The Zambezi River in Zambia draws an abundance of game and birds, making for exceptionally good safari sightings and spectacular sunset reflections. In the water, vast numbers of hippos submerge and resurface with plumes of spray jetting from their nostrils. Their loud honking, snorting and wheezing is a characteristic sound of the wild. On cooler days and at night, the hippos graze on the grassy banks, revealing their stubby legs and ponderous bodies. As lagoons and channels dry up, Nile crocodiles walk to the main river, to find new territory and to bask on the sand banks.
Image by Rachel Rebibo
During adventurous canoeing expeditions and a leisurely cruise along the perennial Zambezi River, I drift past elephants as they drink and bathe, shaggy-coated waterbuck, sizeable herds of impala and a profusion of water birds in the Phragmites reeds. I just miss the lions that were padding on the riverbank near to the camp.
Anabezi Camp has the perfect location to explore this remote wilderness. Set on the banks of the Zambezi River, surrounded by Winterthorn (or Ana) Forest, each of the twelve tented suites - with raised timber decks - has a splendid view over a flat alluvial plain. Outside my suite, a solitary elephant bull visits me daily, to browse on a Winterthorn tree. He stretches his trunk up as high as he can, to strip off remaining branches. Pushing on the rough bark of the Winterthorn’s trunk, he manages to dislodge curled, twisted seedpods that tumble down to his padded feet. We watch each other as I cool off in my private plunge pool, then laze on a sun lounger. When this mature male lumbers off, I am entertained by African sacred ibis as they dig their scythe-shaped beaks into muddy pools, searching for worms and frogs. Black-headed heron stand mime-artist still, waiting for fish. Bush music includes the resoundingly clear call of the African fish eagle. After lingering in my outdoor shower, set under the canopy of a Rain tree, I stroll to the Zambezi Deck for lunch.
Image by Gillian McLaren
An elevated walkway joins the tented suites to the two communal areas that each have a dining deck, lounge, bar and a swimming pool. The Mushika Deck, with views of the Mushika River flood plain, is ideal for families with children. As the tents are set far apart for maximum privacy and quietude, the walk gives an opportunity to observe family interactions between Yellow baboons, warthogs foraging on their knees and shy impala. Squirrels dash along the walkway, as lizards soak up rays of sunlight.
Delicious bush cuisine, a fusion of African and European elements, is prepared with fresh ingredients for lunch and dinner. Much of the produce is sourced from Zambezi Harvest, Anabezi Camp’s community agriculture project up the river in the Chiawa Game Management Area. A fine selection of premium South African wines is available and a barman whips up cocktails. In addition, a fresh cake is baked daily in time for a splendid high tea. Talk about pampering!
The entire camp has an atmosphere of tranquil, unpretentious luxury. With suites, communal areas and the wide walkway being on the same level, Anabezi Camp is well suited to guests in their wheelchairs. Staff are consistently kind and attentive, yet unobtrusive, so would give joyful assistance to disabled guests when needed. Hospitality par excellence ensures that guests are content and have their personal preferences considered.
The high concentration of leopards, aided by the open ground of the Winterthorn Forest, makes it highly likely to have multiple sightings of these lithe cats. The predator population is so dense, that jackals are not found in the area. Up in the early morning, after a fortifying coffee and light breakfast, we head out into the wilds in an open-sided game vehicle. After four days of finding leopard on every excursion, I begin to recognise individuals by their distinctive behaviour and unique features. I looks forward to discovering more details about their lives lives and will ask my guide for for updates once I leave. As one young leopard has given birth, there is eager anticipation for a glimpse of the cub when the mother moves it to a new den site.
An unusually large pack of 45 endangered African wild dogs has recently split up. The remaining 23 painted wolves are denning near to Anabezi Camp, so speculation is rife about when the alpha female will reveal her pups. It’s adrenalising to follow these carnivores as they hunt, then - exhausted from the chase - they flop down near to one another to refresh their stamina.
After each game drive I am met by a hostess, who hands me an iced face towel and shows a keen interest in my experiences in the wild. I savor the time to linger in my suite. After a leisurely bath with scented salts - in my indoor bathroom - I relax in the well-appointed lounge area, to peruse a coffee table book on Zambia and to re-live the day’s action through my photographs. Floor to ceiling gauze in the front of my casually elegant tent ensure clear views of the flood plain and Zambezi River.
Anabezi Camp is unfenced, which means that any big game can enter the area and it does! When I am escorted back to my suite after yet another delectable dinner, I look out for small nocturnal creatures like Large spotted genet, or perhaps an African civet. The milky way is a bridal canopy over the escarpment in the distance. A night symphony includes the unmistakeable call of Verreaux’s eagle-owl, with its deep nasal notes. Crickets and cicadas buzz, a young baboon screeches with indignation - probably being disciplined by its mother - hippos vocalise in a broad spectrum of frequencies, with raucous grumbles, grunts and bellows.
For more features by Gillian McLaren: http://www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com
From Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Proflight Zambia offers a two hour flight to Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka. The Bombardier CRJ 100/200 is comfortable, with ample leg room, overhead stowage and space below the seat to store my backpack with cameras. A light, cold in-flight meal is served, with a choice of fruit juice, coffee, tea, water or beer. All food is halal.
From Lusaka to Jeki Airstrip is a pleasant 35 minute flight with Proflight Zambia. Snacks and soft drinks are provided. The flight over the Zambezi River is breathtaking in its beauty! Anabezi Camp provides pickup and transport from Jeki Airstrip. As the journey is in an open game vehicle, I have my binoculars ready, as the game viewing and bird watching begins on the transfer.
The Urban Lusaka
For an overnight stay in Lusaka, during your trip to Zambia, I recommend The Urban Lusaka. This sophisticated hotel is sited in the pretty diplomatic area, 30 minutes from Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, within walking distance from two shopping centers. Minimalist rooms with a shower - in pencil-carbon black, charcoal and white hues - have views of the cityscape. A buffet breakfast is included. A la carte dinner includes vegetarian options. I savor the renowned Zambia Beef. The in-house bar is a chic, festive space, to meet fellow guests if you would like a convivial evening.
Text by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
Images by Rachel Rebibo (@rachelrebibo) and Gillian McLaren
Also read: Immerse in Nature, Walk in the Wild, Restore the Soul: Tena Tena Camp, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia