Saturday, 10 January 2015

Popa Falls, Caprivi Strip Namibia. Self Drive Road Trip, June 2014.

I entered the name 'Popa Falls' into the sat nav, and we followed the directions, although it seemed to be taking us in the wrong direction, as we were going back along the main road towards Kongola. Soon after crossing the bridge at Bagani, the tinny voice told us to turn right. This was onto a barely visible dirt track through the bush. The bumpy track led to a small beach on the banks of the river with this view of the Pops Falls,  more like a series of rapids really. 
The small sandy beach was a great place to sit and enjoy the packed lunch Shindi had prepared for us. Less than 10 minuets into our lunch I was startled when an old man appeared, silently behind me. Once I had recovered from the shock, I realised he was asking asking for money for the 'Car Parking' as this was tribal land. The amount he wanted was extremely low, and it was worth it to stop in this spot.  
Popa Falls, Caprivi, Namibia
Beach & Picnic Spot at Popa Falls
We needed to find accommodation and had see lots of signs to lodges and camping on the stretch of road from Mahango Game Park to Bagani. So we went back that way and followed the signs to Mahangu Safari Lodge. The track was long and dusty and we passed a few Shebeens. but the area was very quiet.
AfriCan Shebeen
Soon we arrived at the gates to Mahangu Safari Lodge. Here we had a choice of camping, or accommodation in bungalows or large safari tents all equipped with en-suite facilities, air-conditioning, mosquito nets and mains electricity.
The lodge is set amongst wild date palms and jackalberry trees and has great views of the Kavango River. Sunset decks near the water provide birders and photographers with a safe haven to sit and relax. The lodge also does game viewing boat trips to observe crocs and hippo, especially in the late afternoon. Organized fishing trips are also available for those who want to catch a Tiger in Africa, the fish! 
Mahangu Safari Lodge
We had a simple but very clean hut near to the river, dinner was served in the communal area and all diners sat together, with the log fire warming the area, that was a nice touch. The food was simple but very good, the wine was also good. It was a pleasant evening.
A Boxer at Mahangu Safari Lodge enjoying an early morning sunbed
After a leisurely breakfast and settling the bill we were on the road again. This time we called into the Namibian Wildlife Resort at Popa Falls. this resort has been renovated and looks very nice, but it was extremely quiet. I have to say the Falls are better seen from the other side of the river.

Popa Falls from the NWR, Namibia

Popa Falls

Sun downer boat at NWR Popa Falls
As we drove towards Rundu, was passed a community shop selling baskets and called in. Here I got some of the best African Basket wear I have ever seen. The quality of the hand weaving is top class, I got as many as I could get into my hand luggage. They have now been made into a wall hanging, and very nice it is to!

The town of Rundu states it is at the gateway to the Caprivi Strip. Well we did it the other way so it was the end of the Caprivi Strip for us. It was a busy, dusty town.
We were heading for Hakusembe River Lodge that according to the Sat Nav was situated on the banks of the Kavango River, about 15km west of the town. From the Tar road it was a 4.5km drive on a dirt track through more Shebeens and lots of Churches, until finally there was a very muddy, flooded track.  You did need a 4X4 type car to get to the lodge.
Again, once through the gates the contrast with the grounds and outside was immense. Here were lush lawns, roses, palms and a wonderful setting.
Set back from the river, is Hakusembe's campsite with eight individual pitches. But again we didn't camp, but had a hut with bathroom, fridge and a small veranda.
Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu
We did a sundowner cruise on the river, with drinks and snacks, it was very relaxing watching the sun go down and the moon rise, whilst villages ferried back and forth to Angola in small dug outs.
Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu
Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu

The meal was served in the temporary restaurant (the new one will be built now). It was a buffet meal and very good, again the wine was good quality, especially if you think where we were. So it was a pleasant end to our drive through the Caprivi Strip and onward tomorrow to Etosha.
I had wanted to visit this region for a very long time, disappointingly my imagined Caprivi was very different from the real Caprivi.
Most of Caprivi’s population is concentrated in Katima Mulilo, along the main road and in small villages spread across the eastern floodplains. Many of the people are at risk from frequent flooding. Many are subsistence farmers who make a living from the rivers. However many villages are apparently reliant on flood relief.  All along the Strip people are begging and children did not appear to have access to schooling, the population was one of the poorest I have ever seen in Southern Africa, unemployment is over 23%.
The Game reserves that are in the area state they have wildlife, but it was not in evidence along the road, I am glad I did not see animals along this road, as the large lorries go at great speed and I think if I had seen any they would have been dead ones. Would I go again? NO! only if I wanted to get from Namibia to Vic Falls in a rush, and that’s what all the guided tours were using it for.