It was 16 years since I last stood on Zambian soil, so as the wheels touched down into Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport (Livingstone) I was already grinning from ear to ear. On leaving the airport we headed west along the Zambezi River, driving through the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park where we immediately saw zebra, warthogs and vultures circling overhead – welcome back to Africa!
In Zambia I saw five properties within a 40km radius from Livingstone. Upstream along the Upper Zambezi were the peaceful lodges of Tongabezi, Islands of Siankaba and Waterberry; all set in beautiful locations overlooking the river but with very different styles of accommodation on offer; ranging from riverside cottages and raised split-level tents to thatched lodges in established gardens. All three properties offer boat cruises, village walks and day trips to the Falls. While closer to the Falls I momentarily enjoyed the colonial influence and splendour of Royal Livingstone and then marvelled at the close proximity of the Avani Victoria Falls (formerly the Zambezi Sun) to the Zambian side of the falls – a mere 10 minute walk through their gardens.
I crossed the Victoria Falls Bridge – a Victorian engineering marvel, built in 1905 – and arrived into Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Mosi-oa-Tunya, taken from the Lozi language, means “The Smoke That Thunders” and visiting the falls in May you can understand how it got its name! April/May is the peak flood period and the volume of water cascading over the falls was noisy, breathtakingly beautiful and extremely wet! On good advice, I rented a poncho ($2) from a curio shop opposite the entrance to the falls. The spray and mist at this time of year is at its best so I got absolutely drenched! The spray helps create a wonderful array of rainbows under the falls and the white mist or ‘smoke’ floating high into the air, can be seen from miles around. I would allow 1.5-2 hours to walk around the Victoria Falls Rainforest Reserve to enjoy all of the fifteen viewing points along the way.
A sunset cruise on the Zambezi River is definitely another highlight in this area. Peacefully gliding along this powerful river is a wonderful way to spot game – we saw elephants, hippos, warthogs and baboons and some lovely birdlife – heron, egret and kingfishers. The next challenge was to try and capture the prefect sunset photo as the sky quickly turns from blue to purple, yellow to orange and finally a fiery red without spilling your gin and tonic!
After a short morning game drive through the Zambezi National Park, we then hit tarmac and headed for Botswana and Chobe National Park. We arrived at Muchenje Safari Lodge in time for lunch with a gorgeous view over the escarpment then headed into the park for an early evening game-drive. As we headed down towards the river we came across a herd of 20 elephant and I was delighted to see a number of new-borns with their protective mothers, aunts and sisters. Our elephant sightings continued and altogether we saw approximately 70 elephants across three different herds. Wonderful! Along with zebra, giraffe, hippo, buffalo and crocodile we saw many antelope too; kudu, waterbuck, roan and impala.
At Kasane airport we boarded the first of many light aircraft flights and flew to the Kwando-Linyanti River region which is divided into four large private concessions (Linyanti, Kwando, Selinda and the Chobe Enclave). These scenic transfer flights afford spectacular aerial views of the inky blue flood waters, weaving and twisting their way across the vast green plains. On arrival into the Kwando Reserve I was immediately struck by the remote beauty of the concession and was excited to hear that a pregnant wild dog was in the area and looking to den. Alas, a wild dog sighting eluded us on this occasion, but other guests had reported a good sighting the evening before.
On our morning game-drive from Lebala to the Selinda Reserve the birdlife was abundant and with keen birders in our vehicle we spotted 38 different species. The highlights included a coppery-tailed coucal, wattled crane, bataleur, hammerkop, white-backed vulture, African open-billed stork and the diminutive pearl-spotted owlet. On arrival at Selinda Camp we were greeted by a lone bull elephant quietly making his way across the grasslands, in front of camp, while we settled in to another hearty lunch. On our early evening game drive we spent 30 minutes watching two lionesses with their six cubs. The 6-month old cubs were already twice the size of their 3-month old cousins, and it was interesting to see the mother of the younger cubs also feeding her sister’s offspring. She had to roar loudly and roughly push them away to ensure her own cubs received her nutritious milk, but once they were sated the older cubs would re-emerge and she would happily feed them too.
We then took a flight to Kanana located in another private concession in the south-western Okavango. For our afternoon activity we chose a boat cruise and were quickly rewarded with an elephant up to his ears in water tearing down reeds. In a wider section of the waterway a Goliath heron with one swift movement scooped up a trout and swallowed it whole, while a spotted bush snake, the same green as its surroundings, was expertly spotted at some distance by our guide. Our morning mokoro excursion was also full of game-viewing delights with a herd of 25 elephant crossing the waterway in front of us from one island to the next. They would occasionally raise their trunks and flap their ears in our direction, just checking that we knew they were there!
Flying north-west we then landed on the Jao Concession, which is a true water haven and birder’s paradise. The waterways here are simply breath-taking and activities focus on boat cruises, mekoro excursions and fishing. Always keen to try new things, I cast off my first rod and much to my utter delight and surprise I managed to catch a 6lb catfish! What an adrenalin rush! I held him long enough for a photo before releasing him back into the Delta.
The Okavango Delta is a truly spectacular destination and I love the variety of game-viewing activities on offer; game-drives, boat cruises, mekoro excursions, walking-safaris and horse riding safaris. The experience and value of the exclusive private concessions is immediately apparent with less people, vehicles and the additional offerings of off-roading and night drives compared to the busier areas of Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve which have public park restrictions. Seeing game so close to water, provides such a different feel to a traditional land-based game safari and I would highly recommend it.
During Julia’s visit to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana she stayed at Waterberry Lodge, Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge, Victoria Falls River Lodge, Muchenje Safari Lodge, Lebala Camp, Selinda Camp, Kanana Camp, Pelo Camp, Shinde Camp, Okuti Camp and Savute Under Canvas. She site inspected Tongabezi Lodge, Islands of Siankaba, Anantara Royal Livingstone Resort, Avani Victoria Falls, Ilala Lodge, Victoria Falls Hotel, Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Bayete Guest Lodge, Pioneers Camp, Lagoon Camp, Selinda Explorers Camp, Zarafa Camp, Jacana Camp, Footsteps, Camp Moremi, Camp Xakanaxa and Savute Safari Lodge.