Leonardo da Vinci said ‘water is the driving force of all nature’ and nowhere is that more true than in Africa. Yet despite the fear of drought and ongoing prayers for rain to wet the earth and settle the dust, fill dams and water holes while bringing green shoots to the vast plains, Africa offers some of the best water-based playgrounds in the world. In its waterfalls and oceans, on its river’s tributaries and sleepy canals, if you are a lover of water like I am, you’ll find your place here. These are five must-have African water experiences.
Dhow sailing in the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
An area that speaks the language of luxury beach cliches, is the Bazaruto Archipelago where you’ll find a firm favourite in Azura Benguerra. The first eco-friendly resort in Mozambique, Azura was hand-built and is operated in partnership with the local community. Set on a pristine island within an established Marine National Park, there are deserted beaches of pure white sand that extend for miles, sparkling turquoise seas crisscrossed by local dhows, sunny days and star-studded nights. Just 20 villas line the stretch of beach, with all the creature comforts you could wish for, fish and seafood served fresh from the ocean and a wide range of activities and experiences. Should you wish, there is a Padi 5 Star dive centre, excellent snorkelling at the Two Mile Beach, island picnics and dhow excursions. An island tour is an absolute must, as is climbing the tallest sand dune for miles. An absolute highlight is sailing on a handcrafted dhow with some local fishermen, just the stirring of the sails in the wind for company. The water is so clear, that you will see all the way to the bottom.
Mokoro riding in the Okavango Delta, Botswana
Known as the jewel of the Kalahari for good reason, the Okavango Delta is on every safari enthusiast’s wish list and when you get there, you know exactly why. A unique oasis regarded as one of Africa’s best safari destinations, this important inland wetlands records 2500 species of plants, 65 of fish, 20 herbivores and their predators and more than 450 species of birds. This is a place of concentrated magic. My highlights here was having my guide manoeuvre me through the reed-lined waterways in the traditional Mokoro or dugout canoe. It’s the quiet that struck me most and I could just sit and absorb the setting and the moment and how close we could get to the animals in this unobtrusive way. There are also drives from some camps and bush walks too, but this is peace personified.
Island Hopping off Madagascar’s Nosy Be
Madagascar off Africa’s East Coast is a land of plenty with rainforests, unique wildlife, iconic Baobab avenues and a capital city Antananarivo, that shimmers golden in the evening light. Yet it’s the islands off Nosy Be that hold the magic for the water lovers. Easily reached by an Airlink flight from Johannesburg, I recommend you book a 4, 5 or 7 day catamaran charter with MadagasCaT, hopping between the remote islands to visit a lemur sanctuary, spend time in local fishing villages, eat fruit just harvested in the wild and take guided walks in the forests. That is when you’re not scuba diving or snorkelling off the boat of course. For this, Madagascat has themed fully inclusive very affordable packages onboard their Gecko or Maki-Cat boats.
After your time onboard you may consider a few nights on one of the bigger islands as you acclimatise back to land. Sakatia is good for this, with Sakatia Lodge, run by South Africans, offering beginner and advanced scuba diving courses for a much better price than you would find at home. They are renowned for snorkelling with sea turtles, who come to eat the seagrass just offshore, an experience that I’ll hold dear always. And if indulgence is your want, take a few nights on the speck of land that jets out of the blue, Constance Tsarabanjina Lodge, for a couple of nights or more. You’ll hope heaven is a place like this.
Getting soaked at Victoria Falls, Livingstone
Founded in 1905 and named after the renowned Scottish explorer Dr David Livingstone, Livingstone owes its existence primarily to Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders, as it is aptly known. Victoria Falls is the primary drawcard to this frontier town and in every sense lives up to its title as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. With a width of 1688m and height of 108m, in the season it sends more than five hundred million cubic meters of water plummeting over the edge each minute with sprays visible for miles reaching up to 400m and higher into the air. Nothing quite prepares you though for the sheer exhilaration of actually being there. Walking along the pathway that hugs the crevice, taking in the full force of the spray, soaked and excited as you gaze into the deep crevice and cascading waters below. The force of nature will astound you and this is certainly one of the more dramatic places to visit in Southern Africa. Be prepared to get soaked! Be it on the Zimbabwe or Zambian side.
Whale Watching in Hermanus, South Africa
South African whale-watching territory runs from coast to coast, but the densest numbers of southern right whales are undisputedly found in the sheltered bays of Hermanus in the Overberg. Having established a reputation for the best land-based whale watching in the country, their advantage is the scenic clifftop walk along the shoreline, which allows the whales to come in close to the shoreline for close observation. You’d do well to find the Whale Crier near the Old Harbour, who can point you towards the best sightings too. I took a boat trip with Southern Right Charters and loved every moment of it. With many whales in the bay, we kept our regulated distance as we watched them lob tailing, spy hopping, sailing and breaching in the distance. It’s a surreal experience.
Besides the whales, Hermanus is rich in the scenery with great accommodations, upmarket shops and adventure options, making it easy to understand why it is a popular place to linger. Just further along the shoreline, De Kelder and Witsand and their smaller villages may suit those who prefer a quieter setting. Wherever you choose to do it, get up close to these gentle giants for some very special whale appreciation.
It’s the African era, and no corner of our continent should go unmeasured or unexplored, be it water, bush or culture that brings you to the bright continent.