The professional rafters and kayakers who take to the Zambezi River in the gorges day after day are a very select group of people. They are tough and extremely fit. Many of our guests want to do whitewater rafting on the Zambezi River; and they rely on these professional guides to keep them safe.
There are 25 rapids in and each one has a special name – and of course each rapid comes with its own harrowing tale of adventure! ‘Gnashing Jaws of Death’ is just one of them. Others include ‘Oblivion’, ‘Commercial Suicide’ and ‘The Washing Machine’. The Zambezi River rapids are Class 5 and are viewed as some of the best in the world. It is tremendous fun.
The morning starts with a walk down to the Boiling Pot just below the Victoria Falls. Here the water swirls around as it escapes from Gorge One making whirlpools. Up to eight guests climb into a raft along with their guide. They can either paddle themselves or just hold on tightly to the ropes around the edge of the raft. At the start, the raft is pushed out into the river where it is calm. This is a time to view the Victoria Falls from below – a stunning sight.
The rafts gently cruise along the river, under the Victoria Falls Bridge, and then the madness starts. Rapid after rapid greets the rafters with a short stretch of calm water in between.
Safety kayakers are also on the river. Some of the kayakers stay behind the rafts and others go in front. They are there to pick up anyone who spills out of the raft while going through the rapids. The rafts can turn upside down and then there are floating people all over the river. It is the kayakers’ job to collect them all and get them safely back into the raft. It all sounds a bit daunting but, actually, many of the passengers ask for the raft to be flipped – just for the fun of it.
At the end of the day everyone is very tired. The trip ends miles down the river with steep cliffs on either side. No-one really has the energy to climb the cliffs, so it is a good thing that a lift has been installed to hoist everyone to the top. From there vehicles wait to ferry the rafters back to the rafting headquarters to watch the video and enjoy an ice-cold drink.
An amazing day out in Livingstone!
Wildlife areas in Zambia are little known compared to other countries in the Southern African region. I am sure that most people have heard of Kruger Park in South Africa, Chobe Park in Botswana, Etosha Park in Namibia and Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. In Zambia we have what we call The Big Three – South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Parks. They are amazing parks, full of wildlife and wonderful scenery, but not as well known.
There are many reasons why visitors to the Sun International resort in Zambia go on to safaris in Zambia. Firstly Zambia has big rivers and most of our parks lie on either a river or a lake. Our largest river is the Zambezi; but we also have the Kafue River and the Luangwa River. Both are large rivers in their own right and both drain into the Zambezi River. The rivers are a lifeline for the wildlife, providing water to drink. Often, too, the best way to view the wildlife is to take a boat ride and watch from the river as the animals come down to drink.
Altogether we have 19 National Parks in Zambia and they are spread throughout the country. Self-drive can be a bit daunting because of the distances; but charter flights are available within the country and offer short, hassle-free hops from one park to another. All lodges within the parks offer luxury accommodation and tours into the park.
In Livingstone we have the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park which is very small compared to some of the others. It also has no predators. Visitors to Zambia who really want to see Wild Africa, can head towards Kafue National Park, our closest large park to Livingstone. Kafue National Park is named after the Kafue River which runs through it. The park is the size of West Virginia and takes two or three days just to drive through. There are no tar roads here, just sandy tracks.
The park also has more mammal species than any other park in Southern or Central Africa. Lions, leopards and wild dogs are commonly seen, especially on an early morning drive. For that early morning drive, be prepared for a knock on your door at 5am. The waiter will be coming to bring you a cup of coffee and tell you to get up – the vehicle is waiting; and so are the animals!
During October the temperatures climb into the 30s. The days are hot and most of our guests at the Royal Livingstone and Zambezi Sun Hotels lounge around the pools or relax in their rooms during the middle of the day. Few people have the energy to go out and about.
At around 4 o’clock the river cruises depart onto the Zambezi River. This is a wonderful way to bring to a close daylight hours. The river brings cool breezes through the boat and memories of the hot hours disappear.
