Fronted by the fourth-longest running river in Africa, Thorntree River Lodge is the epitome of luxury with a safari twist whilst the ebb and flow of the mighty Zambezi will leave you breathless.
I’m standing, facing a precipice, looking down at the most incredible magnificence that could ever be imagined. I try counting the goose bumps on my arms, but they have become insurmountable, spreading over my entire body. Having stood here a few times before, the emotion evoked that is gripping me this time around is that of utter joy and wonder. The water of the Victoria Falls is tumbling down the rockface like a gushing mass of whirlpooling liquid, cascading into the air, forming clouds of mistiness and a complete shower immersion should you venture down into the rainforest. Suddenly, the sun makes an appearance and the subsequent presence of a rainbow bears testament to this splendor that is one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders.
Another sublime experience is staying at the newly renovated Thorntree River Lodge. The only African Bush Camps property in Zambia, it will surely leave an indelible mark on the expectations you can harbor at a safari camp. My journey to get to Thorntree River Lodge starts in Zimbabwe, where I cross the border into Zambia and with the expert assistance of Thorntree River Lodge activities manager, Quintino Mbineji, I am well on my way to my destination for the next two nights.
I am met by the very friendly Justina Shanungu, who is my hostess for the duration of my stay. Arriving just in time for lunch, I am famished. My table is set up with a view of the Zambezi and on the menu today is the most delicious butternut soup, butternut salad, vegetable lasagna, chicken breast with sweetcorn and vanilla cake with ice cream, skillfully prepared by sous chef Monte Daka.
My suite looks like something straight out of an architectural magazine – a tented structure with sliding glass doors, providing unobstructed views of the Zambezi and mesh screens to keep any unwanted critters on the outside where they belong. My bed is luxuriously draped in white linen and the wooden finishes complete the glamorous look seamlessly. The huge black and white artwork forms a focal point that offsets the charcoal interior walls to perfection.
Ample in size, my suite comes complete with a seating area, a raised wooden outside deck with loungers, a private pool and a bathroom with an exquisite deep tub, an inside & outside shower, double vanities and a dressing room. No effort was spared in creating a masterful, contemporary dwelling where time stands still and the only rush you will feel is that of the river’s downstream surging.
Time to embark on my river cruise, which has me heading down to the floating timber and steel jetty, where Quintino is waiting to show the prolific birdlife inhabiting the riverine area. Our first encounter is of a wire tailed swallow sitting on a branch and as we move closer to get a better look (and a nice photograph), it stays put. Quintino points towards the low-flung branches of a tree, but I cannot see what he is trying to show me. All of a sudden, my glance meets that of the most imposing African Fish Eagle, waiting to swoop low to catch its next meal fresh out of the river.
Back at the jetty, I am welcomed by staff members who guide me up the lantern-lit wooden staircase to the dining area. Dinner is served in the dining room and tonight’s menu is a veritable feast – salad for starters, beef fillet with fondant potatoes & seasonal vegetables for main course and the most delicious melt-in-your mouth chocolate cheesecake with mini meringues and chocolate ice cream for dessert. Before heading to my suite, I pop in at the library to check my e-mails and make contact with my family through the Wi-Fi connection.
It is time for sleep and after an invigorating shower with the complimentary Healing Earth products, the caressing feeling of the luxurious linen sends me straight to dreamland. Refreshed after a great night’s sleep, I know today is going to be spectacular as it’s Falls day. After a hearty breakfast of croissants, bacon and eggs, Quintino is ready for us to depart. Named after Queen Victoria of Britain, the intrepid explorer David Livingstone paid homage to the ruler of the monarchy by naming the world’s largest sheet of falling water Victoria Falls. It is a sight to behold at any time of the year, but when the rainy season starts, the mass of water that rumbles down the rockface at a rate of 500 million liters per minute produces an overpowering thunderous sound. No wonder they call it ‘The Smoke That Thunders’.
I am asked by Quintino whether I would like to walk down to the rainforest where I will get soaked from head to toe, but since I’m not wearing the appropriate shoes (do not wear flip flops as you could slip), I decide to rather take in the beauty of the Falls from my excellent vantage point while remaining dry.
