Africa, At Last!, Pt. 2: Zimbabwe And Botswana (Plus A Little Zambia And Namibia)
In my previous post we had spent four days hanging out in Cape Town, South Africa, but the true purpose of this little getaway was to go on a safari so lets see how that went, but be warned; there are a ton of photos and videos!
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
The day had arrived, we were about to properly begin our safari! From our itinerary, again by Jess Miller, our travel consultant at RedFoot Safaris:
Day 5-6: Ilala Lodge Hotel, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) (Wed, 29 June to Thu, 30 June)
Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls. It is set on the magnificent Zambezi River which creates the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. These spectacular falls can be easily visited and viewed from the Zimbabwean side. Considered to be the world’s widest waterfalls, Victoria Falls measures an impressive 1708 metres in width. The small town of Victoria Falls, which lies adjacent to the waterfalls, serves as a great base from which to explore the many attractions this area of Zimbabwe has to offer. The surrounding area provides a wide range of adrenalin-filled activities for adventure lovers. Visitors can look forward to an array of wonderful activities including: scenic flights, micro lighting, white water rafting, bungee jumping, kayaking, and once-in-a-lifetime expeditions into the incredible Chobe National Park.
Overnight: Ilala Lodge Hotel
Ilala Lodge Hotel is ideally located only 8 minutes away from the spectacular Victoria Falls, making it geographically the closest hotel to the waterfall on the Zimbabwean side. As a family-run hotel, Ilala Lodge has 73 stylish, well- appointed rooms, that offer the ultimate in comfort and luxury. The hotel’s location affords guests unique views of the mist that rises from the mighty waterfall, known as the ‘smoke that thunders’.
Experience fine dining at Ilala Lodge Hotels’ top-rated Cassia Restaurant. Centrally located only minutes away from Victoria Falls, the newly-renamed restaurant offers a delicious breakfast buffet, lunch and al fresco evening dining under the starry African sky.
Relive the historical journey embarked by David Livingstone exploring the mighty Zambezi River aboard the Ra-Ikane fleet. Named after his instrumental guide, the boats represent the grace of a bygone era honouring the rich history of Victoria Falls and its explorers, adventurers and heroes. The Ra-Ikane offers a variety of cruises, including birdwatching, breakfast, lunch and sunset, as well as private charters.
All rooms look towards the Victoria Falls, and the National Park. There are often wild animals grazing on the lawn, and the windows and doors rattle from the force of the water from the mighty Victoria Falls.
All rooms have either a private patio or their own seating area on the lawn, facing the Falls.
Our continuing jet-lag made it easy to wake up and get to the airport on time for our relatively short flight and upon arrival in Victoria falls we were met by not only Taku, our driver and guide for the next few days, but also a tribe outside the airport performing a traditional dance, complete with shields and weapons. After we posed for some embarrassing photos (right), Taku drove us to our resort, mentioning that we could take a short helicopter ride over the falls that afternoon. Neither of us had ever been in a helicopter before so we jumped at the opportunity! We arrived at our hotel, the very colonial-looking Ilala Lodge Hotel, checked in, and were then driven by another man to where we would be getting into a helicopter. Along the way he asked where we were from and seemed a little disappointed when Anna replied “Singapore”, but he still decided to try his luck and ask us if we could speak Japanese. After we said we couldn’t we soon realised why he was hoping we could; his car had been imported from Japan, all of the onscreen display and his GPS were in Japanese, and it kept speaking loudly in a Japanese woman’s voice, but he obviously had no idea how to change it. We were soon to discover that a lot of guides and staff we spoke to knew a fair bit about Singapore, because they drove old Singaporean-owned cars that got sent there once the COE had expired. Anyway, before long we were at the helipad and would soon be taking a guided tour over Victoria Falls:
Victoria Falls (Lozi: Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The Smoke That Thunders”; Tonga: Shungu Namutitima, “Boiling Water”) is a waterfall on the Zambezi River in southern Africa, which provides habitat for several unique species of plants and animals. It is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and is one of the world’s largest waterfalls, with a width of 1,708 m (5,604 ft).
While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, the Victoria Falls are classified the largest, based on its combined width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world’s largest sheet of falling water. The Victoria Falls are roughly twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls and well over twice its width.