Our guests will take a cruise on one of two boats – the African Queen or the African Princess. Both are large, lovingly crafted boats with two decks which allow for people to walk around, viewing the river and the wildlife from either side or to chat with friends.
The other day I joined some of our guests on a cruise. Our first encounter was with a lone hippo which had taken to the middle of the river. As we neared Siloka Island, the floodplains within were home to many waterbirds – storks, herons, egrets, ducks and geese. They were all looking for a morsel to eat – a frog, snail or fish. Then, as a special treat, we found an elephant making his way across the river by ‘island hopping’. They often stop for several days on Siloka Island to eat the fresh grass and leaves there.
We then crossed the river to the mainland and the Mosi-oa-Tunya Game Park. Someone said: Look. What are those animals? As we neared the bank we could see a large herd of African buffalo coming to the river to drink. There must have been at least 30 of them – young and old. The boat did not go too close – we did not want to disturb them – but we could see them clearly and we all got some good photographs.
And then it was time for the birds to fly overhead towards their roosting sites. Egrets, ibis and cormorants flew over the river, ibis in V-shaped formation, cormorants flying just above the water.
The cruise always ends with the boat stopping to watch the sunset. The big red ball of fire slowly moved to the horizon and, although we love our sunshine in Livingstone we were grateful for its bedtime that day – not only was it beautiful to watch but we needed a break from its heat until morning.
A fabulous end to another day in Africa!
Many of our guests at the Zambezi Sun visit as families – with our spectacular pool area, fun filled Kids Club, and countless activities such as pony and horse rides, Segway rides on the resort and many more adventures, there are loads of experiences that families can do together.
One of the activities I always recommend to families is a canoe safari on the Zambezi River; as a wonderful way to see the local flora and fauna. Following narrow channels on the majestic Zambezi River; guests who take the ‘Makora Quest’ enjoy privately guided canoe safaris on a half and full day basis. Our guests are always amazed to paddle past crossing elephants and hippo pools and spot abundant birdlife and game as they drift past the Zambezi Game Park and Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.
It’s a wonderful (and healthy) way to experience the breathtaking scenery of Zambia!
The Bell UH-1 Iroquois is a helicopter that is better known as a Huey. Developed in the United States for the military, it has become well-known to many of us from movies and TV series such as “Mash” (I’m showing my age here!). Now Livingstone has its own Huey! Our Huey is definitely not used for military purposes; it is used for enjoyment. I had to give it a try!
The Huey can take up to thirteen passengers comfortably, so works well for groups and families. What makes the Huey helicopter flight different; it that it is flown with open doors to incredible and panoramic views.
We took off and the noise was incredible; it was difficult to chat. But that was because, in addition to the doors being open, we did not wear headphones. We took off from Baobab Ridge helipad, flying low level over the African bush to the Zambezi Gorge and entered below rapid 26. Flying through the gorges just above the river was awe-inspiring! Our flight continued through the steep Batoka gorge, above the raging Zambezi river to rapid 22. At rapid 22 the pilot flew us out of the gorge, back towards the Victoria Falls where we enjoyed a brief view of the mighty Victoria Falls before heading back to Baobab Ridge.
Whew – it was such an adrenalin rush – I can’t wait to do it again!
Looking after the grounds at Sun International Zambia is a mammoth task. Our two hotels, The Zambezi Sun and The Royal Livingstone, are set in 46 hectares of indigenous woodland. To keep the grounds looking pristine and yet allowing nature to flourish is always a constant dilemma. Nature wants us to leave it alone; but the needs of the resort mean that we must keep our grounds attractive all year round.
At this time of year the skies are blue, the temperatures are high and there is not a drop of rain on the way for another month The natural state of our bush in Zambia at this time is one of many leafless trees and yellow grass waving in the breeze. Although that is fine in our parks, it is not what we need in our grounds.
