Victoria Falls Safari Lodge& where elephants are free to roam and action junkies are free to 'fall'.

From : .iol.co.za

“Pick it up Jock, pick it up!” urged Samson. Jock, the 30-year-old tusker, obliged, reaching down with his trunk and retrieving the dropped camera lens cap, handing it to his handler.

It would be hard to choose a favourite memory from our visit to Victoria Falls in north-western Zimbabwe and Chobe in Botswana, but interacting with and riding an elephant would be one of them. And, I was assured, should I return in five years Jock will remember me too.

I then met Sylvester the cheetah at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, where I experienced a jam-packed day of activities.

I had to put my trust in the gorge swing rope as I jumped. I was too terrified to scream – this was my last breath after all, and I wasn’t wasting it. I got gloriously drenched by the upward blasting spray at the falls.

There was the stupendous sunset with elephants meandering to the watering hole as seen from the deck at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge accompanied by the delicious food at MaKuwa-Kuwa restaurant. Wow!

Other days were equally “wow” as we explored the greater Victoria Falls area courtesy of Wild Horizons, a one-stop ground handling and activity provider offering a vast array of adrenalin junkie and educational options, including white water rafting, canoe safaris and helicopter flips.

iol travel april 22  nt Ngoma Deck DinnerThe deck at Ngoma Safari Lodge in Botswana.

INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is quite a hub, not only for tourists from across the globe but for conservation initiatives such as the Victoria Falls Anti Poaching Unit and the tourism police.

And of course there’s the Boma – Place of Eating, which serves a varied spread of African fare.

Dizzyingly stimulated, we drove into Botswana and headed for Ngoma Safari Lodge just 3km from Chobe National Park.

Ngoma is an intimate, remote, luxury lodge.

Both Victoria Falls Safari Lodge and Ngoma Safari Lodge fall under the Africa Albida Tourism umbrella. They are very different yet they share one thing – besides staff who go beyond the norm – and that is the immensity of their surroundings.

While there are much bigger wildlife reserves elsewhere – Kruger, for example – they are generally fenced, whereas at the confluence of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana, they aren’t. This means it’s quite normal to see a warthog in a park in the middle of town, or elephants crossing the road. The blending of vast swathes of wilderness with sparsely dotted human habitation really gives a different perspective – this is not a man’s world but a world of animals.

That said, man has had some unfortunate effects. Rhino poaching is not an issue here. They were eliminated many years ago. However, the real king of the beasts is the elephant. The last tally from Elephants Without Borders put Chobe’s population at 100 000, compared with 45 000 in 1990.

Our excellent guide, Synack Nawa, informed us the park is also home to a diversity of flora as well as 75 mammal species and more than 450 bird species.

The game drives were unlike any I’ve experienced. Flora and fauna I’d not seen before such as the lechwe and web-footed situtunga (antelope) share river banks with fisher-folk who subsist within the reserve. It was unusual to witness wildlife so unfussed about humans in their midst.

Thanks to the phenomenal talent of Paddington Muguza (may he succeed in his aspiration to be a BBC TV chef), our stomachs were kept full and contented. Sitting on the deck under the baobab at sunset, gazing down and over the plain and river towards Namibia, we raised our glasses – gin and tonics, of course – to the rare treat that is Ngoma Safari Lodge.

The fantastic light show that night was something equally worth toasting. We all threw open the curtains of our impeccably appointed suites to witness the fury and splendour of a magnificent storm.

It was also the little things that counted on our trip: our driver swerving on the highway to avoid a shongololo; the flurry of various species of incensed birds banding together to harass a boomslang with such twittering ferocity that it abandoned its quest for nestbound chicks; the groups of little yellow butterflies along the park roads. Parting was such sweet sorrow.

l For more information and reservations visit www.africaalbidatourism.com or e-mail aatreservations@saflodge.co.zw/ saflodge@saflodge.co.zw – Sunday Tribune