In praise of the mighty Zambezi!


The great Zambezi River (literally meaning “Great River” in the local Tonga language) is the very lifeline of central-southern Africa, a place of legend, adventure and breath-taking beauty. Rising in a remote corner of Zambia before flowing through Angola and turning back to form the natural boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Zambezi is beguiling, and deceptive. It lures you in with its ever so sluggish demeanour as it wends its way to its ultimate union with the Indian Ocean on the Mozambican coast. Hippos snort, crocodiles bask on the sunny banks and vast herds of wild game come to quench their thirst and disappear again into the surrounding wilderness. This is without doubt, one of the most beautiful areas of Africa.

Sindabezi Island

In these gentle upper reaches you will find Sindabezi Island. Think Robinson Crusoe meets the pages of House & Home. There are just 5 simple wood and thatched chalets nestled around the island. Luxury linens, billowing mosquito nets, copper basins and, in some, even ball and claw baths add elegance to the simplicity. Each chalet is completely open to the front offering unfettered views onto the river, while remaining completely shielded from your neighbours. At night you can cocoon yourself inside by lowering the canvas sides or choose to leave everything open and experience the magic of the African night. Listen to the hippos snorting and the elephants trumpeting as they cross between Zimbabwe and Zambia under the cover of darkness or if you are lucky, watch the inky dark of night come alive with a shower of fireflies.

If you can drag yourself away from your chalet the island offers several intimate spots to enjoy, from the cosy lounge on a rare chilly evening, to private dining decks or even a small plunge pool to cool off in the heat of summer. Let’s not forgetting the roaring fire pit, perfect for whiling away the evenings with tall tales of your adventures.

There is no shortage of things to do while here: river cruises; exploring deserted islands on foot with a sand bar lunch or sundowners; visiting the awesome beauty of the Victoria Falls; relaxing with a spot of fishing; visits to local villages and markets; and maybe even a private dinner on a sampan floating in the middle of the Zambezi. When the river’s seasonal ebb softens the flow guests at Sindabezi are able to visit Livingstone Island at the precipice of the falls. With water flowing either side plunging into the steamy cauldron below you can peer over the edge in wonder.

A stay at Sindabezi is a real treat for the soul, taking a complete break from the pace of the modern world and relaxing into a rhythm of times long past. The true nature of the river, however, is revealed as it unleashes its spectacular power at the Victoria Falls. Creating the world’s single largest curtain of water, stretching 1.7 km (1.1miles) when in full flow (usually peaking in April each year). The water plunges into the gasping chasm below creating one of the greatest natural spectacles on the planet. The power of the water tumbling over the falls creates a spray that can rise up to nearly a kilometre high (3,200ft) creating a cloud of mist that can be seen from miles around. This great plume of mist combined with the bellowing sound of the crashing water gives rise to the local name for the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders.

The furious waters find their escape, carving a deep channel through the landscape. On the way unyielding rock in its eternal battle with the river provide some of the world’s greatest white-water rafting, a true white-knuckle adventure. Forging ever onwards the river is eventually tamed by man. The giant Kariba dam wall stops the river in its tracks and in doing so creates Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake by volume. When the dam was built and the valley slowly filled with water, one of the world’s largest wildlife rescues took place thanks to Operation Noah. In the process thousands of animals were relocated to the Matusadona National Park forming much of the southern boundary of the new lake. Over the decades the lake has settled, the wildlife flourished and today it is a true haven.

Bumi Hills

Perched high above the lake with commanding views in all directions is the luxury Bumi Hills Safari Lodge. Bumi Hills is one of the oldest properties on the lake but has recently been completely transformed to become a world class resort.

10 luxury rooms together with a 2-bedroom family suite provide a luxury haven for the weary traveller. The rooms exude modern African style with every creature comfort including sumptuous en-suite bathrooms, air-conditioning, battery charging points and inclusive mini-bars. In addition, each room offers a private viewing deck to soak up the endless vistas. For those in the family villa privacy is taken even further with your own private butler and private vehicle for all excursions.

The sense of luxury carries through to the main lodge area. A large rim-flow pool, complete with palm tree and shaded day beds remind one of a tropical beach resort, with the shimmering waters of the lake below masquerading as the ocean. And expansive deck with never ending views leads you to the ultimate fire pit for long evenings under the southern skies.