Our lawns and verges at the resort are watered daily to keep them green and immaculate, but in our natural areas, we try, as much as possible, to leave it as nature intended. However, we do give them a bit of help now and again and put the sprinklers on. This allows the grass, herbs and trees to sprout new growth so that our wildlife has plenty to eat, and so that we create a natural ‘firebreak’.
Our grounds are managed by one of our business partners and a new manager has recently been appointed. His name is Chris Stonier and he comes highly experienced and qualified. He has trained in horticulture and has many years’ experience at our sister resort, Sun City, located in the beautiful North West province in South Africa.
Although Chris has only been on site a few months he has already put his stamp on the grounds. He does, though, have a big task in front of him; our indigenous plants at the resort are new to him. I am looking forward to seeing his reaction to the transformation of the grounds when the rains start. This is the time when indigenous bulbs just appear from the ground and send up beautiful flowers.
Chris spends his day between the office and driving around the grounds on a golf cart. He drives around the pathways inspecting the gardens and instructing his staff of 30 gardeners. He told me that he is very impressed with the team he has inherited at the resort; as they are so committed to preserving our pristine environment!
Welcome to Livingstone Chris!
At Sun International Zambia, we host a number of conferences, especially regional ones. They bring together people from Zambia and neighbouring countries for us to enjoy their cultures, languages and dress.
In September we had a conference on Financial Services for children. It was sponsored by financial institutions including The Bank of Zambia. Delegates from all over Southern Africa attended the conference, in fact there were so many participants that they took up the entire Convention Centre.
The delegates included bankers, financiers and teachers. Some of the local teachers brought along students from their school to listen to the discussions. Although money matters can be dull for many people, the bankers and financiers brought up many ways to help children be more at ease with money. They even made if fun by cracking jokes now and again. The aim was that the teachers would learn about banking and to give them ideas on how to encourage their students to use banks.
A banking delegation from South Africa told the audience that they had organised a ‘money week’ for 15,000 students around their country. The children had been taken in to banks; some had even gone to the mint to see how money was made. They said that it had made a huge difference to the children who had never dared to go into a bank before.
For us who are used to banks, this may seem strange, but for students from rural areas, banks are places which can frighten children. To take children inside banks to meet the tellers and the managers was a fun way to make banks seem more friendly and welcoming.
Towards the end of the conference one of the teachers raised her hand. Everyone thought that she had a question. However, to everyone’s surprise, she told the audience that she was going to give us a song. Without any delay she began her song and entertained the listeners. We all applauded her and thanked her for lightening the mood. Only in Africa, I think, will a delegate at a conference get up and sing.
Culture is a wonderful aspect of our lives here and we love it. We all adjourned for tea with a smile on our face.
Development in the villages around Livingstone can be a long and expensive job. Bridget Meyer knows that only too well. Bridget was born in the village of Nsongwe, 5 km from the Sun International Resort. It is a village high up on the rocky terrain around the gorges of the Zambezi River.
Bridget married an American, Bob, who had worked in Livingstone many years ago and they went to live in America. She did not forget her roots and for the past 12 years she has been working towards getting electricity to her village, Nsongwe. In May 2013 her dream came true and she witnessed the lights go on in her old school and in the village clinic.
She told me: Some of the ladies have given birth by torchlight. The children can’t learn after it gets dark. Now life will be much better for all of us.
Bridget’s first step on her marathon electricity connection started with the running of an overhead cable from a village 5 km away. When the staff from the electricity company came to put in the poles they complained that the ground was too hard to dig. They went away but Bridget would not let them rest until the job was completed. The next step was to put in a transformer in the village and then, finally, the school and the clinic were wired up.
Not only did the development take years, it also took thousands of dollars. Many well-wishers came in to add to the kitty for the work and the people of the village helped by selling their handicrafts.
On the day of the lights going on the whole village and many dignitaries came to witness the event. They even had a band playing their electric guitars! It was an exciting day for everyone.
Is Bridget satisfied with her work? Yes, she is, but she has many more plans. She told me: The road from Livingstone needs to be improved and I want the school and clinic to have running water. There is a lot more to do.
