MESSING ABOUT IN BOATS
By Fiona McIntosh and Richard Holmes
‘Believe me, my young man, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’
Kenneth Grahame might have written The Wind in the Willows nearly a century ago, but, as Fiona McIntosh discovered while cruising the Caprivi, his famous fable of Toad, Mole and Rat taking to the water in search of adventure and good times is as inspiring today as it was back then.
Just getting to the Ichobezi, the houseboat on which we planned to spend a few days of game viewing and tiger fishing, was an adventure. Take a deep breath here….
We flew to Livingstone, drove to Kazungula, took a boat across the Zambezi, hopped into another vehicle and entered Botswana for all of 15 minutes before we jumped into another boat (this time one of Ichobezi’s tenders), crossed over to the Namibian customs point on Impalila Island, and finally, six stamps and one rapidly filling passport later, boarded the luxury floating palace that would be home for the next few days.
The beauty of having a houseboat on the Chobe River is that when the day-trippers go home, you have the waterway to yourselves. A typical trip takes you along the banks of the Chobe National Park. You’ll pass vast herds of splashing elephants, grazing waterbuck and soaring African fish eagles. Then you’ll arrive at the first night mooring, a big open area near the Park’s Serondella camp.
Few other boats venture up this far so the peace is unbelievable. We headed out with rods and bulldogs. Another couple went off birding. The repeat guests sat up on the deck with their sundowners watching the kingfishers and the game coming down to drink.
The Ichobezi is no standard houseboat – we’re talking 5-star comforts here. After a beautifully presented gourmet dinner washed down with fine wines you retire to your en suite room. Here you substitute a full length net screen for one of the glass sides of the cabin and lie in bed watching the moon, listening to the river and enjoying the magic of the bush.
The daily routine is slick. A superb breakfast is followed by the morning outing – to fish, view game or spot birds. Then it’s back for a leisurely lunch, a nap or lazing in the sun as the houseboat cruises down the river to the next mooring at Elephant Bay. The bay is aptly named. A large muddy bank suggested the presence of large number of pachyderms, and sure enough it wasn’t long before a rustling in the bush announced the arrival of the first herd. We watched as they drank and cavorted in the mud, then we jumped aboard a tender boat for a sunset fishing trip. Amazingly I soon felt a tug on the line and as I struck a big fish leapt out of the water. A tiger fish. The first I had ever hooked. I reeled in and landed the golden fish, admiring the wicked teeth and weighing my catch before returning it to the depths.
We returned to Ichobezi elated as our guide pointed out flocks of egrets draped like big white lilies on the bushes, diving cormorants and a pair of African fish eagles majestically perched on a dead tree. Joburg seemed a long way away. This is Africa at its very best.
Also cruising the Caprivi is the ultra-luxurious Zambezi Queen. We’re talking the ultimate in style and comfort here but the boat is also extremely eco-friendly. It runs on biodiesel and has a sophisticated water purification system, which means that they can use river water. The no-expense-spared suites have massive king-sized beds and floor to ceiling glass so you can lie in bed game watching or gazing at the moon then fall asleep to the reassuring gurgle of the river. Add fine dining, an extensive wine collection and the usual range of fishing, game viewing, birding and other leisurely activities and you have the ingredients for a perfect holiday. And thanks to the short flight and easy transfer it’s perfect for a long weekend or three-day break. (www.zambeziqueenrivercruise.com)
Other Great Holidays Afloat
Lake Kariba is the most famous and dramatic destination for houseboating in southern Africa. It offers fantastic game viewing and exciting tiger fishing as you motor your way along the lake shore. Trips start from the eastern Kariba town or from Binga in the west (a few hours’ drive from Vic Falls). A full crossing of the lake is the ultimate Kariba adventure. Taking the kids along? Make sure you ask for a childproof boat with nets to stop them falling overboard en route. (www.flameofafrica.com).
Closer to home, a houseboat on Jozini Dam in Pongola is as close as you’ll get to a Kariba experience without venturing north of the border. The 85-foot Shayamanzi houseboat is the way to do the dam in style. It offers six luxurious en suite cabins, top-notch cuisine and a top deck jacuzzi for naughty late-night dips. For something more active, hop on board one of the two dedicated tender boats and cast a line for the hard-fighting tiger fish. Jozini is the only place in SA where you’ll find this prized sport fish.
To really feel like a seafaring cap’n though, you need to feel the south-easter in your hair and smell the salt in the air. All the while sipping on a G&T, of course. The Nirvana houseboat on Langebaan lagoon is less houseboat and more floating gin palace. It’s still a great way to feel the motion of the ocean without worrying about freak storms and feeling seasick.
Moored at Kraalbaai in the stunning West Coast National Park, Nirvana can accommodate up to 24 people on a self-catering or fully catered basis. If you’re looking for something more intimate, the houseboat Larus is moored not far away and sleeps up to six people at a time. Both houseboats are anchored in the calm Langebaan lagoon, making them the perfect base for fishing (don’t forget your permit), swimming and suntanning.
The lagoon is also a designated Ramsar site (meaning the wetland is of global ecological importance), so twitchers will enjoy the frequent fly-past of feathered visitors from across the globe. With Nirvana weighing in at an enormous 130 tons you won’t be going anywhere in a hurry - so if you get cabin fever just hop in one of the tenders and scoot over to the beach for a bit of fun in the sun. (www.sanparks.co.za).
An hour's drive south of Johannesburg brings you to the Vaal River and the Vaal Dam where there are various companies offering floating homes for hire. Apart from cruising upstream and downstream in search of the perfect overnight mooring spot, you can also cast a line for carp or yellowfish. Or pull in at one of the riverfront restaurants to fill up starving sailors and haul out the binoculars for some excellent birdwatching. With so many waterways to explore, a three-night break is ideal, so pack the rods and reels and get set to relax. (www.riverhouseboats.co.za, www.cruise-n-snooze.co.za)
Richard Holmes is a freelance travel writer, www.onanotherplane.com