If staying on the edge of the Zambezi River and visiting Victoria Falls are on your Bucket List, then make a cup of tea, sit down and get comfortable…
The Royal Livingstone Hotel sits in the 46-hectare Mosi-oa-Tunya national park, about a kilometre upstream from the Victoria Falls, where zebra wander onto the front lawn beside the swimming pool to graze at dusk.
We were warned not to go near them – they’re wild animals afterall – so everyone just carries on with their gin and tonic as if it’s perfectly normal.
Oh, and gin and tonic is practically prescriptive here. The quinine, they say, helps to keep mosquitos at bay. Not that I’ve been bitten, and they say there are none, but a girl can never be too sure here on the banks of the mighty Zambezi. I’ve got malaria tabs, but didn’t take them in the end. Just made sure I had repellant on.
The tiny Livingstone International Airport is smaller than Napier and we were met by a singing choir – kinda like the way you’re met by smiling ukelele playing blokes in the Pacific Islands. After a small hoopla with passports, visas and our guide taking care of everything, we took a short coach ride to the mighty Zambezi River where we met a water taxi for our ride to the lodge.
Hippos peeped out of the water and we watched an elephant walk out of the river and onto the bank, dangerously close to a fisherman. We’re not sure if they’d seen each other, but luckily elephants have notoriously bad eyesight. This is not the spot for swimming – we’re about 5 kilometres from the falls and the current is not to be messed with. Besides, with hippos (the most dangerous animal in Africa) and crocodiles in the water, who would?
We roared up to the sand bank at the resort and our luggage had already arrived by road. A fruit cocktail was waiting, as were three girls from the spa to give us all hand massages. I could be very happy here, I thought as the mist in the distance showed how close we were to the mighty falls.
The river bank has large jagged boulders embedded in the grass to keep the soft footed hippopotamus and elephant from deciding to call in. It may be a national park, but they can just swim on by thank you very much. We are warned to keep our doors closed at all times because many a guest has had their room ransacked and stuff stolen (including a designer shirt) by cheeky monkeys. And sure enough, the next morning I was chased inside by one who had seen me drinking a cup of tea on my balcony. Suddenly there were six of them. I tried to shoo them on, but when one turned and hissed I thought, right0, and retreated inside leaving my hot tea on the table – which he sipped and stirred with his tiny human-like hand.
Zambia is the more favoured country from which to see the falls with the political unrest in Zimbabwe keeping many travellers away, and of course, this is where they were first discovered by the white man. Dr David Livingstone, the Scottish preacher and explorer, came here in 1855 and after returning home and spreading the word about the majestic rawness of these falls that shimmer with rainbows in the mist, tourism grew. Originally called Mosi Oa Tunya, meaning the Smoke that Thunders, both names are used today.
I was more about the river-side massage and obligatory cocktails at sunset, but fearless adrenalin seekers can bungy jump off the Victoria Falls Gateway Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe (you’ll need your passport), white-water raft or jet boat on the Batoka Gorge, and the truly mad can go out to David Livingstone Island in the dry season and jump off the top of the falls into a tiny swimming hole. (See video of them leaping into the Devil’s Pool here >>>) Me, I’d rather have another gin and tonic, thanks.
There is a path leading to the falls from the resort and if you walk quietly enough you’ll be able to get wonderful photos of grazing giraffes – and other wildlife. At the entrance to the falls (free admission for resort guests) is a craft market full of local handicrafts. I bought a big wooden platter from Alick, who carved his name into the base for me.
One of the things I was most impressed with about the Royal Livingstone and the Sun International hotel group is their community involvement. It’s all very nice having a 5-star property and welcoming 5-star guests, but we got the chance to visit some of the projects they support – a vege farm with blind employees that is subsidised by the hotel and they also buy the produce for their restaurant, we visited the local AIDs hospital where I was moved to tears and had to step outside, and an orphanage – it’s great to feel your stay at the resort actually benefits the local village.