Victoria Falls, Chobe, and Savute Safari

posted 24th June 2017 by Danica Wilson in Insider Scoop

Encompass Africa on Safari

A five night safari in Zimbabwe and Botswana was savoured by Danica, Jonathon and travel editor Ginny Cumming in May 2017.  ‘We were blessed with decent weather, great guides and sensational company of course so it was a wonderful five days on safari.’

Check out the digital itinerary

We travelled in Botswana Green Season

Being ‘green season’ there was some cloud and a little rain. The wonderful rewards of this time of year though if you’re not put off by a few hours of doltish weather included:

  • full waters at Victoria Falls, so you get very wet from the spray and it’s the best time to do a scenic helicopter flight over the Falls
  • brilliant canoeing safari conditions on the upper Zambezi
  • lush landscapes and wonderful African wildlife encounters in the Chobe and Savute.
  • Less tourists around in general during green season

Safari Adventure Activities

Adventure abounds and green season is ideal for scenic helicopter flights. Danica’s passion is helicopter flights, so we had three in eight days – Victoria Falls, Okavango Delta (doors off no less), and Cape Town. Why? Well these are three of Southern Africa’s most iconic locations, and from the air, each one has a completely different perspective.

On the adventure subject, we also threw ourselves off the gorge at Victoria Falls with a gorge swing.  All three of us loved the swing once we jumped off the edge. Summing up the courage wasn’t easy however, especially standing on the precipice with nothing but a harness around you and a rope to hang onto ever so tightly! The fall literally takes your breath away and once you start the swinging
the experience is magical. Rushing water underneath you, cliffs all around you, and for us, and industry friends at the café laughing at your childish squeals.

Touring the Falls at this time of year is really special, not least because you get drenched. There is something really powerful in the sound of that much water plummeting over the edge of the cliffs. Not even a raincoat keeps your body dry as water sprays in all directions.

Victoria Falls Accommodation:

Little Gorges

We stayed at Little Gorges while in Victoria Falls, a fantastic property 45 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of town with a fully inclusive stay. This is ideal if you want to get out of town, have a fully inclusive offering and a diversity of activities to choose from, already included.

Victoria Falls accommodation here is tented and right on the edge of the gorge, so you can imagine the views. Activity inclusions are impressive with village and school visits, gorge walk and canapés, tour of the Falls, and habituated eagle demonstration to name a few. Food here is homely and delicious, the and service is down to earth and so friendly without being intrusive, just the way we like it. I immediately felt relaxed and at home. There is a regular evening performance by the local dance group prior to dinner where guests sit and watch plus interact with drums provided. You will get pulled up to dance so be prepared for that and they collect tips that go to the community and education of their children.

Here’s a short video on the property filmed back in 2016 to give you that gorge perspective.

Zambezi National Park Accommodation:

Zambezi Sands River Camp

Our next stop was Zambezi Sands River Camp, and we had the honour of meeting one of the property shareholders, Butch, who is a passionate local committed to Zimbabwe’s people, wilderness and wildlife. We spent time together canoeing, boating and planning fantastic itineraries for some of our Aussie canoeing lovers.

So if that interests you please do get in touch! Just imagine canoeing into a stunning river front-tented camp, greeted by sundowners on the deck over the water and a hearty dinner by the fire. Enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep before setting off again in the canoes downstream with fly camping for one night. Your final day canoeing takes you into Victoria Falls (not literally, we stop outside of course!).

This is a hidden gem, not somewhere you’d go for a big five safari but certainly an ideal getaway with land and water activities, great guides, a beautiful setting, and fabulous tents with ensuite bathrooms, private deck and plunge pool. I sat on the deck with my feet dangling in the pool and relaxing as a pod of hippo popped up and proceeded to feed right in front of me (literally two metres!).

Zambezi Sands River Camp is inside Zambezi National Park, a relatively quiet safari location as it is often overlooked by its more media promoted and supposedly impressive neighbours. Here, we certainly found a place of genuine luxury and calm. Wildlife wasn’t abundant in green season because water is everywhere throughout the National Park, yet we did have elephants loitering through camp, hippo, waterbuck and lions calling in the night. Birding was impressive and whilst canoeing we saw over thirty different species without even trying.

There are just eight enormous tentes so it’s an intimate affair. We didn’t get time to test out all of the activities, but so you know, there are game drives, walking safaris, canoeing, fishing, boating, and bush breakfasts. My favourite moment was canoeing up to the river bank where a hot breakfast was cooked and served.

Check out the video of Zambezi Sands River Camp to get a little more perspective.

Chobe National Park Accommodation:

Chobe Bakwena Lodge

Chobe safari was next on the agenda and a road transfer saw us arrive at the border effortlessly. A little bit of patience and a big smile got us easily through and within fifteen minutes we loaded into another vehicle bound for Chobe Bakwena.

