Stunning southern Africa – Glass discovers the natural wonders of southern Africa beyond South Africa
Zambia is home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, which it shares with neighbouring Zimbabwe. The Victoria Falls, known locally as the “smoke that thunders” or “Mosi-oa-Tunya” is just that. The thunderous roar that resounds far from the falls and the mist that rises far into the sky can be seen and heard from one of the most beautiful hotel settings imaginable. In magnificent grounds complete with jaw-dropping views, the Royal Livingstone awaits.
We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia, after a two-hour flight from Johannesburg following our long haul flight from London. The moment we entered this grand colonial residence, we were transformed into a by-gone era of charm and elegance.
The sight of the Zambezi from the main lounge and veranda is breathtaking – no surprise being so close upstream to one of the most magnificent waterfalls on earth. With the large swimming pool taking centre stage beyond the veranda, its location, adjacent to the Zambezi River is beyond compare.
Zebras and giraffes are in permanent residence here – sometimes you can be lucky enough to find them loitering outside the suites and public areas of the hotel. Occasionally they can be found by the pool – as can the cheeky monkeys – so belongings need to be firmly contained for obvious reasons. Having these animals as fellow residents is quite exceptional – although they are people-friendly and mind their own business, guests do need to keep a little distance from them. While staying at the hotel you can attend the animal feedings sessions to enjoy an “up-close-and-personal” encounter which makes for a unique photo opportunity!
The Royal Livingstone is a short ten-minute walk away from to the entrance of the Victoria Falls, where you can marvel at the spectacular views from the numerous vantage points, while being greeted by vervet monkeys and baboons en route. And perhaps you will be lucky enough to view a rainbow across the spray of the falls – if there is a heaven on earth then this is it.
Dining at the Royal Livingstone is a culinary exploration into unusual flavour and textures. All the dishes are inspired by the many cultures that prevail in this diverse continent, which so inspired David Livingstone, after who the hotel is named. High tea served is a feast for the eyes – outstanding presentation with delicacies tasting as good as they look. And for a drink at dusk, the hotel’s sun deck on the banks of the Zambezi, complete with easy chairs and sun loungers, makes for a perfectly relaxing end to a perfectly exhilarating day.
The gazebos, perched on the water’s edge, are an extension to the hotel’s beauty salon, from where the most perfectly soothing massages are offered, which can be uniquely enjoyed while soaking up the sights and sounds that prevail along the Zambezi.
With home comforts waiting in each room and impeccable service from the staff genuinely delighted to be of help to their guests, the Royal Livingstone gently eases you into the wonders of southern Africa and the excitement that everyday brings, which is something one can only dream of. But this is reality.
Next stop was the Wilderness Safaris Toka Leya Camp, a river safari located in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Toka Leya is the most perfect place to experience wildlife and all that the mighty Zambezi River has to offer. Toka Leya Camp comprises 12 raised, air-conditioned spacious luxury tents, wrapped in canvas, but protected with glass windows and doors. Each tent has en suite facilities, including an indoor and outdoor shower and a private sun deck.
Toko Leya has is a huge communal living and dining area and a raised deck to enjoy breakfast and lunch. The decor is tasteful with an African theme running throughout. Although luxurious, it was very much in keeping with an African safari and feels safe and protected even though the resident hippo, Motto Motto, is usually lurking somewhere nearby. The food served at Toka Leya is of an exceptionally high standard and includes a daily offering of home-baked pizza, freshly made in the outdoor pizza oven on site.
The river cruise is the highlight of visiting Toka Leya, as crocodiles, elephants, buffalo and hippos can all be viewed from the river. Our guide, Heston, ensured that we were able to view up close a large herd of elephants drinking from the Zambezi. The proximity to the wildlife that can be achieved when in a boat on the river is astounding. Families of hippos are evident in their numbers, with their loud grunting audible from afar. Many crocodiles line the water’s edge with their skins’ camouflage doing a perfect job of hiding them from innocent fauna and unsuspecting humans alike.