We were given a safety briefing, signed our wavers, and were soon on a breathtaking 15-minute journey over the falls, all narrated by our pilot through headphones. Anna snapped some great photos while were up there and I filmed the entire flight through the window on a GoPro. If you don’t feel like sitting through the whole flight video, just skip to about 6:00 to see the real action and, although you will only hear the helicopter instead of the commentary, you may also spot an elephant or two on the ground toward the end:
Once we had landed again we discovered that an employee for the helicopter company had created a very low-budget video for us on a computer missing several keys and he wanted to sell us a copy. He was very proud of his work and he probably needed the money so we bought a copy before heading back to the hotel. Despite how nice it was there, complete with warthogs just roaming around, it seemed that everyone else staying at the hotel were all rather wealthy, white people at least 20 years older than us so instead of eating the typical whitewashed hotel food, we looked at some dinner options in town, Anna eventually striking gold and making a booking. It was now too early to eat, but too late to do anything else, however, fortunately for us a craft brewery called The River Brewing Co. was just around the corner from where we were staying so we pulled up a stool for an hour or so, along the way there being approached by quite a few locals trying to sell handicrafts. They generally weren’t pushy, most of them telling us there was no pressure to buy, although one of them who was trying to sell a carved, wooden elephant, oddly said to me, “When you see me tomorrow, bring shampoo”.
When it was time for dinner we took a short ride to the township of Chinotimba and found where we would be eating that night, Dusty Road, an authentic Zimbabwean restaurant that also tries to benefit underprivileged families in the community. We were surprised at the entrance by a bunch of children who jumped out from behind an old car and greeted us, before being given a welcome drink served in a glass made from an up-cycled bottle and were shown around the place by the owner, Sarah. In the outdoor area where we would be eating, there were some pretty unique furniture options, such as bathtubs sawn in half with cushions added to make chairs and sofas, that sort of thing. We were first served a grazing platter with bread, dips, and beans before heading over to a buffet of local dishes, particularly stews and vegetables, and while eating we were again surprised by the children, this time putting on a performance for everyone dining there. The food was great, the furniture quirky, and the kids were pretty cool too:
As for the entertainment:
Thursday, June 30, 2022
This was our only full day in Zimbabwe so it was going to be quite packed. Instead of just lounging around Ilala Lodge all day with the caucasian septuagenarians, we were going to start out by seeing Victoria Falls again, this time on foot. We had already tried out all of our hiking gear when climbing the Lion’s Head in South Africa days prior and everything was up to par, but one thing we didn’t realise we would need was full-body rain protection, not due to actual rain, but because of the sheer amount of moisture and the spray generated by the waterfall. In fact, from where we were staying, if you looked in the general direction of the falls, the area was always shrouded in a huge mist so I’m not really sure why it didn’t occur to us that it might be more than a little damp there.
Taku picked us up that morning knowing we probably weren’t anticipating the wet conditions so he brought with him two disposable parkers for us and drove us the short distance to the falls. Once we arrived we knew our safari was properly underway as there were skulls of different animals from around the area on display out the front, particularly elephants. Our trek along Victoria Falls contained 16 different spots along the way for taking in the views and despite our plastic parkers and best intentions, we simply got wetter and wetter as we went, totally drenched by the time we made it to the end, and one of my boots was completely soaked through, but the sights definitely made it all worthwhile.
After walking along the falls we then wandered through the adjoining Victoria Falls National Park in the hopes seeing some wildlife, but unfortunately we only managed to encounter some baboons, both adult and infant, and more warthogs, however, those things are absolutely everywhere here as we’d discover over the coming days. Although having never seen a warthog in any form outside of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before, it was kind of interesting to see that they have to kneel down on their front legs in order to eat.
Once we were finished in the national park we went back to the lodge to slip into something a little drier and then had a look around the town, first taking in the Elephant’s Walk Shopping and Artist’s Village. Anna was hoping to find some jewellery there and, although she came across some rings she liked, they just weren’t made for her skinny little fingers. The next stop would be Beer-Bab, which markets itself as being the first draught brewpub in Victoria Falls, but as luck would have it it seems Covid-19 may have taken its toll on this place too, because now the taps are currently just for show and they only sell a local bottled beer. We still dropped in for one before moving along elsewhere for a snack, but we couldn’t waste too much of the afternoon, we had other plans at 4:00pm.
This is how Victoria Falls looks from ground level, as well as some scenes from around town:
We were picked up by Taku back a the hotel and taken to a small boat for a two-hour afternoon cruise down the Zambezi River:
The Zambezi River (also spelled Zambeze and Zambesi) is the fourth-longest river in Africa, the longest east-flowing river in Africa and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. Its drainage basin covers 1,390,000 square kilometres (540,000 sq mi), slightly less than half of the Nile’s. The 2,574-kilometre-long river (1,599 mi) rises in Zambia and flows through eastern Angola, along the north-eastern border of Namibia and the northern border of Botswana, then along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique, where it crosses the country to empty into the Indian Ocean.
