Looking back at my Botswana & Vic Falls Safari experience - I know that the memories of this remarkable African journey and the people I met along the way, will always stay with me!
This is my on the ground account of the first five days on our Vic Falls, Okavango Delta & Chobe Lodge Safari. On the first five days we travelled from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Elephants Sands in Botswana, to Livingstone and Vic Falls in Zambia, and then back into Botswana to Kasane near the Chobe National Park.
Day One: On the Road through Nowhere - Driving North into Botswana
On our first day we covered a lot of ground, taking a long drive through the rural scrublands of southern Botswana, dotted with Mopane trees. Our big drive north ended at Elephant Sands near Nata, in the north-east of the Central District.
Arriving at the lodge in the late afternoon we settled into our earthy chalets and took a moment to relax at the watering hole.
The open-air dining room, bar and swimming pool look out over an active waterhole and the surrounding bush. Elephants are frequently seen up close at this watering spot, only metres away from the main lodge area.
We ordered drinks and tucked into a tasty buffet spread of braai broedjies (fire-roasted breads), meat dishes, salads, pap and gravy. After a long day's drive we hit the hay quite early, retiring to our charming bungalows to tune into nature sounds.
We stayed in a mix of en suite chalets or authentic bungalows with solar and generator powered lights and open air showers. There were no power points in the rooms, only a communal charging station in the main lodge where slow wifi is also available. The bush setting at this tranquil lodge was fantastic and my charming room was comfortable.
Day Two: Elephant Sands Bush Walk & Game Splash
Despite cloudy skies we set off on a morning game drive and bush walk in Elephant Sands. Off we went, raincoats on hand, in search of the elephants and anything else that moves...
Soon we spotted some elephants dashing wildly through the bush – an oddly comical sighting! The fleeing elephants appeared to be running on their toes in mini fast-forward steps as they hurried off into the bush, too quickly to snap. An impala did however pose for the camera.
Stopping beside a pretty watering hole we clambered out of the open game viewing vehicle and followed our guide into the bush in single file. Our guide was armed with knowledge and a rifle for our interest and safety respectively. He told us about the various plants and smaller creatures of the reserve, pointing out animal tracks and scat (poop) along our 'path'.
Back in our 4x4 we ventured on into the quiet reserve, negotiating our way through wet terrain. Until we got stuck in a massive road-pond that is! We remained totally lodged in this deep puddle traversing the road, for over an hour! Although not ideal, this was a real adventure of the kind that tests one's ingenuity and calls for some team work. The good news was that the heavens didn't open up on us, despite the ominous lightening and thunder coming from the heavy clouds above. Plus, we didn't get ambushed by any wild animals or encounter any snakes.
The rainy season this year was unusually late and heavy, so all things considered the lodge did their best under challenging conditions.
Finally, back-up arrived from the lodge headquarters, with drinks in hand, to rescue us from the bog.
Back at the lodge we quickly changed into dry clothes and left the lodge for our next overnight stop (two nights are usually spent at Elephant Sands, but sometimes an alternative lodge is used). At the next lodge, just south of Nata, we were met by a nice big swimming pool set on spacious grounds.
A delicious buffet dinner offered us plenty of choices, including some speciality dishes, salads and desert, to round-off our eventful day.
This lodge featured more amenities – including air conditioning, televisions and coffee stations in the rooms, as well as en suite bathrooms with bathtubs and outdoor showers. The setting was however less "African" without a watering hole and the bush surroundings. Slow and intermittent wifi was available at the bar and in the reception area.
Day Three: Into Zambia & Up the Legendary Zambezi River
Arriving at the leafy Zambezi Waterfront Lodge (aka The Waterfront Livingstone) on the banks of the full-flowing Zambezi River we had lunch and settled into our lovely rooms.
Later we met for our utterly relaxing Zambezi sunset cruise, under incredible skies. Snacks, drinks and dinner were served on the open-sided top deck during our laid-back cruise.
We spotted an array of birds and some wildlife along the banks of the river, including giraffes, hippos, elephants and waterbuck.
I stayed in a fantastic spacious room with a private balcony amongst the branches of big trees overlooking a tranquil pond. This comfortable room had a full en suite bathroom, coffee-making station, in-room safe and plenty of power points. This beautiful lodge also had a swimming pool and a decent wifi connection available at reasonable rates.
Day Four: Adventure Action & Cultural Delights in Livingstone
Today was a free one for adventure dipping into activities and exploring at Vic Falls. Unfortunately the activities I had my heart set on (white water rafting and bungee jumping) were cancelled due to rain – it was the rainy season after all.
