water.
Namushasha Country Lodge
provides the best access
into this underdeveloped region. It transports visitors by boat from the lodge to an open 4WD for game drives.

Kongola itself is little more than a petrol station, a few buildings and a series of signs advertising camps and lodges along the road to two of Namibia's least developed national parks:
Mudumu
and
Mamili
. Both of these are set in beautiful countryside, and as with Bwabwata, both are just starting to see the return of substantial amounts of wildlife.

At the B8/D3501 junction in Kongola, by the Engen petrol station, is the
Mashi Craft Market
, www.nacobta.com.na, daily 0900-1600
. Opened in 1997 as a community project, it sells a range of traditional handicrafts from more than 125 makers in 15 different parts of the Caprivi Region. As well as baskets and mats made from the
makalani
palm, there are interesting bracelets, earrings and other pieces of traditional jewellery. Considerable effort has been put into training the craftsmen and women, and there are now also annual competitions, with displays of the finest crafts at the
Omba Gallery
in Windhoek. By spending your money here you can be sure the benefits are going directly to the community.

Lizauli Village
, a short distance from (and supported by)
Lianshulu Lodge
, this is a traditional village in appearance and layout, but one that has been constructed for the benefit of tourists. During the day a group of local people pass their time here waiting to show visitors around and explain a variety of traditional activities. One of the most comforting aspects of a visit here is that you do not feel like an intruder walking around private homes, neither does it have that theme park feel. The complete tour lasts at least an hour, after which you have ample opportunity to ask questions about all aspects of rural life. On a typical visit you will be shown a collection of household objects such as calabashes and chicken coops and how they are used, the girls will perform a couple of dances, the old women will demonstrate basket weaving and the village blacksmith will demonstrate how the farm implements are forged. The tour finishes with the whole group acting out a village dispute with the elders being called upon to resolve the matter. This is an enjoyable introduction to a way of life far removed from that of the tourist from overseas and visitors can contribute further by buying crafts.

Mudumu National Park

Mudumu National Park's charm lies in its simplicity, with no residents, few visitors and increasing numbers of game, though there are some lodges and simple bush camps in the area. The best place to stay is the upmarket
Lianshulu Lodge
in the south of the park, which is a special place. It was the first upmarket lodge in the area and a pioneer for tourism, conservation and community projects.

Mudumu National Park was proclaimed in 1990, just before independence, and covers more than 100,000 ha. In the early 1960s, the Eastern Caprivi had the greatest concentration of wildlife in Namibia. Between 1974 and the early 1980s the region was managed as a private hunting concession and much of the game was shot. Part of the independence process agreed that no pre-independence proclamations would be changed. While this might appear to be good news for the protection of wildlife in Mudumu and Mamili, it is worth noting that the creation of these two parks was against the will of the local people as there was no proper consultation with the villagers. At present the park remains a backwater as far as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) is concerned: there are no gates at the entrance to the park, and you are unlikely to meet anyone from the wildlife department (or indeed any human) as you drive along the few tracks in the park.

Before the park was proclaimed,
Lianshulu
obtained a concession to establish a lodge by the Kwando River. Today the lodge is very much associated with the park, although not for day-to-day management.
Lianshulu
continues to play an active role in getting the local community to benefit from tourism.

Ins and outs

Just east of the Kwando River, turn south off the B8 by the Engen garage at Kongola, onto the C49. You will pass the turning to
Camp Kwando
and after another 30 km you'll see a sign indicating the park entrance, marked also by the lack of subsistence farmers and land cleared for millet fields. It is 40 km from the B8 to the turning for
Lianshulu Lodge
.

Vegetation and wildlife

A large part of Mudumu is dominated by
mopane
woodland, interspersed with camelthorn, Natal mahogany, mangosteen and mixed acacia. Within the woods are depressions that become flooded after the rains. The western boundary of the park is marked by plentiful reeds along the Kwando River, and remnants of riverine forest (with woodland waterberry trees) and grassed flood plains. Soil is primarily kalahari sandveld with belts of clay and alluvium where the forest occurs.

