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Katima Mulilo

Established originally by the British in 1935, Katima is the regional capital of the eastern Caprivi. It replaced the old German centre of Schuckmannsburg, which now consists of just a police post, a clinic and a few huts. Collectors of trivia note that the taking of Schuckmannsburg, on September 22 1914, was the first allied occupation of German territory during World War I.

Katima is a large town with good facilities, beautifully placed on the banks of the Zambezi. There is an open central square, dotted with trees and lined with useful places like the Katima Supermarket, the Ngwezi bottle stall, and the Ngwezi post office.

Recently, as western Zambia has started to open up, Katima has taken on the role of frontier town: a base for supplies and communication for the new camps on the Upper Zambezi river in Zambia. It has just a little of the wild-west air that Maun used to have a decade ago, when it was remote and the hub of the Okavango’s safari industry.

Getting organised

The square also doubles as a stop for buses into Katima. For those needing car repairs, Katima Toyota is next to the Caltex Garage, just off the square. Just behind the square you will find the Air Namibia office, and the Butchy-Butchy Bakery which sells good fresh bread.

The Windhoek Bank here even has an auto teller, but don't expect foreign credit cards to work. Note that none of the banks in Katima are good at dealing with Zambian currency; they usually refuse to either buy or sell Kwacha. For this you will usually need to cross the border and exchange currency with local traders on the Zambian side.

Getting there

By air

About 18km west of town is the M’Pacha airport. This receives the odd private flight for Lianshulu or Namushasha, and several services a week from Air Namibia. These call at Windhoek, Mokuti Lodge, and Katima Mulilo, before continuing to Victoria Falls. Flights from Katima to Mokuti cost N$528, to Windhoek N$780 and to Victoria Falls a bargain N$364.

By road

Katima is about 69km from the Ngoma border post, and with only one road through the Caprivi Strip, hitching, at least as far as Grootfontein or Kasane in Botswana, is relatively easy. Lifts to Victoria Falls and Etosha have also been reported.

The NamVic shuttle bus stops at the truckstop at 09.30 on Friday on its way to the Falls, and at 15.30 on Sunday on its way back to Windhoek. Book in Windhoek: tel: 061 248185; fax: 061 248185; cell: 081 124 7297. Also see page 107 for more details.

To and from Zambia

To reach the Zambian border, continue west past the Zambezi Lodge until the tar turns left towards Rundu. Instead of following it, continue straight on to a gravel road for about 6km, passing the (unpleasant) rubbish dump. The border post here at Wenella opens 06.00–18.00 every day.

Sesheke, the small Zambian settlement near the border, is split in half by the Zambezi. Either side makes Katima look like a thriving metropolis in comparison. Namibian dollars can usually be changed into Zambian Kwacha here (try the green building with the Coca-Cola sign, opposite the Chuma Kweseka grocers), before continuing on the long gravel road north to Ngonye Falls and ultimately to Mongu.

Where to stay

Zambezi Lodge (27 twin/double rooms) PO Box 98

Zambezi Lodge is a few hundred metres off the main road as it enters Katima from Ngoma. It is the area's best hotel, boasting a swimming pool, restaurant and even a floating bar (which closes lamentably early).

Flame trees and bougainvillaea line the lodge’s drive, while to your right is the town's golf course. Inside, the hotel is bright, efficient and has expanded considerably since it began. It caters mainly for visitors who stop for a night, and though the service at its open-air restaurant is sharp and attentive, its chefs seem too used to mass catering to produce anything outstanding. But there’s always a swim in the floodlit pool, or even a sauna, to make you feel better.

The rooms are spread out east in a long row along the river. The nearer rooms have been refurbished in a modern, quite German, style. Tiled floors and walls throughout, en-suite toilet/shower, basic air-con, minimalist desk and chair, direct-dial phone and tea/coffee-making facilities. They are quite large and comfortable, with a wide double patio door overlooking the river. Family rooms are available, but of a much lower standard. We are assured that they are due to be refurbished soon.

