Tourists Flock to Kavango

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By Chrispin Inambao RUNDU Camera-toting tourists by their dozens, awash in hard currency and South African rands, are flocking to the Kavango Region to cruise by boat on its pristine river and to catch a glimpse of the wide variety of game, while also indulging in fishing. Several hospitality establishments such as the Sarasungu River Lodge, Ngandu Lodge, Mashare Lodge, Kavango River Lodge, Hakusembe River Lodge and Mahangu River Lodge as well as numerous bed-and-breakfast establishments are scoring from the upsurge in tourism. The Ngepi Campsite in the Bagani area is also a favourite of foreign visitors More than five years ago, tourism was adversely affected by the terrorist activities of the late Unita rebel leader Jonas Savimbi whose rag-tag army at the time unleashed a reign of terror. But since his death, peace has returned brought on an upswing in tourism. Though the region’s overall numbers of tourists are low compared to the crowds roaming parks in neigh-bouring Botswana, tourists from Angola, South Africa, Germany, the UK, USA, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and other affluent countries visit this north-eastern region. The pristine Kavango River, renowned for its tiger fish, attracts tourists who go angling for a big catch while bird viewing is another attraction for these pleasure-seekers. During the course of this week, Margaret Mukum-butaa a tourism azinspector from the Namibia Tourism Board (NBT), was in the region conducting on-site inspections to ensure lodges offer quality service and meet the standards set by the tourism agency. Two days ago, New Era caught up with Deon van Rensburg who was on a visit from Pretoria to the region accompanied by his wife Gerrie and a Joubert couple. Deon who co-owns Hoedspruit, a game farm in the Limpopo Province, and has already been to other major local tourist destinations, says: “We came here because it is still wild and it is a place where you can literally sleep with the elephants and the lions.” “We wanted to do tiger fishing but we were told the moon is not full … our timing is wrong,” said Van Rensburg, who added: “It’s a very, very nice clean river and we would like to see it in full flood,” referring to the Kavango that serves as a natural boundary to the country. While Johan Joubert, who was travelling in the same convoy with his wife Dulcie and owns a piece of the action adjacent to the Kruger National Park, said he is impressed with the manner in which Namibia runs its community-based tourism projects. Joubert, a Pretoria resident whose game farm Timbavati is home to elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards and rhinos, says foreign tourists look for primitive community projects and not five-star hotels because “it gives you a feeling you are in the bush.” Joubert was particularly impressed with the stretch of the river in the Divundu area where the river cascades over some rocks forming rapids at White Sands near the prison. The well-travelled South African described the stretch of the river at White Sands as being “magnificent”. “We know about the Okavango Swamps in Botswana but we now know its source,” said Joubert whose party had travelled through game-rich Botswana. Ai-Ais, LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz, Swa-kopmund, Walvis Bay and Etosha count among some of the destinations they have visited in what is turning out to be an annual ritual. Since they also visited the Bwabwata and Mudumu national parks, the two men and their wives were able to watch troops of baboons, monkeys, buffalo, elephant, kudu, hippo and warthogs. Though there are some “very nice hippo pools” in the Mamili National Park, the group regretted not being able to spot the prides of lion stalking other game in this reserve. Though both men where generally impressed with local hospitality and with the condition of both tarred and gravel roads, they said game densities were sparse in Namibia compared to parks in neighbouring Botswana and South Africa. Joubert also said wild animals in Namibia, compared those found in Botswana and in their own country, tended to be skittish and flee whenever they slowed for a better view. Another impression was that Namibia is generally clean and that there are no heaps of rubbish and the swarms of flies that normally thrive on garbage, and that the people they met were genuinely friendly and very helpful when they needed assistance. Another observation was that the lay-bys strategically placed along the roads keep fatigue at bay and those travelling long-distance “don’t get tired of driving.” Cilie Vermaak, the manageress of Ngandu, a lodge offering boat cruises for game fishing, bird viewing and sightseeing excursions with dugout canoe for the adventurous, said though there is a boom, her occupancy rate stood at 50 percent yesterday. She said booking for the three conference rooms stood at 100 percent, as all its three conference facilities were booked at the time New Era visited her in the morning. Tourist numbers normally start peaking at this time, but maybe due to global factors, the numbers have yet to peak in Kavango with most of the lodges not fully booked. Despite the fact that room occupancy is low, it appears the conference side of this business is faring well, and at Sarasungu a number of people where attending a workshop. Apart from its 41 luxury and standard rooms, all en-suite – some even with air-conditioning and DTSV – Ngandu also has a camping site that can easily accommodate up to 30 people and it has self-catering facilities, a curio shop and offers secretarial services. Ngandu boasts an a-la-carte restaurant where it serves traditional and west-coast cuisine and, for the more affluent, there are other luxury amenities available. The neighbouring lodge at Sarasungu on the other hand is located on the banks of the Kavango River and it boasts lovely thatched accommodation. Though business is relatively good for the industry in Kavango, tourism operators bemoan the fact that their e-mail lines are problematic and this affects communications, which in turn impacts negatively on business in general. Tourism is one of the mainstays of the economy and is one of the fastest-growing sectors, providing thousands of jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars for the economy.