Our South African Airways flight lurched from side to side on our approach to Victoria Falls Airport. The heat waves rising from the dry Savannah contributed to a memorable landing.
I was pleased to have finally arrived after traveling for about 30 hours to get here. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Zimbabwe immigration, the visa to enter for New Zealand passport holders is obtained on arrival as it is for most nationalities. The entry paperwork is handed out on arrival and as a consequence all 200 plus people from our flight were fighting for space to write up their forms and then queue to gain entry. I approached the counter with my form and the immigration officer quickly took my crisp new USD50 note, I didn’t look at the receipt for USD45 until I caught up with my colleagues on the other side discovering that I had been ripped off, welcome to Africa.
It seems every airport in an exotic destination has some sort of welcoming party performing an indigenous dance and showcasing their vocal talents and beats. The drums and harmonies of the African beats faded as we escaped the searing heat in our air-conditioned van. We were heading to Ilala Lodge in Victoria Falls town which was to be our home for our first night in Zimbabwe. The landscape was stark and dry and somehow scrubby trees survived in this terrain. Sand encroached on to the sealed road that we followed to town, we passed locals walking on the roads and I wondered where they were going. Our first sign of animal life was the baboon, these prolific animals scattering as vehicles approached.
Victoria Falls township is small and has a few one story commercial buildings in the center of town, most shops are not well stocked as the Zimbabwean economy is in turmoil, unemployment is at 90 per cent and petrol is rationed. On the days when petrol is available there are queues of cars lining the streets. The US dollar is the form of currency adopted in Zimbabwe, we found prices exorbitant especially for basic commodities found in the local supermarkets. The way locals get around this is to purchase USD on the black market at a better exchange rate. Others go over the border to Botswana to shop where prices are more reasonable.
Tourism is the main source of Income for Zimbabwe and that was certainly evident in Victoria Falls. You don’t see the tourists walking the streets as there really is nothing to shop for therefore the town seems quite desolate. However, at the various accommodation lodges, safari ventures and the Victoria Falls you will certainly be one of many embarking on an African adventure.
The Lookout Café just on the outskirts of the town affords a superb view of the Victoria Falls Bridge plus provides wonderful casual food and also a bungy jump venture. When eating lunch here, you will be certain to be entertained by baboons swinging in the trees.
The other place to get a view of the bridge is the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel. This hotel is set in lush gardens with sweeping lawns, the beautiful white colonial hotel sprawls before you and immediately transports you back to the days of British colonial rule. The head doorman was a bit of a character, dressed in white including a white hard safari hat, his uniform adorned in a plethora of colourful badges adding a little eccentricity to the hotel. The hotel offers a wonderful traditional English high tea if you should want to sample some the heritage without staying there.
After our high tea we were introduced to our guide for our African journey, Clint Robertson from Prestige Safaris. We had arranged our itinerary through Prestige Safaris and Clint was our local guide for the entire trip.
Ilala Lodge was a pleasant stay and gave us the first introduction to local wildlife roaming their grounds. Baboon and Warthogs were the common sightings. This resort is within the town and therefore not termed a safari lodge.
The drawcard for Victoria Falls, is of course the falls, and we ventured here on our second day. There are several viewpoints of the falls, and we started with the one that was the furthest option. The day was extremely hot, and I was pleased I had on my walking shoes as it takes a couple of hours to properly view the fall's area. The viewpoint we started at was the Victoria Falls bridge which borders Zambia and Zimbabwe. We were visiting when the water levels were low and therefore my expectations of a massive waterfall were dashed as the first part we went to had no water flowing over the edge at all. The canyon that forms the falls is quite amazing as the distance between the two sides is not that great and therefore a narrow but deep canyon has been created with the Zambezi River flowing below. The mist from the falls summoned us along the various marked paths with each viewpoint giving a unique perspective. It was a pleasant respite from the sun to finally view the falls from the shelter of a tropical oasis, this area offers the best view and is also the most picturesque. The spray from the water cascading down the rocks helped to cool us down. On the Zambian side we could see people swimming in pools above the falls. This is a very popular activity and although seemingly risky is apparently quite safe. We came across a statue of Livingstone, the larger than life effigy guarding the falls.
