If the Earth is indeed flat, as this great wetland system suggests, then going up is the greatest adventure.
Hidden in plain sight in the world of African safari, Nkasa Rupara National Park is a marvel of the natural world. The park is in actual fact a great wetland – a seasonal delta that, for a portion of the year, dries to become extraordinary plains with game and birds in abundance. It borders on countries and lodges which are regarded as safari's prime real estate – the Linyanti River marking the border with Botswana and Zambia a very short road trip away.
This landscape is a persuasive argument for the Flat Earth Society. On closer inspection, however, this spellbinding terrain is deceptively undulating – enough to conceal Africa's big cats planning an ambush and the glistening forms of hippos on terrestrial patrols of previously underwater territories.
The luxury of Jackalberry Camp is the manner in which it pays sincere homage to its setting. It is also the incredible exclusivity of the place. This understated camp is the single place to stay within the park and, while it does not boast copper baths and spas, for me, the immensity of a stay here comes down to the layers of experience on offer. To me, this camp marks a celebration of the levels of life – both literally and figuratively – traversing the wonder of childhood, the excitement of love, the nourishment of natural spaces, the interplay of peace and brutality between nature's forces.
The lions at Nkasa Rupara have a wild streak to them, and very often their origin from within the Kaza area is unknown. On chatting to some researchers from Panthera about these two lionesses, they said that they did not know about them. That is the very definition of what a wild area should be: no-one knows exactly how many lions there are; nor where they all come from.
On three levels, the central lodge at the camp is the adult manifestation of the Faraway Tree. On the ground, middle earth, and the tower offer different vantage points on the same expansive view. If the Earth is indeed flat as this great wetland system suggests, going up is the greatest adventure. Up the wooden stairs, past the termite mound, into the topmost boughs of one of Africa's most iconic trees – the gladiatorial clash of warring lechwe horns casting a spell that makes it hard to look away.
Dinner is served at a communal table. Safari turns us all into storytellers and to share a table in this unfenced camp and regale the day’s events makes for an intimacy of experience, offering perspective from different angles. The light illuminates the rough, kraal-like wooden poles arranged in a semi-circle – crude wooden fingers extended to the heavens creating a sense of safety against the night.
Canvas and metal, our tent had all the necessities for a good day on safari: a comfy bed, a hot shower, and enough remarkable décor to make one revel in the exotic. The headboards and walls were recognisable as the highly polished retired sleds and the exquisite, neat reed walls that encircle the rondavels in the nearby villages. Being Italian-owned, the easy style of this tent is unsurprising, merging local touchpoints with a high-backed chair and foot stool in the corner and an interesting combination of lights and fixtures.
January is wet season in the park and we opted for a boat ride on the Linyanti. A game drive there was filled with the wingbeats and calls of great water birds - first returners for the change of season. We drove into channels with their pioneer puddles and felt the well of privilege to explore a place that will be immersed in water, home to crocodiles and hippos – the thrill of African waterways. These are layers of existence between land and water world and, as Nkasa Rupara reveals its capillary network of past and future channels, the miracle of seasonality is realised.
The herds of buffalo in the Nkasa area roam vast areas, moving from the wetlands and forests of the Linyanti wetland, grazing the pancake flat plains, and into the magnificent mopane forests of the hinterland of the Zambezi province.
Guided by Festus, we putted down the river – to view this amphibious world to the soundtrack of ripples, hippo grunts, the call of the Fish Eagle. To live this against the backdrop of encircling storms adds a patina of drama – great angry skies, disappearing horizons, the tenacious, bored expression on the face of a buffalo in a cloudburst. This is not the place for Big Five checklists (although it most certainly can offer incredible opportunities to find, watch, and photograph some of Africa’s most exciting species) and crowded sightings. What makes this place special is the shift in perspective, the quality of the interactions at JB Camp, and memories of Africa many will never see.
I could write about this place forever, but let me end like this. When I was a child, I had a kaleidoscope and I would spend hours trying to find the perfect combination of colours. When I'd show it to my mother, the smallest movement would change the pattern – and that's the feeling I get at this special camp in this special park. From one moment to the next, the same stretch of bush can change entirely. On a game drive, boating the Linyanti, or in the very special tower at Jackalberry, no two people will encounter this place the same. And, somehow, this fits into a bigger scheme – the levels of life.
Our origins in Africa, our origins in water, our childlike curiosity. What we know, what we hope, our collection of a lifetime of experiences. Nature, the interrogating eyes of wild, nomadic lions, the limitations and joys of being human. To love, to explore, to observe the world anew. I have lived the levels of life at Nkasa Rupara – and no camp could pay better tribute to the magic of the place than Jackalberry Lodge.
The main feature of Jackalberry is undoubtedly the main tower, built around a giant Jackalberry tree (Diospyros mespiliformis). The design is part Italian engineering & flair, part mad-hatters tea party, part a homage to the spectacular floodplain on which it is sited. The tower makes you feel as though it is just a comma, a brief pause, in the flow of the topography, fauna & flora of the Linyanti wetland
Safari writer Claire is rarely seen in the bush without her Women's Serengeti Safari Hat.
The LED Lenser ML6 lantern lights up the tented room at Jackalberry Camp, Nkasa Rupara, Namibia.
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