Popa Falls game drive

The Zambezi Region in the far northeast of Namibia bordering the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park; is the wettest region of Namibia; by a great margin; and makes the area considerably greener than the rest of Namibia. The Zambezi Region incorporates the Caprivi Strip and Kavango Regions.

Consisting mostly of extensive wetlands, floodplains, woodlands, and rivers, like the Okavango and Zambezi. It protrudes from the rest of the country like a finger; shares borders with 4 other countries; namely; Angola, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and owns a very unique history.

This habitat sustains a large variety of animal and bird species. Spectacular herds of elephant, buffalo, red lechwe, and reedbuck are among the highlights of any game viewing experience. But be careful; the waters are also home to five-meter-long crocodiles and families of hippos; which venture onto the floodplains at night to feed.

The parks of the Zambezi Region all form part of the largest Transfrontier Park development on earth; the KAZA (Kavango – Zambezi) Transfrontier Conservation Area which allows for uninhibited movement of large game species. The conservation area consists of a region where the international borders of five countries converge; and includes a major part of the Upper Zambezi basin, the Okavango basin, and Delta. The zone includes the Zambezi Strip (previously known as Caprivi Strip) of Namibia; the southeastern corner of Angola; southwestern Zambia; the northern wildlands of Botswana; and western Zimbabwe.

Zambezi Region attractions

Bwabwata National Park

The Bwabwata National Park; formerly known as the Caprivi National Park; has been expanded to contain the current Mudumu, Nkasa Lupala, Mahangu as well as; the Khaudum National Parks. For traveling purposes, the different areas have retained their names; and Bwabwata is referred to as the stretch of land between the Kavango and Kwando rivers. Bwabwata National Park (pronounced ‘Babatwa’) covers a large portion of the Caprivi Strip. The park is 6,100km² and extends for about 180km from the Kavango River; in the west to the Kwando River in the east. Bwabwata National Park is approximately 200km east of Rundu or approximately 100km west of Katima Mulilo.

The park is a sanctuary to numerous wildlife species; including elephant, buffalo, impala, reedbuck, red lechwe, sitatunga, hippo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, Chobe bushbuck, tsessebe, and sable and roan antelope. Predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs also live in the park. Because there is no surface water; most species congregate along the Okavango and Kwando rivers and at the Malombe and Ndwasa pans in the northeast. The Okavango and Kwando rivers and their associated floodplains are important habitats for wetland bird species; such as wattled cranes and African skinners. Over 400 different types of birds are visible, like kingfishers, herons, and African skimmers.

At present visitors can visit the park on the 190 km section of the B8 highway between Kongola and Bagani; and for the ones with 4×4 vehicles they can veer off the road to visit game-rich areas such as; the “horseshoe bend”; close to Kongola or the “Buffalo Park” along the Kavango River at Divundu.

Mahango Game Reserve

In the eastern part of the park, the road follows a river course. From your slightly elevated position, you will ever so often enjoy fantastic views of the Okavango floodplains below. It is a picture of vast plains of grass and reeds; bordered by patches of shaggy palm trees or towering mighty Baobabs. In the west, on the other hand; the vegetation on the banks of the Mahango is dominated by dense dry forest. You need a 4×4 to follow these subterranean river courses.

Mahango Park Sunset
Mahango Park Sunset

The Mahango Game Reserve is particularly known for its Elephant. You can also spot Buffalo or the shy Sitatunga and Lechwe. Similar riverine vegetation exists in very few other places in Namibia; as most of it has been destroyed by endeavors to till the land.

Mahango is a great favorite with birdwatchers; more species can be found here than in any other park in Namibia. This variation should come as no surprise, as the reserve has one of Namibia’s few wetland habitats; adjacent to large stretches of pristine Kalahari sand veld. Thus many water-loving ducks, geese, herons, plovers, egrets, kingfishers, and various waders occur here; along with the dry-country birds that you’ll find in the rest of Namibia. Okavango specialties like the slaty egret can sometimes be spotted, and for many birds; including the lesser jacana, coppery-tailed coucal, and racket-tailed roller; Mahango marks the western limit of their distributions.

Nkasa Rupara National Park (formerly Mamili)

Nkasa Lupala National Park is in the southwest corner of the eastern Caprivi Strip; bordering the Okavango Delta Kwando area. Lush, green, and wet are three words that are rarely associated with Namibia’s stunning national parks; but they aptly describe Nkasa Lupala (Mamili) National Park. Described as Namibia’s Okavango Delta; the 124 square mile Nkasa Lupala National Park; has the distinction of being the largest wetland area with conservation status in Namibia. A complex network of channels, reed beds, ox-bow lakes, and tree-covered islands; with the focal point on Nkasa and Lupala; two large islands in the Kwando/Linyanti River.

Lush marshes, dense savannah, and high river reeds mean that traveling through the area is a dream for 4×4 enthusiasts. For anyone who relishes the adventures of raw, real Africa; Nkasa Lupala National Park is the place to be. During the dry season, the islands can be reached by road; but after the rains 80% of the area becomes flooded, cutting them off from the mainland. The same bird and animal species as in the Mudumu National Park (see below) occur in Nkasa Lupala.

Mudumu National Park

With four of the Big 5 (no rhino at present); Mudumu National park is one of the few places in Namibia where you will see buffalo. Mudumu is also home to a large elephant population; as the park acts as a corridor as they migrate between Botswana, Zambia, Angola, and Zimbabwe. Dense mopane woodlands are at the core of the park; the combination of forest and water ensuring a wealth of wildlife. Centered on the Mudumu Mulapo fossil river course; this vast 390 square mile expanse of dense savannah and mopane woodlands bordered in the west by the Kwando River; was proclaimed a national park in 1990.

Drive through thick mopane forest and over wide floodplains; past swamps of papyrus and temporary lakes besieged by waterfowl. Immense leadwood trees dwarf you. Encounter the water-loving creatures of Mudumu; the elephants and hippos, the spotted-necked otters and crocodiles, and the rare red lechwe and sitatunga antelope.

The entire eastern Zambezi is a bird-watchers paradise with over 430 species; in fact; it is home to almost 70 percent of Namibia’s total number of bird species.

Watch for the swirl of a fanged tiger fish or the ripples of turtles and water snakes. Don’t miss the sight of the local fishermen; deftly poling their mokoros (dug-out canoes) and casting their nets for tilapia in the light of a setting sun; to the sound of drums and singing from nearby villages. Complete the day by listening to nature’s orchestra; the slosh of life-giving water, the croaking of frogs, the cries of owls, and the throaty chuckles of Mudumu’s hippos.

Access into the park is only possible with a 4×4 vehicle; however; the C49 that bisects the park; is a hard gravel road that is accessible to any type of vehicle.

Khaudum Game Park

Covering 384,000 hectares, and home to wildlife such as; antelope, elephants, zebras, lions, leopards, and much more. Patches of deep Kalahari sand make it difficult to negotiate in places; contributing to the fact that Kaudom remains one of Namibia’s almost untouched areas. Kalahari dunes dissect the park and are overgrown with a dry forest of varying heights. Khaudum Game Park is particularly noted for its population of the very rare African Wild Dog. In the thick bush, wildlife is sometimes difficult to spot; although bird lovers have more than 300 species to admire, including many birds of prey.

For your own safety (in case of a breakdown); this remote park may only be entered in a convoy of at least two 4×4 vehicles.

Popa Falls

In reality, the ‘falls’ are no more than rapids; which ease the Okavango over a gradual drop of four meters. However; the rush of water is audible from a distance; and the multitude of water channels, the rocks, and the lush green vegetation; make for attractive Popa Falls photo themes. Huge old acacias provide shade; a tributary ripples through the park, birds sing in the trees during the day; and at night you hear the deep honking sounds of Hippo in conversation.

Zambezi Region - hippo
Zambezi Region – hippo

The Popa Falls Game Park is a popular stepping-stone for tourists visiting nearby protected areas such as; the Khaudum National Park, the Buffalo and Mahango core areas of the Bwabwata National Park, and a bit further afield; the Mudumu and Nkasa Rupara National Parks in the Zambezi Region.

Best time to visit Zambezi Region

December to March is the peak summertime when it is hot and humid. This is the time for rains too so is great for birders.

April to June is shoulder season when you can still benefit from the lushness of the area at slightly lower prices. The later; the drier it becomes.

June to September is probably the best time for game viewing as the water gets scarcer so animals are easier to find. Temperatures start to rise around September and can get very warm.

October and November are the hottest time with no respite from rain until sometime in November; going into December.