The Zambezi Lodge is pleasant, efficient and ideal for a one-night stop. However, its activities are limited to short cruises on the river, and it lacks the character or activities to entice visitors to stay longer.

Rates: N$260 single, N$160 per person sharing, including breakfast.

Hippo Lodge (23 twin rooms) PO Box 1120

Situated east of town (and just beyond the turn to Caprivi Cabins), Hippo Lodge opened in 1989 and is 2km off the main road. It has some of the lushest gardens in Namibia and a gaggle of aggressive geese, which don't reflect the lodge's relaxed atmosphere at all. This is a very laid-back place.

Hippo's rooms are carpeted, with brick walls and thatched roof. All are built in a line overlooking the river, with a couple of chairs in front of each. The rooms have en-suite shower and toilet, mosquito nets and fans – perfectly adequate, but slightly dingy and in need of sprucing up.

Basic meals are available, and there is a pool to swim in, surrounded by green lawns and colourful herbaceous borders. Canoes are available for residents to explore the river, at their own risk.

Rates: N$180 single, N$130 per person sharing, N$ 340 for a family room taking four. Includes breakfast. Camping is also available for N$20 per person.

Guinea Fowl Inn

This seedy hotel is easily found by following the ‘guinea fowl’ signs behind the back of the police station, just west of the Zambezi Lodge.

Guinea Fowl Inn has a lovely situation, with its back facing lawns which slope down to the Zambezi. Unfortunately, its small rooms have thin, prefabricated walls, and often separate showers or baths. Mosquito nets and fans are provided, but little else. There is a simple restaurant here serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, to the lower end of the local market, and the odd budget traveller who has no camping equipment.

Though this Inn has changed hands several times in the last few years, it has improved little. It still gives the impression that rooms may be hired by the hour.

Rates: N$110 single, N$70 per person sharing, including breakfast.

Caprivi Cabins (8 chalets) PO Box 2029, Ngwezi – Katima Mulilo

Run by Trix van der Spuy, and well-signposted about 800m off the main road just east of the Zambezi Lodge, Caprivi Cabins opened in September ’97. It should become a firm favourite if it continues as well as it has been built. Though dry and dusty when seen, the bare earth was being watered outside its thatched chalets – to encourage lawns to start growing. Inside the chalets are cool stone floors, twin beds with quilts, stocked mini-bar/fridges, clean tiled bathrooms, and even direct-dial telephones. The lodge seems to welcome children, offering to set up small igloo tents outside the chalets of parents.

Locals in Katima have discovered the cuisine on offer here, which is served in a large dining area with high thatched ceiling, TV, bar, and a captivating fish tank. (For evening meals starters are around N$15, main courses about N$40–50 for steaks with chips and vegetables.) So don’t expect the place all to yourself.

For most of the year there is also the option of an open thatched area with tables overlooking the Zambezi. The energetic can use the small gym and plunge pool, or allow Trix to arrange fishing trips on the river, using the small twin-engined boat that is moored at the cabins. Caprivi Cabins is a super place to stop, provided its standards remain as high.

Rates: N$200 single, N$250 double, breakfast N$20 extra per person.

Zambezi Lodge camping PO Box 98

At present, campers can stay on the west side of the lodge for N$25 per person. With the lodge expanding, it was anticipated that the camping area would soon move, perhaps to where the golf club is now. In any case, expect to find some camping facilities somewhere around the Zambezi Lodge ...

Kalizo Restcamp (6 chalets and camping) PO Box 1854, Ngweze – Katima Mulilo

Kalizo Restcamp is family-run and stands on the banks of the Zambezi, about 25km downstream from Katima. To reach it, drive 13km from Katima towards Ngoma (about 56km from Ngoma), until Kalizo is clearly signposted off left. Currently, this is where tar stops and the gravel road starts. Then follow the signs for an increasingly sandy 5km – inexperienced drivers may need a high-clearance vehicle.

Scattered around lovely green lawns, Kalizo’s six twin-bed thatched chalets are of an unusual octagonal design. They are well furnished and comfortable (one is a self-catering chalet, with cooking facilities), with reed mats, mosquito-netted windows and nice fabrics. They share separate, well-kept toilets and showers.

