Leora in the Land of Elephants

We all know someone who just has the gift of the gab and can sell ice to Inuits.

This is not how we do it at Rothschild Safaris because the only reason I started selling Safaris (and never stopped) is that

I just can’t help myself:

I go on Safari, and I have the most incredible experiences, cultural interactions, wildlife encounters and throughout it all the thought foremost in my mind is

How do I get more people to come and stay and see this incredible place for themselves?

So, as you were on my mind recently, for the entire time I was away, it is only fair that I share a blow by blow account of my Safari with you here.

Victoria Falls

Landing in Livingstone, just a couple of miles from Victoria Falls, we immediately boarded our helicopter flight to an intimate lodge tucked away on a private stretch of the Zambezi River, Royal Chundu. After our welcome shoulder rub and a glass of bubbles, we were whisked away for a 2-hour canoeing trip on the Zambezi, including 3 rapids – enough to give us a little rush and a lot to discuss during the very elaborate lunch that was set out on a private island.

Let me tell you that pizza on an island in the middle of the Zambezi is a genius idea and to top it off we enjoyed icy cold pink gin cocktails.

Wooha, welcome to Africa!!

Over the next three days, we were very busy exploring the Falls area in-depth. We inspected many lodges and hotels on both the Zambian and the Zimbabwean sides.

One of my highlights was swimming at Devils Pool. Lying in the “Smoke that Thunders” watching it cascade over the cliff to the canyon below was an absolute thrill! We slept in bedrooms flanking the river banks and woke up each morning to the sounds of birds and grunting hippos.

We were very businesslike and held a very serious meeting over a private lunch at the Lookout. The view was to die for, and this stop is a must for anyone traveling to the Falls… (I’m not going to advise planning your own meeting here as the combination of crazy good food competing with an absurdly good view is not exactly conducive to concentration) We were also lucky enough to wander around and inspect some new lodges who had only barely opened their doors to the public.

Hwange National Park

Leaving the Falls, we took a short flight into Hwange National Park. This is the fast way to get right into the bush – but you can also opt for a five-hour drive if you prefer taking your time. A great plus to driving is the particular lookout spot that we stop at with our travelers as soon as we arrive in the park. The killer view includes hundreds of elephants and buffalo at certain times of year and is a lovely introduction to what is to come in Hwange. Did someone say picnic lunch before the game drive continues to the lodge?

Hwange is an ancient seasonal floodplain. One of the best places in Southern Africa to spot lions and elephants, as well as zebra, giraffe, and white rhino. We inspected a lot of lodges, choosing our favorites as we went along. One afternoon just after lunch and before tea some very special visitors – a herd of elephant came to the pool at the lodge to drink. They were not in the least perturbed by our presence and kept on drinking even as we inched closer and closer to get the perfect photograph.

That same evening at sunset, we were surrounded by close to one thousand elephants at the watering hole – they orchestrated many heart-pounding moments. Our evenings in Hwange were spent lying in bed on our elevated platform under our cozy covers with a view onto the floodplains (separated by a screen only) as we watched for hours what we call our bush tv – elephant families coming and going, then hyena, then a showdown with the ele chasing away the hyena, then wild dog. And under the full moon, it is just spectacular. Netflix who?

A little tired in the morning from all the action, but well worth the puffy eyes. 😊

Lake Kariba

Our journey took us north to Lake Kariba, during a quick stop for lunch we visited the new Bumi Hills Lodge. Our meal was served to us on the deck as we watched the wildlife below come and go from Lake Kariba, one of the most beautiful lakes in Africa.

Mana Pools National Park

From there we flew into Mana Pools National Park.  The setting is stunning, most lodges are located on the banks of the mighty Zambezi with the adjacent woodland and mountains of the Rift Valley escarpment as a backdrop.

We stayed at and inspected four lodges in this area, including one that’s in the process of being built.  For those who are up for it, an exciting option here is to spend a night in one of Africa’s famous ‘star beds’ located on a busy waterhole under a canopy of stars, a magical way to fall asleep to the sounds of nature.

Elephants are plentiful here in the dry months as they tend to love the ana trees, for their nutritious seeds. Because food is in abundance, the eles’ are incredibly relaxed, and you can get very close to them indeed. Our wildlife sightings in the Mana Pools region was spectacular, offering a variety of game we were really spoiled with a lion kill, more lion lazing about, leopard, of course, plenty of elephants, buffalo and plains game. We tried our hand at tiger fishing (this area is known for some of the best tiger fishing in Africa). Dale(our photographer) caught three (and of course released right away.)

We sipped champagne and photographed the lovely carmine bee-eaters who were nesting on the river bank during our visit. Crocs and hippo are just everywhere, and there is literally never a dull moment.