The best game viewing is in winter, from June to October, before the heat and, more importantly, before the rain comes. After the rains, numerous ponds of water form away from the perennial Kwando and sightings become more rare. The animals you are most likely to see are hippo, crocodile, elephant, buffalo, kudu, impala, steenbok, warthog, Burchell's zebra, southern reedbuck, red lechwe, oribi and baboon. If you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of tsessebe, roan, sable, sitatunga, duiker, spotted hyena and lion. Leopard, cheetah and even wild dog have been seen in the area, but sightings are extremely rare. Hunted out were giraffe, eland, wildebeest and waterbuck. There remain occasional poachers (for food), but game numbers are on the increase, regardless. Birdwatchers should be on the lookout by the water for slaty egret, rufous-bellied heron, wattled crane, wattled and long-toed plovers, red-winged pratincole, coppery-tailed coucal and the occasional coppery and purple-banded sunbird. Woodland areas are home to Bradfield's hornbill, mosque swallow, Anrot's chat, long-tailed and lesser blue- eared starlings, broad-billed roller and yellow-billed and red-billed oxpeckers.

Mamili National Park

Created at the same time as Mudumu, this is a seldom visited park tucked in the southwestern corner of Eastern Caprivi, across the Kwando River from Botswana. It is the only area of conserved swampland in the country, roughly 32,000 ha, of which 8% is underwater after significant rains. It resembles the Okavango Delta in Botswana, but with none of the development. The principal attraction is the bird life (an amazing 430 recorded species), but there is plenty for the game viewer too. However, there are no facilities and, a 4WD is essential (thick sand or mud, year round) - or travel on foot. Whenever you visit, you are likely to be the only people in the park. With the right vehicles and experience (ie taking a guide) it can be most rewarding.

Ins and outs

From the B8, travel south along the D3501 through Mudumu until you see signposts for Mamili. There is no entrance gate, but you cross a 45-m-long, 3-m-wide bridge built of mopane branches and you are now in the park. As at Mudumu, the MET has a very limited presence here, though there should be a ranger at the Shisinze Station, signposted off the C39. You can continue via Linyandi to Katima Mulilo. Ask before attempting the drive; the road is not well or regularly maintained.

Remember, the water is in charge here, and the park is usually flooded between May and August, but this depends in part on how much rain has fallen upstream and what the level of water is in the local rivers (as mentioned above, the area has unusual hydro- graphy); in years of good rains the two large islands,
Nkasa
and
Lupala
, are cut off from the main road for months. During the dry season these 'islands' become part of the picturesque undulating landscape.

The park is only accessible by 4WD; whether dry or wet you will require experience to drive in such conditions.
Do not take risks
, if you get stuck it might be a long wait before help arrives. Rangers do patrol the park on the look-out for poachers and squatters, but if you have failed to report to the station it could be several days before you are found. There are no formal camping sites within the park.

Best time to visit

Most rain falls between December and March, which is a good time for viewing birds, but the roads can be very slippery. After the rains there tends to be more wildlife in the park, but that's when most of the tracks are likely to be impassable.

Wildlife

The variety of animals you can expect to see is more or less the same as for Mudumu. The large area of swampland means that you are more likely to see the antelope that favour this environment - red lechwe, sitatunga and waterbuck. If you are lucky you may also see puku, another swamp antelope, which is only found along the Chobe River and is quite rare. Unlike Mudumu, you may also come across giraffe in the woodlands. Overall, the game viewing in this park is unpredictable as a large proportion of the animals still migrate between Angola and Botswana. Poaching and hunting have also left their mark. During the dry season the park has a reputation for large herds of buffalo and migrant elephant. Lion and leopard also live in the park, but you are likely, at best, to see only their spoor.

