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Zambezi Queen review: Animal magic on the Chobe river

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Those of us fortunate enough to experience the real-life 'beauty and the beasts' tableaux that unfold in the African bush have, until now, done so during a land safari. Now there's a unique opportunity to indulge in a peerless, water-borne encounter with the Dark Continent without stampedes of camera-wielding tourists onboard Zambezi Queen.

Often dubbed Africa's last wilderness, Botswana lies deep within southern Africa, the Kalahari Desert at its core. The premier stronghold is in the north where the Okavango River comes in from the rainy uplands of Angola. This inland delta has been called the world's largest oasis and together with the Chobe River it has been a magnet for wildlife since time immemorial.

The 4,200-square-mile Chobe National Park has one of the highest concentrations of big game in Africa. Apart from boasting the largest populace of elephant in the world with numbers estimated at around 120,000; this is the realm of lion and leopard, zebra and giraffe, as well as buffalo, waterbuck, eland, sable, roan antelope and rare puku. Forming the border with Namibia, the riverfront of the National Park is the essence of the Chobe - emerald floodplains that are home to great pods of galumphing hippopotamus while Cambrian crocodile are never far away.

Hippo in the Chobe river, Botswana

Conveying just 28 privileged passengers, the Zambezi Queen plies the Chobe River from its mooring on the Namibian side of this watercourse and offers an entirely different perspective on wildlife - for aboard this floating idyll the fauna of the Chobe become curious visitors.

Boasting ten Suites and four Master Suites this 140-ft long idiosyncratic craft's generous accommodation offers king-size or twin beds, showers, and private balconies which are screened with full-length sliding shutters and mosquito net doors. The African theme is endorsed by zebra-striped cushions and impressive black-and-white prints of timeless African images.

Bar on the Zambezi Queen

On the top deck an outdoor shaded terrace has a plunge pool, while inside there's an air-conditioned lounge outfitted with off-white sofas, a well-stocked bar and restaurant. The personable crew of 44 are all Namibian from local villages. This well-trained hospitality team are on hand to dispense cocktails as well as deftly serving breakfast and dinner, which reflects South African favourites with local influences; lunch is offered buffet-style. Complimentary fine South African wines are also a highlight of each meal.

The intoxicating early-morning cacophony of untamed Africa ensures guests wake with the sun. The call of fish eagles breaks the solitude; the air is filled with the smoke of burning hardwood blended with a potpourri of the yawning breath of the bush; voracious tiger fish stir the mirror-flat surface of the river while kingfishers hover overhead.

After breakfast there's the chance to explore the unravelling spectacle of the riverbank. From the tender boats the naturalists identify several deceptively languid, glass-eyed crocodiles camouflaged in the muddy undergrowth. Further downriver we witness hippopotamus opening their gargantuan jaws yawning to reveal a pink mouth equipped with huge, razor-sharp teeth before snapping shut like the mechanism of a refuse truck.

Elephants in Chobe National Park, Botswana

The following day a game drive in the Chobe National Park reveals families of elephants playfully showering each other with water and mud on the riverbank before returning to the undergrowth to feed on the inner bark and roots of trees. Everyone becomes entranced at the insouciance of the pachyderms.

Later that afternoon the guides dispense liberal gin and tonics during a sun-downer cruise as ineffable African images are composed. Black dots shimmering through the blonde grasses gradually come into focus as grazing buffalo; somewhat closer, where wooded slopes roll gently down to the muddy river bed, families of warthogs complete their wallow and trot off military-style in single file, heads and tails ramrod straight.

Sunset on the Zambezi Queen

For three days images from David Attenborough's 'Africa' are brought to life. To try and describe this floating idyll and the accompanying 'really wild show' is to damage one's faith in the adaptability of language; metaphor is useless.

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Meet the author

Gary Buchanan is one of cruising’s most distinguished writers and guest writer for Cruise News

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