Wildlife and waterfalls on the banks of the Zambezi
Boat safaris, canoeing and fishing
08 Aug 2018
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Continuing our epic cycling adventure from Equator to Cape, we reached Victoria Falls and decided to stop for a couple of days at Thorntree River Lodge on the banks of the Zambezi. We’d cycled 90km that day and were ready for a bit of luxury and some wildlife spotting.
After settling in, 4pm rolled around and it was time to take to the river for sundowners. This was our first time meeting Eezy, master of the waters at Thorntree. He welcomed us aboard his boat with a grin and it was clear to see that he was loving his job. We took our seats at the front of the six-seater private boat and set off upstream.
As we traversed the rapids and scooted around the islands, Eezy told us more about the Zambezi - the differences between wet and dry seasons, and the animals that dwell on its banks and in its waters. In particular, Eezy told us of the elephants that passed between Zimbabwe (on the opposite side of the river) and mainland Zambia. Just as he finished regaling stories of swimming eles, we spotted a group on a middle island seemingly walking into the water.
Eezy reassured us that the waters were too high and the currents too strong for the elephants to brave a crossing at this time, but low and behold they took to the water! Six of them, five adults and a young one with their trunks as snorkels, their sights set for another island. It was an extraordinary sight, these giant beasts bobbing through the waters. One of the younger males wasn’t quite up to the task, and as we gasped in panic, Eezy laughed and told us not to worry, elephants are clever. Sure enough, the lone straggler grasped a tree on a closer island and hauled himself onto dry land. A sigh of relief from us, and a trumpet of frustration from him.
After some hippo spotting, we turned to Eezy’s failsafe spot for a glorious Africa sunset over the waters. Beers in hand and clinking cheers with new friends - what an introduction to our first evening with Thorntree. As the last of the sun’s rays glistened on the water, we glided back to the jetty - just in time for cocktails and story swapping around the fire.
Waking up the next morning was easy to do with daylight dawning over the river right before our eyes. It was an ethereal misty start to the morning which added to the mystery of the river and the beauty of the whole place.
First up was Victoria Falls, which were always going to be epic. Thunderous water cascaded over the top causing giant plumes of water mist - we were drenched through and loved the whole experience. What made it extra special was the personal experience of a private tour with our Thorntree guide Philip.
Later the same day we headed off on a rhino bush walk. Charlie asked our guide, “What’s the likelihood of actually seeing a rhino on this walk?” The response was a wonderfully comedic, but entirely confident “100%”. We didn’t have to drive far from the lodge to meet the rangers who are tasked with tracking and protecting the rhinos from the continuing risk of poachers. As we set off in single file, the ranger explained that there are 13 rhinos in the area and they are under 24-hour surveillance. We turned a corner to see Lucy and her calf, with an auntie close by. The prehistoric creatures are amazing, and to have the opportunity to see wild rhinos so close up was incredible.
The next morning, we went on a fishing trip, which turned out to be a highlight of our stay. Back out on the mighty Zambezi, we were chasing down tiger fish. It was my first ever fishing trip, and I felt like I was in capable hands with Eezy who had, for over two years, held the record for the largest tiger fish caught in the Zambezi! He was only knocked off his top spot last year. We whiled away the hours being taught to cast, then resting with beers while trawling. It was the perfect way to spend the morning, and to see the river again.
We could not get enough of the river, and for our afternoon activity we decided to test our strength against the Zambezi rapids. We were met by Obi who gave us strict instructions not to go crocodile fishing (i.e. keep all limbs inside the canoe at all times!) We followed Obi downstream, and aside from navigating the rapids, all was pretty easy as the river carried us along its course. At points we had to paddle against the current, that’s when we really felt the full force of the mighty river. It was such an incredible opportunity to fully experience the river.
Staying at the Thorntree River Lodge was the perfect interlude to our trip. An amazing place with brilliant people, and a perfect setting showing you all that the Zambezi and Livingstone has to offer. We stocked up on our last breakfast and wheeled the bikes around to pack them up. The staff all came out to wish us well and to see us off. Thoughtful right down to the last second, they even prepared packed lunches for our onward journey.