Jetting off abroad is grand but I’ve always maintained that the best-kept travel secrets and unforgettable experiences can be found right next door. Which is why an invite from Africa Albida Tourism to indulge in its hospitality offerings in Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls had me zipping up my monogrammed Tumi bag in record time.
NGOMA SAFARI LODGE, CHOBE FOREST RESERVE, BOTSWANA
It’s late November, and the summer heat is thick in the air as we arrive at Ngoma Safari Lodge in Botswana’s Chobe Forest Reserve for our first night. The cicadas are settling in for the night, the sun dips towards the horizon, and we are greeted with a blaze of orange and red glory lighting up the silvery surface of the Chobe River while it winds its way through the floodplain below. It’s utterly breathtaking and hard to believe it wasn’t orchestrated just for us.
Forget cellphone alarms at Ngoma. Your wakeup call is the rustling of foliage as troops of baboons and elephants make their way to breakfast, passing within a thrilling few metres of your bedroom window. Suitably fortified from our own early morning buffet on the first full day, we embark on a river and road cruise in the Chobe National Park with our charismatic and knowledgeable guide, Joe.
STAYING HYDRATED: Don’t be surprised if, upon waking, you discover that your villa’s private pool is empty. This is the work of thirsty elephants and not climate change.
I’ll admit, I am somewhat sceptical about our chances of a good sighting in the intense heat of a Chobe morning, but boy, am I wrong. Our little group is treated to what I can only describe as wildlife moments of National Geographic proportions. A lioness and her cub drinking from a riverside pool. A herd of playful elephants engaged in spirited mudslinging, and the ubiquitous troops of baboons, the comedians of the bushveld, romping between the trees and scrub.
After a long day out in the sun, we round off the day with a dinner at the lodge boma, after which I collapse into the cosy comfort of my feather duvet and luxuriate in the silence of the Chobe evening — a rare treat for this habitual city-dweller.
SAFETY FIRST: Ngoma Safari Lodge isn’t fenced, so you’ll be allocated a guide at the end of your evening to provide a safe escort back to the comfort of your villa.
VICTORIA FALLS SAFARI CLUB, VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE
Next stop, Victoria Falls: one of the seven natural wonders of the world and known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya, or The Smoke That Thunders. Our home away from home for the last few days of our trip is the 20-room boutique Victoria Falls Safari Club, the smaller, sexier offering that’s nestled next to the much-larger Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. Perfect for couples or families craving privacy and seclusion.
An added, very welcome, club perk in the ±38°C afternoon heat is the small private pool, available exclusively to Safari Club guests. I spend a leisurely afternoon there, splayed out on the deck under the shade of an umbrella and enjoying high-tea treats and cocktails.
LUNCH DATE: Vultures might not win a beauty pageant, but they are highly endangered thanks to increasing pressure on their habitat and food sources by humans. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge offers daily vulture feeding and educational talks for those wanting to learn more about how crucial these birds are as part of our larger ecosystem.
What more can be said about Vic Falls? It is iconic, and the revenue it generates keeps the surrounding communities relatively sheltered from Zimbabwe’s economic chaos. Sadly, our trip coincides with the dry season so the falls are not in full flood, but the views and walk along the top are spectacular, and include watching daring tourists take a dip in the infamous Devil’s Pool — perched terrifyingly close to the edge of the falls.
RAILWAY ROMANCE: Brave the heat, walk all the way to the end of the falls path, and catch a glimpse of the old Victoria Falls bridge that crosses the Zambezi River. The brainchild of Cecil Rhodes and part of his unfulfilled Cape to Cairo railway scheme, Rhodes wanted passing trains to catch the spray of the falls and this special spot was chosen in 1904.
The little town of Victoria Falls is definitely worth a visit. We meet a few of its colourful inhabitants during an afternoon spent curio shopping after our trip to the falls. Dexter has a space just outside the Elephant Walk shopping centre where he sells fascinating mechanised recreations of daily life in rural and urban Zimbabwe. We watch with awe as he turns the hand crank that powers each of his unique pieces of art and each springs to life: gazelles leap to avoid the hungry jaws of lions and village women pull water from wells while children play and birds soar overhead.
LOCAL TALENT: Need a break from exploring and shopping? Stop in at The River Brewing Company on Adam Stander Road for some delicious micro-brewed craft beer and soft-shell tacos.
GETTING THERE: Travel on the continent can have its challenges but Fastjet takes the stress away with its reliable and consistent service between major southern African cities. This award-winning African airline now offers even more frequent flights between Joburg and Victoria Falls, in addition to its regular, four-times-a-day flights between the City of Gold and Harare.
• From the August edition of Wanted 2019.