After a hectic year I was in need of a break, and all I needed was to pack my clothes and remember my passport and tickets. Once you’ve landed in Africa, you are greeted and escorted everywhere as pre-organised by your safari consultant. Aha, but what happens when you are the consultant!?
Arriving into Zambia’s Livingstone Airport at lunchtime left me time to inspect the first three properties on my trip (out of a total of twenty one!) before a well-earned afternoon tea overlooking the Zambezi River. It is always good to gain an appreciation of the whole range of accommodation in one area, and over the next week I visited many different properties along the Chobe and Zambezi rivers. It is easy to get around and combine different properties when you know how. At Kazangula, I crossed the point where four countries meet – Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. There are not many places in the world where you can do this. People sometimes worry about border crossings. Suffice to say everything worked like clockwork, with pre-arranged boats and vehicles working flawlessly. A comprehensive tour of the different hotel, lodge and camp options in the region gives me confidence to match my customers with the correct property.
After the hotel efficiency of the Zambezi Queen, a sophisticated houseboat on the Chobe River (in Namibia, technically), it was a breath of fresh air to have a personal welcome from Karen, the manager of Imbabala Safari Camp, as I stepped across into Zimbabwe. I stayed just one night in their simple thatched chalets overlooking the Zambezi, before moving to their sister camp, The Elephant Camp, just outside Vic Falls town. One night was nevertheless long enough to assemble an impressive bird-list, including skimmers and both night herons, in both adults and juvenile plumage! Informal hospitality has always been a trademark for Zimbabwe, and one which ensures fond memories of my twelve or so previous trips made to this country, nowadays so sadly overlooked by many.
The best views of Victoria Falls are from the Zimbabwe side. As I retraced my steps around the David Livingstone statue and the footpaths leading to the viewpoints, I struggled with the apparent madness of swimming at the point right on the lip where the waters cascade over. Arranged by Tongabezi (on the Zambian side), a small boat had taken me the previous week to Livingstone Island where you can have lunch and get the closest possible view of the falls. I’ve got photographic evidence of swimming in Devil’s Pool as well as white water rafting, which takes place in the Batoka Gorge below the Falls but I can’t personally vouch for other adrenalin activities such as the gorge swing or bungee jump!
From here I was due to join a 7-night horse-riding safari with James Varden in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Alas after much hard work in securing permits and concession areas, the authorities had come up with obstacles which put this ride on hold. So I explored Hwange instead by visiting traditional tented safari camps – the Hide and Somalisa camps. It was a harsh environment in Hwange with no rain for many months but it made for some spectacular elephant sightings. I also thoroughly enjoyed the private guided walking with Kazuma Trails but somehow it would have been more exciting on four feet!
A final overnight at Victoria Falls Hotel offered amazing views of the bridge and gorge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was great to reaffirm my belief that Zimbabwe offers some of the best landscapes, hospitality and guiding in Africa.