As I mentioned here, Carmen once told me “you either have a heart for Africa or you don’t”.
During my trip I did two sunrise cruises at the Old Drift Lodge, and both were spectacular. The boat sets sail from the jetty shortly after 05:30 AM, but dawn breaks much earlier, meaning me getting up at 04:30 AM to catch the first light, which changes from dark shades of blue to warm oranges and then fiery red, with a touch of purple. If I hadn’t had a heart for Africa before, I would have after seeing the magnificent sunrises.
I cannot put into words the feeling that being on the water as the sun begins to rise brings. The water is so calm, a mirror of only beautiful reflections and yet there is an underlying excitement within which surfaces when a pod of hippos does the same, although I did get a huge fright one morning while taking photos (from above, on the jetty) when a hippo decided to make his presence known to me, but the river was so calm, even his reflection was captured on camera.
Both morning cruises, Fanwell was the guide. He is friendly, well-versed with the birdlife and game along the river, and he is a good boat Captain to boot.
The first cruise I shared with a South African couple, Marko and Maryke, from Pretoria, both keen bird watchers. As we sailed up and down the river, we saw many birds, many of which were firsts for the pair.
I recall great excitement and joy when they saw a Lesser Jacana, and a bird with bright reddish orange feet (and beak) which name I can’t remember, but Marko told me that what I was seeing was something truly special.
We saw Maribou Storks nesting in the high treetops, and an array of other water birds, including a Black Heron, which Maryke explained to me, spreads its wings to form an ‘umbrella shadow’. The little fish swim towards the shade and before they know it, breakfast is served and they’re it!
There are also many Water Berry trees on the banks of the river. Their roots are exposed during the drier months, but when the rain comes and the river rises, their roots are covered entirely and the don’t drown. How incredible is that?
My last morning at the lodge, I went out on a solo trip with Fanwell and again we saw much birdlife. I was so lost in the serenity of it all, at peace for the first time in as long as I can remember, that I almost forgot to take photos.
It was only when a lone hippo (not the same one from the jetty) stepped out of the shallows that I grabbed my phone to snap a picture of it.
We saw a few crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, with some white billed ducks keeping a close eye from what I don’t think was a safe enough distance. To me, crocodiles always look dead, but I’ve seen how quickly they can move. They are reptiles not to be trifled with.
We heard the call of an African Fish Eagle, and while we spotted him with the help of binoculars, I couldn’t get close enough to get a picture. I was a little sad about that because again, The Toppie and The Bean would have loved to see it. I did get to see a Water Buck drinking on the banks, which was a super consolation prize.
The Zambezi is known as mighty, and it is. But for me, it is a soul-restorer too.
Arriving at the five star Old Drift Lodge was an experience in itself. I was welcomed by the Manager on Duty, Farai and the resident “Granny”, Hilda, who is learning the ropes. To ward of the sweltering heat, I was given a cool, damp towel and my suitcase was whisked off to my quarters, while I was checked in, over my first (of what would be a few) cocktails.
The main area of the lodge, where all meals are served, overlooks the Zambezi River. The furnishings are classy and comfortable. The décor speaks to the history of the Old Drift Town, and has the touch of Africa visible throughout, with chessboards that have wild animal pieces.
Every day the lodge has brainteasers up on the chalkboard, which is a great way to get the travellers (which are from all corners of the Globe) to interact with one another.
I was escorted to my accommodation by Granny and taken aback by the size of it. The king size bed was covered in crisp white linen, and there was an elephant made out of the towels on my bed, along with a personalized note, welcoming me to the lodge.
I was given a quick tour of the lodgings and told that if I needed anything (including a change to the beverages in the minibar), it would be arranged. I tested the theory by asking for a bath to be drawn for me upon a return from an excursion my last evening, and it exceeded my expectations.
While the lodge specializes in being a couples-destination, the luxury tents are able to sleep four persons: two on the king size bed, and two more on twin beds, in a separate room. My personal feeling is that this is not the sort of place to bring small children, given the wild animals roaming around, and because the idea is to retreat from life and truly rewind.
The bathroom boasts beautiful his-and-hers handbasins, made of copper.
