Zambezi Sep 2021 – Part 2
From RiverDance, we had a leisurely trip to Nkasa Rupara with a wonderful lunch at Camp Kwando. Anke, one of the owners/managers at the lodge, is a true delight – joyful, attentive, passionate, and knowledgeable. It was sad that we were only dropping in, but hopefully, this will be rectified on a future trip. As we had some time to spare and having never visited Mudumu before, we decided to do a quick drive-through before heading further south. Having been told by Anke that the sand was pretty thick after the ranger station (and they had had to rescue tourists only the day before), we stuck to the river road until this point and then headed back to the main road. We did not see a lot of game other than some bokkies and zebras, but it was a pleasant and scenic diversion.
Elephants crossing the C49 (main road to Sangwali) in Mudumu Park
After Sangwali village, the road becomes a sandy track and is a bumpy ride for a lot of the way to the park (and beyond). Arriving at Livingstone Camp we were a little unsure how to check-in as there is little in the way of a reception office. However, after eventually finding someone, we settled into our lovely, shady campsite with views over the Linyanti wetlands. The site has its own lapa area with sink and seating, a fire/braai area and a private toilet and shower. The only drawback is the distance to the park, which although only another 4km, takes around 20 minutes and due to lots of large potholes, is a rock and roll affair! By our final day, everyone’s necks were quite sore.
Kudu in Nkasa Rupara Park
Although we did not see a lot of animals whilst in camp, for me, one of the highlights was the nesting fruit bats in a nearby tree. These much-maligned creatures are of great importance to a balanced and healthy eco-system, both as pollinators and for seed dispersal. Insect-eating bats also control numerous pests that would otherwise cause untold damage to crops. I also think they are super cute! Anyone who fears or dislikes these threatened animals, please learn about how beneficial they are and why they should be protected, not vilified.
Fruit bats at Livingstone Camp
Zebra in Nkasa Rupara Park
Bright and early the following day, we ventured into the park. Initially, we saw the usual suspects – impala, loads of warthog and lots of birdlife. However, just as we stopped a little past Jackalberry Tented Camp, we caught a glimpse of a herd of elephants crossing the water and disappearing into the reeds beyond. We stopped here for a short break as it was so idyllic and tranquil.
Heron flying over the Linyanti wetlands
Our next adventure was a slight misjudgement of the firmness and depth of a water channel, with our vehicle getting stuck halfway across. Thankfully, with two cars and having an array of helpful kit such as sand tracks, tow rope and spades, we were soon pulled back to safety and managed to find a more suitable crossing point.
Returning to camp, thinking that we were unlikely to see much now that the sun was high and temperatures soaring, we suddenly spotted a lioness crossing our track. Shortly afterwards, we saw another lioness appear and watched as they started to stalk a couple of warthogs. After a frantic and dusty charge, the warthogs escaped. A third lioness joined the group, and we watched as they disappeared into the tall grass. We saw this pride on our second day in the park at about the same time. This time the group included 3 juveniles and what looked like a heavily pregnant, collared lioness.
Lioness in Nkasa Rupara Park
On the prowl
Our next trip into the park was at first light. On crossing the rather flimsy looking metal bridge on the way to the park, we startled a hippo sleeping beneath it, causing a good deal of splashing as it made its escape! We discovered the gates firmly locked upon arrival at the park entrance despite sunrise being 25 minutes earlier. Clearly, parklife is slightly more relaxed in this part of Namibia! We did eventually get the attention of a security guard and managed to gain entry.
Sunrise on drive to Nkasa Rupara
Locked park gates!
Although the main section of the park is situated around Rupara Island, we headed south-west towards Nkasa Island. This was a part of the park none of us had been to before. After some hours of driving through stunning scenery (without seeing any other vehicles), we started to cross several small water channels. Initially, these were shallow and firm and provided no significant obstacle. But on reaching a deep crossing, we had a leisurely drink and discussed our options. We decided it was time to abandon the plan and head back. Clearly, the track was not getting any easier.
Soon after turning back, we noticed a helicopter in the distance speeding towards us. It buzzed over our two vehicles relatively low and headed off, only to turn around and fly very low overhead. At this point and with some relief, it was clear that it was a Namibia Defence Force chopper. After buzzing us a third time, they decided to land in the track in front of us, spraying us with dust and grass. Four soldiers armed with automatic weapons hopped out and approached us.
Vulture at dawn
While their actions did not appear menacing, it was quite a frightening experience, and as we were in the lead vehicle, I opened my window and waved to them (one is less likely to be shot if one is friendly?). They approached the car and asked, ‘Where are you coming from?’ It seemed like an odd question as the track only leads to the Rupara Island and Linyanti River/ Botswana border – which we could not have crossed in our vehicles. However, I politely explained our failed trip and detailed where we had spent the night before. I then inquired as to why they had stopped us. Did they suspect we were poachers? They assured us that they were not on an anti-poaching mission but offered no explanation of what they were doing.
At this point, they noticed our friend in the vehicle behind us taking photos (she was sending our location and images to her family back in Windhoek in case we disappeared). This caused some consternation, so the soldiers left us to discuss how ‘no photos are allowed’. As swiftly as they arrived, the NDF flew off, presumably to harass other innocent wildlife and locals.
All in all a bizarre occurrence and not one we would wish on anyone else, especially tourists from overseas. While in the end, it was all reasonably friendly, being approached by armed men in a remote area like this is frightening and unsettling. We are still none the wiser as to their motives. Maybe they were on a routine patrol and bored, so they decided to chat with the tourists!