These rivers of Southern Africa are key to sustaining the health of wildlife and botanical species across the region.
As Southern Africa struggles to recover from a severe drought, life across the sub-region continues to feel the impact of water scarcity. If water is the source of life, then rivers and their vast tributaries are the means of passing on and sustaining the life of thousands of species of fauna and flora in Southern Africa.
The Zambezi River is a crucial water system for Southern Africa, with other large rivers like the Cuando, which splits to become the Linyanti and Chobe rivers, and the Shire River in Malawi, all contributing to the Zambezi’s power and importance. We take a brief look at these rivers of Southern Africa.
Meaning ‘The Great River’ in the indigenous Tonga dialect of Zambia, the Zambezi River is the fourth largest river in Africa and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean.
The Zambezi River © Tongabezi
The Zambezi is a seemingly endless, winding river that flows a staggering 2700 km from its source in the Miombo Woodlands in north western Zambia to end its journey at the Mozambican delta. Its headwaters sit at approximately 1500m above sea level near to the border where Zambia, Angola and the Congo meet, and it crosses six countries – and diverse landscapes – during its descent to the Indian Ocean.
A rainbow over Victoria Falls © Tongabezi
Not only is the Zambezi alone an impressive river, it cascades into a 1000m chasm forming one of the most iconic waterfalls and one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World – Victoria Falls. ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ sits at just about the halfway mark of the Zambezi. Local Tonga legend has it that the Zambezi River Valley is guarded by Nyami Nyami, a God who is described by the Tonga people as having the head of a fish and the body of a snake.
Tongabezi is nestled into the banks of the Zambezi River © Tongabezi
It’s no wonder then, that the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls, attract people from across the globe who seek to witness this natural spectacle first-hand. From dreamy honeymoons and romantic getaways spent relaxing at a luxury lodge like Tongabezi to taking an exhilarating ride across its white-water rapids, the Zambezi River is a magnificent natural sight to see in Southern Africa.
The Chobe River is just one part of a major Southern African river system that flows into the Zambezi River. In the north-eastern part of the Chobe National Park in Botswana, the Chobe River forms the country’s border with Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia.
Hippos cool down in the Chobe River © Under One Botswana Sky
The Cuando River in Angola flows into the Caprivi region before reaching Botswana, where it becomes the Linyanti River and diminishes as it meets the Kalahari Dessert, emptying into the channels and islands of the Linyanti Swamps. The Chobe River follows a different direction to the Linyanti, instead branching off to take the eastern route before leaving the country and joining the Zambezi.
An elephant wades out of the Chobe River © Under One Botswana Sky
Since the Chobe runs through one of Botswana’s well-protected national parks, the river gives life to a wide variety of animal, bird and plant species that are properly preserved. Coming in at over 100 000 African elephants, Chobe National Park has the largest global population of these marvellous giants. It is also a superb destination for birdwatchers, as it has 450 species, which include migratory birds that visit the Chobe area from October to March.
Chobe Bush Lodge overlooks the Chobe River © Under One Botswana Sky
This Shire River is the largest in Malawi and the only outlet of Lake Malawi; it flows through Liwonde National Park, receiving many tributaries before making its confluence with the Zambezi River just before it meets the Indian Ocean on the Mozambican coast.
Hippos wallow in the Shire River © Robin Pope Safaris
At only 402km, the Shire is only one sixth the length of the enormous Zambezi River. Nevertheless, it plays an important role in providing water to wildlife, plant and human populations throughout Malawi and the Great Rift Valley. Along the course of the Shire River and into Lake Malawi, large concentrations of hippos can be found rolling around in the fresh waters.
A kingfisher sits on a reed in the Shire River © Robin Pope Safaris
Around 650 different species of birds are found in Malawi. The country’s national bird, the beautiful African fish eagle, can be seen circling above Lake Malawi and the reeds that line its shores provide the perfect hunting ground for kingfishers, cormorants and storks. The elephants, leopards and antelope in Liwonde National Park all thrive off the Shire River in some way.
Kuthengo Camp on the banks of the Shire River © Robin Pope Safaris
When choosing to stay in a safari camp overlooking a river, there’s nothing better than being able to appreciate the stunning view from the comfort of a private suite. Kuthengo Camp, the latest addition to the Robin Pope Safaris’ family, indulges all guests in the effortless beauty of the Shire River as it flows through Liwonde National Park.
Staying near to one of these beautiful rivers of Southern Africa is a truly special experience. Contact us so that together we can plan how best to fit this into your Southern African safari itinerary.