It wasn’t long ago that the average camper and bush enthusiast was restricted to sensibly safe, relatively tame campsites and wildlife destinations and the really isolated, truly wild stuff was left to madmen and serial adventurers with the Bear Grylls gene, happy to sleep in trees and to eat frogs for breakfast.
These days, with semi-collapsible 4×4 caravans and bush-trailers, pocket-sized, self-pitching tents, and 4x4s and camping gear in general on steroids, there’s no such thing at the ‘average camper’ and anyone with an appetite for adventure can heed the call of those truly wild, off-the-beaten-track destinations.
And it doesn’t get much more off-the-beaten track than Namibia’s best kept secret: Mamili National Park.
Though Namibia generally brings to mind endless, shifting, sand-filled panoramas, the Caprivi Strip’s Mamili National Park (which borders world-famous safari destinations Savuti and Linyanti) is quite the opposite. In fact, for much of the year the majority of the park is inaccessible to all but the most aquatically kitted-out, croc- and hippo-proof vehicles and, of course, the local wildlife that drifts in and out across its fenceless borders as instinct demands.
During the short dry season from September to November, however, the park becomes a true wetland paradise, a veritable Shangri-la for the avid birder and wilderness-nut. You’ll still need a 4×4 to tackle the deep, sandy roads that dominate a lot of the landscape, and though it’s not a pre-requisite, a snorkel helps to cross some of the shifting waterways between scattered pools, but for the dedicated seeker of wild and wonderful African experiences, Mamili does not disappoint.
For the price of a Big Mac meal, you can pick a tree, pitch your tent, and call it home every night, falling asleep under the starry sky to the sound of hippos munching their way across your temporary back yard. In the daytime, the un-mapped maze of roads and dams is yours to explore, and the wonders around each corner will keep you exploring around the next. Whether it’s following the dinner-plate sized tracks of resident lions through the sand, spotting a pair of rare wattled cranes beside a remote pond, turning a corner to be met with a sea of great white pelicans, or just sitting in the shade of a tree and listening to hippos laugh at herds of rumbling elephants, the wonders of this extraordinary wetland are endless.
Although Mamili boasts at least four of the big five (elephants, lions, leopards, and buffalo), it’s no Kruger National Park with sightings around every corner, and that’s actually part of its charm. You may only see and hear a handful of species during your entire stay, but in the complete wilderness of Mamili every sight and sound feels like a treat and a genuine accomplishment.
There’s a catch, of course, (and for some the catch might already be the lack of fences). For the ultimate wilderness experience a few sacrifices need to be made, and in Mamili the biggest sacrifice is perhaps the flushable toilet. With no facilities within the park at all, visitors need to be entirely self-sufficient in terms of water, wood, fuel, and power, and while that still doesn’t mean you need to be happy to sleep in a tree and eat frogs for breakfast, you definitely need to be content with the D.I.Y. ‘shovel-and-matches’ ablutions.
There is an alternative for those for whom a hole in the ground is going too far. Rupara Community Lodge just 2.5 km north of the park entrance (but still within the natural area that game has access to) has four very basic, shady stands with running water and flushing toilets, but hey, if you’re going to rough it you may as well go the whole hog.
Soon to become Nkasa Lupala National Park, there’s talk of other changes to come for Mamili, and we can but hope that these changes don’t interfere too much with the overall charm that this well-kept secret has to offer. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, perhaps it’s best to plan your trip now while you’re still guaranteed a truly wild, remote, and wonderful African wetland experience, whether you’ve got the Bear Grylls gene or not.
Most of the action takes place at the edge of the natural pools that are scattered right throughout the reserve. Here anyone with a decent telephoto lens (300 mm and longer) has the opportunity to photograph hippos, African fish eagles, great white pelicans, marabou storks and a host of other water birds.
Remember that there are no hides in the reserve, so most of your wildlife photography will be done through the car window.
If I want to go:
Where? Approximately 75 km south of Kongola
Closest border post is Ngoma (Open daily from 7am to 6pm)
All non-Namibian registered vehicles must pay a cross border tax of R220, which must be paid at the CBC office in Katima Mulilo (at the T-junction of the B8 to Rundu) if you used Ngoma as your entry point. Keep the slip for when you exit the country.
When? September to November, when the park is at its driest.
Cost? R5/person/day and R10/vehicle/day entry
Camping: R25/person/night in Mamili
R80/person/night at Rupara
Facilities: None. For now, visitors choose their own campsite and have to be completely self-sufficient (water, wood, fuel, and power). Remember to buy wood in Kongola – there’s none for sale on the way to the park.
Bookings: You simply arrive at the entrance of the park, but make sure to sign in and pay the friendly officer at the Shisintze MET office, which is sign-posted.
Also visit http://www.namibian.org/travel/namibia/mamili.html for more information.
For Rupara Campsite, call Luscious Maezi on +264-8139-71932
GPS points: Shisintze MET office at: S18.33431° E23.66304°
Nice campsite 1: S18.38038° E23.74758° (under massive sausage tree)
Nice campsite 2: S18.38619° E23.73520° (on small oxbow pool)
Road conditions: Mamili is 4×4 country and can get completely waterlogged in the wet season (November to May), making much of the park inaccessible. Certain areas are extremely sandy, so you’ll feel safer with low range.
Malaria: This is a malaria area, so remember to take your medication.
TOP TIP: Don’t visit Mamili without Tracks 4 Africa on your GPS.
Info about the authors
The following info can be used at the bottom of the articles. See photo: mamili-12
“Tabby Mittins and Villiers Steyn both studied Nature Conservation and now work as freelance travel writers for South Africa’s top travel and outdoor magazines. The job allows them to combine their passions for travelling, writing and photography as they journey from one wild place to the next, exploring Southern Africa’s most beautiful natural destinations.”
Please visit www.villierssteyn.com and www.visionphotography.com