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Sam continues her fantastic holiday…
After Imbabala our trio became a sextet and Karen, after leaving the lodge in her staff’s capable hands during a quiet few days, along with her friend Jane and Lucy joined us for our next adventure.
Hwange was our next port of call, but we had a 2.5hour road transfer to get through first, yet it allowed us to get to know each other better and the time just flew, especially as our driver (booked through our fabulous transfer and activity representative in the area Wild Horizons) kept us informed at all points of interest and alerted us to expected driving times as the journey progressed, so the trip was very pleasant. In no time we had made our arrival and began what was to be the next 3 nights at Hwange Safari Lodge.
Hwange Safari Lodge must have been a shining star in its time. Its entrance, which when at its prime, must have been an architectural feat, is imposing and grand, but sadly the lodge has lost its lustre and is seemingly barely ticking on. It was actually heartbreaking to see the hotel looking past its best as the staff are all so keen to work, serve and to be needed and it is glaringly evident that when the hotel was at its busiest the staff were impeccably trained. Even though they needed not to be enforced due to the lack of guests, systems are still in place, which in a busy hotel would have been crucial to sustaining smooth service. This to me shows pride and respect by the staff even though many others in a similar position would have packed up and left.
The lodge needs work, a lot of it and there is little luxury here, but we had a BLAST!|
Hwange is famed for its “Presidential Herd of Elephants” which are protected under Mugabe’s rule and are habituated towards humans, but are essentially still wild. I had never been as close to a wild Elephant before as we were at Hwange. At one stage Billy who was next to me in the game viewing vehicle, almost landed in my lap when a Matriarch elephant decided to investigate the new visitors to her domain… so funny yet also something I will never forget and probably never experience again in my life.
I need to mention though that the lodge did have the most wonderful pool area, set above the watering hole which is frequented daily by Ellies, young and old, herds of buffalo and troupes of Monkeys and Baboons, where we spent a full day relaxing, reading, laughing, enjoying “Duo Salads” and impressive quantities of Gin and Tonic.. What more does one really require at the end of the day…?
We also saw Leopard, Sable Antelope, Cheetah, hundreds of Buffalo and too many Ellies to mention as well as a melange of general plains game, so even though the accommodations let us down somewhat the game viewing (which is why were we essentially there in the first place) was actually very good.
We also visited the Painted Dog Project, which is the only conservation study of its kind in the world devoted to the preservation of Wild Dog. What a wonderful facility and what makes it even more admirable is that they have created a learning centre to educate the local school children, so that they can learn at an early age all about conservation and environmentalism and hopefully make the right choices when they are adults.
Our 3 nights whisked by and we were headed to Victoria Falls for just one night. No surprises to hear we stayed at the grande olde lady Vic Falls Hotel (of which all 6 of us had all previously had the pleasure of visiting before) so this was more a return to what we already knew we all loved. It is a landmark in itself and is in my mind the best hotel at the Falls. The superb staff… (yes, it had been this way the whole trip already but it is true and you can feel the passion exude from most attendees of Zimbabwean origin), the manicured lawns, views of the Bridge over the Zambezi and the wonderful food served us well and we were so sad that we only had the one night.
After settling in to the room Billy and I were very excited to be heading off to view a new property that had just opened up in the area and we made time to go give it a squizz….. No rest for the wicked is too true!
Elephant Camp is a safari lodge inspired luxury (yes real luxury) tented camp located half way between the Victoria Falls Airport and the Vic Falls themselves and it is situated on a stretch of land offering uninterrupted bushveld scenes and views of a number of Zambezi gorges. Oftentimes (we are told) the Elephants are viewed from the decking drinking at the watering hole down below.
WOW, we were blown away! Light beige tented units stood before us which each offered all the mod cons one expects from a luxury establishment. Indoor and Outdoor Shower, bath, loo with a view, air-conditioning, minibar and even your own plunge pool… yes it sounds amazing and it is. I am so happy we found the time and even though they had no guests in-house on that day all the staff was impeccably turned out and ready for business. Happy to hear we were tour operators and were mentioning how keen they were to invite our guests, so we left knowing that any clients we sent here would be happy.