Gonarezhou National Park

Two charter flights later we arrived at Singita Pamushana. A private wilderness conservancy bordering Gonarezhou National Park.  The breathtaking architecture of this lodge is a design dream. And where better to enjoy architecture but from our favorite bar, delicious Gin & Tonics in hand overlooking the Mililangwe Dam.

One evening while enjoying a sundowner cruise we encountered buffalo, crocodiles, lots of hippos and a lion hunting a bushbuck – all this while floating on our sunset boat. We sat with cocktails observing a lioness stalking the waterbuck for a good hour and a half while the hippo grunted and snorted endlessly in the background. The setting was magical I could have stayed for hours quite happily. Finally, the lion locked onto the prey and the race was on. Poor waterbuck sprinted to the end of the island where its only choice was to swim or return to where the lion was. It miraculously made it to the other side of the dam through the croc-infested waters, and I breathed a sigh of relief (kills are not fun to witness).

Another night here we enjoyed a lovely sighting – a pack of hyena with 2-week old babies coming and going into and out of their den, we sat for hours observing them playing then feeding, with mom grooming them, it was all just fascinating.

We toured a local village with Julius – a guide with fire in his soul. He educated and amazed us with all the local Shangaan traditions, such a delightful man I hope he never loses his passion. Pamushana wildlife was outstanding, food was the best on our trip (vegetarians have a mere 3 choices at every meal), and our guide was delightful.

The Wildest of Africa

Transferred through to Gonarezhou National Park, we were about to up our guiding standards again. Quite famous for his bush skills and knowledge, Clive Stockil was born and bred in this area, and his passion for the bush and community projects is contagious. Over the next few days, we would learn all about his community-led conservation projects, something he has dedicated much of his life to and rightly received numerous awards for. Spending time in this remote, undeveloped wilderness with Clive to answer all our questions was a privilege and a real treat.

First stop was at a picnic site for lunch while overlooking the impressive red sandstone Chilojo Cliffs. Heading to our first camp, we witnessed a newborn elephant, still wet from the womb and legs shaky and wobbly, we took a quick look and continued on our way to not upset the nervous herd who immediately surrounded her when we arrived on the scene.  Game viewing in the park is good, but the real star of the show is the vast unspoiled wilderness. The park is rich with mahogany, ironwood, acacia albida, and the magical baobab trees. Elephants and buffalo gather at the watering holes and have a reputation for being more on edge than their Hwange/Mana Pools/Kariba cousins, and so we stayed back to observe them from a distance (always fine by me). This park is ideal for the walking enthusiast, a specialty in this region. As there are very few lodges here one truly feels like you have Africa for yourself.

As night fell we were inside the park at a tented camp. There is nothing quite like sleeping amidst the sounds of the wilderness. On our second night, we stayed just outside the park at Chilo Lodge with its picture-perfect setting.

Days here are spent taking excursions to the epic Chilojo Cliffs, camping inside the park, sundowners on the Save River, stories around campfires, game drives, ambling along trails to the Chivilia Falls, and visiting with the people of the village.

Due to Clive’s hard work and dedication working with the Shangaan, the people here have gone from scraping the bark off a tree to use as a blackboard for makeshift classes to having proper schooling and clean water. Guns have been replaced by cameras, and the locals have learned over the years to appreciate the animals. Everyone seems to be a winner in this success story.

The local Shangaan community’s intimate relationship with the lodge is incredibly important, and so we embarked on a 2-hour educational drive through the community to better understand the progress that had been made. We spent the time helping a lady from the village to grind their mealie meal for dinner and dodged cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and kids. We had a little fun jamming with a group of kids on their interesting looking homemade guitar, and boy can they move those hips! We watched women pump for fresh water, drove through their community gardens, spoke to elders about the success of the village and observed kids coming and going to school.

Once a year tourists have the pleasure of witnessing a celebration of the Shangaan culture. When you are invited into their community, you learn about their culture, including traditional dancing, local food, and drink and partake in the ceremonies, this particular event is a must do for the seasoned traveler who is looking for something entirely different. It is precisely the kind of unique experience that we can incorporate into most of our safaris.

This intense cultural experience was the highlight of our trip and brought us to my mom’s favorite saying

all good things come to an end.

 Teary-eyed our journey was indeed coming to an end. With heavy hearts we boarded our long-haul flights home, filled with compassion for this land it’s incredible wildlife and joyful people, I know we all left with a little more fire in our souls.

Until next time Zimbabwe.

Leora Rothschild – October 2018 


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We all know someone who just has the gift of the gab and can sell ice to Inuits. This is not how we do...
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