With fish eagles calling and the water a burnished orange, there are, I’d wager, few places in Africa that lay on a sunset quite like the Chobe River. These waters begin in the highlands of Angola, flowing through the famed Linyanti Wetlands to form a sinuous border between Namibia and Botswana, before joining the Zambezi River at Kazungula, Zambia. Upstream of here, with the grasslands of Namibia to the north and the lush bushveld of Chobe National Park to the south, there’s a remarkable landscape of water and wildlife to discover — and few better ways to discover it than aboard the Zambezi Queen, a 42m houseboat.
It sails as far as 25km up-river from Kasane, Botswana — the tourist hub of the region where guests join the boat for three- and four-night sailings. With 14 suites and communal areas spread across three decks, the Zambezi Queen is billed as a houseboat, but has more of the feel of a floating boutique hotel. And a rather good-looking one at that.
The Zambezi Queen relaunched in March after a major refurbishment, infusing contemporary elegance into both private and public spaces. The new aesthetic is the work of Maurette van Eyssen, founder of the interior-architectural design house Mi Designs, who took her cue from the colours and textures on both banks of the river. Nguni hides are a nod to villagers’ cattle grazing on the Namibian shore, while natural textures and tones echo the lush Chobe landscape in Botswana.
“Bringing nature into the design was very important, since I wanted to create a seamless, sophisticated flow from indoors to outdoors,” says Van Eyssen, who found myriad touchpoints with which to work. “The subtle colour palette of nature, the reeds growing along the river, the trees on the banks, the boldness of the building clouds before the storm, the bright designs on [local] printed skirts.” Accent fabrics by Ardmore add an eclectic and colourful splash to the décor, and the revamped suites are as spacious as you’d find in many chic lodges on dry land, with full-size bathrooms and generous showers.
However, if you’re still worried about space aboard, then book one of the four luxury suites at the bow, offering wide balconies and great views. The views from the lounge and dining areas are just as impressive. The entire top deck of the Zambezi Queen is devoted to communal guest spaces, including a glorious sun deck and splash pool. Indoors, the space is divided into a restaurant, bar, and a handful of intimate lounges. Here deep couches face sliding picture windows, allowing for effortless game viewing with a glass of something cold on hand.
The bar — brass-clad to reflect the golden sunset — is well stocked with South African wines and local brands, and you only pay extra for spirits and champagne. But, as comfortable as life is aboard the Zambezi Queen, half the adventure is leaving her behind. Much like a traditional land-based safari lodge, days here follow a familiar rhythm of morning and afternoon activities. Most days begin with excursions in search of wildlife. The difference on the Zambezi Queen is that these activities are afloat, with speedboat safaris offering a unique perspective on this game-rich corner of Africa.
And now is perhaps the best time of year to visit, as the dry season — May to September — brings vast herds of herbivores to the water, and grazing, of the Chobe River. Wildlife aside, you can also cast a line for hard-fighting tiger fish or enjoy some cultural immersion with a visit to local villages. Whichever way you spend your daylight hours, just be sure you’re back in time for sunset. With a G&T in hand and the Zambezi Queen anchored gently in the stream, tell me that isn’t the most beautiful one you’ve seen in Africa.
• From the May edition of Wanted, 2023.