The old Caprivi, today prosaically called the Zambezi Region, is a long stabbing finger erupting out of the top corner of Namibia, pointing due east and ending in a distinct curved fingertip. It’s here, in the southernmost dip of the fingertip, that the 320 km² Nkasa Rupara Park nestles. Most people have never heard of it. Formerly known as Mamili, a family name belonging to a hierarchy of traditional leaders from a local tribe, the national park in recent years was renamed after the two main islands of this predominantly marshland region.
Nkasa Rupara is in fact Namibia’s largest formally protected wetland area. Fed by the Kwando River Delta, which benefits from the same Zambezi River Catchment system that swells the waters of the Okavango and Linyanti Swamps each year, it is consequently marsh and wetland for much of its life. Its inaccessibility is one reason for the lack of visitors.
We stayed at a small, wonderfully remote lodge, Jackalberry Tented Camp, and from the moment we arrived, elephant were rumbling and swishing branches outside our hostess’s tent (we had to be escorted to our own tents nearby), hippo grumped and grumbled in a continuous sound loop, and throughout the night, the bellow and staccato grunts of a lion thrilled us from our pillows. A three-storey open-sided wooden tower constitutes the dining and lounge areas. It forges into the branches of a mighty Jackalberry tree, offering lovely breezes and unfettered views across a flourishing sweep of grasslands and marsh dams.
There is a certain magic to Nkasa Rupara. When it’s dry (during the high point of the seasonal floods, 80% of the park is inundated with water) it has a true bushveld feel. In the early mornings, for miles around, shoulder-high grasslands are a lustrous golden-yellow, there are Sausage trees with giant long pendulous fruits, beautiful glossy-green canopied Jackalberries, big-leaved dusty-green Large Fever-Berries and, my favourite, Leadwoods. Symbolic trees of Africa, their branches splay outward, painting dark tracery across the sky. Trunks are fissured and cracked and crusty, while spreading canopies assemble into clusters of painted dots.
We couldn’t approach Nkasa Island for the swamps and marshes, but from a distance we trained our binoculars on herds of over 40 elephant gathered there. We watched the dusty train of a buffalo mini-migration, heavy swaying heads held low. And we were thrilled by a string of red lechwe bouncing vertically through the water with an almighty splash, a sort of pronking not dissimilar to our own springbok. These marshlands also harbour water-loving sitatunga, similar in appearance to nyala, with their white stripes and dots across each flank.
Most of the big wildlife herds are migratory, since the park falls under the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Area, which means there are no fences between Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Numbers, therefore, vary depending on the season and the rains. The birdlife, too, is scintillating … our bird roll call went from Green Wood Hoopoe, Black-crowned Tchagra, and Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove to Dickinson’s Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon and Pearl-Spotted Owlet. At the end of our stay, we simply couldn’t find any reason not to go back.
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