The waterway leads us to Serondela, a classic safari lodge accessible only by boat. En route to our luxury destination from Kasane the river is buzzing with houseboats, tourists on cruises, fishermen and service vessels. Around every bend, the further we glide over the water, boats and people become increasingly scarce, replaced by numerous African Fish Eagles and hippos. The densely lodge-dotted banks near Kasane are now a distant memory as we slack the boat’s speed. Serondela comes into view. Silence falls. Across the stream is a resident lion pride of six stunning specimens, lazing in the drizzle from the clouds above, welcoming our arrival. It’s going to be one magnificent sunset, as can be expected from the awe-inspiring scenery and rain clouds withering on the horizon.
Serondela’s story starts with the quest to test a new houseboat. Co-founder Simone Micheletti set up camp here, and fell in love with the view, sheer silence and secluded nature of the island. A houseboat simply wouldn’t do it justice. Instead, seven luxury chalets, one family bungalow and an open-plan communal area were built with unobstructed and exclusive views of this bend in the Chobe River.
When the mighty Chobe is in flood, Sedondela’s spaces are a stone-throw from the water. In the dryer season, it’s a short stroll. Either way, the wilderness is at arm’s length, the city sounds are unheard, and guests can truly immerse themselves in the environment rich with plants, mammals, reptiles and birdlife.
A morning boat cruise takes us upstream. Peering attentively into the trees for a highly anticipated leopard encounter we find a Giant Kingfisher instead, no less exciting as this is my first sighting of the beautiful orange-breasted bird. More wildlife wonder unfolds. Young crocodiles bask in the sun, unbothered by our presence. A Cape Cormorant, perched atop the skeleton of a fallen tree, gulps down a sizable fish breakfast. Upon returning to Serondela’s boat bay, a large herd of elephants come to drink, little ones clumsily weave between the older females, who stop drinking only to form a huddle guarding their precious offspring. Caught up in the manoeuvres of the largest land mammal, we almost missed the full-grown water monitor at the hull of our boat, surveying the bank. With a split tongue slithering through its dinosaur-like snout, and a tail the length of its body swaying through the low grass, the water monitor is sensing its surroundings, searching ceaselessly for an avian egg to munch on.
Returning to the lodge for a scrumptious breakfast overlooking the Chobe River, the guests eat and sip coffee in silence, taking in the ever-increasing herds of elephants moving through the panoramic view. When we retreat to our suite to escape the heat, a large group of impalas graze on the floodplain visible from the fairytale bed and mosquito canopy. Serondela’s rooms are classically decorated and utterly comfortable. The bathroom features double-basins, a circular shower and traditionally woven laundry basket.
After spending a warm day by the splash pool, dozing off with a book and returning to the main area for an afternoon gin and tonic, we embark on another cruise, this time venturing downstream. The dense rain clouds drive a big group of hippo out of the water – a rare treat to see them on the banks, as they usually only emerge at night-time to graze. With Oxpecker birds on their back, the curvy creatures wade slowly through the bits of green at their fat feet. More elephants, waterbuck, a Marabou, a Yellow-billed Stork and Fish Eagles show off by the water, making for brilliant pictures and a proximity unheard of on a game viewer vehicle.
Serondela is special, not only because of its unique lodge design, superb staff and delicious food, but also because of the wildlife wonderland that surrounds it. The best part being: it’s almost all yours, away from the humdrum of the massive hotels and car parking competition to get the best view of an animal. Serondela and its surroundings are the wildlife wonderland worthy of long-haul flights, boat rides and border controls. It is Chobe at its very finest!