One of the great game parks of Africa, Chobe National Park stretches over 11,700 sq km, from Kasane in the extreme north east of the country to Moremi Game Reserve in the southwest. Up here, I'm in the heart of elephant country.
Chobe National Park is home to 45 000 of the magnificent animals and the area is also renowned for its teeming game and abundant predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog. After the rains, the buffalo, wildebeest and zebra migrate south, followed by large prides of lions. Then later in the year, when the interior waterholes have dried up, they make the journey back to the rivers in the north.
The Chobe river-front promises good game sightings throughout the year. Huge herds of elephant, among the largest in the world, come down daily to the river to drink. Hippos are plentiful and some of the resident crocodiles measure up to 6m in length. The area also has an abundance of bird life with over 450 species identified.
Driving through the eerie landscape of dead acacia trees, we pass several buffalo drinking at a waterhole. Then around a corner and the majestic Chobe river comes into sight. Recent heavy rains in Angola have flooded downstream and the sparkling waters are in flood. The river and floodplains are at their highest level in years and in some places resemble a lake.
Chobe Game Lodge is the only permanent accommodation situated inside the park. It has 46 luxurious en-suite rooms set in a tranquil garden where resident warthogs can often be found grazing. The lodge was made famous when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor chose it as the venue for one of their weddings.
After unpacking, it's time for a sundowner cruise. The bird life is astounding and in a short space of time, I see martial and fish eagles, Egyptian geese, herons, a saddle-billed stork and the colourful carmine bee-eaters. The sun sinks low, casting a warm glow over the watery land. Framed by distant trees, an elephant stands silhouetted in the fiery light as it wades through a shallow floodplain.
Dinners at the lodge are gastronomic affairs. For starters, there's a choice of Camembert cheese in phyllo pastry, avocado and seafood creole or vegetable soup with croutons. The main course is more complicated as there are seven mouth-watering dishes to choose from.
Venison casserole in a red wine with cranberry sauce; roast guinea fowl with wild berries in a ginger sauce; grilled crocodile brochettes or Mozambican prawns; fillet of Chobe bream; roasted breast of duck with a mango and green peppercorn sauce.
Finally there's fillet of kudu with reduced wine and a balsamic vinegar sauce. After much deliberation, I settle for the guinea fowl, which is delicious.
The next morning, I'm up very early for a sunrise game drive. My guide is Leonard Kasale who has been working at Chobe Game Lodge for four years. We set off along the dusty road and in the west the sky slowly changes from a black to a misty blue.
Looking east, a thin pink line heralds the coming of dawn. The Chobe river turns blood red and then the sun rises, bathing the landscape in a warm orange glow. We stop to photograph a grey heron and suddenly a call comes over the two-way radio. There's a pack of wild dog further down the riverbank.
We arrive at Puku Flats to see the dogs pacing the waters edge. An injured impala frantically treads water offshore. The dogs attacked the buck and chased it into the river where its been swimming for 20 minutes.
Suddenly they disappear and the bedraggled impala limps onto land before stumbling away into the bush. Minutes later the dogs return and sniff the ground to catch the scent. In his injured state, the impala is not much more than fast food.
I watch in wonder as the beautiful beasts jostle gently and slurp up water with their intertwining trunks. Some spray themselves with dust and two little babies not more than three months old roll in the water and play-wrestle in the mud.
After lunch and a siesta at the pool, I head out with Leonard with a sunset drive. The full beauty of Chobe reveals itself as we bump along the sandy roads, passing stark acacia trees and glistening stretches of water. In the softening light, we watch giraffe and kudu grazing. Then a large herd of 40 elephants parade down to the river to drink.
At the gates of Chobe Game Lodge
The landscape glows gold and a huge herd of several hundred buffalo arrive, their bulky bodies backlit by the setting sun. In the African bush, the buffalo is a legend as there's nothing more dangerous than a lone bull.
The formidable beasts stop to eye us with a lidded stare. Then they saunter down quietly to quench their thirst. All is peaceful at the river and the sun disappears in a kaleidoscope of purples and pinks. A family of Egyptian geese fly off from the bank and 15 hippos lie motionless and half submerged in the water.
Then suddenly all hell breaks loose. One large hippo rises up, opens his huge pink jaws and bellows out. The whole herd of buffalo stampede past us in a cloud of dust, their thundering hooves breaking the silence of the African night.
'm spellbound by the wildlife spectacle but there's still more to come. On the drive back in the dark, we spot a pride of 10 lions sitting right next to the road. We arrive back at the lodge and although he's worked here for four years, Leonard is as excited as I am.'This has really been a fabulous game drive,' he says smiling. 'We've had some great sightings and a beautiful sunset, but that buffalo stampede with all the noise and the dust was just the best.' Still drifting on an animal high, all I can do is return his smile, nod my head and amiably agree.Copyright © 2003 Jeremy Jowell. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.