Another exciting activity is on the cards today and I need my shoes dry for this amazing experience – tracking rhinos on foot. Securely protected by armed guards, it is the most heartwarming encounter to see them peacefully grazing in their rightful environment, safe from harm and poaching.
Making our way back to camp through the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park, we spot a wood sandpiper, a little egret, some black herons, spar winged geese, a few white face whistling ducks, impalas, wildebeest, zebra with their young and a lone rogue elephant disappearing into the overgrown shrubbery.
At Thorntree River Lodge, it would be remiss not to wax lyrical about the incredible lodge that was completely demolished and rebuilt within a year. The interiors are the handiwork of Fox Browne Creative in Johannesburg, South Africa. With a brief of creating a new Zambezi experience for African Bush Camps guests, they set to work to present the classic river cabins in a new way, inspired by the old explorer boats plying African rivers and lakes. The river itself came as a huge source of inspiration and was also the dictating factor for the moody blue palette.
Wanting to layer interesting textures, Zambian artefacts, bespoke and vintage furniture, Fox Browne has given Thorntree River Lodge guests the ultimate feeling of being at home. With extreme weather conditions of very cold winters and really hot summers, the design had to run according to these climatic changes, allowing the rooms to open up completely in summer to let in the cool breeze whilst closing up in totality during winter to allow a cocoon-like space for guests to almost hibernate.
Tenthouse Structures in Cape Town, South Africa secured the structural brilliance at Thorntree River Lodge, creating cutting-edge design and sustainable building solutions for this project. Incorporating a unique portrait layout for the contemporary glass-fronted accommodation units, THS architect, Michael Kornmüller (project co-designer) beckons nature inside whilst presenting unlimited views of the river from within. Providing flat-pack, lightweight rigid wall systems, pre-fabricated bathroom pods and compact fabric elements, they have addressed the unique impact constraints imposed by the sensitive World Heritage Site and river location.
Structural, insulated paneling provides superior thermal comfort in both hot and cold conditions. Tasteful security sliding mesh screens, necessitated by the active wildlife around the camp, ensure guest safety. Sleek floor-to-apex glazed facades are finished with handcrafted sailcloth canopies, adding a light and ephemeral quality to the modern design at Thorntree River Lodge.
The great trek to go home starts early, to ensure that I have enough time to cross the Zambian and Zimbabwean borders in time for my direct Airlink flight from Victoria Falls Airport back to Cape Town International Airport. Since it is a Sunday morning, not too many people are queuing to make their way into Zimbabwe. At Victoria Falls International Airport, I check in at the Airlink counter where a friendly staff member hands me my boarding pass. The Embraer 135 touches down on the tarmac and with a quick turnaround time which includes refueling, we are on our way to Cape Town.
What started off as a dream for visionary and African Bush Camps owner Beks Ndlovu has developed into one of the cornerstones of the African safari scene. Hard work, meticulous planning, a business brain and a dollop of luck has made African Bush Camps the multi-faceted company it is today.
| Photographs courtesy of African Bush Camps and by Heléne Ramackers
*** Views expressed are the author’s own.
*** Thank you to Jemma Macmillan from African Bush Camps for making all my arrangements and to Thorntree River Lodge for hosting me.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Airlink is a privately owned airline business. The Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA
Route Specific Information: Travel extraordinary with Airlink’s direct flights, between Cape Town and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Combine iconic Cape Town with the majestic Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, or take the opportunity to travel onwards to Hwange National Park to see wild dog, lion, leopard and cheetah. Travel onwards to other key leisure destinations such as Chobe, the Okavango Delta, the Kruger National Park, or even visit an Indian Ocean Island in Mozambique – Bazaruto or Benguerra.
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travelers connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme – Voyager.
Flight Bookings: Online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations on +27 11 978 1111.
* Thorntree River Lodge is situated in a malaria area. Speak to your healthcare practitioner about prophylactics.
* US Visitors need a Visa when entering Zimbabwe.
* US Dollars are widely accepted as well as major credit cards.