Days are spent weaving your way through the lake’s ethereal flooded forests by boat,
watching majestic elephants in the water, and as the day wanes witness some of the finest sunsets in the world. On land you can head out on foot or in open 4×4 vehicles in search of the wildlife that is free to move along the lake shore from the Matusadona National Park, with lions being regularly sighted.

However, man could only tame the relentless push of the river for a while, and onward it forges from Kariba spanning out into floodplains that are home to a spectacular richness of wildlife. To the south of the river at this point lies the incredible Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, a World Heritage Site recognized for its unadulterated wilderness. Hugging the Zambian northern banks of the river is the Lower Zambezi National Park, with the Zambezi Escarpment rising above the floodplains providing a dramatic backdrop. On both sides you will find a scattering of wildlife lodges, allowing a lucky few to experience this remote wilderness.

Chiawa Camp

Few of the properties in the area can match the history and exclusivity of Chiawa Camp. In 1991 Chiawa “opened its tent flaps” to the very first ever paying guests to the Lower Zambezi National Park. Ever since Chiawa has been instrumental in supporting, protecting and growing the area as one of the finest safari destinations in Africa.

8 double tents and a grand safari suite are strung out along the riverbank, all offering unrestricted views of the teaming wildlife action that lies just beyond. In the true spirit of the best bush camps in Africa, Chiawa Camp is all about blurring the boundaries of indoors and outdoors. The luxury furnishing and creature comforts of the tents are combined with an openness that allows guests to feel they really are at one with the bush surrounding them. Often guests relaxing on their comfortable private day beds will be entranced by the sounds of the bush only to be jolted out of their reverie by a passing elephant.

Chiawa is all about the wildlife experience, and the wildlife is there in abundance thanks to the life-giving Zambezi River. Game drives and walking safaris in the park provide close encounters that match any game reserve in Africa. However, the uniqueness of the area is the incredible experiences that are available on the water. Here you can opt to head out in motorboats and glide down the river as hippos bob up and down like an aquatic game of whack-a-mole and game from far and wide come to the banks to slake their thirst. For the ultimate river wildlife adventure take to the water in a canoe. Here you feel utterly immersed in the grandeur of the nature that surrounds you and offered a unique view of Africa’s big game.

All along its length the mighty Zambezi River sustains life and provides endless adventure for those who visit. Be warned though, once the river has cast its spell on you, you are unlikely to ever want to leave.

Warwick Blow is owner of Safari In Style. Safari In Style uses more than 50 years of personal experience to create tailor-made unique journeys through Africa’s finest safari destinations.

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Comments (12)

  1. Alex says:

    Sindabezi Island is ticking all the right boxes for me. The description of Robinson Crusoe peace and quiet combined with House and Home interior design is just what I want from a safari.

    Getting away from it all onto an island is my idea of bliss. The fact that there are only 5 cottages is even better.

    I’d never heard of Sindabezi Island so reading this has been quite an education.

    • Warwick Blow says:

      Hi Alex

      Thanks for the comment. Sindabezi is one of those very special places. I once had a honeymoon couple from Italy going there. The wife cried for most of the boat ride there down the river, she was terrified and hated the idea of staying on such a remote island surrounded by wild things. 3 days later on the transfer out she cried all the way because she didn’t want to leave!

      It’s not your typical big game safari destination, but sure is a wonderful place to recharge.

      Cheers

      Warwick

  2. Carolyn says:

    I just can’t get my head round that bath tub in the open, out on the decking, we just don’t do that sort of thing in Britain – it would get the neighbours gossiping.

    Though you’ve sold Chiawa Camp to me. The thought of being stirred from my day bed by a passing elephant or watching from that boat as the elephant takes a bath must be a once in a lifetime experience.

    • Warwick Blow says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      Funny, when I was writing this post earlier today I was looking out the window here in Somerset and thinking “we just don’t do that sort of thing in Britain”….but that was more to do with the pouring rain and howling wind :)

      I have to say, that pretty much anywhere along the Zambezi is a special place to be….but they don’t get much better than Chiawa!