There is a large indoor shower, as well as one outside. What sold me on this lodge (and I considered a few!) was the outdoor bathtub. Who wouldn’t want an indulgent bubble-bath, while overlooking the Zambezi, with the possibility of view game as an added bonus?
If you’re wanting to cool down, every room is equipped with its own private splash pool; sometimes used by the passing elephants to grab a drink. If this happens and the water is left a bit murky ‘n muddy, one call to reception is all it takes for it to be turned back into sparkling blue. On my last day, I enjoyed an ice-cold local ale, Zambezi Lager in the pool.
After dinner every evening, each resident is accompanied to their room by a ranger, in case there are wild animals roaming about. This is a requirement of the National Parks Authority, and a necessary one. One evening there were both Cape Water Buffalo and a herd of elephants roaming around the lodge.
I had a busy time during my holiday, wanting to do as much as I could in the short time I was in Victoria Falls, but the staff at the lodge are flexible and always willing to help. For example, lunch is served between 13:00 and 15:00, but if one arrives back from an excursion a bit later, something to nibble on can be arranged.
The lodge offers sunrise-, and sunset cruises (whether a single person, or a number of people) are booked, as well as game drives, and nature walk safaris. The sunrise cruises include coffee, hot chocolate, and tea for your enjoyment on the river. For those that can’t resist, there is Amarula for the coffee too. Oh, and the most delicious biscuits too; the oats crunchies are dangerously addictive!
During afternoon excursions, there are alcoholic beverages available – on the sunrise cruise you can enjoy a sundowner while you gently chug along, and the game drive has a pop-up bar somewhere along the route, where travellers can sip on something cold, enjoy some bite-size snacks and soak up the breathtaking view.
All the guides that accompany guests on the excursion are extremely knowledgeable of the area, the animals and the vast array of birdlife that can be found in- and around the lodge.
The meals at the lodge are next-level delicious! Chef Gabriel and his team indeed know their onions. The menu is a five-day rotational one, as Farai explained to me, but if there is something specific a guest would like to have, it is easily arranged.
Breakfast is a continental one to begin with, and guests can order an assortment of hot meals, which are prepare to order. I had eggs benedict one morning, and the Rangers’ breakfast the next. One thing that I love about the meals served is that the hot meals are served on hot plates, keeping the food warm throughout.
At every meal, Chef Gabriel makes a turn at the tables to make sure the guests are enjoying their meals. The waitstaff are polite and always at the ready to fill your water glass or get you a drink to have with your meal. I only had lunch at the lodge once, given my hectic schedule. It was Fillet of Tilapia (one of the 80 types of fish found in the Zambezi).
The dinners at the lodge are a culinary experience, with a selection that caters to all tastes.
I had dinner on two of the three evenings I was at the lodge (as I attended a dinner excursion on the Bushtracks Express one evening).
The travel agent that booked my stay at the lodge is a friend, and mentioned to them that I was coming to Victoria Falls as a to-myself-from-myself-40th-birthday-present. On the last night I was there, the manager on duty, Lessley, joined me for dessert. Halfway through that cheesecake, all the staff on duty came out singing “Happy Birthday”. For a minute I thought it was Lessley’s special day, but it turned out that I had been blessed with a birthday cake, which I was quite willing to share with the other guests, but they were all “well fed” with no extra space for cake. I ate a piece and had the rest divided amongst the staff.
On my last night, I came back to my room to find an envelope with my name on it, and a note inside. Again, it could have just read “room 6”, but that personal touch made it special.
I wish I could remember everyone’s names to thank them individually for their incredible hospitality, but for fear of (unintentionally) leaving someone out, I am simply going to say a universal “thank you!” to everyone at Old Drift. Being at the lodge has opened my eyes to the beauty of Victoria Falls town, the Mighty Zambezi and given me renewed hope for the future. I arrived at the lodge as a weary stranger, but left feeling like part of the Old Drift family. I’ve left a part of my heart there.
You may be rated as five-star by travel standards, but in my book, you’re a 10 out of 5 😀
Thank you for the memories! Ones I will treasure forever.