Your first sight of the Namushasha River Villa – a floating oasis moored on a channel on the Kwando River in the Zambezi (Caprivi) region of Namibia – will have you gaping in wonder. You’ll be chuffed to stay on this romantic two-person craft surrounded by water channels and water lilies on the edge of a national park. It's one of Namibia’s superb Zambezi lodges.
We arrived at the Namushasha River Villa by boat from the jetty at Namushasha River Lodge in the heat of the afternoon. Even in the harsh light it was a beauty.
By then we had the braai going and were sipping a gin and tonic from the bar. We had a choice of gin, brandy, whisky, vodka, cognac, beers and quality wines. With kebabs and steaks already marinated and ready for the braai, salads for sides, and fruit, cheese and chocolate for dessert, this was one of the easiest braais we’d ever enjoyed.
We slept peacefully, wrapped in our cocoon of nature, and woke at dawn to a grubby red layer on the horizon. Gradually, it pinkened and a huge crimson sun climbed low into the sky, shakily reflected on the water ripples. Lesser striped swallows flitted to the railing of the upper deck. We listened to geese and watched a pied kingfisher hover and plunge to the water in search of fish. A fish-eagle called out to its mate from its perch on a tree – the perfect African morning wake-up call.
That afternoon, we went for a guided game drive into Bwabwata National Park. It’s a massive park, more than 6200 square kilometres, bordering with Botswana in the south and Angola in the north. Among an attractive mix of trees like Zambezi teak, camel thorn, jackalberry, sausage tree and knobthorn acacia, you can hope to see animals like elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, rare antelope like roan, tsessebe and sable, as well as red lechwe, sitatunga and common reedbuck. If you’re lucky, you might see predators like lion, leopard or spotted hyena.
Our game drive started with a short boat trip to get to the open game drive vehicles parked on the Bwabwata side of the water channel. Just minutes after we set out, there were roan antelope running across the track ahead. It was a fleeting sighting because these animals are very shy. As if they know their populations are decreasing and they need to protect themselves, they just melted into the bush.
We enjoyed a feast of birds like hamerkop, pied kingfisher, little and swallow-tailed bee-eaters at one of the waterholes, and found a big herd of buffalo resting in the shade on what was a sweltering afternoon.
It was the first of many elephant sightings, but Horseshoe Bend was the highlight. Three different herds came and went – probably about 150 individuals in all – while we sipped gin and tonics under a jackalberry tree. One of the little ones entertained itself with fun on the ‘beach’ next to the river, collapsing its legs and rolling in the sand, then struggling back to its feet, walking two steps and going through the whole collapse-roll-struggle rigmarole again, on a continuous loop.
Soon Aldrin pulled up short, leaning out the side of the car. He saw fresh leopard tracks, he said. We reversed, drove in a small circle into the bush, but came up empty handed. I wondered if he’d made it up for a thrill at the end of the drive when attention was flagging after the excitement of elephants and buffaloes and sables.
Things to do at Namushasha River Villa
Join a guided game drive
Don’t miss a Namibia safari into Bwabwata National Park. The Namushasha River Villa package includes either a guided game drive or a boat cruise for two (see below). But since you get transported to the River Villa by boat anyway, if you only have time for one activity my choice would definitely be a game drive, for a chance to see elephants at Horseshoe Bend, antelope like roan and sable, and maybe even lions. You can read more about our experience above.
If you’re staying at the Namushasha River Villa, you’ll get a short boat ride there from Namushasha River Lodge when you arrive. But if you really love being on the water, you can also hop onto one of the river boats for an early morning or late afternoon boat cruise to explore the river channels, find animals like hippo and crocodile, waterbuck and lechwe. The area is rich in birdlife too, and you’ll almost certainly see species like bee-eaters, kingfishers, jacana and fish-eagle, perhaps even wattled crane or African skimmer.
Watch the sunrise and sunset
Sunrises and sunsets in Namibia’s Zambezi region are spectacular, so wake early to see the dawn colours unfurl in the sky. The Namushasha River Villa is perfectly situated to enjoy the sunset from either the upper or lower decks. Set yourself up with a glass of something cold, watch birds fly in silhouette against the setting sun, breathe deeply and enjoy the spectacular swirls of changing light and colour.
Namushasha River Villa is an ideal place to sit still and soak up your surroundings. Anchored among the reeds on the fringes of the water, it will provide you with many opportunities to enjoy water lilies and bird life. Given that you look out across the water channel onto the Bwabwata National Park, you may even see big game like elephant and antelope on the other side as you enjoy your mug of coffee upstairs, or your braai and beer on the lower deck.
Keen to catch catfish, tilapia or tigerfish? Then join a guided fishing trip that starts from Namushasha River Lodge and lets you spend a few hours on the water doing what you enjoy. You can get a fishing licence at the lodge too.
Visit the Namushasha Heritage Centre
Don’t miss a visit to the Namushasha Heritage Centre that celebrates the cultural diversity of the eastern Zambezi region, especially local people like the Mashi, Hambukushu, Balozi and Mafwe. Take a walk from Namushasha River Lodge through the lush campsite and along a riverside trail. If another group is already there you might hear drumming and singing as you approach. You’ll find a buzzing little place set out under a giant baobab, where you can learn about traditional skills and crafts like tool making, wood carving, basketry, hear about some of the plants they use for food and medicine, and watch a lively display of singing and dancing.
The Namushasha River Villa is part of the Gondwana Collection’s exclusive Secret Collection, and it has to be said that for this level of sophistication and exclusivity (with all food, drinks and a game drive or boat cruise thrown in for good measure), this experience doesn’t come cheap. But if you’re celebrating a special occasion and looking for a romantic treat-for-two that you’ll never forget (think marriage proposal or special anniversary), there’s good news.
First, there’s a fabulous 50%-off special running at Namushasha River Villa until the end of October 2019. That’s two for the price of one for all international and local visitors. Find out more here.
Second, if you’d still like to get a fat discount but can’t make it to the north-eastern Zambezi region in Namibia before October, get yourself a Gondwana Card. Pay R200/N$200 for a card that’s valid for five years and Namibians get a whopping 50% off their accommodation bill, while visitors from SADC countries get a hearty 40% off. In addition, there’s 25% off all activities and meals (although your meals on the Namushasha River Villa and one activity are already included in your accommodation package). These discounts also apply to the Gondwana Collection’s nearly 40 properties around Namibia, almost all of which are priced much lower than this premium experience. How’s that for a deal?
Note: We were guests of Namushasha River Villa for one night, but I had free rein to write what I chose. We paid for all travel costs.
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Game drive in Bwabwata National Park, Namibia
Lodges in Namibia: Zambezi Mubala Lodge, Zambezi (Caprivi)
Chobe River Camp in Zambezi region, Namibia: things to do there
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