When people plan a holiday, what comes to mind most often are sunny beaches and luxurious hotels in places such as the Caribbean or if the destination is in Africa, then the famous islands of Zanzibar or Madagascar.
To add to the variety of island getaways, one can now choose to go to Tsowa Safari Island.
Loosely translated it means "new beginnings", and is an addition to Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls safari tourism appeal - usually a hub for tourists from all walks of life, looking to enjoy Africa's fascinating natural heritage and wildlife.
Situated on the west bounds of the mighty Zambezi River, within the Zambezi National Park, Tsowa has just opened its doors offering tourists exclusivity, privacy and a closer than close experience in nature.
From the time you enter the island, you are met with a forest of jackalberry and baobab trees. Just across the river in the distance, the wildlife are there for your viewing pleasure. The sense that you are about to have an authentic African experience immediately comes to mind.
This surreal island experience is made more special by the staff who offer warm hospitality - and this is precisely what I experienced during my recent three-day stay.
I must admit, the idea that I was about to be in an island-forest for three days left me feeling anxious and unsure of what was ahead of me. But the minute I hopped into an eight-seater boat from the mainland of Zambezi park and ferried to the Island, I knew that I was in good hands and had to make the most of this adventure.
The transfer from the Victoria Falls International Airport to the Island's camp takes about an hour and a half and is facilitated by Isibindi Africa Travel who transfer you to the camp's private entrance to the Zambezi National Park. There you are met by a guide in an open 4x4 game viewing vehicle to the edge of the river where you then take a boat trip which takes about 3 minutes to the Island. All transfer logistics are handled by management.
On arrival at the entrance to the pristine island, ice tea drinks are offered as a form of welcome drinks along with ice-cold cloths to wipe your face and bring down the heat after being exposed to the sun during the transfer.
After being served a light snack, you are then escorted to your luxurious stretched tent fitted with an ensuite toilet with running hot and cold water. Yes, warm water. In the bush. Six tents are spaced across the forest sensitively to allow guest privacy while also exposing them to a particular view of the river and wildlife on the mainland.
The shelters are a home, away from home. They are fitted with two beds neatly covered with white linen; and because you’re in a forest, a mosquito net to allow for a peaceful sleep. The tents are built on wooden decks which are covered with carpets. A peaceful sleep with no disturbance is guaranteed.
I must say, I am still amazed by the unique furniture made from recycled wood placed in the rooms and the dining area of the island. It looks as if it is covered with dust, but it is not.
The furniture complements the bark of the trees surrounding the camp, and I found the idea fantastic. It is blending the look with the trees. A real safari experience, out in the bush, but at the comfort level as if you hadn't left the suburbs.
The tents, including the dining one, are built in harmony with the environment surrounding them to allow everything to blend in with mother nature.
The only neighbours you hear as you lay on the beds, be it day or night, are the sounds of chirping birds, lapping waves from the Zambezi River, along with snorting hippos who time and again dip out from the water and rest on the banks. All this taking place just below your tents. On the other hand, the sounds of baboons are also heard.
Duncan Elliot, the project manager for the construction of the island, says because the whole point of the camp was to get guests closer to nature, it was essential to use as many resources which were already immediately available within the environment.
This is why the dinner table is covered by the shade of the tree while the water running from the taps is also collected directly from the river and is purified before distribution. Electricity is solar-generated, and the hot water for the bathrooms is heated using gas geysers.
The thought of three days spent in the bush, with no television, limited network and internet access seems boring but Tsowa has lots to offer to keep its guests busy until three days becomes not enough.
Encounters on foot not only get the adrenaline pumping but also bring people closer to nature, which very often creates a more positive attitude towards conservation as a whole.
1. Game viewing on foot and vehicle
Experienced guides at the camp take guests on for viewings in some areas of the park. As much as the encounters on foot get the adrenalin pumping, they get you closer to nature and create a positive attitude and appreciation towards wildlife, our guide, Tendai Ketayi says. While on foot, Ketayi explained the animal tracks on ground, and why they were in a particular area. Buffalos, kudus, elephants, giraffes and warthogs are also spotted during the viewings.
2. Sundowner Cruise
A glorious evening cruise is offered from the first day of arrival. Guests get to enjoy this experience while sipping on some gin and tonic or whiskey with the view of the sun setting over the Zambezi River. The trees with visible elephants breaking branches off trees, offer a spectacular backdrop. It’s the perfect end to each day spent at Tsowa.
3. Victoria Falls
You cannot be in the town of Victoria Falls for a safari experience and not see the actual falls, also known by its indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya which translates “The Smoke That Thunders”. After a two day stay on the island, away from hoots of cars and local markets, guests are then taken to the World Heritage Site to view the waterfalls of the Zambezi River flowing in force plunging into the gorge below.
Here, you also learn about the rich history of the falls and how David Livingston first spotted them.
This inspiring experience of the falls is followed by a trip to a traditional Zimbabwean restaurant, Dusty Road, situated in the town’s oldest township, Chinotimba just one kilometre away from the tourist hub town. The restaurant which prides itself with its unique art, mostly from recycled material and products, offers food that is cooked the Zimbabwean way on open fires.
The fresh food served at the vibrant and funky restaurant is organic, with some of the vegetables planted from its garden.
The whole point of this tour to the township is also Tsowa’s simplicity and keeping it local.
In a nutshell, Tsowa Island is a very natural destination, not too fancy but is able to give all necessary comfort along with a selection of day and night activities to make the safari experience an unforgettable one. The exclusivity and peacefulness make this experience an unforgettable one.
*Disclaimer: News24 Journalist Sesona Ngqakamba was hosted for his stay by Isibindi Africa Lodges, including travel and accommodation.
Find Your Escape by signing up for the Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe here. Or download the News24 App here, to receive expertly curated travel ideas and deals directly to your mobile.