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Land of Big Rivers

November 12, 2016

Tropical, forested and surrounded on all sides by big meandering rivers, the Caprivi – now called the Zambezi region – is as unlike the rest of Namibia as it is possible to be.   Profuse with big game, and home to the critically endangered African wild dog, this area is a veritable paradise.

 

The shape and size of many African countries are the result of colonial land-grabbing and this curious panhandle which forms north-eastern Namibia is no exception.  Named after the then German Chancellor Georg Leo Baron von Caprivi, a curious land deal was arranged with the British in 1890.  Known as the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty in which Germany agreed to give up its rights to Zanzibar in exchange for the tiny archipelago of Heligoland in the North Sea which Britain had laid claim to.  As part of the treaty Germany annexed the Caprivi area to its German South West Africa, as Namibia was called then, thinking that the navigable Zambezi River would give them access to East Africa. 

 

 

How the Germans did not know about the serious impediment to navigation of Victoria Falls is a mystery? More than 40 years earlier David Livingstone had described coming upon Mosi oa Tunya (‘the smoke the thunders’) which he called Victoria Falls after the then queen of England.  The news seemed not to have reached the Germans but the result of this oversight has proved very much in Namibia’s favour, giving it access to a little bit of paradise.

 

Our proposed “Big Rivers” exploratory riding safari in June next year will incorporate the U-shaped nub at the end of the Caprivi strip, the borders of which are determined by several big rivers. 

 

(Image: an old stamp sowing the profusion of rivers running through the Caprivi region)

 

Originating in the highlands of Angola we begin our safari on the banks of the Kwando River (also spelled Cuando in Angola) which forms the western border with Botswana.  Historically the Kwando merged with the Okavango via the Selinda spillway and together they flowed into the huge Makgadikgadi pans.

 

Upliftment of the land however resulted in the Kwando fanning out into multiple channels which form the Linyanti flood plains.  This area is dotted with alluvial islands and numerous channels many of which nearly disappear into the Kalahari dunes much like the Okavango does in Botswana. 

 

Flowing out of this huge wetland in an easterly direction is the Linyanti river which forms the southern border with Botswana terminating in Lake Liambezi.  This area is often subject to extensive flooding when the Zambezi flows very strongly causing the Chobe – which normally flows easterly from Lake Liambezi into the Zambezi - to reverse its course and flow backwards! 

 

(Image: The Kwando showing why it is referred to as a meandering river)

 

 

 

 

 

The meeting of the Chobe and the mighty Zambezi completes the border with Botswana and a small part of Zimbabwe on the eastern end of the Caprivi.  The northern border between the Caprivi and Zambia is formed by the Zambezi along its entire length.

 

(Image above:  A fishing village in eastern Caprivi at the height of the flood)

 

The charm of the Caprivi strip is that it is a corridor for game moving between Botswana, Zambia and Angola and one is always sure to encounter big game at any moment, especially near the rivers.  This extraordinary biodiverse area adds an interesting aspect to Namibia’s normally arid landscape.  With masses of big game, our Exploratory safari is sure to be an interesting ride - and sleeping in tents at night to avoid being eaten by large predators will be essential!