Victoria Falls Island Lodge, Zimbabwe, Africa
Set on a private island between the waterways separating Zimbabwe and Zambia, Victoria Falls Island Lodge is a beacon of eco-friendly indulgence.
Bright and early on a Wednesday morning, I board the Airlink Embraer 135 from Cape Town International Airport with a direct flight to Victoria Falls International Airport. Since the inception of Airlink’s direct flights between Cape Town and Zimbabwe in July 2017, it has proven to be a huge success with the flying time of only 2 hours and 55 minutes.
Coming in to land, my eyes fixate on the tapestry of green that unfolds in front of me, indicating that the summer rains obliterated the otherwise barren landscape into an overwhelming display of lushness.
After making my way through customs, adding another stamp to my passport by a friendly immigration official, I am collected by Sipho Moyo at Victoria Falls International Airport and driven to the Zambezi Crescent properties jetty where the water transport is moored. I am handed over to my guide and boat captain, Polite Mpofu, who propels us in the very luxurious Sun Tracker pontoon upwards on the great Zambezi towards Kandahar Island, where the magic of Victoria Falls Island Lodge awaits. A welcoming committee is on the deck to make me feel at home, waving us in with the friendliest of faces and the brightest smiles. Zambezi Crescent General Manager, Roddy Meiring takes me through the formalities while my butler Nkanyiso Moyo is at hand to see that my luggage is stored in my room and that I am well taken care of for the duration of my stay.
It is time for lunch and chef Leo Mzizi has whipped up the most delicious chicken wraps with fries. I sit, transfixed as my viewing window is framed by trees and the Zambezi and its rushing waters house critters great and small. A crocodile inconspicuously floats past and to my right on the deck, a banded mongoose has come to greet me and has brought the whole family. A very colorful lizard is sunning himself and finds a lady friend who he chases after.
My room is waiting, and it feels as though I’m floating in the treetops as the wooden walkway leads me to my treehouse. The elevation of the path to my room makes me feel like I’ve entered a rainforest with the increase in humidity and the birdsong that is music to my ears.
With the expertise of architect Bobby Ellis of Ellis Architecture and interior designer Jayne Botha of Classic Frank, Victoria Falls Island Lodge’s concept of ‘touch the earth lightly’ came to fruition in 2016. Not a single tree on the island was cut down during the construction process and the absolute minimal footprint was ensured by causing as little damage as possible during the building process. No indigenous trees were utilized for the various constructions with only imported timber used.
The building process had its fair share of challenges, such as getting sixty treated gum poles of 6 meters in length, needing twenty people per pole to carry them, planted within a month before the rains came. Another obstacle was transporting around 300 tonnes of treated pine across the river by barge, not an easy task. It was of paramount importance that the raised walkways connecting the Treehouse Suites to the main areas and jetty were all built in such a way as not to impede the natural movement and migration of the local wildlife living on Kandahar Island. The building process was completed within ten months with the main area, viewing bar area and five Treehouse suites perfected. The official opening of Victoria Falls Island Lodge took place in August 2017 with three Treehouse Suites and the remaining two rooms completed shortly thereafter. My room is a haven of blissful tranquility. When I step into my air- conditioned abode, the vista of the Zambezi is enough to take my breath away. My bed is positioned to maximize the views over the river and the sunrise each morning from the vantage point on my deck is a sight to behold. Even my bathroom allows me unsurpassed sights of the surrounding river life.
Polite is waiting to take me on a sunset cruise to showcase the abundant birdlife that only the magical Zambezi can offer. We see a great egret, a wire-tailed swallow, an African jacana, a water thick-knee and white fronted lapwinger. A baobab flourishes in the water and in the distance, the moody storm clouds are rushing in and as I
glance upwards, the rainbow to the left of the Victoria Falls adds to the magic of ‘the smoke that thunders’.
I freshen up before dining on the deck where the darkness of the river holds a mysterious eeriness. Chef Leo has proven his culinary prowess with his masterfully crafted calamari starter, cooked to perfection beef fillet and mouth-watering white chocolate mousse.
It is time to retire for the night and I have a choice between taking a deep-bath-tub soak or a cleansing shower. I opt for the shower and use the wonderfully fragrant Eco Diva products Victoria Falls Island Lodge has on offer – I love the anti-aging body wash as well as the gentle calming shampoo and the gentle calming conditioner. The white bedding is soft to the touch and I fall asleep to the sound of thunder and raindrops on the roof.
Before the sun has made its appearance on day 2, Polite and I set off on our game drive through the Zambezi National Park. The 150,000 acres makes it the ideal spotting place for safari creatures of all shapes and sizes. As the rising sun heralds the onset of a new day, we sit in quiet amazement as the colorful hues paints the canvas for a magnificent day in the bush. Polite stops at the base of a baobab, showing me that an elephant tried to debark the tree, but much to our amusement, the tree ‘won’ as the elephant lost a piece of his tusk. A white-backed vulture is perched in a tree, waiting for the day to warm up enough to enable it to soar on the thermals.
It is evident from the overflow of young mammals that the breeding process was successful – zebra, giraffe, impalas, warthogs, baboons and vervet monkeys are showing off their babies. As we approach a stream, a baboon is enjoying a grooming session from his lady to such an extent that he falls over, fast asleep while she meticulously picks off everything that shouldn’t be present on his furry body.
Three European bee-eaters are sitting on a bare tree branch, seemingly levitating. Polite finds a nice stop along the river for us to stretch our legs and have that much-needed morning refreshment with home-made rusks and crunchies.
I spend the remainder of my day enjoying all the offerings at Victoria Falls Island Lodge, appreciating the most incredible meals, lovingly prepared by Leo. Nkyaniso is always at hand without being intrusive and his ever-present smile is contagious. My suite is the best place to take respite from the heat and never napping
in the afternoon, I indulge in what seems like the logical thing to do in such a wonderous location. After a quick dip in my plunge pool, I set out for the afternoon activity.
Instead of going on a river cruise, I am offered by Polite to go on another game drive. Some very muddy warthogs are foraging at Victoria Falls River Lodge in search of food. Trying to find elephants seems like a futile exercise as Polite explains to me that Zambezi National Park shares unfenced borders with Chobe, so animals are free to roam wherever they want to go. He had hardly uttered the words, when in a dense area, two elephant bulls walk between the foliage, a case of ‘now you see me … now you don’t’.
A very vocal red-necked spurfowl scurries across the path and on our way back to the lodge; we encounter a grey hornbill, a lilac-breasted roller and a white-fronted bee eater. The most incredible electric storm is brewing over the Zambezi and we make it back to the lodge just in time before the rain starts.
After a great night’s sleep, our final game drive looks like it might be rained out, but we persevere and spot loads of zebra, giraffe, a waterbuck family and some naughty baboons stripping the bark off the base of a tree in search of gum. Back at the lodge, it is time for me to start packing up, but not before promising to return with my family, very soon.