The surrounding area of Victoria Falls offers an abundance of safari lodge accommodation of various grades and our group was fortunate to experience several of these.
We visited the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for what is termed as sundowner drinks, this is a common theme at all safari lodges. The general pattern is an early morning game drive, then breakfast a late lunch followed by high tea then a late afternoon game drive that leads into sundowner drinks which are usually taken out on safari. Sometimes a night drive may be included to spot the nocturnal wildlife. A variation of the day time safari drive may be a safari walk, this activity will get the adrenalin pumping especially if the likelihood of lion spotting is involved.
The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has been built strategically on a forested hill to take advantage of a large animal watering hole below the lodge. The lodge provides a magnificent vantage point to view the animals coming in for water. We encountered elephants, giraffe, hippos, impala, bush bucks and warthogs. The bush bucks and warthogs are wandering in the lodge grounds close to the accommodation.
Safety is an important consideration when staying at safari lodges as most of these are within or bordering national parks. Wild animals are roaming at all times and these will range from the cute Bambi like bush bucks to lions. Fortunately we did not experience lions roaming near our accommodation however that is not to say that they were not prowling around during the night.
For this reason armed security staff will escort you to and from your accommodation after dark. During the daytime the only animals that you will be likely to encounter around the main lodge are baboons and warthogs and depending on the location of the lodge bush bucks. Baboons will scatter as soon as they see you approaching and warthogs will carry on about their business and ignore you. Bush Bucks are beautiful animals and very friendly and will take food from your hands. There are also Pythons but thankfully we never saw any of these.
Our second day in Victoria Falls dawned, and we were up at sunrise which is about 5.00 am for a morning river safari cruise on the Zambezi. Early morning starts would be a feature of this trip as that is the best time to see the animals on the game drives. We were on a small chartered boat and our breakfast was served on board as we cruised the river searching for our first close encounter with big game. It wasn’t long before we spotted an elephant hiding in the trees. We stopped our boat and watched him as he lumbered out from the behind the trees and made his way to the river bank, the early morning sunlight tinting his grey skin with gold. We continued up the river and encountered hippos lurking in the depths, their heads just peering above the surface. They aren’t particularly interesting animals, unless they start to climb out of the water and open their mouths. In this part of the river it was too deep for that to happen, so we continued on. Our guide spotted some crocodiles in the shadows on the river bank, they were quite well blended and I didn’t see them for a moment, their camouflage abilities attesting to just how dangerous they can be. There was an abundance of bird life including storks, eagles and kingfishers. I would recommend the morning cruise as we were the only boat on the river whereas later in the day it can become very crowded.
Old Drift Lodge
We were on the move for our next stay in Victoria Falls this time by boat. The launch sped up the Zambezi and in no time at all we had arrived at the private jetty of Old Drift Lodge. The lodge is situated on the banks of the Zambezi and is accessible by river or road. Old Drift lodge was only completed in 2018 and has 14 tented luxury suites plus the main lodge building housing the restaurant, bar and lounge areas. The lodge is surrounded by the bush of Zambezi National Park where you will be likely to see elephant, buffalo, herds of sable, eland, zebra, giraffe, kudu, waterbuck and impala. The suites are separated from each other by the bush and therefore very private with access by a boardwalk. Each suite has a lounge area, indoor and outdoor bathrooms and deck with a private plunge pool and all face the Zambezi River.
Walking alone along the boardwalk in daylight I was wary of what wild animal lay in wait for me in the undergrowth. There was plenty of evidence of animal activity mainly in the form of elephant poo but during daylight hours at this location there seemed to be a scarcity of wildlife at my front door. Perhaps just as well as it meant I could relax on the deck without too much concern although there was the sign on the deck saying “beware of crocodiles”, I didn’t fancy one sharing the plunge pool with me.
