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Instant safari romance in Vic Falls


Clare Townsend

Friday, 3rd February 2017

As an Africa Geographic staff member, I get the amazing perk of travelling for my job. I recently went on a whizz-trip safari to Kruger and Zambia to experience the ultimate in modern bush travel convenience.

Sitting on a private island in the middle of the Zambezi River, looking out over Zimbabwe, I sip rich Zambian coffee while playing a game of Scrabble with my sister. I pause for a moment to collect my thoughts and marvel at my surroundings.

It’s mid-December, I’ve just woken up on Sindabezi Island, and the birds are singing. Except it’s not the usual cacophony of hadedas that I’m accustomed to in Cape Town. Instead, the enchanting calls of the white-browed robin-chat chime merrily around me.

It’s surreal. I feel the need to pinch myself. I can scarcely believe that I’m with my twin sister Alexa on an island halfway between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Or that we’ve just spent the last few days in a dream-like haze at Tongabezi Lodge.

Thunderstorms and waterfalls at Tongabezi

My heart was aflutter at the prospect of experiencing Tongabezi Lodge. Located on the banks of the Zambezi River, it’s hidden amongst trees just beyond the gates of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Game Reserve. Tongabezi is the epitome of luxury safari romance. The lodge is a rich blend of wilderness and opulence, sprinkled with Zambian fairy dust, and it begs to be shared with a very special someone. For me, that was my sister.

We were lucky enough to be staying in The Nuthouse, a suite with sweeping views of the Zambezi River, adorned in a style that harks back to the magnificence of a bygone era. After a quick dip in our plunge pool, my sister and I were treated to a private dinner at The Lookout, a romantic setting where guests can recline and enjoy the tranquillity of the Zambezi. It was raining, so we ate under the shelter of the balcony. In the warm glow of candlelight, we were alone except for the company of hundreds of little nocturnal creatures.

After dinner, Alexa and I made our way back to our suite, falling asleep almost immediately in the comfort of a king-sized four-poster bed. The light sound of raindrops drumming against the deck and the gentle roar of the vast river flowing next to us lulled us into slumber.

Tongabezi Lodge from the Zambezi, with a view of The Lookout © Tongabezi
The Nuthouse at Tongabezi is so luxurious and private that it almost seems a shame to leave the suite © Tongabezi

Next morning, our alarms went off early for our first activity of the day: white water river rafting on the Zambezi. The storm was still so fierce that a small part of me hoped it would be cancelled. However, we were assured that a spot of rain was just a prequel to how soaked we would soon be.

White water river rafting with Safari Par Excellence turned out to be loaded with adrenaline-pumping fun, and my sister and I loved every minute of it. (Read more about about our white water rafting experience.)

We returned to Tongabezi in the early afternoon and made the most of the time to relax in our gorgeous suite and laze on the deck. After a siesta, the sun started peeking through the clouds, shedding dappled light over the river, so we made our way to the jetty for a sunset cruise.

The little boat sped off down the liquid golden highway of the Zambezi. The wind whispered gently through the leaves of the trees flanking the riverbanks, and strange bird calls floated after us. Hippos and crocs drifted on the water’s surface, and we spotted impala, bushbuck and baboons on the shores.

All of a sudden, our boat brushed up against a sandbar, and we found ourselves parked on a small sandy island in the middle of the river. There, waiting for us, were our friends from Tongabezi, wearing mischievous smiles. A sign written in the sand at our feet read ‘Welcome to the ‘SandBar’. They’d surprised us with a delectable spread of drinks and snacks in a unique location.

We spent the evening sipping bubbly and trying different cocktails, while the sky changed colour and the sun slowly disappeared. Soon the nocturnal calls of crickets, cicadas and fiery-necked nightjars filled the air, and we boated back to the lodge for dinner.

As we neared the jetty, we noticed a floating platform glowing in the middle of the river. Lit up against the deepening blue sky, mirrored by the vast expanse of the Zambezi, candles shone from lanterns dangling at its corners. A romantic table for two had been laid.

A surprise sundowner spot: The SandBar at Tongabezi © Tongabezi
Alexa and Clare sipping sundowners at the SandBar
A candlelit dinner on the sampan platform, serviced by waiters on a boat, is one of the unique experiences at Tongabezi © Tongabezi

The sampan platform is Tongabezi’s signature experience, and this was the perfect evening for it: calm and cool. As Alexa and I took our seats at the table, a full moon slid out from behind the trees. It felt like we’d stumbled into a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Three delicious courses paired with wine arrived by boat and were placed before us by smiling waiters. As our dessert was set on the table, it seemed that all the staff had boarded the boat to form a choir. Their voices sang out to us as we ate, then faded into the night. The beautiful sound sent goosebumps down my arms. This was surely an experience my sister, and I will never forget.

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Next morning we stepped into Dr Livingstone’s shoes by exploring Livingstone Island and taking a daredevil dip in Devil’s Pool. This spectacular spot is probably the best place to witness the mass of water gushing over the fearsome falls. The power of this natural wonder is utterly exhilarating. It certainly lives up to its local name, ‘the smoke that thunders’. (Read about our Devil’s Pool experience here.)

Alexa and Clare enjoy the thrill of Devil’s Pool – possibly the most spectacular swimming spot in Africa

That afternoon, we took a game drive through Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. I was surprised at how quiet it was. It’s a different experience, beautiful and unique in its own way. It was calving season, so there were lots of adorable baby impalas wobbling about. We spotted sable antelope, wildebeest, bushbuck, giraffe, baboons, vervet monkeys and birds galore. Then, just before we left, we spied two very shy rhinos, a mother and calf. What luck!

One of the benefits of going on safari in the green season is seeing all the adorable baby animals © Clare Townsend

Seclusion and selfies at Sindabezi

Then it was time to climb back aboard a boat and be whisked away to our own little island for our final night in Zambia. Sindabezi Island is a secluded paradise downstream of Tongabezi, and a sister camp. There are not many words that can do justice to this special place. Imagine being alone on an island smaller than a soccer field, with a handful of staff dedicated to your needs.

Alexa and I decided we could get used to this. We settled in quickly. I enjoyed the novelty of an outdoor shower, while Alexa lounged in a hammock on the deck. The chalets are open to nature with views out over the Zambezi River. Everything is luxurious yet rustic, with the same fanciful decor as Tongabezi.

After sunset – and several dozen selfies – we made our way along a sandy path illuminated by lanterns to a candlelit dinner. The food, as we had come to expect, was delicious, and the personalised service was impeccable. After dinner, we asked for a bottle of Amarula liqueur and two glasses of crushed ice in our room. We stayed up late into the night, reminiscing about our fun on safari and giggling at the romance of it all.

The following morning, as I sat sipping my coffee and losing miserably at Scrabble, it was hard to contemplate an end to our time here. It had all been so dreamlike that I could only think of one word, to sum up, the last few days. It had to be love. Tongabezi has firmly cemented itself in my mind as a place to be in love, loved and in love with.

Alexa drinks in the view of the Zambezi River from the seclusion of Sindabezi Island © Clare Townsend
There’s only one word to describe the feeling you get on safari at Tongabezi: love © Clare Townsend

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About the author

clare-townsendClare Townsend is a fitness fanatic and an amateur yogi. Give her a pretty place – mountains, forests, the bush, a wine farm, the beach – you name it, she’ll probably be in yoga pose mode.