We are eating lunch. The dining area is perched on the edge of the Zambezi River, right where the river forks and forms an inlet known as the “Discovery Channel.” Just as if we were tuned into a live broadcast on that very TV channel, a family of elephants comes down to the water’s edge, a few feet away, and wades across the channel. All but one of the elephants step confidently into the water, wading towards us through the shallows, as we stop eating to watch. The last elephant, apparently reluctant to cross, tests the water, first with her toes and then with her trunk, before changing her mind and turning to clamber back up the way she’d come.
The Zambezi River, the fourth longest river in Africa, emerges from the ground as a tiny spring in north-western Zambia, before passing through eastern Angola, along the Namibian and Botswanan borders, then forms the boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe, before finally flowing across Mozambique and emptying into the Indian Ocean.
Mention the Zambezi River and the first thing that comes to many people’s minds is the famous Victoria Falls. 400 miles downstream of the falls is Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park. Home to herds of elephants, a hunting ground for lions, leopards, and wild dogs. The river itself is home to hippos, crocodiles, and the coveted tiger fish. This 1,580 square mile park is a scenic wilderness and home to some truly terrific safari activities.
Lolebezi, the latest member of the African Bush Camps family, is Lower Zambezi’s newest safari lodge. The location is wild and remote, but the lodge itself is luxurious. Spread out under a canopy of Winterthorn trees, within twelve acres of protected wilderness and over half a mile of private river frontage, Lolebezi takes going on safari to a whole new level.
From stunning lodge design and décor to beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife, this fabulous lodge should definitely be on your bucket list!
1. Wildlife And Game Viewing Activities
There’s something special about being in the African bush. At Lolebezi, you are immersed in it. From our bathroom, we watched a huge bull elephant, just a few feet away, break and eat branches from an overhanging tree. Monkeys and baboons leaped from tree to tree or foraged on the ground. Lying in bed at night, we heard hyenas growl and giggle as they prowled the darkness, and hippos stomped and splashed as they left the water to graze on dry land.
Driving through the park, a leopard sauntered down the sandy road in front of us, as a herd of buffalo watched us silently from the sidelines, and seven lions with blood-smeared faces laid in the shade. Nearer to camp, waterbuck and impala populated the forest.
Game drives are one of the most effective ways to see wildlife, as they cover the most ground and you can get fairly close to sightings without placing guests in harm’s way or disturbing the wildlife.
As we drove out from the lodge one morning, our attention was drawn to a troop of baboons, shrieking and shouting. Some climbed to the top of an anthill, others stood on their hind legs, and all of them were trying to get a better view. One large male baboon climbed a tree and shook the branches vigorously. Driving closer, we caught a glimpse of an endangered African wild dog.
Slightly hidden in the long grass, he had killed a young impala. It’s unusual for wild dogs to hunt alone and after only gulping down a few mouthfuls of meat, he stands up. After sniffing the breeze, he headed off in the direction of some distant hills. We assumed that he went to find the rest of his pack. Big cat sightings might be the highlight of many people’s safaris, but for me, the African wild dog stole the show. It’s always very wonderful to see them on the safari.
Walking safaris are the purest of safari experiences, and often the most thrilling as you never know what you’ll encounter around each corner. Your guide can show you large animals, but also the spoor (footprints), birds, plants, and insects while explaining how they all interact with each other.
The guides at Lolebezi are knowledgeable, professional, friendly, and patient. They are happy to sit and wait for you to have your fill of any sighting and are ready to move on. They never tire of answering the sort of questions they’ve probably been asked a thousand times before.
The Lower Zambezi National Park boasts over 500 species of birds. Be it the turkey-sized, jet black, ground hornbill, with a 4-foot wingspan, or a tiny red-billed firefinch, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Perhaps it could be a flock of migratory carmine bee-eaters, swooping overhead in a cloud of crimson as an African fish eagle’s mournful cry reverberates across the river — the Lower Zambezi National Park is a dream destination for enthusiastic birdwatchers. We spotted birds out on game drives, on boat trips out on the river, and from the verandah of our room — this is a great destination for birdwatchers, from amateur to expert.
