du’s dinners were served by the river; at Bilimungwe we ate on the deck by candlelight, sharing wine and hashing over the day’s surprises, such as the lions that killed and ate the buffalo and the discovery — to our mutual astonishment — that our fellow guests, a couple from England, live next door to my English cousins.
Manda Chisanga, our guide, the award-winning naturalist and a keen-eyed tracker, was both tireless and professional.
“Did you hear that?” he asked. “It’s an eagle-owl. He’s on that tree branch, there, no, to the left. And over there, the grass is moving, but there’s no wind tonight. Do you see the leopard?”
Steve picked the next destination, the Islands of Siankaba luxury lodge built on two private islands in the mighty Zambezi, where the river is wide and shallow. Spectacular views from the lodge take it all in, from the trees in the foreground to Zimbabwe, on the river’s far side.
The patio, with tables and chairs, flower beds and a fountain, was the gathering place. Our bedroom, one of seven tented cabins connected by swinging bridges, clung to the bank above the high-water mark.
Sleeping late, we relaxed, swam in the pool, took a sunset cruise, joined an off-island picnic and got into a mokoro (canoe) for a guided ride, launched from the dock.
We spent our last week in South Africa at two very different safari lodges, the starkly minimalist Earth Lodge and its partner, Bush Camp, a family-friendly resort, both in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.
Despite a day lost to rain, we didn’t miss a game drive, bouncing over the hills in comfortable vehicles, with rain gear on board and miles of new territory to explore. When our guide and tracker, Lazarus Mahore and Louis Mkamsi, spotted paw prints in the dirt, they drove over every bush until they found the lions, asleep in the grass.
But the lodges themselves couldn’t have been more different. Channeling the Neanderthals, Earth Lodge’s 13 luxury suites were caves, richly decorated dugouts in the side of a hill, invisible from the top or sides. We sat in our plunge pool outside the front windows and watched the impala graze in complete privacy.
The lounges, tidy rock gardens, weathered tree trunks, bar, wine cellar and dining room echoed the motif, fresh and inviting but spartan. Even the dinner guests fit the mold, eating at the next table, alone and in silence.
In contrast, Bush Camp, with 25 luxury suites, popped with energy. Game drives mattered, but as part of the larger experience. The food, served buffet style on a half-dozen tables heaped high, ran from meats, fish and pasta to salads, fruit, vegetables, breads and cookies, while the guests, sitting wherever there was space, mingled and exchanged names.
You could tour nearby Huntington Village or visit two local schools, both supported by the game lodges. Or you could meet a Shangaan shaman, who invited me into her rondavel, where I sat down and crossed my legs. This village elder rolled the knucklebones and then spoke the words I’d hoped to hear: “We will meet again sometime.”
Anne Z. Cooke is a freelance writer.