This was our first experience of being escorted to our accommodation by armed security staff after dark. You are also requested to sign a liability disclaimer when staying at safari lodges. The fact is you are staying amongst wild animals and it could be dangerous.
Most luxury lodges are all-inclusive, and therefore your meals and drinks are included in the package as are the game drives. Breakfasts are buffet and often lunch will be as well. Dinner is usually a set menu as many of the lodges are isolated and it makes catering easier. The food is excellent and of a standard found in any top restaurant.
High on the cliffs above the Zambezi River sits Gorges Lodge. The lodge is spread along the cliff tops commanding magnificent views of the gorge below. The location is not the only unique aspect of this property as the owners have managed to establish a tropical oasis by creating a lush garden. Palm trees mixed with acacia trees and other native species shade the garden allowing bougainvillea to flourish amongst ferns and grasses. Stone paths meander through the grounds leading to the individual suites each strategically located with views of the gorge below. This is not a tented lodge as each suite is constructed from timber and characterised by stone and plaster cladding. This was the only lodge we visited that was fenced and according to the owners had no wild animals in the grounds with the exception, of pythons.
Rugged and industrious would be a good description of Chris who along with his wife Debbie owned Gorges Lodge. Chris was an engineer and constructed most of the lodge and was content to sit in the background while Debbie was a gregarious and tireless hostess with a whimsical charm. I enjoyed my stay here as it contrasted nicely from the usual game lodge format.
Adjacent to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe lies the tented camp of Bomani Lodge, the lodge can be reached by road and air, but we opted for a combination of road and rail. The journey is a 2-hour road transfer from Victoria Falls to Dete and then a 2.5 hour rail car transfer from Dete Railway Station, this special journey is known as the Elephant Express.
An old lady sat on the Dete railway platform dressed in bright orange her bare feet protruding from her dust covered clothing. It appeared that we were invading her territory, and she glared at us as we boarded our rail car. She took an immediate dislike to me as I was photographing various activities around the station including a sneaky shot of her. On our departure I waved and smiled at her which resulted in the evil eye and crooked finger pointing at me possibly casting some black magic curse.
Rail car was a pleasant way to travel across the dry Savannah as we sat back and enjoyed the catered lunch and cooling breeze. The anticipation of game spotting was of course the highlight and became a bit of a competition between us. The journey gave us wildebeest, baboons, elephants and various antelope types, mainly kudu.
Our journey came to an end at an isolated railway crossing somewhere near Hwange National Park. We wondered what happened now as our transfer to Bomani Lodge wasn’t at the pick up point. We didn’t have to wait long, after a chat on the two-way radio we could see a trail of dust in the distance, soon after two safari jeeps came into view and thus began our next adventure with Bomani Lodge.
This was our first ride in a safari vehicle and due to their height and openness they really do offer an excellent vantage point for game viewing. We sped along the sandy roads and running a bit of an obstacle course around the vegetation giving the vehicle’s suspension a good work out. We slowed down as we came around a corner as our driver Phetz advised us we needed to watch for elephants crossing in this area. We didn’t see any but soon came out into the open and as we passed a watering hole we spotted our camp with the main lodge positioned just a few hundred meters ahead.
The main part of the lodge is a stand-alone building featuring an open air restaurant and bar and lounge area with a spectacular viewing platform of the Bomani Pan. Sandy paths lead away from here to the tented accommodation, each tent is in a private wooded area and raised 1 metre above the ground on wooden decks that overlook the Ngamo Plain. All the tents have a private en-suite bathroom, hot running water and electricity by diesel/solar generator. However, the generator does not run 24/7 and you will be advised of the down times.
The tents were very comfortably furnished, but we didn’t spend a lot of time in our tents during the day as it was cooler in the main lodge and that’s where the access to the cold beer was.
We had a short time to settle in then we were off to our first game drive. Our hosts advised us of a pride of lions nearby and therefore we jumped in our vehicles and off we went. I was quite excited to be seeing my first pride of lions in the wild although I was certainly not expecting what happened when we arrived on the scene.
