At the confluence of the Zambezi and the Chobe rivers, over 100km southeast of Katima, sits Impalila Island, which marks the easternmost tip of Namibia. Its unique and enviable position, overlooking both scenic waterways, and within easy striking distance of Chobe National Park, across in Botswana, and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia, makes it the perfect spot for high-end wilderness lodges. Captivating scenery and sunsets abound, and superlative wildlife safaris can be conducted on water as well as on land – in a motorboat or a mokoro (the traditional dugout canoe), or even from the deck of a houseboat.
The island’s location, within sight of three of Namibia’s neighbouring countries, also justified the island’s former strategic importance as a military base for the SADF during the 1980s. Though the base has long gone and the barracks now house a school, the tarred airstrip remains to bring in lodge visitors to Impalila – the only way to access the island without going into Botswana.
The eastern wetlands
Whereas the larger Zambezi flows inevitably eastwards towards Victoria Falls and ultimately the Indian Ocean, the Chobe River occasionally exhibits a curious phenomenon: on the rare occasions when the upper Zambezi floods, you can witness the Chobe River’s flow being temporarily reversed, as it is forced to run westwards until the floodwaters recede and it resumes its usual course once more, sliding into the Zambezi.
Between the two rivers, west of Impalila, their swampy floodplains extend, laced with deep channels of water lined with high reeds and clumps of papyrus. The area is more populated than you might imagine, with over two thousand Lozi making a living from subsistence farming, hunting and fishing, leading a semi-nomadic existence as they move with the rise and fall of the river levels, seeking higher land when the floodwaters swell (generally from March onwards). Significant quantities of large mammals are returning to the region, and the prolific birdlife is a further draw.