Early morning: bushbuck tiptoeing past the river facing rooms, the sounds and smells of cheerful staff preparing breakfast. The Chobe River, glistening in the morning light, awaits our early departure from the jetty of Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa. Flame of Africa’s Ben McDonald arranges for breakfast to be held over in case we’re late returning (though coffee and muffins are provided) and we’re off on the silky, calm waters, looking so different than they did from the Airlink jet that brought us here.
First, a quick visit to the rapids at which the resort is perfectly sited, away from the bustle of the town of Kasane in north- eastern Botswana. The Chobe rapids create an exciting ecosystem of their own; pratincoles, nesting storks and cormorants. Then we head for the Chobe National Park.
Mowana (mowana means baobab) is a 10-minute drive/ boat ride from the North part of the 11 700 square kilometre Chobe National Park. Arguments rage as to whether the elephant population is 60 000 or 120 000. It really does not matter which is correct as the sight of herds numbering in the hundreds is a sight you will never forget.
No early morning game drive. Instead, we smoothly glide up really close to wildlife at the water’s edge. Then, after breakfast, cruise in an enclosed, airconditioned game drive vehicle to a part of the Chobe National Park that other game drive vehicles usually don’t reach, at a time when those vehicles have left the to rush back for breakfasts.
The Park is quiet, the day is ours. The whole day, since Flame of Africa introduced meals on 4×4 wheels, with a proper, freshly prepared sit-down lunch in the park. No “Ferrari safari” this! Rather, one that affords the best opportunities to see lions, for example, as they slowly get ready for the hunt in the afternoons.
Game For Adventure?
Flame of Africa occupies the activities desk in the Cresta Mowana entrance foyer- and they have a similar, oh-so-sensible approach to other activities.
These include an all-day outing on the luxurious double decker Chobe Style or a day aboard the triple decker Chobe Explorer, both highly recommended. Unlike the usual lodge boat afternoon circuit, you can really explore, at leisure. I maintain that a day aboard the Chobe Explorer is the best way to take it all in.
There’s also fishing. These particular waters are home to the voracious, most powerful power to weight ratio fresh water fish in the world- the tiger fish- a true delight to every serious or amateur angler.
Fancy a round of golf? Do so in very close proximity to the vast elephant population surrounding the only course in the area (the nearest being over an hour away, in Zimbabwe) at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa, trimmed by warthogs and other four-footed creatures. Holes 1 and 2 play down towards the river, the 2nd green sticking out, half island like into the river itself and the 3rd, a long Par 4, with the stroke 1 playing over a dangerous water hazard into the green. Magical.
Magic to my ears is the news that Flame of Africa have partnered with AirVentures to offer balloon safaris- a first in Botswana- over a vast concession known as the Seloko Plains, 45 minutes away, between May and September, when the treacherous cotton soil is dry and not a recovery vehicle graveyard.
The Seloko Plains is an important wildlife corridor and its diverse habitat incorporates large tracts of forest which open up into wide open grassland plains, making it perfect for balloon safaris.
You’ll find there’s really no rush (it’s not native to the area)- unless it’s to bring your camera or binoculars to your eye in this fabulous game viewing destination. Rather chill, catch a cocktail, as you enjoy views from the beautiful grounds across the river and the floodplains into Namibia on the far side.
Mowana, more elevated than other lodges on the Botswana river bank, has arguably the best views, with all 112 bedrooms and four suites having sliding glass doors opening onto a private patio with views of the Chobe River, though you may have to share the patio with vervet monkeys or a warthog or two, especially if you have fruit. The upstairs bar is the place to be if you want to see the most beautiful African sunsets.
There’s a warm, nurturing atmosphere under the welcoming outstretched arms of the central mighty Mowana (baobab) tree. The high thatched roof of the lobby pretty much points at the tree, and lodge buildings circle it- at a respectful distance.
There’s a sparkling pool and, away from the main buildings, a rimflow pool adjacent to the spa and in front of the gym- perfect for a few laps before sunset and dinner.
The spa is managed by the delightful Gaone Mokalake and she and Kelebogile Moses acquit themselves admirably in the spacious, well-appointed couples’ treatment room. It’s always great when knowledgeable hands intuit the kinks that need ironing out. I learn a technique or two as I drool into my mask.
Covid protocols are carefully adhered to at Mowana and I smile inwardly as Hilary studiously unwraps the tv remote from its protective sheath in our comfortable, spacious executive suite. We enjoy the old world yet fresh style of this overhauled grande dame (Mowana, not Hilary).
Refreshed and Refreshing
Taking inspiration from the river and the surrounding vegetation to make it contemporary. I would definitely say the overall tone of “luxury meets nature” has been achieved and, having visited before, appreciate the new decks, the decluttering, the clean, contemporary surfaces with minimalistic organic elements like chandeliers and iconic pieces of furniture and wall sculptures.
Fresh blues and greens with greys and white lighten everything and create a cool, calm, refreshing feel which complements the warmth of the thatch and terracotta flooring. The tech upgrades are much appreciated, with an improved Wi-Fi experience and many more plug points.
Beyond what I have already shared, a full day outing to Victoria Falls is a moving must-do, if you’ve not been (even if you have). Also, perhaps take advantage of the recently opened bridge at the conjunction of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s made cross-border excursions so much easier.
Impalila Island, close to the lodge and also straddling the intersection of where the countries meet, is another interesting visit, with a huge 2000-year-old baobab tree riddled with bullets from when South African armed forces used the tree as both a lookout, a heavy machine gun placement and- clearly- target practice.
That mowana outlasted all- as, I’m sure, will your memories.
Most travelers arrive aboard Airlink jets from Johannesburg, South Africa. Airlink operates daily direct flights between Johannesburg and Kasane. Air Botswana also flies into Kasane, but not daily and via other Botswana destinations- which is fine if you are also visiting the amazing Okavango Delta, but otherwise not so much.
Flame of Africa, operating within Cresta Mowana, is the most convenient- and offers the most comprehensive water based transport and activities, but there are many transfer and activity providers, such as Wild Horizons and Pangolin Photo Safaris.
Check out these links to some of the activities I’ve mentioned: https://flameofafrica.com/product-category/dayactivities/chobe-fishing/
For the better part of a decade I travelled hard, fast and continuously- chasing deadlines for weekly travel features linked to prizes. Not being quite a tourist, or on holiday, affords a different perspective, as does "speed dating" with owners and staff. Like in movies, associations and relationships are accelerated and in most cases I get a peek behind the scenes of the many wonder filled places I've been. Have a peek yourself.