On the morning of December 18 – in keeping with my advice to prospective visitors – I opted for a road transfer from the Kasane area to Victoria Falls, instead of a flight. From most of the Chobe lodges and from Kasane Airport it is only about 90 minutes or so to Victoria Falls by road.
In my experience, it is the least stressful and most hassle-free way to get from the Kasane area or Chobe to Vic Falls. A competent driver, an air-conditioned minivan and a very well maintained asphalt road with minimal delay and perfunctory border formalities exiting Zimbabwe and entering Botswana. The flight is somewhat quicker but comes with a heavy load of airport formalities and potential delays. It is also more expensive and much more stressful.
My destination in Victoria Falls was Gorges Lodge, a property in the Imvelo Safaris portfolio. We primarily use – and personally prefer – to stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Vic Falls because of its location and old world charm.
Even so, it is not everybody’s cup of tea, so to speak, and for visitors who prefer a more quiet environment away from Vic Falls town with its attendant hustle and bustle, occasional helicopter noise and hawkers, Gorges Lodge is an attractive option. It is about 30 minutes or so by road from the Falls, with a simply spectacular location right on the edge of the Batoka Gorge below the Falls, right around rapid #18.
On arrival at Gorges Lodge, the first impression is of walking into a rainforest as the property is built right inside an immaculately maintained and very lush garden, full of gorgeous indigenous trees, shrubs and plants with birds all over the place.
First-time arrivals are taken through to the bar verandah where they get their predictably startling first look at the view down and across the Batoka Gorge. It is something! I know I must have visibly flinched as the railing overhangs the edge of the gorge and taking one’s first steps towards it feels like you are about to plunge down into the void.
Just for the view alone, Gorges Lodge is worth considering as an overnight choice for a couple of nights in the Vic Falls area. There is more though. Managers Debbie and husband Chris are super-keen to make all visitors feel welcome and will take very good care of you. It is very easy to feel like you are at home at Gorges.
The interior of my room #10 was rather uninspiring with a utilitarian mix of furnishings and decoration. It feels a bit dated and could benefit from some styling and a cohesive interior decorating theme.
The bathroom by contrast, had recently been updated and the ample space, separate toilet with sliding door and large twin-headed ‘his and hers’ shower would satisfy all but the most demanding travelers. Water pressure was good and there was plenty of hot water available.
My overall impression of the food at Gorges is mixed: the afternoon snacks which were served with drinks during the eagle-viewing/gorge walk activity were excellent. A mix of mini meatballs, chicken wings and other hors d’oeuvres – all very tempting and delicious. Lunch and dinner were less successful, with way too much mayonnaise in one of the salads, and in the case of a poussin – totally overcooking the delicate bird. Portions were ample – maybe even too much for small appetites, the meals being pre-plated and brought to the table.
But Gorges Lodge is not so much about the food or the rooms. It is about the wonderful people who run it, the amazing views and the chance to see birds like Black Eagle and Peregrine Falcons practically at eye-level as they swoop past the edges of the cliffs.
With very limited time at my disposal – just one night – I managed a couple of decent pics of a Black Eagle and will have to come back to get a bit more depth of field in the shot the next time around.
What really sets Gorges apart from any of the Victoria Falls hotels is the fact that all meals, local drinks and two activities per day are included in the price. If you spend 2 nights and opt for the Tour of the Falls plus a sundowner cruise, you will be getting excellent value for money. We also enjoyed a splendid singing and dancing performance by a colorful and expressive troupe of local dancers & drummers.
I had the opportunity to check out the site of Imvelo’s next Vic Falls property, to be built and hopefully open by the fall of 2015. The location is even more stunning than Gorges, with a stupendous view down the Batoka Gorge accentuating the gargantuan depth and width of this simply awe-inspiring chasm. Batoka Lodge will be tented but will otherwise offer the same mix of activities as Gorges.
A bonus at both locations is the soothing sound of the Zambezi River drifting upwards from the bottom of the Gorge, where it rushes through a series of rapids, continuing a geological process which started some 100 million years ago.
The bottom line on Gorges Lodge: comfortable, warm and very casual. Nothing fancy, not suitable for families with toddlers or very young children, but otherwise family-friendly with ample family accommodation options.
Dec 19 2015
After a 5-mile run (another benefit of staying at Gorges = you can run), we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before heading off to Zambezi Sands, Imvelo’s (then) newest addition, about an hour’s drive from Vic Falls, and about the same distance from Kasane on the Chobe road.
Just like at Gorges Lodge – but a lot more so – this pipes in a wonderful natural sound track which makes for the perfect ‘white noise’ to lull even the most chronic insomniac to sleep.
Zambezi Sands is located inside the Zambezi National Park and even though the property is not being primarily promoted as a game-viewing destination, a short game drive one afternoon delivered some good views of a herd of elephant, some giraffes, lots of kudu and impala and several other small mammals and lots of birds.
I was being guided by the redoubtable Mark Butcher – ‘Butch’ to his friends. Butch is an erstwhile Zimbabwe game ranger and Parks Board executive. Already somewhat of a legend in his time, what Butch doesn’t know about the Zimbabwe veld, natural environment and wildlife, is literally not worth knowing.
Mark is confident in his abilities as a guide and business leader and it is clear that he commands respect from his peers and employees. I certainly benefited greatly from being in his company for several days. An activity which Mark favors and which many of us enjoy as an alternative to the relentless game drives so often associated with photographic safaris, is walking. It is definitely an Imvelo specialty, and is high on the list at Zambezi Sands which offers ideal foot safari environment.
Of course the Zambezi and everything associated with it dominates one’s stay at this river-side lodge. Boating, kayaking and fishing – the choice is yours. On my last morning at Zambezi Sands I tried my luck with some fishing in the river with guide Clint, but unlike the earlier successful outing on the Linyanti River in Botswana, the fish weren’t cooperative. We had a couple of early strikes and Clint did have a really good sized Nembwe on the line. Plus we had some great views of a pod of hippo in fantastic early morning light.
By late morning on 20 Dec 2014, Butch and I hit the road towards Hwange National Park where I would spend the last three days of the trip.
Zambezi Sands is running a ‘stay 3, pay for 2′ special offer through the end of 2015 so it is certainly an option to keep in mind for the Vic Falls area, particularly for slightly longer stays.
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