Only re-declared a national park in 2007, following the years of conflict and unrest in the region, the Bwabwata National Park is still in its infancy, with facilities virtually non-existent. Though the protected area stretches 200km along the entire neck of the Zambezi Region, the only two areas open to tourists lie at either end of the strip: at the western end, the Mahango Core Area borders the Okavango River, while at the eastern end, the Kwando Core Area borders the river of the same name. Despite being part of the same national park, these two reserves require separate permits. In between these two areas, yet still within the national park boundaries, the tarred B8 – the main artery that traverses the whole region – is punctuated with traditional villages of reed-thatched rondavels, from where cattle and goats occasionally wander onto the highway.
Mahango Core Area
The main entrance to the Mahango Core Area lies on the through gravel road to the Botswana border, which cuts through the park. Visitors to the reserve proper can choose between two circuits. The shorter 15km river route, to the east, runs along a decent dirt road (accessible in a saloon car) and is preferred by most visitors, as the more open grasslands, floodplains and stretches of the Okavango River afford more varied scenery – including a couple of giant baobabs – and better wildlife viewing opportunities, especially in the dry season. Hippos and crocodiles lurk in the river, with elephant and buffalo regular visitors in the heat of the day. Grazing nearby, you’re likely to spot sable and roan antelope alongside the more commonly sighted antelopes, while tsessebe and wildebeest are also present. The two “picnic sites,” where you are allowed to get out of your vehicle and stretch your legs, lack benches and tables.
The longer 30km meander west of the main road is only for 4WD, and takes you through denser broad-leafed woodland, where it’s harder to spot animals, though in the dry season, the Thingwerengwere waterhole can attract thirsty visitors. The park is a favourite with bird-lovers, with over 450 species recorded – more than any other park in Namibia.
Kwando Core Area
Unlike its western counterpart this eastern section of Bwabwata National Park, the Kwando Core Area, is only accessible by 4WD. It consists of low-lying vegetated sand dunes covered in deciduous woodlands of wild seringa, Zambezi teak and copalwood, as well as areas thick with acacia and combretum species. The main, poorly signed sandy track twists and turns for several kilometres before reaching the wetland areas, where your efforts are most likely to be rewarded. And the rewards can be substantial, especially along the banks of the Kwando River – where stunning carmine bee-eaters nest (Aug–Nov) – and at Horseshoe Bend, an oxbow lake that lies some 10km into the park. Here, resident hippos snort and wiggle their ears while vast herds of elephants can be seen converging on the water in the afternoon, to bathe, drink and play. Buffalo and impala are also present in large concentrations in the reserve, alongside roan and sable antelope, whilst the elusive sitatunga – a strange amphibious antelope – can also be spotted. You’d have to be very lucky, though, to encounter wild dogs; though the park is one of the last refuges in Namibia for these endangered animals, only a handful are estimated to inhabit the area. Leopard, lion and hyena are also occasionally visible.