Katima Mulilo and around

Katima Mulilo, the regional capital of Caprivi, is an ugly town whose position on the banks of the Zambezi River is easy to forget once you're in town. Mimic a lodge owner and use it to replenish and refuel, and then enjoy the picturesque accommodation and plentiful water and land activities in the Eastern Caprivi, before moving on to the fabulous Chobe National Park in Botswana and the Victoria Falls from either Zimbabwe or Zambia. After you have reprovisioned and made plans for your evening's accommodation, make for the pontoon bar at the
Zambezi Lodge, sadly only open 1600-1900, for that beer you promised yourself way back in Rundu.

Ins and outs

Between Kongola and Katima Mulilo the tarred B8 is in good condition. Katima Mulilo airport, served by
Air Namibia
flights, is about 20 km west of town; the Namibian Army's 2nd Battalion has a base and road checkpoint on the way. This was an important military base during the occupation by the South African army (the site is now used by the Namibian army); you can still see the remains of the mortar-proof parking shelters for the South African Air Force beside the runway. If you are arriving by air make sure you have arranged in advance to be collected by your lodge as there are no taxis or buses. There is a card telephone outside the terminal building and a kiosk selling cool drinks. The B8 splits at Katima Mulilo; the Zambezi River is straight ahead; a left turn takes you to Zambia (4 km), right goes through town, then on 57 km to the border with Botswana at Ngoma Bridge.

Your first stop should be
Tutwa Tourism and Travel
, www.tutwa.com
, which has numerous maps and is well informed about excursions and lodges. It can also arrange car hire, day trips over the borders and airport transfers. There's a coffee shop serving light meals and internet access.

Sights

A visit to the
Caprivi Arts Centre
in the centre of Katima Mulilo, between the market and the hospital, is recommended. Crafts on offer include a variety of woven baskets, wooden carvings and lovely clay pots with slender necks, and are brought to the shop by villagers from the surrounding area. Some regional crafts, from neighbouring Zambia and Zimbabwe, are also available. This is a
NACOBTA
project, www.nacobta.com.na, and all profits go direct to the community. Cold drinks are also for sale. Watch out for closing times, however, as the town is on Central African Time in winter (put simply, your watch will say 1600 when they close the doors at what for them is 1700). There's another smaller outlet at the Ngoma border post.

The town has reasonable facilities including 24-hour garages, a post office, pharmacies, a
Bank Windhoek
,
Air Namibia
office, hardware stores, bottle stores and supermarkets, most of which are situated around a central square which is the centre of all activity.

Impalila Island

At the eastern tip of Caprivi, by the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers, is the easternmost outpost of Namibia - Impalila Island. The island sits in the Kasai channel between the Zambezi and Chobe. At its eastern end is another small island, Kakumba, which lies opposite the Botswana town of Kazangula where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia all meet (officially in the middle of the great Zambezi).

Impalila Island and the banks of Botswana at Kasane are home to a number of upmarket lodges, which offer excellent boat excursions, and all have game drives into the remote riverbank area of Chobe National Park to see the abundant game. It's strange to think of these lodges as part of Namibia, but that's what their tax bill (if not their phone number) says. They are accessed by boat from Kasane in Botswana, which is 57 km from Ngoma via the tarred road through Chobe National Park, or by plane to the small airfields at Kasane and on the island. There are customs and immigration facilities on the island. The aquatic
attractions include superb
fishing
and
rapids
(Mombova and Chobe), as well as excursions
up the Indibi River (western end) for game viewing in the papyrus fringed flood plain. There are several fine walking trails on Impalila Island which will take you past
the local villages (picturesque but with associated cattle and rubbish). The stunning location
of this island, with its abundant wildlife, tranquil rivers and beautiful lodges
makes getting here well worth the effort. En route, if you have come by 4WD, it is certainly worth spending some time along the river in
Chobe National Park
 www.botswana-tourism.gov.bw
.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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