24 Hours at Royal Chundu in Zambia
I had been looking forward to seeing Royal Chundu ever since I had started at cazenove+loyd. Whenever I had to source some photos for it I had always sat and day-dreamed about what it would be like to stay there. And then there I suddenly was, not daydreaming, but actually staying there…
Royal Chundu is split into two parts - The River Lodge and The Island Lodge. The River Lodge part is more pared down, while the Island Lodge is all-out-luxury.
After having pulled off the main road between Livingstone and Botswana, we ambled for 10 minutes down a dirt track before rounding a corner to see the helipad and on the other side of it, the entrance to the River Lodge. I was met by a big smile and firm hand shake by Hessah, the general manager. Like many who work at the lodge, he had moved his way up through the ranks and now oversaw the whole set up. He led me down the wide corridor entrance and into the main area, to my right the bar, to my left the pool, straight ahead the mighty Zambezi. Impressive.
Whilst I was sat down, checking in, sipping my ginger infused welcome drink and receiving a neck rub, Hessah explained to me that because of a refurbishment of the river lodge, they had organised for me to stay at the sumptuous Island Lodge.
The Island Lodge was a short 15 minute gentle cruise down the river. So with check in, drink and neck rub finished, I made my way down to the jetty where my boat awaited me. Hessah joined me and took me through a few things such as the activities on offer as we made our way to my next accommodation. I was introduced to the boats driver, SK, who was also to be my guide for the next 24 hours.
On arrival at the Island Lodge, Hessah took me up the stairs where a walkway sort of ‘spider webbed’ at the top, to my left was the main area with bar, restaurant, library and small pool, ahead was my room/chalet/castle.
Hessah left me in the room and said that he would find me later. On saying my thanks and goodbyes I shut the door behind him and couldn’t help but let out a little smirk and have a quick ogle at the palatial room again and let it sink in that this was all mine for the next day.
For the afternoon I didn’t have anything planned so I returned to my room for a siesta. The lodge does offer plenty of activities if one wants, visiting Victoria Falls, fishing, kayaking, the list goes on however I was more than happy to just enjoy my room and the peace and quiet of the balcony. When I awoke I was sitting in the room when to the left of my balcony I saw in the tree, no more than 10 ft away, a giant Kingfisher. I managed to take lots of photos of it whilst it was eyeing up fish in the river below. This was one of many of the Kingfishers I saw during my time at Royal Chundu, making it a great place for the avid birder.
Later in the afternoon, with dusk lingering in the air, I made my way down to where the boat had dropped me off for my river sundowners. I was joined by a couple who were the only other guests on the island and we set off down the river to catch the sunset, my last in Zambia. The boat had been stocked with lots of snacks, from original African beef jerky to dried herring and drinks ranging from white wine to beers to speciality gins and tonics. I opted for a craft gin and tonic from South Africa.
The sunset was stunning, as they so often are in Africa as we bobbed along the Zambezi spotting crocodiles on the banks, as well as waterbuck and baboons, careful to give the crocs a wide berth. We made it back to the Lodge just as it went dark, and made my way back to my room where a surprise awaited me…
As I turned the lights on in my room I noticed that the lanterns had been lit that sat around the bathtub end of the balcony. On closer inspection, I could see that the bathtub had been filled and was bursting with bubbles. Fantastic. How often do you get to sit in a bathtub full of bubbles next to the Zambezi? I sat there and listened to the sounds of the river for about half an hour before I decided to get out and get ready for dinner. Dinner was fantastic, Emmanuel, the head waiter, had said ‘we propose the Zambian seven course taster menu’ and, well, when in Zambia….
In the morning, I was very excited to do some Tiger fishing as it had been a long time since I had held a fishing rod. I made my way across the spider web of walkways and down to the jetty where SK was awaiting me with boat and fishing rods- spare in case I dropped one. There was also a little silver tray upon which sat tea and coffee in case I wanted. It was now about 6:45am and the big African sun was starting to rise and with it the temperature, but it was cool on the boat with the breeze and we buzzed around ‘trawling’ the fishing line.
It wasn’t too long before I caught my first Tiger Fish. I instantly saw where they get their name from, their mouths are full of razor sharp teeth and the fish are known to eat baby crocodiles. It wasn’t too much of a fight to get it on board either, what was tricky was trying to do everything that SK was telling me to do amidst all of the excitement of catching my first fish in I don’t know how many years. In all I was out on the river for 2 hours, and caught half that amount of time in fish. Nonetheless it was a great way to start the day and after all, what a great place to go fishing for the first time in years. It was also a good way to (sort of) work up an appetite, and I needed to if I was to face the enormous amount of food that was apparently my breakfast.
Once I had been dropped off back at the lodge, I boarded another boat back up to the River Lodge where I would then jump in the back of a 4x4 and be driven around 15 minutes, through local villages, to a spot on the banks of a tributary river. Awaiting me was two small, inflatable kayaks. One for me and SK and one for two other guides.
This rhythm of smooth water then rapids repeated itself over about 45 minutes to an hour however the river was thinning and the vegetation thickening making it all seem quite adventurous. And now with more of an appetite worked up, we rounded a corner where Emmanuel (the head waiter again) came into view on the bank and we rowed over until we were right next to him. I was instructed to hop out and SK and the other two guides joined.
At the River Lodge, a bush breakfast or lunch is included in the cost just once in a stay, and it is very special. After having stepped off the boat, Emmanuel led me up the mellow bank to a tray hanging from a tree on which sat a Mimosa for me. When in Zambia. He then introduced me to the chef who was on the other side of a large kitchen surface, tending to bacon and sausages on an almost open fire. I ate plates full of frittatas, poached eggs, freshly baked croissants with ham and cheese and so much fresh fruit too.
I then had a couple of hours before my time at Royal Chundu was to come to an end so I sat on my balcony and tried to take in my surroundings as much as possible. The noises from the birds to the bugs, the sights of river to the lodge and the smells of water to vegetation. I had finished an amazing trip to South Luangwa and Livingstone at the most fantastic place.
Royal Chundu was an incredible experience and it lived up to everything I had sort of imagined it to be. I was so well looked after, and in a place that was so well situated, the whole 24 hours will sit in my memory for many years to come. If anybody finds themselves in that part of the world with the budget, or wanting to see Victoria Falls, Royal Chundu is a must to stay at.
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