Day 10 – Chobe River

Chobe River Boat Trips

Everyone in all the guides and research (but not Safari Drive, oddly) had said the main reason for being here is taking an evening sunset river trip because this is when the animals come down to the water to drink and so you can get right up close to them in the amazing evening light. It is a photographer’s dream.

However do not camp at Ihaha campsite and expect to be able to do an evening sunset boat trip out of Kasane, because Ihaha is 30km along a very bumpy sandy road which takes an hour to drive without stops. The logistics are impossible. If you do a sunset cruise you don’t get back to shore until dusk and you are not allowed to drive through the park once it is dark. There is no way you can get to Kasane for sunset boat trips and back to camp in time. I am sure for many visitors to this area this would be a major highlight of the trip they would be looking forward to, and to come all that way and then miss it would be a great shame.

Also don’t expect to be able to go to Kasane and hop on a boat. The lodges own the riverbank and any river trips have to be arranged through them. Most of them only do trips for their residents. I tried all the numbers in the Bradt guide and they were out of action or had been moved to be part of lodges or hotels.

In the end I found out that the Chobe Safari Lodge offers trips to people off the street, and I managed to book a morning trip with them but by this point in time all their evening cruises were booked. I would strongly recommend you book a private boat trip ahead of your arrival in Kasane to ensure you get on one, because it really is an amazing experience and on no account come to this area and miss out on this. I very nearly did. I don’t know why Safari Drive didn’t spot this flaw in our itinerary or make bookings on our behalf for the boat trips, but if you travel with them then do get this all sorted out ahead of time, you’d save a lot of cuffuffle for yourself when you’re there. 

However I am very lucky and stumbled across a tourist information office in the centre of Kasane, just to the left of the Spa shopping centre. I went initially to an excellent curio shop where I purchased a warthog and a hippo and then accidentally wandered into the small boy-scout hut structure next door painted with zebra pattern on the outside which is the tourist information office. It doesn’t look much from the outside but inside is one of the most efficient and best-run businesses we had encountered on the entire trip. I walked in and facing me was a woman behind her desk who I assumed was the Tourist Information Office Manager as no one else was there. The shelves behind her were lined with lever-arch files. There were a few tourism posters on the walls, but otherwise it was fairly empty.  I sat down at one of the two visitor chairs and enquired without much hope about the possibility of an evening sunset cruise. Within minutes she was on the telephone and had us booked on a trip which would depart at 3.30pm from the Cresta Mowana Lodge and get back after sunset. She wrote out a carbon-copy voucher that would admit us into the lodge and she strongly recommended we get something to eat and drink at the lodge before departing on our boat trip because she said it was one of Kasane’s best hotels.  And she was right. I highly recommend you visit the Tourist Information Office in Kasane and meet one of the most professional and efficient business people I had met in Botswana, and I’m really delighted that we found her or we’d have missed out on one of the best highlights of our trip. Our receipt gave the details of this terrific travel company as being: JEI Investments & Tours, jeilatravel@yahoo.co.uk, 6250131

Cresta Mowana Lodge

I took the Tourist Information Office Manager’s advice and went straight to the Mowana lodge and found a fantastic hotel built around a wonderful tree, with the most amazing landscaped swimming pool right next to the river. It was really very lovely. OK it wasn’t’ wilderness bush and it wasn’t a small Husband and Wife-run exclusive lodge, but it was fantastic value, brilliantly located and very nicely done. If I had a criticism of Safari Drive they seem to be a bit blind to the ‘middle range’. Within our albeit limited budget range they offered me Ihaha or a lodge in Zim  – all or nothing. Mowana Lodge offers something lovely in the middle.

However Kasane’s fantastic Mowana Lodge hotel was also in my price range and although it might be a Cresta hotel (so big and more impersonal than other places I’d stayed) I would still highly recommend it as very nice middle range accommodation in a superb location for boat trips. If you just fancy a day by a swimming pool in an idyllic location by the river this place has got the best swimming pool we saw in Botswana. It would have made a very lovely third night in the area if we had known about it. I enjoyed a lovely drink sitting at the poolside bar, basking in the lovely view and relaxing atmosphere before walking down the lovely decking and steps to the riverside jetty at 3.30pm.

Chobe River Sunset Boat Trip from Cresta Mowana Lodge, Kasane
 

I got on a boat that could take about 14 people, joined by four South Africans. They were all big but one bloke in particular was huge. They all sat at the front, presumably to try and get the best view because they seemed very reluctant to move back. The rest of the guests who joined the boat were American. When we set off the weight of the Africans at the front was so much that the boat was tipping forward too much which in turn was creating a large spray. The boat driver – guide had to ask the biggest chap to move to the back to balance things out. Who ate all the pies?!

The boat set off on a stunning and remarkable experience from start to finish and I absolutely loved every second of it. Initially the thrill of simply being on the water and getting to see the Chobe River and the riverbank, which we’d been driving up and down and now knew every loop, was enormously rewarding. The perspective from the riverbank had been limited to whatever vista a corner or bend would offer you, but from the river itself it felt like you could see much more, like an aerial view. As soon as you broke away from the shackle of land it suddenly felt like you were seeing this place properly, as how it was meant to be seen. It was stunning. The next thing was the light itself, the evening light made everything brilliantly saturated in colour, the river deep blue, the trees on the bank brilliant green, it was very beautiful and it really is a photographic highlight to a trip to Botswana. We coursed along the river through the channels and by islands of lush Hippo Grass. And the animal and Game viewings were the best of the entire trip.  We saw Water Monitors mating. Collosal crocodiles opened their jaws and bared their yellow mouths filled with their white broken-glass teeth ready to tear flesh, with their enormous scaled yellow green bloated bodies. A troop of acrobat baboons skipped and flick-flacked along the river bank to where the elephants had been, and sorted through the elephant poo to find the undigested rich pickings left for them.

Bee eaters and Pied Kingfishers flashed their colours while African Darters hung themselves out to dry. Cranes and Giraffes loped on long legs through the shallows. Great herds of buffalo grazed on the lush islands, having bravely taken their young through the crocodile infested water.

Great herds of Elephants came bursting through the dust cloud over the raised river bank down to the water to drink and play. They arrived tentatively in their matriarch-led groups, tippy-toed and apologetic, and politely exchanged greetings with the other Ellies who were already there, swapping calling cards and demonstrating a clear social hierarchy with a strict etiquette. Once initiated to the river bank gathering they didn’t hesitate for long before throwing caution to the wind and charging into the water, like giggling elderly aunts who have had too much sherry. It was like they had all come here to take part in a great Mela, as if it were the Annual Women’s’ Institute Conference held on the banks of the Ganges. There was clearly a lot of gossip and catching-up with old friends, just less homemade strawberry jam. It felt like an ancient meeting place and conclusion to a hard journey, a huge tangible relief, a place of pilgrimage, thirst-quenching, dipping, plunging, bathing, and cooling in water that was more nectar than H2O.

The boat pulled us almost within an arm’s reach as we sat and watched these magnificent creatures reach the conclusion of their long hard journey across the desert wilderness of the Chobe inland to reach this shore. They drank and drank, turning sun-bleached bodies slick and black. They gurgled and gushed and splashed and sank their great hot bodies into the river and squirted water over each other. Babies with siblings and their mothers, other females, Matriarchs calling the shots and Bulls at the back, we watched them come into the river and swim right past us to the islands in the middle. They held their trunks up high like tourist group guides who carry umbrellas to show their group of followers where to go. I felt very humble.

On the river banks their great granite-like bodies silhouetted against the dust and on the islands they silhouetted against the most beautiful sunset. The entire expedition to Botswana had been worth it just to have witnessed those Elephants on that river that evening. And to think I had so nearly missed this whole experience, but for the Tourism Information Office in Kasane.

One Response to “Day 10 – Chobe River”

  1. Joyce Chika Says:

    Thank you for your article.
    This is the lady in the boy scout office. I have had 4 South African clients because of your article.

    I would love to host you again.

    I am now operating a fleet of 2, 4×4 game drive vehicles and a sixteen seater boat. Thank you for your support and a good publicity.
    Will promise to be an ambassodor of my country.

    See you on your next safari

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