The camp is located on the same property as the Elephant Interaction centre, which offers the Elephant Back Riding etc, so we quickly went via the centre to see a group of guests getting their welcome drink and lecture before embarking on their Elephant Back Ride. How surprised was I to see that I could get a chance to actually touch these previously orphaned Elephants… Nothing in this world is comparable to the feel of an Elephants skin, with its wrinkled texture and occasional coarse black hairs sprouting out sporadically… Phenomenal!
But we made our way back to the Vic Falls Hotel in time for dinner and we dined in at their “Jungle Junction” restaurant, which is a buffet style meal served in their open-air restaurant. We were treated to a show, consisting of dancers, musicians and the most beautiful costumes all donned by willing participants and performed to show life relating to the differing local cultures. It was a great accompaniment to a delicious meal and is highly recommended.
Billy and the rest of the team opted to go “Gorge-Swinging” on the morning of our departure, but I felt the room was too good to leave any earlier than was logistically required and I treated myself to a leisurely lie in. My decision was aided by the fact that during my previous visit to the hotel I did the White water rafting, which is as extreme as I was going to get, but I did it and I felt no need to push it on this trip to suspend myself on a rope hundreds of metres above the ground… and then jump…. no thanks!
Sadly we parted with the 3 ladies and the original party of me, Billy and Hans, headed off to what was probably the highlight of the trip for our final 2 nights.
How does this sound? 2 nights aboard a 5 star-luxury houseboat which is moored on the Chobe River, with on board fine dining, game drives, sunset cruises, suites with private decks and a plunge pool filled on request…. Sounds good? It was BETTER!!!!
It was 2 nights aboard the Zambezi Queen – our final two nights. It takes a little patience to actually get on to the boat as we had to exit Zimbabwe, enter Botswana, exit Botswana and enter Namibia… all taking a couple of minutes each at the respective immigration offices, as the boat, although based on the Chobe River, is officially a joint Namibian and Botswana property (the River forms the boundary again) so many stamps and even a special red carpet on the Kasane jetty later we were on a tender boat (purpose built for the Zambezi Queen) and we were offered a cold beer within 10 seconds of taking our seats… they seemingly read all three of our minds as we had developed quite a thirst after the logistical intricacies and if this was a sign of things to come, they were onto the perfect start.
Jetting off towards the boat, we were all eager to get our first glimpse of the floating “house”. You can imagine our responses when we had seen a massive heard or Elephant and Buffalo as well as hippo out of the water on an island in the middle of the river and were so busy taking photographs, we almost missed that the ZQ was just out of shot and was actually moored at a spot which was surrounded by these animals. A professional or photo-shopped brochure could not better have advertised the boat at this point!
I acknowledge that I am getting a little long winded, but within 20 minutes of being on board and having met each and every staff member on arrival, they were all calling us by our names when offering snacks, drinks, activities etc or when enquiring how we were doing. This was so unique to the rest of the trip and it made such a lasting impression. The boat is stunning. Fresh and natural decor with a very neutral palette (since everyone just keeps their eyes on what is happening outside to be true) and wonderfully appointed suites. Each suite has its own deck area, with sliding doors and mesh screens, which meant we did not have to close the doors to the outside the entire trip without fear of being bitten by an enterprising mosquito.
Our sunset cruises were very special, the game drive into the park was wonderful (some logistics again to get to the park, but all worth the effort), but what stood out was the food. Felix the chef is an accomplished chef and is food was amazing. Each meal is paired with a different house wine and he never failed to provide something special at each meal and makes the fluffiest and lightest pastries I have ever had in my life.
Overall the boat was a wonderful experience that I hope to share with future clients who are ready to spoil themselves for a couple of nights when travelling to the area.
Our day of departure was sad in that the 11 nights had literally flown by and we were headed home, but when a boost is needed we are lucky to have the memories made, laughs shared and photos taken that will easily whisk us back to this fabulous trip… that is until we get a chance to go back! Who’s game???!!!!
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Matt discovered a passion for writing in the six years he spent travelling abroad. He worked for a turtle sanctuary in Nicaragua, in an ice cream factory in Norway and on a camel safari in India. He was a door-to-door lightbulb-exchanger in Australia, a pub crawl guide in Amsterdam and a journalist in Colombia. Now, he writes and travels with us.
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