The Zambezi’s most noted feature is Victoria Falls. Other falls include the Chavuma Falls at the border between Zambia and Angola, and Ngonye Falls near Sioma in western Zambia.
Once we arrived near the river some enormous animal poops on the ground gave us hope that we may see something cool so Anna and I grabbed our welcome drinks, boarded our boat, and soon we were on our way. Anna had bought a new camera for this trip and this would be the first time trying it out so we needed to see something and we weren’t disappointed. It would be easy to just use the term ‘group’ for any species of animals seen together, but for scientific accuracy and mostly for my own amusement I’m going to use the correct collective nouns. So around 20 minutes into our tour down the river, we saw a bloat of hippopotamuses including a baby on the land, a sight we would come to discover is not all that common during daylight hours as hippos generally only leave the water at dusk to feed and return around dawn to stay cool and hydrated. Never mind, not long after they heard us coming they were soon back in the water. After the hippos we continued down the river, spotting some elephants in the distance on the Zambian side, some interesting birds, and a crocodile enter the water, all the while the rainbow from the mist of Victoria Falls was visible in the distance. We even made a cheeky little stop off in Zambia itself, because why not?
Once we were back on dry land Taku picked us up again to bring us back into town and things got even better as we passed some elephants and buffalo up close, but this was only the beginning. Once back in Victoria Falls we had some more local food at Mama Africa Eating House before walking in the freezing cold back to the lodge for a final time.
A look back at that afternoon and evening along the Zambezi river, a sneaky visit to Zambia, and then back in Victoria Falls, first with a video of the hippos:
Friday, July 1, 2022
It was time to move on to the next stop on our journey and this is what was in store:
Day 7-8: Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa, Chobe River Front (Fri, 1 July to Sat, 2 July)
The Chobe River forms the northern boundary of the Chobe National Park which is renowned for its diverse and abundant game viewing opportunities. This section of the park is best known for its dense concentration of wildlife, including elephant and hippo populations, but the waters attract all manner of game including large herds of buffalo and the lions that prey on them – a visit to the Chobe River Front guarantees close encounters with an array of African wildlife. Visitors can look forward to a range of exciting activities such as 4WD along the banks; motorboat cruises; and rare birdlife spotting. For a unique, luxury safari experience, hire a houseboat.
Overnight: Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa
Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa is located on the banks of the mighty Chobe River. In the tranquil surroundings, guests can experience authentic African comfort, spacious accommodations and delectable cuisine. Take full advantage of a wealth of wildlife and embark upon an exhilarating game drive in the Chobe National Park. The national park is famed for it’s large elephant herds, and has some of the largest concentrations of game on the African continent.
For a more laid back holiday, tackle 9 holes on the popular golf course, or simply interact with the spectacular, natural surrounds on a slow walk along the river. Guests can also enjoy bird watching from the Mokoro, or a leisurely canoe trail on the waters of the Chobe. The onsite spa offers an opportunity for relaxation and recuperation with a range of treatments. The resort also features air conditioned guest accommodations, decorated in an Afro-centric style that adds to the natural ambiance.
Yeah, we weren’t there to play golf, we wanted to see more animals so we departed Ilala Lodge Hotel in the morning and about 90 minutes later our safari would begin properly in the Chobe District, Botswana, staying in Chobe National Park:
Chobe National Park is Botswana’s first national park, and also the most biologically diverse. Located in the north of the country, it is Botswana’s third largest park, after Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Gemsbok National Park, and has one of the greatest concentrations of game in all of Africa.
This park is noted for having a population of lions which prey on elephants, mostly calves or juveniles, but also subadults.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the region that would become Botswana was divided into different land tenure systems. At that time, a major part of the park’s area was classified as crown land. The idea of a national park which would protect the varied local wildlife and promote tourism was first proposed in 1931. The following year, 24,000 km2 (9,300 sq mi) around Chobe district were officially declared a non-hunting area, and this area was expanded to 31,600 km2 (12,200 sq mi) two years later.
In 1943, heavy tsetse infestations occurred throughout the region, delaying the creation of the national park. By 1953, the project received governmental attention again: 21,000 km2 (8,100 sq mi) were suggested to become a game reserve. Chobe Game Reserve was officially created in 1960, though smaller than initially desired. In 1967, the reserve was declared a national park.
But besides lions and elephants, what else could we expect to see over the course of the three days that we were going to be here? Well, according to the Chobe National Park website:
You can encounter Chobe’s wildlife across the entire park. When the dry season begins, large herds of elephant and buffalo seek the permanent waters of the Chobe and Linyanti Rivers. Imagine thousands of them, coming sometimes all the way from Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. All year round, Chobe’s big game includes zebra, impala, baboon, blue wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, warthog and vervet monkey. Lions and the spotted hyena are very common; together they are the dominant predators, bringing you spectacular encounters with big buffalo herds. The riverfront is the hotspot to see hippo, crocodile and the slightly odd, leguvaan (the second longest lizard of Africa).
