Instant safari romance in Vic Falls
As an Africa Geographic staff member, I get the amazing perk of travelling for my job. I recently went on a whizz-trip safari to Kruger and Zambia to experience the ultimate in modern bush travel convenience.
Sitting on a private island in the middle of the Zambezi River, looking out over Zimbabwe, I sip rich Zambian coffee while playing a game of Scrabble with my sister. I pause for a moment to collect my thoughts and marvel at my surroundings.
It’s mid December, I’ve just woken up on Sindabezi Island, and the birds are singing. Except it’s not the usual cacophony of hadedas that I’m accustomed to in Cape Town. Instead, the enchanting calls of the white-browed robin-chat chime merrily around me.
It’s surreal. I feel the need to pinch myself. I can scarcely believe that I’m with my sister on an island halfway between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Or that we’ve just spent the last few days in a dream-like haze at Tongabezi Lodge.
But, let me start from the beginning. I want to tell you all about my seamless safari to three safari destinations, made possible by effortless and convenient flight connections.
Luxury and leopards at Londolozi
My journey started in Cape Town, where I caught a quick Airlink two-hour flight direct to Nelspruit followed by a unique 20-minute air-side transfer on Airlink’s Lodge Link service to the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in the greater Kruger National Park. My plane touched down on the private runway at Londolozi, a luxurious group of lodges on the banks of the Sand River.
Every moment of my stay at Londolozi was charged with excitement and delight. Game drives delivered wildlife sightings galore. Meals left me more than satisfied. Yoga gave me serenity and perspective. And the friendly staff had me smiling from ear to ear.
But the highlights were the leopard sightings. Londolozi has a reputation for leopards and, boy, do they deliver. Within the first hour of our first game drive, we saw a mother and two cubs. The very next evening, we found a female and male leopard, and we saw the same pair on the final day. We spent an hour following the feline couple, watching as their love story unraveled. The leopardess was in hot pursuit of the male, but, despite her efforts, he wasn’t interested. Poor girl, we’ve all been there.
At Londolozi Founders Camp, the chalets are decorated in a bushveld bohemia style and come complete with private infinity pools overlooking the dry riverbed and the wilderness beyond. My chalet reposed on the banks of the Sand River, offering me an insider’s view of life at the water’s edge.
Thunderstorms and waterfalls at Tongabezi
My next stop was Livingstone, Zambia, and the majestic Victoria Falls. Airlink have made it almost too easy to safari-hop between Africa’s wild places. It seemed quicker than the blink of an eye before I was disembarking at Livingstone airport and being greeted eagerly by my twin sister Alexa, who’d flown straight up from Cape Town.
My heart was aflutter at the prospect of experiencing Tongabezi Lodge. Located on the banks of the Zambezi River, it’s hidden amongst trees just beyond the gates of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Game Reserve. Tongabezi is the epitome of luxury safari romance. The lodge is a rich blend of wilderness and opulence, sprinkled with Zambian fairy dust, and it begs to be shared with a very special someone. For me, that was my sister.
We were lucky enough to be staying in The Nuthouse, a suite with sweeping views of the Zambezi River, adorned in a style that harks back to the magnificence of a bygone era. After a quick dip in our plunge pool, my sister and I were treated to a private dinner at The Lookout, a romantic setting where guests can recline and enjoy the tranquility of the Zambezi. It was raining, so we ate under the shelter of the balcony. In the warm glow of candlelight, we were alone except for the company of hundreds of little nocturnal creatures.
After dinner, Alexa and I made our way back to our suite, falling asleep almost immediately in the comfort of a king-sized four-poster bed. The light sound of raindrops drumming against the deck and the gentle roar of the vast river flowing next to us lulled us into slumber.
Next morning, our alarms went off early for our first activity of the day: white water river rafting on the Zambezi. The storm was still so fierce that a small part of me hoped it would be cancelled. However, we were assured that a spot of rain was just a prequel to how soaked we would soon be.
White water river rafting with Safari Par Excellence turned out to be loaded with adrenaline-pumping fun, and my sister and I loved every minute of it. (You can read more about about our white water rafting experience in my blog post here.)
We returned to Tongabezi in the early afternoon and made the most of the time to relax in our gorgeous suite and laze on the deck. After a siesta, the sun started peeking through the clouds, shedding dappled light over the river, so we made our way to the jetty for a sunset cruise.
The little boat sped off down the liquid golden highway of the Zambezi. Wind whispered gently through the leaves of the trees flanking the riverbanks, and strange bird calls floated after us. Hippos and crocs drifted on the water’s surface and we spotted impala, bushbuck and baboons on the shores.
All of a sudden, our boat brushed up against a sandbar, and we found ourselves parked on small, sandy island in the middle of the river. There, waiting for us, were our friends from Tongabezi, wearing mischievous smiles. A sign written in the sand at our feet read ‘Welcome to the ‘SandBar’. They’d surprised us with a delectable spread of drinks and snacks in a unique location.