Luckily, I still managed to enjoy some fabulous activities, setting off on an afternoon elephant back ride and interaction with the rest of my travel companions.
The Majestic Elephant Back Safari
What a remarkable experience to meander graciously through the bush perched on the back of one of these gentle giants! Most elephants carried two passengers and an elephant handler, but I only shared my elephant with an elephant handler. The guide was happy to answer questions and tell me more about the elephants as we strolled through the bush.
Zambezi Elephant Trails explained the conservation aspect of these elephant back rides, telling us more about where the elephants were rescued or relocated from and how the herd has grown over time. The manager at the centre also told us about the positive reinforcement techniques used to train the elephants. At the end of our peaceful ride we got to feed our elephants and sit on their "laps" as they lay down for us - a great end to a memorable experience. There is much debate over the impact close encounters with wild animals has on conservation, so it is your call as to whether you participate in the elephant interactions.
Later in the evening we headed into Livingstone town for a traditional dinner buffet and a live dance performance. We had a terrific evening at Café Zambezi - the food was delicious and the atmosphere was vibrant and jovial. A brilliant local dance group, called Livingstone Joy, put on a riveting and hilarious performance for us. They wowed us with their impressive singing and dancing skills, bursting with energy, sensuality and rhythm. The various skits of the performance showcased legends, myths and cultures from across Zambia, with the local dance group adding their own flair and character to the tales.
Day Five: Lion Play, Victoria (oh my word) Falls & Chobe Cruise
Returning to the sanctuary where we did our Elephant Trail, we prepared ourselves for a walk with the lions.
The Unforgettable Lion Encounter
Arriving at the centre of the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) early morning, we gathered for a briefing on the lion project and safety on the walk. The ethics around lion interactions are much talked about and it is your judgement call whether you want to go for it or sit this one out.
The cubs are not tame, but rather habituated to humans - which means these cats are used to people, but they still have their wild instincts. We walked off into the bush with three young cubs, feeling a little apprehensive at first. The young felines moseyed through the bush curiously inspecting their environment and being very playful with one another.
We each had a chance to bend down on one knee and stroke one of the cubs while it lay down. We were given a small stick and instructed to approach the cub from behind. If the cub were to become to interested in us while we were patting it on the back the idea was to move the stick back and forth on the ground in order to distract the young carnivore (much like a domestic cat).
After getting our heart rates up by touching these seemingly placid, yet powerful and potentially dangerous creatures, we continued to towards the river. Walking with the lions was a touching experience - an unforgettable chance to be close to the king of beasts. The whole experience was made all the more meaningful by the fact that the lion encounter is part of the conservation efforts of ALERT and its team of volunteers from abroad.
Astounding Victoria Falls
Nothing prepared me for the spectacle of Vic Falls - where 3000 tonnes of water falls per second. Walking into the mists to gawk at the might of this natural wonder, I was awestruck. We were completely drenched through as we walked along the pathways connecting the viewpoints on the edge of the Zambian banks, beside the plummeting falls. The pathways run precipitously along the cliff edges, through a lush forest and over a hair-raisingly high suspension bridge.
Swept away by the magnificence of this massive waterfall, I was left a little hoarse from all the whooping at full volume. As I stood in the mists getting soaked, I promised myself that one day I would come back to thunderous Victoria Falls.
Dragging myself away from the falls reluctantly, there was only time left for a high speed shopping spree at the curio market at Vic Falls, in Zambia. Then we returned to lodge to collect our things and journey back into neighbouring Botswana.
Chilled-out Chobe Sunset Cruise
In the evening, under the threat of rain, we took to the Chobe River by small boat. We sat in our open-sided boat with raincoats at the ready, but fortunately the rains waited for us to finish our cruise.
This was an incredibly scenic boat ride in a much smaller vessel than the cruiser on the Zambezi. We motored along slowly, stopping to look at every feathery, scaly, hairy and slimy creature in the Chobe and along its banks.
We spotted an array of birds - the birding enthusiasts were in their element. We got up close to regal African Fish Eagles, among many other birds.
We also saw a truck load of hippos, plenty of elephants and loads of baboons, as well as monitor lizards, and crocodiles. There were a few antelopes grazing on the banks too, among them kudu.
My room was comfortable and clean with a nice shower (good water pressure) in the en suite bathroom. Amenities included air con and ceiling fan, a tea/coffee station and power points. The lodge featured a small but pretty pool in the bar and dining area of the lodge, located along the peaceful river.
More to follow about the next leg of our budget Vic Falls, Okavango Delta & Chobe Lodge Safari...