We drove for about ten minutes then as we came around a bend the bush gave way to open Savannah. Ahead of us the lions lay sprawled in the grass resting in the twilight. My first impression of them was of large cats rolling in the dirt, playing with each other and seemingly disinterested in their spectators. The occasional yawn revealed very menacing teeth.
We had pulled our vehicle up several meters away from the pride to enable us to view them at a comfortable distance and I was in prime position to get some incredible photographs.
Our driver asked me if I wanted to get closer and I of course said yes and the rest of our group agreed. The pride was split into two groups, and we were heading over to where the young males were hanging out. We drove around the other vehicle in our group then cut in front of them driving slowly towards the second pride. I thought that is close enough but our driver had other ideas and as we inched closer, I thought he was never going to stop. We eventually did stop two meters from the closest lion, it could easily have got up and had me for dinner. Our driver looked at me knowingly without uttering a word, his eyes said it was safe and indicated that I should start taking my pictures. No one spoke we were either too scared or awestruck or in my case was busy looking through the lens at those big open jaws. That was the most memorable moment of the entire trip and a memory that will live with me forever.
We survived our lion encounter and headed back to the lodge for sundowner drinks and dinner. It was then that I discovered that the credit card holder I had in my pocket was missing, I knew I had it on arrival at Bomani and realised that it must have fallen from my pocket during our safari drive. Perhaps the old lady at the railway station had put a curse on me after all.
I asked our driver, Phetz to see if he could locate it in our vehicle hoping that it had fallen inside rather than outside. Later in the evening I was pleased to see Phetz return with a smile on his face as he handed me the card holder. A lesson learnt, to not put anything in an unsecured pocket while riding in the safari vehicles.
A special feature of Bomani Lodge is their underground hide, this is an underground bunker with a viewing area of the waterhole. We visited the hide the next day, we entered the bunker which was surprisingly spacious and cool. We waited in anticipation and eventually a herd of elephants came into view. They were some distance off but eventually after drinking in the water hole they came towards the hide as there was a water source adjacent to it. This meant we were treated to an incredibly close up view of the elephants in their natural environment f.without external influences affecting their behaviour. I felt so small peering at these enormous animals looming above us and rather anxious when one looked directly at me even though I was sure he couldn’t see me but was just looking in my direction.
Ngamo Primary School
During our stay at Bomani Lodge we visited a local village and school. The school was Ngamo Primary School and it is supported by Imvelo Safari Lodges of which Bomani Lodge is part of.
We drove in our safari vehicles early in the morning to arrive prior to school commencing. During our journey we encountered several children walking to school and gave them a lift, we learnt that they can walk up to 6 km to school and the school-day goes from 7.30 am to 3.00pm.
In the late 1980s Ngamo comprised a few very old buildings with collapsing roofs, dirt floors, very few desks and major cracks in the walls. Kids sat on the floor in pairs sharing halved pencils and then moving from shade to shade cast by the walls as the sun shifted in the sky.
Today in 2019, the 300 odd students all have safe clean classrooms, including 2 complete new classroom blocks built by Imvelo, with furniture, electricity and water. The teachers are housed in comfortable electrified cottages. The school has become the pride of the community.
Our group was shown around the school and this included their very large and well cared for vegetable garden. We were disturbed to see that a recently purchased water tank was leaking and learnt that it was going to cost them a considerable amount of money to fix this. Currently one of our group is working on getting a replacement tank for them.
We visited some classrooms and were entertained by the children. The children were delighted when one of the group read Old McDonald Had A Farm to them and everyone joined in singing, we then joined in with the children for a local dance. We departed by gifting to them essential school supplies, it was satisfying to leave knowing we had helped in some small way.
We returned to Dete by train and then drove to our next destination Zambezi Sands River Camp which is also part of the Imvelo group.
Zambezi Sands is located about an hours drive from Victoria Falls on the banks of the Zambezi River and situated inside Zambezi National Park. The main lodge and rooms are built on raised platforms with river views and private sun decks, accommodation is in 10 secluded Bedouin luxury tents, offering complete privacy and dotted along the river bank.
