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An African safari by water and land in three countries offers a window into the African bush, surrounded by wild animals, multicolored birds, sensational sunsets and friendly local guides. By Marybeth Bond 

Sunset on Lake Kariba on an African Safari, along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Zambezi Queen cruise with .

The throaty growl was wild and untamed – the primeval voice of Africa herself. I peeked through the tall reeds to the Zambezi River below my bungalow where I spotted the mammoth hippo.  A tingling sensation crept up my spine as I remembered what Lennon, our safari guide, told us about hippos: “They can be very aggressive creatures. It is not only their size and weight that makes then dangerous, but also their sharp teeth. A yawning hippo can be a sign of aggression and could precede an attack”.

We saw dozens of hippos as we searched for animals along the shores of the Zambezi and Chobe rivers during our African Safari. 

At that moment, the hippo threw back his head, opened his huge mouth and barred his dagger-like teeth at me. Then he snorted and disappeared into the muddy water.

“Welcome to Africa” the hippo seemed to say. Welcome to an Africa where you can stand underneath a clear sky and breathe dry, clean air; an Africa where you will feel tiny and disoriented at night, and where you will be filled with awe and wonder every day.

The 8-day African Safari began in Johannesburg, South Africa. Our group of 11 Americans was composed of single women, couples, and a family with an 11-year-old daughter. From Johannesburg we flew to Kasane, Botswana, where we transferred from the tiny airport across the border to Kaza Safari Lodge, in Namibia.

Luxury at the Kaza Safari Lodge in Namibia

The Kaza Safari Lodge is uniquely perched at the confluence of two mighty African rivers – the Chobe and the Zambezi and is only accessible to visitors by boat. Nestled protectively under the branches of an ancient baobab tree, the lodge consists of eight well-appointed en-suite chalets.  My cozy chalet had a private plunge pool on the terrace, views of the world-famous Zambezi rapids on the river, visiting hippos, vervet monkeys, and a yellow-weaver’s bird nest below the deck.

Every day at sunrise and sunset we boarded a small boat to cruise along the river with snorting hippos and basking crocodiles. According to our guide, the size of the crocodile ranges from small, “Bite me size” to medium, “Eat me size” to the big guys who are “Swallow me whole” size.

A different kind of safari

After we checked in to our water-bound lodge we realized that our safari would be quite different than most land-based safaris. We searched for wildlife from the water which made this safari unique. Every day we boarded the small, comfortable boat and searched for animals along the shores and inlets of the Zambezi and Chobi Rivers and for the last 3 days, our base was a small luxury ship on Lake Kariba. The itinerary also included two, half-day jeep trips with a guide, into Chobe and Matusadona National Parks and a visit to Victoria Falls.

Mother elephants protecting their babies graze along the shore.

Mother elephants protecting their babies graze along the shore.

Game viewing in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

Game viewing in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

Floating up close to baby elephants  

I love all baby animals. We saw baby antelope running across the grass savannah and tiny monkeys clinging to their mother’s stomachs as they jumped through the trees. Of all the animals, my favorites were the baby elephants. One evening we floated up to a grassy shore and watched seven elephants graze contentedly. They used their powerful trunks and tusks to dig up grass and shrubs. A tiny elephant hid under its mother nursing. Two other baby elephants played hide and seek behind the huge legs of the adults.  Incredibly, these herbivorous gentle giants typically graze for up to 18 hours a day.  It is hard to pick a favorite among the plethora of animals we saw, lions, giraffes, zebras, impalas, pods of hippos, and water buffaloes.

The colorful lilac-breasted roller

The colorful lilac-breasted roller is easy to spot.

Even among the eye-popping abundance of big animals and predators, the birds stand out. There are so many, in such a variety, with such vivid colors that they cannot be missed. I began to take a nerdish thrill to identify the most popular ones such as the lilac-breasted roller with a breast of sea blue azure and a violet patch on its abdomen and the red-billed ox pecker. By the end of the safari, I had become a “bird nerd”.

Our floating home: the "Zambezi Queen" luxury ship in Lake Karibe.

Our floating home: the “Zambezi Queen” luxury ship in Lake Karibe.

Aboard the Zambezi Queen.

Settling in for a relaxing soak in the hot tub after a water safari. Aboard the Zambezi Queen.

From Namibia we flew in small private planes to Zimbabwe for 3-nights aboard the Zambezi Queen a small luxury ship. On the vast Lake Kariba we continued our water safaris and explored the islands and inlets teaming with elephants, crocodiles, antelopes, and colorful birds. 

Victoria Falls

Dramatic Victoria Falls

On our last day, we visited the dramatic Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, discovered by Dr. Livingston in 1855.

Dr. Livingston, I presume?

The history of exploration of Africa in the late 19th century is filled with tales of epic hardships as Victorian explorers, like Dr. Livingston, searched for the source of the Nile River and discovered Victoria Falls.  Today we can explore these pristine waterways in luxury. This corner of southern Zimbabwe is also so remote, it remains untouched by mass tourism.

Cultural Lessons

At the lodge in Namibia, our local guide Lennon, led a walking tour to his village where we met his jovial mother.  She survived an attack by a crocodile in the river when she was collecting water. He proudly showed his home, built by hand with stones and mud and we visited the school and clinic.

At Kaza Safari Lodge and aboard the Zambezi Queen, local guides Olivia and Vimba gave lectures about their country’s history and present issues. These lectures, punctuated with personal stories about life in Namibia and Zimbabwe added depth to our understanding of Southern Africa.

Sensational Sunsets from the water

After viewing wildlife at dusk, we were often on the water for sunset. Clouds shot through with beams of golden light highlighted the setting sun. As we toasted with glasses of champagne, a golden red ball inched downward and expanded upon the water.  I pinched myself as a reminder to never forget these magic moments.

Who pioneered this safari concept?

I traveled with CroisiEurope, a French company, and leader in European river cruises. They own over 30 vessels exploring rivers such as the Rhine, Danube, Seine, and Rhone as well as the Mekong River in Asia. The 47-year-old family-owned business just built and launched their 108-foot luxury river boat on the Zambezi River. The Zambezi Queen offers just 16 guests a unique way to explore Lake Kariba and the wild surroundings. It has eight suites, two decks, a sundeck, and jacuzzi tub.

When you travel with a French company like CroisiEurope, you can count on “haute cuisine”, even in the most remote locations.  The talented chefs at the lodge and aboard the Zambezi Queen served perfection at every meal.

French Cuisine.

French cuisine and elegant presentations at every meal. The appetizer at lunch one day was smoked salmon with grapefruit slices.

They regaled us with freshly baked butter and chocolate croissants for breakfast, opulent cheese platters, desserts and 4-course lunches and dinners. We ate and drank delicious South African wines at lunch, happy hour, and dinner. Cold beer, champagne and creative cocktails were always available. I abandoned all self-restraint and ate every dessert with gusto, including chocolate mouse and crème brulé. Luckily my safari pants had an elastic stretch waist band.

CroisEurope’s cruises are often filled with French speaking tourists, so if you wish, you may practice your French. All guides speak English. Or you may choose to organize your own small group of friends or family for this safari, because the lodge and the ship have only 8 rooms.

Travel is a way to amplify our sense of wonder, joy and understanding of the world.

In the African bush, surrounded by wild animals, multi-colored birds, sensational sunsets, and friendly local guides, I was overcome with a sense of awe, serenity, and gratitude. I’d call that a successful safari.