Above us, only sky… and beneath, the wild waters of the Okavango in all its glory, complete with an abundance of crocodile, hippo and over ninety species of fish that subsist within its depths. The only thing separating you from being swallowed into the hues of blue, whether overhead or underwater, is a thin canvas sheet or layer of wooden planks.
And no, this is not a local take on John and Yoko’s Imagine. This is the reality of living in a floating tent on one of the longest river systems on the African continent. Here, nature makes a constant effort to keep its viewer spellbound with a continuously impressive performance. As a start, and within arm’s reach of your front porch, a family of hippo goes about their daily routine of snorting, yawning (while showing off sets of monstrous teeth), twitching ears and bobbing their heavy bodies in and out of the water. Across the waters is the Buffalo Core Area of Bwabwata National Park, and expect to be entertained by the bulk of the Big Five – as a matter of fact, all except for the rhino – plus all their furry and feathered friends. “It’s a constant ballet of game parading along the banks”, as one guest aptly described the animal party. And if you are one of those who need some form of human interaction in order to feel alive, fear not, you’ll most probably have a show of locals bravely taking a bath in the shallower pools, or transporting themselves up and down the river in a mokoro.
This rare piece of paradise is found at Ndhovu Safari Lodge. Ndhovu, which translates into elephant from the local Mbukushu language, saw its doors, or tent flaps, open in 1989, right in time to witness the dawn of a new era in Namibian history, and officially making it the oldest private lodge on the western banks of the Okavango. It boasts two floating tents as the latest addition to its unique portfolio, an initiative by its third and current owner, Ralf Speh, who had the idea of bringing his guests even closer to the river, or literally, on top of it. Ralf, who originally hails from Germany, first set foot in Namibia as a visitor in 1993. Some seven years later he returned, this time as a tour guide, and during his very first visit to Ndhovu, concluded that he wanted to settle there – and preferably own it – “because of its spectacular view over the park”. In 2018, his dream finally became reality and Ralf has since made it his mission to not only improve and expand the facilities, but also offer exclusive activities to his lodgers.
In 2023, the lodge became the first in Namibia to offer day trips to the World Heritage Site of Tsodilo Hills in Botswana, with the added option of scenic flights over the surrounding area. Other bookable adventures include fishing and birding excursions, boat safaris, day trips to Popa Falls (yes, also by boat), a personalised walkabout through the local village of Kamutjonga, and game drives into the Buffalo and Mahango Core Areas. Both park trips offer unique access routes: the first is by sending guests across the river by boat, where they are met by their guide and taken into the depths of the wilderness with a history and remnants of war (Buffalo Battalion ring a bell?), while the latter is the easy way by road, a distance of just four kilometres from the lodge.
As the final cherry on top and after an exciting day exploring the area and all it has to offer, look forward to a family-style three-course dinner. Creatively cooked up by chef Abisai Hango, and presented in both English and Mbukushu, it is the ideal opportunity to learn some local lingo while basking in the satisfaction of another unforgettable adventure.
Marita van Rooyen