Now we’re talking and we weren’t disappointed even before we arrived, passing several parades of elephants and the occasional giraffe roadside en route:
Once we had arrived at Cresta Mowana Resort & Spa we checked in, had some lunch, and then watched more warthogs from our riverside room, but soon it was 3:00pm and time for another river cruise, one that would make our journey down the Zambezi the previous day pale in comparison. We would be traveling up the Chobe River section of the greater Cuando River that separates Botswana from Nambia, encountering countless more elephants, hippos, giraffes, buffalo, and crocodiles. We were seated next to two South African women and we both thought Anna had accidentally made a fool of herself when she asked if the female elephants have tusks, but it turns out we all learnt something that afternoon, because not all Asian elephants develop tusks, although it’s mainly the males that don’t. We even witnessed an elephant cross the river from the Botswanan side to the Namibian side. We were on the second level of our boat for our two-hour long cruise and it was becoming painfully cold as it got later, but we certainly didn’t regret shivering up there. When we returned we had a bit of a rest and then some dinner and the staff were obviously aware that it had been Anna’s birthday recently, because they brought out a cake and burst into song and dance. The jet-lag was starting to wear off, but we couldn’t really make the most of it, we had an early start the next morning.
Take a look at some of what we saw on this cruise, once again beginning with the videos. Anna had forgotten to charge her camera that day so the battery was dead, but I managed to take all of these on my phone. Some of these photos are on the Namibian side of the river, but most were taken in Botswana:
Saturday, July 2, 2022
I am by no means a morning person so the rest of this trip was going to be a bit of a test. On this particular leg of the journey our safari drives would begin at 6:00am, but we were required to be ready and in the lobby by 5:45am, which meant that we’d be waking up around 5:15am. Add in the fact that it was more than a bit chilly at that time of the day and that combination is torture to me, but it was also a sacrifice we would have to make to be able witness everything we had come here to see. Early in the morning in the park itself you encounter a lot of different species that you don’t get to see along the river in the afternoon and early evening. Yes, there were more elephants, hippos and crocodiles, but we also encountered lions, impalas, kudu, and a vast array of monkeys and reptiles among others on our drive. Perhaps it was due to a lack of tourists over the past couple of years because of Covid-19, but many of the animals couldn’t care less that we were there, we even had a lion approach our car at one stage and then just walk on by. We spent over four ours driving around the park on bumpy dirt roads in an open 4WD with not particularly great suspension so by the time we were back at the resort we grabbed a much needed coffee and some breakfast before laying down in the room for a bit to stretch my back out while Anna went out to snap some photos of birds and monkeys.
In the afternoon we took advantage of the free cruise again and saw much of what we had witnessed the previous day, plus a lot more giraffes and a whole troop of baboons come down to the water while elephants walked past. I tried to film it on the GoPro, however, it didn’t turn out too well, although the rest of the photos and videos are just fine. When we were back and had eaten again we had a couple of drinks, but were soon in bed, not just because we had had an early morning and a long day, but because we would be doing it all again tomorrow.
A look back at that Saturday, beginning with the videos, plus I tried to look up what each species was in the photographs and added them to the captions:
Sunday, July 3, 2022
We were up again at 5:15am for one final morning drive through the National Park and this time we had some company with us, a couple from South Africa. Our trip to the park didn’t get off to a great start when we got pulled over by the police for only having one headlight working, forcing us to go back to the resort and get another car, putting us more than half an hour behind schedule, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Once we were finally actually in the park we were approached in our car by a really cute baby elephant and then encountered some hippos playing on land, but not long after that we got very deeply bogged in sand on the road and it turned out the Jeep’s rear differential was busted. These vehicles hadn’t been used much in over two years and I guess very little was done to maintain them during that time. Our guides tried everything to get the car out, including finding wood to put under the wheels for some grip while several of us pushed, but it wasn’t until about an hour and a half later that we were finally freed by a Norwegian family passing in a 4WD who were able to tow us out.
We had lost a total of about two hours of safari time due to car issues, but we continued around for a bit and encountered a few more animals, our guides trying to stretch our trek out as long as possible, but that wasn’t an option; we had a flight to catch to our next destination.
Some of the animals and mechanical difficulties we encountered on that final morning in Chobe National Park:
We eventually made it back to the resort with very little time to spare before our flight. Stay tuned for part three of our safari through Africa, there’s going to be a lot more photos and videos that are far better than the awesome ones you’ve just seen!
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