      Warwick

  3. Alice McLellan says:

    Looks incredible. I didn’t really know that much about the Zambezi River area as a tourist destination before. “ In 1991 Chiawa “opened its tent flaps” to the very first ever paying guests” 😂 I love that! The busier life gets and the more pressure there seems to be, the more appealing I find places like this, full of nature and somewhere you can really just get away from a lot of the modern world nonsense for a while. Looks like there are some fab accommodations too, no skimping on comfort and surprisingly luxurious.

    • Warwick Blow says:

      Hi Alice,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Being in the lucky position of selling safaris to Africa for a living I have had the great fortune to travel all over Africa and, for me personally, few places can compare to the beauty of the Zambezi.

      Unfortunately wifi is creeping in most places so escaping the modern world is becoming more and more difficult. At this stage though Sindabezi Island is still holding out and is a wifi free zone so you have the perfect excuse to completely switch off!

      Regards,

      Warwick

  4. Julia says:

    I would struggle to choose between all of these really tempting destinations for a safari, from reading this they all look so great. What might swing it is the ease or difficulty of travel. How do you get to these places? Where do you fly to? Do any of the camps pick you up? And then how long would you have to travel for as I know that road travel in Africa can be quite gruelling?

    • Warwick Blow says:

      Hi Julia,

      Thanks so much for the comment. I hear you, it can be very confusing what to choose, especially when they all look so tempting!

      At Safari In Style we would always start though asking you what are your priorities. If we looked in this case, if you said you could just visit one of the 3 but your priority was wildlife viewing we would definitely recommend Chiawa Camp. But if you said you would love to relax, see some wildlife, see the Victoria Falls and do some exciting activities we would say Sindabezi. Most people with 7 – 10 days to travel would do a combination of properties.

      Getting around can seem confusing, but travel around Africa is remarkable well organised if you know what to book :) – all of these destinations are reachable by plane to the nearest airstrip and transfer by the lodge from there. One thing to note though with the Lower Zambezi and Mana Pools however, is that not all the camps are open year round, many are just for the peak safari season from April/May – October/November

      If you ever want to head out on safari we would be more than happy to assist and you can mail me directly at warwick@safariinstyle.com

      Regards,

      Warwick

  5. Julie Humphries says:

    I’ve never been on a safari partly because it is a major cost – I don’t use the word “expensive” because I’m sure that you are getting value for money and I know that there are loads of people involved behind the scenes giving you a dream experience.

    Although I’d do some game drives I’m not too bothered about seeing loads of wildlife. Two things appeal to me: the fabulous interior design and the get away from it all solitude. I want somewhere spectacular as a retreat from everyday life where I can sit and read my books?

    Are there any really stylish camps which stay open in low season, with good rates, where I can live out my dream of living in the middle of a safari fashion shoot?

    • Warwick Blow says:

      Hi Julie,

      Thanks very much for your comment.

      Often the price is what scares people the most about a safari – not only the price of the lodges but also the cost of getting to the destination in the first place. While a safari will never be “cheap” it also doesn’t need to cost the earth – we have an 11 day self-drive tour starting from just £750.00 a person – http://bit.ly/AffordableSA – this tour has a stay in a real out of Africa type safari tent.

      However, I think that you are maybe looking for something a little more modern stylish, and there are a lot of options available for you if you are flexible on when you travel. Please feel free to drop me a line at warwick@safariinstyle.com if you would like us to look at options in more detail for you.

      Kind regards,

      Warwick

  6. Andy says:

    I’m sure it’s been done but I can’t help thinking what an epic journey it would be to follow the Zambezi from its source. I expect some television “personality” has been whisked along the banks with some carefully selected shots and interviews to make a travelogue or series of programmes based on the Zambezi. Forgive the cynical tone but I know that these programmes have to stick to budget and that they’ve only got limited time. How great would it be as a real traveller to journey and just stop – and even stay – whenever you found interesting things to do and watch?

    • Warwick Blow says:

      Hi Andy

      Thanks for the comment. It would be an awesome experience to travel the whole length – I think Livingstone was amongst the first to do large parts of it (although it also ultimately lead to his death!), and seems only relatively recently that anyone has walked the entire length.
      I think it is largely unremarkable in its early stages and once it hits Mozambique is dammed to form the Cahora Bassa dam, and loses some of its magic again. However, for the length where it is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe….now that would be a great adventure.

      Regards,

      Warwick

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