We spent the evening sipping bubbly and trying different cocktails, while the sky changed colour and the sun slowly disappeared. Soon the nocturnal calls of crickets, cicadas and fiery-necked nightjars filled the air, and we boated back to the lodge for dinner.
As we neared the jetty, we noticed a floating platform glowing in the middle of the river. Lit up against the deepening blue sky, mirrored by the vast expanse of the Zambezi, candles shone from lanterns dangling at its corners. A romantic table for two had been laid.
The sampan platform is Tongabezi’s signature experience, and this was the perfect evening for it: calm, cool, clear and still. As Alexa and I took our seats at the table, a full moon slid out from behind the trees. It felt like we’d stumbled into a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Three delicious courses paired with wine arrived by boat and were placed before us by smiling waiters. As our dessert was set on the table, it seemed that all the staff had boarded the boat to form a choir. Their voices sang out to us as we ate, then faded into the night. The beautiful sound sent goosebumps down my arms. This was surely an experience my sister and I will never forget.
Next morning we stepped into Dr Livingstone’s shoes by exploring Livingstone Island and taking a daredevil dip in Devil’s Pool. This spectacular spot is probably the best place to witness the mass of water gushing over the fearsome falls. The power of this natural wonder is utterly exhilarating. It certainly lives up to its local name, ‘the smoke that thunders’. (You can read about our Devil’s Pool experience and see images and video footage in my blog post here.)
That afternoon, we took a game drive through Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park. Having just visited Kruger, I was surprised at how quiet it was. It’s a totally different experience, beautiful and unique in its own way. It was calving season, so there were lots of adorable baby impalas wobbling about. We spotted sable antelope, wildebeest, bushbuck, giraffe, baboons, vervet monkeys and birds galore. Then, just before we left, we spied two very shy rhinos, a mother and calf. What luck!
Seclusion and selfies at Sindabezi
Then it was time to climb back aboard a boat and be whisked away to our own little island for our final night in Zambia. Sindabezi Island is a secluded paradise downstream of Tongabezi. There are not many words that can do justice to this special place. Imagine being alone on an island smaller than a soccer field, with a handful of staff dedicated to your needs.
Alexa and I decided we could get used to this. We settled in quickly. I enjoyed the novelty of an outdoor shower, while Alexa lounged in a hammock on the deck. The chalets are open to nature with views out over the Zambezi River. Everything is luxurious yet rustic, with the same fanciful decor as Tongabezi.
After sunset – and several dozen selfies – we made our way along a sandy path illuminated by lanterns to a candlelit dinner. The food, as we had come to expect, was scrumptious, and the personalized service was impeccable. After dinner we asked for a bottle of Amarula liqueur and two glasses of crushed ice in our room. We stayed up late into the night, reminiscing about our fun on safari and giggling at the romance of it all.
The following morning, as I sat sipping my coffee and losing miserably at Scrabble, it was hard to contemplate an end to our time here. It had all been so dreamlike that I could only think of one word to sum up the last few days. It had to be love. Tongabezi has firmly cemented itself in my mind as a place to be in love, loved and in love with.
All the bells and whistles at Belgrace Boutique Hotel
The best way to end a holiday as indulgent as this one is to retire into a sanctuary of sensual delight. So, instead of returning straight to the city, I flew back to Nelspruit, and escaped for a night at Belgrace Boutique Hotel.
This charming country villa is just 20 minutes drive from the Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport amidst the rolling hills of Mpumulanga. Built in the style of a European country home with Tuscan charm, it transports you to a time in the past. This is a luxurious retreat for lovers. Every detail has been meticulously put in place to create an atmosphere that lends itself to romance and passion.
It felt like a shame to be there alone, but it was also the perfect place for some ‘me’ time. I left next morning feeling relaxed and ready for my flight home, even though I admit that I wished could stay just one more indulgent day longer… (You can read more about my stay at Belgrace here.)
My journey was a showcase of how the diverse elements of an African holiday can be worked into a seamless safari, full of romance, magic and adventure. In just six days, I took six flights, visited three incredible safari destinations, and created too many cherished memories to count.
From the rawness of the wild at Londolozi, to the romantic luxury of Tongabezi Lodge and the secluded charm of Sindabezi Island, to the pampering and splendor of the Belgrace Boutique Hotel, I had been truly spoilt by some of Africa’s most spectacular experiences.
Clare’s flights from city to bush to Falls were arranged by Airlink, who offer multi-destination flight options across southern Africa and a convenient Lodge Link program, direct to popular lodges in the greater Kruger National Park and beyond.
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About the author
Clare Townsend is the Community Manager at Africa Geographic. She’s a fitness fanatic and an amateur yogi. Give her a pretty place – mountains, forests, the bush, a wine farm, the beach – you name it, she’ll probably be in yoga pose mode.