In addition to the spectacular river safaris, there is a lot more to enjoy at Toka Leya. A jeep safari in the National Park allows for a large variety of animals to be viewed, including buffalo, elephants, giraffes, warthogs, zebra and the “MacDonald’s” of the bush, the plentiful bushbuck.
We were also lucky enough while at Toka Leya to visit the heavily guarded white rhino within the national park. We were able to walk very close towards a mother and baby, who were sleeping under a huge shady tree. All rhino in Zambia are protected by a conservation programme and guarded 24 x 7 by armed officers.
A visit to a local African village while visiting Toka Leya is certainly a most humbling experience. The warmth that is exuded to each and every visitor is beyond imagination and your heart is touched by the children and their beautiful faces, each one smiling and at ease with the simplicity of their life. Lillian, the guide at the camp, explained to us how the children are educated in the school on the village campus and how generations of families live together.
It was soon time to embark on the final part of our African adventure and to head off to Botswana. We were driven to the border of Zambia, where we made the quick crossing by boat to Botswana. But this crossing is literally like no other, as it’s the only quadripoint in the world – the place where four countries’ borders meet: Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Once in Botswana, it was a very short drive to Kasane airport – actually it was more of an airfield – where we boarded a Cessna six-seater light aircraft to fly us to the Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge located in the Chobe National Park, famed for viewing huge herds of elephant, buffalo and big cats.
After landing, we were picked up in a jeep and driven to our camp where we were greeted by the friendly and knowledgeable staff chanting a welcome in Tswana, and handing out drinks and warm hand towels – most welcome after our somewhat exhilarating journey.
Belmond Savute Elephant Camp comprises 12 twin-bedded raised luxury canvas tents with authentic African thatched roofs. A magnificent four-poster bed takes up most of the area, but there is plenty of space, including an outdoor deck complete with a hammock. There is also a dressing area and an indoor and outdoor shower to fully capture the “living in the bush” experience.
The large eating area overlooks a regularly used watering hole and it was during our first lunchtime that we saw a herd of elephants arrive to drink their lunchtime refreshments while we were sipping ours. Quite amazing.
The decor at Savute Elephant Camp is tasteful and elegant, with a huge bar area and a large lounge to relax and to unwind after a day viewing game in the bush. After dinner each night we sat around the “boma” (traditional campfire), where guests enjoyed a nightcap with the glow of the fire exuding an African warmth, in contrast to the velvet black star-speckled sky.
During our stay we were lucky to view a pack of wild dogs, which are amongst the world’s elite hunters. Our ranger, Rogers, explained to us that wild dogs (formally known as Lycaon pictus) are only found in Africa and form packs of up to 40 members, with a monogamous pair at the head of the group. These dogs are known to disembowel their pray while still alive, which is hard to absorb while admiring their beautiful faces and magnificent markings.
Getting literally feet away from a recently “fuelled” pride of over-satisfied lions and watching them interact with each other is spectacular. The lions simply ignore the jeep and its seated passengers, as they see it as one single large “animal”, which is neither a threat to them nor prey.
On our last morning we tracked a lone leopard stalking a pheasant. Speechless in his presence, we were overcome by the beauty of his coat and the elegance of his stride. We stayed alongside him for what seemed like hours. What an amazing way to end our magnificent stay.
We departed Belmond Savute Elephant Camp by jeep back to the local airstrip, where we took a light aircraft to Maun Airport. But there was one final treat that we hadn’t expected. Our pilot, Andreas, asked us if we would like to fly low over the Okavango Delta to enjoy the fauna from the air. Although a little rocky, we were able to view from 500 feet all the wildlife in its glory. Viewing buffalo, giraffe, zebra and elephants drinking at waterholes and ambling in single file along the narrow pathways across the Okavango was something that will remain in my heart forever. This was as natural as it could be, as we were not interfering with the animals in any way – it was at this moment I felt at one with the animal kingdom.
Upon arriving in Maun, we took a commercial flight to Johannesburg, where we connected to our long-haul flight back to London – somewhat with a heavy heart as leaving stunning southern Africa was not easy.
by Amanda Bernstein