Article and photos by Laura Scheiber
A giraffe keeping vultures away from her baby
For me, an ideal vacation includes a little rest and relaxation mixed in with adventurous activities. Perhaps this was why my stay at Tongabezi Lodge along the mighty Zambezi River in Zambia was so memorable. On the day of arrival at this luxury lodge, I met with Quentino Mbingi, the director of activities, who invited me to choose from a handful of activities ranging from the adrenaline pumping thrill of sitting on the edge of Victoria Falls to relaxing on a sunset boat cruise on the Zambezi River with sundowners. Quentino efficiently put together an itinerary that allowed me to partake in all of my preferred activities during my three day stay. Most activities were included in the room rate, along with meals, and drinks. Some activities offered by outside companies were available for an additional fee.
On my first day, I enjoyed a two hour sunset cruise on the beautiful Zambezi River. Four other guests and I hopped into a small motor boat on the dock at Tongabezi with Captain Victor, a soft-spoken friendly man who pointed out the many birds we observed along the bank. We meandered around a small island in the middle of the river, and Captain Victor positioned our boat within a few feet of crocodiles sunbathing on the sandbar. Without warning, one of the big crocodiles splashed in the water at lightening speed. I had quite the adrenaline rush. I would have felt scared if I hadn’t been in such good hands.
Captain Victor serving up sundowners
While stopping for sundowners in the middle of the river and watching the magnificent sunset, Captain Victor explained that he was a well-known crocodile hunter who had caught hundreds of crocodiles in his lifetime and set them free further down river away from human populations. I liked hearing his fascinating stories about crocodile (and snake) hunting while drinking a refreshing South African Sauvignon Blanc on the Zambezi River.
A crocodile sunbathing on the river bank
The next day I went on a private game drive in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, the second smallest in all of Zambia, and roughly 20 minutes from Tongabezi. I had hoped to see a rhinoceros since it was the only one of the Big Five that I had not seen during previous safari adventures in Zambia. My private gaming guide, Fabias, provided clear and interesting explanations of the animals we saw while stopping anytime I wanted to take pictures. Most memorable was when Fabias spotted a number of vultures flying high in the sky. He drove to where they were circling and a few minutes later, he spotted a giraffe in the distance herding a bunch of vultures on the ground. Curious to find out what was going on, he drove closer to the giraffe where we eventually saw a young giraffe that had died sometime within the previous 24 hours, according to Fabias. Though sad, we couldn’t help but watch the mother giraffe valiantly try to keep the vultures away from her baby.
My guide demonstrated where I should sit at the edge of the falls
After a two-hour game drive, Fabias drove me to the five-star Royal Livingstone Hotel where the management of Tongabezi surprised me with a complimentary gourmet lunch and tour of Livingstone Island, which departed from the Royal Livingstone. I, along with seven other guests, was chauffeured by motorboat to the island where, our tour guide, Collins, took us on a five-minute walk to the side of the island facing Victoria Falls. He offered wetsuits to those of us interested in sitting in the natural pools in the Zambezi River on the edge of the Falls. Our fearless leader walked us toward the edge that had a heart-pounding drop of 100 meters. The views were spectacular and we were treated to a double rainbow. Collins carefully led three of us, one by one, into the water where we sat about 15 feet away from the edge of the Falls. Scary? Yes. Exhilarating and unforgettable? Absolutely. After such an adrenaline pumping experience, we were served a delicious lunch of fresh green salads, couscous, fresh tilapia fish, grilled vegetables, and a sweet bread pudding as a dessert. A South African white wine went well with the fish.
The tiger fish I caught with Fabias
After we returned to Tongabezi, Fabias prepared a small motorboat for my private fishing excursion. It was a lovely late afternoon with ideal temperatures and a cloudless sky, perfect for a relaxing boat ride on the Zambezi River. Fabias patiently showed me how to work the fishing rod and explained Tongabezi’s catch and release fishing policy. Within minutes, I felt a tug on my fishing line and excitedly reeled in a tiger fish. Fabias took care of the not so pleasant task of unhooking the fish. Throughout the trip, I enjoyed sundowners of my choice and opted for a refreshing South African Sauvignon Blanc. The hour and a half fishing trip ended with a beautiful sunset. At the end of a day full of activities, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of sparkling wine in a bucket of ice, and a candlelit hot bubble bath waiting for me in my room, compliments of Tongabezi.
My final river adventure was a private canoe trip. Quentino, a certified river guide, went over the safety rules and helped me into a small canoe, while Captain Victor was in a motorboat ahead looking out for crocodiles and hippos. Quentino welcomed me to paddle, but made it clear that it was not necessary if I preferred to relax and take in the tranquil scenery. After crossing the river towards the Zimbabwe side, Quentino pointed out a number of colorful birds that were fishing along the riverbank. On our way back to Tongabezi, we canoed through some reed-covered islands where hippos were resting on sandbanks about 50 feet away from us. It was exciting to be so close, but I was happy to keep a distance, as I knew how fast hippos could move. Between Captain Victor and Quentino I felt in good hands, as both had had years of training and experience as river guides.
Hippos sunbathing during my canoe trip
The only downside of my stay at Tongabezi Lodge was that it ended too soon. The location of this luxury lodge was ideal. Just 40 minutes upstream from the hustle and bustle of Victoria Falls, the lodge was close enough for activities associated with the UNESCO world heritage site, while far enough to explore the Zambezi River. Having an activities director who customized my itinerary added a personal touch that set Tongabezi apart from other lodges. The service was top notch and I plan on returning someday to partake in the activities I did not include during this first visit.