We were met on the main highway by John Laing who is the northern operations manger for Imvelo but also along with his wife Nadine the resident manager of Zambezi Sands. The landscape in this area was quite interesting with undulating terrain, bush and rock outcrops which made a change to the flat Savannah we had encountered up to this point. John drove us in his vehicle, and we stopped along the route scouting for any animal activity. We saw some giraffes in the distance their long necks protruding above the trees. We also came up close to a giraffe as we rounded a bend, there he was standing in the shade under some trees. Zambezi Sands Lodge is in a spectacular location on the banks of the Zambezi. The lodge is set amongst trees and bush with a boardwalk connecting the tented accommodation to the main lodge building. We had very friendly young bush bucks greet us at the front door of the lodge, these are beautiful Bambi like deer. We were shown to our rooms by the armed guards who patrol the area day and night. There seemed to be a pattern emerging that my room-mate and I were allocated the most distant room from the main lodge. This also proved to be the case this time, we suspected it had something to do with being the only males in the group.
We soon discovered that the boardwalk and surrounding trees was the favourite hangout for the local baboon population. Our tent overlooked the river and had a lounge, deck, plunge pool bedroom, indoor bathroom and outdoor shower. It also had a big tree adjacent to the tent full of baboons. Strangely though they didn’t disturb us, and they only time you noticed them was when you opened the front door, and they would jump out of trees and retreat into the bush.
I therefore made a habit of doing just that prior to using the outdoor shower as I didn’t fancy baboons swinging above me while showering.
John decided to take us on a safari walk which we were all quite excited about as this was quite a different experience from sitting in the relative safety of a vehicle. I was also quite apprehensive but was reassured when I saw that we had a couple of rifles with us. John drove us to an area where he was hopeful that we might see some game. We were instructed to walk in single file with John leading and Clint at the rear, both armed. We walked into a valley that looked quite prehistoric with unusual rock formations and a small stream running through it.
I kept looking up above us with a feeling that we were being watched, we probably were but no animal was evident. There were many animal tracks on our pathway and John had stopped in the middle of the valley to talk to us about this when he suddenly stopped talking and listened.
We could hear Hyenas howling in the distance, this indicated that there had been a kill nearby, and they were busy feasting. We continued on cautiously and came to the head of the valley where we could see vultures circling high above. This gave us the location of the kill, and we headed in the direction of the vultures. After about ten minutes we came to the rise of a hill and just as we got to the top we got a glimpse of some lions running off into the distance. We crouched down in silence and I could feel my heart racing. We could see that the lions had killed a zebra and the hyenas had moved in and were ravaging what was left of the carcass.
John motioned for us to move forward which I was hesitant about but as soon as the hyenas sensed our presence they ran off. Immediately the vultures swooped in from the trees above making a ruckus and fighting for every last morsel of flesh. This was certainly a sobering experience and an insight into the hierarchy of the food chain in the animal kingdom.
That evening we had Sundowner drinks with a difference, we boarded the lodges launch and cruised on the Zambezi to a small rocky outcrop in the middle of the river. We set up our picnic and swam in the river, we were assured that there were no crocodiles in this part as it was too shallow. I wasn’t that convinced and wasn’t that comfortable submerging my entire body in the river. So I decided just to hang my feet in the water which was fine until I felt some creature nibbling on my toes. It was only a fish but the sensation was enough to put me off that activity.
The next day we had a canoeing trip on the river, and I was hoping that my skills from kayaking were enough to keep me out of the water. Our boats were actually more like inflatable rafts, and we had two people per boat. They were therefore very buoyant and I managed to navigate the several sets of rapids successfully. We canoed close to the Zambia border and could see local villagers down at the river banks washing clothes and children playing, we waived to them and our river guides stopped for a conversation. We carried on down the river and ended our journey at a small sandy beach where we were met by the lodge staff and transported back to the lodge by road.