3. River Safaris And Fishing
Fishing for tigerfish is a seasonal specialty of the Zambezi River. At least as far as my husband is concerned, it is one of the best safari activities of all! Tigerfish are somewhere between a trout and a piranha on the evolutionary scale and are equipped with large bony jaws and a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. Tigerfish are renowned for their speed, agility, and their strong will to fight. The chances of them snapping your line or rod and making off with your lures are very good, so fishing for these creatures is always a challenge.
Going out on the river in the afternoon from Lolebezi, we fished for tiger, bream, and catfish while enjoying the scenery and, of course, sipping on gin and tonic. We passed small islands and sandbanks. Fish eagles called overhead while kingfishers hovered and dived, doing some fishing of their own.
Pro Tip: Late August to mid-November is the best time for tigerfish. Do note that netting is not permitted and a 100 percent catch and release policy applies to all fish species in stretches of the river that run through the national park.
4. River Trips
River Trips take you out on the water with an experienced guide to explore the river and its wildlife. The Zambezi River is best explored by boat. There’s something peaceful about the way the river meanders through the surrounding floodplains, past pods of grunting hippos and elephants wading from island to island. Then as the sun sets, and the water turns crimson, your guide will pour you a cocktail of your choice and serve you some snacks as you gently cruise along the river.
Canoeing caters to those looking for a little more adventure. There are few experiences more memorable than drifting down the Zambezi — so trade the land for the water and take a canoeing safari where you will head downstream, meaning you won’t need to paddle too hard. The best canoeing experience is to be had on the channels, like the previously mentioned Discovery Channel, where you’ll drift in silence past birds, crocodiles, and a variety of mammals.
6. The Lodge, The Décor, And The Design
If you are looking for a super-stylish yet intimate lodge, Lolebezi is it! As the most decadent camp in Lower Zambezi, the lodge is beautifully designed and combines opulence with excellent standards of guidance. Practically floating on the Zambezi, the lodge hovers on the river bank with thatched roofs and expansive windows through which to enjoy the view.
The suites are palatial and fully air-conditioned. The beds are large and ornate, with a circle of hanging beaded decor overhead and river-green textiles. French doors open onto a private deck with a plunge pool and thatched private lounge area. There is an on-site spa with qualified treatment specialists, as well as a yoga deck and gym. The attention to detail is incredible and inspiring.
Lolebezi was designed by the renowned Fox Browne Creative whose owners, Debra Fox and Christopher Browne, have over 70 years of combined experience in luxury hospitality, and specialize in safari style. Fox Browne used small local Zambian businesses and artisans to create a bespoke interior design that gives guests a real connection to Zambian culture and traditions.
Lolebezi combines elegant interiors with a concept of sustainable and environmentally conscious design techniques, all to tread lightly on the earth. Debra Fox, founder and co-owner of Fox Browne said, “In a hospitality world overrun with bland, Pinterest interiors, the design touches of the Lodge are sure to open guests’ eyes to the beauty and cultures of Zambia.”
Pro Tip: The property is unfenced and located in a wildlife area, so large and potentially dangerous animals do pass through. When staying here, be alert when walking around the camp and request a member of staff to escort you if you are at all nervous. All guests are escorted after dark as a matter of course.
7. Lunch At Lolebezi
One particular memory of our time at Lolebezi was our final lunch. A river bank picnic in the Lolebezi trademark style, glamor, and safari chic. Proper tables and chairs, crisp white tablecloths and napkins, glistening glasses of chilled wine, knives, and forks wrapped in monogrammed leather cutlery rolls. Hippos serenaded us from the water, an elephant stood on a tiny island in the middle of the river, and a shy bushbuck looked on from a distance.
When explorer and missionary, David Livingstone, reached the Lower Zambezi Valley in December 1855, he recorded in his journal the wild beauty of the scene that awaited him, stating, “Hundreds of buffaloes and zebra grazed in the open space, and beneath the trees stood lordly elephants feeding majestically. The number of animals was quite astonishing. I wished I could have photographed a scene so seldom beheld.” After our Lower Zambezi visit, we knew exactly how he’d felt!
For more information on traveling to Zambia, check out these articles: