Namibia Scientific Society Tour Wonderful Zambezi: 2–12 June 2023

  • 10 July 2023

by Ellen Gudde

Fourteen active and jolly pensioners (13 ladies and one gentleman) had the great privilege to join the Tour Wonderful Zambezi presented by the Namibia Scientific Society in collaboration with Sense of Africa. Tour leader, Armin Jagdhuber, confidently, and with much humour, took tight control, though he showed some sympathy when early morning departure times were considered. The always helpful assistant, Jose Loch, was a great support.

The tour introduced participants to the history and culture of the people of the Zambezi region; visited the age-old, and still active, mission stations; allowed participants to understand more about the border/bush conflict and more recent history and politics. We also experienced the hospitality of Namibians and their accommodation establishments. The company on the bus provided for interesting discussions and mirth; so did Margret’s unlimited supply of cookies, biltong and other goodies that were distributed by other participants.

The tour overnighted at well-established lodges, known for their Namibian hospitality:

  • Roy’s Rest Camp, with its quirky surroundings and bush chalets, the sounds of the bush, very “gemütlich” and with an obligatory braai;
  • Divava Okavango Resort and Spa, (3 nights), along the Kavango River; idyllic and romantic, with a sundowner river cruise and a walk on the white sands of Popa Falls; good food, even though the lunches seemed somewhat lacking;
  • White Sands, for lunch – the best pizza in the region – and to see the Popa Falls from their best side;
  • Namushasha River Lodge Gondwana Collection, (2 nights), at the Kwando River with its rustic chalets along the water’s edge; and excellent food;
  • Zambezi Mubala Camp Gondwana Collection. (2 nights), – an exquisite “younger” Gondwana lodge, modern in design, along the mighty Zambezi with access by boat; and very good food
  • Nunda Lodge, for lunch on a beautiful stoep, complements of Namibia Scientific Society;
  • Hakusembe River Lodge Gondwana Collection, (1 night), along the Okavango River with a beautiful “garden” atmosphere, a wonderful buffet dinner and breakfast; and finally
  • Ghaub Lodge, in the Otavi Mountain Region, “heavy” with Rhenish mission station history, and colonial and WW1 history, and now a guest farm with beautiful “old” farmhouse-style rooms.

Lodges along the river edges offered relaxing sunrise/sundowner cruises showing off the prolific birdlife, hippopotamus, crocodiles and otters, as well as rock and water monitors. An early morning champagne cruise on the Okavango River provided much amusement when Angolan time (daylight saving) messed with Usch’s and Undine’s cell phone alarm clocks – Undine, shocked by her own lateness, arrived with all her luggage for the boat cruise, and Usch missed the early morning boat – to be transported by special delivery, complements of Hakusembe Lodge, to the group already on the river.

We travelled along interesting roads with constantly changing vegetation and “new” trees for Luise to identify. It was easy to identify the diagnostic Silver Cluster-leaf (Terminalia sericea) and the Kalahari Omupanda (Lonchocarpus nelsii) on the Omitara to Otjinene road. From Otjinene to Grootfontein and beyond the palms (Hyphaene petersiana) deposited and “planted” on old elephant routes are an interesting characteristic of the landscape. It did not take long for the group to recognize the magnificent and iconic Baobabs (Adansonia digitata) scattered here and there along the trip. Along the “Caprivi strip”, we encountered the Burkea – Combretum woodland, with Terminalia sericea, Kiaat (Ptrerocarpus angolensis), with its beautiful fruit/pod shimmering in the sunlight, the impressive Mangettis (Schinziophyton rautanenii) and Ushivi trees (Guibourtia coleosperma), also known as “false mopane”, which I feel is a very unfortunate name! How can a tree be false? Of course, this refers to the similar look of the leaves to mopane leaves. Pod and fruit-bearing trees were easily identifiable at this time of the year. In Kavango East the Raintree (Lonchocarpus capassa); the Albizia harveyi in full brown pods; and even Acacia nigrescens, which is easily recognized by the knobs on the stem and Acacia erioloba, easily recognized by its earlobe pods, were easy “finds”. After long deliberations Luise identified a beautiful tree at the terrace of Divundu Lodge as the Mobola plum (Parinari curatellifolia) – its berries not yet ripe. We learnt about the “ombe” – Bird plum (Berchemia discolor) with its characteristic herringbone structure on the leaf, and saw the fruit for sale at the Katima Mulilo market. The visit to the same market also introduced us to the many plants (and species of fish) the locals use: e.g. the bulbs of the water lily. Along the waters, we saw the majestic Jackalberrys (Diospyros mespiliformis). Other characteristic trees were the Purple-pod Terminalia (Terminalia prunioides); and various fig tree species and combretum species. A most striking tree in the landscape of the Zambezi remains the Burkea africana, recognized by its striking yellow autumn foliage and its “Pierneef” like (well-known SA artist) characteristic growth. The A35 (Kongola to Katima Mulilo) took us along many rural homesteads, very basic, very neat and clean, free from litter, with sturdy fencing and houses, and only a few visible shebeens! Life in remote rural Namibia is “poor” but seems to be free from the clutter of “civilization”.