Another day another country, today we were on the road to Botswana. Our destination was a safari lodge at Ngotsaa Pans. The border crossing is at Kazungula where you cross into the town of Kasane, this is about an hours drive from Victoria Falls. This crossing can take up to an hour depending on how busy traffic is. The lady I dealt with at immigration wouldn’t stamp my entry permit until I pronounced Ngotsaa for her, my mispronunciation caused some amusement.
We were met at the border by three 4wd vehicles which was our transport for our time in Botswana. Up until now our road transport had been in a van so it was strange to be separated from some of my travel companions. Ngotsaa Pans was a three-hour drive from Kasane however the state of the roads, dust and failed air conditioning in some vehicles made it feel twice the distance for some of the group. Fortunately, I was in a vehicle with air con that worked so the journey wasn’t so arduous for me.
Our journey took us through sparse bush following rough sandy roads. We finally arrived at Ngotsaa Pans to a fabulous Botswanan welcome. The staff had gathered at the lodge entrance and were singing a welcome song to us, one of the women was calling in a high-pitched trill (ululation) the beautiful acapella harmonies soared through the still warm air. We were introduced to the staff who were all from local tribes, they were all lovely people and excelled in their various roles.
Ngotsaa Pans lodge is set a few hundred meters from a large water hole with a resident hippo family. The resort is entirely run on solar power. The main building and tented accommodation is fanned out around this. This area is quite open with low bush and the odd dead tree standing like statues around the lodge. The main building has a wide open decked area and a viewing tower. We had arrived in time for lunch and sat down to a beautiful meal, in the distance a lone elephant made its way to the water hole for a lunchtime swim.
Tonight we had been favoured with the closest tent to the lodge and also the largest. The building was constructed on a raised platform with a deck and a canvas frame. Complete with sliding doors and windows a large open-plan interior, bathroom and indoor and outdoor shower. I pulled up a deck chair and with a cold beer in hand sat back and watched the animals slowly roll in to the water hole. We didn’t rest for long as our sundowner game drive was calling. We were tracking lions but unfortunately we couldn’t find them.
That night after a superb dinner we sat around a fire pit while our lovely hosts entertained us with local tribal dances and more fabulous singing. Later in the night we were escorted by armed staff back to our accommodation. I lay awake in the darkness listening to the roar of lions, trumpeting of elephants and other indeterminable animal sounds far off in the distance. My travel companion in the building next to ours had a closer encounter with one particular animal. Outside her tent she heard rustling and movement and then her walls shook, gathering her nerve to see what was happening she peered out her window. The form of a very large hippopotamus appeared at the corner of her tent. It seemed it had decided to rub its large body against the frame of her tent. I guess it had an itch to scratch. It slowly wandered off but being alone her tent she didn’t sleep for the rest of the night and lay there listening for the next intruder.
Sunrise was magnificent and I spent some time on the deck capturing images of daybreak with my camera. Today we were to journey to a sister lodge of Ngotsaa called Ghoha Hills Savuti Lodge. We were heading west through Chobe National Park to the lodge which was situated about 50 km from the Namibian border. Guests that wish to travel between the two lodges also have the option of a helicopter transfer which after our road trip we would highly recommend.
Trying to compensate for the faulty air conditioning in some of the vehicles, we left Ngotsaa early as it was cooler. We were also accompanied by one Ngotsaa Pan’s open-top safari Jeeps. We were allocated the vehicle with air con that worked and drove with our windows up, the others in the group drove with their windows down, we often stopped, as they required relief from the dust and heat inside their vehicles. To add to the uncomfortable drive was the state of the roads, I had never bounced around during a drive so much as I did on that journey. Half way through the journey a decision was made to transfer most of us to the open-top safari Jeep as until this point it had been only carrying supplies for the other lodge. We were heading to a village for a toilet stop only to find the facility closed. Now what do you do when you need to go to the toilet in the bush of an African National Park? The girls soon found out that they were escorted into the bush by one of our guides toting a rifle, and they quickly did their business.
