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Essential Namibia: Caprivi 34 Travel Namibia Mahango has some of the largest game herds in Africa MIKE MYERS ? 4 M udumu " Nandi, Nandi, Nandi, where are you, Nandi?" The strange call was taken up by all of the Lianshulu staff present on the lodge deck as they gazed out over the Kwando River at a picturesque African dawn. It seemed to me like a noisy and somewhat peculiar way to start a day in the heart of Mudumu National Park. Nadia, Lianshulu's hostess, enquired, " Have you met Nandi?" I racked my brains trying to recall all the names of friendly and attentive staff that I had met during the preceding 24 hours. " No I don't think so," was my guarded response. " Nandi loves muffi ns! She won't touch ? 3 M ahango " Give me one good reason to visit Mahango National Park," I arrogantly challenged. I had been put off visiting Mahango by the park's reputation as a thoroughfare between Namibia and Botswana, via the Mohembo Border Post. The all- weather road allows access to any vehicle type and in a busy year it is not inconceivable for visitor numbers to approach 100,000, thus making it the most visited park within the region. " Mahango has Africa's largest herds of roan and sable antelope," came the response from Matambo Singwangwa, a senior ranger with extensive work experience in all of the Caprivi Strip's parks. He adamantly continued, " Not to mention an excellent wildlife diversity that includes impala, kudu, bushbuck, rare sitatunga, red lechwe, reedbuck, waterbuck, wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, giraffe and elephants. You must also remember that predators like lion and leopard are never too far away, with such a large prey base." The park, 25km south of Divundu, occupies a paltry 245 square kilometres. Its small size is compensated for by its extraordinary variety of vegetation. Magnifi cent riverine forests and thick bush give way to wetlands and open fl oodplains. The abundance of habitat types is enhanced by the presence of the Kavango River, which forms the reserve's eastern boundary. The end result is prolifi c species diversity that includes around 500 different birds. " Mahango is arguably Namibia's premier birding destination," said Matambo, with an I- rest- my- case look on his face. There was no further discussion required; I was convinced that a visit to Mahango had become a necessity. After having spent the morning enjoying the nearby Popa Falls, we departed Ngepi Camp and travelled slowly down the Kavango River, bordering Bwabwatwa National Park. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we stopped for a sundowner by a baobab tree that was silhouetted against a blood- red sky. MIKE MYERS Hoping to be fed. Nandi the muffi n- munching croc lies below the balcony at Lianshulu lodge Mudumu from the air BEN FORBES

Travel Namibia 35 CAPRIVI FACT FILE n GETTING THERE The Golden Highway, upgraded and renamed the Trans- Caprivi Highway ( B8), is a tarred road in excellent condition that runs from Rundu across the Caprivi to Katima Mulilo before continuing on to Ngoma ( on the Botswana border). n WHERE TO STAY Bum Hill Community Campsite ( www. nacobta. com. na) is situated on the Kwando within Bwabwatwa a kilometre off the Trans- Caprivi Highway. It is accessible to 2WD vehicles. Camp Kwando ( www. campkwando. com) on the Kwando River on the outskirts of Mudumu. Accommodation for all budgets. Divava Okavango Lodge and Spa ( www. leadinglodges. com/ divava. htm) A luxury lodge on the Kavango River next to Popa Falls, just outside Mahango. Lianshulu Lodge ( www. safariadventurecompany. com) A highly desirable location in the heart of Mudumu. Mahangu Safari Lodge ( www. mahangu. com. na) Overlooks Kavango River onto the Buffalo Core Area of Bwabwatwa. Mazambala Island Lodge ( www. mazambala. com) On an island in the Kwando River floodplain. N// goabaca Community Campsite ( www. nacobta. com. na) Convenient access to Popa Falls. Nambwa Community Campsite ( www. nacobta. com. na) Good location on a Kwando River backwater in Bwabwatwa National Park. Namushasha Country Lodge ( www. namibialodges. com) On the Kwando River within striking distance of both Mudumu and Bwabwatwa. Ndovhu Safari Lodge ( www. ndhovu. com) On the Kavango River, en route to Mahango. Ngepi Lodge ( www. ngepicamp. com) Camping facilities and tree houses on the upper reaches of the Kavango River. Popa Falls Rest Camp ( www. nwr. com. na/ popa_ falls. php) Government- run rest camp. Susuwe Island Lodge ( www. islandsinafrica. com) Luxurious accommodation option on a Kwando River island within Bwabwatwa. n RECOMMENDED OPERATORS Camp Kwando ( www. campkwando. com) Mudumu and Mamili camping safaris. Hakuna Matata Adventures ( www. capriviriverlodge. net) Camping safaris to all the Caprivi parks, with an emphasis on trips to Mamili. Tutwa Tourism & Travel ( www. tutwa. com) Safari options throughout the Caprivi sub- region. n WHEN TO GO The rains arrive in late October and continue through until early May. Wildlife disperses during the wet summer season, however birding is at its best with numerous migrants and breeding plumages on display. Gameviewing is most productive during the driest winter months of July to October. n HEALTH AND SAFETY Malaria is prevalent throughout the Caprivi Strip. It is advisable to consult your doctor or a travel clinic about health precautions prior to travelling. Kwando River is undoubtedly the park's highlight. James Kashiri, my Lianshulu guide, off- loaded some of his near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the park as our boat meandered downstream. Carmine bee- eaters exploded from their cliff- side nesting holes and wattled cranes lumbered into the air at our approach. A dazzle of zebra accompanied by tsessebe grazed the green grass at the water's edge. Elephant herds simultaneously quenched their thirst and devoured mouthfuls of sharp reeds before moving off into a shady grove of African mangosteen trees. A rare sitatunga bread or toast, but she devours muffins!" she cryptically elaborated. The conversation was entering the realms of absurdity and I was feeling lost. I was about to admit to my confusion, when a timely exclamation stopped me dead in my tracks. " There she is," pointed out the barman. I was dumbfounded. I instantly knew that I had never met Nandi and I certainly had no desire to ever come face to face with her. The infamous Nandi was actually a frightening three- metre crocodile. Hand- reared decades earlier, during an era when hand- raising animals was considered acceptable, she developed an inexplicable love for muffins that has endured to this day. Nadia explained, " She is a completely wild crocodile who feeds on fish and antelope, but she has never lost her love for muffins and her affinity with the camp." She definitely is one of Mudumu's most unusual attractions. Nandi inhabits the mirror- calm waters of the Kwando River. A near endless swathe of Phragmites reed beds line the riverbanks and constantly filter the river producing crystal- clear waters. A boat cruise along the took fright and, with a loud splash, vanished into the dense aquatic vegetation. The Kwando River provided an endless stream of great wildlife sightings and superb birding opportunities in extraordinarily beautiful surroundings; however, one unique experience stood out above the rest. The urgency in James's voice was palpable as he commanded, " Look down." The blank look on my face prompted him hurriedly to clarify, " No, under the water!" My eyes delighted upon a small pod of hippos, clearly visible in the clear water as they slept contently on the river bottom.