An eco-con­scious river­side re­treat ideal for game-spot­ting in the African bush

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Mpala Jena Vic­to­ria Falls, Zim­babwe Sarah Mad­den

The wel­come

It takes an hour and 15 min­utes to get here from Vic­to­ria Falls In­ter­na­tional Air­port and all trans­fers are in­cluded in the price. The lodge man­agers will be there to greet you with cool­ing drinks, and your bags will be spir­ited away to your chalet tent as you are es­corted river­side to en­joy the stu­pen­dous views over the Zam­bezi.

The neigh­bour­hood

Sur­rounded by sausage, wa­ter­berry and rain trees, Mpala Jena is lo­cated on the south­ern (Zim­bab­wean) bank of the Zam­bezi River, 20 kilo­me­tres up­stream from Vic­to­ria Falls, in a pri­vate con­ces­sion (so only Mpala Jena guests are al­lowed) of the Zam­bezi Na­tional Park. The lodge of­fers game drives, walk­ing sa­faris and boat trips with top-class guides. In­ten­si­fied anti-poach­ing pa­trols have helped to in­crease wildlife num­bers in re­cent years, so there’s the op­por­tu­nity to spot large num­bers of res­i­dent ele­phants, as well as lions, buf­falo, hip­pos, croc­o­diles, gi­raffes, ze­bras and im­palas.

The scene

Owned by Great Plains Con­ser­va­tion, which runs equally high-qual­ity sis­ter lodges in Kenya and Botswana, Mpala

Jena (mean­ing white im­pala af­ter a leg­endary lo­cal al­bino), is part-owned by con­ser­va­tion­ist film­mak­ers Dereck and Bev­erly Jou­bert. All the lodge’s en­ergy needs are sup­plied by its so­lar farm and the wood used in its con­struc­tion is from re­cy­cled hard­woods. The in­te­rior de­sign of the main lodge area is ex­tremely el­e­gant with teak and ebony ta­bles, and su­per-sized can­vas prints of Bev­erly Jou­bert’s pho­to­graphs dec­o­rat­ing the walls.

The room

Mpala Jena has only four guest tents, all of­fer­ing panoramic views over the river. De­signed in Moroc­can style with pre­dom­i­nantly neu­tral colours to blend in with the bush back­ground, the lodge makes full use of lo­cally sourced stone and wood for floors and fur­ni­ture. Each tent has a chill-out area with a desk, while the en-suite bath­room in­cludes a bath, shower and dou­ble basins be­hind curved stone screens. There is also an ex­er­cise bike on hand, should you feel the need. Out­side, over­look­ing the river, there is a plunge pool and shower. Guests in the two-bed­room fam­ily suite can en­joy meals cooked by their own chef and have their own car and driver.

The ser­vice

The lodge man­agers have worked in the bush for more than 20 years and un­der­stand the se­cret of run­ning a res­i­dence such as this. The com­bi­na­tion of ef­fi­cient ser­vice with gen­uine warmth helps turn the lux­u­ri­ous sur­round­ings into a truly mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence.

The food

All Great Plains lodges are renowned for their gourmet of­fer­ings and Mpala Jena is no ex­cep­tion. The head chef was trained in a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant in the Cape Winelands. The menu in­cludes both de­li­cious fish and meat dishes with an em­pha­sis on the fresh­est lo­cal pro­duce imag­i­na­tively served. Guests can eat to­gether around a sin­gle ta­ble or at sep­a­rate ta­bles on the deck over­look­ing the river. Pri­vate din­ners can also be served in the tents.

Loved

Our hugely tal­ented guide, Bulisando, was a walk­ing en­cy­clopae­dia of bird species and was able to mimic most of them.

Hated

Know­ing we would even­tu­ally have to leave.

The ver­dict

A top-end lodge ex­pe­ri­ence apart from, but in easy reach of, the busy Vic­to­ria Falls area.

The bot­tom line

A stay here costs Dh3,904 per per­son, per night, in­clud­ing all meals, wildlife view­ing and air­port trans­fers.

Pho­tos An­drew Howard Photo

The lodge is set within a pri­vate con­ces­sion of the Zam­bezi Na­tional Park

The camp has four guest tents that of­fer sweep­ing river views

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