Bridget has boundless energy and I can tell that she will not rest on her laurels. She and Bob moved back to Zambia two years ago and have bought a farm nearby. Bob is renewing his passion for rafting on the river and Bridget will continue her mission to develop the village.
We’re thrilled to have such great partners in developing our community!
Around the Sun International Zambia Resort we have giraffe, impala, zebra and bushbuck as well as over 400 bird species. But if our guests want to see more wildlife, they can take a drive or a walk around our Game Park. The Game Park is a section of our Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park which is fenced off and where there is a wider variety of animal species.
One of our special animal species is a herd of eight white rhinos. About 4 years ago Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) brought in five rhinos from South Africa. As most people know, rhinos are facing an onslaught from poachers who are selling the rhino horn for medicine. ZAWA knew that they had to help the protection of the rhinos so brought in the nucleus of a herd which could help in their survival. Since their arrival the rhinos have had three babies, all of which are happy and healthy in our park.
The youngest rhino was born just over a year ago and follows its mother, Inonge, through the thick bush, feeding on the grass. Close behind comes Fwana, the father. They are massive animals and it is quite jaw-dropping to come close up and personal with them, but that is what you can do in our Game Park.
The rhinos are guarded 24 hours a day by a team of dedicated Game Scouts. They are never left alone for fear that they may be killed. It is a massive operation but ZAWA knows that it is worthwhile. Because the rhinos are guarded so closely they are used to the presence of people. I went to have a look at them the other day to see for myself how they are getting on.
We drove into the park and one of the Game Scouts, Albert, escorted us to find them. They were deep in the bush, away from the other animals. When we arrived nearby Albert told us we had to walk; the rhinos were away from the road. After walking a short distance we heard the cracking of branches and I could see a big grey body pushing its way through the trees – it was Inonge.
The three rhinos continued their foraging, walking so close to us that we could almost have touched them. The baby was curious and took a few steps towards us; Fwana was watching. Inonge continued on through the bush so the baby turned and followed her. Fwana snorted and plodded after them. Although white rhinos are much less aggressive than black rhinos it was still an incredible experience, and we’re so pleased that Livingstone is home to such an important preservation programme.
While on a Game Drive in Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park the other day we came across four Ground Hornbills. These really are some of my favourite birds; often called Africa’s Turkey Buzzard. They are large birds which are often seen strutting through the grass looking for insects, frogs and lizards to eat; they will also eat snakes. They peck the snake, killing it and then eat it head first. Farmers love to have them in their fields because of the amount of insects they dispose of; they seem to eat continuously.
Hornbills are quite timid in the wild and will walk away if they see or hear a vehicle. They don’t like to fly but will take to the air if they feel threatened, landing in a nearby tree.
During the day ground hornbills are silent. You can only hear them early in the morning before the sun lights up the day. Their booming call can be heard for miles across the land. Their black eyes, surrounded by scarlet skin, have the longest eyelashes of any bird.
I am sure their beautiful eyelashes are the reason for so many superstitions surrounding them. In the old days the people killed them when there was a drought. It was thought that a head of a ground hornbill when thrown into a drying-up river would poison the water. The gods would then send rain to flush out the river, thereby relieving the drought. Even further back in time, around 50AD, the Roman author, Pliny, mentions them as birds of mythology, comparing them to Pegasus, a flying horse.
Ground hornbills can live for 45 years; ones in captivity have lived to 60. In the wild they live in groups of 2-9 with only one female laying eggs but she does not lay eggs every year, just every 2-3 years. When the young birds hatch only the stronger one will survive. The whole family group will feed this youngster until it is fully fledged. Because of their slow reproductive rate, hornbill numbers can be low in some areas and are listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
I was really happy to see this group of hornbills in our park. The environment is perfect for them and provides food and protection for their small flock. I hope they will stay and prosper, providing pleasure to many of our visitors to this special part of Zambia.