JUST an hour’s drive from Victoria Falls, but across a fairly laid-back international frontier (formalities generally take three or four minutes), is one of my favourite spots on earth: Botswana’s Chobe National Park.
Travel with Dusty Miller
In my opinion and experience it has any park we have here in Zimbabwe, the Kruger in South Africa and the Masai Mara in Kenya licked for unspoiled beauty, its vast array of flora and fauna, reasonable entry fees and facilities.
Just outside the actual park and situated on its own extensive estate (including a challenging nine-hole, 18-tee-box golf course) is the Cresta Mowana Hotel which makes a great base for exploring the Chobe/Kasane area, for game-viewing or fishing.
For those who love regional tourism, it is just 10km from the spot where four counties meet: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.
The Namibian bit is interesting because it’s the former war-torn Caprivi Strip which should have connected German South-West Africa (now Namibia) to German East Africa (Tanganyika: now Tanzania) except that the Zambezi River proved unnavigable and World War I put an end to the German Empire.
Berlin swopped its interests in Zanzibar and the strategic rocky North Sea island of Heligoland for the riverine Strip which belonged to Britain.
Cresta Mowana has 114 luxury air-conditioned rooms all overlooking the spectacularly beautiful Chobe River.
From the cool verandah of my room I watched as two stately houseboats moored on an island opposite, which I though odd as houseboats are banned in Botswana.
But not so in Namibia and the island opposite me, not a kilometer, away was in former German territory, where they are allowed.
Only recently I learned that Namibia (until 1990 essentially a fifth province of South Africa) now uses West African time, so if I’d crossed that narrow stretch of water I’d have had to put my Tissot 1853 chronometer back an hour!
I travelled from Victoria Falls to Kasane with Wild Horizons the activities and transfer specialists who can organise almost anything in Vic Falls, Hwange, Chobe/Kasane and the Livingstone area of Zambia.
A day trip, including a morning river cruise and afternoon game viewing drive by 4WD through the 11 700 sq metre park, costs around US$170 per person including drinks and lunch.
But I did an overnight stay as a guest of Cresta Hospitality.
The Chobe National Park was established in 1962 and boasts all the Big Five animals.
Travel literature insists that Chobe contains the largest concentration of elephant in Africa at 125 000 head, but the irrepressibly amiable Zimbabwean-born John Gray, now on his third stint as general manager of Cresta Mowana, says the number now is more like 134 000. (Possibly down to poaching in the Hwange area, I wonder?)
Indigenous to the park is the Chobe bushbuck and the rare puku, a medium-sized antelope, can also be found there; buffalo can be seen in their thousands, as well as giraffe, zebra, lion, leopard, cheetah, kudu, hippos, crocodile and leguaans.
There are approximately 450 species of birds easily spotted and photographed in the relatively compact Chobe National Park, compared with about 650 species in the whole of Zimbabwe.
I have never previously (since 1975) known anyone who needed a visa to enter Botswana but oddly enough I was talking to a father-and-son from Colombia at the A’Zambezi Hotel in Victoria Falls and they did. A few days earlier, 15 Icelandic travel agents had stayed at A’Zam; they could enter visa-less.
To allow more space for pictures, there will be more about Chobe in next Saturday’s NewsDay.
Further details: Tel (267) 6250300; email@example.com