There’s always a bar open and meals are arranged on request. Much of the restcamp’s raison d’être seems to be tiger-fishing, and boats can be hired for N$70 per hour, or N$300 for a full day, including a guide and fuel. If you haven’t brought your own equipment, then add N$25 per person per day. Those who have will be pleased that there’s a good slipway. Kalizo makes a super sojourn if you have a 4WD and love fishing, but isn’t the easiest or most comfortable stop for a trip with a normal 2WD vehicle.

Rates: N$220 single, N$200 per person sharing, full board. N$390 per person including all meals and fishing activities. Camping is N$20 per person,

Where to eat

If you are staying in Katima Mulilo, then you’ll probably eat at your lodge. Those who are just passing through might also consider:

The golf club

Close to the Zambezi Lodge, this serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. It is conveniently next to the place where the lodge’s new campsite is likely to be.

Zambezi take-away and mini-market

In the centre of town, near the stadium, this serves a wide range of snacks, pies and pre-prepared sandwiches.

Mad Dog McGee's (aka SOS club) PO Box 70, Katima Mulilo

Tucked away down a side street, between the Zambezi Lodge and the main town shopping centre, Mad Dog McGee's appears reactionary at first. However, it’s the busiest bar and restaurant in this frontier town, and attracts safari operators who come to Katima for supplies, as well as an assortment of interesting bush characters and travellers.

Good lunches and dinners are served every day except Sunday, steaks and burgers being the house speciality, though vegetarian travellers might just use the swimming pool, pool tables and bar – and eat elsewhere.

What to see and do

Katima has few intrinsic attractions, although the lodges along the Zambezi are very pleasant places to stay. If you do have time here, then use it for trips on the river, or as a base for longer expeditions into Mudumu, Mamili, the Upper Zambezi and Lake Liambezi.

Although closed when I last visited, the Caprivi Arts Centre (Olifant Street, Ngweze – Katima Mulilo, tel: 0677 3378) is a good outlet for the many local crafts and well worth visiting.

Excursions into Zambia

If you are planning your trip well in advance, or have your own 4WD, then several camps in western Zambia use Katima Mulilo as their base for operations. See the Guide to Zambia, in Further Reading.

Maziba Bay (6 chalets & camping)

A few kilometres south of the Zambia’s spectacular Ngonye Falls (also called the Sioma Falls), Maziba Bay is on the western bank of the Zambezi River. It is about 110km north of Sesheke – about three hours’ driving along a graded gravel road – and is run by David and André Van de Merwe.

The main lodge is rustic and wooden, with a bar and deck area, overlooking a huge beach of fine white sand which stretches down to the Zambezi. It has six stunning thatched chalets, three on each of the promontories which surround its bay. These are large, rustic, and beautifully designed. There is a small swimming pool, a lounge/bar area, and an outdoor boma for braais.

Unlike many of the other river camps here, Maziba Bay isn’t just for fishing. It offers an impressive range of activities including white-water rafting, kayaking and canoe safaris on the river, as well as game drives into the wild Sioma Ngwezi National Park, and tiger-fishing trips.

Rates: US$225 single, US$175 per person sharing, including activities. Camping US$10.

Mutemwa Island Lodge (6 twin tents)

About 50km north of Katima Mulilo, on Zambia’s Upper Zambezi, this is a small camp with a mainly South African clientele. Its tents are all built on individual teak decks, with en-suite shower and toilet at the back, and a small sitting area at the front overlooking the Zambezi.

Mutemwa has a central bar, a thatched dining area and a swimming pool. Its activities include fishing, sundowner cruises, canoeing, and drives into Sioma Ngwezi National Park. Note that its prices depend on where you live.

Rates: US$105 per person sharing for Zimbabwe residents, R595 for other residents of the region, US$200 for international visitors, including activities and road transfers from Katima. Closed during heavy rains – January and February.

Lake Liambezi

This large, shallow lake is located between the Linyanti and Chobe rivers, about 60km south of Katima Mulilo. When full, it covers some 10,000ha, although it has been dry (something of a dustbowl) since 1985. People and cattle now populate its bed.

