Secret Season in the Lower Zambezi National Park - Royal Zambezi Lodge
However, upon forgetting this “bucket list,” we were pleasantly surprised when we came around a corner and spotted two male lions lying in an open area with the Zambezi Escarpment as their backdrop. One lay there on its back with its legs in the air, whilst the other stared at us like we were long lost friends and then rolled over to cuddle the other, both relaxed and content.
Most people believe that in order to make their safari worthwhile, they need to see cats within their first 5 – 10 minutes, which is not the way it should be, unless one is visiting a zoo. In a raw African experience, the thrill of your safari is seeking out these magnificent creatures on the adventurous treks through their natural ecosystem and appreciating all the small things along the way that work together to create the perfect home for all creatures, big and small. Quality over quantity and without a single other vehicle in sight.
If this sighting wasn’t enough, Leo tracked some leopard spoor and we were lucky enough to come across a female leopard with 2 adolescent cubs – absolutely INCREDIBLE!
One of the cubs had an impala kill and sat there playing with it whilst the other cub climbed the nearby tree and watched us with curiosity. The leopards were a lot more active than the lions and were also not perturbed by our presence. This was just one activity – exciting, thrill seeking, rewarding & beautiful.
On occasions where we couldn’t do a game drive due to heavy rainfall & to give the roads a chance to dry out, we would opt for a walking safari. You are taken for a short boat ride on the Zambezi to the area in which the walking safaris start – an ancient village sight that was there before the forming of the National Park.
As a result, signs of past human life can be found here in the form of pottery, sculpted tools & bullet casings from the Rhodesian bush war. History & Nature – what more could you ask for.
Walking into the park the first thing that grabs our attention, is the explosion of white butterflies all around us, drinking from the puddles created by the rains. Baboons were playing in the flowering baobab tree ahead with babies attached to their mother’s bellies. This could quite literally set the scene for a baboons wedding complemented with the “confetti” of flying White Vein Butterflies.
What we loved about the walking safari was getting to engage our senses in the smaller things you wouldn’t usually get to experience on a game drive. Wallace, our guide, took us up close to a termite mound, much to the excitement of our first timer friend.
Here he detailed the role of the termites and explained to us that monitor lizards use these mounds to lay their eggs due to the regulation of temperature in the mound. The monitor lizard has no maternal part to play as they lay their eggs, leave, and the babies hatch and make their own way into the world.
A little further on from the termite mound, we came across a green bush with pink and yellow flowers that looked like small Chinese lanterns. Dichrostachys Cinerea, also known as Sickle Bush, is known in these parts to chase away evil spirits.
At that moment I remember thinking they were certainly doing their job, as you cannot quite contemplate any evil spirits being in this majestic place.
One afternoon we did the canoeing trail, which is done on a channel off the Zambezi River and flows towards the escarpment. The serenity of this activity is hard to describe and makes you feel like you are the only few people on earth at that moment. This adventure is fantastic for birding and seeing game such as Elephants, also known as Zambezi traffic as they cross from one side of the channel to the other invariably making you wait until they pass, Buffalo, Baboons, Waterbuck, Impala and Hippos.
The Zambezi River is famous for Tiger fishing which Royal offers on a strictly catch and release basis. If you haven’t tried your hand at Tiger fishing before, we highly recommend that you do. Guided by Shadrick, our enthusiastic and passionate fishing guide, he taught us how to tie a trace and how to put the bait on our hooks.
Fishing guides and safari guides are separate at Royal, both experts within land and water. The Tiger fish is notorious for the fight it gives once caught and jumping out the water to try release itself. The adrenaline you experience from fishing for Tiger fish is something that will keep you hooked, pun intended.
On our boat cruises and DNA’s, there is something to be said about the combination of rain clouds dotting the blue and grey skies and the good morning and good night greetings from sunrise to sunset. Sitting on your private deck, you are woken by the smell of fresh coffee, with the option of adding Amarula, and the first rays of sunrise. The suites have all been built to face sunrise so you can enjoy the new day in all its colorful and tranquil glory from the comfort of your room.
At the end of each day, either on a boat cruise or game drive, we all sat there relaxing with a G&T in hand and watched as an explosion of red, orange, purples and pinks filled the sky behind patches of cloud, almost as a final goodbye and please come back, whilst the sun set behind the Zambezi Escarpment.
As we were leaving, one of our group turned to Natalie, the GM who has made Royal her home for the past 8 years, “Why do you call it ‘Secret Season’?”
Natalie looked at the other staff, who were all there waving us goodbye and had welcomed us into the Royal family, and answered back with a big smile “Well, isn’t this place just the BEST kept secret?”
We all smiled. It most certainly is.