River Safaris in Chobe

carrie-at-indaba-cropped
Carrie Hampton

Carrie Hampton – aka Safari Tart – recounts her trip to Chobe and Zambezi safari lodges

Forgetting an elephant or hippo might be walking the same path – albeit being on a little island in the Zambezi River – caused a shocking moment of realisation. “Oops! Must remember where I am,” I chided myself as a monstrous hippo stomped across the path and crashed into the water.

One of the four suites with plunge pools and enormous beds at Cascades Island Lodge.
One of the four suites with plunge pools and enormous beds at Cascades Island Lodge.

I was at Cascades Island Lodge, with the Zambezi rushing around the circumference of this teeny island, just big enough for four suites with plunge pools and enormous beds.

A Brett McDonald press trip means being treated royally at whatever safari lodge, houseboat or floating restaurant this maverick of the bush has launched. It also means lots of ‘big fish’ stories. All true, of course! Plus copious food, good wines, and sod-the-dawn excursions. We’d take our safaris after other tourists. It doesn’t matter too much around here – along the Chobe-Zambezi River system – as hundreds of bird species and Chobe River elephants are ever-entertaining.

Brett McDonald has such panache and charm that when he says, “come see what I’ve been up to” you jump on the next plane at once.

Cascades Island Lodge was acquired as a run-down fishing lodge, perfect for pre or post-big game safari in Botswana, Zambia or Zimbabwe – all their borders meet near this location in the Zambezi River (although the lodge sits in Namibian waters). Cascades has intimate, rustic charm with high levels of comfort and personal attention.

Brett then showed us Kaza Safari Lodge – a lodge with eight rooms on Impalila Island.

We trundled across this large island to its 2,000-year old baobab tree, atop an ox-drawn pick-up truck.
We trundled across this large island to its 2,000-year old baobab tree, atop an ox-drawn pick-up truck.

We trundled across this large island to its 2,000-year old baobab tree, atop an ox-drawn pick-up truck, driven by veteran commando Charles Matengu. Perhaps he was one of the soldiers who used the tree for target practice.

Brett wooed us with the cosy appeal of Cascades, making sure we’d appreciate the wow factor, uber-chic Chobe Water Villas on the eponymous riverbank, tailored to make the stylish feel at home in a kick-off-your-Gucci-shoes way. Brett will say I’m talking twaddle. He insists he’s a simple bloke, yet oozes the kind of class that captivates the rich and famous who adore his unabashed barefoot bush vibe.

Fixture at Chobe Water Villas comprising twinkling lights woven through a giant weaver’s nest.
Fixture at Chobe Water Villas comprising lights woven through a giant weaver’s nest.

Everywhere is an interpretation of Namibia’s natural elements; wall lights representing springbok horns, ethereal wildlife photographs, screens cut with Himba loincloth designs and strings of wood and beads hanging like a downpour of raindrops. Twinkling lights woven through a giant weaver’s nest particularly entrance.

River cruise on the Chobe.
River cruise on the Chobe.

The visual overload is so carefully curated it makes Chobe Water Villas unique. The lodge offers supreme comfort – if sometimes a little corporate – at a cheaper price than on the Botswana banks. And its view onto Sedudu Island (elephants’ favourite munching ground) and Chobe National Park beyond, makes it the perfect place to be on the Namibian banks.

Boat trips galore. This one was from the Cascades Lodge.
Boat trips galore. This one was from the Cascades Lodge.

At sunset cruise time, when Namibian boats clock into Botswanan immigration to cruise Chobe National Park river frontage, it’s a free-for-all of boats. We waited until the bunfight was over and still saw elephants swimming, over-fed lions and yawning hippo.

These are all Chobe classics and its also why this safari tart thinks Chobe is a must on any southern African safari.

  • Thanks to Airlink and to Brett & Jacqui McDonald for their hospitality.