We crossed four mighty rivers: The Kavango (Okavango at Rundu) (with a lower water level than usual for this time of the year), the Kwando, the Zambezi and for those who partook in the optional extra excursion to the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the Chobe River with its spectacular wetlands.

The visit to three National Parks reminded us of the great privilege we have to be able to experience nature in such pure form. We saw Impala (Schwarzfersen Impala), Zebra, Kudu, Blue Wildebeest, Lechwe, Tsessebe, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Red Hartebeest, Elephant, Crocodile, Slender Mongoose, Vervet Monkey (Grünmeerkatze), Hippopotamus and a great number of Warthogs – adult and piglets – and 28 bird species in the very short time. Sadly the Mahango Core Area shows severe signs of drought, as the area did not get much rain during the season. The following day our safari experience was continued with an open-vehicle game drive to the Bwabwatha Core Area. We admired the many very young Kudu calves and wondered whether the calving season had changed. Added to our already impressive mammal list from the Mahango Core Area were Bushbuck, Tree Squirrel and Banded Mongoose. A visit to the horseshoe bend in the Kwando River in the Mudumu Park was another spectacular safari experience – it started with the transfer by boat across the Kwando River and then a drive in game viewing vehicles. We could add to our already impressive mammal list the following: Hyena, Buffalo, Giraffe and Chacma Baboon. We learnt about the practice of early vegetation burning to safeguard the grazing, animals and people from wildfires. In fact, along the entire route, we could witness a number of burning sites, the smoke of which resulted in spectacular sunsets. Special sightings of birds included the many different species associated with the proximity of water – the different species of herons and egrets (Striated Heron, Squacco Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Goliath Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Western Great Egret); the stork species (Saddle-billed Stork, Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, African Openbill); great flocks of White-faced Whistling Duck; African Jacana; African Skimmer; the Pied and Malachite Kingfisher; Senegal Coucal; White-fronted Bee-eaters and their nesting sites; lapwings (Blacksmith Lapwing and White-crowned Lapwing); and, of course, the African Fish Eagle.

We saw and experienced history in the north of Namibia!

A visit to the recently re-opened museum at Grootfontein with interesting exhibits on Grootfontein’s history and her people was a welcome stop after the long drive from Windhoek. We were introduced to the enthusiastic manager, Antje Rahn, who also supports the Khoe Living Museum near Divundo. Coffee and cake were offered – and it was delicious!

Armin Jagdhuber introduced us to the history of the Roman Catholic mission stations in the north, and their incredibly difficult beginnings. One cannot but admire the perseverance of the early missionaries in the 1800s. We visited one of the mission stations – Nyangana – a mission station with a clinic. Sadly the church and other buildings were not open for visitors; however, we could admire the old marula trees (Sclerocarya birrea), obviously planted over 100 years ago, and a strangler fig smothering a palm.

From the Divava Okavango Resort and Spa, we visited another mission station, Andara, which houses a school for 1200 children, of which 420 live in the hostel. Vegetables are planted, and animals are kept to supply food to the hostel children. We witnessed youngsters cutting aloe leaves to use to ease the irritation of the consequences of an apparent outbreak of a skin condition amongst the pupils. The knowledge of the soothing/healing characteristics of plants is still there.