Lake Liambezi's main source of water used to be the river Linyanti, but after this has filtered through the swamps it seems unable to fill the lake, even in recent years of good rain. However, next time the Zambezi is in flood it may be able fill the lake either via the Bukalo Channel, which runs southwest from the river to the lake, or even via the Chobe river – which can actually reverse its flow.

There is one new community campsite planned in this area (page 446), in the new Salambala Conservancy.

Zambezi-Chobe confluence

Two rivers bound the eastern end of the Caprivi Strip: the Chobe to the south, and the Zambezi to the north. Their confluence is at the end of Impalila Island, at the eastern tip of Namibia. The Zambezi flows relentlessly to the sea but, depending on their relative heights, the Chobe either contributes to that, or may even reverse its flow and draw water from the Zambezi. Between the two rivers is a triangle of land, of about 700km², which is a mixture of floodplains, islands and channels which link the two rivers.

This swampy, riverine area is home to several thousand local people, mostly members of Zambia's Lozi tribe. (The main local languages here are Lozi and Sobia.) Most have a seasonal lifestyle, living next to the river channels, fishing and farming maize, sorghum, pumpkins and keeping cattle. They move with the water levels, transferring on to higher, drier ground as the waters rise.

Flora and fauna

The area's ecosystems are similar to those in the upper reaches of the Okavango Delta: deep-water channels lined by wide reedbeds and rafts of papyrus. Some of the larger islands are still forested with baobabs, water figs, knobthorne, umbrella thorn, mopane, pod mahogany, star chestnut and sickle-leafed albizia, while jackalberry and Chobe waterberry overhang the rivers, festooned with creepers and vines.

Because of hunting by the local population, large mammals are scarce. Most that do occur come over from Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Elephants and buffalo sometimes swim over, and even lion have been known to swim across into Namibia in search of the tasty-but-dim domestic cattle kept there.

Even when there are no large mammals here, the birdlife is spectacular. Large flocks of white-faced ducks congregate on islands in the rivers, African skimmers nest on exposed sandbanks, and both reed cormerants and darters are seen fishing or perching while they dry their feathers. Kingfishers are numerous, from the giant to the tiny pygmy, as are herons and egrets. However, the area’s most unusual bird is the unassuming rock pratincole with its black, white and grey body, which perches on the rocks of rapids, between hawking for insects in the spray.

Where to stay

The largest island in this area, Impalila Island, is at the very tip of Namibia. It gained notoriety during the ’80s as a military base for the SADF (South African Defence Forces), as it was strategically positioned within sight of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It still boasts a 1,300m-long runway of smooth tar, but now its barracks are a secondary school, serving most of the older children in the area.

There is a customs and immigration post on Impalila, which opens from 07.00 to 17.00. The lodges here all use this, and are usually reached by a short boat transfer from Kasane in Botswana.

Impalila Island Lodge (8 double chalets) PO Box 70378, Bryanston 2021, South Africa

Situated on the northwest side of Impalila Island, overlooking the Zambezi’s Mowomba rapids, Impalila Lodge has in many ways brought the island to people’s attention.

Accommodation is in one of eight wooden chalets, each with twin beds or a king-size double. It is fairly luxurious, and was built by Karen and Dusty Rodgers and opened in December ’94. Much is made of polished local mukwa wood, with its natural variegated yellow and brown colours. The raised-up chalets have a square design, enclosing a bathroom in one corner, giving blissfully warm showers from instant water heaters. Below the high thatch ceilings are fans for warmer days, and mosquito nets for most nights. Large adjacent double doors open one corner of the room on to a wide wooden veranda, overlooking the rapids. These doors have an optional mosquito-net screen for when it’s hot, though are more usually glass. Being next to the river can be quite cold on winter mornings.

Activities at Impalila include guided motor boat trips on the Zambezi and Chobe: the Zambezi mainly for bird-watching and fishing, while the more distant Chobe also offers remarkable game-viewing on the edge of Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Mokoro trips explore the shallower channels, and even run the gentle rapids, whilst guided and independent walks are possible on the island. Superb fishing (especially for tiger-fish, best caught on a fly-rod) is all around, and the guides are relaxed enough to take beginners or experts out to try their luck.

