I was thrilled to experience the wonder that is Victoria Falls from the Zambian side for the first time, in the company of guide Babylon Mazuba.
High or low water, the falls are simply amazing and I would love to visit during low water, which is best for white water rafting, and when the higher Zambian side is dry: great for visiting - often by foot - Livingstone Island and the freaky Devil’s Pool, a natural rock pool where you can swim on the edge of the falls.
I was also delighted by my personal guest relations “minder” (everyone is assigned one) at Stanley Safari Lodge, a few kilometres away, and always in sight of the rising “smoke that thunders”. Named after Henry Stanley, who famously set out to find the supposedly lost or kidnapped explorer David Livingstone, Stanley Safari Lodge is intimate and personalised, with occupancy for 25 people a bit of a stretch.
The five-star personalisation shows in the lodge design, which has many relatively small and private spaces for lounging and dining. Ever-smiling, gentle Peter Jele would make a good mother, which is what you want in your personal minder I suppose. How personalised? Mealtimes, for example, are up to you. Excursion times are up to you.
The earlier the better: after sun-up at the falls is advised, before the rest of the world arrives. It’s also when you can see double rainbows refracted in the spray.
It’s unlikely you will ever spy all your fellow guests, as most are enjoying the multitude of activities in the area. Accommodation is varied enough to suit every taste. Some of the rooms are African in feel, thatched and constructed from teak and local stone, and open-fronted without anything obstructing the views. One suite is contrastingly European, another in-between the two. Honeymoon, family, with or without fireplace, plunge pool or air-con, only three rooms are pretty much the same - the challenge for manager Christelle Conradie is to matching guests’ taste to expectations. You can be sure that is a priority, and I can’t imagine anyone not loving this elegant, chilled and luxurious little world - part of the Robin Pope Safaris portfolio of lodges in Zambia, neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi. Hippos snorting, lions roaring (on the other side of the electric fence) and bird calls are the only disturbances.
The open-sided, triple-volume thatched lodge building is where you find comfy spots to relax - in the building, around the rim-flow pool or the fire-pit in the evening, or on the oversized, elevated daybed. There’s wi-fi to keep in touch with the world outside, wine, local Mosi beer, fine food. With the Zambezi in sight, I felt fish was the way to go, and particularly enjoyed the baked tilapia and savoury rice I had for dinner and the fish goujon with lemon butter sauce and salad at lunch. There is always a vegetarian option, even if you didn’t specify your dietary requirements when booking, and the carrot and ginger soup is recommended.
Exercise may be required to counter the kilojoules. There’s a small fleet of mountain bikes and Jele took me to Mukuni village, where Livingstone stopped before his sighting of the falls in 1855.
Guide Janine Muchindu was a mine of information and the outing more than stretched my legs. So did other activities - the Flying Fox, zip-line and, especially, the practising-for-suicide gorge swing.
The complementary - and efficient, of course - laundry service is a boon. It means you can pack a lot lighter, though you may leave a little weightier and a lot happier.