Being one of the first of many lodges I have had the privilege of visiting in Africa, I vowed to return one day. After reading about their refreshed look, I knew the time was perfect for visiting the only Relais & Châteaux property in Zambia, the very sophisticated Royal Chundu, on this occasion with my daughter.
We all know how a fresh coat of paint can liven up a room. Add new murals, and the artist’s creativity wholly encapsulates the wow factor. When Royal Chundu owner, Tina Aponte, decides to do something new or different, she does it with such panache that it makes a statement for many years to come.
Local Zambian artist, Mwamba Chikwemba is responsible for the eye-catching Walls of Art at Royal Chundu. She was commissioned by Tina to add original and colorful brushstrokes to the lodge while given total freedom of imagination. What ensued is so striking that it’s almost impossible not to be drawn in by the mural in the dining area at River Lodge – the spirit of Royal Chundu, flowery, femme and fabulous, as well as the spectacular wall painting by the swimming pool, featuring the animals that inhabit Royal Chundu and its surrounds.
Tina is hugely supportive of home-grown talent and even more so in her employment ratio, which is 99% Zambian and an impressive 76% female, bringing to fore community upliftment, coupled with the nurturing aspect found in her two exquisite lodges that cherish the guest while caring for nature surrounding the lodges. The sense of belonging is so overwhelming when arriving at Royal Chundu’s lodges that you immediately feel like part of a big, extended family.
I endeavor to prepare my daughter for our next visit, regaling her with tales from my previous stay three years prior. When we step out of the air-conditioned Royal Chundu vehicle that collects us at the Zambian border with driver Fred delivering us safely at Royal Chundu River Lodge, I can immediately gauge her delight in setting foot here, where my old memories will be shared, and new ones formed.
We are ushered through to the large deck that overlooks the Zambezi River while our luggage is placed in our room. After being offered a refresher towel, a cooling drink, and the splendid surprise of a heavenly neck and shoulder massage, we are shown to our accommodation for the next two nights where I had stayed before – Stilt number 4.
Lunch is served either on the outside deck or inside the restaurant with the stunning sunflower lady mural serving as a backdrop to a variety of delicious food, with the freshest ingredients sourced from within a four-kilometer radius of the lodge. Today’s menu includes baker’s basket, RC Chef’s salad, river crayfish spaghetti, parmesan crumbed chicken breast, and our choice of Zambian steak sandwich served with French fries. Dessert is caramelized banana or seasonal fruit.
A sunset cruise is always a great prospect as you never know what lies in store, whether it’s a new feathered creature along the way, spotting some impalas, baboons or waterbuck on the banks of Matetsi Game Reserve across the river, or merely the magnificence of the setting sun that paints a different picture each and every day. Time on the river will not be complete without all the trimmings that accompany such a wondrous occasion – a fully-stocked bar – you get to select your drink preference before the cruise starts, ensuring you have exactly what you ask for as well as the delicious snacks prepared for your indulgence.
After a beautiful dinner, a great night’s sleep, followed by a hearty breakfast, we set off for our picnic lunch on the banks of the Zambezi. Getting to the site where the picnic takes some maneuvering, but the trained guides know exactly how to steer the inflatable canoes through the gentle rapids. This is expertly done by our guide for all activities, the knowledgeable Nyambe, dropping us off safely to enjoy the most delectable eats – a selection of pizzas, BBQ chicken, meat skewers, fish, salads, fruit, and drinks. Should overindulgence make you sleepy, there are two hammocks to recline in. We opt to ‘walk it off’ by meandering at a pace set by us through the forest where the 2,400-year-old baobab tree is an obligatory stop (resting place) for a few happy snaps.
Back on terra firma, we spend the day at leisure in and around our luxurious accommodation, enjoying what the lodge has to offer. Our morning activity on Day 3 is a birding safari, and my daughter is thrilled to spot an African Fish Eagle, African Skimmers, Wire-tailed Swallows, African Darter, Spur-winged Goose, Black-winged Stilt, Crowned Lapwing, African Jacana, Lesser Jacana, Cape turtle doves, Cattle Egrets, Great Egret, Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron, Green-backed Heron, and Water Thick-knee.
Today, we are moving to Royal Chundu Island Lodge, situated on Katombora Island, just upstream from Royal Chundu River Lodge. With only four villas, guests are assured of ultra-luxury, privacy, and tranquility. Our bags are taken to Villa 2, overlooking a lovely stretch of the Zambezi. Sitting on our outside veranda, the unmistakable call of an African Fish Eagle cuts through the afternoon silence. You know you are in Africa when you hear that sound.
Royal Chundu Island Lodge is the perfect place to unwind while luxuriating in the lush environs that make up your villa. The extra-large bed is so enormous; my daughter sleeps diagonally across it without disturbing me. Every night after your sunset cruise, a bubble-bath awaits your return, where you can soak the day away.
An exciting addition to the Royal Chundu experience is the Treehouse, with 42 wooden steps leading up to a platform overlooking an expanse of the Zambezi, perfectly positioned to watch the sun sink deep into the treetops every night. This is our ‘sunset cruise,’ with the best view I have experienced in a long time. We are enjoying our snacks and drinks while admiring the handiwork of constructing this little slice of paradise, which is also a sleepout, complete with a four-poster bed, mosquito netting, bucket shower, toilet and the softest bedding imaginable.
It would be remiss in visiting Zambia and not see the mighty Victoria Falls. Even better from a vantage point up in the sky. You guessed it – a helicopter flight! At United Air Charter, they strive to make your jaw drop with their Flight of Angels over the Victoria Falls. My daughter and I couldn’t be happier that we get to enjoy this once-in-lifetime experience together.
Following a safety briefing at the United Air Charter’s welcome lounge, Baobab Ridge, we depart with pilot Steph for our 15-minute flight over the Falls. Seated in the black EC120B Eurocopter, we witness the breathtaking majesty of ‘The Smoke that Thunders’ while flying above it and Steph explaining through our headsets what we are seeing. What a magical way to see the Victoria Falls, ending our Zambian visit on a high note (pun intended).
We return to Royal Chundu Island Lodge for our last night before heading back to Cape Town. The warmth of the staff, the friendly smiles, the hospitality, and the sincere kindness they portray make it hard to leave. As Assistant General Manager, Hessah Silwebbe hugs us goodbye, he invites us back, because, “this is your home, you are welcome anytime.”
Our road transfer takes us back to Zimbabwe, where we are looking forward to sharing our remarkable impressions of Zambia with our family back home. Leaving from Victoria Falls International Airport, we know our journey home will be a good one on the exceptional Airlink Embraer E-Jet. With friendly onboard service, a delicious meal, and a drink to quench your thirst, Airlink makes getting to your destination smooth and hassle-free. Landing earlier than anticipated, we depart when all passengers are seated, arriving at Cape Town International Airport 30 minutes ahead of schedule, much to the joy of visitors wanting to explore the beautiful Mother City.
*** Views expressed are the author’s own. Thank you to Salwa Birtles for arranging our stay and to Tina Aponte for hosting us at Royal Chundu.
- Zambia is situated in a malaria area. Consult your healthcare practitioner about prophylactics.
- Visitors require a VISA when entering Zimbabwe and Zambia.
- Credit card facilities are available at Royal Chundu.
Airlink – How to Get There
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.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA, travelers can connect conveniently, effortlessly, and seamlessly, with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of the South African Airways Loyalty program -Voyager.
Discover more: www.flyairlink.com