As a tour guide for the past 16 years I have had the opportunity to stay in some of the best hotels and lodges on offer in Southern Africa. There are many components and factors that make a place something special.  It is rare to find a place that gets all the components right.

Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay at Matetsi lodge in Zimbabwe. It is situated 30km west of Victoria Falls on the upper Zambezi River in lush riverine bush and acacia woodland.   My visit started with lunch on the banks of a flooded Zambezi.  The crisp taste of the Shannon Sauvignon Blanc that accompanied the deliciously fresh beetroot and orange salad.

I was joined by the lovely Sara Gardiner (family-owner) and a family of warthogs munching on the grass. The river was flowing fast. Butterflies were flitting about the outdoor patio where we were seated.  One even took a rest on my knee. I was feeling relaxed and content and ready to see my suite. Front of house manager Eddy took me on the walk to my room. The lodge is built on 55000 hectares of the wild Matetsi game reserve. Therefor imperative to be wary and keep a look out for game, especially the male elephant that’s been leaving surprises on the foot path. Sadly we didn’t spot him. The room took my breath away. As a Capetonian the bath tub alone caused me unmitigated joy! Each suite has its own splash pool with loungers, right on the banks of the river. A common problem in many lodges is that there is not proper lighting. This is not the case here. Each section of the suite has its panel for lighting different areas. Clearly marked and in a logical and practical location. It is this kind of attention to small details that sets this suite apart for me. It has everything else you need as well. Bathrobes and slippers, mosquito repellent and all the other lotions and potions we use for cleaning. A telephone and air horn for emergencies and with even a speaker to connect your music to.

Sara took me on a tour of the rest of the lodge. The main area boasts a 25 meter swimming pool, exercise room, shop, library and wine cellar. Many of the items in the shop support local community projects. The cellar has been meticulously stocked with some of the best South African wines on offer.

The library has a television set if you miss the outside world…which I doubt anyone will. Most likely you will use the space to enjoy one of the books or swirl a glass of the best Brandy from the cellar while watching the sunset.

Over the last years I have often driven along the tar road that passes through the Matetsi reserve. I have often spotted animals along the way, mostly elephants. I was very excited to go on a game drive and see what the area has to offer in the manner of wild game. Jonathan was my guide on the afternoon game drive. I was to join a group of agents on the safari. He met us during tea time and explained some of the geography of the area and what we might expect to see. We were not disappointed! Elephants, Giraffe, Impala, Wildebeest, Buffalo and lion are just a few of what we saw. My favourite sighting of the afternoon was a great interaction between 3 or rather 4 species. A Lizard buzzard had caught himself a Mourning Dove. As he was settling in a tree to start eating, an African Goshawk came and stole the dove. The buzzard tried to get it back twice with no success. The Goshawk then sat down to eat. But wait, a Slender Mongoose then came running up the branch and stole the Dove!

Of course we also managed to stop for a sun downer drink. Nothing quite like a G&T on top of a hill watching the sun go down over the African bush. It was during the offering of a second drink that Jonathan got the call on the radio that 2 male Lions had been spotted. Drink in hand we all got back the truck and went in search of the king of the jungle. We did not find them but amazingly as we were slowly making our way back to the lodge Jonathan spotted a single male moving through the bush. It is kind of disconcerting but thrilling seeing the big cat moving with purpose through the dark night.

The day ended with a delicious 3 course dinner by firelight and a glass of Kevin Arnold Shiraz. At least that is how the public day ended. My own day back in my suite ended with a luxurious and guilt filled soak in the beautiful tub filled with bubbles. The memories of which will sustain me for many months in draught stricken Cape town.  My stay at Matetsi was sadly short. There are many aspects that make this lodge what it is. It is in a stunning location. It has been built and decorated with attention to detail. The staff are professional and friendly. They make you feel like part of the family. From the personal butler to the chef, everyone makes you feel special. The ambiance is relaxed natural beauty. I felt at home and inspired at the same time. My only negative is that I couldn’t stay forever.

Thank you Matetsi Family!

You have created a magical place!

Chantel van der Linde

Freelance Tour Guide