As there is only one camp within Chobe National Park (Chobe Game Lodge), Chobe Bakwena is located in Kasane. So for those not wanting to spend the bigger bucks for a Chobe safari experience, Chobe Bakwena is the best alternative. Why do we say it’s the best Chobe accommodation outside the park? See for yourself its river front location (not within national park).

Accommodation at Chobe Bakwena Lodge is fully inclusive. It’s a smaller and down to earth owner run property with small gift shop and office as you first walk in, and then continue onwards to the main area. It’s a lovely open plan space with bar, lounge and dining area. There is a firepit area in front that hosts regular performances from staff who are passionate about sharing stories of their culture. We found everyone so happy and helpful.

The actual accommodations on offer are two types, river chalets or treetop style rooms up on stilts in the canopy. You don’t get clear river views, so it’s more about being in the thick of the landscape. We heard hippo at night and had a regular visitor – a mother and baby antelope. Rooms are all spacious, clean and comfortable.

Now for the actual Chobe as a wildlife destination… it is probably Botswana’s next most well known conservation area beside the Okavango Delta. Chobe National Park has impressive herds of elephant and generous numbers of predators. In the dry season wildlife viewing is brilliant – just keep in mind it gets very busy so you can imagine loads of boats on the river and vehicles in the park. We were there in the green season so it was less busy yet the river safari we had was teeming with boats, so that was a distraction from the animal sightings.

If someone asked about the Chobe, I think I would recommend staying in a more remote area like the Forest Reserve. Here you have properties like Ngoma and Muchenje. Having said that, Chobe Bakwena is a great accommodation I’d easily recommend and certainly stay at again. I think I would add on a different safari operator so you can get away from all of the boat and vehicle traffic.

It’s a photographic-centric operator with a custom built boat for 8 people, each sitting on swivel seats with camera mounts. The emphasis is on wildlife, landscapes and photography. The 4×4 vehicles are unimog style with guides that are knowledgeable and know the best areas and timings. So you immediately escape the other boats and cars.

Savute accommodation:

Ghoha Hills

Next we ventured to the Savute, a region that was once a dry channel yet rains over the past few years have seen more water come down leading to an influx of wildlife and increase in tourism visitation. A property always on our mind yet never in our experience was Ghoha Hills. It is literally perched on one of the country’s only hilltops. So you can imagine the views. Hands down, this was my highlight and exceeded all expectations. It was a two night Botswana safari component that surprised and delighted. Have a look at their promo video to get a taste for what we experienced.

Ghoha Hills

Ticks All the Boxes

Big tick one

Ghoha Hills Safari Lodge is perched high on the eastern side of the Ghoha Hills means 180 degree views across the wilderness to a natural waterhole that attracted birds and wildlife throughout our stay. To the south east of the lodge just an hour away is the Savuti March that teems with wildlife.

Big tick two

Management and guides make or break any safari. Here, you have the most beautiful hosts, professional, well trained and fantastic guides with expertise in wildlife, birdlife, trees and vegetation. All of the team come from nearby villages and so it genuinely supports the local community. Their initial training is all done onsite so they immediately feel part of the team and get that hands on experience from the outset.

 

Big tick three

The design and décor was a safari casual elegance that I adore. An inviting main area up many stairs (so keep in mind it’s not ideal if you don’t have great mobility) has big comfortable lounges, viewing platforms and multiple areas to escape the other guests if solitude is what you seek. The open bar and food service area is against the back wall so everything is looking out to the bush. Down a few steps on another level is the fire pit, which is lit at night with drinks served. We also had a fantastic astronomy lesson with an enormous telescope and got to see stars and planets, even three of the four moons around Saturn.

 

The Adventure Ends….Or does it?

From here we had one last breakfast savouring every morsel and the wilderness views from our hilltop perch before descending down with our guide to the airstrip. We flew to Maun and were met on the tarmac by our representative who helped us to the helicopter hangar for the doors off Okavango flight. This is an all time highlight for both Jonathon and I, and something we will now highly recommend to everyone! It is so much cheaper from Maun as the aircraft are based here. Quick safety briefing and we were up and away. Flying quite low we quickly left Maun behind us and flew over the fenceline signaling the start of the wilderness areas.

From the get go, we saw animals of all kinds, and for those animals we wanted to see intensely, the pilot did a fly around so all passengers had the opportunity to take a photo. It’s not easy photographing and enjoying, so I’ll do it again without the camera for sure. A surprise landing on a Delta island saw is disembark and walk towards the pilot who had the hamper set up and out came a bottle of Moet to celebrate the trip and an early 40th birthday for Jonathon… any excuse for a bottle of bubbles! And this bought us to the end of our adventure. It actually continued on in Cape Town but that’s another story….

Interested in your own Vic Falls, Chobe and or Savute Safari?

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