March 6, 2023
LAVISH LOLEBEZI – setting new standards for luxury safaris in Zambia
The Lower Zambezi valley, with its majestic escarpment sloping down to meet the river, protects a massive rift in the earth’s crust through which the Zambezi River flows. Over millennia, mineral-rich volcanic soils, deposited by the river, have given rise to lush vegetation, while the many channels and oxbow lakes attract an array of wildlife.
The 4,092 km² Lower Zambezi National Park lies on the northern bank of the Zambezi River in south-eastern Zambia. Until 1983, when the area was declared a national park, it was the private game reserve of Zambia’s president, which has resulted in the area being protected from the ravages of mass tourism, leaving it a relatively pristine wilderness.
The park itself is surrounded by a much larger Game Management Area (GMA), there are no fences between the two, and animals are free to roam throughout the entire area. One of the primary attractions of the Lower Zambezi National Park and the surrounding GMA is its remote location. The Muchinga escarpment to the north acts as a physical barrier, and the bulk of the park consists of hilly ground. As a result, most of the game is concentrated on the valley floor, in the flat alluvial plains beside the deep, wide river.
Lolebezi, the latest member of the African Bush Camps family, and the Lower Zambezi’s newest camp, is wild and remote – without doubt one of the most luxurious and spectacular lodges I’ve ever visited. A short drive from the Jeki airstrip and spread out under a canopy of trees, with a kilometre of private river frontage on the Zambezi, Lolebezi takes going on safari to a whole new level. Set within five hectares of protected wilderness, with four elegant suites and two double family units, each with their own private plunge pool and outdoor lounge area, the attention to detail is incredible. The lodge was designed by renowned Fox Browne Creative who, working closely with local artisans, created custom pieces, that include Kaonde tribal stools, Zambian basket weave inspired features, and incorporate various copper elements, for which Zambia is known. Gym, spa, yoga deck, juice and smoothie bar, games room; beautiful furnishings throughout, delicious (Halaal-friendly) dining, and a fabulous, friendly team of staff and knowledgeable guides.
Lolebezi marries the carefully designed luxury of world-class safari camp, with the excitement that can only be found in the African bush. Standing in our bathroom we watched a huge bull elephant, mere metres away, break branches from an overhanging tree and consume them contemplatively. Lying in bed that night we heard hyenas growl and giggle as they prowled the darkness, and hippos stomped and splashed as they left the river to graze on dry land.
Driving through the park, a leopard sauntered down the sandy road in front of us, a family of elephants slipped almost silently through the undergrowth, and a herd of buffalo watched us mutely. Seven lions lay in the shade, their mouths smeared with blood from an earlier meal. Nearer to camp, waterbuck, warthog impala and kudu filled the Winterthorn forest. Our attention is drawn to a troop of baboons, shrieking and shouting. Some climb to the top of anthills, others stand on their hind legs, all are trying to get a better vantage point. One large male baboon climbs a tree and jumping up and down, shakes the branches vigorously. Driving closer we can see the distinctive mottled markings of an African wild dog’s coat. Slightly hidden in the long grass he’s killed a young impala. It’s unusual for wild dogs to hunt alone and after only gulping down a few mouthfuls of meat he stands up and, sniffing the breeze, heads off at a trot in the direction of some distant hills, presumably to find the rest of his pack. We wait in vain to see if they will return. Either the rest of the pack elude him, or they’ve already had a successful hunt of their own; either way, they never return.
For a change of scene, we head out on the river. Some to fish, for tiger, bream and catfish, and some just to enjoy the scenery and sip a Gin & Tonic, as the sun sinks lower in the sky. We pass small islands and sand banks, fish eagles call overhead and kingfishers hover and dive, doing some fishing of their own. A group of elephants waded across a river channel, all but one stepping confidently into the water. The final elephant, clearly reticent to cross, tests the water, first with her toes and then with her trunk, before changing her mind and turning to clamber back up the way she’d come. Tiger fish are caught and released again, sundowners are drunk and snacks are consumed, the sky turns scarlet and we turn to head back to camp.
The next day was to be our last, and our final lunch was certainly done in style. A ’picnic lunch’ on the riverbank was given the Lolebezi touch of glamour. Proper tables and chairs, crisp white table clothes and napkins, glistening glasses of chilled wine, knives and forks wrapped in monogrammed leather cutlery rolls; all this as hippos serenaded us from the water, in their own distinctive way. For a touch of safari chic, luxurious Lolebezi is definitely the spot to be.
Written by Sarah Kingdom