Urbanites will rejoice when setting foot at the ultra-chic and polished Matetsi Victoria Falls, comprising 123,500 acres of wildlife reserve and nine miles of river frontage. This family-owned property is an oasis of sophistication, coupled with an innate commitment to the natural stretch of surroundings and the animals that frequent it.
At 08:30 on a Monday morning, my daughter and I depart from Cape Town International Airport to Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe on the sleek and stylish Airlink Embraer E190. Airlink’s direct route between these two iconic destinations has become so popular that the 98-seater Embraer ERJ 190 AR with its two seating classes is the perfect mode of transport, getting passengers there in only 2 hours and 45 minutes.
We are collected at Victoria Falls Airport in an airconditioned vehicle for our 45-minute road transfer to Matetsi Victoria Falls and are warmly welcomed by the staff at the lodge. Camp Manager Leanne shows us to our impressive suite, with its congruent view of the Zambezi, which will be our 5-star habitation for the next three nights.
Our table is set up alongside the river, and head chef Shane ensures that our lunch is a delightful indulgence. We feast on the most delicious gourmet burgers with French fries and conclude our meal with a delectable fruit pavlova. Back at our room, we take in the incredible design and architecture that is distinct in each of the 18 rooms at Matetsi Victoria Falls. You have a choice between the Eastern or Western guest area, spread out all along the river for about half a mile, with nine guest suites on either side of a dining area, as well as a the added benefit of a recreation area, featuring a lap pool, gym, spa, library, gift shop and wine cellar.
Matetsi Victoria Falls is privately owned and independently run, with the passion of the Gardiner family coming through in all aspects of the guest experience. Driven by their desire to showcase the beauty of their home country, Zimbabwe, the family’s understanding of what works for a luxury safari lodge in a private concession has been met with triumphant accolades from visitors and the industry alike.
Sara Gardiner explains: “When we got involved with the Matetsi Victoria Falls property in 2015, we realized we had to seek out the right architectural designer to let the property become a beacon of refinement while keeping our footprint as light as possible. We found the perfect fit – a young female Zimbabwean architecture designer Kerry van Leenhoff who heads up her firm, Form Studio Design.”
Kerry was given creative freedom to design a suitable structure for Matetsi Victoria Falls, with the only guideline that no thatch be used. Fashioning the freedom of time and space for Matetsi Victoria Falls guests is something Kerry achieved, and when the Gardiner family saw the renders she drew, they knew she was on the right track. With her concept of Life on the River, she accomplished this with remarkable details, such as hanging mokoros (dug-out canoes) at the entrance to the restaurant.
In the suites, 18 individual pieces of art by Zimbabwean artist Helen Teede form a map of Matetsi Private Game Reserve when pieced together. Given free reign as to what she wanted to do, the size of art, the color she would use, what textures, tones, mediums, and materials, it turned out perfectly and in great complement to the interiors done by Kerry.
There is so much intricate detail throughout the lodge: the screens in the dining area are woven screens done in the style of basket weaving, while the downlighters are styled as clay pots. In the bathrooms, stone sculpture basins give the nod to the Shona culture, whereas the copper bar (copper is found naturally in Zimbabwe) has ‘petals,’ making it look like the scales on a pangolin.
“The old lodge was constructed in a very different style,” Sara reminisces. “Essentially, we tried to use as much of the original foundation as possible so that we don’t impact the surrounding environment at all. Many of the columns are original; the footprint is original, and so are the fireplaces. What’s wonderful with the way that Kerry designed it, is that she constructed it very much in nature, with an indoor/outdoor space.”
Each suite opens up to a riverine view, with floor to ceiling doors letting in loads of natural light. Floors are made of tiny quartz petals, coated with resin and cover not only the bedroom through to the bathroom, but the outdoor spaces as well, creating a unit that feels like one beautiful flowing space. Every suite has its plunge pool, perfect for a cooling dip on those scorching summer days. Our pool received lots of visitors, from birds to warthog and the cutest bushbuck.
“It’s about taking time, sitting on the banks of the Zambezi River,” Sara reiterates, “cooling down in your plunge pool while enjoying the outdoor terrace area. I’ve had a few people mention that the terrace is their favorite place in the world for an afternoon siesta. I love the bush, but also sitting at one of the dining tables, watching the birds go by, or the water monitors come out of the river. We have clawless otters that live in the water, and there is an overwhelming feeling of being connected with nature at Matetsi Victoria Falls.”
Days at Matetsi Victoria Falls are best spent relaxing in your suite with all the superfluity and space you can imagine or on the back of a game drive vehicle exploring the vastness of Matetsi Private Game Reserve, which we willingly do. Our guide, Trymore, and tracker Crawford prove to be the perfect combination of knowledge and wit to make a drive loads of fun. We spot lots of giraffes and elephants aplenty on our drives, as well as very large troops of baboons drinking from the fringes of the Zambezi.
Impalas and kudus go about their business foraging for seed pods. Late afternoon game drives yield the most spectacular sunsets and the appearance of nocturnal animals – a hyena with three very young cubs, leaving her den-site on the open plains to confuse any would-be scavengers hoping to harm her offspring. On our last morning, we take in the incredible sighting of two lion brothers having a nap in the tall grass.
With the proximity of the Victoria Falls, a visit to Zimbabwe would not be complete without seeing the wonder of ‘The Smoke That Thunders.’ Every viewpoint showcases a different angle of the Falls, all of them breathtaking in their own right. Water levels rise and fall seasonally, and it’s especially magnificent to see the bare rockface as the cascading waters have sculpted it throughout the years. A favorite remains the sight and sound of the water tumbling over the edge to reveal a variety of rainbows.
Returning after a day of exploration or simply indulging in the joys of the bush, coming back to Matetsi Victoria Falls has definitive tranquility about it. Whether it’s the exclusivity, the peace, and quiet, or the Matetsi magic Sara speaks of. The Zambezi is good for the soul. Even more so, Matetsi Victoria Falls induces a feeling that is difficult to describe. Whatever it is, it’s worthwhile to soak it all in, and believe me when I say; you’ll go away feeling revived and ready to face anything. Until your next visit.
*** Views expressed are the author’s own. Thank you to Melissa Dive from Perowne International for arranging our stay and to Sara Gardiner and the staff at Matetsi Victoria Falls for their kind hospitality.
Airlink: Airlink is the largest Regional Feeder airline connecting the major cities of southern Africa with the smaller towns, cities, and eco-leisure destinations. Airlink is a privately-owned airline with more than 25 years of customer-focused experience and a network of over 55 routes throughout the SADC region and St Helena Island.
Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
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