Riverside lodge offers the best of both water and land
The Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi Valley has that blend of understated elegance, warm hospitality and a sensational location that screams “This is Africa!” from the moment you arrive. Incidentally, you can arrive in a variety of ways, either via a short flight from Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in the country’s capital city of Lusaka, landing on the tarred airstrip that runs parallel to the Zambezi River, or by boat, mooring at a jetty that seems to go on forever, lapped by the waters of this mighty waterway (it’s Africa’s fourth longest river, after the Nile, the Congo and the Niger).
Approaching it from the river, the lodge appears one with the surrounding wilderness. Perched on a narrow stretch of bank beneath a canopy of albida trees (also known as ana trees or winter thorns), it’s tucked away, with a steep embankment behind it and nothing but the river and a small island in front of it. From the airstrip, where you are collected by an open safari vehicle and driven the short distance to the lodge, it’s a steep descent down stone steps to the welcoming reception area, with a jaw-dropping view of the river that grabs the attention. On the opposite bank is Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park. A little downstream is Zambia’s Lower Za bezi National Park. Royal Zambezi Lodge is located in the western region of the Chiawa Game Management Area (GMA), which is a vast tract of land under conservation, abutting the national park. There are no fences, so the local wildlife roams freely, occasionally putting in an appearance in and around the lodge.
There’s no doubting the Lower Zambezi’s safari credentials. It’s breathtaking, one of Zambia’s most sought-after destinations, along with the South Luangwa National Park and Livingstone – home to the Victoria Falls. Wide floodplains dotted with groves of winter thorns and pod mahogany give way to open savannah and Afro-montane thicket as the ground rises slowly to meet the mountains of the escarpment that forms the northern borders of the valley. The diversity of species here is as impressive as the landscapes, with huge herds of buffalo and elephant regularly sighted as well as predators like leopards, lions and African wild dogs. Plains game includes kudu, impala, waterbuck, wildebeest and zebra. You won’t find giraffe here, though, as they have apparently never managed to negotiate the high mountains. Walking through the lounge areas on either side of Royal Zambezi Lodge’s main building, the river is ever-present. The vast timber deck and dining area offer an impressive 180° panorama of the water, giving you both upstream (sunset) and downstream (sunrise) views. The river is wide and lazy here, chugging along at a steady 5km/h on its way from Kariba Dam in the west to Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa Dam in the east. It’s the biggest eastward-flowing river on the continent and a critically important water source for Zambia, neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It’s also part of the massive Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Park that also includes Angola, Namibia and Botswana. The décor is a fusion of traditional safari with modern influences and organic inspiration taken from the surrounding African wilderness. Soft cottons, punches of bright colours, flowing mosquito nets and timber floors complement the overall effect of effortless safari chic and encourage you to make yourself at home, put your feet up and unwind. It’s wonderful to have all of this comfort and glamour to call your own, but the Lower Zambezi is a place where adventure beckons and the river calls to your inner explorer, urging you to get out there into the wild beyond. Game activities take place in the early morning and late afternoon, and you have the choice of doing land-based, traditional game drives or heading out on to the river for a range of boat-based activities.
On the water
River safaris top the list, going either upriver or downriver into the national park, cruising past islands filled with an abundance of life. Coffee stops take place on a sand bank or island and, if you like, you can take a fishing rod and some bait and try your hand at tiger fishing. The tiger fish – also called the river dog – has fearsome teeth and a legendary fighting ability that gives anglers a run for their money! You also have the chance to catch a huge vundu – a local catfish that lives mostly on the bottom of the river in the quiet drop-off areas and that can reach monstrous proportions (cue the old Jaws line: “We’re going to need a bigger boat!”). All fishing is on a catchand- release basis, so what you hook, you give back to the river. Sitting back in the lodge’s viewing hide overlooking a waterhole, camera at and eyes peeled for whatever the wilderness sends your way, it’s easy to forget what day it is. Time takes on a different meaning here and is measured by the rising and setting of the sun. Speaking of which, there’s nothing to beat being out on the Zambezi, watching t e sun set behind the peak of Kayila mountain with nothing but the sights and sounds of wild Africa all around you and the river lapping gently at the side of the boat as the sky turns every shade of orange… Paradise found? You bet!