They say you can never go home. Poppycock, I say. I come to Zimbabwe each time like the prodigal daughter with arms outstretched and senses alive.
Victoria Falls Travel Journal
And so it was again as we set out to Livingstone in Zambia en-route to the Vic Falls Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe on a freezing, gray day in Johannesburg, courtesy of Africa Albida Tourism. The bright crimson of the frangipani and the bone-dry heat had subsided slightly from the previous time I set foot on this land (what with it being winter and all) as we alight at the quaint Livingstone airport. Passport control on both sides go like clock-work and in no time we find ourselves suspended on the bridge hundreds of meters above one of the eight wonders of the world in the furious, full-flowing white form
of the Victoria Falls.
The kids in the group with us literally gasp for breath and the questions come fast and furiously: "Dad, can we swim in that? Will you drown? How deep is it? Why is the water going so fast? Where does it go? Will you be safe in a boat?" My mind drifts to last time I came to Zimbabwe. We stayed at a camp called - wait for it - Old Ursula
Old Ursula Camp is a small, private family or big group option and sister to 5-star Victoria Falls accommodation, the Stanley and Livingstone Hotel, which is nearby. Guests can self-cater or enjoy delicious meals
on a full board basis. It was a magnificent experience and now I'm back and shaken from my reverie as we drive into the town of Victoria Falls with the mind-boggling population of about 160 000 people where the Vic Falls Safaris Lodge is located. It is a splendid hotel - the design and decor were created to evoke the east African colours, feel and look.
A keen eye for detail in the design is evident - hardwoods, thatch, vibrant colours. Our gorgeous guest-relations director, Lynn, greets us with a smile as wide as the Falls itself and shows us to our rooms which has a two-story ceiling with mosquito netting around the enormous bed and a view to inspire poetry
in even the most monosyllabic soul.
Set high on a natural plateau, the westward facing Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
borders the Zambezi National Park and is just four kilometers from the thundering Vic Falls. After a lovely late lunch with General Manager Jonathan Hudson, I languish lazily by the pool in the African sunshine.
The laughter of children is in surround-sound as they play in the beautiful and very safe rock-pool. It is easy to see why this is such a popular family destination
. The hotel offers baby-sitting services as well as a TV room for truly bored kids.
There are limited family accommodation options within the hotel itself but the star attraction on the property for families is Lokuthula - pronounced 'Lock-oo-too-la' - which in the local siNdebele tongue means 'Place of Peace'. This is an apt name for these well-appointed lodges
set in tranquil, indigenous gardens where elephant roam and warthogs kneel to mow the lush lawns- literally!
This luxurious self-catering RCI timeshare resort consists of 37 rustic thatched lodges, a mere four kilometres from the spectacular Falls. Lokuthula is surrounded by 80,000 hectares
of unspoilt African bush and borders the unfenced Zambezi National Park. Family-friendly facilities and access to riveting nightly entertainment at the fabulous, adjacent Boma - Place of Eating restaurant make Lokuthula Lodges the ideal family holiday venue.
After a nap it's off for a heart-stopping helicopter flip over the Falls, lasting about 12 minutes. I sit next to the pilot and once I've overcome most of my panic attacks, I allow the awe of the Falls from this vantage point to envelop me. Your more adventurous kids would love this but keep in mind, it's not cheap.
The sense of Man's insignificance rushes at me with visceral and raw ferocity in the face of one of the magnificent Wonders of the World
beneath me. The thundering falling waters go on for miles and it looks to me like a place where the earth broke.
Dinner is at the Boma on the premises of the Lodge. With a myriad awards under its belt, this authentic African dining experience
is something to behold. The food is buffet style; you choose your dish and everything is cooked right in front of you. It is carnivore heaven with everything from impala to crocodile and ostrich meat but the restaurant also caters for vegetarians. And the drumming show is stupendous.
The next morning Jonathan takes me to the local primary school the Lodge is renovating. The Lodge obtained funding and they are upgrading the facilities at the school as part of their contribution to the community
. The school is too small for all the kids at this stage so half the kids go in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.
The beautiful, beaming little faces wave us goodbye as we leave, creating a lump in my throat. Their desire to learn and their knowledge of the importance of education, even as little as they are, is overwhelming. Jonathan then drives us personally to our next destination, the Hide Safari Camp
in Hwange National Park, a three-hour drive through the African bush.
The Hide is a Zimbabwe safari lodge with a difference - a comfortable, tented safari camp inside the majestic surroundings of the park. The eight luxury furnished tents, each with its own en suite bathroom, are charming and very comfortable with a view of the pristine bush and the waterhole. Recent renovations have seen the tents upgraded to accommodate honeymooners and one tent can accommodate a family of four
. The highlights of the game drive later in the afternoon are elephant and four lazy male lions. The kids on the drive are very quiet and watch these magnificent beasts with wide eyes.
The following day an adventure awaits as well as history in the making. We check in for a Solenta Aviation flight transporting us from Hwange to Lake Kariba's Bumi Hills in Zimbabwe
. This smooth 50-minute trip is the first of many convenient flights now scheduled as a result of Solenta Aviation and Africa Albida Tourism introducing two new routes, between Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Bumi Hills, and Harare, Kariba, Bumi Hills. The panoramic views are spectacular and to mark the inaugural flight, we are welcomed on Bumi Hills' landing strip with champagne and cheers supplied by Bumi Hills Safari Lodge management team - very grand.
Bumi Hills Safari Lodge is a revelation. It is situated on top of a hill approximately 55km south west of Kariba town. With the Zambezi escarpment as its backdrop, the well-known Bumi Hills Safari Lodge
overlooks the foreshore below and the vastness of Lake Kariba.
Each of the 20 bedrooms has a view of the lake
and game can be seen grazing on the shoreline below from the premium rooms. The hotel only accommodates kids over the age of 12 at the moment but Bryony from Albida Africa tells me they are contemplating creating a family "season" for kids of all ages. There's loads for families to do: go to the crocodile farm or fishing, go on game drives or a boat cruise, play snooker, do the cultural village tour or the walking safaris.
We go on a sunset cruise later that afternoon and a spot of bream fishing. As we watch hordes of impala running from the crocs for dear life from one island to the other - created by the recent floods - I find myself running smack bang into a myriad of clichés in my head. The antelope move, superimposed against the vermilion setting sun, as if in slow motion. The silence is only broken by the lone cry of a fish eagle and the tranquility of my surroundings
takes a deep seat in my soul - see??? There is no escaping cliché's here.
After a delicious dinner and many tales of the bush, I fall into bed exhausted, dreading returning to "civilization" the following day. Africa awakens in me inexplicably contrasting emotions - a profound yearning and simultaneously a deep sense of peace. But that's Africa
- eclectic, overwhelming; it transcends the mind and defies reason. So Until I return, au revoir beautiful Zimbabwe.