An architectural and design masterpiece in Zambia is the quintessential essence of wilderness chic
Lolebezi is the perfect blend of the powerful Zambezi and Lower Zambezi National Park, bringing guests the best of the river as well as incredible wildlife sightings.
There is a certain magical feeling when standing on the banks of the Zambezi. Perhaps a contributing factor is that the lodge is situated facing a kilometre of prime river frontage. The eight expansive suites are dotted along the river, spaced far apart for privacy and a very luxurious stay.
With its natural textured furnishings and use of shiny object d’art, most guests find Lolebezi intriguingly stunning. While some might look at the photographs and think the place is ever so slightly over the top, the brief was to fashion something suitably dramatic and in principle, skirting the ‘safe’ safari look of beiges and creams. “We like to refer to it as the ‘Jewellery Box on the Zambezi’,” says Lesley Fox, Fox Browne Creative’s Hospitality Manager. “The floor-to-ceiling glass windows, offset against rustic repurposed railway sleeper cladding is somewhat unusual for a safari lodge as tented structures don’t necessarily encompass glass or huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors.”
Part of a stay at the camp are twice-daily game drives, which are always loads of fun when your guide has a great sense of humour and attempts to showcase the best wildlife found in the area. In protected wilderness, the excitement of the unknown comes to the fore when sharing the game drive experience with fellow guests, mother-and-daughter duo Kay and Angelica. Seeing the joy on a child’s face when she spots a herd of zebra with a tiny baby, or hearing her squeals of delight when we see a huge bull elephant extending his trunk to reach some winterthorn pods truly embodies the spirit of family.
Another time, I opt for an early morning game drive with guide Elijah. Awoken by a reverberating roar at 5:12am, I get ready at lightning speed to find the source of the sound. “Did you hear them?” I ask Elijah excitedly when meeting him at our departure point. “I certainly did – they shouldn’t be too difficult to track down.” That’s positive thinking, given that a lion’s roar can be heard up to 8km away.
He’s correct, though. I look down for what seems like just a few seconds when suddenly Elijah slows the vehicle down. “There they are – do you see them!?” he exclaims enthusiastically. I squint. Those privileged to have been on safari will know that a guide will notice something a guest might take minutes to catch a glimpse of. Far in the distance, I can just make out what looks like a small termite mound. And then it starts moving. We drive around to get ahead of him. The sun is shining right in his eyes, revealing a coppery glint. He walks towards us, blinking every so often in the bright light. His large paws produce almost no sound. Pausing momentarily, he looks behind him to see where his pride is. His mane is still in its formative phase, resembling a gelled mohawk. When he needs to establish where his other three pride members are, he lets out a goosebump-forming roar, his paws leaving dusty spoor as he nonchalantly strolls past us. United with his pride, he, and they, settle in the shade next to a termite mound, blending in perfectly with their surroundings.
Living the dream
Out on the Jeki Plains, facing the picturesque Zambezi escarpment, we stop for morning coffee and freshly baked goodies. Elijah makes sure to find a shaded spot. I ask him what made him want to become a guide. “My father was a wildlife police officer,” he says, “and so was my eldest brother. I was born in the Mufumbwe district in north-western Zambia. Wildlife has been a passion from the time I started school. Once I completed my education, I joined the African Wildlife Foundation, doing elephant research and conservation in the Lower Zambezi. It was an interesting three years – we were marking elephant corridors and doing elephant counting. When that project came to an end, I decided to become a guide.”
When the Danish embassy donated funds for guide training, Elijah was one of the chosen ones to train at Conservation Lower Zambezi. He qualified following six months of practical training and went on to work for Sanctuary Retreats at a number of their camps in South Luangwa and Livingstone. “Being employed as a guide for Lolebezi since May 2022 has been the most phenomenal experience. The Lower Zambezi is one of the pillar national parks in Zambia. We have four of the Big 5. There are so many activities for guests to sink their teeth into here on the Zambezi, like tiger fishing [catch and release], boat cruises and canoeing in the channels, and don’t forget the extraordinary wildlife!”