Travel Icon: Tales of the Riverboat
A trip down the Chobe River on the Zambezi Voyager is the best and most relaxing way to get close to Botswana’s abundant riverside wildlife.
We’d stopped to view a ginormous crocodile on the riverbank when a male fish eagle swooped feet first into the water, right next to our boat.
For years I’ve recommended houseboats as an alternative to the Victoria Falls for a post safari ‘chill-out’. The idea of slowly meandering down the river looking at elephants, hippos and birds while sitting on a sofa with my feet up appealed to my lazier side. In November last year I finally visited with my family – we booked a three-night boat stay to follow an excellent mobile camping safari through Botswana.
The king-sized bed on board turned out to be the perfect remedy after six nights in a camp bed on safari and we all enjoyed a more relaxed pace for game and bird viewing. The Zambezi Voyager is the new kid on the block. Well, to be fair, it’s been on the river for a number of years, but rarely accepted guests as the owner preferred to use it for himself and his friends.
Rod and Linda Herring bought the boat last year and although they live in Johannesburg, Rod is often on board fixing chairs or making improvements. Mike, the captain, takes good care of you and Sabrina is a wonderful if rather shy chef. Most people join them for a two- or three-night cruise, but some climb aboard for a much longer stay.
We took up three of the five available rooms on the boat, and Rod was staying in the fourth. This meant that for two of the three nights we had the whole boat, including attentive staff, to ourselves. It was nice to eat dinner with another couple on the last night but we didn’t see them again as we rose at different times and had private activities.
Talking of which, the activities – both on and off board, are abundant and include fishing, visiting communities along the river, walking safaris and scenic cruises aboard your personal tender boat. Being on the river is such a relaxing experience – you don’t even have to leave the boat to view game as the sides are all removable.
As with other houseboats in the area, the Zambezi Voyager is usually based on the Chobe River, mooring on the Namibian riverbank opposite the Chobe National Park. The moorings themselves are on private land that has been leased from the local fishing communities and you can go and visit them during your stay.
We arrived on a speedboat as the houseboat was moving between moorings which, combined with the welcome cocktails and stunning view, was quite ‘James Bond’. During our stay Sabrina created fantastic light lunches and delicious dinners for us.
We enjoyed wonderful game viewing right from the dining room table – one lunch time we were treated to a huge herd of elephant drinking and bathing on the opposite bank of the river. One baby elephant was clearly having a whale of a time, running around on the riverbank, waving her trunk in the air before plunging into the shallow water face-first.
We also spotted some really curious hippo behaviour that I had never seen before. They swam against the current, breaching out of the water for air before arching back into the river – they looked just like dolphins!
One of the big attractions of the Chobe River is the amazing variety of birdlife. As they’re often perched at eye level, they don’t necessarily perceive you to be a threat and will allow you to drift quite close to them, resulting in great sightings and brilliant photographs.
I particularly loved the pied kingfishers, which stand out beautifully against the blue sky. A real highlight for me were the fish eagles. You see these all the time on safari in Botswana, perched in trees near to rivers and waterholes and I’ve never really looked twice at them.
On the Chobe River though, the guides know which trees they like to roost in and while we had stopped one afternoon to view a ginormous crocodile that was basking on the riverbank, a male fish eagle swooped feet first into the water, right next to our boat, plucked out a huge silvery fish and then rejoined his partner in the tree to enjoy the spoils. It came as a bit of a surprise.
Once a year the boat voyages onto the Zambezi River to moor up opposite the massive carmine bee-eater colonies. If you have never seen a carmine colony, this is one trip that should definitely be on your bucket list.
Botswana: Frequently asked questions
Flight time from the USA
19 hours (New York to Maun)
Best time to visit
The best time to see the most game from aboard the boat is during the dry season, which lasts from May to October. In the dry season skies are clear and blue and the animals congregate around the riverfront, particularly from August to October. View our 'Best time to visit Botswana' guide.
The Zambezi Voyager houseboat, owned by South Africans Rod and Linda Herring, is usually found meandering down the Chobe River but also journeys once a year onto the Zambezi River to view the spectacular carmine bee-eater colonies nesting. It has five comfortable en suite cabins, an open-plan living and dining room area complete with a bar, an outside Jacuzzi and a roof-top viewing deck. Each cabin has its own guide and tender boat offering complete flexibility and a range of activities.
Tailor-made itinerary ideas in Botswana
An authentic safari experience in the beautiful Botswana bush particularly good for photographers, birders, older families and adventurous travellers who don't mind waking up to the sound of an elephant walking past your tent!
Enjoy a self drive tour of southern Namibia's desert scenery combined with a guided safari in the heart of Botswana's Okavango Delta.
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