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Travel Namibia 29 Essential Namibia: Caprivi An elephant splashes in the Kwando RIver in Mudumu National Park LIANSHULA LODGE

Essential Namibia: Caprivi Making waves. Wading through the waters of Mamili National Park Stephen cunliffe discover a small pride of lions resting in the shade of a jackalberry. Unbeknown to us, they are keeping a wary eye out for the same herds of buffalo that we have sought in the preceding days. The cats begin to stretch and groom one another before moving off with purpose. They stop periodically to sniff the wind and listen to distant sounds that we are unable to detect. It is not long before they all simultaneously stop and gaze off across the open plains. We follow their keen eyes and, with the aid of our binoculars, are thrilled to see that these intelligent felines have led us straight to a buffalo herd. In excess of 400 bovids surge across the wetlands in search of fresh grazing. Warthogs and wattled cranes give way to the approaching herd but, like the lions, we sit tight, in awe of one of nature's hairpin bend on the perennial river system. The abundance of water, limited infrastructure and challenging driving conditions combine to ensure that only the most dedicated and adventurous safari- goers will make it into Mamili. Staggeringly, during the course of 2008, a mere 190 wilderness- lovers ventured into, what I believe to be, Namibia's most strikingly beautiful national park. Johan Liebenberg, owner of Camp Kwando and a regular visitor to Mamili National Park, is my guide and, thankfully, an accomplished off- road driver. He quite rightly declares, " If you don't know the area, you'll most likely get into serious trouble. Inexperienced people with ill- equipped vehicles and no guide usually find themselves lost or stuck. sometimes for days". It is quite conceivable that you will have the entire national park to yourselves, which is a virtually unheard of privilege in southern Africa's protected areas. Our vehicle follows the remnants of an old track, churning through clagging mud and lily- covered water hazards, on our quest for Mamili's fabled buffalo herds. The Landcruiser valiantly surges forward, periodically becoming bogged down by the relentless dark sucking clay that robs the vehicle of its precious forward momentum. Winching, towing, digging and jacking are required before our vehicle can resume its search for the elusive buffalo. For two long days we have hunted for buffalo in the flooded wetlands that surround Rupara Island. Red lechwe and southern reedbuck, with a look of disdain, inquisitively watch our slow progress. Their splayed hooves are well designed to maximise surface area and ensure that they thrive in these muddy, waterlogged conditions. At a meagre 357 square kilometres, there is no denying that Mamili is a small national park; however, it lies in the midst of a vast wildlife- rich region. A watery wilderness of tree- covered islands and expansive wetlands ensures prolific birdlife and spectacular game- viewing. We detect movement on a distant termite mound and Only the most dedicated and adventurous safari-goers will make it into Mamili. Staggeringly, during the course of 2008, a mere 190 wilderness-lovers ventured into what I believe to be Namibia's most strikingly beautiful national park. l1Mamili Water slowly seeps under the doors and cools our feet as the Landcruiser forges on towards Liadura. We desperately want to be the first vehicles - in over a year - to make it through to Mamili's premier campsite. The water deepens, but we are not deterred. Soon it is washing over the bonnet and we are thankful for our snorkel that sucks in air from roof level thereby ensuring our vehicle's onward progress. The tyres start to spin, not because of mud below, but because our car is now floating. Water starts to pour into the cab through open windows and, bizarrely enough, this helps. The car sinks and finds traction. A small flock of startled pygmy geese fly off to escape the advancing landcruiser. With a sigh of relief, we emerge from the depths of the channel to the safety of dry land. Liadura, a stunning campsite on the banks of the Linyanti River, is now within our reach. Mamili National Park, recently renamed the Nkasa/ Rupara National Park after its two largest islands, is a spectacular wetland reserve. The park is situated in the most southerly kink of eastern Caprivi, thus finding itself surrounded by Botswana on three sides. The southerly- flowing Kwando River forms the western boundary before it turns sharply to the northeast, changing its name to the Linyanti River, and continuing to trace Mamili's southern and eastern boundaries en route to Chobe. The national park is, in essence, a gigantic wetland nestling within an enormous 30 Travel Namibia