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Cathy visits Africa 2015

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2 years is a long time, but some things never change. And that is exactly how I sum up my recent sojourn in southern Africa. In March 2013 I travelled to Zimbabwe and Botswana, specifically Victoria Falls and Chobe national park, and in April 2015 I travelled back. I stayed at the same accommodation and participated in all the same must do activities; Zambezi sunset cruise, helicopter flight over the falls and a walk around the actual falls, game drives and Chobe river cruises; and it was again the same wonderful experience.

There were a few differences this time round though. I decided to include at Victoria Falls some new activities – a day canoeing the Zambezi, the somewhat controversial walking with the lions, high tea at the Victoria Falls hotel and the adrenaline filled zip line over the gorge at Victoria Falls. Now I won’t say that I am adverse to adventurous activities, as a self confessed roller coaster addict, but I am no longer 20 something, and some of these activities did fill me with some trepidation. But I needn’t have worried…. For me the highlight was definitely the canoeing. I was somewhat apprehensive about the activity, not because of crocodiles or hippos but purely from a fitness and strength perspective. As it turned out I needn’t have worried about the fitness nor the strength part … the hippos on the other hand…. well let’s just say it was slightly too close for comfort, but we were well briefed as to what to do if we saw a hippo… and well…here I am! What I enjoyed was the early morning game drive as we made our way to the canoeing departure point and once we started canoeing it was seeing things from a different perspective; being close to the river, seeing the wildlife and the magnificence and strength of the 4th longest river in Africa. The entire experience was peaceful and relaxing coupled with just enough exertion and thrill to feel as though I had been exercising! The current is quite quick, so I really just waved around my paddle, and if you asked my canoe companion, even that was next to useless, but I occasionally had to put in some effort as we went through baby rapids. And it was great! Highly recommended as part of any Victoria Falls stay.

Walking with the lions I decided to include purely out of curiosity. This activity is one of those that divide’s people; it is filled with some speculation about where the lions come from and what happens to them once they are too old to participate in the programme. There are some companies that won’t book this activity as part of a Victoria Falls package, but I get asked about this tour and I am asked to book the tour and about whether the ‘stories’ are true…time and time again…so what better way than to take the tour myself? I admit that there is interest from a conservation perspective and I am concerned about the future of these incredible animals, but I am also simply captivated and enthralled by lions, so being able to be so close to 15 month old cubs was an absolute treat. The programme is well organised and the presentation about the objectives, conservation efforts is very convincing and thought provoking. How does one achieve the continual existence of these creatures’ vs. the needs of a country and its economy? As to whether I believe I have answers to all the questions that I and others ask, I am not so sure. I do believe however, that the mission and goals are to ensure not only the survival but to increase in the lion population within Southern Africa. As to whether or not you should do this tour…. I think this one is up to you!

The answer is the same for my next activity! Vic Falls has long offered opportunities for the adrenaline junkies, white water rafting, bungy jumping, canopy tour, gorge swing… and my activity of choice – the zip line. Really it is just a flying fox – travelling 425 metres up to speeds of 100km per hour, suspended 120 metres over the swirling, ranging white water of the Batoka Gorge. Not that you can really see the bottom… my eyes were fixed on the cliff face I was hurtling towards… scared yet? No need to be. It is always about the anticipation….. The actual participation just kind of happens. You are strapped into several harnesses and simply walk down a platform and the tie rope is released and off you go… weeeeeeeee! It is 3 seconds of breath holding or screaming and then 10, maybe 15 seconds of flying, and then 2 minutes of being winched back to base. Great fun!

All of this outdoorsy action can make one hungry, and what better way to come back to a state of sensibility than high tea at the Victoria Falls hotel. At 4:00pm every day seated along the sweeping veranda overlooking the falls one can relax amid a 3 tier fine china tray of scones, cakes, slices and of course cucumber sandwiches and a pot of the tea of your choice. It is easy to imagine such culture and refinement as unchanged since the hotel was built in 1904. I can say this was just a lovely afternoon, and close to the best $15 I have spent. The only downside – no reservations are possible, it is really first in first served!

I have spoken about the many activities but not yet the accommodation. And whilst I do believe a poor hotel can put a dampener on any holiday, it is after all simply somewhere to sleep. I mentioned that I have stayed at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge before and also mentioned that some things never change – and I am delighted that it is true about the quality of this property. From the location, layout, room decor, restaurant and the friendliness and warmth of the staff, it was as wonderful as I remember from my first visit.

From Victoria Falls it was off to Chobe! Now anybody who has spoken to me about Africa will know that Chobe national Park and Chobe Game lodge in particular are among my most favourite places on the planet. And having such high expectations and wonderful memories there is always the risk that it won’t live up to ones memories…. that it could end up tarnishing those memories and be a disappointment…….not the case! NOT AT ALL!! I am still an advocate! It is hard to describe why I find this place so special. I think it is just has to be experienced…. But….. I will try…It starts as you turn off the sealed road onto the red dust dirt track and within 100metres there is a giraffe, and an elephant and another, and you haven’t even made it to the accommodation yet.  The mindset at this point is a transfer, even though you are sitting in an open jeep, this is not a game drive, not yet. As you follow the road deeper into the park the road turns to follow the Chobe river and there on the bank is a hippo, and in the water there are three – just there! And you are still not yet on a game drive!

Once at the hotel, there is not really a check in. There is a welcome and an introduction and then it is off to lunch. In this case outdoors, seated comfortably on the lawns by the Chobe River, under huge canvas umbrellas with a smiling face asking you whether you would like red, or white or rose!

Now I said at the beginning that some things never change, and that is true about the things that matter, (friendly staff, quality service, terrific food, beautiful location, wonderful facilities) but Chobe game lodge is undergoing some renovations, with construction of new rooms, including those with disabled facilities and family suites. Given this was a family holiday we were ushered to one of the new 2 bedroom suites. Furnished in subtle grey colourings with vibrant African/Moorish designs and unique pieces make for an extremely comfortable and relaxing environment – definitely in keeping with the overall ambiance of the property, these new rooms are fabulous!

But this is designed to enhance ones experience, and the focus is the national park and the wildlife. The first afternoon is spent on the water; cruising the Chobe River in search of hippos and elephants, and with the introduction of 2 new electric boats, in almost perfect silence. These vessels do make such a difference to the overall experience. It becomes a feeling of being part of things and not a noisy intruder. This feeling is extended further in an electric vehicle. Chobe GL has also introduced 2 electric vehicles to their fleet of game drive vehicles. But this is not just for the convenience of the guests. CGL recently won an award for their eco friendly practices, and they are also nominated for an international award – to be decided in November. Fingers crossed for them! In fact one of the newer activities is a behind the scenes tour of their eco friendly and sustainability facilities and efforts. The tour takes an hour and it is really interesting to see the initiatives that are in place and those they are looking to implement.

But as I already alluded to it is still about the game and wildlife, and for that I am opting for a pictorial description….. I am not a great photographer, but I think…. What is that he saying?……… “A picture is worth a thousand words”???? Anyway these are just some of my favourite photos.

Now I know this all sounds a bit gushy, particularly the bit about Chobe, but this trip was my own holiday, not a work related educational trip, the inclusions were my choice and this is really just me sharing my thoughts and opinions about somewhere that I would travel back to tomorrow – perhaps another 2 years?

If you have never been to Africa and in particular these two areas then all I can say is what are you waiting for?

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