TRAVEL UPDATE: Susannah's highs and falls in Livingstone

Yes! That's me jumping into Devil's Pool at the top of the drop of Victoria Falls! I used to be an adventurer, but the arrival of children has made me so much more cautious. I think of all the things I'll tell them not to do when they go off on their travels - and I'm pretty sure one them will be 'Don't jump off (or anywhere near) waterfalls’ – let alone the Victoria Falls. But if I’m honest I’m making it sound much more daring than it is. We were in such safe hands with the guides who take you around Livingstone Island - and it's a well-practiced thrill for the cautious adventurer (that’s not to say there wasn’t a small frisson at recapturing my youthful lack of self-preservation).

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Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
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It’s easy to see why Dr Livingstone declared on first seeing Victoria Falls “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon angels in their flight”. I have been fortunate enough to see Victoria Falls several times, and at every time of year they are different. I just love them each time. This is, however, the first time I have been to Livingstone Island. A boat takes small groups over five times a day – you can opt for brunch, lunch or champagne tea with your tour – for a short historical tour of the island named after Scotland’s famous explorer, various views of the Falls and, depending on the time of year, a short dip in Devil’s Pool. The numbers are very controlled so it doesn’t become overcrowded, and it is a great way to see and appreciate the Falls from a different angle.

Room for romance ...

Tongabezi is one of the best places to stay in Livingstone and is also one of the most romantic. Small and personal, it has beautiful cottages and stylish open plan houses all looking out to the immense Zambezi River. From your bed or your bath you might spot eles cooling down in the river, or watch the sun drifting gently from the sky changing the colours briefly before darkness falls. Whether you stay in a cottage or one of the houses, it will feel special but if you want to up the ante, the houses have that extra wow factor. Bigger and more private, and with a plunge pool or an outdoor shower or a huge deck, they are ideal for honeymoon or a special occasion. No stone is left unturned when it comes to looking after guests at Tongabezi, with lovely owners, hosts and great staff. Romantic dinners are organised, as well as sundowner boat trips and gentle canoes down the river. There is a small pool with a small waterfall running in from on high and surrounded by foliage giving off the wonderful fresh damp smells of a rainforest, making it feel wilder than it really is.

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Tongabezi
Tongabezi
Tongabezi
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Island getaway ...

Tongabezi has a sister island hideaway, Sindabezi, with five lovely, thatched ‘rustic’ chalets with just some light netting between you and the hippos and the river. ‘Rustic’ is slightly misleading as the chalets are beautifully done, but do be prepared for erratic hot water and a relaxed bush camp feel. It’s a wonderful combination with Tongabezi, as you feel you are on your own island away from the world (apart from a handful of other guests and the wonderful team there). Activities are based around the river with boat and fishing trips, but it’s also within easy reach of all the activities at the Falls - which means that you could stay here over the more expensive Tongabezi.

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Sindabezi
Sindabezi
Sindabezi
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Five-star lodge / A+ school ...

Alongside the luxury is the opportunity to see one of the local success stories. Tongabezi has set up a very admirable school, which now rates as one of the country’s best. It has taken Vanessa, the wife of lodge owner Ben, rather by surprise. With a teaching background, she was persuaded by the staff at Tongabezi to start a school, and now what started as a pre-school in 1996 is constantly growing with new classrooms and facilities to extend it to higher age groups as the children progress. I highly recommend going to see it as its achievements are both genuine and inspirational.

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Tongabezi Trust School
Tongabezi Trust School
Tongabezi Trust School
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007-style entrance for rafting ...

Livingstone and Victoria Falls offer a wonderful range of activities, making it a fantastic place to start or end a safari. A tour of the Victoria Falls is a must, but you can enjoy them from all angles, whether from on high in a micro-light or a small plane, from underneath on a walk along a stone shelf, the more conventional walk on the path alongside them or as aforementioned in your swimming cossie from Devil’s Pool.

We’d swum above them now it was time to fly over them for our next adventure. We helicopter-ed alongside the Falls before flying low down a gorge to be dropped for an afternoon’s white water rafting down the rapids. We felt very James Bond. Once again my heart took a few leaps at the anticipation of swirling around the Zambezi (less James Bond), but I also couldn’t wait to get going. We went with Water by Nature, a slightly more upmarket operation compared to many, and I have to admit my older self rather enjoyed the comforts. As well as an extra safety raft, we had an excellent guide who gave us such strong guidance on the rapids that despite several flips in recent days, we negotiated each rapid with enough adrenalin to send thrills to our nerve ends but to come out the other side drenched but still in the boat.

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The perfect finish was arriving at a remote beach to be served cheese and wine before being taken up by cable car to the top of the gorge. It was all very civilised and a far cry from the long hot slog out of the gorge I’ve done on previous occasions. It also takes this activity into a new realm, as I feel confident recommending it to any age and anyone who might be slightly nervous at the prospect of white water rafting. The guides are very experienced, and will ensure you have the level of adventure you are after. Our guide’s oldest rafter was an American lady of 82!

If white water rafting is not for you, there are plenty of other activities around Livingstone including game drives, bush walks, horse-riding, canoeing, jet boating and visiting the local markets. That said it’s tempting to do alot, but it’s also worth leaving some time to enjoy your lodge, as it is special and relaxing and very much part of the experience of this beautiful area.

Offering a total contrast and a balance of activity and relaxation, Livingstone works very well at the start or end of a safari in the Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa or across the border in Botswana or Zimbabwe. My trip took me to the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa, which I’ll update you on in the next newsletter….


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