Friday, 27 June 2008

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

The Victoria Falls has left many wordsmiths speechless and writers have run out of superlatives to describe Zimbabwe’s mighty curtain of falling water locally known as the Mosi oa Tunya, the smoke that thunders.

Unlike some resorts that resemble clustered theme parks with a certain suffocating confusion profound, Victoria Falls, on the other hand, still has a natural and unspoilt look to it.

Development of hotels, lodges and activities has taken heed of the need to keep the resort town’s natural splendour. Victoria Falls’ hotels and lodges offer world class services that has seen them retain customers as some always return to indulge in the joys of being in the “World’s Adventure Capital”.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has set the benchmark for quality holidaying and cuisine in Zimbabwe. Set overlooking a natural waterhole the lodge is a mellow combination of African traditional architecture superbly blended with western ingenuity.

A weekend at the lodge is not enough but sufficient for a visitor to take in the sights and sounds of this resort town. The story behind the lodge is unbelievable and a bit ordinary.

Apparently David Glynn the Chairman of Africa Albida, the brand that through which the lodge is marketed, was at Victoria Falls Hotel attending a conference.

As with most conferences they can become a bore so he decided to go for a run and when he came upon the hill on which the lodge is built what he saw was breathtaking.

“As he stood on the hill and saw the waterhole he wondered why nobody had ever thought of building a lodge here. To him the location was perfect and soon after that we decided to embark on this project,” Ross Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer of Africa Albida.

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge opened in December 1994 and every year since has been voted the “Best Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe” by the local tourism industry. It has been named one of “The World’s 10 Best Kept Secrets”, one of “The 101 Hotels in the World” by Tatler magazine and one of “The Top 25 Resorts of the Rich and Famous” by OK! Magazine, the list of accolades in endless.

During the building of the lodge, architects were required to design from an aerial survey which marked all the mature trees and an environmental architect designed the infrastructural layout to minimize environmental destruction.

Over 6000 indigenous trees were translocated prior to construction and relocated after construction. All exotic plants were banned from the site and only indigenous plant material was allowed to be introduced.

My recent visit there on a weekend getaway was nothing short of fabulous. During the transfer from the airport by Wilderness Safaris we were entertained and informed of the history and life in Victoria Falls by the charismatic George.

Upon arrival a traditional Ndebele greeting welcomes guests through a stunning poetic rendition in the manner warriors used to do in the days gone by as well as a refreshing welcome drink before being led to your respective rooms. All rooms remind one of being in Africa as the d├ęcor has an African theme running through. The rooms’ front walls have wooden concertina shutters and glass doors which unfold onto a private balcony.

Lunch and breakfast as served in the award winning Makuwa-Kuwa restaurant, a relaxing eatery with views overlooking the waterhole where you can enjoy a variety of the restaurant’s imaginative dishes while gazing at waterbuck quenching their thirst.

There is also the Buffalo Bar, an open bar with its own game-viewing platform. Guests can also witness vultures being fed every lunch hour near the waterhole and it is a spectacle not to miss as there is no other place you can see vultures so close and that many.

The day is spent enjoying the various activities that make Victoria Falls such a pleasure to visit from an early morning game drive to riding the waves on a raft or risk it all and go plunging 111 metres down from Victoria Falls Bridge on the Bungi Jump.

What makes the lodge stand out is its ability to sooth and entertain and a large number of tourists can testify that dinner at The Boma, the place of eating, is incomparable. It is far from just being dinner, it is more of an experience and Ross was more than proud to explain.

“The Boma has a worldwide reputation and we are proud of the success it has enjoyed. We are always looking at ways to add variation to one’s dining experience, we never let it rest and I can bet you’ll always find five or six languages in that restaurant,” said Ross.

The Boma is indeed spectacular, as diners arrive they are cloaked with a traditional African robe known as “Chitenge” which they will dine wearing. A welcome drink is served in metal mugs and on our visit they had blended brandy with red and white wine.

The Boma offers a four course meal combining a choice of starters from the kitchen, soup from the campfire and a substantial barbeque buffet. Everyone’s tastes are catered for and whilst the adventurous are enticed with local delicacies such as mopani worms and game stews.

Keeping in tune with tradition a meal is preceded by a few gulps of Zimbabwean traditional brew known as Chibuku made from sorghum. Diners are also invited to a hand washing ceremony.

A feast of nightly entertainment incorporates Shangaan dancers and singers and a local story teller and witchdoctor. After dinner, guests are invited to join in the drumming extravaganza from 9pm. This is the highlight of the evening and is provided by Amazulu Ensemble which invites diners to participate in the drumming and dancing.