The Story so far..
The previous posts on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family covered the time spent in Kruger National Park and the nearby Panorama route .
Now for the real Africa!
I had booked a package a few months prior for our small group, which seemed to meet their desire of experiencing Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve. The package included the flight from Jo’burg to Vic Falls and 2 nights in the Kingdom Hotel, followed by a road transfer to Kasane for a further 2 nights in the Chobe Safari Lodge`, ending with a flight back to Jo’burg from Kasane.
Kasane lies in northern Botswana just 80 kms west of Vic Falls and has become well-known to me after a dozen or more visits over the last couple of years for a project in which I’m involved.
In years gone by it would have been a major undertaking to get to the north-west corner of Zimbabwe in order to experience this natural wonder of the world – nowadays regular flights from Jo’burg to the modern airport some 20 kms outside town get you there in just one and a half hours flying time.
We left home in Pretoria on Monday 13th March 2017 with time to spare, so once we had made our way through check-in and the security and passport formalities at OR Tambo, we could enjoy a Mugg and Bean breakfast before boarding the flight.
We landed at 1.15 pm at Vic Falls airport and our transfer was waiting to take us to the Kingdom hotel, where two comfortable rooms awaited us.
On the way we made a short stop to organise bookings for the afternoon excursion – a sundowner cruise on the Zambezi.
Sundowners on the Zambezi
There was time to chill before our 4.30 pm pick-up to take us to the river cruise dock upstream from the falls, where we boarded the Zambezi Royal for a “luxury cruise”, which turned out to be “super cool” in Sarah’s words. It’s worth paying the extra for the luxury of your own table and personal service on the spacious, smooth-riding boat, with drinks and gourmet snacks included ( canapés is what the grand people call them, I think).
As the boat departed we sipped sparkling wine, nibbled on the canapés and tried our best to look the part – there were a couple of other, somewhat more crowded boats passing by at the time, so we had to let them know what they were missing.
The boat headed upstream along Africa’s fourth longest river, with Siloka island on the right, skirting the riverside vegetation. The cruise manager kept us informed on what we were seeing and I was pleasantly surprised at his bird knowledge and spotting ability, with good sightings of White-fronted Bee-eater, Water Thick-Knee, Purple Heron, Pied Kingfisher and others. At each sighting he got the captain to take us close to the river bank for a close-up view.
It did not take long to find the first Hippos and they obliged with their trademark big yawns, showing us their massive jaws and fearsome looking teeth as we approached. We found more pods of hippos as we made our way up river, some with Red-billed Oxpeckers in attendance.
These avian scavengers are tolerated by a variety of animals due to the ‘service’ they provide of taking care of irritating ticks and other parasites. One Oxpecker was determined to stay put, clinging to the nose of a hippo despite its “customer” opening its jaws wide , but eventually it got too uncomfortable for him and he flew off, only to land on the next available hippo.
A large Crocodile, resting on the bank and partly concealed by the long grasses, caused some excitement amongst the passengers as the captain edged the boat up to the bank to allow everyone to get a good view.
We continued for an hour or more until all that remained was to watch the sun slowly set as the sky turned different shades of orange and grey over the Zambezi as we enjoyed a beer of the same name.
All in all, a great way to start our visit to this world-famous corner of Zim! Just not sure how we can keep up the high level of excitement that the sightings and doings have caused amongst the Canadians.
A Walk in the Rain Forest
If it’s Tuesday it must be …. time to ‘do’ the Falls, which is what the Canadians had come to see, after all.
After a good hotel breakfast in the large, open air dining room, we first walked to the nearby shopping area for a couple of essentials (a hat and sunscreen for me) trying not to make eye contact with the vendors with their billion dollar notes and wooden bowls etc. From there we headed back down the road past our hotel and along a pretty flower lined pathway that ended near the Falls entrance.
You would think that entrance to one of the seven ‘natural wonders of the world’ would be quick and automated, but no, the cashier laboriously writes out an invoice in long hand for each purchase of a ticket. Just a tad frustrating, but nothing could spoil the experience that awaited.
The views were as breath-taking as my previous visit 18 months ago, more so for our visitors seeing it for the first time, but compared to my earlier visit there was a lot more water gushing in shiny brown torrents over the edge and into the steaming turmoil below. What power!
We meandered along the pathways, with the spray from the falls varying between barely noticeable droplets to the equivalent of a light summer rainstorm and by the time we reached the bridge at the furthest end of the walk we were pretty much drenched.
There are a number of viewpoints along the way, each one numbered and each presenting the falls from a different perspective, all of them spectacular. The roar of the falls accompanies you as you make your way from one viewpoint to another.
Birds were rather scarce other than a few in the rain forest, such as White-browed Robin-Chat, Tropical Boubou and Paradise Flycatcher. Butterflies made for a splash of fluttering colour amongst the greenery of the rain forest and a group of Mongoose moved through the undergrowth.
Our last stop before turning back was at the bridge viewpoint with its grand view of the man-made structure from the colonial era that is still impressive.
Back at the entrance, tired after the longish walk, we enjoyed a thirst quencher and Alex ordered a toasted sandwich which a beyond cheeky monkey decided to plunder, appearing out of nowhere and giving us all quite a fright. The restaurant brought a replacement and the “monkey guard” appeared with a catapult which settled things down again.
The afternoon was spent relaxing and for the evening meal we decided to try the nearby (nothing’s very far in this town) Mama Afrika restaurant which had a delightful African flavour and atmosphere enhanced by a jazz band and a short power outage.
The next morning was our last in Vic Falls – I decided to take an early morning walk through the extensive gardens of the hotel and along some of the paths that lead to the Falls. It turned into an interesting walk when one William, curio seller, decided he had nothing better to do and accompanied me, showing me the quieter paths, where he also spotted and pointed out a few birds, although he didn’t know their names. In return I told him some of the names, showed him their illustrations on my Roberts App and played the calls – I could see he showed an interest and I suggested he learn more about the local birds so that he could perhaps help tourists with a birding bent in future. He asked that, if I came back to Vic Falls, I bring him a bird book to learn from – who knows, maybe that will happen – I would certainly love to help him.
The hotel grounds were good for Emerald Cuckoo which called frequently during our stay, Black-collared Barbet, Red-winged Starlings aplenty and Pied Wagtails at the pool. Village Weavers were nest-building in the reeds at one of the hotel ponds – at first I thought they were Lesser Masked-Weavers as the black on their heads extended well down their necks, unlike any Village Weaver I had seen before. Checking my Roberts app I realised that they were a sub-species of the Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) we are accustomed to in South Africa, with the scientific name ploceus cucullatus nigriceps and occurring in the northern parts of our region.
After joining the others for another sumptuous, relaxed breakfast, we had some time to kill so walked to the adjoining Vitoria Falls Hotel, still magnificent in its colonial splendour. You almost expect Rhodes himself to appear on the verandah at any moment in his pith helmet and join you in gazing at the classic view of the bridge in the distance, framed by the gorge and forever shrouded by the misty spray.
Soon after our bus arrived to transfer us to Kasane for the next leg of our trip…….. more about that soon.