The visit to the cemetery at Andara was also most interesting. As the cemetery is not that easy to locate a pupil showed us the way. The cemetery spans over a vast woodland area and has the graves of the many early pioneers, missionaries, children of Dorslandtrekkers, as well as more recently important local people. The cemetery seems to be in regular use. By now everybody on the bus was able to recognize a Baobab – which is also a landmark of the cemetery.

We marvelled at the early “technology” used by the missionaries to create electricity, damming the flow of water of the river, and using a huge wooden water wheel. The system is not in use at the moment. We saw the house which was occupied by Maria Fish, a well-known doctor and ethnologist of the north. Her books on the Mbukushu are most informative. Apparently, she (96 years old) is working on her last book – her life story!

After the Mahango Core Area trip the bus needed urgent repair – an amazing feat was performed sourcing spare parts from Windhoek, 900 km away, and fixing the problem in just one afternoon and a night. The journey could continue uninterrupted!

The Bwabwatha National Park area and Buffalo Core Area featured prominently in the South African bush war, before independence, and much damage was inflicted during those times on wildlife, the environment and the obvious displacement of the people. Evidence of occupation, war, graves and cemeteries and crumbling military infrastructure can be seen everywhere. We wondered about the unnamed graves marked only with circled crosses – most probably the cross represents Christianity and the circle represents eternity. I could not but feel grateful to experience that peace had come to the area; the wildlife has returned and does not fear man and cars, which also suggests that poaching seems to be well under control.

We learned about the many and intriguing agreements and treaties which created the borders of Namibia in the previous century, including the somewhat strange appendage, the “Caprivi Strip”, without any consideration of the consequences on the local populations.

A visit to the Khoe Living Museum 15 km outside of Divundu gave a short, basic, but interesting introduction to the San culture and beliefs. We were amazed to learn that women are acknowledged for doing 90% of the work! Another living museum of interest near Namushasha River Lodge was visited. The vibrant and energetic culture of the Mafwe with their friendly disposition, sturdy houses, interesting musical instruments, weapons and hunting implements was most insightful.

On the road, we learnt more about the secessionist movement just after independence, its consequences and outcome.

Those who opted for the day excursion to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe left at 6 in the morning via a shuttle, across 8 border posts to the impressive and awe-inspiring Victoria Falls; the water level of the Zambezi was high and the haze over the falls very dense and wet from viewpoint 5; however, it was a wonderful experience and sight. Trumpeter hornbill and Chacma baboon were also sighted at the Falls. Travelling to and from the Falls took six hours plus the border crossings; only the ones in the know are able to pass through quickly! Lunch was had at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge – an impressive lodge with the most magnificent view over the vast bushveld, a wonderful waterhole and vultures feeding every day at 13:00 from the scraps of the kitchen. The vultures know that – White-headed Vulture, White-backed Vulture, and Marabu sit in the trees and wait. We saw elephant, sable, impala, zebra and waterbuck on the drive through the Chobe National Park in Botswana.

The harmony of the tour was marred by an incident where a credit card disappeared in the ATM – within minutes criminals had withdrawn €1000 from the account. This serves as a stark reminder to all visitors and tourists to be vigilant and alert at all times. A visit to the crowded police station followed and the incident was solved amicably.

Our wonderful tour was rounded off with a visit to Ghaub, the guest farm in the Otavi Mountains Region. It is a place with ample water, and in former times, with a rich history of the Rhenish missionaries, colonial occupation, and the end of WW1. Sadly not all places of interest could be visited due to the limited time and difficult access. A braai rounded off a successful, interesting and fun-filled tour.

And the bus took us full circle and gave its last gasp at the final parking lot in Windhoek – to be picked up by a mechanic!

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  • Freya LUND
  • 13 Jul 2023
  • 9:57 am

Ein besonderer Dank an Ellen fur diesen Bericht. Ich hebe den auf und markiere alle Baeume etc in meinen Buechern -so bei Carola gesehen. Besonderer Dank auch an Armin und Jose. Und das der Bus "packed up" habe ich garnicht mitbekommen. Wo wuerden wir denn gern 2024 hinfahren?? Vorschlaege herzlichst willkommen

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