Ghoha Hills Savuti Lodge
After our four hour journey we were pleased to see the sign for the turn off to Ghoha Hills Savuti Lodge. Our Jeep climbed a very steep, rocky road reaching the brow of the hill where the lodge came into view amongst a stand of trees built in a prime position looking over the plane below. We were again afforded the traditional exuberant Botswanan welcome. The staff were all lined up at the bottom of the stairs singing happy songs and greeting us with wide smiles. The cold towels and drinks they provided was a very welcome sight.
This Eco lodge reminded be of a tree house as it was perched on a rise surrounded by trees with extensive views of a water hole below. However, I was more interested in a closer water hole in the shape of a fabulous swimming pool, the cooling waters beckoned me and I knew what I was going to be doing for the remainder of the afternoon.
Our luxury tented accommodation looked out over the plane and a second waterhole, we were positioned on the hillside and our deck was cantilevered over the side. This was a very restful place and a perfect spot to relax with a good book before lunch while anticipating my afternoon swim.
We had two safari drives here and saw our first buffalo, again we tracked some lions but unfortunately missed seeing them. We did see some beautiful sable antelope which are very graceful creatures. The staff gave us a fabulous song and dance demonstration that evening, and we had a lot of fun joining in with them. I enjoyed our brief visit to Ghoha Hills as it offered a different perspective to the other game lodges we had visited.
Chobe Bakwena Lodge
Our next road journey was back to Kasane to Chobe Bakwena Lodge. This eco-lodge was on the banks of the Chobe River on the outskirts of the town. The lodge is hidden in the trees in what the resort terms as a riverine woodland with permanent residents in the form of bush buck, mongoose, guinea fowl and too many birds to mention! Our chalet (no tents here) was on a raised platform in the middle of the woodland and looked out over the tree canopy. There are chalets that have river views but having experienced river views elsewhere I quite liked this alternative, it was very private and in keeping with the eco-lodge ethos. I would rate this lodge as having the most exuberant welcoming party out of all our Botswana stays. The resort has an unusual feature of a caged swimming pool in the Chobe River. It does have a normal pool which is also unique in that it is filtered by plants.
This area of Chobe National Park was a highlight of the trip as the Chobe River offers a different safari experience. The area is teaming with wildlife and the best way to see this is by boat on the Chobe River. Chobe has a huge elephant population, the largest in the world (over 120,000). You can often see elephant herds of 5000 or so at the Chobe River. We came across large herds of Cape Buffalo and Nile Crocodiles are everywhere. There are over 450 bird species and you will see many of these on the river banks. It was on the shores of the Chobe that we saw our only leopard. Our day ended on the river with the sun setting and our boat getting chased by some angry hippos.
A quick visit to Namibia
We had one more night of our adventure and this was spent across the river in Namibia at Chobe Water Villas. We thought we had been staying in luxury accommodation on our journey, but we hadn’t seen anything quite like this.
We were greeted at the private jetty that lead up to the lodges main building. The main thatched lodge sits under shady acacia trees and partially opens onto the gardens. The outlook over the infinity pool and deck is embellished with outstanding views of the immediate environment.
The individual villas sit on top of stilts, erected over the water's edge with plenty of living space. The front terrace faces the Chobe River with built in day-bed and a smaller rear terrace affords sunset views of the bush.
The food is world-class and a mix of African, Mediterranean and European cuisine. The room rates are all-inclusive. Our farewell dinner was superb and a memorable way to end our journey.
We made many new friends on this adventure and discovered new cultures, new landscapes and an appreciation of the animal kingdom that contributes so much to the economy of Africa. This really was an awe-inspiring journey and a privilege to experience this magnificent part of Africa.
Thank you to Singapore Airlines, House of Travel Adventure and our New Zealand tour leader Leah Miller, Prestige Safaris and all our lodge hosts for this amazing adventure. A special thank you to our guide from Prestige Safaris, Clint Robertson. Clint was with us for the entire journey from Victoria Falls and his humour and camaraderie and most of all his outstanding knowledge truly made this experience even more special.