The main part of the lodge is a large thatched bar/dining area built around a huge baobab, including a pool table and comfortable couches. This is open to the breeze, though can be sheltered when cold. The wooden pool deck has reclining loungers, umbrellas, and a great view of the river. Impalila’s food is excellent and candle-lit three- or four-course meals around the baobab make a memorable scene. It is a stylish, well-run lodge ideal for fishing, birding, or just relaxing, with the added bonus of game viewing from the river in Chobe.

Rates: N$1,090 single, N$845 per person sharing, including all meals and activities.

Open: All year except February.

Ichingo Chobe River Lodge (7 twin-bed tents) PO Box 55, Kasane, Botswana

First set up in ’93, Ichingo was the idea of Dawn and Ralph Oxenham. Ralph was originally working in Livingstone, when they both embarked upon their own canoe trip from Katima Mulilo to Livingstone for one holiday. Dawn overturned her canoe in the Muwomba rapids and, exhausted and frustrated, ended up staying on the island where she had scrambled ashore. That was Impalila Island, and the inspiration for starting a lodge here.

Initially managers ran Ichingo, but in ’96 Dawn and Ralph decided to refurbish and run it themselves. It stands on the south side of Impalila, just east of the Cresta Mowana and a few kilometres from Kasane. It overlooks quiet backwaters of some of the Chobe River’s rapids, and there is no noise from the mainland.

Ichingo’s accommodation is walk-in Meru tents, which are more rustic than Impalila’s chalets. The shower/basin/toilet are en suite, at the back under thatch, and there’s a balcony at the front, overlooking the river through thick vegetation.

Activities include game viewing, birdwatching and fishing from motor-boat trips, mokoro excursions, fly-fishing in rapids, and walks around the island and along nearby floodplains. Unusually for a bush lodge, the camp actively welcomes children, even when not accompanied by adults, as craft activities can usually be organised for them.

Ichingo’s large thatched bar and dining areas overlook rapids on Chobe River, and this relaxed, rustic camp makes a super base for river trips and game-viewing from boats along the Chobe River.

Rates: N$833 single, N$722 per person sharing (plus N$360 per extra child sharing), including all meals and activities. Open: All year.

King's Den (10 twin-bed chalets by water, 5 on land thatched) PO Box 98, Katima Mulilo

Owned by the owners of Zambezi Lodge in Katima, King’s Den overlooks the Chobe National Park. It is reached by taking a boat west from Kasane, and is nearer to this park than either of Impalila Island’s lodges. However, it is larger than them, as in addition to its 10 chalets, there is a 13-cabin riverboat, the Zambezi Queen, anchored (some say stuck) there. So while its site has potential, King’s Den fails to provide the intimate ‘small-lodge’ experience of Impalila or Ichingo.

Rates: N$1,000 single, N$800 per person sharing, including all meals and activities.

Ngoma border

The conversion of the gravel road from Katima to Ngoma into tar has been taking years. When you reach Ngoma, there’s little there apart from the border post, a smart office next to the bridge by the Chobe River. About 2km further on, over the river, Botswana's border post is a newer building perched high above the water. Both seem efficient, pleasant, and generally quiet. This crossing is fine for 2WD vehicles, and opens 06.00–18.00.

Beyond is a good gravel road to Kasane, which cuts through the Chobe National Park, or a choice of slower more scenic routes. One leads to Kasane, game-viewing along the Chobe riverfront; the other heads through forested and communal lands towards Savuti and Maun. Both the scenic options require park permits and a 4WD vehicle.

Salambala Community Campsite The turn-off for Salambala, off the main B8, is about 15km north of Ngoma or 46km south of Katima Mulilo. This is another of the Caprivi’s excellent community campsites. It has three separate pitches for tents and a fourth better suited to larger groups, each with a private flush toilet and a shower with hot water. All profits from this camp go back to the community.

Rates: N$25 per person.

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