MATETSI (36 kms from Victoria Falls Airport)
Zambezi River Near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Tel: (+ 263) 13 5949
Fax: (+ 263) 13 2128
One of the more obvious reasons one goes to Africa is to see what the good Dr David Livingstone saw, and named in honour of his queen - a 103m (338 ft) high and 1708m (5604 ft) wide curtain of crashing clean water know as Victoria Falls. And this is arguably a breathtaking one. But another reason to prolong your stay is the magnificent river that feeds it - the mighty Zambezi.
Justifiably listed as one of the Eight Wonders of the World, the Falls occur about halfway between the river's flow from its source in north-western Zambia to its delta on the Mozambique coast. There is the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel (that has incidentally completed a recent fabulous refurbishment) situated so close to the gorge that the mists from the falls regularly drift to it.
But another particularly comfortable way to enjoy this river is to put in at Matetsi, a private game reserve 36 kms away, featuring two accommodation options. 'Safari Camp' is inland, sited to afford unobstructed panoramic views of open grasslands. 'Water Lodge' sits on a stretch of the river that is a natural boundary to Zambia. Each has its respective charms.
'Safari Camp' is a complex of canvas tents … but that's where the 'tent' as in summer camp concept ends. Each 'tent' shelters two huge rooms - a spacious air-conditioned bedroom with floor to ceiling windows that look out on migrating herds of zebra, wildebeest, antelope, jackals, warthogs and birds and beasts that prefer the open savannas. And a purpose-built bathroom for two, fitted out with double copper-clad sinks and deep soaking baths. Each tent has wide wood slat decks on which easy chairs are positioned for lounging or leisure viewing. Adjustable awnings cantilever out to keep the shade where you need it.
The communal social pavilion is comprised of sink-into-pillows lounge seating, and teakwood dining tables scattered on the large wooden deck. The pavilion is shaded by trees and thatch roofs, but open to the breezes of the open savannas. The feeling here is that of utter serenity and calm introspection. Nothing like the bushveld to make you feel small yet significant.
Attentive staff (employee:guest ratio here is a stunning 3:1) tend to all your special needs, like bringing you a snifter of aged brandy to warm up a cool night; or maybe laundry, washed by hand and dried in the sweet open air, under the African sun.
'Water Lodge' comprises a series of 'cabins' strung along the river. Coming through the front door of each cabin, you turn right to a spacious bedroom, with double French doors that open out onto private decks and private plunge pools. Turn left, and you are in an equally spacious, local stone-faced bathroom - with separate vanities, deep soaking tub, indoor shower, and another outside shower, walled for privacy, but open to the sun and scent of the jungle.
The entertainment here is river-oriented: at night, the throaty belly laughter of hippos and frog song. By day, chattering shrews of vervet monkeys compete with truly lyrical birdsong. And you can sail, canoe or raft down the Zambezi from dawn to dusk - but always with your ranger nearby. (To be on or by the river when the waters are ignited by the setting African sun and to see elephants drinking or hippos yawning is simply unforgettable.)
Game Drives tend to wander through the brush and trees of the bush, or by the banks of the Zambezi. Here, elephants, lions and Cape buffalo abound, along with the everywhere impala and kudu.
Meals are plentiful and beautifully presented. Breakfast and lunch may be taken in the communal lappa or al fresco dining decks under the false moppani trees. But quite smartly, the evening meals are always served under the stars and close to the mostly wood-burning grills of the kitchen.
The play of light from torches and candles on the exquisitely laid tables, wonderful choices of local wines, the sounds of the African night, and the optional choice of having your ranger join you at dinner for more post-drive chat is magic.
Matetsi is a member of the Conservation Community of Africa (CCA). While all their staff is committed to sensitively controlled eco-environments, none of them are hell-and-brimstone preachers, but they would be more than happy to be asked. Some of the campfire chats with our highly educated and articulate guide, Peter Gava, were some of the most illuminating exchanges we ever had on the subject.
(For more information on the CCA, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org,za.)